Archive | Buildings

Archaeologists recording standing buildings and architecture.

A day with Macedonian archaeology – “Neolithic settlement Tumba Madzari” (VIDEO)

This short documentary was recorded for the project celebration of international day of archaeology “Day of Archaeology 2013″ by association “Archaeologica” ‘with the support of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia.

association Archaeologica

Elena Stojanova Kanzurova

Camera, Assembling, Music:
Jane Kacanski

Radomir Ivanovic
Elena Karanfilovska

Skopje, July 2013

Continue Reading

A Day in the Cells of Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland

A lady gazing by the window

My ‘Day of Archaeology’ has been, since April, making my way slowly around the old (West) wing of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. For at least four hours a day I have been recording the graffiti remnants that I locate as I move systematically around the dark cells. This does not include the hours of downloading often hundreds of images per day, transcribing text, annotating images with notes and providing unique filenames for each image. Since I started fieldwork exploring this fascinating heritage site, which was in use as the county gaol for Dublin from 1796-1924, every day has been consistently different and altogether fascinating beyond my wildest hopes!

The Wing of the gaol that I have been recording stretches over three corridors and three floors, with the exception of the top floor, which only has two corridors. Each floors contains around 25 accessible cells, which up to now have included a ‘bathing’ room and the remnants of a padded cell. I have been funded by the Irish Research Council through the School of Social Justice (only archaeologist on staff!) to record the graffiti. What makes this recording ‘archaeological’ is that the graffiti is not just treated as text but its dimensions are important – is it engraved or surface written? Where is it placed? How does it relate to other pieces of graffiti? How was it made? These are among some of the questions I ask in my recording of this varied, extensive and precious source. The project was undertaken in order to add to our knowledge of women’s experiences of imprisonment during civil war. We know that the prison held a large number of women during the Irish Civil War (1922-1923 were held in Kilmainham. Guestimations number these in the few hundred, this was the first period of mass-imprisonment of women as political prisoners in the state’s history. Unfortunately, no registers from this period survive so we do not even have a full list of who was held here, when and why. Fortunately, the women – and their predecessors in the cells – liked to graffiti the walls of the cells, often with their names, dates of imprisonment and even home address. A fabulous source of information that this promises to be , I have encountered much more variety of graffiti remnant and these are increasingly adding to the narratives of those last years that the jail functioned as a de facto political prison. This includes the graffiti of soldiers who were held here during WWI, remnants of earlier prisoners scratched under the layers of whitewash and remnants of ex-prisoners returning many years later to note their previous habitations.

Today was a typical day – I move systematically down each corridor left to right as likewise I move through each cell left to right as I record it. My only equipment includes a relatively unsophisticated collection of digital camera and stand, professional lighting with stand (courtesy of UCD AV department), a notebook for describing the deciphering the graffiti and graph paper where I can represent the location of my graffiti finds!

As I’m currently working on the ever-popular ’1916 Corridor’ (the corridor that held a significant number of leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 who were executed in the aftermath of the failed rebellion) I have to time my entry to the corridor carefully. Due to the noise and disruption my entrance of cells entails I need to coincide with a period in between guided tours of the corridor. Once desperate narratives of executed men and their bereft families have been provided by the exellent guides I shoo straggling tourists and use my key to access the cell of one of the executed – my first cell today was that of Thomas Clarke. The cell was dark, gloomy and very dusty. Sadly, the floor was scattered with debris of careless visitors who had pushed pieces of paper and tissue through the large spyholes. Who knows what they gain from such actions? I shake my head. The only such remnant I have come across that I can begin to understand its depositions was a small laminated photograph of three ladies – evidently related – with a message on the back noting that it was in memory of when they were all together. I found this by chance under a heating pipe in the cell of the most famous of all the executed leaders – Padraig Pearse. Evidently it was a memento for the depositor of happier times past, unlike the scraps of paper and wrappers that most of the other cells contain. The cells have been locked and closed to the public since the 1990s due to the tendency of visitors to drop litter and especially add to existing graffiti on the walls. These later additions are usually swiftly scrawled, aesthetically unpleasing and uninformative scratching but I have taken care to record some of them – particularly if they are of early date or the writer was from an unusual location. There have been additions from as far afield as the Basque Country and Russia. They may not be desired additions by the custodians but they do add a strand to the many narratives of the site.

