Under the archway, Through the little blue door, Up the stairwell, To the exhibition floor


Welcome to our Laboratory! No two days are the same on the coin hoard project, it’s all part of the fun; but here’s what we got up too on our day of archaeology.

Wednesday mornings always start the same, with an 8.30 meeting between the conservation team, our curator of archaeology, our museum’s registrar and our director of archives discussing the previous weeks work and any upcoming plans for the coin hoard.

Some of the team deep in discussion about the project

Some of the team deep in discussion about the project

Usually after these meetings Georgia and I will head back to the lab to start the day’s coin removal process. We’re using a Faro metrology arm to record each coins position on the hoard mass to produce a 3D map that can eventually be linked to our database. It’s hoped this can help research in the future. It also produces laser scans that can have photographs superimposed and could even be 3D printed. It’s quite exciting stuff and we always look forward to seeing how many coins we’ll be able to remove that day.

However, this particular Wednesday we were scanner-less! Not to panic, it’s gone on a little holiday to Germany for its yearly service and should be back with us soon.

Our sad little scannerless tripod

Our sad little scannerless tripod

This Wednesday was also slightly different from normal as we had a 9 am visit from the South Korean Ambassador. We offer these tours a lot now as the coin hoard project has become on of the things that visiting dignitaries to the island likes to see. It’s a chance for them to come behind the glass and enter the laboratory to see behind the scenes all of the work that is being undertaken to conserve the hoard.

The rest of the day was spent with conservation technicians and volunteers working on finished coins. This involves an array of tasks including; using a vibrating tip tool to remove excess corrosion,  dry brushing the coins to remove any dust, writing up their final bags with object number and grid reference, inputting onto the database and photography.

Conservation Technician Georgia and one of our volunteers putting the coins on the database and writing their final bags

Conservation Technician Georgia and one of our volunteers putting the coins on the database and writing their final bags

Additionally, our museum registrar, Val, and I are working on putting together some award applications for the coin hoard project and the afternoon was spent editing these for final approval. There were cookies at the end as a reward for getting through the four page document, and as you can see from the picture below the team is a big fan of brightly coloured infographics! 

Registrar Val admiring the infographic

Registrar Val admiring the infographic

Our Museum Conservator also had an interesting day, he was visiting the museum of our neighbouring island of Guernsey and consulting with them about some material they have loaned from France.

There you have it! That pretty much concludes the Coin Crew’s day in archaeology! Who knows what tomorrow may bring. I’ll leave you with this picture of the conservation team in happier coin removal times!


Have a great Day of Archaeology Folks!

Viki Le Quelenec

The power of making – or what it means to do archaeology through creative experimentation with media

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York Cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”). And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature Game. Buried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart Eve, Kerrie Hoffman, Colleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan, www.heritagejam.org

Monrepos – the museum is open!

Since the Day of Archaeology on Friday and my last post, a lot has happened – in particular, a lot of work! During the whole weekend, many of us continued being busy with final preparations such as arranging exhibits, painting texts on the walls, labelling artefacts, glueing QR codes to the show cases and supplementary booklets, and an awful lot of cleaning!

The funny thing is that even though prehistory is often covered with dirt – well, at least the artefacts… and, occasionally, our field plans and equipments… and most of the time our clothes –, exhibits need to be perfectly clean.

Yet, cleaning is one of these works most people don’t expect when thinking of prehistoric archaeology but actually it’s a huge part of our job: On excavation we constantly clean profiles, the planum, the camera lenses and other equipment such as our glasses, afterwards the finds are cleaned, the data is cleaned from errors, outliers, false recordings, then we clear our minds to look at the result in a least biased way, well, and then we make everything extra clean and clear to exhibit the lessons we have learned… Hence, archaeologists are basically born cleaners!
For example, Dr. Elaine Turner usually studies hominid subsistence patterns based on faunal assemblages from Middle Pleistocene sites such as Schöningen or the Czech Kůlna Cave to Late Pleistocene Moroccan cave Taforalt but on this weekend she wiped the floors.

Dr. Alejandro Garcia Moreno, the GIS-specialist of the Schöningen and Neumark-Nord projects, polished the vitrines together with our trainee Nicola Scheyhing M.A. and also tidied the entrance together with Dr. Radu Ioviță. So by mid-day Monday, Monrepos was spick and span!

