We are very happy to announce the latest EngLaId publication, a joint article by project DPhils Dan Stansbie and Sarah Mallet, in the latest 2015 issue of Medieval Settlement Research. Dan and Sarah discuss identity and landscape in early medieval England through a Big Data-focus on food..
On 23 and 24 September 2015, the EngLaId conference ‘Past Landscapes and Communities’ took place at Keble College, Oxford. Researchers from 7 different European countries attended this two-day event, including specialists in later prehistoric, Roman and early medieval archaeology and history as well as GIS and landscape archaeology. This two-day event was structured around the broad themes of ‘identity’, ‘community’ and ‘landscape’, focusing on specific questions such as:
How can we model and visualize the use and history of landscapes in the past using multiple/large datasets?
How do material culture, spatial distribution, and landscape lead us to understand past identities?
Can we explore community identities and histories in the long term (and across disciplinary period boundaries)?
How does the situation in England compare to other regions within Europe?
A twitter feed was maintained for the duration of the entire event by the EngLaId team (see http://storify.com/EngLaID_Oxford/past-landscapes-and-communities). In what follows, the conference highlights are summarised on the basis of a series of photographs taken by EngLaId project artist, Miranda Creswell. At the outset, thanks very much to all participants, speakers, chairs, as well as a HUGE thank you to EngLaId’s Laura Morley for organising a seamless event!
Day 1: Wednesday 23 September 2015
At 9 am on Wednesday, EngLaId project PI Chris Gosden started the day off with the bold statement that he has definitively solved the concept of ‘identity’.
This was followed by the first ‘proper’ session of the day, expertly chaired by David Fontijn (Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands).
The first talk was by Alex Smith from the University of Reading, summarising some of the key findings of the Roman Rural Settlement project in his talk Identity in rural Roman Britain. Some of the results of this excellent Big Data project, bringing together rural settlement data from developer-funded excavations with a focus on portable material culture and agricultural practices, are now available on-line at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/romangl/.
The first session of the day was concluded by Mads Holst of Aarhus Universitet (Denmark) in a stimulating and beautifully presented talk entitled Collective manifestations in a herding landscape, which focused on agricultural regimes, the impact of barrow construction and settlement patterns in the later prehistoric landscapes of Jutland.
After a short coffee break, the day resumed with a three-paper session focusing on GIS methodologies, chaired by Roger Thomas of Historic England.
Mark Gillings from the University of Leicester kicked off with a fascinating talk about the little standing stones (and they really are _very_ little) from Exmoor, SW England, exploring the concept of Geosophical Information Systems in his talk Now you see me, now you don’t? Mapping the fugitive & invisible. Extensive processing time led to some interesting invisibility-viewsheds and the conclusion that we need to reconsider the significance of these stone arrangements.
After this, team EngLaId presented again, this time a double-act from GIS expert Chris Green and DPhil candidate Victoria Donnelly, entitled Embrace the chaos: structuring affordances and the PPG16 Big Bang. This drew together some of the highlights of their important research into the factors affecting archaeological patterning, such as archaeological investigation patterns and other ‘affordances’ (see previous blogs here and here for Dr Green’s discussion of the concept of ‘affordance’ in this context).
The final paper in this session was presented by Philip Verhagen from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands), presenting joint research with French colleagues Laure Nunninger & Frédérique Bertoncello. His talk was entitled From static distribution maps to dynamic models of occupation: rethinking spatial analysis of Roman rural settlement in France & the Netherlands, and compared different regions in France and the southern Netherlands.
The discussion that followed made it very clear that this was going to be an excellent if exhausting two days (readily admitted by some of the attendees on the twitter feed!), and we retired for a well-deserved spot of lunch in Keble’s impressively huge dining room.
