ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
It's the end of the first conference day and I'm knackered. Talks from 8am to 6pm - I filled nine A4 pages in my notebook. But it was interesting talks, on topics as shattered as scientific analyses of Roman eggshells, written records on 14th century sheep houses, and medieval urban waste managements. And then there was a party afterwards in the greenhouses in the botanical gardens. I was too busy taking notes to tweet someting - hope you weren't too disappointed. Tomorrow will be a bit easier: the talks only lasts until half past three. Hopefully I can find some time to see the Hunterian museum.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Soon I'm off very early to bed, since I need to get up very early (way before sunrise) and start my travels to the EAA conference in Glasgow. I hope I can get some sleep on the way there...

I also hope to start on my almost brand new twitter account. We'll see how it goes. It probably won't be live tweeting, since I will be too busy taking notes.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
This was the 10th anniversary of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, and it was held in Fort Cumberland, a 18th century fort in Portsmouth where (parts of) Historic England have their offices. There were lots of good talks, celebratory cake and wine, a guided tour of the fort, and a very interesting workshop on identifying dogs from wolves and foxes, as well as sexing dogs.

cut for serious length )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I spent the entire day washing buckets and my fingernails are not happy (the gloves are not tight around the wrist, so water seep in from the hose spray).

Small bones and charred seeds etc are usually recovered via soil samples, and it's the environmental department that deals with processing these and washing the buckets to send them out to the next site. Normally there's no problem with keeping up with demand, but when all sites (or what felt like all) call for 20 or 40 buckets each for the end of the week we suddenly found ourselves with 180 buckets to wash. Unfortunately that coincided with a large move of samples between offices: 2000 buckets from us to Cambridge, and that was a full-time job for all environmentalists*. Since I didn't have any urgent deadlines, I was asked to wash as many buckets as I could.

I washed 120, and at the end of the day my colleague came and asked if I wanted the bad or the good news first. One site put in an order for 160 buckets... On the plus side, the deadline is not until Monday and I don't have to wash all of them.


*: As a bone specialist I'm sort of between finds (handcollected bones) and enviro (sieved bones), although in the office administration I fall under enviro. So, technically part of the environmental department, although in reality a bit to the side from the soil processing part of it.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
It's been a lovely but very busy weekend. It was the 10th anniversary of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, and in honour of that the meeting stretched across the whole weekend, and not just the Saturday. It was held in Fort Cumberland, the listed 18th century fort on the outskirts of Portsmouth, where Historic England, the research part of English Heritage, is. The topics for the meeting were Roman zooarchaeology and dogs. We were also treated to a guided tour of the fort (more interesting than I had assumed - if you get a chance, don't miss it). After the meeting, we had dinner together at a fish restaurant at the seafront and on Sunday we had an excursion to Portchester Castle (probably the only medieval castle that was built within a Roman fort (and still has the Roman walls standing!) and Fishbourne Roman palace.

And now I have to deal with the aftermath of the meeting: contact the people I need to contact about various things, decipher my notes and re-write them, and do an Ossamenta post about the talks. My handwriting is not the tidiest, but when I write really fast, trying to keep up with a speaker, letters can be lost, transposed or only the mere rudimentaries of them gets put to paper. Luckily I at least know the context of the talk.


 photo P1060715_zpskvz60l1b.jpg
It says "variability within towns". Obvious, right?
ossamenta: Text only: That would be an ecumenical matter (Ecumenical matter)
Forgot these ones:

- Recently retired Professor of Archaeology at York and well-known zooarchaeologist Terry O'Connor posted useful advice for newbie zooarchaeologists. Read it well: there is much truth in it.

- Some supercool Danish finds include a deposit of c.2000 small gold spirals dated to the Bronze Age. They think the spirals were possibly part of clothing decoration. (Danish article)
And last year they found 5000 year old foot prints as they were excavating for the Femern Belt tunnel.

- Bone assemblages that probably represent waste from feasts are found now and again in archaeology. Organising elaborate feasts was not only a way to display wealth (you could afford to slaughter this many animals) but also to bring a community together. An unusual feasting assemblage has been found in Llanmaes, an Iron Age site in Wales. About 80% of all bones from livestock came from pig – in itself unusual – but most of the pig bones came from the right fore limb. Such patterns are very unusual, and the archaeologists think that the bones represent joints that were brought to a communal feast where each participant brought an equal (literally) share of the food.
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
There's so many things going on in my life now that I've been neglecting this blog a bit, and in particular letting the interesting links build up. I hope I can get rid of a fair few in this post.

