Alasdair Whittle’s “Times of their Lives” project in Seville

I have just spent an intense but immensely rewarding few days with the Alasdair Whittle’s “Times of their Lives” project in Seville, Andalucia, where a new dating programme for the fantastic Copper Age site of Valencina de la Conception is starting to take shape. Valencina is a site I’ve been interested in for some time with my long term collaborator and friend Leo Garcia (Seville University) and it’s an exceptional site in many ways. It’s therefore a huge pleasure to be involved in improving the chronology of the site through this collaboration. The Times of their Lives project is an ERC initiative involving Alasdair Whittle and Alex Bayliss (among others) that aims to build local chronological sequences using Bayesian calibration. That means that for each of their case studies, the ToTL team need to understand in some detail about the existing dates from the site, the suitability of material for new dates, and how both of these relate to the stratigraphic sequence or other dating information. This is a huge challenge!

The meeting I was involved with took place over three days, beginning with an explanation of the ToTL project and of Bayesian Modelling (which can seem like a kind of statistical witchcraft ..) and then a series of presentations by local archaeologists about their excavations. The meeting then changed gear noticeably, with the ToTL team quizzing each archaeologist in turn and in detail about the possibility of new dates and in particular the possibility of what they call “perfect pairs” (I love learning new jargon!) which consist of articulated (i.e. ‘deposited fresh’) animal bone in the same context as human remains. These are – they say – really useful to increase confidence in the models, and so all involved are now on the lookout for them.

It was obviously necessary to introduce Alasdair and his team to some local archaeology (and eateries, of course) which meant that an already intense academic meeting also extended well into the evenings, with field trips to follow. It has taken my ageing constitution a week or two to recover and get around to writing this blog entry but I must say that I’ve come back from this meeting with great optimism about the contribution that ToTL can make to our understanding of Valencina, and perhaps to the whole of the Iberian Copper Age. I actually can’t wait for the first round of dates, and to see how this process evolves further.

More about Valencina and the Times of Their Lives project.