I have been an archaeologist for as long as anyone can remember. The past year I have been working for the University of Bergen in Norway and for Historic England in the UK, but recognise that their patience has limits!!. The main thrust of my contribution to Day of Archaeology 2015 is news of the Reading University field school based at Marden Wiltshire....hope everyone is having a great summer!!

Random thoughts on World War I, the Day of Archaeology, Brexit and Marble Hill.

I have checked back on previous years’ posts and this year is the first occasion since 2011 when I will not be ‘in the field’ on the last Friday in July. I am on leave from a project in Sweden, where I have been working since April, and my next UK project with Historic England doesn’t begin until the week after next. But I am trying to usefully fill this downtime.  Sunday the 31st July is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Passchendaele campaign in WW1. One of my great uncles Edward Jeffery, 89th battalion, Machine Gun Corps was unfortunately a casualty on day one of the battle; just one of what eventually turned out to be over a quarter of a million casualties of that campaign. There are some small and fairly low key commemorations going on. My eye was caught by  a photo of a sculpture made from Passchendaele mud being exhibited in London. It will be exposed to the elements after Sunday and allowed to decay with the British weather. I am sure that someone somewhere is exploring the archaeology of Passchendaele and a monument from mud seems eminently suitable..

 

Sculpture made from Passchendaele mud

I have spent some time this week at various record offices, archives and  libraries in London and the south of England, trying to find out what history survives of Edward Jeffery  and other relatives who took part in that and other WW1 campaigns. Record offices are one of the great, still largely free, resources in the UK, but as with many things  under threat through the UK government’s policy of  ‘austerity’. Yesterday I was in Maidstone looking at archives related to the  Royal West Kent Regiment, (the regiment Jeffery enlisted in before he joined the Machine Gun Corps). There are 4 huge scrapbooks of RWK memorabilia in that archive, including original photos, maps and reports from Passchendaele, that probably rarely see the light of day. It would be a shame if access to this material was restricted.  There are many lessons to be learnt from the past and archives are an essential part of the conservation and education process.

 

National Archives Kew, London

 

One of the triumphs of the EU has been the lessening of conflict between European nations. We are free to move around Europe, live and work with people whom a hundred years ago we were expected to hate and be hated in return. Over the years my posts to ‘Day of Archaeology’ have come from a number of different countries, a fair few within the EU. Last year my post was all about the consequences of the UK voting for Brexit and the effect that decision might have on archaeology and archaeologists.  Unfortunately the picture 12 months on is no clearer.  But it is beginning to impact on archaeologists working in the UK….The following quote is from a recent post to a UK web forum, offering advice from one EU national working in archaeology to another prospective EU national job seeker.

As an EU citizen, living in the UK now for 2 years (did a MA here and now a PhD student) I advise you to think carefully about how badly you want to move here. Within the archaeology and within university environments you don’t notice very much of Brexit in the sense of a negative attitude towards EU citizens. In daily life in Britain however the air has chilled. My positive thinking of a future here with my English girlfriend has changed a lot as well as my feeling of wellbeing. The media is not helpful, neither are the old ladies on the bus who chat about the great future of Britain without immigrants. The government is most disrespectful about EU citizens and at its best just not interested in what happens to us. I won’t put you off the idea but I think it is a good to know’

The  post was one  I hoped never to read in an UK archaeology forum…  No further comment is necessary.

 

 

The week after next I will be working at Marble Hill House in London… I think we will have a twitter thing and news updates on the Historic England web page, but  anyone walking through Marble Hill Park in the month of August, please come and talk to the archaeologists behind the fence. We are always happy to chat…

Marble Hill House, London

 

 

It’s very sad to hear that this is going to be the last ‘Day of Archaeology’ blog. I have been adding my thoughts since 2011 and have always enjoyed reading what other folk are doing on this day. Some people of course I know (I am a very old lag who has been around the block a few times), but many I don’t. ‘Day of Archaeology’ blog seems to not only capture the enthusiasm and passion of student and early career archaeologists, but also  the eagerness of specialists to let us into their small empires of knowledge; it allows non-professionals to remind us that  archaeology is more than a vocation and the ‘aged and infirmed’ to share the pains they have  acquired along their archaeological path. I hope someone picks up ‘Day of Archaeology’ blog and it continues beyond this year. It is a tradition worth preserving.

