University of Southampton

Desk-based Day

I am happy to admit that today I am “stuck” in the office at the British School at Rome (BSR) (my presence here  is explained in my post from last year) seated at my desk with a fan gently whirring at my feet.

Desk Based Day

It is about 35 degrees outside and I am enjoying my final few days of cool office time before heading into the field. A field I might add with no shade and the weather prediction is that it is only going to get hotter… am mentally preparing for days of slapping on sun cream factor 50 only to have it trickle into my eyeballs with sweat whilst I am marching up and down in lines conducting a magnetometer survey in Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino, Italy.

I have already had a taste of the heat at Segni, Lazio. Perched on a hilltop, this Roman colony is exceptionally pituresque and has been partially enveloped in the medieval borgo. The circuit of the town is bounded by a wall of polygonal construction and the large stone jigsaw walls are impressive even to this day. Our work as part of a major new project of the BSR in collaboration with the Archaeological Museum and local council of Segni, was to conduct GPR survey in the towns piazza and adjacent to the robust podium of the temple of Juno Moneta on the acropolis. Closing down roads and piazzas is never popular but we were warmly welcomed. The locals were inquisitive and supportive of our work although many remained unconvinced that pushing, seemingly, a pram across tarmac and cobblestones could ever herald the results we were claiming that this simple manoeuvre would bring. They have a point.

But back to my desk, writing up a conference paper with the pit-pat, pit-pat of tennis balls being struck at Wimbledon on the radio in the background. In between rooting through a thesaurus as the heat begins to fry any semblance of a creative vocabulary, there are other things on my to do list for the day. Perhaps the most daunting task I have is the initial stage of securing and organising new projects. Funding, as we archaeologists all know, is rather scant so trying to maintain a steady income to cover our salaries and costs is a nerve-wracking job. Although we run our geophysics programme as a non-profit enterprise we do have real costs and it is always a delicate balance between fixing a price and ensuring that we can do the project to our professional level on the budget in hand. So far, so good this morning. The client is on board and we shall meet next week to discuss the details.

At a set down -it would appear that last year’s Wimbledon champion, Novak Djokovic, is not having such a good day in the office as me.

My Project: “Dig for Victory”

I’m Sarah, and I’m a part time archaeology student. As I was on holiday on the actual Day of Archaeology, I’ve decided to write about a current project of mine entitled “Dig for Victory”.

My situation is a little complicated, but in summary I’m a distance learning student with the Open University but also doing practical courses with the University of Southampton. I’m finishing up my degree at the end of next month and I’ll be starting my Masters with Southampton in October. I’m particularly interested in prehistory, specifically human origins, but I’ll have to wait until October to join the postgrad world. For now I’m digging around in the dreaded depths of theory.

As a distance learner I’m somewhat limited in my project choices, and therefore cannot run out into the field wielding my trowel very often. Instead I found myself oddly drawn to archaeological theory, and in particular to an assignment I did in my first year about the politics of archaeology. Although I investigated many cases in many different countries, for my project I decided to focus on archaeology in Nazi Germany and wartime Britain. In particular I’m investigating how national identity was in part built by archaeological findings, and how these were used to include and exclude certain groups of people.

In Britain various national icons, such as the British Museum, were used to promote national identity and to unite the country during in between the World Wars. Museums in particular provided an avenue for people to explore their history and develop national pride in their country.

But in Germany it was rather a different story, with archaeology being used to prove ideological arguments and to legitimise the actions of the leaders of the Nazi party. The field of archaeology quickly came under the jurisdiction of the military, as many areas did, and was being used to investigate the “great Germanic people”. At one point excavations were being planned near every SS unit to help instil a sense of national pride. But, of course, excavations were expected to support the ‘right’ version of history, not necessarily the true version. Prehistory in particular was used (despite Hitler allegedly not thinking highly of prehistory) to write the history of the Germanic people, and therefore justify the invasion of other countries.

I’ve recently been focusing on the German archaeology, and moving onto the British side next week when I visit various museums in London. I never really realised before just how much archaeology was used, and how archaeology in Germany was littered with references to the military – for example, I’ve many images of Nazi officers attending the opening of museums and of Nazi banners at conferences.

