Counties of England

Seeds and Silchester

As the University of Reading Insula IX ‘Town Life‘ Project draws to a close, so does the PhD that i’ve been writing on it over the last few years. As Silchester has dominated my archaeological life over the last five years, it seemed right that I spent most of my Day of Archaeology 2014 there (technically yesterday). I have been studying the macroscopic plant remains from the excavations since 2009, when I turned up as a recent graduate, searching for good archaeobotanical dataset to study for my masters (I chose well!). I’ve sorted and identified 1000s of charred, mineralised and waterlogged seeds from Insula IX. The insights gained range from finding out that olives were consumed at Late Iron Age Silchester, to showing that residents of the oppidum were growing and processing their own cereals. After spending a few summers working in the Science@Silchester team, elbow deep in a flotation tank for 7 weeks, I was just returning for the afternoon to teach a session on Archaeobotany at Silchester to the field school students, passing on some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the last few years.

My day kicked off with coffee number 1 at my desk at 8:30am, finishing off a beautiful powerpoint presentation on the many wonders of charred plant remains. I may have gone a bit overboard, but you need lots of images to explain how bags of soil magically turn into tiny plant remains. After squeezing in an hour of PhD chapter editing, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Silchester. The cycle between Mortimer station, spiritual gateway to 100s of field school students, and Silchester takes me through tiny country lanes. The soil around Silchester is a mix of clay, sands and gravels, so there’s more in the way of pasture and orchards than cereal fields. Eventually making it on to the droveway, the stench of portaloos tells me i’ve made it to Insula IX!

Blue skies over Insula IX

Blue skies over Insula IX ©Lisa Lodwick

After a quick catch up with the Science@Silchester team (you can read about them in last years Silchester post), I’m bundled in to the mini bus by Amanda Clarke to take me off to St Mary’s. It feels a bit strange to be teaching in a church, but the students were very keen, and I hope they learnt something. I also got to show off some of my favourite plant remains, including the charred olive stones from the final day of the 2012 season, and some beautiful spelt grains from a pit excavated back in 2006.

Archaeobotany teaching at Silchester

Microscopes and plant remains set up in the church! ©Amanda Clarke

I head back up to site to see how flotation is going. As the archaeology in Insula IX is running out, there’s unlikely to be any more ‘deep features’ this year producing waterlogged or mineralised plant remains, but hopefully the remaining pits will produce some good charred assemblages to complement those studied for my PhD research. Mike Fulford’s site tour kicks off at 4:30, so I’m able to catch up on the all new developments in Insula III – the most exciting (for me) is the discovery of a (probable) corn drier, interpreted by the Victorians as a hypocaust. If this feature can be dated, it will provide great evidence for how the agricultural role of Silchester changed over time.

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank

Science assistant Rory manning the flotation tank ©Lisa Lodwick

Flotation sample at Silchester

Disappointing number of plant remains.. plenty more samples though! ©Lisa Lodwick

After getting my fill of archaeology for the week, I’m off to home to continue with the PhD editing. I’ve produced lots of new evidence for how, where and when the residents of Late Iron Age and Roman Silchester were supplied with food, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing so I can discuss the findings with the rest of the project team.

The Insula IX excavations are coming to an end this year – open day dates are Saturday 26th July and Saturday 9th August.

Follow Amanda Clarke’s wonderful blog from the excavations http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/silchesterdig/

Silchester Twitter @silchexcavation

I tweet about plants and archaeology @LisaLodwick. You can read more about my AHRC funded PhD research at the University of Oxford here.

An ADS Day of Archaeology

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Very briefly, though, my work has involved sifting through the digital data to retain only the information which is useful for the future, discarding duplicates or superfluous data; sorting the archive into a coherent structure and documenting every step of the process.

The data will be deposited with two archives: the images and graphics will go to English Heritage and the more technical data will be deposited with the ADS and as the English Heritage portion of the archive has been completed it is time for the more technical stuff!

So, the plan for today is to continue with the work I have been doing for the past few days: sorting through the Silbury Hill database (created in Microsoft Access).

Originally, I had thought that the database would just need to be documented, but, like the rest of the archive, it seems to have grown fairly organically; though the overall structure seems sound it needs a bit of work to make it as functional as possible and therefore as useful as possible.

The main issue with the database is that there are a fair amount of gaps in the data tables; the database seems to have been set up as a standard template with tables for site photography, contexts, drawings, samples, skeletal remains and artifact data etc.  but some of these tables have not been populated and some are not relevant.  The site photography and drawing records have not been entered for example, meaning that any links from or to these tables would be worthless.  The missing data for the 2007 works are present in the archive, they are just in separate Excel spreadsheets and there are also 2001 data files, these are in simple text format as the information was downloaded as text reports from English Heritage’s old archaeological database DELILAH.  The data has since been exported into Excel, so, again to make the information more accessible, I’m adding the 2001 data to the 2007 database.

