Thursday, 7 April 2016

Make your own archaeological poop

Two posts in one day?? Yes, deadlines are looming so the blog posting is on fire. I thought I would do a little update on some non-academic stuff I've been doing recently. Around this time last year I ran an Indiegogo fundraiser. The main reason was that I no longer had an academic job, and therefore no longer had access to a microscope to continue my research that I had started at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. I was unsure about whether to do crowdfunding, it is really hard asking individuals for money, compared to asking research councils for millions (that's harder in a different way). But I couldn't think of any other options and desperately wanted to continue the research I was doing. The campaign was reasonably successful; I didn't raise the total, but I did get enough to buy a halfway decent microscope and to cover the costs of taking it up to Orkney for the next field season, to do a 'field lab' where students and visitors could watch the analysis in progress. At the end of the campaign everything changed completely, as I ended up getting a job offer at Newcastle. As a result of this unexpected change in my employment situation, I have been very very slow at fulfilling the Indiegogo perks, but I did finally get them all sent out last week - thank you so much to anyone who donated for your patience!
Alarmingly realistic said one parent

Related to this is the outreach work I've been doing recently. Although initially I had planned to focus on Orkney, I thought it would be a better idea to develop a series of activities that could be done closer to home as well. The first of this was 'make your own archaeological poo' at Segedunum Roman Fort, in my home town of Wallsend. Basically it's making home made brown play dough and mixing it with bits of seeds and stuff, then doing a mini excavation of the resulting 'poop'. Sounds disgusting, but children appear to love it, and it is actually a great way of introducing archaeological science. While they are doing their excavations, we talk about how different types of food remains can tell us about diet, and trade if we have 'exotic' plants. I've ran it twice now, with help from student volunteers from Newcastle, and it was really good fun. I am hoping to expand it into something suitable for older children over the summer, bringing in more of the science and linking it to things in the biology and chemistry curriculum like chromatography and the digestive system. We'll be using the microscope to look at real archaeological samples as well as the 'experimental' stuff!

Dietary inclusions we wouldn't expect in Roman poop
Newcastle students Amy and Hope helping out



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