However, besides the exhibition, the official opening ceremony had to be prepared:

Tables and chairs had to be put up, huge umbrellas had to be opened outside the main entrance of the museum due to the disappointing weather forecast, decoration had to be made and spread, the buffet arranged, concession stands equipped, glasses filled, bottles with more wine, sparkling wine, water, rose syrup, birch syrup, and elder syrup, that Juliane Weiß M.A. had made, had to be spread on the stands, a speaker’s desk had to be set up, microphone and speakers had to be synchronised for the hall and so on and so on…

But it was not just our staff and our colleagues from Mainz or the supporting actors who are going to be the guides – family members and friends were also helping such as Aritza’s wife Dr. Pauline Buthaud and our future fellow, Dr. Karen Rubens (currently at Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).

We are still not sure how we did it. For sure, there were moments of pure exhaustion.

Nevertheless, with joined forces we prepared the exhibition for visitors on Monday 1 pm!

When the “event” began at 1:30 pm, the house became filled up with people! With 100-200 expected guest and almost as many cars to come up the long way above the Rhine valley, Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. and Sascha Sieber had to organise the car park and saw nothing of the official speeches. However, lucky them because due to the packed hall the air really became thin during the official speeches of Prof. Dr. Falko Daim, head of our parent institute, the RGZM, of the minister of education, science, and culture of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mrs. Doris Ahnen, of the vice-president of the Leibniz society, Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich W. Hesse, and the head of our institute, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser. She introduced the actor guides who instantly relieved the audience from the ceremonial atmosphere when asking them to participate in a little experiment about human behaviour… the results surprised quite a few of our guests. After this cheerful end to the official part, the storm on the buffet began and the first visitors were guided through the museum. Dr. Olaf Jöris invited people to follow him through the exhibition with an in-depth scientific view on the concept and the content.

Some actors remained at special places within the exhibition to offer visitors insights into their programme. Outside the house trainee, undergraduate and graduate students were serving drinks while post-docs kept the bottles coming from the fridge – and finally, the sun also came out!

However, if you think: “That’s it!” – well, no! Since the museum opened for the public on Tuesday, of course, someone had to clean up after the party…
Dishes, tables, and floors had to be cleaned, chairs and tables put away, decoration spread through the house, and everything put back to its right place…

The opening for the public on Tuesday went quite smoothly then: Even though it was Tuesday and holidays haven’t begin yet, we had several visitors and Frank Moseler M.A. also had to give his first guided tours. Today, it continues quite nicely with the first children’s birthdays.

However, after the final cleaning up on Monday, we could finally begin relaxing after a very long day and a very, very long precedence… So we say: “Cheers! And we hope to see you soon in our new exhibition!”

P.S.: You should definitively use our wishing tree – wishes made to the tree do come true: Germany became World Champion! Hooray!!!

The British Museum come to visit Stonehenge

Yesterday started a little later than usual as I returned at 11.30pm the previous night from a preview of the new archaeology gallery at Salisbury Museum. The new galleries are absolutely stunning – it was a privilege to be among the first to see them and to hear speeches from the HLF representative, the chairman and the director. Adrian, Jane, Stef and their colleagues have made a super-human effort to get the galleries finished and looking stunning.

The new Wessex galleries at Salisbury Museum

The new Wessex galleries at Salisbury Museum

As many of you know, I’ve been working since 2009 on the new Stonehenge visitor centre project. The new galleries at Salisbury are part of a museums partnership between that museum, Wiltshire Museum and Stonehenge (English Heritage) – all three venues have been working together to produce new galleries, telling different parts of the same story. And now all three are open, which is fantastic news. If you haven’t been to see any of these new displays – go, and go to all three!

The Amesbury Archer

The Amesbury Archer

On to yesterday then. In the morning I had an hour or so of working at home, catching up with e-mails and sorting out payment for one of my suppliers who has been making replica objects for our Neolithic houses at Stonehenge. A surprising amount of my time is taken up with such paperwork. I’m also reviewing the interviews that I took part in yesterday – we interviewed three exhibition design companies for a desperately needed new interpretation project at Tintagel Castle. That’s my project for the next year or so – a new exhibition and lots of new interpretation for the castle and island. Of the three companies two were very good, so I created a positives and negatives list for each, coming to my own conclusion about which one to appoint.

Arthur's Seat, Tintagel (I do get to work at some lovely places!)

Arthur’s Seat, Tintagel (I do get to work at some lovely places!)

At 9.30am I left to drive to Stonehenge, to meet a party of 39 staff from the British Museum – curators, keepers and exhibitions staff. They have organised a team trip to Stonehenge, and I met them, showed them around the exhibition and Neolithic houses, and then left them to walk or take the land train down to Stonehenge.

