Part-time PhDing, parenting & computer fails

The Day of Archaeology is Friday 29th July 2016, a day that I usually spend with my 3 year old son. So, instead I am writing about what I am doing today, Thursday 28th, which is slightly more archaeologically focused.

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester, studying part time, and doing childcare the rest of the time. My research is on the social and economic impacts and effects of the construction of the Thames Embankment at Chelsea in the 1870s. You can read more about my work here.

When I signed up for the Day of Archaeology I had anticipated that I would be processing my fieldwork survey data, and that my blog entry would include writing about some of the interesting features I had found, photographed and inspected on the Chelsea foreshore.

Barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

19th century chalk barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

Unfortunately, I have been experiencing some Windows 10 induced problems connecting to the University network, as I work from home most of the time, and have therefore been working on other things. They are, however, probably fairly representative of the work that archaeology PhD students and academic archaeologists get up to, and so I will tell you what I’ve been doing anyway.

Last year I accidentally offered to write a chapter about the Industrial Archaeology of Inland Waterways. I am always fairly militant about making sure that archaeological and heritage discussions include maritime and shipping perspectives, whether that is ensuring that the Transatlantic Slave Trade be discussed in exhibitions about cotton (I’m looking at you NT Quarry Bank Mill) or that a volume on Industrial Archaeology includes discussion about the significant role that inland water transport played in success of the industrialisation of Britain. And so I find myself filling a gap.

My chapter aims to place the canal and inland waterway network centrally in the field of industrial archaeology. It, hopefully, will provide a brief overview of their development in relation to industrialisation, a brief description of the archaeology of inland waterways, an overview of previous work and an assessment of the current state of research – not specifically in relation to the minutiae of canal workings, but more focused on the role of shipping and waterways within industrial archaeological research.

The topic should be fairly straightforward for me, given the site of my PhD research is an inland riverside port site. My background is in coastal and underwater archaeology, and as if by osmosis I have accumulated a general working knowledge of both coastal and inland ports. I also live very close to the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals, but somehow this doesn’t seem enough to write about the complexities of canals and inland waterways in relation to industrialisation in Britain. As with most things in life, there is always more to learn. Anyway, I am writing it, and I shall not shirk the opportunity I have been given!

Whilst I am only part way through writing the chapter, my feelings are that inland waterways have been somewhat side-lined, in a manner reminiscent of coastal and maritime archaeology. Generally, inland waterways have not been of interest to maritime archaeologists, and yet because of their watery and boat related nature, have tended to be eschewed by terrestrial archaeologists within academic contexts. There are experts on canals, but much of the expertise seems to lie with non‑professionals or archaeologists in commercial units, much like Industrial archaeology more widely, and Maritime Archaeology in the olden days. This expertise is largely being developed ‘on the job’ as few UK Universities specifically teach post-medieval and Industrial Archaeology. Commercial archaeology is playing an important role in the contemporary study of canals and canal related infrastructure, and many other aspects of Industrial Archaeology, and there are many examples of excellent work – excavation, research and publication. With ever more regeneration (or gentrification depending on your perspective) projects in ex-industrial areas, many of which are close to or adjacent to canals and inland navigations, it will be interesting to see how an increasing demand for commercial archaeologists with expertise in the industrial period will be met with only a handful of UK universities teaching these periods. Anyway, I digress.

Writing a book chapter is a new and interesting experience for me. I have written journal articles before, but books, especially for edited volumes, seem to be quite a different kettle of fish. Where journal articles tend to present methodological developments, results of research, or specific theoretical ponderings, writing a book chapter seems to be more akin to essay writing. The aim being to present both an overview of current work, site types and yet also find space to include your own assessment and analysis of the current state of research and where you would like to see it go. All in 5000ish words. Handling such a small word limit also seems to be quite a challenge for me at the moment. The PhD process requires constant writing, but although I will be working on a specific chapter, I have not been paying too much attention to work limits. Instead I have focused more on ensuring that all relevant thoughts, tangents and ponderings are written down, concisely, with acceptance that they may or may not be included in the final write up. After working for four years in government, I thought I was pretty good at writing concisely. It seems two years of a PhD have undone this. Oh well.

The other thing I am working on today is also fairly typical of both PhD students and academics, but another first for me; writing a book review for publication. Excitingly, I was approached to write a review of Crossrail/MoLA’s book The Thames Iron Works 1837-1912 on the archaeological work at the Limmo Peninsula. Whilst the writing part is only 600-800 words and therefore should not take too long, I also actually have to read the book. Quickly! So, to the local café it is for tea, quiet and some serious critical reading.

Because neither of my tasks today involve pretty pictures, I have instead included some of the objects we found on the Chelsea foreshore! Hopefully I will be processing my survey data soon. I plan to update my own blog with results from fieldwork soon.

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore. Left: Thames Sailing Barge Rudder. Top Right: Small ceramic fragment. Bottom Right: Glass Container/Mortar (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).

A day of archaeology and a ‘holiday’ by the graveside…

Hello! My name is Katherine and I am a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester. This is my first year contributing a post for the Day of Archaeology as, unlike last year in which I was stuck in the library shackled to a desk*, I actually have some fun stuff to write about!

