Experimental Archaeology Rocks

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies.

Today, I’m doing an inventory of lithic material so for this year’s Day of Archaeology post I’ve decided to focus on lithic technology which basically refers to the art of bashing, cracking, knapping, pecking, grinding or polishing stones of various kinds to manufacture tools, ornaments and other objects whose significance becomes even more obvious through the study of how they were used, broken, repaired, recycled and discarded.

Stone is of all materials the most dealt with in archaeology and stone tools are of paramount importance not only because they are very well preserved in the archaeological record and common to all cultures but also because they are the basic tools with which most other tools were made in prehistory. They not only help us understand the technical skills of ancient people but also inform us on chronological periods, cultural groups, food production, population movements, social organization and trade networks.

Stone tools are in fact a complex technology that benefits greatly from experimental archaeology which is a research method specialized in the reproduction of past objects and behaviours to understand the processes involved in making and using artefacts found in archaeological sites. For decades archaeologists have recognized the value of experimentation and reproduction for the benefit of research but also as an educational approach to share that knowledge with the public in a comprehensive and dynamic way.

I will briefly present here a photo essay of our latest projects aimed at improving our understanding of stone technology and reproducing various artefacts either for scientific objectives or educational purposes.


Collecting cobble stones for the reproduction of axes, net sinkers and grinding stones. It can take many hours of searching a shoreline or a river bed to find appropriate stones.

Collecting chert for knapping. Finding accessible chert can be a tricky operation these days since alot of the ancient stone quarries are now protected sites.

Preparing quartz preforms in the field to bring back to the workshop for tool making. As in ancient times, it’s a lot easier to carry preforms than boulders back to camp.

Testing a stone axe reproduction in the field during a house building project. Using a tool is the only way to learn the about the details of its construction.

Inserting a stone axe head in a live tree to test a hypothesis. According to historical sources, some stone axes were hafted by allowing a living tree to grow around a prepared stone blade.

Stone knapping

Knapping chert preforms for the reproduction of various tools. Similar piles of preforms are sometimes found in archaeological context and are known as caches.

Knapping experiments with quartz and dolomite. Unusual materials for that purpose that were nevertheless used in prehistory because of their availability.

Exercise in knapping very small tools from equally small flakes. In prehistory, people made the most of what they had available and chert was rarely wasted.

Typology of stone points of Northeastern America showing the evolution of projectile points. This display was designed as an educational tool for our public activities.

Polished stone

Reproductions of polished stone tools (celt, grooved axe, adze, gouge) that were used for woodwork in North America between 8,000 and 500 years B.P.

Reproductions of Northwest Coast style fish knives. Such knives made by grinding slate slabs were delicate but very sharp for the preparation of fish.

Drilling stone with stone. Various soft stones like soapstone, slate and limestone were polished and drilled in prehistory to make ornamental or ceremonial objects.

Common polished slate tools (semicircular knife, spear head) used in North America during the Archaic period (8,000-3,000 years B.P.).

Unworked stones as tools

Many stones found in archaeological context were modified by use but not by design. Sandstone for instance was commonly used as a grinding surface to work bone while chert flakes served as disposable blades.

Working a native copper nugget with a stone anvil, a hammer stone and a grinding stone to manufacture a prehistoric knife for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Making beaver incisor gouges with various grit stones for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Using various types of stones for cutting, hammering and polishing bone for the manufacture of prehistoric tattoo needles as part of a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Sharing the knowledge

Reproductions of Dorset tools incorporating chert and slate blades commissioned by the Avataq Cultural Institute for education programs in Arctic communities.

Craft workshop on polished stone projectile points with students of the University of Montreal during Archaeology Week.

To see more, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.


Grading- Technology- Archaeology

Jane Eva Baxter, Associate Professor of Anthropology, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois USA.  Email:  Twitter: @janeevabaxter


Reading all of these entertaining Day of Archaeology posts puts my day into perspective.

Fieldwork? No.

Analyses in the lab? No.

Fun technology? No.

