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2013 Day of Archaeology Festival Thank You!

The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) would like to thank everyone who came out and supported the 2013 Day of Archaeology Festival!  Thank you for stopping by our table and participating in our activities, we really enjoyed having you.   We would also like to thank Archaeology in the Community, for hosting the D.C. festival. 

It was a very successful event!

For those of you who wish to learn more about the DC HPO, within the Office of Planning, please navigate to our website.

The DC HPO presented on Prehistoric Pottery and Historic Ceramic assemblages, found in DC archaeological sites.  Displays were complete with signage and artifacts.  Visitors were engaged in a variety of activities, such as the “What is This?” game, where visitors had to guess the identity and function of artifacts on display.  The Stratigraphy Exercise, where visitors matched artifacts to associated soil contexts.  And, finally, the Pinch Pot making station, where visitors make their own clay Pinch Pots using prehistoric-themed tools and techniques.  It was a huge hit with the kids!

Scroll down to view photos!

Photos and Captions Blog Photos and Captions

 

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Archaeology in London

Before I tell you about my day I’ll give you a brief summary of myself. I graduated back in 2007 from a MSc in Professional Archaeology in Oxford.  Since then I have been trying to get a role in archaeology. To help this, and because I love archaeology, I’ve been volunteering and visiting sites. One of the projects I’m involved in is the Thames Discovery Programme in London, and I spent my day (or morning!) of archaeology working with the FROGS (Foreshore Research and Observation Group)

 

Recording the river wall

Recording the river wall

On the Friday we were working on the Tower of London Foreshore.  I’ve been a member of the TDP since April, when I trained with them for 4 days on a very cold Greenwich beach, and it’s something I can’t speak highly enough of. The group is a real mix of volunteers, young and old, with and without archaeology experience, and I really enjoy my time spent with them. I really miss archaeology, so it’s great to be able to escape for a few hours and work on the foreshore with the group.

We were recording the river wall, which at the moment is quite precarious due to the erosion of the foreshore. If you look at the photograph where the tape lies is where the foreshore used to be, and now the foundations are exposed. So we were recording the exposed wall, and detailing any points of interest. Time is of the essence when working on the foreshore, and I had no idea before joining the TDP how quickly the tide on the Thames rises and falls. Our little group of three managed to get the 5-10 metre section planned, and we still had some time for mudlarking. I learnt how to find tudor pins, very exciting for me.

 

The Thames Discovery Programme on the Tower of London Foreshore

The Thames Discovery Programme on the Tower of London Foreshore

I’d also like to quickly mention Saturday 26th, when I was back at the Tower of London, but with the City of London Archaeological Society. I helped to volunteer with the children’s dig. We buried a few finds from the foreshore in buckets, and the youngsters excavated with a trowel and spade. It was such a pleasure volunteering for the day and seeing the enthusiasm of both the kids and the volunteers. My jaw really hurt afterwards from smiling so much! So, although it’s frustrating not to be working in Archaeology full time, I’m so glad I get to volunteer in my spare time, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

 

The City of London Archaeological Society weekend at the Tower of London

The City of London Archaeological Society weekend at the Tower of London

I really recommend checking out both the Thames Discovery Programme at http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/ and the City of London Archaeological Society at http://www.colas.org.uk/

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A day with Macedonian archaeology – HOARD OF BILLON TRACHEA FROM THE SKOPJE FORTRESS

The copper hoard from the XIII century was discovered as a whole X.9.5.1, in a pit from Block: XXI, in the course of archeological excavations at the Skopje Fortress in 2009. It contained 50 copper coins, including 5 items of Bulgarian imitations (no. 1-5) and items presenting rulers, namely 2 items presenting Ivan Asen II (no. 6-7), 2 items presenting Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (no. 8-9), 2 items presenting  John Comnenus-Ducas (no. 10-11), 9 items presenting John III Ducas-Vatatzes with (no. 12-20), 4 items presenting Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (no. 21-24), as well as the most numerous, 24 Latin imitations (no. 25-47). The 24 items are grouped with 2 additional items that are illegible and cannot be linked to any ruler, including a new variant under no.48. This coin diversity is an excellent indicator about the coin circulation on the territory of Macedonia that marked the first half of XIII century.