My research project examines the practice of mortuary archaeology in the UK (confusingly, this is not the study of mortuaries, as I am often asked, but the archaeological investigation of past beliefs and practices surrounding death and burial instead!) and whether it has a wider role to play in contemporary society – one which goes beyond furthering our knowledge of the past. In particular, however, I am interested in the impact of ‘digging up the dead’ on archaeology practitioners. As such, I am exploring the effect of professional training on attitudes towards human remains, whether achieving a level of professionalism and expertise means subjugating emotional connections to the past and what bearing professionally-held conceptions of human remains have upon the construction of archaeological knowledge and the narratives that are produced for public consumption.

A ‘humerus’ picture in the unit’s warehouse…

To this end, much of the second year of my PhD has been spent interviewing lots of folk about their opinions on these matters and I am now spending the summer conducting ethnographic fieldwork with various organisations, including commercial archaeology units, field schools and museums. This involves observing and participating in daily life at each of my host sites, where I am exploring the assumptions and practices that underpin the process of mortuary archaeology and looking anew at the overlooked, the taken-for-granted and that which is considered routine.

On this most hallowed Day of Archaeology, I am currently ensconced in a very picturesque city in the north of England, where I have spent the past two weeks mithering the staff of a commercial archaeology unit (the deliberate vagueness here is an attempt to preserve anonymity!). The unit has very kindly allowed me to use their excavation of a medieval burial ground (which lurks underneath a car park, naturally) as a case study for my thesis and staff have agreed to be watched, photographed, sketched, interviewed and asked a whole bunch of silly questions.

However, what with being in such a beautiful city, the glorious weather and the break from reading and writing, I confess that I do feel a little like I’m on holiday and I am probably having entirely too much of a good time (I am definitely eating waaaaaay too much cake – archaeology is powered by sugar!). That said, I do go home at the end of each day covered in dirt and aching from head to toe, as I am digging alongside collecting my own data. For someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time in front of a computer screen, it has been a joy to re-discover my muscles and the great big ball of fire in the sky!

Today, amongst other things, I will be finishing up the paperwork for the burial I excavated yesterday. As it’s a Friday, however, we will down tools for the day a little earlier and there is talk of heading to the pub (this is where the best research takes place, honestly!) for a well-earned drink…or two – it is so hot today that I am actually hallucinating a nice cold pint! I will then throw myself on a train back to Manchester (I’m participating in tomorrow’s Festival of Archaeology at the Manchester Museum) and spend the journey typing up my field notes from the day and answering emails.

I have a couple more weeks left here and then I am off to my next site, but I will be sad to leave. The archaeologists here have made me feel incredibly welcome and allowed me access into their ‘secret’ world. It has been a real privilege to work alongside them and an even greater honour to excavate the remains of the dead which, shockingly, is actually my first time. As a result, this has provided me with a whole wealth of additional material based on my own personal reflections and feelings. The challenge is how I am going to analyse and write all of this up…but that will, perhaps, be the topic of next year’s post!

*I’m not really complaining, I do actually love my PhD!

Space and identity research in Berlin

Topoi House Dahlem

Topoi Haus Dahlem. Photo: Bernd Wannenmacher / FU.

I am a lecturer in Roman Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, but today I’m in the midst of a short research visit to the Topoi Excellence Cluster at Freie Universität Berlin. Topoi is a large research cluster dedicated to the study of space and knowledge in antiquity, and has a full programme of workshops and meetings which bring together researchers from many disciplines and institutions. I’m here as a Senior Fellow for a month, working with Dr Kerstin Hofmann and colleagues in the key topic group ‘Identities: space and knowledge related identification’. In addition to getting on with my own research on Roman Britain, it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss various issues in the archaeology of identity with scholars based here. While there are many points of contact, there are also of course differences in the traditions of study into past identity in the UK/US and Germany, and it’s really interesting to learn more about these. So today is mainly a mix of research and discussion in the Topoi House in Dahlem, as well as keeping in touch with my postgraduate students in London. I should also say that it’s quite exciting to be in Germany when the national team is doing rather well in a certain global sports tournament!

Breadwinning & Archaeology – It´s Part of the Game, Folks!

Maria Beierlein de Gutierrez, Yavi-Chicha ceramic, colonial ceramic and plastic container

Maria Beierlein de Gutierrez, Yavi-Chicha ceramic, colonial ceramic and plastic container

When I found out about the Day of Archaeology, my heart went out to it. I was inspired to write about this day to make the world know what all these supposedly dusty archaeologists are working on. Let me put my grain of sand to it! As an archaeologist, I am working for 10 years now in a remote region of South America: the Altiplano de Sama in South Bolivia. Home to a overwhelming regional culture called Yavi-Chicha, which has been consistent for as long as 1000 years between 500 and 1535 A.C. We don’t know much about it, and that is where all my questions about it come from. Who were these people? Why were they so self-constrained but at the same time so widely spread in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina? Apart from this archaeological work I have been writing at Language of Things on materiality, museums, archaeology and other musings. Its kind of a non-scientific channel of work.

