collaboration

The many researchers of the GeoSatReSeArch Lab: high tech archaeology!

For the last year (and for the next three weeks), I have been working with a team of archaeologists and scientists from related disciplines at the Laboratory of Geophysical – Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment (GeoSatReSeArch Lab), at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, in Rethymno on Crete. The lab and the IMS are part of the Greek research foundation, FORTH. The IMS is the only FORTH centre which deals with the humanities and social sciences. The other Institutes based at Heraklion, Patras and Ioannina, cover the fields of computer science and the natural and biomedical sciences. The specific purpose of IMS is to support and invigorate research in the field of the human and social sciences, as well as to promote the application of advanced technologies in the field.

In that respect, the Lab conducts its own research,  but also participates in collaborations with the Ephorate (the Greek State Archaeology service), Universities, Foreign Schools and many others. A key aspect of our work is showcasing the potential of high-tech methodologies in archaeology, and we do a lot of teaching and outreach work alongside the frontline scientific research.

After a year working here, I thought it would be interesting to make my ‘Day of Archaeology’ post about the whole lab, not just me, to give you all an idea of the diversity of the work we do and the projects we are involved in.

Conducting Archaeological Geophysics:

Kelsey Lowe- PostDoc Researcher

Kelsey and her data

Kelsey and her data

“While fieldwork generally beckons most of us this time of year, or at least myself, I find that today I am sitting comfortably at my desk processing geophysical data from a Middle Bronze Age site in Cyprus. As part of my current position at IMS, having the chance to work along other Mediterranean experts has provided a very unique experience, especially in regards to archaeological and geophysical interpretation of Bronze Age landscapes. Oh look, what do we have here?!? Architecture! Happy Processing!”

Abir Jrad- PostDoc Researcher

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

Abir surveying, coring, and processing

“Hello, I am Abir, I am not an archaeologist, but a geophysicist who has the pleasure to work with archaeologists  searching for buried archaeological features using geophysical methods. Today I will continue the processing of the data acquired in the last field work on the archaeological site of Kenchreai, in Greece! We combined several geophysical methods to prospect the studied area. As usual the main method was the gradiometry with the Sensys instrument. The gradiometry and also the electromagnetic acquisition show an anomaly with high magnetic gradient intensity and also a high magnetic susceptibility. In the location of this potential archaeological anomaly, we did a hand coring, to collect samples on a vertical profile. The samples collected were analyzed using the Bartington susceptibility meter in the Lab, which allowed us to measure the magnetic susceptibility at different frequencies. The correlation between the field geophysical data and the laboratory analysis will allow me to realize a constraint modelling for the suspected anomaly!

Carmen Cuenca-Garcia – PostDoc Researcher

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

Figure 1: Carmen and her data!

“Hi there, this is Carmen reporting from her desk on Day A (see photo). Figure 1 above encapsulates today’s work, which is… more reporting. In this case, I am writing up the results of analyses of soil samples collected at several Neolithic tell-sites (or magoulas as they are called here in Greece). Before the soil sampling sampling, we surveyed the magoulas using a range of geophysical techniques during several fieldwork campaigns and got fantastic results. We analysed the soil samples using magnetic susceptibility and phosphate analysis, then we correlated the results with those from the geophysical surveys. This type of integrated analysis is extremely interesting and informative for archaeological prospection but it also involves lots of intense work: dealing with many and diverse types of datasets, stats, cross referencing many graphs, tables… which may be a wee bit tough to deal with when you are in a celebratory mood like today ☺ Such analysis also require lots of collaborative work and I particularly enjoy the enthusiastic chats I have with my colleague Abir Jrad, who is working with me on the correlations. Part A in Figure 1 shows a view of how you would find me if you pop into my office right now and part B is where I would rather like to be… outside, fieldworking and enjoying the anticipation of tasting the delicious and well-deserved Thessalian food after a days work on the top of a magoula!”

Teaching and Training Activities:

Kayt Armstrong (me!) – PostDoc researcher

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

Interns Valanto and Aggeliki testing their RTK GPS skills on the IMS roof terrace

“My day-to-day job at the lab is as the GIS officer for a project looking at the dynamics of settlement on Crete in the Early Byzantine period (roughly the 4th-9th centuries AD). Part of the goals of that project are to further the use of GIS, aerial prospection and other high-tech methodologies in Greece. As a result, I have two interns working with me at the moment, from the Archaeology programme at the University of Crete. They are making important contributions to the project, and in exchange learning database skills, GIS methods and how to survey using the latest RTK GPS equipment. Today they are testing some user manuals I have made for the team, so that the amazing high tech kit can continue to be used after I have left in August. My job isn’t just to bring in these skills to the project, but to train local archaeologists, students and researchers in them, so that they are taken up more widely in the profession. Pay it forward!”

