Poo from the Past: A Week of Archaeology Themed Fun at the Oak House Museum

By Rebecca Butler

Visitor Service Officer, Oak House, Sandwell Museum Service

To fit in with this years ‘Day of Archaeology’ staff at Oak House Museum in West Bromwich, decided to put on a week of activities all with an archaeology theme.

We set up an excavation next to our shipwreck playground. Children were given the opportunity to dig around the excavation site to find coins, pottery sherds and even bits of flint! Once they had their finds they took them to the ‘finds washing station’, gave them a good clean and then discussed what they had found with staff to decide which finds tray they belonged in dependent upon the object, its size and the material it was made out of.

After this, they were told that the Oak House staff had discovered a latrine full of coprolites, and they needed help with post-excavation analysis. Using special tools children carefully excavated the coprolites and recorded their finds on finds sheets. They then looked at the ‘Poos from the Past’ fact sheets in order to determine if they had discovered Roman persons Poo or a Tudor Persons Poo. It gave staff an opportunity to talk about diet and the different food people ate.

We also gave a tour of our site with a focus on standing building archaeology. This was well received by parents and children.

Both children and their parents had lots of fun and we received lots of good feedback from parents on the day. Overall it was a successful week of Archaeology at The Oak House Museum. For more information about our up-coming events visit our website www.sandwell.gov.uk/joininmuseums.


Archeologia gabinetowa – kilka słów o badaniach zabytków spektrometrem XRF

Ręczny spektrometr XRF (po lewej) wykorzystywany do gabinetowych analiz materiałów ceramicznych.

Ręczny spektrometr XRF (po lewej) wykorzystywany do gabinetowych analiz materiałów ceramicznych.

Archeologia ma wiele twarzy. Jedną z nich są badania laboratoryjne materiałów archeologicznych, na przykład drogą nieinwazyjnych analiz chemicznych. Trzeba przyznać, że dzień powszedni archeologa zajmującego się badaniem próbek jest dość monotonny. Po rozłożeniu ręcznego spektrometru XRF, który umożliwia poznanie składu chemicznego artefaktu, rozpoczyna się seria analiz. Należy wykonać ich co najmniej kilka dla jednego przedmiotu, aby wyeliminować potencjalne zakłócenia, na przykład wpływ domieszki w przypadku materiałów ceramicznych. Artefaktów czekających w kolejce zwykle są setki, więc mocna kawa jest wskazana. Bez wątpienia analizy są najbardziej żmudną częścią całego procesu badawczego. W międzyczasie wykonuje się bazę danych. Potem należy wykorzystać metody statystyczne, aby opracować dane uzyskane w trakcie badań spektrometrem. Efekty mogą być obiecujące: możliwe jest wydzielenie grup wśród drobnych ułamków ceramiki, które zazwyczaj nie są przedmiotem dogłębnych studiów. Zawsze jednak lepiej użyć innej metody, np. tradycyjnej typologii, czy obserwacji mikroskopowych, by kontrolować uzyskane rezultaty. Powstający w ten sposób bank informacji pozwala porównywać między sobą skład chemiczny wytworów ludzi z przeszłości i wnioskować o sposobie produkcji, użytych materiałach, a nawet pochodzeniu przedmiotów i drogach wymiany. Nie ma w tym romantyzmu i emocji, jakie towarzyszą pracy w terenie, ale satysfakcja z poznania nowych, nieznanych dotychczas danych może być duża.

Michał Krueger

My Month of Archaeology in Mongolia

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My first time as a real life archaeologist was even better than I imagined and it’s all thanks to the Northern Mongolia Archaeological Project, short for NMAP. Run by Dr Julia Clark from the American Center for Mongolian Studies and Dr Bayarsaikhan Jamsranjav from the National Museum of Mongolia this field school offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to investigate nomadic pastoralism at the site of Soyo in the Darkhad region in Northern Mongolia. The team was comprised of a variety of nations; Mongolians, Australians, Americans, Scottish, British, French, and Swedish. Though all originating from different cultures, languages, and education, we all spoke the common language of archaeology and excitement!

The trip gave me experiences in a variety of areas, but some of the archaeological that first come to my mind are working with Ian Moffat (Flinders University), and Dave Putnam (University of Maine at Presque Isle). Ian was on the team in order to construct an image of the whole site using GPR.

As a student of Ian’s we were given the task of walking up and down the sloping hills of Soyo, more often than not scattered with boulders ranging from the size of a hand to the size of a tent! Strapped onto our back was the radar which every 2cm would send pulses down into the ground to a depth of roughly 4m before bouncing back up. As we moved forward the screen depicted the data we had just collected, and it was fascinating being able to see what was beneath our feet and what it would mean later on for the site. Apart from GPR we were able to fly a kite with a camera attached to it up in the air to capture an aerial image of the site.

