It is always interesting to review who we are as individuals and what we are doing in the world. My name is John Piprani, I am 56 years old and recently awarded a Doctorate in Archaeology. I have come from an arts background and became interested in archaeology after borrowing a book from Brighton Library in about 1986. The book was Camonica Valley by Emmanuel Anati and I was really taken by the power of the graphic images recorded in the book. I had the opportunity to explore these images in the late 1980s when I spent a year doing a part-time Adult Education course in Painting and Art History. My main guidance was from an excellent artist and tutor Sarah Feinmann, and I really loved that year.
I was able to return to education in 2004 and chose an Archaeology degree at the University of Sheffield. This was because a researcher there, Paul Pettitt, was one of a team who had just located Britain’s first cave art in Church Hole Cave at Creswell Crags. Personal highlights include my fieldwork in 2006 when I worked at Creswell as a Cave Art Tour Guide, introducing members of the public the cave, the art and its story. The year before I was awarded a small research grant to complete three days training with the flintknapper John Lord to get a grasp of Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic technology. This again was a brilliant experience (although the knapping process was still beyond me).
For my dissertation I chose a title offered by Marek Zvelebel, ‘Personhood of animals in hunter gatherer Eurasia‘. Marek was a fantastic and supportive supervisor, at one point providing me with the keys to his office so that I could use his personal research papers and library. Whilst conducting this research I was introduced to the paper ‘Becoming deer: corporeal transformations at Star Carr‘ by Chantal Conneller. This exciting paper has influenced a large number of researchers including myself. Inspired, I contacted Chantal at Manchester and she was warm and helpful providing suggestions as to how she would approach my research topic. The finished dissertation was an unmitigated success in that I got my first taste of (semi) self directed academic research, and I liked it. On the strength of this I applied to do a Masters at Manchester with Chantal as my supervisor looking at an Aurignacian human lion figurine from southern Germany. In 2009 I received AHRC funding for this project and completed it over two years. From my dissertation research I was able to get one publication and present at two international conferences. I really value that two years.
Chantal suggested a materials based PhD that could include some experimental production. In this way I could develop some practical material based skills in order to explore and develop an important area of research. The PhD focus was a British Early Upper Palaeolithic Transitional industry, the Lincombian. Previous research has tended to focus upon which human type (Homo sapiens or Homo neanderthalensis) produced these 40,000 year old stone tools. My focus has been upon human behaviour, and what this material can tell us about it. This is a link to my thesis. Completing a PhD is challenging on many levels, however, it can have its highlights! One of these has been working on the 2014 excavation of the Early Upper Palaeolithic cave site Ffynnon Beuno. Although originally emptied in the early 1900s we located and were able to excavate a fissure within the cave that contained in-situ mega-faunal remains. Recovering material of this age is an amazing experience.
Another area of value has been the opportunities to work with the flintknapper Karl Lee. I have learned a lot about the practical aspects of flintknapping from him and now see materials from a different perspective. Living in the north of England means my access to flint is limited. However, Manchester provides much industrial material with knappable qualities and therefore the potential for practice. This was my first handaxe produced from ceramic soil pipe found near Salford Quays. I am now really interested in materials, the embodied practice of knapping and how we learn it.
A cursory glance at the content of my blog indicates that I have become very interested in Australian aboriginal Kimberley Points, and in particular how they were produced. I have learned a lot about how aboriginals made them from academic papers and artefacts within Manchester Museum, and feel I am getting to know them quite intimately. This makes me acutely aware of the aspects of production that I understand but cannot do. This is an abbreviated photo-essay of some of the archaeology based things that have really interested and excited me, and that I have had an opportunity to practically explore. Kimberley points, and the process of learning through making things is where my current passion lies. Coincidentally it is the theme of this blog!