ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
This week has been semi-positive: some emails have returned with useful information, but there are others I need to send an reminder to on Monday morning. The usual information hunt is ongoing, where one interlibrary loan leads to another, as the information I assumed were there, is not _quite_ there. Sigh.

But a chance nip-in to a second hand bookshop this afternoon was very rewarding. At least one archaeologist had been culling their bookshelves (judging from the dedication, one book had belonged to the guy who was professor in prehistoric archaeology when I was an undergrad) and the books were in pristine or at least pristine-ish condition! It wasn't a case of "OMG I've been on the lookout for this book forever", but more a "oh, this could be useful". But the books were cheap, so I ended up buying nine of them. And I already had three books in my bag to do some work at home... My poor hands did not appreciate the book haul.

All in all, a good start to the weekend. Friday evening will be spent on the sofa, doing language checks on an article for a colleague. But I have tea and chocolate, and a tasty cardamom roll, so no complaints from me!


Sep. 24th, 2017 09:44 pm
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Last Tuesday was a fun day. One of our professors had recently retired, and as sort of a leaving present, a whole bunch of us at the department and lots of other people (ex-colleagues etc) went on an excursion to several sites that had been important to her in her career. Admittedly, this being archaeology, a lot of sites were passed by on the road as there is not much point in standing in the middle of a field looking at nothing. Prehistoric settlement sites in Scandinavia aren't really famous for visible above ground remains.

But we stopped the bus at two Bronze Age burial mounds, and at a peninsula with several Stone Age caves. One mound had to my knowledge not been excavated, but the other one had been and the burial chamber and entrance way had been recently restored. If I had brought a torch I would have been tempted to sneak in.

The Ålabodarna Bronze Age burial mound in its landscape, between sea and farmstead. (Click to embiggen.)

The very narrow entrance to the burial mound. (Click to embiggen.)

View from the top of the burial mound toward the sea. Denmark's coast is on the horizon. (Click to embiggen.)

The Stone Age caves (well, obviously formed in an geological age and not the Stone Age, but they were used in the Stone Age for temporary occupation) were the highlight. I had never been to one before, but now I want to go back and explore that area more. Scania is said to be flat as a pancake, but the Kullaberg peninsula is one of the not flat parts. Lots of people come here for rock climbing.

It was a long steep path down to the stony beach. Thankfully there were stairs (wood or natural stone, nothing fancy or easily walked), but my legs didn’t appreciate it as much as my eyes did. The beach was gorgeous, with lots of photo opportunities if you liked rock formations. There were several caves accessible from those stairs. The main one is at the beach itself, and you could get to another one at next beach along by stairs up a rocky formation and then a narrow path down the other side. The caves are all tiny, so they can only have been used for temporary shelter (annual seal hunts or sea bird egg collections?).

First part of the path. We're still in a lovely decidious wood. (Click to embiggen.)

The first stairs. Now you can (just about) see the beach! (Click to embiggen.)

A part without stairs, just a stony path. Still a long way to go until we're down on the beach. (Click to embiggen.)

The beach! Cliffs to the right...(Click to embiggen.)

... and more cliffs to the left. (Click to embiggen.)

The beach "next door". (Click to embiggen.)

A funny little plant growing on the cliffside. If you know what it is, please let me know. (Click to embiggen.)

Windswept heather growing on the cliffside. I wonder how old that plant is? (Click to embiggen.)
ossamenta: Text from medieval manuscript (Palaeography)
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, this summer I participated in a summer school in Scandinavian manuscript studies at Copenhagen University. The course is organised by the Arnamagnæan Institute at Copenhagen University and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik, and it alternates between Copenhagen and Reykjavik.

There are three levels: basic, advanced and master. Basic gives you a good grounding in Scandinavian manuscript production, palaeography (i.e. handwriting style) for both Icelandic and Danish/Swedish, including all the abbreviations*, how to describe and interpret illuminations in a manuscript, Medieval Danish and Swedish language (there were no classes in Medieval Icelandic, since basic knowledge of Medieval Icelandic was in the course requirements**), as well as more specialised topics such as how to use change in language/grammar and palaeography to date Icelandic manuscripts, the use of runes in manuscripts, and post-medieval Icelandic palaeography.

*: Since parchment was very expensive in Iceland, they used abbreviations a lot, both to shorten the time spent writing and the amount of parchment needed for a text. In some cases almost 70% of the words on a page are abbreviated!
**: I was given an exception for this. There were some classes where you definitely needed a working knowledge of Icelandic, but most were fine without it.

ink drawing of a man in the lower margin of a medieval manuscript
A little man in the margin of the Kings' Saga (AM81fol, fol.95r, 16th century). Click to embiggen.

The advance class focussed more on the text; how to transcribe medieval texts properly including how to code for the abbreviations in the most "academic" of transcription styles. Most texts in ordinary transcribed books are transcribed more loosely, either by marking all abbreviations in italics (but not showing what the abbreviation signs looked like), or for a more popular publication, just typing the text as it was intended to be read (assuming that the editor has interpreted the abbreviations correctly...).

