Conflict Archaeology

A Student’s Day of Archaeology

Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects

Fig. 1 – Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects (Photo by Daniel Leahy)

I am currently a second year undergraduate student at the University of New England (UNE) in New South Wales, Australia.  I’m studying a Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Archaeology and History.

I had planned to visit a local site on the Day of Archaeology, however poor weather on the day (and for much of the week before) prevented this from happening.  Instead, much of my Day of Archaeology revolved around my studies.  This included catching up on recorded lectures for some of my classes; completing an online quiz about historical archaeology; and making more notes for an upcoming history essay comparing memorials of the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.  Studying via distance (i.e., online) meant all of this was done in the comfort of my own home.

Recently I have been involved in a project called the ‘Digital Air Force’ for the website, AviationHeritage.org, whose goal is to digitally document Australia’s aviation heritage using modern technology.  Part of this includes 3D scanning artefacts related to aviation heritage.  So on the Day of Archaeology I started work on creating a digital 3D model of a small piece of metal from a Second World War aircraft crash site (see bottom of Figure 1).  In a nutshell, this process – known as ‘photogrammetry’ – requires a lot of photos of an object to be taken from all angles.  These photos are then loaded into a computer program which determines the angle and distance at which each photo was taken, builds a model of the object, then stitches the images together to form the textures of the object.  This is a process I learnt about at an archaeology conference last year and have been experimenting with in my own time.  The first part of this model was created overnight and resulted in what is known as a ‘dense point cloud’ of the scanned object (see Figure 2, below).  At the moment this still needs quite a lot of work done to remove the surrounding items which were captured, clean up parts of the artefact itself, and join ‘chunks’ to form a complete model but it is hoped this will be completed over the weekend.

Dense Point Cloud (WIP) of WWII Aircraft Wreckage

Fig. 2 – Dense Point Cloud of WWII Aircraft Wreckage (Image by Daniel Leahy)

Personally I became interested in archaeology (and palaeontology) at a very young age.  I was however dissuaded from pursuing a career in either of those fields because of a perceived lack of money that would be made.  Instead, I followed my uncle into the I.T. industry, completing a Bachelor of Information Technology degree then working with a variety of systems for about ten years.  It was at this time that I felt I had to change careers and decided to formally study archaeology, which today I feel is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

 

(P.S.  July 29th was also my birthday, hence the greeting card from an archaeologist friend which can be seen in Figure 1).

Archaeologist as a war historian – writing a history

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

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

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

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

History of a military unit, as written by an archaeologist

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Lotta.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Woodchopping.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riku Kauhanen

Conflict archaeologist

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

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

Wander around a WW1 Training School

Short blog this year….but…..

Last week I was excavating Roman stuff. Today I’m back on more familiar territory; back in 20th century looking for military practice trenches at the site of a WW1 training school, although I am not on my usual ‘patch’ which is the Aldershot area.

The site in question is in the south east – and, unusually, there is a contemporary sketched map of the trench system on this site, so having geo-referenced said map in some GIS software I now know roughly where the trenches should be. Having checked modern and WW2 era aerial photos I know a fair bit of the site now lies under ploughed fields, and the trenches no longer show in the photos. The remainder of the site lies in woodland, so, possible that some may survive there.

Arrived at site and loaded pockets up with GPS, camera, photo scales, notepad etc.

Overall plan is to look at the site, and asses its current state of preservation, and whether it shows potential for any field work.

The site lies on publicly accessible land, but car parking is about a mile away (and it’s raining too), So walked to site (thankful for my trusty Tilley hat keeping me dry).

Easily found the first location on the map; an old quarry that predates the training school, but a useful fixed point to navigate around the rest of the site from.
Not far from the quarry some very badly preserved trench still present – only about 5cm deep, but clearly following the correct pattern, and clearly in the correct location based on the map.

Further round the site some trees sticking into the fields indicate where a line of trench should be – in the woods just a few metres away, again, very badly preserved section of trench – following the line this trench would have taken across the field should indicate where further trenches would have been.

At the far end of the site, which again is in open fields, there are variations in grass colour where the map suggests there would have been a sap running off a trench, so again that looks promising.

Having taken GPS readings and scribbled notes – took a bit more of a wander round the area, and have now ascertained land ownership for different parts of the site.

That’s the best part of four hours looking at the site, so probably enough as a preliminary survey, so head back to the car.

