SIM cards, Skeletons, and Celebrations: Our Transylvanian Day of Archaeology

To celebrate the 2014 Day of Archaeology, Transylvania Bioarchaeology (a non-profit community interest company), had quite a lively day with both summer field projects. Our Day of Archaeology also reminded us that when trying to run archaeological field schools, a lot of what we do isn’t archaeology!

Our Jucu necropolis excavation started bright and early…well, not so bright as the torrential [trench-ial] rain dampened the clothes, but not spirits, of our brave excavation crew, led by Assistant Project Director Katie Hunt, as they left for the train station at 7am. Nick Ogden, Field Assistant and chauffeur extraordinaire, carted a lucky few in the dig car at 7.30 and looked for comical license plates away from the downpour.

Our illustrious Project Directors (Dr. Katie Tucker and Dr. Ioan Stanciu (and his Macedonian friend who we eventually discovered is called Sote) started their day with a trip to the local bus station, where they were directed from window to window and then finally up some stairs and down a corridor, to book some buses for our weekend field trips to a salt mine and a Roman frontier camp.

Meanwhile in the well churned earth of the site, duckboards were liberated from the kindly solar farm owner’s stash, to prevent the earth from swallowing the students and creating more excavation opportunities for the following season. Work continued to draw the plan of skeleton number 4 under a well duct taped covering whilst other students continued to excavate skeletons neck deep in mud, the students that is.


Katie and Dr. Stanciu’s day continued with a trip to the shopping mall in order to unlock Katie’s Romanian mobile, which had been turned off the previous night after repeated prank calls by a random Romanian bloke, only to discover this morning that the piece of paper with the unlocking code had been very successfully tidied away by the owners of the Pension we are all staying in. They arrived to find that the mobile phone shop wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes, so beat a hasty retreat to Starbucks to wait with a coffee. Phone successfully unlocked, they could finally make their way to site, and after battling against Cluj traffic and the less than perfect directions of Dr. Stanciu, they arrived, just in time to see the clouds part and allow the extraction of skeleton number 4 from his eternal resting place.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Katie and Dr. Stanciu (and Sote) discussed (in a combination of Romanian, German and English) the complicated ins and outs of the next few seasons of the project, while lifting of the skeleton from its concrete-like grave fill could begin. This took a team of six of us about two hours, while Nick had to start ferrying the rest of the site crew back to the train station for our normal Friday half working day trip home. Nick then sat in the car waiting for the rest of us to finish, so we could all go back to the Pension. The drive back included a stop at a petrol station to buy a week’s worth of road tax, only to be told that we didn’t need it because our car still had temporary number plates, swiftly followed by an ominous snapping noise from the suspension. Nick’s driving became somewhat more cautious for the rest of the journey but the car did its job and got us back to the Pension.


In the museum this morning we started out with a lively discussion about the Osteological Paradox. The students grappled with the conceptual issues brought up in the article and we all enjoyed the thoughts and points brought up by everyone.  After our discussion group had finished, all of the students donned their lab coats and excitedly entered the lab for another day full of accomplishment and frustration. Our five fragmented skeletons have proven to be a fantastic learning experience as well as an intellectual challenge to all of the students in the lab. Interesting pathologies as well as difficult fragment identification has made this session’s individuals a challenge to everyone who comes through. Kori Filipek-Ogden, Program Director, went over sex and age estimations with two of our groups, and Kayla Crowder our Museum Assistant Director helped with the stature estimation and equations for another one of our individuals.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

During our lunch hour we have the pleasure of experiencing many different food options that include local restaurants, food stands, a variety of pastry shops and gelato stalls. Once everyone had their fill of amazing food and drink we went back up to the lab to start the second half of our day.

students studying non-metric traits.

students studying non-metric traits.

Meanwhile at the Pension, Nick and Katie Hunt discover that one of our ill excavation students had taken a turn for the worse and decide to take her to the hospital for treatment. After waiting for four hours they were finally able to see a doctor and get her on the track to recovery.

Back at the museum we were joined by Jucu Project Director Katie Tucker and one brave excavation student who was ready and willing to wash and separate some stubborn vertebrae that had been excavated from Jucu earlier in the season.


