Sunday, 27 March 2016

RACed and TRACed? Part 2

The cast gallery at Sapienza University

Are RAC and TRAC different? One assumes that the first is for established professors, and so it sometimes was in Rome, and the latter is for new currents in recent research, organised by PhD students, postgraduates and early career researchers. On paper part of the programme was so: there were Mediterranean-wide topics on ports and trade in sessions organised by illustrious professors and researchers and other overview sessions describing research over Roman Britain, Dacia (more or less modern Romania) and Lusitania (Portugal) in the RAC, where as in the TRAC sessions discussed for example Marxism and gender. There was also Session 1 in the RAC that introduced the new research initiative to bring the materials from the Pontine area, Tiber valley and suburbium all together in collaboration between the University of Groningen, Sapienza University and the British School at Rome. However, in places, it was impossible to say outright which conference you were sitting in. Considering contemporaneity of the themes, the sessions on Sensing Rome and that on Urban Streets as Communication Spaces could have been in the TRAC as well.

My conference started with supporting my fellow Swedes and listening the first two papers in the Beyond the Romans: what can posthumanism do for classical studies in a disappointingly sparsely attended session (to start with). Irene Seisvold (University of Gothenburg) outlined the general themes in posthumanism, emphasising human’s place only as one of the historical actors and agents on the planet. Linnea Åshede (University of Gothenburg) gave the first case study with a talk on Priapus figures. She emphasised the relations between art and viewers and the qualities the works stand for. She stated that the most important point in time is during encounters when different identities and agencies meet and create actors and cause effects. They prompt people to position themselves – both in the past and present.

Landeschi in the Sensing session

From posthumanism to Interdisciplinary approaches to ancient Roman diets. Among the talks I heard the most interesting and thought provoking was Emily Holt’s presentation (SUN Buffalo/Museum national d’Histoire Naturelle) on ‘Animal consumption: social inequality and economic change in a non-elite area of Pompeii’. The results from the Porta Stabia project did show how the nutrition changed over time. Holt wanted to know if the economic growth of the Early Imperial times had positive effects on food consumption of the average Pompeians. Her research methods included traditional bone figures, micro remains from flotations and SEM-identified egg shells. Her results were mixed. On one hand the lower class Pompeians got more and better meat from younger animals, but the cuts were poorer. Marrow provided calories (which she took as a good thing, even if I do think remembering that within the Victorian times bone samples, evidence of eating marrow shows deprivation) and pigs were the preferred eaten species. She interpreted this mixed bag of results as a sign that more meat was on offer, people could afford cheap bits, but the selection was limited and they were priced out from buyng meatier and plumper cuts.

From inequality to Marxism. Some of the later papers apparently left people wondering where the Marxism was, but the session started with a more traditional note with Steve Roskams (University of York). He made it clear from the start that he believes that mode of production is defined as a way the elite sustains itself. However, his presentation was a historiography of different approaches to modes of production in economic history of the Roman Empire and his own review of the attitude towards social relations. Interestingly, he reviewed Greene and Aubert ducking the issue. In practice, he seemed to be advocating historical materialism as a tool of analysis of social relations and viewing change as dialectical process, i.e. how social contradictions, consequences of inequality and conflicts were resolved or not resolved in the past. The two following papers had the interesting premises and some interesting interpretations on variations and multivocality of eastern European Marxism (Emily Hanscam, Durham) and how in the DDR classical archaeology was perceived as bourgoise and could live in the form of economic history (Paul Pasieka, DAI, Rome). Pasienka also gave an overview of Italian Marxist archaeology that he buried ca. 1992 with the demise of Dialoghi d’Archeologia. Both suffered from the poor acoustics of Aula III that did not enhance presentations read from paper.

