Historic England Bursary Attendee Comments

Daniel-Manson Sharmon (Cambridge Archaeological Unit):

First off I should say a bit about me; so I graduated from Bournemouth in 2011 with a BSc  in archaeology, I am also a zooarchaeologist and I am currently a Project supervisor at Cambridge Archaeological Unit with over 5 years’ experience in the commercial sector.  So going into the conference I had a general idea of the process of isotope analysis but I certainly recommend that like me if you are not up-to-date with the techniques ( mainly what the data values mean), then some extra reading is a must as it was certainly a challenge following what specific data sets meant unless the speaker was kind enough to talk about them in straight forward terms.

On the whole all the talks were interesting in their own way, but obviously for me working in the commercial sector the talks based on sites of later prehistory and beyond in the UK are of the most interest. The 2nd day of talks was all about examining diet and subsistence and focused on sites mainly in the UK and surrounding area, some of these talked about; identifying different diets in Romano British populations, evidence of dairy, identifying fish and marine consumption and changes in cereal production. Now these subjects are interesting to me as they focus around some of the questions as a site supervisor I ask while excavating and during post excavation analysis, such as what are the changes in diet through time at this site, what practices are changing and what are the effects on the population.

I feel that after attending the conference I now have a better understanding of different approaches and analytical techniques I can utilise in order to gain more information from site. Attending further UKAS conferences is something I certainly will do in the future and I definitely would recommend them to others in the commercial sector.

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Kath Hunter Dowse (Hemulen Archaeobotany):

I would like to thank Heritage England and the organisers of UKAS19 for providing the bursary which allowed me to attend the conference this year. As a freelance archaeobotanist working in the commercial sector It was great to have the opportunity to hear about academic research projects. I never knew I knew so little about isotopes. It was heartening to see so many young women and men involved in Archaeological Science. Fostering links between academia and commercial archaeology in such a friendly environment is to be recommended. Hopefully these bursaries will bring more field archaeologists to the conference in the future.

Archaeobotanist @ Hemulen Archaeobotany.

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Emma Ings (Avon Archaeology Limited):

First of all, I would like to say a big thank you to Historic England for their bursary, which allowed me, a commercial archaeologist, to come to this conference. The conference organiser, Mike Buckley, was generous enough to allow me speak at the end of the conference about the huge potential for commercial and academic archaeology to work collaboratively, and indeed, I think the conference highlighted for me how much the two parties could be of use to each other.

Of the many fascinating talks, several stood out to me as being particularly useful for the commercial world. I found Elizabeth Stroud’s talk on the origins of medieval open-field systems helpful for Desk-Based Assessments, and talks on late Iron Age and Romano British farming by Emma Lightfoot and Lisa Lodwick should be referred to during the interpretation of large-scale commercial excavations. The results of Simon Hammann’s talk on dairy consumption between different social strata at Vindolanda was surprising, and made me rethink my assumption of a highly-stratified Roman social system. Lastly, Eleanor Joan Green’s research, revealing the absolute lack of correlation between the physical appearance and/or age of human skulls and their potential for genetic and isotopic analysis, was extremely pertinent for the choosing of bone samples for specialist investigation. I look forward to her upcoming research, when she can hopefully demonstrate a better selection process!

Thanks once to again to all the organisers which made this conference possible.

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Sharon Cook (Oxford Archaeology):

A very memorable and interesting three days. The central themes linked together well meaning that for those of us who had arrived with particular focusses (I personally had attended because of my interest in the Palaeoclimate and Environmental Change, and Diet and Subsistence sessions) there was plenty of relevance to be found in the remainder of the sessions as well as some fascinating conclusions and comparisons to be drawn across the conference as a whole and I now have a whole series of papers flagged up to read (and a whole new appreciation of coprolites).

The conference kicked off with the first session on Paleoclimate and Environmental Change. Ten papers covering research from Northern Europe to South Asia via Southern Africa and covering a period from the Late Glacial to the eighteenth century. This session was very wide in scope although the common theme and the complementary scientific methods brought the papers together into a coherent whole. While unsurprisingly the data was rather stable isotope heavy for those of us somewhat distanced from the university experience, the use of complementary techniques such as radiocarbon dating and environmental evidence such as pollen helped to enlarge the narrative and highlight some interesting common difficulties with and advantages of these methods.

My main focus in this section was primarily on the British material as this is relevant to my life in British commercial archaeology, especially the papers on Early Medieval Agriculture and the mapping of Sr isotope values in Southwestern England. However I very much enjoyed the opportunity to widen my experience and will definitely be looking further at some of the publications and journal papers mentioned. Today, research on ancient climate change seems especially relevant and topical.

The second session on Post-Domestication Adaptations was brief but rewarding, split as it was between animal adaptations and crops. As an archaeobotanist my primary interest was in the papers on Barley landraces and Emmer Wheat dispersal however, I found the animal data was in many ways also useful and the session worked well. This final session brought the first day to a close and left us all with brains full of information and ideas and the discussions held during the breaks in sessions were enthusiastic and full of ideas for further directions of research.

