Cemetery

Bones, the Bard, and plenty of pots

I opened my office door this morning to see a roomful of skeletons.

My name’s Rob Hedge, I’m a Community Project Officer for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. Part of my time is spent helping people find out more about their local heritage and why it matters, from building mock-dig sandpits to standing in the High Street trying to get passers-by enthused about Worcester’s medieval pots. I also work in the Finds team, where I’m responsible for overseeing the processing of artefacts once they come in from site, and for analysing some of the small assemblages of finds.

So, the skeletons… we’ve been excavating an area of the churchyard attached to Holy Trinity, Stratford – famous as the Church where Shakespeare is buried (though they keep him safe from the likes of us in a tomb within the church). And yes, before you ask, the “Alas, poor Yorrick” joke has been done to death, by virtually every visitor to the site. An extension to the church is planned, and so we’re carefully recording and excavating almost 200 burials spanning at least 600 years which will be disturbed by building work. After analysis, they’ll be re-buried on site. It’s a densely-packed cemetery and time is tight, so I’ve been down recently to help with the site work. Personally, I don’t particularly enjoy excavating cemeteries, but it’s a necessary evil – if we didn’t excavate them, they’d be destroyed by construction work. We work hard to keep disturbance to a minimum, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

And the inevitable consequence is bags of bones, each individual careful and separately labelled up. Soon, they’ll be taken down to our friends at Ossafreelance, who’ll carry out the analysis. But for now, they need somewhere cool and dry. I make a note of what’s come in, separate out the finds and samples, load the skeletons onto a trolley and wheel them into our store, trying to avoid mental puns about skeletons and closets…

Assessments next: first, a small assemblage of finds from an infilled Lime Kiln. A nice selection of late 19th/early 20th century domestic items: stone china, stoneware bottles, pot of ‘Cherry Tooth Paste’ (I’m almost tempted to test the dark red residue clinging to the lid of the pot…) and a near-complete tea-cup made by T & R Boote in Burslem, Staffs around the turn of the 20th century, with this gorgeous stamp showing a steamship, flags fluttering and furnaces firing:

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Semi-porcelain cup, T & R Boote, Burslem

The finds tell us that this Lime Kiln probably fell out of use by the late 19th century, and was probably backfilled shortly afterwards. Our palynologist Dr Suzi Richer walks in, and looks bewildered to find me weighing a brick. It was a very nice brick, honest…

Next, to talk through progress and answer correspondence for a project we’re doing for Historic England; we’re trying to assess the amount and potential value of archaeology and local history research produced by societies, community groups and associations. We know there’s a lot of it, and we suspect the full potential of this work to enhance local Historic Environment Records and Research Frameworks isn’t being realised. If you’re involved in voluntary-sector research, please take a look at the project and take our survey. It’s been fascinating to see the responses coming in, and to hear about so many interesting projects, challenges, successes and frustrations. There are some interesting trends emerging… keep an eye out for the report later this year.

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Microscope? Check. Scales? Check. Finds? Check. Tea? Check. Doughnuts? Well, it is Friday…

Back to the finds, and onto artefacts from a watching brief on a scheduled ancient monument, a medieval moated manor in north Worcestershire. High-quality post-medieval domestic pottery from a well-to-do household, including early English porcelain, and the base of a lovely medieval jug with splashes of yellow glaze. But my eye is drawn to a chunk of coarse tile, orange surfaces, grey core, with a neat square tapering hole pierced through: a medieval roof tile. Hooked over the roof lath with a simple peg, these tiles were produced in the area from the 13th century onwards; though not much to look at, they had one big advantage over thatch: they didn’t burn! There’s more on Worcester’s medieval fire-proofing measures over on our Dig Lich Street blog.

Medieval Roof Tile

Medieval Roof Tile, showing peg-hole and sandy, grey core

Finally, as the Field Staff roll back in, drop off the day’s finds, moan about the weather and steal my doughnuts, I make final preparations for tomorrow’s exhibition of finds from Worcester Cathedral Roundabout. If you’re in Worcester, drop in and see us at Tudor House Museum. I’ll be there 10 til 4, trying my best to bring the finds to life!

