Archaeology

From Monumental War to the Monuments of War – Archaeology of the Great War in the Republic of Macedonia

Couple of weeks ago I went on a field trip to Mariovo region (Novaci municipality) for searching the remains of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. Field activities were based on surface prospecting of the Macedonian front remains during the Great War. The visit included the 1050 elevation, the upstream of the Black River (Crna River today or ancient Erigon), the villages Skochivir and Slivnica where the hospitals were settled during the WW1 and the field near the village of Bach which was used by the Air Forces. Immense photo and video documentation for some future research was made.

Oh, no, I am not a historian, nor will ever be engaged in modern history, since I am a prehistoric archaeologist and I love working with stone tools. But I am a director of HAEMUS, which is a very big center for scientific research and promotion of the culture based in Skopje and I manage many projects on different heritage topics, including this one about the WW1.

HAEMUS_field_trip_First_World_War_Macedonia

Regarding the Great War, I could surely say that Republic of Macedonia is definitely an open-air museum. “Eastern Front”, known under many names in historical records but mostly as “Macedonian front”, has great importance for the history of Macedonia and the Balkans. I’ve had to pass through hard battles in the last three years in order to promote the archaeology from the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. As an organization we’ve ran few projects, public debates and we organized very big conference on topic ”First World War in the collective memory – Exchange of experiences in the Balkans”. Still it wasn’t enough. I was devastated to show to everybody that on the modern territory of the Republic of Macedonia took place some of the biggest battles that killed thousands of soldiers of many nationalities and religions, which today are buried on more conceptual organized necropolises/cemeteries. The architectonic remains in places where battles took place, includes parts of the destroyed complexes of bunkers, positions, machine gun nests and trenches that can be seen today. They comprise the physical remains of significant points in European and world history in order to explain the reasons that led to the creation of ‘Modern Europe’. On the entire front line length of about 450 km there are thousands and thousands of artifacts and monuments everywhere, waiting to be explored, excavated, identified, cleaned, preserved and displayed in the museum, to tell the piece of the unknown European history.

WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_promo WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_poster

Archaeology of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia so far has been completely unknown for both, the public and experts. But we won’t give up so easily from this topic. We are trying to contribute to the creation of some domestic archives of materials, as well as the exchanging of international experiences. Building human capacities who would participate in the dialogue for peace and reconciliation in the Balkan countries through scientific research and understanding of the past of this period, is also one of the aims of our work. We would like to express our gratitude to the of Embassy of France in Skopje, the French Institute in Skopje, cooperation Normandie/Macédoine, many municipalities, the citizen associations and all those scientists who actively helped us with own research or as logistics. And we are very happy bringing on daylight a topic less known but very challenging for many colleagues.

Vasilka Dimitrovska
Director of HAEMUS
Center for scientific research
and promotion of culture

For more info check: ww1conference2015.com

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This article was written as part of the action for ‘Day of Archaeologists’ (August 04, 2016). The goal is to raise public awareness of cultural heritage and the responsibility that archaeologists have about it.

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.

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Data Entry: The unsung hero of archaeology

Mid-way through cataloging

Cataloging, check-in, artifact processing, data entry, whatever you call the process of taking and tracking artifacts, is the backbone of any archaeological project. Whether you are recording attributes of a small fire cracked rock scatter on an iPad out in the field or hand writing information about a projectile point on a piece of paper back in the lab these ways of summarizing the vast amounts of information we encounter allow us to do archaeology.

However, it isn’t glamorous. I’ve just started a short term contract to do artifact cataloging for a site excavated a few years ago and twice in the last week people have said “I hope it isn’t too mind numbing”. I always respond that I am happy to be doing paid work in my field, which isn’t always possible. The other reason I like doing this sort of work, and one that I rarely explain, is that without it the analysts would have nothing to do. Yes, typing into an Excel spreadsheet and writing in red marker on plastic or paper bags isn’t the most glorious part of archaeology, but it means that the interpretation of that site, and our ability to track the artifacts and information we’ve gathered, is possible. Being in a remote location with only a trowel and a backpack is a great romantic picture but without record keeping we would have no idea where artifacts came from. Whether I am working on my own PhD research, a paid job, or volunteering on a project, big or small, organizing that information allows us to access those items, through databases or tables, and understand what happened at an archaeological site.

