A Day with Molly Gleeson at the Penn Museum.
Learn more: In the Artifact Lab blog
Hello! The WAC Student Committee is run by archaeology students for archaeology students. We’re a diverse group representing 8 different countries including: India, Iran, Australia, Italy, Honduras, the United States of America, Nigeria and Mexico. In this post four of our committee report on their DoA.
Somewhere along the way apart from being a field archaeologist, I specialized in analyzing building material from archaeological contexts. So this year leaving behind the obvious glamour of being 24/7 in the field digging through mud, sand and rock- usually covered with my own feature of dust and sweat – I focus on analyzing mudbrick particle size and creating a report on mudbrick typology for a dig in Egypt. In this region, mudbrick architecture is quite common in both domestic and public context. Thus I spent my DoA examining the data collected last month in order to show how microscopic and macroscopic analyses of mud brick material are quite relevant to investigate raw source materials, building material techniques and production.
As an archaeology postgraduate student my usual day sees me sitting at a desk; reading journal articles and books, writing, seeking out literature, using my library’s special collections to collect ethnographic data, and meeting with supervisors and peers. My DoA started with some fantastic news: my MPhil research proposal, which I started four months ago, was approved! This approval is a key milestone in my degree; it ultimately means I’m now officially ‘doing’ this research. The rest of my day was quite out-of-the ordinary as I was in-transit as I headed out on fieldwork in the Pilbara region of Western Australia for a couple of weeks (more information and pictures in my personal DoA post). While I love my research and am lucky enough to receive a scholarship to allow me to focus on it, it is nice to have a break from my routine, get some fresh air and reconnect with some of the practical realities of ‘doing’ archaeology, which I often miss as I focus on theory in my research.
I work on a casual basis as an archaeologist in two different sectors: academia and consultancy. My day of archaeology was spent travelling from my research assistant job at a field school in remote Northern Territory to my cultural heritage management job in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
I’m often asked if my job takes me to interesting places all over the world. Unfortunately, although I have travelled quite a bit, I haven’t had the pleasure of working outside of Australia. But that doesn’t make my experiences any less interesting. My job does take me to a lot of places within Australia – many places I’ve been to need different levels of permission, a good chunk of which is needed from local Indigenous communities. It can be a long process, but it’s right. Last week for example, I visited a number of rock art sites in southern Arnhem Land, where I conduct my research, which only a handful of non-Indigenous people have ever seen. Today, I’m on my way to a new adventure in the Pilbara. While I’m relatively familiar with southern Arnhem Land, I’ve never worked in, or even been to, Western Australia. For the next two weeks I’ll be living in a mining camp and exploring, recording and excavating sites in the impact zone for mining development along with the rest of my team.
As for today, I’m travelling between jobs. In the last five days I have travelled 6,570km – something that has come to be part of my life.
It’s the DoA, and I am on a speed-vacation between teaching my first archaeological field school and the annual week-long public archaeology program I help teach each year. One of my best friends from college is getting married tomorrow, so I traveled across the country to be here for a couple of days. I will return home for 7 hours before arriving back at work, ready to teach teenagers about archaeology.
This is a slice of my life for the past 5 years since I began graduate school for archaeology; many small commitments and pockets of work that add up to a very full work life, with the occasional social intervention. If I’m lucky, when one demanding commitment ends, there’s another job to get me to the next step in my career. This week that means transitioning from educating college students to teaching young teens, and after that I’ll be installing an exhibit (did I mention I am a museum curator, too?), and after that revising websites for a local archaeology company. As a young professional I’m asked to take on many varied tasks. I’m happy to do them. Looking to the future, I am contemplating just which of those tasks is the one that I could stick with for a while. For now, I’m riding the adrenaline roller coaster of being a young archaeologist.
The Foreign Archaeology collection at Bristol Museum is mostly Egyptian material, but there’s also Greek, Roman and Assyrian finds. The collection’s part of the World Cultures department so we also have responsibility for ethnography (plus numismatics, historic maps, militaria, and an empire & commonwealth collection).
In Foreign Archaeology alone, there’s over 10,000 objects. 600 of those are on display in our Egypt and Assyria galleries and most of the rest are available online (not many with photos yet though- that’s on the list!).
Most of the Egyptian material was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. Some was donated by private collectors too but the provenance and background information isn’t so certain on those. Where possible, we try to use material from excavations for display.
In our Egypt Gallery there’s sections on belief, life, death and the afterlife. Alongside those we’ve included thought provoking areas about Egypt within Africa, identity, where we get our ideas about Egypt from, and the ethics of displaying and studying human remains. Our latest addition is an audio guide (‘DiscoveryPENS’). They’re aimed at visually impaired people but anyone who wants to use one can borrow a ‘pen’ from reception and try them out. We’ve also transferred our digital labels to a more secure system which allows even more images and information to be available on the kiosks. We’re trialling an app which means that in the future our visitors should be able to access the labels on their phones too.
