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.

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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.

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The Thor's hammer.

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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.

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One such shallow tray before sorting.

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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.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
A daughter of one of my colleagues went to Mexico and brought this back to her mother. Who thought it would suit me very well. And she was so right about that!
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And in other news:

- First and foremost, the English Heritage guidelines to animal bone recording and analysis is out. "These guidelines aim to promote high professional standards in zooarchaeological practice in project planning, excavation, reporting and achiving. The guidance supports archaeology advisors, project managers, field staff and zooarchaeologists through outlining the potential of animal bones from archaeological sites, highlighting the importance of archaeological methods and promoting understanding of zooarchaeological reports and datasets." Highly useful and I recommend it even if you live and work elsewhere. Free to download, and there's a limited print-run for those of you who prefer paper.

- Neolithic carpentry discovered in Germany, namely a woodlined well, with advanced jointing. There's also an open access academic article for those of you who prefer to go into depth with this.

- A gorgeous bark shafted Bronze Age flint dagger was found in Denmark. Sadly the bark only remains on one side of the handle. I love it when you see the organic material. It's so rare that it survives, and without it we assume intellectually that of course they must have wrapped the handles with something, but to actually see it - then it really sinks into the brain. (article in Danish)

- Another Danish find: a Viking Age Thor's hammer with runes, declaring it to be a hammer. (article in Danish)

- A new Ph.D. thesis on Early Medieval ironworking: The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology: An archaeometallurgical, technological and social study of the manufacture and use of Anglo-Saxon and Viking iron knives, and their contribution to the early medieval iron economy. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds very interesting.

- Earliest cave paintings (so far) discovered in Indonesia. 40,000 years old!!!!

- Irresistible title of academic article, Yes/No?
ossamenta: Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College, Oxford (Oxford)
Since I wrote the bone report for the Queen's College kitchen excavations in 2009 or thereabouts, I had in mind to research college diets for an article. Previous work has been done on differences in diet between different groups in Medieval British society: rural, urban, elite and ecclesiastical*, but from what I could see in the QC assemblage college diet seem to be a fifth group. Bearing in mind that there are only two universities in Medieval Britain: Oxford and Cambridge, so the sample size is a bit small... I was all set up for some serious library time this weekend, checking all I could find on the historical sources - naturally not found in any single book (because that would be easy), but hidden here and there in old records (thankfully most of these would be transcribed and/or translated into modern English). And then Friday struck me down with a cold. :-( So I guess it will have to wait until next weekend.

*: see N.Sykes, 2007. "The Norman Conquest: A Zooarchaeological Perspective", Archaeopress; Oxford, and N.Sykes, 2006. From cu and sceap to beffe and motton: the management, distribution and consumption of cattle and sheep AD 410-1550, in "Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition" (eds C.Woolgar, D.Serjeantson and T.Waldron), Oxford University Press; Oxford, pages 56-71.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
- Archaeologists have found a new trelleborg! (Danish article) These kinds of fortifications were all built in the 980s and have the same symmetrical design: circular rampart with four gates in each direction and roads between them crossing at a right angle in the middle. In each quarter there were four long houses around a central square. There are only five certain trelleborgs, as well as a couple of similar fortifications in Denmark and southern Sweden. I was lucky once, flying home, and we passed straight over the trelleborg outside Slagelse. It was so cool to see it from the air.

- A man in Norway found a Viking Age blacksmith burial in his garden! (More detailed Norwegian article)

- The perfect present for the nautically minded Viking Age enthusiast: Your very own custom built Viking ship replica As expected, it's a rather expensive present.

- Or perhaps you would prefer an anatomically correct armchair?

- In case you were morbidly curious: The grim details of Richard III's death

- And if you want to know more about human osteology, human evolution, paleopathology, forensic archaeology etc, the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) have created a forum for both members and members of the public to join and discuss things to your hearts content.

- Extinct humans passed high altitude gene to Tibetans
ossamenta: Moominpappa sitting on a rock in the sea, writing on his typewriter (Muminpappa skriver)
What a day! Two much useful concrit emails on my ph.d. proposal, one offer of co-authorship on a zooarch article, and I heard about not one, but two (!) interesting conferences!

First, there's a textile conference in London 10-11 October with some interesting talks on hair nets, tablet weaving, fingerloop braiding and other things definitely not related to animal bone (well, I guess the tablets could be made of bone...).

Then, there is a conference on animal husbandry in the western Roman empire in Sheffield 20-22 November. I deal with quite a lot of Roman sites, so it could be very useful for me. £60 is not bad for 2.5 days, but then you have to add accomodation cost. I'm tempted, but I ought to wait until the programme is posted so I can do a better usefulness/cost evaluation.

And now, back to proposal wrangling.
ossamenta: Moominpappa sitting on a rock in the sea, writing on his typewriter (Muminpappa skriver)
Ironically, I have no doubts whatsoever that I'm able to write a great Ph.D, but getting a great Ph.D. application off the ground... I'm tearing my hair out here.


