IfA Conference 2014 (or; confusing grid systems)

As happens every time I attend an event, I have the best intention of writing it up during or soon after the occasion but instead end up doing so late. Very late.

This is a brief [EDIT: not so brief] account of this year’s Institute for Archaeologists conference which was held at the Marriott hotel in Glasgow city centre from April 9th – 11th. The conference’s theme – ‘Research in Practice’ – provided the opportunity to discuss research across current archaeological practice ‘as well as highlighting how archaeologists contribute new knowledge to a wider understanding of the human past’ (to pilfer a description from the IfA website – sorry chaps).

To tell this story, I should probably start at the beginning… I’m afraid I am not quite capable of constructing a ‘Pulp Fiction does IfA Conference’ narrative. Perhaps one day.

The story of #2014IfA begins on Tuesday April 8th with a road trip starting at Llandeilo in the morning, stopping off at Montgomery, changing vehicles, pausing for a BBC News interview about Offa’s (although it might not be his) Dyke at around midday, a wander around Tesco in Warrington and moseying around some pretty ace archaeology before we reached our destination at around dinner time.

Below are some scenic photographs in order of travel;

Paul Belford giving a talk to the BBC News cameras!

Paul Belford giving a talk to the BBC News cameras


Snacks – because you can’t have a successful road trip without them

To my shame, I do not remember the name of this castle...

The gorgeous Naworth Castle

An abbey church - the name of which I do not remember - near the the castle

Lanercost Priory – a photo through the sun roof

Walking on the wall; Hadrian's Wall

Walking on the wall; Hadrian’s Wall

Fàilte gu Alba - Welcome to Scotland

Fàilte gu Alba – Welcome to Scotland

After checking into our respective hotels we headed out to investigate the local watering holes, found a place selling good ale – naturally – and after a good evening’s socialising headed back to our hotels ready for the first day of the conference.

The following morning after rolling out of the hotel, confusing myself with Glasgow’s grid system and managing to make it to conference venue (on time, I might add) it was time to grab a customary conference coffee and think about the day ahead whilst contemplating the particularly busy carpets at the Marriott.


Conference venue carpet (shh, it’s a hobby of mine)

At around 11.30am, following coffee and a catch up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference, we all filtered into the main conference room in time for an opening address by Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. Her speech was inspiring and contained more motivating and moving quotes than any other speech I had heard for a long time (so many it was impossible to write them down!); Fiona’s evident enthusiasm for national heritage and culture was uplifting and infectious… What a fantastic way to open a conference!

The first session I attended was ‘S4 Foresight; researching the future of the past’ – a discussion workshop designed to identify and investigate issues which may face the heritage and archaeology sector in the near future. What are the imminent effects of the economy, the environment, political policies, technology, social and population change. What can we, as a group of professionals, do to futureproof archaeology; can we preempt and nullify any adverse effects that may come with future change?

We were split into six groups, each group discussing different aspects (I was on the ‘Technology’ table) and had a session discussing all aspects of possible future change. At the end of deliberation (following a brief coffee break) we all presented our findings and came to the conclusion that archaeology, as a profession, should work with other fields such as politics and sociology in order to better forecast future possibilities. There is, after all, no point in making a mess attempting to forecast a subject – such as technological development – which is not our speciality when there are other professionals out there who do specialise in that subject who have already done their own future forecasting.

Our major conclusion was that we need to collaborate with other disciplines in order to best preserve the future of our profession; there is no need to struggle at these things alone!

The evening’s social event was at Glasgow’s rather elaborate and gilt City Hall where I proceeded to introduce people who already knew each other, failed to introduce people who had never before met and all in all got very confused with names. In the end I decided that the best thing to do was introduce everybody to everybody and all would be fine and subsequently spent a lot of time looking up at the particularly ornate ceilings.

Glasgow's ornate ceiling culture.

Glasgow’s ornate ceiling culture.

The drinks reception at City Hall was followed by dinner, a fine real ale pub and eventually by a karaoke bar (yes, my idea – how did you guess?) all of which I do think combined to make a rather enjoyable and eventful evening.

