UK

Archaeologists working in UK

Beachfront archaeology in the Las Vegas of the North

This year’s Festival of Archaeology saw me in the Las Vegas of the North recceing several features to the north of Blackpool. The intertidal zone, where CITiZAN carries out much of its training is a dynamic environment that can change rapidly, sometimes overnight.  As a result a large portion of the training archaeologists’ job for CITiZAN involves investigating stretches of beach to see if they’re fun for volunteers to visit and making sure that that interesting feature you saw a year ago is still visible today. Happily Blackpool has a wonderful tramline, so I could leave the van at home and travel to site in a little more style.

Historic trams ply Blackpool seafront, just as they would have 100 years ago

Top of the list of features to visit on the day was the remains of a 19th century pier that consists of the timber piles, scattered wrought iron beams and several A-shaped ladders that originally formed a landing spot for ships. It’s a fantastic feature to show our volunteers how to carry out off-sets plans, use an automatic level and take archaeological photographs, all classic field skills transferable to any excavation, wet or dry.  Unfortunately the section of beach on which the pier is located is closed while a large scale bathing water improvement scheme is finished. (Something not mentioned by the landowner when we were negotiating access to the area earlier in the month.)  Optimistically though the feature is only just within the beach exclusion zone, the piles rise tantalizingly out of the sand twenty or so metres away and they don’t seem very close to the main area of works.

Just out of reach: the collapsed Victorian jetty rises out of the sand on the right of the photo

Perhaps we can negotiate access to the feature on a Sunday, when the site’s probably not working.  That’s something to go on the list for Monday morning though, as time and tide don’t wait for archaeologists; so for now it’s on to the second feature of the visit, a prehistoric peatshelf.  This is possibly the same peatshelf identified on Cleveleys’s foreshore in 1980, dated to the Early Holocene (12,000-7,000 BP) and referenced in Historic England’s peat database (Hazell 2008, 3).  Several peatshelves can be exposed on the foreshore at the same time, all dating to different periods and without any sort of location information it’s difficult to know if what I’m looking for is the same ancient land surface seen in the ’80’s.  But hopefully I can find the peatshelf again and we can get permission to carry out some environmental sampling, date the peatshelf and flesh out a little more detail on what the wider landscape looked like in the past.

One of the joys of working on the foreshore is that with every low tide your site can and frequently does change, with the tide moving sands, silts and mud around exposing new features or more of what you were looking at yesterday. But what the tide can expose, it can also cover up and when I get to the co-ordinates of the peatshelf there was nothing but sand, the feature had been completed covered after out last visit.  CITiZAN aims to be a non-intrusive project, doing as little excavation as possible, allowing erosion to largely uncover the features we look at; nature’s trowel as the boss would say.  A few hundred metres further north and closer to the low tide mark a new area of peatshelf appeared to have been exposed though, so this becomes the third feature to visit. Happily the newly exposed landsurface is larger than the original feature and contained remains of a submerged forest, including root systems, tree stumps and recumbent trunks.  These features are located close to mean low water and although it was only an hour after low tide the feature was already starting to be covered by the sea.  When we come back to do some more investigating the tidal window for the work will be narrow.

A prehistoric landscape on the edge of the tideline

With the tide starting to raise it’s off to the fourth feature of the morning, the wreck of a wooden vessel called the Abana a feature CITiZAN hadn’t visited before.  The Abana was a Norwegian barque built in 1874 and lost in 1894 (CITiZAN feature 65294), walking towards her it was clear the Abana would be an excellent feature to record with extant hull planking and frames.  But I got distracted by the new peatshelf and the water around the Abana is getting too deep to wade through safely, so this wreck will have to wait for a return visit.

What does an intertidal archaeologist do at high tide, once the sea has covered your features in several metres of water?  In the Las Vegas of the North it can only mean two things: pleasure piers and fun rides.  Blackpool’s first train station was built in 1846 and by 1879 almost a million people a year arrived by train to enjoy the town’s attractions, by the early 20th Century this had grown to almost 4 million annual visitors (Brodie and Whitfield 2014, 51).  Over the years since the arrival of the railways the town has built numerous attractions to entertain its visitors, many of which are now Listed by Historic England like the Big Dipper and Blue Flyer roller-coasters in the Pleasure Beach and the iconic Blackpool Tower.  So it’s time to make like the masses and head to the promenade for some historic fun.

