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).

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