Saxa Loquuntur – How to understand the tales of stones

As I told you last week, I was on my way to Italy – and now, I am back here in Austria, sitting in my appartment, enjoyed a wunderful silent and easy Sunday without people and with a lot of reading and a lot of movies. And no, I did not think about my thesis. 😉

I was in desperate need of such a day – and I have taken off the next two days, just to recover myself, get my appartment cleaned, my clothes washed and my brain restarted. What helps you better with that than housework? At least, it helps me a lot. 🙂

So, here I am ( I admit it, the photo is from 2016), but still, it was another summer course and I am busy taking measurements of the letters of an inscritpions – while my colleague, who should acutally write the measurements down ( we were working in pairs), took this photo. 🙂

This post will be a short summar of my trip to Italy. One of many trips to the lovely city of Aquileia, now not that big deal, but maybe some of you know Grado? On your way to Grado you are passing Aquileia. If you have time, take a stop, get some ice cream and wander around. The city has some secrets to share.

I was here for the epigraphic summerschool of our university – this time with a little presentation of myself and some really important tasks, e.g. doing photographs of unpublished inscriptions and showing some photogrammetry and SFM, to get people involved with the material.

For me, teaching like that (yes, I may look like the holiday version of Lara Croft, but actually this is my teaching outfit on summer courses near the sea) has one important feature to give to students. Epigraphy is about text, yes. That does the name of this discipline define very clearly. Something engraved on a material. But for the text you need the material. And therefore, it is not only important to note the text, to follow the rules of documentation, translation and editing of inscriptions, but also to actually feel it. You have to work on the stone, the metal plate, the potsherd, etc. You have to touch it, describe it, think about it. You take measurements, descriptions of the reliefs and the decoration, you note everything you came across on the setting of the inscriptions and the letters.

How do we do an epigraphic course? Well, we start with one day of introductional presentations and then we will go and work on the material – that is, why Aquileia is so great as location for epigraphic courses. There is a very large number of inscribed stones – so, one will never get lonely. I can tell by now, it was my fifth course and I am still finding new things in the museums… 😉

Inscriptions are by means hust found in museums – some of them exist on mountainious passes, like this example here, dating back to Roman times and prooving this site as an ancient trade route.

So, how to read an inscription? Well, first step: No. You just don’t go there and start reading. Latin epigraphy (which we are dealing with in this post) is characterized by certain abbreviations of names, titles, positions of military and civil Roman careers, as well as by certain formulas. Things change by time, so some of these characteristics are even important for dating the whole thing. So, before you actually read the inscription – you spell it. You sit, you have your pen and your sheets ready and then you start to decipher one letter after another.

After spelling comes the reading and the resolving of the abbreviations. So, this will be step 2. Then you describe everything on the inscription field, the letters and so on. Next, the monument itself has to be described. What is it, when has it been found, where has it been found, are there any other notes on this site, other insriptions or dated material? Where is the object located now, does it have an inventory number, etc. Describing is hard work, you know. I am sometimes just taking the pictures, my colleagues describe the objects and help me with the setting of the lights. It is not that easy to take good photographs of inscriptions – basically, you should be able to read the whole text. So, this will be a question for the right light. In photography, everything is about light.

As far as I am now, I am unfortunately not allowed to post any photographs showing me with my working methods on the objects (how I set the light etc.), but I am working on it – I think it will be a nice tutorial for those of you interested in the process.

For the understanding of the many tales our material has to tell us, especially when bearing inscriptions of any kind, please, make yourself clear that you are dealing with a source which carries the directly engraved thoughts of people now long gone and vanished from this world of ours. This is why epigraphy is actually a very important discipline – yes, as long as they do not forget about the importance of involving archaeological method and information as working.

I hope, I have given you a short insight of our summercourses – there will be one next year, same time, so… if you are interested, please, do not hesitate to ask me about it.

For now, I hope you enjoyed this post – please, feel free to ask any questions on your mind. And stay tuned for more stone-things. 🙂

All the best,

Astrid

The “real archaeologist” and what this has to do with epigraphy

So, here I am, sitting in a car, with my colleagues, on my way to lovley Italy, looking forward to a week full of inscriptions, stones, epigraphic documentation work and photography fun.