Thoughts from a corner of Sweden: If the UK leaves Europe, where does that leave me ? (and the many other archaeologists in the same sinking boat)

This year my Day of Archaeology posting comes from Sweden…..At the moment I am working on the site of Nya Lödöse, the old town area of Gothenburg. I am told it is the largest urban excavation ever to have been undertaken in western Sweden. My interest is in the early post-medieval houses and workshops of the town, but we are also excavating the church and its associated cemetery. As with every urban excavation, anywhere in the world, we are under pressure both in terms of time and resources…. but there are many joys. The scale and survival of the buildings is brilliant, the cemetery is producing all kinds of interesting anatomical and spatial data.

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Nya Lödöse excavations 2016

I continue to follow the progress of the Intrasis dedicated archaeological GIS, but this time in the nation that developed the system….I am sure all my colleagues back at Historic England would love to see the latest version of Intrasis being used on a really intensive excavation…and to see demonstrated the facilities where onsite inputting of GIS data linked to an external remote database is possible.

We finish this phase of the project at the end of August….but there is another part of the cemetery and town to be excavated in 2017….

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Three members of the team

But enough of the good news… there are bad times a coming and coming up fast. Anyone who has read any of my previous Day of Archaeology posts, will note that over the years, I have taken full advantage of my rights as an EU citizen to travel and work in quite a few different EU and EEA countries. Unfortunately, future opportunities of this type are likely to limited for us Brits. I don’t intend to say anything about the motives or mind set of the 52% of British voters who decided the UK should quit the EU. Those folk will one day have to justify their decision to someone mightier than any of us and may indeed feel real regret as they descend into the ninth circle of Hell, sweating through the flames of the Inferno and overcome by the stench of the raw sewage within which they hopefully will stew for all Eternity….

No, what I would like to say is something about how the decision of the UK to leave the EU will affect archaeology and archaeologists across the whole continent.

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In the first instance those of us Brits that work in other EU countries will have our wings clipped by the Brexit vote. Hopefully some arrangement will be reached where we can still work within the EU/EEA area, but I imagine that extra layers of bureaucracy will be placed upon us. As someone who worked in Europe before freedom of movement, I can recall the hours spent waiting at various airports, police stations and the like getting documents and permissions verified; on occasions having to attend medicals to ensure that I wasn’t bringing the Black Death back to one of its source nations and often having to take out separate (and often expensive) private health and liability insurances. Let alone the difficulties of opening bank accounts, transferring funds from work nation back to the UK etc etc.

Secondly, the situation will become equally difficult for the large number of EU nationals currently working in UK archaeology. EU citizens do not at present require visas to work in the UK, but that is likely to change following Brexit. Archaeology is not a ‘protected profession’ when it comes to granting work visas and non-Brit archaeologists wanting to work in the UK will find they are subject to the most restrictive forms of visa. The worst of this is the requirement for the post to provide a minimum salary level, currently £35,000 pa, before a work visa is granted. Only a very few UK archaeologists currently earn that amount and it seems unlikely that a massive wage increase will be instigated to retain non-UK workers

Thirdly, there is the question of research funding, collaboration projects and the status EU archaeology students in the UK and UK students in other EU countries. I anticipate a minefield of funding options, none of which will be less expensive than current levels and surely will result in less choice, less research and less collaborations. My personal grief will be compounded if employment with European research institutes and/or universities becomes difficult if not impossible as a result of Brexit…..It is already being predicted that the Erasmus student exchange programme will be severely curtailed for UK students travelling abroad and UK universities hosting EU students.

So here’s the rub. I think that the opportunities for British archaeologists to work in many different European corners and for EU nationals to come and do the same in the UK has contributed to a wider and more comprehensive understanding of our discipline. Archaeology across the EU benefits from the UK being an active participant. We equally learn from out interaction with colleagues from across the continent. I believe that there are cultural and social advantages in exploring the commonality of our continents history/prehistory.