So, overall plan now is to write a short project proposal to take to the land owners, looking at a proper survey to methodically identify and record all remaining sections of trench, together with resistivity survey over some of the fields to confirm location of trenches and training hut, and some field walking on another section which records suggest should potentially have some surface finds.  Then maybe, depending on results of that, a bit of excavation……..

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.


A day of archaeology, in the life of an early career academic.

photo 4

There is a method to the madness, and structure in the stratigraphy of notebooks!

Hello! I’m Dr. Ryan McNutt, a University Teacher (adjunct professor to American readers) in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. Today I’m going to talk a bit about a typical day in my work as an early career archaeologist within academia, and also tell you a bit about how I got here.

Anthropologizing Abroad—Or, an American in Glasgow

Like many archaeologists, and in fact, like many of my colleagues at Glasgow, I’ve had a varied journey to reach the desk I’m sat in front of today. My undergraduate was a B.Sc in Anthropology from Middle Tennessee State University, where the majority of my interest was in the prehistory and protohistory of the Mississippian civilizations of the American Southeast. Even within that, I was always interested in conflict within and between groups, and the archaeological and anthropological investigations of the effect of conflict on human behavior, and indeed, on the landscape.

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Castalian Springs Field School 2006. My last field school prior to graduating.

After a few years doing commercial archaeology in the United States, this interest in conflict, coupled with my desire to return to postgraduate study, saw me pack up and move across the Atlantic to Glasgow to pursue an Mlitt, and latterly a PhD, focused on conflict and battlefield archaeology with Glasgow’s own (and the only one in the world!) Centre for Battlefield Archaeology.  My postgraduate study through the Centre was phenomenal, opening doors and providing some amazing opportunities for fieldwork in France, Poland, and on some of the most historically significant battlefields in Scotland, as well as participating in TV documentaries.

(more…)

Working Hard or Hardly Working? That is the question.

“Fully employed unemployed is a common problem, and it would be good to have a post about your work.”

Reply to my message from Matt Law when I asked about writing about my situation.

A bit about me

First a little about myself. This post is not supposed to be my curriculum vitae, it just shows all kinds of jobs and occupations an archaeologist must be ready to take in order to have some income.

I graduated from University of Turku, Finland in 2012 from archaeology and in 2014 from folkloristics. My MA-thesis in archaeology was about the Swedish-Russo War of 1741-1743 and conflict archaeological theory. After this I did another Master of Arts degree, because the folkloristics in Turku started it’s own archive studies line. In my second thesis I studied triangulation between folkloristics and archaeology. I studied as an example regular stones in inhumations, using folk archives to find explanations for the stones.

After two Master of Arts degrees I find myself most of the time unemployed. I graduated from folkloristics in May 2014, and I’ve had several short employments after that. Luckily I worked during my studies and paid my membership fees to Museum trade union, so after I graduated I was entitled to daily benefits – after two months of bureaucracy.

The work for archaeologists is scattered and most archaeologists in the profession face unemployment sometimes. Many times. During winter the ground is frozen, so that puts a halt to excavations. Last year (2014) I spent a total of 10 weeks as a digger after my graduation in May. I also wrote articles and held lectures at community colleges (Kansalaisopisto). I’ve tried to get funding to do independent research, but with no success. Year 2015 mostly repeats last year.

Here are a few photos of my fully-employed days in 2014:

IMAG2593

Excavations in Harjavalta at the end of Summer 2014. Heavy rain and an improvised tent.

During the excavations in 2014 in Harjavalta the road to construction site and excavations was blocked with gravel and stones during the weekends to prevent thefts. One Friday the workers forgot that the archaeologists were still working.

During the excavations in 2014 in Harjavalta the road to construction site and excavations was blocked with gravel and stones during the weekends to prevent thefts. One Friday the construction site workers forgot that the archaeologists were still working.

Never try to disrupt the movements of archaeologists equipped with shovels. Archaeologists breaking free in Harjavalta during excavations 2014.

Never try to disrupt the movements of archaeologists equipped with shovels. Archaeologists breaking free in Harjavalta during excavations 2014.

Year 2015 for archaeologist

Like I wrote, year 2015 seems to repeat last year. I worked as a digger in Museovirasto (NBA, National Board of Antiquities) most of April. We circled around Pirkanmaa (Tampere region) and for an archaeologist specialized in conflict archaeology these trips were wonderful, although the excavation sites were “normal digs”. Most sites were located near battlefields of the Finnish Civil War (1918), and I spotted several bullet or shrapnel holes in buildings nearby. I was fascinated with shrapnel tears in the attic of an old house. The master of the house gave me a few pieces of shrapnel as a memento, which were picked from the floor of the attic.

