After finishing my Magistra Artium (M.A.) in prehistory at Cologne university, I moved to Mainz university where I defended my Ph.D. about social changes at the end of the Ice Ages in 2014. Up to this point, I was associated with MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution. However, in 2014 and 2015 I worked for several months at the Centre of Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA) at Schloss Gottorf in Schleswig and then in 2015 I went to UCL Institute of Archaeology, where I worked in the ERC-funded UP-NORTH project (PI: Rhiannon Stevens). Though I remain a collaborateur on the UP-NORTH project, I returned to Schleswig in September 2016 to work in the “Pioneers of the North” project (PI: Berit V. Eriksen) that is part of the SFB 1266 “Scales of Transformations” at CAU Kiel.

An adventurous visit on a forbidden peninsula

Alas, on this very last Day of Archaeology I was on leave (yes, indeed, there are some of us who really can afford such luxury as having several days off from work!). Yet, despite vacation and weekend, I went off to explore a site on Saturday – and it had almost all in it that made me decide for this job: adventure, hidden places, and the great feeling of finding something someone has left behind several years or maybe even decades, centuries, millenia ago.

On my last post I still had been a post-doc in the UP-NORTH project at UCL and writing about another exciting trip – back then the team went to Jersey. Well, summertime is a very likely time to find archaeologists out in the field! Since last year I’ve been back working in Germany as a post-doc in a collaborative research centre, the CRC 1266 “Scales of transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies” at Kiel University (https://www.sfb1266.uni-kiel.de/en?set_language=en). The project I’m working in is about the “Pioneers of the North: Transitions and Transformations in Northern Europe evidenced by high-resolution data sets” and actually hosted at the Centre of Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology at Schloss Gottorf in Schleswig (http://zbsa.eu/research/projects/projekte-mensch-und-umwelt/pioniere-des-nordens?set_language=en) where I used to work before.

After a presentation about the project at a conference in spring this year, a colleague came up to me stating that he had been informed about a potential Late Upper Palaeolithic site in north-eastern Germany. Thus far, he had only seen photos of artefacts that appeared confincing to him but his time had not allowed him to take up this lead, Now he heard the presentation, he thought he could show us the photos, make a connection to the collector for our team, and maybe something comes out of it. Yay, great! Why not?

To explain why this suggestion was of particular interest for my new team, I have to introduce some details about this bit of archaeology: The first people (pioneers) to enter northern Germany after the last glaciation (c. 26,000-19,500 years ago) are archaeologically associated with the so-called Hamburgian – no, no burgers but reindeer hunters who left a whole lot of wastes near Hamburg that were found and in the 1920s firstly categorised by Hamburg university scholar Gustav Schwantes and termed Hamburgian by him. The Hamburgian is similar to the British Creswellian a Late Upper Palaeolithic entity that clearly arose from a Magdalenian (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalenian) substratum and also dates to the beginning of the Lateglacial Interstadial (appr. 14,700 – 12,700 years ago – the beginning comprises c. the first 700 years). In that period temperatures rose rapidly, precipitation increased, and vegetation and fauna reoccupied the northern regions that were more or less recently freed from the large inland glaciers. Traditionally two variants of the Hamburgian are distinguished based on their projectile typology: The classic Hamburgian with shouldered points that is considered slightly older and the Havelte Group with large but slender tanged points. Most sites of this archaeological group are found in the northern Netherlands, north-western Germany, Denmark (though only the Havelte variant), and Poland (here only the classic variant). Surprisingly, there seems to be no site in eastern Germany. Therefore, the idea that there might be a potential site in north-eastern Germany made us quite excited – what might there be between the classic Hamburgian areas in Poland, the Havelte Group material in Denmark and the diverse material in NW-Germany?

Yet, entering the site wasn’t as easy and straight forward as one might expect: The findspot is located on a private peninsula that also is in parts a natural conservation area. So the owner and the environmental protection agency had to agree on our coming. The latter is something we also know very well from sites in our part of northern Germany where somehow the relevant archaeological sites are also frequently located in natural protection zones with different degrees of excluding archaeological field works – but that’s an entirely different story that partially explains the scarcity of modern excavations of this period in the State of Schleswig-Holstein.