Postscript: If anyone knows of a nation out there willing to offer asylum to the large number of UK archaeologists who are proud to rise above petty nationalism and declare ourselves ‘European’, please get in touch….

University field schools – the best way to gain field experience or maybe not?

This year’s ‘Day of Archaeology’ sees me working for Historic England at the Reading University Archaeology field school. The project is based around the villages of Marden and Wilsford in Wiltshire, UK located approximately half way between Stonehenge and the village of Avebury. The project is mainly concentrated on investigating the two Neolithic henge monuments located in Marden and just outside Wilsford.

We have been here now for 6 weeks and over 130 folk have passed throught the project…..mainly university undergraduates, but also a number of recent graduates; many A level students (who might be considering studying archaeology at uni) and of course archaeology enthusiasts of all ages. Historic England are providing specialist services to the project, conservation, finds and environmental analysis and in my case, and that of my two HE colleagues, Cat and Dave, supervising the excavation of the ‘Roman’ element of the project. In essence  imparting our combined knowledge and experience to the students.

I wanted to take this opportunity to digress about university field schools in general. There has been a recent discussion on the BAJR archaeology website about the value of university field schools and whether they prepare students for the ‘real world’ of archaeology, in the case of the UK that being the vocation we describe as ‘commercial’ archaeology.

I will declare my own view immediately. I am a great fan of field schools. I have worked on quite a few both in the UK and abroad. I think they are of immense value to students in acquiring a degree of competence in field skills that may help them if they decide to follow a career in archaeology. If the BAJR discussion is to be believed though, my enthusiasm isn’t shared by all archaeologists. A number  commented on the lack of professional training included in  many undergraduate courses and asked whether  field schools covered the basic requirements of commercial archaeology.

Of course there is a balance to be achieved. As I mentioned before there is only so much that can be learnt in 6 weeks and of course many students only attend for part of the project. Experience is probably the most vital component of a career in archaeology and whilst field schools are akin to dipping a toe in the waves, they are no replacement for the real time, real life immersion in the archaeological ocean…….

There are of course other factors to consider. Although the number of students studying archaeology has remained fairly stable over the past few years, the number choosing to enter archaeology as a profession is relatively small, probably less than 10%. Studying archaeology as an academic discipline does not necessarily mean that the student wishes archaeology as a career.Likewise the A-level students (17 and 18 year olds) are considering their options. Archaeology might be one of several subjects they are looking to pursue at university; but with exam results and firm offers still some way in the future…the general interest participants in the project are  also  attending for a variety of reasons and not always interested (or concerned) in pursuing a career in the discipline….

I do  believe however that field schools provide a fair (albeit  light) approximation of the physical and mental stress that is involved in vocational archaeology. Our ‘successes’ therefore might also be counted  as those folk who realise  that archaeology may not be the career they wish to follow. In general we try to be honest, not diminishing the pressures of the job, the low pay, the lack of security etc etc, but we do try to get across the message  that archaeology can a fascinating and stimulating profession and of course that archaeologists are the nicest group of people you are ever likely to work with.

 

The Reading project is scheduled to run for a further two seasons…..so I may be back next year …..but if previous ‘Day of Archaeology’ postings are to go by, I have never yet managed to be doing the same thing 2 years running….

Anyway here are some nice images from this years project….

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The excavations across Wilsford Henge (top) and the Roman enclosure (below)

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Project site tour – terminal ditch Wilsford Henge

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Selfie

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Alex and James and a leaf shaped arrow head

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More leaf shaped arrow head

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Jim Leary and David Roberts consider a worked flint

 

In some corners of England….

An important thing needs to be said on this Day of Archaeology…. Archaeology means many things to many people. Its birth and life-blood lie in an area of the world currently riven by conflict. As I write there is news that monuments are being destroyed in Syria and Iraq and once again bombs are falling on Gaza. More than just damage to sites, innocent people are dying…there is no justification for this. I fervently hope that at least the international community of archaeologists, of all creeds, race and nationality can work peacefully together, recognising and celebrating our common humanity.

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Bombs falling on Gaza

In previous years I have been away for the ‘Day of Archaeology’ – Bulgaria in 2012 and Norway last year. But for most of this year so far, I have been in the UK working for English Heritage….and lots of interesting things have been happening as well. So this time round I want to mention some of the archaeological avenues and alleyways I have recently travelled ….