Developing Prospection Methods and Equipment:

Apostolos Sarris- lab Director, Ian Moffat – Post Doc Researcher and Beatrice Giuzio- engineering student intern

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

Drift testing the EM kit (on the beach!)

“We  spent the day testing electromagnetic induction (EMI) instruments on the beach near Episkopi on the north coast of Crete.  EMI is a geophysical technique that is frequently used in archaeology to measure the conductivity and magnetic susceptibility of the soil to find archaeological sites and map the geology that contains them.  Despite the usefulness of this method, recent research has shown that EMI instruments are prone to drifting, that is that their data values change during the course of a day even when sitting in the same location.  To determine if this drift exists for the EMI instruments used at IMS we set them up near the beach and collected data continuously in the same location for 7 hours while monitoring changes in temperature.  This experiment showed two clear findings: 1) that the adjacent taverna has excellent seafood dishes, and 2) that the EMI instruments drift in ways that are not correlated to temperature change.  These findings suggest that much more research to understand drift is required, particularly when using EMI to map archaeological sites that are difficult to map with this method, such as those without extensive metal in the subsurface.”

Aerial Prospection and Photogrammetry:

Gianluca Cantoro- PostDoc Researcher

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

Gianluca processing images from a flight earlier in the day

“My name is Gianluca and I am an aerial archaeologist and photo-interpreter. My job consists in looking into photographic archives in search for aerial images where archaeological traces can be identified. In combination with historical photographs study, I also undertake aerial survey myself with Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS or simply drones) or ultralight high-wing aircraft (usually something like a Cessna 172) over specific areas.

In the photo, I’m just back from one of these archaeological aerial surveys and I am sorting the pictures I took during the flight. You can see a map with notes I had in the plane, my ideal flight path and areas of interests, my pilot-flight kneeboards and my camera.

Once images have been synchronized with the GPS logger (so that each photograph holds the GPS location in the EXIF tags), they are entered in a digital database and then photogrammetrically processed, to obtain orthophotos and 3D models of the photographed areas (or potential “unknown” archaeological sites). A part of my work at the IMS I have developed software to make these tasks easier, which is free to use and downloadable here. ”

Augmented and Virtual Reality for Cultural Heritage:

Lemonia Argyriou- software engineer

Testing the Augmented Reality application

Testing the Augmented Reality application

“Working in Rethymno, Crete during summer … it’s  burning hot outside (34 degrees) and I’m finalising an Augmented Reality android educational app for Cultural Heritage.

At least things have become easier the last years after the release of the Unity3D, an extremely powerful and easy to use game platform. By the use also of AR APIs (such as Vuforia or Meteo), text, images and also small objects can be tracked and allow the triggering and presentation of 3D models along with 3D text and voice-over explanations. This leads to a more informative and immersive experience that could easily enhance the level of quality and edutainment in cultural heritage education.

The application I’m working on at the moment is accompanied by a printed map of Crete, displaying aerial photos of the most attractive ancient monuments on the island. By using an android mobile device and hovering over the location of a monument on the map, the relevant 3D model of the monument appears on the screen and can be observed from any side simply by moving closer or tilting the device. There is also a UI that allows the user to listen to the historical information of the specific monument in their preferred language (Greek or English), learning about their story of preservation and their role in the past.

That’s all by now…the beach is calling me 🙂 Day Of(f) Archaeology!”

Nikos Papadopoulos Jr – software engineer

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

Screenshot from the kinect navigation of the model of Koule Castle

“Hello there,  and many greetings from Rethymno, Crete. Although the day is suitable for going to the beach, I’m working in the lab developing a cultural heritage virtual navigation application for Koule Castle (Iraklion, Crete) based on natural human interaction. The specific application can capture simple user gestures, like steady walking or torso rotation and lean, with the use of a Microsoft Kinect sensor. The gestures are used for navigating in the virtual space of Koules castle offering the user a more immersive cultural experience. All of this this happens thanks to the Unity3D game platform and of course lots of coffee (sorry…programming). Time for some raki now :-)”

And lots more besides:

Quite a few of the scientists at the lab didn’t have time to write something today, or were off elsewhere doing fieldwork or attending meetings and workshops. Other ongoing activities at the lab include using near-surface geophysics to monitor pollution, complex systems and agent based models for historical and archaeological research, GIS classifications of landscapes in terms of geomorphology, risk-mapping, shallow marine geophysics, processing algorithms for GPR data…. I could go on!

