Monthly Archives: July 2011

Unlocking the past – Festival of British Archaeology

Spent the day running an event for British Archaeology festival, at Corfe Castle in Dorset. We had our National Trust activities, environmental sort trays, mosaic making, spinning and weaving, etc. The Ancient Wessex Network, a group of archaeologists and artists/artisans with their activities – prehistoric pottery, wood carving, metal casting, art works, archaeological illustration and beads. Also Gerry the rope with his Victorian encampment and games. Along with the County council historic environment department and Finds liasion officer. Had some great feed back on our comment cards with one memorable one from a child under What have you learnt today, ‘that even a stone has a history’ Its great to spend time with young people with bright eyes and lots of questions so hope fully there is still a future for our past. Now time for bed, perchance to dream …………..

Update of Day of Archaeology

First off, I would like to thank the people behind the Day or Archaeology. It just goes to show you not only the diversity of archaeology itself, but the archaeologists themselves. I’m sure this event will grow each year.

I’m a little disappointed on the contributions by the archaeologists from the United States, especially those of us from Hawaii where it seems I was the only one logged in to this event. I’m most certainly not the model representative for Hawaiian archaeology, not by a long shot.

Anyway to sum up last Friday, it’s a damn good feeling finishing up a report which is basically the product – what the client and the public pays me and my company for doing. After the fieldwork, many of these sites are no longer there, or no accessibility since you can’t leave and open excavation open indefinitely. You best get the report right as best as you can, because it may be the final say.

Once again a big Mahalo for all your efforts

Aloha nui loa,

HB

Meta#dayofarch Reloaded

As you may have gathered, I am one of founders of the Day of Archaeology, and one of the team behind the manic moderation on the day itself.. My Day of Archaeology started at 6.30am, when I began to read and moderate posts. I was still there at 10pm, hovering over the site like a worried mother, fretting about our baby. But what a resounding success.. we made 1000 likes on Facebook in just 18 hours, and I haven’t even seen the Google Analytics data yet – we had problems earlier with the server, as the memory was reaching capacity (or something, I’m a bit vague about that sort of thing).. so I think that means thousands of people are looking at this.. But actually getting people to use the site as well as contribute to it is very important to me. What is the use of ‘a day in the life’ if no one uses the site?

As Mike Ellis memorably said at a conference I attended in 2009 (and I paraphrase slightly) “saying that your information is avaliable online does not mean it’s useful and accessible”.. This really affected me at the time, and although I have been involved in various online projects that haven’t quite yet grasped this concept fully, I really hope that this website is both accessible, useful, and a demonstration of the future of public, community, participatory archaeology – call it what you will.

The DoA team of 7 people worked as smoothly together as if we had been sprayed with WD40. The 400+ archaeologists that contributed to the site were enthusiastic and fearless. No posts were written that were difficult to understand if you were a member of the public. As a team of 407 we done good.

The important thing is what happens next – OK, so we can do this again next year, and aim for 500 archaeologists from every continent… But the potential of this site as a source for campaigning, education, career guidance, dissertation material and so forth is immense. I want to know what you plan to use it for.. You can always find me on Twitter (@LornaRichardson), or Google+ (search for Lorna Richardson, I’m the red-head). You can even email me at the Day of Archaeology email address if 140 characters are not enough… but please get in touch.

My Day of Archaeology…

How meta am I? I think I win any meta competition. My day was not only spent moderating and uploading blogs to the Day of Archaeology site, whilst Tweeting and Facebooking about it (and sending emails and texts), holding hangouts on Google+, Tweeting about holding hangouts on Google+ and Facebooking about Tweeting about holding hangouts on Google+, but I have also kept detailed notes about my experiences of the Day of Archaeology for my PhD research. I am re-using a Netnographic approach (online ethnolography of sorts) to the days participation and discussion on the various social media platforms as far as possible. So your interactions with me and the website have been considered ethnographically (all anonymously of course). And these thoughts and notes are now stuck on virtual Post-Its on my laptop, ready to be written up into a chapter for my research that discusses the creation of an archaeological community online. I think the day clearly demonstrates the existance of an online archaeological community, willing and able to cross social media platforms. It’s not just about being found on Twitter, Flickr or Facebook – it’s about using all of these technologies to create a supportive and cooperative environment on the Internet where archaeologists can come together to network, share, support and laugh about the wonderful world of archaeology.

We done more than good.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making the first Day of Archaeology amazing. So, July 2012 anyone?