Veitch’s aural GIS maps

My personal highlight of the conferences was the TRAC session Method matters that emphasised archaeological methods in constructing historical narratives in Roman colonisation studies. The big idea of the Leiden School of field survey interpretation is emphasising vici, i.e. the larger rural settlements, villages, and their importance instead of standard independent colonist farms in local settlement patterns during the early colonial period. It is interesting how persistent the idea of nucleated village is in central and southern Europe. In northern Europe a dispersed village is a norm during the historical times (as are free peasants), so I have advocated the dispersed village model since my PhD. In early urbanisation in central Italy, though, but different settlement models should be revisited clearly more. Damjan Donev’s talk on interior Balkan areas was interesting, but it was Anita Casarotto’s presentation (with Pelgrom and Stek) that compared the legacy data from Venusia, Aesernia and Cosa that really got me going. Point density analysis suggests that southern areas were different with more clustering. Jesús Garcia Sánchez in his exciting talk was comparing functional distributions of pottery and different architectural ceramic materials. It is nice to know that not only our ceramiscene, as also presented in Rajala and Mills's poster in the RAC, highlights the ways survey material can be used further. However, in addition, he compared these distributions to geophysics, especially resistivity. His results seemed to go together. It was interesting to see a cleaning take to surveying areas where vegetation covers the surface: scrape the grass off from a systematic point sampling area.

Intertwining with Session 1 I was dropping in and out from Beyond hybridity and codeswitching TRAC session discussing new approaches to the Late Hellenistic archaeology. Raffaella Da Vela’s (Universität Bonn) gave a very interesting case study of studying cultural identities with Social Network Analysis (SNA). It was fascinating to see how density, centrality and clustering changed from period to another. Later in the session there was an interesting talk from Claudia Widow (also Bonn) about Samnite brick stamps and coin hoards. I chatted with her later in the conference and it turned out that she was actually studying the architecture of the temple sites. Nevertheless, the origins of the coins tell something – if not about the origins of the audience, then about the contacts along the line.

Children and houses

On Friday, my favourites where the Sensing Rome and Urban Streets sessions. Naturally, I enjoyed giving my talk – especially when the audience increased by the door. The strike action in the morning affecting public transport delayed many people. Luckily, I had to come during the guaranteed rush hour traffic earlier. With only 20 minutes to use, I decided to give an outline of my theoretical model and some key points from interpreting inscriptions and funerary architecture in my study area across central Italy across the chronological disciplinary boundary between Etruscology and Roman archaeology. I missed the early Sensing session due to my own talk, which I had apologised in advance to Eleanor Betts, but got a short summary from my Finnish colleagues in the audience. Even if I do like the Pompeian tabernae and Giacomo Landeschi is my colleague in Sweden and does brilliant 3D work, this time around my favourite was Jeffrey Veitch’s (University of Kent) talk ‘Structure of Noise’ presented a kind of acoustic GIS maps of the decibel levels across rooms and spaces in Ostian houses that showed something new about the interplay between sounds, architectural elements and building materials.

Simelius on peristyles

Anette Haug's and Philipp Kobusch'sStreets provided us with ideas about looking for children and their possibilities in mobility and interaction in Pompeii (Ray Laurence, Kent), discussion about Bourdieu’s habitus in different types of inscriptions (Peter Keegan, Macquarie) and election notices and graffiti hotspots in Pompeii and the importance of larger private houses plus secluded spots in the case of graffiti (Eeva-Maria Viitanen, Helsinki). Which reminds me that I did not say anything about Samuli Simelius’s (University of Helsinki) peristyle talk. Well, it was interesting, but more interesting was his comment in the Villa Lante residents’ kitchen before leaving from Rome: “I feel I may have caught something, a conference cold”. Yes, I did, too, but it became a ‘back from Sweden to UK’ cold. Sigh – where people come together, there is a cold. Leicester, the most diverse city in UK, my home town, is also the home for more variety in cold bugs than anywhere else in the country. Thus, beautiful minds from all over came together in Rome, discussed and had lunched and dined – and Leicester got one bug more.

I apologise all my readers for my failure to have pictures of female speakers this time. In some cases, I just did not think about it, I was dealing with the initial net connection, the battery was flattish or I was unsure if I had a permission to photograph and in one case the photo I had uploaded to social media was commented in a way that I thought it may be better that I do not plaster it here. The all male panel was not intended (I am sure you have heard this excuse before).