The time the hoard was buried may be linked to specific historical and political circumstances at the Skopje Fortress in the mid XIII century. Judging from coins which were produced the latest and belong to Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (1254-1258)[1], the time the hoard was buried chronologically corresponds to events in 1258 and 1259[2]. This was the period when Skopje was firstly conquered by the Bulgarian Constantine Tikh, and the same year by the Nicaeans and the Serbs afterwards.

In the following 1259, the city fell under the Nicaeans, led by Michael VIII Palaiologos, to remain under his rule until 1282[3]. Lack of coin series of Michael VIII Palaiologos in the hoard, whose share in the total monetary quantity found at the Skopje Fortress is 8.37%[4], only confirms this possible historic date.

Bulgarian imitations, chronologically speaking, were the earliest to be produced and may be dated in the


[1] M. F. Hendy, Byzantine Coins, D.O.C. vol. 4 part 2 ,T XLVI Theodore II Ducas Lascaris, Washington D.C.1999; 615-617

[2] Latin imitations have not been taken into account due to their illegibility and common chronological framework from 1204 to 1261.

[3] I. Mikulic, Medieval Cities and Fortresses in Macedonia, Book 5, Skopje 1996, 309

[4] J. Kondijanov, Review of the total numismatic material from the Skopje Fortress, MAND, Dojran 2012

period between 1195 and 1215, judging from the hoards from Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, where almost no such coins have been discovered together with Byzantium coins prior to Isaac II Angelos(1185-1195)[1]. The same representation has been confirmed in this hoard, providing similar chronological indication regarding the period when the coins were produced.

Items found in the hoard correspond to items from other hoards discovered on the Balkans, which are characteristic and linked to the final stage of placing underground, which according to M.F. Hendy may be dated within a time frame of ±1215 until c. 1250. Most frequently discovered in these hoards are items of later type A variants with an asterisk on the obverse, and most dominant numeric pattern of representation in this period in the collective monetary findings is A, followed by C and B[2] variants. This grouping, in addition to this hoard, is specific also for hoards found in Aiani, Livadion, Macedonia (’58), Trace, Vrasta (Vraca)[3].

What has been known from historical sources regarding the possible beginning of monetary production is linked to the Pope Innocent III, who apart from the crown, gave Kaloyan rights to produce his monetary series[4] in 1204, however the evidence points out that Bulgarian imitations of Byzantine trachea were in circulation prior to this date. Generally accepted chronological framework for the latest produced Bulgarian imitations is 1215, which corresponds to the reign of Coloman and to the period of brief prevention from the Bulgarian invasion of the Balkans. What becomes clear from this hoard is that production of the series could continue also during the reign of Ivan Asen II, but not later than 1230[5] , when the sphere of his influence also covered Ohrid[6]  and Thessalonica[7], considered to be possible mints that initially produced new Bulgarian monetary series. This argument is supported by a unique Bulgarian imitation (no.1) from this hoard, where the obverse pictures Christ seated on a throne with a high back, with a netted decoration, seen for the first time in Bulgarian coins, and according to style presentation, it resembles coins of John III Ducas-Vatatzes from Magnesia, produced after


[1] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol. 4 part 1, T XXVI Bulgarian imitations, Washington D.C.1999; 66-80

[2] Variant B is not represented in the case of this hoard

[3] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 1, Washington D.C.1999; 70-72

[4] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, London 1982; 238

[5] 9 March 1230: The Battle of Klokotnica, Chronica Alberici monachi Trium Fontinum; Izvori za Bъlgarskata Istoriя XXIV; 183

[6] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLVII Ivan II Asen, Tsar of Bulgaria, Washington D.C.1999; 639-643

[7] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; 105-109

1221. This hypothesis is still impossible to prove with certainty, since the coin is partially damaged, however this item could be the key to clarifications regarding Bulgarian coin manufacturing in the period between 1215 and 1230.

