Postgraduate Study

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Matthew Jacobson is a current PhD student researching climate change and socio-economic transformations in the Late Antiquity of the Middle East. Read on to find out what he got up to over the summer…

Whilst on holiday in Singapore earlier this year, I visited the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and gave a presentation; this was on climate change in Arabia during the 7th century CE and the potential impacts of this on individuals, society and religion. The hospitality of Dr. Xianfeng Wang who hosted me was unparalleled, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time. I was given a tour of their laboratories, which were vastly different to Reading’s due to the influence of humidity on stable-isotopes – whereas our drilling lab is the same as any other room, to enter theirs you had to enter the academic equivalent of a decompression chamber and change your clothes (+shoes).

Luckily, before my presentation I saw a talk by Professor Charles Elachi (former head of NASA Mars Mission) and valuably noted what went down well in the presentation – the main point being that they found it hilarious if you referenced their Uni! Another lesson learnt following the presentation is to ensure you use all your allotted time for presentations: I finished slightly early and had to suffer 22 minutes of questions which meant they got particularly tough towards the end. Whilst in Singapore, I also visited the Asian Civilisation Museum (see below) and it was the best Museum I have ever visited, I could not recommend it more to anyone visiting the country (especially archaeologists)!

Later in the year, I also visited Princeton University in the states; where I was invited to the climate change and history research initiative (CCHRI) annual symposium to give a similar talk to the one I gave in NTU. This time I was lucky enough to be co-presenting with Professor John Haldon (Princeton) who is an esteemed historian, which saved some of the nerves – it also saved me from the horrible historical questions that came later! Both presentations went well, and I was happy with how I did! One of the patterns that I have observed whilst giving presentations is that people often ask about the aspects they understand least about – seems obvious but it’s more than that. Archaeologists/historians tend to ask me about the climate science whereas the climate scientists in Singapore asked lots of questions about the historical/archaeological aspects – prepare for any eventuality!

Matthew J Jacobson

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Josie Handley is a current PhD student in the Department, researching the resilience of agricultural systems to human activities and climate change in the Peruvian Andes. Over the summer, she conducted fieldwork in Peru – read on to learn about her experiences…

“During July, I was lucky enough to visit Peru and carryout fieldwork related to my PhD. The two-week trip involved visiting two of my study areas, the Ancash District and the Chillón Valley. Whilst in these regions I took sediment core samples from six sites, including lakes and peat bogs, which provided me with the majority of my samples for my PhD. In the field, we also interviewed local farmers and held community workshops to discuss the present day issues affecting agriculture productivity and sustainability within the study areas. This was also an excellent opportunity to record local oral histories about changes in farming practices within living memory, to go alongside the deeper history perspective the collected core records will hopefully provide.

One of the study sites in Peru

Being out in Peru conducting fieldwork was not only useful in terms of sample collection and conducting the interviews, but it also provided the opportunity to see how the agricultural land was being cultivated and worked in the present day. This can provide a modern analogue for the agricultural activity signals we may pick up through analysis of the core sequences.

I also got the opportunity to attend two workshops, one at Universidad National Santiago Antunez de Mayolo, Huaraz entitled ‘Living with Climate Change’ and the second at Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima. These workshops were a great opportunity to network with Peruvian colleagues from archaeology as well as local NGOs and governmental organisations such as the Mountain Institute and the National Institute of Investigation on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems.

My experience of fieldwork ran relatively smoothly; this was largely due to having native speakers of both Spanish and Quechua with me for the majority of the trip. This particularly helped when conducting interviews and structured discussion sessions. It was also useful having people that knew the areas well, especially when it came to site selection, as two of the sites were not in the original itinerary but turned out to be great coring locations, thanks to the local knowledge of the area. Whilst I was in Peru, I was also able to make the most of my trip and took the opportunity to do some travelling and spent two weeks after my fieldwork on the tourist trail of the south visiting Cusco, Machu Picchu, Nazca, and Huacachina, an oasis in the desert.”

Visiting Machu Picchu

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James Billson, currently studying for his MA in the Archaeology of Medieval Europe, spent time this summer working at the excavations at Montfort. Read on for his report!

“During 2014 I was a part of the excavations conducted at the Teutonic castle of Montfort, in Northern Galilee. Montfort is a Mountain spur castle which takes advantage of the local topography; it is flanked by Nahal Kziv to the north and Khalet Khzam to the south.

This castle was occupied from roughly 1220 to 1271; it saw two Muslim sieges, one in 1266 which it survived, and another in 1271, falling to Baybars. Chronical tell us that this spur castle served as the headquarters for the order in the holy land, occasionally being used as the residence of the Hochmeister (the grand master of the order).

Montfort1

Figure 1: Sole standing wall of the ‘hall’. Note the staircase leading to the doorway, formerly a window which is thought to have been converted by the knights for this use. Also note the central pillar, as an indicator of the scale of this room, for more of an indicator see figure 2.

Previous excavations were conducted at this site in 1877 by Horatio H. Kitchener and in 1926 by Bashford Dean (the curator for the arms and armour department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), he was hoping to recover a suit of armour. In 1994 limited excavations were conducted in the hall prior to restoration work commencing; the castle is in a state of ruin, much as it was left by Baybars following its fall.

Montfort2

Figure 2. (See figure 1 description)

Excavation work commenced in 2011 following five years of surveying. I was fortunate enough to get a place on this excavation, which for the 2014 season focused on the area immediately behind the ‘gatehouse’ to the castle, on the slopes of the mountain. This area was thought to have been the stables for the garrisons mounts, and certainly finds including a horseshoe suggest this.

I was a part of this excavation for two weeks during which time I was able to see the transformation of the site from tree stumps and slumping, to the revealing of the paved medieval floor surface, and it being reduced to its original high.

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Figure 3: Half removed level, when I arrived.

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Figure 4: Nearly fully reduced level, with ashlar blocks, parts of the collapsed archways. (Note: not in original positions, moved during excavations for ease of access).

This was a fantastic opportunity for me to expand my experience within field archaeology; not only that but to increase the variety of experience that I possess, and increasing my adaptability. It is rare to find a site in England where you need to trek across low mountains in high heat! I was also able to apply lessons taught during my time at the Silchester field school with regards to taking levels!

I would like to thank the SAGES bursary for providing me with a bursary for this trip which in many ways made it possible for me to go. I would also like to thank Dr Alexs Pluskowski for putting me in touch with Dr Adrian Boas who ran the excavation (a thank you to him as well!) and finally to all those who took part in the excavation alongside me – without them I doubt it would have been so much fun!”

– James Billson

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