Firstly I presented my Masters dissertation back in January. It seemed to be a long time in the planning but relatively brief in the time it took to actually write and illustrate. It will be a Christmas and New Year that I will never get back, but overall fairly painless. My theme was the use of GIS as a primary recording tool in archaeology.

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The main thrust of my thesis was a discussion of the use of digital archaeological recording systems, in particular the Intrasis programme developed by the Swedish Antiquities board. The system is used widely in Scandinavia and by English Heritage in the UK. I used some examples from recent field work I have carried out, to compare and contrast digital data collection with more traditional (and largely) analogue practices. I also looked at some of the reasons given by archaeological professionals who expressed resistance to adopting digital methods. Basically my conclusions were that we should wholly embrace digital methods, but that there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Analogue methods are tried and tested and in some circumstances more practical in both application and efficiency. Archaeology should embrace the best of both methodologies.

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Use of traditional and digital recording methods

Fortunately my examiners deemed it sufficient. (I should add that other digital recording systems are available, but none that are as well advanced and practiced as Intrasis).

The first part of my English Heritage year was spent writing a publication draft for an intended monograph on archaeological work carried out at Chiswick House, London over the past 30 years.

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Chiswick House London

This was an interesting project trying to tie together a lot of different projects by a number of different archaeological contractors (not just English Heritage). The publication follows a programme of archaeological excavations in 2008 and 2009, undertaken as part of the Chiswick House and Grounds regeneration scheme, a project funded by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund. The publication project will hopefully come to a successful end in 2015…for now my work is largely completed.

The opportunity to work for English Heritage means I am nominally based at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth, a late 18th defensive fort guarding the mouth of the Solent and the Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth.

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English Heritage offices at Fort Cumberland Portsmouth

The archaeology departments of English Heritage and its predecessor organisations have been based here since the 1970s. Weekends give me the chance to explore some of my earliest memories of Portsmouth (I lived here as a child) and also to follow the up and down progress of my favourite soccer team (Portsmouth FC or Pompey). Fort Cumberland is a huge site only fragments of which are in use by the English Heritage archaeology team. Occasionally bits fall off the old buildings and occasionally older parts of the site are uncovered……

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A recently uncovered 19th century gun emplacement on the outer edge of Fort Cumberland

In March I had the opportunity to get out of the office and do a bit of field work with an English Heritage team at Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire. Archaeological work has been ongoing on at Whitby for most of the last 3 decades and this small excavation led by Tony Willmott was intended to answer a few questions that earlier works had thrown up. In particular the uncovering of a stone founded structure in the middle of the Anglian cemetery, that may be the remains of an early chapel.

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Stone founded structure in the middle of the Anglian cemetery, Whitby

…..Whitby is a very evocative site, especially in the fog..

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Whitby Abbey in a sea fog

There has been some speculation in recent months in both the archaeological and UK national press as to whether there are enough professional archaeologists currently available to meet the challenge of imminent superstructure projects (the HS2 rail link in particular). At Whitby we bucked the trend completely in that regard, where the accumulated archaeological experience of our 10 person crew exceeded 300 years!! And I wasn’t even in the top 5 !!

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Several centuries of archaeological experience in a single trench at Whitby

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The famous English Heritage site teapot….if enamel could talk that teapot could tell a tale or tw

Virtually straight after Whitby I was back in the field on another EH project, this time  in West Wiltshire. This was part of the National Archaeological Identification Survey (NAIS), a project where we were undertaking archaeological evaluation on features recognised by aerial photography and map survey.

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West Wilts archaeology

I won’t go into detail about this project as its results are still being analysed, (My Day of Archaeology work is looking at records from the excavations right now)…. other than to say that it gave the opportunity to look at the number of different period and type sites to the west of Salisbury Plain. It has been intensive but interesting work. It clearly got all too much for one digger who admitted that he had dreamt I was assaulting him with a wheelbarrow, something that would be highly unlikely to happen in real life….

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What do archaeologists dream about? Wheelbarrows as instruments of abuse apparently….