Travel? No.

Public engagement? No.

Legos? No.

No, today on this day of archaeology I am grading final essays from my summer session online World Prehistory class. Don’t get me wrong- I love teaching. I am passionate about teaching. But grading? No one loves grading- especially in July.

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We all know that undergraduate essays have the ability to unintentionally revise the past in ways that are most improbable and amusing. See the classic, “Life in the Past Reeked with Joy” as a delightful example. Archaeological essays are often filled with similar types of revisions. Ever imagine what it was like for a Chrome Magnum to hunt a wholly mammoth? Or, wonder who is included in the species Homo Gorgeous? And, who hasn’t been amazed by a famous find in China- an entire army of Terra Cotta Worriers. My current students are on top of proofreading and autocorrect, and no inadvertent revisionist archaeology has taken place. In fact, they’ve provided a really excellent set of essays, and I’m quite pleased.

Evaluating student work is also a way of evaluating one’s own teaching. Successful students are, at least in part, a reflection of a successful class experience. Because I teach my World Prehistory class online, I’m always acutely aware of the disjoin between the multi-sensory, tactile, and material world of archaeology, and the relatively disembodied, non-sensory experiences that characterize online learning. How can I convey archaeology as a discipline, as a practice, as a community, and as a way of thinking to students who may never experience archaeology beyond this online course?

Trying to solve this pedagogical problem requires me to draw heavily on my archaeological training. Archaeology is a discipline focused on technology, particularly how technology mediates, reflects, and structures social relationships. Teaching online demands that I constantly consider how technology can be used most effectively to create a community of learners, to formulate relationships between my students and I, and to enable certain types of learning experiences that connect students to archaeology in meaningful ways. I also have to consider how technology works in the worlds of my students, recognizing that my perspective on course structure and design as a 44-year-old professor may not translate well into the world of my 20-something students. In other words, I have to think about how technology functions both to create and bridge generation gaps.

All of these questions about technology and pedagogy have archaeological parallels, particularly to my own work on the archaeology of childhood, which focuses on inter-generational understandings of technology and material culture. I am grateful to be a part of a discipline where technology can be a catalyst for exploring and understanding human relationships in the past and in my online classroom. Now back to those essays…

First airing of conservators’ new toy at the Royal Academy

By MOLA archaeological conservators Liz and Luisa

Sometimes, we archaeological conservators get to do some non-archaeological related work. This week we have been helping the Royal Academy of Art pack their collection of human remains.


This collection is mostly comprised of articulated skeletons and limbs. And was probably used by art students to learn anatomy and help them draw accurately. The articulated nature of the objects presents quite a challenge when moving and packing the remains. So special attention has to be paid to fingers and toes, bouncy patellae and spring action jaws. We have been making acid free tissue mittens and socks to protect the hands and feet; and bandaging mandibles and joins to make sure they don’t shake whilst in transport.














Packing loose material

However the bulk of our work is archaeological; and currently quite a bit of it is the conservation of waterlogged organics, like leather and wood. In order to treat these types of objects we need a vacuum freeze dryer. Our very elderly vacuum pump for the freeze dryer finally decided to take a much deserved retirement (in a skip) a couple of months back. Today we finally received our brand new shiny vacuum pump and Liz could not be happier.



Proud mama looking her new baby for the very first time



It’s alive!

The rest of the day will be looking at our new toy every five minutes to check the vacuum pump is still working properly and filling up the freezer chamber to start drying leather again.

A Third Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

Wow, time has flown. This time last year, I was doing radar work in Ballarat on gold mine sludge. But that’s more geological than archaeological, and it should have been covered in last year’s non-existent post (what happened last year, admins??), so I won’t discuss that further.

Let’s see… what was I doing this year?

Ah, yes. Friday. It was the last day of an eight-day project using ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves in a cemetery. The day didn’t really involve any geophysical surveying as such – all that had been done over the preceding week. Instead, Friday was spent using one of my new toys – a Topcon Power Station robotic total station. I love it. It has reflectorless mode so I don’t have to walk around the cemetery to map things. Set-up is a breeze with re-sections (I was previously using a 25-year old reflector-only total station that required two operators and couldn’t do re-sections).

Can you tell from my passion for a robotic total station that I don’t have a romantic partner?

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a Topcon salesman, so I shall move on.

Basically, what I did that day was map the headstones that were present in the cemetery. That took me from 7am until about 1pm.

It’s one thing to have a geophysical survey performed, but you really need to have a map of the surrounding “stuff” so you know exactly where the geophysical survey was performed (and, hence, where all the unmarked graves are located). If you don’t do this, you’re just wasting time (and the client’s money).

Once I collected all the points needed to create the site map, I packed up, headed to my motel room and entered all the data into GIS (I use Global Mapper. It’s far easier and better than anything else. Yes, including ArcGIS. Deal with it. 😛 ). Then I spent the afternoon colour-coding the different points and lines and shapes and what-have-you. Little trees to indicate trees. Dark grey areas to indicate marked graves. Light grey areas to indicate concrete slabs for the lawn section. A crossed orange line to indicate the cemetery boundary fence. You get the idea. Make the map look pretty. Then whack a north arrow, scale and legend on it and Robert is your mother’s brother. And then the clock hit 5pm and it was time to sleep. (This week involved working from 6.30am until about 7pm each day. So I was overjoyed to see the bed Friday night).

So that was the excitement for my Day of Archaeology.Until next time, live long and prosper.Dave The Grave HunterPS: Sorry for the lack of photos. Here are some on my Facebook business page.

Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

ArchaeoLandscapes Europe

Increasing Public Appreciation, Understanding and Conservation of the Landscape and the Archaeological Heritage of Europe

Archaeology can be so fascinating – digs in nice and exotic places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, teaching students and learning from students, telling stories about the past to the public.

But I am sitting in my office in Frankfurt/Main (Germany) today and trying to cope with our new website. The old one was hacked a while ago to be used for DoS attacks on another server so we had to take it offline. We used that opportunity to refresh the old page so now I am working on tinkering the new site a bit, adding content here and there, trying to find mistakes and replacing some placeholder images with pictures from the project before the site will go live again as soon as the provider has managed the domain transfer.

Sounds all rather boring but in the end it’s exactly part of the things I like so much in archaeology: teaching and telling stories! And the background of the webpage of course is the project ArchaeoLandscapes Europe (ArcLand), funded by the EU culture programme for 5 years (sept 2010 – sept 2015) to foster all kinds of remote sensing and surveying techniques, to spread the knowledge all over Europe within the archaeological community and of course also to the broader public. It’s about telling the public that archaeology is more than a dig in a temple in the jungle or an investigation of a pyramid. It’s also – and mainly (?) – about understanding the history of a landscape and the people that lived in it, it’s about trying to find out how people could cope with their environs and which traces they left – and it’s about finding these traces. From the air (aerial archaeology, LiDAR, satellite imagery) and from the ground (geophysics, field walking) and in all cases non-invasive.

From left to right: near infrared aerial image - rob aerial image - LiDAR scan - geomagnetic survey

From left to right: near infrared aerial image – rob aerial image – LiDAR scan – geomagnetic survey

And yes, this is absolutely fascinating – and it brings me to many nice (though not always exotic) places where I meet new people and old friends, where I experience new and well known cultures and where I have the opportunity to tell the stories that are relevant within the framework of the project. It is talking to archaeologists who know a lot about the remote sensing and surveying techniques and learning a lot from them, it is talking to students to make them aware of the fantastic options of these techniques and it is talking to the public to share the fascination that I still feel when I look at a newly discovered site on an aerial image, on a landscape palimpsest on a LiDAR scan or on the hidden subsoil feature visible in the geophysical data.

I really feel very happy when I can see that the grants that our project provided helped students and young researchers to experience new techniques, to exchange knowledge and expertise with other people and to meet people from different areas of Europe to widen their (cultural) perspective. And I am happy to see that all these activities have always been a lot of fun for all those that have been involved.


