Freie Universität Berlin

Space and identity research in Berlin

Topoi House Dahlem

Topoi Haus Dahlem. Photo: Bernd Wannenmacher / FU.

I am a lecturer in Roman Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, but today I’m in the midst of a short research visit to the Topoi Excellence Cluster at Freie Universität Berlin. Topoi is a large research cluster dedicated to the study of space and knowledge in antiquity, and has a full programme of workshops and meetings which bring together researchers from many disciplines and institutions. I’m here as a Senior Fellow for a month, working with Dr Kerstin Hofmann and colleagues in the key topic group ‘Identities: space and knowledge related identification’. In addition to getting on with my own research on Roman Britain, it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss various issues in the archaeology of identity with scholars based here. While there are many points of contact, there are also of course differences in the traditions of study into past identity in the UK/US and Germany, and it’s really interesting to learn more about these. So today is mainly a mix of research and discussion in the Topoi House in Dahlem, as well as keeping in touch with my postgraduate students in London. I should also say that it’s quite exciting to be in Germany when the national team is doing rather well in a certain global sports tournament!

Rescue Archaeology in Egypt and Digital Image Analysis

I kicked the day off here in TOPOI Haus, Freie Universität Berlin, with further preparations for a planned joint rescue archaeology mission in Aswan, Egypt, early next year. Egypt has been facing very challenging times and while thdeske looting of Egypt’s cultural heritage is horrific, it pales in comparison to the economic hardship and other woes people are enduring in their-to-day lives up and down the Nile Valley. So while in the short term, planning future fieldwork is filled with uncertainty, I am pressing forward in the hopes that things will improve. My heart goes out to my Egyptian colleagues and friends today especially, with more rival rallies being held and resolution seeming rather far off.

This afternoon I shifted gears and continued with analysis of Reflectance Transformation Imaging data. I am finishing up some loose ends from my Marie Curie COFUND fellowship project on inscribed and decorated objects from early Egypt and Southern Mesopotamia. I am re-processing some images to see if I can improve the visualisation of surfaces with self-shadowing problems and preparing digital illustrations of others.

In tandem with this work, I am annotating my processing and digital epigraphy workflows in a training document in preparation for an RTI training workshop I am organising for TOPOI affiliates (similar to the fantastic training Cultural Heritage Imaging ran for us last year). I also had a couple of phone and email exchanges with folks from the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCeH). They are interested in following up a digital imaging workshop I co-delivered a few weeks ago with a project applying RTI to lead curse tablets in various collections around the world – an exciting prospect!


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.