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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Archaeological Excavation: Samtavro, Georgia 2009

The first archaeological excavation I was part of was the excavation at the Roman - Medieval burial grounds at Samtavro, near the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Iberia, Mtskheta, in the Republic of Georgia in 2009.

The Picture I use on this blog as my profile picture, when you scroll down and look at the 'About me'  section on the main page is a water colour portrait done by the site artist Larry Pavlenishvili, who asked to paint me because I looked interesting...I guess because of my mixture of pale but sun burnt skin, light small blue eyes, long strawberry blonde hair with natural highlights from working in the sun at that time and ginger beard. The Georgians also loved my iconic "aussie" hat which is actually a leather broad rim hat that I got to go on a school trip to Central Australia, which got a bit heat warped out of shape. Every archaeologist needs an iconic hat right? Indiana Jones wouldn't be the same without one!  It was painted while I was sitting on the side wall of a high status  Roman tomb, resembling a terracotta house, where they found the gold ring a couple of days after I left, and the portrait was finished while I sat on the large capstone of a partially excavated Medieval stone lined cist tomb, both under the large shelter of what is today the Samtavro open air museum. You can read a little about the dig below:

And if you read the Article 'Unearthing New Mysteries in an Ancient Kingdom" in Articulation December 2009, you can see some good photos of the site and some of the tombs. I worked on many graves, but you can see one of them in the photo of  the inhumation burial you can see in this Roman period terracotta lined  cist tomb on the right, and you can see the large trench I worked in the right hand half of the trench in the photo above the photo of some of the treasures found: My trench partner Aleksandra Michalewicz and I excavated, bagged and recorded the bronze and silver bangle bracelets and a necklace with over 200 beads of semiprecious stones, including several interesting shaped ones such as a milk bottle that were once worn on a necklace. You can see those finds in the photo of the finds, below the trench photo. The photo to the left of this is that tomb where the 12-13 year old girl was buried with these adornments.

The publication of the full excavation reports of the 3 year excavation at Samtavro were  published in 2010 and can be accessed here from

Were the Ancient Greeks and Romans Colour Blind?

A recent piece doing the rounds at the moment looks at famous phrases in Classical Literature, like 'the wine-dark sea' to describe the Mediterranean in the Iliad. Sea's are not red so what this points out is a difference in how ancient people compared to modern people viewed the world. One difference is probably not so much how they perceived colours they saw, but how they described them. It's quite common across ancient languages to describe things more generally and context fills in the layers of more specific meaning, and terms for colours often refer to a hue eg a modern dictionary will tell you a word means say 'red' but in another language that may refer not to a specific shade but a spectrum of shades bronze like orange, brown-reds to crimson to burgundy or purplish-red colours. There can also be a range of symbolism with a colour as well eg green with envy. It seems there is a tendency for modern languages, and especially in English to try and classify everything more specifically just think how many specific terms there are today for every form and sub genre of music or dance etc.

Another thing worth noteing is then, as now, metaphors, allusions, kennings and poetry may be employed for a powerful emotional and symbolic effect. You cannot assume everything was intended literally, especially when browsing snippets of colour descriptions from a range of ancient texts, and quoting them outside of their original and intended context.

Rethinking the Role of Museums

We were also lucky to have visiting Director of the Georgian National Museum Professor David Lordkipanidze host a discussion on museums and museum management at the Archaeological Reading Group, held in the Classics Library. Georgia is going back to the future as it were, with it's thinking on what a museum is/can be/aught to be, and looking towards that more 19th century idea that a museum should be the prime place for bringing together science and culture, maintains collections but also keeping these available to and linked to the latest research.

So then that the museum holds exhibitions, maintains collections, provides space for art, theatre and cultural expression, is utilised for public and academic education (and careers) and outside but linked to universities and laboratories as a premiere research institution, this nationally and internationally, and horizontally and vertically creating networks of exchange and ideas! But the seeds have to be planted now, so that our museums can still stay relevant to modern times, and do not become an extinct institution.

He also sees arts/humanities/social sciences and the natural and hard sciences as naturally complementing one another, and perhaps they should overlap and communicate more in their work and institutional settings, especially museums. Archaeology is taught here as an arts subjects however overseas and even interstate within my own country, it can be studied as a science. I have always felt Archaeology straddles the borders between the natural sciences and the purer humanities. After all if archaeologists fail to take into account scientific data then something is seriously lacking in their methods, but likewise scientific data lacking a cultural context (and archaeology is all about context!) of the people who have left the material culture behind that is being studied, then the data itself becomes meaningless figures if not applied in light of that humanities understanding. Eg Understanding and chemically analysing why a pottery vessel is found in a context, when it was deposited, what chemical residue it contained, and if possible, why this was done. I personally agree and fully appreciate a view that can embraces both sciences and the arts, but then perhaps this is more akin to the minds of the ancients, and more easily embraced by those today who study them.

Amazingly thoughtful and inspiring stuff from a little reading group chat!! Time to plant some intellectual seeds.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The First Humans Out of Africa: Hominin Dispersal in the Old World.

In the past few weeks I've had my uni orientation for commencing my Ph.D  in Archaeology and finding my feet as a postgraduate researcher. So far I've met lots of interesting people, taken lots of nice photos, got some pretty good resources and have been made to to feel very welcome by the staff, fellow Classics and Archaeology postgrads and lecturers! We also had Professor David Lordkipanidze, the head of the Republic of Georgia's National Museums come out to Melbourne and give a talk on both his archaeological, or rather paleoanthropological and neuroscience work on the Dmanisi homonid, which raises a few interesting questions about human evolution, the postgrads were fortunate enough to get the chance to show him a little bit around Melbourne and get to ask him a couple of questions, which was a great opportunity both in terms of answers to questions but also in terms of that more vocational advice you can only get from someone who has built up a respected and well established international career as a leader in their field. can watch the recorded public lecture here: