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The history of archaeology: A research-led approach

Introduction

My name is Charlotte Coull, and I’m a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester in the History Department. I did both my undergraduate degree and my Master’s degree at Manchester before being lucky enough after applying to be offered funding by the History department to complete my PhD here.

I look comparatively at the history of archaeology in India and Egypt in the nineteenth century. Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my topic to them - however I am most definitely a historian and there is no digging involved in my work!

In depth

One of the most interesting things about research is that your topic and focus can change over time; as you read more, you become more aware of what has already been said about your subject, and most importantly you start to see different ways of looking at things and different ideas to pull out of your original material. This sounds intimidating, and you do need to be careful that you eventually find a path and stick with it (otherwise you will never get any work done!), but it can also be exciting. You have the opportunity to create something completely unique that will stand out from the crowd!

When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to look at archaeology over a broad time and I knew I wanted my project to be comparative. My idea was to look for changes over time whilst looking at how and archaeologists reacted differently to what they found in India and Egypt - did they prefer Egyptian artefacts to Indian ones for example? All that hasn’t really changed. But what I have done is focused on stone.

Nineteenth century archaeologists in both countries discovered lots of things, including bones and pottery, but it was stone that really caught their attention in the form of temples, tombs, monuments and megaliths. Stone can be hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old; it can be in ruins or almost perfect; it can be huge, intimidating and strange because the people that used it, the people who built things from it in ancient times, are gone and cannot explain it. Take a look at the images here: this is the stone nineteenth century archaeologists would have found in India and Egypt, but unlike today they did not have technology like radiocarbon dating to tell them how old it was. They often did not know who built things or how.

Three years ago, I didn’t know this. I had not done the reading that told me that archaeologists in the 1800s were so perplexed by stone - it was only as my project progressed that I started to notice this and plan my work around it. Now my whole PhD thesis is looking at how archaeologists knew what they knew about Indian and Egyptian stone - or what they didn’t know.

To do this I work mainly with published material from the nineteenth century. I look at the language archaeologists used to talk about the sites they studied and the information they presented in these books and journal articles to their fellow archaeologists. If an archaeologist has written about how he found Indian temples confusing because they look so different to what he is used to in Britain, then it’s in my work; if an archaeologist has written about how amazingly old the Egyptian pyramids are and how spectacular it is to look at something so ancient, then it’s in my work.

History is a subject with so much potential to let you get creative and push the boundaries - your work can evolve with your thinking and reflect your changing interests!  

Going further

http://trowelblazers.com/ - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie and Adela Catherine Breton.

http://www.asi.nic.in/ - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!


 

Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and the History of Archaeology

by YPU Admin on June 1, 2017, Comments. Tags: archaeology, Egypt, history, Humanities, India, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Charlotte Coull, and I'm a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester, based in the History department. I did both my undergraduate and masters degrees at Manchester, both in History, and was extremely excited to be offered both a PhD place and funding (the History department's own Elsie Farrar award) to continue my studies here. As part of my PhD I also lead seminars with undergraduate students, and have chosen to work as a Widening Participation Fellow because I firmly believe everyone should feel able to go to university if they wish.

In the future I'm hoping to get into public History, and connect with people about my research and encourage them to explore history in general, as knowledge is for everyone! 


In Depth

Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my subject area to them- what I actually do is look at the history of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with no digging involved! I study the work of British archaeologists in India and Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I want to know how they decided what to dig up and study, how they wrote about the artefacts they found, and what they did with those artefacts afterwards (are they in Britain, are they in a museum basement, or did they stay in countries they were discovered in?). I also want to know how discovering the history of Egypt and India changed the way Britain thought about her own history, and why Ancient Egypt is so present in our minds today (think Pyramids, mummies etc) whereas Ancient India is not so well known.

Studying two countries may seem intimidating at first, but I find you can use comparative history to fully open up an area to explore: for example, I want to know what is was about Egypt in the nineteenth century that influenced British archaeologists to behave so differently to archaeologists in India, and what this can tell us about how archaeology as a discipline evolved. My work is also very interdisciplinary- I use aspects of the history of science, intellectual history and museology alongside colonial history and other ideas. One of my supervisors is from the History department, the other is from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine. I find interdisciplinary history incredibly exciting- why stick with one way of doing things, when you can craft your own style using your favourite aspects from multiple areas! 