The hoard discovered contained two items (no. 6 and 7)of exceptionally rare trachea of the Bulgarian Czar Ivan Asen II  (1218-1241), which according to numeric representation and concentration of the hoards, are most frequent at the territory of modern Macedonia. Most of these billon tracheas, 24 items, were found at the hoard in Ohrid[1], but there were also 8 items discovered during the excavation of St. Achilles at Prespa[2], and 8 items found at the Skopje Fortress including the two items from this hoard.

Arguments regarding geographical representation of these variants have been supported by the discovery of the unique piece of golden hyperpyron of Ivan Asen II which was found in Prilep[3], but now is an item of the numismatic collection at the Archaeological Museum in Bulgaria[4]. The location of the mint to manufacture coins of Ivan Asen II is still disputed, by Hendy claiming it was in Ohrid[5] while Penchev claiming it was in Thessalonica[6], basing his claim on stylistic similarities with the coins of Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (1224-1230).

The second in size quantity of monetary types found at the hoard presents the Nicaean emperors with 13 items (26%), with a special place given to the Thessalonica variants of John III Ducas- Vatatzes[7], produced in the period 1246-1254 to which 9 of the 13 (18%) items belong. A real rarity are the remaining 4 coins of   Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris [8] (1254-1258), produced in Thessalonica, which apart from this hoard discovered at the Skopje Fortress, are only represented by another single item. The 4 items are a chronological indicator to date the period the hoard was buried, corresponding to historical events in the period 1258-1259. Yet another significant data is the discovery of a new type of Theodor’s billon

 


[1]
T. Gerasimov, Kolektivni nahodki na moneti prez 1965g. IAI, XXIX 1966; 213

[2] M. F. Oicononomides, Monnaies trouves les foouilles de la basilique de Saint Achiles, RN 1967; 252-265

[3] I. Yourukova, V.Penčev, Bulgarian Medieval Seals and Coins, Sofia 1990; 78-84

[4] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; 105-109

[5] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol.2, T XLVII Ivan II Asen, Tsar of Bulgaria, Washington D.C.1999; 639-643

[6] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; Skopje 1996; 105-109

[7] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLV John III Ducas, called  Vatatzes, Washington D.C.1999; 601-614

[8] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLVI Theodore II Ducas-Lascaris , Washington D.C.1999; 615-617

trachea, notably item no. 22, where instead of a labarum, the emperor is holding a spear. An interested item is coin no.18 of John Ducas-Vatatzes, which was re-coined with new design, also belonging to this ruler.

The remaining 4 legible items belong to Epirus rulers, 2 of which (no.8-9) to Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (1224-1230), who other than this hoard, has been identified only in another hoard in Macedonia from the Plaoshnik-Ohrid[1] locality. Also, here we can add two items (no. 10-11) of the despot John Comnenus-Ducas[2] (1237/1242-1244),the son of Theodor Ducas, who is represented in many XIII century hoards discovered at the territory of Macedonia.

The hoard is clearly dominated by Latin imitations, 23 in number or 46% of the monetary quantity, providing a realistic picture for their monetary representation both in this hoard as well as other hoards from the XIII century. Their series are some of the most numerous judging from their concentration at the Balkans and point out to political and economic instability, and most probably to inflation that was caused by their overproduction evident from their representation in almost all discovered hoards dated back to 1206-1261.

Nicetas Choniates[3] a contemporary, who witnessed the fall of Constantinople in 1204, wrote about the large quantities of copper coins and about the fact that all city statues of the Hippodrome were melted down into coins. However, this was not the end, since almost all series manufactures by the Latins in Thessalonica[4]  between 1204 and 1224 or in Constantinople [5]  between 1204 and 1261, more or less resemble series of emperors of the XII century and even carry their names such as Alexios, John, and the most frequent Manuel[6]. Later types of official series are less similar to XII century designs, and may be found in several variants coined with new iconographic presentations. These iconographic changes are probably due to the Byzantine (Nicaean)-Venetian treaty of 1219[7], including a clause that obliges both parties to restrain from imitating the other party


[1] D. Razmovska-Bačeva Hoards of the Late Byzantine coins of Theodore Angelus Comnenus Ducas, Numismatic journal  No.4, Skopje 2000; 121-135

[2] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol.2, John Comnenus-Ducas , Washington D.C.1999;

