Archive | Maritime Archaeology

Stories from archaeologists working on or under the sea.

How do you like your walls, Your Majesty?

My name is Helen and I am an archaeologist. Some people would call me an amateur, non-professional or volunteer… Whatever, the truth is, I don’t get paid to do this.

I am involved with the Thames Discovery Programme (the TDP) – we monitor and record the archaeology of the tidal Thames in London. I actually had a weekend of archaeology, which is why I’m writing this on Monday evening!  This year’s Day of Archaeology coincided with one of our main events of the year, the Open Foreshore at the Tower of London, and it’s left me a bit spoilt for choice for what to write about. But as it was the Tower of London, and I have got a little bit of annual leave to use up, I decided to escape the office on Friday and do some archaeology instead.

So here’s what I did on the Day of Archaeology…

The TDP had spent the whole week working on the foreshore in front of the Tower. The whole of the river foreshore is very vulnerable to erosion, and the section at the Tower has had some of the worst damage, in places it has dropped 30cm in a year.

Not a bad way to spend your day off

It’s reached crisis point, as the medieval foundations of the river wall are now visible and being undercut, which really doesn’t bode well for long term future of the wall. There are plans to cover the whole area with rock reinforcements to stop it falling into the river, but this means that the archaeological features that we’ve been recording and monitoring will be covered up, so Friday was one of the last chances we’d got to record and take samples of what we’ve found.

Recording the riverwall. The exposed foundations are at thigh height here.

Cracks are starting to appear in the wall.

As well as recording the wall, we also finished recording and sampling several different timber structures that are on the site, including the remains of a medieval jetty and what possibly, might be an Anglo-Saxon fish trap. Maybe.

And the rest of the weekend? As well as our week long summer fieldwork sessions, Foreshore Recording and Observation Groups (known as the FROGs) also visit various key sites along the river to monitor the archaeology and how it is changing. I coordinate the Greenwich FROG and on Saturday a small group of us met up to visit the foreshore in front of the Old Royal Naval College. Like the Tower, this section is being heavily eroded, and there are a lot of interesting features, including the remains of two large jetties, one 12th century and a later Tudor one, as well as everything from preserved prehistoric peat to the remains of 19th century barge building structures.

The Greenwich FROG recording a mediaeval jetty at Greenwich last month

Then Sunday I was back at the Tower to help steward the Open Foreshore event, the only time in the year the foreshore is open to the public. You can see lots of pictures from the event on the Thames Discovery Programme’s Flickr feed.

I don’t normally do so much at one time. One of the great things about being a part of the TDP is that you don’t have to give up weeks of your annual leave and spend time away from your family to get involved. But the Tower is such an interesting site, and I really like helping in the public outreach work, because it reminds me how much fun there is in what we do!

Walking over the foreshore at Greenwich, a site that I’ve come to know and love over the years, it can be dispiriting to see the damage that is being caused by the erosion. However, the group have been thinking about our future plans and one thing we want to do more of is raising awareness of the amazing archaeology, and creating a record to share what we’ve found, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the weekend talking to people about how we can make this happen. So all in all it’s been a really positive few days, even if going back into the office on Monday felt like a nice relaxing break ;)

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A Day on the Iron Farm: A post on Jake Harding’s day

My name is Jake Harding. I am an intern at the Iziko Museums of South Africa working in the Historical and Maritime Archaeology section. We are currently working on three major projects, each of which is at a different stage. This means that in the course of a day my duties are varied, both in terms of site and focus.

