This is my first blog post for the ‘Day of Archaeology’.
The focus of my research is the later Egyptian Prehistory, also known as the ‘Predynastic’, a period which covers approximately a millennium (the IV millennium BC) and during which the most fundamental features that characterise the ancient Egyptian civilisation developed: sophisticated funerary rituals, monumental architecture, craft specialisation, the first forms of administrative practices and economic centralisation.
Some areas which I have been trying to investigate through my ongoing research are:
- chronological and functional variability of settlements;
- how the process of state formation influenced the life of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley (i.e. how it is reflected in the material culture of settlements, rather than how this process affected the mortuary realm);
- dynamics of interaction between different cultural spheres extant in Egypt at this early stage.
The archaeological data which I have been using in my research especially concerns pottery and has been collected by me over the course of several study seasons I spent in Egypt in the past and in recent years.
Some pottery collections held at the Petrie Museum and the British Museum in London, as well as unpublished archival records and published reports, pertaining to pottery which is not available for visual inspection and analysis, have provided further valuable data.
Re-use of data produced by other researchers and the integration with data collected by myself, though necessary for having a base of data as large as possible, has been quite challenging at many points, because of the different terminological conventions and multiplicity of systems employed for the classification and recording of the Predynastic ceramic material. Thus, initially part of my work has consisted in tracking correspondences (or lack thereof) amongst terms and codes used in different systems for indicating ceramic wares or shapes. Here one of my first attempts towards ‘translating’ (also visually) the code of a specific ceramic category from one classification system to another one.
This integrated corpus of data has been the basis for conducting a series of quantitative and statistical analyses, aiming at identifying potentially significant patterns. In the ceramic assemblage of certain sites, several technological and morphological developments can be traced, for example appearance of new fabrics and the decline of others (see picture below); adoption of new ceramic shapes, etc. These developments seem to have a chronological meaning and, in some cases, reflect wider changes taking place within the society and economy in the course of the Late Predynastic, the period of state formation, in Egypt.
I learnt the analytical methods I have applied and how to use the software to perform such analyses as part of a specific training program I followed. The research project has been supported by a funding scheme (Marie Curie Actions) which specifically fosters advanced training and career development of researchers.
I feel so privileged for this exciting experience of research and training! Equally, I am grateful for the support I have received from my teachers, mentors and colleagues in the past and in more recent years!
Many happy returns … for this Day of Archaeology!
You can find out more about the project on this webpage.
Last year I quit my job in the city, moved back home, and made the decision to move back into archaeology. It was a very difficult decision to make as I had to give up the life I was used to in London, but I feel it was the right one. I’m very passionate about community archaeology, and I believe it is important for people to be aware of the landscape and history around them as this helps to increase the understanding of their heritage and identity. I also believe that so many skills can be gained through participation, both practical and personal.
When I first left my job I was so nervous I’d be unable to find any volunteer roles, and I’d be sitting around not working at all. How wrong I was! I’ve been very lucky to be involved in a range of amazing projects and the experience I’ve gained has been invaluable.
As my main interest is community archaeology I tried to focus on getting experience in that, both in how community archaeology works behind the scenes, and general experience of working with the public. I’ve been involved in a range of projects over the last few months. Rather than focus on one day, I’m going to give an overview of each of them, along with a link to their websites so you can find out more.
The first place I got involved in at the beginning of the year was the Portable Antiquities Scheme. My nearest branch is in Winchester, with the Winchester Museums Service. I had experience working with finds on excavations, but I rarely got to see anything other than pottery and animal bones, so the experience has been so important. The scheme is a funded project to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Most of the finds are bought in by metal detectorists, but not all. It has been really successful in encouraging good practice in finders and land owners, and many finds have been recorded on the database, including the location of where they were found. I am one of the many volunteers round the country who help to photograph and record these finds. I feel very fortunate to be able to handle these items, and learn more about them.