The power of making – or what it means to do archaeology through creative experimentation with media

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York Cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”). And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature Game. Buried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart Eve, Kerrie Hoffman, Colleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan, www.heritagejam.org


A Third Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

Wow, time has flown. This time last year, I was doing radar work in Ballarat on gold mine sludge. But that’s more geological than archaeological, and it should have been covered in last year’s non-existent post (what happened last year, admins??), so I won’t discuss that further.

Let’s see… what was I doing this year?

Ah, yes. Friday. It was the last day of an eight-day project using ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves in a cemetery. The day didn’t really involve any geophysical surveying as such – all that had been done over the preceding week. Instead, Friday was spent using one of my new toys – a Topcon Power Station robotic total station. I love it. It has reflectorless mode so I don’t have to walk around the cemetery to map things. Set-up is a breeze with re-sections (I was previously using a 25-year old reflector-only total station that required two operators and couldn’t do re-sections).

Can you tell from my passion for a robotic total station that I don’t have a romantic partner?

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a Topcon salesman, so I shall move on.

Basically, what I did that day was map the headstones that were present in the cemetery. That took me from 7am until about 1pm.

It’s one thing to have a geophysical survey performed, but you really need to have a map of the surrounding “stuff” so you know exactly where the geophysical survey was performed (and, hence, where all the unmarked graves are located). If you don’t do this, you’re just wasting time (and the client’s money).

Once I collected all the points needed to create the site map, I packed up, headed to my motel room and entered all the data into GIS (I use Global Mapper. It’s far easier and better than anything else. Yes, including ArcGIS. Deal with it. 😛 ). Then I spent the afternoon colour-coding the different points and lines and shapes and what-have-you. Little trees to indicate trees. Dark grey areas to indicate marked graves. Light grey areas to indicate concrete slabs for the lawn section. A crossed orange line to indicate the cemetery boundary fence. You get the idea. Make the map look pretty. Then whack a north arrow, scale and legend on it and Robert is your mother’s brother. And then the clock hit 5pm and it was time to sleep. (This week involved working from 6.30am until about 7pm each day. So I was overjoyed to see the bed Friday night).

So that was the excitement for my Day of Archaeology.Until next time, live long and prosper.Dave The Grave HunterPS: Sorry for the lack of photos. Here are some on my Facebook business page.

Dealing with the dead of Villamagna, Medieval Italy

I really don’t like dead bodies. But the thing about archaeology is that you never really know what you’re going to dig up, and in my last major dig, there were lots and lots of dead bodies – in the end the team excavated nearly 500 medieval skeletons from the area around a church at Villamagna, near Anagni in central Italy. The results of that excavation (the cemetery and all the rest of the large-scale multi-year project) are now being published; interim reports can be found here. Our book includes an inventory and preliminary discussion of the skeletons, the demography of the cemetery and basic paleo-pathology, a discussion of the isotopes and discussions of the topography and chronology of the cemetery, the burials and the finds. But these dead people won’t lie down and I keep finding myself dealing with them, now well after we’re finished digging. Because ours is the largest collection of excavated skeletons from medieval Italy, I’m hoping that these bones can be further studied by bioarchaeologists who are going to be more able to design and carry out a programme of scientific research that will benefit from such a large sample size, from clearly defined and meticulously recorded stratigraphic contexts. I’m in Rome this week trying to help this project along.

A view of the cemetery while we were excavating: lots of regular, earthen graves. Lots and lots.

A view of the cemetery while we were excavating: lots of regular, earthen graves. Lots and lots.

The team who is going to take over the study of the bones of Villamagna include the indefatigable anthropologist who directed the initial inventory and study of the project, Francesca Candilio, and now a pair of bioarchaeologists, Sabrina Agarwal from Berkeley and Patrick Beauchesne from University of Michigan, Dearborn. Their interests lie in understanding better the general health of the population and how it might have changed over time, looking at oral health, at indications of stress on the body associated with certain kinds of work, at changes in bone density at certain moments of development and during the lifetime, and indicators of disease. Francesca has some ideas about some peculiar bone formations on some of the bones, and has identified some people who suffered fatal wounds, while others lived with their wounds for many years. Through information about nutrition levels, general health and indications of physical labour in this population we can reconstruct these particular aspects of daily life in a rural village for which we have otherwise limited data available from textual sources or other archaeological indicators. I am not a bioarchaeologist, but I remain on board because I want to think about ways in which this kind of information about health and life course can relate to the stratigraphic contexts of the cemetery and the rest of the site.

