I am the Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England, working on all types of statutory casework - listing (mostly buildings), scheduling (mostly buried things like archaeology), registering (parks, gardens and battlefields) and protecting (wrecks). All opinions that I give on the Day of Archaeology website are my own, not my employers!

On being an archaeo-parent…

I’m an archaeologist who doesn’t get to do much ‘archaeology’: like many of my age, I’ve foresaken the pleasures and pressures of life in the field for the greater stability and higher pay of a desk job… The only problem with that is it makes for a pretty dull DOA post… Because I spent today doing essential but unexciting admin for my employer. It all counts towards the ‘greater good’ of the historic environment, but it doesn’t make for an exciting blog post… However, the reason I took my current job does raise some interesting archaeological questions: namely, what kids tell you about archaeological site formation processes. I have my current job because I’m the proud co-parent of an avid 3 year old experimental archaeologist (and want to support them in every possible way to my utmost), one who likes to spend a lot of time transforming their environment and challenging social expectations. Give my small person a tool, toy, food or for that matter any space, and they will rapidly inhabit, manipulate and challenge those spaces, places and objects. As an archaeologist I observe this activity with ill-disguised fascination and have to admit to gently testing the experiment by adding in or taking away elements just to see what happens… I’ve also, as a part of this, become (gently) obsessed with spaces designed for small people and what the medium-long-term development of those spaces tells us about past site formation. Playgrounds in particular are great for this: like any parent I spend a lot of time in playgrounds. We each of us (me, my co-parent and my small person) have our favourites; we also inhabit these spaces differently, and have our own views about these areas pros and cons. The more time you spend in a play area the more you also get to reflect on their design and evolution: few public (ie government funded) play areas are all of one ‘phase’ to use an archaeological term: through simple observation of the wear patterns, design forms, layout and other physical evidence you can almost always observe if not a clear chronology of change then at least undelineated change, as play equipment and spaces evolved through wear and tear, deliberate and accidental damage, and changes in educational philosophy and approach. All of this is deeply archaeological in its analyses. Even more archaeological is the observation of the subtler areas of patterning, especially the spaces un- or under-used in playgrounds: I mean here especially the spaces between, underneath or inaccessible from play equipment. Here, you can often observe growths of plants, mosses and lichens (often moisture loving ones as such spaces are often in shade or on drip-lines from play equipment); also differential wear marks where generations of little feet have followed one-another, leaving some areas worn smooth, others untouched or polished to a shine through accidental rubbing by clothes. All of this is deeply archaeological and raises – a topic of periodic discussion with other archaeo-parents on social media – a host of questions about similar patterns observed on archaeological sites. Are those comparable wear, growth and drip lines surrounding, for example, Iron Age round-houses what we take them for? Where are the children of the past and their physical impacts on archaeology? Once this chain of thought begins, it makes you wonder about a lot of ‘archaeological’ interpretation of sites from prehistory to the present… And makes me among others wonder about how much reinterpretation we might need to undertake of the history of archaeology to take better consideration of the impact of all our small people… So, desk-bound I might be, but this archaeo-parent keeps on learning all the same.

Busman’s holiday?

Last year when I posted for the DOA I was on holiday and this year I am… on holiday again. This implies that I have a lot of time off but the reality is that this is just pure coincidence. Plus things have changed for me, a lot, in the past year. A year ago I worked jointly between local government and academia: now I am solely employed by the government heritage agency English Heritage. A year ago I mostly worked on archaeological sites; now I work on sites ‘across the asset range’ as they say, from prehistoric monuments to post-war office buildings, and everything in-between. A year ago I was also living a quiet [ish] life with my wife; now I have a lively and noisy 3 month old baby girl.

