Travel

From Raindogging to Becoming a “Real Boy”: A Day in the Life of a New Lecturer

The crest over the doorway at King’s Manor.

Six years ago for the first Day of Archaeology (which I posted to my own blog for reasons that have become obscured by time) I posted about selling off my worldly possessions to live out of my suitcase. It was a mildly maudlin post, rife with Tom Waits. As predicted, I “raindogged” for 2.5 years afterwards, working, writing on planes, trains, borrowed couches and archaeological projects with no permanent address. I ended up circumnavigating the globe before landing in York, at the ragged ends of travel.

After a series of increasingly convoluted and miscellaneous postdoc/associate lecturer escapades, I found myself suddenly A Lecturer. A Real Lecturer. It’s about as magical and unlikely as the scene in Pinocchio, where the wooden puppet becomes a Real Boy. There’s a lot to unpack there with gender, posthumanism and transfiguration, but let’s leave it for another time.

So, while I’d love to polish my tiara (academics get tiaras, right?) and call it good, I had a lot of work to do on my Day of Archaeology. When I posted on my blog about getting The Job, one of the comments I received was:

“Congratulations! The down side is that we’ll be seeing fewer posts on Digs in Exotic Places, and more on the Joys of Faculty Meetings.”

It is true, I spent the morning in a meeting, but it was an exciting meeting, if there can be such a thing, about grants funding research that I’ve been thrashing about since at least 2009, with avatars and chatbots. Now that I’m A Real Lecturer I can lead on these types of things, instead of glomming onto grants led by others.

Though I’d earmarked the day for research, I found myself having to finish up a bit of admin: the last touches on a short video promoting the Digital Heritage MSc and Archaeological Information Sciences MSc programs here at York, which I’ll be taking over in the Autumn. I’d love to have more students from North America, let me know if you’d like more information.

After I finished uploading the video, I finalized the design of an incredible illustration of a papercraft King’s Manor, created by Nick Ellwood. I really enjoyed collaborating with an artist on this work, which is in turn archaeological and whimsical.

I also spent some of the day finalizing teaching for both undergraduates and postgraduates, including this delightful roster of lectures for the upcoming Analysis & Visualisation course offered to our Masters students:

Perhaps it isn’t quite as exciting as Sunrise in Bangkok or The Recent Ancient Tradition of the Ogoh Ogoh or even spending your days with your head down a toilet, but I’m up for it. I won’t even act jealous when I hear about Katy drawing up a storm at Catal, or updates from Freya’s project in Egypt or any of the other amazing Day of Archaeology posts from the field. Nope.

Travelling in time

A day off. I’m heading down to the south coast of England for a wedding.

On the move: for us it’s a task, mandated by the need to get away, to see friends, or to work. For the people I’m taking a break from studying, it was a way of life.

I’m working on a project looking at human society, landscape and environment during the last Ice Age in Worcestershire, a part of the West Midlands long thought to have little to offer on the subject. But that’s changing: we’re starting to realise that the areas around the Severn and Avon valleys contain a rich record of the ebbs and flows of Ice Age life over the past half a million years.

At times, the area was under hundreds of metres of ice that probably topped even the mighty Malvern Hills. At others, temperate grasslands were grazed by hippos, their watering holes stalked by lion and hyaena. And for much of the period, a chilly, treeless, but fertile steppe supported huge herds of migrating mammals. The iconic Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Rhinoceros, and reindeer were accompanied by wild horses, giant deer, and my personal favourite: the mighty Steppe Bison (Bison priscus), an extinct giant whose bones abound in the gravel terraces of Midlands rivers.

Steppe Bison

Steppe Bison (Bison priscus)

The people who followed these herds ranged far and wide across a Britain still connected to the continent by the vast expanse of Doggerland. Now buried deep below the North Sea and the English Channel, inundated by post-Ice Age sea-level rise, the fate of Doggerland is a reminder of how precarious our treasured landscapes can be.

We arrive in Hampshire in the damp afternoon, to stay with family. I take the dog into the woods, a landscape of conifers similar to the young forests home to small groups of hunter-gatherers as Northern Europe emerged from the dusty chill of the Younger Dryas about 11,700 years ago, marking the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic.

conifer plantation

These Mesolithic travellers faced very different challenges to their Ice Age predecessors, but in the forests of Northern Europe there were, at least, plenty of options for shelter. We often find Mesolithic flintknapping waste within the shallow irregular pits left by toppling trees. Why? Well, the tangled mess of root and earth swung skywards when a tree falls provides the perfect windbreak and the beginnings of a very cosy shelter.

As I walk up through stands of larch and pine, I come across a small clearing created by a domino toppling of a small group of trees. They came down a few winters back, and I’ve watched their progress ever since, imagining how they might have been used 10,000 years ago. For a while after they fall, ‘tree-throw’ pits are often filled with dirt and stagnant water – hardly an attractive prospect. But this cluster, undisturbed by foresters, has grassed over nicely. The sticky clay and tangled root have weathered to a perfect facsimile of a wattle-and-daub wall, and the light pours into the clearing from the hole in the canopy. It has all the appearance of a village of comfortable dwellings, and that – I imagine – is just how similar scenes would have appeared to my predecessors, travelling through on their own journeys all those thousands of years ago.

A village of fallen conifers

As I call the dog and turn to trudge up the slope, one final detail catches my eye, and breaks the spell. Poking out of one wall of clay and root is a car tyre, entwined decades ago into the root system of the growing tree, and now exposed once more. Tomorrow I continue my journey on tyres of rubber, and leave my stone age dreams behind.

Car tyre within tree throw

Rob Hedge

https://incurablearchaeologist.wordpress.com/

A day working in archaeological tourism

Up close and personal with Luwian rock relief, on tour in Turkey

Guests up close and personal with the Ivris rock relief, on tour in Turkey

Morning everyone!

I work for a company that specialises in archaeological holidays- taking interested (and interesting!) people all over the world to pursue their passion for the past. I just got back from leading a group of these lovely folk across the north of England along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, which it would have been cool to write about (and, indeed, I’ll be scribbling my report on the trip for a bit this afternoon..) However, for most of the year, I work as a researcher in the company’s head office.

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