Medieval Scottish Village Brought to Light in New Investigation

Hey lads and lasses! Check out this super fun article by Ben Miller of “

“Archaeologists find ‘lost’ medieval village full of pottery, coins and bones in Scottish Borders”


Miller reports on the discovery of a “lost” Medieval town in Southern Scotland, likely spanning from the 15th to 17th centuries, and associated with the Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645. Recovery also includes artifacts from 18th and 19th century activity at the site.

The site report on this project (also linked at the bottom of the article) by Bob Will, Alan Hunter Blair, and others, is a really good read. As someone with a moderate obsession with all things Scottish (my ancestors were in Scotland at the time of the battle of Philiphaugh), I’m always super excited to read about sites like this.

It’s also a great example of how a multi-disciplinary approach can be really successful on historical sites. The location of the battlefield was derived through documentary research in conjunction with archaeological survey by Historic Scotland, the University of Stirling (under Dr. T Turpie), and the Center for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. Following work on the battlefield component, a cultural resource survey by Alan Hunter Blair for GUARD Archaeology, Ltd. in preparation for the construction of a pipeline, brought to light the extent of Medieval occupation in the area.

Now (happily), the pipeline has been rerouted and this exciting site can be studied and commemorated properly! I think this may require a celebratory scotch or two 😉

v0_master (1)(Photo 1: Fieldwork being undertaken at the site Photo 2: A spindle whorl recovered in the excavations. All photos © Guard Archaeology Ltd)

Blogging Archaeology


blogging-archaeology (1) Hello world. My name is Jenny, and I am a blogger. There, I said it. You may only know me from my podcast “The Struggling Archaeologist’s Guide to Getting Dirty.” I sure do love that podcast, it’s a pretty fun excuse to talk about things that interest me in history and archaeology and talk about my own experiences in the field. I started it hoping to provide people out there like me (you know, with a sense of humor) a different perspective on the academic world, once with a little less jargon and a little more fun. As my super cute slogan goes, I want to educate through living and laughing. But one measly podcast just wasn’t enough for me, so now I have a pretty cool tumblr blog and my own website.

I started blogging because after three years of graduate school I was sick of reading nothing but academic journals rife with pomp and indignation, and wanted to show the world that smart people can also be real people. Not that I don’t appreciate the traditional academic perspective. Access to scholarly research provides every person the ability to be taught by many of the best minds in the world; I wouldn’t trade that or my own education for anything. But I had help translating the canon of Anthropological theory into the common tongue. What about people who just want to learn about history because they love it, not because they’re writing a dissertation?

This was what inspired me to begin writing about history, science, and archaeology in my own voice. Challenging though it may be, I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the community of online educational bloggers out there, and plan to continue for years -nay- decades to come. So what’s the deal with this declaration or my love for the blogosphere? Well, I recently realized that I had been missing out on the amazing blogging carnival begun last November by Doug Rocks-Macqueen, of Doug’s Archaeology, in preparation for the blogging archaeology session coming up (very very soon) at the 79th annual SAA conference in Austin, Texas. Why didn’t I, an archaeology blogger, know about an archaeology blogging carnival you ask? Because I am me, and this is what I do.

If you listened to my first ever podcast episode then you know what I’m talking about. I told a delightful anecdote about how I function in the world, based on the first time I went to ballet class as a little girl. Sitting in the changing room I pondered when someone would be coming to bring me my black leotard and pink tights as I sat, completely naked, watching the other little girls getting changed and heading out to the dance studio. I was confused as to why they were making me wait so long for my uniform, but I waited still… until my teacher came in (doubtless after she’d been told there was a naked girl sitting in there by herself) and informed me that we were supposed to have brought our own clothes with us. So I gracefully put on my corduroys and sneakers and clodded through my first ballet class, while the other girls sniggered at me. This is how I enter most situations, as whatever manual for how things work in the world that everyone else read months ago has probably not been given to me. I am busy, I am clumsy, I am trying, but I guarantee that if everyone else is doing it then I most likely have no idea what’s going on yet.

So now that that’s out of the way, what is the purpose of this post? Doug proposed that every month of the carnival, bloggers tackle specific questions to be shared through his site and their own blogs. Many responded and took part in a great discourse. Having been oblivious, as usual, I missed out on all of the awesomeness. Thankfully, you can still find past questions and entries here should you wish to read or even go back and write something for the carnival. I may do the same in time, but with the SAA conference quickly approaching (which I am very excited to attend), I thought I’d tackle the last question before I pack up my wagon and head to Austin (literally, I drive a wagon, don’t judge). So…the task is to write about the future of blogging, and where we would like to go as a part of it.

