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Exposing the Dead: Javier Marías in The Art of Fiction No. 190, The Paris Review

15 Dec

Earlier today I came across the Paris Review after stumbling online looking for something to read.  The Paris Review is a well-known literary magazine that is published quarterly and a publication that I have read online on occasion, most often for the insightful and in-depth author interviews.  After glancing through it earlier I spotted one such feature that I had not read before – an enlightening interview with the Spanish novelist and translator Javier Marías.  He is an author who I had come across by chance in a bookstore in Newcastle upon Tyne a few years ago and one that I have come to love after reading his novels A Heart So White and Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, alongside his short story collection When I Was Mortal which I became intrigued by as it offered stylistic snapshots of his writing and intense introspective vignettes.

In a section of the interview Marías discusses his relatives and his personal family history in the tumultuous 20th century, his father’s imprisonment under Franco’s regime in Spain (1939-1975) and the times the family spent in other countries in effective exile during Franco’s rule.  In particular he recalls an instance of the personal face of death within the family…

Interviewer:

‘You sometimes use actual photographs in your novels.’

Javier Marías:

‘Yes, because when I read about an image I like to see it at the same time, be it a painting or a photograph.  But you must be very careful with putting actual things in a novel.  In the first volume of Your Face Tomorrow, there is a moment when the narrator recalls the story of his uncle, who was killed during the war, and how his mother had to look for him because he didn’t come home, and she eventually found a photograph of her brother dead.  That is a real story—it happened to my uncle.  He was killed in the war when he was seventeen.  I did reproduce one photograph, but I knew I could not put in the other one of him dead.  Just as it is told in the book, the photograph was inside this box, wrapped in red cloth.  It is quite a terrible photograph.  I did not dare make it part of a fiction.  You can’t expose the dead too much.’

(Quoted from Fay’s interview in 2009).

I was struck by the last sentence, of how the preservation of the image within the box carefully wrapped contrasted sharply with the limited exposure that it would receive stored in this way.  In this case the photographic image displayed not the living, breathing individual that the family remembered but the final portrait of his uncle’s body, frozen in time.  The context is unclear but the photograph does not need to be seen, at least by the audience, or to be presented in a fictional piece of writing as Marías attests.  The imagined brutality of his death is enough; the truth remaining as memory shared by the family.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Fay, S. 2009. Javier Marías: The Art of Fiction No. 190. The Paris Review. Winter Edition. 179. (Open Access).

Marías, J. 2012. A Heart So White. Translated from Spanish by M. J. Costa. London: Penguin Classics.

Marías, J. 2013. Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me. Translated from Spanish by M. J. Costa. New York: Vintage International.

Conference Review: Day of the Dead Conference at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, 17th-19th October 2014

31 Jul

As highlighted in an earlier blog post (alright, this post is quite late!) on this site Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), in Northern Ireland, recently played organizer and host to the Day of the Dead: Recent Research in Human Osteoarchaeology conference on the 17th to the 19th October 2014.  Yours truly went along on a propeller plane departing from Newcastle across the Irish Sea to Belfast to what turned out to be one of the best conferences that I have thus far had the pleasure of attending.  It was a conference that aptly and ably mixed funerary archaeology with human osteoarchaeology into a delicious few days that demonstrated the strength and wealth of ongoing research.  Of particular interest was the current human osteoarchaeological research on-going in Ireland itself, but we’ll come back to that shortly.  This brief post will cover a few of the research highlights of the event itself, and I hope it is a conference that will be repeated in the not-too-distant future.

QUB

The 19th century Lanyon building, at the centre of the Queen’s University Belfast campus in the south of the city, a fine host building for the conference. Home to some more than 17,000 students and 3500 staff, the university and it’s School of Archaeology, Geography and Palaeoecology boasts the facilities of a radiocarbon laboratory with AMS facilities. Photograph credit: QUB.

Spearheaded by Catriona McKenzie and her able assistants (the fantastic Deirdre Drain, Jeanna Loyer, and Roisin O’Reilly) from the Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology department (GAP) at Queen’s University Belfast, the Day of the Dead 3-day conference attracted delegates from around Ireland, Europe, and the wider world to present poster and podium papers on a smorgasbord of bioarchaeological topics.

Archaeothanatology Workshop

The conference kicked off with a workshop on the archaeothanatology methodology on the first day, which was spearheaded by Stéphane Rottier, Christopher Knüsel and Jeanna Loyer.  Archaeothanatology, or the similar anthropologie de terrain, is a method of recording the in-situ position of the body in the grave as proposed by the French archaeologist and anthropologist Henri Duday.  Unfortunately I did not get to attend the workshop itself as I arrived in the city mid-way through the first day, whilst the workshop itself was in mid-session.  However, I heard from friends that did manage to attend it that much was learnt regarding the importance of understanding the context of the body in-situ.  Of particular importance are the differences between coffin and non-coffin burials, where the position and rotational axis of certain skeletal elements, such as the humerus, radius and ulna, can indicate funerary and post-burial taphonomic body positions.

