Tag Archives: epigraphy

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 🙂

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

London calling …

Workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy
(London, April 29–May 4, 2019)

As you might have seen on our Twitter or Instagram-Account, I spent a week in London, participating at a really interesting workshop. It caught me while flipping over some homepages on epigraphy and classics in february this year. I was working on my catalogue for my thesis back then and somehow really frustrated about the fact that some archaeologists have no idea about epigraphy at all. Well, there are also some epigraphists who do not think inscriptions are archaeological material either, … So, it is time that we change this view, don’t you all think so?

I want to show my network and the people around me that (mainly) stones with letters on them are far more interesting than any epigraphist or archaeologist has ever thought of before. And because of that I decided that it is time to show the world my fascination. And as an archaeolgist, I use pictures for sharing my research, before I use words. And, good thing for me, this workshop was actually on taking pictures of inscriptions – or, so to speak, different methods to produce images and/or a proper documentation of inscriptions.

So, what did I learn at this particular workshop?

We started with the various methods of documenting inscriptions. And we really started from scratch, talking about the method of making squeezes (basically pressing and smashing wet special paper on a wet stone by using a great brush – acutally you can watch a video on how to do it here), about taking drawings of the inscriptions and so on. We talked about printed epigraphic ressources as well as about online sources.

We had a very interesting introduction to photogrammetry as a method of documentation for inscriptions. We tried it out at the wonderful St Pancras Gardens – next to making squeezes, we had to pick one stone of our choice – I decided on a little broken one who stucks in the earth and has a pretty angel face on it. We took the photographs wth our smartphones. This was completely new to me, for I am used to my DSLR camera – but I was very surprised to see my results after the whole aligning, dense cloud building and mesh building on Agisoft Metashape (looks quite the same like Photoscan, does the same, feels the same – at least for me).

As you can see, it does look really nice…

After our work with 3D-models and squeezes, we got into the “serious” DH-stuff… I am talking about TEI, EpiDoc and EFES (EpiDoc Front End Services, which is a custom and a platform for publication and search/indexing of EpiDoc files). I have heard the terms “TExt Encoding Initiative” and EpiDoc before, of course, I knew that there was something about coding and tagging and XML, but how all these things are really connected, never ever came clear to my mind, because I simply never ever had the time to read through the amazing amount of information on these things.

Basically, it is a way to encode your inscriptions with all the metadata and information you have about them (e.g. finding spots, description, the museums where it can be found today, transcription etc.) in XML and to make them accessible online on a database or website of your project. There are many different projects running on these kind of scheme, just scroll through the short Wikipedia entry on EpiDoc and click on the various links!

Coding means “keep the cookies coming” – and thank God they had really tasty cookies there. And coffee. Now I finally understand all my friends who work as programmers…

The people behind EpiDoc which gave this workshop are very interested in getting people to know about their project and sharing their knowledge on how to get inscriptions online to make them accessible and useful for science and research to happen. So, go ahead and inform yourself on the various possibilities of participating at a workshop where you can learn the basics of EpiDoc!

… and EFES, of course. This is one of my first tests with EpiDoc files I had to run on EFES, and it worked – it may not look that aesthetic, but, hey, it worked out the way I wanted it too!

By the end of the week, I have to admit it, I was really exhausted. There were so many new things criss-crosing in my mind, it took me nearly four days to recover my brain… For now, I am busy trying to summarize my notes and to work them through again, just making sure not to forget anything important. I hope that soon I can find the time to write more extensive posts on the single methods I learned about.

For now, it is just a very short summary on this amazing week.

I hope you enjoyed this little overview –

take care!

Astrid/archaeogirl