At the moment we’re working on an exhibition about death around the world, due to open in October 2015. It’s going to include objects from all the Bristol Museum collections- Public History, British Archaeology, Eastern Art, Applied Art, Fine Art, Ethnography and Foreign Archaeology. There will also be AV and oral histories, hopefully including something about the archaeological excavation of human remains. The public programme’s got loads of potential too- there’s provisional plans for a Mexican Day of the Dead event, dayschools, gallery talks, theatre, a funeral fair, film screenings, and debates. We’re pretty excited about this one!
Hello! I am trained and educated as an archaeologist in Egyptian and Bronze Age Greece archaeology/art history/ancient history, but I have not yet found a position in my field or a related field (or even a very slightly related field). I’m an academic mutt because my interests lie in the interconnections between Egypt and Bronze Age Greece. Since graduation, I’ve been firmly occupying that dreaded slot: “Independent Research Scholar.” I was going to remain a lurker today for the Day of Archaeology, because I haven’t been feeling very much like an archaeologist lately, but someone encouraged me to post. I decided to do this for myself and all of the others like me who are trained archaeologists, but who are struggling to find their place and simply making do with various employment.
My actual day is spent at “The Job That Shall Not Be Named,” working to collect a salary that will pay my rent, my federal financial aid repayments, conferences, and, most importantly, book money and coffee money. My day-to-day routine is-sadly-very unarchaeological, and I have to turn to my non-working hours to return to my archaeological roots.
I’ve been attending and presenting at conferences. I also taught an evening class this past fall. I’ve been writing (slowly, but still I’m writing!) articles and book reviews. And, thankfully, for the past few years, I’ve been the president of a local chapter of a larger national organization connected to Egyptology, which is probably the best thing that I have done for my inner archaeologist-child. I’ve also found social media, which allows me to connect with other archaeologists and ancient historians from around the world, which is how I discovered Day of Archaeology 2014.
So what was on my to-do list for post-5 pm work this week? So far I’ve updated our chapter’s website, Facebook, and Twitter feed. I’ve been attempting to pull together the annual report for my chapter, writing, looking for a new job (hopefully, in my field!), working up some designs for our chapter’s new t-shirt, and plotting my next conference paper. Tonight’s mission, after I get home from “The Job That Shall Not Be Named,” will be to work on an article for submission to a conference publication. Oh, and I snuck off-very naughtily at “The Job That Shall Not Be Named,” and wrote a blog-post for the Day of Archaeology. Happy Day of Archaeology, everyone!
(Photo taken at Akhmim, Egypt: MeritAmun and me)
I’m one of those archaeologists that doesn’t dig, an Egyptologist that can’t read hieroglyphs and the museum curator who is not primarily interested in exhibitions. So what do I do?
I have the privilege of working with the material traces of past societies, be that a 1.8 million-year old hand axe, a 5000-year old child’s garment, or records made by archaeologists 130 years ago.
These are just some of the 80,000 artefacts and 1000s of archival materials in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, where I work.
It’s the stuff that has survived from the past that has always drawn me to museums, the challenge of making sense of it and of how others make sense of it.
A large part of my job is balancing the many competing demands upon the collection: researchers seeking samples for analysis, lecturers requesting objects for handling in class, other museums wanting to borrow artefacts, TV companies demanding items for feature documentaries and the public programme wanting pieces for events. We want the collection to be visible, to be used, to be inspiring. At the same time many things have survived for thousands of years and I want them to survive a few thousand more. Negotiating between access and risk is a constant fret.
For a job that requires working with stuff I still seem to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. So my day began like millions of others with chime of the computer booting up and the impatient chirping of voicemails waiting on my phone. This morning my inboxes contained a glut of messages from journalists digging around for quotes related to last night’s news that Christie’s sold a museum object from Northampton. A shocking and completely unethical strategy by a local council to raise money. Their defence that it will fund museum expansion is a nonsense since they’ve completely undermined the very purpose of a museum to safeguard cultural heritage and make is accessible. The councillor’s lame argument that it wasn’t on display anyway shows how unaware he is of what a museum does: it looks after collections whether they are on display or not. Just because they are in store does not mean that they’re not being accessed, researched, or might have an important role in the future. It is also a parochial view that doesn’t acknowledge that in sanctioning high commercial values on antiquities they are just fuelling the illicit trade of antiquities across the world and destructive looting of archaeological sites in Egypt. It really does affect people’s lives. This morning then I was an advocate for archaeology’s cultural value in the present and for ethical museum practice.
After the emails and a few strategy meetings I finally got time in the gallery before it opened to the public. One of my ongoing projects is to introduce more public-friendly text into the displays. I’ve written books and lots of academic papers on archaeology, but writing 3-sentence labels? Now that’s hard. And even harder is deciding what colour to use to highlight the objects. Blue? Zingy blue? What do you think?
Some things aren’t on display because they’re simply too big for our cramped gallery space. This includes these ancient bows, which a researcher is coming to study on Monday.
They’re currently above the cases, so the last order of business today will be retrieving them in preparation for their examination next week. Just because they’re not on exhibit does not mean they’re not used. It is a resource open to all and you can see it all here.
