Museum Archaeology Prep and a Bit of Gold Digging

Good morning from Berlin! We are finally getting a bit of sun….which we need given the Euro2012 match results last night (Glückwunsch an Spanien und Italien!). So — since my Day of Archaeology post last year, I’ve started a Marie Curie COFUND fellowship at Freie Universität Berlin, in association with the Dahlem Research School and TOPOI. My research project is entitled:  A Comparative Study of Scribal and Artistic Spaces in Early Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Integrating micro- and macro-scale analyses. More information can be found here and I am also keeping a blog on my progress. (In fact, in addition to posting here I really need to update said blog, but that will probably happen Monday now since today is already chock full!)

So here is a bit about what I am getting up to today. I am in the course of planning several museum research visits for this summer. I need to document 100 ancient art- and writing-bearing objects dating to the early period of graphical development (c.3200-c.2500 BCE) in both southern Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley. I am documenting and examining both portable objects (e.g. cylinder seals, impressed sealings, cuneiform tablets, labels) and fixed image-bearing surfaces (e.g. stelae, tomb relief, rock art), using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).

Inscribed tablet

Stone tablet with early writing incised into its surfact, University of Pennsylvania Museum, B16105

Although I am an Egyptologist first and foremost, I did dabble a bit in Near Eastern archaeology and languages (e.g. Akkadian) as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. With this project I am finally getting back to this side interest which is quite exciting. But it means coordinating museum research with both the Egyptian and Near Eastern curators and other staff at each museum. This morning my goal is to get my object list and research permission request sent off the the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology before lunch.

Dahlem Research School in der Hittorfstrasse

Dahlem Research School

This afternoon several other post-docs and I will be participating in a peer coaching session at the Dahlem Research School, with the help of a successful grant applicant, on drafts proposals for funding we’ve been preparing for a follow-on research projects. My COFUND fellowship is for 15 months, and in addition to completing a research project this year, I am tasked with bringing in funding for a follow project (Note: details for the next COFUND application should be posted soon at link above. Do consider applying!).

It’s great to be in a fellowship programme that is emphatically about training and career development. Many fellowships / post-docs focus resources on completing of a particular piece of research. Fair enough I suppose, but having more advice, time and support thrown in my direction to help ensure the next gig is lined up is great. The level of regular contact, mentoring and–yes–deadlines that the DRS provide both for achieving our short-term goals and hammering out a longer-term career plan and getting it funded is super valuable. I need to take even more advantage of this in fact.

Anyway, I’d best finish sorting out this museum object request list and reading my colleagues’ funding proposals for our peer review session.

Live dispatches from the Tooth Fairy

So, now you know. The Tooth Fairy is an archaeologist.

Archaeologists get everywhere. Like sand. This also applies to  jobs, so it’s not totally impossible that someone who specialises in the minute structures of teeth (see my previous post from DayofArch 2011) would end up in the overwhelmingly awesome Human Origins Research Group at the Natural History Museum, London.

Natural History Museum

For starters, this is an awesome place to work. Yesterday I found out that during WWII, the collections were evacuated to stately homes across the country to escape the Blitz… complete with associated researchers. And there’s a basement here that’s really a bomb shelter which was used by Churchill as a telephone exchange – part of the secret tunnels which run all under this area up to the Palace and War Rooms. Herman Hess apparently even spent a few nights in the Anthro Stores before his trial.

And today, on the Day of Archaeology, this particular Tooth Fairy is gearing up for more research than you can shake a stick at. In relation to the main project I work on at the NHM I’ve:

uwrapped my new camera toy;

eaten cake and discussed human origins/Euro2012; and

discovered a disturbing image mode setting on the new camera.

I’m also getting ready to go out to the field to look at the teeth of children who died in central Anatolia (Turkey) sometime between 10,500-8,500 years ago.  These are the remains of subadults from the amazing site of Aşıklı Höyük, the earliest settlement of the Anatolian Plateau.

I’ll be looking at the microscopic records of growth captured on every tooth–perikymata–to see how these children lived and grew. Like tree-rings, the lines on the outside of our teeth give a lot of information on how we grew (here‘s a more in-depth explanation). It’s a way to find out about health and development in early childhood at the very beginning of human settlement. Were there lots of growth disruptions? Can we see records of illness that might suggest seasonal diseases related to shifting subsistence patterns? That tell us about birth spacing?

I’m excited to find out. Even if I will totally get green dental impression material all over my nice new lab coat. It’s the price you pay for science!

Anyway, my days are pretty varied, but you can certainly keep up with me @brennawalks, or follow @ah_arkeoloji for more on Aşıklı Höyük.


N.B. All opinions etc. are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my benevolent employer. Images under creative commons fair use.