Summary of the Roundtables at the 9th Conference 2015

This one’s mine, the product of minute-taking at the roundtables in January. Next time we’re hoping to get more attendees, from a more diverse background. We were lucky to get a number of contributors from Experimental Archaeology Associations in Europe, but only a few contributors from Universities, and these were predominantly UK-based.

Experimental Archaeology Conference

A summary of the roundtable discussions undertaken at the beginning of the 9th Experimental Archaeology Conference can now be found online on Exarc Journal’s website, or in their Exarc Journal Digest (2015/1).

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Tips for submitting the thesis

The process of submitting your thesis in hard copy for the viva exam is often not particularly high on the list of worries towards the end of the write-up. If you’re pushed for time, you’re likely more concerned about finishing and polishing the conclusion, or receiving those last-minute comments and corrections from supervisors.

However, the final days of typesetting, printing and binding the thesis can be extremely stressful. Having just submitted, I can’t stress how important it is to give the process some thought as early as possible. I hope the following tips help. They come from my immediate experience, and as such some of them may be specific to Word users, though most of them are general:

  • Check you (and your supervisor) have submitted the right forms. If you can’t see this on your online record, go to the student centre where you would normally submit the thesis, and get them to check that everything is ready. Or ask your departmental administrator. When you turn up, exhausted, teary-eyed, with your beautiful thesis bound and lettered in gold, you do not want to find out that someone forgot to submit a form.
  • Check the style guidelines for the thesis early on (UCL example here). In this case, I mean the size and style of the font, the spacing, and critically things like the word count. Do not leave this to the last minute, this is critical information you need early in the write-up period. Does your university include tables and figures in the word count? Will you need appendices? What’s your minimum page margin? Do you need to include a table of figures, and where do you start the page numbers? Make no assumptions, and check these all explicitly.
  • Work out where you are going to print your thesis. Then faint a little at the cost. It’s probably worth avoiding colour printing except where completely necessary e.g. graphs and photographs, or the cost may be crippling. Do not assume that printing on your university account will be the cheapest, or even the easiest. Handing the file over to someone else to print may be the easiest, most stress-free approach, and it may be cheaper.
  • Work out where you will have your thesis bound. I used ULU, but beware – their website is of little use and doesn’t tell you that the ’24hr’ service is really a ’48hr’ service, unless you get them the printed copy before 11am. And how likely is that?
  • Check how many physical pages (leaves) can be bound into a single volume. Will you need your appendices as a separate volume? Will you need to print double-sided? ULU told me there was no limit, but there is. And on that note…
  • Avoid printing double-sided. I do think it looks good, and it does cut down the weight of your volume, but honestly, if you’re using Word etc. it can be a complete headache. If you have a bigger margin on one side than the other (to facilitate binding), then you will need to use ‘mirror margins’ which inevitably will go wrong at some critical point in the printing process, mess up your page numbers, and add hours if not days to your printing process. If it isn’t necessary, consider avoiding it.
  • Minimise landscape pages in a portrait document. Not for any technical reason, but again because it will drive you crazy trying to get them to look good, and placing page numbers on landscape pages in a portrait document in Word is difficult and can be time consuming. So if you can cut down on these, you will save yourself pain.
  • Convert your Word document to a PDF prior to printing. I cannot stress this enough. Your Word document will be huge, awkward, prone to doing crazy things and incredibly precious to you. There is also the chance that if you move the document between computers, you will end up with unintentional and possibly unidentified shifts in formatting. So, if you usually work on one single machine, finish your work on that machine and convert it to a PDF when you think you are ready to print. If need be, do this in sections or chapters.
  • Read your PDF copies through for errors. You will find them. I’m assuming you’ve already double-triple-quadruple proofed your own work, and had whatever hapless friends you can muster together proof it too (at least the conclusion – an educated friend from outside your disciple makes an excellent editor for the conclusion). However, you may find that the PDF’ing process has introduced pagination or layout errors. In my experience, these errors are not unique to the PDF process, but will also occur if you print direct from a Word file. Like me, you may find that four pages all inexplicably wish to be “Page 462” for no apparent reason. Double check all of this stuff, particularly crazy page numbers.
  • Print a single copy yourself, one chapter at a time, and check it. You will find more errors. You will find words obviously mistyped or misspelled. It will be awful, but it still needs doing. Once you are happy with a single copy where everything has gone okay…
  • Print multiple final copies. You will likely need at least two for submission to the University, who will pass them on to the examiners. You will also want a copy of your own. This is important because you get to look at it smugly, and also because you will want to read it through for errors (yup, there’ll be some, depressing isn’t it?) before you take it into the viva. I’m extrapolating here, but I imagine things will be much easier when your examiner says “About that figure on Page 145…” if you can look at your own copy!
  • Check the binding guidelines and get them bound. Maybe even treat yourself to a bound copy, as nothing makes it more real, or is as impressive to your family and friends. Waving a PDF at them doesn’t really have the same affect as knocking them unconscious with a book the size of a phone directory. Do remember to take your details, and what you need printed on the spine, with you to the binders (UCL example). Do not assume that they will automatically know what to write.
  • Check where to hand in the bound copies, and check it will be open. Its surprising (and frustrating) how short the opening hours are at many student centres. Chances are, if you turn up at 4:30pm on the day of your deadline, you will be in serious trouble.
  • Check the bound copies are correct. They binders do this for a living, so it should be fine, but a quick skim of the page numbers should reassure you that all the pages are there, and they are all in the right order.
  • Submit, get a receipt, and go and celebrate! You should get a printed certificate or statement that you have submitted, signed or stamped by the university. If they don’t do this automatically, ask for a print out. This is too important to mess around with. Then, go and have a drink, or coffee, or cake or something with a friend, preferably one who ‘gets’ how much of a big deal this is. It’s easy to feel deflated immediately after submission, so make sure you have psychological support, and inform your family or partner that you deserve taking out for dinner, or a takeaway, or a bottle of wine!

