On Sunday 20th March, the University of Exeter hosted its first ever Community Day – a day designed to showcase the ongoing research at the university, while also providing a host of fun activities to engage the family (I’m sorry to say I missed out on the Bouncy Castle!). Emily Johnson and I volunteered to represent the Department of Archaeology at the event, presenting not only our own research, but also elements of what the department had to offer. We arrived early to set up on the day (so early in fact that no one was around to accommodate us!), and were surprised to find ourselves in a prime location on Forum Street in competition with geography on one side and science on the other. Needless to say, friendly rivalries over attracting visitors ensued! Continue reading
On Monday the 21st March staff and students from the University of Exeter and University College London met to discuss the importance of research-based education in a university environment. The Archaeology department, along with History and STEM subjects such as Physics, Biosciences, Natural Sciences and Conservation were invited to this symposium due to good track records of research-led teaching, and teaching-led research.
After a 7:30 start, and due to some unrealistically optimistic travel arrangements, the first discussions of the day happened on the bus! We arranged ourselves into mixed subject groups and discussed how fully integrating research and teaching was being tackled in other disciplines. There were some really great examples of good practice from all departments – for Archaeology, we identified that taking students on excavation in their first year involves them in research and encourages participation in research projects in the future. Thankfully, before we all got too travel sick, we arrived at UCL!
After meeting our counterparts at UCL over some lunch we fed back the morning’s discussions and then separated into our subject groups, after being informed of the hashtag – #ExetermeetsUCL! PhD student Emily Johnson (@zooarchaemily) provided a running twitter commentary of the discussions from the Archaeology Department.
As part of the Experimental Archaeology masters course students have the opportunity to skin and butcher the carcass of a Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) using stone tools. Here are some images of the process – a full description of the butchery (including videos!) can be found HERE. Continue reading
In an additional research seminar on Wednesday, Dr Christian Wells from the University of South Florida spoke about his fascinating interdisciplinary work on the site of former sugar cane plantation Betty’s Hope in Antigua. Betty’s Hope was one of the largest and oldest sugar cane plantations, active from 1651-1944. The land of the plantation is today owned by descendants of former slaves, but has become eroded and degraded, possibly because of the monocropping of sugarcane over such a long period of time. However, farmer ethnographies say it was only after independence in 1981 that soil began to be unproductive. Part of the aims of the project are to discover the reasons for the degradation in soil productivity so the present farmers can benefit from this knowledge.
As her second research seminar in two days, Dr Ruth Young joined us for our departmental seminar on Friday 4th March to talk about Landlord villages of the Tehran Plain: Historical Archaeology in Iran. The project looking at Landlord villages was in collaboration with Hassan Fazeli Nashli at the University of Tehran. It was concerned with the material culture of the recent past, particularly of the ‘ordinary’ people (and especially women) in the walled villages of the Tehran Plain. As the mudbrick villages are slowly being melted by rain it was also an important aspect of the project to record and situate these villages in an historical and ethnographical framework.
On Thursday 3rd of March 2016, Dr Ruth Young from the University of Leicester came to talk to us about the translation of Buddhist faith practices from their origins in South Asia to the UK. In one hour we were given a whistle stop tour of Buddhism from Lumbini to Leicester. This project is being carried out in conjunction with Dr Young’s college Deirdre O’Sullivan. It focused on an exploration of Buddhist structures, monuments and objects as they are found and experienced in South Asia, compared to how these features are translated into a UK context. Dr Young talked about the tensions of buildings in faith and heritage contexts. Buddhism is often associated with monumentality and ritual, previous archaeological investigations usually focus on identifying stupas and relics, creating typologies and sequences of structures but often forget to think about the influence of lived faith practices.
On Friday Dr Nadia Bartolini from the Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage project (AAFH or Heritage Futures) came to talk to us about the theme of Managing Material Transformations within the project. AAFH is a four year AHRC funded project involving UCL, the Universities of Exeter and York and Linnaeus University (Sweden). The wider project aims to develop a broad, international and cross-sectoral comparative framework for understanding heritage in its most expansive sense. Its goals centre on sustainable heritage management, encouraging sharing of knowledge across domains and creating toolkits that can be used in management briefings.
This week’s seminar was a very informative presentation on the shell-keeps of the UK. Robert Higham, an Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter, led us through the details of what makes a shell-keep and the vast array of keep architecture found in the UK. Prof Higham revisited many of the shell-keeps recorded antiquarians and refined the list to those that met all of the architectural criteria, reducing the historiographical list of roughly 120 down to 20 surviving examples. These shell-keeps appear to be a design that is particular to the UK, with the majority being constructed by the ‘wealthiest of castle owners’. There is no evidence for timber precursor structures and the shell-keep is essentially an Anglo-Norman high status structure.
If you went down to the woods on Friday you were in for a big surprise – around 30 white-suited undergraduates digging for skeletons! It was the Introduction to Forensic Archaeology practical session, a day long excavation providing the students with a practical exercise in the location and recovery of buried human remains. The students were first given a brief on the scenario and then were trudged up to the suspected burial ground – a wooded area on the edge of the university campus where plastic skeletons had been buried in previous months/years. Here’s a few pictures from the day!