 

The oldest of Blackpool’s three piers was built in 1863 and is the oldest surviving design of master pier builder Eugenius Birch

Hope to see you at the seaside soon too!

Come join CITiZAN on the foreshore for some intertidal archaeology


Poo from the Past: A Week of Archaeology Themed Fun at the Oak House Museum

By Rebecca Butler

Visitor Service Officer, Oak House, Sandwell Museum Service

To fit in with this years ‘Day of Archaeology’ staff at Oak House Museum in West Bromwich, decided to put on a week of activities all with an archaeology theme.

We set up an excavation next to our shipwreck playground. Children were given the opportunity to dig around the excavation site to find coins, pottery sherds and even bits of flint! Once they had their finds they took them to the ‘finds washing station’, gave them a good clean and then discussed what they had found with staff to decide which finds tray they belonged in dependent upon the object, its size and the material it was made out of.

After this, they were told that the Oak House staff had discovered a latrine full of coprolites, and they needed help with post-excavation analysis. Using special tools children carefully excavated the coprolites and recorded their finds on finds sheets. They then looked at the ‘Poos from the Past’ fact sheets in order to determine if they had discovered Roman persons Poo or a Tudor Persons Poo. It gave staff an opportunity to talk about diet and the different food people ate.

We also gave a tour of our site with a focus on standing building archaeology. This was well received by parents and children.

Both children and their parents had lots of fun and we received lots of good feedback from parents on the day. Overall it was a successful week of Archaeology at The Oak House Museum. For more information about our up-coming events visit our website www.sandwell.gov.uk/joininmuseums.


PhD(on’t you forget about me): Building a Thesis around the Lunatic Asylum and its Subaltern Lives

My name is Linnea Kuglitsch.

My day opens documentary research at an enviable nine o’clock in the morning. This timing is a far throw from my days in cultural resource management, where six-thirty meant sleeping in. This morning in Manchester, UK, there’s no sun in the sky and that makes it trickier than ever to get moving. That’s another change most Virginian mornings, where I’d lived for the better part of five years. Sun or none, I’m incredibly grateful to be where I am now; beginning the second year of my doctoral research at the University of Manchester, with a growing doctoral thesis that I have yet to loose passion for.

My research focuses on a historic demographic that continues to struggle to be heard, even in the present day; the mentally ill. My thesis will explore what archaeological assemblages can tell us about a series of asylum-based practices known as moral management. Moral management dominated American asylums for the better part of the nineteenth century, and lingered longer to some extent in the western states. It turned the built and material landscape into a mechanism of bodily and mental improvement and cure via an iconic physical landscape that balanced domesticity, occupational training, and diversion with other concerns like containment and control. Ultimately, professionals at these Victorian institutions hoped order, routine, prevention, and respect would rebuild the self-esteem and self-control of the insane, realigning them with rationality. Strained by fiscal limitations and overcrowding, these efforts ultimately fell short; however, the specialized architectural and artifactual record of these sites offers a rich and under-explored historical and cultural context for my analysis. Over the next two years, I will examine how curative encounters mediated by the material world resonated with cultural understandings of madness in the nineteenth century and test whether the attitudes and actions of the patient leave any discernible archaeological footprint.

An image of the iconic stairwell to the rooftop porches  of the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton, Virginia. This was taken during field research for an undergraduate thesis on the site, which led to my passion for researching institutional landscapes. Taking the air and viewing the rolling hills of the surrounding landscape was regarded as both a diversion and a way of improving individual health. Photo by author, 2014

I realize, as I type, that my thoughts have strayed to the tiny Virginian town of Staunton, where my interest in the institutional treatment of mental illness originated. To avoid falling too deeply into field nostalgia—which we as archaeologists can be very good at, I think, watching it begin to drizzle—I get down to business. In just a few weeks, I’ll be back in the United states, getting to work on the functional analysis of archaeological materials from two historic asylums that practiced moral management. For now, it’s time to lay the groundwork for my later analysis. I flip open my laptop and get to reading my primary sources. This morning, I continue a content-analysis of the scrapbooks of Dr. John Galt II, superintendent to the Eastern Lunatic Asylum from 1841 to 1862 There are four volumes of these scrapbooks. Each one is filled with newspaper articles carefully cut and pasted together. I run through these articles, with titles ranging “Suicide of a Communist” to “Atheists and Lunatics,” I begin to outline specific themes and categories that tie them together. Perhaps these themes reflect what appealed to and concerned Galt as the head of an asylum that needed to be brought into line with the more fashionable institutions springing up along the eastern spine of the United States. Whether these themes resonate with the physical remains of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum remains to be seen; in just a few months I will be analyzing archaeological collections and (physical) archives housed at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in hopes of connecting this rhetoric to evidence of actual, material practice. This research, coupled with data from a second case study from the pacific northwest, should provide a solid scaffolding for my doctoral thesis.