My work today, therefore, as it has been for the past couple of days, is to populate the empty database tables with the information from these spreadsheets and text files and resolve any errors or issues that cause the tables to lose their ‘referential integrity’, for example where a context number is referred to in one table but is missing from a linking table.

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

So, this morning I started with the 2001 drawing records. The entering of the data itself was fairly straightforward, just copying and pasting from the Excel spreadsheet into the Access tables, correcting spelling errors as I went.  Some of the fields were controlled vocabulary fields, however, which meant going to the relevant glossary table and entering a new term in order for the site data to be entered as it was in the field.

Once the main drawing table was completed, the linking table needed to be populated; again, this was done fairly simply through cutting and pasting from Excel.

The next step was the most time-consuming: checking the links between the tables, to do this I went to the relationship diagram, clicked on the relevant link and ticked the box marked ‘enforce referential integrity’ this didn’t work which meant that a reference in one table was not matched in the linking table which meant going through the relevant fields and searching for entries that were not correct.  The most common reason for these error messages was that an entry had been mis-typed in one of the tables.

That took me up to lunchtime, so what about the afternoon?  More of the same: starting work on the sample records with the odd break for tea or a walk outside to save my eyes!

As much as the process of updating the database has been fairly routine, it’s an interesting and valuable piece of work for me as it is the first time I’ve ever really delved into the structure of a database and looking at the logic behind its design.  I was fortunate in that I had attended the Database Design and Implementation module taught by Jo Gilham as part of the York University Msc in Archaeological Information Systems which gave me a firm foundation for this work.  Also very helpful was the help provided by Vicky Crosby from English Heritage who created the database and provided a lot of documentation in the first instance.

The next step once the data has been entered will be to remove any blank fields and tables and then to document the database using the ADS’ Guidelines for Depositors and then to move on to the survey data and reports.

I’m looking forward to seeing it all deposited and released to a wider world for, hopefully, extensive re-use and research!

From Bricks to the Baptist: A Day of Archaeology in Peterborough.

The Day of Archaeology seems to have unintentionally have been a day spent in ecclesiastical settings for me. It started with a visit to St Michaels and All Angels Church in Sutton near Peterborough for the Cambridgeshire Conservation Officer Forum meeting. This gathering happens every three months or so and allows Conservation Officers across the region to share best practice. It is hosted by a different authority each time, and this time it was our turn! Sutton Church was chosen as it has recently had works to create a new meeting space and kitchen within the 12th century fabric.

Douglas from SPAB giving his presentation in the evening. Photo by Toby Wood

Built as a chapel of ease to Castor St Kyneburgha (a stunning church as well), it has lovely Norman period carvings and some great gargoyles! Each meeting has a specialist building conservation presenter and for this meeting we had Peter Minter of Cambridge Brick and Tile Company (and Bulmer Brick & Tile), who brought some samples with him to show issues affecting tiles (make sure you ventilate your roofs, was the overarching message). Following this we visited Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre, just a mile up the road, to see their Grade II* listed Watermill, recently the recipient of a first round pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In the evening I was back to a church, this time St John the Baptist in Peterborough City Centre, for the celebration event for Peterborough Buildings in Need, a project I have been running for the last nine months. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund this project has had a series of masterclasses and lectures on the theme of valuing the historic environment, alongside volunteer surveys of Peterborough City Centre Conservation Area. The website and end of project report and toolkit are here. The evening had some great talks, including from Douglas Kent from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings or SPAB (in the photo above), and some performance poets reading their poetry about the city (including a poem just for the project, on the front page of the website, and well worth a read!).

Alice Kershaw, Heritage Regeneration Officer

Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council

 

Objects, Advice, and a Bit of Thinking…

A day in my life as an archaeologist and finds specialist for English Heritage

As one of the small team of archaeologists within the Intervention and Analysis Division of English Heritage, based at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth, and working 80% of full time due to the three young herberts who more than fill a million percent of the rest of time, my days are always full, and rarely the same. Technology, determination and flexible bosses enable me to cram a fair amount into a week.

