Monday, 29 April 2013

Archaeometry problem? NU-ACCESS is here to help

An introduction to the Northwestern University-Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) by Dr Francesca Casadio:

Professor Katherine T Faber of Northwestern University and
Dr Francesca Casadio of the Art Institute of Chicago are the co-directors of NU-ACCESS
"These days, scientific research has become an integral part of any serious plan of study of fine arts, archaeological findings or about any other tangible object that constitutes our shared cultural patrimony.

Many major Art Museums in the world have been equipped with state-of the art scientific instrumentation since the beginning of the 20th century (unless you are the Rathgen Research Laboratory of the Berlin State Museums, which led the pack being founded in 1888). Increasingly, portable instruments such as x-ray fluorescence spectrometers, Raman spectrometers, diffractometers and hyperspectral imaging devices are not only the tools of space exploration, but are brought to museum collections and sites for materials-based archaeology (or archaeometry).

So, what happens if you are one of those cultural institutions or archaeological sites, or historical buildings with a really compelling materials-question and you don’t have your own in-house scientist, clad in a white lab-coat? In Europe, you call up Charisma, the Cultural Heritage Advanced Research Infrastructures: Synergy for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Conservation/ Restoration, and in no time a nimble van, jam-packed with the latest and greatest in portable equipment, will come at your doorsteps to solve the problem at hand (it is not quite like that, but close).

In the US, until recently your only option was to rely on the kindness of a scientist at a cultural institution, or a chemistry professor in academia, a physicist at a large scale facility or, if you had a budget, one of a handful of conservation scientists in private practice. Since January 2013 though, you can call up a scientist at NU-ACCESS, and it’s their job to listen and steer you towards a successful project proposal, that, if approved, will be carried out competently at no cost to your institution.

The Northwestern University-Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) is a collaborative endeavour in conservation science that pursues
objects-based and objects-inspired scientific research to advance the role of science within art history, curatorial scholarship, archaeology, and conservation. The goals of the collaborative program are to enrich the breadth, scope, and reach of scientific studies in the arts and in the wider field of conservation in the United States and abroad, by leveraging resources at the Art Institute and materials-related departments at Northwestern University.

The conservation science partnership, funded over six years with a generous gift of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will offer its scientific tools and expertise to users, facilitating interdisciplinary research partnerships in art studies and conservation on a national scale. Academic researchers and scholars in training will meet and engage in mutual learning with scientists, conservators and curators.

This landmark initiative represents a tectonic shift from the isolated museum scientist to a collaborative hub that will serve as incubator of new ideas.

While the scientists won’t come to you with a private jet full of scientific equipment (after all, this is America, and the Charisma van would not be practical to cross its vast expanse), curators, conservators, archaeologists, librarians and others interested in investigating the materials aspect of our shared cultural heritage, develop innovative techniques to conduct such investigations and preserve artifacts, sites, buildings and documents for future generations should consult the center’s website to check on current activities and to submit a research proposal."

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Who are they and what do they do? Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society

Interview at the 78th Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting

Sarah Herr, Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society (AAHS)

When and why was the AAHS founded?
The AAHS was founded in 1916 when Tucson was still a young American town with a lot of archaeology yet to be discovered. Tucson is a place with over 4,000 years of continuous history. It was a natural place for a state museum focusing on archaeology, and this was founded in 1893, starting in small basements of buildings a on the campus of The University of Arizona. Over the years it accumulated a variety of Native American artefacts but remained underfunded so wealthy local businessmen set out to support the museum by establishing the society. The AAHS in a non-profit, volunteer organization that has remained affiliated with the Arizona State Museum throughout its almost 100 year history. In 1935, Father Victor Stoner a local and highly revered priest started the journal KIVA as a means to get the eminent Byron Cummings, director of the museum, to publish his research. That didn’t work particularly well, but the journal caught on and has become the most widely-known aspect of the society.
What are the main objectives of the AAHS as an organisation?
The AAHS is a binary organisation with a membership that is both avocational and professional. Examples of its goals to serve these audiences include:
Working with and teaching a local contingent of active members who are volunteers, about the archaeology and history of the region through lectures on ‘hot topics’ and field trips,

Supporting the work of professional archaeologists in the region through publishing the latest research on the region in the peer-reviewed journal KIVA

Helping students of archaeology with scholarships to attend field schools and national conferences such as the Society for American Archaeology annual meetings.

How does the importance of discoveries made in these regions compare to other regions in North America?
Arizona is part of the society’s name but our focus extends to the neighbouring states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and the northern Mexican of Sonora and Chihuahua.
The Greater Southwest is a unique place as there was a substantial Native American population and although they too were displaced and moved to reservations by the government they were not sent across the country but continue to live somewhat adjacent to their ancestral lands. Therefore there’s a long history in the region from 12,000 years ago to today. It’s not easy to trace back that far but the people are very connected to their past. Archaeologists in the region can use science and ethnography to collect information that we hope is of interest to descendant communities, about the histories and journeys of their ancestors.
It is also a semi-arid region where the archaeology is very well preserved. Arizona is where tree ring dating was developed, and sometimes archaeologists can date a site to a single year or season, so we can talk about archaeology in single human generations not just “eras” or “phases” as with other regions around the world. It is also known as the ‘laboratory of American archaeology’ as it is the best place to try out new methods and test theories, because we can talk about change more readily than is possible elsewhere.