I managed to have a quick word with Chris Knüsel, who helps to advocate the use of the methodology, and he gave me a quick break down of what the methodology hopes to achieve. Archaeothanatology, Chris stated, ‘links bioarchaeology with funerary archaeology in a way that has never previously been considered.  It has the potential to distinguish natural phenomena from human agency and to reveal behavioural details of much more variable patterning of human remains than anticipated from burial types.  The methodology does require sound field recording of the archaeological and bioarchaeological contexts however for the full implementation and usefulness of the methodology to become apparent.

For further information and a good introduction to archaeothanatology, whose majority of publications have been written in French, I highly recommend Bradley’s 2010 open access article ‘Les Tomes Belle: The Use of ‘Anthropologie de Terrain in Prehistoric Archaeology‘, published in the University of York’s student journal The Post Hole.  I also recommend Katy Emery Meyer’s Bones Don’t Lie blog article on the inference of perishable grave goods in a prehistoric Bronze Age and Iron Age cemeteries in Ban Lum Khao and Ban Non Wat, Thailand, respectively, on Harris & Tayles 2012 research using archaeothanatology.  For a recent look at how archaothanatology, when used in conjunction with taphonomy, scanning electron microscopy, histological analysis, and Micro-CT scanning, is unraveling social practices in prehistory I highly recommend reading Smith’s et al. 2016 (paywalled) article on the British evidence for mummification and retention of the dead around a Chalcolithic and Bronze Age monument at Cranborne Chase, Dorset.

It should also be stated here that anthropologie de terrain underpins archaeothanatology, however there is some confusion on my part as to whether the methodologies are analogous due to translation intricacies or whether archaeothanatology is the natural progression of anthropologie de terrain.

Conference Sessions & Related Papers

The papers were presented over 8 sessions over the weekend of the 18th and 19th October, and dealt with a number of different themes relating to human osteoarchaeology in general.  I won’t go into detail regarding the papers presented but I will pick out a presentation or two to indicate the range of the topics.  I have to say I was quite impressed at the standard of the research presented and I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the conference as a whole.

day of the dead

The really rather lovely logo for the Day of the Dead  conference. Image credit: QUB.

It was also a real credit to the organizers of the conference that such a wide number of European and international countries were represented.  Of course one of the best things for any conference attendee who has to pay their own fees is the realization that a conference that is affordable is also filled with some of the best researchers in the field.  But anyway, enough of my praise and let me introduce a talk or two…

Osteoarchaeology in Ireland

After a welcome talk by Catriona McKenzie and Eileen Murphy the first session got underway and focused on the topic at hand within Ireland.  The chronological period covered here largely focused on the medieval and post-medieval history of Ireland, but Catriona McKenzie did present recent research  on the health and disease status in adults from a population analysis of the Gaelic Irish cemetery site of Ballyhanna, County Donnegal.  The cemetery was in use from the 7th century AD to the 17th century AD and has so far revealed the skeletal remains of over 1300 adult and non-adult individuals, making it one of the largest native medieval collections in Ireland.

On the other end of the spectrum Jonny Geber introduced the bioarchaeology of childhood during the Great Irish famine (AD 1845-1852), with a particular focus on the ‘experienced realities and institutional care of children in the Kilkenny Union Workhouse‘.  This was a hard-hitting talk focusing on the origins, impacts and repercussions of the Great Famine through the non-adults of the workhouse and the remains uncovered within a number of mass graves at the site.  Importantly the talk presented ‘a “dialogue of evidence”, the story of the often invisible disenfranchised and socioeconomically marginalized populace of Ireland during a period of severe suffering’ (Gerber 2014, presentation abstract).  This is the human experience as recognized through osteological and documentary evidence, and stands as a testament to one of the most profound events in Irish history.

Grave Concerns

The next session focused on the graves of the dead and introduced a wider range of topics from prehistoric Europe, with a strong focus on Hungarian archaeology.  One of my favourite presentations in this session was the evidence for physical aggression and a possible putative leprosy case from a Copper Age mass grave at Abony, Hungary, dated to 3800-3600 BC belonging to the Proto boleráz phase, as presented by Kitti Köhler.  I was quite impressed by the inclusion of a 3D model which really highlighted the importance of visual understanding of archaeological contexts and palaeopathological features.  Also discussed in this session was a presentation by my good friend Jennifer Crangle on English medieval post-burial funerary practices, which should be no surprise to blog readers here due to my posts on the charnel chapel at the Rothwell Holy Trinity church which helped form a key part of Jennifer’s research and talk.

