SciBlogs

Archive February 2013

What in Earth???? Brigid Gallagher Feb 19

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So you are looking to buy or develop a nice piece of land on our beautiful New Zealand coastline?

I can see it now…the long gin and tonic, the slice of lime, the sound of native birds hopping about a canopy of lush green native flora…

Yerrrkkkkk!!!!

Whats that?

There is an archaeological site in your land??!?!

What in earth is an archaeological site anyway?

In the New Zealand Archaeological Associations digital database ArchSite it is a small red dot usually with a large black rectangle attached to it, and a number next to it.

On the New Zealand Historic Places Trust register it is probably not there.

On your local district plan it might be a green dot with, a number  next to it.

A LINZ or PINZ report will show it as a small mark, like a dot, too.  With a larger shape attached encapsulating a larger area.

My dot, oh I meant point, is that archaeological sites are typically not as small as a single dot when seen in reality.  Very often you cant see them when driving your car for the hundredth time past your perfect bit of land… Very often they are invisible from the surface,

Archaeological sites are literally IN the earth.

They have the potential to be lurking anywhere just under the ground surface.  And reason they are in the earth… is because they were here before any of us.  They are the physical remains of peoples ancestors…real people, real New Zealanders.

Just like people today, when a family or a community decides to put down roots and build a house, or a village, or a swimming pool complex,

they spread out, some mess is made and sometimes that mess and rubbish is left behind after the building, or playing, or living is done….

well the same happened with people who left their mark in the earth many many moons ago.

In the scenario in my head…perhaps out came the tools, then came the wood, in went the windows, somebody cooked the lunch, and over there is where the rubbish went every day after lunch.  And no, like you, I don’t like sitting next to rotting rubbish while I eat my lunch…and I can’t imagine many others do either?

So, lets put that rubbish a few meters away in this hot summer sun, and then it doesn’t matter much if the birds come and help themselves to the left overs, the ants wont become bothersome, and my nose can retain the sweet smell of our beautiful nature and I can still enjoy the sound and vision of the waves gently crashing against the sand.

Ah, space!  The great kiwi outdoors!  Wide open spaces, lots of places to roam, many places to explore!  The best campground ever!  It has always been the same…

Our past heritage is more than just a drop in the ocean of time…sorry a dot in the landscape,

Archaeological sites make way more sense when you connect the dots and understand that nobody makes a single piece of mess in a lifetime, loose their possessions in one small defined place or has a house that they never leave; we and our ‘things’ have the potential to spread!  

The conclusion: New Zealands human past took place in one large camp site…across wide open spaces, with lots of places to roam.  But all of them connected in some way.

Moral: When the campground needs to develop and make additions, it is quite likely that the physical remains of earlier camp dwellers will be found in the earth, and not just where the council, the NZAA or the NZHPT have put their dot. This is no nasty trick, this is just what happens.

And that folks is archaeology.  More than just a dot in space and time….its a hidden landscape in the earth.

cin cin!

(the author is not responsible for the quality of her content…she has diminished responsibility on account of repetitive questioning regarding the existence and size of archaeological sites :)

(note: I am not referring to a real campground, this is a metaphor ;)

 

 

Baldrick’s Cunning Plan? Brigid Gallagher Feb 12

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For all the archaeologists, history buffs, enthusiasts and Time Team (Tony Robinson) fans out there – Baahahaahahahahaha!

 

Richard III – A Right Royal Scientific Synthesis Recipe Brigid Gallagher Feb 11

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My text and email has been alive the past weeks.  ”You must be really fascinated”, ” WOW, is it cool!”, “Have you been watching news”.

What has it all been about?  Richard the III of course!

The coolest thing about this?

Is that the use of a well know person or family can drag archaeology and heritage out of the past and into the future, and todays  reality.  The biggest curse of heritage is that people cant see the point of doing it, hearing about it, accommodating it in today’s society.  A story like Richard III cuts through all of that.

A story about a royal immediately gives flesh to the subject.  You see the paintings, read the text (even Shakespeare’s version), can visit the castles, the churches, and the carpark if you fancy it.  It is tangible.  On the outside it feels as though anybody, anytime, can make a discovery like this!

Most skeletons excavated in the UK never have a name.  The report reads “‘Joe or Jane Doe’, lived a long time ago…probably this time based on the ‘other’ information/features found during the excavation (he style of the pottery, the method and imagery on the painted glass windows, the direction of the burial etc).  Most of the time their statistics are recorded along with their probable age range, gender and any evidence of disease of lifestyle on the bone, and reburied.  In the past they were probably put in a box and taken to a storeroom for later study, maybe.

This story, with the science DNA analysis brings gives credibility to a story that really is just about people at the end of the day…ok a rich and powerful one, who may or may not have been really evil and murderous, with the appearance of a hunchback…but a story that connects many NZers back to the ‘motherland’ and its royal associations, and is all about the celebs or ‘it’ people of the past.  What girl has not wanted to marry a Prince, and be a Princess at some point?

This story at its heart is about a lot of people, all producing layers of information that can be brought together to tell a whole story, that society can relate to.  And like most projects there was probably a whole lot of leg work done by enthusiasts well before the archaeologists, University and tv companies got involved.

But once they did get involved…well this is my interpretation of the Royal scientific synthesis recipe used in the finding of King Rich:

Before you start the mixing:

Do your reading, know the story, further the research, then locate a skeleton from under a car park in Leicester;

PART 1:

1. record the size, profile and position of the grave cut

2. draw the position of the skeleton and any other burial elements (coffin nails, shrouds etc)

3. discuss the fit of the skeleton in the grave cut, and the condition (even neatness) of the grave itself

4. conclude on who did it and how the body would have been buried.

PART 2

1. Record the detail in the bones (were missing body parts contemporary with the life of the person or occur post burial, aging and gender evidence etc)

2. Record evidence of physical stress and disease/illness on the bone, like scoliosis

3. Compare the historic documents/images of potential candidates with the information from the skeleton

4. Discuss, discuss, discuss

5. Conclude on the person/family the skeleton is most likely to originate from

PART 3

1. Sample the skeleton, in this case the teeth and femur

2. Trace possible direct descendants, using peerage information, and the female lines (for the mitochondrial DNA)

3. Sample the DNA of the possible descendant

4. DNA analysis……

….Months later

PART 4

1. Report the findings….

2. Give a face to the person (through facial reconstruction techniques for example)

3. Allow time for critique, positive and negative to occur

4. Wait to see if there is an increase in funding available for DNA analysis to connect with people today, an increase in media attention given to archaeology and an increase in tourist visitors to the associated places.

….Months later

PART 5

Report the findings in a peer reviewed journal – confirmation to critics and peers the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

PART 6

Use the information and the story to maintain PART 4, point 4 above into the future.

If the story of Richard the III invigorates the interest of society, funders, institutions and next LOTTO winner in heritage projects then that makes for a very tasty outcome to me!

You can hear some of my thoughts on this on Radio NZ <iframe src=”http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=2545744″ width=”100%” frameborder=”0″ height=”62px”></iframe> 

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