May 5, 2016, by Hannah O'Regan

Two go on an adventure to Orkney

On the 31st of March Thomas Fowler, studying a Masters (by Research) in Zooarchaeology and Thomas Fox, a BSc Archaeology student went to Orkney to attend their first conference. In fact they went to two: the Association of Environmental Archaeology Conference and the Professional Zooarchaeology Group meeting.

This is their story, by Tom Fox.

AEA day one – first day of new things!

After arriving in Orkney the day before, we made our way to the St Magnus Cathedral Hall, signed in and waited nervously for the rest of the delegates to arrive. An interesting opening talk from our UHI hosts and then we were on to the lectures! The first day was mainly about the Mediterranean, with a great talk on introductions and colonisations in the Canary Islands, and another on the Iberian cod trade from the Roman Period onwards. After the talks we retired to the hostel to eat and chill out then back to the Hall for the evening’s wine reception. Terry O’Connor gave a lecture on Islands and Connectivity, an interesting talk, particularly as it branched into an area which the UoN Zooarchaeology Lab Group have been chatting about for a while now – interdisciplinary communication and co-operation. More widely he talked about international co-operation and its importance in understanding wider ranging questions about, for example, the Viking Conquests across Europe. Then came wine, whiskey and cheese, all good things that make you new friends. We met Masters students from Bradford, doing really cool stuff with fish and human remains from nearby Roundsay who were presenting posters the following day. After the reception it was off to the pub! I was pleased to catch-up with a friend and colleague on the Bamburgh Research Project, PhD student Tom Gardener. Then it was homeward bound to prep for tomorrow’s festivities.

Fun in the Northern Isles: Tom Fox (left), Tom Fowler (centre) and David Osbourne (also UoN)

Fun in the Northern Isles: Tom Fox (left), Tom Fowler (centre) and David Osborne (right, also UoN) with shiny badges to the fore.

AEA day two
There were varied topics today, including Iceland (much food for thought post-grad wise here!), whaling, the Baltic cod trade and chickens (Yay!). Had a great chat with Albina Pálsdottir, talking about ovids and their identification, amongst other cool stuff. We listened to talks on animal colonisations of Iceland and Britain, lots of stuff popping up using ZooMS, a method of identification using Mass Spectrometry to identify chemical fingerprints of particular animals from the proteins in their bones. Also there was a great discussion of gyrfalcon trading from Iceland to Germany in the 14th/15th century, having the laws and processes explained; bit of a shame they don’t seem to be identified often on archaeological sites. The end of the day was bliss! We retreated to the hostel to clean up then headed out to dinner at the Lynnfield Hotel. A very classy place, beautiful wood panelled interiors and more whiskey varieties than anyone could possibly ever drink. We stood and chatted in groups for a while and then were ushered in en-masse to the dining room, for possibly the nicest meal of my life! The meal started with neep and tattie soup with haggis croutons then onto mains of mutton for me and rib of beef for Tom, it was divine! We finished with clootie dumpling and sat back to chat over coffee and delicious chocolate orange truffles.

Day three – The PZG Meeting
The PZG meeting was brilliant! I sat in and listened to some really cool talks, on whaling, seals in the North Sea, more stuff on Cod and Iceland. It’s been a real eye opener and motivation to re-double my efforts in my own studies to try and one day be able to try and do something as cool and interesting as some of the topics here today. We also met our lovely Nottingham alumnus, Youri van den Hurk. Some more food for thought as to ZooMS and also on the identification of seals, particularly on inland sites where they are not expected, and re-stoking of my desire to learn to identify as many species as possible. I took minutes for the meeting and am charged to write them up. Unfortunately Tom did not get to present his poster (but it looked smashing). We both went back to the hostel tonight thoroughly exhausted (I thought they were kidding when they said three days of conference would be difficult!) We got an early night for the 07:45 flight on the morrow!

Thoughts on the meetings
This weekend was an amazing opportunity, not just to wear a shiny badge and listen to cool research but to learn, network and to find out what academic life in archaeology is all about. I have met some amazing people and learnt a lot about our discipline. The most important things I take away from this experience are my renewed curiosity and fire to learn and a deeper respect and understanding for those people who can hack it in academia.

Posted in conferences