The graffiti that interests me the most are the portraits that frequently appear on the walls. The majority are small, side-profile images of men with as varying degree of skill and charm, as can be imagined. They are very infrequently identifiable but add a degree of personality and individualization with their uniform, hats, hair styles, facial hair and even smoking apparatus that is often lacking from the rest of the more text-based graffiti. Those pieces written in pencil are usually the oldest examples, most walls have at least some that are identifiably from the early 1920s. The most numerous examples are names, address and dates – some even detail when the author was arrested, by whom and how long they have been in prison. The majority include at least a name (in English and / or Gaelic), home address and county. Sometimes they finish with a slogan ‘Up the Republic’ or somesuch but this will depend when they were written and by whom. Today’s walls had alot of graffiti that had been drawn or engraved in more recent times – most dated from when people started to visit the site more frequently after it reopened to visitors for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966. But almost every wall has glimmers of pencil text and drawings peeking through the whitewash, which was probably liberally applied in 1920. Through the use of professional lighting these images can be easily decipherable, other times only a trace of a stroke, a letter or number glimpses through. I don’t record every mark – it depends on how photographable it is and how many are on that particular wall, cell, corridor – I suppose there is a degree of subjectivity in this aspect. However, a large number are photographed, described and plotted to provide evidence of the representative as well as the exceptional.

Today there was evidence of small, animal paw prints on the bottom half of the wall under the window and some scratchings consistent with bird activity. This is not uncommon, even on the middle floor. I have started recording these marks- they may not be intentional, readable, human graffiti but they reveal another tale of the site. That of abandonment in the aftermath of civil war and for decades after when noone quite knew what to do with the site, when it meant to much to some people and to little to others. The remnants of animal occupation reveal these stories more succinctly than any other trace.

As well as recording the graffiti I always take a cursory look around the cell to see if there are any large gaps in the floor boards, around the walls or the cavities around the heating pipe that travel the length of the corridor through every cell. Today was one of the lucky days when I did locate something interesting – in an unnamed cell (many of the cells in the 1916 corridor have plaques above them noting who had stayed in them prior to execution or release) a piece of paper had been pushed into the cavity around the heating pipe. On closer inspection it didn’t look to contain writing (with the exception of a possible solitary ‘J’) but it had definitely been intentional secreted into that hole – why? when was it meant to be recovered? It can join a small and select group of artefacts that I have found in such locations include a cotton handkerchief, which had suffered an almost identical fate!

Today, like most days, I recorded two cells (moving myself and my equipment between the cells in the few minutes of quiet I have between guided tours!). I try to ignore the tours as much as possible for no other reason than it detracts from my concentration in searching out graffiti. When many examples are mere traces to the naked eye this concentration is important. I can’t say I’m ignored quite so much by the visitors to the site – many are fascinated by ‘the lady in the cells’ but I let the guides deal with explanations, I prefer to be a silent presence!

Like most days, the graffiti I located today included both engraved and surface drawings, it included mainly text, some numbers and a small number of drawings. Like each day the exact ratios of these graffiti forms and the exact wording of the text was unique to that cell. Until I finish the fieldwork in the next month I won’t know for certain how I am going to interpret these scratchings, writings and drawings but I already know there is a huge number, variety and range that will add to our existing knowledge of the site. And hopefully many more of those forgotten ladies of the civil war will be located and their names added to the lists of political prisoners who transitioned through this infamous prison site.

Continue Reading

LIPCAP Team – why we do what we do!

(Investigating C19 – C20 everyday life: creating community connections through standing buildings and garden finds)

A previous post outlines our community and public ‘DIY’ house and garden surveys. This post briefly discusses why the project has been developed, and what we hope will be some of the benefits. More information about LIPCAP (Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project) can be found via these links:





Kirst (Project Director)


I started to develop what has become LIPCAP a few years ago, when confined to the house by illness and consequently prevented from pursuing my usual archaeological research and fieldwork. Unable to contemplate not ‘doing’ archaeology for any length of time, my immediate surroundings – a house built in the late 1920s – early 30s – inevitably drew my attention. I began to think about how those without archaeological knowledge or experience might be enabled to recognise the numerous traces of past domestic life just waiting to be discovered – and to record and share this information, potentially making a valuable contribution to studies of histories of the home.

Although specialising in the Roman to early medieval transition (c. AD 350-600), I’d been interested in early 20th century housing and domestic material culture for some time; my research and fieldwork into early historic (for my studies, 1st century BC – AD 7th century) households often inspired me to investigate late historic contexts to ask comparable questions. More usually associated in the public imagination with the excavation of ancient remains, the role of archaeology is to investigate the material traces human behaviour in the past – whether prehistoric or historic. And similar techniques can be applied to standing buildings or buried sites to examine, record, and interpret relationships in time and place between people and the material world. Historical Archaeologists commonly analyse archaeological evidence in conjunction with other historical sources, such as documents, in order to understanding of past life in more depth. When studying earlier periods, I often consulted texts in an attempt to explore the interaction of material culture and beliefs; in this way, I was able to investigate social and cultural identity – particularly ethnicity, ‘tribal’ identity, and ‘national’ identity. By adapting approaches developed within sociology, anthropology, and psychology, archaeologists may begin to consider how material evidence both creates and reproduces ideologies, such as those fundamental to religious, social, and political organisation.

