Ancient India and Iran Trust

networks, administration, garden centres, maternity…

I’m currently on maternity leave, looking after our five-week old son, so my archaeological brain is somewhat disconnected at present. However, before the arrival of the boy, my job(s) entailed many things.

My mornings were spent working at the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge, a small, independent library of 25,000 volumes dedicated to the archaeology, history, linguistics and cultures of India, Iran, and Central Asia. As the Administrator of the institution, my job involves anything from organising a plumber to fix the leaky tap, to writing, editing and designing our newsletter, Indiran (download a copy here), to thinking about potential donors and contacts for fundraising.

Afternoons I was generally working on turning my PhD into a book – I work on the spread of religious innovations in the Roman world. My research uses network analysis to plot epigraphic finds (gravestones, altars, dedications of any sort – usually containing information about the person who died, dedicated etc, sometimes containing information about a deity, sometimes having a date too) onto the map to try and think about how ideas expressed in these finds were transmitted. By using networks to link these epigraphic findspots together, we bypass the rather static ‘dots on a map’ created by simply mapping the findspots themselves and turn the catalogue into an altogether more dynamic set of data, revealing potential flows of information and innovation. Inscriptions are wonderful – physical, archaeological material, found, excavated, and located in definite places (though mobile to a degree), and offering us the actual words that the long-dead chose to use. There’s nothing like the feeling of finding a new inscription somewhere on a hillside in eastern Turkey, and trying to decipher the chipped, eroded letters.

Now that my maternal brain is the one that’s in the forefront, I spend my days mainly feeding, burping, changing and cooing over our baby, and that’s just lovely. But the archaeological brain never switches off – this afternoon my mum, me and the boy went out to a garden centre – and on the way drove through the landscape of south Cambridge. You can’t help but slide surreptitiously through the veneer of modern life, with the tarmac and the cars, the newbuilds and the enormous hospital, to find yourself in the layers of pre-now – is this lovely straight section of road part of the Roman road that cuts below the Iron Age hillfort hidden in the trees to the right? Beyond, the Fleam Dyke and the Devil’s Dyke cut sharp lines across the sunken fenland, miles of rough grass mound rich in bee-orchids and wildflowers, marking out ancient defences and allowing views down the Icknield Way. The houses that etch out village lives so far distant and unfamiliar to the commuters that occupy them now – merchants in saffron, farmers, Great North Eastern railway workers. The archaeological brain slips briefly into all these pockets of previous, accidentally almost, before refocusing on the road ahead.