GBP

A day in the life of the Archaeological Research Project at Dobri Dyal, Bulgaria

On Friday 29th July 2011 I was working as site surveyor on a site at Dobri Dyal, a Roman fortified hilltop camp believed to date from the early 6th century AD and located in the central region of Bulgaria approximately 200km east of the capital Sofia. The Dobri Dyal project has about 50 participants mostly students from Nottingham and Cardiff universities but also with a smattering of students from Edinburgh, UCL a couple from Oxbridge and some from other places. There are a dozen or so supervisors, mainly professional archaeologists, covering all the main field functions, finds and environmental management, surveying and digital documentation, under the direction of Professor Andrew Poulter of the University of Nottingham. The British part of the project works in co-operation with a Bulgarian team organised through the regional museum at nearby Veiko Turnovo.

The Dobri Dyal team….

Project Background*

From northern Italy to the Black Sea coast, the only identified human impact upon the landscape during the early Byzantine period is the appearance of countless hill-top fortifications; only a few have been partially excavated, and none has been subjected to systematic archaeological research, employing the full range or modern techniques. The function of these sites and the character of the countryside during the final years of Byzantine rule, central as they are for understanding the period, remain unknown.

It is generally accepted that the early Byzantine Empire was at its height during the 6th century: Justinian retook North Africa and Italy and the emperor Maurice campaigned on and beyond the Danubian frontier. The lower Danube was of fundamental importance; it represented the economic hinterland and frontier, supporting and protecting the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Literary sources for the region, describing the second half of the century, have generated opposing interpretations; on the one hand, that this period witnessed a revival in Byzantine military strength or, on the other, that this century saw the progressive collapse of the empire’s economic and military power (Whitby and Liebeschuetz in Poulter 2007a). In particular, there is no agreement as to the veracity of The Buildings written by Procopius: a key reference point for any discussion of the period. However, book 4 (which covers the eastern Balkans) is unique in that the text was never completed and, in its rough form, it can be demonstrated that the author relied upon a variety of different sources, including itineraries (Poulter 2007a, 9-11). Although this conclusion does not necessarily discredit Procopius’ narrative, it raises suspicions about the authenticity of his detailed descriptions which can only be tested by targeted archaeological research.

The project requires the total excavation of the well-preserved 6th_ century fortress of ‘Dobri Dyal’ in north central Bulgaria. The objective is to discover the economic role of the type site during the 6th century. Essential projects will include zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, small-finds and ceramic research, providing datasets which can be directly compared with the substantial results from the first two programmes (cf. 24,000 bone fragments from Nicopolis and 10,000 from the late Roman fortress). The excavations will explore the functionof the site during the 6th to 7th centuries.

 

* written by project director Professor Andrew Poulter and cribbed from the project handbook

5am…..I leave the farm in Nicup and walk the kilometre or so into the middle of the village We have commandeered a restaurant in the middle of the village to provide us with food, starting with coffee and a snack at 5.30 each morning, before we leave for site at 6am. The site at Dobri Dyal is about 45 mins drive south of Nicup, so today like most days we are standing at the bottom of the hill at about 6.45am. The Nottingham team opened 5 excavation areas on the top of the mound last season. Three of these areas (A, B and E) are being dug again this year and two new areas (J and K) have been opened in locations where the 2010 geophysical survey indicated areas of high resistivity. A Bulgarian team from Turnovo museum are opening a trench on the southern downslope of the hill where they think the main gatehouse and approach road to the hillfort are located.

7am….The actual change in level from the bottom to the top of the hill is only about 30 metres, but some days it seems much much higher. Especially when you are carrying tools from the caravan to the top, or in my case two tripods, a total station, a prism pole and a box of assorted grid pegs, tapes, club hammer and nails. I am the site surveyor at Dobri Dyal. Most of my recent archaeological work has been in Norway and Qatar although I have been involved in a couple of English Heritage projects back in the UK in the past 3 years. Today I am assisted by two student volunteers (Hannah and Jade) and the main task for the survey team is to locate grid pegs around trench E to enable the students to practice their planning skills.

In addition to laying out grids we are 3-D locating small finds, as and when they are discovered and plotting the defensive walls on the south side of the fort currently being uncovered by a Bulgarian archaeological team. We are using two Leica 400 total stations for the day to day survey work. These are fairly straightforward machines to use and so far all of the students I have tutored have learnt to set up the machines and carry out simple survey functions (point location, setting out grid-pegs and trench locations using the stake-out function). I of course miss the robotic Leica 1200 machine that I normally use in Norway, but for training purposes it is probably more useful for the students to get acquainted with the simpler machine……For some reason I have not been able to work out, we are burning through batteries today and by lunch time have used 4 sets…..hopefully there is just enough left in the last set to see us to the end of the day…(there was – just!!)