Small medieval manuscript (10x8cm) lying on a cushion
This tiny lawbook (10x8cm!) contains King Valdemar's law for Sjælland. (AM455 12mo, fol.4v-5r, 1275-1325). Click to embiggen and read the famous first line "Meth lagh scal land byggæs" (with law shall land be built).

The master class is for the select few who have taken both classes before and who really want to dive into manuscript analysis. This year they worked on a late medieval text on Virgin Mary legends, transcribing them in various ways. I really liked that their work was not just considered an exercise, but that it will be put online for other researchers to use.

rectangular medieval manuscript. No illuminations, only black text.
Collection of prose. Tall rectangular format so there won't be unnecessary blank space when you write short rhyming lines (AM191fol, fol.83v, late 15th century). Click to embiggen.

We had two excursions: one to Roskilde for the cathedral and the Viking ship museum and then to Gammel-Lejre, a pre-Viking Age high status site, which some people think is the location for Beowulf.
The second excursion was part of the runes-day: we had a guided tour of several rune-related persons and tombstones at Assistens cemetery in the centre of Copenhagen.

Lots of people within a stone setting in the countryside. Pasture and the occasional trees.
The whole class at the stone setting/burial area at Gammel Lejre. The museum is one of the buildings in the background. Click to embiggen.

It was a really interesting course. I particularly liked that we had so many opportunities to see and handle manuscripts (thirteen workshops, six with manuscripts). You get an entirely different feel for the books than when you only see them on a computer screen. Not that I don't appreciate the ongoing digitization of manuscripts - it's such a help for knowledge gathering in all sorts of ways. If you want to see the manuscripts we worked on, they are online at Handrit.is. It was a very mixed bunch of people: mostly from a "medieval studies" background - I think I was the only archaeologist - and from all over: Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands, Poland, Czech republic, Germany, Britain, USA, and probably more places too. I surprised a fair few of my classmates (the not-Danes) when they found out I didn't rent a place in Copenhagen for the course, but commuted each day from Sweden. But the South Campus is very convenient for the metro, so it took just about an hour door to door. Definitely worth it!

medieval manuscript with a repaired hole - text goes around it.
Darned parchment from AM37 4to, 15th/16th century. Click to embiggen.
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
This last week has been fun but busy: in the day I'm taking a summer course on Scandinavian manuscripts at Copenhagen University (more on that later), and in the evenings I've been going through the Swedish National Archives medieval charters database, from which I will select charters for scientific analysis. Consequently, my eyes are tired and my mouse-finger sore. But I still have lots of records to go through, so I suspect that next week will follow the same pattern.

Being somewhat naive, I assumed that the database would contain the charters that the National archives had in their stores, and did my calculations on the total sum/year/town when I prepared my grant applications and talked to the conservators. That was not quite the case... :-(

It turns out that the database contains charters that were written in or sent to places and persons in Sweden (present-day, i.e. including those parts that were Danish in the Middle Ages). Once I got a look at the individual records I found out that some of those charters are in the Vatican Library, Lübeck, Berlin etc. Others turned out to be later copies or even post-medieval prints, which makes them perfectly functional if you're after the actual words, but useless for my purposes. Some are written on paper, not parchment (useless for my protein analyses, useful for other parts of the PhD).

At least there's some good news: Even if in some cases only half the records in the database actually correspond to a parchment document in the National Archives, I'm still within my sample number allowance. Unfortunately, many of the 12th and 13th century records from Lund are lost (turned out to be later copies), but I hope the samples from those charters can be switched to samples from books.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
This was the first PZG (professional zooarchaeology group) meeting since my move to Sweden last summer, and I really enjoyed seeing my ex-colleagues again. The meeting was held in Cardiff, where I had never been before, unless you count changing from train to regional bus for a living history event a few years ago. The city centre is fairly compact and can (as evidenced) be seen in two hours, including a visit to the castle, but excluding the art and natural history museum. I can recommend a visit to the castle, not for the actual remains of the Norman castle, which is probably only exciting if you're really into Norman castles or never seen one before, but for the 19th century rooms. They were described as state rooms for the marquesses of Bute, and I went in perfunctory, seeing as I had after all paid for it. But wow! This was not some generic 'seen one, seen them all' fancy rooms for nobles to impress other nobles, but rooms done in total neo-gothic style! I particularly liked the library and the so called Arab room.

Intarsia details from bookshelf in the library at Cardiff Castle
Intarsia details from a bookshelf in the library. Click to embiggen.

The actual meeting was in two parts: first several short talks on bone assemblages from feasting - or possibly not feasting! - and then a lunch break at a nice pub nearby. Somewhat of a student pub rather than "traditional", but they served good food and had a beer garden, so no complaints from me.

