Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Today we are surrounded by bags of 19th-century marbles, buttons, beads, ceramics and pieces of iron and copper alloy hardware. Our job is to catalog and analyze each one of these artifacts, which were excavated from domestic sites of slavery—the houses and surrounding yards where enslaved people lived and worked—at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a typical day for us in the office, although we aren’t always surrounded by such amazing material culture. We work at the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). Our database and website, serve archaeological data from over 80 sites of slavery in the southeastern United States and Caribbean free of charge to researchers and the public. Founded in 2000, and funded by the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, DAACS is based in the Archaeology Department at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The homepage

The homepage

Why do we do this?

Although it’s fun to study artifacts all day, we do have a larger purpose for our work. DAACS facilitates the comparative archaeological study of regional variation in slavery by providing researchers with standardized data from archaeological sites that were once homes to enslaved Africans and African Americans. A critical goal of our work is making data from archaeological excavations (those conducted in the 1970s all the way up through today) accessible and usable for archaeologists, historians, educators, and the public. Although excavation is essential to archaeological research, thousands of collections sit in museums and archaeological repositories that have not been cataloged or analyzed but have the potential to greatly inform our understanding of the past. By making data that has been cataloged using the same protocols from a variety of archaeological sites available via our website, DAACS is helping scholars advance our historical understanding of early-modern slave societies, by encouraging data sharing and comparative analysis across archaeological sites and geographic regions.

How do we do this?

Our staff consists of our Director, three full-time archaeological analysts and one or two part-time analysts. Although we are small staff, we get a lot done! On any given day we alternate between analyzing excavation information from field records, cataloging artifacts, answering material culture questions from colleagues, digital data management, and analysis for our own research projects.

There are four different ways that archaeological data gets into DAACS:

  1. Archaeological collections come to us at Monticello and we catalog them on-site in the DAACS Lab.
  2. We travel to the collections and field sites (so far we have cataloged collections in Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Nevis, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina).

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

  3. We conduct our own field work projects on Jamaica and Nevis through the DAACS Caribbean Initiative and enter the data into the DAACS database. All information from these sites are launched on within a year of excavation. Learn more about our work in Jamaica and Nevis through DAACS and the International Slavery Museum.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

  4. Finally, our colleagues who are trained in DAACS protocols and database entry can directly enter their data into DAACS via our web application,

Over the last five months we have analyzed material culture from Stratford Hall’s West Yard in Virginia, the Morne Patate Estate, an 18th c. sugar plantation in Dominica, and slave dwellings associated with The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Tennessee.

The data is entered using our standardized set of protocols into a PostgreSQL database thorough a web application built in Ruby-on-Rails software (   In addition to analyzing artifacts, and the archaeological contexts from which they came, DAACS staff digitize site maps, photograph artifacts, digitize existing slides of fieldwork, produce Harris matrices, and develop detailed site chronologies and discursive background content for each site. All of this content accompanies the artifact data when an archaeological site is launched on the DAACS website.

Interested in learning more? Stop by our site at and take a look around. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@DAACSORG).

Ted Levermore: A Day in the Finds Department

A close-up of gloved hands using a toothbrush to clean a find

Finds washing


Got everyone to start washing finds. A big site has just finished so we’ve got plenty of hands on deck today. Hopefully we’ll get through some of our backlog! Some of the steadier handed of the group were asked to wash a skeleton.


Our new plastic boxes arrived. We had to order some long and flat boxes to fit our more awkward sized metal artefacts.


Organising finds that have come back from specialists to be reintegrated into our archives. And organising pottery to go off to various specialists. I wonder how much archaeology navigates its way through the postal service each day?


Still organising finds for specialists.


Took some photos of artefacts for the manager. Top secret photos of top secret finds. Assigning unique numbers to boxes of finds that have been processed, which are now waiting to be looked at by specialists. Fire up the database!


Finally done, just in time for lunch.


Found a bunch of other things to sort. Now it’s lunchtime.


Discussed a possible timetable for processing the finds for one of our massive sites. We might have it processed in a couple of months if we’re lucky! We’ve got so much on it doesn’t seem likely…


Boxing up and packaging metalwork fresh from site using silica gel and airtight boxes to begin desiccation. Once stable the metalwork can be sent off to specialists.


The pot washers have been so efficient they’ve almost run out space on the drying racks for the newly washed finds.


Tidying up and working out what needs doing next week. To do list written. Looks like it’ll be much of the same!