Katie Tucker and Kori went around the lab to assess the possible differential diagnoses for our many unique pathologies on our individuals. After a long and cloudy day in the lab, the students packed up and headed back to the Pension while Kori, Katie, and Kayla made their way to the cake shop to pick up a special birthday surprise cake for one of the excavation students. After retrieving the cake the cheerful trio started home but got caught in a rain shower with no taxis in sight. Immediately after phoning Nick for a lift, as fate would have, it they found a taxi to take them back.

They got back to the Pension only to discover that the birthday girl, as well as 90% of the remaining students had gone to the mall. When they eventually returned we were able to finally eat the delicious cake, celebrate a great birthday and reflect upon our Day of Archaeology.

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Students in archaeology

Me giving the closing address for the 2nd ASA conference (Image Copyright: Heidi Babos)

Me giving the closing address for the 2nd ASA conference (Image Copyright: Heidi Babos)

Hello, I am David Altoft, currently an MSc Bioarchaeology student at the University of York. My contribution to the Day of Archaeology last year was titled ‘Anyone can be an archaeologist!’ ( The opening paragraph summarised well my belief that archaeology needs to be more permeable to participation and sharing of ideas from an integrated audience of different demographics.

The ‘demographic’ I belong to is archaeology students. Last year I reported on the development of the student-run archaeology journal, The Post Hole (, and the Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) conference series (, that I was Editor-in-Chief and founder of, respectively, in 2012-13. These two initiatives offer archaeology students an unprecedented opportunity to share their innovative research and original ideas in two accessible and increasingly respected platforms.

The Post Hole has been shortlisted for the biennial British Archaeological Award ( for the Best Public Presentation of Archaeology and I will attend the awards ceremony at the British Museum with Emily Taylor and Rianca Vogels, the 2013-14 Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, on Monday to find out whether or not The Post Hole has won. I will be delighted even if it doesn’t win, because by being shortlisted, The Post Hole has been given recognition for the positive impact it has made for opening the discipline of archaeology and proving that students can be as responsible as any other demographic for the production of great archaeology.

Annual Student Archaeology conference
The Annual Student Archaeology conference has made huge strides since last year. Following the 1st ASA conference I co-organised with other students at the University of York, I established the ASA National Committee which comprises of student representatives, currently from the Universities of Bournemouth, Cambridge, Durham, Southampton, and me at York. Together we have promoted the conference series to fellow students at our respective universities and discussed the future overall direction of ASA. In January this year we received bids from groups of students at four universities in the UK to host the 2nd ASA conference and we selected the University of Reading as the Organising Committee responsible for this challenge.

The 2nd ASA conference was held at the Department of Archaeology in Reading on 19-20 June and attracted undergraduates and postgraduates from not only across the UK, but also from other countries: Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Poland and Switzerland! This has reinforced my growing realisation that an ‘integrated archaeology’ is permeable across borders as well as demographics. ASA helps break down this geographic barrier to student participation in archaeology by issuing a call for posters to those who cannot attend the conferences in the UK, and this year’s Organising Committee received poster abstracts from students in Nigeria, South Africa and the United States, amongst other countries.

ASA2 delegates networking with the IfA

ASA2 delegates networking with the IfA

ASA2 delegates networking with the Royal Archaeological Institute

ASA2 delegates networking with the Royal Archaeological Institute

The third main barrier ASA is trying to remove for student participation in archaeology conferences is thematic and practical specialisation. Archaeology is perhaps the most diverse discipline there is, as it is essentially the anything, everything and anytime study of the past. Understandably, conferences require having a scope, though many students may be unsure which one to approach to present their own work. ASA tries to be the opposite of most conferences and so the Organising Committee has the task each year of selecting the best papers from students across the discipline and then defining the sessions from those. It is difficult accommodating different fields of research and being engaging to all delegates of the ASA conferences, though I think the team at Reading achieved that balance by splitting the programme for the first ten sessions in two and having the eleventh and most universal session, ‘Issues and Debates’, attended by all delegates.

TAG session proposal
The truth of the matter is that we won’t ever achieve a completely ‘integrated archaeology’ as we all have our own interests that cause us to be involved in this discipline in the first place; however, there certainly is a lot more we can all do to ensure archaeology is at least a more integrated discipline.

For my part, I am currently finalising a session proposal to submit to the organisers of this year’s Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference. Whilst ASA is doing a great job of encouraging students to share their own work and ideas with the discipline, I would like to do almost the opposite and use another existing platform to ask the discipline as a whole how it currently interacts with students and what it could perhaps do to better integrate with this demographic.