Our current sites are:
Marion Island: An Island to the South East of South Africa with a history as a sealing station. This Island is also the site of a shipwreck that left its crew marooned for 3 months. We have a number of artefacts undergoing conservation from sites across the island.
V&A Waterfront Grain Silo Shipwreck: A shipwreck was discovered during development of the Grain Silo Precinct at the V&A Waterfront early in 2012. This site included the lower parts of a wooden vessel (such as the keel, some planking and the lower frames) and a large number of iron objects including cannonballs, pieces of machinery and currently unidentified fragments. The majority of artefacts currently being conserved in the lab come from this site.
Clifton Site (Sao Jose): Possibly the wreck site of the slave ship Sao Jose, the Clifton site is currently our primary field site. We have a small collection of artefacts undergoing conservation including copper alloy spikes and a cannonball. Plans for the future are to retrieve one of the cannons from the site for conservation and study.
Our facilities include an office and resource library for research and organization, a dive store for our more specialist fieldwork gear, a ‘wet lab’ facility for artefact conservation that requires the use of chemicals, an outside area for the dirtier aspects of this conservation and a store for our collection materials.
I am not a morning person. As such I survive the beginning of each day with the comforts of routine. I come in at 8am. First thing to do is log on to my computer. To allow it time to get ‘towards itself’ I then do a round of the lab to check on the various artefacts that we are working on in order to observe any changes during the night. Is the barrel stave from Marion Island consolidating in its polyethylene glycol (PEG) solution? How have the iron objects from the V&A Silo wreck changed overnight? Once I have done my round I ask my boss, archaeologist Jaco Boshoff, if there are any developments in the planning of projects or if there are specific tasks that need to be performed today. This is the time when I source quotes for gear and conservation materials as well as perform any necessary correspondence, such as organizing a presentation at the Institute of Maritime Technology (IMT) next month.


Jaco planning projects

Once this is done with the practical side of my day starts. As we currently have so many iron objects undergoing conservation (almost 200) the majority of my time will be spent working on them. These objects are kept in plastic bins or PVC lined milk crates, each with a code to describe where the contained objects came from on the site (context is everything after all).


So how are we doing today?

To prevent the degradation of the objects through cracking and oxidation (rust), the artefacts are kept in a weak caustic soda solution (5-10%). This increases the pH of the solution which slows down the oxidation process whilst the solution helps to desalinate the iron. Desalination is the removal of chlorides that have permeated the metal during its time in seawater and is very important in artefact conservation as these salts both speed up oxidation of the metal and create cracks from expanding crystals.
The solution needs to be changed in order to remove salts that have already been washed out and most of my day is spent doing this. As archaeologists and conservators we must record what we do to artefacts in our care so that if someone else wishes to work on the artefacts they can see what has already been done. As such we test the condition of the objects by testing the pH and conductivity of the solution both before and after treatment in order to gauge the progress of the desalination process.
Once the initial test is complete I remove the artefacts from their solution and place them on a pallet for cleaning. The solution is disposed of and the container cleaned. Cleaning the artefacts themselves requires everything from hammers and chisels to brushes and hoses. When iron oxidizes underwater it often develops a layer of corrosion product called concretion. This material is fixed to the object and extremely hard. This is where the hammer and chisel come in. Great care is needed to remove the concretion however as not only do we not want to damage the underlying artefact but the concretion itself may hold fragments of smaller objects. Having removed the majority of concretion from an object it is time to brush off any loose corrosion layers or irrelevant organic material. This requires the brush, hose and fine detail hammers. Having cleaned the artefacts I return them to their container and fill it with water to a known volume.


Jake’s choice of weapons

This process is repeated for as many of the containers as I can do in a day. Once the last container is processed I add caustic soda to each to create a solution of known concentration (usually 5-10%). I give the solutions about 30 minutes to begin reacting and then go back to them in the same order that I added the caustic soda to test their new pH and conductivity.
Once this is done the results of the days recording are added to a spreadsheet for future reference.
I end the day with a final round of checking the artefacts to make sure everything is ok.

SAM_0830 SAM_0833 SAM_0835

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The working day of Cape Town’s Archaeology-Cool-Kids-Club

Cape Town has been relatively grey this week; I woke up this morning thinking I was back in York. Having got my bearings correct I set about the morning getting ready for work. I’m the new archaeology intern at the Iziko South African Museum ( and for Day of Archaeology I’m basically going to play the role of a journalist, going around asking people about their day and taking photos. So let’s start with my day.