ArcLand partners meeting in Amersfoort (NL) in 2013

Sure, it’s a EU project which means that there is a lot of administrational work to do. The EU is supporting us with a lot of money and I can understand that they want to make sure that this money is well spend. Still, I am swearing a lot over time sheets and lists of invoices and all that. But that is a very fair price for all the options this support offers to many people all over Europe and abroad! And it shows that Europe is more than a bunch of bureaucrats that only care about the bend of bananas to be imported into the EU! Seeing all these people from the Baltic to the Iberian Peninsula, from Ireland to the Balkan getting together, learning from each other , exchanging ideas and enjoying themselves at our workshops, at our conferences or when visiting our travelling exhibition really makes me feel the the idea of a joint and peaceful Europe is worth all that money.

So all in all, working on a webpage is not that bad, it’s raining outside anyway, so I am sitting in my dry office and I know that the work that I am doing is one tessera in the large archaeological mosaic. Watch out for our webpage to go live again hopefully soon!

Tracing Neandertal Territories in the Mountains of Southeast France

Day of Archaeology 2013 for me means being away on 2 months of fieldwork in the southern Massif Central, France.  I’ve been contributing to DOA since 2011, and if you look back, it’s clear a lot has changed  since then (see my four 2011 posts, and 2012). After my PhD I was searching for a postdoc for several years, ran out of time and money to keep looking, and ended up seredipitously with a contract to write a book about humans and birds in prehistory.

I thought that would be it, and that the 2013 Day of Archaeology would take place without a contribution from me. But it seems that archaeology wasn’t quite done with me…

My workspace at the field station, Laussonne, Haut Loire

My workspace at the field station, Laussonne, Haut Loire

As I wrote in a postscript comment to my post last year, only a few days after writing about the difficult process of changing paths from a research career to one focused on writing and wider communication, an email dropped into my inbox from the European Commission offering the very last postdoc funding I applied for- a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship to work in at the PACEA lab, Universite of Bordeaux. After a lot of soul-searching on the wisdom of doing another 180 degree turn in my life trajectory, and talking with my husband about him coming out with me, I decided to go for it. And so here I am, in the mountains of the Massif Central!

Laussonne map

Laussonne map

The field station for Archeo-Logis at Laussonne, Haut Loire

The field station for Archeo-Logis at Laussonne, Haut Loire

My postdoc is focused on two elements: training in a new skill (the Marie Curie Fellowships are especially concerned with career development), and applying this method to an archaeological context. I’ve written on my own blog in more detail about my project, which is called TRACETERRE. This stands for “Tracing Neandertal Territories: Landscape Organisation and Stone Resource Management“. It’s part of a larger collaborative project directed by my boss, Jean-Paul Raynal, and Marie-Helene Moncel.

Essentially I’ll be learning a detailed geological technique called petro-archaeology, that allows us to determine where in the landscape Neandertals were obtaining the raw materials to make their stone tools. Specifically, we are especially interested in the flint sources: most of the geology in the area is igneous, which means it comes from volcanic action (the Massif Central is a world famous centre for volcanology, where you can see virtually every type of volcano and lava).

Sancy Massif

Sancy Massif, north of where I am based, showing volcanic formations

It’s possible to make stone tools from these kinds of rocks, but they are often very hard, and can also be coarse. Flint is a sedimentary rock, meaning it forms from the slow accumulation of mineral deposits. Flint is famous for the high quality tools that can be made from it, because of the predictable way it fractures. It’s often associated with Cretaceous chalk deposits, such as the big cliffs in the southern UK, where you can see black bands of flint nodules. So flint forms in marine contexts, but it can also form in other situations such as in lakes.
Although there are few primary sources of flint in the Massif Central (i.e. outcrops of rock containing flint), there are many different secondary sources. These can be eroded outcrops, material washed into river gravels and other kinds of sources. My training will be in identifying these secondary types of sources, based on the way the outer surface of flint cobbles changes during the process of first formation, erosion and later exposure at archaeological sites.