Back to the NE-German peninsula. Finally, this Saturday everything was arranged by our colleague and we had the permission to enter the peninsula. The trip began at 7.30am in Schleswig to arrive at the appointed time 10.45am at the gates to the private property. Well, at least that was the plan – not considering motorway closures due to accidents… the arrival time was finally at 11.30am but – thanks to modern communication media – the colleague was contacted early enough about the late arrival. So after a 4hrs ride, everybody already waited at the gates that were closed behind my car again displaying a large sign about danger of unadjusted ammunition… I learned then that prior to German unity and the decampment of the Russian troops in 1990, the area had been a military base since the 1930s with still some material of the Nazi tank shooting training remaining in the grounds. Eh, nice!? I was asked to leave my car with all that is dear to me and not waterproof at the gates and join the others in the car of the ranger. Luckily, the first swarm of mosquitos attacked me there already so that quickly I sprayed the parts without clothes – so hands and face (in the end it’s northern Germany – we had about 15°C all day) but also all my clothes with anti-mosquito spray because these nasty creatures were already trying to get through my trousers… Our ride then took us past the former airfield and the barracks village that were left to nature since 1990 but also past the former estate of those who owned the peninsula for some 650 years before the Nazis overtook it. To see nature at work on those buildings was also quite an amazing modern lesson in archaeology!

When the cars came to a stop at the coast, I found out why I had to leave everything behind – the next part of the way was taken by boat (kayak) to the other side of a little bight filled with reeds. At this point even the smartphones that were brought along – just in case and to have at least a chance to take some photos were left behind (alas – no photos to the text!). Well, it was still stormy but we gave it a try to reach the shore close to the site but having passed half the way and the main deep, our guide decided that it was too dangerous to go on and we landed on a sandy ground from where we could also reach the site by foot. Alas, through the reeds that were growing about half a meter taller than me and that were the home of the mosquitos… and the waves of the Baltic Sea splashing into the kayak had made me not just wet to the bones but had also washed away all mosquito protection… I have to admit it gave me a bit of a jungle feeling trying to keep pace with my guides through this thick and high reed forest attacked by nasty clouds of blood thirsty creatures – I guess if I had been a bit more claustrophobic and / or akarophobic that would have been a moment of pure panic! Finally, after several minutes we reached a little oak forest and after some metres that was cut by the coast exposing only a little beach and giving space to a cool wind from the sea that blew away the mosquitos.

And there we were: Several hundred metres of land cut by the coast revealing archaeological finds of several thousands of years. Once I started looking, the beach and the littoral water was filled with flint artefacts – mostly flakes but also some nice scrapers. You could see how the coast worked on the land and even see artefacts in the exposed sections of different thicknesses. In these, you could also see how the land had developed on top of the glacial moraines and tills from the last Ice Age to a fairly enriched peaty soil over millennia. Well, but the material we found that day did not resembled the potential Hamburgian artefacts that had brought us here. Yet, we were only granted a small time window to visit the site and have a look around – certainly not enough time to start a proper survey. The finds that we had made were packed up and given to the collector who will report them to the State authorities. So after a good look around, we had to return through the reed and to the boat that took us only over the main depth this time and dropped us off in another reed jungle but not as tall as the first one with some grass islands in between and not that many mosquitos. We followed a way cut into these reeds by the large wild boar population on the island until we came back to the car.

On our way back to the gates, we still made a little detour to climb up the former airfield tower to enjoy a grand view over the peninsula – and find out that after only 27 years and admittedly little knowledge about Russian army architecture, we could no longer tell what several of the rooms in the basement were used for… making us think what we do with remains that are several thousand years old and processed far more intensively by natural forces…

Finally, we arrived back at the gates and were released to our own cars and back to modern day civilisation and at this point it really felt like we had just been on a trip through time.

Though this sounds like a good end to an adventure story, a good archaeological excursion does not end at the gates. We looked for a nice café where we could sit together and talk about what we’ve seen, how we interpret what we’ve seen and how to proceed further. We remained undecided whether we come back here – we first plan to examine the original artefacts that brought us here in more detail. However, if we do come back we will hopefully have more time and then we will certainly have a more systematic survey plan. Only after another two hours there discussing and warming up with soup, coffee, tea, and cake we finally started our several hours long trips back home.

Though not as long a day as in last year’s report, I still collapsed into bed after the 13 hours day that was physically far more demanding than last year’s trip with a terrible headache, really itchy mosquito bites, still a bit wet, and dirty but still happy that my job allows me to have such adventurous, almost Indiana Jones like days.

 

**********************************************************************************

I still cannot believe it’s the last Day of Archaeology… this is too sad.

However, as many others did before me, I want to thank the volunteering team so much for giving us all the opportunity to describe our very diverse daily lives as archaeologists. It’s been a real pleasure taking part in it and reading all the many interesting insights into other colleague’s worklife and reminding me how blessed I am with such job offering this magnitude of possibilities. Thank you, Day of Archaeology!

UP NORTH and then?

Another milky morning in Central London and time to open all the windows to get some “fresh” air into the office. Lets face it: Life as a researcher in archaeology is usually not particularly exciting because the majority of our time is spent at our desks in front of a computer in more or less nice offices (Photo 1).