And it was when I heard about the actual DAY of archaeology, the 11th of July, that I realized that maybe my Day of Archaeology would depict something typical of archaeological work, but that is NOT included in the least in the popular vision of “the shovel-swinging archaeologist“. It´s the fact that I won’t be doing “archaeology” in the term of “working in the field/lab”. Instead, I will be dedicating half of the day to the work that earns my and my family´s daily bread. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with archaeology. And the other half of the day I organized someone who will take care to pick up my son from school and I myself will be off: to a course on museum on “Teaching & Curating“. And by now, I can almost see the question marks in the eyes of everyone. What the hell has all this to do with archaeology? I can tell you.

Archaeology, as has been stated over and over by some awful colleagues (have a look here, if you like), is a job which is almost always underpaid. That is, if you get a job at all. Which I haven’t. At least not an archaeological one. I am working in an office, and all my archaeological work, the writing, thinking and analyzing sherds, has been reduced to my spare time. Which is not much, considering that I am alone with my son because his dad is doing an extended fieldwork session far away (which I support, by the way, so I won’t complain about this). But this means that time is reduced to the wee hours of the night. And I am not alone in this – almost every archaeologist I know has some sideline of work that has NOTHING to do with archaeology – but it pays our rent.

Over the years, this situation became more and more intolerable to my archaeological soul and I decided to go off and try another line of work, one with is more in line with archaeology. Which is where the second half of my “Day of Archaeology” comes in. Curating & teaching at a museum is in line with my fervent belief that we have to communicate archaeology and the past, as much and as best we can. So I took this course consisting of 5 modules, and am learning about curating & teaching at the museum. I am trying for a year now to get into it, but museums (as well as archaeology as a career) scarcely offer “real” jobs. And I can’t afford to apply to almost unpaid internships. And I can’t be taking courses which require me to move house for 6 months and stay away from my home for weeks on end. Someone was joking these days that archaeologists don’t have kids and its true: doing archaeology is difficult if you want to raise children at the same time.

So, this is my day of archaeology: earning the daily bread in an office. Going off by noon, I switch over to the museum to take the course in order to get back to a job related to archaeology. And in the night, after sharing s´thoughts with colleagues as concerned with museum teaching as I am, I will be reading literature on sherds and ceramic analysis. Because in the end, something wonderful has happened: I can prepare myself and our son for a trip to South America, going to analyze some hundred sherds of the formative and regional period – i.e. between 500 b.C. – 1535 a.C. I got funded for a four-week-trip and we will be doing this together. That’s the other side of archaeology: you get all the “exotic” fieldwork you ever wanted. So I will be back to where the photo above comes from: Bolivia. Seeing pots.

And this means that, again, I have to be 100 % prepared on topics like “style“, “material culture” and the meaning of things in a society that lived some 600-1000 years ago. It’s one of the most fascinating works Ive ever known and I have to admit that I will never cease to speak about its relevance to us. These sherds mean so much to the people that live right now in this region, that they founded a society that reincarnates the past to the living people. They claim to be descendants of the producers of this ceramic I am studying. They see these past people as their ancestors, as their cultural roots. If THIS is not relevance of the past to the here and now, I don’t know what could ever be relevant. It´s risky and its controversial, but it IS a real connection of today’s people to a past. A past that has been created and transformed, but a past that matters in a very direct way to many persons.

So, maybe my “Day of Archaeology” can sum up some parts of archaeology, even if I am not working currently in an archaeological job. But the non-archaeological bread winning, the desire of being currently developing skills to communicate our field of study and the practical work of studying a part of the past that is relevant to living people – maybe these three things can make clear what archaeologists do.

Let´s do it again&again&again!

Research team at Torohuayco, Sama, Bolivia, in 2007.

Research team at Torohuayco, Sama, Bolivia, in 2007.


Arqueóloga en la “Matrix” de la academia

Con mi colega y tutorado, Felix González Insua en los despachos de la Facultad de Historia de Ourense. NON queremos hotel no Castelo de Monterrei.

Con mi colega y tutorado, Felix González Insua en los despachos de la Facultad de Historia de Ourense. NON queremos hotel no Castelo de Monterrei.

Suena el despertador a las siete y media. En realidad no hacía falta el sonido, porque un extraño reloj interno funciona desde hace meses, arrojándome desde el sueño a la realidad del campus universitario. Estos días, el estrés mantiene alborotadas las neuronas por los últimos desatinos del sistema de garantía de calidad, la flor y nata de la burocratización universitaria llevada al extremo.

A veces me pregunto cuándo se produjo este salto cuántico del paletín al bolígrafo, de la arqueología a la burocracia, de los estratos a las competencias, de las Ues a los ECTS, de la cata al despacho, de fuera a dentro.

Cuando me licencié, mi tía me regaló unas bonitas tarjetas verdes de papel verjurado con una nueva identidad: “Prehistoriadora”. Yo quería ser arqueóloga, pero quería enseñar en la universidad. Quería demostrarles que había una Prehistoria alternativa a memorizar los porcentajes de restos de talla levallois, los niveles de Cocina I y Cocina II, e  infames listas con nombres de yacimientos. Así que me empeciné y tras largos años de lucha, la Facultad de Historia se convirtió en lugar de encuentro, sobre todo con alumnos y alumnas, retroalimentadores de sueños. Por ellos y por un ejercicio de responsabilidad, acepté el cargo y me presenté a decana. No lo hice con convicción, pero me convencí a mi misma de que valdría la pena.

