Terry O’Connor

I’d arrived a little late. Trying to cause as little disturbance as possible, I still had to shuffle crab-like down a whole row of people who were committed to an involuntary Mexican wave in my wake. This wasn’t the impression I’d wanted to make.

I’d spent the night in Sheffield and, despite having to wait for four friends to assemble at my car before departing we weren’t that late. At least we wouldn’t have been. Although we had at least one Yorkshire native in the vehicle – sat in the passenger seat, in fact – it fell to me to query our progress. I was fairly certain that the best way to York from Sheffield didn’t lie through Bradford but, nevertheless, it took sometime before my misgivings were strong enough to overpower the fug of a late night and it wasn’t before we were some miles out of our way that I sloughed the car around. Direct action taken, I proceeded to ignore the bleating Sat-Nav for the next hour.

Red in the face then, flustered and trying vainly to appear as if I’d been there all along, I sat at the back of the room as Terry O’Connor introduced the next speaker. I’d been in the same room as Terry at least twice before now but I’d never actually spoken to him. I’d emailed him earlier in the week to ask if I might have a chance to talk to him while I was at this event, explaining who I was, my current situation and enquiring plaintively whether there might be any opportunities for me to study for my PhD at York.

As we broke for coffee I made my way back down the aisle of rising humanity as quickly as I could, thinking to grab a much needed cup of coffee and then loiter by the biscuits in the hope of introducing myself to Terry. What would this behemoth of my chosen subject make of me and my disruptive entrance? Somehow I’d managed to get to the front of the queue and, as I filled my cup, I was hailed brusquely but friendlily by someone making their way passed me:

‘Ah, Lee, we must talk.’

Bewildered and more than slightly flattered that I was recognised and that he’d taken the time to come and talk to me first I stumbled out a ‘yes, thanks Terry.’

That day and on two more occasions in the following weeks I was very touched, not to say astounded, by how Terry was so willing to make time for me and talk through my concerns. Eventually, of course, I did move to York and become his PhD student. I’m still amazed at how he can make time for everyone, his incredible memory and breadth of knowledge and perhaps most of all by his unfailing capacity to instantly make people feel at home and that what they have to say is interesting to him.

AEA banner

Around this time last year, not long after hearing from Terry that he intended to retire, I suggested to Clare Rainsford and Eva Farinell that we should try and organise a conference for Terry to mark his retirement. The AEA agreed with us and our call for papers has just been announced. Terry’s impact on so many fields of archaeology, but particularly zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology, cannot be overstated. A long track-record of post-excavation analysis has been mirrored by concerns in questioning the role of environmental archaeology, of teaching archaeology and of practising the subject in the field.

Though I may be a little less in awe of his person today than I was a few years ago I remain awed by both his intellect and his easy-going, gentlemanly personality.

The conference website, including the call for papers, can be found here: http://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/news-and-events/events/conferences/aea/

lion skeletonwww.zooarchaeology.co.uk


Whatever Happened to August?

As regular visitors to this website will know, I spent almost the entirety of August in Tanzania as a member of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project team.  As a pilot project, the main aim of the field season was to try and find sites for future further investigation.  Accordingly, I spent most of my time conducting targeted foot IMG_1378survey in the Engaruka and Manyara basins, as well as in the Ufana River Valley.  Some promising sites were found and test excavations and/or shovel pit surveys were used to further explore some of these sites: we await C14 dating results to establish our success (or otherwise)!  A more detailed overview of the current state of play will be given at the AEA conference in Reading, in November, in our presentation entitled “No Flies on Us” (for more details on that see either the last post here or my Academia.edu profile.

From Tanzania, I flew directly (well, indirectly) to Helsinki for this year’s EAA conference.  There I co-presented a paper describing what investigation of ethnographic sites in Mongolia can reveal to us about burnt animal bones in the archaeological record (again, further details can be found on my Academia.edu page).  Our paper was well received and provoked a good deal of discussion throughout the rest of the day.  The day before that, meanwhile, I had co-chaired a session concerning the integration of artefactual and environmental approaches to understanding urban Mediaeval life in Europe.  This, too, was generally well received with some excellent papers provoking a good deal of debate which we were happy to make time for.  We’re currently in discussion with publishers about printing the proceedings of the session: based on what we’ve seen so far Ben, Idoia and I are very excited to see this through.

Finally, I was brought quickly back to “normal life” (whatever that is for an archaeologist) when, one day after arriving home in York, I spent the rest of the week teaching as a part of the Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield.  This course went very well: there was broad agreement that it was the best one yet and we had a terrific group of students.  That was the fifth time we’ve run the course and it will return again in 2013 alongside a new advanced course – watch this space!  Of course, if you happen to live in Yorkshire and are interested in learning more about zooarchaeology, bookings are now open for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.

lion skeleton


All Quiet?

Things haven’t been quite so quiet around here as my silence would suggest.  We managed to gather some very useful ethnoarchaeological data on the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project, but while I was away my laptop broke: hence the deafening silence here.

