MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) is an experienced and innovative archaeology and built heritage practice. We have been providing independent, professional heritage advice and services for over 40 years across the UK and internationally on schemes both large and small. Our commercial services are designed to help our development, infrastructure and construction sector clients to meet their planning process requirements swiftly and expertly, with the certainty and value they need. As a charitable company our aim is to inspire people to be curious about their heritage. We are proud of our award-winning community engagement and education programmes, which are founded on partnership and participation. The research we conduct as part of the planning and development process takes place alongside our own academic research strategy and we set out to share the knowledge and information we generate with the widest audience in ways which strengthen communities and create a sense of place. MOLA is an independent charitable company employing more than 200 professional archaeologists, consultants and specialists. Working in partnership with developers, planners and property managers, our research delivers public benefit through our innovative community engagement programmes.

Model CITiZAN: archaeology outreach in miniature

Lara Band, CITiZAN Archaeologist for Training, takes a quick break from model building, while the MDF sealant dries and taking this opportunity to write a little bit about what she’s been up to on this Day of Archaeology….

I’m an archaeologist for CITiZAN, the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network, one of the two archaeologists for the South East region which stretches from King’s Lynn to Pagham Harbour. CITiZAN is an Heritage Lottery Funded community archaeology project with the remit to record and monitor at risk archaeology along England’s coastline and estuaries. We run training days for people to develop recording and monitoring skills and encourage people to add to and update our interactive map of coastal and intertidal archaeology via our website and app.

So what’s the model for? Well, as well our site based training days we can be found at various events around the region, talking to people and encouraging them to join us. We have a dig box and a planning frame for people to try and this model is to add a bit more hands on fun: if we can’t take people to the foreshore then we’ll bring the foreshore to the people. In miniature.

The base of the CITiZAN archaeological model with the sealant drying in the sun

The base of the CITiZAN archaeological model with the sealant drying in the sun.

The model is going to be a 6’ long rendition of a somewhat idealised section of coastline and estuary; people will be able to make their own archaeological feature in plasticine then record it with our app. So far today I’ve built the base, the frame and, at least in part, the banks behind the foreshore. I love small versions of big things as well as any chance to be creative, and I hope it’ll be a good way of introducing people to our app, and the types of archaeology they might find in the intertidal zone.

Lara starts to build up the landscape of her coastal archaeology model for CITiZAN

Lara starts to build up the landscape of her coastal archaeology model for CITiZAN.

We’re trialing it at Broadstairs Folk Week on 9th-10th August where thanks to Thanet District Council’s Coastal Communities Fund we’ll be sharing a space with the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society. We’ll be in Balmoral Garden all day both days so come and say hello. On the 1st September we’ll be taking it to the National Maritime Museum for our part in their late night event Treasures of the Thames. I’m really excited about that!

Well, the sealant will be dry, so it’s time to start putting the landscape in the frame, to  think about paints and finishes and to carry on wondering whether bits of the slightly manky looking sheepskin coat that’s been flytipped at the end of my road might make good saltmarsh, if painted green. Onwards!

Volunteer Archaeology: Raiders of the Lost Archive

By Cardiff University students, Shannon and Yasmine, volunteering at MOLA.

Hello! Our names are Shannon and Yasmine, hailing from Cardiff University as Bsc Archaeology undergraduates. We bid MOLA farewell and offer a brief summary of all the things we’ve been able to get up to whilst we’ve been volunteering, and the things all you other Young ‘uns out there can get down and dirrrty with.

Over the 4 weeks we have spent here, we have been able to help out in a number of different departments including: Environmental Processing, Archiving, Osteoarchaeology, Zooarchaeology and Archaeobotany! And even got a few cheeky complimentary lectures along the way on cool stuff like Identifying different seeds, Invertebrae/ Vertebratae anatomy and health markers on Human bone!

Adios! Thank you one and all and we hope you see you again!

Lovely ladies in MOLA's processing team

Lovely ladies in MOLA’s processing team

Yasmine getting all the horrible concrete mud & peaty stuff haha

Yasmine getting all the horrible concrete mud & peaty stuff haha

 

 

From strawberries to lobster – a busy day for MOLA’s processing wing

By Jess White, Simone Rauxloh, Alba Moyano-Alcantara and Riley Thorne at MOLA.

It’s been a busy day for the archaeological processing team at MOLA, which started in the best possible way – with some of Riley’s home-grown strawberries, to get us in the zone.

Flora and Finn started on the wash tanks today. Flotation and wet-sieving seems to be easier if you have worked in a pub kitchen before. Over the last two weeks we have had university and A-Level students with us learning about archaeological processing.

