Aggiornamento ZANBA: I primi campioni sono arrivati!

Ci è voluto più tempo di quanto pensassimo, però il primo lotto di campioni di piante è finalmente arrivato! A giudicare dalle condizioni della scatola, il viaggio è stato difficile, ma i campioni sono in buone condizioni e non mostrano segni di muffa. Posso iniziare subito con la preparazione, e dovrebbero essere pronti per la lavorazione chimica entro la fine della settimana prossima.

I primi passi nella lavorazione dei campioni sono di tipo fisico: i campioni devono essere congelati per qualche ora, e quindi liofilizzati per un paio di giorni. Per ogni punto della mappa vi è un totale di tre campioni: dopo che ciascun gruppo è stato sottoposto a liofilizzazione, i campioni vengono frantumati e miscelati per creare un singolo campione omogeneizzato per ogni punto. I campioni omogeneizzati saranno trattati chimicamente prima di essere sottoposti all’analisi dello stronzio.

Dodici gruppi di campioni sono già nel congelatore e saranno processati al liofilizzatore entro la fine del giorno. Un ottimo passo avanti!

Dodici gruppi di campioni nel freezer
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

ZANBA Update: The first samples have arrived!

The long-awaited box – a little the worse for wear, but the samples inside are intact

It took longer than expected, but the first batch of plant samples is finally here! They had an arduous journey if the state of the box is anything to judge by, but the samples themselves are in good shape and they don’t show signs of mold. I can start the preparatory processing right away, and I should have them ready for chemical processing by the end of next week.

The first steps in processing the samples are physical. The samples need to be frozen for a few hours and then freeze-dried for a couple of days. Each point on the map is represented by a set of three samples, so once the samples in each set are freeze-dried, they’ll be ground up and mixed together to create one homogenized sample. The homogenized samples will then be processed chemically before they’re analyzed for strontium.

Twelve sets of samples are already in the freezer and will be moved to the freeze dryer by the end of the day. Exciting progress!

Samples going into the freezer
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

Aggiornamento ZANBA: I primi campioni sono in transito!

Grandi notizie per ZANBA: il primo lotto di campioni botanici per la mappatura isotopica della Sardegna centrale è in viaggio per Cardiff! Davide ha iniziato nel migliore dei modi il lavoro sul campo, avendo già raccolto i campioni da31 dei 137 punti totali.

Ciascuno dei 137 punti si trova all’interno di una particolare zona litologica, con le zone più grandi rappresentate da un numero maggiore di punti. Il campionamento consiste nel prelevare foglie da alberi e alti arbusti: questi campioni devono, quando possibile, provenire da tre specie diverse situate entro un raggio di 500 metri intorno ad ogni punto. Il prelievo di tre campioni per punto ci consente di eseguire un campionamento omogeneizzato:  in questo tipo di campionamento, le foglie dei tre campioni vengono liofilizzate, macinate e accuratamente miscelate per creare un campione di laboratorio tale da rappresentare la variabilità nell’area intorno a ciascun punto. Il campionamento omogeneizzato ci aiuta inoltre a creare un isoscape più rappresentativo, che risulti quindi meno influenzato da eventuali anomalie relative ad uno dei campioni.

I campioni dovrebbero arrivare la prossima settimana: non vedo l’ora di entrare in laboratorio per iniziare a trattarli!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

ZANBA Update: The first samples are on their way!

Great news for ZANBA – the first batch of botanical samples for isotope mapping central Sardinia is on its way to Cardiff! Davide has done an impressive job with the fieldwork, already collecting material for 31 of the 137 total points to be sampled.

Each of the 137 points is inside a particular lithological zone, with larger zones being represented by greater numbers of points. When Davide samples, he takes leaves from trees and large bushes: three different plants representing three different species (when possible) located within a 500 meter radius of each point. Taking multiple samples per point allows us to do homogenized sampling. In homogenized sampling, the leaves from the three samples will be freeze-dried, ground up, and carefully mixed to create a laboratory sample that captures the variability in the area around each point. Homogenized sampling helps us create a more representative isoscape – one that’s less negatively affected if any of the plants Davide samples happen to be outliers.

The samples should arrive sometime next week, and I can’t wait to get into the lab to start processing them!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

Aggiornamento ZANBA: Benvenuto Davide Schirru!

Davide nel corridoio principale del nuraghe arcaico Seneghe di Suni, Sardegna.

È stata dura far decollare il progetto ZANBA nel bel mezzo di una pandemia, ma sono lieta di annunciare che le cose si stanno finalmente muovendo. È particolarmente emozionante accogliere nella squadra l’archeologo sardo Davide Schirru! La ricerca di Davide si è sinora svolta nell’area dello studio: questa vicinanza gli darà l’opportunità di raccogliere campioni vegetali provenienti da tutta la Sardegna centrale. Davide mi invierà questi campioni all’Università di Cardiff, dove li preparerò e analizzerò per studiarne i rapporti isotopici dello stronzio. Ancora una volta, l’importanza di un network di rapporti consolidato è dimostrata dalla sua capacità di rimuovere ostacoli e allo stesso tempo sostenere la nostra resilienza!

La precedente ricerca di Davide si è concentrata sull’archeologia del paesaggio di Sardegna nell’età del Bronzo. L’ottimo stato di conservazione dei paesaggi preistorici della Sardegna offre un’opportunità eccezionale per indagarne i sistemi insediativi e per condurre uno studio approfondito del rapporto uomo-ambiente. Davide è particolarmente interessato allo sviluppo di analisi in ambiente GIS (Geographical Information Systems, Sistemi Informativi Territoriali), così come di analisi statistiche e quantitative delle proprietà spaziali dei paesaggi archeologici, portandolo a sviluppare un parallelo interesse nei linguaggi di scripting e programmazione. Davide sta attualmente completando il suo dottorato di ricerca in archeologia preistorica presso l’Università La Sapienza di Roma.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

ZANBA Update: Welcome Davide Schirru!