My mornings always feel unjustifiably luxurious and relaxed when I juxtapose them with my experience in cultural resource management, even as I struggle through primary sources—some fragments of these scrapbooks are next to illegible. Photo by author, 2017

Around twelve, I pack a lunch, grab an umbrella (predictably, it’s threatening to rain), and hop the bus down to the main University campus. Once arrived, I hunker down in the library and get to editing the first two chapters of my thesis. The main library is labyrinthine, but after two years of searching out books and quiet workspaces it doesn’t take me long to find a quiet corner and get to work.

I spend a little over an hour re-organizing a and editing section of my literature review before the highlight of my day arrives—lab time. In contrast to the time I spent in cultural resource management, where so much of the was down to processing and identifying artifacts recovered during systematic testing (from eighteenth-century cufflink gems to huge pieces of relatively modern toilet cisterns), lab work is a refreshing break from staring at a glaring laptop screen or a scrap of paper in the dimly lit archival work space. I pack up my things and head to Mansfield-Cooper, a sad-looking, linear building that houses the UoM Archaeology Department. In preparation for my doctoral fieldwork, Professor Eleanor Casella has been providing training in functional analysis for me, using finds from the most recent excavations. This level of one-on-one training is representative of the culture of the Archaeology Department at the University of Manchester. Despite being hugely understaffed—it’s the smallest department with top-ten ranking in UK archaeology—the lecturers are incredibly invested in their students and generous with their time. This department is characterized by one of the most friendly and supportive academic cultures I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience.

Photo by author, 2017.

We begin to process and catalogue materials from the 2015 season of the Kerry Lodge Archaeology Project, a community-oriented excavation that centers on convict-era features in northern Tasmania. I began attending KLAP in 2016, so the materials we’re processing are new to me—and despite my previous experience, I learn a great deal with every batch of finds. We sort through all sorts of sherds, shards, and other bits and pieces; shards of glass from square gin cases, the fragmented remains of ammunition and textured scraps of rubber. Artifacts from each context are sorted by fabric and cleaned. This primes these assemblages to be catalogued. Professor Casella and I weigh, measured and record the form, material, and specific function of each artifact. As we move into contexts of interest, I gain confidence in dealing with materials that I never encountered during my time in cultural resources management, from the thick, iridescent glass sherds of a panel mirror to an intact gunflint. As we set to inventorying each batch, the materials are cleaned and set out to dry overnight.

Ceramics and glass from one context, cleaned and waiting until next week. Photo by author, 2017.

Over the next week, the process will continue—and as I clean, catalogue, and photograph, I become increasingly confident in my capacity to gather my own data.  The history I hope to plumb is a delicate and dark one; however, I feel the benefits of my research outweigh its risks. Historical attitudes have shaped current narratives surrounding mental illness. If we can dredge up a bit more of the past, we can contextualize the difficulties, stigma, and challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals today. Perhaps one day I can transform this unique focus into an outreach project with its own therapeutic value. For now, I have to settle for  building the core research from which I may someday be able to build such a project–and really, that feels nothing like settling at all.

To learn more about my research on and interest in the nineteenth-century lunatic asylum and other historic institutions–from penitentiaries to boarding schools–join me on researchgate or twitter.


 

Unfortunately, the research I’ve outlined today—and many more projects like it, undertaken by aspiring and early career scholars, heritage-workers, and field-archaeologists—is currently struggling to survive. The University of Manchester Administration has recently proposed a massive cut to the to its senior faculty. Among the of 171 senior staff members slated for termination, professors from the archaeology department have been uniquely targeted. Come next July, we will lose four of our eight full-time lecturers, already down from a full twelve the last year. This action (justified under the unsubstantiated rhetoric of “improving the student experience”) cuts an already strained department in half, and will leave use well beyond functioning capacity. Several stakeholders have approached the University, which has now sworn to provide “no further answers” to concerns voiced in protestation of these unjustified cuts from within the institution. However, If you can spare just a moment, please sign on to this petition protesting these actions—if you have more time, the faculty and students would be very grateful if you would send an email or letter of support (or gentle admonishment) to Dame Nancy Rothwell, whose contact details I will list below.  You can learn more about our cause (and other ways to support it) here. If you’re interested in how this process is negatively affecting aspiring researchers, check out this post from another doctoral candidate in our department.

