So, today is another day of laboratory work for me. I work as a research associate in the BioArCh group at the Department of Archaeology, University of York. I am part of a large team of archaeologists working on the AHRC funded Feeding Stonehenge project, which is investigating the provisioning and consumption patterns of people who lived at Neolithic Durrington Walls – the settlement site associated with the construction of Stonehenge. My role in the project is to analyse the distinctive Grooved Ware pottery for food residues and to see if there were differences in the types of food products that were being consumed by different households, and to see whether certain animals were selected for feasting. I have already looked at over 300 individual pottery sherds, and today I’ll be analysing another 10-20. I’ll also be supervising undergraduate students who have recently started their dissertation projects, working on pottery from other archaeological sites. One student is carrying out work on modern reference pottery that has been used to cook and process marine animals. The results from these experimental studies can be used to help us interpret what we find in archaeological pottery. The day starts off by coming into the lab and switching on the kit in the fume hood – we have to heat the samples to 70 degrees so I have to do this first so it gets up to the right temperature. Then it’s time for the first coffee of the day….
So what’s all this ‘geophysics’ nonsense about, eh?
I went to a lecture by an archaeologist at the local university yesterday, and he said that the most important thing about archaeology is to have fun. And this applies to geophysics and, indeed, any career (except accounting, I would imagine). I became an archaeological geophysicist out of passion, interest and a genuine enjoyment out of the job. Each site always has something new and fascinating to learn, and the site I am currently looking at is no exception.
But before I can do anything… where did I put my bloody laptop cable? I misplaced the power cable to my laptop about a week ago, and I ran the battery flat last night (I am writing this from my desktop computer), so I am having difficulty processing the data I collected a few days ago!
No matter. Let me now waffle on for a while about my current area of focus. I am putting together a proposal for a geophysical survey of a nineteenth-century railway near Melbourne (Australia). A temporary (i.e. it lasted for almost four years) settlement for the railway workers was established alongside the railway, and there was even a cemetery which is known to have the burials of a number of infants in a paddock nearby. I have been asked to find the graves (no grave markers exist at the site now) and also to try and find the settlement (which is believed to have been just tents and timber houses for the most part. The settlement site is about 700 x 700 metres in dimensions, so is quite a large site. I have decided to propose a magnetic susceptibility survey, the results of which will allow a magnetometry survey to be narrowed-down (to reduce costs and time spent in the field). This research is being done simply out of interest, rather than as part of a commercial project, so funding is going to be scarce. But I am truly excited about this one!
So today I am talking with Heritage Victoria about the proposal and preparing the proposal itself to pass on to the client. In between doing that, and writing this blog post, I am also doing a bit of marketing (which is a daily habit) to keep up interest, and have been discussing the railway settlement site with the Hunter Geophysics ‘fans’ on Facebook. I feel that informing the public about my work is vitally important; it is, after all, their history that I am researching. Facebook is just one method of letting the public know what I am up to. I am also preparing a presentation for the upcoming Royal Historical Society’s meeting in Bendigo (country Victoria) about my recent work in another cemetery (most of my work is in cemeteries!) – I want to get at least half an hour of work done on that today, but half the trouble is finding the time. It might be a job for the weekend. Finally, this evening, I have a meeting with the Secretary of the local historical society – she has been a mentor since my high school years; it will be good to catch up with her.
Now, it’s the end of the day; time for a Parma at the pub. Oh, wait, damn; I’m not doing fieldwork today – no Parma for me.