After lunch, we entered the historical period with a stimulating talk by Grenville Astill from the University of Reading, who questioned existing assumptions about village nucleation and the development of England’s open field system in his talk Medieval fields, farming and villages – the basis of a communal English identity? Taking the bull by the horns, Grenville questioned whether a typical ‘English’ rural identity, focused on the village community, already existed prior to the 12th century AD, or whether the preceding period should be understood as a succession of different identities that eventually crystallised into a more familiar ‘village’ identity. Emphasising the importance of agricultural activity as the basis of human society, Grenville also drew attention to the high number of medieval documented murders that took place in fields in the context of day to day agricultural practices.
This session, which was chaired by Helena Hamerow of the University ofOxford, was followed by Alexandra Chavarría of the Università di Padova (Italy) who, on behalf of herself and Gian Pietro Brogiolo, discussed several impressive large-scale landscape projects carried out in the Colli Eugeni region in northern Italy (see http://www.memolaproject.eu/).
The final session of the day was chaired by Mark Pollard of the University of Oxford. The first paper was a double act by Johanna Hilpert and Karl Peter Wendt of the Universität zu Köln (Germany), who presented their research (together with Andreas Zimmermann) on modelling population densities in the long term in their paper Patterns of demographic change and land use in sedentary societies.
This was followed by another German talk, entitled Feeding from dense & sparsely populated surroundings – aspects of Early Iron Age communities in southern Germany. In this excellent presentation, Axel Posluschny of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut talked about his research reconstructing Iron Age hinterlands around so-called Princely Sites (rather spectacular high-status burials) in the south of Germany.
The session was concluded by EngLaId DPhils Sarah Mallet and Dan Stansbie, who gave an excellent double talk on their research into food. Their talk, entitled Diet and regionality: the case of the (southern) English landscape 1500 BC – AD 1086, drew together some highlights of their doctoral research into animal bone, pottery and stable isotopes as a way to understand changing food practices in England from later prehistory to the early medieval period.
Although it was late in the day, the discussion that followed was animated, with some critical questions posed (and answered!). A few well-deserved drinks in the Lamb and Flag and a nice conference meal in Keble Hall concluded day 1 of this conference.
Day 2: Thursday 24 September 2015
The second day started off with a session on prehistoric landscapes and time in England and the Netherlands, chaired by Sarah Semple of Durham University. The first talk of the day was given by Harry Fokkens of the Universiteit Leiden (Netherlands). In his talk Searching for the past in the present, Harry charted the passage of time in some complex and well-preserved prehistoric settlement evidence that emerged around a Bronze Age barrow in West Frisia (the Netherlands).
The focus on barrows was continued in the talk by EngLaId’s prehistoric specialist Anwen Cooper, who presented her work on barrow relationships/histories/legacies in her presentation English landscapes from the perspective of Bronze Age barrows, 1500 BC – AD 1086. Some interesting visualisations were showcased, resulting from Anwen’s close collaborations with project colleague Chris Green, allowing for a more productive method of visualising and analysing the various spatial and temporal associations between Bronze Age barrows and other archaeological features.
After yet another stimulating discussion and a much-needed coffee break, the day continued with a well-structured session focusing on different aspects of community from prehistory to the 11th century AD, chaired by Richard Bradley of the University of Reading. The first speaker of the day was Melanie Giles from the University ofManchester, who presented her work on the Iron Age ladder settlements of East Yorkshire in her talk entitled Making communities; interpreting the late Iron Age ladder settlements of East Yorkshire. Melanie emphasised the practice-based aspects of landscape, and gave the subject matter a very human face by reminding us of the micro-politics of everyday human interactions, including issues of conflict similar to those Grenville Astill had mentioned the previous day.
After this, it was back to team EngLaId with a presentation by early medievalist Letty ten Harkel entitled Enclosing space: defining boundaries in England c.1500 BC – AD 1086. Continuing the focus on practice, the aim of this paper was to suggest a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to the concept of enclosure, demonstrating the limitations of relying too heavily on archaeological evidence alone and emphasising the importance of the natural environment as a structuring element.
