Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales

This week, Amber Andrews reflects upon the impact of climate change on Welsh archaeological discoveries. More than this, she shares with us her experiences working with local heritage sites and how these can offer essential resources for academic study and future opportunities.  Amber completed her undergraduate studies here at Swansea in 2019. and is currently studying for her MA in Ancient History and Classical Culture.

Placements and Their Importance: Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales.

By Amber Andrews

Amber at Castell Bach, September 2019.

 

After much consideration of archaeological developments across Wales, it was a no-brainer for me to pursue research on Roman Wales in the final year of my undergraduate degree.  The idea for my dissertation, Roman Wales: The Impacts of Climate Change on Aerial Photography and Influence on New Archaeological Discoveries, came about due to the extreme weather Wales experienced during the summer of 2018. As climate change dried out the ground, hundreds of new archaeological sites ranging from prehistoric hill forts to medieval churches and buildings were exposed and then studied through the medium of aerial photography. These new discoveries shed exciting new light on our understanding of all eras throughout Wales’ history, as well as highlighting significant implications for its future. Writing a dissertation in this field, however, requires a vast amount of knowledge of the archaeological scene pre- 2018. This would have caused severe issues for the progress of the dissertation if I had not taken part in a voluntary placement during the summer of 2018.

Voluntary placements offered me a chance to attend archaeological sites and at one exciting site in Carmarthen I got to hold a newly unearthed 1st century Roman bowl (below); it was exquisitely intact. On the bottom of the bowl a flower had been carved into the clay before firing. Parallels of this mark had also been found across Europe indicating that Roman Wales had been more in tune with wider trading networks than has previously been assumed.

Bowl excavated in Roman Wales – 1st century AD

Archaeological site visits also allowed me to meet and discuss ideas about Roman Wales with a number of academics and volunteers who also came to have a look at the new discoveries. During one of these trips I met Dr Toby Driver – an archaeologist and aerial investigator. We discussed aerial photography at length as he had been busy over the earlier parts of the summer, taking flight paths over the lesser explored areas of Wales, searching for newly exposed archaeological sites made visible by the extreme, dry weather. Dr Driver’s expertise was invaluable as I researched my dissertation and he granted me access to reports and images that were not accessible to the public. I was also able to run ideas past him regarding archaeological practices and interpretations of the evidence.

When I submitted my dissertation I began to think about future career opportunities. I contacted Toby to see if I could join him on his work and this led to me gaining more experience on another voluntary placement during the summer of 2019 with the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. Simultaneously fortunate, yet also not, the weather during the summer of 2019 did not go to the same extreme as in 2018, but there were other opportunities for developing our understanding of the archaeology throughout Wales such as working with The CHERISH Project. This five-year project, run by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales and the Centre for Archaeology and Innovation in Ireland, aims to close gaps in our archaeological knowledge along the coasts of Wales and Ireland as many potential sites are at risk of being affected by climate change. During my work for them I successfully developed a range of skills such as the ability to use computer software to process LiDAR information taken by flight paths beaming lasers onto the ground. I focussed on six coastal islands around Wales by creating both Digital Surface Models and Digital Terrain Models, as well as creating 3D images of the islands, that highlighted the archaeology present in a clear and aesthetic way. These images are in the process of being placed into the Royal Commission’s archives, as well as being posted on the Coflein website for the wider public to use, to bring attention to the wonderful archaeology present around the Welsh coastline that could be at risk from climate change.

Placements such as these cannot be underestimated. Their benefits are palpable and give you experience in a working environment that can be extremely rewarding whilst gaining new skills. More than this they are opportunities to gain work experience with a range of experts, expand your contacts for future opportunities, and broaden your outlook on academic and real world circumstances.

Gaining work experience in the heritage sector – by Pierre Vagneur-Jones

This week’s post is a reflective account by Pierre Vagneur-Jones. Having worked in a range of public facing jobs during his early UG studies, Pierre was keen to gain work experience directly in or related to the heritage sector. He took the initiative to approach  ATS Heritage and was employed with them for two summers working on a range of exciting projects. Most notable of these include developing audio guides for The Ashmolean Museum’s current exhibition: Last Supper in Pompeii!  Pierre shares with us how the research, interpersonal, and employability skills that he gained during his undergraduate studies enabled him to apply for work and how he developed them in his posts. He also discusses the impact of digital applications, such as virtual reality, on how visitors engage with history at a range of heritage sites and museums. Pierre graduated with a degree in Ancient and Medieval History (Swansea) last year and is currently studying for his MA in Medieval Studies. He writes:

