Tag Archives: archaeology

R you ready for archaeological data?

Since I am trying to work myself into the use of programming with R and accomplishing my data analysis with this tool, I have struggled more than one time with the way of thinking “programmer-style”. As trained archaeologist I have practically no idea of the thoughts and ways to work with code.

You may know that really old joke when a programmer gets to do the food shopping and you tell him “Bring one package of milk, if they have eggs, bring 10.” So, the happy noob will head to the market and get one package of milk and 10 eggs. Programmers are used to a different kind of thinking – so they will bring you 10 packages of milk, because they see the condition for it: They have eggs in the store.

I am so grateful that there are no loops necessary in R programming. I tried it once for a course in C++ and it was… well, a decent catastrophe, but still, a catastrophe. I gave up in the end, after hearing most of my tech colleagues saying that an archaeologist has no need for programming. I might have answered that tech people have no need for history, and guess what, some of them really believe that. Because computer science is a modern thing. I did not tell them about the long history of cumputer science – that maths actually was a subject for women, because all man had to be philosophers. History is full of fun facts, my dear hardcore-tech-people, maybe you would like to try it sometime. (Forgive me the bitterness).

I still have to work and think hard on the analysis I want to do. I am not just heading for a simple quantitative analysis, I want to discover certain patterns of motiv combinations, considering the different samples of different temples and other finding spots – just naming one example of the questions I have for my data.

But, again, I had to start at the beginning, meaning cleaning my data. I had to think about naming my categories, about the facts I want to analyse. So, I once again found myself cursing my ex-computer science teacher at school, because we were girls and all he explained to us is not considered necessary knowledge for compter science at all. Well, if you call powerpoint and MS Word computer science, yes, we did that. It was back in the year 2005 and I am a victim of gender-biased teaching, I am afraid to say so. I am a girl, I am so talented in languages, and so interested in Latin, ergo I do not need any kind of technical knowledge. Or stuff like computer science, chemistry, physics, etc. Actually, I always thought, I am too dumb to do stuff like programming scripts for data analysis. Guess what – they made me believe that I am more talented to do other stuff like history and Latin. Maybe that is even true, but how can anybody be too dumb to use certain tools and methods for his or her work? It took me a  long time to figure this out.

I cannot imagine doing anything different than I am doing now – I love my job. I am used to people looking at me in a very bewildered wax, because I tend to say things like “I am not interested in people as long as they have not been dead for at least a 1500 years” and stuff like that. They are wondering why I am working with things like GIS and SFM and now programming languages, because old and dead stuff means… I don’t know, maybe they think, we are still using stone tablets to write on. A lot of people are very fast to ask questions like “Why would you need to learn computer science stuff? Why do you need geoinformation systems, I thought, you are analysing stones?”

I have stopped being angry about these kinds of questions. If some poeple cannot understand your way of working, then you have to do it anyway and maybe in the end they will get your intention when seeing the results. I figured out how to use R for an analysis of two categorial variables – meaning, I can show you now the distribution of motifs on the right and left side of stone altars in my geographical area of investigation.

Well, for a first try it does not look that bad… And there is more to come.

I have not found out everything yet – there is still a lot to do with the layout etc., but I have now found a way of basic understanding my data and a basic way of working with it.

I will present charts like that in my thesis and I love doing so. I will work on my 3D-skills and I will keep on trying new things with GIS software, no matter what.

I am doing all that stuff in my own way: When I have time, when I have my head free for this kind of task. Individualism is one great challenge when you are an archaeologist. Idealism is one mightier challenge and it is hitting me hard sometimes. But hey, I guess, I like it. More than I used to do.

R you ready for something new?

Stay fierce, dear fighters of academia – yours, Astrid 🙂

To err is human – to R is happy pirate noob

Okay, I have to admit it, I saw the quote “to err is human to arr is pirate” and I totally loved it first sight.

Then the love decided that I should try an introductional course in R – and suddenly I am here, writing about this 2-day-experience with a really catchy headline…

So. R. Some of you may know that this is a programming language, very used and beloved by data miners and statistic-geeks. For more information have a look here.

I am not going to do any tutorials on R or so, because I am still a total beginner – but a really happy noob, as you may know. I decided some months ago that the word “newbie” or “noob” is not a negative term for me – I am at the start of something new. So, this is just the beginning of a learning process, another one, because I am learning all my life. 😉

If you want to learn a new programming language, you might take a look to my dear Ninja’a blog on this, this and this blogpost concerning programming and learning programming languages (oh, there is even another one…).

First things first: NO, it is not easy. Learning a new language (no matte if spoken, dead, programming or fictional – now, do not tell me, you never tried Elvish or were fascinated by the Navi-language) is not easy, it takes a lot of time and practice and a lot of thinking and remembering and a lot of mistake-making.

