Archaeologist. Passionate about communities, archaeology and heritage... trying to understand and manage the historic environment today, for everyone. Director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust.

The day begins…

Another year, another Day of Archaeology!

It may seem odd to begin a Day of Archaeology talking about accounts… but we are in the process of signing off the 2013-14 accounts so this is uppermost on my mind at the moment. After yesterday’s meeting with the auditors my first task today is to prepare the financial parts of the Trustees’ papers for the Board Meeting next Friday. It will be quite a busy Board meeting as there is a lot to discuss about the various changes I am making at the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust – all very positive news, but a lot of it!

This year is the last year that my administrator Jenny will be with us; she will retire later this year and just at the moment we are recruiting for her replacement. Applications for the job – advertised here – close at the end of the day on Monday, so there is still time to apply. Since I am the line manager of this post, and we have no HR department (just me!), then this has been another time-consuming process… it is always a fascinating one though.

Most of the team are out of the office today on various fieldwork projects. We have just finished two substantial Cadw-funded community archaeology projects and so the building is full of the detritus from those! I am immensely proud of Viviana, Sophie and Richard for their work at Buckley. This was quite a new departure for the Trust, with over 350 schoolchildren involved in an excavation of a post-medieval pottery site over a period of three weeks.

Pupils from Elfed School at Buckley with CPAT staff and members of the Buckley Society. Pupils from Elfed School, along with CPAT staff and members of the Buckley Society. 10535739_260455044150244_8390290249251283690_o

At the same time we also ran the fourth field season at Hen Caerwys, where the oldest and most experienced member of the team – Bob – was joined by our newest and youngest recruit, Menna. It is really rewarding to see experience and knowledge being handed on in a very practical way to the next generation. I was lucky enough to come out from behind my desk last weekend and spend a bit of time wielding a mattock on site at Hen Caerwys.

Mennas dog Merlin helps with the surveying of her trench at Hen Caerwys last week.

Some more Cadw-funded fieldwork will be done later in the summer, and Richard is out for the next two weeks doing geophysics in advance of those. At the moment Nigel is organising everyone’s very busy schedule over the next month or so for various contracts ranging from watching briefs to large evaluation projects – with churches, quarries, medieval villages and prehistoric ring-ditches among the targets.

Meanwhile, on the curatorial side, Mark and Wendy continue to monitor planning applications and, where necessary, issue briefs for work. This year has seen a gradual upturn in the number of applications being received, which suggests that the economic recovery may be cautiously approaching mid-Wales. Finally, Jeff has taken a break from his usual HER duties this week to help Viviana with the first schools placement week. Today the six local pupils will carry on with a variety of field- and office-based activities. Yesterday they were outside my office on the back steps cleaning pottery in the sunshine – great to hear their enthusiasm and interest as a refreshing counterpoint to the tedium of the accounts.

Later this morning I have to go over to my old stomping ground at Ironbridge to give a lecture on the origins of metallurgy to students on the Building Conservation course there. Sadly this is the last time that this course will run in its current form. I am very much looking forward to seeing my recently-honoured former colleague Harriet Devlin MBE!

All in all a typically busy start to a typically busy day in the life of the Director of a Welsh archaeological trust!

 

Historical metallurgy

Like many archaeologists, outside of my ‘proper’ archaeological job, I seem to find time to get involved with lots of other archaeological activities as a volunteer. One of my many ‘other’ roles is to be the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society. This is occupying quite a bit of my time, so I thought it was worth saying something about it. I guess in many ways it is quite typical of a lot of national and local specialist societies and groups – entirely run by volunteers who are often the world’s leading experts in their particular fields, and producing information at various levels from high-level peer-reviewed academic journals and monographs to informal datasheets for archaeological fieldworkers.

The manufacture and working of metals is one of the most important human activities. Archaeologists encounter metal artefacts and evidence of metalworking in all periods from the Bronze Age through to the post-medieval. However it is often difficult to identify and make sense of. This is why the Historical Metallurgy Society was established almost 50 years ago. The Historical Metallurgy Society is a dynamic and exciting international forum for exchange of information and research in historical metallurgy. This means all aspects of the history and archaeology of metals and associated materials from prehistory to the present day.

Members’ interests range from processes and production through technology and economics to archaeology and conservation. The Society holds several conferences and meetings each year which showcase the latest research, and explore a wide range of metallugical landscapes and locations. The next meeting is in Cardiff in September.