So, what did I do on the Day of Archaeology 2016? Well I did a day’s worth of data entry and it’s not as easy as it seems. I’m contracted to catalog artifacts, which in this case means entering information about each artifact bag into a spreadsheet. That involves finding the number of the bag in a digital list, adding the material type and other information, and then checking if the information about where location came from is correct on the bag and in the table. If all goes well, I add a line to the spread sheet, assign the bag two numbers, one that identifies where it came from and one unique to the bag; write those numbers on the bag, put the bag in a box, and enter which box the bag is in onto the spreadsheet.

Worst case, every piece of information on the bag or about the bag needs to be checked against multiple layers of paperwork, that information needs to be typed into the spreadsheet with an explanation of what changed, and the numbers on the bag need to be altered to reflect these updates. The worst-worst case is when the paperwork doesn’t agree, and because it was excavated a few years ago, the notes are all the detail that we have. Thankfully, there is an information hierarchy within the paperwork that can help us figure out what combination of depths, provenience, and levels are correct correct. These worst-case scenarios spice up data entry and demonstrate the importance of having good record keeping and internal consistency. Digging precisely should also be accompanied by precision in paperwork so that archaeologists who look at these notes years from how are able to recreate the site in their mind and understand the site without having been at the dig.

Día de la arqueología en el Museo de ITAIPU – Tierra Guaraní. Day of archaeology at ITAIPU´s Guaraní Land Museum

¡Les saludamos desde el Museo de ITAIPU – Tierra Guaraní, ubicado en Hernandarias, Paraguay!. El Museo es parte del complejo turístico y científico de la Central Hidroeléctrica ITAIPU Binacional, la segunda hidroeléctrica más grande del mundo y la primera en producción de energía limpia y renovable. Durante los años 1975 a 1981, fueron realizadas en toda el área a ser afectada por la construcción, investigaciones arqueológicas. Casi 40.000 vestigios fueron colectados y en total fueron inventariados 83 sitios arqueológicos.

El Museo fue creado en 1979 con el nombre de “Museo de Historia Natural”, albergando colecciones biológicas, históricas, etnográficas y por supuesto, una enorme colección arqueológica y la más importante de la región. En el año 2015, fue realizada una reforma museológica, lo cual nos dió la oportunidad como equipo de “excavar” en la historia de nuestras colecciones, ya que era necesario que la información a ser utilizadad para la nueva exposición posea una base científica. Esto nos llevó a descubrir datos asombrosos sobre los artefactos, los sitios de los cuales provienen e incluso las personas que participaron del proyecto en la década de 1970.

Dayofarch reducido

 

Por primera vez estamos participando del Día de la Arqueología, por lo que preparamos un  video en el cual presentamos una pequeña parte de nuestra colección que se encuentra actualmente en exposición permanente y entrevistas con algunas de las personas que trabajan en el museo. A continuación el link!

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcAeI7mvlEc

Podrán observar algunas fotografías de lo que fue nuestro evento conmemorativo enfocado a evaluar las experiencias, los desafíos y las oportunidades a ser afrontadas en el campo de la arqueología en el Paraguay.

Isologo

1red red 3 red 4

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También organizamos una actividad para los visitantes que llamamos “En busca del objeto perdido”, con el objetivo de concientizar al público sobre la importancia de la arqueología para entender nuestro pasado y construir nuestro futuro.

Dejen sus comentarios y visítennos pronto!

Read more for the english translation!

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A history of the pot in 5000 years

I’m Rob Hedge, and I work for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service in The Hive, Worcester. I’m a Community Project Officer, and I spend some of my time doing outreach and education work for the service, and some of it locked away in the basement working on archaeological finds. Today, I’m in the Finds Room.