Office Photo 1 UP-NORTH project office at UCL Institute of Archaeology, London (photo: S. B. Grimm)

However, there are some of these days which make this job so much cooler and more exciting than any other job I can imagine: Sometimes these moments actually happen in front of the computers when you plot your results and they come out just the way you expected them to and you suddenly get the feeling to understand some patterns in (pre-) history. Quite awesome this deep history understanding!

Yet, many of those much cooler days are outside the office, when you go on field trips or archive visits or excavations. These can be nearby or at the other side of the planet – it’s always interesting to poke your nose into another archive whether an earthen or a shelved one.

Since last September I have been working in London for the UP-NORTH project (https://www.facebook.com/upnorth.archaeology/ ) at UCL Institute of Archaeology – a good position to be curious. London is a pretty nice place for archaeology: The non-stop (re-) building of the city constantly produces new finds and the density of other institutions working in the field or closely related to our field such as the British Museum, the Society of Antiquarians, SOAS, or the Royal Holloway creates an amazing diary full of lectures, workshops, presentations, and exhibitions. However, to earn a living work also needs to be done.

The UP-NORTH project is funded by the ERC and tries to understand the resettlement of northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 26,500-19,000 years ago) and the subsequent diversification of the behaviour of those human groups in the context of climate and environmental change. So our study period is the end of the Ice Age. In contrast to “classic” archaeologies that consider typo-technologies of material remains with the climatic and environmental indications from the site or from a larger surrounding, we try to directly connect archaeological remains with climatic and environmental analyses. We therefore use stable isotope analyses and aDNA on archaeological material. To put this in the larger context, the archaeological assemblages need a precise and solid chronology. We achieve this chronological position by dating the very same archaeological material. Yet, before any of this can be done, we need to know where the relevant archaeological assemblages can be found.

So my job in the last months was to poke my nose in other people’s research: I filled long spread sheets with information about radiocarbon dates, sites, and assemblages and contacted people to find out more about those assemblages: their actual whereabouts, whether they would fit our purpose (Which pieces are actually preserved? What is preserved of them? How good is the preservation really? How many pieces are there of an ok preservation?), and whether we would be allowed to sample the material. Thus, I spent most of my time reading PDFs or books about great archaeology and writing e-mails. Once some of this e-mail writing was done – I also got to visit archives with one or more of my colleagues to either have a closer look at the material or to already take the samples such as in fantastic Brno.

What I learnt from all this? That an important part of modern archaeology is basically team work. Everyone in our team has a different expertise so that together we can cover quite a large number of questions and methods. Furthermore, we work closely with our local collaborators who have the necessary insights in the material and the sites to help us make the best choices for sampling. Without a team effort modern archaeology is simply not thinkable.

Last Tuesday we had one of these team days out: Three of us visited Jersey to see what the earthen archives there are currently revealing in the #IceAgeIsland project of our UCL colleagues Matt Pope & Ed Blinkhorn, British Museum’s Beccy Scott, Southampton’s Andy Shaw, and Manchester’s Chantal Conneller – btw, again a team effort!

Most people outside archaeology think it’s exciting to travel so much – mainly because they mix it up with their travels to go on vacation. Well, it is nice and I won’t complain but let me tell you about my day out in wonderful Jersey – and decide afterwards whether you were willing to do this for some bones, stones, and rocks:

My day started with the alarm going off at 3.30am – I’m no early bird and getting up and awake to get going takes some time for me. So at 4.30am I could leave the house to catch my train to King’s Cross where *surprise-surprise* my train to Gatwick was cancelled. Londoners will smile because many, especially those living south of London, know this problem too well. However, at 5am in the morning this forms quite a problem in London because the Underground is not going before 5.27am from King’s Cross towards Victoria station where the Gatwick Express represents an alternative way to the airport. Yet, I got that tube and with some sprinting in Victoria Station and Gatwick Airport reached my flight at 7.20am to Jersey in time.

At Jersey Airport, me and my two colleagues plus a baby boy were picked up by Matt Pope, his daughter, and Chantal Conneller. After a short discussion about the plans for the day, we set off to Les Varines, a Late Upper Palaeolithic site that received quite some media cover last year when engraved schist plates were found there. Being in Matt’s car, we received a first introduction to the island, its politics, peculiarities (they still have a bailiff there! and a scarily large looter community), and most of all its geology. So in Les Varines we were already quite well prepared when Ed Blinkhorn overtook to give us an introduction into the sites history and more insights in the complex geomorphological developments at the site and how these can be read from the 3D recording of the archaeological finds. We had a look at the structures that were gradually excavated (Photo 2) and then Chantal showed us some of the lithic material that had come out there – exciting for all the lithic lovers among us… so Chantal, the baby boy, and me. Organic material is very rarely preserved on Jersey. At les Varines they found a few bones last year. Some of which seem not to be burnt and, thus, of some interest for our project. Yet the preservation seems rather poor but if we can date them and possibly determine the species by ZooMS, it would help UP NORTH as well as the Ice Age Island project. Les Varines is one of the most northern and certainly the most north-western outpost of the Late Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian expansion. The people leaving the remains at Les Varines went up north and then west, only Final Magdalenian people related to the Creswellian went further into Britain. By the time we were leaving the site, a first group of tourist was already guided over the site – making people aware of their heritage and making archaeological knowledge public is also part of the job. As the day of Archaeology also proves every year.