I hope these pointers help. It took me days just to go from finished digital file to bound physical submission copy, largely due to some incredibly frustrating printing errors and problems with landscape pages and page numbers. I’d given myself four days for printing and binding, and I ended up needing every one of them. Good luck!


A quick update from me: I’m pleased to say I’ve submitted my thesis!

My viva isn’t until June, so until then I shall hopefully be catching up with the myriad of things that have been neglected since write-up took over my life. That should mean more time to post here (and get round to updating the site), as well as hopefully more time to write things which are not my thesis.

Many thanks to the many communities, online and in real life, who contributed support and discussion, I am very much looking forward to having time to interact properly with you again!


smithing the bloom

Call for Papers: EAA Session ‘Social context of metallurgy’

I currently have a call for papers out for a session at EAA in Glasgow, 2nd-5th September 2015. The session is co-authored between the lead author Vana Orfanou (UCL), Tom Birch (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main) and myself (UCL), and is open until 16th February 2015, session ID SA23 in the Science and Archaeology theme.

The session aims to cover a wide chronological and geographical spectrum and invites papers focusing on the study of past metallurgical technology as a means to discuss its social context and the manifold cultural expressions (for more details see abstract below). We should have space for ten papers, and we’re really looking forward to putting together a session which hopefully see work combining archaeometric work with interpretive and traditional archaeologies and anthropology. If you’d like to submit an abstract, please do so through the EAA website, and if you’d like to talk about your proposal or ideas, please feel free to contact us.


In recent decades, archaeometallurgy has significantly grown within the field of archaeological science. Currently, the use of more accessible and affordable analytical instruments and techniques such as, for example, portable XRF equipment, has made archaeometallurgical studies increasingly popular, while considerable datasets are being generated each year. Considering the large volume of analytical data developed by both archaeologists and archaeometallurgists, this session aims to explore and expand the contribution of scientific analyses to archaeological interpretation beyond a mere presentation of quantitative data. Past metallurgical activities and the finished objects were a well-embedded element of past societies, while they were the products of the socio-economic structures and organisation of the respective communities. Metal objects have been diachronically and widely used to cover peoples’ various everyday needs, as well as they have communicated more personal and intimate sentiments as gifts to the gods or the dead. Thus, the investigation of ancient metallurgy has the potential of referring back to and revealing to a greater extent the elements of the society/-ies which contributed in the materialisation of these technologies. The present session invites papers which employ scientific methods in the study of past metallurgy including finished objects/tools, e.g. metallurgical ceramics, by-products, e.g. slag, and/or structures, e.g. furnaces, and which use these data to discuss the social context of metallurgy amongst past communities. Of interest would also be the expressions of individual/collective identity/-ies and the materiality of metallurgical practices/objects as seen from the investigation of techniques and patterns of production/consumption of the metal artefacts. Research focus may relate to all periods and stages of metal technology’s cycle and the metal objects’ biographies including primary and secondary production, (re)use, and disposal. Overall, the session aims to shed light on the manifold cultural expressions and technological choices that were practiced during metal production and left their imprint on the metal objects.


