Finds

Old pots, new technology

‘Day of Archaeology 2017’ finds me working on the final stages of a finds project with a difference. Instead of working my way through boxes of pottery sherds, I’m sat in front of my computer, updating and enhancing the Worcestershire on-line ceramic type series. This work builds on the strong tradition of ceramic research in the County, which is one of the few regions in the country to have a comprehensive pottery type series covering all periods. This physical type series is the work of a series of dedicated finds specialists based in the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, primarily Derek Hurst and Victoria Bryant. It provides all archaeologists working in the county with a standardised way of identifying and recording pottery.

The on-line type series first went live in 2003 and has been added to piecemeal as and when small amounts of funding became available. However, this year we were lucky enough to secure funding from Historic England as part of its Improving Sector Reference Resources initiative. This has enabled us to not only enhance and add to the information available on the website but also update the software so that the site not only runs more smoothly but is optimized for use on mobile phones and tablets. This has not all been straightforward! A lot of my time has been spent in dialogue with the web designer, identifying things that work well and trying to solve issues and bugs that have cropped up along the way. I have to admit that a lot of the technical stuff has gone over my head and I’m sure that a lot of the detailed pottery information has equally confused the designer, but now we are on the final straight we can see that the time spent sending emails back and forth has been well worth it!

I have mainly been focused on uploading our form series for locally produced medieval wares and more commonly found post-medieval fabrics (the composition of the clay) and forms (the type of vessel). For the forms, this involved selecting and uploading representative illustrations and writing a brief description of each form type. Medieval vessels were also cross-referenced with the MPRG (Medieval Pottery Research Group) type series.

In the case of the post-medieval fabrics, each type sherd has had a clean break photographed. Getting this clean break isn’t as easy as it sounds – it has to be as even as possible to photograph well and in some cases, it felt as if there would be next to no sherd left to photograph as I repeatedly snipped to try and achieve this! However, it has been well worth the effort, with the resulting images being of extremely high resolution, enabling the user to zoom in and out to focus on specific inclusions or fabric details.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this project has been the addition of concordance tables for all medieval and post-medieval fabrics. This provides a link to pottery type-series from surrounding counties and is hopefully the first step to creating a truly regional resource.

With the end of this stage of the project in sight, my main task today is to go back through each fabric to make sure that the text is correct, that uploaded illustrations and photographs are displaying correctly and checking that all of the links work smoothly. Any last little niggles are being noted so that we can get everything smoothed out before this new, enhanced version of the site goes live in the last week of August. It’s an exciting time – my colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing all of our hard work come to fruition and hope that it will be a valuable research tool not only for other finds specialists but for the archaeological community in general.

For me personally, it’s the end of an extremely successful project! Not only have I enjoyed seeing our rather ambitious vision coming together but I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Working through the fabric and form data and using some of the knowledge I have gained through 18 years of working on pottery in Worcestershire has been particularly satisfying. However, perhaps even more useful has been to opportunity to revisit older reports and discuss content, ideas or issues with colleagues and fellow specialists from other organisations.

For those who are interested in the project, the old version of the website can be viewed at www.worcestershireceramics.org .  The new, enhanced version will be available to view at the same address from the end of the month.

Diwrnod ym mywyd Curadur Archaeolegol

Cyhoeddwyd y blog hwn ar ran Adam Gwilt, Prif Guradur Archaeoleg Cynhanes, Amgueddfa Cymru.

Cyfarchion ar Ddiwrnod Archaeoleg!

Fy enw i yw Adam Gwilt ac rwy’n archaeolegydd a churadur. Mae fy swyddfa yn Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd, ac rwy’n gweithio ar draws ein safleoedd eraill hefyd. Fi sy’n gyfrifol am ofalu a datblygu ein casgliadau Neolithig, Oes Efydd ac Oes Haearn yn Amgueddfa Cymru, ar ran pobl Cymru a thu hwnt. Astudiais Archaeoleg ym Mhrifysgol Durham, gan ennill profiad gwaith maes a diddordeb mewn ymchwilio i ddiwylliant materol, cyn cael y swydd hon.

Fi yn gweithio ar gelc Oes Efydd

Mae diwrnod arferol yn y gwaith yn amrywio’n fawr, gyda phob math o ddyletswyddau yn ogystal â gwneud yn siŵr bod eraill o fy nghwmpas yn gallu gwneud eu gwaith. Ymysg fy swyddogaethau mae tasgau ac ymchwil yn ymwneud â’r casgliadau; delio ag ymholiadau ymchwil a’r cyhoedd; datblygu projectau partneriaeth; delio â’r cyfryngau ar bynciau archaeolegol; ymgysylltu â grwpiau cymunedol; cefnogi projectau addysg a’r Cynllun Henebion Cludadwy yng Nghymru.

