Commonwealth Day

Penn Museum Archaeologist; Near East

I love being in the field, but this year I’m not excavating. My work is museum related for now, an important part of what we do. So, here’s my Day of Archaeology so far:

Got up around 6:30am and checked my email through my Blackberry. Found that our subcontract to the British Museum has gone through (much of what I do these days is done jointly with London and they are five hours ahead of me, so they have already begun work when I get up).

Got to the museum around 8:00am. I live nearby, which I like because I can walk to work. My computer is my secretary, so I checked on my ‘to do’ file. Yes, if I were more up-to-date I’d just use Google Calendar or some such, but I like having individual files for each day on my hard drive. I looked through the previous day making sure the most pressing things got done, deleting those items and assigning most pressing for today. I had a committee meeting for the Ur Project yesterday; I have to write up the minutes today for distribution to others on the project, that gets the most pressing mark for the morning.


Brad Hafford in his cluttered office, 524 Museum


Our project is taking legacy data, excavation material from 1922-1934, and modernizing, that is, recording it all digitally and uniting it in one place — the interweb. The excavation was a very important one, that of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq and was conducted jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Under laws of the day, artifacts collected were divided between the nascent state of Iraq with its newly founded National Museum and the two excavating institutions. Thus, half the artifacts are in Baghdad, the other half are split between Philadephia and London. But there is much more to an excavation than artifacts. There are also field notes, photographs, catalogues, letters, telegrams, receipts, drawings, watercolors, and so much more. We are digitizing and uniting all of this material. We want to create a site where anything and everything concerning Ur and its excavation can be accessed, researched, and gazed upon in wonder; all in open-source, freely accesible and linked data form.

Creating it takes time, patience, and money. It takes access to the artifacts and archives which are not solely spread among the three museums mentioned, but objects also secondarily sent to many smaller museums around the world, paricularly the Commonwealth at the time. There are Ur artifacts from our excavations as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. And many more in the UK: Almost 1000 artifacts are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries. Not only that, but reconstructing the original numbering system for artifacts and photographs, and connecting that to the modern museum numbering systems, linking objects back to their original field records is not as easy as one might think. Our work is quite complicated. But also most worthwhile.

Museum cafe opens around 9am. Armed with coffee, and organized on my computer daily to-do list, I can face the rest of my day in confidence.

10:00am Eastern: Skype conference with British Museum colleagues. We’ve been trying now for some weeks to establish dates and room reservations for a project meeting near the end of the calendar year. Since this one needs to include funding agency, high-level museum administrators, principle investigators, other museum representatives, etc. it’s been difficult to mesh schedules. It’s also difficult to get space in the British Museum since it is in high demand.

Next we discussed the state of the merger of datasets between our two museums concerning Ur. It’s going slowly because we created our digital data from two sets of records divided by decades and the Atlantic. These records have to be meshed so that a unique identifier refers to each and every object. Then we have to get it all on a server so that both museums can access, update, and correct it. As I have probably already noted, re-unification is not easy. But we have great people on both sides of the pond working on it. Birmingham is on board and we’re starting the process of contacting the other institutions that have subsets of the Ur material. And of course we’re still trying to get the Iraq National Museum on board, but politics has gotten in the way for now.

More emails and arrangements have placed me at about the half-way point of my Day of Archaeology. More in part 2…

Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip

Sydney Observatory, Fort Phillip, the missing Greenway magazine and Windmills

Fort Phillip used to send signals in the early 1800s.

Since the flag mast was reinstated in 2007, a flag decoder permits visitors to determine the daily astronomical, shipping, meteorological and ceremonial flags flown on Sydney’s highest hill in the CBD.

The significant heritage value of Sydney Observatory 1858 including the remains of Fort Phillip 1804 have been officially recognised at both local and state levels. The care and use of the site must protect the values that make it a significant part of the heritage of Sydney and NSW. 

The exceptional heritage aspects of the Sydney Observatory have been outlined in a ‘statement of significance’ in the Conservation Plan (Kerr). The statement forms a succinct summation of the particularly unique and significant aspects of the site and its values, and is used to guide decisions regarding the care of the site:

‘The Observatory is of exceptional significance in terms of European culture. Its dominant location beside and above the port town and, later, City of Sydney made it the site for a range of changing uses, all of which were important to, and reflected, stages in the development of the colony. These uses included: milling (the first windmill); defence (the first, and still extant, fort fabric); communications (the flagstaffs, first semaphore and first electric telegraph connection); astronomy, meteorology and time keeping ;

The surviving structures, both above and below ground, are themselves physical documentary evidence of 195 years changes of use, technical development and ways of living. As such they are a continuing resource for investigation and public interpretation;

The place has an association with an extensive array of historical figures most of whom have helped shape its fabric. These include: colonial Governors Hunter, Bligh, Macquarie & Denison; military officers and engineers Macarthur; Barrallier; Bellasis and Minchin; convicts: the as yet unnamed constructors of the mill and fort; architects: Greenway (also a convict), Lewis, Blacket, Weaver, Dawson and Barnet; signallers and telegraphists such as Jones and the family Moffitt; astronomers: particularly PP King, Scott, Smalley, Russell, Cooke and Wood;

The elevation of the site, with its harbour and city views and vistas framed by mature Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) trees of the surrounding park, make it one of the most pleasant and spectacular locations in Sydney;

The picturesque Italianate character and stylistic interest of the Observatory and residence building, together with the high level of competence of the masonry (brick and stone) of all major structures on the site, combine to create a precinct of unusual quality;

Finally, the continued use of the observatory for astronomical observations and the survival of astronomical instruments, equipment and some early furniture, although temporarily dispersed, and the retention of most interior spaces, joinery, plasterwork, fireplaces, and supports ensure that the observatory can remain the most intact and longest serving early scientific building in the State (Kerr 1991: 39)

Also of significance for relationship of Commonwealth and State powers. Site of the first inter-colonial conference on meteorology and astronomy. (Pearson et al 1999)

An excellent example of a Colonial building erected for scientific purposes and continuing to perform its function at the present time. The structure makes an imposing composition atop the historic hill originally known as Flagstaff Hill and occupies the historic Fort Phillip site (1804-45). Designed by the colonial architect Alexander Dawson and built in 1858.