Tweets from The Connected Past 2014

Following on from the quick post on my thoughts last week, I’ve put together a Storify archive of the tweets from The Connected Past 2014 network and complexity science meeting with a little commentary included. I enjoyed the conference and found it very inspiring, so I’m happy to collate some of the tweets which hopefully give you a little taste of what was discussed.

If you’re interested in more information many of the slides are now up on Figshare, courtesy of the authors and the conference organiser, Tim Evans (Imperial). The meeting came out of the Connected Pasts community, so keep your eyes out for similar things in the future; I am definitely hoping there will be more meetings in the not-so-distant future!

Until Storify talks properly with WordPress I’ve put the bare-bones html below: if you want the more attractive full Storify experience, go over to the site. Otherwise, enjoy!

The Connected Past 2014// app:

The Connected Past 2014

Connected Past 2014 was a one and a half day multi-disciplinary meeting exploring how concepts and techniques from network and complexity science can be used to study archaeological data. It took place Monday 8th September and Tuesday 9th September at Imperial College London.

  1. Whilst the meeting did not formally start until Monday afternoon, Tom Brughmans (University of Konstanz) ran an introductory workshop in the morning. This included an hour or so talk introducing key concepts in network science, followed by an hour or so of working through a tutorial Tom put together on Cytoscape, utilising some nice data from Spain during the pre and Roman period.
  2. #tcp2014 20 mins in and I already want to do network analysis on ALL THE THINGS.
  3. The conference was organised locally by Tim Evans from Imperial, with the assistance of Tom Brughmans (Konstanz), Ray Rivers (Imperial), Anna Collar (Cambridge/Aarhus) and Fiona Coward (Bournemouth), but is part of a broader Connected Past community, lead by a multidisciplinary team.
  4. The workshop was really enjoyable and very inspiring, and very well attended. Whilst the majority of people were archaeologists, there were a few historians, geographers and a scattering of scientists. The papers in the afternoon saw a wider audience, incorporating a substantial number of computer scientists and physicists, but both showed the international nature of the meeting, attracting people from across Europe and the Americas.
  5. Attending the Connected Past @imperialcollege for #tcp2014, looking forward to lots of great papers on network science and archaeology!
  6. Prignano: work by Fulminante on this dataset suggested closeness was useless #tcp2014
    Prignano: work by Fulminante on this dataset suggested closeness was useless #tcp2014
  7. I wish the physicists stopped saying ‘the archaeologist did this very simple research’. We don’t mention the ‘3 body problem’ to you, do we?
  8. After an introduction from Tim, Francesca Fulminante (Cambridge University) presented a paper coauthored with Sergi Lozano and Luce Prignano on Networks and Urbanization in central Italy (1175/1150-500 BC ca). This introduced something of a theme for the meeting, which featured several papers presenting archaeological data which had been analysed by scientists, and in some cases inevitably fell into the trap of downplaying the uncertainty and complexity of the archaeological data.
  9. Da Vela: Hypothesis of breakdown of network of north etrurian towns due to romanization, with triad census #tcp2014
    Da Vela: Hypothesis of breakdown of network of north etrurian towns due to romanization, with triad census #tcp2014
  10. de Vela uses both roads/waterways AND viewsheds to create the links between nodes (settlements) in her network. #tcp2014
  11. After this, Raffaella Da Vela (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn) presented a paper on The Network of the North-Etruscan Settlements during the Romanization, which showed an interesting approach to combining multiple types of archaeological data, but which did garner a few questions on how ‘style’ and ‘ideas’ could be accurately identified moving between urban sites.
  12. Mezza Garcia: ancient social hierarchies. proposal by large team of multi-disciplinary researchers #tcp2014
    Mezza Garcia: ancient social hierarchies. proposal by large team of multi-disciplinary researchers #tcp2014
  13. Nathalie Mezza-Garcia (Universidad del Rosario, Bogata, Columbia) was up next presenting a paper coauthored with Tom Roese and Nelson Fernandez entitled Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges. This was a paper outlining a possible project which a multidisciplinary team in Bogata are hoping to undertake in the near future, and was followed by Miljana Radivojević (UCL Institute of Archaeology, London) and Jelena Grujić presenting a paper on Tracing metal networks in the Balkans at the dawn of the Metal Age.
  14. Very engaging double-act on network analysis and early metallurgy by Radivojevic and colleagues #tcp2014
    Very engaging double-act on network analysis and early metallurgy by Radivojevic and colleagues #tcp2014
  15. Typical archaeologists...arrows going everywhere on our distribution maps :P #tcp2014
    Typical archaeologists…arrows going everywhere on our distribution maps 😛 #tcp2014