From left to right: Yasmine, Shannon, Vicky, Charlotte, Jess, Flora, Finn, and Alan Pipe at MOLA

From left to right: Yasmine, Shannon, Vicky, Charlotte, Jess, Flora, Finn, and Alan Pipe at MOLA

Out resident animal bone specialist, Alan Pipe, came along to give a talk on invertebrates – by popular demand. Last week he blew our brains with surprising information on fish and animal bone. Our students from Cardiff University, Yasmine and Shannon, will never look at a lobster in the same way again!

Charlotte said: “I would have never known cuttlefish bone was used as a mould for metal objects! Just one of the many things I’ve learnt being here”.

A huge thanks to all of the students, their help is greatly appreciated!

Inspiring a new generation of Intertidal Archaeologists

Megan Clement, CITiZAN Archaeologist for Outreach in the North.

Until I began this job I wasn’t really aware that intertidal archaeology was a ‘thing’. The closest I had come to it was on a student field school in Orkney, where twice a day, with high tide, half the site was underwater and we had to retreat up the beach. But even then I did not consider what I was doing was ‘intertidal’. I was of course aware that archaeology had a wide number of sub-disciplines: osteology, finds specialisms, historic building recording, but it had never really dawned on me that intertidal archaeologists were also specialists in their field. Ever since starting my career in archaeology, the specialism I have always been heading towards is a career in outreach and community archaeology; but after 18 month with CITiZAN (the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network), I would also say my specialisms includes intertidal archaeology.

CITiZAN archaeologists Megan Clement and Andy Sherman out on the coast recording intertidal archaeology

CITiZAN archaeologists Megan Clement and Andy Sherman out on the coast recording intertidal archaeology.

As the CITiZAN Archaeologist for Outreach in the North, I am working toward creating a new generation of intertidal archaeologists – inspiring amateurs and professionals alike, from young people with no experience to people who have been doing archaeology all there lives. So what type of sites do intertidal archaeologists look at? In the North we have worked on Mesolithic footprints in Formby, submerged forests near Cleethorpes, stone piers in South Landing, rock-cut bathing pools in Howick, salt pans in Maryport and abandoned timber-hulled vessels on the Humber and there is so much more to be found on our coasts.

Recording concrete defensive structure in the intertidal zone with CITiZAN

Recording concrete defensive structure in the intertidal zone with CITiZAN.

In the last 18 months I have learnt so much: What is a fish trap? What are the differences between WW1 and WW2 pillboxes? How did coastal saltpans and lime kilns work? I can answer all these questions and more, working with other experts in this field. Nevertheless, I always go back to my first specialism, community archaeology and by combining both of my specialisms I am helping to train, teach and inspire people to record our fragile heritage, which is on the brink of destruction.

CITiZAN volunteers record a hulked vessel

CITiZAN volunteers record a hulked vessel.

As part of CITiZAN we are helping to bring intertidal archaeology to the forefront of public consciousness, and, along with several other organisations, we are making sure that this archaeology is not forgotten or overlooked. Through CITiZAN we are training volunteers with a passion for heritage and their coastline and providing them with the skills and toolkits needed to identify, record and monitor our coastline before climate change, rising sea levels and erosion washes it away for good. Intertidal archaeology is a specialism, but through CITiZAN we are helping inspire a new generation of intertidal archaeologist and the public alike; after all heritage is for everyone and everyone can be an intertidal archaeologist.

To get involved with CITiZAN check out our website at www.citizan.org.uk or download our app and have a go.

Worth every penny: a numismatist’s view

By Julian Bowsher, Senior Archaeologist and Numismatist at MOLA.

Roman coin (c) MOLA

Roman coin (c) MOLA

My day started with the arrival of a couple of boxes of coins from MOLA’s recent excavations of a riverside site, near the Tower of London.  And I know that more boxes are on their way!

There are usually more Roman coins than any others from London sites but those in front of me cover a wide spectrum, ranging from Roman Republican denarii to late Roman copies. One 1st-century AD coin is particularly rare, there is a late Anglo-Saxon penny and a couple of medieval coins, as well as numerous lead tokens and a fine sixpence of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also lots of Nuremberg jetons, usually interpreted as reckoning counters (for accounting) but probably also used locally as small change.

Among the post-medieval coins we find there is lots of 18th-century small change and these always feature a few foreign coins: from France, Holland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The latest coin from this site is, curiously, a French 5 centime piece dated 1883, perhaps lost from a visiting French ship.

Before these coins reach me they travel from the site to the finds processing department here at MOLA, where they are given a clean to get the mud off, they then have record photographs taken and are given accession numbers.  The coins then head to the conservation laboratory where corrosion deposits are cleaned off, they are conserved and stabilised and, usefully, X-rayed.

