Archive for the ‘scotland’ category

Somewhere after the party/ early life crisis

September 8, 2008

I submitted my thesis last Monday and my body is slowly coming to terms with the cessation of the partying. Now I find myself asking the same question that my personified liver would pose, now what?!  It seems that this question is just the tip of the iceberg; some of my Scandinavian friends call this the beginning of the ‘early life crisis’. My parents noted that this would be the first time I am not going back to school in almost 20 years.

Sweet jesus, now I have to get a job. Sadly, it seems that the “credit crunch” has significantly effected development (or at least new jobs in the archaeology sector) in the UK so I will be returning to Canada. If I had EU status, it wouldn’t matter but given that I have to spend a hundred pounds just to stay on with a work visa I think its becoming too financially taxing. From the sounds of things the mythical “archaeology factory” is still running strong in Alberta, a Canadian province, economical, drunk with oil (they have more oil than Iraq does but please don’t tell our Yankee neighbors). Ok the “archaeology factory” is kind of an inside joke which mocks the job instability and unpredictable nature of professional archaeology.

I am now looking for, an archaeology-based, job until November.

If anyone is interested here is the abstract from my thesis.

This paper is composed of three sections. The first section will discuss the advantages of employing geophysics surveys on military sites followed by an assessment of the role geophysics fills within the context of other techniques employed by archaeologists. The second section will discuss the advantages of studying war graves and then will employ published geophysics surveys to assess the ability of the three most widely used geophysical techniques (resistivity, magnetics and ground-penetrating radar) to detect war graves. The third section will employ published geophysical surveys to provide examples of different features that can be detected on military and conflict sites from prehistoric times to the modern era.

If you are one of the hundred or so people around the world who is knee deep in geophysics and would like to learn more about my topic just ask and I can fire off a PDF copy of my dissertation. With feedback from the internal and external markers, I can polish that puppy up and perhaps publish it in one form or another.

Parkour is more than a pastime

August 19, 2008

Well I have submitted all three chapters of my dissertation to my supervisor and I am left with a gap in my life. I am currently filling that gap with exercise and Parkour. I have changed my exercise regime to cater to my weaknesses in Parkour so I am just dedicated to Parkour. After watching some interviews with Parkour practitioners or “traceurs”, I realize that I view my environment very differently. One “traceur” stated that you develop the eyes of child; the urban landscape suddenly becomes your playground and you’ll see new fun activities everywhere. Kids haven’t learned social norms and often just play when and where ever and you have to follow their lead, even when people give you funny looks or take pictures of you without asking.

Here are a few clips, which illustrate its true awesomeness. Note that these videos features pros, I am not that good, I do not claim to be a “traceur” (yet).

Here is a good documentary/intro into Parkour, from the Vancouver Film School (VFS), hurray for Parkour in Canada!

Parkour is not a male dominated sport, here are some of the ladies of Parkour Generation taking to the streets of London. One of the best constructed videos with just the right amount of humor.

Parkour seems in is element in chase scenes, there is some great games of tag on youtube.

Good collab- the shirtless guy is David Belle a co-founder of Parkour, part of the Yamakasi school, he is also featured in the movie District 13

Ok, here is one of the best chase scenes, ever, from District 13, this is hardcore Parkour, most Parkour is not that high risk

There is a lot more on youtube
“Parkour generation” has a lot of good videos which show the hours of practice that go into video/photo shoot jumps (such as “behind the jump”). You develop a sense of familiarity with your training grounds and it feels very weird to suddenly see it on youtube. “Rottenrow” is my turf, and there are a few videos which feature the spot.

Sorry, I’ve been busy (Scone excavation!)

August 8, 2008

I have been plugging away on my dissertation and it has been absorbing my life. It is due September 1st so you can see that I need to buckle down. I am working on the applications of geophysics on battlefield sites. I am talking about locating war-graves, and a through time (aka chronological) perspective of battlefield characteristics and what can be detected with different geophysical techniques. Normally, I’d say ‘please don’t rip me off’ but given the time frame I will instead say ‘good luck ye intellectual pirates!’

Well at the end of last month, I helped to excavate Scone (not pronounced like the baked good, more like Schooner without the ‘er’), which was the seat of power in Scotland and the site of a medieval abbey. I also did a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey there a few months back.

