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.

Welcome back and looking forward to the 2019/2020 academic year!

A very warm welcome back to everyone!

We may have been a little quiet on the blog front last term, but by no means did this mean that we weren’t busy! For example, we saw the completion and launch of the Ancient World on Film project and the successful delivery of new, innovative modules (including handlings sessions in the Egypt Centre and a trip to the British Museum) – you can read about these in the COAH College newsletter here. Towards the end of term, many staff and students delivered papers at The Egypt Centre’s conference ‘Wonderful Things‘, an event that showcased the history of the museum and current research that is taking place there in conjunction with our department. The Egypt Centre Collection Blog is a fantastic read as it regularly features news about its volunteers, the research that our students undertake,  collaborative work with the department and the current renovations to its store rooms. All in all it has been an exciting year and the 2019/20 academic year promises to be equally as busy for all staff and students here in the department…

Along with the rest of the university, we are celebrating the Swansea 2020 centenary! This academic year will also see the official launch of OLCAP – our new research group for object and landscape centred approaches to the ancient past. More on this to come! In April, the department will also host the Classical Association conference in April 2020 – a truly international event that draws attention to cutting edge research, innovations in pedagogy across all stages of education provision and pressing issues for our fields of study and work. So watch this space as more information about these events, as well as many others, will be featured on the blog! We also have a number of contributions from our undergraduate and postgraduate researchers to look forward to.

To kick start the year, I draw your attention to the UWICAH postgraduate conference that will take place on 16th November on the theme of Narratives of Power! This conference has been organised by our postgraduate research students and, as you can see below, promises to be a fantastic event. We look forward to seeing you there!

From the organisers:

On the sixteenth of November the Universities of Wales Institute of Classics and Ancient History Postgraduate conference will take place in the Council Chamber and Conference Room 2 in Singleton Abbey. PhD candidates in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology at Swansea University have this year organized the conference. The topic of this year’s conference will be Narratives of Power, and explores powerful narratives in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East. After a successful call for papers, the conference has drawn speakers from across Britain and beyond. The conference will feature twenty-two speakers, from eighteen institutions (including all three UWICAH Universities, Swansea, Cardiff and Trinity St David’s, Lampeter) and run from 09:30-17:30; followed by a roundtable debate and drinks in a nearby pub.

The delegates have interpreted Narratives of Power in a wide variety of ways, and therefore there will be talks on many topics including mythology, material culture, rulers, identity and more. Furthermore, we are thinking of publishing some of the papers from the conference in an edited volume. Food and drinks will be provided for attendees of the conference, and we hope to see as many people as possible from Swansea to support the event. If you are interested in attending, email uwicahconference2019@gmail.com and/or sign up on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uwicah-2019-narratives-of-power-tickets-73538673151).

 

Eventbrite QR code:

Best Regards

Thomas Alexander Husøy, William Clayton, Urska Furlan.

Conference Programme

Singleton Abbey, Swansea University, SA2 8PP

 

Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
9.30 Registration
  Classics Egyptology I
10.00 Rebecca Rusk (Reading): The Rule of Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony Thomas Humphrey (UWTSD): Power and Diplomacy in the Amarna Letters: Cypro-Egyptian Relations in the 14th Century BCE
10.30 Brian McPhee (North Carolina): Brawn Without Brain? Mythopoetic Trajectories in Heracles’ Teratomachies Rachael Cornwell (Liverpool): The Power of Change: The Accumulated Impact of Minor Linguistic Changes on the Egyptian Verbal System
11.00 Georgina Homer (Open University): Infamous Medea: Power Through Reputation and Infamy John Rogers (Swansea): “I Made This as an Act of Praise”: Power and Agency in 7th-Century BCE Egyptian Non-Royal Statuary
11.30 Gina Bevan (Cardiff): Medusa’s Rape: Lady Gaga and Victimhood Marwa Abdel Razek (Cairo/Cairo Museum): The Mystery of Female Figurines (Concubines) Represented on Plaques and Beds in the Cairo Museum
12.00 Lunch
  Archaic and Classical Greece Egyptology II
12.45 Thomas Alexander Husøy (Swansea): Thessaly and the Narrative of Identities in Central Greece Lonneke Deipeut (Leiden): Horses in Egypt: A Status Symbol or a Status Marker?
13.15 Richard Phillips (Birkbeck College, London): Cultural and Political Soft Power in the Ancient Greek World: Paros and Athens Islam Alwakeel (Ain Shams): Offering of the Field (sḫt) in the Egyptian Temples of the Greco-Roman Period (Edfou-Dendara)
13.45 Matt Thompson (Nottingham): Projecting Power By Displaying Nothing? Possible Motivations for the Apparent Refusal of the Spartans to Dedicate Captured Arms Henry Bohun (UWTSD): Exploring Ptolemy II Within the Narrative of Ancient Egyptian Kingship: Ruler Cult and Material Culture
14.15 Ana Garcia Espinosa (Cardiff): Mercenary Armies and Power: The Narrative of Leadership in Xenophon’s Anabasis Frédéric Rouffet (Paul-Valéry): Title TBC, Egyptian Magic
14.45 Tea/Coffee