As well as recording items, I’ve also been on training courses during my time with the PAS. I’ve had a day course on Roman coins at the British Museum, and a really interesting session on Roman brooches, and the different types. The Portable Antiquities Website is: http://finds.org.uk
I then got involved at Stonehenge, signing up to be a Neolithic House Interpreter. I took all the training, and then the opportunity came up to work on building the houses too. It was a fantastic experience, as it really gave me insight into how these buildings could have been built originally and the range of materials available. It was great to look at the archaeological evidence from Durrington Walls, and really think about how these buildings were first built, and how they were used. I also really enjoyed daubing, using a mixture of chalk, water and straw to cover the walls, it’s very therapeutic! The houses were built under the guidance of the Ancient Technology Centre, more information can be found here – http://www.ancienttechnologycentre.co.uk
The volunteers have also received training on fire training (very important in a house made of wood and straw!), bread making, flint knapping, and clothing and organic materials. This is so beneficial and has really helped when speaking to visitors onsite.
As the houses only opened at the beginning of June, I’ve only done a few sessions as a house interpreter, but the knowledge gained on the building of the houses has really benefited. I feel I can really explain to the public about how the houses were created. I’m also very proud of the houses and the team that worked on them, they are beautiful structures. More information can be found on the Neolithic Houses blog – http://neolithichouses.wordpress.com
These are the two main projects I’ve been involved in, but I’ve also had the odd day here and there. I helped to survey the roof of Hampton Court Palace, which was a bit scary balancing on the wooden beams! I’ve also done some work with the East Oxford Project helping to sort finds from test pits, and attending a really interesting pottery weekend run by Paul Blinkhorn. I additionally spent a day in the Natural History Museum in Oxford moving small mammal skulls, and repacking them into more suitable containers!
So, although I’d absolutely love a proper paid secure job (it’s exhausting fitting in the babysitting and gardening!) I feel very privileged to be involved in all these projects, which is why I wanted to write about all of them. There is such a range of work going on around the country, and it’s very exciting.
Yesterday started a little later than usual as I returned at 11.30pm the previous night from a preview of the new archaeology gallery at Salisbury Museum. The new galleries are absolutely stunning – it was a privilege to be among the first to see them and to hear speeches from the HLF representative, the chairman and the director. Adrian, Jane, Stef and their colleagues have made a super-human effort to get the galleries finished and looking stunning.
As many of you know, I’ve been working since 2009 on the new Stonehenge visitor centre project. The new galleries at Salisbury are part of a museums partnership between that museum, Wiltshire Museum and Stonehenge (English Heritage) – all three venues have been working together to produce new galleries, telling different parts of the same story. And now all three are open, which is fantastic news. If you haven’t been to see any of these new displays – go, and go to all three!
On to yesterday then. In the morning I had an hour or so of working at home, catching up with e-mails and sorting out payment for one of my suppliers who has been making replica objects for our Neolithic houses at Stonehenge. A surprising amount of my time is taken up with such paperwork. I’m also reviewing the interviews that I took part in yesterday – we interviewed three exhibition design companies for a desperately needed new interpretation project at Tintagel Castle. That’s my project for the next year or so – a new exhibition and lots of new interpretation for the castle and island. Of the three companies two were very good, so I created a positives and negatives list for each, coming to my own conclusion about which one to appoint.
At 9.30am I left to drive to Stonehenge, to meet a party of 39 staff from the British Museum – curators, keepers and exhibitions staff. They have organised a team trip to Stonehenge, and I met them, showed them around the exhibition and Neolithic houses, and then left them to walk or take the land train down to Stonehenge.
Whilst they were doing that I went to work for an hour or so in the Stonehenge offices, catching up with a few colleagues, a few more e-mails and making a decision with my colleague Rob on the Tintagel designer – I’m really pleased with the company we’ve chosen so it should be an exciting few months ahead!
After lunch I head back to the visitor centre to give the British Museum staff a short background talk on the project. It was a real pleasure to meet colleagues from the museum, with similar visitor profile and issues with huge numbers, and show off the work we have done at Stonehenge. We have some interesting questions/ discussions at the end of the day, and had some wonderfully positive feedback – great to receive from such eminent colleagues! Here are some of their tweets from the visit:
— Helen Parkin (@crazymuseumlady) July 11, 2014
— Amy (@DeadSuccexy) July 11, 2014
— Dr Claire Harris (@patterns4living) July 11, 2014
That’s the end of the day for me – I clear up the education room and head back to Bristol for some post-work Friday beers.
Thanks DoA crew – as ever this year’s posts have been inspiring and educating!