The talks discussed how to define "feasting", apparently an impossibility if you want to have a definition that can be useful in archaeology. As with all human activities, there are A LOT of variations and exceptions to rules. For example, one feasting definition includes food waste remains from animals not normally eaten to be one marker of "special" meals, but then, how do you exclude animals eaten in times of starvation when you can't be too picky about where your protein comes from? Also, if you define feasting too vaguely, it becomes too all-encompassing and therefore useless in regards to archaeology.

The talks also included two new PhD students talking about their research: Bettina Stolle from Stockholm on late Iron Age/Viking Age ritual-profane deposits, and Thomas Fowler from Nottingham on rabbits and hare. The latter is part of the Easter E.G. project, and will discuss introduction of brown hare and rabbit to Britain as well as distinguishing between brown hare and mountain hare.

We also had an interesting case study from Scotland, where it really goes into what I label "weird shit": a pit with a cattle skull + mandibles and three articulated cattle feet but with the final toe bones missing. As they excavated they found that the fourth cattle foot had been wedged into the cattle's mouth, possibly inserted from the back of the throat rather than from the mouth. No-one in the meeting had ever heard of something similar, so who knows what the reasoning was behind this action? Weird shit indeed.

The final morning thing was an outreach/creativity session. I really liked the creativity idea - useful for people who say they aren't creative, as it really forces you to think outside the box. The idea? One minute to come up with "101 uses for a dead rabbit" - luckily it's a magical rabbit, as after you've done one thing to it, it becomes whole again. We came up with: (several version of) food, lucky rabbit foot, draught excluder, hand puppet, fur hood, selling the bones as fashion accessories to hipsters, including it in a skeleton reference collection (of course!), reference data for Thomas (see above), and several other things I can't remember. We got far less than 101 uses though.

The afternoon session focussed on practical bone and antler working. Some of us leapt with great pleasure on 'making an antler ring' (the Cardiff archaeologists have done that as an outreach thing on several music festivals), and others, myself included, looked at tools and replica objects and talked to the two craftsmen -one an archaeological illustrator with this as a hobby, and the other a MSc student. It's always good to get some practical feedback on things. For example, many articles claim that antler was soaked in water before working as that renders it soft and pliable. The craftsmen said that a little spit was enough - if you soaked the antler the collagen became so soft that it became impossible to carve; just got the blade all gunky. Another thing I learnt was that it's not necessary to fill ring and dot-motifs or other carvings with tar or resins to colour them, just skin oil + dirt from normal use will do that very quickly.

Tools and replicas of antler artefacts, Cardiff University.
Hand drills and replicas of antler artefacts. Click to embiggen.

After the meeting my holiday continued: I visited a friend outside Cardiff, and then four days in London for research and touristing (unfortunately coinciding with a 30°C heatwave - at least the British Library was cool), and then a weeked of dancing at the Oxford Lindy Exchange (probably the best dance exchange in the UK, not that I'm biased or anything :-) ).
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
Last week I went to the National Graduate School of History's PhD student conference. It's an international conference that changes location every year, rotating between the three participating universities: Lund (Sweden), York (UK) and Bielefeld (Germany). It would admittedly be my fifth conference/meeting this year, but since it was in Lund (no travel!) and since I have less stress now than I anticipate for next year, I figured I might as well sign up for the conference and get some networking done as well.

The conference had a huge range of topics, even if they all were history-related in one way or another: from 20th century philosophers to border stones in Ancient Rome, from provisioning of 18th century shipping to 19th and 20th century railway commemorations, from 17th century brotherhood to human rights in 20th century Thailand, etc etc. I was not the only PhD student with a medieval topic, which was nice. Swedish history departments seem to be mainly focussed on 19th-20th century research, with some early Modern stuff thrown in as well. There were at least three people whose theses I very much look forward to read, and I've already done some following on Academia.edu to keep up with what they publish.

There were also two faculty round tables: on writing entangled histories*, and on making an academic career. I took many notes on the latter. I have no idea where this PhD will take me, if I intend to stay in academia, go back to zooarchaeology, or into something completely different. An academic career is tough, but someone will make it, and if you never try, you can rest assured that it will not be you.

*: From the Bielefeld webpage: "Taking a trans-cultural perspective as the main point of departure EH centers on the interconnectedness of societies. The basic assumption is that neither nations, nor empires, nor civilizations can be the exclusive and exhaustive units and categories of historiography." So, in other words: ignoring national borders when writing history, and considering that no nation is an island (in a figuratively way, that is).

