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Conference season 2013... research, networking and recharging my mojo

The next few weeks will feature two big UK Palaeolithic archaeology conferences that I'll be attending, although not as a speaker this time- being between projects means I've not got any new data to talk about right now, although I'm busy writing things up for publication. However I will be putting up conference reports here, including of course a "Neanderthal Edition" for all the best bits!

First up is the 3rd Unravelling Human Origins conference, being held January 18-19th this year at University of Cambridge, which is going to be beautiful as always and possibly snow covered. This series of meetings began at Southampton in 2010 to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Centre for Archaeology of Human Origins, where I was lucky enough to do my MA. I gave a paper there, and at the following year's meeting in Liverpool. This year promises to be a great conference, with fantastic papers and posters that have been promoted already on Twitter, and as there is wireless access I think there will be a lot of livetweeting going on too, from myself and others like Becky Farbstein (who's also blogged in preparation for this) and Geoff Smith- follow the #UHOCambridge hashtag.

Peterhouse, Cambridge where the conference dinner will be held. Image: By Azeira at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
 The second conference happening is at the end of February (21-23rd), and will be a European Palaeolithic archaeology meeting hosted by the British Museum. This normally happens every 12-18 months, but this year it's being held alongside what promises to be a jaw-dropping exhibition of Ice Age art, including some of the oldest art yet found. This will be a bit of a spiritual pilgrimage for many I suspect; there really is something moving about experiencing in person and in 3D pieces you've seen countless times in books and articles. One piece I'm excited about is the famous Lowenmensch, or 'Lion-Man' from Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany. This is the oldest example (c. 32,000 yrs) of a human-animal hybrid representation, and only in 2011 more pieces were found that refitted to it, which Julien-Riel Salvatore wrote about here.

The 'lion-man' from Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany. Image: By JDuckeck (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I realised the other day I've got a lot to thank conferences for.  They're singularly important in hearing about new and upcoming research of course, but they have also been the source of many wonderful relationships with peers and colleagues, and all my research connections subsequent to my PhD.
Two examples: I first met Quaternary Archaeology and Environments of Jersey director Matt Pope at a British Museum Palaeolithic conference during my thesis, and when this amazing project to re-investigate the major Neanderthal site of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey started to take off, it was because of this exisitng professional connection I was able to become part of it.
The second example is actually the first Unravelling Human Origins meeting in Southampton. I gave a paper on Neanderthal landscapes, followed by one on the Middle Palaeolithic landscape project in South East France by Jean-Paul Raynal. It was during the social event afterwards that we talked about each others' work, and so sowed the seeds for the Marie Curie Fellowship that I won last year, and will be starting in 6 months time in Bordeaux.

But conferences are also vital for providing social contexts to renew and reinvigorate my Academic Mojo: as a geographically-isolated postdoctoal researcher, focus and even motivation is something I struggle with sometimes. Although I'm part of a University department at Manchester as an Honorary Research Fellow, a connection with a very welcoming community I'm grateful for, I'm based an hour away by train, and on my current low part-time salary from a retail job, spending £15 on train tickets to commute isn't something I've been able to do often.
Although I've been fortunate to be awarded a postdoctoral fellowship as part of the Marie Curie program, this doesn't start until June, so most of my contact with colleagues comes via Twitter, Skype or old fashioned texts and phonecalls. Therefore conferences are a really big deal in terms of getting a major 'hit' of energy and excitement, both from seeing the papers but even more so, from talking, laughing and debating with the people who make working in this field really special. Here are some of them from conferences past; I hope to have reports and photos from the two upcoming ones to post here soon!

A lunch at the European Association for Archaeology conference, Zadar, Croatia 2006, including Dr Erick Robinson, Professor John Barratt, Dr Sarah Viner, Dr Hannah Norton, Dr Ana Jorge and Dr Becky Farbstein (@beckyfarbs). I first met Becky here!!

Poster session at the Max Planck Human Evolution building, for the first European Society for study of Human Evolution meeting, Leipzig, 2011. Here are Dr Kathy MacDonald, and PhD student Elinor Croxall (@smelinor)
Wine reception at the Liverpool Unravelling Human Origins meeting, 2011, with the fantastic Dr Karen Ruebens, biface expert, PhD student Rachel Bynoe, and the lithic researcher Terry Hardaker


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