Contacts to Protest Cuts to University of Manchester Arts and Archaeology Staff

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester
M13 9PL
president@manchester.ac.uk

Professor Keith Brown
Dean of Humanities
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester
M13 9PL
Keith.brown@manchester.ac.uk

Mr Edward Astle
Chair of the Board of Governors
University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester
M13 9PL
chair@manchester.ac.uk

Putting the Experimental Into Archaeology!

We are archaeology students from Cardiff University undertaking a month’s fieldwork placement at Butser Ancient Farm. The farm, situated not far from Portsmouth in Hampshire, is well known as a site for conducting experimental archaeology.
As part of the national Day of Archaeology, the site organised a ‘Try it Day’, where members of the public could participate in a variety of activities ranging from wattle fencing to stone baking bread. Our activity was to build and test a functional Roman style onager, rectifying the problems found in our first attempt.

The onager, named after its donkey-like kick when it fires, is a siege engine developed in ancient Greece and later adopted by the Romans, which sources its power entirely through torsion. The basic framework for the onager is constructed from 4”x4” timber around a 48” x 27” frame with a 46” arm. The site’s original onager, which measures an approximate 10ft in height, faced two key issues surrounding both its ease of use and capability. Firstly, as the rope bundle would not hold high torsion, the siege engine would not fire particularly far in proportion to its large size. Secondly, those who used the original onager faced tremendous trouble cocking it to fire effectively. To conquer the torsion issue, pins would need to be installed to secure the torsion rods in place and prevent the bundle slipping. Furthermore, to amend the struggle of cocking the firing arm, a ratchet system would be installed to crank back the firing arm which would then be fired using a pin on the end of a string.

Even though we faced a fair few bumps during the construction of the onager, we managed to construct it just in time to fire on Try it Day! The catapult was set up, we were all dressed up, and the rotten apples were just waiting to be fired. However, there was one problem we were unprepared for; the sheer popularity of the onager amongst the kids. The system worked, firing time and time again in succession, achieving a greater distance each time as the torsion was further racked up. Then disaster struck, in the form of a miscreant child cracking the dowel on the firing mechanism. Halted for two hours, we scrambled to find an alternative but safe firing mechanism which would still let the children participate. As the sky broke and heavens opened, we settled for cocking the arm by hand and pinning it through two eyes screwed into the frame of the onager. Regardless of the rain, the children kept in high spirits and carried on participating. Interestingly, the rain aided us in our efforts by lubricating the bundle and dowels, in turn allowing torsion to be again increased, flinging apples further and further until it reached the end of the paddock.

Overall, the project was a success and proved popular amongst kids of all ages, successfully introducing them to what you might term ‘experiential’ archaeology. Furthermore, once the dowel on the cocking mechanism is replaced, we aim to conduct some experimentation around the firing of the onager – testing different lengths of sling, and subsequently different firing arcs, to see which is deemed the most effective and efficient method of catapulting projectiles.

Hannah Rock and Lewis Beck

The Council for British Archaeology’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month

This August see’s the first Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month swing into action, perfectly timed for those of you who are looking for something to do now the Festival of Archaeology is over for another year.

©-IWM-Art.IWM-PST-2735

For those of you who don’t know, Home Front Legacy is a Council for British Archaeology (CBA) project, funded by Historic England, that helps community groups, local societies and individuals record the legacy of the First World War in their area. Our recording app enables people to share new knowledge about buildings, places and events and make them accessible to all via a map of sites.

We’ve already had over 3,000 sites added to our map but we’d love to get even more so we decided to create the Big Recording Month to let people know just how easy it is to discover and record sites in your local area. Over the next four weeks we’ll be providing a step by step guide to give you all the tools you need to get involved. Our first blog went live on Monday and my colleague Chris Kolonko, Home Front Legacy Project Archaeologist, tells you everything you need to know about the project and the enormous impact the First World War had on the UK. We’ll be posting a new blog every Monday for the next three weeks with details on how to search for sites and how to record and upload your data to the app.

