High-Definition Narratives

Organised by Professor Rubina Raja and Professor MSO Søren M. Sindbæk.

Date 15-17 November 2017
Time 13:30-17:00
Venue AU Campus Moesgaard, Moesgård Allé 20, 8270 Højbjerg, 4206-139




Urban histories are still defined by the punctuations of assumed correlation with recorded political or military acts, or by natural or human destruction phases, which serve tacitly as chronological anchors for the archaeological record. Existing data is often inadequate to challenge established, historical paradigms. Emerging applications are now transforming archaeology’s ability to read the scale and pace of events and processes. For accurately sequenced contexts it is now possible to construct high precision chronologies through increasingly sophisticated statistical modelling of radiocarbon dating and other fast-developing methods such as optically stimulated luminescence. Complex urban stratigraphies represent a prime target for developing tightly dated sequences based on Bayesian statistical modelling and a comparison of multiple materials.

These methods hold a potential to create a “High Definition” view of the past, exploring dynamics, which were previously beyond observational range for most archaeological data. For the full potential to be unleashed, refined methods of dating, characterizing contexts and provenancing materials need to be cross-fertilized by an understanding of existing records and a critical awareness of wider historical setting including social and institutional history, political agency and economic cycles. In refining the comparison of written history, archaeology, and scientific data, we may revisit historical grand narratives as “high-definition narratives”.

This conference explores how the conceptual promise and challenges offered by high-definition approaches can change the practice and interpretations of urban archaeology. “High Definition”, in this context, does not imply “micro-scale”; rather, it expresses an approach which seeks to revise grand narratives by replacing approximate observations with more exact ones. By multiplying the amount of data, i.e. by combining micro-scale sampling and multi-parameter analyses on the same samples, we may decisively improve the quality of the “grand picture” of comparative archaeological and historical models.

In historical periods even minor adjustments of the chronologies of archaeological evidence can change the order of assumed causes and effects, and fundamentally alter the understanding of political events and cultural developments. Did a process of abandonment follow or precede a historically known political rupture? Did investments in fortifications precede military events, demonstrating the concerns of and stresses upon a community, or postdate it, showing the resilience and regeneration. Were changing flows of materials a precursor and possible incentive for political approaches or confrontations, or did they follow from them?

By defining local developments and assessing the impact of global dynamics on particular societies in a high-definition perspective, we may enable a more qualified assessment of modes of adaptation and strategies of resilience and expansion. This in turn may show in a new way how far and on which time scale local crises and other events had percolating or knock-on impact on complex societies and their global interaction. 

Confirmed speakers

  1. Ashby, Steve (University of York)
  2. Bayliss, Alex (Historic England)
  3. Birch, Thomas (UrbNet, Aarhus University)
  4. Christophersen, Axel (Norwegian University of Sciences and Technology/NTNU)
  5. Freestone, Ian (UCL)
  6. Hendy, Jessica (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)
  7. Pedersen, Mikkel Winther (Centre for Geogenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark)
  8. Raja, Rubina (UrbNet, Aarhus University) - organiser
  9. Sindbæk, Søren M. (UrbNet, Aarhus University) - organiser
  10. Sulas, Federica (UrbNet, Aarhus University)
  11. Thomsen, Kristine (UrbNet, Aarhus University)
  12. Willerslev, Eske (Centre for Geogenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark)

Practical information for speakers


Please make your own travel arrangements to/from Aarhus. After your visit, your travel expenses will be reimbursed (only economy class). Please fill out this travel reimbursement form and return it (preferably in Excel-format) to Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk) along with scanned copies of your receipts and boarding passes (no need to send the originals).­

NOTE: Once you have booked your trip, please send Christina Levisen your itinerary, so that the hotel booking can be finalised.


We have organised accommodation at:

Hotel Comwell
Værkmestergade 2
8000 Aarhus C

Transport to conference venue

From the city centre, you can take Bus 18 (see timetable), which leaves from Park Allé (see map) three times an hour (direction: Moesgård). Enter the bus through the back or the middle door and purchase your ticket at the ticket machine. Get off at the bus stop "Moesgård Museum" (end station) - the ride takes approximately 25 min. From there, it is only a 300 m walk (see map).

Map of Moesgård campus 

Dinner and diet

Speakers’ dinners have been organised for 15-16 November - at UrbNet and in town, respectively, and of course, we will cater for you during the workshop. If you have any dietary restrictions (e.g. allergies), please let Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk) know as soon as possible.


If you wish to use powerpoint, please forward your slides by 13 November 2017.