  16. After a coffee break, we were treated to an hour long keynote talk by Prof. Sir Alan Wilson from CASA at UCL.
  17. Sir Alan Wilson giving the first keynote talk at The Connected Past #tcp2014
    Sir Alan Wilson giving the first keynote talk at The Connected Past #tcp2014
  18. Wilson giving v. similar arguments to Jensen’s @sccs2014 talk: Boltzmann’s statistical mechanics can be applied to hist/archaeo. #tcp2014
  19. Wilson modelling settlements, wars, piracy, London riots … Giving us an overview of his work over the decades #tcp2014
  20. Wilson's concluding remark on working with archaeology and history and complexity science #tcp2014
    Wilson’s concluding remark on working with archaeology and history and complexity science #tcp2014
  21. inevitable shameless question by @Iza_Romanowska “archaeologists are champions of shit data! Can that inspire method development?” #tcp2014
  22. Wilson’s talk was very well received, and it was fascinating to see how his involvement with network and complexity science has influenced the field over the last few decades. In particular whilst he showed a number of equations relating to his work modelling flow and use of shopping malls, all of them were well contextualised, making his talk accessible and interesting to all of the attendees.
  23. Interesting talks on network analysis in archeology and complexity science on day one of #tcp2014, now off for day two!
  24. The Monday wrapped up with a social evening at Imperial’s Union Bar, but everyone was back bright and early on Tuesday morning for the second keynote talk. This was given by Joaquim Fort, and examined the Neolithic transition and the various ways of modelling the spread of agriculture from the Near East.
  25. Joaquim Fort @SimulPast is giving the 2nd keynote at #tcp2014 on dermic diffusion, cultural transition and the spread of the neolithic.
  26. Kicking off Day 2 of The Connected Past meeting with Neolithic transitions and big data #tcp2014 #bigdata @imperialcollege
  27. Fort: isochromes of dated Neolithic sites in Europe, revealing different speeds of spread in km/y #tcp2014
    Fort: isochromes of dated Neolithic sites in Europe, revealing different speeds of spread in km/y #tcp2014
  28. Fort: to reduce effect of v.early or late dates as compared to surrounding dates, interpolation is smoothed #tcp2014
    Fort: to reduce effect of v.early or late dates as compared to surrounding dates, interpolation is smoothed #tcp2014
  29. This was followed by a paper by Xavier Rubio-Campillo (Barcelona Supercomputing Center) with five other coauthors on Comparative approaches to the use of archaeological data inside computer simulation.
  30. Rubio: new approach archaeologists + comp scientists doing eXtreme programming together to create the model. #tcp2014 Awesome!
  31. @xrubiocampillo lessons learned that are useful for all of us doing simulation modelling. Useful slide!!! #tcp2014
    @xrubiocampillo lessons learned that are useful for all of us doing simulation modelling. Useful slide!!! #tcp2014
  32. Question for Rubio-Campillo: “How do you get archaeologists and computer scientists to sit down together?!” “We pay them”. Aha! #tcp2014
  33. Xavier Rubio-Campillo explaining comparative approaches to archaeological data in comp. simulation #tcp2014 #bigdata
    Xavier Rubio-Campillo explaining comparative approaches to archaeological data in comp. simulation #tcp2014 #bigdata
  34. Following a coffee break we returned to hear Shumon Hussain (Department for Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Cologne) coauthor a paper with Adreas Maier about Path dependency: explaining higher order phenomena in the Lower to Upper Paleolithic record of Western Europe. This was a fascinating introduction to a theory which could have multiple applications to archaeological contexts, particularly technological systems, and really inspired me.
  35. Shumon Hussain explaining path dependency in culture change through QWERTY keyboard adoption #tcp2014
    Shumon Hussain explaining path dependency in culture change through QWERTY keyboard adoption #tcp2014
  36. This was followed by Laura Perucchetti and Peter Bray (Archaeological Science, Oxford Univ.) coauthoring with Mark Pollard and John Pouncett to present a paper entitled Beyond provenance: Copper-alloy chemical signatures as proxies for human technological practice in the past. This took a similar problem as that tackled by Radivojević and Grujić’s earlier paper, but applied a completely novel approach to it to produce some quite simple but very interesting visualisations.
  37. Perucchetti and Bray talk about copper alloy signatures as proxies for technological practice #tcp2014
    Perucchetti and Bray talk about copper alloy signatures as proxies for technological practice #tcp2014
  38. Christine Johnston (Cotsen Institute, UCLA) followed up, with a talk on Object Distribution, Networks, and Imperfect Datasets: An examination of market exchange at Ugarit, where she presented the only paper looking at relationships within a single site, by focussing on a small number of types of object.
  39. Johnston talking about object distributions, networks and imperfect datasets #tcp2014
    Johnston talking about object distributions, networks and imperfect datasets #tcp2014