- Author Nicola Griffith wrote an interesting post about elves, gender, Anglo-Saxon medical practice and how this was changed by Christianization.

- Another author (and historian), Kari Sperring did an half-hour talk at Exilicon on the real history of the three musketeers (video)

- A newly discovered velociraptor ancestor with feathers.

- In line with strange and mysterious ritual stuff, an Iron Age site in Dorset produced composite animals deposited in pits: A cow with horse legs, a sheep with an extra head at its bum etc. It will be very interesting to read the subsequent research and see what they can find out about Iron Age beliefs.

- Isotope research have revealed some very interesting things over the years, often upending our previous beliefs and assumptions. The newest thing that's come to my knowledge is a study of the famous Egtved girl in Denmark. She's one of the Bronze Age oak coffin burials that were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century, where circumstances had managed preservation of organic remains, and they are subsequently our main source for Scandinavian Bronze Age clothing. Researchers took isotope samples from her teeth, hair, nails as well as from her clothing and found out that she wasn't Danish at all! (nor was her clothing) The isotope signatures point elsewhere, possibly what's now southeastern Germany (the geology is consistent with this, but more importantly (as this type of geology is found elsewhere) the archaeological record indicates a relationship between Denmark and this area during the Bronze Age). Correlating hair growth rate and several samples along one strand of hair, they also found that she had been going back and forth between Denmark and the other region (probably NW Germany) during her last two years in life. (A more detailed article in Danish)

- Of course, sometimes science makes things more boring. A DNA analysis of the hair tufts and hair cords found on the Norse settlement The Farm Beneath the Sand on Greenland changed the species identification from bear, bison and muskox (signifying trade with North America) to horse and goat (not signifying trade with North America).

- Neanderthal bone flutes were apparently made by hyenas, not Neanderthals.

- There's a new theory on why the wooly mammoth became extinct: osteoporosis may have "helped".

- The Paston Letters is one of the largest archives of 15th-century English private correspondence, comprising about 1000 letters and documents including petitions, leases, wills and even shopping lists. They offer a unique glimpse into the personal lives of three generations of the Paston family from Norfolk over a period of 70 years. A large part of the collection have now been scanned and put online at the British Library's website.

- If you are in New York, don't miss the Medieval rings exhibition at the Met museum.

- Pottery enthusiasts might like this intact wine vessel found in Early Medieval layers in the Danish town Ribe.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I've been contacted by Fleur Schinning, from the University of Leiden, where she's writing her MA dissertation on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology. She's asking the readers of several archaeology blogs - of which this is one - to fill in a questionnaire on why they're reading archaeology blogs etc. If that doesn't stir your heart enough (seriously: we like to help students and researchers here, ok!), you also have the chance to win six issues of Archaeology Magazine.


Public archaeology has been developing considerably in the Netherlands for the last couple of years, but much can still be improved concerning public outreach activities. This is why I have decided to focus my research on communication methods that are favourable in our current digital age and might make archaeology more accessible for a wider public.

For my research I will be looking at several blogs from both the UK and USA; in these countries blogging seems widely accepted and used a lot as a tool in creating support for archaeology, and I have come across some very interesting and successful blogs, of which your blog is one.

To be able to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology, I would like to question the bloggers and blog readers of these blogs. This is where my request comes in. I have set up a questionnaire in which I ask the visitors of your blog several questions regarding their motives for visiting the blog and so on.

The questionnaire can be viewed here: http://goo.gl/forms/z3BAUTyYUL. All participants also have a chance to win a small prize; 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine!
ossamenta: A flock of sheep from a medieval manuscript (Sheep)
I am going to the EAA! Train tickets have been bought, and I'm hoping to find accommodation via Airb'n'b (hostels are not bad, but there is always a risk of loud drunk people in the middle of the night). And once payday has come, I'll register for the conference. Travel and accomodation are definitely prioritized as they are more time crucial when you want to get the cheaper options.