The Society’s datasheets were launched over 15 years ago, and remain a popular resource for archaeological fieldworkers and managers alike. They can be dowloaded free. The archaeology committee is currently updating and enlarging the scope of the datasheets. The datasheets – and indeed Historical Metallurgy Society members – helped to inform the development of the English Heritage guidelines for Archaeometallurgy, and Science in Historic Industries.

A mini-datasheet on ironworking residues has also been produced – aimed specifically at archaeological fieldworkers.

The Society’s archaeology committee has also recently produced a UK-wide research framework for archaeometallurgy called ‘Metals and Metalworking’. This sets out current knowledge and areas where we need to learn more; it can be downloaded from the Historical Metallurgy Society archaeology committee page.

Joining the Society only costs £20! Details can be found here. Members receive a scholarly journal (Historical Metallurgy) twice a year and a newsletter three or four times a year. The Historical Metallurgy Society has an extensive archive of books and reference material, and can put you in touch with expertise all over the world… the Society also provides small grants for research and travel. Please visit the website – or look at our Facebook page!

 

More post-excavation tasks

After completing this morning’s interim report on the Stirchley Station watching brief, I have now turned my attention to the various odds and ends which have built up during the week and really need to be sorted before the weekend.

First amongst these was finishing the archive for the blast furnaces community archaeology project which we completed in May. Yes, I’m afraid to say that the drawings and finds have been littering the office for the last three months or so – but I am pleased to report that they are now all boxed up and ready to be sent off. Part of the reason for doing this now is that I am preparing a paper on the site for the Historical Metallurgy journal – the site may contain the remains of the first ‘hot blast’ iron smelting furnaces in the world!

Archiving of projects is one of the big issues in commercial archaeology at the moment – with museums finding it hard to take stuff… and even I do sometimes wonder if some of that stuff is really worth keeping.

Something else that has been in the office for a couple of weeks – and this is definitely worth keeping – is this lovely early nineteenth century mixing bowl which has been converted to a flowerpot by someone drilling rather crude holes in the bottom. We found this on another watching brief in Wales.

Welsh mixing bowl converted to a flowerpot

Also today I have been speaking with one of our team who is working on a site in Cheshire, and dealing with a couple of questions from clients. I have hardly had time so far to get down to work on the big excavation write-up, but I think I can have a good crack at it in the next couple of hours.

Here I am at my desk in contemplative mood!

I guess one of the things about being an archaeologist is that it never stops! I am currently the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society, so inevitably bits of the day (and much of the evenings) are taken up in dealing with the activities of our various committees and thinking ahead. It is the society’s 50th anniversary next year, and we have a meeting on Monday to do some intensive planning – so I need to think about that over the weekend.

Tomorrow, just for fun, I am spending the day with a friend (another archaeologist, of course) looking at urban industrial sites and comparing their condition today to how they were when they were officially surveyed 25 years ago. I expect that this will take about 12 hours of our free time!

You do need to be quite mad to do archaeology – but still after 20 years it is very enjoyable!

 

 

Small, but (almost) perfectly formed

Today is a mixture of post-excavation, research and reporting. The first item on my ‘to-do’ list is to download and catalogue the records from my site visit earlier this week. This was a watching brief on restoration work at the former Stirchley Station. This is located in Telford Town Park and is part of a series of works to improve public access and interpretation. (Read about some earlier work at the Stirchley furnaces site here).

The station was on the London and North Western Railway’s Coalport Branch, which opened in 1861 and closed in 1964. The railway largely followed the route of the Shropshire Canal, which was completed in 1792. All of the stations were built by the owner of the ‘All Nations’ Pub in Madeley. The line of the railway is now the ‘Silkin Way’, a footpath and cycleway that runs through Telford.

For many years the platform has been overgrown, but is now being cleared and restored (left-hand photo below). During the course of this work contractors discovered a chamber which was at first thought to be a well.

After cleaning, it turned out to be a simple drainage sump, with water from the platform and trackbed being fed into it. So, nothing very exciting, but a very tiny piece of information which somehow adds to our collective understanding. Such is the nature of most archaeology!

 

 

The week ahead…

I am still not entirely sure exactly what I’ll be doing on the Day of Archaeology, but most of my work this week will be desk-based. Having said that I have today been unexpectedly called on to visit a site tomorrow morning, so we’ll see how that goes.

For some background to the work I do please visit my personal blog: http://bit.ly/paulbelford

To see what Nexus Heritage do generally, please look at our website: http://www.nexus-heritage.com/

It is very exciting to be involved with this Day of Archaeology; I look forward to seeing what everyone else is up to!