Archaeology of Portus course – second run

Wearable camera being used on site at Portus
Wearable camera being used on site at Portus

The Archaeology of Portus Massive Open Online Course has just started again. There is still time for you to join the many thousands of people on this free course focused on our work at Portus. The port of Imperial Rome. Sign up via the FutureLearn Archaeology of Portus page.

We have had an even greater number of learners enrolling than last year and have made modifications throughout the course. As with last year there will be an opportunity for learners to request additional information about any topic and we will collate these requests and produce additional learning resources for Week Six. We have incorporated all of this information gathered from the first course into the second one, so in this way each successive cohort of learners directly influences those following on.

We have also increased the amount of Italian material. There are Italian translations of all of the video transcripts and we will also be hosting Italian subtitles. We are exploring ways of crowd sourcing translation into other languages, and also experimenting with a new method of learners enriching video content – more of which in a future post.

As ever we are keen on learners producing their own scholarly and creative responses to the material, whether that is recreating the site in SketchUp, Minecraft or Lego, drawing on their own maps and plans, composing appropriate sound and music-scapes to accompany the course, or developing their interpretations of the research data we are sharing.

Archaeo-Politics in Macedonia

sphinxes at amphipolis
sphinxes at amphipolis

On Friday I wrote a post on the London Review of Books blog about Alexandromania. It begins as follows:

“On Monday, six days before the general election, the Greek Ministry of Culture published a preliminary report by the osteo-archaeological team studying the skeletal remains found in the mound of Amphipolis in northern Greece. The bones were found in November, since when there had been a lot of speculation about who they might have belonged to. Alexander the Great’sname came up a lot, as did his mother’s, Olympias”

You can read the full post here.

On the same story, an interview I did earlier this week for the NYTimes which was published today.

Postcard from Hungary

Students on top of the Iron Age rampart
Students on top of the Iron Age rampart

Greetings from Hungary! Students from the University of Southampton have begun excavating for 3 weeks at the important Bronze Age tell settlement at Százhalombatta, 30km south of Budapest on the River Danube.

They form part of an Anglo-Hungarian project directed by Magdolna Vicze (Director of the Matrica Museum), Joanna Sofaer (University of Southampton) and Marie Louise Stig Sørensen (University of Cambridge).

The site also has a substantial Iron Age fortification which the students saw as part of their induction on the first day at the site. Above you can see them on top of the Iron Age rampart, and below the amazing view from the rampart along the Danube towards Budapest. It really shows what a strategic position the site has.

view from the rampart along the Danube towards Budapest
View from the rampart along the Danube towards Budapest

Material seas and political acts


Monday was wonderfully watery at the British Water and Beyond symposium. Our session was truly interdisciplinary, with papers from an artist, literary scholar, archaeologist and anthropologist all converging on questions of maritime space, modernity and material seas.

John Hartley discussed Deleuze, DeLanda and his own Contingency Research Platform, an absolutely amazing piece of marine hacking/boat building art. Julia Heunemann’s paper on Jules Verne, Matthew Maury, ocean currents and messages in bottles offered insights into, among other things, knowledge produced by the sea itself. Hannah Cobb and I presented material from her work on Mesolithic Oronsay, my Keralan backwaters ethnography and our own journey into maritime space. Add to that Andrea Thoma’s paper about her 2012 video work ‘Ocean’ from the earlier ‘Experimental Seascapes’ session and it was a rare afternoon.

Contingency Research Platform – the raw materials


hartley -wiredtogethersm
Contingency Research Platform – Kayak frame (made from the desk) lashed together
Contingency Research Platform – skinned with business suits

Among all this maritime thinking, I was particularly struck by one observation during the discussion. It was pointed out that there was a political thread running through each paper in the session.

Our seas and oceans are often understood only as space to be traversed, where resources are exploited, as metaphors for our ideas and concerns, or as abstract, legal space (’territorial waters’ or ‘the high seas’). These understandings cast maritime space as a passive backdrop against which human action takes place (as nature set in opposition to culture). In contrast,  articulating the ways in which maritime space is always historical, material, social and political is a key concern in my research – and the reason I began exploring assemblages and material seas.

Yet this is not what has resonated with me most since Monday’s session.

Instead, I have been contemplating how addressing the world in a non-anthropocentric way, beginning with a ‘flat ontology’ and allowing that both people and things as resonant with capacities to act and affect is itself a political act. If we understand ourselves simply as a part of multiple, continually-emerging, human-nonhuman assemblages, it alters fundamentally our position within the world.  It requires a profound re-shaping of ethical, political and legal debates. In fact for Bennett, a political theorist, this understanding of the world offers the foundation for a more responsible, ecologically sound politics.

