EuroPreh: First international meeting of doctoral students in prehistory

Daniel van Calker (PhD Research Studentship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology; UNIARQ – Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon) - Luís Rendeiro (PhD Research Studentship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology; UNIARQ – Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon; CEG – Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon) - Cátia Delicado (PhD Research Studentship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology; UNIARQ – Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon; CIAS – Research Centre for Anthropology and Health of the University of Coimbra) and André Texugo (PhD Research Studentship of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology; UNIARQ – Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon; CEG – Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon)

The first International meeting of doctoral students in later Prehistory (EuroPreh) took place between the 10th and 13th of October 2022 in the municipalities of Alenquer, Arruda dos Vinhos and Peniche, Portugal. The initiative was promoted by four PhD students working in prehistoric archaeology at UNIARQ, the Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon, and who are developing their research projects within this region. The event benefited from the fundamental support of those three municipalities, which took the form of providing accommodation, food and transport to the total of 19 participants (plus some additional volunteers) during the three-day meeting, and which also collaborated closely on EuroPreh logistics.

The main objective for this meeting was to bring together PhD students with concentrations in different aspects of European Prehistory and who are working to expand knowledge of various archaeological/research paradigms. With that goal in mind, we explicitly aimed to provide opportunities for participants to have the opportunity to develop interpersonal relationships, in order to promote synergies between projects and to also allow time for the exchange of concrete ideas for the development of ongoing projects. Strictly speaking, in the wake of pandemic restrictions and the effects of these on early researchers, EuroPreh was an opportunity to arrange a very interesting in-person meeting that clearly stood out from a regular conference format in terms of structure.

Figure 17: Participants visiting Furninha Cave. Photograph by Cátia Delicado.

The programme was structured in two complementary aspects. The first of these involved three short presentation rounds (which included ample time for the discussion that followed) in a direct debate model in which everyone was able to present their work. Discussion time was fully filled, which demonstrates the success of the format. The second aspect focussed on connection to the local region and communities, which were promoted through visits to those archaeological sites which are areas on concentration for EuroPreh organizers (i.e. the Walled Enclosure of Ota, the Fort of Paço/Castelo, Baleal Shell Midden and Furninha Cave). See Figure 17.

These sites were excellent cornerstones for EuroPreh visits as the first three are currently under excavations and the last is a corollary for a well-known burial cave in Portuguese archaeological historiography. One additional theme linking these sites is that they are all very representative of life and death spaces of the prehistoric communities that inhabited the region. We drew together and closed off the outing with a visit to the Leonel Trindade Municipal Museum in Torres Vedras. In so doing we linked together direct observation of the archaeological record and also the discussions said observation brought about. It was truly an excellent opportunity to talk closely about settlement patterns, construction techniques, structure functionality, landscape interaction, burial diversity and funerary practices.

EuroPreh had the active participation of 19 PhD students and some volunteers, including some master’s students, forming a group total of 25 people. Thanks to the dissemination of the event through various digital platforms, it was possible to convene a very representative set of researchers currently developing their work in seven European countries: Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. With regard to their country of origin, attendees hailed from Croatia, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, Portugal and Nigeria. As organizers, we were pleased with the international dimension of the meeting and were happy.

The main research focus of participants' projects was very diverse, separated either by chronology, or specialization. Although there was a slight predominance of projects focused on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, a long diachrony was represented, which ranged from the last hunter-gatherer communities to the transition to the Bronze Age. With regard to the specializations, the following stood out: isotope analysis, physical anthropology, cognitive archaeology, archaeology of death, landscape archaeology, remote sensing, studies of material culture, Palaeo-landscapes, proteomics, Bayesian modelling of absolute dates and zooarchaeology. Despite the differences in methods and practices, all attendees supported the overarching idea that their specific archaeological questions could best be solved through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach. In fact, one of the major positive aspects which became apparent to participants from EuroPreh was that though some of the participants did not have a traditional background in archaeology, their training (in the hard sciences, for instance) nonetheless contributes to the resolution of archaeological queries.

It is also important to mention that there was significant equilibrium within the distinct stages of development of the PhD thesis of the participants: 32% are still in their 1st year, 26% in 2nd and 3rd year, and 16% in the 4th year. This diversity became very clear during the course of the meeting, and was particularly useful for those who have just started the PhD journey, who benefited greatly from the tips, tricks and idea exchange with those participants who are nearer to submitting.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies (held at Alenquer City Hall and at the great auditorium at the School of Tourism and Maritime Technology respectively) included local authorities as well as the directors of the institutions that were closely associated with EuroPreh. After the welcome, speeches highlighted the following aspects: the future of archaeology (a sustainable future, strengthened by a contact network that provides a scale greater than the local/regional projects on which many are currently working), the importance of international meetings such as EuroPreh for the recognition of regional prehistoric heritage which has potential to be integrated across a broad spectrum projects and can be used to attract tourism-related activities and, finally, the role of researchers in local as well as national cultural management decisions intended to diffuse and preserve the knowledge obtained from scientific projects. EuroPreh was a clear example of a strong link between decision-makers and archaeologists.