[3] Nicetas Choniates, Historia, ed. Jan Louis van Dieten; Berlin 1975 ;(Corpus Fontium Historia Byzantinae #11)

[4] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, Latin coinages, Plate 79, London 1982 267-270;  M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol. 4 part2, T LII The Latin states-Thessalonica, Washington D.C.1999; 668-669

[5] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, Latin coinages, Plate 77-78, London 1982 267-270;  M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol.4 part 2, The Latin states-Constantinople, T XLVIII-LIII Washington D.C.1999; 664-667

[6] M. F. Hendy, Coinage and  Money, 191-201, 215-217

[7] Nicetas Choniates, Historia, ed. Jan Louis van Dieten; Berlin 1975 ; (Corpus Fontium Historia Byzantinae #11)

hyperpyrons[1], manouelaton [2] and stamenon[3] (it is clearly implied that the Byzantines needed to protect themselves from imitations of the Latins, not vice versa)[4].

The fact that the treaty fails to also note copper tetarterons implies that they were not a factor worth mentioning, or they considered the coins made by the Latins in gold, silver or billon to be real counterfeits that were almost identical to the Byzantine[5].

Latin imitations may be divided into two basic groups according to dimensions that differentiate them into large module and small module, a fact that is evident also in this hoard, where items no. 25-32 belong to coins of large module, whereas items no. 33-48 are coins of small module. Coins of large module found at the hoard were produced in the mints in Constantinople and Thessalonica, and were manufactured between 1204 and 1261, which chronologically corresponds to coins of small module; however, the mint where they were produced is still a mystery and leaves room for debate.

It is significant to mention item no. 48, which is a new copper trachea of a small module, but so far cannot be correctly prescribed to any ruler. This item demonstrates similarities to Latin imitations of Manuel I, of a small module, however, rather than labarum or sword the ruler here holds a three-pronged scepter. However, despite similarities, in terms of iconography and style, the design at the reverse is different and cannot be safely placed in the group of other Latin imitations.


[1] Hyperpyron – gold trachea

[2] Manouelaton  – electrum or silver aspron trachea

[3] Stamenon – Billon or copper  trachea

[4] Tafel and Thomas, Urkunden, II, pp. 205-7, esp.207; S.Brezenanu, RESEE 12 (1974), 143-146

[5] Examples are hyperpyrons of John III Vatatzes, who are different from the Latin by the sigilla and the nimbus of Christ on the obverse.


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A day at Complutum Roman city (Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain)

Complutum-regioII-01

Aerial view of ‘Regio II’, opened to the public in 2012

Complutum was an important Roman city at the center of Spain, 50 Has large, built during Claudius reign but with a great development between the 3rd and 5th c. AD. After important excavations during Spanish Siglo de Oro, it was almost forgotten along 19 and 20th centuries. It was re-discovered  in the 1980′s and last years´ works. Under the management of archaeologists Sebastián Rascón Marqués and Ana Lucía Sánchez Montes, it has reached  important finds about urbanism and public and private constructions. The project, supported by different grants (Alcalá de Henares City Council -Alcalá was Miguel de Cervantes born place and is also a World Heritage Site-; Regional Government of Madrid; and different Ministries of the Spanish Government) includes the research, preservation of the site and the opening of some places to the public: casa de Hippolytus, in 1999, forum in 2009 and regio II in 2012.

This year of 2013, the Day of Archaeology finds us working on casa de los Grifos, a special domus near Complutum forum, that has been dug continuously since 2004: a classic peristylum house of 900 sq meters plus porticoes, with an important collection of Roman wall painting. The house was ruined in the 3th c., maybe when they were working, and was never reconstructed. This allows us to find almost the whole house painted decorations, and lots of data about everyday Roman life, covered in the ruins of ancient roofs.

In 2013 we are carrying three different works: the main one is the excavation and restoration of ambulacrum South and ambulacrum West, in the peristylum. Plus the catalogue of wall paintings from some rooms, and specific excavations of Classics Department from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. So, a group of about 20 people will be working at Casa de los Grifos from May to September.

Complutum-CG-06

Documenting a strata at Casa de los Grifos


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A day with Macedonian archaeology – “Kokolov Rid” (VIDEO)

This short documentary is an contribution for the celebration of the international “Day of Archaeology” 2013 by Museum of city of Vinica, R. Macedonia.