It’s fantastic that there is growing consensus across the discipline that we need to better understand and interact with the public ‘outside’ the discipline and with practitioners between the academic and non-academic sectors of the discipline, but what about students in between all these groups? Are students the too often overlooked demographic of archaeology?

I hope that my proposal for a session on understanding of and engagement with students will be accepted for TAG 2014, and a subsequent call for papers can obtain the perspectives of an integrated audience from the different sectors of the discipline. Keep an eye out for any news via my Twitter profile, @DavidAltoft.

The future of ASA
So what else have I been doing lately? On Wednesday, I and fellow representatives on the ASA National Committee ratified a constitution for the conference series. Like The Post Hole, ASA benefits from being entirely run by students as this leads to a rapid turn-over of participants, and with them, fresh ideas. However, that also creates problems. I have been working behind the scenes for ASA for almost two years, whether it’s been by rallying support for ASA on its Facebook and Twitter pages, creating it’s by-now emblematic stripy red banners, or sending hundreds of emails to universities and academic and student societies. I’ve had a mad love for ASA to thrive; however, I won’t be a student forever (as soon as September, if I don’t secure a funded PhD – hint, hint, universities and funding bodies!) and so this constitution serves as a framework of knowledge from previous trial-and-error to guide future Organising and National Committees.

Southampton representative, Alistair Galt, handing out questionnaires at ASA2

Southampton representative, Alistair Galt, handing out questionnaires at ASA2

Following lots of discussion with the rest of the National Committee, applications have been opened today for students at universities across the UK to bid to host the 1st ASA conference in June 2015 and apply to join the National Committee for 2014-15. For the former opportunity, we have designed an application form, available now at For the latter opportunity, we have emailed the Heads of all UK university archaeology departments to encourage them to consider having elections in their departments for students to democratically elect representatives onto the National Committee at the start of the coming academic year.

Students wishing to join the National Committee at universities that haven’t held elections by 7 October will be offered a second chance by sending brief statements of interest for the consideration of the retiring National Committee during 8-27 October. The new National Committee and Organising Committee (and thereby host of ASA3) will be announced on 28 October at and

My Masters and future
Like last year, I’m not writing much about what I do for my degree. That’s not because it isn’t the most important thing I spend my time on and interesting at all; it’s just something I’m sure any current or previous student reading this will already know about and identity with – lots of reading and writing!

I am currently working on my dissertation, the final element of my Masters in Bioarchaeology, before I hopefully graduate in September. I have written the chapters introducing my research and reviewing the existing literature, and am balancing that with the lab work that is generating the results I will also write on. My research is the biomolecular analysis of food residues absorbed and preserved within ceramic vessels from the Early Neolithic in western Russia, firstly, to find out whether I can find any traces of their original contents, and if so, secondly, to determine what they are to infer something of cuisine during the Neolithicisation of that region.

Hopefully, if I contribute to the Day of Archaeology again next year, I will be doing so as a PhD student. It is an uncertain time for me as I pursue funding and the best possible environment for me to be one, though far from being a distraction as some people understandably worry, my involvement with initiatives like ASA and The Post Hole hopefully prove that I am passionate about archaeology and have more to mutually give to and gain from it – especially with my now much improved time management skills!

Maya Research Program’ s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

MRP Logo 2013

What is the Maya Research Program?

The Maya Research Program is a U.S.-based non-profit organization (501C3) that sponsors archaeological and ethnographic research in Middle America. Each summer since 1992, we have sponsored archaeological fieldwork in northwestern Belize and ethnographic research in the village of Yaxunah, Mexico. The Maya Research Program is affiliated with the University of Texas at Tyler.

Our goal is, first and foremost, to conduct research that helps us better understand the complex ancient societies of the Americas. MRP is proud to have a diverse staff of talented scientists contributing to this goal and many of our affiliated scholars are recognized as leaders in their fields. Recent support has come from the Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the Blue Creek field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the project was recognized as the winner of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excavation Outreach contest.

Another key MRP goal is to encourage the participation of students and volunteers — anyone who wants to experience the real world of archaeological or anthropological research and understand how we learn about cultures may join us. We see this as a critical educational component of MRP’s work and it helps us accomplish our research goals as well. The ages of our participants range from 18 to over 80. So many of our participants return year after year that MRP has become an extended family. About half of our participants are university students under 30 years old and the other half are professionals and retirees. While the majority of participants come from the United States and Canada, we have students from Australian,  European, Latin American, and Japanese institutions as well. For students, academic credit can usually be arranged either via UTT or the student’s home institution. Many of our students go on to become successful graduate students in archaeology or a related field and return to focus on MRP projects for their theses and dissertations.