LesVarines Photo 2 Excavation at Les Varines (Photo: S. B. Grimm)

On Jersey we next got on the road again to visit Beccy Scott in her intertidal excavations at Petit Portelet. Although quite a bit too old for our project, raised beaches and the possibility to find pockets of clayey loessic sediments from the Middle Palaeolithic in the intertidal zones is quite amazing. Tide can make the sea-level fluctuate up to 12-15m at Jersey – that is very impressive! Especially since the land mass can increase significantly during a very low tide. However, excavating in this spot on the beach therefore means constantly keeping an eye on the sea! Well, and not wearing too fancy clothes… (Photo 3)

PetitPortelet Photo 3 Excavators at Petit Portelet (photo: S. B. Grimm)

We had some nice lunch nearby and then set off to the north of the island where some Mesolithic sites were explored in the past years. Unfortunately, none of these findspots revealed organic material thus far. Their location on the steep northern coast is quite interesting, in particular, since the project also collaborated with geophysicists to explore the sea ground off shore this northern coast and found that many parallel and intersecting valleys exist in the granite forming the island. Walking through these steep valleys during periods of lower sea-levels must have felt a bit like walking through a towering, stone-made Manhattan. On these spots on top of the modern coast an overview over this labyrinth of canyons was possible (Photo 4). What we could see from this spot were also many cracks and caves in the steep coastal cliffs. These are not easy to be explored as we should also find out on our next stop: La Cotte. Likewise Petit Portelet, this famous Middle Palaeolithic site can only be reached during low tide – and then you have to climb over a more or less slippery boulder field. In the 19th century, people reached this site – as well as some of the north coast caves from above via ropes that they also needed to climb back up if they wanted to leave the spots in time before the tides came back up. I clearly preferred the boulder field. And it was quite a WOW-effect turning around the cliff corner over the boulder field and suddenly standing in front of gigantic granite towers that embraced the site (Photos 5a and 5b). I doubt that coming from above has quite the same effect. This site now has a really good organic preservation – alas, the sediment our project would be interested in was shovelled away in the late 19th / early 20th century. The Middle Palaeolithic is meanwhile comparably under threat – this time it’s the natural elements disintegrating the rock and the sediments and gradually letting them crumbling down and washed out to the sea. Archaeological field work is forbidden due to the potential dangers of falling rocks hitting excavators and protective measures are installed and constantly tried to be improved.

LesMarionneaux Photo 4 View from the North Coast at Les Marionneaux (photo: S. B. Grimm)

MarvelLaCotte

Photo 5 a (above) Marvel about the size of b (below) the La Cotte site (photos: S. B. Grimm)

siteLaCotte

We made our way back over the boulder field and beach just to see off Andy Shaw who was guiding a group of archaeology interested inhabitants to those outstanding towering granite columns of La Cotte. We got on our way back to the airport just in time to go through the security, have a little snack, and catch the plane back to London.

Mind you, I guess it is needless to say that after all this boulder climbing, heath and beach walking, site visiting, landscape learning, archaeology and geology talking I was quite shattered when I arrived back home at 10.15pm that night (this time without any serious trouble by tube or train). However, it was a gorgeous day out but I hope this little narrative will stop non-archaeologists from idealising out travels – even if they are little friendly visits as this one with lots of other chittery-chatter, they are work, not vacations! And thus on the next day we were also back in the offices… Yet with lasting impressions of a beautiful island, marvellous archaeology, and a big gratitude to our colleagues who took their time to show us around.

However, my days in the UP-NORTH project and in London are counted. In two weeks, I will have left the UK and by September I start a new position in northern Germany – so this time, I’m going up north and then east (more Hamburgian style for my fellow Lateglacial specialists). Yet, this leaves someone of you with the possibility to apply for my position (http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AOE765/research-associate/ ) and describe a day like mine -still different!- in the UP-NORTH project at next year’s Day of Archaeology!

Monrepos – the museum is open!


Since the Day of Archaeology on Friday and my last post, a lot has happened – in particular, a lot of work! During the whole weekend, many of us continued being busy with final preparations such as arranging exhibits, painting texts on the walls, labelling artefacts, glueing QR codes to the show cases and supplementary booklets, and an awful lot of cleaning!