…Being out in Wiltshire for the past 10 weeks gave me the opportunity to wear another EH hat and act as a steward for the summer Solstice celebration at Stonehenge. English Heritage allow free access to the stones over the night of the Solstice and within reason folk are able to pretty do as they wish providing of course that it doesn’t affect the monument or its setting.

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Celebrating the solstice Stonehenge, June 2014

It was great fun and I recommend it to anyone (Not least as it saves you the cost of an extremely expensive entry ticket to Stonehenge)….

…who knows where next years blog will come from. I am returning to Wiltshire in a couple of weeks to assist on a university field school, but after that….?

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What did we do before GIS? Archaeological survey on a Norwegian summer’s day…

 My contribution to the Day of Archaeology in 2011 was as part of a University of Nottingham field school in Bulgaria. Although still working for a university, this summer I am on a site in the west of Norway. This time  the ‘day job’ rather than the interesting summer holiday project.

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The Norwegian archaeology system bears many similarities to the UK, in that most developments are subject to evaluation, with planning consent often dependent on fulfilling an archaeological access condition. Unlike the UK however, only a limited number of organisations (mainly university museums) are legally allowed to undertake archaeological excavation in Norway. The country is divided up into areas based on the Norwegian county (fylke) system where a single museum has control of excavation. The University Museum, Bergen excavates in an area stretching along the Atlantic and North Sea coast from Ålesund down to just north of Haugesund and a couple of hundred kilometres inland into the mountainous and glacier area that lies between Oslo and Bergen, an administrative area roughly twice the size of Wales.

8am…. Our project involves the excavation of a site ahead of a housing development …a type of project which many UK based archaeologists will be familiar with – well if anyone is still building houses in the UK that is!!. We have been here since the end of April and will remain here until the end of August. This is the second season on the site – we came here for a brief ‘look-see’ last autumn, mainly to confirm the findings of the site evaluation originally carried out in 2006. We have opened an area measuring about 10,000m2 in 3 separate trenches.

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For the most part the features on site are associated with agricultural occupation and use of the site – houses, cooking pits, cultivation and industrial activities but there are also a number of structures on the highest part of the site that we are tentatively interpreting as burial mounds, one of which has so far produced more than 30 stone loom weights.

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The first discussion of the day, with the excavation field leader, is whether the two of us spend the day finishing excavation of one of the ‘graves’ or concentrate our activities on the lower site. The field leader is off on holiday next week, so we agree that she should spend part of the day finishing excavation of features in the lower field and maybe making a dent in the rapidly expanding record backlog…

Today our project has 4 staff working, myself, the field leader and two assistants – 2 others are on leave. Our background is definitely international. I am British, my 5 colleagues are Norwegian and we have a Danish project manager. Last year’s field assistant was Swedish, we had another Brit working on the earliest phase of this year’s fieldwork and recently lost our Irish-American back to the call of the wilds of the northeast US. As in the UK demand for work as an archaeologist exceeds the number of jobs available and there is much discussion both locally and nationally about the treatment of staff on short term contracts…

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My job is to try and make some sense of the site survey and recording systems. We use the Intrasis GIS system (developed by the Swedish Antiquities Board) as our main recording medium, but there is also a large ArcGIS component in the day to day survey work. I am currently using a Leica 1205 robotic total station and the accompanying Leica Geo-office software. It’s nice kit and up to everything we ask of it, although I do have a sneaking preference for the Trimble equivalent. There is something about the synthesized voice on the Trimble thanking you for every ‘observation stored’ that endears even the most skeptical surveyor to the yellow goddess. All site photography these days is by digital camera and we download survey and photographic record to two lap-top computers with an external hard drive as back-up. The project is very keen to integrate the site records into the Intrasis database as soon as possible so we have an A3 format scanner on site for record sheets and drawn plans. There is also a comprehensive feature and topographic survey created through the total station.

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10am… Our museum has another project of similar size and duration to ours running at a site about 150km to the south of us that is also using the full-on Intrasis package. I am in contact with the site surveyor most days exchanging Intrasis and survey equipment battle experiences and sometimes just because it’s good to talk!! A useful way of ironing out bugs in the system and sometimes occasionally sharing good ideas. So around tea-break today the first message of the day – a short discussion on whether anything is happening in Bergen this coming weekend… an update on local weather conditions… and of course being archaeologists, any recent gossip!! All quiet on the gossip front.