In 2014 and 2015 we again offer opportunities to participate in our field program and learn about the Maya of the past and today. The Blue Creek Archaeological Project is open to student and non-student participants, regardless of experience. The field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and participants will receive training in archaeological field and laboratory techniques. Academic credit and scholarships are available. We invite students and volunteers to participate in the Maya Research Program’s  archaeological field season in northwestern Belize.

2014 Season Dates:
Session 1: Monday May 26 to Sunday June 8
Session 2: Monday June 9 to Sunday June 22
Session 3: Monday June 30 to Sunday July 13
Session 4: Monday July 14 to Sunday July 27

2015 Season Dates:

Session 1: Monday June 1st to Sunday June 14th

Session 2: Monday June 15th to Sunday June 28th

Session 3: Monday July 6th to Sunday July 19th

Session 4: Monday July 20th to Sunday August 2nd

If you are interested in joining the team this summer or next  – please get in touch soon as space is limited! If you have any questions – please don’t hesitate to contact us:

Maya Research Program
1910 East Southeast Loop 323
#296; Tyler, Texas 75701
Phone: 817-831-9011

MRP’s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

The Maya Research Program is having a very successful 23rd archaeological field season in northwestern Belize! This summer we are concentrating on the site of Xnoha. Xnoha is a medium sized Maya center located on the edge of the Alacranes Bajo. We are delineating the architecture of the site core, three of its elite residences, and a possible shrine structure. In addition, we have recorded and conserved the mural recovered from Tulix Mul, secured numerous soil samples from wetland features, and finalized excavations at “Alvin’s Cave” and “Rice Mill Cave 3.” Our bioarchaeology field school is active this session and we are looking forward to our 3D modeling and photogrammetry workshop next week.  If you are interested in seeing weekly updates from the field – you can follow our progress on our Facebook page or via the photo gallery on our website.


A day with Macedonian archaeology “Educational ceramic workshop”

The Student Archaeological Association “Axios” was established to perform activities in order to promote archaeological values in society and to raise the awareness about cultural heritage and its protection.


The purpose of the project “Educational ceramic workshop”, which is in the field of experimental archaeology, is to familiarize and to bring closer different segments of the lives of the people from the past to the students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology. This training allowed the students through creative work to enter into a different world and try to express themselves following the examples of a given material culture.

With longstanding systematic archaeological research, the number of items of movable cultural heritage significantly increased. Especially notable is the number of pottery items which are already exhibited in the museums.

Therefore, acquiring knowledge about the preparation of the pottery in the Bronze and Iron Ages, undoubtedly contributed to a better understanding of history, and also to increase the level of professionalism in the field.

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Getting to know the method of manufacturing pottery objects from the Bronze and Iron Age went through a practical part by making the same objects used in those periods. It must be mentioned that during the project activities we implemented methods, techniques and authentic materials for the above mentioned periods.


Due to the specifics of the matter, the planned activities were carried out at the Museum of the City Negotino, on an open space and in a pottery workshop. All the activities were conducted in collaboration with experts in the field of applied art, cultural heritage protection and museology: sculptor-expert in the field of pottery, senior curator-archaeologist and a potter.

On this occasion, we would like express our special thanks to Peter Rizov for the permission to use the premises of the Museum in Negotino; to Branko Velickovski for his generous help with the project; to Ilija Kostadinov for the permission to use his pottery workshop and for the procurement of the materials, and to Association Archaeologica who gave us the opportunity to present our project within this manifestation marking the Day of Archaeology 2013.


Anyone can be an archaeologist!

You don’t have to be an academic or a commercial field archaeologist to appreciate and theorise about the past. Although most people are aware of and agree with this view, archaeology as a discipline (arguably) retains an exclusive membership of ‘experts’ who are given responsibility for the majority of construction and discussion of narratives that are made on the past. For these narratives to be intellectually well-rounded and personally relevant, it is essential that the discipline is accessible to as many people as possible and participation is encouraged.

I am a student at the University of York, have just graduated with a BSc in Bioarchaeology and am about to commence an MA in Mesolithic Studies. During the past year I have had the privilege of being Editor-in-Chief of a journal called The Post Hole. The Post Hole is run by undergraduate students at York and other universities across the UK. It stands out against many other journals by its inclusivity and engaging tone, making it a brilliant platform for literally anyone to share their research and views on the past.