Davide Schirru inside the main corridor of the early nuraghe Seneghe in Suni, Sardinia.

It’s been tough getting ZANBA off the ground in the middle of a pandemic, but I’m delighted to announce that things are finally moving. It’s especially exciting to welcome Sardinian archaeologist Davide Schirru to the team! Davide’s ongoing research is based in the ZANBA study area, giving him the opportunity to collect plants from across the landscape of central Sardinia. Davide will send these plant samples to Cardiff University, where I will process them and analyze their strontium isotope ratios. Let’s hear it for the incredible power of networks to overcome obstacles and promote resilience!   

Davide’s previous research has focused on landscape archaeology in Bronze Age Sardinia. The well-preserved prehistoric landscapes of Sardinia provide an exceptional opportunity to explore settlement systems and conduct a thorough study of the human-environment relationship. Davide is particularly interested in the development of GIS (Geographical Information Systems), statistical, and quantitative analyses of the spatial properties of archaeological landscapes, leading him to develop further interests in scripting and programming languages. Davide is currently completing his PhD in prehistoric archaeology at La Sapienza University of Rome.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​

Archaeology in the Time of Coronavirus

This is my first post about my new research project ZANBA: zooarchaeology of the Nuragic Bronze Age. This isn’t the post I expected or wanted to write. But none of us are doing what we expected or wanted right now. Fighting the pandemic is rightly taking precedence over our plans. So these days I’m sitting on my couch or looking out my window at empty parking lots and wondering – how do I “do” archaeology in the Time of Coronavirus?

I expected to be in the field right now, getting ZANBA off the ground: meeting with the Soprintendenza, discussing permits, reestablishing lab access, taking a look at the bags of animal bones I haven’t touched since fall 2018. I was hoping to revisit some of the monuments where I work so I could finish an article that’s 90% written. I was going to see my friends. The trip was going to be low pressure and exciting. It was going to be fun.

Obviously, that trip has been cancelled. I’m still seeing my friends, but it’s for virtual cocktails over Zoom. Our conversations only occasionally touch on work. They focus on concern for each other’s safety and heavy doses of encouragement.

***

IMG_4420
Lab training for ZANBA, on hold for the moment.

I arrived in Wales to begin my new project in early January, just days before the novel coronavirus was identified. In January, the feeling around me was of an emergency happening somewhere else. In February, the feeling was of a concern that would only seriously affect a few. In March, the feeling went from “this is probably overreacting, but…” to “this is a national health emergency” in a matter of days. On Friday, March 13, my university announced that in-person teaching would end after one more week. The following Monday morning, it announced that in-person teaching would end after Wednesday. By that Monday evening, in-person classes were cancelled and staff were encouraged not to return to the building on Tuesday. The world was changing fast.

***

The world is changing fast, and it can be hard to grasp what a slow-moving discipline like archaeology has to contribute in a crisis. The logistics of excavation and survey mean it can take years to gather our primary data. The constraints of collaborative research, shared labs, and intermittent funding mean it can be years again before we publish our findings. Most of our work investigates people who died a long time ago. Realistically, should the public care at all right now what the archaeologists have to say?

YES. Archaeologists can answer some of the most important questions people are worried about right now. Not about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus (stay home, wash your hands!) but about what things might look like after. How do societies respond to crises? How do crises differentially affect cities, towns, and rural settlements? What happens after a crisis? How do societies recover – or not? How long does recovery take?

Archaeologists have experience interpreting a global dataset that stretches back 250,000 years. We’ve studied how a lot of human systems have contracted and collapsed, as well as how they’ve adapted and been reinvented. It may feel like archaeological information can’t be comparable to what we’re going through today – ancient people didn’t have jets and stock exchanges and the internet. But most archaeologists will tell you that the roots of resilience in the past are the same as those in the present: maintaining the flow of accurate information, good decision-making, robust supply chains, and a willingness to do things differently when necessary.

Many archaeologists are trained in an anthropological framework that encourages us to see ancient people as culturally different, but cognitively and biologically the same as we are today. This perspective means that archaeologists can’t fall back on the comforting but false idea that real crises won’t happen to us because we’re too smart, scientifically advanced, or technologically capable. Archaeologists know that ancient people were just as smart as we are, and we’ve seen plenty of evidence that – no matter how smart we are – our human trajectory never goes endlessly up.

But we’ve also seen that dips in human trajectories vary widely in their aftermaths. Sometimes large-scale projects and long-distance communication all but disappear for centuries, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes people respond quickly and there’s a new period of growth. Sometimes the dissolution of sweeping hierarchies leads to more successful local systems. All kinds of outcomes are possible. Both individual and institutional responses matter, and adaptation is key.

The archaeologist who is my coauthor on the article that’s 90% finished is a specialist in photogrammetry. He’s currently adapting his skills to 3D print face shields for medical workers. We all have skills that can be adapted to the current moment. They may be as simple as the ability to keep ourselves entertained while staying inside, but these skills are saving lives.

We also have skills that will help us adapt to whatever future emerges from the current crisis. None of us knows right now how long this will last or what the long-term effects will be on our social networks, our economies, and our way of life. We’re taking this one day at a time. But as we move forward, consider talking to the archaeologists. Our case studies are different but relevant, and we’re trained to take the long view.

And please, please protect yourself and others by staying home and washing your hands!

IMG_2681
Documenting remains of the Nuragic Culture on the Siddi Plateau in 2019. Hopefully I’ll be able to return soon to finish that work!

 

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 839517.​