 

 

Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
  Late Classical Greece Egyptian and Roman History
15.15 Maria Gisella Giannone (Exeter): Narratives of Power By and Within Athens in Isocrates’ On the Peace Ella McCafferty Wright (Cambridge): The Meroe Bust of Augustus and Narratives of Rebellion
15.45 Leon Battista Borsano (Scuola Normale Superiore): Kyrios Estō: Narrative(s) of Power in Late Classical Lycia Consuelo Martino (St. Andrews): The Last Republican or the First Emperor? Discussing Suetonius’ Divus Iulius and the Political Power of Biographical Writing
16.15 Roberta Dainotto (Crete): Building Concepts of Power Through Narrative in Forensic Speeches: The Case of Apollodorus Domiziana Rossi (Cardiff): Sasanian Kings as Decision-Makers: Reshaping the Ērānshahr
16.45 Roundtable Discussion of Day
17.30 Close

 

Reflections on volunteering and learning at Swansea’s Egypt Centre – by Sam Powell

In this week’s blog post Sam Powell reflects upon her volunteering and learning experiences at Swansea’s award winning Egypt Centre. Sam completed a BA Joint Honours in Egyptology and Ancient History at Swansea University in 2006. In 2010 she went on to complete an MA in Archaeology at UCL. Sam then worked at English Heritage/ Historic England and had two children before returning to Swansea in 2017 to study part time for an MA in Egyptian Material Culture.

Sam in Egypt!

During my undergraduate degree I enjoyed volunteering at the Egypt Centre. It is an absolutely fantastic resource for students and, as well as being home to over 5000 objects, it provides a great opportunity to volunteer as a gallery assistant and gain real experience of the workings of a museum.  The museum opened in 1994 and houses a significant number of artefacts from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. The two galleries have a range of objects including coffins, jewellery, furniture and pottery. Unlike a “traditional” museum, there are lots of interactive activities including playing the Egyptian board game senet, a chance to try your hand at mummification (on a dummy-mummy!), and an object handling board, allowing visitors the chance to really examine ancient Egyptian artefacts in great detail.

Given how much I enjoyed my time volunteering at the Egypt Centre as an undergraduate,  I was pleased to find out one of the optional modules for my MA was “Reaching the Public: Object Based Learning”. This module was an amazing opportunity to get up close with the objects and learn about the benefits of using artefacts as a medium for teaching.  The history of museums, the creation of conservation reports, catering to different audiences, issues of display, and creating information files for objects were topics also covered.

As part of our assessment we were given the opportunity to choose a topic and to present five relevant objects to an audience. It was a brilliant way to actually apply what we had learnt about object based learning. I chose “depictions of childhood” as my theme and was able to  research my chosen objects, review their object files, which included information about their provenance and how they came into the collection, as well as investigate similar objects for comparison regarding their function and original owners. Although technically an exam, I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my chosen objects to the three participants for my one hour session. It was fantastic to be able to practise answering questions from an audience and to guide them as they drew their own conclusions about the objects they were handling.  My group responded really well to this and it was clear that they enjoyed a sense of ownership over their learning process.

I would highly recommend volunteering at the Egypt Centre, enrolling on a module which enables you to work with collection, or at the very least visit it if you find yourself at Swansea University. Click on the following link to find out more about the Egypt Centre, the volunteering opportunities on offer, and about the active Friends group which hosts monthly evening lectures for those with an interest in ancient Egypt!

http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/

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