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What I definitely learnt from trying to fly a kite multiple times, was that all one needs is a storm and a kite goes right up! Learning about GPR, and learning how to work the technology associated with it was fascinating and a preview into what I see as the way of archaeology.

Working with Dave will always be remembered as the time I baptised my Marshalltown trowel. We dug six test pits in total and every test pit provided a different stratigraphic image of the landscape. Two of our test pits reached a depth over 140cm, with one of them even hitting permafrost which was an exciting discovery! Dave, along with Ian were able to describe each of the different layers we were viewing and bring them to life. Reading about stratigraphic layers from a textbook will never be the same let me tell you that! What I found extremely interesting were that the glacial boulders we encountered were at different depths at each test pit and units. Additionally I was able to help dig out the deeper test pits while upside down which just shows I’m fit for the role of an archaeologist!

This trip will be one of the most memorable excavations in my lifetime and I would recommend it to anyone! My only recommendation is that when you’re offered goat, take as much of it as you can because you’ll want seconds!

Alexandra Seifertova

A Day of Archaeology at Monticello

Monticello is perhaps best renowned as the home of Thomas Jefferson — the third president of the US, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia. What a lot of visitors don’t know is that the house is only part of a larger plantation that spanned 5000 acres with hundreds of free and enslaved occupants. The skills and labor of the 130 slaves who lived at Monticello powered the plantation’s agricultural and industrial enterprises. While Thomas Jefferson left us copious notes and documents about his plantation and its construction and operation, he left a lot out —including the locations of the houses in which enslaved agricultural laborers lived.

Figure 1: Field school students excavation at Site 6

Figure 1: Field school students excavation at Site 6

For the last 20 years, the Monticello Department of Archaeology has been systematically surveying the 2000+ acres owned by Monticello to create a complete inventory of the archaeological resources. Over 30 previously undocumented sites have been discovered. We are working at one of those sites this summer. For the last six weeks, we worked with our field school students to excavate Site 6, a mid-19th-century domestic space for enslaved field workers located approximately 1 mile southeast of the main house. We are now in the process of wrapping up fieldwork for the season. Our staff and students excavated 12 quadrats down to subsoil, or sterile soil devoid of any evidence of human activity.

Here at Monticello, our subsoil is a bright red clay that is rich in iron as a result of the degrading greenstone bedrock. We chose to dig at Site 6 because we are interested in tracing changes in slave lifeways from initial settlement on the region by tobacco planters and their enslaved laborers in the second quarter of the 20th century, through the transition to wheat agriculture in the early 19th century, to the end of the slavery-based plantation system at the Civil War. Previous work at two neighboring sites, Site 7 and Site 8, has yielded important pieces of the story prior to about 1800. Site 6, occupied from about 1800 to 1830, promises to yield the next chapter (Figure 1 above).

Our goal was to find evidence of a slave cabin. In this part of Virginia, physical remains of slave cabins take the form of high concentrations of historic artifacts and, in some cases, a subfloor pit, or storage cellar. We rarely find postholes or foundations since log cabins, which were sill laid, were the type of architecture used for field quarters at Monticello and elsewhere in the region, starting in the early 18th century.

Figure 2: Pearlware shell edge ceramic sherd found at Site 6

Figure 2: Pearlware shell edge ceramic sherd found at Site 6

This summer, we found some cool artifacts, including ceramic sherds of pearlware, creamware, and stoneware, window glass, daub fragments, wrought nails, lead shot, gun flint, furniture tacks, at least ten buttons, a jaw harp, two beads, a spur, a horseshoe, two slate pencil pieces, a tobacco pipe stem fragment, and a buckle (Figure 2 above).

These small personal items, which slaves likely bought or traded for, are helping us better understand the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked at Monticello. At the end of fieldwork every afternoon, the finds are taken into the lab where they get processed. With the help of our incredible group of volunteers and interns, we wash, label, bag, and box the artifacts from this summer. While the work requires attention to detail, our careful cleaning reveals the true beauty of some of the artifacts held and used by the enslaved people that lived at Site 6 (Figure 3 below).

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The artifacts also get a digital life by being cataloged into our database system called the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). DAACS is an Internet-based initiative designed to foster collaborative research and data sharing among archaeologists. Today we’re cataloging artifacts from a unit that produced a high density of brick, nails, 18th- and 19th-century ceramics, and even buttons (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Monticello Lab assistant Caitlin Hepner cataloging artifacts from Site 6 into DAACS

Figure 4: Monticello Lab assistant Caitlin Hepner cataloging artifacts from Site 6 into DAACS

These data are analyzed to interpret the site and determine where to dig during next year’s field school. Although the field crew will be leaving the site and moving on to their next project, folks in the lab will continue to process the over 1000 artifacts discovered this year. Want to see more of what we found? Follow us on our Archaeology at Monticello Facebook page.

