The Intro and The Outro- CAA 07 Report

So, I’m a week late with this.

I wanted to have my conference write up done while everything was still fresh in my mind, but when I got back I had people to catch up with (some of whom I don’t see too often) and in the day times really had to get ready for my next meeting with my supervisor, so now is the first time I’ve really felt I could take the time out to write.

Maybe a week’s reflection will make this a bit more ordered and tidy?

I’m going to actually turn it into a post for each day- there are quick links below to each one. It’s just that otherwise there will be far too much text in one place for anyone to read sensibly or comment on.

Sunday 1st

Monday 2nd

Tuesday 3rd

Wednesday 4th

Thursday 5th

Friday 6th

Overall thoughts:

The architecture in Berlin is fascinating; from the huge open streets (to drive tanks down, apparently) to the juxtaposition of very modern and daring with the medieval and faux-ancient. It seemed more daring, and the use of lighting was also very cool. I’d love to go back with a better camera because some of the night light-scapes were just astounding.

Public transport was brilliant. Cheap, clean, reliable and really good coverage of the whole city pretty much 24/7. I didn’t have to worry about missing the last bus as there was no ‘last bus’ apart from on Sundays and public holidays.

Germans do really good Italian food, and really good kebabs and falafel.

I really like wheat beer but it makes me poorly.

That part of Europe is really flat!

Sunday 1st

I boarded the coach here for Heathrow at 10.30am. Really early- my flight didn’t go till 16.00 but National Express advised large amounts of leeway in case of traffic. Net result- I end up sitting in departures for 3 hours reading the Iliad and being talked to by crazy Aussie guys who are heading to Norway to experience Husky Sledding!

The flight was good- clear skies all the way so a good view of the city. I hadn’t realised this part of the world was so flat- last summer I was in Italy and the flight out and back both crossed the Alps. The landscape, even from so high up, was very different.

I met up with MarkD in baggage reclaim and we headed off with our limited German into the early evening to find food and our respective beds. After sausage and chips, German street-food style (and very tasty!) we headed off our respective ways on the U-Bahn.

When I finally arrived at my hostel (a good way out of the city centre but really close to the conference centre), the office was shut and there were some instructions (in German) and some keys. A middle aged couple (who I later discovered were from Munich) helped me summon up the night-porter-type-person who got me a room for the night sorted out and in his limited English managed to tell me reception would fix at nine the next morning. The couple from Munich spoke no English but still managed to realise that I needed help, and summon it for me! I was so grateful and felt awful that I couldn’t thank them properly.

I went to bed…

Monday 2nd

I woke, and a very apologetic reception lady got me into the right room, sorted out my receipt and I relaxed! I had breakfast (bitter orangey yoghurt, muesli and then bread rolls with meat and cheese, and strong coffee) and headed off to the Free University of Berlin to register and pick up my pass. Very generously, our conference pass also got us free public transport and free entry to the state museums for the week. No papers were scheduled for the Monday, so Mark, Eleftheria, Matt, Hembo and I headed off into the city to Schloss Charlottenburg and the museum of prehistory.

We had a guided tour with a really good guide, she knew her stuff very well and was able to answer all kinds of questions, about provenance (a lot of the pieces were from 18th and 19th century ‘art markets’) and politics (a lot of the items on display were replicas of pieces taken by the Russians after the end of WWII). A bit of me wondered if it was OK to complain about the Russians ‘stealing’ things that had essentially been looted in the first place…

I saw some amazing prehistoric weapons and armour (I’ve yet to put all of the pictures I took on flickr, but they’ll go up soon if anyone is really as interested as me 😀 ). The really amazing bit was probably the Schliemann collection- the finds from the city that is supposed to be Troy. Especially as I’m working my way through the Iliad at the moment, seeing the drinking vessels, the helms and swords. Quite special.

We went to an Italian (!) place for lunch and then headed further into town as we had to get to the official reception at the Foreign Office.

We just about made it on time to this odd set of buildings. We went through (very tight) security in one modern building, walked through it and out into a courtyard and then over into this gigantic modern/ neoclassical concrete mongrel of a building which basically contained a huge vault of a space as an ante-room, all flat and marble and glossy, and then another huge shiny vault with side aisles, almost like and atheist’s cathedral. A very odd space.

Then the speeches started. Everyone said thank-you to everyone else, at least twice, and at some great length. I think the special award goes to Steve Stead for the brevity and directness of his speech! We then descended on an enormous buffet laid on for us and started on the wine and beer! I met up with the other Antiquisters and got to meet Chris P in a situation other than being lectured to! We hob-nobbed for a while and I caught up with some people from Southampton, and previous UK chapter conferences, which was really good.