Here is Rosie Weetch, project curator for the forthcoming Celts exhibition at the British Museum, trying our interactive sarsen!

Here is Rosie Weetch, project curator for the forthcoming Celts exhibition at the British Museum, trying our interactive sarsen!

Whilst they were doing that I went to work for an hour or so in the Stonehenge offices, catching up with a few colleagues, a few more e-mails and making a decision with my colleague Rob on the Tintagel designer – I’m really pleased with the company we’ve chosen so it should be an exciting few months ahead!

After lunch I head back to the visitor centre to give the British Museum staff a short background talk on the project. It was a real pleasure to meet colleagues from the museum, with similar visitor profile and issues with huge numbers, and show off the work we have done at Stonehenge. We have some interesting questions/ discussions at the end of the day, and had some wonderfully positive feedback – great to receive from such eminent colleagues! Here are some of their tweets from the visit:

That’s the end of the day for me – I clear up the education room and head back to Bristol for some post-work Friday beers.

Thanks DoA crew – as ever this year’s posts have been inspiring and educating!



ArchaeoLandscapes Europe

Increasing Public Appreciation, Understanding and Conservation of the Landscape and the Archaeological Heritage of Europe

Archaeology can be so fascinating – digs in nice and exotic places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, teaching students and learning from students, telling stories about the past to the public.

But I am sitting in my office in Frankfurt/Main (Germany) today and trying to cope with our new website. The old one was hacked a while ago to be used for DoS attacks on another server so we had to take it offline. We used that opportunity to refresh the old page so now I am working on tinkering the new site a bit, adding content here and there, trying to find mistakes and replacing some placeholder images with pictures from the project before the site will go live again as soon as the provider has managed the domain transfer.

Sounds all rather boring but in the end it’s exactly part of the things I like so much in archaeology: teaching and telling stories! And the background of the webpage of course is the project ArchaeoLandscapes Europe (ArcLand), funded by the EU culture programme for 5 years (sept 2010 – sept 2015) to foster all kinds of remote sensing and surveying techniques, to spread the knowledge all over Europe within the archaeological community and of course also to the broader public. It’s about telling the public that archaeology is more than a dig in a temple in the jungle or an investigation of a pyramid. It’s also – and mainly (?) – about understanding the history of a landscape and the people that lived in it, it’s about trying to find out how people could cope with their environs and which traces they left – and it’s about finding these traces. From the air (aerial archaeology, LiDAR, satellite imagery) and from the ground (geophysics, field walking) and in all cases non-invasive.

From left to right: near infrared aerial image - rob aerial image - LiDAR scan - geomagnetic survey

From left to right: near infrared aerial image – rob aerial image – LiDAR scan – geomagnetic survey

And yes, this is absolutely fascinating – and it brings me to many nice (though not always exotic) places where I meet new people and old friends, where I experience new and well known cultures and where I have the opportunity to tell the stories that are relevant within the framework of the project. It is talking to archaeologists who know a lot about the remote sensing and surveying techniques and learning a lot from them, it is talking to students to make them aware of the fantastic options of these techniques and it is talking to the public to share the fascination that I still feel when I look at a newly discovered site on an aerial image, on a landscape palimpsest on a LiDAR scan or on the hidden subsoil feature visible in the geophysical data.

I really feel very happy when I can see that the grants that our project provided helped students and young researchers to experience new techniques, to exchange knowledge and expertise with other people and to meet people from different areas of Europe to widen their (cultural) perspective. And I am happy to see that all these activities have always been a lot of fun for all those that have been involved.


ArcLand partners meeting in Amersfoort (NL) in 2013

Sure, it’s a EU project which means that there is a lot of administrational work to do. The EU is supporting us with a lot of money and I can understand that they want to make sure that this money is well spend. Still, I am swearing a lot over time sheets and lists of invoices and all that. But that is a very fair price for all the options this support offers to many people all over Europe and abroad! And it shows that Europe is more than a bunch of bureaucrats that only care about the bend of bananas to be imported into the EU! Seeing all these people from the Baltic to the Iberian Peninsula, from Ireland to the Balkan getting together, learning from each other , exchanging ideas and enjoying themselves at our workshops, at our conferences or when visiting our travelling exhibition really makes me feel the the idea of a joint and peaceful Europe is worth all that money.

So all in all, working on a webpage is not that bad, it’s raining outside anyway, so I am sitting in my dry office and I know that the work that I am doing is one tessera in the large archaeological mosaic. Watch out for our webpage http://www.archaeolandscapes.eu to go live again hopefully soon!