A County Archaeologist’s Day of Archaeology

I am the manager of the Historic Environment Team at Cambridgeshire County Council, a post that used to known as the County Archaeologist. Being Team manager means I have to keep an eye on the workloads of my colleagues, especially at this time of year when holidays season kicks in. This means development control, countryside stewardship, financial planning and tracking and archiving, any, all or none of which can crop up on a daily basis. Today I have had to:

– Take a call and action a development site where the relevant person is on leave

– Ensure our Higher Tier response accurately reflects a recent site visit to a schedulable site, and that SHINE is up-to-date on this

– Discuss and commission two interpretation panels for a new housing development

– Begin a report form to HLF on our ‘Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past’ exhibition (www.hideandseekexhibition.org.uk)

– Arrange for a fallen tree to be removed from one of the council’s permissive access scheduled monuments

– Chase up repair schedules on a council owned monument

– Book in student visits for November (actually haven’t done that one yet…..)

– Ensure the PAS quarterly claim has gone in

– Read assorted emails regarding ALGAO business (I’m the England Chair)

– Telephone discussion about the final completion and dissemination of the Cambridge UAD

– Confirm financial planning for 2016/7 is on target

– And so on….

Every now and again something comes along that is that bit different and really catches the interest. In this case it is a matter of identification of a World War I soldier from some of his possessions. This soldier died on the Western Front, and is recorded as missing in action; remains were discovered in the area he was last seen that strongly suggested they were of this person, and were handed over to the authorities.

For some reason the remains were buried as ‘Unknown’. Some more personal possessions from this individual were recently returned to the believed family, and the grandson of the fallen soldier contacted us asking for help in spotting any identifying marks on these personal items. So far our conservator has looked closely and several objects but has only managed to read manufacturers/makers marks. The search goes on, but it’s a good feeling to be able to apply your professional skills in an unusual and different way to help a local resident!

Quinton Carroll
Historic Environment Team Manager
Cambridgeshire County Council

By Any Means Necessary…

I guess this is my Day of Archaeology Reloaded.  My original contribution from Friday of the film I made whilst working at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology doesn’t really reflect the present realities of my archaeological life, which are taking interesting turns. As you probably know, the Day of Archaeology project is mine and Matt Law’s baby, and so Friday was spent checking and uploading new contributions, answering email, tweeting and generally drowning in social media. Much like the last two years… I won’t bore you with the details, but Team Day of Archaeology are an ace bunch of people to work with, and it all went smoothly without any major hitches, although it was a long day.

Saturday gets a little bit more interesting as far as an actual Day of Archaeology…

In 2012, I made the difficult decision to move out of my beloved Hackney after 16 years, and head back home to the Norfolk/Suffolk border where I grew up and where my family are.  The prospect of a country life after living in London for so long was terrifying, not least because I couldn’t drive, and knew I’d be reliant on rural public transport and my bike.  But I had been nursing the plan to set up a community archaeology group in the Waveney area, so what I lost in easy access to the British Museum and Stoke Newington pubs, I planned to make up in creating exactly the type of archaeology group I would want to join…

LogoThanks to Twitter (again) I met a fellow Norfolkian, Andrew, who was keen to set a group up, and so we launched the Waveney Valley Community Archaeology Group in April 2013.  We planned from the beginning that this group would be the antithesis of formal structure and hierarchy – that the group would work together, valuing equally people’s experience and interest, and actively avoid having committees and job titles. Rather, we would work on the basis of inclusion, shared ownership and supporting people to explore their own local heritage and personal interests.

If you know me well enough, nothing above should surprise you. I don’t get called Comrade Lornaski for nothing…

So four months down the line, after expecting 20 or so people to join up, we have nearly 180 people involved with the group.  We are slowly developing our programme of activities, based on what the group members want to do, and are offering a range of events from digging test pits, to finds identification sessions, archival research and going to the pub.  We’ve also set up a Young Archaeologists Club, something that was missing from the Waveney area when I was growing up here in the 1980’s and desperate to be an archaeologist…

One of the most popular projects for the group is our work with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti project, and this returns me to my Day of Archaeology.  On Saturday, the Waveney Archaeology Group went on a very informal expedition around some beautiful South Norfolk churches, pootling about and looking for grafitti.  We didn’t expect to find much, but were more than pleasantly surprised.. Andrew’s post will fill you in on that..