I am currently finishing my dissertation – and it will be done by end of December, hear me!

And I have an amount of 432 objects in my Excel-file that I need to analyse. Okay, I could do it with Excel, BUT: there is a nicer way of building graphics and of analyzing a lot of data (I am really proud of resisting and not calling it “big data” 🙂 )

So, I just managed to combine all my relief motifs of different trees, plants, cornucopiae, sacrificial servants and so on and I ran my very first script with this new defined variables.

And I know, these things are just peanuts for every experienced programmer out there, but I guess for a 2-day-course I am quite successful.

I have to rush now, I need to go to a quite interesting talk – so forgive me for being so late with this post, but maybe I can please and entertain you in your coffee break on this nice monday with his litte blogpost.

Stay calm and keep going, my dear readers!

All the best,

Astrid (also known as the happy noob) 🙂

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 archaeologist and the languages

Just make a guess: How many languages have I learned in the name of research and archaeology?
I am not talking about Latin and Ancient Greek, or any other dead language or script, like Linear B (okay, yes, actually this is just a funny syllabary of a somehow early Greek dialect) or cuneiform scripts …

Next to English it is Italian, a very poor amount of French, a not that poor but still minimal form of Spanish, slowly increasing amounts of Dutch, and very few nearly forgotten phrases of Turkish.

English is the language I am using regularly and often enough to keep it fluent. My Italian is good, but since my Italian speaking grandfather died, I have no-one left to regularly talk with. And you know how things are with languages you never speak… It’s like a plant without water. So, I try to keep my Italian plant watered with books and films and sometimes I speak to myself.

My Dutch is still in a phase of beginning (actually, I am just preparing my first presentation for my final exam – okay, I should prepare it, I will do it, just after finishing this blogpost!). And now… Why am I learning Dutch?

At least, English is one of the big main world languages, so, there is a reason. Italian – very clear for me, since there was family involved with. But Dutch? In Austria? You might have guessed it: It was for the sake of archaeological research. I had to cope with some Dutch articles and books on our project concerning Celtic divine names on Roman inscriptions in the provine Germania Inferior. There are some deities – it’s very often just their names found on inscriptions, so we have not always an idea what kind of deity. But there are some Inscriptions from the Netherlands and back in the 1970s no-one thought of publishing in English all the way. So, that is the reason why I am learning Dutch. And yes: It is a very funny language, too. 🙂

I have to admit, I am desperatly lost with French – but thank to God, Sarah is not only Latinist by training, she is also a trained French teacher and she can help me with my great task of learning French for academic purpose, meaning reading publications on my material and maybe someday arguing with French colleagues about my views on the material.

I have talked about my language endboss with another colleguae and she is also struggling with French – that is why we will try another way learning it, the two us together this summer.  And Sarah will help us out. 😉

Actually, French is a very important language, if you are working as an archaeologist in the Roman provinces. That means I really should learn some French. At least enough to speak with colleagues and read some papers or listen to talks. I tried it with some courses on University, but that was not a good idea – for the teachers sucked and the courses were incredibly boring.

And that leaves me with my next slightly doomed language experiment for the sake of research: Turkish. I had great ambitions and wanted to go to an excavation to Turkey and I prepared some language skills – this time the courses at University were quite cool and interesting and we had a really good teacher. But you cannot always have your will and I did not get the opportunity to go to Turkey. So, I have done two years of language courses in Turkish, but now, about 6 years later, nothing is left of my skills. You remember the plant at the beginning. My Turkish plant is nearly gone.

My last language: Spanish. Another family matter, because my sister-in-law-to-be-someday married a Mexican, so… yes. Spanish. I took the Langenscheidt version of getting along with Spanish in 30 days. I got to Day 25, but then I was overwhelmed, not because of grammar or just impressions – because of the vocabularies… I just had not the time to learn them in the right way. So, I will just begin again, I think in July. 😉 Never give up on language plants you have to water because of family concerns. 🙂

It is true, you cannot be fluent in every language and if you wish to be fluent in two or three, you have to work hard for it, because you have always to practice a language – you have to keep watering your plant.

Languages are a MUST for the Humanities.
I am very sure that none of my language lessons was in vain – sooner or later I will need them and then will find my vocabularies in a very hidden place of my brain by practicing them again. I love languages and this is one huge advantage when studying any subject of the Humanities. At least, I think so. You need English for sure, because you have to and should present on international conferences. As Sarah said once, another foreign language you are able to present in cannoth be that wrong, so … This is my plan. I want to do it in Italian, if there will be the possibility. Well, I am not sure, if I can talk on any acaemic subject in Italian without anything written down like I can in English, but hey, you can write your presentation down and read it, right? I mean, you are not a native but you have the guts to stand onstage and just do it anyway. I think that a lot of people will be very impressed by that.