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HRU 4348, the male who died in the 13th century because of a projectile wound to his head, the point of which is still there!

We all met in Rome this week, Sabrina and Patrick flew in from California and I came over from London; Lisa Fentress, the project director, and Francesca are based in Rome. We visited the site, brought some specimens to Francesca’s lab, and collected some of the samples for preliminary work to be done. We went over our data collection practices from the dig and reviewed the anthropological inventories and analysis that the dig team carried out. Francesca explained the methods her lab uses for age-ing and sexing the skeletons, and her binders full of measurements and data. She pulled out some of the interesting pathologies, and weirdnesses in the population, and also showed off one of her favourite head wounds: a guy who was buried in the thirteenth century, inside the monastic cloister, with a ballista point lodged in his cranium.

I feel very pleased that these bones will be taken over by such a competent and interesting team of people. I like Sabrina and Patrick’s approach of social bioarchaeology (Sabrina recently edited a book on the topic), looking not just at health and living conditions of people, especially through the lenses of gender, age, and social status. Francesca has expertise in teeth patterns, looking at migration of populations through dental traits, and will be happy to include Villamagna teeth in her data sets.  I think there is still a lot of work left to be done figuring out this population, and devising a strategy for the archeo-anthropology and bioarchaeology which will exploit the stratigraphic data from the excavation alongside the samples of the skeletons, and I’m interested in thinking this through.

Aside from feeling pleased to shepherd the bones into the hands of another team, there are two issues which really interest me about this research. One: the majority of these skeletons (ballista-point guy not included) came dates from about 1300 to about 1400 (several of the skeletons were dated by C14), so after the monastery was suppressed and the monks expelled. For that period we have very little information about who owned the estate of Villamagna and how the church was administered, so I’m very keen to think more about who takes over a monastery and its estate lands when the institution is suppressed and there is no clear successor to administer the estate. The village and the site of the monastery which we excavated were clearly abandoned about 1300, but this major cemetery with lots and lots of skeletons are clear evidence that the church was still in use, and some priest was involved in burying the dead. The other issue that I’m very excited about at the moment is that in the middle of this phase, in 1348 and 1349, life in central Italy must have changed radically. In 1348 the Black Death arrived in southern Italy, where – by some counts – the population was reduced by half. If I look around me right now and imagine half of the people who surround me dropping dead, my job, my family, and every aspect of my life would be radically different. It may have been so for Villamagna in the fourteenth century and I would like to know whether this was the case, or whether the Black Death didn’t affect this place in particular. We have no indication of Plague Pits, no sense of epidemic-scale deaths, which in itself is might point to the site’s survival relatively unscathed. On the other hand, the site must have been profoundly affected by the three earthquakes which shook southern Italy on 9 September 1349. In Rome, part of the Colosseum collapsed from the quake whose epicentre was located down in the Apennine mountain range—much closer to Villamagna than Rome was. It seems very unlikely that the standing buildings of Villamagna were not destroyed, and thus the population forced to relocate or otherwise reorganise their subsistence. And yet we have only slim indications in the archaeological record of that kind of destruction and rebuilding. Was everything already abandoned then? Or was it restored, only to be abandoned 50 years later? I hope that having a better sense of the population buried here might help shift our thinking about these two catastrophic events and catastrophe in general in a rural village.

I see dead people everywhere!

Hi everybody!

I would like to show you a nice photo in the excavation of a late-medieval cemetery, at Spain. I saw dead people everywhere…! But was nice, and required to be so careful! We did a visiting day after that, and the people went with a smile in the face. Proud, that’s the point. Archaeology, the way.

Greetings, and happy Day of Archaeology!

José A. Mármol


Preserving Sacred Spaces: Community Clean-Up at Oaklynn Cemetery

Day of Archaeology 2013 fell on a special day for me. As an Outreach Assistant for the Florida Public Archaeology Network Northeast Regional Center (FPAN-NERC), I’ve worked with a volunteer cemetery group throughout the summer and today served as another organized cemetery clean-up. Oaklynn, an African American cemetery, rests in Edgewater, Florida. Like many cemeteries throughout the nation, Oaklynn (and those who have dedicated themselves to this project) face significant obstacles resulting from disuse as well as the neglect that often follows. Documents show that the cemetery was in use between the 1920s through the 1970s as an African American site.