A shrapnel's spilnetrs tore the floor of this attic in Messukylä, Tampere during the Cibil War of 1918.

Shrapnel splinters tore the floor of this attic in Messukylä, Tampere during the Civil War of 1918. I was thrilled to see these!

The shrapnel tears, soon 100 years old, compared to my hand.

The shrapnel tears, soon 100 years old, compared to my hand.

Shrapnel splinters from the battle of Messukylä, 1918.

Shrapnel splinters from the battle of Messukylä, 1918.

It’s moments and discoveries like these that make this profession worth the effort.

Sometimes archaeology is full of sh*t. Especially when you have to dig in a horse pasture. Two horses and one pony were observing kneenly, as two brave diggers crossed the fence and started looking for signs of iron age.

Sometimes archaeology is full of sh*t. Especially when you have to dig in a horse pasture. Two horses and one pony were observing keenly, as two brave diggers crossed the fence and started looking for signs of iron age. Sastamala, Finland in April 2015.

Before this one month job I wrote articles to local news paper Turun Sanomat about the foreign volunteers in Winter War (1939 – 1940). The fee for these writings is small but every little bit helps in my situation. I also had lectures in community colleges. One was about the conflict archaeology of Late Iron Age Finland with title “Lännen pitkä miekka iskee idän sapeliin? Nuoremman rautakauden konfliktiarkeologiaa” (The long sword of west strikes the eastern scimitar? Conflict archaeology of Late Iron Age). I also held five lectures in other college about the history of guerrilla warfare, the radio intelligence in Finland before and during WWII (things I learned during making this lecture made the movie Imitation Game look rather ridiculous, by the way), War of Åland (Crimean war in Finland 1854 – 1855), the Lapland War (1944 – 45, Finns against Germans in Northern Finland) and Foreign volunteers in Finnish wars of 1939 – 1944.

Jobs like these keep me interested in things – with a deadline. It’s important to have a set date, before which I have to read all the books necessary and produce a popular representation of the subject. These jobs are also an outstanding alternative to full-time alcoholism.

As a new profession I was a guide in four days trip to Carelian Isthmus (in Russia) in the beginning of May. We visited battlefields of WWII and I provided the speaks and representations. The preparations to visit Russia were thorough. I made very large maps with cardboards, contact paper and glue, which worked fine. Usually the guides just give A4-sized maps full of sings and arrows, which are incomprehensible.

Dragon's teeth, tank obstacles in Siiranmäki, Carelian Isthmus.

Dragon’s teeth, tank obstacles in Siiranmäki, Carelian Isthmus.

This new profession was fulfilling. Sites were amazing and the trip to Russia was mostly without difficulties. Some roads were in horrible condition, but we got by. Timing was good, since the sites were clear of vegetation and we got to witness the Victory Day Celebration in Viborg.

Currently: what I’m looking for in 24th of July 2015

The trouble with being a tour guide is the same as with being a professional field archaeologist: you have to move to different sites all the time and employment time is short. I’d like to get employed in Turku, but the chances for that are poor. Second chance is to go to longer excavations to some other part of Finland. Currently the private companies do most of these kind of excavations, and so far I haven’t been contacted. Usually one, two, three month excavations are rare and my only chance to get to those is in the beginning of Summer or Fall, when students are back at university. The economical situation doesn’t help.

There is a program to employ people under the age of 30. However, the program ran out of money a month ago and since I haven’t been on daily benefits for 300 days, I can’t get this support.

This week I managed to get one actual job done. During the year 2012 I interviewed war veterans and collected lot’s of material, and made a web site for the museum which employed me. Yesterday I finished the student version of these sites after many difficulties. Today I’ll do the finishing touches to the site. Designing pages like these is difficult for many reasons: I have little IT-training, the software I’m using is simple – for better or worse – and it’s hard to decide the visual design because I’m partly color blind.

Then there are the funds I’m trying to get from different associations or trusts to write books or to do research. The first notice will come next month, after which I hopefully can once again turn into full-time researcher. For a few months.