City hall carpet

City hall carpet

The lack of sleep, however, caused some issue next morning whilst I waited for my double strength hotel room Nescafé to kick in. Tired didn’t cover it. But eager to get on with the day I got myself to the Marriott in time for the day’s sessions – for me, a workshop on publishing articles and a discussion titled ‘Seeing the wood for the trees’.

Having recently stuck my toe in the waters of the publishing world I was interested to see what I might learn in the ‘W1 Publishing in the Historic Environment’ workshop – being someone who worries about the simplest article, I related to the workshop’s subtitle; ‘or How I learnt to stop worrying and got something into print’.

Some more conference venue carpet

Some more conference venue carpet

The most important thing to remember is simply that a written article can always be edited. It seems that the key to writing an article is get your ideas on the page. Once they are there, the next step is easy, peer reviewing helps iron out the creases before an article is published.

‘D1 Seeing the wood for the trees’ presented interesting discussions on the divergence between approaches in both theory and data driven research and the general relevance of archaeology in a wider social arena. Would it be feasible to conduct research whilst undertaking planning and development lead excavation?

Thursday night’s networking event was held at the Huntarian Art Gallery which included wine, nibbles and some spectacular art followed by a walk around the breathtaking Scottish Gold Exhibition upstairs. Even for one who is not particularly interested in gold, it was fascinating to see the history of Scottish gold all set out in one room.

Following this we (‘we’ being my friend Emily and myself) foraged some pizza from a local watering hole/cinema/pizzeria and headed over to the official social event at the Hillhead Bookclub (which, curiously, sold strawberry mojitos). We IfA delegates took over the mezzanine floor and enjoyed playing impossible games on old school consoles whilst chatting about the sessions we’d attended.

We had pizzas, not pies

We had pizzas, not pies

The New Generation session on the Friday morning provided superb insight into the extensive and varied work being undertaken by the ‘new generation’ of archaeologists. ‘D6 innovation, research and best practice’ addressed challenges faced by ‘the New Generation in an aging profession’ discussed by Kenneth Aitchison, explored the uses and successes of crowd funding in a paper presented by Jamie Davies, and spoke of community archaeology within development-led archaeology during a presentation by Laura Joyner.

Before tea break, Kerry Massheder discussed her trainee placement and her work regarding the relationship between archaeology and oral history and Don O’Meara who pleaded a strong case for open access grey literature.

The New Generation making their mark

The New Generation making their mark

Following a nice hot cup of tea we continued with the remaining papers in the session. Alistair Galt’s discussion surrounding new technologies satisfied the nerd in me and presented some of the more innovative and intriguing aspects of technological development.

Ruth Whyte spoke to us about her investigations into how the new generation can bring new ideas into specific fields and how we can positively shape the future of Osteology. Following this, Oliver Davies explored the impact of greater communication with and inclusion of public audiences and wider communities within ‘community archaeology’ and ‘outreach’.

The final paper in this session presented by Andrea Bradley took an amusing and interesting twisting and turning journey through past ideas of the present into current notions of future possibilities within the archaeological field.

The papers in this session highlighted not only the vast array of work that the New Generation are undertaking but also focused the audience on the wonderful energy and determination possessed by those who are newly embarking on a profession in archaeology (though disappointingly no-one included a D&D ‘roll a D6’ reference).

As I see it, and as an early career-person myself, the New Generation will bring new ideas to, utilise new technologies within and will shape the future of our profession.

Following this session I stayed for the New Generation AGM where we discussed what would be done over the coming year.

Unfortunately I could not stay for the afternoon sessions – as demonstrated by the intro to this article, the drive from Llandeilo to Glasgow (or vice versa) is long and tiring. I have to admit I slept for a great deal of the drive back (I was lucky enough to have the back seat of the car) and surfaced mainly for coffee and ice cream at Tebay services. One is never as tired as one finds oneself after an archaeology conference.

Back on home soil - Cymru mon amour

Back on home soil – Cymru mon amour

Thank you to the IfA for organising a spectacular event. Roll on conference 2015; Cardiff is a lot closer to home.


3 thoughts on “IfA Conference 2014 (or; confusing grid systems)

      1. rastenfors

        Exactly – but still with an archaeologist’s perspective!
        In a thousand years, who knows who’ll studying those same fabrics :)
        And the ceiling at City Hall is a perfect counterpoint, with the thistle motif repeated – but sure you planned that, too :)

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