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Showing posts from 2013

Toothbrushes & microscopes: tools for studying tools

One of the things that is wonderful about archaeology is the breadth of different fields of enquiry it spans, and the fact it is both a science and humanities subject. Trying to uncover ancient human behaviour and experience is about knowing our predecessors better as well as our present (and future) selves. As an archaeologist I try to follow a scientific approach, thinking carefully about how I collect, analyse and interpret my data. And who can not be excited about all the fabulous techniques we now have to examine and understand our human past through the materials we left behind?

However, even within archaeology there's a little bit of "science snobbery", with certain of those who receive BScs/ MScs degrees (i.e. Bachelor/Masters of Science) holding themselves slightly superior to those with BA/MAs (Bachelor of Arts) like myself. Whether it's only in jest or not, I sometimes wished I'd followed a specialism that's a bit more "white-coat", des…

Saint Pierre-Eynac: studying a silcrete source

It's been a little while since I last wrote about my postdoc project, mainly because of finishing (or almost finishing) fieldwork, and then coming back to Bordeaux to get moved in. Various other complications have meant I've been ridiculously busy the past few weeks.
My last post, all about silcrete, was an introduction to what I'm doing, so this post will give a bit more detail about the site I'm working on: Saint Pierre-Eynac, and the field techniques we are planning.

Karen Ruebens' "Regional Behaviour in Late Neandertals" paper published

The paper by my colleague Karen Ruebens on regionality in biface traditions among late Neandertals has now been published in Journal of Human Evolution. Full title is : "Regional behaviour among late Neandertal groups in Western Europe: A comparative assessment of late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tool variability".
This paper got a lot of mainstream press attention, much of which was actually very good in quality and testament to Karen's efforts to get the press release correct to avoid confusion and poor terminology. As a subject, it's close to some of the things I've been interested in too, in fact we have a paper that's under review on a related topic in another journal.
It's not open access, but I think she is planning to put a manuscript version on her Academia page soon, so if you can't get it via the link above, you can search there too.

Adventures in Silcrete: "It's flint Jim, but not as you know it!"

Something that everyone who works in the archaeology of deep prehistory has to get to grips with is the technology of stone tools, or lithics. This includes thinking about the ways in which people made their tools, which techniques they chose to use, etc. It also means that Palaeolithic archaeologists, alongside needing to know stuff about climatology, palaeontology, and ecology, need to delve into the science of geology. People in prehistory might not have understood the origins of different kinds of rocks, but they certainly appreciated the diversity in stone qualities, not only between very different rock types but also within geological/mineral categories.


These two Neandertal tools that I studied for my PhD, called handaxes, are both very finely worked, but made from completely different rocks. The one on the left (Castle Lane, Bournemouth) is made from Cretaceous flint found in the south and east of Britain, and the one on the right (Coygan Cave) from rhyolite, a volcanic stone…

Neandertals, Handaxe Traditions, Social Landscapes

Just a quick post as my good friend and colleague Karen Ruebens has been hitting the headlines with the publication of her PhD research, which I've mentioned in previous blog-posts. Amazingly the Daily Mail has managed to cover her work with some very restrained and mostly accurate reporting (bar a strange map that says Middle Pleistocene instead of Middle Palaeolithic, and spelling Karen's surname wrong).

Her paper, in the Journal of Human Evolution (not open access), covers the main results of her thesis, which attempted to examine the apparent divide between West and Central/East Europe in the types of handaxes, or bifaces (tools worked on two sides, with sharp cutting edges extending around the perimeter), made by Neandertals. Karen's work is excellent and thorough, and does support what the different research traditions in Europe had previously suggested: Neandertals had clear regional diversity in the way they produced handaxes, which were major parts of their toolk…

Photographing doors in Le Puy-en-Velay

It was a long time ago that I discovered the beauty of traditional French architecture, especially in small towns, and photographing it has been a pursuit most times I've visited. I've got a special fetish for old doors and their furniture, there's something about the way each one is unique and has acquired locks, knockers, letter boxes and a patina over time. During the few hours I've had to explore our local town, Le Puy-en-Velay, there's been ample opportunity to indulge in taking some photos. Here's the results!

Geological Road Trip: Volcanic landscapes of the Massif Central

Geology and geography are fundamental to archaeologists in understanding the landscape contexts that people of the past lived within. While climate and environments have drastically altered over the time span of the Palaeolithic, the topography often, on a broad scale, remains relatively similar. Erosion can be extensive, river systems can change course (the Thames used to flow much further north than it now does for example), and the great depth of sediment accumulation in some areas changed local situations. But the big stuff made of rock like plateaux, mountains and watersheds have remained relatively static over the time hominins have been around. There are exceptions to this however, primarily in the form of volcanism and tectonic action, and the region I'm working in is a textbook example. Here in the Massif Central, there is a long history of volcanic action of many types, the most recent of which occurred less than 5000 years ago- well within the history of human settleme…