The funny thing is that even though prehistory is often covered with dirt – well, at least the artefacts… and, occasionally, our field plans and equipments… and most of the time our clothes –, exhibits need to be perfectly clean.

Yet, cleaning is one of these works most people don’t expect when thinking of prehistoric archaeology but actually it’s a huge part of our job: On excavation we constantly clean profiles, the planum, the camera lenses and other equipment such as our glasses, afterwards the finds are cleaned, the data is cleaned from errors, outliers, false recordings, then we clear our minds to look at the result in a least biased way, well, and then we make everything extra clean and clear to exhibit the lessons we have learned… Hence, archaeologists are basically born cleaners!
For example, Dr. Elaine Turner usually studies hominid subsistence patterns based on faunal assemblages from Middle Pleistocene sites such as Schöningen or the Czech Kůlna Cave to Late Pleistocene Moroccan cave Taforalt but on this weekend she wiped the floors.

Dr. Alejandro Garcia Moreno, the GIS-specialist of the Schöningen and Neumark-Nord projects, polished the vitrines together with our trainee Nicola Scheyhing M.A. and also tidied the entrance together with Dr. Radu Ioviță. So by mid-day Monday, Monrepos was spick and span!

However, besides the exhibition, the official opening ceremony had to be prepared:

Tables and chairs had to be put up, huge umbrellas had to be opened outside the main entrance of the museum due to the disappointing weather forecast, decoration had to be made and spread, the buffet arranged, concession stands equipped, glasses filled, bottles with more wine, sparkling wine, water, rose syrup, birch syrup, and elder syrup, that Juliane Weiß M.A. had made, had to be spread on the stands, a speaker’s desk had to be set up, microphone and speakers had to be synchronised for the hall and so on and so on…


But it was not just our staff and our colleagues from Mainz or the supporting actors who are going to be the guides – family members and friends were also helping such as Aritza’s wife Dr. Pauline Buthaud and our future fellow, Dr. Karen Rubens (currently at Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).

We are still not sure how we did it. For sure, there were moments of pure exhaustion.

Nevertheless, with joined forces we prepared the exhibition for visitors on Monday 1 pm!

When the “event” began at 1:30 pm, the house became filled up with people! With 100-200 expected guest and almost as many cars to come up the long way above the Rhine valley, Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. and Sascha Sieber had to organise the car park and saw nothing of the official speeches. However, lucky them because due to the packed hall the air really became thin during the official speeches of Prof. Dr. Falko Daim, head of our parent institute, the RGZM, of the minister of education, science, and culture of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mrs. Doris Ahnen, of the vice-president of the Leibniz society, Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich W. Hesse, and the head of our institute, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser. She introduced the actor guides who instantly relieved the audience from the ceremonial atmosphere when asking them to participate in a little experiment about human behaviour… the results surprised quite a few of our guests. After this cheerful end to the official part, the storm on the buffet began and the first visitors were guided through the museum. Dr. Olaf Jöris invited people to follow him through the exhibition with an in-depth scientific view on the concept and the content.

Some actors remained at special places within the exhibition to offer visitors insights into their programme. Outside the house trainee, undergraduate and graduate students were serving drinks while post-docs kept the bottles coming from the fridge – and finally, the sun also came out!

However, if you think: “That’s it!” – well, no! Since the museum opened for the public on Tuesday, of course, someone had to clean up after the party…
Dishes, tables, and floors had to be cleaned, chairs and tables put away, decoration spread through the house, and everything put back to its right place…


The opening for the public on Tuesday went quite smoothly then: Even though it was Tuesday and holidays haven’t begin yet, we had several visitors and Frank Moseler M.A. also had to give his first guided tours. Today, it continues quite nicely with the first children’s birthdays.

However, after the final cleaning up on Monday, we could finally begin relaxing after a very long day and a very, very long precedence… So we say: “Cheers! And we hope to see you soon in our new exhibition!”

P.S.: You should definitively use our wishing tree – wishes made to the tree do come true: Germany became World Champion! Hooray!!!

Monrepos – research in progress

Finally, I want to write a bit about our archaeological research which has to continue while the museum is prepared for the re-opening.
Of course, an apparent question is: Why don’t the other researchers write their own posts about their work? Well, the answer is simple and, presumably, very common in science:
It’s a matter of time!

Work schedules of cooperative projects and deadlines of submitting articles have to be kept. Since most institute members also try to help with the museum, time is getting short and even shorter… So we practice one of the amazing achievements of human behavioural evolution: division of labour! So while I’m blogging, others continue with their work.

