Lessons learned in the 2020 season: Part 1

Time flies by, we have been very busy at several sites in Ginis East. Our technical problems continued and the only solution was to cope with these and to learn something for the future.

What follows here could be classified under “fucked-up science” – things that go wrong in science and are communicated and not covered up. I am a big fan of this approach, especially on blogs and social media. However, I know that critics always question this now quite fancy way of science communication as being too simplistic, too self-focused and that it just serves for self-representation. Well – granted that there are always two sides of a coin… But why I personally think it is useful to incorporated “fucked up science” is first of all one aspect: communicating failures and problems also tells people who are no insiders and experts of the field, how many things must actually go right that we come up with results and a nice documentation of archaeological sites. And how much can go wrong… There are of course many errors, mistakes and new trials behind most of scientific research – and in fields like archaeology, where we depend on a large set of technical equipment, chances are very high to waste time and money before all works out as planned… And thus, words like “waste of” and “failure” do not always really fit, it is simply life with all its ups and downs and daily challenges…

So let’s start with an example from the current MUAFS season which is still full of daily issues.

Our drone (property of my department at LMU) was stuck in customs since we arrived in Khartoum. Although our dear friend George from the Acropole Hotel did his best, gave almost daily updates, nothing changed and no clearance was issued. We finally decided to skip the procedure, abandon the efforts and to accept that we will not be able to conduct drone aerial photography like last year – after all, the only person with a proper license to use the drone is Cajetan. And Cajetan is already leaving Sudan in the next days. The drone now stays at the airport and will depart with me to Munich in March…

Here comes the lesson we learned: as fantastic, as it is to use a drone for aerial photography, in countries like Sudan their use comes with a number of complications and also of costs. We believe it is crucial to have an unsophisticated subsidiary at hand – like in our case the kite we already used for Sai Island in the framework of the ERC AcrossBorfders project. This kite I bought back in 2015 “lives” since than in Sudan, always stays here and last year I stored it in Ginis. Thus, it is always available, without electricity, without fancy equipment.

Of course, we did not cover the area we originally wanted to, as the kite has its limits compared to the drone – but it was a great joy to see that it works, that the surface models and photos themselves are really useful and of high quality. In Sai, we have experienced also days when kite aerial photography fails because of too strong wind, because there is not enough wind or due to the simple fact that the features we want to document are too close to the Nile (as Sai is an island) and would be too risky for the person holding the kite (and there are plenty of crocodiles around in the Nile…). So – there are of course situations when a kite in Sudan is not the best solution, we had been lucky in this respect this season.

To conclude, lesson 1 is: always have a Plan B for site documentation/aerial photography and keep this as much independent from external factors as possible. There were more lessons learned in this challenging season at Ginis, but these will follow in another post.

P.S.: network is really low these days, internet connection very slow so this blog must work for now without pics… But feel free to check my twitter account for some photos from the field!

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