Marie Curie

Pots and stats! Moments in a day of a post-doctoral researcher

This is my first blog post for the ‘Day of Archaeology’.

I am going to write about some aspects of the research project which I have been working on for most of the last two years, at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, London, UK.

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.

Hk, Egypt / 2013 season: sorting pottery…

Some pottery collections held at the Petrie Museum and the British Museum in London, as well as unpublished archival records and published reports, pertaining to pottery which is not available for visual inspection and analysis, have provided further valuable data.

Potsherd analysis forms archive

Potsherd analysis forms archive

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.

Database setting_ceramic codes correspondences_form

Database setting: ceramic codes correspondence form

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.

Ceramic fabric variation across a stratigraphic sondage_Nekhen, Egypt

Ceramic fabric variation across a stratigraphic sondage (Nekhen, 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!

Grazia

You can find out more about the project on this webpage.

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.

Finding Neanderthals in France, article reviews, and conference planning.

My last post for the Day of Archaeology is a mix of writing about another Postdoc project I am hoping to work on (and the process of shaping your research career), as well as describing other typical activities that researchers get done over a day.

I spent most of today working on a Postdoc application with a deadline looming alarmingly close. I’ve been busy writing a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship application, which has to be submitted on 11th August.  This is basically a European-wide competition for a two year research position, where you must move outside your normal country of residence. It’s up to you to find a research team at a European lab, propose a project to them, and get the go-ahead to apply for the funding from the central European Commission for Research and Innovation, which for early career researchers is called ‘Marie Curie’ Actions after the renowned scientist. These brilliant fellowships are aimed at supporting young researchers by training them in new skills within different research communities, and helping Europe as a whole become a more vibrant competitive research community.

As I’ve discovered over the past few years, perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your research career (apart from publish, publish, publish!), is to get out and meet people. Go to conferences, talk to colleagues, attend workshops, and take the opportunity to network whenever it presents itself. All the projects I am currently involved in have happened this way, by meeting people outside of the Universities where I did my degrees.

With colleagues at the CAHO conference: Dr John McNabb, Dr Thora Moutsiou and Dr Nick Taylor

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