La Universidad ha cambiado mucho desde que yo quise enseñar en ella. Los pasillos y las aulas están casi siempre vacíos.  Enjaulada en el gigante de hierro, a veces solo escucho el triste ruido de la máquina de café. La universidad pierde sus tiempos, esfuerzos y recursos en esa realidad paralela de la “universidad en cifras”. El SID no es algo en una galaxia lejana, sino un repositorio de datos e indicadores, los que marcan el ritmo y a conformidad en los informes de seguimiento. Aplicaciones tediosas que no se traduciros, porque carecen de sentido en el mundo real. Solo sirven el el “Dow Jones” de la “liquidez” académica, en el ranking que clasifica nuestro mundo desde Shangai.

Mientras otros hacen balances en números verdes de la Matrix (y no las de los hijos Harris, que diría el amigo Juani García), recontando con avaricia “discentes” desmembrados por “sexo y cohorte”, o “egresados” por “tasa de éxito”, yo hago mi propio balance viendo a chavales jóvenes, de poco más de 18, que están desanimados y entristecidos por una realidad subrealista. Casi les da vergüenza mostrar sus ilusiones. Casi se sienten culpables por haber elegido una Facultad de Historia.

Hoy llegué tan temprano a la Facultad, que aun estaba cerrada. Me fui a tomar un café al bar de enfrente, y me invitaron los conserjes. Luego entré en centro, e inicié los papeleos habituales. Estamos a la espera de la verificación de la remodelación de un Grado en Geografía e Historia, adaptado al EEES, mientras peleamos por implantar una oferta formativa interuniversitaria en Arqueología y Ciencias de la Antigüedad, y un título de máster en Valoración, Gestión y Protección del Patrimonio Cultural. Han sido meses de reuniones, informes, alegaciones, planificación, gestiones, formularios, y en definitiva, esfuerzos que exigen una implicación parecida a una autoinmolación controlada.

He atendido un par de llamadas temprano, y he revisado el Facebook de la Facultad y el propio, para recordar que tengo colegas que quieren tomar un café conmigo desde hace meses. Luego he presidido una Junta de Centro con doce puntos en el orden del día en los que se han tratado cambios de normativas, expedientes, tasas, aires acondicionados, reconocimientos de créditos, calendarios de exámenes, horarios, tribunales, e informes de incoación de bienes de interés cultural… Luego he tenido una reunión con la delegacion de alumnos. Nos turnaron en la sala nuestros vecinos de Ciencias de la Educación, que también se reunían. Despachados los trámites, he contestado mil correos electrónicos… atendido llamadas, atendido a alumnos que reclaman revisión de notas de exámenes… después he ido a una reunión de promoción y difusión de las titulaciones que ha convocado a un vicerrector y varios decanos y vicedecanos. A las 12 falta bajé a solucionar la falta de quorum para una comisión académica. Luego me he peleado con las alegaciones al informe de seguimiento del título. Y sin darme cuenta, me han dado a las tres y me he ido a comer a mi casa… sin hambre.

Al salir del edificio, las puertas se abrieron y entró el aire fresco de la calle. Había gente tomando unas cañas en el bar de enfrente, hablando de futbol. Subí por la sombra, hace calor… porque es verano. Después de comer, encendí la tele buscando cinco minutos de encefalograma plano…. celebraban los 5 años en pantalla de Sálvame diario. Esa realidad de la píldora blanca que sobrevive sin esfuerzo.

Por la tarde hice recuento de pendientes para priorizar las tareas. A las cinco hablé por teléfono con la vicedecana. A las seis recibí un mensaje de apoyo de la delegación de alumnos. A las siete atendí a tutorandos propios y ajenos, e hice ese intento de siempre de empezar a escribir un artículo  sobre depósitos de la Edad del Bronce que debo desde hace meses. Y ahora estoy escribiendo esto.

Por supuesto, este día a día solo es llevadero por la gente que me rodea, colegas, amigos y compañeros, que comparten esta forma de ser arqueólogo que llaman “la academia” y que lejos de formalismos, implica para mi un compromiso dentro y fuera de la cata con el mundo que nos rodea, sea cual sea.

Ni me arrepiento, ni me compadezco. Solo quería contaros un día, y eso es lo que he hecho.

To Be or Not to Be

Once an archaeologist, always an archaeologist? Today I ask myself if I still am an archaeologist, and most of all, if I will remain one. Last February, my last part-time job with a link to archaeology ended. It looks to be the last project for me.

My specialty, Mesopotamian archaeology, was always a rather small discipline but it is shrinking even more. First, there is the problem of the countries where the archaeological sites are located becoming inaccessible or at least problematic for research: Iran, Iraq, Syria, … Who knows, Turkey may be next? Back in 2003, I participated in the attempts to protect the archaeological heritage of Iraq from the War. I set up and ran the Iraq War & Archaeology reference website for a few years. It was a one-man volunteer endeavor, fortunately supported by Archaeos and the University of Vienna (Austria) with server space. I was only able to do so because the year before I was laid off, as one of many thousands, from my competitive-intelligence analyst job at a national telecom corporation. So yes, I have already left archaeology once. After receiving my PhD at UCLA in the mid-’90s, I adjunct-taught archaeology, history and art history for a while but found out soon enough that a full-time position was not in the works anytime soon, even after applying for any and all jobs at universities and colleges high and low, in the Americas, Europe, Asia, … So with the support of my wife I switched careers and after lots of effort succeeded, only to be thwarted a few years later by the industrywide layoffs.