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Evidence of vast andalism is pervasive at Oaklynn Cemetery

Unfortunately, the story of the cemetery and those resting within its boundaries is largely incomplete. Fortunately, the cemetery group dedicates much of their time to research which continually renews their passion and interest in this project. Could there be something to make this project better? YES! Descendants of those buried in Oaklynn work with people not associated with the cemetery in any manner. The volunteer cadre spans across generations, races, affiliations to the cemetery, sexes, et cetera; it represents a true community project and a moving shared experience. (Hence the reason I’m delighted and honored to share a bit of our day with you).

Other than clearing debris, what can an archaeologist do in a cemetery? I’m not a bioarchaeologist, so I’m definitely not excavating burials! My role on site is to help guide the volunteers as they clear the site. I recommend where they work, ways to interact with the site (I think of it as cemetery etiquette), answer questions about removing debris (whether natural or man-made), take notes about our activities and new features discovered in the cemetery, and assist in any manner the group might need me. Similar to other archaeological sites, cemeteries demand meticulous care and thoughtful consideration.

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Trudi and Linda diligently clearing a small part of the 6 acre cemetery

Cemeteries serve as outdoor museums, monuments to the past. Although we can enjoy them in the present, its good to remember that such places represent sacred spaces in which real people of the past rest. Embracing these ideas helps to shape how archaeologists interact with a site. At Oaklynn, I carefully consider the impact an action might have on the cemetery (e.g. What might happen if we cut this tree down? What might happen if we remove this large root from the ground?) and continuously evaluate the context of objects and materials found during the cleaning (e.g. Should we dispose of these bricks or are they related to a surrounding burial? Is this spittoon related to a burial?).

Today I was an archaeologist. Today I was a community project participant. Today I was a proud observer of the past and present blending. Today I had appreciated hard work, camaraderie, and a bit of fun!

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Formula for a good start to cemetery clean-ups: ice cold water and a smooth wheelbarrow ride

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A wonderful group of volunteers, including descendants, community members, and FPANners


Archaeology Doesn’t End in the Lab, It’s Got an Office Too

 

Today you’re going to read lots of great and interesting posts about what we do when we are in the field and lab, but I want to show a bit more than that. I want to take you out of the Field, out of the Lab, and into a place of magic and wonder! I want to show you the world of the Archaeological Office!

Seriously!

 

I am currently doing an internship with the DHPA here in Indiana. For those who don’t know the DHPA stands for the Department of Historical Preservation and Archaeology. I do quite a bit of a variety of things. I’ve been in the woods looking for prehistoric artifacts, I’ve been in the lab labeling artifacts, but mostly I’ve been in the office, learning GIS and an awesome new system called SHAARD.

SHAARD and GIS are great for a geeky-chick like me. I’ve got a soft spot for computers, and I’ve been fascinated with GIS ever since one of my coworkers took a picture of his cat and made a 3D Topo-map out of it. It was cool.

 

SHAARD

SHAARD’s main page with a drop down menu showing selections

SHAARD stands for The Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database. (It’s the government, they love alphabet soup.) This database is open and searchable by the public, except for the archaeological records. Now what does that get the average person? Well, you can search cemeteries, Historical theaters, anything on the National Register, Historical Bridges, and the County Surveys. Check it out, you don’t have to do anything to search and access records.

 

                                                                    One of several images in SHAARD for the historical Indiana Theater

If you are a professional, you can apply to receive access to the archaeological part of the data base, which is where I come in. I am one of a team who are busily inputting data from hand written field and site reports into the online database. This is  a whole lot more intresting than it sounds, and sometimes a little more difficult.

Just a tip to the field people, other people have to read your handwriting…just saying…

SHAARD is a bit groundbreaking with all it’s trying to do. It’s unique to the State of Indiana, and it is attempting to be the most complete searchable database out there. It is currently focused on connecting the site information to a massive GIS map of the entire state. When we get done, not only will you be able to log in and see all the data collected so far, you’ll see a list of artifacts, references, descriptions, vital contact information, and maps. When you click though, it will take to you a usable GIS map with photo overlay. No more guessing.