My day starts at around 5am with a reading of emails, then the next couple of hours are given over to lunchboxes, breakfasts, hens, cats, dogs, hamsters, after a smidge of yoga before the madness starts. Throughout this time I also tend to listen to the radio or the reading or the violin practice, while catching up on my Twitter feed (@Nicola_Hembrey), which is great for archaeological news (and a little bit of gossip!). Once the school runs are done I dash to the office, and I’m usually sitting at my desk with a fennel and ginger tea by 9.15am. I have a super view out over Hayling Island, and on a clear day I can hear, Table 2, your lunch is ready, from the pub over the stretch of water! I’ve been at the Fort for thirteen years and I love working within such a diverse, committed and interesting group of colleagues, although the annual ten months of horizontal rain can be a something of a trial.

Fabulous office! Sharp eyes will note the obligatory boxes of finds and X-Rays. Sadly the shelves and stacks of books, and the lovely view, are out of shot…

Yesterday I was – unusually – able to give myself over to an almost entire day of concentrating on one thing; the middle poster above is taken from the site I project manage, the Roman settlement opposite Silbury Hill, which we evaluated in the late summer of 2010, and for which the report is almost complete, hence a day of reading all the specialist contributions, and polishing up my own! I have written the artefacts report, and together with my colleague Vicky Crosby, who led the excavations, I’m working on the overview. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking and reading in recent weeks about any ritual aspect to the site. We hope to submit the report to the local journal, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine,  in good time before the end of August deadline. The project team have been brilliant in getting this to publication so quickly – in archaeological terms at least! – while under considerable pressure and uncertainty from our recent round of restructuring.

Today, though, I don’t have the luxury of getting back to the Later Silbury report, as I have to finish off the list that I’ve been mentally carting around all week, to avoid next week spiralling away before I’m even out of this one. The illustrations need a final check. My mountain of library books needs renewing.  I’ve been asked to write a caption for a photograph for a colleague’s memorial event leaflet. I have to write the final section of my performance review. Timelog doesn’t complete itself. I desperately need to catch up on reading the Assessment Report for a project which I have been asked project manage following the redundancy of another colleague, a process which has been difficult for all of us, and the effects of which will be felt for a long while. I whizz down to our stash of outreach material, to find a few objects to donate to a project that wants to bury artefacts at sea for 25 years. I also reply to someone who is working on the update of the professional side of the EH website, after spending an hour writing comments on the pieces of text that he has sent me.

Current reading, mostly concerned with the theorising of artefacts. Books strapped up in the old-fashioned way make me very happy…

Last year I was able to write up the small assemblage of finds that came from our work as part of the Silbury Hill Conservation Project, and I was also lucky enough to revisit the finds from previous interventions in the area. The Monograph text is currently with our publications team. One of the most interesting objects was an unusual copper-alloy bracelet which came from the base of a Roman ditch, but was of Later Bronze Age or Earlier Iron Age date. This sent me off on a long thought process about the significance of heirloom artefacts – those old objects that are important to people because of their association with another person, or an idea, or a particular time in their life. It made me wonder whether getting to grips with this idea from a present perspective could illuminate our thinking about the importance of old objects in the past; something nigh-on impossible to get to grips with within the archaeological record. This led to the beginnings of a project that I’m hoping to get off the ground with a few colleagues; a public survey, with a large social media element, in which people can post details of their object, and from which we can analyse the data later. I made a phone call, to see if there had been any response yet to our proposal; nothing so far. Hopefully it will happen. Keep your eyes peeled for Objects Of My Affection.

Finally while in the office I had a quick look over my website. I’m secretary and web editor for the Roman Finds Group, a forum for all those with an interest in the subject (do check us out online; we’re really very good). I added the details of our forthcoming meeting at the British Museum in April 2013, in which attendees can visit the Pompeii exhibition as part of the very reasonable conference fee (sorry, ad over now!). I’m lucky that EH gives me a small amount of time in which I can sit on this committee.

I leave in time for the return school run, and spend the next couple of hours listening to stories of everyone’s day and making supper, while keeping my emails (and Twitter!) open from the iPad in the kitchen. It’s the best way to stay on top of things.

I then spend a while re-reading comments that I wrote earlier in the week, on a finds report within a site publication which we have funded through our grants programme, National Heritage Protection Commissions. The report had been a long time coming, but turned out to be really well researched, well thought out and well written. I can easily see it becoming a ‘go-to’ text for finds reports when it’s published. If I have the space within my deadlines I like to write my comments and then leave them a day or so before sending, just to make sure that I haven’t missed anything.

Working from home, commenting on a lengthy finds report. I don’t normally print out this much paper! Note the extremely hi-tech phone…

Finally, I respond to an email from the Activity Lead of the Ploughzone Activity Team, which has recently been formed as part of the National Heritage Protection Plan. He needs all team members to comment on a proposal. Almost all of our communication is by email to keep costs down, as we come from EH offices all over the country. I add it to my mental list for next week, and mark the email unread, to remind myself.