I began the day by preparing to get rid of several boxes of artefacts. This goes against many people’s expectations of an archaeologist’s role. Shouldn’t we peculiar basement-dwellers be hoarding everything, clinging onto dusty consignments of mysterious treasures for all eternity? Well, maybe, but the unfortunate truth is that British archaeology faces a storage crisis. Besides, there’s a limit to how often museum curators can feign interest in the contents of a Victorian dump.

But one person’s junk is another’s treasure, and I confess to being fond of the detritus of late-19th century throwaway consumerism. In this case, the finds in question were uncovered in Evesham, having spent the last 120 years in a pit. The museum didn’t want them for their archaeological collections, but thankfully a sympathetic social history curator was only too keen to snap them up for their educational handling collections. So, my lovely assortment of ‘Virol’ bone marrow containers, beer bottles and the ubiquitous ‘Camp Coffee’ jars were handed over to their new home, and will once more sit proudly on a shelf.

One item that wasn’t complete enough to be taken was this plate, depicting the bell tower of once-mighty Evesham Abbey. I love it because it highlights a very human desire to mark significance and local identity, and its discovery just a few hundred metres from the landmark it depicts amuses me. It’s as if the tower, still standing defiant and isolated, is stubbornly outliving our attempts to immortalise it in commemorative crockery.

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, c.1900

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, discarded around 1900

From one pot to another: having set up some of our volunteers and our work experience student with their tasks, I turn my attention to a site that couldn’t be further from the familiar world of late Victorian dumps. Project Officer Richard Bradley and I are working on the report for an excavation he led at Shifnal, Shropshire. It’s a fascinating but elusive site: occupied in the Neolithic period around 5000 years ago, then seemingly abandoned before once again being a focus of activity in the Iron Age, about 2500 years ago. There are few finds (a common feature of prehistoric sites in this region), plenty of pits and ditches, and a tangled web of radiocarbon dates. It’s a real challenge to unpick which features belong to which periods. One issue is resolved when we identify some grotty fired clay as ‘briquetage’: coarse Iron Age salt containers used to pack salt for transportation from the brine wells at Droitwich.

What the Neolithic finds lack in quantity, they make up in quality. Tell-tale parallel worn grooves and a smoothed, ground surface reveal a block of stone to be a rare ‘polissoir’, for polishing Neolithic stone axes. And a large chunk of a Mortlake style Peterborough ware bowl, around 5000 years old, displays the unmistakable imprint of the potter’s fingernail in the elaborate chevron decoration. A pattern which, like the bell tower, serves as a mark of identity. Pots like this were produced across Britain, in a huge variety of designs but with strong regional trends in ‘fabric’ (the material incorporated into the clay during manufacture) that seem to defy purely functional explanations. Mass produced or hand-made, ancient or modern, a pot is never just a pot – it’s a window on a world-view, and in this case a direct connection to the delicate, precise actions of a craftsperson across around 250 generations.

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Archaeologists are a merciless bunch. “Where’s the rest of it?” they tease Richard. Elsewhere, work experience student Kat is tasked with counting, weighing and piecing together an impressive assemblage of Iron Age pottery. You can see how she got on in her own day of archaeology post. I welcome a group of school and 6th form students, who get to work on processing some finds from an HLF-funded community archaeology investigation into intriguing early ironworking sites in the Forest of Dean. Later, as staff and volunteers trickle home, I set up some photographs, bringing together two pots separated by 5000 years, but crossing paths on my day of archaeology.

On my way out, I pause to check on a very exciting discovery, recovered by our archaeologists from a Worcestershire quarry a few months ago. It returned from its trip to the conservator yesterday, and soon it’ll be going on display for the summer at Worcester Museum, to delight children and adults alike… can you guess what it is?

Mystery find - watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Mystery find – watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!