I’ve had an amazing year here in Rethymno. I have learned so much, and hopefully I have given something back and passed on some skills to colleagues and students here. I’ll be keeping in touch with the lab team via their facebook page, and I hope to come back to use the huge archive of geophysical data they hold here for a project I am cooking up with my old Dutch colleagues 🙂

As it starts to cool down (a bit), I am going to shut down my computer and head for home, where I will spend what is left of the evening pouring over the other Day of Archaeology posts from around the world, and being very thankful I get to work in such an amazing community.

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Kayt x

The power of making – or what it means to do archaeology through creative experimentation with media

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York Cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”). And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature Game. Buried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart Eve, Kerrie Hoffman, Colleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan, www.heritagejam.org


Archaeologists tossed on the tides of history

The Day of Archaeology this year found me once again working in an archive, far from a dig site — but this time for very different reasons, and with very different questions, than the same day last year. This time, I’m facing the consequences of a geopolitical shift that has left the site where I’ve been working, Chersonesos in Crimea, either in a new country (Russia, in the eyes of most Crimeans and the Russian Federation, and in practical terms) or in occupied territory (in the eyes of Ukraine and the UN). This change happened without violence or destruction in Crimea, and having seen through the eyes of archaeologist friends who work in Syria and Egypt how much worse it could be (see here and here and here, for starters), I’m grateful for that. Chersonesos is also still in good hands, and I’m still working with my collaborators at the National Preserve there on our publication projects. But I have had to come to terms with the reality that it will probably be a very long time before I can go back to the site where I spent most of my summers between 2002 and 2011.

This had naturally led me to think about historical context again: but this time, not archaeology in the historical context of its development as a discipline, but archaeologists in the historical context of recent political history. Most of us are primarily interested in unwrapping the stories of the more distant human past, and it’s tempting to push the modern political context into the background — if not in our daily practice, then at least in our publications. There’s a stark contrast, for example, between the matter-of-fact archaeological publications from Europe of excavations carried out in the 1930s and 1940s and the realities on the ground for archaeologists themselves during that period. In some cases, archaeologists took it on themselves to play an active role in conflicts, as Susan Heuck Allen has recently described in her book Classical Spies, on archaeologists and classicists working with the OSS during WWII in Greece. In other cases, archaeologists were simply at the mercy of the political agendas or military conflicts that took place around them. Some survived and flourished in later, calmer times; some saw their careers disappear; and some disappeared themselves.

For this Day of Archaeology, then, I thought I’d write about archaeology in Crimea at another moment of political tension. I spent the morning of July 11th in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, looking at correspondence related to the activities of a Russian emigré scholar named Eugene Golomshtok. I was looking at Golomshtok because I’ve been working (much, much too slowly) on a book project with another Russian emigré scholar, Aleksandr Leskov, at the core of which is the publication of material from a joint US-Soviet archaeological expedition to Eski-Kermen that Golomshtok co-directed in the summer of 1933. Dr. Leskov has written up the excavation, materials from which were divided between Penn and St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), and which for various reasons was never published. He has also produced chapters on the early history of the Crimean Scythians and the Taurians, and the project is waiting for me to cover the interactions between these populations and the early Greek colonists in southwest Crimea.

A scene from the joint excavations carried out by Eugene Golomshtok and N. Repnikov at Eski Kermen in the summer of 1933. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A scene from the joint excavations carried out by Eugene Golomshtok and N. Repnikov at Eski Kermen in the summer of 1933. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

As I approached this project, though, I started to be curious about the modern context as well. How did this US-Soviet collaboration — which mirrored in some ways the US-Ukrainian collaboration between the Institute of Classical Archaeology and the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos — come about? How were those relationships managed at a time of great political tension? And was there any awareness on the part of the US side of the political and historical circumstances under which it took place? 1933, after all, saw not only the run-up to Stalin’s Great Terror, but the final peak of a catastrophic famine — the Holodomor, to Ukrainians — that killed between 2.4 and 7.5 million people in the territory of the Ukrainian SSR. Though it was hard to get reliable news from the Soviet propaganda machine, there had in fact been a very public argument about the presence of a famine in the spring of 1933 between New York Times writer Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones, an aid to David Lloyd George in the UK, who had taken an unauthorized walking tour of the USSR in early 1933 and made a series of statements about the dire nature of the situation to the press.