I was there for three days and I did the following. I helped uncover the abbey floor, I excavated a 500 year old mother and child burial (well the “mother’s” gender has not be confirmed), I found more scattered (AKA “disarticulated”) human bones then I would have liked and I helped to backfill the trenches. Going back to the disarticulated bones, sadly, looters and 19th landscapers simply dug through burials, and managed to both scatter and shatter the bones.

I have pictures of the eight or so burials that we encountered, however, I will not post them out of respect for the dead. Speaking of the dead, it is very interesting to see how the tourists reacted to the visible presence of human remains. Children, well mostly children, would race up to you and ask ‘where are the skeletons?’ I got so blasé about pointing out the best viewpoint to see burials that after informing a group of people I was shocked when one lady indigently replied “Oh, how macabre!”

The questions people ask you when you are working on a burial never cease to amaze me. They range from “are they going to be reburied afterwards” to “are those real”. I’ll just assume they were talking about the burials. Here is what I wanted to say – no people, I spent hours creating mock burials so I could spend even more time “back-breakingly” and publicly excavating my own forgery. Ain’t I a stinker!

Jokes aside, spiritually and religion is always on the forefront of many questions. Many would ask if we could determine the religious beliefs of the dead; others would ask about crystals and spiritual alignments. Hey, it takes different stroke for different folks.

While the dig was on the peacocks were malting so many of us archaeologist were carrying on with feathers in our caps. Well, at least I was; just call me Yankee-doodle-dandy. On second thought, please don’t. Oh and here is a picture of one of the peacocks from the last time I was a Scone.

The Albino peacock complex

The Albino peacock complex

Right, back to Roman sieges, and their components that are visible to different geophysics techniques. Hell, if I get good enough grades on this puppy I will post it.

Ridgewayus hic! (Ridgeway was here)

July 2, 2008

Last night I finished my geophysical tour of duty. At Scone we finished hunting for the Medieval Abbey and associated outbuildings with GPR. The last two days (The 25-26th of June) we investigated the proposed area of the Medieval village with a fluxgate gradiometer (which looks for magnetic anomalies bellow the ground). It turns out we were on the edge of a rig and furrow field (an old farming technique) and we might have located a homestead or a field building. We also scanned the nearby Skittery (sp?) ditch, which was a massive open sewage system. Sadly, this ditch was infilled in modern times and has a lot of metal in it, which effectively ruins any chances of interpreting the ditch feature.

I took Friday (June 27th) off. By took off I mean washed all of my non-magnetic outdoor clothing and readied myself for another batch of geophysics.

Saturday, June 28th, we traveled to Ecclefechan and set up a grid system at the Roman fort of Burnswark. There are actually two Roman forts, or castra (singular-castrum), based around a massive Iron Age hill fort. We primarily investigated the southern fort, which is a unique creature. The Iron age hill fort was excavated and thousands of lead slingshot were found in the ‘destruction level’. Originally thought to be a siege site, it is now thought that the hill fort was used as a training ground for the Roman. The fort has a smaller ‘fortlet’ within the typical double ditches of the larger fort. Also on the northern wall there are three mounds known as the ‘three brethren’. The purpose of these mounds is unknown. It is thought that they were created for an artillery platform for ballistae. Personally, I do not believe this as I think they are simple too close to the hill fort.

After a few days of thinking over their purpose, I have come to my own conclusion. I think that they are gateways modified to drain water away from the Roman fort. Many Roman forts have a rectangular wall a few meters out from the earthworks so that the Roman soldiers can control access to and from the fort. The fort is downhill from a very large hill, I think that water would easily enter and flood the Roman camp. I think that the standard gate system was modified with mounds so the water would collect in the ditch around the mounds and be likely be diverted away either outside the earthworks or through the double ditches. It is just a theory but any person who has camped downhill, especially in Scotland, will know just how a bit of rain can ruin your day.

There was 7 people in our crew, 95% were fellow post grads, and armed with two a fluxgate gradiometers and a resistivity meter (which compares the electrical resistance of ground) we covered a huge area. Under the watchful eyes of thousands of sheep we marched up and down the slopes to the sounds of beeps from our high tech devices and the bleating of sheep. It was a great experience and the longer you stayed at the base of that hill, the easier it was to envision Roman soldiers in testudo (tortoise) formation marching up to the hill fort with suppressing fire in the form of hails of lead sling shot. There may have been an actually Scottish opposition present (likely called  ‘Picts’ which roughly means “painted ones” due to the usage of body paint and tattoos) to return fire and clash in close combat  or it may have only been a daily drill. Only time and additional archaeological investigation will give us any answers.

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.

Better health and a more mature self

May 20, 2008

I can tell I am an adult now. How can I tell this? Well for starters, while I am typing this post I am sipping on a glass on Laphroaig whisky. First, that alcohol ‘wince’ has long since surrendered thereby allowing me to finally taste the subtitles of Scottish whisky. This newfound ability to ‘taste’ whisky is only part of my maturity milestone. Another maturity milestone is the ability to find a sense of satisfaction with my job (placement…for now) this whisky represents a reward for a job well done, in a non-alcoholic way. Many of my visions of the working man is one who drags his bedraggled body through the door and pours himself a stiff drink. Note that this vision is that from television and not from my family life.
Today I felt I gave my all to my work, luckily my work does not evoke the seemingly soul-crushing feelings which plagues the tie-clad, borderline alcoholic television personality. Instead of wanting to drown my sorrows in an ocean of booze, I find myself beaming with pride at my accomplishments. I archived the paper work from three different sites; normally it takes me just under a day to archive one site. Big boy pants ahoy! Now I just have to wait on that final batch of chest hair and everything else will fall into place.
Not only have I hit a maturity milestone but I have also hit a ‘project milestone’. Today I finished archiving the second season of Two Men in a Trench, which is another source of pride. Between the two seasons I shuffled, shorted, and shipped 1084 documents; I am now moving on other projects but anything else is a bonus. Next week I will begin digitizing the drawings, pictures and slides from the projects. Other plans for my work placement include: checking out the artefact assemblage and the survey data, working on a competitive tendering document, and more!
Although my work will continue, soon, I will be without a work placement patriarch. My boss is going to France to undertake trial excavations on what WW1 Astro-German archives suggests, and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) has confirmed, to be the mass grave of over 400 soldiers from “the Great War” (sorry about the lack of names but I don’t wish to step on any toes). Such is the life of a world-renowned battlefield archaeology.
Oh, I have also started up a Flickr account so I can share some of my European adventure pictures. My user name on the site is Ridgeway Williams, feel free to have a browse of my photos but if you decide to use them please give me credit and cut me in if you are trying to make money off them.  I learned about Flicker through the photography podcast “This Week in Photography (TWIP)”. I enjoy the podcasts but the website is somewhat less intimidating for beginning photographers (like myself) as it ‘drops’ considerably less names and terms which maybe confusing to those who are not professionals. The website also acts as a portal to the portfolios (on Flickr) of tremendously talented people (check out the winners from their themed biweekly competitions), one can always become inspired by taking in some the amazing art, and knowhow, that is being shared.
Speaking of art, this whisky is like the perfect combination of a goose bump-inspiring photo, a childhood lullaby and the smell of a summer bonfire carried by an ocean breeze.

Brown Bess and Tonsillitis

May 14, 2008

I love working in the battlefield archaeology center. Last week one of my coworkers casually asked me if I wanted to shoot off some muskets after work. Clearly, I said yes and it is great fun. I was wearing my aviators, under the required goggles, and I felt very Hunter S. Thompson-ish. Now we weren’t just shooting the guns to sound cool. We were conducting an experiment on the correlation between the final appearance of the musket balls and the soil in which they embedded themselves. We did the shooting at “the farm” which had a hill, which we used as a back catcher for any rogue musket balls, and a lot of sheep around ahh Scotland.

On the less fun side of my life I was just informed that I have tonsillitis. Yesterday it felt like I was swallowing razorblades and then the fever hit. It is a cruel trick to be sweating buckets and feeling freezing cold simultaneous. I tried to go to the clinic yesterday but they are closed on Tuesday afternoon for no apparent reason. I dragged my carcass out of bed this morning and now I am popping penicillin tic-tacs and I already feel a bit better.

It is times like this that I appreciate the diversity of sources for innovation and discovery. It seems to me that the words which follow the greatest discoveries and innovations are some form of “what the hell”. Clearly, I am thinking directly, and thankful, of Fleming’s contaminated plate culture. Henri Becquerel and the discovery of radiation is another great example. Becquerel left a bag of uranium salts on some photographic film and, on a hunch, developed the film only to find that the salts had fogged, by exposure to radiation, the portion of the film they were sitting on. My knowledge of the effects of radiation hurts me to think about carelessly throwing bags of radioactive stuff about but I can’t really judge the person who first discovered it. One could argue that another example of careless behavior is giving black powder muskets to a bunch archaeologists. Ya seriously who does that?