I went to Matthew Collins' talk on his work on Medieval parchment and DNA at the University's Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA) last Tuesday, and it made me so enthusiastic about all the cool things you can find out through research. Sometimes work is a bit repetitive and it's good to take the time to digest the new research that is happening. His (and his colleagues') work is really interesting. Since parchment is essentially dried skin it contains DNA, much better preserved than that in leather objects found on archaeological digs. And by using a rubber you can extract bits of DNA - no need to actually destroy parts of the parchment, just send in the scraps to the laboratory - and see what animal the parchment was made of, what sex it was, and potentially track breeds through time. He also said that if you could digitize manuscripts to such high resolution that you could see the hair follicles you could potentially see if it came from a young or adult animals (much smaller distance between follicles in young animals). Unfortunately most manuscript digitizations are not done to such high resolution, as researchers have been focussing on the actual text and images on the pages. There are probably hundreds of thousands of Medieval manuscripts and legal documents in UK archives, not to mention what's out there in the rest of Europe (and in museums/archives in the rest of the world). Such a massive source!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I'm still in two minds whether to go to the EAA conference or not. There are a couple of really interesting sessions that could be very useful for my ph.d. idea, but it is not a cheap conference. If I could see how many talks will be relevant for me, it would help me make the decision (because I would have to buy travel tickets very soon before the prices rise). They were supposed to publish the programme the last of May, but it's still not up. The general session programme is, on the other hand, and I found out that the sessions I have a real or vague interest in, are all on the Thursday. And the two very interesting sessions are in full conflict...

Admittedly having everything on the Thursday would mean that the rest of the conference days could mostly be set aside for sightseeing, which would be on the plus side of things. I've never been to Scotland, so the conference would give me a chance to see Glasgow (and Edinburgh - after all, it's only an hour away on the train), even if the Highlands and the Hebridees would have to wait for another time.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
After over ten years as a zooarchaeologists, most bones have a certain ordinariness about them. It's butchery waste, sometimes industrial waste, and the occasional buried animal. Even if it's artefacts or pathologies you would at least have spotted similar bones in books or articles. But now and again you find a bone that makes you go WTF?

The latest one came from an Iron Age pit from a large settlement in Oxfordshire. It's a cheek part of a horse mandible with a smooth hole in it. Unfortunately we only have one half of the mandible, but I assume it was originally part of a set (as opposed to cattle mandibles, the two sides of horse mandibles are fused). The hole is smooth on all edges, so it couldn't have been suspended stationary for all its use - if so, only one part would have been smooth. The cord may have been large enough to fill the hole entirely, but it must have moved occasionally in order to smoothen the edges.

I have no idea how to interpret this. I have never seen anything similar in any book or article. Are we dealing with the partial remains of a horse head that was displayed and later discarded? I know that the classic definition of "ritual" being an "All-purpose explanation used where nothing else comes to mind" (recommended book, btw), but I can't think of any other way to explain this.


 photo P1060264_zpsajdn6by4.jpg

 photo P1060266_zpsk9z32dlj.jpg
Close-up of hole
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
The best way to cheer yourself up when work seem relentless and all is rain and cold, is to go on holiday. Admittedly, I didn't go to a sunny beach, but home to Sweden to relax and meet up with my friends. As a bonus, I could get hold of an article I needed for the Ph.D. background research. It was in a somewhat obscure US journal, so only a few UK libraries had it (none I had access to), one Swedish uni library and one Danish one. So today I went across the Sound to Copenhagen and had a lovely wander around in gorgeous sunny weather. And got the article as well.

I nipped in to the National Museum and had a look at their Danefæ* exhibition: all the new exciting finds found by the public and bought by the museum. They had - among other finds - the hammer with runes I linked to last year, and the newly found enamel owl, that I meant to link to, but never got around to. Well, better late than never I guess... Btw, if you can read Danish here's a more detailed report on the owl.

*: The principle behind danefæ goes back to Danish Medieval laws, stating that gold objects found in the soil belongs to the king. Today, objects of gold, silver, worked amber or ivory (finds that consist of other metals may be classified as Danefæ - it depends on what kind of object it is, for example all old coins are Danefæ regardless of what metal they are) found in the ground has to be donated to the state, in most cases this means the local museum. The finder receives a reward based on the metal value. As far as I can tell, the system seems to work (with the usual exceptions of assholes, but any large enough group has those). Quite different from the UK, where such objects belong to the finder, who may sell them at an auction to the highest bidder, thus risking that they are lost to both the public and the researchers.

 photo P1060484_zpsijrhtcnx.jpg
The Thor's hammer.

 photo P1060483_zpsejkxqphy.jpg
A Roman period enamel owl. If the museum makes a replica for their shop I'm quite tempted to buy one.
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
Spring has finally sprung, and as my mood picks up again with the longer daylight hours, I'll try to get into the the habit of posting more often. Remember, this blog is not dead, just occasionally a bit dormant.

