Geoff Egan

A FLO’s Life

I have been the Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire since October 2008, and trying to give an account of what it is like to be an FLO, and the challenges, joys and bizarre incidents I have encountered over the last (almost) 4years in a one day diary post is impossible.

I am hosted in Northants County Council by the Archive and Heritage Service. This team includes the HER (Historic Environment Record) and the Record Office, who are generally archivists, and so although I am part of a team which curates and maintains the Historic resources of the county, I am very much alone in what I do. I handle, research and record archaeological artefacts discovered by members of the public. Being the only FLO in what is a relatively small county in the Midlands (when compared to my colleagues in Kent, Essex and the North) has its challenges and rewards like any other job.

Despite meaning to engineer my diary so that I had something interesting to report on for today, my diary is actually relatively quiet compared to other days where I do Finds Surgeries in museums and Council Offices across the county. Finds Surgeries allow  members of the public to meet me and bring me artefacts they have discovered, and want me to identify and record for them. 90% of these surgeries are used by metal detectorists, who deliberately search fields with the intention of discovering archaeological artefacts. The majority of whom do their own research and have a good understanding of what they have found, bringing them to me for the purposes of recording them for archaeological knowledge and research, rather than for ID alone.  But of that remaining 10% I am often delighted by the range of artefacts discovered accidentally by people digging their garden, or walking across the countryside, and who are genuinely amazed by what they have found. A case in point is PAS database record NARC-894AF2, found by a young lady when digging a rockery in her back garden and whose father very sheepishly brought it in to me at a Finds Surgery in Daventry, hoping he wasn’t embarrassing himself by bringing me a rock! In fact what he had brought me was a genuine Acheulian hand axe, dating to the Lower paeleolithic era and adding to our scant knowledge of Palaeolithic Northants. Yes, that was in 2009, so maybe I am cheating by mentioning it here – but it gives you the perfect case in point – you never know what is coming through the door in this job!

In an age when few museums have archaeological curators on staff to advise people on their finds, the FLO in most counties tend to be the first port of call for people with questions about archaeological artefacts and treasure. These questions range from wondering about a date and meaning of Willow pattern pottery in their back garden, to showing me flints found in the garden, driveway or field wondering if they are worked and of importance (very rarely the case, but it isn’t impossible and I’d always rather people double checked than didn’t try at all!), to large collections of metal detected artefacts from people who have detected for a long period of time and want to record them with the PAS. In between those categories are the metal detectorists who visit me every month to record their previous months finds, and we have a regular turn over of artefacts.

This type of collection is one which I am working my way through now. It has a range of pottery, Roman coins, medieval pennies and some post-medieval finds which I will not record but will offer the finder an ID for them by writing on the bag (“Georian fob” and the like). Each object is in a bag with the findspot location written on it, which is ideal. This collection is a accurate representation of the general finds from most fields. People get very excited over Treasure cases, and the discovery of a treasure case is sometimes the only press metal detecting and PAS gets. The reality is much less headline grabbing, but much more archaeologically significant.

After I have battled my way through that small collection, I have these large boxes of pottery to wade through from a field walker in Geddington which will probably, for the sake of time and my sanity, end up as a bulk report for the HER rather than an individual record for each sherd on the PAS database.

Fieldwalkers pottery collection

 

After that, I have approximately 25 emails to reply to, mostly from people wanting to know where to meet me so I can see their objects, or wanting to know how I am getting on with their objects and when can they have them back (I try for a 2 month turn around, but the more finds that come in, the harder this self-imposed deadline gets).

Then will be preparation for Monday’s Finds Research Group (FRG) meeting. I was asked to be on the FRG committee as a representative of the Post-Medieval period by the late, great Geoff Egan,who is still sorely missed. Post-Med to modern finds are often disregarded by archaeologists, and by my work with the FRG and Post-Med Arch I am trying to increase the realisation among the archaeological community that they are a valuable resource which will be lost to future generations if we don’t stop disregarding them now. I hope I can do Geoff proud on this! 🙂

It would be remiss of me to mention what I do in a day without mentioning the time I spend on Twitter, which in some jobs would be labelled as time wasting! But as an archaeologist –  in addition to finding out all about what Stephen Fry and John Prescott are up to on a daily basis during my coffee breaks – I have found it a massively valuable resource in finding out about research projects and exhibitions which I would have no idea about otherwise.  Social media is here to stay and should be used as a resource by everyone to communicate events and ideas. And judging by the really interesting post already up there from #dayofarch, many people are coming around to that.