The first thing I did today was make a list of the accession and context numbers, and then I weighed and measured each one before examining them in detail. I described, identified and dated both sides and these details were entered into our coin database. I made a judgement on which coins need further cleaning to help identification and which might even require chemical or metallurgical analysis. Certain coins need further research and I will discuss these pieces with other numismatists around the country or by popping over to the British Museum.

My next step is to write an assessment of the coins from this site. Firstly, I will arrange the coins by date and sometimes create a table or histogram. I will talk to the archaeologist running the dig to learn about the archaeological stratigraphy and also to other finds specialists in the department. This often determines where, how and when the coins came to be found at the site. Finally, after further research, a publication text will be created.

Such is the exciting and interesting diversity of my job!

Picture perfect: a day in the life of an archaeological illustrator

By Hannah Faux, Senior Illustrator (specialising in finds illustration) at MOLA.

Hannah Faux, MOLA illustrator, works on some flint drawings (c) MOLA

Hannah Faux, MOLA illustrator, works on some flint drawings (c) MOLA.

Fridays are always very busy in the Drawing Office at MOLA, so we are starting the day with coffee and biscuits, as is required.

I often work on several projects simultaneously, but today I’ll just be focusing on the one. The finds from this London-based site range from prehistoric to medieval, and include pottery, small finds and flints.

One of Hannah's small finds illustrations (c) MOLA

One of Hannah’s small finds illustrations (c) MOLA

Today I’ll be preparing my pencil drawings for checking by our finds specialists. Those that have already been signed-off can be inked and scanned. We still use traditional pen and ink and combine this with digital methods.  I’m particularly looking forward to inking the flints!

An illustration of a prehistoric flint by MOLA illustrator Hannah Faux (c) MOLA

An illustration of a prehistoric flint by MOLA illustrator Hannah Faux (c) MOLA

We’re very lucky to have such a great variety of lovely objects pass through the Drawing Office here at MOLA and it makes the work most satisfying.

 

Cut and dried: chainsaws in archaeology

Jessica Bryan, Senior Archaeologist and qualified chainsaw operator at MOLA.

Senior Archaeologist, Jess Bryan, cutting through Roman timbers with a chainsaw on site (c) MOLA

Senior Archaeologist, Jess Bryan, cutting through Roman timbers with a chainsaw on site (c) MOLA

This week I have been making use of a recently acquired skill, cross cutting with a chainsaw. Not something that initially springs to mind as an archaeological task, however when faced with a site containing hundreds, if not thousands, of preserved timbers (as we do in London) it is a skill that is called on from time to time. Timbers need to be cut from trenches for access, health & safety and also cut for species and dendrochronology samples.

At MOLA we have a longstanding team of experienced chainsaw operatives and recently they allowed me to join the ranks.  Anyone can use a chainsaw in their own garden, but to use one professionally you need a City & Guild qualification, and the right gear…. my chainsaw protective clothing is the most expensive outfit I have ever owned. The boots are twice as much as any pair of designer heels I have ever purchased!

In February I spent three days in a forest cutting down trees. It was brilliant but a steep learning curve. However cutting trees in a forest is a whole different ball game to cutting 1,000 year old timbers in a muddy trench. The qualification was just the start of my chainsaw education, and I am still very much in training when compared to the expertise of the other guys.

It’s a skill that I hope to carry on improving, and I am very lucky that MOLA provided this opportunity, and for the other chainsaw operatives taking the time to train me.

Also, if anyone needs a tree cutting down…

The Time Truck: getting archaeology out on the road

By Magnus Copps from MOLA.

My main role at MOLA is the management of the Time Truck project. The Time Truck is a mobile community engagement and event space that we use to share our findings and make the most of the research that we do with our development clients and independently.

Today, I am testing out our dig-boxes in preparation for an event at Earls Court on the 13 August. We use rubber gravel as a (slightly) less messy substitute to real dirt, and in this case, as we are looking at the post-medieval history of the area, this will be filled with animal bone, glass and ceramics from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Magnus Copps laying out a Time Truck dig-box (c) MOLA

Magnus Copps laying out a Time Truck dig-box

Our handling collections see a lot of use in dig-boxes, both at public events like Earls Court and as part of our schools programme. Along with Paige and Steve from our Time Truck Support Team I went out to Kender Primary in Lewisham last week to deliver our Cleaning up History session, sponsored by Thames Water.

Time Truck Cleaning up History workshop at Kender Primary (c) MOLA

Time Truck Cleaning up History workshop at Kender Primary

Repeated excavation and re-burying can be tough on the finds, especially given that for many of the children we work with this is their very first experience of ‘archaeology’, and it takes a while to learn how to dig carefully. Fortunately we can maintain a ready supply of post-medieval material for handling collections simply by visiting the Thames Foreshore once every few months to find as many tobacco pipes, ceramic fragments and bottle necks as we are likely to need.