Rhaid cofnodi’r gwrthrychau yn fanwl

Un o’r pethau gorau am fy swydd yw cael gweithio ar ddarganfyddiadau trysor newydd yng Nghymru. Byddaf yn ysgrifennu adroddiadau i’r crwner ar ddarganfyddiadau trysor cynhanesyddol, gan gydweithio i sicrhau bod y broses adrodd yn rhedeg yn rhwydd yng Nghymru. Ar hyn o bryd, rwy’n creu adroddiad ar gelc o arfau o ddiwedd yr Oes Efydd, a ddarganfuwyd yn ddiweddar yn Sir Fynwy. Yn ffodus, roedd modd i ni wneud ychydig o waith cloddio archaeolegol ar y safle, i greu darlun llawnach a chael gwell syniad pam fod y celc wedi’i gladdu bron i 3,000 o flynyddoedd yn ôl.

Ymysg fy nyletswyddau eraill, rwy’n gyd-reolwr ar broject Hel Trysor; Hel Straeon, sy’n cael ei ariannu gan raglen Collecting Cultures Cronfa Dreftadaeth y Loteri; yn gydawdur ar gyhoeddiad ynglŷn â’n gwaith cloddio cymunedol ar safle Oes Haearn Llan-faes, Bro Morgannwg; ac rwy’n cyfrannu arbenigedd ar ddau broject ailddatblygu mawr yn Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru ac Amgueddfa Lleng Rufeinig Cymru, Caerllion.

Perks of being a PAS volunteer

My career as an archaeologist has been somewhat intermittent: I currently work as an archaeologist only one day a week and purely for the love of it. I’m a volunteer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, based at Liverpool museum with the Finds Liaison officer there, Vanessa Oakden. I’m the Thursday girl, and usually help out by digitally manipulating images of the finds (mainly bought in by metal detectorists) on photoshop, so they can be included on the PAS database. With over one million objects and counting, this is an eclectic, fascinating and ever expanding corpus of the ‘what on earth is it?’ and workaday; the lost and discarded; the plough trashed and serendipitously preserved, see https://finds.org.uk/database

My Day of Archaeology was a special day – a training session with behind the scenes access- including tours and talks – at the British Museum. An early start in Chester, and three hours later I am trying to look nonchalant negotiating the London Underground, like I do this everyday, and am not a tourist: an impression I failed to sustain as I got a bit confused and failed to fast track myself through the excited queues outside the museum, with the result I was only just in time to find the meeting room, get my volunteer badge and a warm welcome off Claire, the resources officer, before the programme began. (more…)

My Day of Archaeology as HER Officer and freelance glass specialist

Hello everyone!

As is genuinely typical for me, I spent the first part of Friday 28th July 2017 working from home on my day job, which is Historic Environment Record Officer for Kent County Council. Each county maintains a Historic Environment Record (HER), and some National Parks have their own too. They replaced the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR), which was run by what is now Historic England, and are used extensively for both planning and research. We aim to maintain an accurate and up-to-date record of all aspects of the Historic Environment in our county, including historic buildings, below-ground archaeological remains, and designated assets such as listed buildings and scheduled monuments. The data set is a valuable resource for academics and research students (for example to assist with their research on iron age hoard deposits), and for commercial archaeological units and consultancy firms, who often request a ‘search’ of a specific area as part of a planning application or prior to an excavation to be conducted as part of the development process. We are very busy with search requests at the moment, so I spent the morning working on those at the top of the list. Unfortunately this section of the day was not photo-friendly due to a minefield of copyright issues. However, the online version of the Kent Historic Environment Record can be accessed by anyone at Exploring Kent’s Past.

Afterwards, I managed to squeeze in some time doing activities related to my freelance work as a glass specialist. Commercial archaeological units and academic and community projects send me glass from sites they have excavated for specialist assessment. I usually write a detailed report tailored to the client, the type or stage of the project, and whether the report is intended to contribute to an unpublished site report (‘grey literature’) or a publication. Yesterday afternoon I took a delivery of a small glass assemblage from an academic research project and unpacked it, and then returned to the project I am in the middle of, which is an assemblage of post-medieval glass. I recorded (identified, measured and weighed) a few more bottles and fragments from the assemblage in my spreadsheet for the project.

I was also hoping to do a little bit on the conference paper I am preparing based on my recently-completed PhD thesis on Anglo-Saxon vessel glass, but it is the first week of the school summer holidays, so that didn’t happen!