It also has energising consequences for my colleagues and I, consequences for what our materially-focused work can offer this larger debate, and, for how we view ourselves as archaeologists and anthropologists.


Material seas




In the last week I’ve spent an improbably large amount of time thinking about various philosophical conceptions of maritime space. This is due partly to Monday’s British Waters and Beyond: The cultural significance of the sea since 1800 at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, and partly to my increasing obsession with sailing directions.

With our paper at the symposium on Monday and a final article out (we hope) next year, Hannah Cobb and I are coming to the end of a small philosophical adventure into maritime space.

Amid the recent material turn in the Humanities, the need to reconsider our understandings of seas and oceans has become apparent. Across the diverse philosophical conceptions deployed in disciplines from geography to law and literature, there’s a provocative tension growing between aesthetic and material imaginings of maritime space. Yet the former is proving increasingly problematic when we try to move beyond metaphor to material seas and oceans, and particularly when we want to address human habitation of watery worlds.


Hannah and I have been exploring what archaeology and anthropology can bring to this discussion. Using a little of what Jane Bennett termed, rather wonderfully, a ‘countercultural kind of perceiving’ (i.e. not anthropocentric, but attentive to things and their affects), we started with seascapes and moved quickly on to assemblages and material seas.

I’m not sure this exploration of material seas is quite over for me though, because I keep coming back to my Channel Pilot. It’s a huge volume published by the UKHO that offers sailing directions for the English Channel and its western approaches through a combination of text and charts. At 504 pages my 2005 edition is comprehensive – you couldn’t call it a handy guide. But for me it’s spellbinding because its dense bulk reflects perfectly the problem of trying to pin down the experience of sailing within a dynamic environment, where places (confluences, sandbanks and fishing grounds) shift with season, tide and weather.


Maritime geography is underpinned by real-world experience, a lived knowledge that is as much about intuiting and interpreting the world at that moment as it is about depth, current and tide. This experiential knowledge is gained through the bodily practices of wayfinding and navigation at sea and all the multisensory engagements – with currents, winds and weather and with instruments of measurement, the bodies of other sailors and the ship itself – involved in the tasks of seafaring in a weather-world.

Codifying these embodied understandings of maritime places and attempting to produce an externalised hydrography suitable for transmission via text, diagram and chart is therefore no small feat – and produces, perhaps inevitably, a hefty tome.

Maritime Bus

Maritime Bus
Maritime Bus

Last week the Maritime Bus came to the Avenue Campus on a University Open Day to provide an insight into maritime archaeology for prospective undergraduate students, and to give current postgraduate students training and experience in outreach activities. The Maritime Bus is the only archaeology-themed exhibition of its kind in the UK. It was originally part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Engaging New Audiences project, which ran from 2009 to 2012, and has since then continued to bring maritime archaeology to thousands all over the country.

The Bus itself is filled with information boards, a collection of artefacts for handling, touch-screen computers, a microscope corner, books, mini-ROVS, mini-Airlifts, and lots of other activities. At the end of the day, everything packs away into the back of the bus – the roof folds down and the stage folds up – making it incredibly mobile.

I got involved with the Maritime Archaeology Trust, and then the Maritime Bus, several years ago after MAT staff visited my college for a talk about maritime archaeology, and after the talk I asked to be involved.  A few months later I was invited to be part of the Maritime Bus Crew, and I spent the next three years  volunteering on it whenever I could. The Maritime Bus went all over the country, and even abroad to France, the Netherlands and Belgium, to a range of schools, clubs, events and shows.

I now work for the Maritime Archaeology Trust, and the Maritime Bus is still one of my favourite parts of the job. Not only is it fun and unique, but it gives people the chance to really engage with maritime heritage in a very hands-on way. When I tell someone they’re holding a 16,000 year old handaxe, the reaction is one you simply don’t get if they were looking at it in a glass case in a museum. That’s part of what makes the Maritime Bus so special: the barriers are removed and with the help of staff and an enthusiastic cohort of volunteers, visitors are treated to an experience that is not quickly forgotten.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Maritime Archaeology Trust – on the Maritime Bus, in education and outreach,  research, fieldwork or diving – please email Caroline at

Conservation Project at Maori Meeting House

Recording Hinemihi using Computational Photography

On Sunday the 23rd June 2013, a team from the University of Southampton took part in Hinemihi’s annual Maintenance Day. Using cameras, combined with new computational photography techniques, the team recorded some interesting details of Hinemihi.

