Archive | Environmental Archaeology

Understanding the environment and climate of the past.

My Day of Archaeology with Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club

Using a sickle

Using a sickle

This year, my Day of Archaeology coincided with an event I had organised for the Festival of Archaeology, based at the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club Allotment.  The Allotment was acquired in early 2012 as a space for our young archaeologists (or YACs) to be able to undertake experimental activities, gain practical archaeological experience and to provide a resource for further activities during the year.  It was selected as a result of research undertaken using the Worcester City Historic Environment Record, which identified potential Roman settlement in the area, and therefore may provide a rare window into previously unseen archaeology.

Excavating a test pit

Excavating a test pit

Over the course of the past 18 months we have fought a long battle with the brambles and finally this summer were ready to harvest our first crop, a traditional long-strawed wheat.  We decided to run a day-long event with our young archaeologists so that they could get involved with the whole process of harvesting, using traditional methods.  Alongside these activities we also undertook to excavate a 1m x 1m test pit, to develop their practical archaeological skills.  The club has a strong mission to involve young people in real research, not just for the fun of it (though of course we have fun along the way), but to provide something of value to the archaeological record and to promote the sense that these very capable young people are contributing work completed to professional standards, and adding to our collective knowledge.  All the activities we undertake are set within their archaeological context, so the evidence for the experimental methods we are using on site is set out from the start, as well as evidence for plant and seed remains and the like.  We were very grateful to draw on the expertise of Environmental Archaeologist Liz Pearson  who has been involved with this project from the outset.

We’re not afraid to take risks.  Every YAC got to have a go with the sickle to cut the wheat crop

A finished corn dolly

A finished corn dolly

down!  Once cut, the wheat was bundled up and left to dry, except for a handful of stems used to make corn dollies, which proved to be quite a fiddly enterprise, though extremely absorbing.  Using a supply of grain which had already been dried, we were able to practice winnowing away the chaff and then used our rotary quern stone to make flour.

Finds at the #WYACAllotment

Finds at the #WYACAllotment

Meanwhile, over in our test pit, Rob Hedge, CBA Community Archaeology placement and member of the WYAC team, made sure that everyone was well-versed in Pythagoras Theorem as he explained how to set out a trench correctly.  A number of finds were uncovered within the top 20cm of soil including quite a few pieces of Roman iron slag, 18th/19th century clay pipe and what we believe to be the handle of a Tudor cup.  These finds will be processed by our YAC members and written up for inclusion within the HER.  In the meantime, live reporting via Twitter ensured that a greater audience than just those that could attend was engaged using our site hashtag #WYACAllotment.  We hope now to develop this project further, to build an ongoing resource for skills training and experimental techniques into the future.  At the time of writing a rather fine crop of flax is ripening and we hope to harvest and process this during the summer holidays!


Bringing in the Harvest (with kind permission of Rob Hedge)

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A day with Macedonian archaeology “Educational ceramic workshop”

The Student Archaeological Association “Axios” was established to perform activities in order to promote archaeological values in society and to raise the awareness about cultural heritage and its protection.


The purpose of the project “Educational ceramic workshop”, which is in the field of experimental archaeology, is to familiarize and to bring closer different segments of the lives of the people from the past to the students from the Department of Art History and Archaeology. This training allowed the students through creative work to enter into a different world and try to express themselves following the examples of a given material culture.

With longstanding systematic archaeological research, the number of items of movable cultural heritage significantly increased. Especially notable is the number of pottery items which are already exhibited in the museums.

Therefore, acquiring knowledge about the preparation of the pottery in the Bronze and Iron Ages, undoubtedly contributed to a better understanding of history, and also to increase the level of professionalism in the field.

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Getting to know the method of manufacturing pottery objects from the Bronze and Iron Age went through a practical part by making the same objects used in those periods. It must be mentioned that during the project activities we implemented methods, techniques and authentic materials for the above mentioned periods.


