Digging in the Lebanon

My name is Pippa Pearce and I am a British Museum conservator on a dig in the Lebanon run jointly by the BM and Lebanese archaeologists. I have been taking pictures all day to record Archaeology day here but my internet connection is dodgy. I will try and upload them when I can.

The site is Sidon in modern day Saida. The dig director is Claude Doumet Serhal and the on site representative from the British Museum is Sarah Collins. The dig has funding from a number of interested institutions & individuals, many of them based in the Lebanon.

Digging on the Web

On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy preparing to head off to the field (in sunny Tuscany (!!)), square away some data, and finish work on some tech consulting.  That last bit is a clue that I’m not really a “normal archaeologist”. Actually, I’ve never met an archaeologist that I’d consider normal –  which is what attracted me to this field in first place. But even among archaeologists, I’m something of an odd-ball.

I have a background in Near Eastern archaeology, and did my dissertation research looking at interactions between Egypt and the Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Lebanon) in the Early Bronze Age. But for various reasons, both personal and professional, I shifted gears toward the digital side of archaeology, co-founded a nonprofit with my wife (and boss!), and for the past 10 years, I’ve loved almost every minute of my work day. Except writing grant proposals (but there are some necessary evils in all work).

My research and professional interests focus on archaeological data, and much less on digging and field work for myself. This focus means I have a very different professional network, set of collaborators, and work life. Though I work closely with other archaeological professionals, I’m also heavily engaged with folks well outside the discipline, including Web and information scientists, digital librarians and archivists, technology companies, “digital humanists”, and researchers in scholarly communications.

I keep such odd company because I’m really interested in improving the way archaeologists communicate and share their research. Archaeology is intensely multidisciplinary and collaborative. It involves inputs from all sorts of different sciences, and many archaeologists work together in large teams. Sharing the results of all this research needs to reflect the collaborative nature of the field, and it needs to speak with people in other disciplines and walks of life. That’s why I’m so interested in making it archaeological data more open, easier to share, and easier to reuse.

My primary project is Open Context. It’s a system for publishing archaeological data, openly, on the Web, for all to browse and reuse. On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy indexing tens of thousands of detailed records of archaeological contexts, objects, bones, and other material from Kenan Tepe, a major excavation in Turkey led by Bradley Parker. This collection represents the monumental effort of almost 10 years of field work. You can browse around its photo archives and see many thousands of pictures, mainly of dirt. Though it is free to access and use, the data are priceless. Excavation is a destructive process, and the documentation describing such excavations will be the only record available to revisit and re-analyze excavation results. That’s why comprehensive publishing with platforms like Open Context, as well as archiving with digital repositories like tDAR, the ADS, or the CDL is so important.

As this blog post should make clear, I love working with the Web. And what I like most about it is that I work with a growing and vibrant community of like minded people who want to see more from archaeology than costly journal articles read by a narrow few. The developers of ARK, Portable Antiquities, all the collaborators of Pelagios, and the bottom-up group linking archaeological data, are all hugely talented and make my work life rewarding and fun. All this makes archaeology (for me) as much about community and the future as it is about the past.

Databases and Materials

Back from library, 9 journals in hand. Spent far too much time trying to figure out how to link my Mac to the photocopier so that I can send scans from it back to myself. More and more I find that I do not like paper copies of articles. I much prefer digital versions that I can then edit using PDFExpert on my iPad. This allows me to export all my notes and highlights separately (with page numbers attached), and paste it them into Endnote.

More tedious emails to deal with, and must photocopy and submit those PhD forms!

Computers now all updated, so that this weekend and next week I can really get cracking finalising the data in my database. Then I can start playing with the numbers, looking for patterns and correlations. If I were better with spreadsheets, this would be more fun—as it stands I need to find someone who IS good at it to help. The goal is data-driven research, rather than strictly being hypothesis-driven. I don’t want to miss any possibly important patterns by focussing on pre-conceptions… more can be found on my usual blog ancientegyptiancobras.blogspot.co.uk/. The next few weeks will be really hectic—I have an apprentice to help map the findspots (there over 700 fragments to deal with) and input the data on the replicas we made.

grins, here is some artwork I made for a ‘research as art’ competition held here at Swansea University. It didn’t win, but I think it encapsulates what I am working on …

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient Egytian Clay Cobra figurines 

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient EgypPan Clay Cobra figurines

“Who am I? Broken now in pieces, a fragment of ancient Egyptian religion, ritual and magic.
Who shaped my serpent form from soft clay found at the banks of the Nile, so long ago? I was passed through and transformed by the element of fire…
I spit fire and flame, illuminating the darkness, a conflagration invoked against demons that trouble the night. Imbued with the power of the fiery goddess, the Egyptians worshipped me, in the Delta, across the Mediterranean Coast from Libya to Lebanon, they chose me to take on their travels. Today you wonder: Who made me? Who prayed to me? Whose fears did I soothe? How many demons did I destroy? How many lives did I touch? Who broke me? And why …”
These figurines provide clues to how the Ancient Egyptians coped with the vicissitudes of daily life, in many ways not so very different from ours.


Now, off to another university meeting—this one on e-learning.

A day of archaeology: a PhD student’s perspective

I don’t know if I have a typical day as an archaeologist. I am not sure if there is any such thing in the world of archaeology! I am a PhD student, working on the phytolith analysis of several Early Bronze Age sites in the Near East (Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq). I am also the mother of an almost two year old, and I do some freelance work (editing and phytolith analysis) to earn a little extra money.

So, a ‘typical day’ means first getting my daughter ready so that my mum can pick her up and take her out for the day. (Thank God for mothers!) Then I have a few precious hours to research, analyse, write, procrastinate, clean the flat, etc etc. Right now, I am working on a report for a pilot phytolith study for a Bronze Age site in Sardinia. We weren’t sure if there would be any phytoliths preserved in the sediments, so we decided to start with five samples. Fortunately, there are a lot of phytoliths, both single cells and mulitcells, which should give some good palaeoecological information on the site. I have counted the phytoliths on the five slides, so today I will be analysing the results to see if there are any trends between the phytolith morphotypes and contexts. After compiling some statistics and pretty graphs, I will write up a short report to send to the director of the site. Hopefully, this will encourage her to send me the rest of the samples.

Then it’s quality time with my daughter, followed by dinner and bedtime (for her!). The quiet hours that follow will be dedicated to my PhD — my nose will be buried in some article or other, or I will be looking down my microscope to study more pretty bits of silica.