TRAC/RAC 2014 Friday afternoon summary

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Hello all. Darrell Rohl here, Chair of the TRAC Standing Committee. I’m taking a short break from today’s afternoon sessions to give a quick welcome and summary of the events so far. In addition to the conference representing both TRAC and RAC, this year we have been joined by a number of sessions organised and sponsored by the Study Group for Roman Pottery and the Roman Finds Group. The TRAC Standing Committee would like to express our deepest gratitude to the University of Reading-based TRAC/RAC 2014 Organising Committee, particularly Dr John Creighton and Dr Tom Brindle, for their hard work in putting the conference together. We would also like to thank the Roman Finds Group and the Study Group for Roman Pottery for their very valuable and welcome contributions to this year’s joint conference. And, finally, we want to thank the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies (“the Roman Society”) and the Barbican Research Associates for their generous contribution of bursary funds, which have allowed 12 conference speakers to attend this year.

TRAC/RAC 2014 (i.e. the 2014 joint Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference and Roman Archaeology Conference) began last night with a welcome and stellar plenary lecture by Dr Fraser Hunter, principal curator of Iron Age and Roman collections at the National Museum of Scotland. The lecture discussed recent re-appraisals of the famous silver hoard from the site of Traprain Law, East Lothian. While the hoard consists of a wide range of chopped-up bits of silver, some of it is from very fine original pieces, and much appears to have been cut to consistent Roman weights, suggesting that the pieces were made and/or used by people operating within a Late Roman economy. These may have been former soldiers who had previously been in the service of the Roman military, or the recipients of Roman diplomatic gifts. We still don’t know, and maybe never will. Importantly, though, we now know that the chopping up of such Roman prestige goods was not just a barbarian act of destroying fine luxury goods as a form of defiance or lack of care for Roman culture. Dr Hunter provided a number of examples that demonstrate that the Romans themselves were turning silver vessels etc. into hacksilber, probably as a form of bullion during times of economic uncertainty. To paraphrase Dr Hunter: the Traprain treasure may be an old fine, but it can still tell new stories.

Today has been the first full day of paper sessions, and these have offered an eclectic mix that suits almost every palate. Five sessions were on offer this morning (3 RAC sessions and 2 TRAC sessions), and six sessions are currently nearing their completion this afternoon (3 RAC sessions, 2 TRAC sessions, and 1 Roman Finds Group session). As this is a joint conference with a lot to offer, it is perfectly acceptable and encouraged to bounce around, and we won’t be too insulted if you spend some of your time in one of the non-TRAC sessions. I have personally been in both TRAC and RAC sessions so far (I couldn’t get in to the Roman Finds Group session, as it was jam-packed!!), and I’ve even heard a little bit of theory in all of them. Sometimes the theory is understated or implied. Explicitly theoretical papers, or meta-theoretical papers (those that focus entirely on a particular theoretical approach) are, perhaps, under-represented so far, but you can see that theory is informing the work of many speakers across all types of sessions. This shows that TRAC has had an important influence on broader approaches in Roman archaeology, and we’re proud of this fact.

Papers are set to end around 5:30pm tonight, but the activities will continue. There is an arranged conference dinner (curry!) at the Shehnai Ballrooms (I dished out the cash for this, so I hope to see some of you there!), followed by an open evening for all conference delegates from 9-11:30pm with free soft drinks and a cash bar. Tomorrow then offers another action-packed day, with full sessions from 9am-5:30pm, and the all-important TRAC Annual General Meeting (AGM) where we will decide on the venue for TRAC 2015–our landmark 25th anniversary conference!–and elect a new member to the TRAC Standing Committee. Please do come and join us for the AGM, as this is a key way for you to give your own input into the running and future of TRAC. After the sessions, the (in)famous annual TRAC Party takes place in the RISC Centre in Reading, featuring live entertainment by Dolly and the Clothespegs. Please do join us!

Two final notes: There is a good amount of social media activity going on during the conference, and you are very much encouraged to follow the hash-tag #TRAC2014 (this is different from what has been published in the conference handbook, as Twitter doesn’t like separating characters) and the official TRAC twitter feed: @TRAC_conference. Also, please do remember that we now have the online TRAC Community features on this website. Discussion forums have been created for each individual TRAC session (and you can easily create further topics for other sessions or points of discussion). We really hope that people will make this feature an active place for continuing the conversations that began here in Reading today and over the next 2 days. Don’t be nervous about making the first posts: someone has to do it, and the online forums will only be as useful and successful as you make them. Please contribute, and invite your friends and colleagues (whether here at the conference or not) to join in on the discussions.

Thanks to everyone for helping to make the conference such a success so far. We look forward to hearing more from you all… and to sharing some drinks and meals, starting tonight at the Shehnai Ballrooms. See you there!

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