Author in the field, excavations at Oylum Höyük, Turkey, 1989.

Another job in strategic planning/competitive intelligence did not come to be. Luckily, my wife’s career was going very well. My work on Iraqi heritage did lead to some consulting, always part-time, intermittent, without benefits. At the Alexandria Archive Institute, my last project entailed a collaboration with the open-access Pleiades project. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I prepared and helped code information on thousands of Ancient Near Eastern places for export into the Pleiades database. For an example of the kind of work involved, see “The Red Sea Is Arabian, Erythraean, … Place Name Clustering in Pleiades and TAVO.”


Author in his current work environment, behind a computer and with a wall map of the Middle East.

So here I find myself in an all too familiar situation again but now I’m 51, recently divorced, and in dire need of a way to make a living. Archaeology definitely was my first love. I still remember excavating in Belgium, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, … When moving recently, I came across offprints of my early publications, from before pdf’s became ubiquitous (see But, universities, museums and other institutions involved in archaeology, and especially the ones focusing on Mesopotamia, were always a select group. Now that adjuncts (part-time, no benefits) teach about 75% of the courses at US universities and colleges, and the powers that be are foolishly short-changing the humanities and other supposedly unprofitable venues of academic research, the opportunities for what most people would call a “real” job are becoming scarcer than ever. Also, having a PhD and a mixed academic/business career and being 50+ do not make me very employable in the current recession. For instance, only yesterday, I interviewed for a part-time job in retail: the main selling point for me was that it would provide me with health insurance. I wish I could continue to contribute my experience and skills to archaeology or digital humanities or other projects but have come to the conclusion that it is a lost dream. It’s time to face the facts.

A Day Somewhere between Vancouver & Bristol


I’m very privileged to be on sabbatical at the moment (supported by a University of Bristol Institute for Advanced Study Research Fellowship) and I’m spending my time as a Visiting Scholar in the Anthropology Department at University of British Columbia ( While my PhD was in Archaeology & Prehistory from Sheffield, I have always focused my research on the expressions and performance of archaeology in the contemporary world, paying specific attention to archaeology and the moving image. That means I research and write about TV documentaries, the archaeological information in home movies and video, the ways in which artists engage with archaeological themes, places and material in their film and video practices, and even the archaeology of screen landscapes. So, it’s really archaeology on screen and the archaeology of screens. While I’m employed by University of Bristol in the newly renamed Department of Music, Film, Theatre (previously, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television), I co-run the MA in Archaeology for Screen Media with colleagues in Archaeology & Anthropology.

My sabbatical is meant to be focused entirely on writing up my research on the screen landscapes of the Vancouver and London Olympic Games and I try to maintain a blog on this and everything urban screen related ( However, the ease of networked communication means that my days out here in western Canada are not so different from my days in western England: a mix of administration, communication, fragmented writing, editing, proof reading, commenting on others’ work, maintaining research networks, struggling with universities’ conflicting network preferences, supervising PhD students, applying for funding and looking for new opportunities, having meetings, coordinating social media, and sending resource requests for next year’s teaching. Before the days of constant communication, I could focus on a single task but now it’s all about multi-tasking and ensuring that I’m circulating that information more widely. Often just beginning one thing on my ‘to do’ list will generate ten more things that all seem to need to be done simultaneously. However, I take heart in being reminded of Walter Benjamin’s essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in which he argued that distraction and the mass absorption of art by the people had a more progressive political force than the studied attention to aesthetics (see Paul Graves-Brown’s blog and also in Jonathan Crary’s great book, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture (2001, MIT Press). While we might want to follow Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967) to criticize all this spectacle, it’s useful for me to remember that focused attention is historically and politically contingent, too.


So, you get the picture that the academic archaeologist is always time-space shifting. We might have tasks to finish every day, but often those activities force us to occupy multiple times, spaces, scales. A bit like being in the field, except the trench is replaced by a strange assemblage of computer screen, office window and the illusion of mindful interior contemplation.

But what about today? What’s specific about 26 July and how does that reflect my ongoing archaeological identity (it’s a tricky one to shake off)? My day begins at 7.30am, when I check my emails and deal with all the urgent stuff while I drink a couple of cups of coffee and oversee my son getting ready to head off to his Mathemagical Minds and Filmmaking summer courses. Today, I’m reminded that I need to update my information for the upcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise. Every 7 years (give or take) the UK engages in an extremely costly exercise that judges the value of the nation’s research outputs, impact and  institutional culture. A bit like a North American tenure process, I suppose, but rather than determining the length of a person’s employment contract, it determines the allocation of core research funding from the Government to the academic institution. My department is one of the highest performing in our Faculty and in the country so I’m lucky to have fantastic colleagues. My co-editors, Paul Graves-Brown and Rodney Harrison, and I have just finished signing off the 2nd proofs of the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World and I’m relieved that this beast of a book will be out in September and can be part of my REF submission. Before the day is out I need to edit and upload my contextualizing statement for my practice-as-research entry, which is a portfolio comprising video, exhibition and publication details for Guttersnipe, what now seems a very distant project.


