Saturday, 12 March 2016

Whatever will they find next?

Happy Saturday to you!

It's my turn to post at the Wranglers Blog today but since it's a subject directly related to my writing, I'm REBLOGGING the bulk of it here. 

It’s all in the interpretation.

History is dull as ditch water. Really?  Have you ever heard anyone say that before? I have many times but as I got older I found it very easy to disbelieve it. I would even go so far as to say that I probably veered a lot of my reading energy during my teenage years (1960s) towards subject matter that was nerdy and very unfashionable purely because it was history, or historical biographies, or historical fiction and because I was quite happy to buck the trends. Where I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1950s and 1960s, archaeology was thought to be a very dull subject indeed and quite a closemouthed occupation. By that, I mean that when the old codgers, er...I mean the experts...conducted an archaeological ‘dig’ it seemed to be shrouded in absolute secrecy for a very long time till the results were finally published and available for public reading, by which time the dig details had died a dull death and had faded into the forgotten news archives.

I’m absolutely thrilled that for the last couple of decades archaeology has become a hot topic. I’m delighted to thank the use of innovative scientific technology, television, the internet and the general media for that volte face.

However, I do have to confess that back in the late 1960s, although I loved reading about archaeologists like Howard Carter, who hit the headlines with the 1922 discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, I didn’t actually fancy doing the boringly repetitive and back breaking digging that’s a necessary part of being an archaeologist. Whether the date is 1922 or 2022, that monotonous minute clearing away of soil is still a necessary part of any exploration of sites of interest but today even that process can be speeded up by the initial use of a small mechanical excavator. When I first saw evidence of this use I was horrified till I realised that the experts know just how deep in the soil to begin the painstaking clearance, particle by particle, and that what is above that level can be quickly removed.

Since joining Facebook, I’ve liked a lot of ‘history’ pages and I get regular media updates of all sorts of interesting discoveries. Hardly a day goes by now without something amazing being found and I’m delighted to say that many of these have been closer to home in the UK, and even in Scotland. I’ve written posts about interesting places in Aberdeenshire before on this blog—about local castles; and places like the ‘folly’ at Dunnideer but I’ve not written all that many posts about places associated with ‘Dark Ages’ history. On the way home from one particular Craft Fair at Insch, I went home the long way which took me past a site that I knew was being excavated by an archaeological team led by Dr. Gordon Noble. Dr. Noble is associated with many current archaeological projects in Scotland and is associated with Aberdeen University. I’ve gone to a few local talks where he’s updated amateurs, like me, on what’s currently happening on the sites of excavation. This video shows just how ‘open to the public’ archaeologists are now, and it gives some light on the fact that a lot of the sheer grunt work of painstaking excavation is now done by volunteer labour. 

What’s incredibly exciting about archaeological discovery is that for the last couple of decades the addition of innovative scientific techniques like geophysical surveys/ resistivity surveys have provided much more evidence of ancient occupation, like some 22 watch towers and small Roman forts on the Gask Ridge in Scotland- and this is only a tiny stretch along the line of Roman advance around AD 84 from the Central Belt (Glasgow to Edinburgh) to the north-east where I live. Learn about resistivity HERE

Dendrochronology and dendroarchaeology (more about that HERE
now make the likelihood of evidence discovery a much more real prospect. Tried and tested aerial photography, since the end of the Second World War, has been incredible in advancing the knowledge of ancient sites in Scotland and can still be a useful indicator of what is below ground, especially during dry summers. But anyone who knows anything about Scotland will also know that dry summers are pretty fictional!

For me, the most exciting technology of all now being used for archaeological purposes is LIDAR. LIDAR isn’t a new technique. It’s been used since post Second World War for governmental uses but only now is it beginning to be used for archaeological identification of potential sites of interest.

All of these scientific techniques make the history much more easily understood by the average member of the public. Some TV programmes (in the UK and maybe worldwide) admittedly dumb down the knowledge level of a subject to make it more palatable and more sensational but generally if a programme interests more people in the historical subject, then it is successful.

I love the visuals that a lot of the media coverage can create. I really look forward to ‘shared’ items on Facebook about new discoveries and articles written about them. And I especially love when really clever people make 3D images of places I’d love to visit—if I travelled back in time. My Roman characters inhabit Britannia but if they had the opportunity to visit Rome they might be visiting The Mausoleum of Augustus when in its prime. It's definitely recommended to click the link below to see the 3D reconstuction. 

Look out for more shares of 3 D imaging etc in the future.


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