The archaeological site of Kokolov Rid at the Vinichka Krshla Village is a complex site.
It is 3 km to the north-east of the City of Vinica, at the left side of Vinica — Vinichka Krshla Village road, several hundred meters to the east of the archaeological site — necropolis Krshlanski Gumenja, at a small lengthened plate, above the Sushica River.

Realization:

Julijana Ivanova, Blagica Stojanova and Cone Krstevski – Museum of city of Vinica

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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.

Realization:
association Archaeologica

Interlocutor:
Elena Stojanova Kanzurova

Camera, Assembling, Music:
Jane Kacanski

Organisation:
Radomir Ivanovic
Elena Karanfilovska

Skopje, July 2013

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Day of Archaeology at Dundurn Castle National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

During the Day of Archaeology, our crew was carrying out a Stage 4 consulting excavation at Dundurn Castle National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The manor house was the 19th century home of politician and railway magnate Sir Alan MacNab, and the entire parkland surrounding the manor is a registered archaeological site, representing almost 9,000 years of human occupation. The site is also part of Burlington Heights, defended by the British military during the War of 1812. Our work is part of the ongoing management of this important archaeological and historical resource.DSC00636DSC00629DSC00631DSC00626DSC00637

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Wrapping Up the Day of Archaeology 2013

The Day of Archaeology team pays tribute to all of our contributors for 2013. We’ve seen some wonderful posts and some great responses on social media and via the comments form.

The day in numbers

  1. Registered users: 1,067
  2. Number of posts: 329 published (we have 13 in draft if the authors would like to finish them?). In 2012 we had 343 and in 2011 we had 429. So in total: 1,122 are published.
  3. Number of images: 3,291 have been submitted, in 2013 1,148 images were uploaded to the site.
  4. There were over 5,500 tweets sent using the hashtag of #dayofarch
  5. Facebook: reach grew by 263.6% on the previous week. (It will no doubt follow the long tail model until next year.) Average reach for posted links was 37 and for status updates 52.
    A statistical breakdown from facebook for demographics

    A statistical breakdown from Facebook for demographics

    Use of gender-specific pronouns within the text of day of archaeology posts – by Ben Marwick

  6. Our fan base by country is weighted towards the UK, USA and Spain.
  7. People from 85 countries visited the site, with the majority from the UK, USA, Canada and Spain.
  8. The most viewed posts on the ‘Day’ were by Charles Mount (326 views) and by Amanda Clarke (233 views)

Making the day better?

There are some issues , that  we need to resolve as a collective and as a contributing mass to make this project a success on a grander scale:

  1. How do we engage (this word has been debated at length in the last two years, for example at the CASPAR events at UCL) with a wider public audience and break the silo?
  2. How do we bring in funding to pay for publicity materials such as posters, stickers and mail shots? At the moment, the only costs are for running the server (covered under PAS running costs) and registering the domain name.
  3. Do we need to recruit new team members to make this project easier to run?
  4. How do we get established, big name academics and archaeologists to participate? We haven’t managed to garner contributions from people of the standing of Hodder or Renfrew, and we don’t seem to have had anything from the big name TV archaeologists even though we’ve badgered them on social media, for instance. Why have they not joined in? What is the barrier stopping these people from participating?
  5. How do we get archaeologists from developing and even many developed countries to participate? We lack a volume of entries from say sub-Saharan Africa or Japan or China or South America. The map below shows where people have come from to view the site (blue shades getting heavier means the site was viewed in greater quantities there).
    Location   Google Analytics
  6. How do we retain people annually? Contributions have gone down from the first year of the project even though we now have over 1000 individuals registered. Why is this?
  7. How do we get people with an interest, but no professional or amateur involvement in ‘archaeology’ as a discipline but maybe as a passion to contribute?
  8. How do we reach out to media channels and get our project into their output?
  9. How do we get institutional buy-in on the scale made by Museum of London or RCHAMS?
  10. Can we make this a reproducible model for other disciplines? We built on the Day of Digital Humanities for instance.
  11. What do we need to do better? Did you hear about the project at the last minute, or did you have problems registering or contributing your post? If you don’t tell us, we can’t improve.

