Community Archaeologist

Day as a Community Archaeologist

I am a Community Archaeologist and work on a wide variety of projects. On ‘The Day of Archaeology’ itself I was preparing a session for Young Archaeologists Club for the Saturday so I thought I would tell you a bit about what we got up to.

The session was on Oral Histories so I did a presentation on this and we moved on to interviewing grandparents, parents and each other and continued on our First World War theme as well.  I brought a handling collection in and we scanned some of this, I also brought in maps from this period and modern ones along with aerial photographs and they had great time comparing everything.

The rest of my work is extremely varied for example working with school groups, surveying, working in archives, excavating and leading guided walks to name but a little!

the20140712_121403 20140712_121331  20140712_121422 20140712_121714

Friday Finds

My name’s Rob Hedge, and I work for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. Some of the time I’m a Community Archaeologist, helping the public find out about, and get involved in, the archaeology of their area. The rest of the time I’m a Finds Archaeologist – responsible for processing the finds that come in from our fieldwork, analysing them and writing assessments, and preparing them for archiving.

finds processing, archaeology

The finds processing room, shelves nicely filled with finds drying, awaiting marking and assessment

Today was one of my Finds days. I started off checking and logging the finds incoming from the field teams, and sorting out my correspondence, before moving on to reviewing and editing some recent assessments. A quarry site in Warwickshire has produced a pretty diverse range of finds, from beautiful Neolithic flint to medieval horseshoes, and a wide range of 17th/18th century pottery. Our senior project manager Derek Hurst suggested some edits to my report. With finds work, it’s important to be able to consult with others and discuss ideas/interpretations, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a hugely experienced and knowledgeable finds team, to whom I’m frequently turning for help!

Neolithic, knife, flint, Warwickshire

Neolithic flint knife from a Warwickshire quarry

post-medieval, slipware,

Less glamorous, but still important: 18th century plate with a trailed-slip decoration and ‘pie-crust’ edges, from Worcestershire

Some of our Finds Volunteers were in today, doing a great job assisting me in processing, marking and sorting finds; they’re vital to a lot of the important public aspects of our work. For example, last week a member of the public brought in a whole box of beautiful medieval floor tiles, which were probably taken from a local Abbey post-dissolution. With no core funds available for projects like this, the time and efforts of our volunteers will hopefully enable us to preserve the assemblage and display it for all to see.

One of our large community excavations last year took place at St Mary’s Church, Kidderminster. I spent some time this morning packing a selection of the finds up for an exhibition on the results of the dig at Kidderminster Museum of Carpet tomorrow, including some interesting pottery production waste hinting at a short-lived and little-known Kidderminster industry.

The exciting discovery of prehistoric wood in a Staffordshire quarry was next on the list. It’s rare that wood survives so long, but in waterlogged conditions it can remain beautifully preserved for thousands of years. These samples came from a pit, pre-dating a ‘Burnt Mound’ feature, so they’re likely to be Bronze Age or earlier. Careful hand-removal of the encasing silt revealed cut marks and worked edges. With wood, it’s important to keep it wet until analysis has been carried out, so the samples are placed in perforated bags, submerged in water and kept cool and dark.

wood, prehistoric, burnt mound

Prehistoric wood from a pit underlying a burnt mound in a quarry in Staffordshire, with toolmarks visible at top left

Once the wood was safely packaged, I headed across town for a physiotherapy appointment. About six weeks ago I fractured my elbow in a cycling accident, and the healing process is long and frustratingly slow. I’m lucky to have a sympathetic employer, and plenty of non-site work to keep me busy in my current role, but debilitating injuries like this can be a big problem for archaeologists. A few years ago, as a site-based field archaeologist on short-term contracts, reliant on physical fitness and the ability to drive, I took out personal injury insurance to give me a bit of breathing space in the event of injury/illness. It costs, but I’d encourage any field archaeologist to do the same.

After physio, back to the office to sort out equipment for a Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club event. We’ll be at Croome on Sunday for the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology, excavating some small trenches to locate the course of a trackway that once ran through the ‘Home Shrubbery’ to the splendid Rotunda, so Learning & Outreach Manager Paul Hudson and I spent some time gathering and checking the necessary equipment.

Lastly, I put a short piece up on our Twitter and Facebook pages – I try to post ‘Friday Finds’ each week, focusing on something I’ve been working on during the week. This week, I’ve been spoilt for choice, but decided on the prehistoric timbers; it’s not every day you come across wood so perfectly preserved, and there’s something special about being able to see ancient toolmarks. It’s a tiny but evocative echo of an everyday task carried out hundreds of generations ago.