Iziko South African Museum

Keneiloe (Kenni) Molopyane


Bioarchaeologist turned Physical Anthropology PhD candidate

At some point in the morning I finally made it to my office in the Archaeology Department bracing myself for a relatively calm day filled with admin work, gathering Physical Anthropology data for my potential PhD proposal and sorting out my relocation logistics… I quickly slip into my general intern routine that includes running up and down the stairs to collect the mass amount of prints I send to the printing machine one floor above us. Then it’s a quick scanning of the notice-board, which I inherited from the last intern. I decided it didn’t need any updating today besides; I have somehow managed to paste the wall around the actual notice-board with short articles, notices, comics and job/funding posts. The actual notice-board is bare!! I seem to have some mad skills there. Right, then it’s my favourite part of the day, reading emails. Depending on how many emails I’ve sent out the previous day determines how many responses I get back and for how long I’m going to be sat in front of my computer. The most interesting bit of news from the electronic mailman is that my new office at the next institution I’ll be tutoring at is in the basement! How awesome, I get a crypt-like office!! My dream of becoming “Bones” is that much closer to becoming reality; I’m a bioarchaeologist by the way. I’m more interested skeletal or mummified remains of past peoples than I am of the artefacts left behind. I’m the creepy chick in the department.

Emails, done; printing, done; coffee *slurp* finished; and so I grab my camera and dash out over to Iziko Social History centre to go bug the guys up at Historical/ Maritime Archaeology. I started my Iziko career over in that building in Maritime Archaeology, so it’s always grand to just chill up there with the guys over a cup of coffee, laugh and be teased at. So, I get there and do my paparazzi gig and stare, dumb-founded, at all the shipwreck material in the lab.
Jaco Boshoff


Getting into the proposal writing zone

Jaco is the curator of Maritime and Historical Archaeology. This morning I found both him and Jake (maritime archaeology intern) in the wet lab calibrating the ph reader, so they can start using it on a series shipwreck material that dots the lab and the balcony. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to serious curator business…making the hardworking interns some delicious coffee =). Hie, hie, jokes aside, Jaco gets settled in working on publications and research monies to keep myself and Jake coming back for more work experience and most importantly the awesome diving adventures that are in the works. Leaving Jaco to get on with his day, I turn my attention to Jake.

Jake Harding


The “not sure if Jaco is talking to me or himself again” look.

Jake is the maritime archaeology intern on the same funding programme I’m on (DST-NRF). Now Jake, just like Jaco, is crazy about all things maritime archaeology related, aka shipwrecks. He’s day starts out with checking on the many shipwreck artefacts that are in the lab. Documenting and treating numerous cannon balls and strange iron pieces, as well as your occasional knocking off concretion with a chisel and hammer is all a part of Jake’s day. I haven’t a clue what’s going on with all these artefacts, and Jake is just going on about each iron piece in solution and how they all fit together or not, with this pure, unadulterated excitement. I wonder if I get that way when talking about skeletons.

I had a video recording (or at least I thought it was) of Jake taking me through his day and the artefacts, but because technology is way higher grade for me, I can’t find the video on the camera. =(

One cup of coffee later, I’m making my way once more to the South African museum or ISAM as it is known among the inner circles of Iziko.

So, I’m sat in my office after a quick run upstairs to the printers again and I hope to finally sit down and type out the pathology report I put together a week ago. An email pops in and it’s from the University of York’s alumni about taking part in their “where are you and how you doing” survey. I can foresee this is going to take me a while, so I’ll put it off for Monday. Wilhelmina pops in and we sit down and go through her day.

Wilhelmina (Wil) Seconna


Now where would that Khoe pot be?