People & Places

This shorter session contained a talk given by Thomas Khador focused on Carrowkeel, a truly remarkable Neoltihic passage tomb complex located in County Sligo, where his team analysed 39 individuals found at the site.  Interestingly the remains of the individuals were excavated from the Carrowkeel complex in 1911 but subsequently disappeared for nearly a century before being rediscovered again.  Osteological and stable isotopic analysis indicated that the individuals may have had selective access to the passage tombs (certainly in death but possibly in life as well), which raises questions for the social mobility and social networks during the Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods for Ireland and Atlantic Europe.  There was also a keynote talk by Barra O’Donnabhain titled Anglo-Saxons and Celts: Race, Science and the Irish which was thoroughly thought-provoking, discussing as it did the legitimization of history, identity and selective narration.  This was tied in with the discipline of bioarchaeology and the resilience of some of the older narratives within it.

The Archaeology of Death

Another broad ranging session, from ancient Egyptian body manipulation to Far Eastern Neolithic shell middens in island archaeology.  Also introduced were two talks on the archaeothanatology methodology, with a talk by Emma Green on the application of the principles to identify funerary processes, in this case the use of coffins in burials.  Her research, presented in conjunction with Elizabeth Craig-Atkins at the University of Sheffield, focused on the middle to late Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sedgeford, in Norfolk, England.  She emphasized the important of accurately recording the archaeology in the field as it is uncovered, using not just context sheets and drawings, but also film and digital photography to ensure each details can be accurately recreated within the analysis and investigation of the research.

Life Before Death

Osteoarchaeologists, dealing with the bones of individuals who may have died hundreds, sometimes thousands of years before analyze them, can sometimes forget that what we view is the culmination of a life lived and all that entails.  This session introduced the study of the individual and the population, with presentations on Roman York by Lauren McIntyre which provided evidence on the demographic composition of the city.  (For those interested in Lauren’s work, and the life of a human osteologist in general, can also read a previous interview with her on my site here).  Ylva Bäckström presented the osteological analysis of a 16th century cemetery from the Sala Silver Mine in central Sweden, highlighting the social composition and differing treatment given in funerary contexts.  The analysis indicated a prevalence of fractures among the burials in earthen graves compared to the burials of individuals within coffins, suggesting one special social category as discussed in written documents; those known as war prisoners.

Population Health

I was particularly intrigued by a few talks in this session, specifically the talk led by Abigail Ash and Ron Pinhasi entitled Difference in Uniformity: Health and Stress in Early Farming Communities, which focused on the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture (LBK) and their geographic spread.  Their investigation into the geographic spread of the LBK and use of five representative skeletal populations (for a total of 516 individuals) highlighted palaeopathological changes (non-specific indicators of stress) indicative of differing behaviour between population stress levels within one cultural group.  You can read the open access 2016 article on the results here.  I should state here that my MSc research investigated mobility and social stratification (particularly evidence for the practice of patrilocality) within the LBK of central Europe, so I took a great deal of interest in this talk.

Open Session

This session introduced a number of really interesting talks ranging from analyzing markers of occupational stress by Roisin O’ Reilly, one of the conference organizers, to a multivariate approach to sex determination in ancient and modern pelvis by Samuel Rennie and James Ohman (pleasantly titled ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, which made me chuckle).  The multivariate approach bamboozled me a little at first as the module I did in statistics for my MSc was hard-won, but Samuel quickly demonstrated the importance of the research presented, both for palaeoanthropological and archaeological contexts but also for forensic contexts in the ability to determine the sex of an individual with a 95.65% without a priori knowledge of sex in some instances.  This is definitely one to watch and I am excited as to where this research is heading.

Ethics, Legislation & Reburial

The conference ended with a session on the ethics, legislation and reburial aspects of osteoarchaeology, with talks from Caroline Bennett on the changes of excavation human remains, from once living breathing individuals to archival objects and documents of a past long gone.  This was a thoughtful talk and I really enjoyed being able to think morally and ethically the value of human remains, especially in consideration of the previous talks of the conference as a whole.  In essence this was considered breathing space in order to understand what we do and why we do, the impacts of the job and the value of it.

Catching Up & Saying Goodbye

Whilst I was in Belfast I also made sure that I met up with a fellow (and prolific) blogger Robert M. Chapple, an Irish archaeologist (now retired and happily working in IT) of some repute.  It was with great pleasure that I got to chat to him about Ireland’s archaeology, history and the general state of academia over a delightful meal with the man himself.  (And I must say I owe a debt of gratitude for the free meal, and I aim to pay it forward to the younger generation of archaeologists at my next conference, if I can!).  If you have haven’t already I heartily recommend that you take a look at Robert’s own site, pull up a seat and have a good read – it really is an awesome place to become acquainted with the richness of Ireland’s archaeology and history, complete with personal touches and exciting first hand experiences.  Robert also keeps a downloadable database record of Irish Radiocarbon and Dendrochronological Dates (IRDD), click the link to the website to delve into more than 8000 radiocarbon determinations and more than 300 dendrochronological dates.