In the ongoing saga of my Ph.D. attempts, it has turned out that there might not be enough assemblages of enough large size to do all the things I wanted to do. Sigh. I talked to a colleague about my options, and she adviced me to go for one of my alternative research ideas. Naturally, that was the most vague and least pre-researched one. So now I'm back in the library all evenings and checking that I have enough material for it to work. It's slow going. But at least they have a lot of books and journals, not limited to those within the UK border. Hopefully I'll have assembled a decent amount of data by the end of the month and can see if the new Ph.D. idea is doable.

Otherwise it's been the classic grumble of "if only I had more money"* - not only because most of my Ph.D. problems could be solved that way: German universities seem to be happy to accept most Ph.D. students, but the drawback is that you have to fund your 3-4 years of ph.d.ing yourself by grants or money in the bank. Last year, or possibly the year before, an interesting conference on environmental urban archaeology was announced on the ZooArch mailing list and I carefully printed the email to remind me to check for papers as the time drew near. Naturally I only just recalled the conference, and sure enough: lots of interesting papers, but not only did the early bird option end mid-March, what with travel and accommodation even €120 would be too expensive for me right now. I'll just have to see if any of the talks ends up on Academia.edu or in journals later on... I will have to have the same approach with the European Archaeology Association's annual conference as well. It's in Glasgow this year and, again, interesting talks and sessions. I'm particularly interested in the wool session and Lee Broderick just posted his abstract on the use of waste to interpret trade and craft in Medieval towns (probably for the dirt session). And yes, you can apply for travel and registration cost grants, but as an employed independent researcher who is neither presenting a poster, a talk or chairing a session, it would be extremely unlikely for me to get one. And I don't begrudge the Ph.D. students who get them. They probably earn less than I.

But I have to put money aside for next year. Not only is it the ICAZ (International council for ArchaeoZoology) every-four-year-conference, but that year's theme for the International Medieval Congress in Leeds is Food, feast and famine. The IMC has been on my wish list for many years, and now there is actually a theme that is really relevant to my work! I had to sit on my hands to not attempt to present a paper - as much as I would have loved to do that, I'm actually way too busy right now and adding more important things is not going to help.

*: Money this year is going towards one pair of handmade medieval shoes for re-enactment (finally! proper shoes that suits my time period!!!) and a holiday trip home to Sweden.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
The Oxbow spring sale catalogue came to work last week, and as usual there are lots of interesting books in it. Such as these:

cut for length )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I've had a break from soil processing lately, as I was roped in to finish sorting some processed soil samples where we had an upcoming deadline. It is a great site, the old kitchen backyard from an Oxford college, and I can't wait to get my hands on the bones and do the analysis. The samples were full of fish bones and foot bones from rabbits (presumably the rest of the rabbit was discarded elsewhere with the food leftovers), as well as other bits and bobs. But oh how my eyes were tired. I had to give up my usual embroidery hour in front of the tv every single evening after doing the sorting of the 10-4mm and 4-2mm fractions.

Imagine one stack of A4 papers for the printer. Fill a tray of that volume with small gravel, charcoal and bone, all from the 4-2mm sieve. Carefully tip out what you can get with one hand stroke on to a shallow tray. Sort it and discard the leftovers. Repeat 6-7 times (or more) until the big tray is empty.

 photo P1060379_800px_zps850108b4.jpg
One such shallow tray before sorting.


 photo P1060381_800px_zps50b6ca59.jpg
What I got from an entire 4-2mm tray. Mammal and bird bones to the left and fish bones to the right. Thankfully we ignore the charcoal from this sieve size.
ossamenta: Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College, Oxford (Oxford)
Once again, too many things clamor for my attention. It's only midweek, but my brain is already planning Saturday. Haven't quite decided whether to prioritize checking Danish sites for animal bones (for the Ph.D. idea), reading books in the Bodleian on diet in medieval Oxford (for the university diet article), do (some of) all the tidying up etc that needs doing at home, working on the embroidery I'd like to have finished by mid-March, or possibly just catching up on much-needed sleep.

