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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

Data Entry: The unsung hero of archaeology

Mid-way through cataloging

Cataloging, check-in, artifact processing, data entry, whatever you call the process of taking and tracking artifacts, is the backbone of any archaeological project. Whether you are recording attributes of a small fire cracked rock scatter on an iPad out in the field or hand writing information about a projectile point on a piece of paper back in the lab these ways of summarizing the vast amounts of information we encounter allow us to do archaeology.

However, it isn’t glamorous. I’ve just started a short term contract to do artifact cataloging for a site excavated a few years ago and twice in the last week people have said “I hope it isn’t too mind numbing”. I always respond that I am happy to be doing paid work in my field, which isn’t always possible. The other reason I like doing this sort of work, and one that I rarely explain, is that without it the analysts would have nothing to do. Yes, typing into an Excel spreadsheet and writing in red marker on plastic or paper bags isn’t the most glorious part of archaeology, but it means that the interpretation of that site, and our ability to track the artifacts and information we’ve gathered, is possible. Being in a remote location with only a trowel and a backpack is a great romantic picture but without record keeping we would have no idea where artifacts came from. Whether I am working on my own PhD research, a paid job, or volunteering on a project, big or small, organizing that information allows us to access those items, through databases or tables, and understand what happened at an archaeological site.

So, what did I do on the Day of Archaeology 2016? Well I did a day’s worth of data entry and it’s not as easy as it seems. I’m contracted to catalog artifacts, which in this case means entering information about each artifact bag into a spreadsheet. That involves finding the number of the bag in a digital list, adding the material type and other information, and then checking if the information about where location came from is correct on the bag and in the table. If all goes well, I add a line to the spread sheet, assign the bag two numbers, one that identifies where it came from and one unique to the bag; write those numbers on the bag, put the bag in a box, and enter which box the bag is in onto the spreadsheet.

Worst case, every piece of information on the bag or about the bag needs to be checked against multiple layers of paperwork, that information needs to be typed into the spreadsheet with an explanation of what changed, and the numbers on the bag need to be altered to reflect these updates. The worst-worst case is when the paperwork doesn’t agree, and because it was excavated a few years ago, the notes are all the detail that we have. Thankfully, there is an information hierarchy within the paperwork that can help us figure out what combination of depths, provenience, and levels are correct correct. These worst-case scenarios spice up data entry and demonstrate the importance of having good record keeping and internal consistency. Digging precisely should also be accompanied by precision in paperwork so that archaeologists who look at these notes years from how are able to recreate the site in their mind and understand the site without having been at the dig.

History of Place

In 2016 I write my Day of Archaeology contribution as Project Coordinator for the History of Place project based in Liverpool.

The image depicts the front elevation of the school building which was originally on Commutation Row before being moved to London Road. Reproduced with thanks to the Royal School for the Blind, Wavertree

The image depicts the front elevation of the school building which was originally on Commutation Row before being moved to London Road. Reproduced with thanks to the Royal School for the Blind, Wavertree

History of Place is a disability heritage project delivered by Accentuate.  With Heritage Lottery Fund support History of Place will highlight eight sites of historic importance, across England, chosen to reflect early provision for disabled people through to the first purpose built architecture.  The richly diverse, experiential stories generated by those who inhabited or designed these buildings, will provide new insights into their own lives and the prevailing social attitudes and institutional processes which controlled them. There will be a range of local hands on participatory activities, a national touring exhibition and a strand engaging young deaf and disabled people using digital game making workshops and filmmaking.  In Liverpool we are researching the history of the Royal School for the Blind, formally the Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind, founded in 1791 (see image).

I started to work on the History of Place project in February 2016.  As I’m some distance from my organisations office in Folkestone a local organisation, DaDaFest.  We are working with other local partners including the Museum of Liverpool, the Royal School for the Blind plus local organizations such as Mencap Liverpool and the Young Archaeologists’ Club.

Upcoming plans in Liverpool include creative workshops with students at the Royal School for the Blind and the Young Archaeologists’ Club, research with the Volunteer Research and Archive Group, Oral History Training for volunteers and representatives from local heritage organizations and public events to mark Disability History Month.

Each day for me is different!  Here is what I did today……..