Blogging for the Win

The future of blogging for me will always revolve around bringing important educational material to the public and remaining my true and authentic self in my interactions with them. When I came up with the idea for the podcast, I was in a holding pattern in my life, not really sure of how to move forward. I had just finished supervising a field school and teaching Anthropology 101, and I knew that more than digging or researching I really loved teaching. I was good at it, and I was capable of connecting with people because I’m a charismatic person. A lot of this comes from my past as a theatre geek. A well-trained theatre geek, mind you. I understand the power of performance, which is why it’s one of my most powerful weapons in the big bad world of professional smart people. I went to an acting workshop once where the teacher told us to look at ourselves like we were blenders, and to be honest about what kind of blender we would be advertised as in a store. I know it seems silly but the point is rather profound: what kind of blender are you? Is it the same kind of blender you’re trying to sell?

I took this lesson to my career and decided that instead of following the traditional path I was going to do something different, because I am different. I have never fit in with the crowd, and why would I want to anyway? I am Jenny McNiven, I have the word “nerd” tattooed on my foot, and I don’t care who knows it. I decided to be a performer, and a writer, and a teacher, and an archaeologist, because those are my greatest strengths and passions. That’s my blender, baby. So here I am, with a podcast and a blog. I get to teach, and write, and make people laugh, and be myself, and share what I love with the world. Pretty sweet right? Well, yes, but as my childhood idol Ariel would say- I want more!

Going forward I would like to become more involved in the blogging community and with my readers/listeners. I have loved hearing from people who enjoy what I do and have learned something from me, but as one might expect the world of a blogger is a solitary one. I podcast alone, and I spent a lot of time researching and writing alone. Sound familiar to anyone? Those of us on the outskirts of the blogosphere need to do a better job of including ourselves in discussion and sharing our work on other blogging and social media sites. I am getting to know a few of you, but I would like to know much more about the community of bloggers and readers out there.

I need to write more. Obviously. I love the interface I get on tumblr for writing my own posts, sharing those of others, and throwing up pictures, quotes, or videos that I think are interesting and relevant to my field. But there are times when the allure of writing a paragraph about a news piece I found is much greater than sitting down to create my own article from scratch. Busy and hectic as my life gets, I need to make more time to write really solid interest and news stories. I also need to share them on other blogs. Like I said before, I’m not good at knowing how these things work, so I have to sit down with a copy of “blogging for dummies” and figure out how to take my blog and podcast further.

I need to (gasp) quit clowning around so much. When I started the podcast I wanted to talk to my audience like we were two regular people just having a conversation about cool archaeology stuff. For the most part that’s what I do on the show, but I have of late realized that I perhaps I don’t need to be so… unadulterated, shall we say, with my inner monologue. I have a wide range of listeners, from the hobbyist to the academic, so it can be a hard balance trying to make the show accessible and still interesting to everyone. While I enjoy making irreverent jokes and getting sidetracked by random thoughts, I have a certain responsibility to the material I talk about and the people who have contributed to the corpus of knowledge I draw from to take my job as a steward of history a little more seriously. Also, I am an intelligent woman working in the sciences, and I don’t think I always come off as one. I would like to be a better representative of my field and those who have worked hard to give me the opportunity to succeed in it. A little less “jokey Jenny” and a little more “smarty-pants Jenny” in the future, got it?

What was that you said? Do I have anything new and exciting on the horizon? Well as a matter of fact reader, I do, how good of you to ask! I am constantly amazed by the changing mediums of communication and education in today’s crazy technology driven, reality t.v. watching, 140 character world. As a proponent of inclusive methods of teaching involving entertainment and experience I would like to adapt some of my methods of instruction to reach new audiences and get younger people excited about history, archaeology, and the sciences. Social media is one way to incorporate this that I plan on continuing. On a larger scale though, I’ve always wanted to be in pictures! I’m currently developing an educational web-series based on The Struggling Archaeologist podcast and blog. It will cover a range of topics from archaeology news and history lessons, to advice and “tales from the field” for up and coming archaeologists. I also plan on using the “special skills” section of my CV by creating comical scenes and interludes based on topics in history. Remember, my blender also has a theatre degree!