Tomorrow it's back to work after a restful weekend. I did about half the things I said I should do, so it's not too bad (especially since one of the things I said I should do was sit on the sofa and watch tv-series and not think about archaeology). However, I must remember to sort out the bills before I turn the computer off! That part must not be postponed! But it's the last week before my summer holiday, and I can't be too "oh crap it's Monday tomorrow". I just hope I can get hold of the interlibrary loans before the library closes for summer (due to cuts, they have limited services, and most of the books I need are not on the open shelves).
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
And here I thought that I could go through my Flixborough books tonight and write up the section on Flixborough so I didn't have to take them to the office (the library don't have any of them, and they weigh a fair bit (A4 size books, total width c.10cm)). But no. I need more time - which I don't have as it's close to midnight and I'm oh so tired.

So, guess who has to carry a bunch of heavy books to and from the bus tomorrow?

A busy May

May. 29th, 2017 11:39 am
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
After a lovely four-day weekend, I guess it’s time to tackle the backlog. May has not been an idle month for me: two conferences abroad, and then all the usual writing and adding articles to the library.

I was very lucky to be invited to the LVCAS 360° meeting in Oxford, where researchers in several fields* (and a few PhD students) met to present their work on a 11th century annotated gospel and discuss how similar studies should be carried out in the future. I didn’t have that much to contribute, being only in my first year, but I met some interesting (and famous in their field) people, which will help me a lot for my research. After all, when you do multidisciplinary studies you can’t be an expert in all fields. Instead you have to get to know experts so you don’t fall into stupid traps that any expert of that field could have seen coming from miles away.
*: protein analyses to identify species, spectometry to identify ink types (connected to trade in ink and materials to make ink from), paleography to identify the two scribes working on the book (nicely correlated to quality of parchment too – only one of them was considered enough skilled for the fine vellum), sexing of animals through dna, and the usual book production studies (ruling, binding etc).

My next trip took me closer to home: to Århus in Denmark, for the first Nordic Zooarchaeology meeting. A total of 20 zooarchaeologists, from Denmark, Sweden and Norway met at the Archaeology department at Moesgaard, just outside Århus, to discuss how we do things (same/different?) in our institutions and countries and how we want to work in the future. There were so many differences due to organisational setups: In Sweden zooarchaeology is decentralised, whereas in Denmark (and Norway?) it’s very centralised. Almost all animal bones are analysed in Copenhagen (a few museum send their bones to Århus). This affects the cooperation between archaeologists who write the reports and the zooarchaeologists – how easy is it to get information on the contexts where the bones came from? Are the bones analysed in time for the results to be incorporated into the archaeological report? What’s the research situation on geological collections vs. archaeological collections? How and where do you store the bones after the analysis? What sampling strategies do you have on sites that will yield a huge amount of bone? etc etc. The meeting was an astounding success, and we all agreed that we had to have one next year too. It will be in Stockholm, but the date is not set.

I had never been to Århus before, and since we were meeting (and stayed) outside Århus proper, I only saw the town when we went for a conference dinner. But what I saw whetted my appetite, and I really need to have a week or so in Jutland. So many things to see and do there. I can also recommend a visit to Moesgård Museum. The museum building is brand-new, and has a great grasscovered sloping roof that can be used for picnics in summer. Their prehistoric exhibitions are fantastic, making good use of projections and soundscape. In October their new medieval exhibition will open, so I have good incentive to go back then. But that will have to be in spring/summer 2018, so I can walk around in the lovely decidious woods that go from the museum all the way to the beach. Honestly, I don’t understand how the archaeology students manage to finish their work on time – if I had studied there, I would have spent way too much time being outside (and not writing).
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
And I'm back! Well, truth be told I've been back for a while, but life - both at work and off work - has been quite busy and evenings have just gone too quickly. TL;DR version: It was great! Fully recommended.

Longer version:
The MSc courses (plural, as they also gave me the schedule for the general Masters skill module, which turned out be be in turns useful and not applicable) were all on Mondays: mornings and afternoons. The first week I used the time in between to randomly walk the centre of York, to get my bearings. As York still has most of its medieval street network, it took a little while, even considering that I have a good sense of directions. And it's a really lovely town. Reminds me of both Oxford, Cambridge and Lund.

Housing wise I was very lucky, and could stay with a friend's friend's friend not very far from the city centre. Such a luxury to be able to walk to work! Otherwise housing might have been a bit difficult. Most ads I saw online had a minimum of six month's stay, which doesn't work if you're only there for a single term (i.e. ten weeks).

The Ancient Biomolecules course covered most things (DNA, isotopes, proteins, lipids), and thankfully with the assumption that most of us were coming at it from a humanities background rather than science, so they started with a quick basic recap. With only one class per week, it was a lot of reading. They put up the powerpoints on the university intranet so you could go back and check, but as someone who hadn't taken either biology nor chemistry since the age of sixteen, I could have done with a somewhat slower pace. There were also two essays, one not graded - probably so that anyone who didn't get what the teachers were at post-grad level after could be set straight, rather than magnificently fail on that second essay with counted for 100% of the marks for the course. We could choose our own topics for the second essay (with approval from the course teacher), which I thought was really nice. So much better to pick a topic that you are really interested in, rather than being forced to learn something that you either find very difficult or find totally uninteresting. So I played to my strengths and chose to write about zooarchaeology and biomolecular methods. It all went well until I checked my word count* and realised that I had to do some serious editing in order to fit in that last section. And that was something that the examiner picked up as well. Still, can't complain, I got 69! So so close to the magical 70, which turn the grade into "distinction". (For readers elsewhere: The UK university grading system technically runs from 0-100, but where most students will land at 50-70. If you get over 80 you could probably get your essay published with few edits.
*: Luckily the bibliography wasn't included in the word count (although title and chapter headings were), as mine ran for 6.5 pages!

