Category Archives: Science

Doggerland @ Book to the Future

Professor Gaffney

Being a girl from Yorkshire myself, a lecture on a ‘lost’ land named Doggerland certainly sparked interest. Part of the University’s first literature festival ‘Book to the Future’, the lecture given by Professor Vince Gaffney celebrated innovative technology, inspiring findings and historical development of research. It was inspiring and informative, and gave a real understanding of the future of landscape archaeology in this area.

He began by reminding us of the other lost worlds history has presented. For example, James Churchward and the lost continent of Mu in the Pacific Ocean. We all know about the mysteries of Atlantis (and the BBC show is utilising this lost land at the moment). However it soon became clear Professor Gaffney was serious about a land lost beneath the rising sea levels during the last dramatic climate change, the ice age.

The land was inhabited in about 10000BC-5000BC and has become known as the Mesolithic period of hunter gatherers. The history of research into what has been named Doggerland was the main subject of the Professor’s lecture, and demonstrated the development of technology combined with a bit of luck!

Map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland

The first ‘giant’ he stands on the shoulders of is Clement Reid who published ‘Submerged Forests’ in 1913. He described the remains of trees and stumps that have been submerged by marine transgression due to rising sea levels, meaning the stumps have become petrified. The next was Dr Miles Burkitt, who was pushed by his supervisor to study the Mesolithic period. He published two books, one in 1936 and one in 1939, the first being a ‘let down’ to his supervisor, as was nothing less than a combination of the then present research. His second book however was influenced by the finding of the Colinda Harpoon which a trawler dug up from the peat off the Dogger Banks, in the area of Leman and Ower. This exciting piece of luck demonstrates how evidence on the era was being discovered and put to scientific use.

Professor Gaffney went on to explain how the oil and gas industry helped with his work by surveying the vast area of the South North Sea. Using the help of Dr Ken Thomson, Petroleum Geo-Services (the group carrying out the surveys under the water for oil and gas exploration) gave them 6000 squared km (apparently this is an incredibly small area in relation to normal archaeological digs) to carry out their 3D research on.

This was the turning point for the team, they could begin to see rivers in the layers of sediment under the ocean and get a true picture of vegetative life 10,000 years ago. The main issue is of course that the data will not allow them to see settlements, but due to the developing technology, the team can explore the underwater land using the most modern 3D tools.

The main thing I took from the talk is how by collaborating with many groups across the world, the team has been able to expand their work to areas off of Wales and Qatar for example. Off of South East Asia there is an area named Sundaland, not much smaller than India, lost to the sea. In 2013 they won the European Archeological Heritage Award, which truly demonstrates the value of their work to the field.

I will certainly be keeping up with developments in this area. It is amazing how finding one harpoon can spark off research that will keep Professor Gaffney enthralled for years to come.

by Holly Abel
@HollyAbel3

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A Leg to Stand On: Prosthetics, Art and Robots @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

Given the title of the event, you could be forgiven for thinking how on earth could all these separate entities be tied together into one coherent, in-depth discussion on social acceptance and norms of human identity. But after an hour of detailed debate even I was beginning to see a link between each of these themes.

mit-robotic-ankle

As one of the first events I would be attending of the week-long University of Birmingham Arts & Science Festival, I was a bit anxious as to what was to come from two of the institution’s lecturers, Dr Camilla Smith and Dr Nick Hawes. Initially it felt like a standard course lecture, given the layout in a teaching room of the Learning Centre. The way in which it was delivered, with a series of power-point slides, did not help this first impression either. However, it was the conversational manner in which it was given that made me deeply intrigued by the content of the talk. This certainly was no algebra or physics lesson.

The talk itself was separated into three main chunks; art and identity, robots and how they have become more human-like and the final piece, prosthetic limbs and how robotics and art have defined how we socially accept prosthetics. The history of art and this theme of self-identity proved to be an interesting segment but it was the discussion on robots I  could not help being absolutely mesmerised by. From the simple industrial models to the delicate, moving mannequins imitating humans was a thrilling, yet chilling, experience. A YouTube search for ‘uncanny valley’ will give you a fair idea of the sensation they incited within the audience. It was also a much welcome light-hearted break from the prior art masterclass that may have been a bit too heavy for such an occasion.

Birmingham-20130318-00805

Two actual prosthetic limbs were presented for the discussion; I can’t help but feel they were slightly neglected and perhaps more emphasis should have been placed on audience engagement with such contraptions. This might have been down to time constraints, however, as the event did overrun slightly. Overall, it was an enjoyable hour that left me asking, why do we accept Paralympian athletes with visible prosthetics but make it necessary for ordinary patients with missing limbs to perhaps feel obliged to cover up?

By Princeton Lancaster

@Princeton_L