Hinemihi is a Maori Meeting House, one of only four outside of New Zealand. Hinemihi is situated in the grounds of Clandon Park, a National Trust managed site. Every year, University College London Institute of Archaeology brings Conservation students and staff to Clandon Park, and along with volunteers, work to clean Hinemihi. Yvonne Marshall, Eleonora Gandolfi and I (Nicole Beale), spent the day working with the staff and students present, alongside many volunteers, to create some RTIs of Hinemihi. We were delighted to be able to attend this year’s event.

Hinemihi in the grounds of Clandon Park.
The impressive facade of Clandon Park, which sits opposite Hinemihi
An example of the challenge that the UCL Conservation team and the Hinemihi community face in preserving and protecting Hinemihi. Note the flaking paint, and the damp green covering.

The meeting house has some interesting etched words on the wooden carved sculptures that make up her interior and exterior. These engraved words have been eroded and in some cases almost entirely lost underneath the many layers of paint that protect the wood underneath. We were interested to find out how useful RTI would be to record and decipher this text. I think that you’ll agree that the results below give the answer: Very useful indeed!

One of the many intricately carved wooden sculptures of Hinemihi. Upon which words are engraved.
An example of the engraved words that we were recording using RTI.

We also carried out a few other quick recording techniques, which I’ve outlined below. We’re hoping to return to Hinemihi soon with UCL, to contribute more to the recording of this important Maori Meeting House.

Useful Links

Hinemihi’s website, Te Maru O Hinemihi, is:

National Trust’s webpages for Clandon Park and Hinemihi:

UCL IoA website:

You can read more about UCL’s involvement in Hinemihi here:


Taking a series of photographs which overlap by a minimum of 30%, we created a 3D model of some of Hinemihi’s sculptures. If you would like to try this, there is a free version of photogrammetry software here:

Photogrammetry Results

This is the result of the photogrammetry that we did on the roof support pole.


Reflectance Transformation Imaging

With a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging, we made images of objects that have an interactive light-source. These image look just like photographs, but allow you to see surface information of the objects that would normally be invisible to the naked eye. You can try this yourself as the software is free, visit:

RTI Results

Click on the images below to see the results. Each image will rotate through the results of the RTI. Our Flickr page has the high resolution images, ACRG Flickr Group:

Word no. 1

Word no. 1 close-up

Word no. 2

Word no. 2 close-up

Word no. 3

Word no. 3 close-up

Word no. 4

Word no. 4 close-up

Word no. 5

Word no. 5 close-up


Using a Gigapan, a robotic tripod head which attaches to a digital camera, we created 360 degree panoramas of high resolution images of the areas around Hinemihi. You can try a free version of panorama software here:

Panoramas Results

Hinemihi Hangi

On Sunday 30th June, Yvonne Marshall returned to Hinemihi to attend the annual Hangi fundraiser, organised by the Te Kohanga Reo o Rānana. Yvonne handed out leaflets explaining the results of the RTI and photogammetry, that we’ve outlined above, and showed people the images of the 3D model of the central post that we’ve made.

Action songs being performed at the Hangi.

The food was fabulous, and the weather gorgeous.

The Hangi is opened!
The cooked food is lifted and prepared for serving.

You can see more about the event at their website:

Totem Pole Blessing Ceremony in British Columbia

Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre

On 16th May 2013, Nicole Beale and I were privileged to attend the blessing of four recently completed and newly erected totem poles at the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) in Whistler, BC, Canada. The ceremony not only blessed and thereby ‘opened’ the new poles but also honoured the four master carvers, Ray Natraoro, Xwalacktun, Aaron Nelson-Moody (known as ‘Splash’), Jonathon Joe and their apprentices for their work, thanked a wide array of people for supporting “The Spirits Within Carving Project” and helping bring it to fruition, and formally presented to the centre a 1600 year old stone bowl recently recovered from the Squamish River during excavations involving local archaeologist Dr Rudy Reimer.

The impressive entrance to the new Cultural Centre
The Cultural Centre is nestled in between the mountains that surround Whistler. The views from inside the Centre are breath-taking.

Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Conference

Nicole and I were in Whistler for the Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Conference. It was organised by Dr Eldon Yellowhorn, Piikani First Nation, and ‘hosted’ by Dr Rudy Reimer, of the Squamish First Nation – Whistler falls within the traditional territories of the Squamish Nation. Both Eldon and Rudy are Professors of Archaeology in the newly established Department of First Nations Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Eldon is also Head of Department and past president of the CAA.