As well as catching up with old friends at the conference I also got to meet a host of new friends, including Laura van der Sluis, a doctoral candidate at GAP at QUB who is currently researching 6000 years of subsistence of human populations at Limfjord, Denmark, from the Mesolithic period to the Viking period utilizing stable isotope analysis.  Laura’s research will also analyse the evidence for palaeomobility and changes in palaeodiet in an effort to determine if the availability of marine resources helped to drive cultural changes as recorded in the coastal archaeological record.  I had the joy of talking about the above methods and the laboratory facilities at QUB with Laura whilst taking in the ambient cool October night around the campus and surrounding streets.  Of interest to readers of this site is Laura’s latest co-written research article presenting the results of a palaeodietary analysis of a multi-period (AD 9th to AD 18th centuries) churchyard in Stavanger, Norway, using carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulphur isotopic analysis which indicated a change in diet due to changing religious beliefs and related dietary restrictions.

So all in all I am very glad that I made the short hop across from England to Northern Ireland to attend this rather beautiful conference in Belfast, as I was struck by the very real wealth of Ireland’s history of bioarchaeological investigation and research.  I hope that certain sites and skeletal populations become wider known within British archaeology as a whole as I felt I was discovering it anew.

Personal Effects

1 Mar

Tonight my father passed to me a small autograph book to look at, one that had once belonged to my great grandmother.  The book, which dated in use from around 1916-1919, contained small notes from friends and hospital bound soldiers from the Yorkshire and Durham areas of England, places where my great grandmother lived and worked as a nurse.

There was some fine examples of jokes, sweet messages and beautiful little ink and pencil drawings of countryside scenes.  One picture, found towards the end of the autograph book and drawn in 1919, depicts the flags of the allies draped around a peaceful landscape scene of homes with the single word ‘peace’ placed at the bottom.

This opening sweet poem to the collection also caught my attention:

I slept and dreamt that

life was beauty,

but woke and found that

life was duty.

As I delicately turned the pages I wondered what became of these men nearly one hundred years ago.

Russian Magic Tales

11 Feb

Lately I have been reading Catherine Merridale’s Red Fortress (2013), an excellent and well researched book on the history of the Kremlin and of Russia at large.  So far I am only half way through the book but I am thoroughly enjoying it.  I’ve written briefly before about reading Russian literature (specifically Gogol, Platonov, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy), but I realised recently my small bedside pile of books has become a small mountain, swelling as it has with a glorious mixture of archaeology, osteology and fictional offerings.  Never being able to resist a bookshop I also added Applebaum’s Iron Curtain (2013) to it, thinking that it would make a particularly good companion piece to Merridale.

On a separate trip to the library I happened to come across Chandler’s 2012 collection of Russian magic tales (which are often termed as Skazka in Russian).  Taken from a variety of Russian authors who span across three centuries, the book represents the authors who had collated and collected the tales and then wrote them down in their own hand.  I have never particularly been into magic tales or folk stories, but upon delving into this collection I found I couldn’t really resist not borrowing the volume.  It also makes a beautiful companion piece to the above two history books, grounding me as it does in the oral cultural tradition of folk tales that have been told for centuries, and in some cases for millennia, in Slavic populations.  The tales are also the perfect length to digest and read through on train journeys, and provided a welcome relief from my somewhat heavier archaeological readings.

babayagaivanbilibin

A representation of Baba Yaga by the artist Ivan Bilibin. In Russian and Slavic folklore Baba Yaga is an ambiguous and often ferocious older women who lives deep in the forest, either helping or hindering those who seek her out. Along with Koschey the Deathless, Vasilisa the Beautiful and other colourful characters, Baba Yaga often pops up in the folk tales of Eastern Europe/Russia. (Image credit: Ivan Bilibin).

I have really come to enjoy reading Chandler’s collection of skazka, particularly in the arrangement of the book itself which forms a readable narrative of the historical documenting of the skazka and of the re-working of some of the skazka by selected Russian authors themselves.  This approach not only highlights the interesting form and content of the tale itself but also briefly documents the historical and cultural context that the author worked in to produce or collate the tale.  Generally the skazka can be viewed as one of three general presentations: scenes from real life, magically tales or tales involving talking animals.  Often they can be mixed but they often include characters (such as Baba Yaga and her three knights) that are used repeatedly in a wide variety of circumstances.

