By Audrey Scardina |

This past week I attended the ninth Early Medieval Archaeology Student Symposium (EMASS) in Oxford. The conference spanned two days and had over sixty delegates from all over Europe, with presentations on topics as diverse as chamber graves in Poland (D. Blaszczyk, University of Poland), the purpose of iron slag in burials (M. William, University College Dublin), and the architectural history of a castle in Calabria (R. Consoli, University of Studies of Mediterranea Regio). Added to this was a hefty dose of the British Isles, especially Anglo-Saxons, such as S. Mui’s case study of a specific Anglo-Saxon grave, where she focused on interpretations of femininity and motherhood (Durham University).

What stood out the most to me, though, and what was also the topic of many a wine reception/pub conversation, were the many themes and shared ideas that came out over the course of the conference, which spanned the geography of both study areas and nationalities. Though the conference definitely had a clear time period and subject area, I think we could all learn something from many of the points that came up:

  1. Having an international perspective on your subject area is amazingly important.

This is probably the most ‘generic’ point I am going to make, but the effects of the international body of researchers who attended affected all the other themes that came up. Most countries have a different way of studying a subject area; so talking to someone from a different country can help us to look at our work from a different perspective. Purely understanding the process that your Italian colleagues/sources use is immensely helpful in understanding the data as well. Which can often lead to my next point….

  1. Barriers in accessing and/or reading data and research are a challenge for all of us. There are two aspects to this – A. language barriers and B. access to data or grey literature.

2.A. Language Barriers

I spoke to a number of the international delegates about this topic – presenting in English is no small task for some of them, but yet many of them have begun to feel that it is increasingly more important to present their work outside of the country they research in. If we are all researching the same time period but everything is published and discussed in a different language, how can we make connections between our research?

For those of us who speak English as our first language or fluently, the same is true in the reverse. For instance, besides English my sources are also in German, French, and sometimes Turkish. When I applied to do my PhD, it was pretty clear I would have to be able to passably read these languages. That does not exactly make it easy. Almost everyone at EMASS had this issue, especially those of us studying the Late Antique and Byzantine world, where we are all trying to draw comparisons across the Mediterranean, but where research is published in a myriad of languages. At the same time, the delegates studying the Anglo-Saxons have similar issues when attempting to include evidence from the continent, where research is published in German, French, and Flemish.

2.B. Access to Data & Grey Literature

Basically, some archaeologists are bad at publishing. And, if something has been excavated and not published, we all will have issues getting a hold of it. Obviously the UK is incredibly lucky to have a number of easily accessible online databases and research projects, but bureaucracy is a problem regardless. At least we know we are not alone in our struggles! This theme of accessing data was carried on into the panel discussion.

EMASS panel discussion, Source: EMASS Twitter @EarlyMedArch

EMASS panel discussion, Source: EMASS Twitter @EarlyMedArch

Instead of a keynote speaker, the organisers decided to have a panel discussion Again the discussion hit on a number of points that the delegates had been discussing throughout the conference, but this time with the added benefit of seeing how those working in the field felt about those issues:

  1. Look outside your specific field, i.e. be interdisciplinary!

We have a lot to learn from not only the people studying the same time period as us in archaeology, but also from those studying the literature and history of our region, as well as those studying the periods before and after us. By limiting ourselves to a specific time period/region/subject area, we can often miss those connections. For instance, Dr Rizos made the point that perhaps the Anglo-Saxonists could learn something from studying post-Roman Dacia, as the Roman occupation and subsequent pulling out of the region was similar to that of Britain. As if to exemplify the point, during the conference dinner, Dr Martinez spent a good fifteen minutes asking all the Late Antique delegates if they had seen a church with the same construction as one he had found in Merida (Spain), only to discover that of all the geographic areas represented at the conference (Balearic Islands, northern Italy, southwest Anatolia, and Egypt), none of us had.

  1. There is an increasing need and want for as much research as possible to be open access.

We know some people are anti- open access, but as one of the delegates pointed out, if you take any break from academia, it is nearly impossible to keep up with current published research. If you want people to be interested in what you do, you need for it to be possible for them to read about it. This goes back to the point about accessing data and grey literature. Professor Hamerow pointed out that there definitely has been a discussion to move to more open access work amongst more established scholars, which is good news.

Following on that, we all expressed our love for Academia pages – thank goodness they exist. Dr. Seaman made the point that it was useful to him throughout his PhD, as he was able to find people studying similar topics he may not have otherwise met. A number of academics have also started uploading journal articles and book chapters, which is unquestionably helping not only their colleagues keep up with their work but also making it possible for research students to access work they may have difficulty accessing otherwise. So make sure you have one!

EMASS Conference Dinner, Source: EMASS Twitter @EarlyMedArch

EMASS Conference Dinner, Source: EMASS Twitter @EarlyMedArch

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time at EMASS 2015. I met so many wonderful research students and honestly learned a ton from the papers. I would also like to say a special thank you to the organisers, Abi Tompkins, Victoria Sainsbury, Sarah Mallet, and Andreas Duering for all their hard work.


Audrey Scardina is a second year PhD in Archaeology, where she studies the architectural development of Byzantine churches in southwest Turkey. Though this mostly takes the form of making databases and translating German, it does occasionally mean trekking through the rocky countryside of Lycia to find crumbling ruins. You can find her Academia page here.