Oh, and I give a very short presentation on our finding-spot map of our current project on Celtic divine names on Roman inscriptions on the province of Germania Inferior. My inspiration for that post and the title came actually from Sara Perry’s blogpost on “Who exactly is a ‘real’ archaeologist?” (Check it out here! And spent some time on her blog, I love reading it!)

So, I am archaeologist by training (you know that, I have written about that even in my post on The D- and the H-part). I am busy working on finishing my thesis. My thesis is busy working on finishing me – the struggle is for real, dear warriors of academia, we all do know this!

Lately, we wondered, if we are really doing good with this blog. Well, you are not supposed to write on current hot new research, because there are some evil people in the world, who actually will steal your ideas from you. You should by no means write about interesting things. You should write in a regular mode, so, we have chosen to post once a week.

So, are we doing good? We got some feedback from friends and colleagues, who told us that they love to read us. So, we are doing good, because we reach some people at least. 😉

As I am busy finishing my thesis with a lot more work than progress, I just got nailed down by this one specific question, I always feared, but never actually thought about. And this one question carries a rat tail of other questions, hated and feared alike.

“Are you a real archaeologist? You are doing so many things with inscriptions, so, basically, a historian’s wirk, right? You are not digging… Aren’t archaeologists always digging? You don’t look like an archaeologist, you know. And, can you even do it, I mean, you are a girl, and digging is hard work?”

So… I can do everything I want, even digging, because I am a real archaeologist. And no girl, I mean – thank you, do I look that young? But no, for digging you need a shovel and two hands to hold it, so, basically every human being can actually dig.

But a lot of archaeological work is done in the library, meaning actually in writing about your findings and material, sitting at your desk and staring on your screen and typing wildly.

Concerning inscriptions… You know, they come very often on stones, metal, even pieces of wood, potsherds, etc. Guess what, you can find things with inscriptions during an archaeological campaign. And now, what do we call them? Inscirptions? Well, yes, but as the material one here, I would like you to call them what they are: archaeological finds. (I know, now you are mind-blown, right?) I have no idea, why it was fancy to divide inscriptions from archaeological material, from their actual context, just to work on the im historical manner. Somewhere back in time, this way of working divided archaeologists and epigraphists and now they are still divided – and now, I come along, telling all of you that those objects with inscriptions are actually archaeological finds, so let me through, I am archaeologist!

I am a big fan of stones since nearly three years. Before that it was all about bones and artificial skull deformation, a research interest I will never give up, because it is interesting and stunning, but hey, you know, human skeletal remains and inscribed material are both different genres of archaeological material, so, I can work on both because – I am a real archaeologist. So, where are my inscriptions?!

So… stay tuned, you will hear from me, the real archaeologist. Well, you will hear from me, as long as there will be decent WLAN… 😉

Bouldering Braunschweig – at Aloha Sport Club

As you might know, I currently am a research fellow at Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel to work on my dissertation. But of course, we promised we would review bouldering places we visit during our travels. So today, I will give you a short little review of Aloha Sport Club Braunschweig. Since I am here quite long term, you will get a long term (= 4 week) review and not just first impressions.

Overview first

First of all, Aloha Sport Club doesn’t offer bouldering facilities only. It also has tennis and squash and I don’t remember what else. The location is a quite run-down building from the outside, but it’s an ok sports place on the inside. Just like old fitness facilities used to be in Germany, only that most of them have probably been replaced by more modern fitness studios nowadays. Well, this one hasn’t and it includes a decent sized bouldering room, so no complaints here. The locker rooms are not places where you want to stay and shower, but I always shower at home anyway. And coming from Wolfenbüttel, this location is the closest of the three bouldering places in Braunschweig (the other ones being Greifhaus and Fliegerhalle), to be reached in about 15-20 minutes by car. Most reviews also mention that it’s quite an ok facility on the inside once you got over the shock of how run-down it looks from the outside 😉

 

Zoom and Filter

The routes

There aren’t many people there, but the regulars are quite nice and talk to you easily. As for the routes, I find them a bit weird. At first, I thought I just needed to adapt (I am afraid of heights when I don’t trust the wall and the mats yet). But now that I’ve been there more than once, I feel like something’s off with how the boulders are done. Of course you can always use techniques like flagging if you really master them and get away with practically anything. But I am still at the beginning of learning flagging and I have real difficulty here. I feel that the walls just don’t really afford technique, if you know what I mean.

