Christmas reflections and ‘bones festes’!

GIAP’s last weekly meeting for 2020 (lacking Iban Berganzo). With all our very best wishes for 2021!

Time has flown, in a few days 2020 will be over and just a few days ago we had our final weekly GIAP meeting for the year…although without online drinks and nibbles. We leave these for next year when we can all have our Christmas get together…together, in the same room without looking each other through a screen, drinking a festive sorbete de cava. You know, the Mediterranean version of mulled wine. 

Well, another year has passed, but what a year! One that has changed everybody’s lives. And yet within this world of pandemia our little, big lives carried on, full of moments of joy, moments of sadness or stress and other, flat moments, moments that we don’t think much about but they have become so precious lately. And our GIAP stories grew, they involved more and new people, new places, and new ideas many of which materialised and have now become new projects that will be developed over the next few years. 

So….2020, let’s reflect on good things, things that made GIAP better, more interesting and fun.

First, we became bigger! Some researchers already working with us were ‘stabilised’ (hooray!) and new talent was captured (yeah!):

  1. One new Ramón y Cajal (tenure track) researcher, Lídia Colominas joined the permanent staff of GIAP.
  2. Five new postdoctoral researchers, Arnau Garcia Molsosa (Beatriu de Pinós), Francesc Conesa and Valentina Pescini (Juan de la Cierva), Alfredo Mayoral (GIAP/ICAC research fellow), and Toby Wilkinson (Marie Sklodowska Curie), started working in GIAP on projects stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to India, passing via Italy, Greece and Turkey. (see e.g. more on Valentina’s and Toby’s work here)
  3. Two new PhD students, Giannis Apostolou and Arnau Carbonell (our ‘new’ Arnau petit making our other Arnau, Arnau Garcia, realising that he is now part of the old generation, goshhhh), started their postgraduate adventure. Giannis is working on landscape research in the Aegean combined with new, cutting-edge technologies in the detection of sites and Arnau is working on mountain archaeology in the Pyrenees.
  4. One research contract for the development of deep learning algorithms in collaboration with the Computer Vision Center (CVC, Barcelona), won competitively by Iban Berganzo.

Meeting each other, working together has been challenging this year but we acted quickly. Since the first moments of the lockdown back in March we put together the GIAP website to reach out to the world, and the GIAP SamePage, a collaborative work management platform where we organised our projects, agendas, shared resources and chatted. And our Friday weekly meetings became our time reference and helped us in structuring our time, a check-in point that we were all there, we were all well and we were still creative or at least as much as we could under the circumstances. And it has worked pretty well! We have been hearing what each of us was doing, listening to each other’s frustrations or excitements, chatting and trying to solve issues arising. We put forward ideas, we set seeds for new projects, and we even made things that seemed impossible… possible. 

We crossed borders, physical, conceptual and disciplinary ones, to realise fieldwork and set up new projects! Here are some examples:

Alfredo Mayoral, Arnau Garcia, Merkouris Georgiadis and Giannis Apostolou working together with colleagues and friends from France, Ana Ejarque (GEOLAB UMR 6042), Jean-François Berger and Vincent Gaertner (EVS UMR 5600 Université Lyon 2 – CNRS), and Greece, Constantina Kallintzi (Xanthi Ephorate of Antiquities) and Eurydice Kafalidou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), managed to organise a trip from Spain to Greece that involved 5800 kms of road trip and 700 kms in a ferry, passing through four countries with different COVID-related measures in place (see Abdera summer adventure). Landscape archaeologists, palynologists and geoarchaeologists, supported by new computational approaches led by Hector Orengo, set out to unravel the history of the Greek colony at Abdera, and understand how the landscape changed and how this change impacted but was also initiated by the people living there. As part of this, 54 m of sediment were brought back to Spain, which Alfredo Mayoral has been analysing during the past few months; 20 samples for radiocarbon dating have already been sent for analysis and 5 more will be sent in early January. A growing project, financed so far for its various different parts by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities with an I+D project (TransLands) and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Program (TransMed).

Resting after the end of a challenging yet successful field campaign at Abdera, Greece

Back at home, Josep Maria Palet, Lídia Colominas, Abel Gallego, Arnau Carbonell, Paloma Aliende, Valentina Pescini alongside other colleagues, including our long-term friend and colleague François Ricou who crossed the border and came to join them from France, climbed up the mountains to dig Bac de Puigpedrós, Molleres II and Duran II (Meranges, eastern Pyrenees) at more than 2300m of altitude, to continue unraveling the amazing world of high mountains.