10am…..Lunch!! Each day we are supplied lunch by a local supermarket. Like most archaeological projects we have a mix of carnivores and veggies, a smattering of vegans and the occasional allergy sufferer as well as the downright awkward, making the supply of suitable ‘off the shelf’ sandwiches fraught with difficulty. Today’s vegetarian offering is just about inedible, but I have a large jar of pickled chilli peppers in the site hut that disguises the tastlessness of the cheese and peps up the cucumber. And an apple. And a litre and a half bottle of water. The temperature in central Bulgaria gets into the high 30s in July…which is very nice, but does require drinking plenty of water if you are out on site.

10.45am…back to work. We try to make sure that all of the students cover the basic skills needed to work as a field archaeologist (digging, recording, planning, section drawing, surveying) and in the store (finds processing, environmental processing, sieving, sampling etc etc)…..but this is a real research excavation and we try and maintain a high standard of work. Our research aims are to establish the plan and phasing of the settlement, its development and demise using all the facilities and methodologies available to us. The Bulgarian team use a more traditional method and are constantly amazed at how slowly we work. Attempts to explain our ‘single context – stratigraphic excavation’ methodology are met with blank looks by our host archaeologists. It’s about time that someone translated ‘Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy’ into one or more of the eastern European languages…..

1.45pm….Well that’s it for today. We pile back into the minibuses and return to Nicup for lunch. Soup and some baked cheese dish for me, some kind of sausage for the meat eaters. Our restaurant has a bar where drinks are very cheap. A 500ml beer costs 1 lev (45 pence). A double gin and tonic 1.5lev (67 pence). A quadruple gin and tonic 1.9 lev (85 pence), a 330ml glass of local wine 0.60 lev (27 pence)……the local speciality is ‘oblek’ a mixture of green mint liquor and ouzo much loved by men of a certain age (described by one non-archaeological acquaintance in the village as a cross between viagra and laxative!!) and rakia, the local plum or apricot brandy. Being sensible abstemious folk we tend to stick to a small gin and tonic and the occasional beer. Some students sit at the tables outside the bar playing cards, some return to their houses to sleep. Meanwhile….

3.45pm…..A surveyor’s work is never done!! I spend a couple of hours most days downloading the site survey data and preparing maps etc. Today a number of students are working extra hours in the finds store to make up time lost on other occasions during the week or as we like t call it ‘detention’. I slip along to Ann’s digital documentation office to print out a couple of maps. I use Leica Geofffice to download today’s site data. Normally I would use ArcGIS to process the data, create the survey database and make the maps, but as this is a ‘free’ project for me, I am using as far as possibly freely available open source software (not least so I can make the site data available to any students who request it). At present that consists of the Quantum GIS (QGIS) and the ProCAD (AutoCAD clone) packages. I am not a great fan of using AutoCAD for archaeological puposes, but find ProCAD useful for coverting GIS-based shapefiles to dwg and dxf formats for those that want them. The students in detention seem to be fairly happy with their punishment and are discussing whether universities should ‘give up’ student protesters to the Metropolitan Police…..No way!!

6pm….back to the house for a cold shower and then down to the Directors house for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. The gin on sale in the local bar is cheap, but it’s not Bombay Sapphire …. unfortunately Andrew is out of tonic so I end up with gin and lemon.. I manage to struggle through two glasses!! The project works on Saturday mornings so Friday nights are not as relaxing as a normal weekend, but we always manage to have a reasonable time. The nearest large town (Veiko Turnovo) has a culture festival on at the moment with ballet and opera performances most weekends. We have been offered cheap tickets (10lev circa £4.50) for all performances and some staff are going tomorrow to see the opera. Weather permitting, as the performance is open air….

12am……The bars are closed. Some folk drift off to houses, others to sit and chat for a while. Some of us are thinking that we have to be up again in 5 hours…

Field schools are fun, especially when the students are as nice as the bunch we currently have at Dobri Dyal….. Not so sure that many of them will end up with careers in archaeology though. Not through a lack of willingness but just the haphazard way that archaeology is organised in the UK and the failure of the profession to respond in any meaningful way to the current economic and political situation. It may be that in future years, training schools such as Dobri Dyal just won’t be available to UK students. One of the current student participants told me that next year, the archaeology department of his university plan to carry out a series of test pitting exercises in the gardens of houses close to the university campus instead of offering a field school through a project like Dobri Dyal. I think that is very sad….but if this is to be an end to a long standing archaeology tradition, we hope that the next 3 weeks at Dobri Dyal will provide long and happy memories for all those taking part…

