Day of Archaeology

From Housing to History & Archaeology

Posted on behalf of Jonathan Howells, Department Administrator for Department of History & Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

I am no archaeologist. Before working for the museum my idea of an archaeologist was vague and mostly gathered from watching Lucas’ Indiana Jones films.

Therefore, this blog can only highlight my experience since joining the History and Archaeology department at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales as their administrator; covering Cardiff Museum and St Fagans National Museum of History.

How did I come to be at the museum? Well, I was sadly made redundant from my previous position working for the national representative voice for tenants in Wales. Finding a suitable position or any work for that matter was difficult (especially in the Valleys). Thankfully after signing up to an agency, they managed to find me the right kind of work and more importantly with the best kind of people – and the rest is history!

Like going into any new working environment, it was a bit daunting at first, but the people were very welcoming and wouldn’t mind sharing their knowledge and past stories over a cup of filtered coffee.

Apart from administration I’ve been involved in a few archaeology-related activities, for example; I assisted with the cross-departmental Discovery Day that was based on the theme Colour, which was filled full of family-friendly activities, visitors were able to learn about the objects that were exhibited (including the impressive Treasure 20 display) and to take tours of the Collections with the curators.

One of the hidden gems that I’ve found at National Museum Cardiff is Clwb Pontio, an hourly break-time session that encourages staff, those who are Welsh learners and fluent speakers, to come together and converse in Welsh. It mostly starts and ends up with a game of Welsh scrabble (just to let you know, I’m bad at scrabble in any language!). I mainly go to enjoy the company of colleagues and it gives me a chance to find out who they are and what it is they do.

I’ve treasured my experience at the museum. It has facilitated in the development of my work skills and rekindled my interest regarding the history of the land of my fathers and even kept me from “abandoning” my mother-tongue – Nefoedd Wen!

Not only is the museum “Making History” but it has added a vital layer to the forging of my future, creating a solid cast for my career by providing me with further prospects.

I can honestly say Diolch o’r gallon.

Fighting for survivial: PhD student experience at the University of Manchester

This final Day of Archaeology finds me busy and distracted. I am roughly at the half way point in my part-time PhD at the University of Manchester, but as the department falls quiet with academic staff dispersing across the globe to introduce undergraduate and post-graduate students to archaeology as diverse as Convict era Tasmania, Neolithic Herefordshire and the multi-period site of Ardnamurchan, Scotland, senior managers at the University are busy trying to decimate the department by getting rid of 50% of the already small staff of 8.

The M2020 ‘vision’ includes making 171 members of staff redundant, including a spectacular attack on the department of archaeology, which is due to suffer a disproportionate cut to staff numbers. If we are left with just 4 members of staff, the department is likely to merge with Classics, and unlikely to be able to continue running the single honours BA degree. The MA course has already been scrapped from 2018. With 15 PhD students currently enrolled, 4 members of staff are unlikely to be able to offer appropriate supervision, let alone provide the breadth of expertise expected, or needed.

The staff at Manchester have been vocal in their opposition not only of the plans, but also the way in which they have been implemented. In correspondence the M2020 project team have insisted that the changes will ‘improve the student experience’ yet it is difficult to see how slashing staff numbers will achieve this. The Archaeology department has an unparalleled reputation for positive student experience and at the moment is the only subject in the University to have 100% student satisfaction. It is also the only Archaeology department in the UK to achieve this figure. In recent years, our staff have won four University wide awards for teaching excellence, in the fields of Social Responsibility, Mental Health Champion, Best E-Learning Experience, and Best Communicator. From the perspective of the PhD students the proposed cuts will do nothing but irreversible harm to the department. 

So on this day of archaeology I urge you to please sign our petition against the planned redundancies and have a look at the letters of support for University of Manchester staff and in opposition to the proposed staff cuts at https://resistrestructuringmcr.wordpress.com/

In other news, my day has also involved the more normal activities of a PhD student. I’ve been reorganising my methodology chapter, written a bit of book review and been trawling through some 1891 Census records. I am looking for the people who lived close to the Chelsea Embankment shortly after its construction. I’m interested in the differences in the socio-economic make up of the community in the pre- and post-embankment periods, trying to work out how the Embankment construction and associated removal of working class housing and waterfront businesses affected them. I’ve been creating maps, based on historical maps and documents, to visualise where people lived and worked, looking for the places they may have moved around, between and within. The map below plots out residential buildings-coloured according to Booths Maps of London Poverty, blue = poor, red=well to do/comfortable, yellow=independently wealthy. In addition the multi-coloured blocks on Royal Hospital Road, formerly Queens Road, indicate a variety of businesses and shops, whilst the coloured areas on the foreshore relate to archaeological remains I surveyed last year.

 

2017 OS map with 1891 residential buildings, businesses, parks identified. 19th century archaeological remains on the foreshore as surveyed by H. Steyne 2016.