Alexandra Livarda and Hector Orengo based in Spain worked together with their agronomist colleagues Giannis Mylonas (Hellenic Agricultural Organization- Demeter, Institute of Plant Breeding & Genetic Resources) and Elissavet Ninou (International Hellenic University) based in Greece, through numerous video conferences, video calls and hundreds of emails, instead of the pre-pandemic planned meetings in Greece, and altogether managed to successfully set up the experimental cultivation of 22 barely accessions at the Institute of Plant Breeding & Genetic Resources in Thermi Thessalonikis. Blending together archaeobotany, artificial intelligence, 3D GMM, stable isotopes and agronomy they ended up with a heady cocktail of new ideas and methodologies under development that will allow for the first time to use the 3D morphology of cereal grains to directly identify their management in the past and reconstruct agricultural economies. An amazing new project, different parts of which are being financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (I+D+i DarkRevisited) and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (iShape3DSeed), bringing together researchers from 14 different Institutions across Europe, the States and Canada. 

Setting up the experimental cultivations at the Institute of Plant Breeding & Genetic Resources in Thessaloniki, Greece

More, new collaborations started, like the one between Hector Orengo and Arnau Garcia with the Computer Vision Center’s (CVC, Barcelona) researchers Daniel Ponsa -to investigate the use of multispectral cameras in the detection of ceramic sherds- and Felipe Lumbreras -to co-direct Iban Berganzo’s PhD on the development of deep learning algorithms for the detection and segmentation of different types of archaeological features.

New agreements were set up between Hector Orengo and the University of Cambridge, UK, to work on MAHSA, a three-year Arcadia-funded project to map the archaeology of the Indus Civilisation using purposely developed algorithms, which join remote sensing, historical maps and machine/deep learning methods. A new project that resulted after several years of fruitful collaboration between Hector Orengo at GIAP and Cameron Petrie at Cambridge Uni. Exciting days of collaborative work to come!

Riddles were also solved and new ideas were put forward with the completion or the continuation of older projects! 

Josep Maria Palet and the team at Meranges finally solved the mysterious ‘hiatus’ in the occupation of high mountain spaces in the eastern Pyrenees. Newly excavated contexts revealed very well-preserved huts and enclosures and showed pastoral activities during the transition of the Final Bronze to the Iron Age, supported by fresh, new radiocarbon dates. A heritage treasure of the area!

Lídia Colomina’s project ‘Behind the steps of ancient mobility: study of livestock practices and cultural landscapes in the eastern Pyrenees through a bioarchaeological approach’ came to an end this year with spectacular results! Links between the Pyrenees and the northeastern Iberian coast during the early Roman period were delineated, involving the first movement of sheep between the coastal lowlands and the Pyrenees. This work has changed the previously established notion that the origin of the intensive exploitation of the Pyrenean highlands as pastures was rooted in the medieval period, pushing back the beginning of this activity to the early Roman period! See, for instance: and

Moving north to Central France, Alfredo Mayoral with colleagues finalised their multi-proxy geoarchaeological research at the wetlands of La Narse de la Sauvetat in the Limagne plain and Lac du Puy at the protohistoric site of Corent, shedding new light on the human-environment interactions of the area. These studies have been very significant in rewriting the history of the area. The La Narse de la Sauvetat geoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental work, for instance, demonstrated a significant change in the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 2600 cal BP) probably related to the onset of agricultural activities and drainage, revealing significant anthropogenic impact on natural systems much earlier than previously thought!

Alexandra Livarda with her colleague Georgia Kotzamani (Directorate of Prehistoric and Classicl Antiquities, Hellenic Republic/Ministry of Culture and Sports, Athens, Greece) added another piece in the puzzle of Minoan ‘villas’, providing the results of the first systematic archaeobotanical study of such sites, in particular of the Minoan ‘villa’ at Zominthos in central Crete. For details see:

More histories were written for the Aegean islands, this time by Merkourios Georgiadis with his colleague Lilian Karali (Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece), who unraveled the unique local painted decoration on Bronze Age pottery from Halasarna on the island of Kos, and added to the knowledge of the local technology and the network of connections of the island during its prehistoric past in his newly published book ‘Georgiadis, M. and Karali, L. 2020. Halasarna V. Aura editions, Athens’.