  40. This was followed by a brief interlude from Alice Oven talking about a new book being published by Imperial Press, and about her publishing house’s interest in works on network and complexity science.
  41. Alice Oven talking about @electricarchaeo 's new book on Big Digital History, lovely ideas being shown! #tcp2014
    Alice Oven talking about @electricarchaeo ‘s new book on Big Digital History, lovely ideas being shown! #tcp2014
  42. After lunch we were treated to the final keynote talk, which was by Prof. Ulrik Brandes (University of Konstanz), who de-constructed a paper recently published in Nature to underline the importance of establishing the relevance of your network hypothesis before applying network analysis techniques.
  43. Ulrik Brandes giving the third keynote at the connected past in imperial college London #tcp2014
    Ulrik Brandes giving the third keynote at the connected past in imperial college London #tcp2014
  44. Brandes: paper by Jeong etal 2001 was flawed from the very beginning because it was based on analogy rather than domain knowledge #tcp2014
  45. Here a summary of Brandes' critiques: data does not support hypothesis, no biological explanation #tcp2014
    Here a summary of Brandes’ critiques: data does not support hypothesis, no biological explanation #tcp2014
  46. Brandes: different centrality indices perform differently across organisms. Indices are not universal or neutral #tcp2014
  47. Brandes: network science is no different than statistics other than that the data is different, network data #tcp2014
  48. Brandes: theoretical ideas need to always be part of the creation and selection of techniques #tcp2014
  49. Brandes: cross disciplinary collaboration is not socially desirable but necessary! AMEN! #tcp2014
  50. Fantastic keynote by Brandes #tcp2014! Raising key issues, explaining stuff in the clearest of terms and really engaging at the same time.
  51. … So what’s necessary is the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration guided by archaeological reasoning #tcp2014
  52. After Brandes very well received talk the meeting ajourned for coffee, and returned to hear Anna-Katharina Rieger (Max Weber Institute of Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University Erfurt) talk about Region, religion and the question of the evidence: Is it possible to
    approach sacred spaces in Southern Syria with network analysis tools?
    This paper was more of a discussion of what might be possible with network tools given sufficient support by someone experienced in the analysis, but it was helpful in highlighting the importance of the context and meaning of archaeological data for any resulting network analysis.
  53. Now Anna-Katherina Rieger giving us a lot of archaeology related questions #tcp2014
    Now Anna-Katherina Rieger giving us a lot of archaeology related questions #tcp2014
  54. Rieger is interested in exploring different types of spatial and social connectivity #tcp2014
  55. After this was a paper by Elsa Arcaute and Stuart Brookes from CASA, UCL, talking about Natural regional divisions of places in Domesday Book. This talk was a fascinating look at data taken from the Domesday Book and how to analyse this to tease out archaeologically meaningful information.
  56. Arcaute etal presenting natural regional divisions of places in Domesday book #tcp2014
    Arcaute etal presenting natural regional divisions of places in Domesday book #tcp2014
  57. Arcauta et al good example of multi disciplinary team. Geographers from casa and archaeologists #tcp2014
  58. Arcaute etal: correlation cluster identified through method and weekly income per capita of regions England #tcp2014
    Arcaute etal: correlation cluster identified through method and weekly income per capita of regions England #tcp2014
  59. Mid-Saxon political geography approximated by percolation process analysis, v. cool! #tcp2014
    Mid-Saxon political geography approximated by percolation process analysis, v. cool! #tcp2014
  60. The last talk of the day was by Maeve McHugh (UCDublin) entitled Finding meaning in a digital landscape: GIS modelling and ancient Greek agriculture. This paper was the only one to draw at all on literary sources, though epigraphy and other written sources have been used in network science applications for some time.
  61. "I forbade the assdrivers, as I said, to touch the wood." *snigger* I am a child. #tcp2014
    “I forbade the assdrivers, as I said, to touch the wood.” *snigger* I am a child. #tcp2014
  62. Overall the conference was an extremely profitable two days, filled with all the things that make meetings in new areas exciting; inspiring work by people who aren’t afraid to experiment, a friendly attitude, and a positivity towards the discipline that is really infectious.
  63. The concluding remarks from @tombrughmans and Tim Evans. Great conference, inspiring talks, fantastic event 🙂 #tcp2014
  64. The network science in history and archaeology meeting this week was overall epic. Young, early-career, exciting and novel. #tcp2014
  65. Most of the slides from the presentations can be found on line, and they’re well worth a look. I’d certainly recommend going along to the next meeting, if it’s near you; even if network and complexity science isn’t your thing, the questions being asked and the analyses undertaken in this area are really interesting and thought-provoking.