I had been hoping to find in Golomshtok’s letters in the archives some direct acknowledgement of the famine or of the broader political circumstances surrounding the Crimean expedition in 1933. I didn’t. The closest he ever came to mentioning the famine is the inclusion of a reference to “the food problem” in a letter about the organization of the project. But there’s still a very interesting story here, one that touches on both the history of archaeology in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the history of the development of prehistoric archaeology — as well as on the rather sad history of Dr. Golomshtok, who emigrated to the US in 1918 at the age of 20, clearly in the wake of the Revolution, and despite a number of publications on both Native American archaeology and the Paleolithic in Southern Russia and Siberia, never managed to find a stable academic position. He was affiliated with the Penn Museum from 1930 to around 1937, but the refusal of the USSR to issue him a visa in 1934 and thereafter clearly made him less of an asset, and the correspondence with the Museum grows increasingly frosty in the late 1930s and early 1940s, especially after the retirement of director Horace Jayne, who had supported him. As far as I can tell, Golomshtok did not publish any more scientific work after the early 40s, and he seems to have died in 1950 at the age of 52.

A view of Cherkez-Kermen from Eski Kermen, looking toward Sevastopol. This could be the picture Repnikov mentioned in his discussion of Golomshtok in his excavation report. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A view of Cherkez-Kermen from Eski Kermen, looking toward Sevastopol. This could be the picture Repnikov mentioned in his discussion of Golomshtok in his excavation report. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

Where the meat of this story lies, I think, is in the circumstances that led to the initiation of the project in the first place, in the way the excavation unfolded, and in the denial of Golomshtok’s visa in 1934. The first issue has to do with the reframing of prehistoric archaeology in the US and the USSR in the 1930s, and with a massive increase of interest in the Paleolithic and the migrations of human populations. Golomshtok’s own research seems to have been focused on the very early peoples of Siberia and the Americas, and in fact he originally intended to participate in a Paleolithic excavation in Siberia, not an Iron Age and medieval excavation in Crimea. The second and third issues have to do with the political situation in the Soviet Union in 1933 — and here’s where archaeology and politics intersect again. Golomshtok’s report on the excavation suggests that he and Repnikov did not get along: he didn’t think that Repnikov was a good archaeologist. The unexpected denial of Golomshtok’s visa to return to the USSR in the summer of 1934 for a rescue-excavation project at Manych in the Caucasus was the object of much speculation and negotiation on the part of Penn and Golomshtok himself over the next two years. But two hints can be found in Golomshtok’s letters: one, Repnikov seems to have filed a report on the excavation in which he accused Golomshtok of taking photos of the “fortifications of Sevastopol” from the top of Eski Kermen; and two, Golomshtok suggests in a telegram that he’d been denied entry so that he couldn’t comment on the disappearance of many of the people he’d worked with at the various institutes of archaeology. The purges had begun.

A telegram sent to the Penn Museum from Golomshtok in the summer of 1934, after he leaned his visa had been denied. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A telegram sent to the Penn Museum from Golomshtok in the summer of 1934, after he leaned his visa had been denied. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

All of this is a reminder that archaeologists don’t work in a realm of ideas and abstraction: we work in the real world, and are subject to the larger movements of history. The acts of discovery and of telling stories about the past are of fundamental importance in archaeology, but we shouldn’t forget that we tell those stories in the context of our own. The juxtaposition of the banal and the dramatic in these archives is a striking demonstration of this. In between the dry excavation budgets, publication agreements, and disputes over the shipping of books exchanged between Penn and partners in the USSR in this archive is the story of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Most of us hope to live in less interesting times, but as my colleagues and I were forcibly reminded by the change in Crimea’s status, it’s not usually up to us.

Reflections of a New Lecturer on the Day of Archaeology 2013

Collaborative video about my Heritage Practice module and BA Heritage Studies students at York

Collaborative video about our Heritage Practice module and BA Heritage Studies students at York

I’ve participated in the Day of Archaeology since its initiation two years ago, when my post (also see my 2012 post here) coincided very closely with my appointment at the University of York (UK). I have often struggled to summarise my day-to-day professional activities because, as I’ve discussed before, they are diverse and not evidently recognisable as the stereotype of ‘archaeology’. I adore my work because of such diversity—it is always different, it is of-the-moment, it is linked to so many exciting people (curators, designers, IT experts, archaeologists and heritage officers, media specialists, journalists, etc.), it is incredibly public, and hence it comes with a deep feeling of being engaged in something that truly impacts upon other individuals. Our great Cultural Heritage Management and Digital Heritage students have themselves been very successful in progressing to jobs with a comparable degree of variety and influence.