I started my day with a coffee (obviously!) and replied to my e-mails.  I completed my mind map which sits above my desk and reminds me what I need to do and when and then confirmed dates and room bookings for upcoming activities.  I read disability related news and shared some articles with the volunteer group in Liverpool.  We have a hardworking a dedicated group of volunteers all focused on developing content for a digital trail which will be available for Disability History Month at the Museum of Liverpool.  I took part in filming with DaDaFest where I was interviewed for their ‘five minutes with’ segment-it was hard to come up with a ‘fun fact’ about myself but after opening it up to Facebook I found out that I’m a cat person and I love old things!  Much of my job involves meeting with interesting people, sharing ideas, inspiring each other, collaborating and planning………and eating cake!  While I sometimes miss site based archaeology (both commercial and community), especially on sunny days, I enjoy engaging people in archaeology, history and heritage and sharing my passion for the past.  I enjoy desk based research, uncovering ‘hidden’ documents in archives and identifying ways to share the research with others.  I enjoy planning activities and events that will help to share the history of disability with a mainstream audience and I’m proud to be part of such an awesome project.

Please get in touch with any questions or comments and consider joining our mailing list to receive updates and newsletters- https://historyof.place Kerry.Massheder-Rigby@accentuateuk.org.  We also have a Twitter account @H_O_P so please give us a follow!

Accentuate (http://www.accentuateuk.org/homepage) are a national programme which creates groundbreaking projects to support and promote the talents of deaf and disabled people in the cultural sector, who are a Screen South programme.

Screen South (http://www.screensouth.org/)is a not for profit Creative Development company operating in the wider creative and cultural community. They deliver and lead innovative projects across screen based media and the wider heritage, cultural and creative industries.

DaDaFest (http://www.dadafest.co.uk/) is a cutting edge Disability and Deaf Arts Agency, working not only from its base in Liverpool, but across the North West, Nationally and Internationally.  If you’re around Liverpool from 19th November 2016 then be sure to check out some of the amazing events DaDaFest are hosting as part of their festival ‘Skin Deep’.

 

The image shows a student with a collection of baskets and other wares that were created by students from the Royal School for the Blind. Copyright John Breen, in the Collection of National Museums Liverpool MMM.2003.115

The image shows a student with a collection of baskets and other wares that were created by students from the Royal School for the Blind. Copyright John Breen, in the Collection of National Museums Liverpool MMM.2003.115


Getting plastered at the amphitheatre

I am a Senior Archaeologist with Cheshire West and Chester’s Historic Environment Team, specialising in Roman pottery and building materials from the North West and North Wales. My daily journey to work takes me along the walkway through Chester’s Roman amphitheatre and I pass by this panel detailing the ‘Discovery and Excavation’ of the site every morning.

Chester Amphitheatre panel

Chester Amphitheatre panel

Today I shall continue to assess the boxes of post-medieval plaster from the most recent excavations at the amphitheatre, carried out between 2004 and 2006. I’ll recommend that the plaster be sent to a period specialist for analysis. There have been some interesting moulded pieces of fine white plaster, possibly from a ceiling cornice. I also analysed the Roman plaster from the site and it is interesting to compare the same type of building material from two very different periods.

Post-medieval plaster from Chester amphitheatre

Post-medieval plaster from Chester amphitheatre

I shall also spend some time working on an Historic England funded project to ‘secure the future of Chester’s archaeological archive’, the first stage of which began this month. The project focusses on the archives of a number of sites from the city, excavated between 1970 and 1990, with the ultimate aim of creating a fully accessible research resource of major significance.

My day (29 June) will end with an evening out with friends and colleagues – a fine way to start the weekend.

Digging into a A Project Archive

by Karen Lind Brauer
Maryland, USA

Today I spent time reviewing the excavation records and administrative archives of the Baltimore County Center for Archaeology. BCCA served as the field component of an elective high school course, “Exploring Our Buried Past”, taught in as many as 18 high schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), a large, suburban, kindergarten-through 12th grade-school district located in the US state of Maryland.

The Center involved high school students with first-hand, real-life experience undertaking primary research at the site of a 19th century, iron-producing, company town. During the winter months, in the middle of the school year, the Center presented Grade 3 school visitation programs serving as many as 100 classrooms per year. There were Summer school camps and multiple Teacher-in-Service programs that also took place at the Center which was located in a Baltimore County Recreation and Parks property called Oregon Ridge.

The archaeological education in the BCPS was part of the essential, or taught, curriculum (as opposed to being extra-curricular, ‘outside’ the formal instructional offerings). In operation for more than two decades, the Center closed down in the mid-2000’s due to changing academic requirements that constrained social studies educational offerings and the retirement of the project’s creator and leader, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist and Teacher Archaeologist for the BCPS, George Brauer.

I am picking through the Center’s archive of files today because I recently learned that a fellow archaeologist, Stephen Israel, is attempting to gather information on the Center’s programs and on its teacher participants. I know this archive should contain information that could be of help to him. Israel is preparing profiles on individuals who have contributed to Maryland Archaeology for a project entitled, Maryland Archaeology: Past Portraits. Looking over these files today I happily recall my time in the 1980’s and 90’s assisting with this enriching, educational opportunity that was experienced by almost 10,000 students being raised in our county.