Research potential

Some academic work has already been done on these data that have been generated via the project website. Since the 26th, Ben Marwick of the University of Washington has done some in-depth modelling using the R programming language and previously, Shawn Graham from CarletonUniversity did some topic modelling and has blogged extensively about what he did with the website content. The content added here, provides a wonderful career insight for aspiring archaeologists world-wide and can only get more useful year-on-year.

Visualisation of author groups screenshot from work by Ben Marwick.

Visualisation of author groups screenshot from work by Ben Marwick.

Now, we as a collective have to write up three years of the project as an academic article and the raw content of these posts will be posted as CSV to github shortly.

See you next year?

The Day of Archaeology team 2013: Andrew, Daniel, Jaime, Lorna, Matt, Monty and Tom.

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Curator Takes Vacation Only to Visit More Museums: How Taking My Work With Me Changed Everything

Mixing business with pleasure is not uncommon practice in the field of archaeology, as most archaeologists will tell you that they love their jobs. Sometimes, however, an opportunity will present itself so serendipitously that it can hardly be called “work” at all. Such was the case for me on a recent family vacation to Europe, where I came face to face with an important archaeological collection at the British Museum in London.

In June 2013, I accepted my first “real” job out of graduate school as Curator of Collections for the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) in Marco Island, Florida. I had finished my M.A. in Museum Studies at the University of Florida (UF) just six months prior, and in the meantime had been teaching an undergraduate anthropology course at UF while working as a Curatorial Assistant in the Anthropology Division at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). My first assignment for the MIHS would be to develop a permanent exhibit on the prehistory of Marco Island for installation in the Marco Island Historical Museum. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about Marco Island, not to mention life as a museum curator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Marco Island, it’s as picturesque as it sounds. The largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco’s natural crescent beach and fertile waters make it a hotspot for retirees, vacationers, and fisher folk alike. However, many visitors don’t realize that Marco is also home to one of the most famous archaeological sites ever discovered in North America.

 

Just another day on Marco Island, Florida. Photo by Austin Bell.

 

In 1895, a retired British military officer named Charles Durnford was tarpon fishing in the area when he was informed of an unusual find in the muck of Key Marco (now Marco Island). Not wanting to miss out on the action, he quickly set sail for Marco to perform his own excavation. It was not long before he too uncovered incredibly well-preserved artifacts made of wood, gourd, and cordage, materials that often do not survive in archaeological sites. Knowing the potential significance of these rare items, Durnford took them all the way to Philadelphia in hopes of conferring with his friend at the University of Pennsylvania, where by chance he encountered Frank Hamilton Cushing. Cushing, a famous anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed the importance of the finds and was duly inspired to make his own visit to Marco. What Cushing found in his subsequent visits (1895 and 1896) is the stuff of legend, an archaeological site so spectacular that it has yet to be replicated in more than 115 years of archaeology in Southwest Florida. Among the finds were painted wooden masks, finely woven nets, fishing floats made of wood and gourd, and beautifully carved wooden figureheads, some of the finest examples of prehistoric Native American art ever discovered. The most famous of these is the “Key Marco cat,” now housed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. The cat is so well-known that it’s been featured on a United States postage stamp (see picture)! For archaeologists and archaeology enthusiasts, the Key Marco site serves as one of best known examples of a “wet site,” where biological materials not ordinarily preserved can add greater context to our understanding of prehistoric cultures.

 

The “Key Marco cat” on a 1989 U.S. postage stamp. Image courtesy of the Marco Island Historical Society.

 

While Durnford’s cavalier removal of artifacts from Key Marco would be frowned upon today (i.e., illegal), he had the foresight to not only write up his findings in The American Naturalist (1895), but also to donate the objects to the esteemed British Museum in his home country. The fifteen objects remain there to this day, one of which (a wooden tray) has been on permanent exhibit since 1999 as a representative piece of “the Americas.”

