Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Archaeological Theory

This term I am a teaching assistant for the unit Contemporary Theory in Archaeology. As a part of this week's lecture, the tutor, Tamar Hodos, gave the students one minute to come up with a list of their different identities. These are the results:  

Second-year students' identities 




Thursday, 3 October 2013

A day in Derby

Last week I travelled to Derby to give a public lecture for the Derbyshire Archaeological Society (DAS). I had contacted the DAS earlier in the year, as I was keen to let people know more about my research project, and also to get in contact with some of their members. The Biddles' excavations in Repton, which my PhD is based on, took place between 1974 and 1988, and in 1993. In those years a great number of volunteers took part; many from the local area. Two articles have so far been published on the excavations, but the final reports are still in progress. I wanted to let as many as possible know what my project is about, and hoped I might get some useful feedback too.

Over 90 people turned up to listen to my talk in the end, which was a great turnout. The audience was great, and I think I pitched the talk right - which is difficult when you have a lot of information (and science!) to try to get across to a mixed group of people! Since the talk I've been in contact with many of those who attended. Several have e-mailed me with comments and to give me additional information, some of which has already proven very useful in my research. I hope the DAS will have me back again in the future, once my research has progressed a little further!


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Summer schools

I have taken another two weeks off my research for a course, but this time I have been teaching, rather than learning. Since 2007 I have taught Introduction to Archaeology summer schools for lifelong learners with the archaeology department in Bristol, so the courses are now in their 7th year.

Artefact handling session at Bristol City Museum
The summer schools are a combination of taught lectures, practical sessions in artefacts handling, surveying, and environmental archaeology, and two days of fieldwork at Berkeley Castle.

I really enjoy teaching these courses, as my students are always incredibly motivated and enthusiastic. Many have taken time off work to come along, and some have even travelled far and wide to attend: in the past I've had students from Brazil, France, Turkey, and Australia. Many students are considering a career in archaeology, either by starting an undergraduate degree, or changing from a related career through a postgraduate qualification. 
The excitement at trying to interpret a pollen chart for the first time!

My favourite part: I get to set the syllabus, and as a result, choose the best bits to teach. For most of the students this is their first hands-on experience of subject, and often the first time they take part in an archaeological excavation. 

Sadly, the University of Bristol, like many other universities, no longer has an active continuing education and lifelong-learning programme. This is largely a result of changes and cuts in government funding, which has been taking place over the last decade and more. Personally, I feel this is a great shame, and one which will have consequences in the future. With university tuition fees increasing, I worry that potential students will be put off subjects like archaeology which have a less obvious career path (although in reality, studying archaeology is a great choice that offers a huge range of transferable skills!). Lifelong-learning programmes can therefore be a great way for people to keep their interest and involvement in the subject.
I wrote a blog post for the Heritage Open Days website following my students through one of their days on site at Berkeley castle. Take a look to see what we were up to! 






















Monday, 15 July 2013

My adventures at Iso-Camp (part 2)

Actual Science
The lectures started with an introduction to SIRFER (Stable Isotope Ratio Facility for Environmental Research, and yes, acronyms were to be a recurrent theme throughout the course). Thure Cerling gave us a useful introduction to some of the most fundamental concepts that would be a part of all the lectures over the coming two weeks. (Fortunately, there were  comprehensive handouts, and the lectures were recorded for us to view later. For this I was very grateful.)



Wednesday, 10 July 2013

My adventures at Iso-Camp (part 1)

Splitting hairs. Photo: SIRFER/Iso-Camp
Last month, I travelled 4800 miles to spend two weeks grinding leaves, splitting hairs, and cramming more science into my head than I thought possible. 

I should probably explain. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Work in progress

I have not had the time to post as much on my blog yet as I would like to. But there is a good reason for that. In two weeks' time I have what is more or less my only 'real' deadline before my final thesis is due to be submitted in October 2015. My university requires all PhD students to go through an upgrade process towards the end of their first year. This is to demonstrate that they have the necessary skills and a suitable project that can be completed in three or four years. When you first start you are registered as an MLitt (Master of Letters) student, and when you have successfully passed your upgrade you become a fully-fledged PhD student. In practice this means submitting a draft thesis chapter of about 10 000 words, which will be assessed by two internal examiners. You then have to defend your work along with a thesis outline, bibliography, and progress plan in a sort of interview called a viva - which is the same process you go through with your final thesis. 

Although working on my upgrade means spending very little time in the lab I'm finding it a very useful process. I've chosen to submit a draft of my background chapter, which sets the context for my research. I'm writing about the historical development of the period, and ways in which we interpret identities in the past. In other words how do we work out   who people were -  both who (and what) they considered themselves to be, and who others thought they were? This is really at the core of my research, and I need to consider how we define a 'Viking'. What happened to those who came to England to settle? Did they consider themselves to be outsiders, who were different from the 'native' population? And if so, how was this difference shown, and for how long? And how did the newcomers (both the armies and the more peaceful settlers) interact with the locals 
A lot has been written about this already; some excellent work, some not quite so good. So my current job is to wade through the literature and extract the most important arguments and resources. And this is what requires a lot of tea and some motivation from my muse, the Lego Viking woman residing on my desk. 

Update, June 2013: I passed the upgrade!! 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Armchair Archaeology

The field, and the Bumpy Line

Or in this case, bedroom window archaeology. I recently made the startling discovery that the long bumpy line I've been staring at in the field behind my house for the past six months is in fact an