The Masters' Skills module was everything a Masters student would need in order to write their dissertation. Of course, covering _all_ archaeology Masters students, there were sections which were irrelevant to some, and excluded sections that other students would have needed. But I had some good use of Maximizing your MS Word skills (taught by a professional editor who deals with MS Word manuscripts all day long) and discussions on reference databases like Endnote. Less useful classes for me were Using archives, Image depositories (of course if I would do something on British archaeology, they would probably be very useful). The data management and statistics could be an entire module on its own (and apparently previously they had done that one in two classes rather than in one).

Some days I took the bus to the main campus (Archaeology is in Kings Manor in the city centre (Kings Manor being appropriately 16th century; however the archaeology building is 1970s concrete...)) and the BioArCh labs to get some hands-on experience of protein analysis of parchment. It was very fun, and I wish I had had more time for this. The campus itself is quite a labyrinth of paths between various colleges, departments and student housing (almost all 1960s concrete). The big lake in the middle is home to several waterfowl, so if you are afraid of geese (or moorhens, ducks and coots) I would not recommend a visit. Also, there is goose poo everywhere...

But all was not studying! (although I must say that the persons in Sweden who told me that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to write my methods chapter as there would be few distractions and I could get that over and done with, were wildly optimistic on the amount of studying/writing that was needed for the course) I managed to see Whitby Abbey (unexpectedly timing it with the first Whitby Steampunk Weekend!), Durham, Harrogate, Leeds (incl. Kirkstall Abbey and the Leeds Armouries), Saltaire, Manchester and Fountains Abbey. Whitby was fabulous, and I'm so thankful for the café near the abbey ruins as after half an hour running around with the freezing wind straight from the North Sea I couldn't feel my fingers anymore. After cradling a cup of hot tea they were much happier. That wind had eroded so much of the stones of the cathedral that it looked really weird! Like a piece of modern art in a way (see thumbnail below). I only wish I had had more time in Whitby. But that's the problem with depending on public transport, as the York-Whitby buses weren't that frequent.

Whitby Abbey. (Thumbnail: click to embiggen)

Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey: a real close-up of some pillars

Durham is a small town around a huge cathedral and castle, and a university on the outskirts. I fully recommend (read: insist!) a visit to the cathedral and the Norman chapel in the castle for anyone interested in c. 12th century architecture and imagery.

Harrogate is alright for a day visit, but failed to leave much impression on me. I guess it's different if you live in the area and you have shopping- or socialising-reasons.

Saltaire is tiny, but definitely worth a visit for an afternoon out. Walk along the canal, go the the Saltmill and see the artgallery, browse the excellent bookshop, look at pretty jewellery, and have tea/cake or lunch.

I wasn't very impressed with Leeds (bearing in mind I mostly stayed in the centre). The entire city centre seemed to be dedicated to shopping, drinking and eating, with few independent shops, and few other things. One exception was the Leeds Corn Exchange, with several independent shops and eateries. I was very impressed by the jeweller Stephen Roper. Not that I need more jewellery (*sits on hands*). Leeds Armouries were big, and I'm glad I didn't go there with someone who was very interested in arms and armours, as I would have spent the remaining part of that day reading a book and waiting for them to be kicked out at closing time. In short: the place is huge and has lots and lots of arms and armour from all over the world. I loved the Agincourt model and I wish I could have done all the figure paintings! Kirkstall Abbey was nice, although pales compared to Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey is one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in England, and don't hesitate to pay the substantial entry fee - you will get a very good price/hour out of it! I thought one hour for ruin, bit of time for tea, but we stayed there four hours! And we didn't go into the adjacent deer park or parish church at all. I definitely recommend a visit, regardless if you're that interested in monastic ruins, as the landscape around it and the 18th century formal gardens are also worth a visit. Nearby town Ripon has less of interest, although the tiny Anglo-Saxon crypt in the cathedral could be worth a detour. There are no fancy carvings in the chapel, although the choir has 15th century misericords.

Fountains Abbey with snow drops. It may look like a big abbey, but you're only seeing a small part of it from this direction...