 

The Southeastern United States section of the British Museum’s “North America” exhibit. Note the Seminole patchwork shirt at the top. The wooden artifact on the floor in the back is from Marco Island. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

The “wooden tray” discovered by Durnford at Key Marco in 1895, as seen on public exhibition at the British Museum in London. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

As fate would have it, my family had organized a trip to Europe months in advance of my hiring at Marco Island. Not wanting to miss out on a rare opportunity to spend “quality time” with my parents and two sisters (not to mention our first ever family vacation overseas), I informed the MIHS of our plans and they generously allowed me to go ahead with them. The British Museum was already on our itinerary, but with my new interest in the Durnford Collection, I put in a last-minute request to see the objects themselves. Given the short notice and my relative inexperience in the field, I was doubtful that such a request could be honored, but I figured “why not ask?” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when the good folks at the British Museum quickly replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” as I’ve come to realize that people in the museum field often bend over backwards to help a colleague. So it came to pass that on July 4th, a date on which I normally would be celebrating my home country’s independence from Great Britain, I stood inside the British Museum’s Ethnographic Collection Storage building by the grace of several wonderful and accommodating staff members, thanking my lucky stars (and stripes) to be in Great Britain. It was there that I came face to face with the Durnford Collection, an experience I am unlikely to forget.

 

Excitement builds as we pass through the gate to the British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).

 

Formulating a strategy for exploring the world-renowned British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).

 

The objects themselves are relatively unremarkable, at least when compared to Cushing’s finds of 1896. The collection consists of several shell tools, some potsherds, a few wooden float pegs, some highly deteriorated netting and cordage, and several other fragmented wooden artifacts. What struck me almost immediately, however, was that these were the very artifacts that Cushing looked at in 1895, probably in a setting similar to this one (with these same artifacts strewn across a table in a non-descript room), and inspired him to take his now famous expedition to Marco Island. Not only were these fifteen objects an inspiration to Cushing, they basically set off the more than 100 years of stellar archaeology conducted in Southwest Florida since him. As a student and practitioner of both museology and archaeology, everything finally made sense in a way that sitting in a classroom never could. I had gone from the person who preserved artifacts to the person artifacts were preserved for, if only for a few fleeting hours. All those years of wondering “who will ever look at all this stuff?” seemed to wash away and my confidence in my career choice reinvigorated. Given the age of the objects (ca. 500-1500 A.D.), the fact that they had been in collections storage for nearly 117 years, and the understanding that conservation techniques were not what they are now, their condition was remarkably good. For someone who had worked with archaeological materials from Southwest Florida for the better part of five years, the thought that someday, long after I’m gone, someone will be looking at an object or collection of objects that I helped curate and be equally excited and inspired seemed to make it all worth it.

 

The Durnford Collection as it appears 117 years after its excavation. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

The point of this article, however, is not to boast about my travels or associate myself with a renowned institution like the British Museum; people visit their collections all the time. The point, rather, is to share the inspiration I felt as a professional who can sometimes take for granted the amazing things I get to work with on a daily basis. At this point in my career I am more “museum professional” than “archaeologist,” so I’m obliged to advocate for the role that museums play in preserving artifacts that archaeologists uncover. Without museums, objects like those in the Durnford Collection wouldn’t be around for new generations of hungry eyes to feast upon. What’s more, there will almost certainly be new technologies and methods of analysis for museum collections in the future, much the way that radiocarbon dating didn’t exist in 1895. This makes the role of the museum all the more important in archaeology, allowing professionals and amateurs alike the opportunity to interpret and re-interpret the meaning of material culture for centuries to come. As I now try to incorporate what I’ve learned from the British Museum into the exhibit on Marco Island, I encourage you to think about what artifact or collection of artifacts has inspired you. While it’s all just “stuff,” so often it’s the inspiration for anything from a simple idea or personal revelation to a life’s work. Little did the makers of the artifacts discovered by Durnford know that hundreds of years later, their creations would be written about in books and inspiring people from a new locale halfway around the world. So, if you find yourself lacking that personal connection to an artifact (or archaeology in general), I implore you to visit your local museum. Heck, don’t just visit it, ask for a tour of the collections. After all, museum people get excited when other people get excited about museums, so as I said before, “why not ask?”; the worst they’ll do is say “no,” but the best they’ll do is change your life!

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