We were part of a day-long session Community-Oriented Archaeology. Our presentations are online at the session’s blog.

Conference session blog:

Yvonne Marshall, Presentation

Nicole Beale, Presentation and Presentation Notes

Conference website:

Totem Pole Blessing Ceremony

Exploring the grounds of the Cultural Centre. the moss-capped building in the distance is the restaurant/cafe/meeting room of the Centre.

Nicole and I we were hoping for a taste of legendary First Nations hospitality – and we were not disappointed. Being on the spot for a new totem pole blessing, not to mention ending the conference with a salmon banquet in the restaurant of the Cultural Centre, exceeded even our wilder expectations. The blessing ceremony was moving, engaging, delightful, at times irreverent and funny and at other times solemn, respectful and spiritual. The master of ceremonies was indeed masterful, slipping skilfully between ceremonial address, ritual practice, formal joking, gentle teasing, and simple explanation for those of us who would otherwise have had little idea of what was actually going on.

Looking down from the mezzanine, towards the new totem poles.

Witnessing the blessing ceremony made clear to us the extraordinary potential of this place to really make a difference to the lives of local First Nations people, but its extreme vulnerability in an unforgivingly corporate world was equally apparent. British Columbia is blessed with many outstanding museums, among them are the world renown Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, the Vancouver Museum, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University Museum. All are supported by major institutions with substantial budgets. The Cultural Centre is a different kind of animal altogether.

Three of the four stunning new totem poles.

The Centre opened in 2008. It was built as part of a regional development programme implemented in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted at Whistler. While the Centre is supported by the town of Whistler and its corporate community – both the Mayor of Whistler and a representative of at least one major hotel corporation witnessed the blessing and were formally thanked for their support – the heart of the Cultural Centre are the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. Together they comprise some 6,000 people. This is by any calculation a modest resource base with which to maintain this extraordinary Centre, pursue an ambitious cultural journey, and further their mission to inspire, educate and engage people about Squamish and Lil’wat art and culture. No matter how talented they may be, in a world where First Nation members earn on average 20-60% less than non-aboriginal Canadians accomplishing these tasks is going to be a battle.

Totem poles outside the Cultural Centre welcome visitors.
Two spindle whorls in the entrance of the Centre.

So they are going to need lots of help and visitors! Check out if you are thinking of visiting British Columbia.

Two huge spindle whorls greet you as you enter the Centre.


The blessing ceremony was a highlight of our visit… but travelling to Vancouver Airport for our return flight to Heathrow by Canadian bush taxi – a 6-seater Beaver floatplane – was a real blast.

As you can tell from the Cheshire Cat grin, this is Nicole’s first time inside a Canadian Beaver!

Outstanding Biographies: The Forgotten Lives of Prehistoric Monuments in Europe

Next Friday, 6 September 2013, we will be running a very special session at the 19th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Pilsen (Czech Republic), a session dedicated to the lives of prehistoric monuments in Iron Age, Roman and Medieval Europe. Leading scholars in the field will be gathered to present the outstanding biographies of some megalithic monuments, stelae, statue-menhirs and rock art sites in various European and Mediterranean regions. These monuments include Jelling (Denmark), Tara (Ireland), Avebury (United Kingdom), the statue-menhirs of Guernsey, the standing stones and megalithic monuments of Brittany (France), the dolmens of Santa Cruz and Menga (Spain), and the rock art sites of Valcamonica (Italy). At least three of these sites (Jelling, Tara and Santa Cruz), thought built in the Neolithic period, were later used for the coronation of local kings in the first millennium AD.

If you are attending the meeting, come to our session! You will find the details below.

The interior of the dolmen of Menga, the largest dolmen known on the Iberian Peninsula to date (Antequera, Málaga, Spain). Photography courtesy of Dr. Leonardo García Sanjuán.
The interior of the dolmen of Menga, the largest dolmen known on the Iberian Peninsula to date (Antequera, Málaga, Spain). Photography courtesy of Dr. Leonardo García Sanjuán.
Excavation of one of the medieval burials located in front of the entrance of the dolmen of Menga (Antequera, Málaga, Spain). Photography courtesy of Dr. Leonardo García Sanjuán.
Excavation of one of the medieval burials located in front of the entrance of the dolmen of Menga (Antequera, Málaga, Spain). Photography courtesy of Dr. Leonardo García Sanjuán.