Kevin Wooldridge, Bulgaria, August 2011

The Dobri Dyal project staff have a Facebook group called ‘Never Mind the Balkans – Summer Excavations in Bulgaria 2011’

 

Antiquities, databases and an atypical day at the British Museum

The Moorlands Staffordshire Trulla

The Moorlands pan, one of my favourite objects

For the last eight years, I have worked at the British Museum, following a couple of years working for a German Investment Bank in the City of London. I’m responsible for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme‘s IT infrastructure and I provide advice to the British Museum on ICT issues when needed. The world of IT, is entirely self taught knowledge for me; at university I studied archaeology at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with a specific interest in maritime archaeology. It has been a sharp learning curve, and one that I think will always be challenging and disrupted by new technology. Of course, I’m open to offers to get back below the seas and excavate underwater again!

The department that I work for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and Treasure) is a DCMS funded project that records objects that have been found within the boundaries of England and Wales by members of the public. They voluntarily bring these objects forward to one of our 60 members of staff, who then record them on our database. You could say that this is at heart, public archaeology in action. This database now provides the basis for a massive amount of research within the university environment and it is very gratifying to see what people do with the database that I built. For example, the map below (produced in ArcView – I use QGIS at home) shows where coins of different periods are found by our contributors. Of course, I have to be very careful who has access to the full spatial co-ordinates, academics have to apply for access and I use some maths to obfuscate points on a map.

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

A plot of all coins recorded on the Scheme's database

I’ve also been heavily involved with the #dayofarch project alongside friends and colleagues (we’re calling ourselves”Digital Archaeologists” ). The team working on this project were Matt Law and Lorna Richardson who came up with the plan, Tom Goskar, Jess Ogden, Stu Eve and Andy Dufton). I provided the project with server space, Google analytics, installation of the software and configuration of the software with Tom Goskar. The project has been amazing to work on, and we’ll hopefully be writing this up and getting a chapter on it into Lorna’s PhD.

My day is pretty varied and is either filled with writing funding bids, writing papers (CASPAR workshop papers on Archaeology on TV and Museums and Twitter at the moment), refactoring or writing new code, creating maps in various GIS packages, manipulating images (by script and hand), meetings with academics, TV people or colleagues. It is extremely different to my previous job, and it is probably why I’ve stuck with the role for such a long period. The database that I run, has been written from scratch and I’m currently transferring all my code to GitHub so that others can make use of my work. All the software that I either use or build has to be open-source. I have a very small budget for my IT work – £4000 per annum; is this the smallest budget for a National IT programme ever? I use products from Vanilla for our staff forum, from WordPress for our blogs and various framework packages like Zend Framework for our main website and database. As such, I spent only £48 on the site’s rebuild, the rest goes on server hosting and backup! At the moment, I am also working on a variety of funding proposals, a couple of JISC bids and I’m also looking for funding for the Video-Conferencing workshop that Elizabeth Warry refers to in her post. This is based around the discovery of the Frome hoard and forms the basis for her Masters’ dissertation that I’m supervising with Tim Schadla-Hall. Other people working on this include the British Museum’s education team and members of the Treasure Team. I’m also on various academic advisory boards, an honorary lecturer at UCL (currently helping to supervise Lorna Richardson’s PhD) and a Trustee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a scholarly society based in Marylebone that has a wonderful collection of artefacts, maps and photos, and I’m currently involved in helping with a research bid for high resolution imagery of fragile documents which involves a wide array of partners.

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Ian Richardson hold a double eagle

Currently we have records for over 720,000 objects which have been contributed by over 19,000 people in a 14 year time span. We get around 60,000 visitors per month to our site and around 3-10,000 objects recorded; the time of year has a great effect on this – harvest and seasons especially impact. The site was awarded ‘Best of the Web’ as a research tool or online collection at this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. Something I’m extremely proud of for all our staff and contributors.  All of these records are released under a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA licence and we’ve had considerable success with a variety of digital projects. High profile finds that come up generate a huge amount of interest, and I’ve been trying to get suitable images for the Wikipedia community. We’re finding our relationship with them very beneficial and we now have lots of images in the Wikicommons.

With my wife, Katharine Kelland, I built the Staffordshire Hoard’s first website in 12 hours, and this was viewed by 1/4 million people in one day when we launched. I now use this model as a way for publicising other significant archaeological discoveries. I’m very lucky to work in the British Museum, I never thought I’d end up working there and you never tire of walking through the main gates and up the stairs to the Great Court. In the last few years I’ve been privileged to have seen amazing discoveries close up – the Hackney hoard, the Moorlands patera, the Staffordshire Hoard, the Frome Hoard, the Wheathampstead hoard, and the list goes on. I’ve even got to dress up as a gladiator and parade around the Great Court. Where else could you do this?