Anyhow, on this DOA I was actually on a busman’s holiday – i.e. a holiday that seemed a lot like work at times. My parents came to visit their granddaughter and we decided to go and visit the new Cutty Sark Museum in Greenwich, somewhere that I have long been meaning to visit since it re-opened in 2012 but had yet to get round to. It was a busman’s holiday because it touched upon many of the issues that I deal with daily in my job in English Heritage’s designation department: ultimately it involved questions of significance, authenticity and public engagement. The poor old Cutty Sark has had a hard time over its life – most recently, when a fire caused major damage in 2007. Since that time the vessel has been painstaking repaired and a new museum created around its dry-dock in Greenwich, to much public interest but intense critical debate. The historic ships people have questioned the ‘repairs’ to the old, and extremely badly damaged vessel – asking questions about its authenticity when so much of the original vessel has been lost and ‘repaired’ with new, and also asking questions about its new supporting latticework that lifts the ship to hang in mid-air and support its weight. Meanwhile, the architectural people have questioned the ‘greenhouse’ surrounding the lower decks of the ship, protecting it from the environment while allowing easier access and interpretation – their views have not been kind in many cases, comparing the new museum as akin to a suburban greenhouse at the gentlest and calling it cultural vandalism – this is within a World Heritage Site don’t forget – at the harshest. The museums people have then had a go as well, questioning every aspect of the display and interpretation of the ship, and especially its balance of use of space, airing, inevitably, worries about commercialisation – i.e. too much shop and cafe, not enough museum?

My opinion? Well, I went with trepidation, fearing that I’d dislike a lot of what I was about to see, hence the delay in visiting (I live less than an hour away so have little excuse), but I really enjoyed myself. Partly, this was the company: my wife and daughter and my parents. And I *do* take the points of the architectural critics on board: from the outside in particular the greenhouse protecting the ship is ungainly at best and makes it hard to appreciate the fine lines of the ship. But the pragmatist in me is aware that the ship *had* to be better protected from the elements or face total loss (something that at the time of the fire in 2007 I actually thought would be the best solution – let the poor ship ‘die’ in the fire after a long and dramatic life and be done with it). Moreover, once inside the museum, I was really impressed – a good balance of information for all ages and interests; a lot to see and do (i’ll be back once my daughter is older, 3+ at least, to have a proper explore with her); and a good balance of museum and commerce – including what has to be the most dramatic cafe in all of the London museums – and what’s wrong with a nicely air-conditioned museum cafe asks this new dad for one? And most importantly, as an archaeologist, I was impressed at how the ‘hanging’ of the ship on its supporting latticework really worked as an educational tool. You get to see inside and also right outside of the ship from all angles, something that no other historic ship museum that I know of currently enables. To be able to stand right under the keel and bows of this incredible racehorse of the seas and appreciate her impossibly fine lines – more akin to those of a racing yacht than a cargo vessel – is genuinely awe-inspring, and heritage needs to inspire all of the awe it can muster in these current troubling times…

An Archaeologist on Holiday

Street sign in Bath

This Day of Archaeology 2012 I was on holiday! My wife (not an archaeologist) and I had long promised to take a few days off at the end of what we knew was going to be an exceptionally busy June, so on this Friday June 29th we were taking the day off as part of a long weekend. What do archaeologists do on holiday, you ask? Well this archaeologist goes to the spa. Normally, I’m an archaeologist working jointly between local government and the university sector, and consequently I spend a lot of time cooped up in offices bent over a computer or in meetings about heritage policy and site management. As a result, a good way to rapidly unwind is for me to go to a spa, to move from pool to sauna and back again – and if the nearest/nicest spa to me happens to be in the historically rich and aesthetically pleasing city of Bath, then all the better for it. So, my wife and I got the train over from London and did *not* work on the train but actually read fun, non-work books (unusual in itself). We then pottered around the town pleasantly blending a bit of window shopping, real shopping and lunch, before spending the rest of the day in the wonderful ‘new’ spa complex in the middle of the city with its awesome rooftop pool from which we could laze around in the hot waters, gazing at the historic buildings and idly chatting about everything and anything under the sun. Drinks at a little bar we’d spied earlier followed (a martini being this diggers hit of choice), then dinner at a restaurant well recommended by the bar manager, before home to an early night in our hotel, full of food, snoozy and a hell of a lot more relaxed than the day before. It may not be every archaeologists dream day off, but it works for this one…