Languages open up the ways to travelling new countries and experiencing new cultures.
Never ever underestimate that fact. It won’t hurt you to say some phrases in the mother tongue of business partners, colleguaes from your field, waiters in a restaurant on holidays (my mum always says that the most important things in a foreign language are to know how to order food and drinks, and she is damn right about that), taxi drivers on your way from the airport, … just try it.

So, how many languages have you learned? Are you fluent in more than one language? How do you learn languages the best way?

I hope you enjoyed this little field trip through my language brain – 🙂

Astrid

The “D”- and the “H”-part

It was a post of my dear LaTeX ninja, talking about the pros and cons (okay, basically the pros) of one getting started doing Digital Humanities (you can find the original post here). I just flipped through it, until the following sentences:

Because the whole point of DH is that you’re not either a programmer XOR a Humanities scholar. It’s the combination of both. Most people see that combination as some sort of 30/70 or 40/60 kind of thing. I think it has to be 100/100. And yes, that means you’ll have to be a freak with a 200% workload. I’m pretty alone with this opinion, however, so don’t panic. Most people don’t see it like that at all.  I’m generally a bit of an eccentric and maybe some might perceive my opinion to be extreme. Well, sorry, but I like extreme. I think that “real DH” should mean 200%, or even better: 300%. 150% programmer and 150% Humanities. Be hardcore at both. At least that’s my personal goal.

So, I learnt that she is somehow extreme and liking it, what I actually always thought about her, and I learnt that 100/100 is a quite ambitious goal. And then I started thinking about myself and my abilities in DH. I splitted it up, there is an “D”-part and an “H”-part. So, I would like to start with my “H”-part, meaning the humanities, basically Archaeology and Classics. I am archaeologist by training, as well as ancient historian. I sometimes like my description of myself as an archaeologist with “special features”. You know, coming from a field dealing with images, but also able to read ancient sources (well, of course, all my colleagues are able to read, but I discovered that many historians and philologists keep thinking that an archaeologist just does not use written sources –  or at least, in the wrong way).

But my special features are not just my “reading skills” all alone. I did some courses in linguistics and in geomatic engineering as well, some workshops on digital methods in the humanities, …

So, if the “H”-part, meaning my archaeology-me by training, is 100%, because I have a degree and doing my PhD, then how does my “D”-part look like?

My first tries with SFM – I worked with freeware and was amazed by the quality. Here you can see a relief side of a sarkophagus with some holes, because my photos were not that good.

I told Sarah that my “D” part is about 24.6%. The workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy in London (click here to read the whole post) increased my knowledge about 4.2% (don’t get me wrong, it was a 100% success, but a 100% in my “D”-part are standing for a degree, so I had to convert it). So, we are located at 28.8% by now. The moment I can run my first Python scripts in a way the are meant to run and work out, I think, my rating will increase up to 36.9%. 🙂 Cheers to that, I think.  I am convinced that this is a great number, for the sum of 3 and 6 is 9… Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, enough with the maths.

Then I thought about which part is more important to me. Basically, this is like the question, if I like bones or late antique Church Fathers the most. I cannot decide, so it is quite unfair. I need both parts, never mind how much percent they have. I am convinced that my archaeology-part is sometimes at 120%, 20% are just crazy happiness, e.g. because I am allowed to take photos in a museum on monday (so, when all museums are normally closed and it is just me and the artefacts). Sometimes ist about 84,7%, because I am that exhausted after a very concentrated climbing session or my fitness workout. My “D”-part is like a static shadow behind my the “H”-part, smiling on the archaeology-me playing with bones or being fascinated by stones. The “D”-part does perfectly know that its whole existence is mainly about my archaeology-me letting it be. So maybe the “H”-part is first place in a hierachical structure. The “D”-part comes second and is caused by the “H”-part. Does sound like some kind of splitted personality, am I right? (Just a reminder: Yes, we are all crazy here, trust the Hatter, I tell you that).

My photos are better, my knowledge of the software has increased. But still, there are a lot of “mysteries” for a happy noob like me. And I like mysteries. 🙂

So, if I had never ever found the idea of being able to do SFM and 3D-stuff fascinating, if I had never ever the interest in photography, I would never ever have ended up this way. I am a trained archaeologist, capable of mastering the “H”, and a proud and happy noob, dealing with and experiencing the “D”, while learning on the job. I think, this is a very good mixture.

What about you? What is your “D” to “H” ratio? How are you working on yourself and your skills?

All the best,

Astrid (currently 28.8%/105% – because I could post some of my screenshots of my SFM-journey…) 🙂