Connected Pasts workshop

Thoughts from Connected Pasts 2014 workshop and meeting

This week I spent Monday and Tuesday at the Connected Pasts workshop and meeting in London, learning about network and complexity science and its application to archaeology and the past. The two days consisted of a three hour workshop introducing and exploring one of a number software packages which can be used to analyse networks on Monday morning, followed by talks and key note speeches on Monday afternoon and through Tuesday (full program and abstracts here). The conference was held at Imperial College London, and organised locally by Tim Evans of Imperial, with Tom Brughmans of Konstanz from the wider advisory committee.

The conference was billed as multidisciplinary (within the scope of the past), and largely lived up to that; I chatted to computer scientists, geographers, statisticians, classicists and lots of physicists and archaeologists. It also attracted an international group of speakers and attendees, largely from Central and Western Europe, though with some North Americans as well. It also attracted a predominantly young audience (well, for archaeology at least – but that’s a separate post!), which appeared to be dominated by PhD students and post-docs. All of these factors lead to a really engaging, open group of people which made the conference very enjoyable. Unlike some of the bigger archaeology conferences, people were very interested to talk to everyone, and mixed freely, which lead to some very interesting lunch and coffee conversations.

The workshop was excellent; as you can see from my awkward image above we were coaxed through an introductory tutorial on Cytoscape, one of the free to use software packages available for network analysis, until we were able to produce our own network visualisations from a set of Tom’s data. Getting practical experience manipulating the visualisations and generating summary statistics on the networks was very engaging, and immediately filled my head with excited thoughts about what data I had which might be examined using these techniques.

However a number of the papers later in the first day were quite challenging in their use of archaeological datasets. In particular one of the papers used a network which was based on the transmission of ‘ideas, iconographies, models’ between urban centres as a way of generating archaeologically meaningful interpretations of ‘cultural transmission’. Now, as an archaeologist this immediately makes me uncomfortable as the whole idea of diffusion/acculturation/creolisation/’romanisation’ or to put it simply, the way people and cultures interact and change each other, is a really big debate. It isn’t as simple as ‘x culture adopts y culture’, there’s always transfer both ways and sometimes new cultures occur which attach entirely new meanings to the objects we might associated with x or y.

Consequently the idea that you could just say ‘this idea moved from this town to this town in this direction’ seems a substantial simplification of a complex archaeological concept, and at the least needs heavy contextualisation and an established theoretical basis. For example, if the idea is ‘lets build hypocausts’ how do you say what a hypocaust really means? The appearance of hypocausts might mean the appearance of Romans, a fashion for Roman things, a change in the climate, or the appearance of a hypocaust builder to name just a few. I suspect that contextualisation may have been in the original work, though not in the paper as presented due to the network science focus, but it’d be interesting to see what the justification behind the data choices was.

Thinking about Roman/non-Roman contact made me a little concerned about using network analysis for dealing with cultural change after conquest or contact. From what I learned at the workshop, network analysis is built around nodes (e.g. buildings, sites, regions) and arcs between them (e.g. roads, movement of goods), and the fundamental unit is a pair of nodes. This emphasis on pairs and a directional relationship between them (at least in most of the papers on this I saw) seems to lead to a natural emphasis on polarity and unidirectional cultural transfer, which are ideas we’re trying to drag ourselves away from in the archaeology of the Roman period.

I wonder if non-directional links between nodes might alleviate some of the misgivings I have with the network analysis of ‘cultural’ contact between cities or states. A non-directional link would create space for the interaction between the two cultures to involve more than just ‘x culture adopts this from y culture’ inherent in the directional links and which seems like a simplification too far, leaving out much of the rich human context we’re trying to get to. The underlying archaeological theory indicates that when cultures interact the communication and adoption goes both ways even when one culture has substantial power over another, so it would make sense to give this space within the network analysis.I don’t know how this would change the outcomes, but it would stop the analysis technique from clashing at a fundamental paradigmatic level with much of the archaeological theory around cultural interaction in the Roman period at least. I need to find some network scientists I tie down long enough to explain all this to, and get their opinions!


Hopefully many of the slides from the two days will be up on figshare at some point, and I will put together a Storify of the tweets from the conference when I have recovered from the 5:45am mornings! Beyond those above, there were a number of other really interesting points raised at the meeting which hopefully I will put together into a conference review soon, probably for PIA or possibly The Crucible (HMSnews), or even a few more blog posts. But the one thing that I took home from the conference was that network and complexity analysis is definitely happening in archaeology, and it may just become a very important part of the analytical toolbox.