I am a big fan of GIS in archaeology; it seems to me the natural destination for the single context stratigraphic recording system. And at present here in Norway the colour of the GIS money is Intrasis. I do wish sometimes that more of my Norwegian colleagues would pay heed to the principles that underpin stratigraphic excavation and recording, as I see so much time wasted trying to integrate a modern GIS with excavation techniques that metaphorically and literally came out of the archaeological stone-age. But I am allowed I think (due to my great age) some leeway to moan about archaeological methodology.

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One aspect often overlooked regarding the use of GIS directly on site is the need to define/redfine site responsibilities. The use of GIS shifts the balance of the work split between excavation and post-excavation and creates an interesting frisson between the site surveyor/GIS supervisor and the excavation field leader. Greater resources are required at the section face to collect and collate data, but this is more than repaid by savings in the time it no longer takes in ‘routine’ post-excavation tasks e.g compiling indexes and lists, digitizing the drawn record, cross referencing data, establishing inter-relationships between the site data. Physically creating a Harris matrix for example becomes redundant when every context relationship is already logged in the site database. Any questions which used to be asked of the site matrix can now be answered by simple Boolean querying of the integrated database. In fact GIS allows a greater degree of detail in context relationships than was ever possible using the traditional Harris matrix, to the extent that Intrasis allows realtionships to be entered (and retrieved) based upon spatial and/or contextual and/or stratigraphic definition.

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Sure things aren’t always perfect, but they could be a lot worse… which brings me to the weather. I need to mention something about the weather. Bergen and the west coast of Norway in general is famed for its wet weather. It is claimed it rains 250 days a year in Bergen and there is a local joke that there is no such thing as bad weather only bad wet weather gear!! But the last week we have had temperatures of 30o during the working day.

12pm… lunchtime and visitors. As it is Friday (and 30o) we decide that we and the visitors need ice-cream, so drive into the nearest town. Our usual car-park s crowded with Swedish coaches and I wonder aloud why Swedish tourists are so keen on holidaying in Norway. I’m told that one of the fascinations is actually seeing a sea with tides, but am not sure whether my Norwegian colleagues are making it up. Last night the Norwegian women’s football team got through to the final of the European championship where they will play Germany. The ice-cream shop is displaying the headline in todays VG newspaper… ‘Achtung!!’. The UK is clearly not the only country to have ‘imaginative’ gutter-press headline writers….

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3.30pm… another day/week is over. My colleagues are all away for the weekend, leaving me alone in our rental house. Plan an evening of G&T, fish and chips, laundry, the Archers and a late night movie, but Friday evening turned into a ‘Thor’s Hammer’ of a thunderstorm, losing TV and internet contact. I now know what the end of the world will be like!! So I will write my Day of Archaeology blog instead…

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A day in the life of the Archaeological Research Project at Dobri Dyal, Bulgaria

On Friday 29th July 2011 I was working as site surveyor on a site at Dobri Dyal, a Roman fortified hilltop camp believed to date from the early 6th century AD and located in the central region of Bulgaria approximately 200km east of the capital Sofia. The Dobri Dyal project has about 50 participants mostly students from Nottingham and Cardiff universities but also with a smattering of students from Edinburgh, UCL a couple from Oxbridge and some from other places. There are a dozen or so supervisors, mainly professional archaeologists, covering all the main field functions, finds and environmental management, surveying and digital documentation, under the direction of Professor Andrew Poulter of the University of Nottingham. The British part of the project works in co-operation with a Bulgarian team organised through the regional museum at nearby Veiko Turnovo.

The Dobri Dyal team….

Project Background*

From northern Italy to the Black Sea coast, the only identified human impact upon the landscape during the early Byzantine period is the appearance of countless hill-top fortifications; only a few have been partially excavated, and none has been subjected to systematic archaeological research, employing the full range or modern techniques. The function of these sites and the character of the countryside during the final years of Byzantine rule, central as they are for understanding the period, remain unknown.

