Early stage PhD conference hopping

In October 2012 I was able to make a second start with my PhD research. Together with Laure Bassin I am now part of the “Gestures of Transition” project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The first scrap of funding was spent bumming around Europe, going from conference to conference. And a great idea it was! Three countries, three conferences, three themes that cover what my career has gravitated towards the past ca. 4 years: alpine archaeology, the Mesolithic (esp. the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition) and microscopic use-wear analyses.

In October I found myself in Faro, Portugal for the Usewear2012 conference

(next meeting will be in Leiden, Netherlands.) It was by far the largest and most specialised of the three conferences. Regular visitors to this blog will know that my PhD research concerns the use wear analysis of central European Late Mesolithic chipped stone tools. The three days allowed a beginning use wear annalist valuable insights into current use wear research (from here on UW) from Europe, Asia, the Americas and northern Africa.

Most presentations, were about, what I guess could be called `classic´ UW studies. These were not limited to chipped stone artefacts, but also included metal, bone and ground stone artefacts. Interesting were also the attempts to move the methodology forwards, often through experimentation or the application of new technologies or the application of known technology to new materials, e.g. K. Knutsson and N. Taipale working on scandinavian Mesolithic Quartz assemblages. I was quite surprised most researchers still rely on B/W imagery. I understand that these images act as a kind of vocabulary amongst UW annalists. However, surely using colour imagery would add another diagnostic layer to UW traces? Besides, is it not possible these days to produce good quality colour images without sinking your department into dept?

Cost also seem to be an important factor in the application of (other) new technologies. The result: archaeologists trying to use self built constructions to obtain similar results to those that can be gained using equipment and software well established in other disciplines and industries. One does wonder if it would not often be possible to get access to laboratory equipment by cooperating with fellow archaeological or non-archaeological institutes and colleagues. On the one hand, one should encourage inventiveness. On the other, why not use your resources effectively? Still, there is great work being done and advances are being made combining experimentation and the application of old and new technologies and ideas!

You might have noticed that I write about institutes and departments. It seems the UWA world is largely an academic world. State institutes were only present through association with academic institutes. At the end, it was a positive impression I left Faro with. Not in the least because a substantial part of the presented research was on Mesolithic material I was able to make some interesting comparisons with my own beginning UWA project. Moreover, it was great to see some current Palaeolithic research. During my MA I concerned myself almost exclusively with Palaeolithic archaeology and it is not a regular topic of my archaeological work these days. To top it off, even some alpine archaeology (e.g. N. Mazzucco) passed us by.

Alpine archaeology was one of the subjects of the interdisciplinary Silvretta Historica meeting in Partenen in September. I was involved in the Rückwege Projekt, the archaeological fieldwork part of the Silvretta Historica project. The meeting was organised to exchange the many and varied research results. These range from historical research, prospective landscape modelling and palaeobotanical work amongst many other subjects, to the implementation of all these results into the touristic infrastructure of the Paznaun (AU) and the Unterengadin (CH). It was fascinating to see how our archaeological work fits into the larger natural and cultural landscape historical framework and how this is to be integrated into an existing touristic infrastructure. A pleasant and informal meeting in the Vorarlberger Alps.

Art rupestre mésolithique. Ile-de-France. A. Bérnard

Art rupestre mésolithique. Ile-de-France. A. Bérnard

My last stop was in Toulouse, France for the Table ronde “Jeunes chercheurs – Des techniques aux territories”. (A follow-up meeting will be held in honour of A. Thévenin in 2013.) Maybe not as specialised as Usewear2012 or as diverse as the Silvretta Historica meeting, but because of that there was something recognisable in most presentations, while providing enough width for it to be interesting for all. This and the predominance of younger researchers (PhD and post-doc) were really conductive to the atmosphere of collegiality and exchange.

One of the nice things about prehistoric archaeology is that our current national borders did not yet exist. This is a great excuse to look beyond national and cultural/lingual borders at what people are doing there. What is being found there is often equally relevant as the finds from our back gardens. Sadly, little Mesolithic research takes place in Switzerland, esp. at doctorate level. (Have a look at the poster I presented here, though.) It was thus interesting and fun to exchange thoughts about methods and results with others dealing with similar issues, questions and using similar methodologies. The Alps and use wear analysis were both part of the program again. It was well organised (great lunches!) and the ambience was very welcoming and friendly. Accordingly, much information and ideas were exchanged and I’d be surprised if these two days will not be the birthplace of some cooperative work in the near future.

Just because I can, I would like to draw your attention to one specific project presented in Toulouse: A group of amateur archaeologists around A. Bénard is doing fantastic work, documenting the stunning Mesolithic  rock art in the île-de-France (Bénard, 2011). C. Gueret is now planning to do (use wear) work on the lithics and is trying to find funding for some more 14C-dating.

It was perhaps the best thing I could have done this autumn to (re-)start my PhD. I might not have gotten as far with my own work as I might have hoped, but dipping my toes into these varied communities around Europe and getting a taste of what is happening was worth it. It is good to know my own research will be relevant to and be well situated firmly within its current research context. I met many great people, doing fascinating work and came back with renewed motivation. So my advice for all beginning a research project: travel!

Bénard, A., 2011, Introduction à l’Art Rupestre du sud de l’Ile-de-France, GERSAR, Milly-la-Foret, isbn 2-9513856-4-1

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