Whilst I’m unable to make any conclusions yet, I’m encouraged by the diversity in the population close to the river front, and to the co-location of archaeological remains with former businesses on the waterfront. The impact of losing these sources of employment must have been enormous for this community.

So, whilst on the one hand I despair and worry about the future survival of my department, I am steadily plodding through data for my own research. All the while wondering whether I’ll still be a Manchester University student this time next year. Let’s hope so.

Please sign our petition. Thank you.

You can find more about me here and my research here

 

The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project

Shwmae! I’m Rhianydd Biebrach, the Project Officer for the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, which is an HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) funded 5-year project based at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, in partnership with the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) and the Welsh Federation of Museums and Art Galleries.

The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project Officer in her lavishly-appointed office.

The project is based around treasure and non-treasure objects found by members of the public, most of whom are metal detectorists. Our overarching aims are to enable Welsh museums to acquire metal-detected objects for their collections, and work with detector groups and local communities to engage with and enjoy the material heritage on their doorstep. It’s all about connecting people, objects and places.

The number of treasure finds reported in Wales is increasing year on year, with forty cases in 2016. While we don’t like to think of heritage in terms of its financial value, the stark fact remains that cash-strapped local museums, most of which have faced savage cuts to their budgets in the last few years, are relying on Saving Treasures funding to acquire these objects for the nation.

An early Tudor heart-shaped pendant, discovered in Fishguard and now in the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales.

We are also supporting local museums with training and advice on their archaeology collections, enabling them to get the most out of the objects in their care, whether they be Bronze Age axes, Roman coins, or medieval jewellery.

A large chunk of our funding is dedicated to the support of six Community Archaeology Projects, each of which will focus on a selection of objects acquired with Saving Treasures funds, drawing in the local community to take part in activities and generating a range of creative responses to the new collection.

A pair of Late Bronze Age Lock Rings from Rossett, now in the collections of Wrexham Museum.

Our first community project has been run by Swansea Museum. It’s based on a small collection of non-treasure finds, dating from the Bronze Age to the post-medieval period, found by a local detectorist on Swansea Bay. Using the objects as inspiration, Swansea Museum has spent the last year working with a diverse range of community groups, to produce artworks, creative writing and Roman costume, and to recreate a medieval pilgrimage, to name but a few. This output will be displayed alongside the objects themselves in a co-curated permanent exhibition.

Unwrapping a Bronze Age spearhead from Swansea Bay.

 

As I write, another community project is about to get underway at Wrexham Museum and Art Gallery, responding to a hoard of Wars of the Roses era gold and silver coins and a 15th century gold and sapphire ring. Hopefully, in next year’s Day of Archaeology blog I’ll be able to report on its successful activities and outcomes.

Examining the base of a 17th century wine bottle found on a beachcomb of Swansea Bay.

 

It’s great being the Saving Treasures Project Officer. Not having come from an archaeological background I’ve had to do some quick learning over the last year, but I love the direct connection with the past that the objects give me, and playing a tiny part in bringing it to life for new audiences.

A Day in the Life of a Zooarchaeologist

Hi everyone! I’m a zooarchaeologist, PhD student, and American transplant here in England and today I’ll be taking you through the average day of a zooarchaeologist in the lab.

Quick rundown on what a zooarchaeologist does for those who don’t know: basically, I specialise in animal bones. May sound a bit niche to some, but I find that zooarchaeology is incredibly rewarding! Not only do you get to study how fascinating animals are, but you also get to figure out how they fit in to the overall archaeological record alongside humans. Studying the relationships that exist between human and animal at different sites has been an incredibly interesting journey for me!

Now, back to my day…

11 AM: I’ve finished up reading through my emails in my office and drinking my fifth cup of coffee for the day, so now I head into my lab down the hall to start sorting through today’s assemblage.

Usually I get assemblages of bones fresh from excavation, so I’ll have to start cleaning them off first. Oddly enough, I find this task really relaxing! Although there’s probably something strange about getting into a Zen-like state while washing up dog bones…

12 PM: Now that I’ve cleaned the bones to the best of my ability (there will always be a bit of dirt that will not come off no matter how hard you try!), its time to look at what we got.

Probably looks a bit intimidating, huh? When I first started out as a zooarchaeologist, assemblages were terrifying! The more I stared at the pile of animal bones, the more they all looked the same to me.

But everything takes time and practice, and nowadays I can look into an assemblage and quickly start picking out bones that I recognise – there’s a mandible, a lot of bird bone, some humeri and ulna bones…etc.

Of course, not every bone is ingrained in my brain yet (hopefully one day!). So that’s when I start pulling out specimens from our reference collection.