Sunday, 20 March 2016

RACed and TRACed? Part 1

Reconstruction of Portus as presented by S. Keay during the key note talk

The Portus trip at the very end of the Roman Archaeology Conference in Rome went more or less pear-shaped from my part, but otherwise I enjoyed Rome in March as one could be expected to. I was suggested in beforehand that a conference this big may be irritating and tiresome, but even if I missed some talks due to people dropping out and the schedules being tinkered at the spot, the general feeling was as sunny as the weather outside on most days. The real problem, and really down to myself, was being at Sapienza University at time early in the morning. This in turn turned me into an old lady by Friday evening, so instead of any Mostra opening or TRAC party, I and my colleague Eeva-Maria Viitanen who had her talk last in the conference on Saturday as one of the handful delegates, we headed for a quiet dinner near Doria Pamphilia.

Well deserved thanks to Chiara Maria Marchetti

Generally, the conference was well-organised and the things that went slightly awry were nothing in comparison with one truly chaotic conference I have attended in the past. All the rooms had functioning laptops and projectors, there were plenty of nice students to help us and the conference secretary Chiara Maria Marchetti was an ever-present fixture everywhere. Things got sorted promptly without delay. The poster session advice however changed along the way and there could have been signs on the walls to guide the delegates to the right lecture rooms, not only in the conference booklet. At the beginning I was a bit out of my breath – mainly because I came to Rome after a quick detour to Florence – but the coffee breaks and lunches were served also in the Museum of Classical Archaeology among the casts of the statues, which gave grandeur to the proceedings. It took a couple of hours to get going and by picking up interesting lectures and themes from both the RAC and TRAC I created a versatile programme.

The book stalls among the cast collection

There were even special effects. In the Sensing Rome session the air conditioning in the Odeon was working on overtime and my choice of short-sleeved dress for my presentation day meant that I was quite cold before it was all over. There would have been a possibility to Hoff one session for being an all-male panel, but considering who were present, I decided that it was more important to bring in a female voice by making a relevant question and take part in discussion in Italian; I did get a very good answer. In general, there were plenty of female organisers – as in the Urban Streets session where Eeva-Maria was speaking – and there was a whole session for Sex, Gender and Family (see the session list).

The end is nigh at RAC/TRAC2016

Most importantly, in the opening address the Superintendency in Rome was thanked for our free access to some sites and we were reminded of the challenging times for heritage management in Italy. We were also reminded of the struggle many of our colleagues are having and there was a wish that the loss of colleagues that stood for their heritage was not for vain. This was nice to hear, especially since my colleague was just telling in social media the story of a female colleague that had to leave everything behind and flee for her safety.

The delightfully cheap conference dinner was an enjoyable treat, spent discussing with Peter Attema from Groningen and Simon Malmberg from Bergen. It turned out that the latter was very familiar with my research, as he himself suggested. He had been in the panel that had evaluated the candidates for a Mediterranean lectureship at Oslo and he was suggesting that my research was impressive. He also shared a taxi back to Gianicolo after a nice evening.

My Friday was busy, since I was live tweeting all afternoon, not only presenting in the morning – and we were literally running a chair-it-yourself session. The first speaker was a real star and started promptly on time and finished in a similar manner while giving a good talk on Urban Structure in the Graeco-Roman world. He even loaned me his watch, so I could time my talk. With his help and little assistance from the nice students, I managed to finish on the spot and hand the turn to the Vindolanda talk. As my friend suggested, we could have been pouring our content to the listeners without any regard, but we were very civilised.

I will come back to some of the highlights I heard in the Part 2 of my conference posts. I will also come back to the Archaeological Museum in Florence when I have a slot in my weekly blog.

Rome in March

You know, it was fun. The enjoyment was increased by being able to eat breakfast on the sunny mornings on the terrace looking at Rome at our feet. I am lodging next door to emerita Margareta Steinby who has every now and then commented delightfully the everyday happenings we have faced. Now I just hope for uneventful travel.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Waiting for... but reporting

Some week's are in a funny way without major reports for public domain. No matter how much one travels or works or does. This week is one of those while waiting for next week that will undoubtedly provide blog feed for a couple of weeks. I did work a couple of weeks home, do my presentation for next week, attend meetings in London and tweet from a lecture, travel to Stockholm and sort out some software issues there and visit a major shopping area outside Stockholm for some essentials. However, the matters discussed in the meeting are confidential, the tweets are out there to be looked for and the research will be reported in its due course. Last weekend's CAA-UK was already reported in last week's post. In a way it is all about waiting. Everything begins to be ready for the Roman Archaeology Conference and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference next week.

