archaeological science

What does a Science Advisor do all day?

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Much earlier this year on a visit to the submerged forest at Erith I had found what appeared to be a hurdle; woven from thin pieces of wood. My colleagues in Historic England at Fort Cumberland had identified the wood as Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and the samples were sent for radiocarbon dating.  Today we got the results of the dating the fragments of ash wood date to the Bronze Age which is excellent news as this is consistent with other dated material from this part of the submerged forest and is exciting as the structure is likely to have been made humans rather than the trees which were overwhelmed by rising river levels.

Next I was asked for advice about a site where Vibro columns were proposed as means of ground improvement. It is very common for buildings to built using piled foundations. This method is often referred to as piling but this is misleading. Vibro columns involve a very different approach mechanically. The particles in the deposits are shaken down into place to provide a more compact and solid base for building upon. How these methods impact archaeological deposits is still poorly understood. We do know that it causes movement and settlement over a wider area and is likely to adversely affect any archaeology present. To find out more about piling and archaeology see https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/piling-and-archaeology/

I then joined colleagues from GLAAS (Greater London Archaeological Advice Service) and Development Management team for a visit to the Curtain Theatre excavations in Hackney. Here the knucklebone floor which had been much admired and re-tweeted recently was being reburied. The controlled reburial of archaeological remains to preserve them is referred to as preservation in situ this can be permanent or temporary.  The area to be reburied had been covered with a special membrane Terram and the next stage was for it to be covered with sand. The type of sand used is very important it has to be able to be packed down evenly to provide a buffer layer between the archaeology and what is to go above it and also has to have a low Iron content to avoid leaching into the archaeological deposits and potentially damaging them.

My next task was to work on our next training event. Over the last year or so we have been putting on a series of one day training sessions on Human remains in commercial archaeology, ethical legal and curatorial considerations.  These events have been very well attended and the feedback has also been very positive. The audience has included curators, consultants and contractors. This has involved lots of input from colleagues within Historic England both for technical input and logistic arrangements and also many external speakers from local authorities, universities,  the Church of England and the ministry of justice as well as and archaeology companies and freelance specialists.

So a full and varied day of archaeological science.

 

Multi-tasking archaeology! Teaching, fieldwork and medieval poop

I am pleased to be taking part in my third Day of Archaeology – see here for  my previous posts on work for the Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves projects in 2012 and 2013. This year I am working on a whole range of things simultaneously, illustrated nicely in the cluttered picture of my desk below. I am starting my third year working at the University of Edinburgh, and have a lot more teaching responsibilities that I have ever had before. I am in the middle of preparing undergraduate lectures for the second year course, Scotland Before History, which covers Scottish archaeology from early prehistory right up to the medieval period, and making sure all the lab facilities are in place for my third/fourth year option course in Environmental Archaeology, where students get to do a lot of hands on work with environmental remains under the microscope. Alongside teaching prep, I am also putting together my schedule for a brief fieldwork session up at the Ness of BrodgarI started working there last year, and have been applying analytical chemistry and microscopy to midden deposits to investigate fuel resource use and the types of activities that people were carrying out in different parts of the site. Under the microscope you can see the micromorphology slides I am currently working on for the Ecology of Crusading conference in Riga in September – I’ve been blogging about these slides for the past year if anyone would like to know more about them! And finally, I am getting all my samples and paperwork together for a visit to the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol at the end of this month. I have collaborated with Bristol since my PhD, as they have the best facilities in the UK for archaeological chemistry. During this visit I will be working on a wide range of samples from my own research and in my role as research associate for the Ecology of Crusading project – identifying the species and dietary signals of medieval poo!

my desk today