Letty finished her talk with an experiment to map the mass of EngLaId data against the hundred boundaries digitised by Stuart Brookes of University College London in a recent project reconstructing the administrative landscape of later Anglo-Saxon England (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/assembly). Stuart’s talk Polity & locality: unpicking the hundredal geography of Anglo-Saxon England followed seamlessly with a discussion of the data for these various later early medieval territorial divisions, showing the complex interplay between imposed and more organically developed administrative structures in the English landscape.
At discussion time, the important question was raised whether spatial proximity implies ‘continuity’ or not, reinforcing a point made earlier during the conference, that we tend to understand ‘space’ much better than ‘time’. Much thinking remains to be done in this respect!
The final part of the day started off with a Spanish session, chaired by Gary Lock of the University ofOxford. Moving a little bit outside of the box, Felipe Criado Boado of the Institute of Heritage Sciences, CSIC (Spain) talked about Archaeologiques of space: linking landscape, materiality, perception and social domination (4000-0 BC). Showcasing some innovative research about the way in which we look at things, Felipe’s discussion was impressively broad-ranging, covering everything from contemporary fashion to prehistoric pottery.
The second paper in this session was presented by Julio Escalona of the Instituto de Historia, CSIC (Spain). His presentation Not quite the same: settlement and community in early medieval Castile analysed the complex interplay between different local and supra-local communities in early medieval Spain, exploring the concept of Dense Local Knowledge (DLK) as a way to understand community structure.
The final session of the day was chaired by Zena Kamash of Royal Holloway University (previously EngLaId’s Roman specialist). The first presenter was Dagmar Dreslerová of the Akademie věd České republiky (Czech Republic) who gave a brief overview of landscape archaeology in the Czech Republic, and presented her excellent research (together with Peter Demján) into creating a comprehensive archaeological model for Bohemia, the western half of the Czech Republic.
The final talk of the day was given by EngLaId’s Roman specialist Tyler Franconi. His talk on Hydrological influence on floodplain settlement in Roman Britain and Germany brough us back to the Roman period, comparing the two river basins of the Thames and the Rhine and the interaction between human and environmental factors.
The day ended with a final discussion by Chris Gosden. Chris admitted that summing up the enormous breadth of ideas and subjects that had been covered was extremely hard, but managed to identify some common ground. Although the papers had traversed different scales, regions and chronologies, the subject matter of pretty much all of them evolved around the relationship between people and the land, emphasising the multi-faceted character of communities.
The ensuing discussion brought up many points that the EngLaId team will have to think about in the following year during the preparation of the monograph and other project output. These include the interplay between sharp discontinuities and overall broad continuities; the difficulty of understanding ‘time’; the benefits but also challenges of interdisciplinarity; and the problem of scale.
For updates on how our thoughts develop in this respect, watch this space!
This is just a short announcement to let people know that we are now able to share details of our project conference. It will be held on 23rd and 24th September at Keble College here in Oxford. The provisional programme for the two days can be found here.
Please contact Laura Morley if you are interested in attending. Places are quite limited, unfortunately, so likely to fill up fast.
Understanding how data are generated is important for any archaeological research project: is what we see a ‘real’ pattern reflecting past reality, or is the picture distorted by more ‘modern’ processes? These are important questions with far-reaching consequences for the conclusions that we, as archaeologists, can draw. The EngLaId team, in particular our GIS expert Chris Green, has explored the implications of this issue on a national level on previous occasions, both in the context of PAS finds (https://englaid.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/pas-affordances/) and sites and monuments (https://englaid.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/affordances2/). This blog explores some additional considerations in understanding regional differences in the archaeological record between case study regions.
Although significant effort is made in by archaeological professionals in England to attain certain levels of nationwide standardisation, regional differences nevertheless exist. In his previous blog post on affordances relating to the survival and recognition of archaeological sites and monuments on a nationwide scale, Chris Green identified the following affordances: first, the opportunity (or not) to undertake archaeological excavation, and second, modern land use and obscurance (https://englaid.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/affordances2/). A further level of refinement one might add to this, and one determined to a large degree by the same factors that Chris flagged up, is the question what type of archaeological investigations take place in different regions.