Ted Levermore is a Finds Assistant Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our post-excavation artefact research and conservation services, visit our website:

Excavating the Archive

I am the full-time data manager for the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, an excavation continuously co-sponsored by Harvard and Cornell Universities since 1958. As you can imagine, we have an incredibly rich archive of materials ranging from field diaries to maps, plans, reports, drawings, photos, and everything in between, from 1958 onion-skin typewriter copies to 2016 drone videos. We do all of our publishing in-house, so juggling manuscripts for materials excavated over the course of nearly 60 years keeps me busy and leads to uncovering absolutely fascinating moments in excavation history. It’s not only the history of Sardis itself, but also the history of the people that excavate it. I thought I’d talk about a dramatic archaeological moment from 1968 that I reconstructed with all of our resources, from photos to the memories of those who were present.

Last week while looking for an old plan, I came across this folder with the text, “Army jeep off the road. Dog killed.”  (I promise this post isn’t going to be all sad).IMG_4049 I was curious, so I decided to check the field books for July 18, 1968 to see if any of the excavators recorded this event. And one did: IMG_4050 Then I thought…surely there must be photo evidence of this…IMG_4051 Bingo. Photos of the Citroen crane used to lift heavy stone blocks and other things from excavations, this time to hoist an army jeep out of the trench! By coincidence, this was a year during which a museum curator I know (I was his research assistant many years ago) was a graduate student on site, so I sent him an email asking if he remembered this, and he responded right away that he did, as well as a few other  truck incidents! Ah, the excitement of excavating near a highway.

Archaeological archives are not just dusty repositories full of tomes and documents that won’t ever see the light of day. They can be invaluable, dynamic resources not only about ancient material culture, but also the very practice of archaeology. And sometimes…things get a bit dramatic.

Pots and stats! Moments in a day of a post-doctoral researcher

This is my first blog post for the ‘Day of Archaeology’.

I am going to write about some aspects of the research project which I have been working on for most of the last two years, at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, London, UK.

The focus of my research is the later Egyptian Prehistory, also known as the ‘Predynastic’, a period which covers approximately a millennium (the IV millennium BC) and during which the most fundamental features that characterise the ancient Egyptian civilisation developed: sophisticated funerary rituals, monumental architecture, craft specialisation, the first forms of administrative practices and economic centralisation.

Some areas which I have been trying to investigate through my ongoing research are:

  • chronological and functional variability of settlements;
  • how the process of state formation influenced the life of the inhabitants of the Nile Valley (i.e. how it is reflected in the material culture of settlements, rather than how this process affected the mortuary realm);
  • dynamics of interaction between different cultural spheres extant in Egypt at this early stage.

The archaeological data which I have been using in my research especially concerns pottery and has been collected by me over the course of several study seasons I spent in Egypt in the past and in recent years.

Hk, Egypt / 2013 season: sorting pottery…

Some pottery collections held at the Petrie Museum and the British Museum in London, as well as unpublished archival records and published reports, pertaining to pottery which is not available for visual inspection and analysis, have provided further valuable data.

Potsherd analysis forms archive

Potsherd analysis forms archive

Re-use of data produced by other researchers and the integration with data collected by myself, though necessary for having a base of data as large as possible, has been quite challenging at many points, because of the different terminological conventions and multiplicity of systems employed for the classification and recording of the Predynastic ceramic material. Thus, initially part of my work has consisted in tracking correspondences (or lack thereof) amongst terms and codes used in different systems for indicating ceramic wares or shapes. Here one of my first attempts towards ‘translating’ (also visually) the code of a specific ceramic category from one classification system to another one.

Database setting_ceramic codes correspondences_form

Database setting: ceramic codes correspondence form

This integrated corpus of data has been the basis for conducting a series of quantitative and statistical analyses, aiming at identifying potentially significant patterns. In the ceramic assemblage of certain sites, several technological and morphological developments can be traced, for example appearance of new fabrics and the decline of others (see picture below); adoption of new ceramic shapes, etc. These developments seem to have a chronological meaning and, in some cases, reflect wider changes taking place within the society and economy in the course of the Late Predynastic, the period of state formation, in Egypt.

Ceramic fabric variation across a stratigraphic sondage_Nekhen, Egypt

Ceramic fabric variation across a stratigraphic sondage (Nekhen, Egypt)

I learnt the analytical methods I have applied and how to use the software to perform such analyses as part of a specific training program I followed. The research project has been supported by a funding scheme (Marie Curie Actions) which specifically fosters advanced training and career development of researchers.