My tentative archaeological investigations into the archaeology of early 20th century domestic life (some of which I have shared on a blog elsewhere) made me aware of several issues. Firstly, that many old standing buildings – not ‘listed’ as being of historic worth, due to their commonplace survival – are likely to retain traces of everyday life in the past; the extent to which such traces do survive – even within substantially altered (‘gutted’) houses – may surprise some. Secondly, that DIY is probably eroding and erasing those traces at an unprecedented pace; conversely, renovation and modernisation provide excellent opportunities to explore these remains. And thirdly, that archaeological analysis may reveal information that will enhance interpretations of the domestic historic environment.

The most exciting aspect of these realisations was that such traces are accessible to many, with no need for destructive and expensive explorations: by adopting basic archaeological methods, anyone living in an old house might begin to explore the material histories of their homes – and contribute towards the historical record in the process. Being an industrial centre, hundreds (probably thousands) of small terraced houses, built mostly in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods for workers of local mills and factories, form line upon line of Derby streets (LIPCAP’s base); most are still lived in today. These houses are an untapped historical resource – not least for the children who occupy them, who may ‘get more out of’ history taught at school through practical investigations or their surroundings. But also, outside formal education, such houses provide opportunities for inhabitant to ‘make’ history through their own explorations, and find out about how previous generations of their own families (who perhaps occupied similar houses) may have lived.

In themselves, the findings made at individual houses might seem to be so fragmentary and divorced from wider society and culture that they are of little use or meaning. However, when studied with and compared to findings from other, similar, houses, analysis has greater potential to yield valuable information (perhaps revealing significant patterns), particularly if examined alongside other historical sources (such as documents and maps, photos and oral history), and in combination with the findings of individual and group Local History and Family History research.

My main objective for the project is to provide easy (and hopefully fun) opportunities for engagement with Derby’s rich historic environment; I intend to (and hope others will also) assess the findings from family homes in relationship to wider social and cultural networks. Each household was (and is) an integral component of a neighbourhood, several of which together made the town, which with other towns and villages comprised the region, which in turn combined with other regions to make up the country as a whole. The decisions and movements of the powerful few that controlled and managed the affairs of the nation (as well as those leading more local authorities), through this network of local communities, effected – and often were affected by – the individuals and families inhabiting each household. Therefore, in coming together through the project to pioneer new ways of exploring very specific and localised histories, our investigations may contribute towards understanding the wider and varied pasts of those outside and beyond the individual home, as well as providing a picture of life in the past in our own home.

A couple of members of the project team will now say a few words for the DoA about the project, and why archaeology appeals to them:

Debra (Secretary and Family History Co-ordinator)


I have always been interested and fascinated in archaeology and when asked to become part of the project, I was both grateful and excited. As a child, I was always fascinated in ‘how we used to live’. What also excites me about the project is the possibility of sharing oral and family histories (adopting an ‘archaeological ethnographic’ approach), which enables a wider range of historical resources to be expanded to give meaningful interpretations and accounts to local communities.

Sarah (Youth Rep.)

Sarah K

It is very hard for me to explain why I love archaeology, I just enjoy it extremely. One of the things that interests me about archaeology is finding out how people in the past survived in the conditions they lived in, I also enjoy discovering new and exciting artefacts when excavating. I think that it is fascinating to discover how our ancestors used to live.

I am looking forward to this project because I would like to experience what it is like to do fascinating archaeological fieldwork and get some idea of what it is like to be an archaeologist. I really want to be involved with this project because history is my passion and I want to do as much history related things as possible.

Continue Reading

A day with Macedonian Archaeology “Arheo Park Brazda”

The archeological site “Gradiste – Brazda” is situated nearly 15 km north of Skopje, on a humble hill that rises over the village of Brazda. According to information (data) obtained through past researches, the site is classified as a fortified early antique settlement, dating from the 5th to the 3rd century BC and spreading over an area of 3.5 ha, which make it the largest settlement in the Skopje valley.

With the excavation of the monumental architectural edifice, known as “The Royal tomb” in 1986, the archeological site Gradiste claims a significant place in the archeological circles as well as the wider public.

brazda plan

With its specific characteristics, the Royal tomb at Brazda represents a unique instance of its kind on the wider Balkan peninsula.

It is a representative structure with a rectangular chamber with dimension of 9.8 by 6.6 meters and a dromos (passageway) with over 20 meters in length that steeply descends toward the west entrance of the tomb. The entire structure is built from large travertine blocks with an average weight of 500 to 1500 kg. Although it is a structure buried in the ground, the chamber blocks are decorated with a smooth rectangular frame encompassing the salient middle. The exquisite decoration of the rock, as well as the fact that the closest travertine mines are on a distance of 20 km from the site, are arguments enough to determine the economic power of the deceased and the settlement at large which was one of the more important settlements in the 5th century BC.


