The Company of Wolves

Wolves seem to have been a bit of a theme this week both at home and at work. This year’s intake of undergraduate research interns started work on Monday (don’t worry, none of them have eyebrows that meet in the middle). This is a scheme that UCLan runs every year to provide paid 10 week placements for current students to work alongside staff on research projects over the summer. They are sponsored by UCLan’s Centre for Research Informed Teaching and the corridors of our building are suddenly full of extremely fresh-faced short term staff. In archaeology we have a simple attitude to central university funding competitions like this, we apply for everything. Whatever it says on the call for applications, we can find a way to make our work relevant.

We have two CRiT interns working with us this summer. Jim and Duncan are employing Karl to work on the landscape around the Roman Fort at Ribchester (although I’m going to borrow him to do some digging at Whitewell too). Dave and I have Kathryn working with us on interpreting and presenting the cave paintings from Dave’s Enculturating Environments project. Kathryn is a second year BA Drawing and Image Making student who has worked with us before on Native American material from California as a volunteer. What she is doing this year is applying her considerable Photoshop skills to making sense of some fascinating but quite badly degraded rock art from a whole series of caves and rock-shelters in the Wind Wolves Preserve in South Central California.


This is an example of the kind of thing she is working on. This is a black charcoal painting onto rock done by a member of the Chumash Native American group, probably in the later prehistoric period around 1500 AD. It is just one design element from a larger group at Los Lobos cave (see what I mean about the wolves). However, as it stands in this photograph it is quite hard to see what the original image was. This is because the flaking of the rock surface since the image was painted has removed parts of the pigment and also because what is left is not particularly easy to distinguish from the dark grey background  of the rock.

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What Kathryn is doing with these images is to isolate the black pigment on a separate layer of the Photoshop file. This shows the remaining pigment much more clearly and allows us to see that the splodgy grey mess in the first image is actually the remains of either a starburst or pinwheel design element, both of which are typical of Chumash art at other nearby sites.

This is not nearly as easy as I have made it sound, as it involves basically a pixel by pixel scrutiny of the original to decide where there is surviving pigment. Even a relatively simple element like this one is at least a day’s work to complete. I should also emphasise that these are works in progress, rather than finished images, but they do give a good idea of the process and how the finished image will look.



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