Opening Day at National Museum of Scotland

I like to consider myself as a Heritage Management Consultant and sometimes even a Museum Designer. This morning for work (of course) I visited the Royal Museum which was just opened today by the National Museum of Scotland. The museum has been closed for about 3 years now and has been undergoing a £47 million renovation and reinterpretation. The important thing to say is that my firm Jura Consultants helped them with their redevelopment master-plan and supported them in their HLF bid for funding. Most projects that we’re involved in take quite a bit of time to come to fruition so it’s amazing to be able to see the designs you saw on paper become reality and experience the fruits of your labour.

And what a fantastic experience it is! There were thousands of people lining Chambers Street at 9am waiting for the doors to open. We had an animatronic T Rex, tribal drummers, aerial dancers abseiling from the roof, and fireworks. A great atmosphere indeed. The entrance has now been diverted from the main staircase to two street level entrances that lead into the undercroft. Here is a really spectacular and dramatic space. Once used for storage, the space has been converted into a visitor reception area that includes and information desk, cloak room, gift shop, toilets and a new Brasserie. From the dimly lit space, you then ascend into the light-filled Grand Gallery that seems almost like a birdcage with all the iron work. This is meant to be a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ that entices visitors with an array of different and wondrous objects. Beyond this space is an escalator that takes you up to the very top floor, allowing visitors to work their way down. This is an interesting feature and an important one as previous research found that only 5% of visitors made it beyond the ground floor. The other controversial move was to put the museum café on the first floor. But I think it’s one of those things that if you build it they will come.

It was quite clear that the animal gallery was the most popular. Jammed packed with people, prams and exotic animals. The incorporation of video screens with hanging oceanic creatures is quite something to behold. Other galleries include world cultures, design, nature inspired objects, Egyptians, sculpture, and decorative objects. I think the one thing that stands out is the lighting. It certainly adds to the atmosphere and creates distinctly different experiential areas. The colour scheme works really well too, using jewel tones to delineate thematic areas.

I think though, my favourite thing about today was observing the other patrons around me. One little boy asked why fish die, referring to a display in the animal galleries relating to environmental issues such as pollution, poaching etc. His mother responded with ‘because some people don’t recycle’. Another woman remarked about her disappointment with the Egyptians. ‘Liverpool has a mummy but there’s no mummy here.’ The same goes for the way people begin to use the space. We weren’t in the door 5 minutes and there were already people lined up for the café. There was a pram car park that started in one corner and people were sitting on display plinths and touching objects (hopefully this was the intention). I think what it reflects is that visitors are comfortable in the space, are able to read the space properly and that the museum has been a catalyst for conversation.

A truly great morning! I encourage everyone to make a trip themselves.


Historical metallurgy

Like many archaeologists, outside of my ‘proper’ archaeological job, I seem to find time to get involved with lots of other archaeological activities as a volunteer. One of my many ‘other’ roles is to be the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society. This is occupying quite a bit of my time, so I thought it was worth saying something about it. I guess in many ways it is quite typical of a lot of national and local specialist societies and groups – entirely run by volunteers who are often the world’s leading experts in their particular fields, and producing information at various levels from high-level peer-reviewed academic journals and monographs to informal datasheets for archaeological fieldworkers.

The manufacture and working of metals is one of the most important human activities. Archaeologists encounter metal artefacts and evidence of metalworking in all periods from the Bronze Age through to the post-medieval. However it is often difficult to identify and make sense of. This is why the Historical Metallurgy Society was established almost 50 years ago. The Historical Metallurgy Society is a dynamic and exciting international forum for exchange of information and research in historical metallurgy. This means all aspects of the history and archaeology of metals and associated materials from prehistory to the present day.

Members’ interests range from processes and production through technology and economics to archaeology and conservation. The Society holds several conferences and meetings each year which showcase the latest research, and explore a wide range of metallugical landscapes and locations. The next meeting is in Cardiff in September.

The Society’s datasheets were launched over 15 years ago, and remain a popular resource for archaeological fieldworkers and managers alike. They can be dowloaded free. The archaeology committee is currently updating and enlarging the scope of the datasheets. The datasheets – and indeed Historical Metallurgy Society members – helped to inform the development of the English Heritage guidelines for Archaeometallurgy, and Science in Historic Industries.

A mini-datasheet on ironworking residues has also been produced – aimed specifically at archaeological fieldworkers.