In addition, I missed one of this week's major events at Stockholm, the latest from the Iron Age team working for The Atlas Project (or let's give its full name The Atlas of Ancient Human Genomes in Sweden) that tries to look for the population movements during the Swedish prehistory and for any hints of the stability or changes in populations during the key moments of transition. Naturally considering only periods when the burial rite was inhumation and we have skeletal remains. Luckily, the key team is located in the office opposite me, so I heard all about it the following day when I returned. It is all so red hot new from the presses that I leave any reporting to them via proper channels. I can only say that the things I heard will give new information on late Iron Age society.

It is a pity I missed the talk, but at least I had nice chats with my colleagues the following day. While they were discussing the Iron Age, I was reporting from a similarly interesting find, the Whitehorse Hill Cist in Dartmoor. This find in the blanket peat has revealed astonishing finds that have been presented lately in many lectures around Britain, as they were also in the Royal Archaeological Institute lecture on Wednesday. The cremation was excavated in a laboratory and it has revealed some unique features, including unusual preservation of organic matter, and many that are rare, but discovered in other parts of Britain as well. Some features just reflected what was common in the Dartmoor area in the Early Bronze Age. Of the unique features, the most unique were the pure tin rivets of an arm band and a bear's pelt. There was also a copper alloy pin and amber and shale beads in a colour-schemed neclace. The speaker, Dr Andy M. Jones, remindered us that a single flint flake, a common feature in the region, may have been the only object to be found in a burial without pottery had there not been the peat.

The bead necklace (linked from the Dartmoor National Park web site

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Will I CAAuk it?

CAA-UK: one of Eve's title pages

This has been one of those weeks which have been extremely busy. Even so I managed to ram in talks and conferences. I am starting to scribe this on a flight back to Britain, with the ambitious plan to head to a conference on Saturday in Leicester – even if I won’t be back home until midnight. I have not registered to the conference either, but it is in Leicester and the CAA-UK, which is definitely not a stuffy conference at all. I have been slightly unsure of the timings with Phil’s best friend around, but now it seems that I will be able to attend the wine reception. I will see how things develop otherwise. I have not booked the conference dinner, but if it is anything like the previous conferences, the things should work out. Or I will head to bed. I will be country hopping the coming three weeks anyway.

This week saw one visiting scholar and one final seminar with an external opponent by a PhD student at Stockholm. The visiting scholar was Professor Clive Bonsall from Edinbufgh who was presenting the evidence for the change to the agriculture and proper Neolithic along the Danube around the Iron Gorge. It was a fascinating tale of old excavations, badly published in the Balkans and isotope studies going back to the 1990s. It was interesting to know how different scholars in different universities are piecing the evidence from different samples – all somehow stabbing in the start without proper final publications of the excavations. Even Lepenski Vir came out of something stitched together from different overall descriptions and preliminary reports. Suddenly my own sins in non-published fieldwork – only eight years aback – feel like small potatoes. I promise to work on it in the summer – if the current research allows.

The final seminar was all about southern Swedish bronze moulds and their social context. This seminar was fascinating due to the fact that the opponent had been an excavation director and report writer at many of the motorway excavation sites this PhD and its case study along the Mälare area was based on. He was very polite – but could make so many suggestions how to improve the manuscript. He even attended the meal afterwards in my favourite beer restaurant in Stockholm – the Kvarnen. He also made me wonder if they were talking about the sites around Uppsala I visited all those years ago as a fresh student on a student society trip to Uppsala. We headed to some very muddy motorway excavations in Uppland – but I think they were Iron Age.