I feel so privileged for this exciting experience of research and training! Equally, I am grateful for the support I have received from my teachers, mentors and colleagues in the past and in more recent years!

Many happy returns … for this Day of Archaeology!


You can find out more about the project on this webpage.

Folders of secrets: the SITAR Project.


We work at the SITAR, the innovative project of the Archaeological Superintendndence of Rome (today called Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il Museo Nazionale Romano e l’Area Archeologica di Roma), born in 2007 and that aim at the complete digitization and systematization in a GIS environment of all the archaeological documentation related to the surveys and excavations carried out in Rome from the end of XIX century to present. The work to do is hard and it’s too much for one person, for this reason we are a team of ten archaeologists. What expect us is an huge work, sometimes dusty for sure! We explore forgotten angles of famous palaces of Rome and their subterraneans to collect old and precious documents. 

At first we have to go physically in the archives to collect paper documentation. What you don’t expect is that the archives could be such as astonishing places as the one at the Terme di Diocleziano, or really full of stuff as the one of Palazzo Massimo, but in any case the satisfaction to open folders and find in them archaeological documents from the end of the XIX century is really great, we feel like the explorers of the past. Not all the archives are “user friendly”, and not every documentation is complete or in agreement with actual archaeological common standards, but we believe in this work and we consider this like a real archaeological excavation. After all we are archaeologists and put in order things from the past is part of our mission.


The second step consists in an office data entry work to digitize and systematize the archaeological dataset: acquire by scanner, georeference and digitize plans, extract the data related to the surveys and to the archaeological evidences, and so on. Today the Archaeology is also all of this, not only excavation or pure research, as a lot of post of Day of Archaeologist says. Archaeology is also putting in order data, thinking and planning new ways to achieve the “migration of the century”, from data archived in a physical or old way (just think about floppy!) towards actual digital shapes and, most of all, make the data accessible for everyone not only for specialists. In fact, just from its birth, one of the most important goal of the SITAR is to make this impressive dataset public and searchable. All our work flow into the web platform of the project where it is possible to explore the archaeology of Rome, through a map of the city populated with the representation of the heritage, well known or unknown, discovered by the archaeologists who have worked in the Eternal City. And just to improve the public interest and participation, we are planning new ways for the dissemination and accessibility of the project so…enjoy and follow us!



A day of archaeological finds

Having followed Day of Archaeology since it started I thought it finally time I participated and shared some of the fun from the finds room. Yes the finds room can be fun, with the advantage of being dry (a big benefit today!) and having a plentiful supply of cake. As the Archaeological Archives and Finds officer for the Surrey County Archaeological Unit (SCAU) I love the variety my role now encompasses, today’s activities being a good example.

The day started with a shout out from Sara Cox on radio 2 – I was hoping she would mention our volunteers excavating the World War 1 camp at Witley but that didn’t quite go to plan! Most of the morning then involved liaising with external specialists over the post-excavation programme for a large medieval cemetery that we recently excavated, followed by me yet again covering the office desks in pottery – this time selecting examples for illustration for a publication report. I then delved into the specialist world of clay tobacco pipe manufacturers in Surrey. Who would have thought so much could be written about clay tobacco pipes! Love it. Another day in the library lined up for next week.

clay pipe

Clay pipe



Archaeological Archives are currently in a state of crisis with many museums full and contracting units faced with the prospect of having to hold onto material indefinitely. The situation has received much attention within the profession over recent years, although little progress has been made to resolve the problem thus far. The situation is also true for Surrey, with most museums no longer able to accept any archives. Rather alarmingly the news broke this week from Guildford that the Surrey Archaeology Society has been given notice to leave Guildford Museum following over a 100 years of collaboration. It is still unclear what the future holds for the substantial archives held by the Surrey Archaeology Society, and indeed the future of the museum. We are working closely with colleagues in Surrey to improve our own and local museums storage space and we may have secured a new store to start alleviating some of the pressure to house archives currently curated by contracting units, ourselves included. Hence this afternoon was spent measuring up the prospective store and obtaining quotes for racking. An innovative new use for redundant prison cells, although possibly with less cake.

Why Archaeological Archives Matter: Preserving the Pieces of Our Past at the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

On the 2015 Day of Archaeology, I am working with the reserve archaeological collections in the Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology as a member of the museum’s Inventory Project. This work involves the identification, organisation and documentation of a vast quantity of varied archaeological artefacts, which are mainly stored in wooden drawers in the basement storage area below our exhibition space – an area commonly known to us as ‘the crypt’.