And there’s the free stuff: reviews to professional magazines, articles with which I try to score “academic points” in case I begin doctoral studies, helping other researchers by email and of course helping other small scale field studies for which I get payed in free accommodations, travels, food and beer. I suppose stuff like this keeps archaeology running – the free work and the beer.

A day in the life of an amatuer Conflict Archaeologist with a poorly cat!

camberley

So, I booked the day off work from the day job for Day of Archaeology. I bought the t-shirt, and planned things to do.  Then, Thursday, one of the myriad pet cats falls ill!  Two trips to the vet Thursday: injections, creams and special food.

Four o’clock this morning poorly cat told me it was time to get up.  She was already pre-booked for another appointment today, so plans had to change!

The original plan was to meet up with Peter, a nearby local historian. We initially made contact a couple of months back via twitter when Peter had historical evidence of WW1 military practice trenches in the area; as I have a Masters degree in Conflict Archaeology I contacted him, and we managed to trace some of the trenches. These have now been entered onto the Homefront Legacy website. Our plan today had been to look for another set of trenches nearby which have previously been identified via aerial photography with the hope of finding and surveying them and getting the existing HER record for them updated. Unfortunately the cat’s poor health required me to stay with her prior to her next vet visit; Peter helpfully agreed that cats come first, so we agreed to reschedule to another date (Peter, if you read this, thank you!).

So, with time to spend at home, it seemed a good idea to catch up on some of the archaeo tasks I have had on the ‘to-do’ list:

First up, several other sites to log on the Homefront Legacy website.

First one added was the WW1 German POW camp in Watlington: this one formed part of the basis of my Masters dissertation. I have a fantastic map I bought by chance. It’s a 1912 OS map which was annotated with notes and marks by the Camp Commandant at the camp in question. It’s a grand piece of material culture, and it enabled me to find the location of the camp when used in conjunction with records at the National Archives at Kew, so the location of the camp is now on the Homefront Legacy website.  Of the 500 or so camps in UK during WW1, very few are in the HER, so pleased to add another one and get it out in the public domain.

Also added two other sites to the website; both of them WW1 Auxilliary Hospitals run by Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments, both of them in Berkshire.

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(the line above was helpfully added by one of the other cats walking across my laptop!)

Anyhow, sites added to website, and now its time for cat’s next vet visit. Once she gets home she has her first meal in a nearly two days!

Home again, and back to another outstanding  task.

I have a cunning plan.  Normal handheld GPS is accurate to 6 or 7 metres; a nice GPS which is accurate to less than a metre costs thousands of pounds. I want one, but don’t have the cash, so I am going to make my own! I have a GPS chip, accurate to 25cm, but has no software interface and no logging mechanism of any sort. So the plan is: GPS chip, connected to a Raspberry Pi, a battery pack and and a small monitor, all mounted onto a surveying pole. So, theoretically 25cm-accurate GPS for about £400, about 10% the cost, the only problem being creating the programming to interface with the chip, and log the results.

I hate programming (I failed my computer studies o-level back in days of yore!), so I have been delaying doing this. After some time scratching my head over a piece of  freeware programming software, I now have something that interfaces with the chip and will record coordinates coupled with notes and time and date – so quite happy with that progress, still need to connect the pieces together, but the end is in sight.

That done, and the cat is looking much improved, so I decided that it would be in order to go out for a bit.

A WW1 document I have suggests there should be (yet more) military practice trenches a few miles away. I’m keen to find them; I’m a trustee of a local heritage and archaeology charity.  I’m looking for a feature which I could use to do some sort of community archaeology event over the heritage weekend in September.

The records don’t give a very clear idea of the location, and the site is 350ha; nonetheless, walking around the area and getting a feel for the landscape is always a good starting point (and given the sunny weather, quite pleasant regardless of the outcome).

I didn’t find WW1 trenches (but I didn’t expect to on the first visit!)

I did find out contact details for a local conservation organisation who work on the piece of land, so I have contacted them to see if they are aware of anything.

Whilst I didn’t find WW1 trenches, I did find something. I’m not yet sure what yet.  I found little underground dugouts (7 of them). By general condition of the metal I would think they are post WW2, and they don’t look dissimilar to one of the diagrams in my WW2 Royal Engineers manual. So, I am interested to find out what they actually are, and they may yet prove to be a suitable project instead of the trenches.

The cat is now much better now; I’m hoping if she continues to improve at the current rate she will be well enough for me to still go away for mesolithic excavations in a week or two.