Although I would, of course, love to be out in the field digging for my project, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to sit and consider theory in more depth. As a first year I was too baffled by theory (as is every archaeology student!) to fully appreciate why it was important, and it wasn’t until the final lecture that I really understood why we were learning this stuff!

I think it’s important for archaeology students to learn about the history of archaeology itself, and that it’s not just about what we dig up but also about the impact that knowledge has on others. Archaeology has gone through many changes in the last century, and is bound to go through many more in years to come.

I’ve certainly found an invaluable but cautionary tale in my researching, and I hope to share more details with you once I have finished. If you would like to follow me while I complete my research and move onto my Masters, you can follow my on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/archaeosarah

Thank you for reading, and happy (belated) day of archaeology!

Tells of space and time….

I’ve always always loved learning and reading about the ancient world. It seems to me to be full of unsolved mysteries and puzzles, tantalizing enigmas about who-done-what and what happened where. Definitely by the time I got to University, I knew I really wasn’t even interested in anything else other than the distant past. I am currently researching for my dissertation in MSc in Web Science at the University of Southampton, and I’m looking at how to represent ambiguities in the spatial and temporal elements of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia.

red pen on line drawing of Code of Hammurabi (Old Babylonian)My path to this MSc has been long and winding. During my undergrad years at Birmingham University I focused on studying Mesopotamia and the cultures of the Early Bronze Age in the Near East. I learnt to read Sumerian cuneiform, as well as various dialects of Akkadian – I’d say that Sumerian and Old Babylonian remain my favourites, and in the course of my current research I’ve got the opportunity to again engage with these elements from my academic past.

(more…)

Coffee and Geometry

My name is Gareth Beale, I am a Phd student and I am working in the office at the University of Southampton.

Things have started well today, the temperamental coffee machine worked like a charm after the usual spluttering and steaming.  

It is a rather gloomy summers day here in Southampton and I would dearly love to be digging at some far flung corner of the (southern) Roman Empire where temperamental coffee machines are nothing but a dim memory and there is a cafe on every corner stuffed full of espresso and pastries, but alas it is not to be. Instead we are talking 3D computer graphics. This will not come as a surprise to anybody who has spent any time at Southampton, but it may well come as a disappointment to anybody reading this post. 

I am currently engaged in the process of writing a chapter for my PhD on the subject of Physically Accurate computer graphics and thier potenital as archaeological research tools. This morning will be dedicated to the dicussion of the relative merits of different forms of 3D data acquisition, specifically, time of flight laser scanning, triangulation laser scanning and structured light scanning. 

More coffee anyone?

 

AM: Eating toast – planning the day.

I am Nicole Beale (nee Smith),  a PhD student at the University of Southampton, looking at the impact that the Web is having on professional practice in the cultural heritage sector.  As with every weekday, my morning has begun with some toast, a cup of tea, and my RSS feeds.  I have a meeting with my supervisor later today, so I’ll mostly be spending time with my own thoughts this morning, but there’s still time  to do a few little fun ‘archaeology’ themed jobs.

Firstly, after I have brushed my teeth I am planning to clean up a blog that I set up for a great project that is run by two insanely motivated archaeologists, between Southampton University and Zupanja Museum in Croatia.  The blog is quite dusty and needs a spring-clean before the next load of students begin to populate it with this year’s fieldwork data (they survey/dig through August).  The blog aims to give updates about the fieldwork season as it goes on, but invariably has been updated at the end of a season with a few personal thoughts and then a season summary.  I’m going to try to encourage more ‘raw’ content this season, but don’t know if those digging and surveying will be able to find time to contribute content.

In an attempt to lessen the frustrations of visiting a blog that doesn’t have regular content updates, I have tried to fashion it more like a static website.  Not sure if that does actually make the lack of new content less frustrating for the subscribers, but it certainly does lessen my guilt for not spending much time cleaning it up as I should have last year (or the year before).  Time is the biggest barrier I think to the success of communication avenues like the blogs we set up every year.  Along with persuading team members that content can be brief and still worthy of inclusion.

Next up; the semantic web and art gallery data sets…