I was ecstatic when I found out this last bit, and I will admit, I’m very picky about point and polygon placement on the map. I know what it’s like to be out there in the field with a Tremble “guessing” about where the site really is. I’ve been there, I’ve dug those empty holes, marched that extra half mile, been lost in that wood. I get it.

I’m also picky because this is what I’ve decided to get my masters in. GIS is becoming vital to our field. Not just for mapping, but other excellent uses…like making Topo’s of your cat pictures…or artifact density analysis, you know, whatever is more important.

DHPA and Cemeteries

The DHPA is also responsible for locating and recording cemeteries in the state. I don’t just mean the easy to find ones like beautiful Crown Hill, I mean tiny, probably forgotten, no-tombstone having, cemeteries too. One of my fist projects at the DHPA was to help defined the boarders of a small, neglected cemetery. It turned out, I already knew quite a bit about the cemetery because I’d done work on two sites connected to it already.

I won’t lie, I spent a fair amount of time in the State Library going over old records, newspaper clippings, city histories, and Sanborn maps on micro film. (Not a fan of microfilm). I’m a bit of a research nut, so this was pretty cool, and I got goofy excited when we went to the State Records Archives  and look at the 1930/40’s aerial photography looking for my little cemetery.  Sadly, I never did find it, but sometimes this happens.

 

                                                                                       John Walters and a cleaned headstone

Now you all know I’m big with the public outreach and all that, and I was really happy to find out that one of the things the DHPA does is works with our local Historical Foundation to host Cemetery workshops. They host a two-day long class where people come and learn how to restore and preserve the cemeteries around the state. They work with John Walters, an expert in cemetery restoration, to teach people how to clean, repair, and restore tombstones. They also provide lectures on how to identify features of the tombstones, what kind of stone they are, and how to use SHAARD.

 

A local geologist showing how to identify types of stone used in headstone production.

The class also has an advanced component where you can become certified to probe in the state. See, there are laws that control when and how you can dig on land that isn’t your own. In Indiana you can become certified to probe with a solid body probe in order to look for buried tombstones.

 

DHPA is also involved in a little thing called National Archaeology Month, where each year they put on numerous workshops and day camps, bringing archaeology to the public. I’m also going to be involved with those.

So, yah, I’m not bushwhacking though greenfield in 100+ degree weather, fighting for my life against mosquitoes and ticks right now. I am making life a little easier for those who are, and extending archaeology to the public little by little. I like to think this end of archaeology is just as interesting as the survey and recovery end, I know it’s just as vital. In the end, I’m having as much fun here as I’ve ever had in the field, and I know having done the full gambit allows me to understand what people in the field need from those in the office. I feel like I am bridging a gap, for the time being, and when the time comes and I’m out in the field again, I’ll understand more about why the Tremble hate us.

Human Remain Detection Dogs Help to Identify Unmarked Graves in an African American Cemetery

Since its creation, the  Florida Public Archaeology Network’s North Central Region office, located in Tallahassee, has worked hard to assist local organizations that are working on various preservation projects in the region. The most recent of which involves a historic African American cemetery located in Tallahassee, Florida. The Munree Cemetery, as it is known, was established in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It is associated with the Welaunee and Monreif plantations of Tallahassee. The cemetery contains at least 250 burials, the majority of which are unmarked. Since 2009 a group of concerned citizens have been working with county and city officials to protect and preserve this historic site. The citizens established a non-profit organization, The Munree Cemetery Foundation, Inc. as part of this effort. In early 2012 this group contacted the Southeast Archaeological Center asking if there were any archaeologists that would be interested in assisting them. The Southeast Archaeological Center contacted the North Central FPAN office. Since that time the Southeast Archaeological Center and the North Central FPAN office have partnered with the local citizens to work on having the cemetery properly documented. This opportunity is being used to create awareness within the community of the importance of historic cemeteries and how to properly maintain and protect them. After all, cemeteries are a non-renewable resource – once they are gone, they are gone for ever! And when a cemetery is abandoned and disappears over time, the priceless information that cemetery provides to archaeologists and historians is lost forever as well. Burials are not only a reflection of those buried there, but also of the community and the cultural practices of those that were present at the internment of those buried.