A day in the life of a Community Archaeologist

What is a Community Archaeologist?

I’ve been in post as the Community Archaeologist for the Northumberland National Park for six months. The Park wanted to engage more young people with the archaeology and heritage of the Park, to increase opportunities for people of all ages to participate in the research, understanding and enjoyment of this heritage, to make existing community archaeology groups more confident and independent in carrying out their research, and to contribute to community archaeology in the UK as a whole.

What is “Community archaeology”? I’ve heard it described as “archaeology by the community, for the community”, but both these terms are hard to define! Who is “the community”? People who live in or near the Park? Regular visitors, ramblers, long-distance walkers? Ancient farming families or recent immigrants like me? (Personally, I think “all of the above”!). And as for “what is archaeology”…? I think there are as many definitions of archaeology as there are archaeologists!

The definition of “community archaeology” that works for me involves cooperation between professional and volunteer archaeologists, heritage organisations, schools, and any other community-based interest group whose members would like to explore the past. My role is to make it easier for people who haven’t had vocational training in archaeology, but want to get involved, to get hands-on with the archaeology of the Park. I help them access the resources and expertise they need to really engage with their local history and prehistory, and to make sure what they discover is shared as widely as possible through promoting best practice in fieldwork, recording, archiving and publishing.

Walking around Yeavering Bell, the site of an important Iron Age hillfort in the north of Northumberland National Park

Walking around Yeavering Bell, the site of an important Iron Age hillfort in the north of Northumberland National Park

So, what am I up to today?

Today I’m back at my desk for the first time this week and catching a breath in between projects! I’m also planning future projects and looking back over the results of the last month’s fieldwork.

A couple of weeks ago I ran our third YAC meeting. YAC stands for Young Archaeologists’ Club – in our case, “the North Pennines and Northumberland Uplands Young Archaeologists’ Club”. We’re affiliated with the Council for British Archaeology and run monthly events focussing on the archaeology of Northumberland and the North Pennines. Our last event was based on flint-knapping and experimental archaeology – using the flint flakes for butchering meat – and in two weeks I’m taking my Young Archaeologists on a trip to Killhope Lead Mining Centre. This involves a lot of behind-the-scenes paperwork including risk assessments, volunteer leader applications, activity plans and handouts, but it’s worth it when I get kids and their parents coming back month after month. I’ve just sent out a reminder to my mailing list, and also advertised another free Experimental Archaeology activity I’m running on the same weekend (building a replica Roman clay oven).

Testing out our flint tools by cutting bones and wood

Testing out our flint tools by cutting bones and wood

Yesterday was the last day of 3 days of geophysical survey. I worked with Altogether Archaeology volunteers and Durham University Archaeological Services to do the geophysical survey around three milecastles on Hadrian’s Wall, looking for traces of Roman roads approaching them from the north. It’s generally thought that milecastles served to regulate north-south traffic through Hadrian’s Wall – but no one has actually found any roads! The survey data is being processed as I write this, and whether the answer is positive or negative we will have a new perspective on the function of Hadrian’s Wall.

Downloading the results of magnetometry survey at Milecastle 29 with Altogether Archaeology volunteers

Durham archaeologist Trish downloading the results of magnetometry survey at Milecastle 29 with Altogether Archaeology volunteers

Two weeks before that, I was working with the Tynedale Archaeology Group (a community group who got their start through Altogether Archaeology last year) and Oxford Archaeology North to do a week-long landscape survey of a prehistoric landscape north of Hadrian’s Wall.  Hadrian’s Wall, and the Roman period generally, has had the lion’s share of antiquarian and archaeological attention, but this summer’s fieldwork is showing just how rich and intricate the prehistoric landscape north of the Wall really is. These projects would not have happened without cooperation between volunteer and professional archaeologists: their work is answering important questions about this World Heritage Listed landscape. Now that the fieldwork’s done, I’ve spent some time today sorting out the attendance records and sharing photos and a summary on facebook, twitter and my Community Archaeology Blog.