In general folk tales are a valuable cultural resource in a few senses of the term.  Firstly, they are essential in helping to understand cultural modes of oral transmission.  This can be identified in two ways, by either understanding differences at regional or national levels between tales and in parsing, or understanding, the developing identities by solidifying through oral repetition a unifying myth or theme (Chandler 2013: x).  Secondly, they can of course also imbue moral and ethical lessons to the listeners or participants, particularly in the role of individuals in societies (Forrester 2012: 427).  Thirdly, it must be noted that some of the tales are pretty vivid in their detail of the character traits and actions, but this is the fun of reading and hearing the tales.  (I recommend reading them out to get a sense of what the oral tradition was like).  These are real and deeply developed characters that although may change their actions in some aspects from tale to tale, they still largely retain their purpose and description or function.

All in all I am glad I stopped to read through a few of the tales in Chandler’s book at the library, as I feel it has made me appreciate the work of some of my favourite authors a whole deal more.  By making me familiar with several important folk characters in the Slavic folk world, the deeper meaning of some of the recurring characters and folk myths that pervade through Russia’s literature becomes evidently clear.  This is especially the case when I originally read Platonov’s The Foundation Pit (2010), a novel that he wrote during the early Soviet period which includes many allegorical and frank representations of the oral folk body of work.

To my mind folk tales in general are a pivotal part of the rubric of culture, a one that sadly is often missing in the archaeological record.  So if you find yourself on an excavation this summer in the middle of nowhere, why not make a fire, grab a few drinks and tell tales to keep an oral tradition alive?

Bibliography

Applebaum, A. 2013. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe. London: Penguin Books.

Chandler, R. (ed.). 2012. Russian Magic Tales from Puskin to Platonov. London: Penguin Classics.

Forrester, S. 2012. ‘Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East’. In Chandler, R. (ed.) Russian Magic Tales from Puskin to Platonov. London: Penguin Classics.

Merridale, C. 2013. Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History. London: Allen Lane.

Platonov, A. 2010. The Foundation Pit. London: Vintage.

Neolithic Craftsmanship In Central Europe

22 Jan

A recent paper by Tegel et al. (2012) demonstrates the intricate wood crafting abilities of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, known as the LBK, in the construction of water wells from planks of wood dated from 5500 BC to 5098 BC.  From the analysis of four wooden wells, and a total of 151 oak timbers from the wells, the precise history of their construction can be confirmed.  This is exciting news as it is firsthand evidence from a range of LBK sites of the carpentry skills, as practiced by the builders, that were apparent during the culture’s existence.  The LBK are typically known as one of the first major European cultures that helped spread agriculture via a number of different mechanisms (Bogaard et al. 2011), and are noted for their use of  cemeteries (Zvelebil & Pettit 2012), differential deposits of shoe last adzes in graves, and uniformity of small settlements and clustered long houses throughout Central Europe, although tantalizingly little remains of their famous long houses.

Bentley et al. (2012) have recently delved into extensive strontium isotope testing of cemetery populations and have released a slew of papers suggesting that, due to different ratios in the presence of male and female adult individuals, the LBK culture practiced patrilocality, i.e. that women moved around to other sites to start families or join different villages, whilst the fathers and sons largely stayed within their birthplace landscape.  Although it should be noted that there are some regional differences, with certain populations practicing transhumance with cattle, possibly moving with them throughout a varied landscape (Rasteiro et al. 2012).  Furtheer to this, there has been little coverage or investigation of infant or juvenile remains in the LBK culture, and this is a research bias that is similar to the under-consideration of of such populations in the wider Neolithic archaeological record (Lillie 2008).

journal.pone.0051374.g004

A detail from some from some of the water wells excavated from sites in Eastern Germany that were used in the dendro-chronological analysis and reconstruction (Tegel et al. 2012: 2). The majority of the wells were block lifted from their Neolithic period excavation sites and micro-excavated in wet lab conditions to allow preservation, greater photographic resolution, laser recording and stratigraphic recording. A reconstruction of their wooden joints was possible, because of this technique and the care taken to preserve the wood in-situ.

Article Abstract:

“The European Neolithization ~6000−4000 BC represents a pivotal change in human history when farming spread and the mobile style of life of the hunter-foragers was superseded by the agrarian culture. Permanent settlement structures and agricultural production systems required fundamental innovations in technology, subsistence, and resource utilization. Motivation, course, and timing of this transformation, however, remain debatable. Here we present annually resolved and absolutely dated dendroarchaeological information from four wooden water wells of the early Neolithic period that were excavated in Eastern Germany. A total of 151 oak timbers preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated between 5469 and 5098 BC and reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. The recently discovered water wells enable for the first time a detailed insight into the earliest wood architecture and display the technological capabilities of humans ~7000 years ago. The timbered well constructions made of old oak trees feature an unopened tree-ring archive from which annually resolved and absolutely dated environmental data can be culled. Our results question the principle of continuous evolutionary development in prehistoric technology, and contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions. Early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.”