Hard night’s Day of Archaeology

Editing the mesh of a photogrammetric model of a kiln

I’m up late editing the mesh of a photogrammetric model of a kiln, recorded on site two weeks ago. This week my evening routine has consisted of watching progress bars inching along until another stage of the rendering is complete; then initiating the next 24 hours of processing before finally nodding off. The demands on processor power are immense but there’s no question that it’s worth it. The level of detailed recording photogrammetric models make available is almost unprecedented, and as with all things computer-related it’s only going to get faster and easier.

Soon this feature’s going to be backfilled but, with the aid of a mobile phone, laptop or cheap VR headset, anyone will be able to take a look around it. My kids have already ‘stood’ in the bottom of the kiln and taken a look around.

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Anyway, back to the progress bar – only another 1h 12m 45s till bedtime.

Heritage and Identity: Setting up a new Public Archaeology project…

Despite a broken ankle, life goes on. Today I am working on the set-up of a new project I have just started at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in London, UK, with colleagues Prof. Richard Hingley and Dr. Tom Yarrow from the Archaeology and Anthropology Departments at Durham University.

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Broken but scooter-aided researcher (me) goes to work.

This is a really exciting new adventure, especially in these times of heated debate over what it means to be English, British, European or (as I regard myself) simply (?) a world citizen with roots in all those great and diverse places where you are lucky enough to have family, friends and colleagues.

The project is called ‘Iron Age and Roman Heritages: Exploring ancient identities in modern Britain‘, and is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for a period of three years. Through this research we are hoping to understand how Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval pasts live in present-day Britain. How are they researched, variously used, performed and interpreted by different individuals and groups, and why? What are the implications?

The project is divided in two parts which will run in parallel until 2019. One is based at UCL, where I will be focussing on the analysis of digital heritages (Dan Pett, from the British Museum, Andy Bevan and Mark Altaweel, from UCL, are also helping!); the second part, led by Richard and Tom in Durham, is centred on offline ethnography.

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Boadicea at Westmister Bridge, London, England.

During the project, we will also invite whoever might be interested in participating in our research to do so online, through the MicroPasts crowdsourcing website, which is indeed still up, running … and busy! In October, I will visit Daniel Lombrana-Gonzales and his team, in Madrid, and, together, we will create a new crowdsourcing application to aid the analysis of web data. People will be able to login and identify (via tagging) the aspects of Iron Age and Roman pasts that appear in a range of texts that are published online like newspaper or magazine articles, for example.

So, stay on the look, we’d love you to join the team!

Chiara

@Kia_Bon

 

Archaeologist as a war historian – writing a history

About a year ago I wrote about my situation as a conflict archaeologist:

http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/working-hard-or-hardly-working/

Year 2016 is a bad one for archaeologists in Finland. I have applied for several jobs without success. For example there were total of 21 applicants for one two week job as basic diggers and the chosen ones had worked as assistant researchers for years in the same archaeological unit.

I wasn’t depressed, though, because during year 2015 I managed to get few funds to start writing a book about a Finnish communication unit during Continuation War (1941 – 1944). Trouble was that none was willing to pay the whole sum I applied for, but from few sources I managed to get enough to get started. Currently I’m finishing the script. First rule of writing: no matter how much time you think you need to finish the script, it’s never enough! It always takes more time than you thought it would.

History of a military unit, as written by an archaeologist

The unit I´m writing about is Viestipataljoona 33 (short form VP 33), which could be translated as Field Communications Battalion 33. Unit differs from basic infantry or artillery units in several ways. This makes the job much more difficult. Field Communication units used a variety of equipment, most of which says nothing to even most enthusiastic war historians. Very little has been written about Finnish Army’s communications during the war, so the book will be a pioneer work of one sort.

 

Inside a radio car, which was captured from Russians. I have no idea what I'm looking at. Some sort of radio equipment?