Wil is the Assistant Collections Manager…actually she’s the best Collections Manager ever! She makes sure that all the operations going on in the department run smoothly and that everybody is happy. It seems that we have similar morning routine going on here. Wil’s morning begins with going through a mass amount of emails and research requests for access to the archaeology collections. All the SAHRA permits applications and all things admin were taken care of with a quick session at the computer, and Wil just make’s it look so easy. A quick run to the printers is followed by a mini adventure in search of a Khoe pot for the Land Act exhibition coming up soon
Naturally, when you have a department filled with girls, you can expect there to be shopping talk involved at some point in the day. Today, Wil & Erica kidnapped Pascal and went out shopping…for safety gear quotes. Overalls, boots, gloves and hard hats aren’t exactly what us girls want to be shopping for, but hey, we’ll take it. Why are we buying safety gear? The museum is currently going through a major revamp and so there’s construction being done in the building…as you would have it, the archaeology collection is required to move. So yes, we need heavy duty outfits that can be worn while we methodologically relocated the storeroom which houses over 100 (at least) sites in and around the Cape. Shopping trip over it’s time to get the shelving out from the storeroom and into the main lab, and Erica takes charge.


Erica Bartnick

SA_WCP_Cape Town_ISAM_Level 3 Store_Sutherland Material_Feb 2012

“Kenni, stop with the paparazzi-ness”

Erica is the Collections Assistant working on the Physical Anthropology collection.
Her day today went along these lines: first task was to photograph the de-installation process of the casts made by former taxidermist, John Drury, in the Ethno Hall. It’s been decided that the casts of the human figures are to be removed and replaced with wire figurines; it’s all very futuristic and arty looking. Then there was the shopping trip followed by admin work regarding the Physical Anthropology collection. New labels for the skeleton boxes were prepared as well as a mapping system for the new layout of the collection. As already mentioned before, the archaeology storeroom is being shifted around and so today’s main activities were centered the moving of the shelving and ensuring that the next site collection (Klasies River Mouth) to be moved is all prepped and ready to go.



The manpower behind moving the shelving and super heavy boxes containing Stone Age material are our resident packers!! Sam, Angus, Pascal and Manzi
These guys do all the heavy lifting so that pretty girls such Wil, Erica and (depending if it’s a bad hair day or not) myself don’t have to.


And that’s a wrap folks, off to the pub I go!!

Ok, it’s the end of the work day and I need to head off to a farewell gig for one of my SAHRA mates and dive buddy. She’s heading out to the USA for some warm-water-diving adventures. Goodbyes always suck, but it’s the one time in what has felt like forever since I hung out with the SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency)Underwater Unit, it’ll be great…they’re great! Here’s a short piece and video link to what my awesome Maritime Archaeology mates do =).

Sophie Winton


Can I get in the water now?

When I sat down to write something for Day of Archaeology, my mind went blank! As a maritime archaeologist in South Africa, there are just too many wonderful things that I want to share about the world below the waves.

So instead of writing a 20 page essay, I thought I would let this video sum it up for me. This was filmed during SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Field School in 2012, hosted in Cape Town. Table Bay was a toasty 10 degrees Celsius and we were doing NAS training with some wonderful students from South Africa, the Netherlands, Swaziland and Canada.

If you would like to find out more maritime archaeology in South Africa, visit


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A journey through space and time: from Salisbury plain to the Thames Estuary

Archaeological conservation is a varied profession. One day we may shift large waterlogged timbers, the next day we may be looking at minute fibre samples under the microscope. This is what we would get up to on a typical day:

X-radiography ( forms an integral part in documenting archaeological artefacts. It allows us to look beneath surface layers and record unstable objects, such as iron. An X-radiograph (x-ray) shows the shape of an artefact, which can sometimes be heavily disguised by overlying corrosion layers. It shows the condition of an artefact, such as extent of corrosion, cracks or damage from marine boring organisms and it can show construction and decoration details, such as joints, precious metal inlays or coatings. We recently carried out quite a bit of X-radiography on finds from the protected wreck London: The London ( sank following a gunpowder explosion in March 1665. It is currently being investigated as it lies in the very busy shipping channel of the Thames Estuary.