At the Florida Public Archaeology Network offices

Today in the Southeast region of the Florida Public Archaeology Network offices, we are hard at work creating a new exhibit that focuses on 10,000 years of human history along the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Recently our office was awarded a Florida Humanities Council mini grant to work on the exhibit! Exciting! Our meeting today centered on the various ways we will display different watercrafts for the November 2011 exhibit, called “Then and Now: Life Along the New River.” The plan is to show how different groups of people have used the river at various times to fit very different needs. The exhibit will educate the public about Florida’s rich cultural history and the importance of preserving the past. Central to the exhibit is a prehistoric dugout canoe of the Tequesta Indians. The canoe will be showcased alongside both a historic watercraft and a modern stand up paddle board demonstrating change over time. What’s great about this project is that we are able to work with all sorts of interesting people as we put the exhibit together. The community has been involved from the beginning, including students, history centers, and even our local paddle board shop. To learn more about the Florida Public Archaeology Network visit flpublicarchaeology.org!


Antiquities, databases and an atypical day at the British Museum

The Moorlands Staffordshire Trulla

The Moorlands pan, one of my favourite objects

For the last eight years, I have worked at the British Museum, following a couple of years working for a German Investment Bank in the City of London. I’m responsible for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme‘s IT infrastructure and I provide advice to the British Museum on ICT issues when needed. The world of IT, is entirely self taught knowledge for me; at university I studied archaeology at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with a specific interest in maritime archaeology. It has been a sharp learning curve, and one that I think will always be challenging and disrupted by new technology. Of course, I’m open to offers to get back below the seas and excavate underwater again!

The department that I work for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and Treasure) is a DCMS funded project that records objects that have been found within the boundaries of England and Wales by members of the public. They voluntarily bring these objects forward to one of our 60 members of staff, who then record them on our database. You could say that this is at heart, public archaeology in action. This database now provides the basis for a massive amount of research within the university environment and it is very gratifying to see what people do with the database that I built. For example, the map below (produced in ArcView – I use QGIS at home) shows where coins of different periods are found by our contributors. Of course, I have to be very careful who has access to the full spatial co-ordinates, academics have to apply for access and I use some maths to obfuscate points on a map.

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

I’ve also been heavily involved with the #dayofarch project alongside friends and colleagues (we’re calling ourselves”Digital Archaeologists” ). The team working on this project were Matt Law and Lorna Richardson who came up with the plan, Tom Goskar, Jess Ogden, Stu Eve and Andy Dufton). I provided the project with server space, Google analytics, installation of the software and configuration of the software with Tom Goskar. The project has been amazing to work on, and we’ll hopefully be writing this up and getting a chapter on it into Lorna’s PhD.

My day is pretty varied and is either filled with writing funding bids, writing papers (CASPAR workshop papers on Archaeology on TV and Museums and Twitter at the moment), refactoring or writing new code, creating maps in various GIS packages, manipulating images (by script and hand), meetings with academics, TV people or colleagues. It is extremely different to my previous job, and it is probably why I’ve stuck with the role for such a long period. The database that I run, has been written from scratch and I’m currently transferring all my code to GitHub so that others can make use of my work. All the software that I either use or build has to be open-source. I have a very small budget for my IT work – £4000 per annum; is this the smallest budget for a National IT programme ever? I use products from Vanilla for our staff forum, from WordPress for our blogs and various framework packages like Zend Framework for our main website and database. As such, I spent only £48 on the site’s rebuild, the rest goes on server hosting and backup! At the moment, I am also working on a variety of funding proposals, a couple of JISC bids and I’m also looking for funding for the Video-Conferencing workshop that Elizabeth Warry refers to in her post. This is based around the discovery of the Frome hoard and forms the basis for her Masters’ dissertation that I’m supervising with Tim Schadla-Hall. Other people working on this include the British Museum’s education team and members of the Treasure Team. I’m also on various academic advisory boards, an honorary lecturer at UCL (currently helping to supervise Lorna Richardson’s PhD) and a Trustee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a scholarly society based in Marylebone that has a wonderful collection of artefacts, maps and photos, and I’m currently involved in helping with a research bid for high resolution imagery of fragile documents which involves a wide array of partners.

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Currently we have records for over 720,000 objects which have been contributed by over 19,000 people in a 14 year time span. We get around 60,000 visitors per month to our site and around 3-10,000 objects recorded; the time of year has a great effect on this – harvest and seasons especially impact. The site was awarded ‘Best of the Web’ as a research tool or online collection at this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. Something I’m extremely proud of for all our staff and contributors.  All of these records are released under a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA licence and we’ve had considerable success with a variety of digital projects. High profile finds that come up generate a huge amount of interest, and I’ve been trying to get suitable images for the Wikipedia community. We’re finding our relationship with them very beneficial and we now have lots of images in the Wikicommons.

