Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

Literature Travels

28 Aug

In a brief aside from osteoarchaeology, I thought I’d focus a quick entry on what I’ve been reading lately as I wait for my arm to heal.  I have a particular soft spot for travel literature, so I’ve been delving into some classic books from the 20th century.  Among these are American writer John Steinbeck’s 1962 travelogue Travels with Charley, Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s 1943 autobiography The World of Yesterday, and the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s 1959 memoir Arabian Sands.

By chance my current haul of literature deals with the themes of cultural change (and, in the case of Zweig’s, the devastation of his previous way of life with the rise of Nazism in Europe) and the beauty of the natural landscape in their respective environments.  Thesiger, for instance, relates his constant worries of the impact of petrochemical prospection and development in his beloved and desolate deserts in Saudi Arabia and Oman and the anticipated effects on the Bedouin (Bedu) way of life.  Steinbeck, meanwhile, mourns a population that he barely knows any longer, even as his magnificent and diverse body of work champions their history and lifestyles.

I’m currently in the middle of Thesiger’s memoir detailing his epic 1945-1950 explorations in Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) and the Empty Quarter in Arabia (Rubʿ al Khali, one of the largest sand deserts in the world spanning parts of Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Yemen and Oman).  I’m struck by his lucid description of Bedouin life, of their harsh but close living environments and tight social structures.  As with reading any literature endeavor care must be taken in understanding the motives of the writer, but it is clear that Thesiger held the Bedouin close to his heart and set about emulating and living their lifestyle as close as he could and was allowed to.

During his numerous journeys into the Empty Quarter Thesiger often acted as an impromptu medic, dispensing medicines he had brought with him to his guides and friends as needed.  In one scene he highlights the use of old remedies that have been passed down in Bedu culture:

During the days that I was at Mughshin my companions often asked me for medicines.  Bedu suffer much from headaches and stomach trouble.  Sometimes my aspirin worked, but if not the sufferer would get someone to brand him, usually on his heels, and would announce a little later that his headache was now gone, and that the old Bedu remedies were better than the Christian’s pills.  Bedu cauterize themselves and their camels for nearly every ill.  Their bellies, chests, and backs are often criss-crossed with the ensuing scars.” (Thesiger 2007: 112).

One first thought by me was the fact that branding would certainly make you forget about headaches quickly!

However it also reminded me of perhaps the most famous iceman in Europe, Ötzi, an individual who lived and die around c.3300 BC during the European Chalcolithic period.  Ötzi, whose naturally mummified body represents the oldest so far found in Europe, has evidence for many distinct line and cross tattoos across his preserved body.  The location of the majority of his 50+ tattoos could possibly be related to the underlying pathologies that are present on his bones.

Radiological investigations have highlighted evidence for osteochondrosis and spondylosis in the lumbar (lower back) region, knee and ankle joints in Ötzi’s skeleton, whilst microscopic analysis of his gut has highlighted evidence for a whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) infestation (Dorfer et al. 1999: 1024).  It has been suggested that the tattoos could relate to an early form of acupuncture to help with the pain, or aches, that Ötzi probably felt (Dorfer et al. 1999: 1025), rather than the tattoos reflecting, or assuming, a purely decorative or ritual form (Scheinfeld 2007: 364).

In the case of the brandings that Thesiger describes in his travels with the Bedu above it is obvious that they have a functional aspect in their use as a treatment for illness, but it is likely that there is deeper meaning ascribed to them.  As such I should probably head back to reading the book!

Bibliography*

Dorfer, L., Moser, M., Bahr, F., Spindler, K., Egarter-Vigl, E., Giullén, S., Dohr, G. & Kenner, T. 1999. A Medical Report from the Stone Age? The Lancet. 354 (9183): 1023–1025. (Open Access).

Scheinfeld, N. 2007. Tattoos and Religion. Clinics in Dermatology. 25 (4): 362-366.

Steinbeck, J. 2000. Travels with Charley. Penguin Modern Classics.