Pewter Spoon from the London

Pewter Spoon from the London


X-Radiograph of pewter spoon

X-Radiograph of pewter spoon

But we go much further back in time. Large parts of our days have lately been taken up with conserving Neolithic and early Bronze Age artefacts for the new Stonehenge visitor centre. This is a huge project. Over 400 artefacts were assessed. More than 260 required conservation work. To read about the work see the most recent issue of Research News (

Examination of an object using an endoscope.

One of the objects going on display at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre being examined using an endoscope.

And once all the practical work is done we can finally sit down with a cup of tea and start writing reports. Keeping records is of utmost importance in conservation. The treatment an object receives forms part of its history and we have to document this for future generations. There may be cases when old treatments have to be reversed, because materials have aged or failed. It helps if we know which materials have been used in the past. Reports also form the basis for research and can help colleagues to find solutions to their conservation problems. A recent report example can be found here:

Ah, cup of tea!

Ah, cup of tea!

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Philip Robertson (Historic Scotland) – Argyll and Bute

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

I’m Philip Robertson. I work in the Scheduling, Marine and Battlefields team within Historic Scotland, and am responsible for operational management of the Scheduling programme, and leadership of Historic Scotland’s work in protecting and managing marine archaeological heritage, in particular through designation of Historic Marine Protected Areas.

As befits the interests of a maritime archaeologist, I have chosen a shipwreck!  The wreck of what we believe was a small oared warship belonging to the Marquis of Argyll, the Swan, was lost at the S entrance to the Sound of Mull during an attack on Duart Castle by Cromwellian forces in September 1653.

The Swan was discovered by a Royal Navy diver around 1979, who brought it to the attention of the University of St Andrews. The site is a particular favourite of mine as I took part in the investigations of the wreck which took place between 1991 and 2003, led by Dr Colin Martin.   The excavations revealed the well-preserved structure of a wooden vessel, including the collapsed stern, comprising the bottom part of the rudder, sternpost and associated components detached from the keel; the lower hull, comprising frames, inner and outer planking, and mast-step; and the less well-preserved remains of the collapsed bow.

The team also discovered a wide range of artefacts, including carved decorative features from the ship, rigging, small arms and one small cannon with carriage, silver coinage, ceramics, navigational equipment, galley remains, personal effects, the bones of one human being, as well as plant, animal and fish remains.

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Today, divers are welcome to visit this site and see guns and anchors on the seabed, but the remaining sections of the hull are protected under sandbags and sediment that are helping to stabilise the environment around the wreck.  As the site is legally protected, visitors must not disturb the wreck or remove artefacts without permission. Educational tours are organised through the nearby Lochaline Dive Centre, but if you’re not a diver, you can still enjoy a visit to Duart Castle where you will find an exhibition about the wreck. There is also an interpretation panel on the promontory next to the site.

What interests me most about the Swan is that it shows that Scotland’s underwater heritage can be just as rich and significant as our heritage on land. With the aid of scuba equipment and the traditional skills of the archaeologist, underwater archaeology can contribute just as much to our knowledge of the past as the very best archaeological investigations on land.

The online record for the Swan held at RCAHMS, was recently upgraded as part of a partnership between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland, aimed to enhance and promote information on the marine historic environment. More information about Project Adair can be found on the RCAHMS website including the full project reports.

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. © RCAHMS

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. Copyright RCAHMS (DP151172)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


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A Quiet Day

The Day of Archaeology falls within the fieldwork season for English Heritage’s Contract for Archaeological Services in Relation to the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Wessex Archaeology’s marine archaeology team deliver the contract.

The principle aim of the contract is to supply information and advice to English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw, and the Environment and Heritage Service Northern Ireland to enable them to advise their respective Secretary of State, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland Ministers, as appropriate, about issues of designation and licensing under the Protection of Wreck Act1973.