Another reason that archaeology here is important is that Arizona shares a border with Mexico. On the other side of the international border, laws change about how you can practice archaeology and funding for projects becoming restricted. Most project funding stops at the US border. Traditional peoples and the archaeology don’t change over this line. Organisations like the AAHS provide the opportunity to learn more about Mexican archaeology and therefore the bigger picture of North American archaeology.
What is the single most important archaeological discovery made in these regions?
There are a lot of possible answers to these questions! I have two answers – it can be argued that significant discoveries have been made in Arizona in every century. This includes mammoth finds that reveal the human/animal relationships of the Paleoindians in the late Pleistocene era up to the history of Hopi and Zuni communities.

A couple of years ago the first canal-fed field systems were discovered in the region. This shed light on how agriculture, which started in Central America, moved  to North America in to the Tucson basin. You can see the canals coming from the river, where they dammed and even individual planting holes where corn, amongst other crops, was grown. This site has the potential to tell us about  knowledge farmers had as they moved into new environments.
We also have the ability to look at how important movement is to Native peoples. The Southwestern USA is a newly occupied place compared to Europe and the Old World. Paleoindians came to the New World more than 12,000 years ago and spread rapidly across the America from Alaska to the south American.  Later, people who spoke Athabaskan, the ancestors of the Navajo and the Apache peoples, have a different set of movements. The histories recalled by Native American groups in the Southwest are filled with stories of their travels and the places that recall their history. Their journeys can be charted through the landscapes rock art, and archaeological sites which are their “footprints.” The movement of peoples is a hot topic in archaeology and the archaeology of the Southwestern USA is no longer static, as we can match histories, stories and songs to the region from over half the continent.
What are the future plans of the AAHS?
The AAHS is approaching its 100th birthday in 2016. the all-volunteer Board is looking towards modernizing its services to membership with a better communication through an updated and improved website, making the monthly newsletter attractive to wider audiences, and making Kiva more available as publication practices transition from paper to electronic.

Monday, 15 April 2013

NEW EVENT: 2013 International Rock Art Congress

The eyes of the rock art world will turn to Albuquerque, New Mexico during Memorial Day week 2013 (26th - 31st May), when the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO) will convene its International Rock Art Congress.

IFRAO is a consortium of more than fifty international rock art research associations, who explore the many facets of rock art – the study of prehistoric human-made markings found on stone in natural landscape settings.  The local hosting organization is American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA).

Albuquerque provides an excellent portal for exploration of Southwestern cultures and rock art.  The theme “Ancient Hands Around the World” is designed to bring together the diverse interests of the many people who study and work to conserve the pictographs and petroglyphs in all countries. Depictions of hands are found in rock art of all cultures and in all time periods, and their symbolism portrays the goal of assembling researchers from across the globe to share their experiences and knowledge.

The conference is open to all—professional archaeologists and interested avocationalists alike. In keeping with the international agenda established over the past years, the conference will offer four days of oral and poster presentations in sessions organised by topics, and Wednesday will be devoted to field trips for all attendees. Other special cultural events are planned throughout the week including evening lectures open to the public, dances by local Pueblo groups, social events and vendor offerings of rock art related merchandise. Opportunities to book extended field trips before and after the Congress will also be available.

A small sampling of session topics will include Rock Art in Asia and the Pacific; Great Mural Traditions of the American Southwest; Research in Chinese Rock Art; and Gender and Sexual Dynamics in Rock Art, to cite only a few of the very interesting subjects on offer.  There will be a special session devoted to student research and the official languages of the Congress will be English and Spanish. 

>> Register as a delegate online

Monday, 8 April 2013

Small but perfectly formed: the Herculaneum Conservation Project

Following last week’s BBC documentary ‘The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum’ and the successful exhibition at The British Museum, ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’, I had a root around in the Maney Publishing archives for an expert perspective on Pompeii’s less famous but equally fascinating neighbour.
Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites published a special issue in 2006 on the Herculaneum Conservation Project, set up by David W. Packard. The aim of the project was to assist the Italian government in the preservation of this small village which was encompassed in volcanic material by the same eruption of Vesuvius that blanketed Pompeii in ash and pumice pebbles in AD 79.The editors explain the importance of both preserving the site for archaeological record and also of the project as an example of what can be achieved by the cooperation of privately funded institutions and government. This collaboration seems to have only strengthened over the years with the spotlight now deservedly shining on this perfect snapshot of life two thousand years ago.

