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: 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
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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: Weasel skull (Default)
In about two weeks time I'm off to London for the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum's conference. Since I'm neither a postgrad nor a PhD student I won't give a talk, but instead I will sit and listen to several interesting talks and take copious amounts of notes. It will be such fun!


- A new Viking Age female figurine has been found! Just as with the 2012 find of the figurine with sword and shield, there are lots of dress details which I'm sure will delight any authenticity minded Viking Age re-enactors.

- Keeping in the small figurine theme: A 13th century Limoges enamel Madonna found buried under Danish church floor.

- If you ever wondered where a penguin's knees are, look no further.

- The Walbrook Discovery Programme has a blog post up on animal remains from Roman butchery.

- "Let's just say an unbearable smell was emitted" - how to reduce a blue whale to a pile of bones. I'm so impressed at the size of those vertebrae! Although I'm glad I wasn't there in person, and that internet doesn't (yet) do smell-o-vision...

- One of the advantages of a British Museum membership is tickets to members' lectures. Luckily for us who a) aren't members or b) couldn't go, Mary Beard's Pompeii lecture is now online. Thanks BM!

Misc. links

Jul. 4th, 2012 07:21 pm
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I have re-surfaced after a really fun dance weekend, and while I am still very tired and have sore feet (it was so worth it!), there's no rest for the wicked (nor for anyone else either), as the big EEK project continues. Luckily I have been given an extended deadline, which was very welcome. I'm still in the recording stage, so I can't tell you if there's anything very interesting there, as these things usually first show up when you start number crunching.

But I've seen some interesting stuff online:

- Medieval horse harness with lots of bling found in Ireland. I'd love to see it in person, or, better yet, a reconstruction so you can see how shiny it would have been when it was in use.

- Excavations in northern Germany seem to have found the remains of Sliasthorp, a town connected to the Norse elite of the area. Sliasthorp lies near the trading centre Haithabu/Hedeby, similar to the situation of Adelsö and Birka in Sweden (possibly Uppåkra and Lund as well, although Lund was founded much later). This suggests that the founding of these trading places may have been directly associated with the elite rather than with traders. The trading places would also have been under control of the elite.

- And if you're interested in Flemish archaeology, Onroerend Erfgoed (the Flemish equivalent of English Heritage) has put up several of their publications online, which you can both search and browse. There is no English version of the site, but it seems fairly straightforward.

- The knitted 16th century cap collection of the Museum of London is now online. 73 caps, coifs, cap fragments, linings and earpieces have been photographed, with captions containing contextual and technical information. To browse the caps, please go to the Collections Online and enter ‘cap’ in the Keyword field with the date range 1500-1600 in the search fields.

- The seventh conference on experimental archaeology will take place in january 2013 at the University of Cardiff, Wales. Papers on any any topic related to experimental archaeology are welcome, but those that touch on the relationship between experimental and experiential* approaches are particularly welcome.The deadline for papers is July, although the webpage doesn't state if it's the first of the month or the end of the month. Hopefully the latter.

*: An experiment can be repeated by the same researcher or others. Experiential archaeology is about the experience, for example building an Iron Age house and live in it to see how the construction worked in practice. What most of the re-enactment community call experimental archaeology is in fact experiential.

- And a very interesting post from Bones don't lie discusses new research on using stable isotopes for sexing human remains. While there is an overlap in the ratios of iron isotopes between males and females, the overlap was not greater than a normal sex determination using the pelvis. Only one French assemblage was used for the study, and obviously more research is needed to see what the results are for other regions.
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Still no news on the Uppsala Ph.D. Well, it’s only been two weeks, so if they got many applications they may not yet have made their decision on who to call for interview. Other than that, work continues as usual. The winter meeting of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group is next Saturday, so you can expect a post on that later.

- The National Antiquities Board in Sweden has digitalised the entire series of Sveriges runinskrifter (Runic inscriptions in Sweden). All files are large pdfs, so if you’re on a slow connection, beware. And I guess I don't have to warn that they are in Swedish, right?

- An international conference on use-wear analysis is taking place 10-12 October in Faro, Portugal. This announcement was planned for an earlier post, as the deadline for submission of papers and posters was 30th January… But bookmark the site if the subject appeals to you. I haven’t had much contact with use-wear studies since my uni days, as it’s not a common thing in commercial archaeology. Essentially, for you non-archaeologists, use-wear studies analyses the wear traces different materials leave on various archaeological objects. For example flint knives used to cut grass have different polish than ones used to cut antler. I really look forward to the publication of the preliminary program (30th June). There may be studies of relevance to my interests! There was one talk at the ICAZ worked bone research group meeting in 2003 on use-wear on hide working tools (the talks were published as From hooves to horn 2005.), and maybe someone is still doing studies on this.