Tynedale Archaeology Group members comparing their plans of a medieval enclosure north of Hadrian's Wall

OAN archaeologist Pete and Tynedale Archaeology Group members comparing their plans of a medieval enclosure north of Hadrian’s Wall

I’ve also just got an email from a local museum. They’re creating a series of history-themed loan boxes for schools to borrow, and I’m making free archaeology education packs and artefact collections for the Park, so we can definitely work together! Sharing resources like this is becoming more important as schools and other organisations face funding cuts – by cooperating we can ensure students get the best access to our resources and we can prove that we contribute positively to children’s education. The 2014 Curriculum also requires that teachers cover prehistory – and I can definitely help out with that! My “Iron Age Archaeology” education pack is almost done, so after I’ve put that draft to bed I’ll go back to working on my “Archaeology Excursions” guide for teachers thinking of visiting Northumberland National Park.

This morning I revised a community group’s risk assessment and project design: we’re negotiating with a landowner to access their property to survey some prehistoric features, and the farmer has asked for more information on the proposed survey. I’ll send that out this afternoon. And after that — if there’s still time, there’s always my World War One research proposal to go back to! I spend time every week drafting proposals for future community archaeology projects. I’m working with Coquetdale Community Archaeology group to complete their report on their 2008 excavations of some WWI training trenches near Rothbury, and I’m in the planning stages of another collaborative WWI project for the Park, local community archaeology groups and students for 2015.

Where to next?

I’m on a fixed-term contract, so it’s really important that I use this time to build a strong legacy for community archaeology in the Park. I hope that the Young Archaeologists’ Club will become self-sustaining, and I’m encouraging parents to volunteer and take control of the Club. Although I’ve not had time to work on them today, I’m also writing a Careers Guide for Archaeology and Classics students from a Newcastle college, and a Volunteer’s Guide to using the Northumberland Historic Environment Register, so that community archaeology groups make best use of the HER in designing their research and sharing their discoveries.

Two things I can say about a day in the life of a community archaeologist: it’s always interesting, and it’s always busy!

The main rock art panel at Lordenshaws, one of my favourite landscapes in the Park

The main rock art panel at Lordenshaws, one of my favourite landscapes in the Park


A Day (Today) in the Life of a Community Archaeologist in Kent

So today I have mostly been…

  • writing a couple of articles for the dayofarch page-great job everyone it looks amazing!
  • deciding whether an archaeologyinkent twitter acount is a good idea…?
  • updating the www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent page
  • thinking about our medieval manor dig that starts next week!!
  • sorting out pre-dig visits for the schools involved!
  • recovering from yesterday! (when we took a brushcutter to the dig site to clear it!!)

What am I looking forward to?

  • Our summer dig starting next week!
  • the medieval re-enactors we will have on site on July 7th and 8th at Shorne Woods Country Park!
  • lots of exciting news finds and discoveries!

How did i get here?

After going to UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, I spent 3 happy years in the field working for different Units up and down and back and across the country. This lead to a job working on the HER (Historic Environment Record) for Kent and volunteering opportunities in local archaeology projects in Kent…this lead to community archaeology projects and I’ve been working as a community archaeologist for over 3 years now, about to embark on the 7th season of community archaeology fieldwork at Shorne Woods Country Park.

Why do I love my job?

No two days are the same-it sounds like a cliche, but one day I will be digging test pits for mesolithic flint, the next cutting undergrowth down from our medieval dig site and today I am writing about it all on here! I also work with a fantastic group of enthusiastic, knowledgable and incredibly hardworking volunteers.

I’ll be blogging from our summer dig at www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent

 

LiDAR survey of the Medway Valley

In 2011, the Valley of Visions Landscape Partnership Project in conjunction with Lottery funding from the Shorne Woods Archaeology Project, commissioned a high-res LiDAR survey of the Medway Valley in Kent.

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging and is a process where an aerial laser survey produces a highly accurate topographic map of the target area.

The results have been spectacular and are now being used to better understand the archaeology of the Valley.

In 2012, as Kent County Council’s Community Archaeologist, I have been working with local people and groups to investigate some of the LiDAR results.

This work is ongoing and will continue into 2013.  The results have been particularly impressive around Shorne Woods Country Park, Cobham Hall and the Ranscombe Reserve, run by Plantlife.

Findings range from medieval field systems and trackways to world war two military camps, all lost in the woods!

See www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent for further images and information and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-18448005

Do get in touch for more information!

 

Shorne Woods Archaeology Project Update 2012

Greetings from Kent County Council’s Community Archaeologist!