MOLA's object handling collection

MOLA’s object handling collection

It’s not all hands-on work today, particularly with the busy job of planning the Time Truck events programme for the autumn. My desk-based work can be anything from securing sponsorship to finding a site for the Truck to pitch up for a particular event, or going through monographs, finds lists, and ADS reports to plan content and write captions for finds displays. Running the Time Truck is a really diverse job, and perhaps one of the best things about it is the way that I come into contact with the full range of specialisms that exist in a big archaeological organisation like MOLA, from the field team right through to post-excavation specialists. As well as the amazing finds we uncover, we try to showcase as much of the archaeological process as we can via the Time Truck.

A Day in the life of CITiZAN Community Archaeologists

CITiZAN is the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network. We’re Megan and Andy, the team’s Northern office. Between us we cover the English coast, running between the Scottish border and the Dee on the west coast and the border to the Wash on the east.1

Discussing coastal erosion with the Historic England’s inspector for the World Heritage site of Hadrians Wall on the coast of the Solway Firth

Over the last few days we have been travelling down the north-western coast of England from Cumbria to Lancashire; staying in Maryport and Morecambe. Along the way we’ve been stopping off to explore exciting intertidal and coastal archaeology. Our preparation for the Day of Archaeology started on Thursday with Andy whizzing off to the record office. Meanwhile, Megan went off to site for a reccy ahead of a guided walk around the 7th-century chapel.

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The 7th-century St. Patrick’s Chapel on the dramatic coast of Morcambe Bay

Andy spent most of the day searching out historic records; seeking 19th century and early plans of the area for a community training session in map regression. Among the things he found was a list of fruit trees planted by the rector of St Peters (the successor of the early medieval chapel) recorded in the list of Birth, Burials and Marriages for 1773.

Meanwhile Megan was out at the site planning her tour. The guided walk started at Rectory Gardens Wood, looking at the terraces where the rector had planted his apple, plum, pear and cherry orchard. She then moved on to look at Mesolithic settlement sites and Second World War practice trenches on Heysham Head before heading to the early medieval St Patrick’s Chapel, a National Trust owned site with unique, enigmatic rock cut graves. She finished at the 10th century St Peters Church, where several medieval cross bases and a hogback stone nestle amongst Post-medieval gravestones.

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Megan discusses the Mesolithic settlement of Heysham Head on her guided walk

The Day of Archaeology itself started with a big fry-up before heading to St. Patrick’s Chapel, to kick off a two-day building recording event. The 7th-century chapel overlooks the stunning Morecambe Bay and although it stands on a sandstone promontory, a good 10 metres above mean sea level, is at serious risk of erosion and destruction with several metres of the headland having disappeared since the turn of the 20th century.

The morning was spent teaching interested member of the public the theory of archaeology recording; off-set planning, buildings recording, taking levels and photographs. It was a lot of information for our novices to take in but everybody enjoyed themselves.

In the afternoon we put the classroom sessions into practice. There was a chance to plan the rock-cut graves; some with head sockets and others with indications of slab coverings. The graves proved a little bit challenging but our volunteers ploughed on. Next they moved on to drawing an elevation of the chapel, much of it ruinous, with the west wall completely gone. But a fantastic Anglo-Saxon doorway in the south wall remained. Intrigued by the arched door, with three similar doors reconstructed in St Peters Church, they discussed it with Paul Gwilliam, our building’s expert.  Debating whether the doorway was in its original position or whether it was moved during the early 20th century reconstruction of the chapel.

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Our volunteers record the enigmatic rock-cut graves

All these processes are how a buildings archaeologist would go about recording a site such as St. Patrick’s Chapel. Our volunteers now have the skills to record their medieval church and monitor the erosion caused by Morecambe Bay.  The three CITiZAN offices, based in York, Portsmouth and London will be teaching archaeological skills on beaches, cliff tops and intertidal zones around England in the next three years.  Hopefully every training session will be as fun as today!

CITiZAN explores wrecks in the rain

CITIZAN South East has been having a wet and soggy day in Maldon at the start of a three day event for the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology.

The Small Unmanned Aircraft survey of the ‘barge graveyard’ was sadly curtailed by the rain, but an interesting conversation was held with a passing coastal geomorphologist. In the afternoon the Thames Barge Sailing Trust kindly gave us a tour of the barge Pudge, not just a barge but also a Dunkerque little ship. This was followed by a talk on the history of these fascinating vessels, “the heavy goods vehicles of the Victorian age”.

The tour and talk was especially interesting as we’ll be recording the remains of barges over Saturday and Sunday at the ‘barge graveyard‘and again later in September (dates and volunteer opportunities to be announced). Despite the rain it was a most successful  day!

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