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New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies

Final Report Summary - NARNIA (New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies.)

The Marie Curie ITN entitled, New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to ancient material studies, with the acronym NARNIA, was an interdisciplinary project, the main objective of which was to provide young researchers with the means to conduct research on the material culture of the ancient eastern Mediterranean and to develop their analytical skills through a series of research and training activities. It is the awareness for a growing need for researchers with an interdisciplinary background, fully conversant with both the traditional methods of archaeology and the possibilities offered by the natural sciences for the physicochemical characterisation of ancient materials that brought together a consortium of academic institutions and private companies in this collaborative project to support young researchers in their first steps into the competitive and complementary worlds of academia and private enterprise. NARNIA had a four-year lifespan and was funded by the FP7 and the European Union (Grant agreement no.: 265010). This is currently the largest project to receive funding from the European Commission in the fields of archaeology and archaeological sciences, with a budget over 4.5 million Euros and 20 recruited research fellows.
NARNIA was envisaged and realised on the basis that the most comprehensive archaeological studies are those which combine traditional methods of typological and stylistic classification with analytical techniques deriving from the natural and digital sciences, and that the relationship between fieldwork and laboratory is a critical factor for the successful completion of any project. The ultimate objective of NARNIA, therefore, was the development of a new generation of scholars, who understand the complexities of interdisciplinary projects, and may integrate in their research differing techniques and methodological approaches for a holistic study of ancient material culture, enhancing our knowledge on different aspects of the history and archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean.
NARNIA provided a unique opportunity and a rigorous research platform for the collaboration of nine partners; six academic institutions, one research centre and two private enterprises. These are the University of Cyprus – which was the coordinating institution –,Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université Paris-Ouest, the Hashemite University, University College London, the University of Sheffield, the National Centre for Scientific Research “Demokritos”, G. M EuroCy Innovations Ltd and Thetis Authentics Ltd. The NARNIA partnership was active in six different countries, namely Cyprus, Belgium, France, Greece, Jordan, and the United Kingdom.
During its four-year lifespan, NARNIA brought together the crème de la crème of the archaeological research community – already friends and colleagues – from well-known academic and research institutions with the shared ambition to join forces, each one offering their expertise, for the realisation of a training and research agenda that could never have been achieved by a sole academic institution. The NARNIA partnership recruited 16 Early Stage Researchers and four Experienced Researchers that became the core focus of the project and its driving force. The duration of the 16 Early Stage Researcher fellowships was three years; during that time they all embarked on doctoral research. They also participated in an array of training courses, which were organised by NARNIA, and which enabled them to acquire the skills necessary to complete a doctoral thesis in such a truly interdisciplinary field. The four Experienced Researchers were recruited for two years, in order to complement the training and research activities of the project and conduct research on a post-doctoral level. The twenty fellows comprise a multinational group of brilliant young scholars who will surely continue to contribute to archaeological research, putting into practice everything that they have learnt during their involvement in the NARNIA project.
As NARNIA was a Marie Curie ITN, a significant component of the project was dedicated to the training of the fellows. The raison d’être of the network was to improve the career prospects for employment of our 20 fellows by enabling them to develop lab-based skills needed for the study of ancient materials. In order to achieve this aim, the partner institutions organised an impressive series of research and training activities. During its four-year lifespan, NARNIA offered 26 training courses across the six participating countries, on the interdisciplinary study of ancient pottery, glass, metals, architectural decoration and building materials, as well as dating and the palaeo-environment, and the application of portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy in the field of archaeology. All NARNIA training courses were open to researchers outside the network, and the 16 Early Stage Researchers and four Experienced Researchers recruited by the NARNIA partnership had the opportunity to communicate and interact with scholars and researchers from different disciplines and research backgrounds.
The training agenda of NARNIA was structured to include both practical/laboratory training and theoretical training including the formulation of a code of best practice which will hopefully form the basis for future research and educational collaborative programs. This assorted corpus of training courses was designed specifically for the diverse research community of NARNIA, which was composed by archaeologists, conservators, physicists, chemists, engineers, and IT analysts. The generous budget provided by the Marie Curie Actions specifically for the organisation of training activities, offered the opportunity to the consortium to invite some of the most important specialists in the field of archaeological sciences, conservation and the study of ancient technology to teach and contribute to the training courses organised by each partner. As a result all the NARNIA training courses were distinguished for their high level of lectures, field and lab activities and overall discussions. The NARNIA training courses attracted the interest of the wider research community, and were, thus, also attended by young and more experienced researchers outside the project network.
In addition to the prime scope of NARNIA, which was to offer the fellows the best possible training on archaeological sciences and the analytical techniques applied to the study of ancient materials, improving their prospects of employment and career development, the NARNIA network has been also contributing to the history and archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean basin, a region of great historical, cultural and geopolitical significance. Ancient technology has had a significant effect on the development of humans and their societies, as both human and social evolution are directly entwined with the materials, which, on the one hand, were accessible at any given time and place, and on the other, had the appropriate properties to lend themselves for making artefacts and serving functions. Therefore, the assessment of ancient materials and their processing for the production of artefacts and the evaluation of ancient techniques and know-how are essential prerequisites in composing the history of science and technology, as well as understanding cultural change, and both local and regional histories.
The core research area of NARNIA was focused on the interdisciplinary study of ancient ceramics, glass, copper and its alloys, architecture and building decoration, as well as on techniques of dating and chemical analysis of ancient materials. This requires the full integration of analytical methodologies from the mainstream fields of chemistry, geosciences and engineering in order to develop a supra-disciplinary area of science and technology applied in archaeology. It is emphasised that the combination of infrastructures and analytical equipment made available within the partnership provided the fellows the means and support to conduct an interdisciplinary study of the materials that they have been assigned to investigate, and to answer key archaeological and cultural questions.
Although the research topics that the NARNIA project investigated had been divided into distinct work packages, there were areas of overlap, and the fellows developed important synergies, integrating different approaches and areas of research, always with the support and guidance of their supervisors and other members of the partnership. This has resulted in a number of joined publications, as well as the establishment of research collaborations that will continue to flourish after the completion of the project. The fellows have begun to disseminate the results of their research in conference proceedings and peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, the NARNIA project has published a monograph with short papers by all the fellows presenting some basic information about their research. The book is available through the project’s website.
The project website is a solid reflection of the individual and collective work that has been conducted during the lifespan of NARNIA by the fellows and the members of the partnership. The website will hopefully serve as a medium for people outside the network to become acquainted with the research that was undertaken by the fellows under the supervision of the scientific staff of the project, but also as a token of the hard work, dedication and passion of all the people that worked hard for NARNIA to become a milestone in archaeological research.