The storage crypt of the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology

The storage crypt of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

We document the collections from the crypt by the process of each team member working on one drawer of material at a time. Any individual drawer can contain a varied and eclectic mix of artefacts, often unrelated by chronology or provenance, with sometimes the only shared connection being that they were acquired or accessioned by the museum in the same year. Following the post theme of “Why Archaeological Archives Matter” suggested to us members of the Society for Museum Archaeology, I decided to share my work with the museum reserve collections in order to discuss this subject.

Artefact storage drawers in the crypt of the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology

Artefact storage drawers in the crypt of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

Of the last few drawers that I have documented, the artefacts have ranged widely in type and age, with some recent examples including Neolithic pottery, a bronze spearhead, a stone spindle whorl, a copper alloy seal matrix, a clay pipe stem, and some post-medieval glass and pottery sherds.

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

The museum’s reserve collections may often be mistakenly underestimated in value by the public due to the fact that they consist of objects which are not on permanent view in the exhibition galleries, but the worth and importance of these collections cannot be overstated. The placement of objects in the reserve collections can often be due to their inability to match the themes displayed in the institution’s current exhibitions, or simply due the lack of space to display such an enormous number of artefacts. A number of unusual and unique artefacts from the reserve collections have been re-discovered and re-assessed during the work of the Inventory Project, a number of which have been detailed on our Documentation Discoveries blog.

The museum reserve collections span all archaeological chronologies and typologies, and offer a physical timeline of the development of material culture, seen within the changes and advances of material choices and the design of objects. As an example, seeing a flint javelin head, a bronze spearhead, and a collection of musket balls all in the same storage drawer clearly shows some of the development in weaponry throughout thousands of years of the human past.

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

A large section of the reserve collections consists of domestic material uncovered during archaeological site excavation – items such as pottery sherds, samples of shellfish and butchered animal bone, and waste material from craft and industry. While perhaps not aesthetically arresting or unique, objects such as glass sherds, clay pipe stems and metal slag samples offer us valuable and extensive information on everyday life and practices in both the near and distant past. The reserve collections also offer an extensive base for archaeological researchers and students to study specific artefact types or groups, or the complete physical results of an archaeological excavation.

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

A sample artefact drawer from the reserve collections

The artefacts hold further valuable information in their detailed documentation in the museum’s paper and digital records, which can consist of topographical files, accession registers, object archives and collection databases. These sources record important supplementary information relating to the object provenance, find circumstances, typology, associations and acquisition – all of which provide researchers with an improved and necessary understanding of the full story in the life of the artefact. Overall, the archaeological archives of the museum reserve collection are held in trust for a number of reasons – for conservation and security, for potential future display, as well as for their use as a research base for the future. Work with these collections constantly educates me on our sizeable and impressive national material culture, and the continual need to conserve and collect these important pieces of our past.



The Restoration Department and the Bibat, Museum of Archaeology of Álava region show their daily inside work

To celebrate the Day of Archaeology we arranged guided tours to the to the collections storage rooms of the museum and to the Restoration Department.  With these visits we wanted to show the inside of our daily job and to explain the journey of an archaeological artifact from the site to the display cabinets.

In the Archaeology Restauration Lab, Isabel Ortiz took us through the process of scientific restauration, describing conservation criteria and used treatments in several examples such as a wooden chalice from the Old Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz, an early medieval axe, and a bronze basin.



At the Bibat Archaeology museum we explained to the visitors how in addition to be just a museum we also are the deposit centre for the archaeological material of Álava province (Basque Country, Spain) and that we are in charge of managing all the archaeological interventions in the region.

During the tour we also gave a short introduction about what archaeology is, highlighting the importance of the process and the context, not just the precious objects. Then we showed the laboratory and the research room. Finally we conducted our visitors to the secrets kept in our collections storage room.

It was a great and successful experience. It would be fantastic make this kind of tours more often to keep making people aware of the value of archaeological heritage.





Pacific Archaeologies

In my last Day of Archaeology posting, I seemed to spend a lot of time waxing lyrical about the rhythms of academic administration.

This year has involved personal introspection, unexpected auto-archaeology and thinking about the various ways in which, yes, I still count as an archaeologist.

