Thank you so much for voting for me. I had such a great time chatting with you all, and I feel very honored and priviledged that you chose me to be your zone winner...now to make an archaeometry game :-) thank you.
Eaton (CN) School (1995-1999); University of Wales, Lampeter (1999-2004); Cranfield University, Shrivenham (2006-2010)
10 GCSEs; 2 A-Levels; BA; MA; MSc; PhD
Norwich Castle Museum; Cranfield Uni; KU Leuven
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love experimental archaeology. So we think we know how something was made and then I design an experiment to try and make the item in the same way. Do our ideas work?
I shoot X-rays and lasers at really old objects, like Egyptian glass or Roman pottery, to see how, where and what they were made from.
I’m an archaeometrist, which means I study archaeology using different scientific methods.
Sometimes I work on excavations and dig things up. This can be anything from prehistoric flints, through Egyptian glass, Roman pottery to WWI trenches and beyond…
Top: Finds from WWI trenches; Bottom: Roman Glass.
Sometimes I study objects in the lab. The objects can be any size and shape, which can make it really challenging because not all of the techniques I use are suitable for very big or very small things. In some cases I’m allowed to break a small piece off from the object and this means I can use lots of different destructive methods to look at the composition. In other cases I am not allowed to break the object and that means I have to find another way to get the information.
I use lots of different techniques to tell me as much as possible about the objects. So I look at the size, shape, colour and texture (macroscopic analysis), then I might look at a small piece of the object in detail with a microscope (microscopic analysis). I then use different chemical techniques to look at what the sample is made from. The choice of technique depends on whether I am allowed to break pieces off the object or not. For example, if I am allowed to break a small piece from an object then I might use LA-ICP-MS (Laser Ablation – Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry). This technique fires a small laser at the surface of the sample and removes a tiny amount of material for analysis. The holes left in the sample are so small that you need a microscope to see them. If I’m not allowed to break the sample then I use pXRF (portable (or Handheld) X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry). This method uses a machine which looks like a ‘Star Trek’ phaser to fire X-rays at the surface of the sample, the different elements then give off what we call fluorescence which the machine measures. This method doesn’t damage the object and can be taken to different places, so I don’t have to stay in the lab.
Sometimes I’m asked to look at things that you can’t take into the lab, for example, I looked at the chemical composition of the different panes of a stained glass window in Oxford Cathedral.
I also really enjoy experimental archaeology. This is where I try and recreate how something was made or would have worked. For example, I tried to make hardened leather (called cuir boillee) and then stabbed it using a machine that measured force to see whether it would work as armour. I work with lots of different materials and objects from lots of different time periods to try and find out as much as possible about the items.
For anyone with access to youtube, this is what my research group are working on now:
My Typical Day
I check emails, drink coffee, spend time in the lab and play ‘Angry Birds’
I spend a lot of time in the office working with data, writing papers, reading articles or planning lessons. My desk is in a shared office and I have what I call ‘organised chaos’, I know where everything is 🙂
I try do all my lab work at the same time, so I plan a few days or a week, where I am always in the lab. I teach a lesson of geo-archaeology each week and help students with their lab work or course projects. I usually have 2-4 weeks of archaeological fieldwork each year and up to 6 weeks of science fieldwork (taking the pXRF to sites, museums, historic buidings etc) each year. I always drink coffee in the mornings when checking my emails and play ‘Angry Birds’ at lunchtime, usually my boss beats me 🙁
It’s always exciting when I’m asked to look at new objects because each one is different and has its own unique story… Where was it found? Where was it made? How was it made? Who made it? What is it made from? Can I break it? How much is it worth? How old is it? These are just some of the questions that I try to answer…
What I'd do with the prize money
I want to make a game
I learn best by having a go, and I really enjoy playing games. So, what better way to teach people about archaeometry than with a game. The idea would be that you get to choose how to look at an object, you choose what method you are going to use and how much money to spend, and you get results based on your choices…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
crazy, loud, colourful
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
fired a gun into a sand box to see what the sand would do to the bullet
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I wanted to know more about the objects I was digging up, I wanted to tell their story
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
to be on Dr Who; to visit Japan; to try wing-walking
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a Roman Emperor with a cold? Julius Sneezer