Having a reference collection is so vital to being a successful zooarchaeologist – not only does it help you learn all the different bones you’ll need to know in the field, but its also helpful to have something to compare to when you get a little stuck. Animal bones are very fickle and you’ll usually get them very fragmented (especially if there’s been some butchery involved!).  So it becomes a very complicated puzzle, where you’ll start pulling out bones and comparing the two.

This isn’t the most fragmented bone I’ve ever worked with, of course, but this is a pretty good example of how I use the reference collection. The mandible on the top is from an assemblage I’m working on and the mandible on the bottom is a grey seal mandible from the reference collection – think it could be a match?

The longer you work in the field, the more “shortcuts” you discover that will help you identify bones faster and more accurately. For example, one of my go-to tricks for identifying mandibles is looking at the teeth. Many animals have very distinct looking teeth – in the above photo are teeth from a boar. How can I tell? I’ve always found that pig/boar teeth look similar to human teeth…but much, much more disgusting. Kinda like someone took a human tooth and put it in a microwave and it popped like popcorn…maybe that makes more sense to me, but hey! It works!

Its not just about identifying the bones to species and elemental, however – I’m also looking out for any evidence of modification. This could be any charring, cut marks, teeth marks, pathology…anything that looks different gets analysed and noted on my recording forms. The above photo shows an Atlantic cod that’s displaying clear signs of butchery.

4 PM: Most of the day has gone by and the assemblage has been identified and recorded to the best of my ability. With a bit of time left in the day, I’ll be doing a bit of a photo shoot! Unfortunately not with me…but with some bones. The eventual goal is to have a database of our bones uploaded onto tablets with photos, but for now I’ve been keeping a photo record of some of the more notable bones in my assemblages. Taking good, clean photos for publishing is a skill I’m still working on! But I also get a bit of practice in taking photos of our reference collection for posts on my blog, Instagram, and Twitter.

5 PM: And that’s a wrap on my day! Time to clean up the lab, shut the lights off, and spend at least 10 minutes trying to remember how to lock the door (fun fact: our doors lock differently in America, so locking doors in the UK has been a learning experience for me!).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick look through my average day as a zooarchaeologist! Its been a blast blogging about it for Day of Archaeology – looking forward to be back next year!

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.

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Labor arqueológica en la región costera de Tabasco, Sureste de México.

En el Sureste de México, específicamente la región costera de Centla, Estado de Tabasco -formada por un multidiverso medio de lagunas, rios, esteros, manglares y pantanos- , llevamos poco más de tres años realizando trabajos arqueológicos. Esto suscrito dentro del Proyecto de Protección del Patrimonio Arqueológico, Centro INAH Tabasco del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Esta área resulta importante ya que aquí se encontraba el mítico Potonchán prehispánico, una de las tres capitales mayas-chontales, que controlaba el comercio de larga distancia, desde tierra adentro y en este punto por vía marítima. Para el Siglo XVI, en el lugar se establece una de las primeras Villas españolas y para el Siglo XVIII y XIX resurge como un importante puerto de comercio, esta vez internacional.

Inicialmente, en el 2013, nuestra labor se centró en registrar sistemáticamente los sitios arqueológicos en la Región de Centla. La prospección por sí misma era una aventura diaria: arduas caminatas bajo el ardoroso calor tropical y húmedo de primavera y verano, que en días rebasaba los 40° Centígrados°; inmersos hasta la cintura o chapoteando constantemente entre aguas de pantano y manglar o entre espeso fango con profusa vegetación hidrófita rodeandonos por doquier; alertas a la fauna local para la que no eramos más que intrusos… ¿Quien dijo que la arqueología no era aventura?

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Medio imperante en la Región costera de Centla, Tabasco.

Al final, registramos 18 sitios arqueológicos. Todos de arquitectura de tierra, es decir estructuras realizadas con matrices de suelo apisonadas,  que permanecieron hasta hoy en día como montículos. Además conocimos de forma inherente la conformación geomorfológica del área y mediante etnografía -primero de forma involuntaria y después de forma más sistemática- logramos conocer la forma de vida de los actuales habitantes de la región, que quizas no dista mucho de lo que fué hace poco menos de 1000 años.

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Vista general de un sitio arqueológico -montículos visibles al fondo- y el medio asociado.

Nuestra intervención en la región no cesó en ese momento. Hasta ahora se han estado llevando a cabo varias intervenciones arqueológicas tanto de prospección como de excavación, ampliando una muestra del área de estudio. Dichos trabajos nos han brindado valiosa información sobre patrones de distribución de los sitios, de la presencia o preferencia de determinados bienes y artefactos de adquisición y consumo, asi como sus sistemas de adquisicion, temporalidad, entre otros. Con un rango temporal que va desde la época prehispánica hasta un periodo histórico reciente.

Es así que este el Día de la Arquelogía, lo celebramos esta vez en gabinete, analizando el material procedente de una excavación realizada en la actual Ciudad y Puerto de Frontera, capital municipal del Municipio de Centla, Ciudad localizada en la ribera del Rio Grijalva.

