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Silcrete as a lithic material in global context: session call for papers

Next year I'll be running a session at "On the Rocks",  the 10th International Symposium on Knappable Materials, in Barcelona.


Here's some information for the session, and the symposium.
Conference fees for those attending include coffee, cocktail party (hopefully with ice as shown in the conference poster above!), and dinner too. Unusually, and positively, postdocs are counted as students for fees. There may also be the option to present via webcast.
I'm hoping for lots of great papers submitted to my session- there must be tons of other silcrete fans out there, right?!



Silcrete as a lithic raw material in global context: geology, sourcing and techno-economics

The exploitation of silcrete deposits by humans for tool production is a subject gaining increasing focus in international research, and is at the heart of recent discoveries relating to the evolution of technology and other aspects of human behaviour in various contexts (e.g. Brown et al. 2009; …

TRACETERRE project poster, SAA 2014

A quick post here as I wanted to get this up a little while ago. In April, in my absence (due to new motherhood), my colleague Vincent Delvigne went to the Society for American Archaeology conference in Austin, Texas. We presented a poster outlining the work so far for my postdoc, on the silcrete source at Saint-Pierre-Eynac, Haute-Loire.

As the original poster is pretty big, I made it available to download on my Academia page, however I think that's not accessible to all- so click through here for an embedded image of the poster.
It's citable as 'Wragg Sykes et al. 2014. The White Mountain: Palaeolithic exploitation of the Saint-­Pierre-­‐Eynac silcrete, Haute-­‐Loire, France; a source‐centred approach. SAA 79th Annual Meeting, Austin, Texas.'

Cosmos magazine interview

I meant to post this last year when it actually took place, but in between waiting for image permission, going on maternity leave and having the baby, it got postponed!
In late 2013 I was approached by a journalist, Fiona Gruber, about doing an interview on my research for the Australian popular science magazine, Cosmos. I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours talking to Fiona by Skype, and the result (after protracted editing wrangles about accuracy- not with Fiona!) came out pretty nicely. Here's the link. Click through below for more photos, including some prancing about on campus with binoculars!




The photoshoot was done here on campus in Bordeaux, and I have to thank the team (Markel Redondo and partner) who managed to make me feel relaxed despite feeling very awkward having a massive camera in my face at all angles; it felt a bit like the scene in that 90s kids sci-fi Flight of the Navigator! It's also very cool to have been photographed by someone who has done a Terry …

2014 Centenary of the Mousterian

I started this post in July, but since then life and work got rather intense, and so it's been delayed... but now it can be added to in a very satisfying way. Back in summer I was lucky enough to be invited to some new work going on at the eponymous site of Le Moustier, Dordogne. This is where the lithic (stone tool) cultural classification accorded to the late Neandertals of much of western Europe was defined- known as the Mousterian. Brad Gravina, a colleague and friend from my lab (PACEA, Uni Bordeaux), has started some new excavations, which at the moment are in their earliest stages, and he generously invited me to visit. Much excitement followed, as well as an obligatory photo at the village road sign.

Fast-forward to now, September, when another absolutely seminal Neandertal site is also receiving renewed attention from my colleagues: Combe Grenal, the type site for the Mousterian sequence (i.e. the order in which different patterning in the tools within layers can be seen…

Return to the Massif Central

Just a very quick post to say I'm officially back from maternity leave, and have rolled straight into fieldwork! I'm back in the Haute-Loire region for a month. We will be starting excavations at the Saint-Pierre-Eynac silcrete source, which is exciting. I'm anticipating a LOT of stone to come up, but the question will be how much is humanly-worked, and whether there is any identifiable stratigraphy present. I'm really hoping I can convince the students with us that washing lithics is super-fun, as I don't fancy doing another few thousand like last year...
So until I have some new posts, which should hopefully be soon, here's a nice photo from summer 2013- here's hoping for more magnificent cloud-scapes in 2014!


Polishing turds: social contexts of Neandertal coprolites

Finally we have something I've been waiting for for a while- Neandertal poo. Aside from providing journalists with various amusing headlines ("What the crap?"; "Poop scoop" etc.), this new research (open access article) is interesting on several levels. The obvious one reported in the paper is the identification of vegetal matter through chemical analysis, which is yet another neat addition to the ever-increasing stack of examples that Neandertals weren't the hyper-carnivores they were believed to be. However I think a couple of other things are equally interesting.

There has been at least one previous claim of Neandertal faeces (known when preserved in archaeological deposits as coprolites) from Lazaret, France, but these may not have been human, and analysis was limited to identifying pollen grains. While this kind of study is useful for information about the contemporary environment, it's not direct evidence of the food making up the co…

Old things and new things

Just a quick post for any readers looking out for updates on the postdoc project- the first output will be presented at the upcoming SAA (Society for American Archaeology) conference in Austin, USA towards the end of April. We're showing a poster on the Saint-Pierre-Eynac work we've been doing so far (very preliminary), and outlining what we hope to achieve this coming summer in terms of fieldwork. My colleague Vincent Delvigne, one of the co-authors and a specialist in sourcing flints, will be presenting for me as I'm unable to go to the conference (see below for reason!).

The results so far from the surface collection were somewhat disappointing, with a very low percentage of worked material overall, and very little that was technologically, and therefore chronologically, distinctive. It seems that the surface of SPE as a whole does have traces of human action, but this is complicated by the fact that the silcrete fractures naturally very easily in a way that superficia…

Book review: "Lost Animals- Extinction and the photographic record"

Thanks to my lovely editor at Bloomsbury, Jim Martin (now heading up their very exciting new popular science imprint, Sigma), I was sent a copy of a book to review late last year which looked fascinating. Obviously, to declare my interests, Bloomsbury are also publishing my own book, Dawn Chorus in Eden, but my review is from the point of view of someonw with a background in working on an extinct ancient human species.
The volume in question is Lost Animals- Extinction and the photographic record, by Errol Fuller. Read on to see what I thought!

My first impression of the book was that it's fairly substantial, and very nicely produced. It's a good size, hardback, but not too big, and the quality of the cover and paper inside is excellent, as are the photographs (taking into account some of the originals' poor quality).

Some of the species included may already be familiar to readers as extinction "celebrities"- i.e. the Quagga, Thylacine and Passenger Pigeon. It …