Due to the specifics of the matter, the planned activities were carried out at the Museum of the City Negotino, on an open space and in a pottery workshop. All the activities were conducted in collaboration with experts in the field of applied art, cultural heritage protection and museology: sculptor-expert in the field of pottery, senior curator-archaeologist and a potter.

On this occasion, we would like express our special thanks to Peter Rizov for the permission to use the premises of the Museum in Negotino; to Branko Velickovski for his generous help with the project; to Ilija Kostadinov for the permission to use his pottery workshop and for the procurement of the materials, and to Association Archaeologica who gave us the opportunity to present our project within this manifestation marking the Day of Archaeology 2013.


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The view down the microscope

This is my first year taking part in the day of archaeology and so I’d really like to share with you what a typical day is like for me as an archaeologist. I’m just in the third year of my PhD at the University of York and collecting the last of my data! I am working as part of a much wider research project called InterArChive. We as a team are using soil science to investigate the microscopic evidence for burial practice and decomposition within human inhumations. The technique that I am most focused on is micromorphology which is a method that uses resin impregnated blocks of soil, that are then made into 30 micron slices (0.003 mm). I then look at the features and patterns of voids within the soil to understand how they have been formed and reconstruct the burial environment.

Microscope work cropped

Microscope work station.

Using this technique we can actually understand a lot about how soil has formed and what the environment was like within the grave. For example we can use mineral identification and weathering to investigate the origin of the soil and the presence of Iron and Manganese stains to look at how wet soils were in the past.

Quartz minerals in thin section with Fe weathering show in in cross polarized light

Quartz minerals in thin section with Iron weathering show in in cross polarized light

  A typical day for me involves a good deal of micromorphology and most of my time is spent identifying, recording and interpreting features within the soil. A big part of the InterArChive project also involves integrating the micromorphological data with that from the chemistry side of the team! and together trying to make sense of the data and putting it all into an archaeological context!

Although my PhD project involves a lot of lab work, I’m very lucky to be able to go off on digs and visit sites to get a break from my PhD research! And I love to write about my experiences on my blog.

To find out more about the InterArChive project please visit our web pages here.

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Day of Archaeology – Sylvia Warman English Heritage Science Advisor (London)

My first task was to check the tide tables for December to identify the best date for our annual visit to the submerged forest at Erith, on the south bank of the Thames. This is an amazing place where Prehistoric woodland became flooded due to rising sea-levels and both the trees and the peat that formed around them have been preserved beneath the modern Thames. The site is only well exposed at the lowest tides of the year. This site is continuously eroded and visiting each year helps us to record what has been lost as well as identifying new exposures. This is one of several sites across England being studied as part of the Exceptional Wetland and Waterlogged Heritage project under the National Heritage Protection Plan

Next I followed up on a site I had visited earlier in the week in Southwark on Queen Elizabeth Street. The area had previously revealed field systems o f Neolithic to Early Bronze Age date; hence an archaeological evaluation was requested. The test-pit had not produced any archaeological artefacts or features but it did contain a palaeochannel (remains of a stream). This was not a surprise as this area is known to include a number of channels that once flowed into various tributaries of the Thames such as the NeckingerRiver. I then searched The British Geological Survey online borehole records and I found that several boreholes had been carried out in neighbouring streets. The information from these will help the archaeological contractors in interpreting the results of the evaluation as the field work will be followed up by laboratory work on samples and a written report.

Another aspect of the work of Science Advisors is developing free guidance on archaeological science for those working in the heritage sector. One of the older titles is the 2001 publication on Archaeometallurgy (the study of ancient metal working). This title is being reviewed and updated by colleagues at FortCumberland (where EH has its laboratories and specialists in a range of disciplines within archaeological science). Before the new version is drafted we are re-reading the original and looking out for areas where it can be improved; new case studies to add and updating of references to other methods such as dating techniques. It is also important to ensure any references to the planning system include the most recent legislation.

My day ended with a train journey which provided some time to read another chapter of London’s Lost Rivers by Nick Barton. Following on from the Southwark site I had looked at in the morning I chose the chapter on The Rivers of the South.