Today, for a number of reasons, I decided to stack work activities into the early morning and to meet friends – a former MA in Archaeology for Screen Media student and a Geographer – in a municipality of Metro Vancouver called White Rock. One of the benefits of being a knowledge worker is that wherever my laptop rests, I can work. So, I can be just as productive in my University of Bristol job working from a formica table in Vancouver as I can be from my university desk. Before we went to White Rock, I found this film for us to watch, to remind us of the halcyon days of the seaside resort. I wonder if the woman in the orange coat, third from the left, is my mother:

My friend spent her teen years in White Rock. I frequently visited, from the time I was very small with both of my parents through to visiting my father, when he owned a Spanish rancher styled home in the area, complete with stalactite plaster ceiling plaster, circular living room, gold-veined mirrored bar and a stunning collection of louche lamps, the kind with the nude girl in the middle, surrounded by dripping oil threads. This particular domestic collection was troubling, and didn’t sit easily with my idea of ‘normal’ families. It was an interesting material performance alongside the archival records of my father: an Italian from post-war Friuili who, in 1956, stepped off the Saturnia at the Pier 21 immigration processing building in Halifax (cf. Monteyne 2015); who quickly gave up his Italian citizenship; who worked his entire life (apart from a few years laying railroad ties and in the pulp and paper mill) as a waiter in cocktail bars, including the infamous Inquisition; who has managed somehow not to gain a criminal record, despite stop-and-search police harassment in the ’50s and a healthy interest in running bootleg grappa from the Okanagan; who has a very full medical paper trail despite his rude health at 80. All that is to say that I have a personal connection to this place and I continue to try to think through how archaeology differs from history.

So I arrived on the 351 White Rock Centre bus at 12.30pm. I’d caught the bus at Bridgeport Skytrain Station in Richmond, having travelled from Cambie and Broadway on the Canada Line, the newest transit line, constructed for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. While the discourse may focus on ‘Super Natural’ Vancouver, if you look you see not a city of glass, but a city of concrete. Lots and lots of concrete. A civic love affair that links to Italian immigration, a resource-based economy and shady property market, to which Rudyard Kipling fell victim, writing about it in From Sea to Sea (1899). I’d not been to White Rock in years. Outside the first thrift shop I passed on my way down to the pier I saw the pram.

1967 Lewis Collin pram

1967 Lewis Collin pram

I instantly knew it, having spent important years in it as a baby and more memorable time as a young child with my best friend Carmen playing ‘family’ with the bassinet section. I think I always made Carmen be the dad and I was either the baby or Carmen’s wife. Encountering this pram for the first time in over 40 years, I was immediately struck by its familiarity. I knew how the brakes worked and how to detach the bassinet from the frame. And I was hit by an odd yearning when I saw how the backrest was set. I could feel the textured pattern of the vinyl interior covering. Although it’s highly unlikely, I immediately projected my past into this pram, imagining that yes, really, this was mine. That it was infused with my baby oil and my mother’s cigarette smoke. The paper tag on the main handle, proudly proclaiming that the pram was ’48 years old!’ added to its magic. Manufactured in 1967 and I was born in Spring 1968. And it was a very rainy day filled with odd events and so, according to the laws of correlation and serendipity that rule some archaeologists’ lives (despite invocations of empiricism), I decided that it might as well have been my pram.

In this choice, based on feeling and desire rather than fact, I was then oriented quite carefully to the built environment through which I walked to access the pier.

White Rock Pier

White Rock Pier

They say that the big rock was white with guano in the past. Today, it is kept white through regular applications of (Cloverdale?) paint. On a grey day like today, I could be at Clevedon, near Bristol, UK or near any British seaside resort. The innocuous pier, colonial imposition on the waters and territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation. And I wonder if what gives away my lingering archaeological disposition is my wondering about the make and make-up of the paint on the rock (and how many layers?); the different states of wood rot along the pier; the changes in the tarmac as 16th Avenue descends from White Rock Centre to the sea; the few remaining early 20th-century beach houses; the locating of the White Rock Archives on the beach front; and the lines of train track, road, hedging, street furniture and how they organise movement.

And these meanderings do not constitute a rigorous archaeology, but they help me to think about the other projects I’m involved in that do constitute my professional work. My Day of Archaeology helped me to think again about the Know your Bristol on the Move project, which links film and photographic archives to place via a participatory mapping interface. It helped me to reflect on the work that some of us have been doing to contribute archaeological methods and thinking to the ‘media archaeologies’ generated by media and technology scholars. And it helped me to focus on what I need to do in September as part of the Archaeo-Cube project, an archaeology of Cube Microplex, a volunteer-run arts-and-media space in Bristol. In advance of a significant building project, a small group of archaeologists and Cube volunteers are producing diverse archaeological responses to the site and thinking through the possible futures of the Cube following the build project and what might be worth ‘preserving’ and how.  And these things remind me of archaeology’s links to the modern individual and, in addition to the collaborative work in the field and within communities, how central lone practices of attention are to the archaeological project.


