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Magna Carta Schools project a huge success

magna carta exhibition resized2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta; to celebrate the university launched a ‘Modern Magna Carta Challenge” in which primary and secondary school pupils were challenged to create a physical response to the Magna Carta by creating their own idea of what a modern charter might look like. 106 pupils from five different schools took part in the challenge and the exhibits can be seen on exhibition in the Museum of Oxford from the 29 July – 19 August 2015

In total the exhibition contains 24 physical exhibits from the students including paintings, photographs and sculptures as well as a DVD showing a collection of videos, including both original exhibits and students commenting on their physical exhibits. In addition there is also a large board designed by some Brookes Art students who helped curate the exhibition, which enables visitors to the exhibition to write down their own thoughts on the Magna Carta and human rights in general.

To support this project staff from the School of Education partnered with schools by running workshops exploring how to approach the challenge. During school visits, staff focussed on key issues like slavery, trafficking, religion, education and gender equality.

Rachel Payne, Senior Lecturer in Education: Art said:

Through this type of engagement in real life contexts and through experiential learning students and teachers can offer lasting, deep engagement with key issues embedded at the heart of the Citizenship agenda in education. “

A one day Magna Carta symposium was also held on 18 June aimed at secondary school pupils featuring workshops delivered by staff from the school of education including Jane Fletcher, James Percival and Susannah Wright, as well as a keynote address by the rapper Akala.

See http://www.brookes.ac.uk/magnacarta/ for more details of the project and a downloadable resource pack for use in schools.

Establishing a chronology for Late Holocene climate and environmental change from Mleiha, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

The aim of this research is to develop a detailed understanding of climate and landscape change during the mid- to late-Holocene period (5000 years ago until the present) from southeast Arabia.  To date no detailed climatic and environmental records exist from this region even though it is situated at the interface between two of the Earth’s most dynamic climate systems, namely the Indian Ocean Monsoon and the mid-latitude Westerlies.  Multi-proxy records of climate and landscape change will be constructed using chemical, physical and biological analyses of lake, fluvial and aeolian sediments from Mleiha, Sharjah, UAE.  From this a timeline framework of climate and environmental change will be pieced together against which the archaeology of the region can be set.

Zooarchaeological research at Rubayqa and Ruwaydah, northern Qatar

March 2013 saw me return to Al-Shamal, northern Qatar for a second season, continuing work on faunal remains recovered during excavation of two Islamic Period sites; Rubayqa and Ruwaydah. Directed by Dr. Andrew Petersen, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, excavations at Rubayqa and Ruwaydah have yielded substantial animal remains including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, marine molluscs, and crustaceans.

Rubayqa is a Late Islamic period settlement site located on the west side of the Ras Ushayriq peninsula in northern Qatar. Rescue excavations were carried out at this site prior to its expected destruction through the construction of the Bahrain-Qatar Friendship Causeway. The faunal assemblage contained a diverse range of mammalian fauna, including camel, horse, donkey, cattle, gazelle, sheep, goat, dog, cat, lagomorphs and rat. The bird assemblage was much less diverse, with the majority of remains representing cormorant (both great and Socotra appear to be present). The fish remains included taxa from fifteen families, including both cartilaginous and bony fish. The final report on the faunal remains from Rubayqa is currently being prepared for publication in a site monograph.

Ruwaydah is a much larger scale settlement, located on the north east coast of Qatar. Ruwaydah was occupied for a much longer period of time then Rubayqa, with evidence for occupation extending back into earlier the part of the Islamic period. (Petersen & Grey 2012). Excavations at Ruwaydah began in 2009 and are on-going. The excavation of midden deposits and a well in the 2013 season have yielded substantial faunal remains, dominated by fish remains. Although analysis of the faunal remains from Ruwaydah is not yet complete, it is already clear that it is quite different from that recovered from the excavations at Rubayqa, with comparatively fewer examples of wild animal use, and so far, an absence of horse, donkey and camel. The fish bone assemblage appears to be even more diverse than the one from Rubayqa. Remains of fishes from the families Teraponidae (Terapon sp. – various terapon species occurring in the region), Rachycentridae (Rachycentron canadum – cobia), Echeneidae (Echeneis naucrates – sharksucker), Gerreidae (Gerres sp. – silver-biddy), Pomacanthidae (Pomacantus maculosus – yellowbar angelfish) and Scombridae (including, Euthynnus affinis – little tuna/kawakawa, Thunnus sp. (most likely Thunnus tonggol – Longtail tuna, but possibly Thunnus albacores – Yellowfin tuna), and Scomberomorus sp. – narrowbarred Spanish/Indo-Pacific king mackerel) are all new additions.