Nevertheless, the city’s name, its function, meaning and regional administrative status are still unknown. Who were the citizens of Gradiste? This cannot be determined with certainty as well. The presence of red-figure vases among the ceramic findings is a confirmation of the existence of cultural and economic relations with Athens. Whether it is a matter of colonists from the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula who inhabited the settlement or maybe it is a result of the driving development of the local Paionian inhabitants are question left to archeology to resolve.

The idea for the project or to turn this place into a tourist attraction so it finally receives the attention it deserves was born when we first visited this archeological site as archeology students. A monumental royal tomb dating from the 5th c. BC towered before us with it massive stone blocks, but the entrance to it was nearly impossible and the whole place was overgrown with wild vegetation and buried under year and years of piled garbage. There were no signposts or information panels, thus the visitor can neither be led to nor informed about the immense historical heritage that they unknowingly pass by. The general public was completely unaware of its existence and more importantly so was the world.

Picture3    Picture2

Picture1 DSCN6471


After many years and many tries to realize the wishful idea, in 2012 the association “Archaeologica” in partnership with the Museum of Macedonia and supported by ELEM through its social responsibility program, finally started working on the field in order to change the appearance (image) of this important cultural heritage turning it into the first archeological park in Macedonia – the Archeo Park Brazda.

The Archaeologica team toiled for months to arrange the site and its surroundings.

- The interior of the tomb and the passageway (dromos) were completely cleaned from wild vegetation and debris which increased the visibility of the site,


- The plateau in front of the tomb was cleared and leveled,


- An approach to the tomb was ensured by building an access path with two bridges,


- A small square was built and wooden benches were placed,


- A voluntary action was organized to clear the riverbeds of garbage


- The landscape around the park was horticultural refined


- Information panels and signposts were placed,

info tabla brazda

patokazna tabla brazda

- Informative flyers were printed and distributed

- The opening of the Arheo Park was covered by media – A web site about the park was developed (


We paid particular attention to using natural materials in the realization of the project, materials that do not stand out from their surroundings.

By opening the first archeological park in Macedonia, ”Arheo park Brazda”, we strive to bring archeology closer to our fellow citizens, to raise the standards of archeology in Macedonia and to simply enrich the offer of cultural landmarks.


The aim of the project is to protect as well as present a rare example from the world cultural heritage to raise the cultural and environmental awareness of the local authorities and the local population in the municipality of Chucher-Sandevo and to develop the tourism in this rural environment.

This kind of development and widening of the touristic offer of Skopje would contribute to the development of the village of Brazda se well, and of the surrounding area in this vivid and picturesque region.


The short distance to the city and the well organized road infrastructure enable a fast and simple approach to the attractive recreational locations such as, the village of Banjani, the village of Gornjani, restaurant Chardak, etc. Simultaneously, in the vicinity of village Brazda numerous cultural and historical monuments dating from the 14th to 19th century can be found, dispersed through the foothills of Skopska Crna Gora: the church of St. Nikita in Gornjani village, the church of Holy Salvation and the monastery of St. Archangel in Kuchevishte village, the churches of St.

George and St. Ilija in the village of Banjani, etc. And finally, by adding the Gradiste site to this group of cultural landmarks, we arrive at an unforgettable whole-day experience, a tourist walk through the past in Skopje and the vicinity, from the beginnings of ancient times to today.


The interest in this cultural monument significantly rose after mounting the signposts and the official opening of the “Arheo Park Brazda”. Apart from casual passersby that would learn about this place from the signpost, organized groups also visit the park. As the local inhabitants inform us, the site receives daily visits from foreign and domestic tourists who are in awe of everything this site has to offer from a cultural aspect as well as from the natural beauties that abound. The undertakings so far are just a part of the overall conceptual solution for this arheo park. Due to the heightened interest in the park, as well as the increased number of visitors, we are planning a realization of the second phase of the project that would include: setting up a wooden gazebo which would serve as an educational nest for the students of archeology and the pupils from primary schools located the vicinity of the site, as well as for larger groups of tourists; building access paths to Gradiste; setting up litter bins and additional horticultural enrichment along the paths and around the tent, as well as maintaining the park; mounting new signposts on key crossroads so as to alleviate access to the site, printing informative leaflets, etc.

We wholeheartedly hope that we will have an opportunity to realize these steps i.e. the second phase of the project, which would raise the Arheo park to world standards and contribute to the protection and promotion of the Gradiste site as a significant cultural inheritance, attract even higher numbers of foreign and domestic visitors, and encourage the development of rural tourism.

