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    UCL Events blog

    By Nick Dawe, on 6 May 2011

    Reviews of UCL public lectures, debates, exhibitions, shows, and more…

    The hidden gems of studying a degree in Archaeology

    By Jo Harris, on 21 June 2017

    Written by UCL Archaeology Graduate, John Bilton

    As I relaxed in my scratch-built sauna in the middle of the West Sussex countryside, I decided there were worse things in life than studying archaeology. It was a week into my first year and I was at ‘Primtech’, a four-day retreat every new undergrad at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology (IoA) goes on to get a hands-on introduction to early technologies (flint knapping, pottery making, bronze casting, etc.), and to get to know the people they will spend the next three years studying with. I had made the sauna that afternoon with another first-year and a couple of second-years, who came to Primtech as supervisors, out of some sticks, tarpaulin and burnt flint. It was a nice way to wind down after a morning of landscape walking.

    70 days of fieldwork

    IoA students need to get used to being outside, because the undergrad course requires them to complete 70 days of fieldwork. What this actually involves varies hugely: I spent six weeks in Greece and Macedonia, examining various museums and archaeological sites; a friend of mine spent a month excavating in Israel. Another spent two weeks in Uganda. The IoA is Britain’s largest and most well-regarded archaeological department: its archaeologists conduct fieldwork all over the globe, on some of the most famous archaeological sites on Earth.

    Easter Island

    A good example of the IoA’s global reach is its work in Rapa Nui, known more colloquially as Easter Island, home to the colossal stone ‘moai’ sculptures. The ‘Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project’, led by Professor Sue Hamilton (Director of the IoA), works with Rapa Nui elders and students to provide resources and training to help them present Rapa Nui’s past, and extended a bursary to bring Rapa Nui archaeology students to the UK to join in the IoA’s field training course.

    As well as engagement, the Project seeks to develop a new understanding of how the moai fit into the wider landscape of the island. The Project is carrying out an excavation of the Puna Pau quarry, the source of many of the pukao (‘hats’) that some of the moai wear – large, squat cylinders made of a coarse, dark red lava. It is also looking to unify strands of investigation that have thus far remained isolated, such as the ‘ahu’, stone ceremonial platforms upon which the moai once stood, and transport roads. The Project’s central theme is the way construction of the moai unified the island, with the resources, locations and construction elements that went into making the moai linking the different areas of Rapa Nui, from the quarries where they were constructed to the roads that they were transported on and their final destinations.

    The Terracotta Army in the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum  Source: Wikimedia Commons Terracotta Army

    Another example of UCL’s global focus is its work with the Terracotta Army. The IoA is undertaking a research project in collaboration with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum to research the Terracotta Army, a group of 2,000 warrior statues crafted over 2,000 years ago as a part of the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of China. The Terracotta Warriors were an undeniable symbol of the unimaginable wealth, military power and artistic achievement of the Qin Empire. Each of the individually crafted warriors was equipped with state-of-the-art bronze weapons, some so well preserved that they would still be lethal today. The assemblage includes over 40,000 bronze arrowheads, as well as swords, lances, crossbow triggers and more.

    Since 2006, the IoA has been collaborating with the Museum to transfer students and specialists between Britain and China, and to investigate the logistics of technology and labour organisation behind the construction of the Terracotta Army. They have analysed the distribution of the Warriors and their weapons, and have learned a great deal about the way the Qin military was organised. For example, they have discovered a great deal about Qin battle formations: lower-status robed warriors stood on the front lines, followed by armoured soldiers and a smaller number of officers or generals towards the rear. Crossbowmen were placed primarily along the front and flanks of the army, and chariots were placed at the core.

    The IoA also works closer to home. Undergraduate students can take part in the Thames Discovery Programme, a community archaeology project run by UCL. The Thames Discovery Programme involves IoA archaeologists and students engaging the public about the fascinating archaeology of the River Thames, home to the debris of London’s almost 2,000 year history, from Roman pottery to Tudor jewellery and the remnants of Victorian warships. People are led on surveying walks along the banks of the river. Public lectures are held in local archaeological societies, in community centres and at academic conferences and museums. The project has been featured on television several times, including on a special episode of Time Team.

    University Archaeology Day

    So, if travel, community engagement, the opportunity to be trained in advanced scientific and analytical methods and the chance to build your own sauna in the middle of the English countryside appeal to you, come and check out the IoA’s ‘University Archaeology Day’ on June 22. It’s an event for prospective students, parents and teachers to learn about the many archaeology programmes available in the UK, to hear about some of the latest cutting-edge archaeological research, and to discover the huge range of career opportunities a degree in archaeology can lead to. We’ll have representatives from most of the UK’s top archaeology departments, as well as a range of organisations that work with and employ archaeologists.

    Find out more about University Archaeology Day, including details on how to register:

    Want to know more about how you can turn an archaeology degree into a career? Read this article from UCL News.