Since last year’s #dayofarch we have secured funding from HLF for a new project at Shorne Woods in Kent!  Called Shorne HubCAP it aims to involve local people in the archaeology of their area and provide training opportunities for volunteers and local archaeology groups.

We are working on a number of sites, from the mesolithic to the medieval. This week we have been finishing a series of test pits on a mesolithic site where we may have an in-situ flint scatter with refitting flakes!

We are now pouring all our energies into preparing for a month of archaeology at Shorne Woods Country Park, working on our medieval manor site. We will have re-enactors on site on the 7th and 8th of July, with our community dig running from the 9th to the 29th of July. Do come visit!

We will be hosting local schools for the first week and a half, with the opportunity for the children to get involved and help us dig the site.

The whole project is indebted to the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of the many volunteers who take part on a weekly basis. Last year we had 140 different people involved with the summer dig and over 1,000 visitors…

Lots of information and pictures on our facebook page www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent

Do get in touch to learn more and to get involved!

 

A visit behind the wire at Caerwent Military Base

Hello! My name is Ffion Reynolds and I’m the Council of British Archaeology’s Community Archaeologist – placed at Cadw, which is the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. My post is part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and you can find out more about it here.

Usually, I’m a Neolithic specialist; working with the Council for British Archaeology and Cadw, however, I find myself travelling from one period to another. One minute, I’m exploring community projects about Neolithic archaeology; the next I’m organising medieval open days for the Festival of British Archaeology.

My activities this weekend will take me even further from my period of specialism, as I take 160 visitors to a twentieth-century military base, otherwise known as the Caerwent Training Area. Accompanying me and sharing their knowledge on the tour will be Jonathan Berry (Regional Inspector of South-east Wales), Medwyn Parry (Royal Commission Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales) and Don Waring (Caerwent Historian). This will take place on Sunday the 31st of July as part of the Festival of British Archaeology: the last day of the festival for this year.

As this is the Day of Archaeology, I thought I’d flag it up here, as it would be great to share this experience with you over the weekend – especially since military sites are pretty strange and interesting places.

Caerwent Military Base is a huge site, the location of a former propellant factory and munitions dump. Within the wire (or the boundaries of the MOD Training Area) there are 414 original buildings, built and used between 1938 and 1942. Later developments include the rocket manufacturing plant, within the former Royal Naval Propellant Factory; and 64 American magazines – places in which ammunition was stored. In addition, there are 75 air raid shelters, and most are still intact.

Since the departure of the Americans in 1993, the site has become a troop training area, as well as an explosives demolition practice area, which is limited to a few structures. These days, a number of buildings are used by visiting troops for training purposes, and also by civilian companies as storage.

Recently twentieth century military sites have been recognised as an important element of our heritage and, as such, we’re hoping to set up more community projects at the site….

…so I’ll be back on Sunday with more about how the tour went!

RCAHMS – Amy Gillespie CBA Community Archaeology Placement

RCAHMS also hosts placements from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and at the moment Amy Gillespie is working as a Community Archaeologist. Below is her contribution to Day of Archaeology as she explains her placement, work she’s currently undertaking particularly with the Scotland’s Rural Past team at RCAHMS as well as her plans for the future.

RCAHMS Amy Gillespie, CBA Community Archaeology Placement

As I’ve described in the video clip I’m here at RCAHMS for one year as a trainee community archaeologist. I recently completed an MSc in Scottish Studies and I was working part time at the University of Edinburgh as an e-learning resource developer when this opportunity came up. There are quite a few ‘on the job’ training opportunities out there at the moment and I think they are a great way for newly qualified people like me to gain lots of skills and experience.

Today I’m working on Gairloch estate maps, using our online database to catalogue and link each map to relevant sites on Canmore. Once this is completed the maps will be available to the public online. The maps came to be digitised following an SRP training session in Gairloch and so I’m sure the SRP groups in the area will be keen to see them.

One of the great things about my placement is the variety of projects and activities I can get involved in: I have been working with the SRP team validating records sent in by volunteers before uploading them to Canmore; I’ve been to conferences, including one on the Isle of Man where we held a training session in survey and recording techniques; I’m spending time at East Lothian Council and Archaeology Scotland in the run up to East Lothian Heritage Fortnight and Scottish Archaeology Month; I’m in the process of starting up the Edinburgh branch of Young Archaeologists’ Club; and I’m preparing for a two week survey trip to Rum! Phew.

I hope you have a good Day of Archaeology! For more information on the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project go to the CBA website and visit out Facebook Page.