A diverse audience of people read and have written for The Post Hole, including: Undergraduates, postgraduates, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and professors, commercial field archaeologists, conservators, professionals from public and private-sector heritage organisations, community archaeologists and even one or two members of the public not formally involved with archaeology. Consequently, each monthly issue of The Post Hole is always interesting to read!

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

Covers of recent issues of The Post Hole

I am proud to have been involved with an initiative that has put me into contact with so many people who have fascinating interests and involvements with the past – whether it’s a student with a unique and otherwise under-acknowledged dissertation project, a member of the public running a community project that engages local school pupils with the past, or someone reflecting on their experiences of interacting with the past in their job or visit to a museum. I recommend a browse of the journal’s archive to find out more about what The Post Hole publishes.

Beyond The Post Hole and focusing specifically on the involvement of students with archaeology, I and two other students at the University of York held the 1st Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) Conference in June 2013. The two-day conference brought together undergraduate, Masters and doctoral students from universities across the UK, from as far afield as Aberdeen and Southampton. The purpose of the conference was to establish a new forum for students to engage with academic archaeology by sharing and discussing their research and volunteering activities with each other and people following the conference on Twitter and via a live-streamed video.

The 1st ASA Conference proved to be an enormous success. More than 70 students came to York and left with new ideas, new connections and well-deserved recognition for their contributions to archaeology – whether it be running the Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project in schools, carrying out innovative experimental research on the phenomenology of Old Babylonian oil divination, or zooarchaeologically revealing undiscovered practices of cock-fighting in Roman Britain.

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

Reproduced with kind permission of Ben Wajdner

I do occasionally find time to carry out my own research on the past. I specialise in the chemical identification of organic residues that have been absorbed into archaeological materials, such as pottery. My undergraduate dissertation involved me carrying out analysis of organic residues from modern food that was experimentally cooked in replicas of Jomon pottery from Japan, some of the earliest ceramic vessels in the world. The purpose of this work was to build a reference dataset for analysis of actual Jomon pottery that my supervisor is currently carrying out. Current results have been published and I hope to begin my steps towards becoming a lecturer by making further publications and conference presentations.

Although I would like to become a lecturer in order to research the past for a living, I hope a result of many of the activities you will read about via the Day of Archaeology will be that my career aim will not exclude me from fascinating and truly-valuable individuals who follow alternative paths to mine.

Learning, Laughing and Living: An Archaeology Student Group from Down Under

In an average week, members of the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) committee spend hours organising events and opportunities for the professional development and social interaction of archaeology students from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Today is different, however, because we are taking time out for the exam period and end of semester assessments, and although we are not doing an incredible amount today, ArchSoc wanted to support this fantastic project nonetheless.

Semester one, 2012 has been a particularly busy semester for ArchSoc as we have organised an unprecedented number of events, and we have witnessed unprecedented high membership rates. For the most part, we assist the Department of Archaeology in hosting visiting archaeologists by making their time at Flinders an enjoyable experience. In many ways we are the life and energy of Flinders archaeology.

This semester began with a field trip. We sent a group of eight students to the Port Arthur Heritage Site in Tasmania to assist the local archaeologists in cleaning and cataloging artefacts from a recent excavation. The students that attended this trip had no previous archaeological experience and ArchSoc is proud to have given them this opportunity.

Site survey at Port Arthur

Next we ran a pub crawl. This event saw around one hundred archaeology students hitting the town in our bright blue t-shirts. How do you like the design? 🙂

ArchSoc conducted a site survey and a ‘Meet the Archaeologists! ‘ night to coincide with National Archaeology Week and ‘About Time: South Australia’s History Festival’. These events saw many members of the public actively engaging with archaeologists and students (out of over 500 events, ours were consistently listed as the first and second most popular throughout the festival!).

Our final event for semester one was a quiz night among the cells and gallows at the heritage listed Adelaide Gaol. The table of lecturers lost to a student table by only 0.5 points!!

Without a doubt, this semester has been fantastic and beneficial to Flinders archaeology students, not only in their professional development, but in social interactions as well (arguably the greatest aspect of this semester has been our new item of merchandise: Flinders ArchSocks!).

Here’s to another great semester! What have other archaeology student groups been up to this year?

Flinders Archaeological Society