I work with a variety of historical sources- I have to be creative with finding the material I study! I can go from looking at the personal letters of a famous scholar from the nineteenth century in the British library, to looking at museum records of object acquisitions and displays, to spending time on the internet looking for nineteenth century academic books that have been digitised. I have also recently decided to look at images as part of my research- so last time I was at the British library I spent a morning marvelling at early twentieth century photographs of archaeological digs in India.

I find people often see history as a static and unmoving subject- you pick a topic and are trapped in the library with dusty books looking at that topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth! History is such a varied and broad subject, with so many different ways of approaching it; you can really get creative with your thinking and push the boundaries. What you find will never cease to surprise, and in some cases amaze you!

Going Further

http://trowelblazers.com/ - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie, and Adela Catherine Breton.

http://www.asi.nic.in/ - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!

 

Back to the Old Grind Stone

by YPU Admin on May 27, 2013, Comments. Tags: archaeology, history, pre-history, and tools

Introduction

Imagine life before a word was ever written down, before the Romans marched to war and the Victorians marched on their promenades, before cars, running water, electricity, telephones, and computers, before the internet. People's lives were structured by the needs of the animals that they kept and the crops they grew. Like today, they made friends, had families, grew old and explained the world around them through their beliefs. Prehistoric Archaeology, the study of people before they wrote their thoughts down, aims to imagine what these lives were like.

My name is Ellon Souter and I am a first year PhD student in Archaeology at the University of Manchester. I have finished my Undergraduate and Masters degrees and am now doing my own research on how people used stone tools thousands of years ago in Cyprus. I am studying my PhD part-time, which means that I can work and earn money to support me in my studies. I work as Widening Participation Fellow, which allows me to design and run workshops in Archaeology for secondary students. I am also kept busy round the Department, assisting with teaching, running the Postgraduate Research Seminars and being involved with the Archaeology Society.


In Depth...

I grew up in Northern Scotland, surrounded by castles, hillforts, museums and monuments. I felt that wherever I went, I could see my past stretching back around me and I wanted more and more to know that past. I chose to do an Archaeology BSc at the University of Liverpool and then went on to a Masters at Cambridge. Over the years, Archaeology has taken me on some fantastic adventures, working with human skeletons in the basements of the British Museum, making prehistoric boats and houses in northern Scotland, excavating castles in Latvia, caves in Wales, the earliest houses in Cyprus and even had a go at Stonehenge!

The stone tools that I will be looking at for my PhD come from two sites in the village of Kissonerga, southwest Cyprus. They are next to each other and are thought to represent continuous occupation between 5500-1500B.C. The tools consist of beautifully polished axes, figurines and games. However, the majority of items are equivalent to our kitchen utensils, DIY equipment and other household tools (grinding, hammering stones). I believe that these are the most interesting items to look at as they are integral to everyday work hence inform us about daily life. I will be using a scientific technique called X-Ray Fluorescence to find out where the stones were collected. I hope that this will be useful in finding out how people moved around their environments and communicated with each other. I will be figuring out exactly how these stones were made and used by experimenting with working stone and recording my observations. I will investigate whether these technologies change through time, across the Island and between particular activity areas within my case studies. I hope to show how important these everyday items were and what they might have meant to the prehistoric inhabitants of Cyprus.

When I tell people I’m an Archaeologist, they often ask ‘What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?’ They expect me to tell them about gold and riches. To me, it is about that moment when you suddenly realise that the patch in the dirt you’ve been staring at all day is a flue for a prehistoric oven and our understanding of past technologies changes forever.


Going Further…

If you are interested in finding out more about Archaeology, here are a few links:

University of Manchester Archaeology: Manchester Archaeology is a small friendly department. This will give you an idea of what you could be studying if you came to Manchester.

UCAS: If you are thinking seriously about going to University and studying Archaeology, this site lists all Archaeology courses in the UK and will also give you information (e.g. entry requirements, course details, etc).

Whitworth Park Community Archaeology: An excavation run by the University of Manchester in June 2013 that thrives on community involvement. If you are local, go along and catch a glance into the past of your city.

YAC:  The Young Archaeologists Club runs a range of activities and operates in most areas of Britain.