Inside a radio car, which was captured from Russians. I have no idea what I’m looking at. Some sort of radio equipment, of course, but what exactly? Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

 

To further make the task more difficult, I am writing the book during time, when most of the war veterans have passed away or are usually too old and fragile to give any info by interviewing them. I have to rely mostly on archive material, war diaries and correspondence. This is as much a opportunity as a challenge. Because I have to write mostly using material that was created during the war I get a pretty good picture of the intentions of the members of the battalion. If I use material which is made after the war I get a lot of hindsight and of course even fabricated memories.

An archaeologist writing about a history of military unit? Does that even work? I believe that as an archaeologist I don´t write about war history in a better or worse way than war historians. Archaeologists write differently. Archaeologists pay attention to different things than war historians. Usually the war historians make maps that show blue, red, black and white arrows that go zigzag in the map against different set of lines in certain time frame. Individuals brought to readers are often those, who showed bravery and valor in combat and their deeds are explained in detail. That is of course important and interesting, but I’m more interested in how the soldiers lived. As an archaeologist I pay great detail into how the men tried to improve their living conditions, what sort of tasks were they interested in doing and what sort of labor was hated or even neglected. How did the soldiers react to changes? How did they respond to propaganda? How did the feelings towards war change during the long Continuation war?

 

Lotta.

A Finnish volunteer member of Lotta Svärd, a lotta, is working with a switchboard. Nearly 20 to 25% of Finnish signal corps were women, Viestilottas (Communication Lotta’s). They were irreplaceaple and received credit as hard working, motivated and professional members of battalion. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

As a unit, I’m interested in how the Field Communications Battalion 33 acted as an organization. Did it work? How were the men lead? Were there differences between the three companies and HQ in battalion? How was the battalion made better – or worse – during the war as an organization? Did the unit do something else besides building and maintaining communications? Was there sand in the machine?

For example the 2nd Companys (a phone company, which build phone lines) war diary shows, that during fighting in summer of 1941 the whole Company was suddenly put to alert because the Russians might succeed in their attack in front lines and the men might have to be put to counterattack. During the wait for new orders Commanding Officer wrote into the official diary of the unit “Company commander started smoking after half a year break.” One humorous line in otherwise serious and official material told everything about the stress the unit was under.

Another example about differences in the battalion was that First and Third Companies get their men from countryside. Second Company got its men from Turku, a city. This made big divides in the unit since the farmers got holidays more frequently and they were usually prolonged because the men were needed during times the fields had to be ploughed and the grain sowed, and finally in the end of summer they got holidays for harvesting. This meant that the town residents got holidays less frequently and they were for shorter times. This had great impact on morale.

Most important things that I study in detail which other than archaeologists might ignore are the material conditions under which the men lived. I have especially studied trench art and I have a pretty good picture, what was manufactured and when and why during the war in this battalion. There were interesting changes during the war and of course there are the pieces of trench art that were made of forbidden materials like aluminium, which was direly needed in war industry. This kind of trench art was done in secret.

 

A wooden casket, made in 1942 or 1943 as trench art. The casket is rather big and on top of it there are two cancing bear figures.

A wooden casket, made in 1942 or 1943 as trench art. The casket is rather large. The caskets figures might contain a visual joke: the lid of the casket is round like a hill and on top of it two bears are posing or dancing. The object was made in the conquered city of Karhumäki, which literally means “bear hill” which explains the looks of this beautifully carved object. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

I’m also interested in the ways men fulfilled basic needs of a human being: food, light, warmth, cover. In almost primitive conditions, especially during winter it was no easy task to get these things and they definitively weren’t taken for granted. Some times over 80% of the men were used for months to chop firewood. Out of four platoons in a company maybe only one platoon could be used for working with building and maintaining phone lines.

 

The most important building in every Finnish unit: a sauna. Men showed ingenuity and effort to make proper saunas. Thanks to these facilities, Finnish army didn't suffer from typhus because the heat in sauna killed the lice. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

The most important building in every Finnish unit: a sauna. Men showed ingenuity and effort to make proper saunas. Thanks to these facilities, Finnish army didn’t suffer from typhus because the heat in sauna killed the lice. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

 

Woodchopping.