I believe that people aren’t meant to do just one thing in their lives. As bloggers we have the opportunity to impart our own unique skills and experiences into our professional life, and provide a new format for how people learn and interact with the academic community. Going forward I would like to see more people examining what they can offer the students of the world (casual and professional alike) that helps create a new and positive learning experience. Not every academic is a gray-haired, bowtie wearing lecturer (nothing against you bowtie guys!), we should be connecting to our audiences by being willing to step out of the box and be more than just a faceless repository for facts and figures. Be real, be the blender you were meant to be, and you may just make someone new sit up and take notice of the amazing and crazy world we write about every day.

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you on either of my blogs or through my email I would also love to feature some guest posts, or guest post on other bloggers’ sites, so feel free to contact me about getting our blogging groove on 🙂 If you’re attending the blogging archaeology session at SAA this week, I’ll be the redhead with the word “nerd” tattooed on her foot (no, that was not a joke). Please come up and introduce yourself, I’m really friendly, I promise!


Asteroid Impact 3.26 billion years ago Dwarfs the Dino-Slayer

Big News Everyone! (literally) Throw out all of your YA dystopian fictions kids, they don’t have anything on a new earth shattering event that is being brought to light for the first time!

Scientists at Stanford University have announced new evidence for a massive asteroid collision occurring in earth’s formative years, a mere 3.26 billion years ago, when our planet was just a wee babe. Not that it wasn’t accustomed to being beaten up at the playground. This was a time when the earth and other planets in our solar system were constantly under fire from asteroids and the remains of planetary materials called “planetismals” (I promise I did not make that word up). It was this kind of activity that lead to the formation of the moon around 4 billion years ago, and is referred to today as the period of late, heavy bombardment. Didn’t know our planet was so badass did you?

Since that period there have been several mass extinction events on earth caused by asteroid impacts, the most famous of all being the one and only “Dino-Slayer” of 65 million years ago. The cretaceous-paleogene extinction event (or K-Pg event) lead to the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs and paved the way for the rise of the mammals (i.e. US!). Most scientists believe the K-Pg event was the result of the epically disastrous impact of the Chicxulub asteroid, which measured over 6 miles in diameter and left a crater in the Yucatan Peninsula over 100 miles wide. So, you know, freaking huge.




Yeah, that’s it. Pretty big right?

Well, the forthcoming evidence of this new nightmare scenario asteroid suggests that it was somewhere between 23 and 36 miles wide, leaving a crater of over 300 miles. So, basically like this…




The only problem… this crater doesn’t really exist anymore and we don’t really know where it is. Why, you ask? Well, impacts like this one happened so long ago that processes of erosion and tectonic movement have changed the earth’s surface so much that the craters aren’t evident anymore. Eh, small beans to fancy geologists. They know how to read the signs of major asteroid impacts on land formations that are still around. In this case the authors of the new study, Norman H. Sleep and Donald R. Lowe, discovered the scars of an ancient asteroid impact on a land formation in South Africa known as the Barberton greenstone belt.

The Barberton belt is known for having some of world’s oldest rocks. Besides the tell-tale fractures left on its crust, it contains minuscule spherules of vaporized rock from the impact, and concentrations of an element often found in asteroids called iridium. The study indicates that the actual impact zone was likely thousands of miles away in an ocean basin, though the evidence at Barberton suggests that the event could have permanently altered the tectonic plates- perhaps putting into motion the tectonic system that we have today.

So what does this mean about the asteroid’s impact on earth? Well, basically conjure up every doomsday scenario you can imagine and that may come close to being about half as bad as this was….

“What he means is Old Testament Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff…”

Oceans boiling? Check. Megatsunamis? Check. Planet wide earthquakes? Check. Burning hot air? Check. Ash and dust filling the atmosphere and blocking out the sun? Check. Dogs and cats living together? HA! Got you there, not really a lot of complex life on the planet yet. But does that mean the asteroid didn’t have an impact on the evolution of life on earth? No way, it’s likely that there was mass extinction of many microscopic organisms on the planet. Which was probably highly influential in the direction of our ancestor’s evolution. Just imagine what kinds of life would have evolved had such a large selective act NOT happened? Probably a bunch of riffraff…

So there you have it, some new insight into earth’s childhood. Maybe you’ll show a little more respect now that you know what it’s been through the last 4.5 billion years!

Check out the original American Geophysical Union press release for the whole story, and thanks for the images AGU!