In the morning of the meeting’s last day (13th October), we organized an open session on science communication and how best to manage the stage following the completion of the PhD thesis. As subjects that unite us all, the session was hugely relevant in view of the obstacles inherent in the pursuit of a scientific career. With that in mind, we invited zooarchaeologist and taphonomist Dr. Nelson Almeida (University of Lisbon) and Prof. Nuno Pimentel (scientific consultant for the Aspiring Geopark of the West). Their central message emphasized the importance of knowing how to sell the results obtained within the scope of a research project, and how to make them attractive for consumption by a non-specialized public. In addition, much discussion inevitably focused on obtaining funding for carrying out further projects and establishing the contacts that would enhance it. Despite a certain division within the group of participants ('traditional' approaches vs. approaches supported by hard science), it was interesting to note that the same issues apply to both groups. The vitality of meetings of this nature was mentioned as a strong factor which may support alternate and out-of-the-box thinking about results and their eventual communication to non-specialist audience as well the construction of the long-term relationships that are a motor for future science collaborations.

We believe that this three-day meeting demonstrated the advantages of discussing issues related to archaeological research outside a strictly academic environment. The reunion of colleagues who are all at the same stage removed a certain pressure for the young researchers, who did not hesitate to problematize, reflect and share their experiences amongst their peers. Furthermore, due to the multidisciplinary aspect of the discussions which the meeting engendered, it was clear to all that full collaboration and cooperation between the sciences constitute a crucial tool in our daily kit; as social scientists, we cannot lose sight of what is behind all the numbers, graphs and analysis that we obtain: the human communities of the past. The success of EuroPreh was conveyed to us, in general, by all participants with whom we had the opportunity to discuss vectors for the continuity of EuroPreh, motivating them to organize a second edition elsewhere! Hopefully, with both repeat participants as well as with new PhD students.

We would like to finish this brief report with some testimonies from the participants, collected a posteriori, and to whom we are grateful:

“The EuroPreh has been a great experience for me. A great opportunity to present my PhD project in a confident and easy way. But, above all, I’m glad I could listen to other colleagues’ contributions, new lines of research, as well as different situations in the PhD research process: difficulties and possible improvements. A perfect way to share ideas, knowledge and science! Thank you for bringing us closer to Portuguese archaeology through different visits to important archaeological sites in Estremadura: Ota (Alenquer), Fortim do Baleal (Peniche), Castelo (Arruda dos Vinhos) …. Obrigada!”

-Esther Navajo-Samaniego, PhD at Alcalá University

“EuroPreh 2022 was one of the first international meetups of PhD students of my PhD, due to COVID it was not easy to network with other PhDs and Universities working on similar topics. EuroPreh 2022 was a fresh breath of air due to the relaxed atmosphere of meeting new PhD students and trying to build a network, because networking is really important for a PhD student. I met PhD students from a variety of different subjects and regional expertise. It was really interesting to hear about all their projects and have potentials to collaborate in the future. I also met with a project group of 4 PhDs that work on a similar topic and in a similar region, this is crucial to share knowledge and potential pitfalls of research, but in my 3 year of PhD I did not even know that they were working on a similar topic. That is why these international meetups are so important! EuroPreh did an amazing job in giving everyone a place to talk and also hosting healthy discussions about a multitude of topics. I also had a wonderful time visiting the archaeological sites because it gives more context to what we are studying, not being an archaeologist myself.”

-Jolijn Erven, PhD at the Archaeology Institute of Groningen University

“The first meeting of EuroPreh was a unique occasion to meet and exchange with fellow European PhD students about our own research, to have a grasp of the different aspects currently tackled for the Neolithic and Bronze age periods, but also to discover some of Portugal’s main archaeological sites. It goes without saying that such an initiative is really welcome after more than two years of COVID, which have prevented us from debating with colleagues and developing new collaborations.”

-Laura Waldvogel, PhD at Strasbourg University

“EuroPreh was a fantastic experience which allowed me to connect to other PhD researchers and discuss different research topics in a safe space. I think we all greatly benefited from the feedback from the group and could be open about our struggles, insecurities, questions. These kinds of meetings truly empower us to take agency in our research and get another perspective from colleagues who can understand us more. I loved the visits to archaeological sites and all the communal meals and networking. This meeting was such an invaluable experience and it truly expanded my collaborator network, in a profound way and slightly different than a regular conference. I hope this initiative continues and l am looking forward to seeing it grow further.”

-Merita Dreshaj, PhD at the Archaeology Institute of Groningen University

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