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“Excavating an Archives”… well, at the end of the day




Hello, All. I am happy to participate again in the third annual Day of Archaeology (2011, 2012).  Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all of the other participants and volunteers!  The past few years have been a wonderful experience – I love seeing what other archaeologists are doing around the globe, as well as sharing my own work.

My name is Molly Swords and I am an historical archaeologist based out of Moscow, Idaho, and employed as a Cultural Resource Specialist III for SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA).  For the last few years, we have been processing on an enormous archaeological collection for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).  This project has also led to a new partnership with the University of Idaho as I teach both Applied Cultural Resource Management and Issues in Heritage Management classes.

In keeping with my two previous day of archaeology posts- I’ve chosen to document what my day looked like today…

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

Kali D.V. Oliver and Theodore Charles, graduate students at the University of Idaho

This morning, I had a lovely start to my day. I met two University of Idaho graduate students for an early morning coffee meeting.  We talked about progress on their thesis topics, upcoming conferences where they could present their work, and options to consider as avenues for archaeological publishing.

I dedicated a good portion of my morning and afternoon to editing a couple of technical reports and organizing artifacts for a museum exhibit.  The company that I work for, SWCA is putting together a museum exhibit at the Bonner Country Historical Museum on the Sandpoint Archaeological Project with the support of ITD.  This exhibit is a fantastic way to illustrate this amazing project to the local community and visitors to Sandpoint.  The museum exhibit should be open in mid-August; so, make sure to check it out if you are in the Lake Pend d’Oreille area!

At lunchtime, I decided to call Mary Anne Davis, the Associate State Archaeologist for the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). I wanted to check in with Mary Anne Davis about details for students presenting and the possibility of having a University of Idaho session at the Idaho Heritage Conference (September 25-27). Go Vandals!  This year is Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial (the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the congressional act creating the Idaho Territory). In celebration of this anniversary, folks and organizations around the state have been hosting events, including a very impressive Idaho Archaeological Month in May, and will continue to observe the sesquicentennial with the first ever Idaho Heritage Conference.  This conference is a partnership between of a number of organizations in Idaho (Idaho Archaeological Society, Idaho Heritage Trust, Idaho Association of Museums, Idaho State Historical Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Idaho), all of which will hold their annual meetings, preservations, training, and field trips together for this conference. Mary Anne and I also discussed having something similar to the Day of Archaeology during Idaho Archaeology Month next year.

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Stacks of Reference Resources

AACC Comparative Collection

AACC Comparative Collection











The last part of my day was spent at the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC), housed at the Alfred W. Bower’s Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho.  I am doing some research on Overseas Chinese for a publication that I am currently writing.  If you do not know about the AACC yet, a volunteer coordinator and one of my archaeological heroes, Dr. Priscilla Wegars, runs it.  The collection houses around 27,500 entries in the database covering artifacts, documents, bibliography, and images.  This collection is such a wealth of information and Priscilla is such a treasure.  I wanted to spend some time going through the stacks of resources, including dissertations, theses, and gray literature, to help me shed more light on the Overseas Chinese in the American West.  In the span of 40 minutes, Priscilla provided me eleven amazing documents.  (Honestly, with Priscilla’s help it took about 10 minutes).  When I told Priscilla that I was going to “blog” about my day of archaeology and ending up at the archives she said that I was “excavating the archives.”

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

AACC Food Storage Jars, typically referred Ginger Jars

** I have included the link for the Asian American Comparative Collection Foundation at the University of Idaho, they are currently accepting donations in order to keep this world-renowned and heavily utilized collection available in the future**

All in all, it was a lovely Day of Archaeology.  If you want to follow me on twitter- for more archaeological tidbits- I’m anthrogirly.

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)

AACC houses a variety of cultural materials including those from China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands (including Australia and New Zealand)


Here are some links:

People that I would like to thank: SWCA, Mary Anne Davis, Priscilla Wegars, Kali D.V. Oliver, Theodore Charles, Mary Petrich-Guy, Jim Bard, Robert Weaver, and Mark Warner

AACC Alcohol Bottles. I thought I would end this post with a photographic toast!