Kipling, R. 1899. From Sea to Sea.

Monteyne, D. 2015. Pier 21 and the Production of Canadian Immigration. In C. Loeb and A. Luescher (eds). The Design of Frontier Spaces: Control and Ambiguity. Farnham: Ashgate, pp 109-28

Why Archaeological Archives Matter: Providing Archaeology For All

Today I thought I would write something specifically about the way my working life revolves around archives so what follows below is a personal musing about them as sources of inspiration, collective knowledge and latterly of concern.

Learning in all its forms is really at the heart of much of what I do. Since the National Curriculum has been remodelled I’ve been working on delivering a series of CPD sessions aimed at local primary school teachers. Our ‘Bristol Curriculum’ is a model we use for locally-relevant learning that uses Bristol-specific examples to enable teachers to plan and deliver schemes of work. It struck me as I delivered ‘Roman Bristol’, that it would have been impossible without the wide range of artefacts that had been derived from excavations and most importantly the published interpretation of sites that existed in the local landscape 2000 years ago. One of the many skills a museum archaeologist needs to have is the ability to ‘translate’ excavation reports for the benefit of a public audience: we need to be able to understand the detail revealed by field reports as well as academic theory. Introducing teachers to Gaius Sentius and the daughter/wife for whom he had a commissioned a tombstone found at Sea Mills in the 1870s was a joy, but the context in which they might have lived could have only been provided by the excavation archives held in store. With a 100+ years of digging out at the Roman town of Abona there’s a lot of stuff that’s been studied and still waiting to be studied!

And isn’t that the point? Museum archaeological archives are a living resource not just a bunch of dusty boxes full of spent objects that have already revealed their all.The importance of these archives is that they can and should be used over and over again, especially as new sites and new techniques reveal more and more pieces of the jigsaw. Perhaps equally importantly they can be used for very different purposes by very different people.

At the moment we are well into dissertation season – by that I mean many students are looking for suitable material to study, and of course the archives we look after should be the open book they’re looking to for inspiration. Although many collections are well-documented, and some available in digital format online, you can’t beat looking at the real thing: you simply can’t turn a digital record image over to look at that particular feature, mark, etc. that will add value to a proper study. Similarly you can’t underestimate the genuine need to be able to make comparisons between several groups of objects at the same time. Museums, their stores and their curators, many of whom have acquired a vast working knowledge of the content of hundreds of archives, are a far better bet for helping to reveal connections between sites and objects than using an online search engine. One of my biggest frustrations is that whilst there is so much potential for inspiration and learning there are not enough hours in the day to take advantage of it all and the numbers of specialist curators with the skills and vision to unlock this potential are dwindling.

On the positive side, the range of enquiries I receive is enormous: in recent weeks I have been visited by researchers wanting to look at Palaeolithic material from Hampshire and photographic surveys of a Bristol dry dock made by a local unit in the 1990s. I have been asked to verify that we still hold material recorded on a local HER and to shed light on its documented provenance. Post doctoral researchers have enquired about collections of human remains relevant to an AHRC grant application and I have given advice on how to demonstrate impact without creating an exhibition. We have also had members of a local community history project jumping for joy because they felt so privileged to be able to take photographs of real objects found in their locality to post on their website.

Unfortunately on the negative side I am very well aware of just how many of these archives are at threat of having no final resting place, with no specialist care and consequently with precious little guaranteed public access. As Chair of the Society for Museum Archaeology I am frequently being asked to write letters of concern regarding the continued long term care of archives because of museum closures or staff cuts as the result of austerity measures. In fact I was asked to do that for yet another museum today. What can we do stop this? It is my very firm belief that we will only be able to do this by acting together as one profession because to be honest that is the only way we will get our voices heard. We need to play to our strengths – if we truly believe that our raison d’etre is to inspire others with the collections we acquire, study and care for, we need to use them more effectively to inspire the policy makers who hold the purse strings and to make them understand why they are so important to so many people. As archaeologists we need to find the locally relevant agendas, make ourselves aware of appropriate wider local and national issues and arm ourselves with fighting facts and figures. We need to show that #WeAreAllArchaeologists and most of all how vital it is that we continue to be a source of  inspiration and learning by providing archaeology for all.

Follow the Society for Museum Archaeology on Twitter @socmusarch and visit the website at for membership details and to find out more about the work that it does.