Continue Reading

Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project: DIY House and Garden Archaeology

Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project (LIPCAP) is developing ways to enable public participation in exploring the historical environment amongst which many live and work today. We are based in Derby – a town (now city) with a long history, which particularly came to prominence, substantially growing in size, during (and especially after) the 18th century, as an important centre of industrialisation.

LIPCAP_Fig_1_Silk Mill

Derby Silk Mill (much rebuilt after early 20th century fire): one of the earliest factories in the world – part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site

Though much of the older housing once occupied by industrial workers has since been demolished, most of the late 19th and early 20th century small terraced houses built for the increasing workforce – many of whom were employed in the numerous local mills and factories – remain, and continue to provide homes for modern families.


Rykneld Mill behind housing within West End study area


Late 19th – early 20th century terraced housing within LIPCAP study area

LIPCAP aims, in partnership with local communities, to discover more about the daily lives of ‘ordinary’ people in the past by investigating the history of these houses (in particular), examining the traces of earlier domestic activities through standing building surveys and surveys of artefacts found in the associated gardens and yards. We provide guidance for investigating the surfaces of gardens and houses: this is to broaden access through ‘DIY’ surveys and recording, which are designed to be of low or no cost, and to prevent damage to the historical environment; at present, there are no plans for excavations, but may consider this in the future.


Project study Areas

In order to make fieldwork manageable, to make best use of resources, due to the existing evidence, and to enable comparisons, the project incorporates four study areas: Allestree Village, Little Chester, West End, and Friar Gate area; due to the opportunity to carry out detailed surveys, one property provides an interesting case study.


The remains of early toilets investigated at one property outside Derby

We hope that this will provide opportunities for participation by those that neither inhabit  old housing, nor live in houses built upon the plots of demolished earlier housing, by investigating the remains of Victorian and Edwardian rubbish ‘dumps’ in and around the town.


Spread of surface finds: probable Victorian and early 20th century rubbish tip on the outskirts of Derby that LIPCAP is applying to investigate

However, by taking opportunities to investigate house interiors, we also record other remains that provide clues for home life in the past: close investigation often reveals (even in houses that have been much modernised) remains for earlier décor, utilities, and use of household space.


Chips to later white paint revealing remains of early finishes within LIPCAP case study: late 19th – early 20th century ‘grained’ varnish beneath dark early – mid 20th century paint, within project case study, No. 8

LIPCAP_Fig_8_Wall Paint

Wall paint (probable early 20th century) within bedroom at No. 8 (below)

One task that has held particular interest for the project (and others) is recording of graffiti – through which we have gained insights into childhood attitudes and behaviour.


Graffiti discovered during a survey of ‘No. 8’

We look at the material evidence alongside documentary records (such as census returns and trade directories), photos and maps, and oral histories and memoirs, and in this way are beginning to build up a more complete picture of everyday life at this point in time (c. 1880 – 1940) when the modern world comes into being.



Yrs married



Birth Year


Where Born

ELEY, Thomas






Smith Striker Railway

Derby Derbyshire

ELEY, Maria Jane


15 years




Derby Derbyshire

RIPPIN, William






Cotton Winder

Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Harry






Fruiterer’s Salesman

Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Selina






Cotton Winder

Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Lily





Tent Maker Canvass

Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Jane





Derbyshire Derby






Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Mabel





Derbyshire Derby

ELEY, Doris





Derbyshire Derby

No. 8 Census evidence for 1911

We will soon make guidance publicly available, to support local communities in carrying out garden surveys; over the next few days, we will test the step-by-step instructions for public participation that have been recently devised, which we will describe in a following post.


Finds discovered during a test survey of a garden outside Derby


Test Garden: location of above finds

The pilot stage of the project – testing new ways of integrating public and professional research and fieldwork – will run until 2015. LIPCAP is currently run by volunteers, and funded by donations; at present, our project team is small, and led by local historical archaeologist Dr Kirsten Jarrett. We would welcome further volunteers who would like to get involved in running the project and more sustained and detailed research and fieldwork – particularly those experienced in archaeology or local history, but this is not essential. A forthcoming post will hear from other members of the project team.

LIPCAP_Fig_12_No 8

Project case study, No. 8

If you would like to know more about the project, see our website; follow us on Twitter or Facebook, and see our Flickr and YouTube channels; we are also in the process of developing a History Pin channel. The Journal of Victorian Culture Online has also published a short article on the project.

