Sharing the joy of scrapers

Fribourg near the SAEF

Fribourg near the SAEF

Today I met up with my project partner Laure in Fribourg, to discuss our progress and collect another sample of chipped stone artefacts for use wear analyses. We do not work in the same place and do not see each other every day. So, it is always stimulating and encouraging and fun to meet up and exchange ideas and plans as well as problems and results.

30 000 chipped stone artefacts (8000 - 7500 years old) on a table

30 000 chipped stone artefacts (8000 – 7500 years old) on a table

At the moment we are both working on the Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland. We are working towards a poster for the MesoLife conference this June and it is our aim to look at the relationship between production, use and raw material of the exceptionally many scrapers found at Arconciel/La Souche and how this develops towards the end of the Mesolithic. It was great to see that the method of our combined approaches will, as we hoped and planned, indeed bear fruit and comparing technology and typology with use will bring further insights into Late Mesolithic behaviour just North of the Alps.

Snapshot of the sample of Late Mesolithic scrapers (~6000-5500 BC) from Arconciel/La Souche I selected today

Snapshot of the sample of Late Mesolithic scrapers (~6000-5500 BC) from Arconciel/La Souche I selected today

 

Oh, and this is me playing with a fancy digital microscope. Thanks to the University of Fribourg for that!

Oh, and this is me playing with a fancy digital microscope. Thanks to the University of Fribourg for that!

Pile dwellings and dug-outs. A review of two archaeological exhibitions in Bern and Biel.

The first European Neolithic site I dug was in the south of the Netherlands. All we found were post holes, colourful traces in the yellow sand. We found a handful of pottery shards and a few flint tools, and not very nice ones either, as far as I remember. We were most excited about the remains of traces of old top soils from various periods, or at least I was. It was all very different from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in Jordan I had worked on, where we found huge quantities of finds as well as standing walls.
Yesterday was the official opening of the new exhibition at the Bernisches Historisches Museum. A new temporary exhibition on the Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen (The Pile Dwellers – on the water and over the alps). And it’s a jaw dropper! I remember the reverence in the voice of the lecturer – I think it was Prof. G. Barker – of our introductory course at University of Leicester. There was obviously something very special about these Swiss Lake side villages. And indeed, you do not have to work in Swiss archaeology long to realise there is something extraordinary about these sites.

Visual zur Wechselausstellung «Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen» © Bernet & Schönenberger, Gestaltung und Typografie, Zürich

Visual zur Wechselausstellung «Die Pfahlbauer – Am Wasser und über die Alpen»
© Bernet & Schönenberger, Gestaltung und Typografie, Zürich

In the middle of the 19th Century Switzerland made a new start, with a new constitution and a new political organisation. Around the same time the first Lake side villages were discovered when, during a dry summer, water levels in lakes across the country dropped dramatically. The inhabitants and builders of these Pfahlbauten, or pile dwellings, have since played a remarkable symbolic role in the building and maintaining of the Swiss national identity. The exhibition, however, only goes into this very briefly and mostly pictorial.

For me as an archaeologist one of the most exciting aspects of these Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, which date between 4300 – 800 BC, is the Continue reading

Blogging Archaeology – Join us!

Blogging Archaeology

It is already the last month of Doug’s Blogging Archaeology Carnival and although I have not been able to join in every month’s instalment, it has been great to see such a large part of the international archaeological blogging community come together and take part. However, it has been mostly bloggers from the English speaking world. And that is something I am a bit surprised about and I would really like to see changed. It would be fantastic to see more archaeologists from non-English speaking countries to start their own blogs and become more active on social media. So I would like to take the opportunity that Doug gave us by asking us where we are going with archaeological blogging or where we would like it to go and take stock of the archaeological social media and blogging situation in the country where I live and work: Switzerland.

Now, I am not sure I have not missed anything here or there, but as far I am aware there are at the moment, beside this blog, only two archaeological research blogs being actively maintained in Switzerland: kAltes Eis, the newest, and Silvretta Historica, which I helped set up in 2011. The Alpine Archaeology blog was part of a course I taught at the University of Zürich in 2011 and 2013. A facebookpage which resulted from that is still maintained by a few colleagues and me. The L’Arkeoblog is, as far as I know, the only other active personal partly archaeologically themed blog in Switzerland. Surprisingly, there no other personal research blogs by research students or other archaeologists that I know of, although I have noticed some MA-students and a few other archaeologists have started posting photos and other information about their research on facebook (e.g. MA dissertation). And the Universität Bern has a facebookpage for their training excavation in Buchs-Chammeren, canton Lucerne.