Manchester was a nice break from the Medieval. It's mainly 19th century, where nicely restored factory buildings (often now expensive flats) rub shoulders with utter ruins in the outskirts of the city centre. I can't personally see how so many buildings are derelict as the short distance from the centre of town would mean good property values and options for both business and housing. But maybe I'm thinking in terms of the south of England, where everything within reasonable commuting distance to London has had its price hiked up to unaffordable for most. I was only in Manchester for a day, and it reminds me a bit about Glasgow: not a town I immediately fell in love with, but a town I believe I could come to like and enjoy if I lived there for a while.

When I left York it was 15°C and glorious sunshine. The cherry trees were blossoming and there were daffodils all along the city walls. I came home to 5°C and damp mist and I wanted to go back straightaway...

ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
This week has been so busy: Monday started with two classes: a general research for masters students, and then the ancient biomolecules class that's my reason for being in York this term. Tuesday morning I was introduced to the BioArCh team at the main campus, and in the afternoon I left for the airport.

I'm part of the National School of Historical Research back home in Sweden and just to make things complicated for me, their big meeting for the first year PhD students took place when I was in the UK. So I had no choice but to fly back to Sweden for the meeting. It was very nice though: for three days we were wined and dined in a hotel/conference centre in a small town near Lund, where each of us had to present our research and got useful constructive criticism, and discuss some general historical themes related to the older PhD students' research in small groups.

I couldn't do the last day: I had to leave at a very early flight to London, and then onwards to Oxford for the Chickens and People conference, where the now-ending Chicken Project presented their very interesting research results. All talks were filmed and I would love to give you the link to the videos, but I just can't find any. Perhaps they're not up yet? I'll keep you posted.

Saturday was back to York, after a wander around Oxford on a beautiful sunny day - I really wish I had had more time there. I had barely come through the door when I was whisked away to a late Burn's Night dinner party, so my plans for an early night was scuppered. But sometimes you just have to prioritize fun in good company before proper sleep.

Sunday was the last day of the York Resident's Festival weekend, where lots of places were open out of season with free entry for York residents and students. Luckily for me most events were both Saturday and Sunday, so I wasn't too limited by only being in town for the Sunday. I managed to see all the things on my list and a few more besides, but oh what a busy day. Not helped by the lack of map in the broschure - they really could learn from the Oxford Open Doors event - I doubled back several times. I particularly liked the 18th townhouse Fairfax House, and it's on my list to visit when it's open regularly. This weekend much furniture were under winter wraps and the dining room was closed.

I wish I could have a long lie-in tomorrow, but as it's Monday, it's a full day's worth of lectures...


Jan. 14th, 2017 10:48 pm
ossamenta: Medieval glass painting of St James (York, UK) (St Jakob (York))
Tomorrow I fly to York! (well, technically to Manchester...) I would be so much happier about it if a) I had finished the paper that was due this weekend, and b) if I had written up the grant report that's due at the end of the month. So now there's more paper that needs to be squeezed into my suitcase. Poor suitcase. I'm sure it had know what was going to happen to it, it would have hidden at the back of the shop when I came in.

But it will be fun. Admittedly tomorrow will be a very busy day, what with very early start, and then sorting out accomodation, finding time to finish writing the paper, and starting to finding my way around York. I've been there three times, but only for short durations, and it was a few years ago. Still, I doubt the city centre has changed much.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Despite the general view of 2016 as a shit year, with lots of beloved celebrities dying, it was quite a good year for me. I got accepted as a fully funded PhD student in Sweden, and in the middle of summer I packed (almost all) my belongings in a van and did an international move. Workwise I primarily assessed one big multi-period rural site and two medieval/post-medieval Oxford College kitchen assemblages that my successor in Oxford will do the reports for. I hope he does them well - I really love the college assemblages. Definitely an idea for a post-doc there, if I can get a good angle that will appeal to the buzzwords of 2020.

After the move I had hoped to be fully moved in by mid-autumn, but no. Still stuff everywhere, and will probably be so for the next year too. It's hard to get going with proper organizing when you have a full work week to, so to say, work around. I still haven't used my new sofa, as it's been full of various paperwork. (Look: a flat surface - quick, put something on it!)

The PhD-ing seems to go well. The expected first term flailing around and getting one's bearings, two obligatory courses that interfered with research, but better do them now than later on, when it's more stressful.

All the money got spent in the move, so there were no conferences or long holidays this time, not even a PZG meeting. Next year I have a 10-week course in York to look forward to, and I hope to be able to take some time for mini-breaks in the north of England (and Scotland?) then.
ossamenta: Moominpappa sitting on a rock in the sea, writing on his typewriter (Muminpappa skriver)
It's (technically) already November, and I'm having vague thoughts of doing NaNoWriMo this year. Well, sort of: no novel, but getting some words each day on one of my research related projects. I need to get on with writing, even if the text will later be re-edited, possibly to non-recognition. There's the sheep sexing project, my thesis (background stuff can always be written prior to the actual analysis), two hand-in papers for obligatory courses, etc.

