General Session

General Session

Organiser: CentralTAG (University of Birmingham)

‘Irresponsible Adrenaline Junkies With a Kamikaze-like Attitude Towards Self-destruction!’ Or ‘Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints’?

Speaker: Jonathan Berry (University of Birmingham)

Established in 1950s America, the social phenomenon of urban exploration (also known as UrbEx or UE) has grown exponentially in the UK and elsewhere over the last decade, powered by the use of web-based fora such as 28dayslater and social media such as the Flickr photo-sharing web site, which allow participants to communicate and share experiences.

Urban explorers are a loosely connected collective energised by a variety of motivations, ranging from the benign recording of urban decay through photography to performing roles as ‘industrial archaeologists’ in recording the history of such places. Others participate for the high-octane excitement of entering a forbidden or abandoned place, whilst others engage in architectural theft, arson and vandalism, particularly graffiti. All participants, however, interact with the historic environment for better or worse, albeit whilst willingly committing illegal civil trespass.

This paper will offer an overview of urban exploration and begin to address the following questions: Should archaeologists welcome this as a new and dynamic connection to the historic environment and engage with this community? If so how?  Or is this a childish, risky and self-indulgent form of investigation that makes life difficult for ‘proper’ archaeologists i.e. those with legitimate, privileged access?


The Optimal Use of the Information Content of Complex Roman Sites

Speaker: Tessa de Groot (Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency)

Many Roman sites in the Netherlands are characterized by a horizontal and vertical complexity. Due to long term occupation and several formation processes, a  complex pattern of features and finds was created, as well as a complicated stratigraphy. Various post-depositional processes also affect the readability and interpretation of the archaeological record.

The purpose of this lecture is to exchange knowledge of ways in which justice can be done to the above complexity. In what ways can the potential information of these sites be utilized to gain knowledge? The lecture focuses on relevant questions and methods, techniques and research strategies with which they can be answered, based on recent research in the Netherlands. Special attention is paid to the potential value of the find- and cultural layers that characterize cities and settlements in the riverine area in particular.

A second focus is the influence of the current organization of field research in the Netherlands on the above issues. In a system in which most of the research is conducted by private companies, the constraints of money and time can put pressure on the quality of research. The question is whether specific choices should be made (yet) to gain the desired knowledge?


Matter matters: Living in the material world …

Speakers: Niklas Schulze (Autonomous University of San Luis Potosi) & Peter C. Kroefges (Autonomous University of San Luis Potosi)
Emails: &

The archaeological quest for the past has its roots in early collections, called “Wunderkammer” or “Cabinet of curiosities”, made up of strange and mysterious objects, mostly from far-away countries and/or the long forgotten past. For a long time, the artefacts stayed in the focus of the attention of collectors and researchers that tried to solve the problem of their origin and age. More recently, objects lost this predominant position in the archaeological investigations to problem oriented research, centred on the inner workings of societies and the human-environment relationship. Objects were reduced to mere metaphenomena of culture. Only very recent advances of analytical techniques helped to (re)integrate the object-focused investigation in the mainstream of archaeological research. The information objects can yield under the probing beams of new analytical instruments, together with changes in the theoretical approach to artefacts, opened the road to an integrated investigation: the object, as the tangible expression of human behaviour, becomes the centre of attention and binding element of the complementary visions of archaeologists, material scientists, ethnohistorians and ethnographers. The theoretical development and the integrated approach will be demonstrated using the example of an investigation of prehispanic copper bells from the Aztec Templo Mayor in Mexico City.


The Return of the Repressed… – Psychoanalytical Theory as Tool in Archaeological Interpretation

Speaker: Christian Horn (University of Gothenburg)

In this presentation I will try to show how and why psychoanalysis and especially Freudian theory provides a valuable tool in dealing with archaeological interpretation. Up until recent some accounts described Freud’s relation to archaeology and thereby presented an oversimplified (partially due to necessity) picture of Freud and his theory. A try actually to implement and test his theories is largely missing.

In this paper it is argued that the implementation of psychoanalytical theory in Archaeology can both define how the mind of prehistoric humans was constructed as well as explaining certain aspects prehistoric societies. This is achieved by insisting in the complexity of the relation between the drive to live (Eros) and to destroy (Thanatos). In neglecting neither a field of tension is created that illuminates complexity of the societies at hand.

Criticism is of course necessary, but without falling behind its achievements; as Critical Theory criticizes the fact that Freud saw in repression the sole civilizing factor. Freud’s so-called cultural books are not to be read as the literal account of actual historic events. I will provide short examples from ritual practice and warfare to show how Psychoanalysis elucidates their societal intertwining with supposedly contrary social institutions (i.e. exchange).


Examining diseases and impairments in social archaeology. 

Speaker: Magdalena Matczak (Adam Mickiewicz University)

I would like to examine diseases and impairments as scientific categories which bridge, anthropology, archaeology, history and social sciences. I would like to examine how the impaired body was constructed after death. What was the social status of the impaired people? My aim is to examine diseases, impairments and handicaps in the past on the basis of textual sources, skeletal remains, artefacts and cemeteries. Skeletons are the only one of archaeological sources which is so closely connected with humans and this is why they are regarded as such important sources in archaeology. I am going to apply social theories to the past to create social archaeology. In this way scientists start with scientific and humanistic data and, by combining them with social theories, interpret past lives.

This interdisciplinary approach is crossing the scientific Rubicon – borders within which disciplines such as archaeology, history, anthropology and social sciences are closed. In archaeology we need skeletons with faces (Tringham 1991; Robb 2002). This metaphorical statement means that to traditional anthropological research we need to add such humanistic element as face. The face is a mimic which expresses emotions and feelings.

Mapping Ancient Gabii: A Historical GIS for the City and its Hinterland

Speaker: Aaron Chapnick (University at Buffalo)

The site of Gabii, located 20km outside of Rome, has been the focus of centuries of topographic data recording. The site’s historical significance within the early history of Rome has attracted a number of notable topographers who visited the site and recorded spatial data. Hand drawn maps from Rosa and Lanciani from the late 19th and early 20th century record the countryside of Latium prior to the spread of urban construction around Italy’s new capital. Spurred on by the rigorous topographic data recording of The Gabii Project, I have developed a historical GIS project that, firstly, compiles all topographical data for the site and its region, then incorporates it into a single GIS, and finally presents it as an accessible web-based database. This historical GIS accomplishes a number of goals: first, by reviving and maintaining the work of past topographers it allows current archaeologists to use the previous data along with the more recent in order to better direct excavations of the city or to help develop a regional survey. Secondly, with the end goal of a public access web-based database, the project enables the preservation and dissemination of years of topographic data recording.


Poster Presentations


Rock crystal in prehistory – profane, sacred or something else?

Presenter: Luboš Chroustovský (University of West Bohemia)

Poster presents recent study focused on rock crystal purpose in prehistory. Since Palaeolithic times, it has been part of different cultural traditions. For its specific appearance, qualities and abilities rock crystal has been regarded as a special material all over the world. On the basis of historical and ethnographical record we can delineate some general purposes in different branches of human
activities and needs. Does it help us to interpret archaeological evidence of its use in prehistory? A case study from the Czech Republic is presented.



Title TBC

Presenter: Emma Login (University of Birmingham)


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