Upcoming Conference, Connected Pasts London 2014

Last month I finished the last major chapter of my PhD. Last year work was slow for a number of personal reasons which made me very, very glad I switched to part-time. This situation also meant I presented at and attended few conferences, which looking back on was a real shame. I really enjoy academic or disciplinary meetings, as they can be so inspiring, even when the subject is only vaguely related to my current work. Hearing what other people are doing and in particular how they are doing it or expressing it really gets my brain going.

However since Spring this year progress on my PhD has been really steady and satisfying, and I’m now working on revisions. To celebrate I’m off to the Connected Pasts Conference 2014 in London. I’ve not been to this conference before but I was really intrigued by it’s interdisciplinary approach, which brings together scientists and archaeologists undertaking network and complexity studies on archaeological data. I’ve not a huge amount of experience with network studies, but as you can probably tell from these posts I do love exploring large bodies or archaeological data. Although there’s been no confirmation yet, there’s talk of a workshop introducing techniques for this sort of analysis prior to the conference, which I’m really interested in attending. I really want to get to grips with other ways of looking at patterns and fluctuations in data over space and time, so hopefully this conference will give me an introduction to what’s possible in network analysis.

Given the time I hope to either live tweet the conference as is my usual habit (see my twitter account @RuthFT for tweets on the day or search twitter for tweets bearing the conference hashtag #tcp2014), and write up a conference review either for this site for PIA (the Institute postgraduate journal) or another journal. It’ll be odd to be back at Imperial where I first went to University after so many years, but I’m looking forwards to it. I believe there are still tickets (and very cheap they are too) available on the Eventbrite website if you’re interested.

8th Experimental Archaeology Conference, 2014

Once again things have been quiet here during the end of 2013 as I’ve been working on supporting colleagues in Oxford who are producing the 8th edition of the UK Experimental Archaeology Conference. I think it went very well, with the organisers Christophe Snoeck & Chelsea Budd doing a great job and Merton College providing an excellent venue.

If you’re interested in what the conference is about, check out the programme over at the conference website and archive, which I created back in 2012 and manage today. It’s a thoroughly interdisciplinary meeting with academics, craftspeople and experimenters from all over western Europe. I’ve met some great people over the last few years and I absolutely love attending every year. The atmosphere is very inclusive and open, and if you do any experimental work I’d encourage you to attend. The organisers usually make every effort to fit in as many papers as they can, and there’s traditionally at least one afternoon of demonstrations by experienced crafts people of experimenters.

Review of the Roman Finds Group Conference, Spring 2013

I’ve lost track of how much time I’ve spent beavering away at the PhD, but on Friday April 19th I escaped the writing desk to visit the British Museum for a one day conference organised by the Roman Finds Group entitled The Life and times of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The conference was held in collaboration with the British Museum and including entrance to the temporary exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Julie Casidy’s image of the famous cast of a dog from the exhibition, which died whilst chained up outside a villa, probably belonging Vesonius Primus, a fuller.

The Roman Finds Group (RFG) is a special interest group for professionals and interested others who enjoy learning about, studying and researching Roman finds (that is, small portable objects that are not pottery sherds). Membership costs a very reasonable £8 a year, for which you get the twice yearly newsletter Lucerna, as well as discounts on meetings and conferences. The cost for the Pompeii conference was £30 – or £20 if you were an RFG member – so the membership is well worth it if you enjoy Roman archaeology.

The RFG have recently redesigned their website, and at the conference they were running a twitter feed using the hashtag #rfg2013. I’ve archived all the tweets over at Storify; these were largely factual and there wasn’t really any discussion or debate occurring on the twitter channel but Nicola Hembrey in particular made a valiant effort to communicate the conference’s content. This was particularly useful as there were no abstracts et c of the papers available online, so no one following along via twitter would have had a clue what any of the papers were about otherwise.

The layout of the conference was a bit of an oddity, in the context of many I’ve been to recently, in that the majority of the papers were at least 30 minutes long rather than the usual 15-20 minutes. In addition there were no opportunities for questions after any of the papers, and we simply moved from one half-hour paper to the next. This was not particularly problematic with papers such as Alex Croom’s Housework in the homes of Pompeii and Herculaneum which didn’t seem to make any particular argument and meandered through a general discussion of some of the evidence for this rather large subject. However for papers like Ray Laurence’s Pompeii: from the city streets to people and houses where the presenter put forward several theses based on his intensive study of how street space was used in Pompeii, the lack of question time seemed a bit of a missed opportunity.