Although I often work from home, especially on days like today when it’s sunny and warm and I can make use of the wifi outside, today I’m going to UBC. That’s partly because Jonathan C H King (von Hȕgel Fellow, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) is giving a talk at the Museum of Anthropology about ‘Ecstatic religion, modernisation, Arctic archaeology and the establishment of the Igloolik Mission in 1937’.

Abstract: In  the 1930s Oblate missionary Fr. Etienne Bazin (1903-1972) established  a mission, in what is to to-day  the thriving Inuit community of Igoolik in Nunavut. In 1937, the year he moved the mission to Igloolik Bay, Bazin was given by  Inuit some 4-500 objects excavated casually from the  pre-Inuit Dorset  (pre AD 1500) site of  Awaaja. These were presented to Graham Rowley (1912-2003), Arctic advocate, explorer and administrator, who in turn donated them to the University of Cambridge. Bazin had become a missionary after a visionary experience at the age of 18; while looking at a crucifix he was told:  “leave everything behind, your family and friends, and come to Me.”  Central to Bazin’s missionary work was countering, and yet working with, analogous belief systems, both shamanism, and syncretic forms of Christianity which developed in the Eastern Arctic in the early 20th century.  This collection is well known archaeologically,  and here is discussed in its ethno-historical context for the first time. Bazin, for instance, was celebrated by Cardinal Cushing, the prelate who married the Kennedys and buried the president, in his 1942 Boston tribute to the Oblates The Battle of Hudson’s [sic] Bay.


Museum of Anthropology

My other task for today is to complete a draft of a paper I’m writing on the University of Local Knowledge (, a collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Arnolfini and US artist Suzanne Lacy. As part of a much larger project, our bit of ULK was led by Prof Mike Fraser in Computer Science and I was one of the co-investigators. The aim was to take the 900 video interviews of community experts and develop an online learning resource from this, influenced by Mooc culture ( and by work I’d done on the Into the Future project ( I’m co-writing an article with Knowle West Media Centre’s Associate Director, Penny Evans, on the aesthetics, politics and ethics of the project, focusing specifically on the relationship between the video documents and website.

I am very privileged to be able to work in my home town, in the unceded shared and traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. The popular refrain in Vancouver is that it’s a city with ‘no history’ and yet there’s been 10,000 years of occupation. Archaeology here, like in many places impacted by ongoing colonization, is complex and conflicted. The British Columbia context means that archaeology in an Indigenous context is only ‘officially’ archaeology when it’s pre-contact. This makes the whole idea of contemporary archaeology problematic here but I’m keen to work with others in the community to contribute to presencing the entangled pasts of descent communities and settlers as part of the archaeological narrative of the city. Archaeology is serious business here. Land claims, rights to resource extraction, hopes for a better future, community authority and de-colonization all rest on archaeological work. It’s about money, power, knowledge, ownership, the environment, sovereignty, recognition, justice. Marina La Salle ( and Rich Hutchings ( write powerfully about the ongoing (and often unrecognized) relationships between archaeology, capitalism and racism here. Their work is important and when I stop to think about my Day of Archaeology sitting in my office, the seaweed-scented breeze and the occasional hummingbird flitting by, I think about how my privilege comes about through these relationships of inequality. And all of this reminds me that while doing archaeology in the 21st-century academy is often a distracted assemblage of electronic pings into the aether, it really does still matter and I have a responsibility to attempt to account for this mattering in whatever way I can.


The Archaeology Data Service, keeping the Grey Literature Library going

Welcome to another post to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and this one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

ADS logoRay Moore

As a digital archivist at the Archaeology Data Service, my day to day activities involve the accessioning the digital data and other outcomes of archaeological research that individuals and institutions deposit with us, developing a preservation programme for that data, but also curating existing ADS collections.

Today, and indeed for the past week, I have spent much of my time working on the Grey Literature Library (or GLL).  The GLL is an important resource for those amateur and professional archaeologists working in archaeology today providing access to the many thousands of unpublished fieldwork reports, or grey literature, produced during the various assessments, surveys and fieldwork carried out throughout the country. These activities are recorded using OASIS (or Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) and after passing through a process of validation and checking the reports produced in these projects arrive at the ADS. On first impressions then the digital archive may seem like an ‘end point’, a place where archaeological grey literature goes to die, but the ADS, through the GLL, makes these reports available to other archaeologists and the wider community allowing the grey literature to inform future research. At the same time as a digital archive we take steps to preserve these reports so that future generations can continue to use the information that they contain; an important job as many of these reports do not exist in a printed form.

Grey Literature Reports

Reports from the Grey Literature Library.

