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.

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