Alongside our blog posts we’ll be busy on social media providing inspiration and encouragement and highlighting some of the new sites recorded so make sure to follow us on Twitter @homefrontlegacy and Facebook /homefrontlegacy.

We’ve also come up with some great themes to get you inspired: local events; the role of women and food and rationing. From fundraising performances at the local cinema, to schools producing scarves and clothing for soldiers and sailors, recording the Home Front covers much more than the pillboxes and practice trenches that immediately spring to mind.

Today I’ve been busy finding out about sites in York that I can add to the map. A quick search of the internet and the list is already fairly long, including an internment camp at the Castle Museum that held both civilian and military prisoners; a chemist who offered cheap tooth removal so your rotten teeth didn’t prevent you from joining up; and the Yorkshire Herald Building where the war was announced to cheers and a hearty performance of the national anthem.

I’ve also been working on our plans for a series of First World War training events, a collaborative partnership between the Home Front Legacy and Living Legacies, one of the AHRC funded First World War Engagement Centres. These events will provide training on how to record First World War sites around the country and provide help and guidance to community groups and societies who would like to develop their own First World War projects. The first workshops will be held this October at IWM Duxford and Bristol. Follow the links if you’d like to find out more.

I hope you’ll join me and take part in the CBA’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month, and get your friends, family and local societies involved too! Lets see how many new sites we can add to the map over the next month and help preserve the stories and places of the First World War at home for future generations.

Days of(f) archaeology

I’ve posted twice before, in 2013 and 2016, both times taking a break from work to write about what I was up at that moment, on the actual Day of Archaeology. This year however I was on a train heading up to the Lake District for a long weekend away from my job as one of two archaeologists for the South East region of CITiZAN (the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network). And thinking about how days off archaeology are still nearly always days of archaeology, something most, if not all, archaeologists would agree with.

Holiday reading

No 7 lipstick on the path at Yew Crag Quarries, above Honister Hause

The cairn on High Spy. Was it once intentionally shorter and squatter, or did the top fall and get replaced?

A window within a window. Keswick


NICK THE LOCK’S COTTAGE

There is much mirth amongst the diggers. Two babies’ comforters, a plastic joke beard, a sponge rubber cushion, a Marathon wrapper (the antecedent of the Snickers chocolate bar), several crisp packets, a car choke cable…the artefacts found in our uppermost deposit were a mixed lot. But a Marathon wrapper provides an opportunity to introduce the idea of terminus post quem and terminus ante quem to my volunteer novice archaeologists, since it must have been discarded before 1990, when the much-lamented name change took place. Crisp packets, too, bear ‘best-by’ dates, telling us approximately when earthworms tugged them into the soil. We are experiencing a little contemporary archaeology as we investigate what is a very public site, a few metres from the towpath of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, south-west of Cwmbran, Wales.

The Mon&Brec silted weedily into obscurity in the 1930s, as a last trickle of freight it carried finally dried up and, unable to compete with rail and road transport, it was abandoned by its owner, the Great Western Railway. At the same time, Richard Williams, “Nick the Lock” as he was known by locals, lock-keeper of the Ty Coch flight of nine locks, settled into retirement, having spent 40-odd years ensuring that the stretch of waterway in his charge contained enough water to allow the passage of barges travelling south to Newport or north through what was still a busy industrial area of south Monmouthshire, crammed with collieries, iron works, brick and lime kilns, tinplate factories and stone quarries. The canal quickly became derelict. Williams, however, continued to live in the lock keeper’s cottage, which stood beside Shop Lock, once the site of a canal-side workshop. After his death, his daughter(s) stayed on, until their isolated home was demolished in the 1950s, its stone reused by a nearby farmer.

Over 60 years later, several of the locks at Ty Coch have been restored in a four-year “Waterworks” paject, a partnership between the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust and Torfaen Borough Council. Every recent summer I haved joined in, working alongside and leading groups of volunteers from the Waterway Recovery Group.

As I wandered about the work sites, with their spreads of dredged-up silt, disturbed soil and rubble, I would pick up significant numbers of fragments of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century ceramics (Figure 1). The scatter was over a considerable area and around several locks. This presence of a spread of fragmentary material echoed something I’d noticed on other canals and other locks, for example the Swansea Canal further west in Wales and the Stover Canal in Devon. I imagine these deposits are due to the practice of spreading “night soil,” the contents of privies, as fertiliser. Privies were convenient places to dispose of ashes and other domestic waste, including broken crockery, but since they were ‘dry,’ there being no mains sewerage nor piped water, they would have to be regularly emptied, and in isolated spots such as Ty Coch the nearby vegetable garden would be the logical and useful place to do this.

