Sunday, 12 October 2014

Landscape Archaeology Conference 2014 Part 2

A landscape: Stockholm from Skinnarbacken, its highest point

Now that I and my notes are in the same city and land I can write more in detail what I learnt in the LAC 2014. Since this conference was in Italy, many of the important sessions were run by famous Italian scholars. This meant a series of papers on relatively local topics. Not that my own paper presented really material from more than one place – I thus fit the Italian framework well – but it was an occasion to hear more about the research that is going on in different less ‘crowded’ research areas. This does not mean that all papers presented local case studies. The opening keynote lecture was by an earth modeller who is not an archaeologist but an environmentalist who is interested in how much prehistoric humans affected the general vegetation levels and climate. Jed O. Kaplan’s models suggested that most of the Europe was lacking wilderness by the Medieval period and the large scale influence on landscape fragmentation can be assumed for the whole Holocene. He suggested that the deforestation was a factum of most of Europe already by the Early Iron Age (1000 BC). This actually fits well to my own local example where the GIS models suggest that all suitable agricultural land was needed for cereal production by the Archaic period (500 BC).

Running conference in three different institutes meant that one had to spend more time consider the papers one really wanted to hear, since the move from one location to another always required exiting and entering institutes through a public road. However, it was clear from early on that there were generally less people in the Swedish Institute, which meant that it was the place to be at lunchtime. You needed to queue less and there was food left when you reached the table. The poster sessions were cosier and you generally discussed more with people. The queue to the toilet tended to be shorter, but not as short as in the Belgian Institute. Small things are important when you need to catch a paper in another building...

It is always a pity that people cannot come and read their papers and I have been sinner as well, even if I try to avoid the matter now as far as possible. It was interesting to notice that one speaker who had apparently fallen ill (or whose family member had) let read two papers in the conference: one should not have been read by anybody else, since the point was lost when the replacement reader monotonously ploughed through the text and the author was not there to explain the key inscriptions and patterns on maps freely. Contrarily, the latter one was clear presenting an interesting online Republican family name database with well-thought narrative arch and nice maps of individuals from Praeneste moving around the Mediterranean in the past.

I was hoping to hear a lot of GIS papers, but ended up sitting quite a lot in the ancient topography session. It was nice to give definite faces to some people whose work you have read for ages and there was extremely good papers, too. Sadly, not the one about the Sicilian find distributions. Apparently all distributions on the maps were random, but when I looked at them, terracottas and cooking wares definitely peaked in different areas. Did the author mean that the correlations between grids and numbers were not significant, or did he not want to interpret small variations? This way or that way, I hope he does not dismiss the evidence. However, the work at Verucchio was highly interesting, as could be expected, and the other Finnish input, the geophysical survey Jari Pakkanen runs at Naxos was just such an interesting piece of solid research with a mathematical twist in the end.

The conference ran a competition for PhD students, a.k.a. young researchers (when will they have a ‘thank you that you still bother come up with new things, darling’ award for us slightly frustrated golden oldies?), notified some researchers I had noticed in the conference. One of the poster awards went to a female PhD student,Felicity Winkley, who had already flown back in the afternoon, which I communicated to the organisers. She studies metal detector finds and was generally fun to talk to. The runner-up award in the paper competition went to another female PhD student from Glasgow, Francesca Scalezzi, whose hair took the centre stage during the presentation. Do not take me wrongly, her paper on the use and data entry classification of legacy data was excellent, but her hair did need drawing back constantly and even so stayed hovering above her notes most of the time. A true performance on so many different levels!

The great papers I enjoyed and that were relevant to what I do were the discussion of sensitivity analysis by Marieka Brower Burg, the latest on the salt production and transhumance in central Etruria, read very quickly indeed by Franco Cambi and Gijs Tol’s paper on how Groningen projects in the Pontine Region try to incorporate inscriptions in their study. Gijs also spotted important points from our paper and got the very important amphorae observation as an answer. We will need to look at that thing elsewhere, too.

However, this was a conference of meetings of old friends and giving faces to people behind different work. I did meet ‘the poster lady’ in flesh, saw Michael Tiechmann and Thomas Whitley after so many years and shared a taxi with Jari after a decade or 15 years of no see. I discussed a couple of times with Matthew Fitzjohn and heard the latest from Gianna and family and Liverpool. Every meeting, not to mention spending time with my Swedish colleagues from the Swedish Institute, RiksantikvarieƤmbetet and Uppsala University, made the conference fee worth every euro.

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