However, I'm at home with a massive cold and I'm suspicious that if I don't get started asap, my good intentions will peter out. I know I'm a creature of habit, and if I can do some writing in the evening as part of the general routine, it'll be fine. Meaning: I have to break my habit of browsing the internet for too many hours each evening. And people wonder why I don't have Facebook - that's even more hours of interesting distractions!

Short-term plans:
- get better
- post-illness tidy-up/house cleaning
- write (she wrote hopefully)

Long-term plans:
- put away stuff properly so that the flat is acceptable for friends visiting. Added bonus: I feel so much happier in tidy places, meaning it'll probably be easier for me to be creative, both in academic writing and in my crafts.
- crafting in cafés with some hot chocolate (winter is coming...)
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
Two weeks in and I've already had a glimpse of my (potential) future: yesterday the woman I'm sharing the office with had her disputation. This is the final part of the long years towards a PhD. It's a public defense of your thesis, with where an "opponent" (usually an expert in your field from a different university) asks you questions about your thesis - about methodology decisions and your results - and you have to answer them. Hopefully it'll be an interesting discussion. The room also includes a grading "jury" (higher-ups from other departments) who also asks you questions and will be the ones who decide whether you could give satisfactorily answers and if you should be accepted as a doctor. Of course once you reach the disputation defence it's 99% certain the answer will be yes, but still...

It was a good disputation: relevant questions leading to a discussion, and quite short, only 1.5 hours (worst case scenario they go on for many hours). The room was packed - people sitting in the aisles - and I could feel the oxygen slowly slipping out. I hope I managed to yawn discreetly. Then we all headed off to the department for snacks and drinks while grading jury discussed for an hour (!). But finally they emerged and pronounced Lovisa a Doctor of Philosophy!

In the evening there was the traditional post-disputation dinner which I had been invited to. A three course meal in - again - a packed room (we were four people below the official limit), with lots of speeches, toasts and songs. My brain was running forward in time thinking about which people I would invite for my dinner, who would give speeches and what would they say. I had a really good time, but with plans for Saturday I decided to leave "early" before the trains became infrequent. (and my body still decided to wake up at 8am even though I could sleep in...)
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
A week ago I stepped into the LUX house (theology and humanities) to meet my supervisor and get settled in. It's been the usual slow start - still waiting for a computer for example (luckily I have my laptop so I can do some work) - but that's not unusual.

I've been to the first meeting of the Research Group for the history-related PhD students. It's a very diverse bunch: from "proper" history to minorities' human rights and 2nd century Greek clothing terminology. Last year most PhD students were at the history department, this year there's only one. We will have seminars with the other universities involved in the group, a couple of courses, and there's lots of opportunities for networking both within Scandinavia and internationally. It looks like it'll be good.

It's still warm and summery outside, but I'm trying to resist temptation to go and have ice cream every day and sit in the sun with a cup of tea chatting away the day. I can't fall into bad habits as I have to concentrate on my research. And finish the sheep write-up... *cough*
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
I've had so much to tell, but been too busy to sit down and actually post.

In April, I was given a grant to continue and finalize my sheep sexing study. The trip to Historic England's skeleton reference collection would merit a post on its own, and that was indeed the plan. But, life happened. To cut a long story short, all sheep pelves from the Medieval Wool Project has been recorded and while I still need to properly analyse the results, there seem to be a pattern in sex-related morphology. I should be able to show ways of identifying castrated sheep, provided I can clearly explain morphological changes in a 3D object in words and pictures. Somehow a video might be easier, but that's not so easy to publish in journals.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I've been trying to get a PhD for several years now. The application to an osteology PhD at Uppsala University this January got me to the interview stage, but they chose someone else in the end. But I'm not been one to give up easily, so I kept an eye out for other options and kept applying. And finally, Lund University liked my research proposal and offered me a PhD position! So for the next four years I will bury myself in parchment production (look - new icon!), literacy, medieval animal husbandry strategies, craft organization etc. It will be so much fun!

It's already July, and my deadline clock is ticking. I'm moving at the end of the month, so I have to pack everything - and after eleven years working here, I have a lot of articles and books. Knowledge is a light burden, books and articles less so. I will miss Oxford and my colleagues so much. It's been really fun working here, with such a variety of projects, both in time period and site type. And despite my best intentions earlier, I will unfortunately miss both the IMC in Leeds and the EAA conference in Vilnius; there is simply not enough money or time right now.

But it's a beautiful sunny Sunday out there, and I should go out and enjoy the day. Perhaps the new exhibition at the Ashmolean, or tea and cake at a café?
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Where has the month gone? It's already April, and over here in Oxford we've had a brilliant sunny spring Saturday. I went out for a walk to the town centre and back, stopping at the Town Hall for the popup exhibition which shows our finds from the huge Westgate excavation. I can't wait to get hold of the animal bones: it's not everyday you get the opportunity to do research on a medieval Fransiscan friary!