For example, Dr. Martin Street just finishes writing an article about dogs… in space… and, more importantly, in the Upper Palaeolithic. This paper is his contribution for an exhibition catalogue of another institute. You see, we help where we can!
The previously mentioned Dr. Radu Ioviță has several research projects including field projects in Romania and Kazakhstan. Besides answering questions of actors, today he worked on one of his lab projects and made figures for an article he co-authors about bifacial symmetry.
A Master student he is working with, Nina Schlösser, made spear throwing and thrusting experiments the other week to understand microscopic breakage patterns of lithic tips. Some of us helped her back then throwing and thrusting spears, measuring the depth of the shaft in the animal, or simply switching cameras on and off. Today she was one of the many helpers in and outside the museum and for some unknown reason she was using a shaft again.

Radu’s and Nina’s work contributes to our previously mentioned research theme “Diet and Nutrition”. Understanding hunting equipments and, thus, hunting strategies in the past contributes to the very old problem how to get to the food.
This important motivator helps to fill the larger picture of our research concept which is “Becoming Human: the Evolution of Hominin Behaviour”. In our institute, we focus on ice age (Pleistocene) material as the longest part of human history to portray this process.

Many people instantly think of big glaciers, massive ice sheets, snow, and cold temperatures when they hear “Ice Age”. However, these phases of glacial growth were repetitively intersected by several millenia of warm phases so called interglacials such as the Eemian and, probably, the Holocene. Another of our research themes, “Human behavioural strategies in interglacial environments”, focuses on these warm periods. Important projects in this theme are, for example, the 300,000 years old site at Schöningen or the Eemian site of Neumark-Nord 2. Both sites represent specific lake shore environments which allowed a good preservation of organic material. The bone material needs detailed recording to distinguish natural processes from carnivore and human activity. Therefore, the pieces are not just determined to body part and animal species but they are also examined for breakages and potential cutmarks. Our Basque colleague, Dr. Aritza Villaluenga Martinez, spend some of his working day with this detailed recording.

He is one of the researchers having his desk in our comparative collection on the top floor.

Such collections are needed for more reliable determinations but in some difficult cases, direct exchange with other experts is the best way to come to a reliable conclusion. Therefore, most of our archaeozoologist have desks on the top floor.


Likewise others, Aritza used the Friday afternoon to additionally work on corrections of two reviewed papers. Moreover, earlier today he helped together with our colleague Geoff Smith cleaning up outside the museum.

Another one working late on a Friday afternoon is Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. For his dissertation, he examines schist plates from the Magdalenian site Gönnersdorf. These plates were regularly engraved with Pleistocene mammals such as woolly rhino or mammoths as well as stylised female silhouettes. Continuous use and post-depositional damages make finding and documenting these engravings a difficult task, in particular, requiring a moveable light.


Wolfgang focuses on signs and symbols which are occasionally difficult to distinguish from unintentional scratches. Therefore, he systematically records the plates and establishes regulations in the composition of engravings. Thus, regulations of early societies, our third research theme, can be filtered from the archaeological material.

In a comparable manner, we all contribute to the three research themes that support the research concept – if we are back to our usual working mode. Then we fill large parts of the process of becoming human as a team and explain more and more bits and pieces of the evolution of hominin behaviour – from Tuesday on, we also present what we already learned to the general public in our newly re-opened museum.

So if you are interested: Please, come and visit us!

Monrepos – a museum is reborn2

Back to the museum – what happened? Five years ago the German government created an economic stimulus package meant for the construction industry to pass through the worldwide finance and economic crisis. With money from this package public buildings could be renovated and our house, the princesses palace, was chosen as one of these projects.
However, that meant we all had to move out, in particular, the museum. So the museum was closed for the public and the research centre squeezed into the corners of the house that were currently not under construction. That were cosy but also hard times!
Afterwards we had new windows, new floors, new heatings, new rooms, new kitchens, new guest-rooms – really lovely working here now! A prove for this pleasant atmosphere could be the help we received from Saxony-Anhalt: Juliane Weiß M.A. got into contact with our institute through the Upper Palaeolithic excavation at Breitenbach, a project of our colleague Dr. Olaf Jöris. Juliane subsequently visited Monrepos and since we found out about her amazing cooking and baking talent, we invited her to prepare an Old World Stone Age buffet in our lounge kitchen for our guests on Monday.

.

With, Juliane’s delicious help, we can explain at least one of our current research themes straightforwardly to every guest: Diet and Nutrition… Looking at the hazelnut biscuits, I’m sure everyone agrees about the importance of this topic for human behaviour.