Quite some private archaeological and heritage firms and museums are present on social media, but most of their content is not research related and are limited to exhibition or event related items. To my amazement no Swiss archaeological university department or cantonal archaeological unit (who do most archaeological field and post-ex work) are present on social media, let alone maintain blogs. Especially the units are very active in public archaeology, but rely solely on the more traditional channels: the print media, TV and radio, as well as open days and guided tours. However, I have to say, when I worked for the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Berne, I was allowed to blog about my work with them here (see the posts here).

The reason for their absence on social media is, I believe, threefold: personal, resource related and the restrictive communication policies of the cantonal governments. To start with the personal, I have the impression that many Swiss archaeologists wrongly (!) do not consider themselves to be tech-savvy enough for using social media. Even the students I taught in two e-learning courses in the past 3 years had very little affinity with technology and social media, except for perhaps being on facebook. Most cantonal archaeological services, even in Switzerland, have limited resources and are struggling to do their core business and thus is an expansion of an, admittedly well-functioning, public archaeology strategy not a priority. Thirdly, the communication policies of the Cantons tends to be very restrictive and very much controlled by their communication departments. Hardly a written word leaves the offices without it having passed their scrutinising eyes. I even wonder if they would allow a blog or social media presence that is not maintained by them instead of the archaeologists themselves. But have a look at all the blogs that take part in this blogging carnival, people. There are so many things you can do with a blog and so many forms, aims, voices and audiences are to be had! Use it!

In the countries around us there are a few blogs from German archaeologists and I know of one Austrian blog. In France there are a few and in Italy there seems to be quite an active archaeological community on social media, esp. of young archaeologists. As an example, historians in the German-speaking world are much more active when it comes to blogging.

I like the way so many museums and other heritage institutions have embraced the possibilities of social media and the web and believe these are an essential tool for them these days. However, I love the personal blogs and social media efforts of individual researchers even more and would like to see more of these from non-English speaking countries (even if they would decide to write in English, as I have done). I believe – and with this I return to my first contribution to the blogging carnival – this could be increased if employers, whether university departments or cantonal units, would start to see the value of this work and would support it.

So, if there are among you readers out there archaeologists who blog or are active on social media but I have not discovered yet, I would love to hear from you. And if you are an archaeologist, a student, academic or in a unit and you would like to join us by starting a blog, a twitter account, pinterest page or anything else, but don’t know where to start, get in touch with any of us. We’re a friendly bunch, really!

The last words here, though, should be dedicated to thanking Doug for organising this Blogging Carnival and congratulating him on the success of it!

Blogging Archaeology – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Hazelnut Relations and beyond

Blogging Archaeology
Finally, I get around to writing my second instalment for Doug’s archaeological blogging carnival and the first post of 2014. Happy New Year everyone! The december question he asked us was about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of archaeological blogging. My blogging experience has been predominately good. I have enjoyed writing here so far, I believe blogging has helped me improve my writing skills and it has led me to ‘get to know’ many other archaeological bloggers and it is a joy to read about their work and their interests and (archaeological) lives.
However, some of the best experiences I have had through having started this blog, is my involvement with two other blogs. In 2010/2011 and 2013 I have taught an e-learning course on the techniques and methodology of alpine archaeology at my department at the Universität Zürich. The Alpine Archaeology Blog has been an integral part of this course and was quite a success. Not only in terms of readers, but esp. in 2010/2011 when the course and blog were part of an alpine themed semester, it engaged staff and students beyond the course. I believe it also enriched the studying experience and the students wrote some very good articles as part of the course. For me, as tutor, it was equally enriching and I think a blog can, under the right circumstances and as part of the right course, be an interesting addition to regular teaching methods.

Summer 2010 & 2011 I was part of the field equipe of the Rückwege Project in the Swiss-Austrian Alps. In 2011 we decided to try blogging from the field (go and have a look, there are some great articles and photos, but do go all the way back to the beginning for the posts from the field!) This was not always easy, as we often camped for days on end in the high Alps at 2400 masl, far beyond any internet or mobile phone reception. Still, it worked! The blog was set up by project leader Th. Reitmaier and me, but we encouraged the students and other team members to contribute. We even managed to convince some of the specialists who visited us in the field for a few days to write for the blog. Many people in various countries learned about the ongoing fieldwork and our objectives and the many aspects of a modern, multi-disciplinary archaeological research project through the blog. We were, largely because of the blog, able to reach even more people, by attracting quite a lot of attention from regional, national and even international media.