Glass delivery!

Project in progress…

 

Marvellous medieval tiles-public engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

There really is no such thing as a typical day in my role as curator of Medieval and Later Archaeology. Recent days have involved dealing with treasure items, answering public enquiries about our medieval collections and sorting out a massive post-medieval pottery assemblage from the Herefordshire/Monmouthshire border, a project I’ve recently worked on with a brilliant bunch of Cardiff University archaeology undergraduates.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the Day of Archaeology falls during the Festival of Archaeology, and if you work in museums then the FoA is always an important date in the calendar! This year we have held a variety of events, celebrating archaeology at AC-NMW, such as behind the scenes tours exploring the hidden depths of the museum, talks on the Saving Treasures project (https://museum.wales/portable-antiquities-scheme-in-wales-saving-treasures-telling-stories/) as well as a (plastic) skeleton-sorting exercise! Fortuitously, my event happened to fall on the Day of Archaeology.

I like a challenge, and being a fan of all things medieval I wanted to design an activity that would make medieval floor tiles as exciting to everyone else as they are to me.  But could it be done??

So, this is what I did. I took the design from a set of fourteenth-century tiles from Neath Abbey (the tiles depict a hunting scene-see below), asked our illustrator Tony Daly to trace the outline design and blow up the image to make a giant tile puzzle. These ’tiles’ were printed onto paper, cut up into small squares where participants were asked to colour them  however they liked.

Ably assisted by Joel Curzon, a Cardiff University undergraduate we drew in a crowd of budding medieval artists to help complete our puzzle. Whilst we didn’t quite manage to complete the entire set by the end of the event, we certainly had quality over quantity in terms of colour and patterns used. Here is the final result.

The colouring element was really great fun but the best thing for me was the wide-ranging interest shown in these small but beautiful objects, in particular the meanings behind the motifs used on different medieval tiles. One of my most enthusiastic participants, a six year old girl who completed a couple of the tile pieces, quizzed me on the hunting scene and  was amazed by how dogs were used in the past. She didn’t reckon her pet dog would have much luck against a deer. Perhaps I achieved my objective after all.

 

Brick and tile, and hospitals

Roman roof tile

Tegula – fragment of Roman roof tile

What do I have on my plate at the moment? Not all of it is archaeology, but it’s certainly historical in nature. I am currently working on some ceramic building materials (CBM) from a site in East Yorkshire. This involves recording every fragment, unless very small and unfeatured:

*context

*fabric (these days I just do a site fabric series, as I have no central series to tie it into)

*form

*weight

*dimensions (only if there is a complete length, width or thickness; in effect, this normally tends to mean thickness unless there are brick samples)

*comments – this could be if the fragment has a fingerprint, pawprints, ‘signature,’ sanded edges, and so on

After this, I create a database from the paper forms I used to note down the information above. Much sorting of the database takes place, as I look for trends and differences. Then it’s writing up the report time, which is always the difficult bit …

While this is going on, I have other projects to keep on the boil. Looming large is an exhibition at York Castle Museum‘Home Comforts: the role of Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals in the North Riding of Yorkshire 1914-1919’. I only have a small part to play, having formulated a display board about the St Johns Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals in York, using photographs from a local society image collection. Setting up will take place on 1st August.

VAD Hospitals in York WW1

VAD Hospitals in York WW1

In September, I’m off for another week in Ravenglass, cataloguing finds ready for sending off to specialists. And when I get back, I’ll be thinking over the results of brick recording in Cawood – volunteers will have recorded the bricks on local buildings, after I gave them an introduction to the wonderful world of bricks earlier in July.

Talking about brick in Cawood

Talking about brick in Cawood


Cotswold Archaeology: A typical (start to the) day on the front…

As an archaeological site manager, I like to arrive on site in advance of the team, open the access, welfare cabins and tool stores and prepare the daily briefing. Gradually, my colleagues will start to arrive on site; the fresh-faced, enthusiastic trainees, keen to crack on and get out on to site as soon as possible, then the crew bus carrying all the necessary equipment, cameras, GPS units, laptops, milk (possibly the most crucial item on site!) and the all-important site archive. This is followed by intermittent arrivals of the older, more experienced individuals who time their appearance to the last minute and then the odd one or two blurry-eyed latecomers who may or may not have been out late last night…

The daily cat-herding ritual ensues and then, once we’re all together, I deliver the daily briefing which can contain elements of weather forecast, site conditions, any specific health and safety considerations, progress on site, delegation of tasks, new demands from clients, feedback, praise or criticism from project managers or curators, details of the latest site interpretations and any interesting recent discoveries. In an effort to keep the team engaged during this meeting, I (usually vainly) try and keep things as light-hearted as possible where I can!

