Wednesday 9 December 2015

BISI Student Poster Competition 2015
Interview with the Winner – Daniel Calderbank

BISI held its first Student Poster Competition in autumn 2015 for UK undergraduate and postgraduate students, engaged in the study of the lands and peoples of Iraq. First prize went to Daniel Calderbank, a PhD student at Manchester University, for his poster on ‘Everyday Life in the Babylonian ‘Dark Age’: new ceramic evidence from Tell Khaiber, southern Iraq.’

A bit about you first, Daniel! Where are you studying, and what stage are you at in your research?
I’m a PhD student with the Archaeology department at The University of Manchester, and am currently part way through my second year of a three and a half year project. My research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

How did you become interested in studying ancient Iraq?
My first encounter with the archaeology of ancient Iraq came in an undergraduate seminar titled The Origins of Urbanism, led by my now supervisor Prof. Stuart Campbell. The focus of the seminar was the site of Uruk, widely held as the world’s first true city. I remember being astonished by the rapid development of the site, reaching an incomprehensible scale by the late 4th millennium BC, almost a whole millennium prior to the construction of the British monuments, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, with which I was at that time most familiar.

At that point, I could hardly have envisaged myself setting foot on the famous mounds of the Eanna Precinct. Having the opportunity to visit Uruk in 2014 was an experience that truly reawakened those early feelings of astonishment and wonder.

View of the Eanna Precinct from the ruins of the Uruk ziggurat Photo: Mary Shepperson

Could you tell us a bit about your research project?
Mesopotamian history can often read like a narrative of grand politics, with one power succeeding another in endless procession. The site of Tell Khaiber, situated 20km southeast of Ur, accordingly occupies a period of widespread political instability, punctuated by the collapse of the First Babylonian Dynasty and the emergence of the elusive Sealand Dynasty (c.1600-1400 BC).

In an archaeological climate traditionally consumed by such top-down accounts, my research looks to interpret the more situated, everyday lives of the Khaiber inhabitants. I contend that a functionally driven analysis of 2nd millennium pottery can provide a unique basis from which to reconstruct the everyday patterns of behaviour that animated Babylonian social life. By identifying episodes of routine and more specialised food and drink consumption, I hope to articulate the ways in which past identities were created, performed, maintained, and manipulated.

Excavating a double-pot burial with Prof Stuart Campbell Photo: Jane Moon

What did you find the most challenging aspect of making your poster?
The trickiest aspect was unquestionably striking the right balance between images and text. As PhD researchers, we are often programmed to communicate in words, especially when explaining our complex methodologies. When designing something eye-catching, however, this tendency must be curbed. Of course, the indirect benefit of this is that it forces one to be concise.

Do you have any tips for people thinking about studying Iraq?
Iraq is a wonderfully diverse country, topographically, demographically, and archaeologically. I would urge any prospective student to talk with as many people familiar with the country as possible, whether that is people who have lived and worked there, or people who simply observe it from afar. By immersing yourself in Iraq’s culture, you will no doubt develop a great appreciation for its past!

BISI’s Student Poster Competition aims to offer UK students the opportunity to present and discuss the innovative and creative research that they are undertaking with both the academic community and the wider public and to raise the profile of their research. We welcome applications from the full range of arts, humanities and social sciences subjects, covering any time period, from prehistory to the present day. To find out more and to sign up to receive updates about future competitions, please contact the BISI Administrator on

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