With my wife, Katharine Kelland, I built the Staffordshire Hoard’s first website in 12 hours, and this was viewed by 1/4 million people in one day when we launched. I now use this model as a way for publicising other significant archaeological discoveries. I’m very lucky to work in the British Museum, I never thought I’d end up working there and you never tire of walking through the main gates and up the stairs to the Great Court. In the last few years I’ve been privileged to have seen amazing discoveries close up – the Hackney hoard, the Moorlands patera, the Staffordshire Hoard, the Frome Hoard, the Wheathampstead hoard, and the list goes on. I’ve even got to dress up as a gladiator and parade around the Great Court. Where else could you do this?

General antics of Public Archaeology student

As a student archaeologist, life is routine but fairly relaxed. I am currently finishing my Masters with only my dissertation left to do. I spend most of my time in the Institute of Archaeology library and talking to fellow Institute students in the park. I like the fact that we all do a range of subjects for our dissertations, from archaeology and art to conservation; it is surprising where archaeology plays a role. My dissertation is part of a project at the British Museum – I am helping to develop a new video-conferencing session, related to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the work it does with treasure finds. The session is going to be structured around challenge-based learning – this involves a real life situation where students have to make their own decisions based upon the resources/evidence available to them.  Its main elements consist of allowing students to work by themselves with minimal input from an adult, using teamwork and applying technology. Having fun is a key aspect of the activity. I am currently making Top Trump cards of treasure finds… this should make my next presentation more entertaining, will also help me to decide which artefacts should be used for the session.

I am a Public Archaeologist. Frankly, I admit that my knowledge of historical periods/civilisations is very superficial. However, I am comfortable with this as I am primarily interested in how the public perceive archaeology – through television, newspapers, museums and even politics.  I work as a facilitator at the British Museum, a job I love and enjoy; it is always good to see children getting really stuck into an activity (trying to get a balance between entertainment and education, of course) and I like hearing the questions they ask. Sometimes they approach objects with a completely different perceptive, which is refreshing after reading so much academic literature. The activities I am involved in range from following museum trails, presenting arts and crafts to schools groups and making news reports. I actually spent most of my time in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where we use technology and the museum’s collections to create both family and school activities. One example is the Sutton Hoo Headline, where  school children create a news report of the discovery using a video camera and a green screen – we get them to gather content by visiting the galleries using a video mobile phone.

On the ‘Day of Archaeology’ I attended the Mortimer debate, an organisation named after Mortimer Wheeler which focuses on archaeology and the future, using the tag line ‘our past, our future, our choice!’. There have been problems of late with the government trying to reduce the amount legislation that protects our environment and heritage. The debate had four panel members: Tony Robinson (Time Team), Cllr Alan Melton (who sparked recent media fury by calling archaeologists ‘bunny huggers’), Andrew Selkirk and Andrew Richardson. Some interesting points were made about sustainability and the costs of commercial archaeology, ie who should pay. The debate got quite heated, especially between Tony Robinson and Alan Melton. Melton suggested that the public were not that interested in heritage, with Robinson arguing that it is human nature to be interested in the our heritage. Does the past have value to you?

Sorting through field research notes on battlefields in Montana

Monument on battlefieldToday, I am sorting through my 2010 and 2011 field research notes about four battlefields in Montana. My doctoral work focuses on the ways people use archaeological resources, historical records, and oral accounts to create and maintain the sacredness of four historic battlefields: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI); Nez Perce National Historic Park- Bear Paw Battlefield (BPB); Nez Perce National Historic Park- Big Hole National Battlefield (BIHO); and Rosebud Battlefield State Park (RBSP). My study uses the “memory archaeology” approach to look at how people relate to a place using their personal memories or cultural heritages. Focusing on place-based narratives, which are on-site interpretative methods and anniversary practices, my research asks in what ways these interpretations contribute to the perception of these battlefields as sacred landscapes.

Although they may not be intended to be used in this manner directly, archaeological data can contribute to the intellectual and emotional responses about historic events, especially ones with a long-term history of commemorations like at BIHO, BPB, LIBI, and RPSB. The interpretation of archaeological, historical, and oral accounts as credible bases has immediate social impacts and responses.

I believe that all archaeologists should have good ethnographic field skills. Why? Over the decades, more local communities around the world have become involved in archaeological projects. Archaeologists, whether as principal investigators, consultants, or liaisons, must be able to communicate well with the public. Archaeologists having good ethnographic field skills can lead to excellent public relations with local communities and an increased public awareness on the importance preserving heritage sites.

So, on this lovely day in Missoula, I am typing up some of my handwritten field research notes. I am also revisiting many of my digital photographs and short videoclips of each battlefield. (And, it is always a joy to see the beautiful Montanan landscapes!) These recorded observations will help me in analyzing and answering my research questions.

Tells of space and time….