Thesiger, W. 2007. Arabian Sands. London: Penguin Classics.

Zweig, S. 2014. The World of Yesterday. London: Pushkin Press.

* Publication dates are for modern editions.

A Stone to Throw II: Upcoming Archaeology Conferences

7 Apr

A few dates for the diary as this year sees some pretty exciting archaeology and bioarchaeology themed conferences rolling towards us in the next four months of 2014 or so.  Conferences are fantastic places to learn about new techniques or research approaches in archaeology.  It can also be a thrill watching famed archaeologists and professors speak in the flesh about topics which they are passionate about.  Conferences, depending on their target audience, can sometimes be open to the public and members of academia alike, but they can also vary widely in cost depending on their location, size and prestige.

mixxxxxxx

Without further ado here are a few conferences that have peaked my interest and some that I hope to attend myself (although Istanbul may have to be missed due to an unfortunate clash with BABAO):

Dearne Valley Archaeology Day 2014, Wath-Upon-Dearne

The community focused Elmet Archaeology group, who were recently mentioned here as a part of an interview with their osteoarchaeologist Lauren McIntyre, are hosting their annual Dearne Valley Archaeology Day in Wath-Upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, on Saturday the 31st of May.  Open to the members of the public and archaeologists alike, the day long conference costs £18 (£14 unwaged) to attend and boasts a host of speakers on a variety of topics.  The full list of speakers has yet to be announced but so far includes British archaeological stalwarts such as David Connolly of BAJR fame, Prof Joan Fletcher of the University of York and a range of speakers from archaeological units across the country.  There will also be a number of stalls on the day, including information booths on how to illustrate archaeology style by Kate Adelade, Dearne Valley Archaeology Group and a stall with Jenny Crangle detailing the medieval Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project (which has been previously discussed on this blog).   

Exploring Changing Human Beliefs About Death, Mortality and the Human Body, Invisible Dead Project Conference, Durham

The University of Durham is playing host to the Invisible Dead Project conference from Friday 6th of to the Sunday the 8th of June.  The conference has two lectures on the Friday and Saturday nights which are open to the public and two full days of talks for students and academics during the Saturday and Sunday daytime.  The conference is, quite wonderfully, completely free to attend.  The ongoing Invisible Dead Project is a large-scale international collaboration aimed at studying the prehistoric and historic attitudes to death and burial of Britain and the Levant areas.  Information and details of sites under study can be found here at the University of Durham webpage.

The conference welcomes anthropologists, archaeologists and members of the public interested in death and  human remains in prehistory and up contemporary society to attend.  The first public speaker is Prof. Peter Pfälzner, from the University of Tübingen, explaining work carried out on long-term royal funerary processes at Qatna, Syria, on Friday night (6.30pm), whilst Prof Mike Parker Pearson discusses problems and perspectives in funerary archaeology on the Saturday night (6.30pm).  If you are interested in attending the conference forms should be completed before the 30th of April.

British association of Biological Anthropologists and Osteoarchaeologists, Durham

The British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology are holding their annual conference at the University of Durham in September, from Friday 12th to the Sunday 14th.  The three-day conference will feature a broad range of presentations, talks and posters on the great range and wealth of  osteoarchaeology in Britain and beyond.  The call for papers has just been announced and is open until the 9th of June.  Last year’s conference program can be found here.  Although details have not been released just yet of the costs of attending the conference, it is likely that it will upwards of £140 to attend (based on 2013 BABAO member rates).  The information concerning the 4 sessions has just been released and are based around the following clusters:

1) The body and society: past perspectives on the present

2) Biological anthropology and infectious disease: new developments in understanding from bioarchaeology, palaeoanthropology, primatology, and archaeozoology

3) New developments in biomolecular methods

4) Open session

Details on the key-note speakers for each session can be found here, as can further information on conference guidelines for following abstract guidelines and submission dates.  The BABAO conference is the foundation stone of conferences in the UK osteology calendar as it really does represent the best in current research in the UK and beyond.  Although I have yet to attend one (due to costs), I have high hopes of attending this year’s event in the lovely historic (and local to me) city of Durham.