In that time I’ve had copies of book reviews published of Living With Herds by Natasha Fijn (in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society) and Food, Craft and Status in Medieval Winchester by Dale Serjeantson and Helen Rees (in Hortulus).  Both are available now via my Academia.edu profile.

In terms of the dissemination of research, I also heard that a paper jointly presented with Mary Prendergast, Oula Seitsonen, Katherine Grillo and Audax Mabulla has been accepted for this year’s AEA conference in Reading, concerning the spread of Pastoralism in East Africa.  A full copy of the abstract for this is given after the break.

On the teaching front, the next Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield has now been fully booked, dates about the next one will be published here when they are settled.  Bookings are now open though for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.

After such a lightening round up it only remains for me to excuse myself for another absence.  My bag is now packed and I’m about to leave for more fieldwork as part of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project.  Before returning home and teaching in Sheffield I’ll be visiting Helsinki for the EAA conference; I may be able to access the internet and post something from there but otherwise I’ll be out of contact until the second week of September.

lion skeleton



No Flies on Us: The Diffusion of the Neolithic in Africa


The emergence of the Neolithic in Sub-Saharan Africa was not accompanied by a move towards sedentism, as in many other parts of the world, but instead accompanied the diffusion of a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Although pastoralist Neolithic sites are known in both East and West Africa as well as in Southern Africa, the precise route, timing and method of this diffusion through a tropical environment which would require acclimatisation to different ecologies and diseases is still the subject of some conjecture but two competing models have gained wide support among archaeologists working in the area. The more favoured model supposes that livestock (and, therefore, pastoralists) could have moved relatively freely through a tse-tse fly free corridor in the eastern side of the continent stretching from modern day Kenya to South Africa.

The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project was conceived to identify sites in the northern most part of this corridor in order to test this theory and to examine issues of Neolithic – Hunter-Gatherer interaction. This presentation aims to highlight the on-going work to answer some of these questions through the initial results of the zooarchaeological analysis of the sites identified thus far.

1, Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor, York. YO1 7EP. UK. 2, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, St. Louis University in Madrid, Avenida del Valle, 34 28003 Madrid. Spain. 3, Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 64, FI-00014. Finland. 4, Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1114, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA. 5, Archaeology Unit, P.O. Box 35050, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam. Tanzania.

More Opportunities to Learn

Anyone living in the Yorkshire area who’s interested in learning more about zooarchaeology but is unable to attend the University of Sheffield course (Understanding Zooarchaeology: A Short Course for Archaeology and Heritage Professionals and Enthusiasts) due to the commitment of the three-day full-time structure of the course may be interested in another course I’ll be leading this year.  Introduction to Zooarchaeology will run over ten weeks for two hours on Wednesday evenings beginning 10th October 2012 and will be based in the University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.

Additionally, I’ll be leading another course which may be of interest to some people who have already studied on either of the courses mentioned above, as well people for whom zooarchaeology is not of any interest at all.  Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology will run over six weeks for two hours on Tuesday evenings beginning 22nd January 2013 and will also be based in the University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.

Short outlines of both courses are provided below and anyone interested in finding out more about them is encouraged to contact me directly.

lion skeleton



Introduction to Zooarchaeology

This course will introduce participants to the methods that can be used to gather information from archaeological animal bones and the relevance of these remains to wider archaeological and ecological study.

Designed for people with little or no experience in zooarchaeology, it is an ideal introduction to the field.  Through short lectures, discussions and hands on practical workshops, the course will give you practical experience of zooarchaeological methods, helping you to understand the archaeological potential and limitations of zooarchaeology.

Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology

This course will introduce participants to ethnographic analogy as a range of tools for archaeological research and interpretation.

Designed for people with little or no experience in ethnoarchaeology, it is an ideal introduction to the field for those with an interest in archaeology and/or ethnography and anthropology.  Through short lectures, discussions and workshops, the course will introduce ethnoarchaeological methods, helping you to understand the archaeological potential and limitations of ethnographic research in archaeology.

A Tale of Two Universities

It’s been (and continues to be) a very busy couple of months.  So busy I’ve only just realised that this news page wasn’t updated during September.  The month began with the second lot of French fieldwork for the Ecosal Interreg project.  We were blessed with some very good weather for this.  Analysis of the material collected earlier in the year has continued over the summer and initial results are promising, showing some differences as well as similarities with the British material.

The second half of September saw me change my university affiliation as well as move location.  I am now in the Archaeology Department at the University of York.  This is a very exciting move that promises to help me continue to develop my career and my skills and knowledge.

I’m presently in the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where I’m a Visiting Researcher in the Africana Studies department.  I’m doing some post-excavation work on material from two sites in Nigeria.  The material is excellent and I’m very much enjoying working with it.  It shows a very high diversity of taxa present and is also yielding some very good taphonomic information which will help in interpreting site-formation processes and butchery practices, as well as the usual economic and ecological information.

Finally, whilst in Charlotte I shall be giving a public lecture entitled “What Can Modern Day Agro-Pastoralist Practices in Ethiopia Tell Us About Past Lifestyles, There and Elsewhere?” in Fretwell 419 at 11am on 14th October.