My briefing over, there’s a bit of nervous shuffling as I decide on which of the lucky site supervisors gets to deliver the requisite toolbox talks; this week it’s ‘Sunburn’ as, although we’re currently standing in a mist of fine drizzle, it did get a little bit warmer towards the end of Monday afternoon, and the old favourite ‘Personal Hygiene’… cue the inevitable banter. Toolbox talks delivered by a relieved supervisor, I wrap up the assembly by asking if anyone has any questions or concerns, issue the rallying cry of ‘Okay, let’s archaeologise!’ and we’re off onto site, a small, ragtag group of bright yellow troopers.

At some point I hope to be able to leave the paperwork and turn my attention to the fantastic archaeology we’re turning up. Perhaps I’ll get a brief slot around 4 this afternoon…………..

Mark

Katherine Hamilton: Cataloguing small finds or the various uses of a nuclear bunker

Hi!  My name is Katherine Hamilton and I am the Archives Supervisor for Oxford Archaeology East. For most of this year I have been subcontracted to Cambridgeshire County Council Historic Environment Team (CCC HET) for one day a week to assist them with the re-cataloguing of their on-site archaeological store at Shire Hall in Cambridge.  The store is a nuclear bunker built towards the end of the Cold War, under one of the buildings on Castle Hill.  This is not I should point out as exciting as it sounds, mainly it is rather cold and health and safety states that I should have air breaks every hour as there’s no ventilation down there, for obvious reasons.  There are currently two rooms in which the finds are kept – one for metalwork and the other for non-metal small finds and nice artefacts like complete pots.

The work I do down there is to go through each of the finds boxes stored there and add the contents of them onto a spreadsheet provided by CCC HET, at the same time providing each individual artefact with a unique barcode and recording which shelf the overall box lives on in the store.  Sometimes I can get through a lot of boxes fairly quickly but boxes of coins and particularly beads can take several days to wade through.  (I would happily never see another amber bead if I could help it!)

I really enjoy my time in the bunker each week as it gives me a nice break from dealing with the day to day of my job back in our office in Bar Hill.  It also means I get to see some of the really cool artefacts that have been excavated in Cambridgeshire over the last 50 plus years!

DeepStore – the ultimate destination of Cambridgeshire’s archives

Katherine Hamilton is the Archives Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our digital archiving, visit our online library: http://library.thehumanjourney.net/

An Archaeological Curator’s Day

This post has been published on behalf of Adam Gwilt, Principal Curator of Prehistory at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales.

Hello, on this Day of Archaeology!

My name is Adam Gwilt and I am an archaeologist and curator based at the National Museum Cardiff, also working across our other museum sites. I am the person responsible for looking after and developing the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age collections at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, on behalf of the people of Wales and beyond. I trained in archaeology at the University of Durham, also building up my fieldwork experience and interests in material culture research, before coming to this job.

Me working on a Bronze Age hoard

My normal day at work will be very varied, juggling a range of different commitments and making sure that others around me can also do their jobs. My work can range from collections based tasks and research; to dealing with public and research enquiries; being involved with museum redevelopment projects, exhibitions and loans; developing partnership projects; handling media interest on relevant archaeological topics; engaging with community groups; supporting learning projects and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales.

Detailed recording of objects is essential

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is getting to work on new treasure discoveries made in Wales. My role involves writing reports on cases of prehistoric treasure finds for coroners, also working with colleagues to make sure that the reporting process runs smoothly in Wales. At the moment, I am reporting on a Late Bronze Age hoard of weapons and tools, recently discovered in Monmouthshire. Luckily, we were able to undertake a small archaeological excavation at the find-spot, in order to help tell the story of how and why this hoard was buried nearly 3,000 years ago.

Amongst my other roles, I am a Co-Project Manager of the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme; co-author involved in preparing a final publication on our research and community excavation of an Iron Age feasting site at Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan and contributing expertise within two of our major museum redevelopment projects at the St Fagans: National Museum of History and the National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon.

 

A Welsh version of this post is in preparation.

In the Lab – Fairfax, Virginia

CART Volunteer Setting Up to start Labeling

CART Volunteer Setting Up to start Labeling

Each Diagnostic Artifact needs to be labeled with unique identification information that corresponds to where the artifact was originally found as well as descriptive details that are recorded in an artifact catalog. In the picture, our CART volunteer is preparing to label more pipe stems.