LIPCAP_Fig_13_3D_No 8_Progress

No. 8 3D reconstruction in progress: to be ‘redecorated’ and furnished in late Victorian, Edwardian, and 1920s – 30s style

Project Social Media






Continue Reading

English Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park

I just got back last Wednesday from a dig in the Pacific Northwest of the United States’ Pacific Northwest. As part of on-going rehabilitation work undertaken by the US National Park Service, we conducted limited excavations at the Crook House at English Camp in the San Juan Island National Historic Park. It’s very near to Vancouver, BC and Victoria Island. Beautiful surroundings; the Olympic Mountain Range on one side and the Cascade Range on the other. The dig site is interesting because of its importance to Native Americans, the British, and the Americans. All have stayed here, all have left their marks.

The Native Americans used the area regularly. Their use is chronicled by enormous shell middens that underlie most of English Camp and beyond. The British terraformed the site, creating a parade ground and terraces. The Americans, i.e. the Crook Family, homesteaded the land after ownership of San Juan Island was ceded to the United States. It is thanks to the Crook Family that any part of English Camp remains. Instead of removing the British-built buildings, the family adapted them for farm work and, luckily, preserved them. Even more luckily, the family donated the land to the US National Park Service so anyone can visit.

We had a good crew, hard working and wise-cracking. Laughter was no stranger to the work site. There were many visitors, not all of them human. There were several deer who nibbled on the greenery and ignored us with aplomb, and foxes who would crash through the underbrush whenever we got near. One day, a beautiful barred owl hung out for a while.

Part of archaeology is the excitement of trying out new things. This trip tested my mettle by giving me the opportunity to excavate underneath the Crook House. Armed with a fashionable, hot-pink hard hat, a respirator, a trowel, and paperwork, and lead by our experienced principal investigator (and crawlspace buddy) we made our way through an opening in the siding under the porch. Since the house is set on a slope, the luxurious space under the porch rapidly narrowed as we began the survey of the site. Slowly we worked our way towards the back of the house, talking to each other to distract from how cramped we were getting. Once we got to the center of the house, judged by the joists, it was time to set up a couple of test units.

Digging in cramped quarters is not unusual in archaeology, but it’s new to me. My crawlspace buddy worked even farther back than I. While lying on her stomach, she would fill a corrugated box lid with soil that she’d pass down to me, I’d put it into a bucket and wrestle it to the porch opening to be screened by another member of the crew.

Hard work, but a great story to tell. It will be interesting to see what we find out from materials we gathered during this quick look at the site.


NPS Archaeologist, B. Horton, leads the way.

NPS Archaeologist, B. Horton, leads the way.

Cramped, but fascinating.

Cramped, but fascinating.

Continue Reading

Pike’s Cantonment, Plattsburgh NY, USA


1812 winter encampment, officer’s cabin. Third season of excavation by Dr. Timothy Abel, students through Clinton Community College, and Battle of Plattsburgh Association volunteers.

I am a “mature” computer information systems major at Clinton Community College, hoping to improve on my old BFA (studio art ceramics, Ohio State) as far as employability. I jumped at the chance to see data coming right out of the ground, and history unearthed right nearby. I hope to return to this project next year as a museum volunteer.

Continue Reading

Camberwell Parish Church

camberwell church porch

Many random bits of heritage end up without a function. This surviving, but moved and rebuilt, fragment of medieval church porch stores a bin, a table tennis table, a pile of chairs and a number of broken lights. I mentioned the porch had been rebuilt this involved an immensely strong cement that is not harder than the flints but is far harder than the soft stone dressings.  It is the stone dressing – the material of primary historic importance – that survive from the medieval building.  You may notice the blackened surface of the soffit of the arch, this is likely to be evidence of the burning of the original, medieval church, or possibly a later fire in one of the bins.

Whilst waiting by the porch two people stopped to ask me what it was.  Both were surprised to find it was part of the medieval church.  My meeting was with the Southwark Heritage Association who are looking to attach a blue plaque to the porch and apply for grants to undertake some much needed conservation work.  Part of this application will be to provide a new, more convenient bin store and store for the organisation that use the community building.  So I will be writing a brief for the conservation work so the Association can get quotes for the conservation and investigating ways to secure the building.

For much of the day I was discussing a planning application site just to the east of Tower Bridge with the Regional Archaeology Science Advisor, Dr Sylvia Warman.  A small evaluation trench had been dropped in to see if the Bronze Age field systems known from the other side of the street extended into this area.  The trench identified a previously unknown palaeochannel.

Continue Reading

Academic Archaeology with Kids

On this day of archaeology, I find myself not doing much archaeology.  The kind amongst you would say I’m on maternity leave.  The reality is that I’m unemployed.

Over a year ago, I completed my PhD in the Near Eastern Neolithic at the University of Liverpool and moved back home to Canada.  As I was unable to find an academic job, I have spent the year publishing articles from my thesis, and being a mom.

Today, on the day of archaeology, I have spent most of the day running around after my 3.5 year old, and my 5 month old.  We have been swimming, played ‘pretend’ and generally done everything and anything.  When my husband gets home from work, he entertains the kids, and I escape to the ‘closet office’, where I can work for an hour undisturbed.