Read more here.

Below are further sources to delve into the intriguing LBK culture.

Bibliography and Further Sources:

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bogaard, A., Krause, R. & Strien, H.-C. 2011. Towards a Social Geography of Cultivation and Plant Use in an early Farming Community: Vaihingen an der Enz, South-West Germany. Antiquity. 85: 395-416.

Bramanti, B., Thomas, M. G., Haak, W., Unterlaender, M., Jores, P., Tambets, K., Antanaitis-Jacobs, I., Haidle, M. N., Jankauskas, R., Kind, C.-J., Lueth, F., Terberger, T., Hiller, J., Matsumura, S., Forster, P & Burger, J. 2009. Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers. Science. 326 (5949): 137-140.

Lillie, M. C. 2008. Suffer the Children: ‘Visualising’ Children in the Archaeological Record. In: C. Barcvarov (ed.) Babies Reborn: Infant/Child Burials in Pre- and Protohistory. Conference Proceedings, UISPP, Lisbon. BAR International Series. 1832. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 33-43.

Rasteiro, R., Bouttier, P., Sousa, C. C & Chikhi. 2012. Investigating Sex-biased Migration During the Neolithic Transition in Europe, Using an Explicit Spatial Simulation Framework. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2323 accessed on the 20th of May 2012.

Tegel W., Elburg R., Hakelberg D., Stäuble H. & Büntgen U. 2012. Early Neolithic Water Wells Reveal the World’s Oldest Wood ArchitecturePLoS ONE. (12): 1-8. e51374. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051374

Vanmontfort, B. 2008. Forager-Farmer Connections in an ‘Unoccupied’ Land: First Contact on the Western Edge of LBKTerritory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 27 (2): 149-160.

Zvelebil, M. & Pettitt, P. 2012.  Biosocial Archaeology of the Early Neolithic: Synthetic Analyses of a Human Skeletal Population from the LBK Cemetery of Vedrovice, Czech Republic. Journal of Archaeological Science. In Press.

A Trip to the Continent

15 Aug

In between bouts of writing for the thesis to bookend my MSc here at Sheffield, I managed to fit in a recent trip to northern France with the family.  As I will not be blogging as regularly as I would like at the moment, until at least the bulk of the thesis is finished, I’d thought I’d share some photographic highlights of the trip.  The smaller photographs can be clicked on to enlarge*.

Intricate masonry of the Amiens catheral.

Amiens 13th century Gothic cathedral, one of the tallest of its kind in France, near the Somme river. Constructed between AD1220-1247, the level of detail is beautiful, and is reminiscent of its more famous sister, Notre Dame, in Paris.

The first stop for the clan was the beautiful city of Amiens, a few hours drive from our crossing point into France.  A deceivingly small city, Amiens has largely preserved some of the finest medieval architecture I have laid my eyes on.  Somehow surviving the two world wars, the Gothic cathedral is a particular jewel in the crown for the city, with such detailed masonry work the likes of which I had not seen before.  Perhaps most impressively is that during the summer months the front of the cathedral is lit as it likely once appeared during the 13th and 14th centuries AD (video).

at night…

This included the clever use of detailed lamps to cast bright colours on the numerous saints, angels and bible scenes portrayed in such vivid and detailed masonry.  The contrast between the dry and dull stonework during the day, and the almost garish colours of the night, is impressive and one wonders what the sights of medieval Europe would have really have been like if they were today as they used to be.  If one were given to hyperbole, one would describe the night show at the cathedral as a piece of heaven on earth.  We sat with the stars shining brightly above whilst the classical music that was played helped to echo the beauty of the stonework.  An occasional gasp slipped from the crowd gathered, as we sat in awe at the beauty lit up before us.

A blissful few days where spent wandering along the riverside paths where Jules Verne once walked, and we admired the hortillonages, those man-made floating gardens among the marshlands of the rivers Somme and Avre.  Soon however it was time to move to Saint Simeon, a small village located in the countryside, just to the west of Paris.

A mock defensive late medieval tower at Provins.

The new accommodation proved a relaxing change of pace, with fresh bread brought daily to the site, and a swimming pool in which we hid to ward off the midday sun.

A day visit to the town of Provins proved worthwhile and delightful, as the town has retained its original medieval fortified wall and buildings.  Even better was the medieval show that a  group of  talented actors put on, much to the delight of the many families present.  Dueling knights, howling wolves, serfs, slaves, romance, and incredibly well trained pigs helped the medieval walls to speak of what they may have once seen (minus the trolls).