    The 2017 UCL Neuroscience Symposium

    By Guest Blogger, on 21 June 2017

    By Oriol Pavón, Wellcome Trust PhD student in Neuroscience

    Now in its 8th year, the UCL Neuroscience Symposium is the perfect occasion to catch up with the latest developments of our colleagues and establish new collaborations. Over 800 researchers and a gender-balanced line up of speakers gathered to share and discuss some of the exciting scientific breakthroughs that UCL has seen over the past year.

    The event kicked off with an unplanned outdoor networking session caused by a fire alarm, thankfully false. Professor Richard Morris of the University of Edinburgh, who shared the 2016 Brain Prize, then delivered a fantastic talk on ‘The synaptic plasticity and memory hypothesis’.

    NS17-410Professor Ray Dolan, awardee of the 2017 Brain Prize, introduced the winners of the Jon Driver Prize. Established to honour the memory of the late Professor Jon Driver, former director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, this year’s prize was awarded to three outstanding young neuroscientists from UCL who took the stage to briefly present their work.

    Next a poster session, with over 150 lab and research posters showcased in three different halls, allowed PhD students, post-docs and group leaders to present and discuss their research in an amiable atmosphere.

    Professor Kenneth Harris chaired the first session of UCL speakers. Dr Jennifer Bizley delivered a talk on “How does seeing improve listening?”, showing how visual cues can be decisive to discriminate between different overlapping sounds. Read the rest of this entry »

    Greenlandic: Languages of the Arctic

    By Jo Harris, on 13 June 2017

    Pat Lok, biosciences student, UCL, explores the Language of the Arctic

    The largest island on earth yet inhabits one of the smallest group of Arctic language speakers – Greenland. Greenlandic is an Eskimo-Aleut language with neighbouring countries such as Siberia, Russia and Northern Canada speaking a language originated from the same language family. It is polysynthetic; where multiple words make up one complete word that could mean a sentence, this is due to Greenlandic being mostly an oral spoken rather than written only until recently. An example would be “Sukulaatitortarpugut” which means “we regularly eat chocolate” in Greenlandic. This is common in Germanic language where a long word is composed of small words altogether that means a sentence.

    Flag of Greenland - the colour red symbolises the Sun and the colour white symbolises ice and snow.

    Flag of Greenland – the colour red symbolises the Sun and the colour white symbolises ice and snow.

    Greenland has a complicated political identity; Greenland is an autonomous state but its citizens possess Danish passports yet Greenland is not part of the European Union. Greenlandic became the official language of Greenland recently in 2009 but secondary education is still mainly taught in Danish. A lot of street signs entail both Greenlandic and Danish translations which emphasise the frequency of use of both languages.

    Watch it back

    This session was delivered as part of the Festival of the Culture. You can watch it back on YouTube.

    Icy landscapes

    Greenland is well known for its icy landscape which its name suggests otherwise. Greenland obtained its name as part of an advertising campaign from more than 1000 years ago; Erik the Red who was a Norwegian Viking went on exile from Norway and then Iceland and eventually discovered Greenland. He called it ‘the green land’ in order to attract potential settlers to Greenland but Greenland isn’t exactly green, ice covers approximately 80% of the surface of Greenland and since ice is prevalent across the country, there are different words to describe different types of ice. Some examples are listed below:

    Greenlandic English
    Sea/ lake ice Siku
    Glacier/ steady ice Sermeq
    Iceberg Iluliaq
    Melted ice for fresh water Nilak

    Trump in the Age of Captain America/Captain America in the Age of Trump

    By Jo Harris, on 12 June 2017

    Written by Aesclin Fridurik Jones, Second Year History of Art Student, UCL

    Captain America and TrumpCaptain America embodies an America with the confidence and superhuman ability to shape proceedings in the world. For his readers, he is the symbol of strength, freedom, and chief antagonist to America’s enemies. As the product of American foreign policy and militarism, genetically bred with American ideals, the image is troublesome. To liberals today, Captain America stands for something rather nasty, an unfashionable nationalism that proposes American exceptionalism and denial of any wrongdoings of the past. Professor Dittmer prefaced his talk on ‘Captain America in the Age of Donald Trump’ with the connection between the two figures, and further discussed its role in the presidential election. Although widely supportive of the US government from its inception, the support of the Captain America cartoon series during the post-1945 years slowly dissipated to something of a mild distancing from US policy. The hero played no role in the Vietnam War for instance, never wanting to alienate a section of its readership, the writers steered clear from the Captain’s deployment for America. Ambivalence, and sometimes scepticism was alluded to by the comic, but never an all out partisanship. It is in this regard that an association between Captain America and Donald Trump has been employed politically.

    President Trump, to his supporters, appears to cut through American bureaucracy and stand apart from previous politicians. His supporters are remarkably confident of his almost superhuman ability to personally drive change in US government policy. Cutting government regulation and bureaucracy are part of his rather vague agenda. He is presented as the strongman to turn around America’s economic stagnation in parts of the rust belt, and to fight the nation’s political elites in order to return America’s standing as the defender of liberty. If his followers truly believe this, then the association between Donald Trump and Captain America can be easily made. To the Right-wing in America, Captain America stands for something ultimately different — a face of American strength abroad and conservative attitudes to the man’s role in life.

    Read the rest of this entry »