Pierre Vagneur-Jones

During a family visit Hever Castle we were given iPods with a multimedia tour on it. I thought it was pretty cool as whenever I had used an audio-guide in the past it had looked like a massive black brick. The guide had video interviews, quizzes and further reading about each room. Following the tour, I looked at the back of the iPod case the guide was in and jotted down the details of the company who had made it. The next day, I emailed the company and wrote something along the lines of, “Hey, I think your product is cool … also, if you have an internship open this summer then I would like to apply”. Obviously, my letter was professional in tone and I attached my CV to demonstrate my suitability for the post should it be open. That afternoon the boss of the company (this isn’t a brag, the company is just pretty small) responded to me and invited me in for an interview at my earliest convenience. The next week I started work!

For that summer, I was assigned to work with the Senior Producer who initially tasked me with proof-reading scripts for multimedia guides and sourcing photos of the sites in question. A challenging element of the job was having to assemble 5000 multimedia guides by putting them in their cases and sealing them with screws and hot glue for Buckingham Palace in two days (I swear I couldn’t feel my fingers after the first day!). Proof-reading scripts about ancient and medieval sites were my favourite tasks and I managed to fix quite a few historical inaccuracies in some pertaining to the medieval kings of France. It certainly beat my earlier experiences of working at the Butcher’s or the local pub. More importantly, it gave me invaluable experience working with a heritage company and demonstrated that I could apply skills that I had developed during my studies (such as conducting research, sourcing appropriate materials, proof reading and fact checking, and working unsupervised on a project) to this context.

After the final year of my undergraduate study, that is to say last summer, I contacted the company again and asked if I could be assigned jobs with more scope for developing these skills and with more responsibility. My initiative paid off. Over that summer, I was sent to sites such as Buckingham Palace and Bletchley Park. I was involved in discussion with clients about what they wanted tour of their site to be like and how to best present the artefacts on show in the context of a multimedia guide. I also helped produce the multimedia guide for the Last Supper in Pompeii exhibition which is currently on-going at the Ashmolean. As an Assistant Producer, I was expected to edit the scripts in both English and French, as well as quality-check the guides themselves throughout the process. It was fantastic working for an exhibition displaying items that I had seen with my own eyes in the museums around Pompeii and Naples the year before on the department’s Ancient and Historic Places module and study trip. For example, the near-intact loaf of bread (that I also used as the subject of an essay in the Roman Economy module) and the numerous famous frescos of Vesuvius. As the exhibition came out right at the beginning of the summer, I was also tasked with keeping up with on-going edits to the tour. If the museum or any visitor found a factual error in the guide it was important that these were amended right away.

Whilst not necessarily exactly what I want to be doing following my Master’s degree, working directly with an exhibition related to the ancient world gave me an in-depth understanding of how museums run as a whole, how they put exhibitions together, and how they communicate ideas with a range of audiences. Moreover, it was also simply a fun experience and I really enjoyed seeing a project come together and be released!

Working as a “Hands on History Guide” at a castle during my first year of undergraduate study made me appreciate how important the medium through which we learn things is – most children were engaging with the history around them because of the way they were learning it, not necessarily because of the subject matter itself. The most interesting part of working for the multimedia guide company was seeing how technology could be used when interacting with history. Other projects I worked on were focussed on streaming the tour directly onto phones, so that visitors could walk around at their own pace without having to worry about handing a big clunky device. Additionally, advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality mean that we can have guides which display a 3D representation of what the environment would have looked like hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. Something which was of great use to the museum curators I worked with was the statistics we could extract from the multimedia guides regarding visitor interaction. It was possible to asses which rooms in a given castle people spent the most time in and which areas people skimmed past. At a more simple level, works of art in famous galleries have been digitised in order to be accessible to a far wider audience. The Louvre’s “Léonard de Vinci” exhibition has taken full advantage of these technologies, using virtual reality and interactive multimedia guides throughout. These are important factors to consider for the future of the heritage sector because they are not only changing the accessibility of historic sites, they are changing the way we approach and interact with history.

In Wales alone there are numerous opportunities to get involved in this. Every year in Aberystwyth, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales holds the “Digital Past” conference, which focusses on exactly this – how technology and heritage works together. Their website lists these applications of digital technologies (e.g. Digital surveys – Terrestrial Scanning, Geo-physics, LiDAR, Photogrammetry, etc.; 3D modelling and reconstruction; Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality; 3D printing and e-publication) and demonstrates that the possibilities for engaging with history, and gaining fresh insight using these are, endless.