The surrounding countryside of northern France held a dark secret that could occasionally be discerned by the bumps in the  landscape.  Too often a sign could be seen for a cemetery, marking the spot where those brave soldiers who had died during World War One lay in permanent rest.  A visit to the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme proved to be a sombre moment of thanks to those who had gone before us, and to those who still remained missing in action.

The remains of the trench systems are particularly well preserved and evident at the Canadian memorial to the Newfoundlanders who fought in the war.  Even to this day the physical remains of WW1 affect those that farm the land in northern France.  The so called ‘iron harvest‘ can be found dumped at the side of the fields, as the farmers lay aside the metallic debris of the war and the Western Front- the shells, shrapnel, grenades, barbed wire and the bullets that still litter the ground, and are ploughed up year after year.

From war to romance, as we visited the city of love, Paris, for a day.  There is nothing that I can add that hasn’t already been said about the city.  It is safe to say that one day is not enough for Paris, nor is one night.  Amiens sister cathedral, Notre Dame, was spied, entered and admired, whilst I managed to view Paris from her most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower; that indomitable mistress that keeps watch over the city.  Built as a temporary structure for the 1889 Worlds Fair, she has continued her work as a tourist leader and telecommunications giant ever since.

The Eiffel Tower.

As we waited in the queue for the lift to the main viewing platform, my thoughts wandered to history, and that famous picture of Adolf Hitler standing and admiring his new prize in 1940.  It may seem odd to think such things in the city of love at such a romantic location, but to accompany me on holiday I had brought the sublime ‘In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century‘ travelogue by Geert Mak, and it had reached WW2 and the  ravages it left on the continent.

The Seine, the river that flows so majestically through Paris, accompanied our own walking tour as we spied various famous buildings and admired the artwork of the sellers and stalls which line its banks.  The Champs Elysees was walked along, whilst the Arc de triomphe was spotted whilst its modernist conceptual brother was framed behind it.  The sighting of Cleopatra’s Needle (actually Ramesses II obelisk) was accompanied by Napoleon’s Vendôme column, a few boulevards away.  Almost a copy of Trajan’s column, the Vendôme column celebrates Napoleon’s victory at the battle of Austerlitz in 1805.

A Parisian view: the river Seine in the foreground, and La Defense, the business district, in the background.

The Paris day trip was completed with a meal outside, within view of the Louvre, which houses Leonardo’s classic work, the Mona Lisa.  Unfortunately we did not get chance to enter the Louvre, but we did get chance to visit the Musee d’Orsay, which housed numerous paintings by the Impressionists, including  the artists Monet, Cezanne, and Manet.  My particular highlight was the chance to see Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings, and the Absinthe Drinker by Pablo Picasso.  The medium of art never ceases to surprise and move me.

Our final trip in France involved visiting the Chateau de Vaux Vicomte, a 17th century masterpiece of excess by Nicolas Fouquet, a minister in Louis XIV’s government.  The chateau was the result of Fouquet’s lavish lifestyle, and the work of three exceptional artists- Le Vau, Le Brun and le Notre.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, or Fouquet’s Folly.

The opening of the baroque chateau and extensive sculpted gardens was presented in front of the King, Louis XIV.  Such was the King’s fury at the grandeur that Fouquet had spent, or had misspent the country’s money, that after a mere two weeks of officially opening the Chateau Fouquet had began a sentence of life imprisonment, never to be released alive.  King Louis XIV subsequently used the three artists to design, sculpt and construct a large majority of the Palace of Versailles. Our day visit here ended in an eventful ride in one of the golf buggy’s available to visitors, piloted by yours truly.

And so the journey to our nearest continental neighbour withdrew to a close.  We bid farewell to the fine weather and food.  A return journey to France surely beckons, as the osteologist in me regrets not being able to visit the vast underground catacombs of Paris where many skeletons lay…

au revior France!

* All photographs in this entry have been taken by myself.

Guest Post: ‘Grampus Heritage & The EU Leonardo Da Vinci Training Programme’ by Joanne Wilkinson.

8 Aug

Joanne Wilkinson gained an undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham, and has several years experience in commercial archaeology.  Since joining Grampus she has  been involved in a number of archaeological projects around Cumbria, northern England, as well as involvement in Grampus’s EU projects.  Her interests include Roman archaeology, swimming, and she is a board member of a festival committee.


Grampus Heritage and Training Ltd is a non-profit making organisation based in the North West of England. Since 1997 we have been involved in the management and promotion of European projects concerned with culture, heritage, archaeology and the environment. We are promoters of the EU Leonardo Da Vinci Training Programme and provide funded training opportunities through this programme to UK students, recent graduates and young workers to various European countries.