Later I’ll do some more reading, and thinking, if I don’t fall asleep first.

So, there it is, a typical day in the life of this (lucky) archaeologist. I seem to have got all the way to the end of this post without including a picture of either an object, or myself, which is probably something of an oversight (particularly the former!). Here’s a happy picture of me (at front, red shoes) with the gorgeous site team at Later Silbury, instead.

 

Nicola Hembrey, Archaeologist (Artefact Analysis), English Heritage  @Nicola_Hembrey

29 vi 2012

Counted Out and Counted In

The Hampshire Arts & Museums Service archaeology collections are stored in c 18,000 boxes, using c 450 cu m of space.  The largest single collection is Danebury and Environs which equals about 10% of the whole.  The Service uses MODES as its object database and although it has 60,000 records relating to archaeology the coverage is far from comprehensive.  A current initiative involves volunteers in checking the records against the actual material and refining it where appropriate.  Beneath a colourful representation of an Iron Age battle scene (Danebury Ring) Jane King sorts through the records relating to human remains, before checking them against the material in store.

Hengistbury Head Survey Project 2012

The Hengistbury Head Survey Project will begin it’s second season on Monday (2-20 July 2012) by members of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. The projects main aim is to assess the impact of cliff erosion on the multi-period archaeology of the headland through a detail topographic survey. Feel free to follow us  and check out our research aims below.

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/assets/imported/transforms/peripheral-block/UsefulDownloads_Download/EDB866C762D646E8A8E44A30FBE65A88/HengistburyHeadSurveyProject2012.pdf

 

 

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 4 (Metal Finds)

Now onto our Metal store – this entire store holds a host of treasures, and more coffin nails than you’d care to imagine!

Our first lucky object from shelf 496 comes from site ABO92 – Abbott’s Lane, excavated in 1992 by the then Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLAS). Being a waterfront site this excavation produced a wealth of metal objects – all surviving due to the aerobic conditions of burial.

Our object is a medieval pilgrim badge that depicts the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570. An additional badge of better condition was also excavated from the site. The cult of Thomas Becket was one of the most popular in London during the medieval period – not surprising as he was also considered the city’s unofficial patron saint. These badges would have been collected at the site of pilgrimage – this one may have therefore travelled all the way from Canterbury in Kent, before being lost or perhaps purposefully discarded. The badge is a miniature imitation of the reliquary of a life-sized mitred bust of Becket that was held in Canterbury Cathedral.

 

Lead pilgrim badge

Lead pilgrim badge, depicting the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570, and from shelf 496 of our metal store

 

Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf

Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf (MOLAS Monograph 19)

Our second object, stored on shelf 593, is from the more recent excavation SAT00. Found in the upper stratigraphy this is a beautifully preserved pocket sundial.

Copper sundial

Copper pocket sundial, from shelf 593

 

A great source for comparison with these metal artefacts is the Portable Antiquities Scheme which holds the records of thousands of objects discovered, mainly through metal detecting, from across the country. Our sundial, excavated from the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral Crypt (SAT00), has a direct parallel with one found in Surrey.

Quoting from PAS object entry SUR-7790B4:

“These sundials are known as simple ring dials or poke dials (‘poke’ being an archaic word for pocket). The sliding collar would be set into position for the month of the year and, when the dial was suspended vertically, the sun would shine through the hole in the lozenge-shaped piece, through the slot, and onto the interior of the ring. The hour could then be read by looking at the closest gradation mark to the spot of light on the interior of the ring.”

http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/492755

Next it’s our Textile artefacts. Again, segregated and stored in a controlled environment, this store is humidified to preserve these important materials. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 784 and 910 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

Kirsty Millican HLA Officer RCAHMS

Cows, Cropmarks and a Cursus

View of Lochbrow, looking west from the cursus terminal (photo ©Kirsty Millican)

It is the kind of place most people would pass by without a second glance, an apparently empty field usually occupied only by cows, but the site of Lochbrow in Dumfries and Galloway is one of my favourite archaeological sites inScotland. My name is Kirsty Millican and I am a Historic Land-Use Assessment (HLA) Officer at RCAHMS. My interests, though, extend beyond HLA to encompass cropmark archaeology and the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods in Scotland. Lochbrow is a site I first encountered while undertaking research for my PhD and is a place that I have returned to several times since.

