To the Lab!

One thing I love about my job, my particular field of research, is that sometimes I get to shout ‘To the Lab’ and mean it!

I really like labwork. I find it quite Zen in the same way that I do geophysical fieldwork. You have to think hard at the outset, make decisions that you can’t be 100% sure on, but then there is a process. You follow it, almost meditatively, and then at the end there are results that you can take away and hopefully learn something from. I’ve been to Germany this week, to visit our collaborators at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. I took 31 samples of soil and archaeological deposits to do some basic physical and magnetic analyses on. The team there are also going to do some testing over the next few weeks, things that take a bit longer or need special equipment that was in use on the days I could be there.

For those interested in the technical aspects, we are doing particle size distribution, loss-on-ignition, dual frequency magnetic susceptibility and some fractional conversion work. I’m also hoping that we can devise a method using the kit David and his team have to determine the firing temperature of some baked clay that we think are part of a wattle-and-daub type structure that possibly burned down in the Bronze Age. This is all in aid of getting to a deeper understanding of the geophysical responses of the soils and features, so we can hone the survey strategy and have more confidence in our interpretations. The fractional conversion tests are interesting. Basically, all soils have a degree of magnetic susceptibility (well, all materials in fact!), but that can be enhanced by natural ‘fermentation’, by certain types of bacteria and by burning (some minerals change when heated in reducing and/or oxidising conditions to more susceptible forms). The idea of fractional conversion is that you try to make this reaction happen to all of the magnetic minerals within a soil, to get the susceptibility as high as it can physically go (which depends on the parent material the soil comes from). You then compare this maximum to the susceptibility of the unheated samples, which gives you some idea of the exposure they have had to fire (in other words, humans). It is a test that we should do often, at least to establish baselines for sites, but I don’t see it reported very often. I think the results on our samples are quite interesting, because we have a predominantly limestone geology, which should be pretty magnetically quiet, but on first look, the samples achieved quite high conversion ratios. The next challenge is to work out why- where are the minerals coming from to allow this to happen?

So here is a shot of me getting the samples ready to be heated at 650 degrees, in a reducing environment:

Labwork, March 2012

So you can see that I am also no longer pink. Fieldwork season is coming, and I have a conference to present at next week. It’s not that the pink would have been a problem, per se, but it was kinda faded, and messy looking. So back to very blonde for now!

I’m off to the UK for CAA at the end of next week (and a wedding, and catching up with people). I am really looking forward to CAA- it’s at Southampton where I did my BA and MSc, and it is still my ‘home’ town- M is still there, of course. It’ll be great to go back to the department and catch up with old friends and heroes. I’m organising a round table session about geophysics, which is a bit nervous-making, but I’m sure it will be fine as I have some very experienced and lovely people helping me. I’m also presenting a paper about the Rural Life project. This is the one making me nervous, as I am going to be talking about aspects of the work that I am not as involved in, and the legacy data we’re using from previous projects in the area. I really don’t want to misrepresent anyone else’s research. Making a mistake about my own stuff is obviously not OK, but at least it is my own thing that I am cocking up, you know? Presenting things other people have worked very hard on is very nerve-wracking, I want to do it well for them!

After CAA I go (literally) straight to Calabria for more fieldwork. I’ll be tweeting as normal, but this blog might be a bit quiet for a while as a result. We are hopefully going to get the project blog up and running soon, so I’ll be sure to post links etc as soon as it is live!

I have hit an important goal today- I ran for 30 minutes, non-stop, which was the point of all of this business when I started back in July last year. It was only supposed to take two months to get to this point, but I have all kinds of health issues last summer, and over the winter I was plagued with colds and asthma. Now it is warmer, I can run even if my lungs are a bit messed up, as it is the cold that really knocks me over. I am hoping I see a big difference on fieldwork, and that I can keep up with Wieke a bit better in the mountains.

I’ve uploaded some technical shots from the lab work over on my flickr page, if you want to have a look. I think that’s about it for now! Hope you’re all having a good weekend. Tomorrow if the weather is good I’m going for a walk in the park to take some pictures of all the crocuses (crocii? I am never sure!), and of course the ducks 🙂  x x x

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