Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sheepy times at EAA in Glasgow

This week I going to Glasgow for the European Association of Archaeologists' annual jamboree. I am taking part in three sessions:

From isoscapes to farmscapes
This session (run by some people I've been looking forward to meeting for a while now) looks at how we can use isotopes to examine farming and land management strategies in the past. I'm going to be talking about the data from the sheep wool I collected from across Scandinavia and the Baltic region last year, how it relates to what the sheep ate, and how we can use it to understand wool trade in this region. If there's a prize for the punniest title at the conference, I reckon I'm in the running here: Ewe are what ewe eat: modern and medieval geographic patterns in sheep wool light stable isotopic composition :)

Global markets and local manufacturing: wool production and trade
Here I'm going to be talking about what makes a "good quality" wool fibre, and how we measure this quality in archaeology, in comparison to what people were looking for in the medieval period, or what modern Australian wool production is focused on. Not much about isotopes, except tangentially.

Integrating textile studies into the mainstream archaeology/anthropology curriculum 
Finally, Barbara Klessig and I are running a roundtable about teaching textiles in universities. (I've never even been to a roundtable at EAA before, so I'm not quite sure what's going to/supposed to happen here...) We hope this is going to be a space for people to discuss how to change the current situation in which most academic archaeologists know plenty about ceramics, something about metallurgy, and nothing at all about textiles. This hardly reflects the relative importance of these three crafts in the past, in our opinion...

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Playing three games at once

For a few years now, I have followed the blog of Michael E. Smith, who writes at Publishing Archeology. This week he posted about having multi- or inter-disciplinary papers rejected by journals, and mused on the idea that "...younger scholars should refrain from publishing transdisciplinary papers", at least until they have more professional stability.

This rang alarm bells with me, because my work is highly interdisciplinary. It combines agricultural ecology, protein chemistry, and archaeological artefact studies. So if this is true, then I should be very worried. I have now published 4 peer reviewed papers as first author (where I dealt with reviewers comments directly, so I know what was in them), and it is true that the only one that was rejected (from 3 journals, no less) was the one that combined archaeology and science most intimately. Two of these journals were mid/high-impact general science journals, and one was a high-profile archaeology journal (high for archaeology that is...), so it is possible that we were being too ambitious with it. 

So I asked my peer group for their thoughts on this issue. They made the following points:

1. It's different in America 
In America, archaeology is seen as part of anthropology (that is, definitely a social science), rather than as somewhere between history and geography (so partly a humanity and partly a science). The basic expectations of its inter- or trans-disciplinary nature are therefore different. 

2. Combining science with archaeology is different to combining sociology with archaeology
Archaeologists have been writing about how to combine scientific thinking with archaeology for a while now. The general consensus seems to be that they are different but can be combined. An introductory textbook to archaeological theory includes a chapter on "archaeology as a science". In Great Britain, there is a particularly strong association between archaeology and the sciences, and there are a number of international journals dedicated to science in archaeology. My work therefore nicely into the mental bin marked Scientific Archaeology. There is no such bin for Sociological Archaeology, despite the fact that anthropology is, for many, part of sociology, and although archaeology has nicked plenty of theories from sociologists, most repetitiously Marx.

3. Inter/trans-disciplinarity is more difficult than sticking to one discipline
Because you've got three times as much reading to do, and will inevitably have a lesser familiarity with every aspect of all combined disciplines than a mono-disciplinary scholar would have of their single discipline. So it shouldn't be surprising that genuine problems in work of this nature can be picked up at peer review in a discipline-focused journal. 

The corollary on the journal side is that inter-disciplinary work is more difficult to review adequately, as journal editors need to go beyond their typical reviewer pool and bring in people from outside the discipline to assess the work. (I don't mean that all editors have limited stables of preferred reviewers, rather that they know how to assess the suitability of people to review in their own discipline, and may not in others).

4. Two fingers to the fuddy-duddies
Yes, some academics are lazy and parochial. Don't let them stop you if the work is good.

All of which I will be taking to heart as I get an isotopes/textiles paper ready for publication... Kudos to Lisa, Steve, Freder and Kathryn for their generously shared wisdom and skepticism.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Weaving for the first time - Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

So at the end of the previous stage, the loom looked like this:
Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015

You can't weave like this, as all the threads are hanging flat in one plane. You need to divide them into (at least) two layers. Two layers is enough to be able to weave a tabby textile. This is the simplest cloth construction possible for a loom (baby steps for us).

The next stage was to rearrange the attachment of the warp threads to the weights. We divided each loop of thread we made last week into a forward thread and a backward thread, which alternate:
Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015

Then we attached all the forward threads to one set of weights, and all the backward ones to another:


Go to Part 3.


Weaving for the first time - part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2 here:

The final preparation stage was to set up the mechanism for changing the shed, that is bringing all the back threads forward and through the front ones to allow the weft to pass. To do this you have to individually attach each back thread to a heddle bar, which is fiddly:
Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015
We have 340 warp threads in total, so we had to tie 170 warp threads to the heddle. This took 3.5 hours, with four of us taking turns. OK, so we are probably slow because we are not experts, and were not rushing, but still.

Now the heddle is in place, it means you can do this, which moves the two warp systems through each other:
Heddle bar back. Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015

Heddle bar forward. Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015
The weights make a lovely soft clicking sound when you move the heddle.

If you put a weft thread through the gap between the warp threads between each heddle movement, this happens:
Weaving! Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015

You can see from the irregularities in the pic above (both the gaps in the warps and the unevenness in the weft) that we are not experienced at this, but we are still rather proud. :)

Next week for the live demo by the megalith! I think that simply getting the loom out of my office, down the stairs, and 300m across campus is going to be the hardest part...

Weaving for the first time - Part 1

This year, the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel is celebrating its 350th anniversary. My department's contribution to the celebrations is to build a replica megalith grave outside one of the canteens. This reflects the department's longstanding interest and experience in excavating this monument type in the local area.

As part of the celebrations, I was asked to set up and run the department's warp-weighted loom, as a demonstration of prehistoric technology. With the help of my students in Textile Archaeology course I'm running this semester, I have been setting it up over the last month. Here are some pictures of the process.

The kit:

Loom elements leaning against the office wall
There are in fact uprights for two looms here. The box contains the warp weights and some spindles, which we will also be using on the day. Photo (c) Isabella von Holstein 2015.
Setting up the starting border, which is tablet woven (not a Neolithic technique, but oh well):
Construction of the tablet-woven starting border
Nerd details: 12 tablets, turned 10 forward then 10 back. The pattern is threaded in, and the simplest possible. The yarn is a 75/25% wool/polyamide mix. Photo (c) Angelika Woehler-Geske 2015.

Measuring out the warp threads by stretching them around the legs of an upturned table
Yes, that is an upturned table we're using the measure the warp threads. Each weight has 10 loops attached to it at this stage. Photo (c) Angelika Woehler-Geske 2015.
The starting border is now attached to the top bar of the loom:

The starting border bound to the top bar of the loom with the warp threads suspended
The yarn is looped around and around the top bar, every 4 warp threads. Photo (c) Angelika Woehler-Geske 2015.

Go to Part 2 or Part 3