- There’s a very interesting post up on Bones don’t lie on
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
I can't believe it's already November. At least here in England it's still quite a nice autumn: leaves in many different colours and it's not too cold yet. I shouldn't complain. Although I still feel time is passing too quickly. Christmas decorations are up in the larger shops, and I guess it'll only be a short time until they start pumping out the Christmas music too...

For extra fun and joy I'm now working on four sites: I got an evaluation that needs to be in very soon, and that must take precedence over the other sites. Evaluations are "pre-excavations", where we set out trenches across the entire development area and then see what we find in these. That way we can estimate how much archaeology there will be in the development area, which then influences how much it will cost to properly excavate the area. This will then get tendered on, so if you estimate too high, you are not very likely to get the job. On the other hand, if you estimate too low you will either do a rush job which English Heritage/the county archaeologist will not like and force you to do a better job (but for the same low cost...), or you risk losing money if it turns out that there was more exciting and costly things below ground that you originally expected and costed for. It's fine line to walk between doing a good job and actually getting the job contract.


In case you wonder, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, or the blogging/short story/knitting/whatever equivalent. I'm writing a lot in my job and both the ph.d. applications, the job application and the conference talk have kept me extra busy this year. Technically I could tackle the UFO* pile, but I think that will be a "slowly but surely"-project rather than a focussed "let's keep all evenings very busy"-project. Best of luck to you who are giving NaNoWriMo a go.

*: UnFinished Object


There has been more info on the spindle whorl I linked to in last post: the back of the piece is also decorated and shows some wear, indicating that it's been made from another artefact. The archaeologists are unsure whether the decoration would be runes or a Sami pattern. There are also small holes on the back, two of which contain small bits of iron.

And since I assume only a few of you read online horse magazines, here's a link to an article on the new evidence for horse domestication in Saudi Arabia and in Kazakhstan. (Thanks to Lee Broderick from the ZooArch list)

Close-up on some of the Swedish finds that are going to be in a touring exhibition on Vikings in 2012. [personal profile] pearl, this is relevant to your interests.

Back again

Oct. 26th, 2011 09:06 pm
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I'm back at work now, and luckily no emergencies had come up while I was away. I'm the only animal bone expert there (apart from my fish specialist boss) so unfortunately I can't delegate site visits and such. The holiday was lovely, but as usual too short. Holidays always are, aren't they? I didn't do that much, mainly visiting friends and family and relaxed. I got some good tips on how to angle my ph.d. proposal for next time, so now I have lots of reading to do for next year.

Work is continuing in the busy-mode. Right now I'm juggling three different sites, all in the process of being phased - which is why I can't do them one by one: I do the phased part of one site, then go over to the next, while the rest of site one gets phased. If I had lots of time (which you never do in commercial archaeology) I could record all the bones from the entire site, regardless of phasing and then ignore the unphased bones later when it came to the actual analysis/write-up. But since I'm on a limited budget, I can only record bones from securely phased contexts, ergo this site juggling.

I came across a couple of interesting things, which I thought I'd share with you:
- A decorated spindle whorl from an Iron Age Swedish site.

- A workshop at the archaeology department at Lund University (Sweden) Thursday 3 November 15.15-18.00: To find Iron Age settlements with metal detectoring. (All in Swedish though)
Talks: Kristina Jennbert: Vadå metalldetektering?; Charlotte Fabech: Bebyggelse och metallföremål - en landskapsarkeologisk utmaning. Tanker efter undersökningarna i Stora Hammar; Håkan Svensson: Det glimmar på dumphögen - om avbaningsarkeologins begränsningar och möjligheter; Birgitta Hårdh: Fibulor som massmaterial.

- An intact Viking Age boat burial found in Scotland.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
- Remember the mass grave of decapitated Vikings in Dorset? It turned out one of them had filed front teeth, just like some other men in Viking Age Scandinavia. No-one knows what these modifications signified. A religious thing? Local tradition? Strange and short-lived fashion? Inspiration from foreign travels? They are rare, only 24 skeletons of the 557 analysed in the original study had them. The grooves may have been filled with coloured wax or resin creating decorative patterns. I wonder if such grooves exist in other cultures from this period? I assume that if you're not looking for them, they can easily be missed.


- During a few hours last Sunday, just as much rain fell in Copenhagen as what falls in June, July and August combined! Needless to say, the sewers couldn't cope and there were floods everywhere. A friend of mine told me that the big excavation area for the metro turned into a huge 2m deep pool! I don't envy her the cleanup of the site... But there are several more important rescue operations going on right now, not just peoples' basement flats and shops, which of course are very important for the owners, but stuff of national and international importance: The basements of the Geological Museum and the Museum of Medicine history have been flooded, threatening unique fossil* collections and large collections of medieval human remains, for instance the Æbelholt monastery burials, an important assemblage for pathologies. Archaeological finds are normally stored in acidfree carton boxes, good for storage, but very bad in water immersion. There is a huge risk for mixing finds, whether bone or stone. And where on earth would you have space to dry tens of thousands of skeletons? The buildings have sustained damage, so they will definitely need to consider alternative storage places.