The second day began with the session on Diet and Subsistence. Nine papers with a more European emphasis (although a small detour to the Bering Sea was an interesting diversion). Again my main focus in this session was largely on the material from Vindolanda, Cirencester and the Roman agricultural economies which all covered themes I am personally interested in. The remaining papers kept my interest however, and the lipid analyses complimented the Stable Isotope work nicely giving a good overall coverage of methods and results in dietary investigation. I was particularly interested in the data produced on isotopic variation in Foxtail Millet as the differences in δ13C caused by differing watering regimes could have potential ramifications in other research.

The Plenary Lecture by Prof Richard Evershed began the session on Biomolecular Archaeology with an overlook on the phenomenon of lactase persistence and non-persistence within populations drawing archaeological and modern data together to question longstanding assumptions on dairy exploitation in both the past and present.

The six further papers which formed this session were varied and covered archaeological case studies, material sciences and methods and techniques giving an interesting overview of the subject. I was particularly interested in the work on parchment manufacturing and collagen degeneration and the use of DNA analysis on elephant tusks from West Africa which has potential implications in the tracing of the origins of modern herds and how human activity has affected the extent of their ranges. Discussion on the improvement of stable isotope sampling for sulfur using smaller quantities of collagen in the final presentation was technically useful and has implications in the ability to gain data from assemblages that previously would not have produced sufficient material.

The final day comprised three sessions on Mobility and Migration, Imaging and Chemical Analysis and Biological Anthropology producing a great variety in themes and materials studied over the course of the day. The initial session gave interesting insights into human mobility through a combination of studies of human and animal remains and artefacts using a variety of techniques. I personally was most interested in the use of techniques to trace dietary changes from predominantly C3 to the introduction of C4 plants in the discussion on Mongolian dairying.

The Imaging and Chemical Analysis session comprised eight papers covering topics as diverse as the black ‘goo’ in Egyptian coffins to Lead in human remains in Newfoundland, via Russian ceramics, Chinese glass, and coprolites. All of them fascinating in very different ways with a wider range of materials and techniques than many of the previous sessions. Again I admit to having personal favourites among the papers, being interested in the identification of lipid biomarkers to identify the origins of faecal tissue (which sounds strange without the context of my frequently working with cess deposits) and the work on mortuary practices in South West England. All of the papers were interesting and it was a pleasure once again to hear about research in areas which fall outside of my main research interests and geographical knowledge.

The final session on Biological Anthropology returned the theme to human remains with five papers ranging in scale from regional studies to in-depth research on single individuals or small local populations. Showing how the broad brush strokes of population analysis can be given flesh by the study of the lives of ordinary working people, and the understanding of small groups with atypical lives such as monastic communities can highlight difference among the ordinary people they lived alongside.

All in all a fascinating if exhausting three days which left me with a mind full of information and further questions. It will take me some time, I think, to finish digesting the data (and reading all the papers I have flagged in my notes as must reads) and I am very much looking forward to the publication of results from a number of these projects many of which I had not initially expected to find as fascinating as they turned out to be. Questions were asked as to whether the conference should in future continue to have a single session at a time or if it would be more efficient to have multiple sessions simultaneously, I have to say that I personally would like the current format to continue. I think I would have missed out on some fascinating research if I had been unable to attend all the sessions and there is potential for several of these projects to have cross disciplinary applications which would not have been as noticeable if they had been discussed in isolation.

I would like to give some thanks, firstly to Sue Stallibrass and Historic England whose bursary provision enabled me to attend the conference. Mike Buckley who answered a multitude of strange questions in the run up to the conference and together with the rest of the organisational team did a wonderful job of making us all feel comfortable and engaged over the course of the conference and pulled together a great few days of knowledge and entertainment. The speakers without whom the conference could not of course have happened and the staff of the University of Manchester who helped us feel at home.

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Tom Keyworth (Trent & Peak Archaeology):

Thanks to Historic England I was fortunate enough to be able to attend UKAS 2019 in Manchester thanks to the bursary, without the help of which, I would not have been able to otherwise attend.

Coming from commercial archaeology, it was refreshing to see so much research being done on sites from within the UK. Very good research is conducted within the setting of commercial units, and most of the time it is undertaken working alongside colleagues from within academia. It was interesting, following discussions with other attending commercial archaeologists, and especially after not being immersed in an academic setting for some time, to also see the potential for what further collaboration between developer lead and research archaeology could produce.

It was also a welcome change to hear about research and sites from outside of the UK, as after so much time working primarily in one region, in a small country, you sometimes forget about the rest of the world!
With that in mind it is worth considering the presence of something that was a feature of almost of every presentations first or final slide: the acknowledgement of EU relating funding. The impact the potential loss of EU related funding might have on archaeological science research is troubling and now, more than ever, it is worth considering how the two different branches of archaeology within the UK can work more closely together.

Thanks are also extended to the organisers of the conference, Mike Buckley, and his colleagues.

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Povilas Cepauskas (York Archaeological Trust):

For a commercial practitioner working with an archaeological unit that is not directly attached to a higher education establishment the opportunity to attend UKAS 2019 conference in Manchester was a new experience. It was refreshing to hear about all of the research projects that are not developer funded and raised ideas on how certain scientific methods could be used in projects I am currently involved with.

Social events were a great opportunity to interact with researchers and discuss how commercial and academic archaeology could work together. It became clear that links between developer funded and academic archaeology could be better. Establishing links for possible  data exchange was a key achievement and will hopefully lead to closer cooperation in the future.

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