Working undisturbed

Working undisturbed

I wish I were in the field with many of my colleagues, but the reality is that it is hard for mother’s to make it to field seasons sustainably.  It takes so much time and resources to organise childcare that I was unable to go to Boncuklu Höyük, Turkey this year. Maybe next year!

Toddler with a Konya plain Kangal sheepdog

Toddler with a Konya plain Kangal sheepdog

In the meantime, I work to publish my research.  I examined the physical reality of occupying a series of structures found at a number of Near Eastern Neolithic sites.  These structures do not appear to be houses, and are often much larger the other structures, and have unusual features.  The most famous of these are the pillared buildings at Göbekli Tepe, and the tower at Jericho.  I examined these structures to determine how they may have been used and how they might have mitigated problems that were emerging in the Neolithic as people settled in more permanent villages.

Someday, I hope someone will pay me to do research and take my children into the field.  Until then, I will play Dr. Mom for a bit longer, and hope that someday soon I can become a professional archaeologist in reality

Dr. Alexis McBride

Continue Reading

Medieval Knights, Their Trash, and Urban Gardens Before They Were Trendy

I’m sitting in sunny California, in the Classics Library at University of California, Berkeley, and I’m thinking about sunny Italy. For 5 years (2006-2010) I spent Julys living in a Boy Scout camp in Sgurgola, Italy, about an hour south of Rome, field-directing the excavations of Villamagna. [See more about our project here:]. And for the past three years I have spent Julys working on the material we excavated, working on the stratigraphy and working with finds specialists who were studying the pottery, glass, animal bones, environmental remains, coins, small finds and the human remains from the cemetery. This summer we are finishing the manuscript. I can tell you a bit about where we are for medieval Villamagna and what I’m doing today, and then I’ll tell you about my other project, which I’m working on in my spare time: urban gardens in medieval Italy.


Our project at Villamagna looked at a site over time. In the Roman period, one of the 2nd-century emperors (Hadrian, probably) built a large country house, surrounded by vineyards and forests for hunting. The buildings of that villa are still visible in some places on the site, and what was clear even before we started digging was that throughout the middle ages people had lived among the Roman ruins–the church on the site was built and rebuilt several times in the middle ages reusing Roman bricks, columns and other pieces, and we knew there was a monastery in the area from some medieval parchment documents at the Cathedral archive. Digging was great fun. We had a super team of people from Italy, America, Britain, Belgium, Algeria, Sweden, Canada; these ranged from local high school kids to a volunteer excavator who could excavate a skeleton in minutes, perfectly (it took me hours, imperfectly). The results were very exciting. We could see an early medieval phase of occupation, with high-status pottery, in the Roman building. The monastery buildings were there, including the cloister and a huge underground cistern (a storage container for water). We found a huge cemetery in front of the church, dating mostly from the late middle ages, with hundreds of skeletons; it is now the largest excavated medieval cemetery in Italy.

At the moment, I am working with a research assistant here at Berkeley and the other editors of the project, Lisa Fentress and Marco Maiuro, to pull together the work of the entire team into a publication which makes sense of the thousands and thousands of pieces of data we have collected. Let me give you an example:

Villamagna Medieval Spur

A riding spur found at Villamagna

This is O 700, a spur which came from SU 4291 (we called contexts stratigraphic units, SUs). This was a deposit of rubble and silty soil which accumulated in the well house of the monastery cloister.

Screenshot of ARK SU 4291

This is page for SU 4291 on the database ARK, an open source online recording system, which L – P Archaeology custom fit to our project, and which stores all of our archaeological data.


Giorgio Rascaglia tells me that the pottery from this deposit dates to the latter half of the fourteenth century, and this fits with what the stratigraphy suggests about the abandonment of the monastic buildings and their conversion to an elite residence next to the church, and also what some medieval parchments record. A bull of Pope Boniface VIII from 1297 suppressed the monastery of Villamagna and gave its properties to the bishop of Anagni, and then in the 14th century, various bishops argued with one local family, the Caetani–perhaps the most powerful family in medieval Central Italy–over their occupation of the property. The Caetani, or some of their homines (their men), were probably the ones living in these buildings and stabling their horses nearby. We found four other spurs from this period (our Finds specialist, Tyler Franconi, tells me that spurs like this, with a rowell, were common from the 14th century onwards) in this and related deposits, as well as a pair of bone dice for when the knights were playing games, and lots of broken drinking glasses, which Barbara Lepri has studied (these are her drawings):

Medieval Glass (Drawings by Barbara Lepri)

Barbara Lepri’s depiction of fragments of medieval drinking glasses found at the site

The final publication will include a website, based on ARK, with the records of our Objects, Pottery, Glass, single-context stratigraphy, as well as a printed volume with essays by Giorgio, Tyler, Barbara, and myself on this material. Today, we have been editing the footnotes and checking the bibliographic formats for essays on early medieval liturgical sculpture and ninth-century pottery and revising maps of the area from the Roman and medieval periods [thank goodness for].


