Copper Age

End of the Academic Year at York

Today seems a very opportune moment to blog about my life as an archaeologist, as it’s the final day of the academic year at York, and everyone is revelling over the coming of summer.  I have something more to celebrate as well, as I’ve finally had time to sign the contract that turns my currently fixed-term position at York into an ‘open’ (permanent) lectureship.  Yay!

I have looked back at my contribution to the 2011 Day of Archaeology, and this has led me to reflect on the incredible changes that have presented themselves in my life since then.  Exactly a year and one day ago I graduated with my PhD in Archaeology from Southampton, and then left for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük.  I started my post at York in January, and at the same time as launching into the design and teaching of a series of new classes and modules, I closed off some research projects (e.g., our Wellcome Collection Brains exhibition – see photo below!) whilst embarking on others (e.g., the Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice collaborative).

Me, June 2012, basking in the glow of my little acknowledgement at the Wellcome Collection exhibition, Brains: The Mind as Matter

Amidst all this activity, though, there has been one clear constant, and that is the relentless pace of scholarly life.  At any given time an academic is torn between a seemingly infinite number of obligations, and it would be difficult to accurately characterise the amount of multi-tasking—and the ever-increasing number of emails and responsibilities—that come with the job.  It’s such diversity and challenge that makes this lifestyle energising and inspiring for me—but it is also indescribably demanding, and there is a consistent concern in the back of my mind that I may have missed or skipped over something critical to my work in all the frenzy.  Today alone I had 3 student meetings and a departmental meeting to attend; I am negotiating the start-up of two new projects, and am analysing data from an ongoing project at King’s College London; I am preparing documentation for our fourth season at Çatalhöyük this summer; I am arranging a qualitative methods workshop to run in a couple of weeks, as well as helping to facilitate some filming at the Archaeology Department here in York around the same time; I have a book chapter that demands completion, along with an unspeakable number of emails in my inbox that require attention.  Even as I write this list, I can think of at least a half-dozen other tasks that need consideration.

But whilst the scale of the workload could be paralysing—or, at a minimum, disillusioning—I have moments every day where I think how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.  Most often, these moments present themselves in my interactions with students and in teaching, something which I never would have expected given that so many people seem to disparage the experience of being a teacher.  For me, however, the enthusiasm of the students at York, the chance to watch them develop and experiment with their ideas, and the opportunity to see them present their work and gain confidence in themselves and in their intellectual capacities, make my job extraordinary.  The relentless nature of academia could easily consume you, I think, but it’s in those conceptual and material engagements with others that the frenzy slips away and you’re left with a sense of real inspiration.  Indeed, for me, it’s not just inspiration, but hopefulness and excitement about what’s to come tomorrow.

Çatalhöyük 2012: Week 1

Human remain crates at Çatalhöyük

Human remain crates at Çatalhöyük


My wife Camilla and I arrived at Çatalhöyük on Sunday morning with Christopher Knüsel after flying into Konya from Istanbul. Sabrina Agarwal joined us a day later with her graduate student Inbal. Clark Spencer Larsen and his graduate students Josh and Barbara arrived two days before us. With the arrival of Bonnie Glencross this morning, the Çatalhöyük 2012 human remains team is assembled and ready for action. Please continue reading at: A Bone to Pick


A day off – Faunal Team Catalhoyuk 2012

Friday is our day of rest, so we are at the pool! This week the excavations at the famous Neolithic settlement opened for the season. We are a joint team from Cardiff University UK, Stony Brook, US and Poznan, Poland looking at the faunal remains to understand the human:animal relationship at the site. This week we began the season by examining the bones from building 80 (late in the site but still about 7-8000 years ago). So far we have recorded domestic sheep and dogs, wild aurochs, boar, deer and horses as well as tortoise, stork and jackal. We have a worked aurochs scapula, maybe used as a shovel, a possible bone ‘flute’ and bone gouges.

Excavation is focusing on removing backfill from the previous years ready to start excavation in ernest next week. The focus this year is on a number of houses, some of which have already produced cattle horncore installations, wall paintings and human burials beneath the floors.

Hand prints from Building 77. Two of a long series of handprints. Photo by Ashley Lingle, Catalhoyuk Research Project


The team is building with 60ish of us so far, and increasing to about 150 by the end of next week.  There are labs for human and animal bones, pots, stones, plants, conservation and finds as well as two separate excavation areas.  It is hard to keep track of everyone, so we have posted our photos and names on our lab door so folk can ID us. The excavation is truly international with folk from Sweden, Poland, US, Canada, Turkey, Greece and of course Wales.

Our first day off is being spent at the lovely Dedeman Hotel by the pool using their internet (thanks!). There is extremely restricted internet access at the site.  A highlight this week was the Tarkan concert – a Turkish singing sensation who performed to about 20k people in a mall carpark.

We are looking forward to the rest of the seasons excavations – and working with all the different specialists on-site.   Rather than material being analysed months, or years after it is dug up, in different labs around the world we are all here together.    Roll on the excavations – well, after just one more dip in the pool…..


Multi-tasking on 29 July

Today is more or less a very normal day in my life as an archaeologist.  That life is full of multi-tasking – working on multiple projects at once, which together pay me (slightly less than) an archaeologist’s typical starting salary.  As testimony to my day, here’s my to-do list for 29 July.  I’m still working through it – and it’s the middle of the night on a Friday, sadly!

  1. Respond to emails related to curation of Wellcome exhibition
  2. Edit & circulate presentations on first-year undergraduate academic skills project at Southampton University
  3. File pay requisitions
  4. Collect & photocopy personal & academic materials in preparation for departure for Çatalhöyük
  5. Send draft copies of features for EPSRC-funded digital humanities exhibition to contributors
  6. Prepare web feature for Southampton Humanities website
  7. Review edits to Portus Project portal
  8. Respond to student enquiries
  9. Day of Archaeology post

I graduated with my PhD yesterday, and am preparing to leave for a couple of days in Italy & then a few weeks of fieldwork at Çatalhöyük, so things have been quite busy and perhaps slightly unusual.  Nevertheless, I would say that this to-do list is a fairly common representation of the juggling that I do on a daily basis – and it only scratches at the surface of some of the expectations and varied commitments that university-based archaeologists are constantly negotiating.  It also speaks to what I adore about this line of work: the diversity of tasks; the incredible institutional and project partnerships; the continuous energy and high pace of the job.

I’m off to press on with the list before this day officially comes to an end.  Wish me luck!

Me with degree... Technically this event happened yesterday (28 July), but I'm still trying to bask in the glow - ha!