Figure 1: Artefacts from disturbed soils at Ty Coch.

Williams was the last of a profession that had cared for the Ty Coch locks since they opened for their first barges in 1796. The spread of material appeared to match this continuous occupation. But where had it originated? When the restoration scheme began there was no trace of either workshop or cottage, though both were shown on OS maps (Figure 2). An excavation in 2013 (Burchell ND) revealed the plan of the workshop, together with a fine sawpit. A small trench dug in 2014 located a wall. However a few cm of wall does not a cottage make! With the encouragement of the on-site team I proposed an archaeological investigation to firmly pinpoint the site of the lock-keeper’s cottage and to learn as much as possible about the lives of Nick the Lock and his predecessors.

Figure 2: 1890s Ordnance Survey map showing buildings to west of Shop Lock, Ty Coch.

That two-week excavation ended, at least for 2017, on the Day of Archaeology. It coincided with the end of the Waterworks project. Carried out entirely by Waterway Recovery Group volunteers, the excavation revealed the northern part of the cottage, with north, east and western walls. Cut into the sloping ground on the north side we found what was probably a kitchen, with a partially-blocked fireplace, perhaps backing a range (Figure 3). On the west side there was a passage floored with bricks and flagstones, and a small cast-iron drain cover (Figure 4). This may not have been roofed.

Figure 3: Fireplace in north wall of cottage.

 

Figure 4: Passage on west side of cottage, looking north.

The cottage’s outer walls were constructed using large ashlar stone blocks that appear to have been re-used, either from left-over canal construction material or perhaps had been quarried from the nearby Cistercian abbey at Llantarnam. Internal walls were also mostly of stone, but used smaller blocks, with a rubble infill. All the internal walls were faced, at least at their base, with a thick skim of lime cement. The internal floors were also of lime cement, with occasional flagstones. Doorways had stone steps.

When the north wall was built, the construction trench was backfilled using what looks like clinker, large lumps of slag, and numerous roof tiles, some of which were stamped “Sealy’s Patent,” suggesting a source constructed after 1843. The abundant burnt material could have come from the adjacent workshop, which may have forged its own ironwork and possibly housed a steam-powered saw. The roof tiles support the suggestion that the cottage we excavated was the second on the site, replacing a building dating from the 1840s. The later cottage was roofed in slate.

Unlike the nearby open areas, not many artefacts were found associated directly with the cottage. The topsoil entertained us with its mix of plastic, beer cans, crisp packets, car parts, toy plastic soldiers, an umbrella, milk bottles and the like, much of it dating from the 1980s. Other deposits contained small amounts of nineteenth century ceramics, but did not match the concentration of material present just 20m to the south. We have so far located about a third of the cottage. The southern part may have been completely robbed away, but there are tantalising indications of external features on both east and west sides.

So, for once, on the last-ever Day of Archaeology, I was actually doing real archaeology – some 60-odd guests invited to the celebration to mark the end of the Waterworks project can vouch for that (Wigmore 2017)! I must acknowledge the commitment, hard work and enthusiasm of the Waterway Recovery Group volunteers, most of whom had to climb a steep archaeological learning curve as well as acquire blisters! Both the Trust and Torfaen council are keen to carry out more work, and to expose and conserve the cottage remains, so I hope that we may learn yet more about the home of Nick the Lock.

Ralph Mills

 

References

Burchell, R. ND. An Archaeological Report on an excavation at Shop Lock Ty Coch. http://media.wix.com/ugd/90e7f0_00af16ceaf174c7689d9824ea37cab70.pdf

Wigmore, Sarah, 2017. Special ceremony to commemorate Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal restoration. South Wales Argus web site. 28th July. http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/15441511.Special_ceremony_to_commemorate_Monmouthshire_and_Brecon_Canal_restoration/

Old pots, new technology

‘Day of Archaeology 2017’ finds me working on the final stages of a finds project with a difference. Instead of working my way through boxes of pottery sherds, I’m sat in front of my computer, updating and enhancing the Worcestershire on-line ceramic type series. This work builds on the strong tradition of ceramic research in the County, which is one of the few regions in the country to have a comprehensive pottery type series covering all periods. This physical type series is the work of a series of dedicated finds specialists based in the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, primarily Derek Hurst and Victoria Bryant. It provides all archaeologists working in the county with a standardised way of identifying and recording pottery.