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Today we are surrounded by bags of 19th-century marbles, buttons, beads, ceramics and pieces of iron and copper alloy hardware. Our job is to catalog and analyze each one of these artifacts, which were excavated from domestic sites of slavery—the houses and surrounding yards where enslaved people lived and worked—at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a typical day for us in the office, although we aren’t always surrounded by such amazing material culture. We work at the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). Our database and website, www.daacs.org serve archaeological data from over 80 sites of slavery in the southeastern United States and Caribbean free of charge to researchers and the public. Founded in 2000, and funded by the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, DAACS is based in the Archaeology Department at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The daacs.org homepage

The daacs.org homepage

Why do we do this?

Although it’s fun to study artifacts all day, we do have a larger purpose for our work. DAACS facilitates the comparative archaeological study of regional variation in slavery by providing researchers with standardized data from archaeological sites that were once homes to enslaved Africans and African Americans. A critical goal of our work is making data from archaeological excavations (those conducted in the 1970s all the way up through today) accessible and usable for archaeologists, historians, educators, and the public. Although excavation is essential to archaeological research, thousands of collections sit in museums and archaeological repositories that have not been cataloged or analyzed but have the potential to greatly inform our understanding of the past. By making data that has been cataloged using the same protocols from a variety of archaeological sites available via our website, DAACS is helping scholars advance our historical understanding of early-modern slave societies, by encouraging data sharing and comparative analysis across archaeological sites and geographic regions.

How do we do this?

Our staff consists of our Director, three full-time archaeological analysts and one or two part-time analysts. Although we are small staff, we get a lot done! On any given day we alternate between analyzing excavation information from field records, cataloging artifacts, answering material culture questions from colleagues, digital data management, and analysis for our own research projects.

There are four different ways that archaeological data gets into DAACS:

  1. Archaeological collections come to us at Monticello and we catalog them on-site in the DAACS Lab.
  2. We travel to the collections and field sites (so far we have cataloged collections in Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Nevis, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina).

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

  3. We conduct our own field work projects on Jamaica and Nevis through the DAACS Caribbean Initiative and enter the data into the DAACS database. All information from these sites are launched on daacs.org within a year of excavation. Learn more about our work in Jamaica and Nevis through DAACS and the International Slavery Museum.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

  4. Finally, our colleagues who are trained in DAACS protocols and database entry can directly enter their data into DAACS via our web application, daacsrc.org.

Over the last five months we have analyzed material culture from Stratford Hall’s West Yard in Virginia, the Morne Patate Estate, an 18th c. sugar plantation in Dominica, and slave dwellings associated with The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Tennessee.

The data is entered using our standardized set of protocols into a PostgreSQL database thorough a web application built in Ruby-on-Rails software (www.daacsrc.org).   In addition to analyzing artifacts, and the archaeological contexts from which they came, DAACS staff digitize site maps, photograph artifacts, digitize existing slides of fieldwork, produce Harris matrices, and develop detailed site chronologies and discursive background content for each site. All of this content accompanies the artifact data when an archaeological site is launched on the DAACS website.

Interested in learning more? Stop by our site at daacs.org and take a look around. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@DAACSORG).

My Day of Archaeology in photos

I work archaeology, study archaeology, volunteer archaeology.  Each day my archaeology is everything from reminders of the First World War to traces of Stone Age life.  Here is a little collage of some of the things I was thinking about on 29 July 2016.


A history of the pot in 5000 years

I’m Rob Hedge, and I work for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service in The Hive, Worcester. I’m a Community Project Officer, and I spend some of my time doing outreach and education work for the service, and some of it locked away in the basement working on archaeological finds. Today, I’m in the Finds Room.

I began the day by preparing to get rid of several boxes of artefacts. This goes against many people’s expectations of an archaeologist’s role. Shouldn’t we peculiar basement-dwellers be hoarding everything, clinging onto dusty consignments of mysterious treasures for all eternity? Well, maybe, but the unfortunate truth is that British archaeology faces a storage crisis. Besides, there’s a limit to how often museum curators can feign interest in the contents of a Victorian dump.

But one person’s junk is another’s treasure, and I confess to being fond of the detritus of late-19th century throwaway consumerism. In this case, the finds in question were uncovered in Evesham, having spent the last 120 years in a pit. The museum didn’t want them for their archaeological collections, but thankfully a sympathetic social history curator was only too keen to snap them up for their educational handling collections. So, my lovely assortment of ‘Virol’ bone marrow containers, beer bottles and the ubiquitous ‘Camp Coffee’ jars were handed over to their new home, and will once more sit proudly on a shelf.