Chopping wood in Karhumäki. Demand for wood as source of fuel for warming tents and houses and to keep power plants running was constant. Members of Field Battalion 33 are chopping wood in Karhumäki (in Russia) during 1942. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

 

Food also showed another interesting divide in the battalion: the farmers got often packages which included food. According to one letter  such a package was lost in train and arrived after 2½ months. The food stuff was mostly spoiled, but pretty good frying grease was made out of a ham – after several layers of mold were cut off from top of it. The cities were of course at the mercy of rationing, but they could send one good that was actually unofficial currency: tobacco. With it the town residents could trade food, play cards etc.

I’m also interested in innovations, new ideas and inventions that were made in the unit. I try to write down meticulously about the new communication equipment the battalion received. Unit gave constant feedback about the equipment they were using: some was judged as unnecessary, some was badly designed. There were several mentions of inventions, but unfortunately they weren’t described in detail. For example there are few notes about new ways to bring phone lines into switchboards and alarming systems installed into switchboards, but sadly no instructions of how they were actually made were written down. Bummer!

New and old technology. Farrier, the blacksmith in charge of horses, is using a wheelstone powered by diesel engine. Al equipment had to be very mobile, because the men had to move freguently. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

New and old technology. Farrier of the battalion, the blacksmith in charge of making and putting shoes for horses, is using a forge which also uses a diesel engine. All equipment had to be very mobile, because the men had to move frequently. Picture: Liedon Museon arkisto, Archive of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

Of course when it comes to basic needs you might ask “WHAT ABOUT SEX?” Well, sexuality and sex weren’t of course written down in detail during 1940’s but a human being is a human being, so of course the question of sexual needs existed. When interviewing one veteran I asked him, what were the usual topics in everyday discussion. “Pussy and it’s endurance” the man replied. This is of course the unofficial documentation of the subject. One of the army’s field magazine wanted feedback from the army and the Battalion Commander and officer in charge of moral replied in official feedback “In every single magazine there should be pictures of pretty girls!!!” So there you have it. I haven’t found anything interesting for queer archaeologists, in case readers are wondering.

Material culture, living conditions, consumption, innovations, inventions… all these are basic archaeological questions when trying to understand past cultures. As an archaeologist I find myself asking myself time after time: what sort of material remains could I find, if I dug in places mentioned in war diaries, personal diaries and letters and so on? How would I interpret it? What sort of remains could a power plant made out of ancient locomobile leave behind after it’s evacuation? How would I interpet the effects of intensive recycling of all sorts of material? I managed to find the locations of the garbage yards near the unit, when they stayed in the conquered city of Karhumäki, but digging them (they are in Russia) is out of question. What sort of tale would those garbage yards tell about Field Communications Battalion 33?

Riku Kauhanen

Conflict archaeologist

Master of Arts (Archaeology, University of Turku, Finland 2012 and folkloristics, University of Turku, Finland 2014)

Photos are from the collections of Museum of Lieto, Finland.

Day of Archaeology: It’s the Small Things

An adorable point.

Possibly an Abajo or Dolores Contracting Stem.

Bushwhacking through miles of dense gamble oak and a variety of prickly shrubs for a seemingly endless survey, can dampen the mood of the hardiest of archaeologists.  Yesterday, I found myself covered in bruises and scratches, questioning the sanity of whoever thought surveying the side of a steep ridge with practically zero visibility was a good idea.  And it was 98 degrees and humid.  I was beyond grumpy.  I kept asking myself, ‘why am I doing this?!  How is this worth the trouble?!’  But then a bright white bit of stone caught my eye.  There, right on my transect, was quite possibly the tiniest projectile point I have ever observed on a survey.  This adorable bit of chalcedony snapped me out of my declining mood, reminding me of why I was out there in the first place: to observe and record the past.