When and where:

Friday, 6 September 2013, 08:30–13:00, Session A29 – Room: EU 108 (Building 1, ground floor)

Session title:

Outstanding Biographies: The Life of Prehistoric Monuments in Iron Age, Roman and Medieval Europe


Marta Díaz-Guardamino (University of Southampton, UK), Leonardo García Sanjuán (University of Seville, Spain) and David Wheatley (University of Southampton, UK)

Session abstract:

Some Prehistoric stone monuments accrued complex life-histories that spanned over millennia. Their ‘aura’ and material properties, namely, their large scale and durability, fostered their involvement in complex historical settings in which competing ‘world views’, cultural traditions and identities transformed them in places of special significance. In these contexts, prehistoric monuments have played active roles in the institutionalization, contestation and negotiation of memories, ideologies, values and power relations. This session seeks to explore the role of prehistoric monuments in these processes of cultural and social production (i.e. hybridization, resistance, assimilation) through the adoption of a biographical approach.  In particular, through the examination of the biographies of selected paradigmatic megalithic monuments, stelae and statue-menhirs, and Rock Art sites in various regions of Europe, this session will be aimed at examining the role played by some prehistoric monuments in the unfolding of the complex social processes that lie behind traditional concepts such as ‘Orientalization’, ‘Romanization’ or ‘Christianisation’.

Session programme:

A29.01: Kings’ Jelling
by Steen Hvaas (Danish Agency for Culture, Denmark)

A29.02: Icons of Antiquity: Remaking Megalithic Monuments in Ireland
by Gabriel Cooney (University College Dublin, Ireland)

A29.03: The Outstanding Biography of Eliseg
by Howard Williams (University of Chester, UK)

A29.04: The myth of the “real” Avebury
by David Wheatley (University of Southampton, UK)

A29.05: Les Pierres de Memoire: the Life-history of Statue-menhirs in Guernsey
by Heather Sebire (English Heritage, UK)

A29.06: Back and forward: Neolithic standing stones and Iron Age «stelae» in French Brittany
by Luc Laporte (CNRS, France), Marie-Yvane Daire (CNRS, France), Elias Lopez-Romero (University of Durham, UK), Gwenolé Kerdivel (University of Nantes, France)

Coffee break

A29.07: From a Neolithic center of power to the dawning site of a kingdom of the Early Middle Ages (737 AD): the case of the dolmen of Capilla de Santa Cruz (Asturias, Spain)
by Miguel Ángel de Blas Cortina (University of Oviedo, Spain)

A29.08: Outstanding biographies in southern Iberia: Exploring the life of some Prehistoric monuments in the First Millennium AD
by Leonardo García Sanjuán (University of Sevilla, Spain)

A29.09: Signs of their Times: The Life of Prehistoric Stelae and Statue-Menhirs in Iron Age, Roman and Medieval Iberia
by Marta Díaz-Guardamino (University of Southampton, UK)

A29.10: Understanding past people’s images of the past through their manipulation of prehistoric monuments
by Estella Weiss-Krejci (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)

A29.11: Life and death of Copper Age monoliths at Ossimo Anvòia (Val Camonica, Italian Central Alps), 3000 BC–AD 1950
by Francesco Fedele (University of Naples ‘Federico II’ (1980–2011, retired), Italy)

A29.12: What happens when tombs die? The historic afterlife of the Cretan Bronze Age tombs.
by Borja Legarra Herrero (University College London, UK)

Meetings make History

At the end of May I visited Florø, western Norway as part of the scientific/steering committee for the ‘Meetings make History’ project run by Ingrid Fuglestvedt at Oslo University. The ‘Meetings make History’ project is based on Ingrid’s analysis and interpretation of the Stone Age rock art of Scandinavia, characterised by animal motifs.

She argues that the internal patterns on many animal motifs depict totemic relationships: motifs in different regions of Scandinavia are subtly different in form. We were in western Norway to visit one of the most spectacular rock art locations in Scandinavia (and possibly the world): Vingen.

I’ve always wondered whether the phrase ‘Meetings make History’ was meant to have a double meaning, as the project also incorporates occasional gatherings or meetings of archaeologists to discuss the progress of the project. The first day began with a superb set of papers from some of the people associated with the project. Astrid Nyland, a doctoral student on the project, began the day with a wonderful discussion of Stone Age quarry sites in Norway. The aim of the project is to map the relationship between quarry sites and rock art sites.

Continue reading “Meetings make History”