The feeling is completely different from our home base at Boulderclub Graz where all the routes feel quite natural – even if the advanced ones are still of limits to you as a (relative) newbie. When you look at them or watch an advanced person do the routes, it is usually quite clear that they were set with the flagging technique in mind and you can always figure out a meaningful way to do it with flagging. Usually, most well-set routes become manageable once you approach them systematically and with ok technique. The difficulty is mostly to figure them out systematically and then go through with it practically. Here, this is not at all the case.

Difficulties mislabeled

In my frustration, I googled for reviews and found that many complete beginners (first time bouldering) thought it was wonderful and left positive comments. And that’s ok. It’s not a bad place to go bouldering. But I also feel that in comparison to home, the way the boulders are done is a lot worse. They just don’t feel natural. And voilà, a quick web search turned up that more experienced boulderers (is that the correct term?) have felt the same way. Some comments I found said that they thought most boulders afforded “solving” them by force rather than technique. Somebody else said that the difficulties were seriously mislabeled – which, by the way, I also felt. I am completely unable to complete difficulties I normally master. There are some really easy routes, but a lack of intermediary ones. The “second level” and “third level” (to avoid colour differences between countries) are often really difficult. That would be green and blue in Graz, but yellow and green at Aloha.

Comparison to Graz

At home, I had been at the point where I can complete the “first level” (yellow in Austria) easily, the “second one” (green) in 80% of the cases unless it’s a difficult one which I can work out after a couple of times and then, I manage – say – about 30% of “third level” (blue) routes and progressing quickly. Here it’s white, yellow, green, blue. And I can only do yellow. Those are almost a bit too easy. But then yellow sometimes have nothing to grip properly or are spaced apart so much that I would have to jump which I don’t fancy. Green ones totally don’t work out. Even though in Graz, I at least usually have a good go at them (blue here) even if I don’t manage all of it. At Aloha, even though green here should theoretically be the same level as blue in Graz, I really don’t get anywhere at all with them. So far. It’s quite difficult to progressively work boulders out if can’t even get parts of the route. I think the problem might be that there is too big a gap in difficulty between level 2 and 3 labels. Maybe it’s going to get better the more I get used to them. Hopefully. And I am progressing. So maybe it’s just me taking a little longer to adapt to this new wall… 

 

Mislabeled difficult routes are bad for newbie motivation

Overall, seeing as I only started climbing around 4 months ago, I think it’s not super great to be in an environment where I can’t do the level that I usually do. Someone who’s been bouldering for a very long time with a very high skill level, might be able to compensate for this or their self-esteem is less affected by little failures like that. But for me, I think this environment is not optimal for my progress, since it’s just demotivating and frustrating. That’s why I will try the other bouldering place soon, just to reassure myself that the fault is not mine. (Edit: I actually did and it turned out that it really seems like the problem wasn’t on my part – the other place went much better.) 

Jumps required in supposedly easy routes

Also, I often feel that the routes must have been set by someone really tall. Because those from the “second level”, I often felt were not doable for someone my size without jumping / leaps which is definitely not “second level” (and I am seriously afraid of that, so I can’t complete a lot of routes which would be doable for my level apart from the jump). The jump is also not big enough that I think it’s deliberate either. I think they just didn’t take into account that a smaller person can’t reach that far even with the best technical approach and full body extension. And, at least from what I have seen in Graz, deliberate longer jumps are not usually part of blue ones. These are mostly labeled purple in Graz (“fourth level”), so should be blue here. It could be, of course, that I seriously misread the routes and just didn’t get how they were supposed to be done. So it could be my fault. But then again, this is my review, so my feelings as a customer count 😉

 

If I hadn’t paid for a monthly ticket in advance, I would have probably changed to somehwere else

But to be honest, I already have paid for a pass for one month, but am seriously considering trying the Fliegerhalle this Friday. Just to get my motivation back up (hopefully). Because here, I really feel like a complete idiot even although my fitness levels have definitely improved lots over the last weeks. (I decided to do some sort of personal fitness challenge while I’m here).