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Alltag auf der Grabung “Eisenzeitliche Hütte” im Fimbatal. From the Rückwege Blog (01.09.2011)

Fieldwork is a very good theme for a blog, it seems. My own research is – and this brings us to the Bad of archaeological blogging – in my experience, well, I am not so sure yet if it is. The initial idea behind this blog was to write mainly about my PhD research, but so far this might have proven to be the most difficult to write about. It seems all these other things you do, the little side projects, the fieldwork that are easy to write about. Maybe it is also, because for so long I have been predominantly a field archaeologists and I feel so at home there. In any case, it is a challenge I hope to address this year as my research reaches another stage and I should be able go get more specific results from the lab. So, considering this a challenge, even this is not that bad.

Now onto the Ugly: Other than repeating what I mentioned in the answer to the first blogging carnival question (that it would be appreciated if there would be some sort of support from my department, faculty or university for blogging and science communication in generall) I am lucky to have very little ugly to say about blogging archaeology so far. So, what have you got in store for us for January, Doug?

Sickles? You’re still wondering about sickles?

This post is dedicated to all you blogging archaeologists out there going through the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of blogging. But especially to John Lowe (of whereinthehellamI fame), whose fantastic playlist helped me write this (and the part of my thesis this blog post is based on).

Imagine a settlement 14 000 years ago. Image a few round buildings. Imagine a group of people living there, a few families maybe, living by hunting gazelle and birds and gathering, amongst other plants wild legumes and wild barley (Edwards 2007; Colledge 2001). Imagine somebody going about his or her business, collecting and hunting in the vicinity of the settlement and carrying with them all they needed. Imagine this tool set, carefully held in a bag or basket, left lying near the wall of a building, a house probably. Imagine it containing a few pebbles, some with traces that show they have been used; containing a flint core from which very handy bladelets can be made; containing some more bits and pieces, a bone haft, some gazelle foot bones (phalanges) and half moon shaped flint implements, perhaps arrow- or spearheads. And a sickle.

Yes, a sickle. There are more places to find out about sickles than just the Swiss Late Neolithic. The settlement described above is a Natufian site called Wadi Hammeh 27 (Edwards 2007). It lies in the Jordan Valley. The excavators called the building Structure 1 and the finds are part of assemblage 9. It is to be expected that this assemblage of finds was once held in a bag or basket made of some organic material, which had perished by the time it was excavated. More sickle fragments and bladelets were found at Wadi Hammeh 27, as well as at other contemporary sites. Other complete or fragments of sickles have been found in Kebara cave, at El Wad, Erq el Ahmar, Oum ez-Zoueitina, Eynan (Ain Mallaha), Hayonim and Nahal Oren (Bar-Yosef 1987; Garrod, 1932). Adhesives on blades from various sites show they were hafted, as the Wadi Hammeh 27 sickle, in a straight haft or in a curved hafts (Bar-Yosef 1987). In both the experimental studies by Goodale et al (2010) and by myself straight hafts were used. Mostly, however, it is only through use wear studies that we know Natufian bladelets were used as sickles

Wadi Hammen 27.

Wadi Hammen 27. Artefact assemblage 9. From Edwards 2007, fig.2

The fact that palaeobotanical research has shown that wild legumes and wild barley were collected by the people at Wadi Hammeh 27 and used sickles makes it interesting for my use wear studies on Late Mesolithic sites in the alpine foreland of central Europe, where cerealia Type pollen is known from off-site locations, but nothing much more is known about the details of the adoption of agriculture in the region (Behre  2009; Tinner et al 2009).

Sickle haft fragments for Mugharet-El Wad. From Garrod 1932

Sickle haft fragments for Mugharet-El Wad. From Garrod 1932

There are a few fascinating aspects to be noted about the sickle itself. The haft is made of goat of sheep horn core. And in it two slots are made that are filled with two rows of 5 Helwan bladelets each. One row is made of pale brown flint (Munsell 10 YR 8/2, apparently) and on a grey flint (10YR 8/1).

I think it also fascinating that the maker or owner of the sickle thought it somehow important to make the sickle look good. In fact, it appears that more sickles of the period  were decorated. Below a sickle from Nadal Heimar, which is decorated with a zick zack pattern. In fact, Goodale et al (2010) have shown that sickles of the somewhat later PPNA sites of Dhra’, Jordan, were used for an extended period of time. Sickles were clearly important for people living through the economic and socialchanges of the end of the last Late Glacial and the early Holocene. Yes sickles!