But the struggle to encapsulate my work has only intensified as my career has developed, owing to the fact that academia pulls you into so many administrative roles that push far beyond one’s expert interests. As a result, my days often entail (among other things) hours of email-writing and phone calls, organising courses and modules and reading lists and guest speakers, coordinating rooms and equipment and related specialist infrastructure, negotiating opportunities and insurance and accommodations and tools for the teams that I supervise, and reading drafts of others’ research.

It has been brokering this explosion in duties that I have found an especially difficult aspect of academic life, because it tends to pull you away from the very thing that is most inspiring to you—and, indeed, the thing that you are actually recognised in the wider world for: your own research. Some aspects of the job help to reinforce or elaborate your research, including preparing for teaching, in that they demand that you scour the literature and critically interrogate the emerging scholarship. But other aspects seem a million miles away from study and discovery and analysis and the other energising components of the research process.

These points have been on my mind lately as I take advantage of the couple of months of the year outside of the term-time calendar when I have more freedom to invest in my own research endeavours. I leave for Çatalhöyük next week with my great team from York, Southampton and Ege University in Turkey; our Gender & Digital Culture project is really starting to blossom (we were featured on Wednesday on the London School of Economics’ Impact blog!); I have a couple of articles and chapters now in press, and two grant applications out for review; and I’m coordinating some new projects/events for the upcoming year. But much of this work has only come together with substantial support from others: colleagues, research assistants, friends, etc.

My greatest learning experience of 2012-2013, then, has surely been in navigating this collaborative form of practice, because it has necessitated a complete shift in my intellectual mindset. As a student, I was trained to work independently—a not uncommon predicament for humanists. I would do my own study, analyse my own data, and write up my own work. However, as I’ve developed as a scholar, it’s become clear that not only is such an approach actually impossible for me now, but it was also a questionable way to have been educated in the first place. It’s questionable both because professional life demands that one be adept at collaboration, and because the best ideas and scholarship come about through learning with and from others who see the world in different ways.

The whole nature of how I intellectualise has had to change in order to accommodate this collaborative shift—and it has been a real and profound challenge for me. I’m having to teach myself how to relinquish control to others. I’m having to recognise that I can no longer do everything on my own and that I have to trust others to carry projects forward in my absence and help me. I’m having to learn to be comfortable with the fact that sometimes my role is now purely one of project manager, but that even here I can make a difference. Such a change in perspective has also meaningfully impacted on how I teach others, because I am concerned to ensure that my students don’t get educated in a vacuum, expecting that scholarly life will or should be an isolated activity. From my experience, nothing is more misconceived than the trope of the academic as a solitary figure. You are constantly surrounded by people—whether physically or metaphorically—who need things from you and vice versa. It’s a disservice to perpetuate the notion that independent, single-authored research is the paragon of scholarship, not least because even when such research is published, it always comes about through engagement with others. It’s also a disservice to budding academics to insinuate to them that such a model of practice is even plausible, because what results is real disconcertion when everyday reality—the multitasking and administrative load, etc.—proves it impossible and your whole epistemological outlook on research then is forced to change.

On this Day of Archaeology, when I’m preparing to take my team out for fieldwork next week, and working with my colleagues on multiple other projects, I’m very reflective about its collaborative essence. Collaboration is what sums up my activities today, and it’s what now characterises me as a scholar. And, honestly, I can’t imagine good research coming about in any other fashion.

Dr Sara Perry, Director of Studies, Digital Heritage, University of York

Behind the scenes at Current Publishing

Hello from Chiswick in West London, where the sun has finally come out and it’s all systems go in the Current Publishing office.

My name’s Carly – I’m the Editorial Assistant for Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology, and as it’s the Day of Archaeology today I thought I’d take you behind the scenes to see how the magazines are put together.

Friday is treats day at Current Publishing, and today the morning got off to a very promising start with advertising maestro Mike earning literal brownie points by bringing in some baked goodies for us to share. We’re always excited when cake arrives in the office, and with one team birthday yesterday and two more imminent, there’s a lot of it about.