On June 29th and June 30th  a team of archaeologists from both organizations and volunteers from the Munree Cemetery Foundation, Inc. will take two days to document the cemetery and conduct some much needed maintenance. The Southeast Archaeological Center is generously providing use of their GPR equipment to assist with this effort. On June 30th the volunteers and local citizens will have the opportunity to get some hands on experience using the GPR. The group will also take this opportunity to learn how to safely and properly clean cemetery monuments using D-2 Biological Solution and learn how to document sites using the Florida Master Site File cemetery form. In addition to using these more common methods of cemetery documentation, a unique opportunity has been presented. On June 29th, which happens to be the 2012 Day of Archaeology, we will utilize specially trained Human Remains Detection (HRD) canines to help identify unmarked burials. After several months of planning, three dog handlers and their specially trained dogs will be assisting in identifying the boundaries of this cemetery and will also help to identify the locations of unmarked graves. This information will be compared with the results of the GPR survey. The public is  invited out to the cemetery while the dogs and archaeologists are conducting their survey. Of course, we all will take time to answer questions and educate visitors about the importance of protecting historic cemeteries.

Tomorrow we will post another blog about this project! We will also be live tweeting, look for the hash tags #Munree and #Dayofarch!

 

Another Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

When self-employed, a year just goes like that <clicks fingers>.

You may have read my Day of Archaeology blog post from last year.

I have since worked in a number of cemeteries searching for unmarked graves using geophysical methods. I spoke at the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria conference in April (my first ever conference presentation) and am in the throws of writing my first paper about some work I did over the last year.

I have been undertaking geophysical surveys at the Creswick Cemetery (in Victoria, Australia) for the last year-and-a-bit, tracking down unmarked Chinese graves and an old homestead and associated features (rubbish pits, garden beds, etc.). In all this time, I have been able to test just about every geophysical method under the sun, and so am able to compare the effectiveness of certain methods at detecting certain types of archaeological features. I am hoping it will make a good read. Our data collection phase finished last week, so now it is (academic) reporting time. The client’s report has already been written and is publicly accessible for those interested.

Earlier this week, I had a computer issue and lost all of my tax data. Sadly, my taxes are due today. Hence, I spent the last four days doing nothing but my tax. Needless to say, this hasn’t been a very ‘archaeological’ week. Taxes were finished and submitted late last night, thankfully.

Today, though, I am driving back to Creswick, where three cemeteries nearby heard of my work and are interested in my surveying their empty land to look for any unmarked graves that may be present. Assessing each cemetery prior to providing them with a quotation will take me all of this weekend.

I have also branched out into geodetic surveying (i.e. creating maps of archaeological excavations and landscapes) using GIS, RTK GPS and robotic total stations. These technologies are certainly a far cry from the days of old, when we just used measuring tapes and a compass! I’ve also been using car- and tripod-mounted laser scanners to create full-colour three-dimensional models of archaeological sites, heritage structures and cemeteries (you’d be surprised by how many people want to look at what is written on headstones in a cemetery far, far away). I’m also looking into using airborne LiDAR for a major archaeological prospection project.

That’s about all for me for the year.

And, for those of you wondering, the big settlement project I was getting ready for last year ended up not getting any funding, so it didn’t happen. Anyone fancy donating some cash to the project?

Until next year… feel free to stalk me on my Facebook page , Twitter and my blog.

Live long and prosper.

Historic graveyards and community archaeology in Ireland

wrapped Monaghan headstone

Low impact headstone rubbing from Kileevan, Co. Monaghan, Ireland

A colleague of ours spent years recording the archaeology of an island off the west coast of Ireland. In the last few weeks of the project the team commenced the survey of the islands’ historic graveyard.

‘Finally,’ his neighbours said jokingly ‘ you are doing something useful around here’.

 

We know, as archaeologists, the value of our surveys, excavations and publications (http://eachtra.ie/index.php/journal/) but that value is not always apparent to the general public. We have found that community-based historic graveyard surveys (http://www.historicgraves.ie/blog) are a great way to introduce members of the public to our methods and to our ways of thinking and looking at the world.

 

In the course of this Day of Archaeology we hope to touch on the application of archaeological methods to historic graveyard surveys and to also present the sights and sounds of the Irish landscape.