Then Leif, like the Pied Piper (and having lived in Berlin for four years) took us all off on a merry dance. We went to Unter den Linten just as the sun was setting and I got some great photos (phone-camera notwithstanding) of the amazing light on the gold panels of the Cathedral. We tried to get into the Tajik tearooms (more of this later, oh yes!) but they were full. We ended up in a Bavarian restaurant/pub, outside in a square drinking wheat beer and eating Bavarian food (pig and dumplings and cabbage mainly!). At some point the Schnapps was called for… Once that had set in (!) some people felt we should call it a night and headed off for sleep, whilst the rest of us followed Leif off on a walking tour. He took us through the ‘trendy’ district and past the most notorious squat in Berlin, at which point Jens took up an alarming noticeable rant about how it might well be ‘the finest most famous anarchist squat in Berlin but how can they charge three euros to go inside’. I’m afraid discretion took the better part of valour for me and I headed off to the suburbs and my bed.

Tuesday 3rd

The first session of the day I decided to attend the round table on open source. It was interesting to get the perspective of the IT professional, the commercial unit and the academic on open source, and it was also interesting to take part in the ‘robust’ discussion we had about the evangelical (according to some) nature of the open source advocates. My conclusion is that sometimes, open source is best, and as an ideal, it’s great, but there are times when for a whole host of reasons (interoperability, who holds the money, functionality) it isn’t the best choice. I’m particularly interested in the open source movement and its growing place in archaeology as I think open source software is going to be quite important to my PhD research.

I spent the rest of the day in the first geophysics session, which was about new field methods. The papers were all well put together and presented, and certainly showed some interesting sites and results, but I didn’t feel there was any ‘big revelation’. The work being done by the SEMAP 3D team sounds quite new and exciting, but it is a marine application and not really my field. It did make me think again about the possible resolution of seismic data though, and has made me think twice about exploring it as an option for my work. The other interesting thing was reports from a Swedish team about geophysics in rescue archaeology (I got the impression that geophysics is not really part of the ‘mainstream’ in Sweden as yet). They had been able to get results from drift geology (sands) through 2m think layers of Viking occupation using caesium magnetometers and georadar, with good results confirmed by excavation. There was also a paper about resistivity work undertaken in Meroe, Sudan, that used ground watering to help with making good ground contact. Controlling moisture levels at this scale is also of potential relevance to my work.

All in all, I got the impression that to see really new geophysics papers and techniques I need to go to ISAP in September, so watch this space!

ArchCamp was postponed until Thursday so after drooling over and amazing 3D printer at the ‘booths’ from the companies, we headed into the city again. This time Leif took us to an amazing little pub / café. Some of the guys from L&P joined us. The schnitzel people ordered at Leif’s urging were bigger than the plates they came on! We left quite late and in some cases considerably rounder than when we had arrived.

Wednesday 4th

There were no papers in the morning that I really needed to see so I decided to take advantage of the museum pass and headed into the city. I took buses for as much of the journey as possible and as a result saw lots of amazing things- the elephant gate at the zoo, the victory column, the Tiergarten (complete with nude sunbathers!), the bombed and rebuilt church that stands as a memorial to peace, the Reichstag and the amazing modern architecture of the embassy district. I made my way to the Museum Island and the Pergamon Museum. Just the building alone is fascinating enough; it was massive, imposing, monumental, almost, like the altar it was built to house. It was this very strange mixture between neoclassicism and something altogether darker. I could see the ‘we are an Empire’ message loud and clear. There are other museums all clustered around, some of them more classical, others more Imperial (it definitely deserves the capital I!). I took pictures and you can find them on flickr.

 

I found to my delight that my pass also let me jump the huge queue and quickly got in. The altar itself was just breathtaking. The audio guide was really very good (especially as the shop had run out of English guide books!), but the labelling wasn’t great- without the audio I would have been a bit lost. I learned a great deal about ancient Greek art and religion. For example, the contrast between the serene gods and the snarling, terrified and agonized giants as they fight is both and artistic convention and a religious statement. I spent at least an hour just listening, learning and looking at this unique piece of history.

 

The Miletus Gate was being restored but I did get to see the Ishtar gate from Babylon and the rest of the collection of ancient artwork and finds. I hadn’t realised until this trip how heavily mixed up in middle-eastern archaeology German was (and still is). I had fun tracing developing styles through Babylon, Greece and Rome (see the pictures of Lions on my flickr pages!). All too soon though I had to head back out to the suburbs for the afternoon sessions.