One item that wasn’t complete enough to be taken was this plate, depicting the bell tower of once-mighty Evesham Abbey. I love it because it highlights a very human desire to mark significance and local identity, and its discovery just a few hundred metres from the landmark it depicts amuses me. It’s as if the tower, still standing defiant and isolated, is stubbornly outliving our attempts to immortalise it in commemorative crockery.

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, c.1900

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, discarded around 1900

From one pot to another: having set up some of our volunteers and our work experience student with their tasks, I turn my attention to a site that couldn’t be further from the familiar world of late Victorian dumps. Project Officer Richard Bradley and I are working on the report for an excavation he led at Shifnal, Shropshire. It’s a fascinating but elusive site: occupied in the Neolithic period around 5000 years ago, then seemingly abandoned before once again being a focus of activity in the Iron Age, about 2500 years ago. There are few finds (a common feature of prehistoric sites in this region), plenty of pits and ditches, and a tangled web of radiocarbon dates. It’s a real challenge to unpick which features belong to which periods. One issue is resolved when we identify some grotty fired clay as ‘briquetage’: coarse Iron Age salt containers used to pack salt for transportation from the brine wells at Droitwich.

What the Neolithic finds lack in quantity, they make up in quality. Tell-tale parallel worn grooves and a smoothed, ground surface reveal a block of stone to be a rare ‘polissoir’, for polishing Neolithic stone axes. And a large chunk of a Mortlake style Peterborough ware bowl, around 5000 years old, displays the unmistakable imprint of the potter’s fingernail in the elaborate chevron decoration. A pattern which, like the bell tower, serves as a mark of identity. Pots like this were produced across Britain, in a huge variety of designs but with strong regional trends in ‘fabric’ (the material incorporated into the clay during manufacture) that seem to defy purely functional explanations. Mass produced or hand-made, ancient or modern, a pot is never just a pot – it’s a window on a world-view, and in this case a direct connection to the delicate, precise actions of a craftsperson across around 250 generations.

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Archaeologists are a merciless bunch. “Where’s the rest of it?” they tease Richard. Elsewhere, work experience student Kat is tasked with counting, weighing and piecing together an impressive assemblage of Iron Age pottery. You can see how she got on in her own day of archaeology post. I welcome a group of school and 6th form students, who get to work on processing some finds from an HLF-funded community archaeology investigation into intriguing early ironworking sites in the Forest of Dean. Later, as staff and volunteers trickle home, I set up some photographs, bringing together two pots separated by 5000 years, but crossing paths on my day of archaeology.

On my way out, I pause to check on a very exciting discovery, recovered by our archaeologists from a Worcestershire quarry a few months ago. It returned from its trip to the conservator yesterday, and soon it’ll be going on display for the summer at Worcester Museum, to delight children and adults alike… can you guess what it is?

Mystery find - watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Mystery find – watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!


I need some guidance…

…actually, I don’t. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last couple of weeks thinking about what to commit to ‘paper’ for my Day of Archaeology piece but, in the end, the logical thing to write about has been sat in front of me for the last ten days. As a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) my days can be quite diverse. The core of my job involves working on digital archives deposited with ADS from a variety of commercial or research projects. These datasets can range from small ‘report and image’ type archives from small-scale evaluation work through to large, complex datasets from bigger projects. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months working on the datasets from the ACCORD project and we’re just waiting on the final sign-off from the depositors before we can release the archive. The project focussed largely on Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and 3D models from photogrammetry, so lots and lots of images together with some interesting 3D data. For more info see the paper on the project’s methodology in the CAA 2014 Proceedings…and keep an eye out in the next few weeks for the archive!

But what I’ve mostly been focussed on is guidelines. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working on two tasks for the ARIADNE project looking at Good Practice and guidelines within the fourteen ARIADNE partner organisations across Europe. The initial task was to survey guidance and expertise across the partners and to summarise this in a report (available via the ARIADNE website). The results of the survey allowed key areas of expertise (or areas needing guidance) to be identified and to form the basis for the second task, the creation of new guides and contributions to the Guides to Good Practice. I’ve spent much of this week (and last) finalising a report on the work that has been undertaken on the Guides. A guide on dendrochronological data and the TRiDaS data standard has been contributed by DANS in the Netherlands alongside new case studies for dendro data and large datasets (again from DANS and from DAI in Germany). There’s also a guide looking at 3D datasets (ADS with DAI and DANS) in the pipeline along with an RTI guide and a new case study. It’s been great to work with so many European partners on areas of shared interest and benefit, something that I know we all hope can continue despite recent developments in the UK.

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