ResearchBlogging.org

BAR-YOSEF, O. 1987. Direct and Indirect evidence for hafting in the Epi-Palaeolithic and Neolithic of the Southern Levant. In: STORDEUR, D. (ed.) La Main et l’Outil. Manches et emmanchements préhistoriques. Table Ronde C.N.R.S. tenue à lyon du 26 au 29 novembre 1984. Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux.

BEHRE, K. E. 2007. Evidence for Mesolithic agriculture in and around central Europe? Vegetation History and Archaebotany, 16, 203-219.

COLLEDGE, S. 2001. Plant exploitation on Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic sites in the Levant, Oxford.

Philip C. Edwards (2007). A 14 000 year-old hunter-gatherer’s toolkit Antiquity, 81 (314), 865-876

GARROD, D. A. E. 1932. A New Mesolithic Industry: The Natufian of Palestine. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 62, 257-269.

GOODALE, N., OTIS, H., ANDREFSKY, W., KUIJT, I., FINLAYSON, B. & BART, K. 2010. Sickle blade life-history and the transition to agriculture: an early Neolithic case study from Southwest Asia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37, 1192-1201.

TINNER, W., NIELSEN, E. & LOTTER, A. F. 2007. Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence. Quaternary Science Review, 26, 1416-1431.

Blogging Archaeology – Why I started, why I still blog and why I will keep blogging

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Blogging Archaeology

I had seen his post about the SAA 2014 blogging in archaeology session and the archaeological blogging carnival and I thought: shame, interesting but no time. Then I received an email from Doug (thank you for organising this!) And it started to nag me. I could not stop thinking that it’s good to think about these issues once every while. And it nagged and it nagged. Until yesterday morning in the shower the post was writing itself in my head. Bloggers unite and join #blogarch! I will and I will enjoy reading why other archaeological bloggers are blogging. Besides, what better to do on a snowy winter’s morning than blog about archaeology?

How does it work: Each month leading up to the SAA he will post a question. If you would like to answer this question, you blog about it, as will hopefully do a lot of other archaeology bloggers.

Why do I blog?

It all started about six years ago. I was not satisfied with the possibilities my department’s website gave me in developing my on-line presence. Over a few beers with my friend Ben (from the fantastic Version1) we discussed the possibilities and we came to the conclusions, it had to be a blog. So, I went on-line and discovered that there was a small community of blogging archaeologists, mostly young researchers and almost all in the English speaking world. It felt quite exciting to join them. So, I started hazelnut_relations and initially I set it up mostly as an online profile.

Soon it dawned on me this wordpress blog thing allowed me not only to build my own online profile, but that really it is a platform I could write on, about anything I wanted to write about! Ha! I liked writing and thought it might be good practice, if not a bit scary to do so in public. I was going to write about anything in archaeology I was interested in, whether Swiss archaeology, interesting bits of archaeological news, publications, my lost love The Palaeolithic, and my own research of course. My then unfunded PhD research progressed only ever so slowly while I was working pretty much full-time in archaeological services. Slowly, I found my niche in Swiss Archaeology, though. Over time I also felt I was finding my voice and was having more and more fun blogging.

Why am I still blogging?

I don’t think I have to explain to you how important it is that we, archaeologists, share our work with others. As a PhD student I have no budget for this, but I don’ need to: the blog is free and allows me to share my work and what we are finding out about our past, whether it is my PhD research or other projects I am involved in.

Secondly, blogging allows me to share this, not only with the general public, but also with fellow archaeologists near and far, with my friends and family and with the stakeholders in my project. This latter point has become more important since I became part of a larger project and we got funding for our project in October 2012 and the number of stakeholders subsequently increased significantly (but do you read this blog at all, stakeholders?). Thirdly, this public funding also increases our obligation to communicate our work.

The funding has had an influence on my blogging in yet another way: It meant I am now working full-time on my PhD and only do a few small research projects on the side, allowing me to specialise. Regular readers know that these days I focus mostly on alpine archaeology and on microscopic use wear analysis of Late Mesolithic chipped stone artefacts. As far as I am aware I am the only blogging Swiss archaeology PhD student. And in general, only a few Swiss archaeologists are professionally active on social media. A shame, I think (JOIN ME!), as, really, although I am not originally from Switzerland, I am quite proud of the work that we do here and I am determined to brag about it!

Point five: The Mesolithic is a fascinating part of human history. Be honest, who can resist being intrigued by the changes taking places during the early Holocene, as the ice retreated and new wonderful ideas and foods and knowledge arrived in our parts of the world? So, as a colleague once wrote to me: “Long Live The Mesolithic!