All in all, didn’t do what I intended to; but still managed to do some useful stuff. I didn’t find what I was looking for; but did still find something interesting with questions to answer.

Musketballs, Mortars and Matchlocks

What do you think of when you think of archaeology? For the majority of people the answer is simple- ‘musketballs’. If that wasn’t the first thing in your head, there’s no need to fret; ‘fragmented portion of a 17th century grenade’ is also a perfectly acceptable answer. Ok, none of the above is true. But for me it is objects such as these that make up my Day of Archaeology.

I work as Operations Manager for a commercial company, Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd. The majority of my work involves overseeing all the projects we undertake and making sure they run smoothly, are carried out to a high standard and progress as efficiently as possible.  However, I also specialise in ‘Conflict Archaeology’, a field of study which explores evidence for the forms and effects of conflict on past populations. Today is a ‘Conflict Archaeology’ day.

The material I work with the most relates to conflict in 16th and 17th century Ireland. This was an exceptionally bloody period in Irish history. The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland took place in the second half of the 16th century, while the 1640s witnessed eleven years of war, culminating in the Cromwellian intervention on the island. Later still the War of the Two Kings was fought between William III and James II’s forces. The conflict artefacts and conflict architecture left behind on sites from this period can tell us much about the personal experience of individuals during these troubled times. What was it like to be a soldier in one of these armies? How did they operate? What affect did the wars have on the civilian populace?

Today I am working on an assemblage of military artefacts from a Castle site which was besieged in 1653, when Parliamentarian forces bombarded the site and forced the Irish defenders’ surrender. Although there are some historical accounts of the siege, many details of the engagement remain unknown. This is where the artefacts come in. It becomes quickly apparent to me as I trawl through nearly 200 iron ball fragments that the castle was extremely heavily bombarded. The sheer number of fragments is unusual in Irish archaeology- it is the highest concentration of artillery projectiles from a conflict site I have yet come across in the country.

What can they tell us? They are all heavily damaged, with only one complete spherical ball surviving. This suggests that the projectiles shattered as they struck masonry, or split into deadly shrapnel as they exploded. Their form tells us that the Parliamentarians used at least two main types of projectile; solid iron balls and mortars. The solid shot was intended to break down the walls of the castle, while the mortars (hollow iron spheres filled with powder) would explode and fragment as they rained down on the defenders.

I am currently analysing the size of the fragments to try and tell what type of artillery piece fired them. Although most iron balls are today usually called ‘cannonballs’, in the 17th century a ‘Cannon’ was a specific type of gun which fired a particular size of ball. Many other types existed, with names like ‘Culverins’ ‘Sakers’ and ‘Falcons’. These fired different sizes of ball over varying distances. Identifying the type of gun can help us identify how far away the besiegers may have been from the castle, and also tell us how difficult it was to get them into position. For example, some of these guns required dozens of oxen to haul them around the countryside.

'17th century grenade and lead shot'

And what of the defenders? The majority survived this siege and were able to surrender, but the castle was destroyed in the bombardment. Among the military artefacts that relate to them are lead musketballs (also called lead shot) and weapon fragments recovered from the rubble. The size, shape and weight of the musketballs can tell us what types of gun they were used in, provide information about how they were manufactured and also suggest if they have been fired or not. The examples from this site appear unfired, so they may have been dropped or lost by the defenders. This site is unusual in that it has also produced part of the firing mechanisms from some of the defender’s weapons, most likely destroyed during the bombardment. These fragments are from matchlock muskets, a type of gun that used a lit piece of cord to fire the musketball.

When I have finished the technical analysis of the material (a process which will take a few days) it will be possible to build a picture of the siege. I will be addressing what types of artillery the Parliamentarians brought with them, how this was used and transported and where it might have been fired from. From the defenders viewpoint it should be possible to suggest how the bombardment was experienced by the men within the castle, as well as talk about how they were prepared to meet the onslaught. This is all in the future, however, and for now I am immersed in the technical analysis of each of the artefacts.

So, this is how I am spending my Day of Archaeology, 29th July 2011! Every object I am handling was deposited over a handful of days 358 years ago, in what must have been an extremely dramatic and traumatic event in the lives of all those who were present. For some these objects represent their final moments.  It is an honour and privilege to deal with these artefacts, as by doing so you are literally ‘touching history’; the results of the analysis itself helps bring this history to life. It is certainly one of the most fascinating ways to spend a day that I can think of!