 

Public transport in Berlin is that refreshing combination of thorough, cheap and reliable. I still managed to get lost though, and had to sneak in late to the second geophysics session. This one was about the use of computers in the analysis of geophysical data. Again, there were some interesting papers but nothing blindingly new (apart from one, which I’ll detail below). It was interesting to learn that the approach being taken by a few commercial units in the UK of having their sites database available online through web-mapping servers is being taken on by the government in Taiwan. As such, all the data will be available (but not quite in real-time); something I know the Open Archaeology group are keen to have happen here. In Taiwan the incentive seems to have been top-down, here in the UK it is bottom-up, and slow as a result.

 

The one really new and exciting paper (at least for me) was Gary Lock and John Pouncett’s work at South Cadbury. They have landscape-scale coverage of Magnetometer data of field systems over 64 square km. The challenge they have is to work out the relative phasing of the field systems that are visible in the geophysics. As well as the geophysics, they have data from field walking and test pits.

 

As far as I understood it, John has been using complex network analysis software (based on transport networks) to develop a computational method for assigning ditches to field systems and rough periods or phasing. It does this in two quite complex ways, firstly the topography and shape of the network formed by the features (and if the intersect or cut each other) and then from resistances and barriers in the network worked out from the dating evidence we do have from the test pits and field walking. So far it seems to be working well and I look forward to hearing more about this methodology in the future. It seems like a useful tool for understanding large-scale surveys where excavation would be utterly impossible.

 

The session finished late so I rushed across town to the Kulturforum for the conference dinner. The food was great and I again got to meet lots of new people, meet up with old friends, and socialise and talk archaeology, which is one of my favourite things to do! The only odd thing was the entertainment for the evening- a Marlene Dietrich impersonator, which was more than a little surreal.

Thursday 5th

I spent almost all day in the GRASS workshop (thanks to Chris P nobly giving up his place in the hope I will convert to an open source GIS). I learned so much from this session and it was worth the whole trip just for this. I not only got the basics of GRASS and qGIS, but also a handle on VTK and ParaView, which I now fully intend to use for the 3D modelling of geophysical data during my PhD. I might not use GRASS for the whole thing, but certainly for the 3D conversions. And, because it is all open source, I have the software now on my flash drive! Fantastic! Mark and I have serious plans to get more familiar with LINUX/UNIX and explore using GRASS in our respective work.

The final session of the day was the start of Dave’s session on standards. This carried on to Friday morning as well so I’ll write about it there.

Thursday was ArchCamp and you can see what we got up to over on the antiquist wiki. When that was done, everyone needed food and drink so we headed off to the 12 Apostles, an Italian place that lies in the vaulted spaces under the S-Bahn tracks. I had an amazing pizza and really good beer, and a good time was had by all. I was determined, it being my last night, that we would make it to the Tajik tearooms, so a few die-hards (Leif, Max and his lovely girlfriend Sophie, Mark and I) made the short trek.

We had a Russian tea ceremony, which was amazing. The tea room was donated to the East German republic by the Tajik people when they were still part of the USSR during a big cultural fair in the 70’s. It has ornate carved pillars and ceiling, prints on the walls of Tajik legends, colourful carpets and neat little low tables. Everyone takes their shoes off and sits on silk cushions. The place is small and popular so you tend to end up sat with strangers but that is part of the fun as everyone sits and talks. The tea ceremony itself was also amazing (they do do other kinds of tea, including proper Japanese tea).

Really strong concentrated tea is served in a pot atop a decorated urn of hot water, which is used to dilute the tea. Candied peels, rum soaked fruit and dark sugars are provided to sweeten the tea which is taken black. Cakes and marmalade and little rose-flavoured sugar sweets are also served up. Then you drink ice-cold vodka to freshen your mouth and cut the sweetness and start again! It was a really special ending to an amazing trip, made even better by the great company.

Friday 6th

The only session left was the rest of the one on standards. I really enjoyed this session, as though while not directly relevant to my research, I think the things we discussed are important to all research, and need to be considered by all practitioners of archaeology. There were some really good discussions and it was the session with the most discussion and participation by the audience that I attended. I was particularly interested in the current focus on user generated linking and tagging within archaeological databases, and discussions around interoperability. It seemed a lot of what was being talked about is linked to the web 2.0 thing (how I hate that term!), and I think we might have radically rethink our ideas about knowledge, usefulness and categorisation. It’s one of the reasons I like being involved in Antiquist– we are trying this stuff out and playing with it, but to a serious purpose; seeing if we can find better ways of doing archaeology. I’m glad other people are thinking about this and engaging with it as well.

 

After the last paper and some quick farewells, Mark D and I headed off into the city for one last sight-seeing trip before I had to head to the airport.

 

We enjoyed some really nice takeout and strolled slowly from West Berlin to East Berlin via Check Point Charlie. I’ve already talked about this part here and here.

 

I made it to the flight with a much more sensible one hour wait to take off and was back home by 8pm!