As I have been in the Bay Area, I’ve become quite interested in urban gardening. Here in Berkeley it is high-status display horticulture in a foodie society (people have raised garden beds in the front of their Craftsman homes, with rows of broccoli and the most elegant heirloom tomatoes you’ve ever seen) and in Oakland, it is activism and community-organisation in the economically blighted parts of the city, where there are no grocery stores which have fresh food. Among some of the immigrant populations of Oakland, like the Hmong, community gardens have provided people places to grow familiar plants not available elsewhere, speak native languages, and help the elderly to socialise. I assumed, initially, that many of the urban gardens of Oakland were built on derelict land, gaps in the urban fabric of the city created by abandoned houses or unused lots. (Some of them were.) I wondered if the urban gardens of early medieval Rome were not similar, and I wondered what I could learn about the past based on the example of the present. So I set out to collect the evidence of early medieval urban gardens not only in Rome but all over Italy, to see who owned gardens, where they were, and to determine if they were household kitchen gardens or market gardens. I also went looking for ‘dark earth’ in archaeological reports. That is the archaeological deposit characteristic of early medieval cities, with thick (.70-3.0+ m) dark soil, few inclusions of potsherds or other materials, and little or no internal stratigraphy. These have been interpreted as abandonment and decay of organic materials used in late antique and early medieval buildings, but more recent thinking suggests that they are actually the archaeological remains of cultivation.

I have spent the past few months looking through property documents from Italy up to about 1100, and archaeological reports for major cities: Milan, Verona, Lucca, Rome, Naples, Salerno, Ravenna. What I have found is this: there were urban gardens within the walls of every early medieval city, more in Rome (which was of course the largest city in medieval Europe), fewer in Salerno (which was very small indeed). These were not, on the whole, owned by the poor, or by people who rented houses, but by the elite who owned their own houses, and constituted significant social and economic potential for growing food and providing it/selling it to others.

Doc. 82 in the Regesta Sublacense, is a good example of what I have been looking for. The ‘humble monk’ Crescenzio Murcapullo gave his property on the Caelian hill in Rome to the nearby monastery of S. Erasmo in 1003:

‘It is a one-story house entirely tiled and shingled, with an oven inside it and a yard and a vined pergola in front of it. Also a garden with fruit trees next to it, with right of passage to a public road, and with all things pertaining to these, located in the region called ‘porta metrovia,’ where I Crescenzio up to now have lived. One one side is the garden of Iohannes Folle. On the other side is the garden of Iohannes, priest and cardinal. And the third and fourth sides are surrounded by public roads.’

In the same document he bequeathed a grain-field measuring 13 moggi outside the nearby Porta Metronia, in the Prata Deci (Decenniae), which was surrounded by four other grain fields. Crescenzius himself appeared as neighbour to other parcels which ended up at S. Erasmo, as a renter of other parcels, and then the donor of this land. This seems a rather plush residence and it clearly included land designed for growing grain, vine, fruit trees and vegetables. The urban plot would have been 6900 m2, and his extramural field over 4 times that. Given a ballpark-estimate that in pre-industrial Europe, 40 m2 would grow the vegetables for a single person for an entire year (this is the figure that German agronomists working on Constantinople use), this monk had a very sizeable plot, indeed.

Like this example from Rome, these gardens were mostly owned by churchmen. This may be an issue of the documentation (the vast majority of property documents from the period record properties which eventually came to the hands of churches or monasteries), but it also may reflect new social values which emerged in relation to changes in social structures. Abbots and bishops–and priests as well–became powerful figures in early medieval cities, and one of the ways in which they negotiated their new status was by showing themselves to be good managers of estates–a new book by Kristina Sessa  makes this point very clearly. As good estate managers, they provided for their households and their dependents, and also provided charity for the poor and for pilgrims. The gardens attached to their houses, and the many gardens inside monasteries, helped them to do that. Towards the central middle ages, in the eleventh century, populations of Italian cities grew, and so too their economies. Where there had been lots of empty lots in cities and very little in the way of a market for foodstuffs and firewood, in the eleventh century these were sold off and rented out to new people and there were market gardens, mostly outside city walls. Historians have often made the gardens out to be subsistence-level food-production in the gaps left among decaying Roman buildings. I think, however, that they were controlled by the cities’ elites and while the mustard-greens and onions of these gardens may indeed have fed the poor, they did so through a new system of redistribution organised by the cities’ churches.

Continue Reading