After completion of recent restoration from 2008  to 2011 the remains of Fort Phillip are now used for Australian historical archaeology workshops. Two of which are being set up today, June 29 for the school holiday period commencing tomorrow. They are Time Detectives and Dig It! Both workshops are being used as school holiday programs with the intent to run them on a regular basis for school and community tours.

Dig it! Archaeologists in training workshops run several times each holiday period and last just under two hours. They are always sold out and we use the following ad online and in our collateral:

“Become a hands-on archaeological detective and investigate the history of Fort Phillip and the site of Sydney Observatory. Experience a simulated archaeology dig, find out what happens to artefacts after they are ‘dug’ out of the ground. In wet weather, the dig is replaced by a fabulous 3-D Space Theatre session. Suitable for: ages 6–10 years”

Budding young archaeologists learning the trade in the Signal Master’s Cottage atop Fort Phillip.


More “Dig It!” archaeologists with one of our very own archaeologists, Anthea.

Our second workshop is Time detectives: a science and archaeology game. “Treat your child to a fabulous day of science investigation at historic Fort Phillip, part of Sydney Observatory. This workshop includes a simulated archaeology dig, investigating finds, making an electronics analysis device which they then use to solve a mystery dating back 200 years. Participants get to view through binoculars and telescopes and experience the 3-D Space Theatre. Suitable for: ages 8–12 years.” This workshop lasts 6.5 hours and again is always sold out.

The third archaeology program is offered to Vacation Care groups. In a typical 2 week holiday period we may have up to 10 groups attend and it is this one we have been preparing today in particular by cleaning the “dig pit” and planting our artifacts. Vacation care groups: dig it! And map it!A fun, hands-on simulated archaeology dig. In the program for primary and infants school age children participants dress up and take part in a simulated dig with our resident archaeologist and record their findings. Binoculars are used to view South Head and the children decode Sydney Observatory flags. For high school children measurement is made using instruments and participants map a section of the site, recording their archaeology finds. Participants safely view the Sun through a telescope (weather permitting) and record their measurements of solar activity. This workshop caters for up to 60 children at a time and is suitable for ages 5–9 years and 10–14 years.

As we continue to develop our programs and target schools and community groups it is expected that archaeology will continue to expand at Sydney Observatory.


Work on Fort Phillip commenced in 1804 but ceased in 1806.


Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip ground plan circa 1870s. Note no mention of the magazine.


One of the many relics found at the site.

Geoffrey Wyatt

Education Officer

Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip

Two Different Labs, Two Different Jobs, Two Different George Washington Sites

Hello, from the Commonwealth of Virginia!  My name is Tabitha Hilliard and I am beginning a graduate program at Monmouth University this September.  I am majoring in Anthropology, with a concentration in Archaeology.  I have the good fortune of telling you about two archaeology sites that I am associated with.  I know the purpose of this blog is to write about a “day” in archaeology, most specifically- the day that I’m writing this entry.  First, I am going to tell you about my work at the first site.  Afterwards, I will tell you what I’m currently working on at the second site.

Aerial Photo- pasted from

I began as a volunteer in May of 2009 at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home Archaeology Lab.  George Washington moved to Ferry Farm in 1738 at six years of age. In 1754 he moved to Mount Vernon.  His mother, Mary Ball Washington, remained at Ferry Farm until she moved to the city of Fredericksburg in 1772.  As a volunteer, I was responsible for washing, sorting, and labeling artifacts. Beginning in May of 2010 I was accepted a position as the Archaeology Lab Assistant, my first full-time position in the field- woohoo!  I remained on staff until I fulfilled my X amount of hours in my contract.  I finished up my term last week, which gives me a few weeks to prepare for my move back to school.  While working as a Lab Assistant- I was responsible for cataloging artifacts, supervising and training new interns and volunteers, and cataloging new materials in the library and archives.  I also co-hosted VIP tours of the lab and I assisted with public events like our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Archaeology Day Tour (this happens once a year, during archaeology month- October for Virginia).  Ferry Farm is in the very early stages of development as far as public archaeology sites go, as a result I was able to assist with tasks associated with other departments- like putting together a new exhibit case in our Visitor’s Center.  I will be staying on as a volunteer at Ferry Farm to assist with researching several artifacts in our collection until I ship off for school in September.

TODAY, I am working as an Intern at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  I began my internship with Mount

Surveying in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

Vernon in June and my term will conclude the second week of August.  I work here two days a week in the Archaeology Lab.  My primary task this summer has been to digitize features for a master map of Mount Vernon in a GIS program.  The department is taking all of the hand drawn maps of every excavation completed at Mount Vernon and digitizing them in GIS.  Some of these maps date to the 1930’s! The maps are scanned, uploaded into GIS, and adjusted to fit real-world-coordinates.  My job is to digitize each feature within each excavation project and insert the metadata associated with that feature.  The details of how I’ve been doing this can be found here: Mount Vernon Mystery Midden Blog. Other tasks this summer have included: mapping the Upper Garden, mapping the Lower (Kitchen) Garden and working on a bit of excavation in the Lower Garden.  It is trying to rain outside today, so I believe I will be finishing up the Laundry Yard project in GIS and moving on to the Dung Repository.

I love my field 🙂