The wandering student

It’s been a little while since I wrote something on here – a combination of Christmas and a hectic work schedule are to blame! Today I thought I would give a little summary of what I’ve been up to over the last few months (skipping the boring bits, obviously!).

A lot of my time has been taken up with writing and editing various bits – I’ve finally started producing larger chunks of thesis, which is good progress. I’ve also been writing conference papers for TRAC (Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference) and AMPAH (The Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient History) – both of which I plan to post, either on here or on academia.edu, after the conferences.

The research I’ve done around all this writing has been mainly in the form of site visits. In the wise words of Indiana Jones:

If you want to be a good archaeologist, you’ve got to get out of the library!

Taking my cue not just from the great man himself, but also an expanding body of archaeological interpretation based on the philosophical theories of phenomenology, I have been trying to get a better idea of the experience of writing curses for people on the sites they were found, and this can only really be done by physically being there. Before Christmas I went back to Bath, and this month I spent a week in Germany looking at the Trier amphitheatre and the temple of Isis and Magna Mater in Mainz. Now, I wouldn’t claim that I got the exact same experience as a Roman would have on these sites almost 2000 years ago, as so much has changed at all of them in the intervening time. Human experience is also not universal – what I feel, hear and see as a (relatively) young, fit male could be drastically different to people of different ages, abilities or genders. Nevertheless, there were things I noticed that I would never have appreciated no matter how long I started at the site plans in books. The amphitheatre in Trier has fantastic acoustics, even in its ruined state. Every minute sound made on the arena floor echoes out in the seating areas, something that a person digging a hole for a curse tablet would have been aware of.

Trier amphitheatre as it stands today.

Trier amphitheatre as it stands today.

At Bath, standing at the windows over-looking the spring, you get a real sense of the mystical power of the water. It bubbles and steams: it’s opacity masking whatever lies beneath. For anyone who believed that a goddess lived there, these sensory experiences would have confirmed her divine power, making it a prime place to try to communicate with her.

I have also had the chance to handle some of the original curses from Bath and Trier, thanks to the generosity of the museum staff in both towns. Much like the exercise of making my own tablets, this brought new insights into the physical process of doing a curse. I got a feel for how the tablets were made, their weight in my hand, how hard the person pressed with the stylus, and how they folded or rolled the tablet after writing.

All of this is valuable information, and the challenge now is to work it into my argument. Back to writing I go!

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