European Association of Archaeologists, Istanbul

The European Association for Archaeologists host their conference in September, from the Wednesday the 10th to the Sunday the 14th, in Istanbul, Turkey.  The call for papers and posters has now closed, but they did receive a very healthy 2400 submissions in total.  The broad topics of discussion for the 2014 session are categorised into 6 different focus areas including:

1) Connecting seas: across the borders

2) Managing archaeological heritage: past and present

3) Ancient technologies in social context

4) Environment and subsistence: the geosphere, ecosphere and human interaction

5) Times of change: collapse and transformative impulses

6) Retrieving and interpreting the archaeology record

The fees for attending the EAA conference ranges in price from €40 to €180 dependent on category of the applicant (see here for the full extensive list, you are enrolled as a member of the EAA on purchase of conference tickets), but all are welcome to join the conference.  It promises to be an interesting conference with the attendance of some of the most important archaeologists in Europe discussing a wide variety of topics, including a number of speakers discussing human osteology related topics.  Istanbul is also a fantastic place to host a conference positioned as it is between the crossing of the West into the East and vice versa, and boasting a city full of heritage, archaeology and art.

Is Gender Still Relevant? University of Bradford

The British Academy and the University of Bradford are holding a two day event on the question of whether gender is still relevant.  The mini conference runs from Wednesday the 17th to the Thursday the 18th of September and it is free to attend.  Guest speakers include Professor Rosemary Joyce from the University of California and Dr Roberta Gilchrist from the University of Reading, who will discussing sex and gender dichotomies in archaeology.  You can find out more information here and, as far as I am aware, there is still time to submit abstracts for the conference.

No doubt there will be more archaeology and osteology based conferences going on so please feel free to leave a comment below.

Guest Post: ‘TrowelBlazers’ by Alison Atkin

30 Sep

Alison Atkin is currently a doctoral researcher in osteoarchaeology at the University of Sheffield, where she is studying the demographic characterization of mass fatality incidents in the past and the present.  Her blog, Deathsplanation, details her on-going research and her general fascination with death and the sciences.  Alison also runs the Penny University, a site where she interviews upcoming researchers on their specialist topics.  If you are a researcher and interested in engaging the public via the Penny University, please contact Alison here.


It never bothered me growing up that I didn’t know about women like Frederica de Laguna, Mary Chubb, and Adela Catherine Breton.  It didn’t stop me from becoming an archaeologist.  The seeming lack of females in the field had no impact whatsoever on my decision to attend university for a degree in the subject for which I am most passionate.  It never crossed my mind.  I never questioned it.  Perhaps I should have.  For it bothers me now.  It staggers my mind that for years, as an individual with an interest in archaeology and related subjects, I never came across these women.  They were never pointed in my direction.  It seems an unlikely impossibility.  And yet, I am not the only one.

Enter TrowelBlazers.

A few short months ago, four individuals decided to do something about this historical void of female individuals in archaeology, palaeontology, and geology.  Because it isn’t a void at all – it’s a remarkable web of women that span the existence, origin, and expansion of these fields, inevitably impacting their current (and some would say future) place in the history of science – and, if I may be so bold, the world.

Victoria Herridge (Palaeobiologist), Suzanne Pilaar-Birch (Zooarchaeologist), Rebecca Wragg-Sykes (Archaeologist), and Brenna Hassett (Dental Anthropologist) created the tumblr TrowelBlazers.  In their own words, “This tumblr is a celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realise.  Because we think these women are awesome.  We think you’ll think these women are awesome.  And we want to keep on discovering more awesome trowel-wielding women.”  I also quite agree with the sentiment that in addition to all of the above, they also created this site because “so many of the pictures are, quite frankly, a-MAZ-ing.”  I defy anyone to resist the site for lure of the photos alone.