The most interesting part of this PhD is the fact that the doctorand is able to make a difference along the gender lines in the social context of bronze crafts. If the mould fragments were found in the long houses, they seem to testify of the manufacture of dominantly female objects, but if the mould remains were found in ritual houses, they tend to have been used to mould male objects. Certain objects were manufactured in both settings – among them the daggers and the swords. Absolutely fabulous – although I was surprised the PhD candidate had not used weights of fragments from different sites to measure the magnitude of bronze craft industries. In any case, the manufacture seems to have been dispersed and not particularly managed by any elites. I hardly can wait for the public viva. However, we have to wait until 2017 according to Anna who now has a lot to ponder from the constructive and measured comments.

CAA-UK: Joyce discussing using drones

So fastforward to the Saturday morning and the CAA registration – that turned out to be online only. However, these things sort themselves out. As did my attempts to semi-live or live tweeting. This conference was going to be my test run for a live tweeting session I will have in Rome in the Roman Archaeology Conference. I thought it would be good to see, if my old smart phone still could make it (no, it does not) and how it all will go in an unfamiliar environment. Switching phones became an operation. The conference – in an auditorium underground – reminded of other important aspects. The wifi was on and off and there was no mobile phone reception, so there were limited back up options when wifi was off. This one test run was done without much preparations, so for the real run, one have to make a list of the essentials. Luckily, the live tweeting will be on the third conference day, so I will have time to get the basics right. I will have time to check the room beforehand, see the general wifi performance during the conference days and do some test tweeting on my own behalf before performing.

The conference day in itself was fantastic. It covered some lines of research I have to return again – and it seems people are making astonishing progress. However, the day began with Libya, as it is fitting at Leicester with the Libya archives and large projects across northern Africa. Louise Rayne presented the Endangered Archaeology image interpretation methodology using Google Earth in collaboration with Oxford to map damage and destruction for all kinds of monuments in the Middle East and North Africa. Hopefully, training of Libyan archaeologists will guarantee that the EAMENA database will continue to be updated after the end of the project. After Libya we headed to Madinat al-Zahra in southern Spain. This early Islamic town site has been studied with geophysical methods. Now they have experimented with the use of portable XRF in order to see if the anomalies in the magnetometer survey coincide with the hotspots with certain heavy metals. This pXRFing the top soil works probably at the metal working sites, but the discussion between another team suggests it is problematic.

Casswell: comparing the cost surfaces from different terrain types in Britain

Then Daniel Joyce presented different possibilities in the development for drone use in archaeology, restricted by very limited fly times defined by battery charges, for which there are lines of solutions coming up. However, the possibilities range from site surveys including multispectral recording to site tours and building recording. After this more general overview there were a series of good papers on Britain. A number of papers, including the single and joint presentations from Michelle De Grouney and Edward Casswell from Durham, explored the current work on cost paths and cost surfaces. It became clear that the finer detail of the models is becoming more reliable with new research on differences different walkers have on different walking surfaces and better understanding how different algorithms in different software packages affect the routes of cost paths and size of cost surfaces. The discussions were even more interesting than the papers, revealing the new localised work in order to understand land cover in the past.

Sycamore: hoard sites and locational precision

The papers discussing Roman Britain hoards by Rachel Sycamore and one aspect, in this case field systems, studied by the English Landscape project by Chris Green delivered food for thought on these very English site categories. The reliability of the historic hoard find was an issue for Sycamore and she has not quite decided if she will go for fuzzy classification or weighting better known sites. At least the poor data does not cluster. Green on the other hand has managed to find chronological differences between coaxial field system sites and aggregate sites. He was searching for suitable metrics for analysis on the character of field systems. He could find a difference between the elevations of the Bronze Age and Iron Age field systems as compared against the national values. In discussions he suggested that more ways to compare the systems may come in their landscape context.

So did I CAAuk it? Well, at least I hope to be back next year. Sadly, I had to pass today's second day due to Mothers' day and other commitments. The day I could attend finished well with Stuart Eve's paper on augmented reality. The previous attempts on non-digital augmented reality with door frames in Bodmin Moor was mentioned, after Stuart presented his more restricted views from virtual houses. However, it was his aural and smelly experiences, using mobile positioning technology - and infused cotton wool in the case of smells - was truly augmenting heritage reality. The wearable gear in the smelly tour did not look very appealing, yet. So that was the day it was. Next, I will country hop from UK to Sweden and then start to ponder (T)RACing it.