After a busy few weeks at the museum celebrating the Festival of Archaeology, we held our last event today. A small group from the Bolton Archaeology and Egyptology Society visited the museum’s new storage facility. They got to see some artefacts that had been hiding away in a dark store for years.
One of the objects we looked at was this unidentified item from Amarna, any guesses to what it is??
The group also advised us on our plans for a Heritage Lottery Fund project to create a new Egypt Gallery. Bolton Museum has around 12,000 artefacts in the Egypt collection. The biggest benefactor was a local mill owners daughter, Annie Barlow (1863-1941). She became the Local Secretary for the Egyptian Exploration Society and donated her finds to the museum.
Annie Barlow – Copyright Bolton Council
A new gallery along with an online database will make this collection even more accessible to the public. We are currently in the first phase of funding with the hope of securing the full amount next year to carry out the work. For more information you can follow our progress on our Facebook page.
I kicked the day off here in TOPOI Haus, Freie Universität Berlin, with further preparations for a planned joint rescue archaeology mission in Aswan, Egypt, early next year. Egypt has been facing very challenging times and while the looting of Egypt’s cultural heritage is horrific, it pales in comparison to the economic hardship and other woes people are enduring in their-to-day lives up and down the Nile Valley. So while in the short term, planning future fieldwork is filled with uncertainty, I am pressing forward in the hopes that things will improve. My heart goes out to my Egyptian colleagues and friends today especially, with more rival rallies being held and resolution seeming rather far off.
This afternoon I shifted gears and continued with analysis of Reflectance Transformation Imaging data. I am finishing up some loose ends from my Marie Curie COFUND fellowship project on inscribed and decorated objects from early Egypt and Southern Mesopotamia. I am re-processing some images to see if I can improve the visualisation of surfaces with self-shadowing problems and preparing digital illustrations of others.
In tandem with this work, I am annotating my processing and digital epigraphy workflows in a training document in preparation for an RTI training workshop I am organising for TOPOI affiliates (similar to the fantastic training Cultural Heritage Imaging ran for us last year). I also had a couple of phone and email exchanges with folks from the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCeH). They are interested in following up a digital imaging workshop I co-delivered a few weeks ago with a project applying RTI to lead curse tablets in various collections around the world – an exciting prospect!
In the splendid location of CAP Centro Plastic Arts of Carrara the V edition of Archaeologia will be entirely devoted to beauty in the ancient world. A didactic space will be prepared for children (on booking, max 20 children, cost 3 €) where they will experiment archaeology from prehistory -making of a pintadera – to Egypt creating the perfect Egyptian make up and jewels!
A day late – but I was under particular time consraint both today and yesterday. My university requires every current PhD student to submit a “substantial piece of written work” by the end of today, and I can now say – it’s done! I submitted a chapter on the spatial analysis of artefacts relating to high-status industries found within the Main City North, a suburb of the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna. Using the awesome open source GIS package Quantum GIS have been able to establish where in this suburb industrial activity took place, where new, unknown working areas may be located, and, to a certain extent, how raw materials as well as finished goods have been distributed. My research aims and objectives can be found on my website.
The site, which is located in Middle Egypt, is currently being excavated by Barry Kemp and the Amarna Trust, this has been the case since the 1970s, but it has been subject to excavations since the 1890s, when Petrie undertook work at Amarna. I was extremely lucky to participate in the Spring 2012 excavation season at Amarna. A preliminary report, written by Barry Kemp can be found here, and I have also published my own photos on Picasa.
The famous bust of Nefertiti was discovered on December 6th 1911 by Ludwig Borchardt and his team within the house of the sculptor Thutmose (within the Main City North) and was subsequently brought to Berlin, which is why the 100th anniversary of its discovery will be marked with an exhibition on Amarna, which I am looking forward to visit.
The truth is, the closest I got to archaeology today was watching my 4-year-old and her dance class perform in their “Jurassic Arts” Dinosaur dance show. But this weekend will be different as I turn my attention to archaeology for children. A few weeks ago, one of my daughter’s friends earnestly explained to me that “paleontologists dig for dinosaur bones, and archaeologists dig to learn about Egypt.” (OK, a little limited geographically, but that is pretty good!) These kids, and many others like them, have inspired me to take on this small, “easy” project of creating an archaeology excavation / activity table for a local children’s museum that will open soon. We only have essentially a 2 m x 1 m box in which to convey the main points of archaeological excavation to the 3- to 10-year old crowd, while providing fun and entertainment as well. And what would an archaeological project be without the smallest of budgets!
Of course even a simple project is not without its challenges. Finding inexpensive, kid-friendly artifact replicas has proven to be more time-consuming than finding the coveted fluted point at my last Paleoindian dig. And after my 4-year-old drew blood from my 7-year-old with my Marshalltown, I’m still on the search for suitable tools. I think I’ll go get some whisk brooms and toothbrushes next. It has been an adventure just working out the logistics of this one exhibit, especially in trying to find the common ground between what’s important to us, and what’s interesting for kids…
We’ll be working on installing the activity table this weekend, and I hope to post more about our progress. Fingers crossed that it goes well, and that we give future generations, one child at a time, an appreciation for learning from and preserving our archaeological heritage!