Television:

BBC History

Archaeology at the BBC: a collection of programmes dating back to the 1950s, available to watch in full. 

http://www.timeteamdigital.com/

Time Team

 

Focus On...Archaeology

by YPU Admin on May 20, 2013, Comments. Tags: archaeology, careers, history, pathways, and study


Archaeology: Digging Up the Past

Have you ever wanted to discover ancient remains in a distant land? Do you feel excitement when watching a team of archaeologists on TV reveal human bones, bronze tools, gold jewellery and pottery? Are you riveted by the details of how a Roman bathhouse worked or how an Iron Age roundhouse was built? If your answer is yes, then archaeology might just be the thing for you.


What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the scientific study and interpretation of past peoples and their lives through studying the material remains they left behind. Archaeologists look at a wide range of artefacts from large buildings and colourfully painted graves down to small clay pots, paintings, stone arrowheads, bone fragments and even pollen and seeds.

The most common way to find past artefacts is by excavating, or by doing a field survery where you collect remains that are visible on the surface. As these activities destroy the precise locations and context of the artefacts, archaeologists record, draw and photograph all information accurately for future generations. All finds are then washed, analysed and interpreted. Finally, the artefacts need to be preserved, possibly reconstructed and stored – frequently in a nearby local museum. All of this work is rarely done by archaeologists alone, but requires a team of specialists, such as geologists, botanists, osteologists, computer specialists, and conservators. Once the analysis has been completed, the findings are published in articles, books or magazines.


Studying archaeology

In order to get expertise in archaeology, an undergraduate degree is the best way to go. Here at Manchester, we offer both single honours and joint honours degrees (with Ancient History, Anthropology or History of Art). With our teaching stretching from the Neanderthals through to modern day and our research areas ranging from Europe, the Near East, Africa through to Australia, the UK and the Pacific, we offer a truly global introduction to the discipline. Our main focus at Manchester is on exploring the social dimension of the past human experience. We offer a unique combination of theoretical enquiry, a concern with the contemporary social context, and a commitment to practical field work (You can watch a video of Manchester's archaeologists here). In addition, we have strong links to the archaeological sciences at the university and to the Manchester Museum whose collections we are able to make use of in our teaching and whose staff members regularly contribute specialist lectures.


Career paths

Archaeology is one of the most varied careers as it draws on the sciences, social sciences and arts. It is also one of the most diverse subjects as it combines activity out in the field with intellectual study and scientific analysis in the laboratory. Archaeologists can be found in the private, public and academic sectors: You could find yourself working at the shovel’s edge in charge of uncovering new sites and finds. Alternatively, you might be working in a museum, designing exhibitions, talking to the public and looking after the collections. Maybe you are employed by the council in charge of providing guidance to developers. Or possibly you are working as a lecturer at university and are undertaking your own research projects throughout the year. Depending on your interests, you might find yourself working at home in Britain, on a hot island in the Mediterranean, on a lone mountain in South America or the cold expanses of Siberia. One thing is for sure: it’s a hugely rewarding career that combines painstaking discovery with stimulating interpretations about past people’s lives.

Even if you don’t see yourself pursuing archaeology as a career, it is an excellent foundation for your future that will serve you well in a wide variety of interesting careers: studying archaeology alerts you to the great diversity between people and social practices; it provides a rigorous training in evaluating evidence and ideas; it encourages the development of creative and critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and a wealth of practical and team working skills that are sought after by employers. As a subject it is challenging, intriguing, satisfying and hugely enjoyable.


The Archaeology of beer!

One recent project carried out by archaeologists (with the help of archaeology students) at Manchester has been the excavation of a Bronze Age beer production installation on Cyprus. A two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure (shown in the picture) was used as a kiln to dry malt for the production of beer three-and-a half-thousand years ago. The beers were brewed from malted barley, and fermented with yeasts produced from fruits such as grape or fig. All the ingredients have been found as carbonised seeds at the site, along with stone tools for grinding the grains and pots for heating the mixture.


Additional clues on beer production on Cyprus come from large decorated pottery bowls like the one shown in the image. You can see people grinding grain and a couple sitting relaxing drinking beer from bowls!



Find out more about archaeology…

To check out Archaeology at Manchester, go to the department's webpage

The Council for British Archaeology supports archaeology across the UK and you can find out about the latest finds, excavations and the Young Archaeologists’ Club from their website.

For up-to-date news about archaeology as well as articles about different topics, go to: http://archaeology.about.com

A recent BBC series uses planes to detect archaeology. Find out more with the ‘flying archaeologist’ blog.

BBC History has excellent website about archaeology (and some self-test quizzes).