Hector Orengo, Francesc Conesa and Arnau Garcia in collaboration with colleagues at the McDonald Institute – University of Cambridge, CaSEs – University Pompeu Fabra, and the GEO3BCN – CSIC provided exciting new insights into the effect that climate change had in ancient societies. In a research recently published in PNAS, our researchers developed an innovative machine learning-based algorithm that employed multisource and multitemporal satellite data for the purposes of this study. The result? The identification hundreds of previously unknown ancient sites and large towns deep in the Cholistan desert of Pakistan that shed a whole new light on the history of the area and provided new clues to the effect climate change and the expansion of the desert had in the decline of the Indus Civilization.

And we have not been short in other sort of achievements either!

Paloma Aliende, our clever technician, became our first licensed drone pilot! Merkouris Georgiadis and Giannis Apostolou followed and successfully passed their drone piloting test too…(see two new drone pilotes at GIAP). Adding Toby Wilkinson to our crew, we now have 4 active drone pilots in GIAP with more to follow soon. Thanks to Paloma’s efforts ICAC has also become a drone operator, which means that we can now plan our flights, design missions and directly ask for flight permits. An important and necessary legal step in setting up and developing our drone-based methods and applications. Hoorayy!

International events too! An international exhibition on the historical and environmental heritage of transhumance in Liguria was organised by Valentina Pescini and colleagues. 

And just before the lockdown the International workshop ‘Computational approaches to archaeological site detection and monitoring’ was held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, organised by our very own Hector Orengo, Arnau Garcia and Francesc Conesa in collaboration with Cameron Petrie (University of Cambridge). A workshop that brought together a group of pioneers in the application of computational techniques to site detection, setting new standards for the discipline.

Publications, publications, publications…of course! Several and very exciting ones! We saw our work published in a series of books, edited volumes, and international peer reviewed journals, adding small pieces of knowledge to help us remember and better understand our past, understand what made us be who we are and shed light on everyday stories hidden away from official texts.

European, national and regional grants were secured. We were also successful in competitive grants by private foundations, such as for the project, ‘Drone-Based Intelligent Archaeological Survey’ directed by Hector Orengo, which was generously funded by the BBVA Foundation with a Grant for Research Teams in Digital Humanities. The last one we got by private foundations was announced in December: The Palarq Foundationfunded Francesc Conesa (co-PI with Juan José García-Granero, IMF-CSIC, and with the collaboration of Rajesh S.V. and Abhayan G.S., University of Kerala, India) the project ‘Kachchh Archaeological Project: trade, pastoralism and the origins of the Indus Civilisation’.

And an award! Yes, there has been an award this year! A great treat to a great piece of work! Hector Orengo and Arnau Garcia got the Emerging Investigator Award 2019 by the Journal of Archaeological Science and the Society for Archaeological Sciences for their paper “A brave new world for archaeological survey: automated machine learning-based potsherd detection using high-resolution drone imagery”. The panel commented on the visionary combination of drone-based photogrammetry, machine learning and parallel computing in an open source environment, with the potential to revolutionise traditional field survey methods’. Thank you people!

So, indeed a very full year. Reflecting back, it hasn’t been that bad then! 🙂

And what about the new year that is coming?

Our new year’s resolutions? Very simple and yet challenging!

Continue working together, break more limits, cross more and new borders and don’t get ground down by the adversities of life.

And let’s close with a few wishes for 2021:

  1. Get rid of the pandemic!
  2. Travel freely and be together with friends and dear colleagues.
  3. See a reduction of administration work in the Spanish research micro-cosmos (…ok, ok, we know, but let us keep dreaming!)
  4. Make our international seminar series happen! A project led by Giannis Apostolou, Abel Gallego, Arnau Carbonell and Valentina Pescini.
  5. See our institution reforming ICAC’s lab space to finally get our much-desired new state-of-the-art bioarchaeology and computational archaeology lab where researchers of all stages will be able to work together and make innovations happen!
  6. Keep creating together and giving birth to new ideas! 

And of course, WE WANT MORE! More projects, more people working with us, more people to become permanent in our team, and more fun!