When I heard about TrowelBlazers I immediately recognised it as something I wanted to support.  I wanted to know about the women who has helped blaze a trail for people like me to enter these fields… often without giving them a second thought (or as in my case, even a first thought).  I wanted to be an active part of the amazing community that exists between scientists in these fields, which fosters an even deeper admiration for the subject with which I have spent my entire life becoming acquainted. I started researching these women.  Within the first week of Trowelblazers launching I had wrote a post for the site about a woman I had not heard of before their endeavour.  I only found her because they pushed me to be curious.  Am I ever glad they did.  Meet Jane.

Jane Dieulafoy TB

Jane Dieulafoy, a Persian pioneer and meticulous recorder, was one of the finest explorers and archaeologists of her age (Source: TrowelBlazers).

Jane (Jeanne) Dieulafoy (1851-1916) was a crossing-dressing, war fighting, horseback adventuring, novel writing, archaeologist – she was, very simply put, amazing.

She is an inspiring human being.

She is not alone.

There are already more than 45 featured posts on Trowelblazers and, with a list of over 100 other women to feature, it already seems a project that will continue for many years to come.  If you haven’t already, you should go and check it out.

If this is a subject that interests you – and you think that more people should be made aware of the influential female individuals in these subjects – then there is a way for you to get involved.  In addition to submitting entries for the tumblr blog, you can participate in the upcoming Wikipedia editathon, which is taking place in London on October 19th at the Natural History Museum.  This event is aiming to improve the visibility of a host of forgotten women in science on the internet, with the TrowelBlazer team focusing on Dorothea Bate, Dorothy Garrod, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Elinor W. Gardner, Etheldred Bennett, Nina Layard, Margaret Murray, Helen Muir-Wood, and Grace Crowfoot.

The event is open both to people new to Wikipedia and to experienced contributors.  There will be practical training in how to edit a Wikipedia page, support and resources on-hand to make editing easier, and they’ve also lined up a team of experts (biographers and historians) to talk about trowelblazing women and to lend their expertise on the day.  There will also be a unique opportunity to see fossils from the NHM collections collected by these pioneering women, which are not normally on display to the general public.

If you interested in the event, but aren’t able to attend, you can follow the activities throughout the day with live-tweets from both the TrowelBlazer and Women’s Room twitter accounts.

While we’re on the subject of improving the visibility of women in the past, there is something that I must mention.  I think this point needs to go hand in hand when promoting endeavours such as TrowelBlazers.  It is, that, when regarding the history of science there can be a tendency to overstate the contributions of women in the past, in order compensate for their lack of opportunity, almost in an attempt to equalise their places in the history books.  I know that I am not alone in this view, as was evidenced by the response to historian Rebekah Higgit  when she stated it ever so well on Twitter a few months ago.  I do think it is important to keep in mind that however unfortunate it is, the past was not equal (let us not broach this matter in the present as that is another post entirely).  While nevertheless some women were defying social conventions and we should indeed celebrate their efforts and their achievements (and huzzah to TrowelBlazers for being at the forefront of this) we should not forget all of the other women who played a role in the history of science (and indeed, all of those who did not).  We should look not only to the women who stood out from the crowd, but also to those who worked behind the scenes.  We should not feel compelled to alter history in an attempt to rectify past wrongs.  We should use it as a reminder to all of us who are interested, involved, and invested in these subjects today of just how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

I recently discovered an example of these women, in Anna and Susanna Lister, who are firmly rooted in the history of the natural sciences.  Their father, Martin Lister, was a medical doctor by profession but he had, in his own words, “the greatest enthusiasm” for natural history and was a collector of insects, spiders, and shells.  He compiled the first organized, systematic publication on shells and in its final edition, the work was illustrated with 1062 plates of shells – all the work of his daughters Anna and Susanna.  Yet, while their contributions to science were remembered, their identities were almost forgotten entirely.  It was not until Martin Lister’s own words were found in which he proudly referenced the plates as “the original drawings of my daughters” that credit was once again given where credit was due.  It seems there is a lot to learn about these women (and their amazing illustrations).  I imagine that there are many more women like them from history to be rediscovered, recognised, and remembered for their own contributions to science.

