Summertime is conference time! Or, usually, summertime for archaeologists is fieldwork time. But for archaeologists like me who are only doing desk-based work and don’t travel the world to excavate or survey exciting sites (😭😭😭), traveling the world to attend exciting conferences is the next best thing.
This year’s schedule included the annual meetings of the AK Geoarchäologie in Mainz, the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) and the European Conference on Social Networks (EUSN). You can guess – lots of interesting stuff!
AK Geoarchäologie, Mainz 12.05. – 14.05.2022
The AK Geoarchäologie is the German working group for geoarchaeology and although I’m not really doing geoarchaeology at the moment, I still love it and am intrigued to hear what people are doing. The German working group also has a special place in my academic heart. I’ve joined it during my master’s in 2018 and the annual meeting is a nice opportunity to meet supervisors and colleagues from those times.
The presentations and posters are usually more about German research or/and research in Germany but every now and then, something more international sneaks in – for example my partner Raphael presenting his PhD project on reconstructing the landscape evolution of Lindisfarne (for more information check out his Twitter feed @LDFLandscapes!). The topics are fascinating, you couldn’t imagine what soils (dirt!) can tell you and it’s great to see how the lab and computational methods and techniques in archaeology become more advanced every year. I particularly like the holistic approaches, when an interdisciplinary team uses a huge range of methods to reconstruct a whole landscape and its evolution over centuries or millennia, taking into account the human component and how we changed these landscapes.
Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Oxford 08.08. – 11.08.2022
The CAA conference – as most of the conferences this year – was the first one I attended for this specific field. I was a bit intimidated by all the big names that were there and whose papers I’ve read. On the other hand, I couldn’t wait to meet them and hear about their current projects. But I actually didn’t think that I would get to talk to them, tell them about my research and get some useful feedback and suggestions. How wrong I was!
The community of computational archaeologists is not exactly huge, so – as one of the big names told me – “we nerds and weirdos need to stick together!”. And that’s what we’re doing at this conference: talking, meeting friends and colleagues, extending our networks and welcoming everyone “new”. I already had been in contact with some of the people there via email or Twitter and it was so good to finally meet them in person and discuss our approaches.
In general, the conference covers everything that can be considered computational, including GIS approaches, development of algorithms, simulation modelling like agent-based modelling and, of course, the most important thing: statistics! I’m not really proficient in statistics myself, so seeing what you can actually do with some more or less easy to learn tools and techniques was some kind of an eye-opener.
The most interesting sessions for me were of course the ones about agent-based modelling, networks, social complexity and ancient paths. It was amazing! Just looking at the programme made me aware how fast archaeology is becoming more digital those days, using computational methods for texts and semantics or public engagement and heritage and of course the application of machine learning, image processing and GIS. I think one of the biggest challenges here is still how to get quantitative results out of qualitative data – and we’re getting there! I can’t wait to be more involved in the future of computational archaeology as I’ve just joined the editorial board of CAA.
European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), Budapest 31.08. – 03.09.2022
Just the fact that the EAA took place in Budapest is reason enough to participate. However, this conference is THE thing for European archaeologists. And you can tell that by just looking at the number of participants: 1800 in-person attendees with another 400 joining remotely. I mean – wow! But this huge number makes it of course harder to meet new people as you tend to stick to those you already know. Nevertheless, I made some new connections and just being part of this big event was worth it.
With so many people attending and giving presentations, the range of topics and sessions varied a lot and even here, you could see an increasing focus on computational methods – yes! Basically, no matter which geographic region, period, method or artifact group you prefer, there was at least one session for you, probably more. This, again, is great for people to exchange within their subdisciplines but I think the inter(sub)disciplinary mixing was not happening that much.
Although this is natural because everyone focuses on their specific field, I tried to attend some sessions where I had no idea what people were talking about. For example, I learned about place names, borderlands and wetland landscapes, in all of them I have no expertise at all. But of course, the sessions I attended most of the time were related to my research interest and/or current project. After my own presentation, I had some insightful and useful conversations with some of the attendees and we’re planning to be in touch.
European Conference on Social Networks (EUSN), Greenwich 12.09. – 16.09.2022
The last conference – and the one farthest away from my background – was the EUSN. The social events were slightly adjusted to be in alignment with the national mourning as Queen Elizabeth had passed just days before the conference.
At the EUSN, there was just one session on network analysis in history/archaeology, which was of course the session where I then presented my project. I was standing out from the other speakers because they were all using social network analysis on historic sources, i.e. texts and other documents of the last centuries. Talking about my 5000 years old footpath was quite an exception there! However, despite – or maybe because – of this rather unusual topic, I got some interesting questions and suggestions.
The other sessions were a wide variety of fields where social network analysis can be potentially applied (schools, families, crime organisations, businesses, teams, organisations…) and the methodological state-of-the-art to do that. I had a workshop on how to handle missing data which will hopefully help me to improve my data sets. The organiser was quite impressed on how sparse said data sets are! I also got to understand a bit more the tools I will be using, their technical background, strengths and limitations. Although some of the presentations were a bit hard to follow because it sometimes got REALLY technical, I still enjoyed the conference and tried to absorb as much as possible. Hopefully, I will be able to better apply the SNA methods now and get the best out of them.
After this exciting summer (which also included two weeks of holidays in beautiful Greece!), I’m now back to work trying to get everything properly running so I can show you some more results soon! Stay tuned to not miss this!