A highlight of the 2013 season for me was the opportunity to go to Abu Dhabi and stay with Dr. Mark Beech to use his extensive library and impressive fish bone reference collection. Amongst other specimens, we managed to identify a caudal vertebra from a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates), a mystery bone appearing in the Ruwaydah assemblage. Sharksuckers are certainly not targeted as a dietary resource, and potentially came to the site attached to a shark. Interestingly in some cultures shark suckers are collected and used to fish for sharks and other large fish (up to 10kg) by being tied to a line and allowed out to sea until they attach themselves to a larger fish then they are pulled back so that the larger fish can be retrieved (Hornell 1950).

Collaborators on this project: Andrew Petersen (University of Wales), Faisal Abdulla Al Naimi and Saif Alnuaimi (Qatar Museum Authority), Mark Beech (Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority), Jake Callaghan, Ifan Edwards, Paul Fingleton, Tom Jamison, Ciaran Lavelle, Jessica Tibber, Dee Williams, Lisa Yeomans, and Sheila Hamilton Dyer.

500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes

Incoming solar irradiance ultimately governs the amount of energy within the Earth’s system. Our understanding of how solar irradiance is modulated by the Earth’s orbital pathway underpins our understanding of long-term (>10,000 year) global climate and vegetation change through the geological record. However, there is no independent long-term record empirical record of solar irradiance on timescales >10,000 years. This project generate the first record of solar irradiance change at the Earth’s surface by applying cutting-edge organic geochemical techniques to a unique tropical record of past vegetation change.

This work involves collaboration with other leading researchers : Dr Will Gosling (The Open University), Dr Barry Lomax (University of Nottingham), and a number of key research institutions: Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University of Texas, and the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana. In addition, this project will have a Postdoctoral Researcher and a PhD student working on closely-related areas of reserach.

Holocene Palaeolakes – Awafi and Wahalah

Palaeolake sequences offer considerable potential for generating high-quality palaeoenvironmental data in arid environmental settings. Such deposits are often characterised by high rates of sedimentation, potentially resulting in continuous records that are highly resolved in time and respond rapidly to external forcing. Significantly, palaeolake basins are widely distributed throughout south-east Arabia.

For his doctoral research Gareth conducted a high-resolution, multi-proxy examination of two palaeolake sediment sequences in the Emirate of Ra’s al-Khaimah, UAE: Awafi and Wahalah. The data revealed that climate has varied greatly between ~8500 – 4200 cal. yr BP, with periods during which conditions were more pluvial than the present punctuated by phases of intense aridity. Furthermore, the work suggested that abrupt increases in aridity recorded in the palaeolake sediments between ~8000 – 7800 cal. yr BP, from ~5900 cal. yr BP and at ~4200 cal. yr BP, reflect the response of the regional landscape to global climatic variations.

Future work will include the examination of the particle size distribution of the sedimentary records at both sites. In addition, it is hoped to obtain further Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dates from the Wahalah record and thereby strengthen the chronological framework at the site.

Umm al-Quwain 2 Archaeological site

Originally discovered in the early 1990s, Umm al-Quwain 2 (UAQ2), Emirate of Umm al-Quwain, UAE, is currently being re-excavated by archaeologist Dr Sophie Méry (CNRS) and her team. The site lies close to present coastline on the crest of a Late Pleistocene dune which rises over 10 m above the surrounding sabkha. The repeated use of the site is attested by the presence of a series of stratified shell middens which cap the sterile dune sands and have been dated to the 5th and late 4th Millennium BC. UAQ2 is thus one of a number of Neolithic shell middens reported from along the coastal desert region of the southern Arabian Gulf. Significantly, however, the shell horizons overlie a Neolithic cemetery, from which the skeletal remains of at least 45 individuals have been recorded to date. The site, therefore, forms the second largest Neolithic cemetery in the region after Jebel al-Buhais 18.

These sediments are currently being analysed in order to develop an understanding of the environmental processes operating at the site at the time of Neolithic occupation. In particular it is hoped to determine how the repeated phases of human occupation fit within the broader framework of regional climatic and environmental change currently being developed for the region (see Holocene Palaeolakes – Awafi and Wahalah).

Jebel Faya Archaeological site

Jebel Faya, UAE, is a key site for understanding the migration of anatomically modern humans (AMH) Out of Africa. Archaeological excavation, under the direction of Professor Hans Peter-Uerpmann (University of Tübingen, Germany), has yielded Palaeolithic finds which can be dated as far back as 125,000 cal. yr BP. Significantly Armitage et al. (2011) propose that these finds have affinities to the late Middle Stone Age in northeast Africa, indicating that AMH may have a migrated into Arabia via a southern route (across the Red Sea at the Bab al-Mandab Straits) at beginning of the last interglacial (Marine Isotope Stage 5e), a time of significantly lowered global sea levels and intensified monsoonal rainfall throughout southern Arabia. The subsequent expansion and contraction of human populations throughout Arabia during the following 100,000 years is suggested to have been closely tied to the prevailing climatic conditions.