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A Hard Day’s Labwork

As the 2013 season is drawing to a close, the S’Urachi team spent a relaxing morning at the beach and followed it up with a full afternoon of lab work and public presentation. Along with displaying our finds to local visitors and archaeologists, we also continued documenting our materials and organizing our data. Take a look below at some images from our lab work this afternoon!

Labeling ceramics in the S'Urachi lab in San Vero Milis.

Labeling ceramics in the S’Urachi lab in San Vero Milis


Above, Ayla Çevik is labeling some of the many diagnostic sherds recovered from Trench D.

A Punic house located in Trench D next to the Nuraghe S'Urachi

A Punic house located in Trench D next to the Nuraghe S’Urachi


Aside from ceramics, we also recovered many faunal bones this season. Below Damia Ramis and Nuri van Dommelen organize our faunal remains and discuss the different species we have uncovered, including fox, cow, dog, chicken, sheep, goat, tortoise, pig, horse and ass.

Here the S'Urachi team discusses our faunal finds of 2013

Here the S’Urachi team discusses our faunal finds of 2013


Organizing bones in the S'Urachi Lab

Organizing bones in the S’Urachi Lab


For more photos, info and updates, check out our facebook page at

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Arqueología del Paisaje en Vigaña (Asturias, España)

Este viernes 26 de julio ha sido un día muy ajetreado. Por la mañana me desperté temprano en Astorga (León) a donde había ido a dar una charla de difusión ayer jueves. En esta ciudad leonesa se celebran cada julio las Fiestas de Astures y Romanos. Un evento de recreación histórica en el que los habitantes de la vieja Astúrica Augusta se transforman en astures y romanos con el ánimo de pasarlo bien y de hacer suyo el importante patrimonio arqueológico que alberta esta zona en relación con la Edad del Hierro y la Romanidad. Actividades de este tipo son a mi juicio fundamentales para nuestra disciplina. Es necesario que los arqueólogos y las arqueólogas nos mostremos accesibles y cercanos a nuestros conciudadanos en relación con el desarrollo de nuestras investigaciones. Que, a fin de cuentas, son sufragadas en muchos casos con dinero público.

Vista de la aldea de Vigaá (Asturias, España)

Vista de la aldea de Vigaá (Asturias, España)

Como os decía, muy temprano puse rumbo de nuevo para Vigaña, donde este último mes de julio estamos excavando en distintos sectores del terrazgo de esta aldea [Blog de Arqueología Agraria:]. Por un lado, la excavación del poblado de la Edad del Hierro de El Castru avanza a buen ritmo, y los hallazgos están siendo muy interesantes. Fundamentalmente, la buena conservación de los materiales óseos nos facilita realizar un gran avance en el conocimiento de las prácticas ganaderas de los grupos indígenas cantábricos, tema poco tratado aún por los especialistas. Además, el reconocimiento de un área metalúrgica para el trabajo del bronce adosada a la muralla, constituye una gran noticia para el proyecto. Al mismo tiempo, un grupo de compañeros y compañeras trabaja en el entorno de la iglesia parroquial de San Pedro de Vigaña, con el ánimo de reconocer las fases de ocupación de una necrópolis medieval que habíamos localizado ya en 2011. Por último, también estamos realizando pequeños sondeos en distintos sitios de la aldea para documentar mejor la secuencia ocupacional de esta localidad, algunos de los cuales están ofreciendo sorpresas importantes.

Nuestro proyecto de investigación, anclado en la Arqueología del Paisaje, pretende ofrecer una lectura de tiempos largos en relación con la genealogía del paisaje en esta área de montaña. Así, nuestro grupo de trabajo acoge investigadores centrados en distintos períodos cronológicos que abordan el estudio de yacimientos que se datan entre el Neolitico y la actualidad. También convergen especialistas de distintas disciplinas, como antropólogos, especialistas en patrimonio, historiadores y arqueólogos.