It makes me very glad to see that TrowelBlazers is not alone in their aim to spread the word on the role of women in the many fields science throughout history.  Since learning about these women it has made me realise that although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was missing out.  It didn’t bother me, because I didn’t know any better.  I may have ended up exactly where I wanted to be, but I cannot help but feel that if I had known about women like Dorothy Garrod, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, or Jane Dieulafoy earlier in my life I may have got here in a slightly different way – and I might have been a slightly different archaeologist because of them.  I aim to redress issue this immediately, starting with TrowelBlazers and ending… well, who yet knows where this will end.

Ancient Places and Ancient Lives

21 Dec

“What survives from the real Middle Ages is a range of, in practice, quite arbitrary objects based on luck and the durability of their materials.  Ivories of great age, generally showing scenes from the Bible, have endured because they have always been valued but also because they could not decay and could not be reused.  Very little decorative gold survives because centuries of embarrassing royal emergencies or changes in taste have taken advantage of its plasticity to remodel it or put it back into ingots or coins.  Clothing, even precious clothing, has rotted, tapestries have faded, paint has worn away.  Much of the texture and visual meaning of the Middle Ages is therefore lost- quite aside from the irreparable problem of our mental and spiritual equipment being so drastically altered by the intervening centuries that we can hardly engage with what we are looking at.”

From ‘Germania: A personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern’ by Simon Winder (2010: 45).

To slake my thirst for reading I have recently borrowed this delightful book on Germany from my brother.  The book is an often funny but always passionate and informative guide to the central European country, and although my aim was to read it before journeying to Magdeburg last year I never quite got around to it.  The quote instantly reminded me of what I had seen myself in Amiens in the summer, of the cathedral lit as it once was with its vibrant, even gaudy colours transplanted onto the bare and ashen stonework, and of the true sights and sounds that are now largely lost to the ages.  Archaeology is in the business of salvaging and conserving finds and sites from the past, and an integral part of this is the study of human remains as this blog has tried to highlight.  Whilst we can investigate many different aspects of past cultures, not just from the relics and the ruins that remain, but of the actual people who had once lived, it is still important that we realise we can only form an impression of what they had once seen and lived through themselves.  I often catch myself whilst handling a person from the past, imagining who they had loved, what they had seen and what they had done in their lifetimes.  Although the answers to some of our questions as researchers may now be lost, archaeology and its related disciplines can still help to shed a little light.  That light is improving as archaeology widens its scope via science breakthroughs and multidisciplinary projects.

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 Blog: ‘Petra Impressions’ by Franciso Peres.

13 May

Francisco Peres is a University of Hull graduate in History and Politics.  He can often be found loitering around Porto, Portugal, although his wanderlust carries him far.  Adventures in South America, the African Coast and the Near East have inspired his imagination and fed his hunger for humanitarian causes.  His observations on life, both the countries he visits and the people he meets, can be found here at Swinging for Compass.


It’s six thirty in the morning and we are the first people through the gates of Petra.  I walk down the red gorge, flanked by the old aqueducts and carvings of camels and old, forgotten gods.  I am submersed in the silence that is broken only from time to time by doves and sparrows flying around or peeping through little nooks, warbling welcomes to the new day.

Their songs ring out and echo for now.  In a couple of hours, nothing can be heard but the stomping of marching feet, the hammering of hooves, the guides and the peddlers competing to shout over each other.

Monastery of Al Dier at Petra (Tillman 2012).

When building the city of the desert, the Nabateans mimicked the architecture of other peoples of their age.  Archaeologists identified influences of trading empires from the eastern Euphrates to the westernmost Mediterranean Sea.  The locals say that when the men of merchant kings arrived here, they would want to spend more time and money on their sojourn in this home away from home.