I’ve always always loved learning and reading about the ancient world. It seems to me to be full of unsolved mysteries and puzzles, tantalizing enigmas about who-done-what and what happened where. Definitely by the time I got to University, I knew I really wasn’t even interested in anything else other than the distant past. I am currently researching for my dissertation in MSc in Web Science at the University of Southampton, and I’m looking at how to represent ambiguities in the spatial and temporal elements of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia.

red pen on line drawing of Code of Hammurabi (Old Babylonian)My path to this MSc has been long and winding. During my undergrad years at Birmingham University I focused on studying Mesopotamia and the cultures of the Early Bronze Age in the Near East. I learnt to read Sumerian cuneiform, as well as various dialects of Akkadian – I’d say that Sumerian and Old Babylonian remain my favourites, and in the course of my current research I’ve got the opportunity to again engage with these elements from my academic past.

(more…)

London

I’m in London for meetings, fall asleep on the train after staying up too late writing reports. One of the lads drops me off at the station on his way to site, he sings the entirety of London by The Smiths at me in the car, singing along to the fast live version from the Rank album. All the way down I have the lyrics “do you think you’ve made the right decision this time?” stuck in my head as I fall asleep and wake up again. Also stuck in my head are the words from the Bo Selecta Bored of the Rings sketch which is a site banter favourite, particularly for the last few weeks. At the station he hands me a report and assures me “I’ve sprayed upon every page!” “I’m going to London town centre in the middle and I shan’t be back!” I tell him and leave. It’s typical site banter, seizing on little artefacts of pop culture like the most obscure and occult small finds.

After the meetings I make it to the Tower of London for the last hour. It’s crawling with tourists and I must have ended up in about fifty holiday snaps as I head for the White Tower. Two teenage American girls regard the codpiece on Henry VIII’s suit of armour. “Oh my god! If this guy got hit in the junk NOTHING would have happened!” I look at the design, it is very ostentatious, like a party seven emerging from the groin but I imagine it reflects contemporary clothing fashions. Having worn groin guards for various sports over the years I wonder if the design had any hidden practical merits, as getting kicked in the knackers while wearing the modern cricket box design always makes me flinch. I imagine “my junk” would be safer lying in the armoured barrel of Henry VIII’s armoured codpiece, I wonder if there is a paper in this somewhere, if I decided to test the hypothesis by experimental archaeology I would have no problem finding volunteers to kick me in the knackers. Such is the life of the small company archaeologist.

In my hotel at Tower Bridge I try to relax by watching the film Plunkett and MacLeane, but I’ve still got my game face on, I notice the drain they run down near the end has an egg-shaped profile, something yet to be invented in the 18th century. The egg-shaped profile in London drains had a brief vogue in the 19th century as it was less likely to block but problems with repairing and cleaning saw the normal tunnel profile return. I end up in the Red Lion in Westminster, I love that most London pubs have stayed traditional but my arm sticks to the unwiped counter. It wouldn’t have happened in one of my pubs, it feels like not that long ago I was still a barman, an out-of-work-archaeologist, now there’s so much archaeology work on I haven’t got time to wipe my metaphoric counter.

Watching brief

Today I’m doing a watching brief on the footprint of a new build house plot. Having read the spec I’m surprised to find there was a medieval village on the site of the modern village. I did not know the modern village even existed despite it being not a million miles from where I live and grew up. The village today is on one side of a road going nowhere in particular and consists of some houses and a single pub. The new build adds another house to the line. Although surprised by the village’s existence I am more surprised to see that this forgotten moor was once a hive of mining activity with the surrounding area riddled with mines and ventilation shafts.

The topsoil scrape is taking forever as the plant hire company has sent a JCB to do the job of a rubber duck or three-sixty. The driver is also not up to much, it is disconcerting to see him twitching and talking to himself in the cab when I am standing right in front of the blade. Still, the previous year I was machine-watching a driver from the same company who complained that the falling snow was giving him trails and flashbacks. However, there is absolutely nothing on the site and before long I am fighting to keep my concentration as the driver moves the spoil from the site to the spoil heap to the truck. The developer is an amateur building a spec house, and once he hands over his notes to the truck driver and plant operator they mention “the other job”, the truck disappears never to return and the machine has to leave early. As Blackadder says “the abused always kick downwards”, the next morning the developer is on the phone apologising having got hold of another machine and forgotten to tell us. Luckily, we have foreseen this eventuality and someone is on call ready and will be there to watch the machine in ten minutes, the developer is thankful but seems unenthusiastic.

All I can really think of to say is that there must have to be days like this to balance the days when you actually find something good. The attack doesn’t come on every watch. I hate the feeling when you think that everyone has got a better site, trench or area that is better than yours. The van arrives to take me and the gear back and as usual we find some little peculiarity of the site to laugh about, even if we never want to set foot in the place again. I suppose it’s these tiny little peculiarities that give places their individual character and are what we try to preserve as archaeologists.