Why do you blog and still blog? I think to answer that you have to also answer the question: who you write for? However, the question of audience is particular tricky in my case.

I work in country with four official languages and working and living in regions that are officially bilingual, doesn’t make it easier. Working here it is also impossible not to connect with the German, French and Italian speaking regions only a stone’s throw away. Moreover, one of my supervisors is from the UK and the world of use wear analysis is quite international. In the end I decided on writing in English, but even after almost six years I am not completely sure about this decision. On the one side, would you be reading this had I written this in German or French? On the other hand, I fear I now exclude some of the local general public. So, who do I write for?

Actually, although I am truly grateful for and – to be honest – really quite flattered by the small audience I have out there and I really hope you enjoy coming by here once every while (let me know who you are sometime!), I think I mostly write for myself. The writing really is good practice and sometimes writing for my blog about issues I am dealing with in my research helps me thinking them through. It forces me to think clearly and more honestly. It is a bit like a mental purification. Sometimes, I even start writing a blog post that then does not even make it onto the blog and turns into part of my thesis or an article. By now, I see this blog as an intregral part of my PhD and professional identity.

So, that is why I blog and am still blogging and will keep blogging for a while.

P.S. But I would not mind if blogging, or science communication in general, also got some sort of support from my department, faculty or university. (If only it would qualify for an ECTS point. I need 12 for my PhD, thank you very much.)

Sickles? You’ve been wondering about sickles?

In Switzerland the Neolithic first becomes really visible around 4300 BC, in fact it bursts onto the scene quite extravagantly. Palafittes, Seeufersiedlungen, lake side villages. Because of the fantastic preservation of organic finds such as wood and bone, they are the showstoppers of Swiss archaeology.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Wood and flint. Adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

I have been wondering about sickles lately. About sickles of the earliest Neolithic and perhaps the latest Mesolithic and about the way they were used and what they might have been used to harvest. As finds of any kind dating to the earliest Neolithic up to about 4500 BC are very very rare in what is now Switzerland, it makes sense to use the fantastic archaeological archive of the Lake side villages. (Sickles also play quite a role in the history of use wear analysis and more here.)

4500 BC. That is when the Late Neolithic starts here. Before that there are a barely visible Early (from ca. 5500 BC) and Middle Neolithic (from ca. 5000 BC). We known of a few sites dating to the Early Neolithic, though. Some very rare

LBK settlements are found, mostly in those few scraps of Swissness north of the Rhine, such as two sites in Gächlingen, Schaffhausen and Bottmingen/Bäumliackerstrasse, Basel. A small remnant of an early deposit at the site of Herznach-Unterdorf, in the Aargauer Jura might be the first place where LBK pottery was found south of the Rhine (JbAS 2013, p. 172). Further “Neolithic” finds are know from unstratified contexts or from sites otherwise attributed to the Late Mesolithic. This includes La Hoguette pottery fragments and/or Bavans projectile points from, for example Baulmes/Abri de la Cure and Mont la Ville/Col du Mollendruz, Abri Freymond or sites in the canton of Lucerne. And indeed from Lutter/St. Joseph (FR), one of the two sites from which I am studying finds for my PhD, Grossgartach pottery is known. Lastly, occasionally occupation layers older than the Late Neolithic lake side villages are observed underneath Late Neolithic deposits, but the evidence is scant and there is not much more to say about these or the sickles that might once have been used by the people living in Bottmingen or in Baumles or Lutter. In the Alsace, North of my study sites, relatively many Early Neolithic sites are known.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. Adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. The extention at the top of the photo will have had a similar function as the hook on the sickle shown below.
Figure adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Together with the archaeobotanical discussion about cereal-type pollen from off-site locations, the small Early Neolithic archaeological record leaves many questions unanswered. Questions about the definition of the “Neolithic” and “Mesolithic”, about the economies of the 7th and 6th millennium BC, about harvesting technologies and their first appearances in the archaeological record of the region. Naturally, this will all feature in my PhD research, in fact I have already conducted harvesting experiments (and here). But what do these sickles look like? Their striking variation is shown by the examples shown here. They are some of the older, well preserved sickles from Swiss (Late) Neolithic lake side villages. So, yes, sickles.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. The hook at the end of the sickle (right) supposedly was used to collect a bunch of stems which can be grabbed with the free hand and then be cut with the sickle blade.
Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

P.S. I thought I would not bother you with references to scientific literature this time. Many can be found on hazelnut_relations. But do get in touch if you have questions.