This involves fieldwork to monitor, record and investigate designated wrecks, and assess sites that may require designation. The marine archaeology team work with the heritage agencies, licensee teams and other stakeholders.


Surveying a wreck © Crown Copyright, taken by Wessex Archaeology


Unfortunately, this week has ended up being quiet despite fieldwork being scheduled, due to bad weather.  This, however, illustrates the nature of marine archaeology, which relies on weather to provide a safe diving environment. The majority of the team therefore were in transit back from their diving locations in Wales.

One member of the team, Kevin Stratford, was already office based.  He is currently trialling the new scuba gear.  Primarily our dive team works on Surface Supplied Diving Equipment (SSDE) however SCUBA diving is more appropriate in certain situations.

SSDE© Crown Copyright, taken by Wessex Archaeology

Kevin will also help our Project Manager, Toby Gane, with some of the planning elements.  During the fieldwork season the team goes all over the country.  This requires a lot of organisation ensuring the boat, equipment and staff are ready to deploy.  The careful planning can easily be disrupted by the bad weather, which can lead to last minute changes in programme.

Lastly, Kevin will start on writing up the records of some of the completed fieldwork, for example, pulling together all the observation records made by divers on a wreck survey and reviewing the underwater video.  This information will input into an archaeological report about the work undertaken.

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A Day at Wessex Archaeology

Summarising the 29th June 2012 for the staff of Wessex Archaeology is a both a challenge and an opportunity.  Spread over four regional offices in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Rochester and Salisbury everyone is busy working on a range of activities, from diving wrecks to excavation, examining finds in the lab to research. This blog aims to provide a glimpse of some of these activities.

In the field

We have a variety of staff out in the field today.

A Wessex Archaeology diver © Crown Copyright, taken by Wessex Archaeology

Our dive team are currently working for English Heritage on the Contract for Archaeological Services in Relation to the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.  Today, falls within the fieldwork season,  however they are not diving due to bad weather.  You Can read their own Day of Archaeology blog – A Quiet Day.


A very small Chris in the distance © Wessex Archaeology

On dry land, well almost, Chris Ellis, Senior Archaeologist, is running investigations at Steart Point.  In advance of a habitat creation scheme, Team van Oord, on behalf of the Environmental Agency working in partnership with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, commissioned Wessex Archaeology to undertake the mitigation work on what is, and has always been, a low-lying peninsula prone to flooding.  However over the past few month’s fieldwork, including a walk over survey, geophysical survey, evaluation and excavation, our team have discovered evidence for settlement spanning several thousand years, including Iron Age, Romano-British, medieval and post-medieval occupation.


Out on site © CEMEX UK Materials

There are also various excavations going on across the country run by our different offices.

Hannah Brown sporting the latest geophysics acessories © Wessex Archaeology

Two of our  terrestrial geophysics team, Ben Urmston and Hannah Brown, are also occupied out in the field undertaking a magnetometry survey.  This is the kit the team use the most because it can detect a wide range of archaeological features.

In Scotland

OCHMAPP © Wessex Archaeology

On Friday the Outer Hebrides Coastal Communities Marine Archaeology Project (OHCCMAP) team from Wessex Archaeology (Coastal & Marine) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) were in a very remote area of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, accessed only by boat. The team have been studying previously unrecorded buildings and archaeological features, some of which are now underwater. Based upon reports from local people and communities the team have been mixing diving with landscape surveying and geoarchaeology to examine the development of these remote coastal landscapes during prehistory and in recent centuries. This year’s results are already looking very interesting.

In the Sheffield Office


18th century system for the water features at Barnham Park © Wessex Archaeology

In our Sheffield offices the team are finalising the report for fieldwork undertaking at the Grade 1 listed Barham Park, Wetherby, West Yorkshire.  The excavations explored early 18th century water features that no longer exist in the contemporary gardens.

