University of Oxford

Seeds and Silchester

As the University of Reading Insula IX ‘Town Life‘ Project draws to a close, so does the PhD that i’ve been writing on it over the last few years. As Silchester has dominated my archaeological life over the last five years, it seemed right that I spent most of my Day of Archaeology 2014 there (technically yesterday). I have been studying the macroscopic plant remains from the excavations since 2009, when I turned up as a recent graduate, searching for good archaeobotanical dataset to study for my masters (I chose well!). I’ve sorted and identified 1000s of charred, mineralised and waterlogged seeds from Insula IX. The insights gained range from finding out that olives were consumed at Late Iron Age Silchester, to showing that residents of the oppidum were growing and processing their own cereals. After spending a few summers working in the Science@Silchester team, elbow deep in a flotation tank for 7 weeks, I was just returning for the afternoon to teach a session on Archaeobotany at Silchester to the field school students, passing on some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the last few years.

My day kicked off with coffee number 1 at my desk at 8:30am, finishing off a beautiful powerpoint presentation on the many wonders of charred plant remains. I may have gone a bit overboard, but you need lots of images to explain how bags of soil magically turn into tiny plant remains. After squeezing in an hour of PhD chapter editing, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Silchester. The cycle between Mortimer station, spiritual gateway to 100s of field school students, and Silchester takes me through tiny country lanes. The soil around Silchester is a mix of clay, sands and gravels, so there’s more in the way of pasture and orchards than cereal fields. Eventually making it on to the droveway, the stench of portaloos tells me i’ve made it to Insula IX!

Blue skies over Insula IX

Blue skies over Insula IX ©Lisa Lodwick

After a quick catch up with the Science@Silchester team (you can read about them in last years Silchester post), I’m bundled in to the mini bus by Amanda Clarke to take me off to St Mary’s. It feels a bit strange to be teaching in a church, but the students were very keen, and I hope they learnt something. I also got to show off some of my favourite plant remains, including the charred olive stones from the final day of the 2012 season, and some beautiful spelt grains from a pit excavated back in 2006.

Archaeobotany teaching at Silchester

Microscopes and plant remains set up in the church! ©Amanda Clarke

I head back up to site to see how flotation is going. As the archaeology in Insula IX is running out, there’s unlikely to be any more ‘deep features’ this year producing waterlogged or mineralised plant remains, but hopefully the remaining pits will produce some good charred assemblages to complement those studied for my PhD research. Mike Fulford’s site tour kicks off at 4:30, so I’m able to catch up on the all new developments in Insula III – the most exciting (for me) is the discovery of a (probable) corn drier, interpreted by the Victorians as a hypocaust. If this feature can be dated, it will provide great evidence for how the agricultural role of Silchester changed over time.

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank ©Lisa Lodwick

Flotation sample at Silchester

Disappointing number of plant remains.. plenty more samples though! ©Lisa Lodwick

After getting my fill of archaeology for the week, I’m off to home to continue with the PhD editing. I’ve produced lots of new evidence for how, where and when the residents of Late Iron Age and Roman Silchester were supplied with food, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing so I can discuss the findings with the rest of the project team.

The Insula IX excavations are coming to an end this year – open day dates are Saturday 26th July and Saturday 9th August.

Follow Amanda Clarke’s wonderful blog from the excavations

Silchester Twitter @silchexcavation

I tweet about plants and archaeology @LisaLodwick. You can read more about my AHRC funded PhD research at the University of Oxford here.

Academic Research: A Day of Meetings…

I work as a researcher at the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford.  My job is to look after the GIS elements of a large (ERC funded), 5 year project to study the English landscape from 1500BC to AD 1086, which we call the EngLaId project.  For any who don’t know, GIS stands for Geographic(al) Information Systems (or sometimes Science) and it is, essentially, computer software that lets you create maps and analyse data in its spatial context (to cut a long story short!).  Our project is using GIS as one of the tools in its armoury in order to try to understand continuity and change in the English rural landscape over the period of 2,500 years from the Middle Bronze Age to Domesday.  My job mostly involves bringing together a large number of pre-existing datasets within GIS software (specifically, ArcGIS) and trying to find patterns and trends over time.


ArcGIS. Spatial data: contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012 (OS OpenData)

However, Friday was not a day that involved a lot of GIS work for me.  Two of my colleagues on the EngLaId team work at the University’s eResearch Centre (OeRC).  During the morning, a few of us went over to the OeRC to meet with them and a Professor of Visualisation (Min Chen) and his team.  We had a long and interesting discussion about innovative ways of visualising data.  Prof Chen made a distinction between the two purposes of visualisation: to enable better academic understanding and exploration of data and to enhance public presentation of data.  The former is where his team’s research interests lie and they have done some fascinating work on creating ‘glyphs’ to display multiple data attributes at once.  The previous time we met with him, Prof Chen had shown us a series of glyphs that described the behaviour of sperm, which was most memorable for the erratic travel paths of the sperm found in ‘rats on drugs’!  The meeting ended with me being invited to take part in a workshop on geospatial visualisation at the end of August.

I returned to my office for a couple of hours, ate some lunch, and set my computer to running some GIS tools.  I then returned to the OeRC after lunch, leaving my processing processing, for our biweekly EngLaId team meeting.  We normally meet here at the School of Archaeology, but the building is being partly rewired over the summer, so there is currently no space to hold meetings here.  The team meeting lasted until after four o’clock, and seemed to be productive.

When we got back to the office, my colleague was told there was in a rat in her office (presumably disturbed by the builders), but I don’t think this rat was on drugs…  As it had been a long day, the pub beckoned, so we swiftly adjourned to there.  I had to return to the office later to check on my GIS processing (and pick up my bike), which had completed by that time.

Friday wasn’t really a typical day for me, as I am more usually found working at the computer in our attic office.  But it was a fairly productive day over all, despite the relative lack of normal work.  If anybody wants to know more about EngLaId, then please feel free to check out our own blog.

Decisions decisions …

This morning my first point of call is my presentation for the Digital Humanities 2012 conference in Hamburg in 3 weeks time. I am really looking forward to this conference as it will be my first after Bess was born. She and the husband are coming along (not to the conference itself 😉 ) too so we might be doing a bit of sight seeing while we are there.

The title of my paper is: ‘ Aiding the interpretation of ancient documents’ (its on the Thursday at 11am if anyone is there and interested) and its all about decisions/interpretations in Humanities,  how we remember our interpretation (or get a computer program to do it) and how we can store these interpretations/decisions and retrieve them when we need them again. It is a round-up of my PhD research in Ancient History at University of Oxford (also part of the now concluded eSAD project).

The stick-(wo)man (I clearly can’t draw and I don’t care) is a documentary scholar but could just as easily be an archaeologist asking: ‘why did I think this context was a part of house A last week when it is so clearly a part of house B today?’. My research took place in the field of Ancient History so is aimed at documentary scholars mainly. However, the conclusions draw in a much wider audience from all over Humanities as decisions in Humanities are usually interpretation-based and:

  • Subjective
  • Have very little supported material
  • Are near impossible to quantify
  • Are difficult to map

If you would like to know more – let me know! Now I better get back to actually making the presentation.