Thursday, 15 September 2016

Zooarchaeology short course at Sheffield

For the past three days I've been doing a short course in Zooarchaeology at Sheffield. The Sheffield lab is one of the best places in the UK, and probably Europe, for animal bone research, and I was amazed at the extent of their reference collections. An absolutely fantastic resource. Although I have spent many years working with zooarchaeologists, and have a basic understanding of the subject, I've never worked directly with this material myself. As I am now responsible for the Wolfson Laboratory at Newcastle, and therefore our animal bone reference collection, I figured I should learn a bit more about them! It was very interesting to hear about a lot of research themes that I am interested in from the perspective another specialism. Taphonomy for example is something that I deal with myself a lot in the analysis of environmental samples, and it was very informative to hear how other people approach this topic.

Whilst a lot of zooarchaeology focuses on the relationships between people and animals in the past, there are some aspects that are relevant for environmental archaeology. Smaller animals such as amphibians for example can have very narrow ecological tolerances, so their presence at a site can tell us something about the local environment in the past, or the types of environment that people were exploiting. Others such as wild birds may have very seasonal behavior, such as migration, and can be used to infer seasonality at a site. These are topics that we already cover in my second year Environmental Archaeology module, and I am hoping to incorporate the animal bone perspective. Previously I have focused very heavily on plant remains and soil, as that is my main area of expertise. It will be good to include a bit more on animal bones, particularly how we can integrate these different strands of data to get a better picture of the past environment.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Training in Belize!

2016 - the year where the exciting news just keeps on coming! I found out recently that I've been selected to take part in a NERC training course, Fieldwork Skills in the Tropics, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, as part of their MSc in Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants. The course runs over two weeks next year, in Belize! It's been over a decade since I first left the UK on my first fieldwork abroad, but the thought of travelling somewhere new is still as exciting now as it was then. Probably even more so as I have some idea what I'm doing now. This course covers vegetation survey, monitoring and plant identification, with some GIS. Part of the application process involved a statement of why you would like to attend, with priority given to those with NERC funding, ECRs and students. Whilst I now work as an archaeologist, my background is in geosciences/geography, and I've always maintained that perspective in my research and teaching. My long term aim is to assess how we can use the long-term perspectives of environmental archaeology to help inform modern day environmental sustainability. This goal will require dialogue between those of us who study the past, and those who study the present. In reality the relationships between people and the environment are all part of a long term process of environmental change.

This will be a fantastic opportunity for networking and collaboration with scientists in ecology and conservation, and will also help with one of my methodological interests. Yes, phytolith analysis again. Phytolith analysis is very underdeveloped compared to other microfossils such as pollen. I believe a major reason for this is the lack of long term collaboration with botanists, and a poor understanding of how phytolith formation is linked to plant cell structure. The NERC training course will help me develop better skills in taxonomy, and also the skills to build an informed reference collection of specimens from which I can prepare an open access image collection of phytoliths.

Obligatory picture of Belize (Cockscomb basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Wikipedia) 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

EAA conference, Vilnius 2016

Last week was very busy. I was away in Vilnius, Lithuania for the European Association of Archaeologists annual meeting. The last one I went to was Pilsen in 2013 so it was good to go back and catch up with the latest research. I think I probably overdid it, giving a paper and a poster presentation, and also running the Newcastle University exhibition stand. I wasn't really able to do either effectively, having to jump in and out of sessions to sit at the desk. I ended up missing quite a few talks that I wanted to see. However, my paper presentation did go well, and I got some good questions and discussion. I was talking about Catalhoyuk, and assessing the past 25 years of 'multi-proxy' archaeology and approaches to use of space. Although some aspects were critical, the aim was to try and see what has worked and what hasn't worked, and some of the reasons why this might be. There is such a rich and unique record of the history of  excavation and methodology at Catalhoyuk; I am convinced that one of the projects' major contributions will be about the practice of archaeology and archaeological science, as much as the research questions.  I didn't feel like I got as much discussion as I would have liked though. I think trying to do a review paper in a 15 minute time slot is a bit ambitious, and there are still many issues about 'multi-proxy' research that I want to talk about with the wider geoarchaeological community. I think I will revisit the paper for a smaller scale archaeological science or geoarchaeology conference, where the papers and discussions tend to be a bit longer.

I also did a quick post about the EAA for the Human Seasons blog, which you can read here. Thanks to fellow micromorphologist Barbora Wouters for the action shot!