There is an almost-Greek amphitheatre, the almost-Roman arches…

Two thousand, two hundred years later, the Swiss and American hotels serving continental breakfasts, the rooftop bars for the affluent and the basement pubs for the British all continue, I suppose, the original principle.

But the Greeks have run out of money and the Romans seem to be heading that very same way.

A Quick Update..

11 Oct

Firstly, my apologies for not updating this blog as of late.  I have started head on into the the Osteology program now.  As discussed in my blog entry below, my modules for the first semester include Human Osteology, Human Anatomy, Funerary Archaeology & Biological Anthropology 1.  The human anatomy module is providing to be a steep learning curve as each new group of muscles are introduced each week via the lecture and then the dissection class.  Keeping on top of the new muscles as well as learning their origin, insertion, innervation and action is proving to be difficult!

I will update this blog in time but it may be longer between posts. I’ll be back shortly…

To be back digging up the skeleton and not having to contend with muscles....

....and to be able to swim in the lake afterwards!

Modes Of Transport

13 Jun

I have to agree with the writer Paul Theroux and his love of the train as the medium for travelling.  Although I have done nothing on his scale (read his books The Great Railway Bazaar or The Old Patagonian Express for a taste of his epic journeys) I, too, feel that the journey matters more then the destination.  I believe it to be a fine metaphor for life itself as well.

I found myself, as every Monday and Tuesday morning, pounding down the rail tracks on the way to York.  Half way through the journey I was joined by a bulky man sitting opposite me with a large camouflaged backpack,  bulging at the sides with this and that.  He flew at midnight tonight he said, six and a half hours to a land of camel spiders and the ever present threat of IEDs.  It was his second tour, six months long.  I wished him luck as he jumped out of the train doors at York station.

Replica Viking skates (credit: Hurstwic).

After a fast and thunderous wheel through the streets, I found myself at the archaeology base ready to start the day properly.  As normal the talk flowed easy and well through a variety of topics.  The big talking point of the day was the fact that Alice Roberts was on site to film for her Digging For Britain TV series.  The topic was Viking age York, and is due to be shown sometime around mid to late Summer on the BBC.  Although we didn’t really get to talk to her it was interesting to see archaeology being filmed for the masses.  Archaeological education and entertainment outreach helping to invigorate the youth of tomorrow, just as the summer season of excavations begin across the country.

After this brief interlude of celebrity archaeological intrusion, we carried on cleaning finds.  One of the more interesting finds today was the finding of a single Viking animal metatarsal skate.  As described on this interesting site, the skates (likely 10th Century AD) were used as a form of transport across ice during winter, and were tied on using leather thongs whilst the user pushed themselves across the ice with the probable help of two wooden poles.

On the example I helped clean, it was clear that the skate probably hadn’t been worn much as the underside was little worn.  Nevertheless it was interesting to see such an artefact in the flesh having only heard of them from other Scandinavian sites, both historic and prehistoric.

Viking skates made from bovine metatarsals in York (Image credit: YAT).

On my journey back to the railway station I passed the modern population of York and thought of those that had gone before.  The current site at Hungate criss crosses many different historic slices; from 3rd to 4th century AD Roman Eboracum, Viking Jorvik, to the later Medieval and Post Medieval city of York.  It is easy to think of past populations as pieces of pottery, discarded brick or tile but this not always the case.  As the quite frankly massive Lloyd Bank Coprolite shows, sometimes even the shit survives the journey through time!

The journey home was as pleasant a train ride as I’ve had.  I was thankful that the train slowed several times during the trip, as I had chance to look at and admire the Medieval agricultural technique of the ridge and furrows.  They are found throughout the North East, the landscape relics of a bygone age.  Today only the cows were happily lying down on them and chewing the grass.

Cows on the ridge and furrows, a feature of the medieval landscape and agricultural practices.