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.

Excavation & Skeletal Analysis

For many years I would be on my way to Egypt at this time of year, trying to figure out how to stretch the grant money to cover as much time in the field as possible. But this year I’m in my research lab at the university, working on the final stages of several projects.

As an archaeology student I discovered that I was mainly interested in the people themselves, rather than their garbage. So my specialization is in human skeletal remains (bioarchaeology). I’m particularly interested in how human skeletons reveal aspects of the interrelationships between culture, environment, and health. I have excavated ancient cemeteries in Egypt and Pakistan, and have studied human skeletal remains from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley Civilization, and from historic cemeteries of the Fur Trade Period in western Canada.

A 2,000 year old cemetery in Egypt.

Today I’m examining 2,000 year old human bones and teeth for evidence of fractures and various forms of disease.

Tuberculosis in the spine.

Usually there are one or two interesting or important discoveries made in the field, but often the significance of your work isn’t clear until you’ve had a chance to examine all of the finds and to determine where they fit in the big picture of the site, and of the ancient culture more broadly. That process usually takes years!

I also study the historic and prehistoric ways in which people dealt with their dead. With this research I don’t excavate, but instead I examine the above-ground and archival record of historic cemeteries in western Canada in order to assess the fit between archaeological interpretive models for prehistoric cemeteries and the documented evidence for burial practices.

If you’d like to learn more about my research, please check the website on my profile.

Tells of space and time….

I’ve always always loved learning and reading about the ancient world. It seems to me to be full of unsolved mysteries and puzzles, tantalizing enigmas about who-done-what and what happened where. Definitely by the time I got to University, I knew I really wasn’t even interested in anything else other than the distant past. I am currently researching for my dissertation in MSc in Web Science at the University of Southampton, and I’m looking at how to represent ambiguities in the spatial and temporal elements of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia.

red pen on line drawing of Code of Hammurabi (Old Babylonian)My path to this MSc has been long and winding. During my undergrad years at Birmingham University I focused on studying Mesopotamia and the cultures of the Early Bronze Age in the Near East. I learnt to read Sumerian cuneiform, as well as various dialects of Akkadian – I’d say that Sumerian and Old Babylonian remain my favourites, and in the course of my current research I’ve got the opportunity to again engage with these elements from my academic past.