The on-line type series first went live in 2003 and has been added to piecemeal as and when small amounts of funding became available. However, this year we were lucky enough to secure funding from Historic England as part of its Improving Sector Reference Resources initiative. This has enabled us to not only enhance and add to the information available on the website but also update the software so that the site not only runs more smoothly but is optimized for use on mobile phones and tablets. This has not all been straightforward! A lot of my time has been spent in dialogue with the web designer, identifying things that work well and trying to solve issues and bugs that have cropped up along the way. I have to admit that a lot of the technical stuff has gone over my head and I’m sure that a lot of the detailed pottery information has equally confused the designer, but now we are on the final straight we can see that the time spent sending emails back and forth has been well worth it!

I have mainly been focused on uploading our form series for locally produced medieval wares and more commonly found post-medieval fabrics (the composition of the clay) and forms (the type of vessel). For the forms, this involved selecting and uploading representative illustrations and writing a brief description of each form type. Medieval vessels were also cross-referenced with the MPRG (Medieval Pottery Research Group) type series.

In the case of the post-medieval fabrics, each type sherd has had a clean break photographed. Getting this clean break isn’t as easy as it sounds – it has to be as even as possible to photograph well and in some cases, it felt as if there would be next to no sherd left to photograph as I repeatedly snipped to try and achieve this! However, it has been well worth the effort, with the resulting images being of extremely high resolution, enabling the user to zoom in and out to focus on specific inclusions or fabric details.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this project has been the addition of concordance tables for all medieval and post-medieval fabrics. This provides a link to pottery type-series from surrounding counties and is hopefully the first step to creating a truly regional resource.

With the end of this stage of the project in sight, my main task today is to go back through each fabric to make sure that the text is correct, that uploaded illustrations and photographs are displaying correctly and checking that all of the links work smoothly. Any last little niggles are being noted so that we can get everything smoothed out before this new, enhanced version of the site goes live in the last week of August. It’s an exciting time – my colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing all of our hard work come to fruition and hope that it will be a valuable research tool not only for other finds specialists but for the archaeological community in general.

For me personally, it’s the end of an extremely successful project! Not only have I enjoyed seeing our rather ambitious vision coming together but I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Working through the fabric and form data and using some of the knowledge I have gained through 18 years of working on pottery in Worcestershire has been particularly satisfying. However, perhaps even more useful has been to opportunity to revisit older reports and discuss content, ideas or issues with colleagues and fellow specialists from other organisations.

For those who are interested in the project, the old version of the website can be viewed at www.worcestershireceramics.org .  The new, enhanced version will be available to view at the same address from the end of the month.

Diwrnod ym mywyd Curadur Archaeolegol

Cyhoeddwyd y blog hwn ar ran Adam Gwilt, Prif Guradur Archaeoleg Cynhanes, Amgueddfa Cymru.

Cyfarchion ar Ddiwrnod Archaeoleg!

Fy enw i yw Adam Gwilt ac rwy’n archaeolegydd a churadur. Mae fy swyddfa yn Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd, ac rwy’n gweithio ar draws ein safleoedd eraill hefyd. Fi sy’n gyfrifol am ofalu a datblygu ein casgliadau Neolithig, Oes Efydd ac Oes Haearn yn Amgueddfa Cymru, ar ran pobl Cymru a thu hwnt. Astudiais Archaeoleg ym Mhrifysgol Durham, gan ennill profiad gwaith maes a diddordeb mewn ymchwilio i ddiwylliant materol, cyn cael y swydd hon.

Fi yn gweithio ar gelc Oes Efydd

Mae diwrnod arferol yn y gwaith yn amrywio’n fawr, gyda phob math o ddyletswyddau yn ogystal â gwneud yn siŵr bod eraill o fy nghwmpas yn gallu gwneud eu gwaith. Ymysg fy swyddogaethau mae tasgau ac ymchwil yn ymwneud â’r casgliadau; delio ag ymholiadau ymchwil a’r cyhoedd; datblygu projectau partneriaeth; delio â’r cyfryngau ar bynciau archaeolegol; ymgysylltu â grwpiau cymunedol; cefnogi projectau addysg a’r Cynllun Henebion Cludadwy yng Nghymru.