To give a simple example: prehistoric field systems survive better in upland areas that have seen little arable exploitation. But what is more, prehistoric field systems are also more easily recognised through large-scale landscape or aerial/remote sensing surveys than through keyhole investigations such as watching briefs – more typical of built-up areas – which are more likely to identify individual ditch sections, requiring a further level of interpretation and extrapolation before these can be ‘glued’ together into more extensive landscapes.
The EngLaId project database currently contains more than 900,000 records, and it is both beyond our scope and outside of our remit to recreate such past landscapes; instead, we aim to base our research entirely on already existing digital data. (A very good discussion of this issue, written by my colleagues Anwen Cooper and Chris Green, has just been published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10816-015-9240-4). Nonetheless, a broad awareness of differences in investigation types between the different case study regions is important. For that reason, we carried out a comparison of archaeological investigation types across the country as a whole and in the various case study areas.
Two relevant datasets that record archaeological ‘events’ (rather than ‘monuments’) on a nationwide scale were identified, the AIP and the EI (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/304/). As the AIP was closed down not long after the EngLaId project started, and the EI is actively in the process of incorporating all AIP records, it was decided the EI was the most complete source (also see Evans 2013). Only records from 1990 onwards were incorporated, to reflect the situation since the implementation of PPG16.
As the EI incorporated a large variety of events, a simplified classification was devised into broad ‘types’ of events that were thought most likely to affect the nature of the archaeological record. These were: 1) intrusive (open area), incorporating both open area excavation and strip, map and sample investigations; 2) intrusive (keyhole), incorporating trial trenching, test pitting and watching briefs; 3) survey (geophysical/aerial/earthwork); 4) field walking/metal detecting; 5) other; whereby 1) and 3) were considered most likely to result in the identification of large-scale archaeological landscapes. Records not fitting any of these categories were deleted.
Simplification was automated, and therefore by definition broad-brush (for more information about the methodology, please contact Letty at email@example.com). (As a control to test this broad-brush methodology, a more detailed characterisation of AIP investigations in selected case study areas was carried out, using the same methodology; comparison with the broad-brush EI investigation types characterisation revealed slightly different patterns, but the overall picture between case study regions remained broadly the same.) The results are plotted in the two charts below.
The implications of the results have not been fully thought through, but the resulting patterns will be taken into account in our assessments of the archaeological patterns that emerge from our analyses of the archaeological sites and monuments in our database. Some emerging patterns are immediately obvious, such as the much higher density of fieldwork of any kind in our two southeastern case study regions – the Lea Valley and Kent – especially when compared to Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon and North Northumberland. Also of interest is the lower occurrence of recorded metaldetecting/fieldwalking events in western and northern case study areas, such as Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, the Marches and North Northumberland, areas with large swathes of land use types that are not conducive to successful metal-detecting and which are traditionally associated with low numbers of archaeological ‘finds’. Finally, North Northumberland, the Mendips/Somerset Levels, the Marches and the Isle of Wight have the largest relative percentages of non-intrusive surveys, and therefore may produce ‘good’ data for prehistoric field systems or extensive settlement complexes.
Any feedback at this stage is very welcome – please contact us if you have any comments or questions!
Cooper, A. and Green, C. 2015, ‘Embracing the Complexities of ‘Big Data’ in Archaeology: the Case of the English Landscape and Identities Project’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22 (1). DOI 10.1007/s10816-015-9240-4
Evans, T. 2013, ‘Holes in the archaeological record? A comparison of national event databases for the historic environment in England’, The Historic Environment: Policy & Practice 4: 19–34.
I’ve blogged before on the Food for Thought blog: (https://notjustdormice.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/evidence-for-roman-eating-and-drinking-from-the-mola-database/ ) about my ongoing PhD research into “Big Data” and evidence for Roman food recovered during developer-funded archaeological work in England, as part of the EngLaId Project, and I thought I’d post a quick update now, as I’ve recently come into possession of an amazing new data-set courtesy of Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) and the excellent archaeologists who work there, including particularly Karen Stewart.