*: Being stone, they will survive the water, but the paper records and boxes which identify and separate them are at serious risk for damage.


- On a more cheerful note: A corgi skeleton drawing.


- Eldrimner has started food blogging again. This summer he's at the late 15th/early 16th fortified manor Glimmingehus and cooks renaissance and medieval food.


- And a new thing I learned from an old study: These Medieval combs are often called weaving combs in archaeological reports. No-one seem to know exactly what they would do with them while weaving, but they are ridiculously long for combing human hair. They are made from cattle metapodials and have sometimes decorations. Often there is a drilled hole near the top, or the natural hole in the bone is used. A study of Dutch combs, both these "weaving combs" and normal combs, in the early 1990s analysed lice and fleas found in combs, and guess what: every louse and flea they found in the "weaving combs" were human head lice/fleas. Lice and fleas have normally a specific species they use as a host and therefore they can be good indicators in archaeology. So, apparently, they were used in human hair. I still think they're too long to be used for normal combing, but that's just me.
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
Thanks to Museum.nu, I found out about at Viking Age boatgrave on an Estonian island containing not just one or two bodies, but thirty! Several showed signs of violence and one man had an arrow head stuck in his thighbone! (original article in Swedish). Here are some photos, and to close it off: an article on the finds from a nearby boatgrave.

Over in Ireland, archaeologists may have found a very large longphort (i.e. a fortified temporary base at the shore used by raiding vikings) in Co. Louth. I'm very curious and I hope the finds will be published somewhere easily accessible. It's no use having a very good and detailed article or report if no-one tells you where you can find it.

And since all good things are three, a bit late news on excavations at Danevirke, the defensive wall at the trading port Hedeby (or Haithabu, if you're speaking German). The dig is led by Astrid Tummuscheit, who was one of the supervisors when I was excavating the roughly contemporary trading place Gross Strömkendorf on the German coast in 1998 (?). Archaeology can be a very small world indeed.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I and Daniel go way back. I'm not sure we were ever were in the same archaeology course (when you go that far back, the memories gets a bit blurry :-) ), but I used to hang out with Hanna, another archaeologist and re-enactor, who did food archaeology with Daniel back then - and still is. Daniel is writing a Ph.D. on Viking Age food culture, and has started blogging his cooking experiments at the Viking Museum in Lofoten, Norway.

Eldrimner

As if you didn't have enough blogs to read!
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
Remember the mass grave in Dorset I blogged about earlier? The isotope analysis has come in, and the results are just where I wanted them. No faffing about "possibly southern England, possibly central Europe, possibly Norway - so, we really can't tell". No, instead the results are pretty unambigously pointing towards Scandinavia: oxygen is outside the British range and suggests a cold northern climate - one individual may even have spent his childhood above the artic circle! Further, the range of the strontium and oxygen values indicate no common local origin for these men: they may have been from Scandinavia, but did not come from the same village or region. The carbon and nitrogen values are right in the middle of those from other Scandinavian Viking Age skeletons, but are slightly off-centre from British skeletons. Radio carbon analysis suggest that they died sometime between 910-1030 AD.

Since the isotope analysis is based on teeth, the results are valid for the individual's childhood, and not necessarily their adulthood. While we absorb minerals from our food and drink into our skeleton, the tooth enamel is fixed once the crown has formed, whereas the mineral content in bones are constantly re-modelled over our lifetimes. IIRC it takes 7-10 years to shift isoptopes in bone. Having said that, most of the men in the mass grave were young adults, some still in their late teens.

The story is all over the main UK papers and the BBC was here earlier for a short filming session.

ETA: A Youtube video with more information - and images of bones with chop mark damage
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
One of the nice with working for a large company is that there’s - statistically at least - great chance for exciting things to be excavated, and you don’t have to wait until it’s in the papers to hear about it (or even see the artefacts!). Last year there was a very rich Roman grave in Kent, and this year we’ve found the mass grave in Dorset, with 50-odd decapitated skeletons. The latest theory is that they’re Vikings. It will be very interesting to see what the chemical analyses say!

Weymouth mass grave

The mass grave is so exciting that it will be part of a Time Team special on Vikings. Today they were filming in the office - my part of the office, to be precise. Yesterday was spent clearing space (archaeologists seem to have an aversion towards empty spaces - they must be filled with boxes and/or artefacts as soon as possible) and general cleaning. While I won’t have my fifteen minutes of fame in that clip, as I had to work elsewhere, perhaps some of my books will.

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