Right now we’re slap-bang in the middle of the press cycle. Our sister magazine Military History Monthly was sent to the printers yesterday, so today the full might of the design team has switched over to CWA, which is the next to go (in July).

Designer Justine is currently working her magic on the culture section, making our museum and book reviews look fabulous, while Art Editor Mark is experimenting with options for the next cover. At the moment we have 10 separate designs stuck up on the wall, which certainly brightens things up a bit!

CWA Editor Caitlin is putting the finishing touches to the last couple of features that are going into the next issue (#54), giving them a last polish before they are signed off as ‘ready to lay out’, while CA Editor Matt is out in the field, visiting an excavation at Oakington in Cambridgeshire where some seriously spectacular Anglo-Saxon burials are being uncovered. We covered the site in CA 261, and it’s fantastic to see that there are more stories to reveal. Watch this space for more information in CA 270!

Meanwhile, our boss Rob is tinkering with the ‘Flatplan’, doing clever things to the system we use to plan the layout of each issue, track the progress of articles and generally organise our lives, and our intern Roseanna is lending a hand with the news section, hunting for breaking stories all over the world. We’re always grateful for another pair of hands in the office, and it’s such fun sharing what media archaeology is all about with people who are as passionate about the past as we are.

This is the great thing about working at Current Publishing – we’re a small team but everyone has a unique and important role to play, and every day is different. Although I work for both magazines, because of where we’re at in the schedule I’ve been mostly focussing on CWA today. It’s great fun jumping between UK and international stories.

This morning I finished a two-page article about a site in Peru and wrote a fact box about Phrygians for a feature on Turkey, while this afternoon I’ve been sourcing pictures and turning around a breaking news story about World Heritage Sites for the CWA website.

Much like digging, you never know quite what each day is going to bring – but that’s what makes it so exciting.


Find out more – you can find Current Archaeology on Facebook here, or follow us on Twitter at @currentarchaeo.

Current World Archaeology’s Facebook page is here, and we tweet as @worldarchaeo. 

A Highland view from Edinburgh

Like a number of other archaeologists, I haven’t been working within archaeology for a some months now. I was fortunate that following finishing my degree studies, I was working continuously – in some form or another – right up until Christmas last year. Since then I’ve been seeking gainful employment outside the archaeological world always with the hope of getting back into it. Jobs have been applied for, interviews taken, rejections accepted… Still, I’m a determined individual and accept that while it may take some time, I will be employed within archaeology again. I believe that with enough time, effort and blind faith, my determination will pay off. Though it may worth asking me in a year’s time if I still see this the same way…

So, this ‘day in the life of’ will be slightly different as I’m not – strictly speaking – an archaeologist, merely someone who wishes to be one (again). I live in Edinburgh, Scotland and in many respects it is a fantastic place to be situated as an archaeologist. There is an abundance of commercial units, government agencies and fantastic museums all of which provide great opportunities and resources for interested parties of all kinds – whether students, professionals or others. Indeed, it’s these ‘others’ that I’m interested in as an archaeologist. I see archaeology as a discipline breaking down into 3 basic (and, yes, exceptionally generalised) categories: academic, commercial and public. Now, I don’t really agree that there should be a separate branch of archaeology called ‘public’. I think that all archaeology should be public. This is an attitude that not everyone agrees with and an attitude that is very difficult to fulfil within the commercial and academic sectors. Happily, however, the importance of public archaeology is increasingly being realised and evermore funding and resources being given towards it. For anyone reading not immediately familiar with what ‘public archaeology’ means, it is a democratic approach to studying our past: ensuring the transparency, accessibility and opening up of archaeology to everyone. Community involvement and support is absolutely critical to this.

My own interest stemmed partly from what I was learning at university and my frustrations with hitting a brick wall of grey literature at seemingly every turn, and partly the fieldwork I undertook as part of my degree studies. I consciously chose sites that were varied, working with a wide variety of individuals and an equally as wide variety of subject matters. While I didn’t realise it at the time, my interests were drawn towards projects where there was a degree of community involvement and within cultural landscapes with which I identified (silly me thinking it’d be just the archaeology drawing me to a place!). These landscapes are the Scottish Highlands, or more specifically the Gaidhealtachd – the Gaelic-speaking Highlands. As a native Gaelic-speaker myself and having been brought up in the Highlands perhaps somewhat inevitably a significant part of my fieldwork experience has been in this area.

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