In the Salisbury Office

Walking through the various labs and offices in the Salisbury offices, we collected a few photographs of people.


Pulling together a site story © Wessex Archaeology

In the Project Officer’s room, things are quiet as nearly everyone is out in the field.  However, Sue Clelland, Senior Archaeologist, is working is on all the paper records from a large scale evaluation and excavation project.  The written, photographic. drawing, environmental and site survey all need to be cross referenced.  With this task now completed, Sue is trying to make sense of it all, grouping records together to develop a site story.  On the computer, you can see the information for a late Roman building.

Overlaying historical maps © Wessex Archaeology

Chloe Hunnisett, Heritage Consultant, is back in the office after a trip to a site, walk over survey and visit to the local archives.  It is now time to start on the desk based assessment for this site.  Here, we can see uploaded digitised copies of historic maps overlaid onto the GIS over the HER data for local monuments. Chloe will now start her assessment of how the landscape has changed over time and what archaeology could exist in the area.

Enhancing records © Wessex Archaeology

Sophie Thorogood, Marine Archaeologist, is busy working on the final report for the South East Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment. This is an English Heritage project, which aims to enhance the archaeological records of the National Monuments Record, local Historic Environment Records and Sites and Monuments Records, and to serve as a basis for improved management of the coastal historic environment.

Marine Geophysics

The marine geophysics team are busy interpreting sidescan data from the field.  Sidescan is a type of geophysical survey that measures the intensity of soundwaves reflected off the seafloor.  These experts can assess if the sidescan shows natural or man-made features. If man-made they could indicate the location of a wreck. Their work is very technical and complicated – illustrated by the complex combination of computer screens required.


How many computer screens does one person need? Four, apparently © Wessex Archaeology

Louise Tizzard, one of our Geologists, is looking at the geology of the seabed to understand submerged prehistoric landscapes in marine dredging zones. In particular looking at License Area 240, where in the past there has been a major discovery of Palaeolithic handaxes.

In the lab

In the lab you can find all our post-excavation specialists.

Examining cremated remains © Wessex Archaeology

Dr Jackie Mckinley, is our human remains expert.  Today she is examining a cremation burial. Here, she is detailing all the identifying fragments of bone that can help her conclude about age, sex and other important information.  For example, examining the cremation burial by spits can highlight how the skeleton was placed into the burial vessel.

Back from the field and cleaning finds © Wessex Archaeology

Tom, currently back from the field, is washing finds from an excavation.

Post excavation finds sorting © Wessex Archaeology

While Ellie Brooks is looking through these washed finds, sorting, counting and weighing them by type and content bag, then preparing to box them up.

Chris in the environmental lab © Wessex Archaeology


Delicate work © Wessex Archaeology

In the environmental lab, Chris Stevens and Nikki Mulhall  are delicately picking out charred plant remains from residue of processed soil samples.  These remains will be analysed, the plants identified and then cross-referenced with information about the features on site where they were excavated to see what conclusions may be drawn.  For example, what were the people from the site eating?


Volunteers learning and using a Total Station on previous Churches Conservation Trust project © Wessex Archaeology

Geomatics is the discipline of gathering, processing, and delivering spatially referenced information and is vital to modern archaeological practice.  Our Geomatics team, led by Paul Cripps, are mainly in the office but today Paul is organising a fieldwork event for the Churches Conservation Trust as part of the Festival of British Archaeology.   You can find out more on Paul’s own blog  – A Day of Archaeological Geomatics

The Graphics Office

The Graphics Team are a fundamental part of the company, we rely on these talented people for a range of activities, from typesetting and providing figures for reports to artefact and reconstruction illustration to creating exhibitions and posters.

Here you can see Kitty drawing a Palaeolithic handaxe found in a marine aggregate dredging area.

Getting out and about

Wessex Archaeology is a charitable trust with an educational remit to promote archaeology.  As a result, we have dedicated staff for working with the public, who unsurprisingly decided to provide their own material for Day of Archaeology.