So what does digitally archiving a grey literature report entail? Initially all the grey literature reports must be transferred from OASIS to the ADS archive; the easiest part of the process. More often than not the report comes in a Portable Document Format (or PDF) form, and while this is useful for sharing documents electronically it is pretty useless as preservation format for archiving. One of my jobs is to convert these files into a special archival form of PDF, called PDF/A (the A standing for Archive). Sound’s easy, but often it can take some work to get from PDF to PDF/A (my all time record is 2 hours producing a 900mb PDF/A file). These conversions must also be documented in the ADS’ Collection Management System so that other archivists can see what I did to the file to preserve the file and its content. While OASIS collects metadata associated with project, the ADS uses a series of tools to generate file level metadata specific to the creation of the file, so that we can understand what and how the file was created. Only once these processes are complete can the file be transferred to the archive, with a version also added to the GLL so that people can download and read the report. With a through flow of some 5 to 600 reports per month the difficulties of the task should become apparent; and all this alongside my other duties as a digital archivist. This month’s release includes an interesting report on The Olympic Park Waterways and Associated Built Heritage Structures which stood on the site now occupied by the Olympic Park. Anyway I’d better get back to it!

Archaeology and Appaloosas

Last year, several of my colleagues participated in the Day of Archaeology 2011 (Marks and Swords). I am excited and honored to contribute to this year’s posts. Today, I worked hard to keep up with my various and evolving roles as archaeologist, student, and assistant curator. As a research assistant and graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, I carry out a variety of tasks for a large historic archaeology project from Sandpoint, Idaho, a cultural resource project I began working on as an technician five years ago (holy cow!) with the companies CH2MHill and SWCA Environmental Consultants. Simultaneously, I am in the throes of thesis research and act as a museum assistant and curator for the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center in Moscow, Idaho.

Dakota Smith, a.k.a. Smitty, is a classic example of an Appaloosa horse and will reside in the pasture adjacent to the museum for the summer.

This morning I awake early to tend to Smitty, the Appaloosa horse-in-residence, main feature of the Appaloosa Museum’s live exhibit, and, I’m guessing, a somewhat unusual curation circumstance for a traditional museum. Then, switching gears, I drive to the University of Idaho to put in a few hours of deaccessioning artifacts from the Sandpoint Archaeology Project collection, the largest historical archaeological collection in the state of Idaho. Myself and several other students from the University of Idaho sort through boxes (… and boxes… and boxes…) of artifacts and execute the deaccessioning procedures carefully planned by the project’s principal investigators.

Deaccessioning is a process of officially (and usually permanently) removing items from a collection, museum, or repository, a practical curation necessity in the case of the extensive Sandpoint collection. Deaccessioned artifacts will find new homes in such educational resources as historical artifact comparative collections and teaching kits. For my master’s thesis I am collaboratively developing and evaluating historical archaeology teaching kits and lesson plans based on historical research and Sandpoint project findings. The deaccessioned historical artifacts will add an experiential element to the kits and provide materials for students to analyze.

Archival safe labels, bags, and boxes are used for storing artifacts.

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning and I must return to the Appaloosa Museum for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. Though archaeological materials are not part of the museum’s collections, many of my curatorial tasks are similar to those performed at the archaeological repository for northern Idaho, the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology. As a new employee at a small museum I will learn a variety of often-specialized jobs such as collections management, exhibit design and maintenance, and give museum tours. Today’s tasks mostly include accessioning paperwork, data entry, updating website and social media information, greeting visitors, and answering questions. These tasks are all typical of museum work and many of the principles and processes are similar to those utilized in museums and repositories curating archaeological collections.

One aspect that is not so similar to archaeological work is the arrival of the second Appaloosa in residence for the summer, Snickers. Her arrival broke up my day and made Smitty very happy. As I write this, I begin to wonder if technically the horses should be formally documented as loans to the museum… though the horses’ owners belong to the Appaloosa Horse Club, which owns the pasture behind the museum…

Snickers and Smitty settle in to grazing.

At the end of the (official) work day I head home to develop lesson plans for the archaeology teaching kits and begin to draft a syllabus for the teacher in-service I am planning for this fall. The syllabus is a requirement of the in-service proposal I must submit to the University of Idaho and, if all goes well, teachers will be able to earn a continuing education credit while learning about archaeology and the use of the historical archaeology teaching kits (to be modeled after the well-executed in-service offered by Project Archaeology through Montana State University). After several hours our awesome neighbors invite us over to listen to some live banjo music and I take a much-needed break.

This poison bottle, one of many recovered from Sandpoint’s restricted district, is an example of a type of artifact that will be utilized in teaching collections.

Well past midnight and much later than intended, I begin updating the projects page for the Idaho Archaeological Society’s (IAS) website. Next comes this post and finally, before I nod off to sleep, I will pick up where I left off last night by reading about Basque history in preparation for the upcoming IAS archaeology project, archaeological investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House. Members of the society will be excavating the well associated with the house next to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in downtown Boise, Idaho. A perfect opportunity for publicly interpreting archaeological excavations!

If all goes well, this year will culminate in the completion of the large long-term archaeology project as well as my completion of the master’s program. As an archaeologist interested in public education and engagement, I am continually thankful to work with folks who are supportive of my teaching kit project and are enthusiastic about public education and involvement in historical archaeology.

University of Idaho

Further Reading: Sandpoint Archaeology Project

Excavated by cultural resource archaeologists between 2005-2008 prior to the construction of a byway, Sandpoint’s earliest historic district originally abutted newly-built tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and ancient shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille before the town expanded across Sand Creek. In the thousands of years prior to the influx of railroad, lumber, and mining industries in northern Idaho at the turn of the century, tribes such as the Kallispel and Kootenai seasonally inhabited the shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille and crisscrossed the region in a transhumance cycle. (Transhumance is a seasonal cycle of moving between traditional lands.)

