Archive for June 2008

Peacocks and physics er…geophysics

June 23, 2008

This is the first day of an entire week of geophysics. I am working at two separate sites and today was my first day at the site of Scone (pronounced like schooner without the er), Scotland. Scone is a medieval monastic site that is also the original location of the “stone of destiny”. I used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) for the first time. Affectionately referred to as  “the plough” or “the lawnmower” the GPR unit skims across the ground and as the wheel moves there is a sensor which triggers the transmitter unit and the data is collected by the receiver unit (which appears as white boxes which are slightly separated from each other). GPR is amazing because it can collect huge amount of data that allows for 3D analysis and, with enough luck, you can even tell exactly what is bellow the ground and what is it made of. We took readings every 5cm but the wheel sensor undertook all of the hard work and we managed to cover a huge amount of ground.

The work is being undertaken at Scone because it faired so poorly during the reformation. Most Catholic buildings had at least some standing elements left for archaeologists and historians to record, however, the landowners of Scone did not like to gaze upon a crumbling church and had any surface remains destroyed. Now almost nothing is known about the layout of the site itself.

It was a beautiful day for surveying and apart from tourists the site was plagued with peacocks. I have some great pictures of a seemingly interested peacock eavesdropping in on our geophysics discussions, however, because people are identifiable I won’t put them up yet (without consent). On the estate, there is an incredibly beautiful pure white (albino?) peacock. Given its uniqueness it was constantly harassed and tried to scare off these camera-happy predators by brandishing its tail. This defense mechanism would backfired and it would simply draw the attention of every tourist within view. I call it the “white peacock paradox”; I am sure there some underlying comment about the rich and famous in there somewhere.

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Culloden- what a find

June 16, 2008

Last week I traveled to the Culloden interpretation center (Battle of Culloden) with my relatives. It was well done and a fantastic use of technology to aid in the understanding of archaeological results specifically battlefields in this case. Walking near checkpoints would trigger hand-held GPS units and additional information could be accessed after the narration, which combined facts with personal accounts, was completed. My personal favorite part of the center was the computer animated “aerial view” of the battle that was tasteful, educational and very easily to understand. The panoramic re-enactment of the battle was also quite good, however, sometimes I found myself disoriented. My boss was given an honorary place in the film for undertaking the archaeology and he plays the role of “scared jacobite”. The film certainly removed any romantic notions about war and battle and left only the realization that war is indeed a sickness not a game.

When I was discussing my opinion of the center with an archaeologist who was present at the original excavations at Culloden (as supposed to the later excavations to “clear” a space of the new center) she mentioned that she could personally identify many of the objects on display. The more I thought about what she said the more I realized that this connection between an archaeologist and an artefact/find is part of the reason why I became an archaeologist.

The connection between artefact and archaeologist can be felt at different stages. First, you feel humbled and goose bumpy realizing that you are likely the first human hands to touch this object for a long time (clearly depending on the artefact). Second, if you are included in the post excavation process (such as cleaning, analysis and report writing) you become further connected to the object by realizing its unique features. As you play nurse and bestow some tender loving cleaning, the archaeology version of TLC, you become a witness to the interactions between the last owner/s and the object. This interaction could be pocket-polish (arrowheads and other objects can become brightly polished by rolling around a pocket or material lined container) on a beautiful Snyder point. On the other hand, the interaction between humans and an object could manifest themselves on a musket ball as powder burns, which speak of the start of a journey, and impact marks that could speak of the end of a life.

The third stage of connection that an archaeologist can feel for an artefact is recognition. My friend and co-worker felt it at the interpretation center. With the right eyes and the right amount of personal effort invested, you see artefacts like old friends who do not feel the need to swap small talk. This relationship and respect for the object, and there for the people linked with this object, is another aspect that separates archaeologists from looters.

As of yet we cannot go back in time to re-experience history and perhaps that’s for the best. To find yourself interacting with objects from the past, on a deeply personal level, is about as close as you can get. Sure, we can never have the same kind of relationship with an artefact as its original owner/s, but, given the amount of fired musket balls, grape shot and other tools of death and destruction present at the Culloden interpretation center, perhaps it’s for the best.

Family and food!

June 9, 2008

Last weekend I went all over with some family who come down for a visit. I got to play tourist in Glasgow and ate like a king. Last Saturday we rented a car and went up to Fort William traveling through some amazing scenery. We went by Loch Lomond back through Glen Coe, which remains one of my favorite places, and eventually to our final destination. Sunday we went beside Loch Ness up to Inverness and I took a train back to Glasgow. Sadly as I had to work on Monday, I missed out on seeing the ancestral home but hopefully I can see it later. I was very productive last week and as of today I have cleaned the scanned field drawings with Adobe Photoshop. Tomorrow I will begin cataloguing, and creating a database for, the artifacts found during the first season of the TV show.

I spent last week editing my photos and the later part of the week was dedicated to stretching out the stiffness in my muscles from Parkour. I realized in that week that my photography skill is improving dramatically and that I could hurt in places I didn’t think possible, its ok it is a good hurt and I am in the best shape of my life.

I was rushing to edit the photos as my relatives left today and I spent the weekend with them in Edinburgh. Clearly, I wanted to give them the photos before they left. When I meet back up with the family in Edinburgh I continued to eat as if I was a professional glutton.  We had a lot of modern Scottish cuisine that took the traditional dishes to the next level and many had exotic twits towards the end of the trip. In Glasgow we/I had haggis fritters, venison sausages, ham with a creamy/buttery sauce and mashed potatoes with pineapple and seaweed crème brule. Elsewhere we had Ostrich topped with haggis and asparagus, Wild Boar burger with amazing chips/fries, Banoffee pie (bananas and toffee), and a baked chocolate fondant that can only be described as orgasmic.

Well now that I have justified my absence, I will try to be more regular with the posts. Oh and if anyone is coming to Scotland just give me a shout and I will be more that willing to talk about Scottish food and restaurants for all types of budgets,