Sep. 4th, 2014 08:23 pm
ossamenta: Text: Women and geeks first! Oh no wait that's all of us. (Women and geeks first)
Tonight is quiet. I'm taking a break from my Ph.D. thoughts and am instead relaxing with embroidery and listening to podcasts.

The single science podcast was Human and animal science, who had Naomi Sykes from Nottingham University talking about zooarchaeology and how her chickens made her re-think how we present our analyses.

All the rest were sci-fi related (In case you had missed it, I'm a big SF/Fantasy nerd, mostly on the literary side as opposed to film/tv):

- Kate Elliott and N.K. Jemisin talk reader, writer, and publisher bias on Rocket Talk ("How do our own blind spots influence the choices we make? How does that impact society? How can we do better?") Kate Elliott is an awesome epic fantasy writer who deserves to be better known. Try the Spirit walker trilogy (Cold magic, Cold fire, Cold steel) for an "Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage." N.K. Jemisin is perhaps better known, author of the Inheritance trilogy and the Dreamblood duology.

- Skiffy and Fanty interviewed Kameron Hurley, whose new book Mirror Empire I'm really excited about. ("We tackle the political nature of fiction, Grimdark, feminism, and silly things") Kameron Hurley's previous books (God's war, Infidel, Rapture) are an excellent example of books you need to whack over the head on people who claim women can't write grimdark. God's war was horrifying to read, but an excellent world building and interesting characters kept me going and I'm very glad I did.

Are there any other good sci-fi or history focussed podcasts you think I should listen to?
ossamenta: Moominpappa sitting on a rock in the sea, writing on his typewriter (Muminpappa skriver)
I'm getting to that awkward stage of proposal writing: when you look at the methodology chapter of a thesis and marvel at the perfectness of the language and then look at your own first draft of your proposal, and it looks like shit. Nevermind that yours is a first draft and the thesis is probably a sixth or even tenth draft, language polished until it shines.

But it's just a matter of getting through it. Rewrite, get feedback and rewrite again.

ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
Isn't it nice when this is your writing environment:

view from the 1st floor café at the Natural History Museum in Oxford: glass panelled ceiling, ornate ironworks, stone columns

Hopefully tomorrow will be another good writing day, although considering the weather forecast (rain, rain, more rain, bit of sunshine somewhere just to get your hopes up, rain) it will probably spent at home.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I haven’t been to any archaeo/zooarch conferences since EAA2012, and since I can’t afford to go to ICAZ (this time it’s in Argentina!), I was very glad to see that the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum was going to have their annual-ish* conference in London, and doubly glad that due to ICAZ the registration fee was only £10! The programme was very interesting and well worth one holiday from my yearly allowance.

*: meetings in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Talk summaries under the cut )

The Institute of Archaeology is in the middle of the UCL complex between Euston Road and the British Museum, so it’s easy to get to (and they have a lovely little terrace on the top floor with a view over the trees in the square opposite!). The drawback is of course limited space for (for example) reference collections, but the students have access to the Natural History Museum’s collections which is a huge help for bone identification, particularly since UCL specialises in Near East and African zooarchaeology. We were given a tour of the lab, and they have some really interesting things, such as Simon Hillson’s loose tooth collection and part of the pathological bones used by Don Brothwell when he and John Baker wrote Animal diseases in archaeology in 1980. When our guide opened the "Pathology: infections" drawer, there was that wonderful combined oooh and eeeww sound you get when a bunch of zooarchaeologists see a cow mandible with an advanced stage of "lumpy jaw".

several animal bones with bone changing pathologies
One of the pathology drawers. The lumpy jaw cattle mandible is at the top, in the middle of the photo.

UCL archaeology department terrace
UCL archaeology department terrace
The lunch terrace at the archaeology department
ossamenta: Text: Women and geeks first! Oh no wait that's all of us. (Women and geeks first)
Two days in on my holiday and I'm already exhausted. I started this morning with taking the train to Copenhagen to be at the library when it opened. There was no problem with getting a library card even if I don't live in Denmark! After I got the books I wanted from the stacks* I went straight back to the station and took a train back to Sweden, but continued to Lund, where I needed access to an e-journal. Downloaded the articles I needed and went back to Malmö again for the third and most important event: Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch's signing at the SciFi bookshop! The shop was quite full and it took me 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to the front of the queue and get my books signed. I might take advantage of their Copenhagen signing on Tuesday and bring more books...

It's been a really full day and I've promised myself not to have the alarm on tomorrow and to do nothing important. Perhaps cycling out to the beach in the late morning and check out the water temperature. Might bring a bikini and towel just in case.

*: History professor's labour of love, published when he was in his 80s. One single copy in Sweden, in the Royal Library in Stockholm, ten copies in Denmark (Copenhagen library was the place with assumed easiest access).


ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)

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