So why do I find such an apparently unremarkable location interesting? Because of the cropmarks of course! Cropmarks are formed by the differential growth of crops over buried archaeology, and are best recorded from the air. A scattering of such marks were first recorded at Lochbrow by an RCAHMS aerial survey in 1992, indicating the buried presence of pits and ditches. These features can be interpreted as a timber cursus monument (a long enclosure defined by timber posts usually dating to the Earlier Neolithic), at least one, if not two, timber circles (a monument form dating from the Later Neolithic into the Bronze Age) and several round barrows (later prehistoric monuments). This tells us that this apparently empty field was an important location for a long period of time, and was probably a hive of activity during the construction and use of these monuments.

Map of the cropmarks (in red) and the main topographic features at Lochbrow. The cursus is the long enclosure oriented north to south, the two timber circles lie to the east and south-west of the cursus and the barrows to the south.

What I have always found remarkable is the level of information such ghostly marks in crops can reveal. This is archaeology with no remaining above-ground features; if you visit the site today there is nothing to suggest such a complex of sites ever existed. Moreover, the cursus and timber circles were built of wood, a material that is not durable and so does not survive for us to study today. All that remains are the infilled pits that were dug to take the upright timbers forming the outer boundary of these wooden monuments; it is these pits that influence the formation of the cropmarks, allowing us to photograph them from the air. The cropmarks, then, give us a rare glimpse into the activities and structures built by our prehistoric ancestors. Indeed, without the simple technique of taking photographs from an aeroplane we would know nothing about this important group of monuments, nor the location of what was undoubtedly a very special place. It makes you wonder how much more is buried beneath your feet …!

So why have I chosen to visit this site several times, if there is nothing to see of this archaeology on the ground? Well, sites such as these are not built independently of their location, and you can learn a lot about a site by considering their locations, even without above-ground archaeology. Indeed, I believe that the sites at Lochbrow are closely connected with their location, and the cursus in particular seems to mimic the dominant topography. By visiting the site of these cropmarks, I’ve been able to suggest that the topography of this location was likely drawn into the use and functioning of these monuments, possibly defining the outer extents of this place, and may have had an influence upon the form of the monuments chosen to be built here. I have also returned twice (with colleagues from Edinburgh and York Universities) to undertake geophysical and topographic surveys of this site, to try to gain a better understanding of the sites here and their location, and to investigate the possibility of additional sites and features that have not been recorded by the cropmarks. The results so far are promising and I’ll be returning again later this year to finish the surveys. Who knows what we’ll find, but I’m excited by the notion that so much lies buried beneath my feet, and with a little perseverance we may be able to add a little bit more to the story of this site and to our understanding of what people did here and the structures they built thousands of years ago.

Undertaking geophysical survey at Lochbrow (photo ©Gordon Wallace)

To view more about these cropmarks, visit the RCAHMS Canmore page for this site with particular reference to the cursus and pit enclosure

Digging into the Social History of Archaeology at Verulamium

hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

Hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

The museum archaeologist’s lot can be varied and since being restructured to the role of Collections Manager my role is broader than pure archaeology. However, this has given me the scope to develop some really interesting and exciting projects and one of them is to do oral history interviews with as many archaeologists who have dug on our site at Verulamium as I can. There are several aspects to this project, a bit of hunting around and trying to track people down, then going along and interviewing them using our digital Marantz recorder and then coming back to the museum transcribing interviews.In the morning I found myself looking through the transcript of an interview in order to try to find some quotes to go with historic photographs. I’m slowly pulling together all of this research for a book which I hope to publish, we have interviews with archaeologists who worked with Mortimer Wheeler right the way through to our present day District Archaeologist. Many of today’s most respected archaeologists worked at Verulamium and these interviews are a record of their experience, life as a digging archaeologist and the town at the time.It’s fascinating work, not the least seeing some of our most interesting and exciting objects being excavated. For example, the image to the top left is from the 1930’s of the hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park
and here is one of the excavators talking about it:

“…we were all rather excited about the hypocaust… and I was one of those who had the fortunate opportunity to crawl along the channel, under the pavement, between the pilae which supported it. I struck matches to see where I was going, and found myself under the centre of the mosaic…”
Helen Carlton-Smith 1980

Another aspect of my work is to work on the museum documentation system. I am currently trying to improve the records by adding photographs and as much additional information about objects as I can. The afternoon was spent taking photographs of metal medieval and post medieval artefacts and then integrating them into the database.Of course, in between this there was the usual stream of public enquiries which are rich, varied and interesting. I tracked down a map which detailed all the WWII air raid shelters in St Albans and did a bit of research on the local dairy for someone. I was also part of the team which considered some new objects for acquisition- some historic CND banners.I often wonder what an oral history interview with me would sound like in fifty years!