 

A deskbound archaeologist at work…

I’m Joe Flatman and I have two jobs in archaeology – I’m both a county archaeologist and a university lecturer in archaeology, working part-time between both in theory, full-time in both in reality. So this ‘Day of Archaeology’ is a standard very long one for me – a solid 12+ hours a day split between both jobs is not unusual, sometimes it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

I began today at 0700 when I dealt with the first of my work emails over breakfast (with a speedy sift through Facebook, Twitter and the Guardian for good measure – all increasingly ‘work’ related). After commuting into one of my two offices (a 30 minute bus ride), I have then spent the rest of the morning so far (its now 1100) doing various admin to do with my two jobs – a mixture of emails replied to and sent relating to my local government job and some book editing relating to my university job. This editing will take place all day long until at 1800 I go off to an evening work meeting, grabbing a meal on route. With luck I’ll finally get home about 2200 and have a beer while watching some dumb TV show with my wife to unwind. What I do is not exactly the kind of work I expected to be doing when I started out in archaeology and it doesn’t fit the popular image of archaeology either – I’m working in an office in central London wearing smart clothes, not out on an archaeological site in some exotic location. But my work is interesting and challenging all the same, which is what I am after, and importantly I feel that i make a difference: my two jobs mean that I get to tell a lot of people about archaeology and also get to visit and help protect a lot of sites.

The majority of today will be spent quietly working on editing two different books, a side of archaeological work that many people are not aware of. These books are important for both of my jobs – they are about communicating archaeology and advising people how they can become more involved in archaeology themselves. Those two tasks are some of the most important things anyone in my position can do. If people don’t have the opportunity to learn more about and become more involved in archaeology, then we as a discipline are failing.

The first book I am working on today is an edited volume entitled ‘Archaeology in Society: It’s Contemporary Relevance’. I am co-editing it with an old friend, another archaeologist based in the USA. The book has 21 chapters, 30 authors and over 300 pages – it is huge! The book is all about how archaeology plays a role in modern society – how archaeological data is used by people from all walks of life, how archaeologists work in different sectors of society and contribute to the economy, and how archaeology can help us make a better and fairer world. The book originated from a conference held back in 2007 – five years later the books is now very nearly done, we’re just checking the final set of ‘proofs’, the last draft of the book before it gets sent off to be printed. This is our last chance to check that the spelling and grammar are correct, the pages properly laid out, and so on. It is an intimidating thing to do – the next time we see this book it will be on the shelves of a bookshop for sale, so we have to get things absolutely right now.

The second book I am working on today is a much shorter introductory guide to archaeology. This book is ‘only’ 50,000 words long and I have been commissioned to write it by a publisher. I have spent the last 18 months slowly working on it off-and-on, and in two days from now I have agreed to submit a complete draft of the book to the publisher – a rough version of the whole book. The book is designed to be an introductory text for anyone interested in archaeology, explaining what archaeology is and how archaeological work is undertaken. It has been really fun explaining the entire practice of archaeology in interesting and accessible terms, choosing examples from around the world to illustrate my points. But it will also be a relief to send the book off to the publisher! That will only be the start of a whole new cycle though: the book will then have to be checked by an editor at the publisher for mistakes, ‘peer reviewed’ (read by another archaeologist who will judge its writing and data and make suggestions for improvements) and revised in the light of these peoples’ comments. Then I’ll have to arrange images for the book and also work with the publisher’s art department on its layout and format. Then the book will be ‘typeset’ – its pages laid out; and then finally I’ll be able to check these pages for errors before the book is finally printed and ready for sale. so my submission of a draft on Monday is merely the start of another 12 months at least of further work.