The following is an excerpt from the editorial of the special issue:

“The Herculaneum Conservation Project – the subject of all the papers in this issue – is notable for a number of reasons. The site of Herculaneum, together with its larger neighbour Pompeii which has tended to overshadow it in tourist itineraries and in the popular imagination, is extraordinary for the degree of preservation of its Roman townscape. Few sites are able to evoke the sensation of exploring the streets of 2000 years ago in the way that Herculaneum does. Remarkable sites deserve remarkable projects of investigation and preservation, and this site has been no exception. Herculaneum was first explored in the 18th century, mainly by means of tunnelling horizontally through the volcanic ash deposits that had buried the site to a depth of many metres. This was itself a technical feat at that time even if discouraged nowadays as an excavation technique. Then, in the 20th century, the work of Amedeo Maiuri has become a classic example of a long-term excavation campaign in which the restoration of well-preserved excavated buildings proceeded in tandem with their exposure. There are striking parallels with Arthur Evans’ work at Knossos in the 1920s and 1930s that deserve further study. In both cases, restoration was justified on the grounds that the buildings, though well preserved, would have collapsed once exhumed from their surrounding deposit. Moreover, on both sites similar ‘cutaway’ techniques were employed to show to visitors the upper storeys of buildings while making it evident that they were partially restored.

And now, equally remarkable, is the current initiative of the Packard Humanities Institute in undertaking the long-term campaign of site preservation that is reported in this volume. The initiative was stimulated by the very poor condition of a site that had been, and deserved to continue to be, a principal visitor attraction and locus for archaeological research. The public–private partnership that sustains the project brings together the regional public body that is responsible for Pompeii and its neighbouring sites and the private Packard Humanities Institute based in the USA. It is the first of its kind in Italy, having been made possible thanks to recent changes in Italian heritage legislation. It deserves to be a model for all situations in which slow-moving bureaucracies and management systems ill-adapted to the 21st century tend to create obstacles instead of embracing the flexibility and innovation that is needed in site management. The papers in this issue describe the success of a private foundation in introducing flexibility into a rigid state system while keeping in mind the long-term aim of facilitating the sustainable management of the site by those authorities that remain officially responsible for it.”
>> Download the entire special issue for free until Tuesday 16th April 2013

>> ‘The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum’ on the BBC

>> ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at The British Museum

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

NEW EVENT: ArcLand Conference

From Known Knowns to Unknown Unknowns: Remotely Detecting the Past
9th - 10th May 2013

Wood Quay Venue, Civic Offices, Dublin

Over the past few years the extent and quality of information available from satellites, airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) and aerial photography has grown exponentially. These techniques, collectively referred to as remote sensing, have had an enormous impact on our ability to reveal past landscapes and disseminate knowledge about those landscapes. The results of this work can be both visually exciting and intellectually engaging.
This two day conference brings together a series of speakers to showcase these techniques and the uses to which they can be put. This conference will specifically explore how remote sensing and its results can be used within the sectors of:

           Heritage management and legislation
           Education including: secondary, third level and continual development
           Community heritage and citizen science
Book a place at the K2U2 event

ArchaeoLandscapes Europe offers a small number of bursaries/grants to support students and young scholars to participate in ArcLand-related events and activities. Forms for grant applications can be found on the ArcLand webpage and should be sent to the project leader via email by 5th April 2013.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The bare bones of it: ignore the hype, believe the reality

Robin Skeates
It has been billed as the exhibition everyone should see. “Rare and beautiful’ says The Telegraph, “Astonishing” says Metro, so it seems a perfect fit to have
Robin Skeates
, an expert in prehistoric Europe at Durham University, weigh in on ‘Ice Age Art: The Arrival of the Modern Mind’ at The British Museum for the first post to ‘Can you dig it?’.
“There may be no such thing as reality these days (Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation killed it off), but if you go and see the ‘Ice Age Art’ exhibition at the British Museum (open until the 26th May) your faith in the ‘real thing’ might be partially restored.
On display is a great collection of Palaeolithic portable art, assembled from museums across Europe – from France to Russia. Even the über-figurine, the Venus of Willendorf, is present … in the form of a curvaceous bar of hand-made, vegan soap from Shetland on sale in the exhibition shop. But the original Palaeolithic objects are compelling – to the extent that my fellow visitors simply ignored most of the modernist artworks placed alongside them for comparative purposes. Having seen many of the artefacts in photographs, it was revealing to figure out the true scale of these objects, to be reminded just how many were carved from the bones of hunted animals, to see details such as the skirt on the Venus of Lespugne, to imagine the leaping horse baton from Montastruc being used in motion, to fall in love with a little modelled fish from the same site, and to feel guilty at gazing a little too long at the breasts on a stick-figurine from Dolní Vestonice. It was also somehow reassuring to see how fragmentary and fragile objects such as the ‘Lion Man’ from Stadel Cave really are. And seeing all these things together made them seem more feasible, more real.

So, ignore the media hype, ignore the uninspiring text panels, and ignore – if you can – the pervasive, high-pitched, electro-acoustic dripping noises that accompany the video montage of cave art (or was it someone’s mobile phone dying?). The real thing is so much better. And for those of you who still don’t believe in reality, you must see the original of the exhibition poster image – a tiny figurine of yellow steatite on loan from the Musée des antiquités nationales at Saint Germain en Laye, which bought it in 1896 from Louis Alexandre Jullien, who ‘found’ it in one of the Balzi Rossi caves: it’s probably a fake!”

Read more about the exhibition.