The placements are a chance for participants to experience how sites are run outside the UK. Although they are a training experience, the participants build in confidence as they use what ever they may know about field work as well as being trained in slightly different methods. The placements are not a transfer of UK methods to an EU country, but are a chance for participants to add other skills to their field work experience.

The placements are also a chance for participants to develop and build on their personal skills, as usually the groups live and work together, usually having only met at the airport on the day of departure from the UK. Although not obvious at first, this is also an important part of the placement, as a lot of field work in the UK may mean close quarter living conditions with people that you may not necessarily know.

Students Learning on the 2011 Magdeburg Placement.

Past participants have kept in touch with us and have let us know how they get on. Some Archaeological, Environmental and Traditional Craft participants have informed us that they have since gone back to work with our partners, have chosen to use the sites they have worked on as part of their studies as they continue their education and others have gone into employment after our placements, with one of participants confident that it was her experience on our placement that helped get her the shortlist for interview. In a competitive job market, they are something else to add to CV’s or help towards university quotas of field work for graduation.

The placements are a great chance for undergraduates and graduates to excavate abroad, especially if previously they have not been in a position to do so. We have a variety of periods across our placements from Neolithic to Medieval, allowing us to offer a diverse range of placement opportunities. The placements allow the group to either work together on research excavations or work on rescue excavations. Some allow the group to work with commercial units, others with university research teams, working both in the field and sometimes in the lab.

Undergraduate archaeological opportunities (EASE)

BulgariaRoman site– Roman Baths near the town of Hissarya, in which the Roman occupation is clearly visible. The group works on the baths, helping the archaeologists learn more about this interesting area.

Finland: Stone Age– Kierikki Stone Age Centre. Located near Oulu, the Centre has built up around the Stone Age settlement site and using the evidence found, there are reconstructed buildings, which sometimes our groups help out with during the placement. The Centre is also the location for a Stone Age fair, which our groups take part in every year.

GermanyMedieval Magdeburg- Medieval and other sites which the Unit and university are working on at the time of the placement. As the group work with a commercial unit as well as university, they experience the commercial side to archaeology as well as the research side.

Iceland: Middle Age Period/Field School – The group work on 2 sites during their placement, exposing them to the different methods used at the very different locations. By moving to 2 different sites, they get to see more of Iceland as well.

Portugal: Copper Age – The group work together with other volunteers, being trained on a Copper Age site that sits atop a hill in an area surrounded by significant local archaeological sites, including Palaeolithic open air engravings of the Côa River Valley UNESCO site.

SlovakiaBronze Age– The group continues working on a site that was found during development work and has revealed lots of Hatvan Culture pottery. 2012 saw the group opening and working on a site that was discovered in 2011 through survey which revealed large ditches, which may be the focus of future work.

EASE Slovakia Placement.

Graduate archaeological opportunities (GrEASE):

Bulgaria: Medieval Fortress– The group help the team continue working in the fortress, the past few years having resulted in the discovery of a church and associated grave yard. With the discovery of a castle, fourteen churches, residential areas, craft shops and street networks, Cherven is one of Bulgaria’s more important archaeological centres.

CyprusChristian Basilica – The group continues with work that has been ongoing for the last few years in the areas of the Basilica. The previous groups have helped to uncover intricate mosaic flooring with as many as 16 mosaics designs showing evidence of having origins from all over Cyprus.

IcelandMonastic – The groups have been focusing on a monastery and associated graves, helping the team through their project and assisting with the yearly aims and objectives. The skeletal remains, botanical remains and surgical instruments suggest strongly that the monastery served elderly and sick people.

Italy: Etruscan – The groups assist in the continued research excavations in to the Etruscan period of the area around Marsiliana. The groups have been working on a possible residential building in the hills as well as nearby necropoli.

Romania: Neolithic – New on offer from Grampus the group works with a university team on a Neolithic site. The most recent focus has been on burials of many individuals, whose remains indicate some unusual burial practices.

EASE Bulgaria Placement.

The outcome of our placements are for participants to practice any skills they do have, learn some new skills and methods they may otherwise not encounter in the UK and to see how sites are run outside the UK.  The EASE placements are training experiences, but the placements are not a transfer of UK practices, so the training is something different for participants to experience. We also want participants to put the placement on their CV to highlight the work they have done. We want people to come away from the placement with more enthusiasm towards their studies/career and to feel that they have contributed to research/rescue excavations.

These Bones of Mine Note:

I participated in the 2011 Magdeburg German placement via Grampus Heritage in the UK, and found it a wonderful experience.  It is highly recommended that undergraduates and graduates across the EU access and use programs such as the Leonardi Da Vinci scheme.  For myself, it has given lifelong memories and long lasting friendships.