It is generally accepted that the early Byzantine Empire was at its height during the 6th century: Justinian retook North Africa and Italy and the emperor Maurice campaigned on and beyond the Danubian frontier. The lower Danube was of fundamental importance; it represented the economic hinterland and frontier, supporting and protecting the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Literary sources for the region, describing the second half of the century, have generated opposing interpretations; on the one hand, that this period witnessed a revival in Byzantine military strength or, on the other, that this century saw the progressive collapse of the empire’s economic and military power (Whitby and Liebeschuetz in Poulter 2007a). In particular, there is no agreement as to the veracity of The Buildings written by Procopius: a key reference point for any discussion of the period. However, book 4 (which covers the eastern Balkans) is unique in that the text was never completed and, in its rough form, it can be demonstrated that the author relied upon a variety of different sources, including itineraries (Poulter 2007a, 9-11). Although this conclusion does not necessarily discredit Procopius’ narrative, it raises suspicions about the authenticity of his detailed descriptions which can only be tested by targeted archaeological research.

The project requires the total excavation of the well-preserved 6th_ century fortress of ‘Dobri Dyal’ in north central Bulgaria. The objective is to discover the economic role of the type site during the 6th century. Essential projects will include zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, small-finds and ceramic research, providing datasets which can be directly compared with the substantial results from the first two programmes (cf. 24,000 bone fragments from Nicopolis and 10,000 from the late Roman fortress). The excavations will explore the functionof the site during the 6th to 7th centuries.

 

* written by project director Professor Andrew Poulter and cribbed from the project handbook

5am…..I leave the farm in Nicup and walk the kilometre or so into the middle of the village We have commandeered a restaurant in the middle of the village to provide us with food, starting with coffee and a snack at 5.30 each morning, before we leave for site at 6am. The site at Dobri Dyal is about 45 mins drive south of Nicup, so today like most days we are standing at the bottom of the hill at about 6.45am. The Nottingham team opened 5 excavation areas on the top of the mound last season. Three of these areas (A, B and E) are being dug again this year and two new areas (J and K) have been opened in locations where the 2010 geophysical survey indicated areas of high resistivity. A Bulgarian team from Turnovo museum are opening a trench on the southern downslope of the hill where they think the main gatehouse and approach road to the hillfort are located.

7am….The actual change in level from the bottom to the top of the hill is only about 30 metres, but some days it seems much much higher. Especially when you are carrying tools from the caravan to the top, or in my case two tripods, a total station, a prism pole and a box of assorted grid pegs, tapes, club hammer and nails. I am the site surveyor at Dobri Dyal. Most of my recent archaeological work has been in Norway and Qatar although I have been involved in a couple of English Heritage projects back in the UK in the past 3 years. Today I am assisted by two student volunteers (Hannah and Jade) and the main task for the survey team is to locate grid pegs around trench E to enable the students to practice their planning skills.

In addition to laying out grids we are 3-D locating small finds, as and when they are discovered and plotting the defensive walls on the south side of the fort currently being uncovered by a Bulgarian archaeological team. We are using two Leica 400 total stations for the day to day survey work. These are fairly straightforward machines to use and so far all of the students I have tutored have learnt to set up the machines and carry out simple survey functions (point location, setting out grid-pegs and trench locations using the stake-out function). I of course miss the robotic Leica 1200 machine that I normally use in Norway, but for training purposes it is probably more useful for the students to get acquainted with the simpler machine……For some reason I have not been able to work out, we are burning through batteries today and by lunch time have used 4 sets…..hopefully there is just enough left in the last set to see us to the end of the day…(there was – just!!)

10am…..Lunch!! Each day we are supplied lunch by a local supermarket. Like most archaeological projects we have a mix of carnivores and veggies, a smattering of vegans and the occasional allergy sufferer as well as the downright awkward, making the supply of suitable ‘off the shelf’ sandwiches fraught with difficulty. Today’s vegetarian offering is just about inedible, but I have a large jar of pickled chilli peppers in the site hut that disguises the tastlessness of the cheese and peps up the cucumber. And an apple. And a litre and a half bottle of water. The temperature in central Bulgaria gets into the high 30s in July…which is very nice, but does require drinking plenty of water if you are out on site.