Rhaid cofnodi’r gwrthrychau yn fanwl

Un o’r pethau gorau am fy swydd yw cael gweithio ar ddarganfyddiadau trysor newydd yng Nghymru. Byddaf yn ysgrifennu adroddiadau i’r crwner ar ddarganfyddiadau trysor cynhanesyddol, gan gydweithio i sicrhau bod y broses adrodd yn rhedeg yn rhwydd yng Nghymru. Ar hyn o bryd, rwy’n creu adroddiad ar gelc o arfau o ddiwedd yr Oes Efydd, a ddarganfuwyd yn ddiweddar yn Sir Fynwy. Yn ffodus, roedd modd i ni wneud ychydig o waith cloddio archaeolegol ar y safle, i greu darlun llawnach a chael gwell syniad pam fod y celc wedi’i gladdu bron i 3,000 o flynyddoedd yn ôl.

Ymysg fy nyletswyddau eraill, rwy’n gyd-reolwr ar broject Hel Trysor; Hel Straeon, sy’n cael ei ariannu gan raglen Collecting Cultures Cronfa Dreftadaeth y Loteri; yn gydawdur ar gyhoeddiad ynglŷn â’n gwaith cloddio cymunedol ar safle Oes Haearn Llan-faes, Bro Morgannwg; ac rwy’n cyfrannu arbenigedd ar ddau broject ailddatblygu mawr yn Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru ac Amgueddfa Lleng Rufeinig Cymru, Caerllion.

Waterlogged wonders from Must Farm: Bronze Age boats, bowls, boxes and buckets

As an independent wood specialist, I’m spending the day sat at my computer, finalising the text for the waterlogged wood assessment report for the timbers excavated from the Late Bronze Age pile dwelling at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire, UK. The excavations at Must Farm and in the surrounding landscape over the last ten years have been truly astonishing, turning up the remains of nine Bronze Age log boats, and – most recently – a breathtakingly well-preserved settlement, built on piles above a river channel. Must Farm is one of those archaeological sites that presents a tangible snapshot of how past lives were lived, beautifully preserved in the anaerobic conditions of the river muds.

Overhead view of the excavation (Courtesy of CAU)

The document I’m working on needs to outline all the waterlogged wood that was excavated and recorded on site, assess its significance as an archaeological assemblage and lay out the case for the analysis that could be carried out. I’m dealing with remains of the wooden structures that once stood at the site, the tools and wooden artefacts that they used in and around their homes, even the woodchips that resulted from building the settlement. All the different material types – pottery, metalwork, bone, textiles, and many others – will have a specialist assessment which will be brought together to produce an overarching document summarising all the discoveries made at the site. The archaeological contractor (Cambridge Archaeological Unit) will then work with Historic England and the developer (Forterra) to decide how to move the project forward into the analysis and publication phase.

Although we’re not carrying out any detailed analysis at the assessment stage, it’s already proving to be a fascinating process. The spatial information is starting to be pulled together in GIS, so we can now ‘see’ a lot of the settlement’s wooden structure on the computer screen. This is essential as it’s a really big assemblage, with about 5000 pieces of wood recorded. I’ve been working closely with Iona Robinson Zeki, one of the site supervisors. Although I was on site a lot, it’s not the same as being there every day and it’s that fine-grained knowledge of the excavation which is now helping to bring the construction of the settlement into sharp focus.

Some of the plan data for Roundhouse 1 (Courtesy of CAU)

We spent a lot of time as a team, talking in the trenches about how the roundhouses were built and, although there’s still a lot we don’t know, it’s great to see some of our ideas and theories down in black and white on the page (well, screen).

Key Structural elements of Roundhouse 1 (Courtesy of CAU)

There are around 170 wooden artefacts which Vicki Herring, CAU’s fantastic illustrator, has drawn. As the artefacts are now all in conservation at York Archaeological Trust, the illustrations are proving an essential resource while pulling together a catalogue of the material.

Wooden beater (Courtesy of Vicki Herring / CAU)

I’m really looking forward to reading the full assessment document and beginning to see all the different strands of evidence come together. Then it will be time to crack on with the analysis, and really get to grips with what the wooden remains can tell us about the lives of the people who lived in this settlement 3000 years ago.