Though Native Americans traversed the region for thousands of years before settlers, due to the explosion of material production following the American industrial revolution and Sandpoint’s location along the railroad the majority of recovered artifacts date to the occupation of Sandpoint’s historic commercial and restricted districts – including a hotel, pharmacy, jeweler, butcher, dance hall, brothel, bordello, and saloons – along with the Humbird Lumber Mill’s technologically transitional blacksmith and machine shop, a Chinese residence and laundry, and one of the town’s first jail. Analysis of these materials in conjunction with historical research will allow archaeologists to shed light on some of the lesser-known lives of townsfolk as well as add details to the history of the town’s development and role in the beginnings of a globalizing world.

As you may have already learned from reading other great posts, the life of archaeology extends far beyond initial research or field excavations. Since archaeologists finished excavations four years ago we have catalogued the artifacts, presented initial findings at professional conferences and public lectures, are finishing up the cultural resource report for the Idaho Transportation Department, developing content for the project web page, preparing the collection for curation, anticipating the project exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum planned for the end of the year and have completed a variety of other tasks, some of which are being discussed by my colleagues. We are only scratching the surface and are excited for many years of analyses yet to come.

This sign was recovered during Humbird blacksmith/machine shop excavations in 2008.

Survey, Shell Middens, and Ceramics: Pensacola’s Prehistory

Day of Archaeology 2012 falls in the middle of the University of West Florida’s (UWF) 10 week long field school season. The university offers four archaeological field schools—three terrestrial (Campus Survey, Colonial Frontiers, and Arcadia Mill) and one maritime—and I am fortunate to serve as a supervisor at Campus Survey. Under the direction of Dr. Ramie Gougeon and graduate student supervisors, university students transform classroom knowledge into real world experience. Campus Survey teaches students about archaeological methods and techniques related specifically to cultural resource management (CRM). Students learn how to use a compass, read maps, and develop other field techniques while also sharpening their digging skills. After completing the survey portion of the field school, students also excavate a prehistoric site—named Thompson’s Landing– on UWF’s campus.

Campus Survey begins with students learning about archaeological survey techniques by digging countless shovel tests.

To begin this summer, we surveyed a portion of campus near Thompson’s Landing. Campus growth and general improvements may place a road within the survey area. As the students learned how to dig shovel tests, take notes, complete paperwork, and successfully navigate the woods, they also encountered what most people consider the most interesting part of archaeology—the artifacts!

Within the first three weeks, the students discovered and defined the boundaries of four separate lithic scatters. Two shovel tests revealed interesting features—one of shell and the other a burnt pit—that led to the first units of the summer. Unfortunately, the shells appeared modern and the other feature is likely a burnt tree. Despite these faux features, the survey portion provided great information about larger research questions relating to Pensacola’s prehistory. The lithic scatters suggest information about prehistoric peoples’ behaviors and activities while also providing information about site formation processes.

A completed shovel test– proof that a round shovel can dig a square hole 1 meter deep!

Research questions and excavations at Thompson’s Landing, however, focus more specifically on shells and ceramics. Last year, field school students unearthed a substantial shell midden with complicated, ill-defined chronology. This year we hoped to identify discrete shell deposits to better outline periods of use, to understand subsistence patterns, and to improve our knowledge of ceramic differentiation through time within the region. With the aid of auger test results, the completion of five units, and the use of student manpower, the site began to provide answers.

We exposed the shell midden in its entirety before bisecting it and excavating in levels.

Of these five units (three of which included shell midden), one proved essential to answering some of our questions with ease. The shells present included rangia and polymesoda, two different types of clams. Between the two, rangia usually serves as the dominant species, yet the midden primarily yielded polymesoda shells. The dietary shift caused new questions to arise: Did food preferences change? Did environmental factors affect the shells availability? Perhaps changes in salinity or water temperature affected the shells and enabled polymesoda to dominate?

Volunteer, Lianne Bennett, sits next to the exposed shell midden.

As we contemplated the significance of the shells, ceramic sherds began to appear in the midden. The sherds recovered were shell-tempered, consistently dating the midden to the Mississippian period. Despite modern trash, such as glass and iron fragments, resting a few centimeters above the shell midden, no modern artifacts appeared within the feature. The first half of field school enabled students to learn, provided a feature comprised of an intact artifactual assemblage, and the beginning of a fantastic answer to one of our research questions!

The material culture associated with the shell midden– from one level of one half of the unit from one day.

A shell tempered sherd with the incised and punctated decorations suggesting a Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek. The small handle likely enabled people to hang the vessels while preparing the food.

Shell-tempered ceramic sherds recovered from the shell midden consistently date the midden to the Mississippian period. The sherds pictured above are identified as Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek.

The archaeological process often follows a pattern in which the discovery of new information leads to new questions. I hope the next year fuses the information we have (or have unearthed) with the data and knowledge that archaeology helps to uncover. If you’d like to know more about our field school, like the UWF Campus Field School Facebook page.