Having not been to an RFG meeting before I’m not sure whether this is a common feature of their meetings, or whether it might have been a response to the large number of attendees at the conference: there must have been more than a hundred people in the lecture theatre. However I was particularly impressed by the wide age range and the good gender balance. Archaeology societies often seem to suffer from having a top-heavy age distribution, and whilst there didn’t seem to be many students there were certainly lots of young early-career researchers and professionals. Whilst archaeology is often male-dominated at the top, and female-dominated at the undergraduate level, the distribution of gender of both attendees and presents at the conference wasn’t noticeably skewed; there were five male speakers and three female speakers.

The approach presenters took to their papers was quite varied. There was probably a 50/50 split between papers which were ‘read’ and those which were given with limited reference to written notes, though the later were the easier to follow and engage with. The clarity of layout of the papers was a little variable, with some of the presenters wandering a little, and a few presenters didn’t seem to have any particular thesis, but overall the standard was pretty high. Oddly one of the best papers was the only short paper; Andrew Jones presented for ten minutes on One pot and its story: a newly discovered amphora from a bar on the Via Consolare, Pompeii. Perhaps due to my habit of attending archaeological science conferences I am more used to his form of tight, snappy paper, but I thought his presentation was technically the best. He synthesised evidence from multiple archaeological techniques, and managed not just to explain why this was important for our understanding of the object but to also use that find to then to hint at wider socio-economic changes in Pompeii, all in ten minutes! My kinda paper, I have to admit.

Despite that Jones’ paper wasn’t my favourite paper, as I was definitely won over by Hilary Cool’s Becoming consumers: the inhabitants of a Pompeian insula and their things. Why someone hasn’t given that woman a professorship I don’t know, because she has a brilliant mind and I’ve find her work consistently solid, engaging and sharp. Here she was discussing the rise of ‘thingyness’, that is the clutter of finds that we see in Roman contexts from the 1st century, and unlike many of the other presenters she contextualised her discussion almost effortlessly within theoretical approaches to Roman objects. I suspect most people didn’t even notice she was touching on theory at all! Whilst apparently a work in progress, her paper definitely got my brain cells turning things over, and she made a number of important points. In particular she pointed out that we often fall into the trap of assuming that Roman society was always object-rich… though if we look at pre-1st century AD contexts that isn’t true. In addition she used the example of loom weights to show that even objects that we perceive as highly practical artefacts may be used entirely symbolically and we can’t assume that distribution of any objects is purely functional within consumer societies such as the Roman.

Of interest to me were the two presenters who giving papers based on their PhD theses; Ria Berg discussing Did all Pompeian women have mirrors? Investigating gender, toiletries and domestic space in Pompeii and David Griffiths with a paper on From dusk ’til dawn: lamps and lighting in Pompeii. Both of the pieces of work presented here were obviously significant and solid pieces of research covering quite large subject areas, but I felt both struggled to find a clear, simple argument that could be presented in thirty minutes. I’m sure I face exactly the same problem with presenting my work, but it underlined how easy it is to make your exciting research harder to really understand than it actually is. Definitely something to bear in mind for the future.

In addition to the oral papers, the conference fee also included entrance to the Pompeii exhibition, and at the beginning of the conference Paul Roberts, the person who put the exhibition together, gave an easily accessible half-hour paper on it. To be honest, he showed so many images of the exhibition that by the time I visited it, there wasn’t much new. I’m not a fan of British Museum exhibitions as I’ve mentioned here before, and this didn’t change my mind so I won’t go into much detail, beyond saying that as usual the exhibition is frustratingly low on information unless you pay extra for the audio guide or app.

Overall the conference was a great success, and I think the RFG really excelled. They certainly drew in a lot of people, not just archaeologists but interested members of the public, and the papers chosen were generally solid and engaging without being too technical or challenging for the broad audience. The choice of relatively long papers was a definite success, allowing the presenters to go into greater detail and tackle slightly broader topics than I’ve seen at other conferences, but I would have liked to see five minute question times available to discuss some of these papers as the majority presented new research rather than syntheses of established knowledge. Thanks to several of the presenters I left the conference with some new ideas running round my head, and look forwards to seeing what the next Roman Finds Group meeting brings.

US and England map data

Just a short post to point to a source of some really interesting map data:

If you’re looking for modern US map data, they’ve got some really interesting datasets to download, including toxic waste and census data. In addition, they have a few datasets for England which include waterway data, which really interested me. The depth of coverage of the waterway data is patchy, but there are some areas (including my area of interest!) where there’s really really indepth coverage of everything down to streams.

Best of all, it all comes as SHP files!