Since everything around and within the building was so nice and new, the museum exhibition was also intended to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, the money from the government wasn’t intended for that and, hence, couldn’t be used for creating a new exhibition. Therefore, other money had to be found for new shelves, new lights, new signs etc. and a fresh concept for our old stuff. Likewise our research centre, the museum is focused on how human behaviour developed in the past 2-3 million years and creating a new concept for this really old story of mankind isn’t that easy! And to be honest, most archaeologists are no museum designers, psychologists focused on flows and requirements of customers, business project organisers, marketing experts etc. But all these skills are needed to make a really good and interesting museum. In our case, we decided to get help from outside our archaeology box and, consequently, many hours in the last years were spent by some researchers, first of all our head, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, learning… Learning about marketing strategies, customer psychology, about digital possibilities in museums, concepts other museums use etc. and finally finding a way to apply all this newly acquired knowledge on our very old exhibition material.
After this concept was created, it needed to be realised. Our regular staff was accompanied by photographers, designers, craftsmen, carpenters, electricians and many others during the last year. Occasionally, the great ideas meant for the museum had to be adapted to the possibilities and / or the budget. Still most of the ideas could come true.
So here we are Friday July, 11th – countdown is running for the exhibition opening next Monday at 1:30 pm…
Frank Moseler M.A. is going to run the museum. Today he accepted what felt like 100 phone calls with bookings for guided tours through the museum for the next weeks. Besides this organisation, he is preparing scripts for regular and the professional guided tours and, just by the way, he tries to finish his dissertation about the use of fire in the Upper Palaeolithic at our research institute. In the museum, he is supported by Edda Perske who is organising the receptions desk and museum shops, while Michael Bernal Copano is preparing for supervising the museum rooms. They both struggled with getting to know the electronic till system today – certainly, not an everyday task at a museum but something that is used everyday and, therefore, has to be understood.
Besides the archaeologists, our museum will have special action tours. In these tours, professional actors will help the visitors to understand how humans created faith, home, and world trips or how humans need and use power. Before taking the visitors on this journey to self-awareness, the actors themselves had many questions to the archaeologists. Dr. Radu Ioviță took some hours of his time to walk with them through the museum and answered all their questions, informed them about methods, and explained how we can learn something about human evolution from looking at stones, bones, and profiles.
For some further refinements of our exhibition, we have received help from our parent institute in Mainz during the last days. The RGZM is well known for its archaeological conservation workshops which among others worked on finds from the Chinese province of Xi’an, Ötzi’s equipment, or the world’s oldest wooden spears from Schöningen. Currently, some of the archaeological conservators from the workshops go everyday on the long way from Mainz to Neuwied to help us reviving the past in our exhibition.
Our museum is not just taking the visitors from the presence to a past time, we are also trying to connect the inside of our house with the outside. This is not just figurative of opening research and science to the public but also very literally:
Inside the museum we have a little wishing well for which our Prince Maximilian of Wied-scholarship holder, Elisabeth (Elli) Noack M.A., and our trainee Nicola Scheyling M.A. created a counterpart outside our museum: the “wishing tree”.

Usually, Elli doesn’t climb trees at Monrepos but writes her dissertation about Mesolithic archaeozoological material from northern Germany. However, at the moment the museum is our prime priority and today Elli and Nicola decorated the tree and hang up schist plates from the tree. People can engraved their wishes for the future in these plates. A first wish has already been engraved in the schist plates – and it’s such an obvious wish right now…no! It’s not about the museum – first things first: “World Cup!”
Well, probably many of us will watch the match together on Sunday night, while still preparing and cleaning the exhibition for Monday – hopefully, no goal for Germany while someone is handling a fragile piece…
Comparably to the German football team, I can formulate the baseline of this post that not just relates to making a museum but also to archaeology in general as the next post will show:
You need good players but in the end it’s all about team work!

Monrepos – the early birds

Monrepos-Icon

Who thinks that an archaeological research centre and museum can only be run by archaeologists these days must be ignorant. Technical staff is required at many places and usually they are our early birds. They are cleaning, fixing, and organising the house and its bits and pieces before most researchers actually arrive. Nevertheless, they are a part of the our daily working life and an important part of the staff: Imagine an uninformed cleaning lady in an institute mainly focused on stone age archaeology with several pebbles or bones or sediment bags on the floor… Thus, these staff members not only make a whole day of archaeological research possible but also contribute to it with their experience.

However, in the last months, new skills were required from some of them. For example, Walter Mehlem, our house technician, has quite some extra work to do at the moment taking care that really all the work that was supposed to be done in the museum by subcontractors, craftsmen, gardeners etc. was in fact correctly done. So, really he is looking forward to the days after the opening when “business as usual” or the usual craziness returns.

Well, writing about early birds by midday just shows that I’m none of them. However, we couldn’t keep our schedules at the institute if everyone was a nightowl like me. For example, mail arrives early and parcels full of paper necessary for an institute like ours arrive almost on a daily basis. A lot of paper is needed for prints of our scientific output such as our own articles, official letters, and bureaucratic formalities such as compensation of travel cost. Moreover, many pages of articles have to be printed out to become a hardcopy part of our ever growing library. Besides these articles, our library owns several thousand monographs and journals all focused on hunter-gatherer anthropology, Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology, zooarchaeology, experimental archaeology and everything of interest for archaeologists working on the development of human behaviour before the Neolithic revolution(s). Presumably, we house one of the largest libraries on this topic worldwide.