The Society’s archaeology committee has also recently produced a UK-wide research framework for archaeometallurgy called ‘Metals and Metalworking’. This sets out current knowledge and areas where we need to learn more; it can be downloaded from the Historical Metallurgy Society archaeology committee page.

Joining the Society only costs £20! Details can be found here. Members receive a scholarly journal (Historical Metallurgy) twice a year and a newsletter three or four times a year. The Historical Metallurgy Society has an extensive archive of books and reference material, and can put you in touch with expertise all over the world… the Society also provides small grants for research and travel. Please visit the website – or look at our Facebook page!

 

The comic strip: Find of the Day

Promoting the project takes many different forms. As a PR-type person, I’d argue that all finds and information from any archaeological project only take on value when their existence is communicated. This is an amazing time for being able to reach people without having to rely on the purchase of a newspaper, seeing or hearing a broadcast, waiting for an article or book publication…

Communication

A Town Unearthed has Heritage Lottery funding. It’s only a couple of years ago that I wrote a communications plan for a successful BIG Lottery grant of nearly £300K without mentioning social media. I can’t see that happening today. One of ATU’s lovelier means of communication is through the development of a wonderful comic strip. You’ll need to click on those words as sadly the ancient lap-top can’t support the illustration otherwise.

This is being done by the wonderful Marine Clabaut, who is spending the summer on the dig while working as an intern with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Tech trouble

I’m clearly having trouble with technology today: I caught sight of Lorna Richardson and a couple of  other contributors on the Google+ hang-out: they could hear me but I could not hear them…

Day in the life of an archaeological planning officer 1pm

I have written a letter in response to a planning application for a residential development at the Caerphilly Miners Hospital. The hospital is an important feature in the local history and culture of Caerphilly. It was opened in 1923 after the local miners had collected money by means of a levy on their weekly wages in order to buy a large house, The Beeches, on the outskirts of the town and they converted it into a hospital. Some £30, 000 was collected by the miners (the mine owners contributed £3000!). Wards were added to the original building and initially there were 23 beds, but this soon increased to 84. At first the hospital was only for the miners and their families but in 1942 it became available to everybody and further expansion occurred.

The proposed development will see all of the additions to the original building demolished and it will be converted for community use with a residential developement being built around it. As such we have no objection to the proposals (the Beeches was built on a greenfield site and the extensive latter additions will have destroyed any buried archaeological features); however, the historical development of the site is of interest and in my letter I have recommended that a condition ensuring that a photographic record of the buildings is compiled before demolition commences and that the information is then placed in the HER.

Chain Bridge Forge – Overview

Chain Bridge Forge: Preserving a 19th Century Blacksmith

It is situated on the east bank of the River Welland about one mile from the town centre, only four metres away from the river itself. The building dates back to the early 1800’s and in 1826 it appeared in White’s Directory and it shows that the Blacksmith was a Francis South. It then appears to have been sold to Edward Fisher who was general town Blacksmith and from his 1850–60 day books it showed his trade also included the servicing the boats that used the port of Spalding. In 1898 the Dodd Family took ownership of the Forge and were recorded as Spalding’s last Harbour Master. Three generations of the Dodd family worked the forge. George Robert Dodd originally from Heckington in Lincolnshire had learnt his trade at Newmarket and presumably it had paid well enough for him to get married and purchase the forge for £280. The Forge had to adapt with the times and in the 1950’s Geoffrey Dodd business almost ended but he turned his hand to making carnival floats for the Spalding Flower parade and this continued for another 30years. In 1989 the building was sold to the local Council and work was done to preserve it structure but sadly was not developed as a museum.

Today we hope to fulfil this vision and The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge has been formed to conserve the artefacts, tell the story of this historic building and build an educational programme which will involve schools and the community. The building is approximately 12.3m long and 6.3m wide. It is subdivided internally into three spaces, the largest of which contains the forge and main work space. The floor is mainly of hard packed earth, with large pieces of stone and slate covering some areas. The building has remained largely unaltered and retains its original contents and is a treasure trove of artefacts and documents which illustrates this wonderful building past and the Blacksmiths that have worked it.

The Forge has recently been awarded £50,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding and therefore the project has commenced. If you would like to follow our progress or would like to contribute then please view our website http://www.chainbridgeforge.co.uk

2. Getting started in Archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

Getting started in archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

I’m going to explain how and why I came into archaeology (which will discuss volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student), and why I went into the field of early medieval archaeology. I hope this will show the positive effects of history and archaeology in schools, the role of museums in stimulating interest, and the significance of public access to archaeology. It will also hopefully provide some insight into the value of education, and the challenges of studying archaeology as a mature student.

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