 

Volume regulations

Also, another interesting fact maybe: it seems customary here that you can use volumes even when there isn’t a boulder from your route on them. In Graz, if you want to stick to the rules, you should only use volumes when they are marked as part of your route by the presence of a boulder (mostly a mini-boulder) in your routes’ colour. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. Maybe I would just have to make use of the wall and volumes more to manage the routes here. Well anyway, I think I’l never feel quite at ease with the Aloha wall. Sorry to have to give a bad review in the end ;(

 

Asked a guy whether he liked the place and he praised it, but failed to mention he worked there

Something else has happened to me and it was this: I got talking to some guy and asked him whether he thought this was a good bouldering place (also in comparison to other options in Braunschweig) and he said that, yes, he thought it was the best one in BS. But what he failed to mention is that he works at the place. So obviously he thinks his spot is the best. I don’t know but I personally would have given a disclaimer like “I work here, so I’m probably biased, but I think this place is the best for objective reason XY”.

Because it became obvious he worked there the second time I came to the gym already. So he might as well have mentioned it. Felt a bit weird finding this out right about the same time I was starting to have doubts whether I had picked the right place. I had bought a ticket for a month anyway (I assumed this was the ideal location for me because of the relative closeness to my appartment and the fact that I didn’t have to travel through Braunschweig town in order to get there). So it wouldn’t have made a difference. But anway.

 

Detail on Demand

Since I wanted to share my first impression, or that is to say, the impression of my first week going to Aloha Club, I have left this first part of the article the way I wrote it after the first week. But I scheduled it to a few weeks later, so I could add later experiences and also to add the comparison with the other places in Braunschweig I have tried out. Furthermore, I didn’t want to post a somewhat negative review while I was still going there, so I waited to publish it until after my monthly ticket had run out. So this following rest of the article will be from later experiences.

 

The one-month-pass

After one month of going regularly to Aloha (2-3 times a week consistently), I will give some final impressions. Frist thing, the monthly pass is around 35€, so quite cheap and only 2/3 of the price in Graz. However, I still stick with some of my criticisms.

The boulders are often quite seriously mislabelled. A nice guy who turned out to be chief of boulder setting at Aloha told me that he is aware of the problem but since everybody there sets those boulders for free in their free time and they tend to be very hurt if you change their labelling, they usually remain the way they are. Most boulders have a little sticker with the name of the person who set it, so the regulars apparently are all aware that if it says ‘Meik’, consider it at least one level more difficult than the label. Well, that’s nice for the regulars. But still, I think that the customer is king (or queen) in the end. And if the people who set the boulders are super down when their labelling is criticized – hello, if you are able to set crazy difficult boulders it’s quite pussy of you if you can’t take criticism. After all, the boulders are not set by babies either.

Aloha should really think about improving their policy on this because it is a major drawback for me. Even if I am supposed to know that the boulders might be mislabelled, it hurts my ego when I can’t do the stuff that I usually do. That, in turn, acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy causing me to generally perform below my skill level or at least stops me from raising to the challenge, which I usually do at some point. This is not fun in the long term.

And I’m quite sure I am not the only person who is like this. Since Flliegerhalle is not far away, (plot twist) actually much easier to reach by car from the motorway,  and hardly more expensive (a few euros on a monthly ticket), I would recommend everyone to go to Fliegerhalle. Really sorry, nice people at Aloha. Furthermore, as Aloha already has to make up for its somewhat shabby look, they should definitely take these issues more seriously. Fliegerhalle is just generally a much more put together place that’s fun to be in and doesn’t look like a derelict building either. In the direct comparison, I personally wouldn’t find one single reason to choose Aloha over Fliegerhalle if I had the choice.

 

Pro-tip: Never buy a long-term ticket before you have tried the place at least 1-2 times

So what do we learn from my mistakes? Never buy a long-term ticket before you have tried the place at least 1-2 times. Even if it will be more expensive in the long run / for a single try, always try the place at least 1-2 times before buying a ticket for a longer period of time.

On the upside: Weird routes forced me to focus on technique

As for the more positive stuff. Since I couldn’t do hardly any of my usualy skill level at Aloha and even the level 2 stuff sometimes was quite a bit more difficult or respectively made less sense than what I was used to, I had to work hard on my technique to reach half of the output in mastered routes that I usually have. So I made it my job for this month to kinda ‘vanquish’ this wall. I now am at the point where all the yellow ones (level 2) are kind of too easy, but most of the green ones (level 3) are kind of too hard. (Whereas I think I would be at a level to master at least 70% of blue ones = level 3 in Graz by now.)