Bibliothek
Apparently, such a large body of information needs some organisation and someone who prints out the articles, picks them up from the printer, registers them and puts them in the right place – so if a researcher is looking for a specific article it can be found. At Monrepos, Sascha Sieber is currently taking care of this bit of enabling archaeologists to actually work all day. Frank Schmid is sharing his office and working on another important project: Digitalising photo documentation. Monrepos has been participating and organising excavations in Eurasia for over thirty years so we have an enormous number of slides from excavations and excursions which need to be digitalised and organised in a way that someone looking for a specific profile is also able to find it. Of course, no archaeologists could do this job besides the usual work so we are really thankful that Frank is doing the job for us.

It’s not as if archaeologists were a bunch of poorly organised people but help is always appreciated. And although a lot of our drawings and graphs are made by ourselves as a part of our research, help is not just welcome in this important part of our profession but occasionally needed. Graphs and figures help to visualise our findings or simply the artefacts we found. Therefore, Regina Hecht and Gabi Rutkowski are part of the Monrepos team. Regina helps us make better graphs, optimise our print outs and, occasionally, she also gives short introductions to graphic programs for young students like I used to be. Her work is so helpful because someone who is only considering the readability of a graph helps to translate our results for everyone and, thus, helps us to make science understandable and useful.
Gabi Rutkowski usually helps us with neat and clean ink drawings of artefacts. Although she hasn’t studied archaeology, she has probably seen more archaeological stones and bones than many senior archaeologists and occasionally can point out overseen details. However, at the moment she is also needed for last preparations for the opening of the museum.

Gabi-Arbeit

Monrepos – a museum is reborn

Monrepos-Icon

For months my institute has been bristling with activity. On Monday July, 14th is the big day: the official opening of our museum after almost four years of renovating, reorganising, and reinventing… So basically our museum is reborn.
My institute is  MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, located approximately in the middle between Frankfurt / Main and Cologne in western Germany. It is a part of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (RGZM) that is a member of the Leibniz society. So we are generally publicly founded by the federal government, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate but also by the district and city of Neuwied / Rhine. The building in which the institute resides is an old mansion of the Princes of Neuwied. The main mansion was burnt down some decades ago so “our house”, which actually is the formerly princesses palace, is commonly called mansion Monrepos and it is a “mansion of researchers” (Schloss der Forscher) as I’m going to show you today. Thus, I’m not going to write about only my work but the work of many at my, or better our institute.

Well, the contractions of the birth of our museum slowly begin! At the moment most people of the institute are busy with making last minute preparations for the opening but also for the regular running of the museum afterwards. Besides all that, the research of our house has to continue…
This is just a small example that even though the institute consists of two main parts – the research centre and the museum -, these parts cannot be really separated. The research centre gives input to the museum with the latest scientific results and the museum explains these results and the benefits for our society to our visitors and visiting groups. Usually, the majority of visitors comes from this region but in the world of pre-farming archaeologists, our museum is known to a much wider circle as is proven by already planned visits of non-local groups, for example, from Switzerland and Jordan. So our museum and our research already reach a very wide public audience but still many people are unaware of the “behind the scenes” part that I’m trying to reveal a bit during the day.
The “behind the scenes” is, in fact, populated with many people that give life to our institute. These people and their work in and for archaeology shall be the focus of my postings.

Starting with myself: My name is Sonja B. Grimm and just last week I have defended my Ph.D. thesis about how societies change in the context of significant climatic change. On the example of changes occurring at the end of Ice Ages in North-West Europe, I could show how adaptable these hunter-gatherers were and thereby resilient to many climatic and environmental changes. However, small adaptations without keeping restricting safe-guarding strategies resulted in a collapse and a necessary reorganisation of the Lateglacial societies.
Yesterday, I received my dissertation with the comments of my committee back from the university. In the German academic system dissertations have to be published including the corrections suggested by the committee. Only afterwards I’m allowed to call myself Doctor to which some of my colleagues and I are really looking forward to this day – who cares about Dr. Evil if you have a Dr. B. Grimm???
So besides blogging about the institute, most of my day will be occupied with looking through the 700 pages of my thesis – again! – finding the remarks and changing these parts. Luckily, the RGZM has a publishing house where my thesis will be published so I don’t have to worry about finding finances for the publication. However, the page layout of the publishing house is not entirely the same as my thesis… meaning I also have to change the format of many of my graphs. Oh, happy office day!