I think it’s fair to say that the database produced by developer-funded archaeological work in England is still an under-used resource, particularly in academia and the reasons for this are no doubt varied and complex. There is no space in a short blog to go into these reasons in depth; however, I think that among the main reasons is the fragmented nature of the sector, with many different organisations carrying out the work, and particularly the reliance on freelance specialists to carry out much of the finds specialist work upon which our knowledge of eating and drinking in the past relies. One consequence of this fragmentation is the great diversity of ways in which digital data is stored and managed, with specialists often tailoring their finds databases to the needs of individual projects.
At Mola though, things are a little different. Again the reasons may be complex and, I suspect, relate to the scale and complexity of the organisation, but at Mola all finds, and indeed context data is stored in a single database that includes information on all of the different finds recovered from at least 11,000 sites, some of which were excavated as long ago as 1915. The result is an incredibly flexible tool for research, which has already been used to do some fantastic work on food, including a study of the fishing industry and fish consumption in medieval London (Orton et al. 2014), which makes use of anatomical data and detailed chronological information to link changes in the nature of commercial fishing to changes in the anatomical elements present in deposits of cod remains.
The data that I’ve extracted from the Mola database relates to the period between 1500BC and AD1086 (the period covered by the EngLaId project) which covers the long period between the first wide spread permanent settlement and the origins of the modern settlement pattern. These data falls into four main categories: context data, ceramics, animal bones and charred plant remains and the idea is to plot changes in these data, both chronologically and spatially using GIS and to see (among other things) whether data analysed on this scale changes our understanding of Roman food consumption and particularly what was carried over from the Iron Age and what continued into the early medieval period. I haven’t yet crunched the numbers in a sufficiently detailed way to report on my analysis – but when I have I’ll be posting another blog to let everybody know how it went. Hopefully, the results will be interesting!
Figure 1: Distribution of Mola Sites
Orton, D C, Morris, J, Locker, A, and Barrett, J H, 2014 Fish for the city: meta analysis of archaeological cod remains and the growth of London’s northern trade, Antiquity, 88, 516-30.
We’re recruiting! Zena, our Romanist post-doc, is leaving us as she’s got a new job lecturing at Royal Holloway (our best wishes go with her in her new position!). So we’re now advertising for a replacement. The job advert is here:
Ever since my first dig on a Roman site more than two years ago, I’ve known that Archaeology and Anthropology intrigue me more than any other subject. I’m a seventeen-year-old student studying for A Levels, and as summer approached this year, I wanted to widen my experience beyond the classical archaeology I had been fortunate enough to work on in previous summers. That’s where the EngLaID project comes in. Browsing through the various projects taking place on England’s archaeological scene, I came across it; I was immediately struck by its scale and breadth. The idea of a whole project based around the English landscape and how it can be used to inform theories about English identity was much too interesting to pass by! I contacted Anwen as the Prehistoric specialist on the team – prehistory was a period I knew little about and was therefore very eager to engage with. So here I am! It’s the last day of my riveting two weeks here so I thought I would share at least a fraction of my thoughts and experiences from this short time.
Various discussions with Anwen, Letty, and Chris Gosden have prompted a plethora of questions in my mind about identity and what it actually means, as well as how one could ever get a true sense of how people felt about it in the past. I’ve been filled with a wonderful sense of mystery as I think about the human relationship with different forms of material culture, particularly of ritual sites, and how it seems to change not only through time and amongst different people and peoples, but by the variety of different ways in which these apparent relationships have been interpreted by various archaeologists, influenced by social sciences. I’m infinitely grateful for the number of books that have been recommended to me as my thoughts take further shape.
My work experience at the Institute of Archaeology has given me a much fuller understanding of what it is like to work in this field. From a day spent at the excavations at Dorchester-on-Thames, to another immersed in the Crawford archives (a treasure trove of pictures taken by the prolific archaeologist!) or yet another spent doing a crash-course in GIS, it’s been such an illuminating two weeks, and I can’t thank Anwen and the team enough!