I started my job search at the beginning of my undergraduate degree with the simple intention of building my CV in a general sense. I didn’t expect that I would be able to secure such engaging jobs that put my research and interpersonal skills to use! Without doubt, these invaluable experiences have confirmed that I want to pursue work in the heritage sector when I finish my Master’s degree.

Launching OLCAP (the research group for Object and Landscape Centred Approaches to the Past): Swansea in the Sudan!

Launching OLCAP!

OLCAP – the research group for Object and Landscape Centred Approaches to the Past is new to the College of Arts and Humanities. The group’s core aim is to promote and support research, teaching, and training that falls broadly in the fields of material culture studies and landscape, especially where these relate to the ancient world. There are three main, related strands of our mission: Research, Pedagogy, Training and Employability. You can read more about these on OLCAP’s webpage. On 14th October, OLCAP celebrated its official launch and we introduced these aims to staff and students across COAH to explore research synergies and potential future collaborations. The kick-off event was a wonderful opportunity to advertise our annual programme – details of which can also be found here:  OLCAP 2019 2020 Events. This term we particularly look forward to hosting our first (of many!) termly core skills training workshops, ‘Mapping Material Culture’ where our students will have the chance to practice mapping the landscape in preparation for archaeological investigation! This will take place on 09.11.19 at Singleton Campus, 11.00-16.00.

 

OLCAP’s first sponsored post on Hieroglyphs, Heroes, and Heretics is a report from Dr Christian Knoblauch (Lecturer in Egyptian material Culture) about his collaboration with Brown University and their excavations in the Sudan. If you would like to hear more about the project, Christian will be giving a talk at 3pm on Tuesday 29th of October at Singleton Campus, Keir Hardie Building Room 429 as part of the CLAHE Research Seminar Series.

Swansea in the Sudan

Image 1: The Swansea-Brown Uronarti Regional Archaeological Project team on site in the Sudan, January 2019.

The first ever Swansea-Brown Uronarti Regional Archaeological Project team on site in the Sudan, January 2019 (image 1). The project is co-directed by Dr Christian Knoblauch (Swansea, far right) and Dr Laurel Bestock (Brown, front left). In the background, there is the remains of the massive mudbrick gateway that controlled entry into the Middle Kingdom fortress – the focus of our work. Although it is almost 4000 years old, the fortress still stands in places to a height of 7 metres. In the foreground is a back-filled administrative building excavated by the team where we were able to observe, for the first time, the arrival of the Egyptians at the site and their organisation of a mammoth building project. Beyond the fortress, looking south, one can see Lake Nasser/Lake Nubia and the desert adjacent to the ancient border with Kush at the Semna Nile Cataract. During the season, we conducted a systematic survey (image 2) of these areas in order to contextualise the fortress in wider settlement and activity patterns. A report on this last aspect of the work has been accepted for publication by Antiquity and will appear in the Project Gallery shortly.

Image 2: The team conducting their survey.

One interesting aspect of the season was the recording and micro-morphological sampling of an intact column of stratigraphy (image 3)  Such well-defined occupation layers are a rarity due to the clearing of most of the interior of the  fortress in the 1930’s.

Image 3.

We are hopeful the final scientific analysis of the layers and artefacts will shed light on the changing nature of the occupation of the site over two and a half centuries. Finds from these layers included fish-bones and angling equipment, administrative seals, stone arrowheads and some remarkably well preserved textiles (image 4).

Image 4: Preserved textile.

There was also time to conduct a condition report of the New Kingdom stone temple that has suffered considerable damage in recent years. An inventory of all decorated blocks (e.g. image 5) was compiled and recommendations were made to our partner, the National Corporation of Museums and Antiquities concerning conserving the structure and making it better accessible to other scholars and the public in the future. We plan to continue this work in early 2020.

Image 5: A decorated block from the New Kingdom stone temple.

The author thanks the COAH Research Fund for enabling his participation in the project in January 2019. Images courtesy of URAP.

 

History of Ancient Technology and Engineering – projects

This module explores the material world of Greece and Rome. The design, construction or production of the structures and objects with which the ancients furnished their world is the subject of study. As part of the assessment, students can create their own project. Here are some recent examples:

 

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