El día lo hemos cerado con la visita del Director General de Patrimonio del Principado de Asturias, que ha querido conocer los avances de nuestras investigaciones, ya que las últimas semanas hemos obtenido cierta trascendencia en la prensa regional y estatal. No es mala señal ésta en los tiempos que corren, pues los brutales recortes en investigación y desarrollo que se han impuesto desde el gobierno central amenazan con paralizar el proyecto en próximas campañas, por lo que es muy necesario implicar al máximo número de apoyos e instituciones para que nuestro proyecto pueda continuar. Y para terminra, en escasos diez minutos, comenzará en Belmonte de Miranda la última sesión del ciclo de charlas y debates que hemos organizado en paralelo a nuestra excavación. La mesa redonda de hoy servirá para debatir sobre aspectos varios de la ganadería y enlazar los resultados de nuestras investigaciones con las problemáticas a las que se enfrentan los ganaderos actuales en el valle del Pigüeña.

La braña de L', en los pastizales de altura que se elevan sobre la aldea de Vigaña.

La braña de L’, en los pastizales de altura que se elevan sobre la aldea de Vigaña.

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Looking at crops and weeds from early medieval Galway, Ireland

Some Irish early medieval charred plant remains in a petri dish

Today I’m working on a research project looking at early medieval plant remains from Galway, in the west of Ireland. My focus is on material that dates from approximately 450 to 1100 AD. The objective is to pull together the results from a range of different sites, and to see whether it is possible to identify a distinctive regional pattern in the crops and weeds found. A map with all the sites included to date can be found here. It’s still very much a work in progress!

Archaeology is rarely glamorous (too much mud and dust) but somehow, today, I’ve assigned myself the most unglamorous task of all: I’ve spent my time trawling through a stratigraphic index (that’s the list of different contexts that were excavated at a site), identifying the early medieval samples, and then adding them to my database. It’s tedious and time-consuming, but absolutely necessary for multi-phase sites, to ensure that my dataset isn’t biased by the inclusion of material from a different period, either earlier or later.

The good news is that, now that this is done, I’m ready to start real analysis of the results on Monday. Meanwhile, I’m off to enjoy a database-free weekend!

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Karen Stewart (MOLA): Identifying Roman writing tablets

Originally I wasn’t going to do an entry for Day of Archaeology this year as I was scheduled to be doing almost exactly the same thing I was doing last year, assessing waterlogged flots from waterfront dumps, which would have been a bit boring. However, following a visit from a project manager at 9 this morning, I am now tasked with identifying the species of wood used in a selection of Roman writing tablets before they get sent to a Roman cursive writing specialist for analysis. These tablets are just some of the over 300 recovered  from a large urban site in the centre of London, which you can read about at the Walbrook Discovery Blog.

Before I start the writing tablets I assessed a couple of flots from the same site, as they were the last two in a box and I wanted to get it finished. They were very similar flots, full to bursting with bran, straw, moss, wood, some charcoal and waterlogged seeds. With those recorded I moved on to the writing tablets.

In order to identify wood to species, you need to section it along three planes (transverse, radial and tangential), mount them on a slide and observe them with a high powered microscope. You can then look at the microscopic features that can be used to narrow down the list of possible features. As these are Roman artefacts, there’s a broader range of species that might have been used, as they tended to import a lot of stuff from the continent.

Taking a wood sample of a Roman ruler for identification

Taking a wood sample of a Roman ruler for identification

Generally speaking, writing tablets are made of silver fir, but at this site we’ve had a bit of variety so I was looking forward to a surprise. Unfortunately, there were no surprises to be had and all 16 have indeed turned out to be silver fir. However, Michael Marshall, one of our Roman finds specialists, saw I was doing wood ID’s and ran over to get a sneaky ID on an artefact he was recording – a Roman ruler. That turned out to be beech, so I got a bit of variety in my results today after all.

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