At the moment I'm working on a completely different site: a multi period rural site, ranging from the Neolithic to the Anglo-Saxon period. So far nothing stands out in particular. Perhaps once the numbers have been properly crunched I might be able to see some chronological changes in animal husbandry.
But one find stood out when I saw it: a bone tool made from a sheep metacarpal. I've seen such bones before - there were several from the East Kent Access Project as well as a small number from other Iron Age and Roman sites in Oxfordshire. Despite being relatively common, we don’t know what their function were. It has been suggested that they are textile tools and that the grooves comes from wear from yarn, but I’m not certain about that: can repeated use of yarn really wear such a small number of distinct grooves? I would instead expect general wear and tear all along the shaft, or a larger V- or U-shaped groove in one or both ends of the shaft.

What do you think, dear readers: have you any ideas what these bones were used for?

 photo Thame_THF15_ant_zpstn2bhxlh.jpg

 photo Thame_THF15_med_zpsi4orw4tl.jpg

As an aside: Ideally one shouldn't write the identification code so prominently if the item may be photographed later, but this was a joint project, and the other company did the washing and marking of the finds (so I can't just walk across the office and tell them off). Mostly these things happen when the person marking is not experienced in spotting the important details of the object, such as writing over the pathology on an animal bone, or - my favourite - across the decoration of a bone mount! I'd like to say our people are better taught, but these things can happen in the best of places, particularly if people are tired and/or inattentive. But it's no disaster: if the metacarpal will be photographed for publication they'll just have to scrape the ink off.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
The Oxford university library is good, but it doesn't have everything I need for my reports and for my research. Luckily on Copac you can search for books and journals in several university and institute libraries all over UK and Ireland. So this week I took a trip to London, to the Natural History Museum's library. Normally, say if I need a book at the British Library, I'd go on a Saturday, so I can combine work with meeting up with friends, but the NHM (and many other libraries) is only open weekdays... On the other hand, it was quite nice to be able to walk straight in, no queues and no hordes of screaming small children all over the place.

I did go for a wander around the museum afterwards, seeing the stone pillars with carved fish in the minerals section (I assume that's where the old fish collection was), and one of the Tower lions in the treasures room. I had seen that skull before, when it was included in the royal manuscripts exhibition at the British Library a few years back. I even bought a little badge with it as a souvenir (which is how I could see it was the same skull).

I also nipped in to the Victoria and Albert Museum across the street, to see the Europe 1600-1815 galleries that had been closed for a long time. There were lots of very pretty things (as you would expect from the V&A). I think my favourite was this glass goblet: a trick goblet, where you have to know exactly how to drink in order to not pour the wine all over yourself.

A little tip: if you're going to visit either museum (or, for that matter the neighbouring Science Museum) on a weekday, go on Tuesdays. That's when they have a farmers' market on Queen's Lawn (off Imperial College Road) and because it's in the middle of the university, around lunch hour, there was one man selling bread, one man selling vegetables, and about fifteen stalls selling hot food and about five stalls selling cake. Lots of queues to all food stalls so I was pretty certain that whatever I chose would be tasty.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Thanks to the joys of Twitter, I've just read about the discovery of a new Mesolithic burial site in Germany. The Mesolithic, i.e. Stone Age hunter-gatherers for readers not acquainted with European archaeological terminology, was my first favourite time period together with the Viking Age. Since moving abroad I've have had very little opportunity for anything Mesolithic - it seems to only exist as the odd flint scatter over here and not as the bone and flint rich settlement sites we had in southern Sweden.

The burial site is on a small hill near Gross Fredenwalde, Brandenburg, and contains the skeletons of nine individuals, among those a 6 months old baby - the youngest complete skeleton from this time period in Germany. One man had been buried upright in a pit, and radiocarbon dates showed that he had died several centuries after the others, suggesting that the burial site would have had some sort of significance for the later inhabitants.

Only part of the site has been excavated and I wonder if this is an isolated cemetery site or if there was a settlement attached to it, like the Skateholm site in Sweden? I guess only extended excavations will tell.

And now for the links, because you didn't come here just to get my brief summary:
- Quartär - the "proper" archaeological article, with more information than you can shake a stick at. (pdf, in English)
- National Geographic - if you want a brief report that still gives you plenty of information.
- RBB - German article, with video.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Today has been a day of cold. After a short break, it seems as if the English winter is back, and while the temperature is on the right side of minus, the windchill probably drove it down below. I've been slightly chilled the whole day, from the office to the library to the café, so right now I'm bundled up in bed and intend to stay there until tomorrow morning.

But apart from that it's been a good day. I'm writing up a report on a big Iron Age and Roman site which will keep me busy for several more days and I had a meeting with Angela about the course on animal bones and zooarchaeology at the Natural History Museum that I will be part of. So this weekend I will have to sit down and write the case study I'll be presenting at the course. I have a feeling that the majority of the time will be spent on either hunting up cool photos or making graphs...


ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)

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