Feliz Día de la Arqueología

Project Archaeology and Archaeological Education in Arkansas

Because archaeological sites are endangered and finite resources, I spend a lot of my time doing archaeological education encouraging people to care about and protect sites. I teach in a university setting, but I also do youth programs to help teach young people to be stewards of the past. This year, I have spent many of my days of archaeology co-writing a 5th grade (age 10-11) social studies curriculum about archaeology and plant-based foodways in the southeastern United States. The curriculum, which focuses on sites in Arkansas, will be aligned with common core standards to promote and enhance archeological education in Arkansas’s public schools.

Project Archaeology Leadership Academy course materials.

Project Archaeology Leadership Academy course materials.

Like the majority of archaeologists, I didn’t learn how to teach archaeology to the public in college. Fortunately, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This summer, I attended the Project Archaeology Leadership Academy in Bozeman, Montana. Project Archaeology is “an educational organization dedicated to teaching scientific and historical inquiry, cultural understanding, and the importance of protecting our nation’s rich cultural resources.” They are a national network of archaeologists, educators, and concerned citizens working to make archaeology education accessible to students and teachers across the country through high-quality educational materials and professional development. Each year, they offer a Leadership Academy to teach educators (and archaeologists) to use Investigating Shelter, an inquiry-based Social Studies and Science curriculum, and empower them with educating their peers on how to implement the curriculum in the classroom.

Workshop participants visited Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

Workshop participants visited Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

It was a fun week of learning new ways to teach archaeology, visiting Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and the Museum of the Rockies, and meeting educators and archaeologists from around the country. The 5-day workshop underscored the importance of working with descendants to learn about the past, how archaeology contributes to inquiry-based learning, ways to connect archaeological education to common core standards, and a lot more.

Dr. Emerson Emerson Bull Chief, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, talking about Native American buffalo stories.

Dr. Emerson Bull Chief, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, talking about Native American buffalo stories.

Panorama of the Buffalo Jump.

Panorama of Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.

When I was an undergraduate student, if someone asked me: “What does an archaeologist do?”, it never would have occurred to me that archaeologists teach educators (and other people) to teach about the past. This is changing as archaeologists have come to recognize the importance of working with communities and teaching others to think like archaeologists. But I hadn’t thought about how important it is to teach educators to teach archaeology until Courtney Agenten pointed it out during the workshop. As an archaeologist, I have taught an archaeology camp for 10-15 students, which I wrote about last year. The students learned about the process of archaeology from excavation to lab work and from artifact analysis to report writing. In the process, they developed a love for learning about and preserving the past. But if I teach 10-15 educators to teach archaeology in their science or social studies classes, in one year, those teachers have the potential to teach 250-375 students about the importance of archaeology. That’s a huge impact if you think about how many students could be reached in 10 years!

So now as I sit at my desk in front of my computer, like so many of my days of archaeology, I am inspired by my experience at the Project Archaeology Leadership Academy to teach their fun curricula about shelter and nutrition. I am also motivated to continue to develop high-quality lesson plans focused on archaeological sites in Arkansas that teachers can implement in their classrooms. Thanks to the support of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, the Arkansas Archeological Society, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the curriculum should be available this fall. Check out the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s website for classroom materials currently available to teachers and keep an eye out for new things to come. arkansasarcheology.org

 

Another Day in BioArCh: A Photo Diary

My Day of Archaeology started fairly early as I had a lot I wanted to get done before the weekend. As ever, nothing went to plan, but it was still a productive day and I got a big job ticked off my to-do list, which I think is always a nice way (if a rare way) to end the week. My name is Keri Rowsell, and I’m currently in the first year of my PhD at the University of York, based in BioArCh.

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Diving into the Past: Public Archaeology and SCUBA Stewardship

This summer, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the University of West Florida have been hosting archaeologist-guided public dives on the 16th-century Spanish Emanuel Shipwreck II to help educate local SCUBA divers and promote submerged site protection. These tours have been a wild success and have helped encourage new levels of community appreciation for Florida’s many historical shipwreck sites!

To see all of our wonderful “Archaeologyin3” videos, visit our YouTube page. To learn more about the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the many outreach resources we’ve made available to other archaeologists and educators, visit our website!

My Day of Archeology – internet rules

Hi!

 

My name is Alicja, and my today’s activity is to moderate Polish edition of Day of Archaeology in 2015.  What I really love about the whole day of arch undertaking is the fact, that in the same time I don’t have to be in some particular place. I can moderate this completely virtual event from any place in the world! And so I am, at the river shore! Talking and discussing archaeology 🙂

This is the power of the internet – we can do our work from any part of the world, which brings us together, besides many kilometers which separate us.

Happy Day of Archaeology everyone!

 

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