I've been working with soil processing this week, and I'm absolutely knackered. Hard physical work is tiring - who knew? :-) However, the weather is forecasted to be +5°C, but probably not rainy, so there's no major deterrent to venturing out of the house.
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
My Christmas holiday has been much spent on chasing down reports as part of the preparations for my ph.d. application. Unfortunately, what I thought would be a couple of days worth of relentless database searches and archive reading turned out to be almost a case of Catch 22: It wasn't possible for me to access the archives' lists of excavations, but if I could give the archivists a list of the sites I was interested in, they could let me have a look at them. But how do you know what sites are of interest if you don't know what sites have been analysed? So I had to track down individual osteologists and ask for their help as well as reading reports and look at the bibliographies. Double unfortunately, most of the country closes down over the Christmas holidays, usually counted as nearest weekend before Christmas Eve (if occuring mid-week or earlier) until Epiphany (6th January). Well, no-one claimed that research was easy...

But all has not been reading archaeology until my eyes bled. I have read some great books, done some work on my embroideries, looked at gorgeous traditional woven blankets, wall hangings and cushions exhibited at Ystad Museum, and went for long walks in the snow (we almost had a white Christmas, as it started snowing on Christmas Day and only now has melted).

The fireworks are really getting on outside, even if it's not quite midnight yet, so I'll leave you for now and I'll see you again in 2015!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I got linked to another crowdfunding project today, which I think some of my readers would find interesting.

Bats are vulnerable to modern roofing membranes, and modern roofing membranes are vulnerable to bats. A Ph.D. student at Reading University is trying to work out a good solution for both bats, builders and house owners.

My research is centred around the question 'what constitutes a bat friendly breathable roofing membrane?'. The project was set up following reports of bats becoming entangled in fibres that had been pulled loose from breathable roofing membranes (BRMs), since then further concerns over microclimate and membrane longevity have been raised. Whilst there is currently no answer to this question, it is hoped this project will help develop clear guidleines for the use of BRMs in bat roosts.

Her original funding has run out and she needs some more money to finish the project. But why crowdfund? Surely the manufacturers would be interested to support her and be the first ones to develop this awesome new product? Unfortunately, this is not the case - she explains it here.

The deadline is the 15th, so if you want to support this project, don't wait too long.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
If you have any money to spare after rent, bills, Christmas presents etc, there are two osteoarchaeology-relevant causes that would appreciate a contribution.

The Grant Museum in London needs money to clean 39 of their mounted skeletons from extremely rare species (quagga, Ganges river dolphin etc). It's a really cool museum - Victorian style cluttered cases with skeletons, wet specimens, taxidermies etc - and since it's been around since 1828 as a teaching collection they have some really cool things in there. A visit is recommended.

Swedish archaeologists want to finish the excavation of one of the houses in Sandby ring fort, analyse the finds and publish the report. I thought I had linked to this interesting site before, but apparently not (or I just hid the link very well). Anyway, it's a ring fort on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, just off the Swedish coast. When the archaeologists did a small excavation a few years ago, they found not only lots of gold artefacts and Roman coins, but also several skeletons. The dead hadn't been buried, but left where they fell. Some showed evidence of battle injuries, suggesting that what we are seeing is the remains of a massacre. Not your average site! It's definitely worth watching the video on kickstarter to see some shiny shiny things (and some skeletons).
ossamenta: Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College, Oxford (Oxford)
The data on Merton College's food purchases are finally copied to a spread sheet. Well, only for the financial year 1488-1489 - it was the only year with a complete set of records (technically complete-ish: one week is missing). I'm working on the translation - the records are written in Latin mostly, with the occasional Middle/Early Modern English thrown in. Consistent spelling is optional. There are frustratingly many items where the dictionaries at the university library fail me. I think most of them are fish, but I'm not always certain.

There is also one regularly occuring item where the translation bugs me: "gullatts", translated as neck. The records mention type of food, but rarely what cut is purchased. Exceptions include marrow bones, calves' feet and sheep heads. Gullatt is a Sunday food, together with beef, mutton, suckling pig, calf, chicken, squab, goose and rabbit*. It's clearly something special, but "neck"? Why not just include that cut at species level, like the rest of them? Or does it have specific significance? I think my next step is looking at medieval cook books, and see if any of them mention gullatt. Most online cookbooks were written in the vernacular, so the next practical step is probably to contact people working with medieval food and cooking.

*: venison is not mentioned at all in the records since that seem to be something the college got from its own lands and not the town butchers.

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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