Some of the geological reading I've been getting up to speed on. Volcanoes galore!

Some of the geological reading I’ve been getting up to speed on. Volcanoes galore!

Because there are more than 70 different secondary sources in the region which have been painstakingly identified over more than thirty years (by Paul Fernandes, who will train me), this is too much to try to attempt to learn in two years. So I will be using a source-centred approach, where I look at one flint source, and see how this particular rock has been used by Neandertals. In particular, we are interested in where this rock ends up: which caves or open-air archaeological sites is it found in? And secondly, in what form does it occur: as finished tools, raw blocks, or flakes of stone that have been struck off blocks (cores) but not yet made into tools.

Finding these things out can tell us a huge amount about techno-economics: the way in which Neandertals were choosing to organise their exploitation of resources on landscape scales. For example, working out which types of technology they used to make tools and which stages of tool production occur where can reveal the level of investment of energy: were they making tools quickly, and dropping them soon afterwards? Or were they carefully choosing which kinds of tools to make, and which ones to take with them in toolkits, maintaining them by re-sharpening? Both these strategies can be used as adaptations to different situations, particularly the level of mobility.

A handaxe, one type of tool Neandertals seem to have carried with them as part of mobile toolkits, which could be re-sharpened and used in many tasks. This one is from near Bournemouth, UK

A handaxe, one type of tool Neandertals seem to have carried with them as part of mobile toolkits, which could be re-sharpened and used in many tasks. This one is from near Bournemouth, UK

The question of Neandertal mobility is also a key reason for studying in such detail the different sources of stone used. We want to know where the stone from a flint source was going: which sites is it found in? How far was flint being transported, especially in comparison to other stone types? We can even begin to work out the paths taken through the landscape by Neandertals: did they have to cross rivers, high mountainous areas? Which passes would have been likely to be used? We also plan to excavate at the flint source itself, to see what activities were taking place, and also which tools came from other places in the landscape.

We can then begin, by combining all the geological and techno-economic data, to build up a detailed understanding of the inter-connections between different parts of the landscape that Neandertals were living in. And this is just the stone tools: other parts of the archaeological record, such as animal bones preserved in caves, are studied by other project members. We can use these to determine things like what season people were living at sites, and where they were probably hunting the animals in the landscape.

Gravel bar system, Switzerland- one example of a secondary source of stone. Image used with permission via Creative Commons: " I, Paebi [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"

Gravel bar system, Switzerland- one example of a secondary source of stone. Image used with permission via Creative Commons: ” I, Paebi CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons”

All this creates a web of the palaeo-landscapes that Neandertals were inhabiting. But the impact of sourcing flint tools goes even further, because if we can map the extent of inhabited landscapes, we can start to think about territories. This is crucial because territories are not just regions full of resources- they probably were also involved in defining social interactions between different Neandertal groups. This is something we are still learning how to measure, but it has huge significance because different kinds of territories and social interactions suggests particular cognitive capacities. This is of course one of the key areas of research in human evolution: how did Neandertals differ from us, and how were they similar? Did they have similar webs of social connections, or were they living local, isolated lives in small groups that did not regularly meet? If this was the case, how did they find mates, and prevent huge in-breeding? All these fundamental questions can be advanced by new data and investigations such as the research I am doing.

Right now, I’ve only been here just over a week, and am only one month into a two year postdoc. So there’s a long way left to go. But it’s very exciting, and I hope to start the petro-archaeology training and looking at the flint collections very soon. Meanwhile, there’s always time on fieldwork to have a day off, check out the local wildlife, cuisine and culture, and enjoy some of the lovely sunsets in this region. Very different landscapes to when Neandertals were living here!

 Sunset at Laussonne

Sunset at Laussonne

I am funded through a European Commission Framework 7 Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for Career Development, and I work at the PACEA laboratory, UMR-5199, Universite Bordeaux 1.

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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.