10.45am…back to work. We try to make sure that all of the students cover the basic skills needed to work as a field archaeologist (digging, recording, planning, section drawing, surveying) and in the store (finds processing, environmental processing, sieving, sampling etc etc)…..but this is a real research excavation and we try and maintain a high standard of work. Our research aims are to establish the plan and phasing of the settlement, its development and demise using all the facilities and methodologies available to us. The Bulgarian team use a more traditional method and are constantly amazed at how slowly we work. Attempts to explain our ‘single context – stratigraphic excavation’ methodology are met with blank looks by our host archaeologists. It’s about time that someone translated ‘Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy’ into one or more of the eastern European languages…..

1.45pm….Well that’s it for today. We pile back into the minibuses and return to Nicup for lunch. Soup and some baked cheese dish for me, some kind of sausage for the meat eaters. Our restaurant has a bar where drinks are very cheap. A 500ml beer costs 1 lev (45 pence). A double gin and tonic 1.5lev (67 pence). A quadruple gin and tonic 1.9 lev (85 pence), a 330ml glass of local wine 0.60 lev (27 pence)……the local speciality is ‘oblek’ a mixture of green mint liquor and ouzo much loved by men of a certain age (described by one non-archaeological acquaintance in the village as a cross between viagra and laxative!!) and rakia, the local plum or apricot brandy. Being sensible abstemious folk we tend to stick to a small gin and tonic and the occasional beer. Some students sit at the tables outside the bar playing cards, some return to their houses to sleep. Meanwhile….

3.45pm…..A surveyor’s work is never done!! I spend a couple of hours most days downloading the site survey data and preparing maps etc. Today a number of students are working extra hours in the finds store to make up time lost on other occasions during the week or as we like t call it ‘detention’. I slip along to Ann’s digital documentation office to print out a couple of maps. I use Leica Geofffice to download today’s site data. Normally I would use ArcGIS to process the data, create the survey database and make the maps, but as this is a ‘free’ project for me, I am using as far as possibly freely available open source software (not least so I can make the site data available to any students who request it). At present that consists of the Quantum GIS (QGIS) and the ProCAD (AutoCAD clone) packages. I am not a great fan of using AutoCAD for archaeological puposes, but find ProCAD useful for coverting GIS-based shapefiles to dwg and dxf formats for those that want them. The students in detention seem to be fairly happy with their punishment and are discussing whether universities should ‘give up’ student protesters to the Metropolitan Police…..No way!!

6pm….back to the house for a cold shower and then down to the Directors house for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. The gin on sale in the local bar is cheap, but it’s not Bombay Sapphire …. unfortunately Andrew is out of tonic so I end up with gin and lemon.. I manage to struggle through two glasses!! The project works on Saturday mornings so Friday nights are not as relaxing as a normal weekend, but we always manage to have a reasonable time. The nearest large town (Veiko Turnovo) has a culture festival on at the moment with ballet and opera performances most weekends. We have been offered cheap tickets (10lev circa £4.50) for all performances and some staff are going tomorrow to see the opera. Weather permitting, as the performance is open air….

12am……The bars are closed. Some folk drift off to houses, others to sit and chat for a while. Some of us are thinking that we have to be up again in 5 hours…

Field schools are fun, especially when the students are as nice as the bunch we currently have at Dobri Dyal….. Not so sure that many of them will end up with careers in archaeology though. Not through a lack of willingness but just the haphazard way that archaeology is organised in the UK and the failure of the profession to respond in any meaningful way to the current economic and political situation. It may be that in future years, training schools such as Dobri Dyal just won’t be available to UK students. One of the current student participants told me that next year, the archaeology department of his university plan to carry out a series of test pitting exercises in the gardens of houses close to the university campus instead of offering a field school through a project like Dobri Dyal. I think that is very sad….but if this is to be an end to a long standing archaeology tradition, we hope that the next 3 weeks at Dobri Dyal will provide long and happy memories for all those taking part…

Kevin Wooldridge, Bulgaria, August 2011

The Dobri Dyal project staff have a Facebook group called ‘Never Mind the Balkans – Summer Excavations in Bulgaria 2011’