Sarah Phillips, Senior Learning and Access Officer had the least exciting day.  This is sadly the price of heading up the team but her blog – The Glamour of Outreach – illustrates that it is not all fun and games, admin exists in outreach too.

CBA Comunity Archaeology trainne Angus, our experimental archaeologist © Angus Forshaw

Having said that our CBA funded Community Archaeology Trainee Placement, Angus Forshaw had a great day on site working on Barrow Clump as part of Operation Nightingale . You can find out more about the site and project on his blog – A Day with Operation Nightingale

Laura interviewing Alex, a Rifleman for Project Florence podcast © Wessex Archaeology

While Laura Joyner, the Project Florence Officer was also out at Barrow Clump working with young film volunteers and filmmakers from Salisbury Arts centre on a documentary.  You can read about her day on the Project Florence’s Day of Archaeology blog – Lights, Camera, Action.

The End of the Tour

So that is a brief tour of Wessex Archaeology and you have only seen a fraction of what is going on here today.  Before I finish this blog, I have to mention the people not shown here at all, our board of trustees,  the directors, project managers, our amazing finance team and admin staff that keep the company running so that we can do all these activities.

This is just one day at Wessex Archaeology, the next might be completely different, and you never know what you will discover.

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The Glamour of Outreach

My name is Sarah Phillips and I head up Wessex Archaeology’s Learning and Access Team, which can involve anything from community excavations to creating online computer games and teacher packs, raising awareness of archaeology to marine industries or writing content for the Wessex website.

However, my 29th of July definitely sums up the unglamorous side of our work.  While my team were off doing interesting things out in the field – you read their blogs  A Day with Operation Nightingale and Lights, Camera, Action -  I was stuck inside doing administration tasks.

My job can be a lot of fun, but it is also hard work.  We are the public face of Wessex and so we need to ensure that what we produce is of high quality, true to the archaeology but also accessible to our desired audience.  Today, I am working on the final draft edit of the Offshore Renewables Protocol for Reporting Archaeological Discoveries annual report for The Crown Estate.  This protocol, like other marine protocols run by WA, helps staff to identify and report any unexpected archaeological discoveries at sea.

We go through several edits, considering content, interpretation and then general quality control before the final draft will be sent out for consultation. My team works closely with the graphics office, relying on them to develop our ideas and text into something interesting.

The rivetting world of admin

More project management tasks, finances, sorting out permissions for images for school a workshop, chasing up feedback from them and a billion other things – my day is not getting anymore glamorous.

However, things significantly improve thanks to Day of Archaeology. Tasked with the challenge of summing up Wessex Archaeology’s Day of Archaeology – A Day at Wessex Archaeology - I took a notepad, pen and camera and took a journey around the office.  Until recently, I worked in our Coastal and Marine department but my remit has expanded to the whole company and this was a great opportunity to talk to people and find out what they do in both Salisbury and our other offices.  It was fascinating and helped me to understand more about how the company works as a whole.  I hope it is as interesting for people to read.


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Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.


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Day of Archaeology in Macedonia 3

We already sent our documentary and our letter of participation. Our third post is about underwater archaeology and making documentaries for archaeological sites.

Some of our colleagues are doing underwater archaeology, so in the following video you can see their working day, little bit different of  ours working days on the field :)

NGO Archaeologica together with MA Goran Sanev and Michail Stojanovski, archaeologists from Museum of Macedonia made film about the archaeological site Golemo Gradiste – Konjuh in Macedonia. Every year this site is researched by international team of archaeologists from Museum of Macedonia and Ms. Carolyn S. Snively from Gettysburg College, USA and hers students. The film is in post production and it will be presented in about few months.

This is how we celebrated The Day of Archaeology 2012. See you next year with more informations and new archaeological findings. Congratulations about the Day of Archaeology.

NGO Archaeologica – Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

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