I have used the time to teach myself a few new techniques for my repertoire which will always come in handy, I guess. So not really time lost in terms of training. I even had a really cool session every third session. But the ones in between tended to be quite annoying and frustrating which is uncommon for me. In Graz I would have a frustrating session max. once every 4-5 times.

 

Pro: Nice regulars and volunteers cheered me on

But, then again, some of the nice people I met there helped teach me how to dyno and explained how to figure out a particular route for me. That was super nice. But still, if most of the routes are set in a way that a non-pro person cannot figure them out at all without help from those who know how the routes “were meant to be climbed”… I can’t really see how that’s a good thing in the end… Alright, some nice people helped me out – those people are not Aloha. But this is a review of Aloha. And Aloha’s quality was average, if you ask me. 

 

Final summary

So that was four weeks of bouldering at Aloha. Apparently, a lot of German climbing champions climb there. But still, I am not a fangirl type of person (unless it comes to researchers or historical people, or  Magnus Midtbo, I guess), so I really couldn’t care less if the *best German boulderers ever* came to this gym. So, summing up, it is set well for complete beginners who will find enough easy ones for a fun session and it has some nice stuff for very advanced boulderers. If, like me, you are in between and just don’t pass as really “advanced” yet, there is quite a gap and you will be forced to do stuff which is either too easy or despair on stuff which is rather way too difficult to make a nice training progresison. So, regardless of the apparent appeal for very good boulderers, it still is set badly for the average user and, sorry to have to say that, I would definitely recommend going to Fliegerhalle instead.

Best regards,

Sarah

 

Resources

Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand” is the so-called Shneiderman’s mantra for data visualization. The blog headings were organized according to this mantra for no reason in particular 😉

Book Review: Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

Today, I wanted to give you another book review. This time, it’s quite a short review and the book is: Joshua Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, NY 2007.

Not a lot of practical takeaways

I thought this would be a relevant book from all of us in the ‘learning industry’. The title ‘The Art of Learning’ kind of suggests a book with practical tips. Also, from the never-ending praise Tim Ferriss has for the book, I would have expected a more practical approach. That’s how I came to read this book now (or rather listen to the audiobook on my way to my research stay up north). But, as it turns out, TFs 4h Chef actually is way more practical with tips on how to approach learning than Waitzkin.

Mostly an autobiography

Waitzkin’s book really is mostly an autobiography. It recounts his journey and successes as chess genius and then as a martial arts champion. Some of it was kind of interesting, but for me who is neither a chess nor martial arts fan, it was kind of boring because of the lengthy recounting of matches. I was almost thinking about not finishing the book.

One takeaway after all

I ended up finishing it after all and one concept stuck with me that I wanted to share today. It is a simple concept and Waitzkin doesn’t really offer a solution but it was an important pattern for me to notice in my own life.

It is the destabilizing impact small failures can have. Waitzkin recounted endless matches where he went into downward spirals after a little insecurity and opponents who actively played to destabilize him. He realized that he lacked in the area of bouncing back from failure. He then trained to basically ignore failure and continue as though nothing had happened and ended up even more successful, now able to handle much stronger opponents.

The destabilizing impact of small failures

I realized that I am very fragile when it comes to little failures. I am a control freak sometimes and this is, essentially, due to the fact not that I were afraid of failure itself, but rather afraid that I might not be able to get back on track after a failure. So I try to maintain a rigorous productive routine and am taken aback when a week of conferencing throws me off track. Often, this ends up a self-fulfilling prophecy because I really find myself unable to get back on track. I think this is because of all of the pressure I put on myself in these situations (which could be completely normal situations, after all).

The tiny failures end up making you fail in earnest

Had you just gone back to normal after being thrown off track, it would hardly have had any impact. A little failure, a moment’s inattention. They are not that big of a deal. But when you end up getting scared instead of staying calm;  when you react to the failure, you begin to fail in earnest.

So in this respect, Waitzkin’s book has made me aware of an insecurity I have and that I need to find ways of strengthening myself faced with failure. Maybe, as he suggests, meditation would help. And failing a lot, fast. Of course.

So namaste until later,

S.