April has been a busy month for the Tobacco, Health and History team. With plenty of data collection, lab analysis, journal article submissions, and the first in a series of workshops on intersectionality in the field of bioarchaeology, everyone had their work cut out for them. The UK Archaeological Sciences Conference 2022 saw representation from the project as well, with Diego getting runner-up for best ECR talk at the conference!
For me, personally, the month of April was centred around four main activities. The first of these is directly related to my PhD project, as I am working to set up my methodology and materials sections. This involves, as one might expect, a lot of sifting through academic literature and commercial reports, determining which skeletal traits to include to support my thesis, and compiling a database of which archaeological individuals to select for my data collection.
The second matter in hand is, on the contrary, only tangentially related to the PhD but has everything to do with my funding body, Midlands4Cities. As an M4C-funded PhD researcher, I am expected to engage with my peers on a regular basis and this year, I complied by joining the organisation of the 2022 M4C Research Festival. The Festival will take place online on 13-16 June and allows M4C students to showcase their projects. As coordinator of the organising committee, April has seen lots of meetings with subcommittees about the different output formats, submissions, budgets, marketing, setting up online platforms, and organising in-person activities for M4C students in our four cities. The preparations are far from finished, but all parts have been set in motion and the Festival will increasingly take shape over the course of May!
The most hands-on part of April involved my (M4C-funded) research trip to the Netherlands. The aim of the trip was to establish/maintain relations with the institutions curating the archaeological human skeletal collections that I will be using during the course of my PhD, and at the same time to collect some valuable information which had to be obtained in person.
The first visit was to the Laboratory of Human Osteoarchaeology at Leiden University to see some of the collections I will be assessing for my research. The basic osteological data are mainly available through hard-copy skeletal forms, and I took the opportunity to go through them to select individuals suitable for my project.
Another one of the stops on the trip was at the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (‘State Service for Cultural Heritage’) in Amersfoort. The RCE curates small selections of finds from Dutch archaeological excavations in their reference collections, including some skeletal remains. The purpose of my visit was to record information pertaining to individuals belonging with my research collections, but also to search the substantial hard-copy archives held at RCE for more information regarding some of the older collections I will be using. The visit turned out to be fruitful, as I was able to locate several documents pertaining to excavations in Dordrecht and Arnhem, and discovered skeletal remains belonging with the Dordrecht-Minderbroedersklooster collection.
The final research visit on the trip was directly related to my final main activity over the past month, which is organising an M4C-funded placement at the depot of the Dordrechts Museum in Dordrecht. One of the main pre-tobacco research collections for my PhD project, Dordrecht-Minderbroedersklooster, was excavated in the 1980s and most of the individual skeletal data have been lost. In order to be able to use the collection for my research and to select an adequate research sample, a re-inventory of the materials held by the depot has to take place. Since M4C allows their students to do a placement, and since Dordrechts Museum was very happy to host a researcher for this purpose, I have been setting this up over the past month. The purpose of my visit was to discuss some of the documentation, to meet my future colleagues, discuss the logistics of the project, get a feel for the workplace, and to have a look at the state of the skeletal collection. This was without a doubt the most productive of the visits and at the end of the day I could tick many of the boxes on my ‘placement to-do list’.
The last paragraph of this blog I would like to dedicate to some public outreach I managed to fit into my week in my home country. Sometime before the trip I was contacted by one of my cousins, who is a primary school teacher. At the school, they had just started a themed module named ‘In search of dinosaurs’ for the youngest children, and they were hoping to get a REAL archaeologist into the classrooms to tell something about archaeology. After explaining that dinosaurs fall outside of the purview of archaeology they were still interested, and that is how I ended up teaching a series of four classes to groups of up to thirty 3-to-6-year-olds on a sunny Tuesday. I had a lot of fun working with the children about how an archaeologist has to use his senses during fieldwork (seeing, hearing, feeling the finds!), categorising materials as either old or new and determining what they might have been used for, and trying to explain that finds are only part of the job and that where the finds are found is equally important.
I had a lot of fun working with the children about how an archaeologist has to use his senses during fieldwork (seeing, hearing, feeling the finds!), categorising materials as either old or new and determining what they might have been used for, and trying to explain that finds are only part of the job and that where the finds are found is equally important.I was positively surprised how much they could contribute already at this age, and humbled when one of the older girls – aged 6.5 –psychoanalysed me by asking right before my first talk whether I was “feeling a bit anxious” because “I can tell. You’ll do fine”. It turned out she was right, because I got great feedback from everyone, including the teachers. This was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences in archaeology I’ve had and I would be happy to reprise in the future!
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