Lorna_wagThere is nothing I love more than the landscape of the Waveney Valley. It’s not dramatic, or majestic. It’s flat, and wound through by streams and rivers, with vast skies, birdsong and the wind whistling through the wheat fields.  And of course, some of the most beautiful medieval churches in the country.  The possibility of exploring these churches for graffiti is a wonderful excuse to indulge my love of the landscape, and return, albeit briefly, to the world of medieval archaeology.

The rest of my Day of Archaeology is perhaps less exciting.  My work at Cambridge University Museums ends this week, so I had to finish writing up a short report for the project co-ordinator – about the impact of social media on the museum staff and their attempts to encourage public participation.  I re-read an article I am submitting for the Papers from the Institute for Archaeology on Wednesday, on the issue of the impact of digital communications on Public Archaeology.  Took a short break to bang my head repeatedly on my desk, whilst trying to finish the Waveney Archaeology Group newsletter, what feels like a Sysyphean task.  And I started to make notes for a proposed conference session on digital technologies for the Institute of Field Archaeologists Information Management Group, of which I am a committee member.  I’m back to my PhD writing from next week, so life is changing again.  I am passionate, if that is the right word, that as many people as possible can explore and enjoy their shared pasts, either IRL or through digital means… by any means necessary.  So whether it’s advocacy through the Waveney Group, or high-falutin’ theorising in my thesis, I want to walk the walk on this.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

I worked at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge from February – May 2013 as part of an AHRC Connecting with Collections internship.  I loved every second I spent here, and the museum and staff were fabulous.  The museum is now closed for refurbishment, but I wanted to share with you my experience of a very special space and an incredible collection – one used regularly by zooarchaeology researchers worldwide.

You need to have the sound turned on for this.

New for 2013: Live Streaming

What’s it about?
We would like to schedule some live posts from workplaces in which you can show us your site, your office, team, or whatever you feel like. Just  for 15 minutes.

How can we do it?
Thanks to free services like ustream, it’s possible to broadcast anything, just using a smartphone and internet access.  If you have the tech and something to share, we will just embed the channel in a post on this site, and anyone will be able to watch it live.
Who can do it?
Anyone with something archaeological to share! There will be one spot per hour, so we will need to manage what we offer, preferably something visual and engaging. That does not mean you have to have an incredible site or incredible finds. We can also show  museums, offices, teams, curiosities – anything!

How do I get involved?
EMAIL US!! dayofarchaeology@gmail.com

De qué va?
Queremos programar varias entradas en directo desde vuestros lugares de trabajo para que nos enseñéis yacimientos, oficinas, equipos, o lo que queráis. En sólo 15 minutos.

Cómo podemos hacerlo?
Gracias a plataformas gratuitas como ustream, es posible retransmitir cualquier cosa con un teléfono y acceso a internet, así que si tienes la tecnología y quieres compartir algo, sólo tenemos que insertar vuestro canal en una entrada y cualquiera podrá veros en directo.

Quién puede hacerlo?
Como decíamos, cualquiera con algo que compartir. Habrá un espacio por hora, así que necesitamos gestionar bien lo que se ofrezca, preferiblemente algo visual y con gancho. Eso no significa un sitio increíble, también museos, oficinas, equipos, curiosidades.

Entonces?
Ya lo hemos propuesto a algunos amigos, pero si crees que puedes ofrecer algo interesante o diferente, dilo!

¡El Día de la Arqueología 2013 te necesita! (Ahora, ¡también en español!)

Buscamos gente que trabaje, estudie o participe de la arqueología, de cualquier parte del mundo, para tomar parte en el proyecto de blogging voluntario “Day of Archaeology” el viernes 26 de julio de 2013. La web resultante mostrará una vez más la gran variedad de trabajos que nuestra profesión ofrece cada día alrededor del mundo. Además, ayudará a incrementar la conciencia pública con respecto al patrimonio arqueológico en nuestro mundo actual. Estamos interesados en la contribución de cualquier persona que trabaje, estudie o participe de la arqueología. Así podremos mostrar al mundo por qué la arqueología es vital para proteger el pasado y mejorar nuestro futuro.

 ¿Cómo puedes colaborar?

 Buscamos profesionales de la arqueología en cualquiera de sus formas y niveles, que puedan documentar su día y enviarlo para su publicación la web del proyecto (www.dayofarchaeology.com). Puedes hacerlo del modo que te resulte más cómodo; escribiendo, a través de videos o fotos, o contándolo de cualquier forma que se te ocurra y podamos colgar en la web. ¡Sorpréndenos! Si no puedes documentar el viernes 26 (lo preferible), también se podrá participar una semana antes y después. Si no te sientes cómodo con la tecnología pero aún así te apetece participar, puedes contactar con nosotros en dayofarchaeology@gmail.com y te ayudaremos en lo posible.

¡Muchas gracias!