 

Medieval & Post Medieval artefacts from the River Wear, Durham City

Shakespeare’s  famous line; ‘Once more unto the breach‘ taken from Henry V, Act III, 1598 captures my #dayofarch 2011 quite nicely! For my breach is also associated with a gap in a high city wall or perhaps more accurately a 850 year gap that still to this day forms the main  thoroughfare in to the heart of a historical medieval city.

I  am actually talking about Elvet a medieval bridge built around 1160 by Bishop Hugh Du Puiset; once guarded by gate and tower protecting the historic City of Durham. Why once more? Simply because it has been a three year exploration by me of the River Wear as it flows under Elvet Bridge and around the stunning peninsular that forms the World Heritage Site. The sole purpose of the explorations many often undertaken in extremely challenging conditions using sub-aqua diving equipment is to recover medieval and post medieval artefacts  from the river bed.

My #dayofarch should have actually been much different but for a late cancellation I was due to be some 270 miles south in the study rooms of the British Museum in London researching their collection of lead cloth seals. As it happened Friday 29th July started quite early enough as I had to take my daughter Sarah to Newcastle airport to catch an 8 a.m.  flight. Then followed a 74 mile drive south for a hastily re-arranged family day out in another historic city this time York. Fortunately my detour from archaeology was not terminal as I was kindly  allocated 60 precious minutes to take in the Roman and medieval splendours of the Yorkshire Museum.

Arriving back in Durham City where I live at 6.p.m. was actually quite good timing as it meant that the bulk of the river traffic – tourists on hired rowing boats, Durham University peeps with their torpedo like super fast 8s and the dreaded Prince Bishops river cruise boat with its huge propeller should have pretty much vacated the stretch of river I am currently excavating.

Strangely for this time of year I had not actually dived for the best part of three weeks. My previous dive was done with TV cameras following my every move both above and under the water not to mention spending much of the day discussing medieval river artefact’s with the delightful historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes! And so as any diver will tell you pulling a diving drysuit on after a prolonged spell of inactivity is no easy nor pleasant task.

My usual entry point in to the river this late in to the summer was now heavily overgrown; Himalayan balsam seed pods exploded violently all around me as I picked out a path through the now giant plants down the steep bank to the water’s edge. My usual (just submerged) rock clearly visible through the clear water was still in situ, as indeed it  has been for the last three years; it’s partially flattened upper surface proving an ideal platform to sit and put my fins and dive mask on.

The last thing a diver needs at this point is to realise that their cylinder first stage valve is not open. However, complacency is a real danger and a full kit check had been carried out back at the car park – my demand valve fed me cool air. I spat in to my dive mask and gave it a rub before rinsing it in the river water and shaking it dry and in less than 18 minutes from leaving home I slipped under the water – again!

My first thoughts were wow how warm is the water and great the underwater visibility is superb! A thin deposit of silt no more than .5 cm deep lay like newly fallen snow on the river bed, its pale brown colour suggesting a peaty origin. Heavy rain fall two weeks earlier in the area of the Pennines near the source of the river was almost certainly the culprit. I remember not being too deterred by the silt deposit I had seen it many times before, a few fin strokes around the gully I had planned to continue searching would send it off downstream.

The flow of water at my dive site is unusually slow, the current held back by a series of weirs further downstream. Within 3 minutes of entering the water I  was positioned directly above the gully I was looking for. I call them gullies for an obvious reason as they are quite simply a series of narrow channels worn in the sandstone bedrock by centuries of water passing over it. Some gullies are wider, while some gullies are deeper than the others.

Conditions this evening 2 m underwater on the river bed were as good as they probably ever get. Although the visibility is really important much of the work I do  underwater recovering the artefact’s is very physical; imagine working intensely for an average of around 140 minutes in one single location. Concentration is  essential, meticulously picking through pebble after pebble looking for artefact’s that quite often can measure as little as 1 cm. You cannot simply drift off in a day dream thinking about what’s for supper when I get out or how  many goals will Sunderland put past Newcastle when they meet at the Stadium of Light in August. Forget nitrogen narcosis or the bends the one really dangerous threat to diving in the river is the possibility of being struck by the propeller of the Prince Bishops boat. However, if you maintain your concentration throughout the dive you will pick up the faint chuk chuk chuk the boats engine makes well before it gets anywhere close, giving you plenty of time to swim off to the safe shallow river edges.

So what medieval or post medieval artefact’s did I recover on #dayofarch Friday 29th July 2011 from a single gully formed in the sandstone riverbed? In short tonight’s haul was fantastic! predominately from a 16th century origin they were in the main made up of dress accessories, items linked to trade, industry and a few pieces of broken pottery. These ceramics are just as
important as they help date the artefact’s as they come out of the stratified layers.

The picture below shows tonight’s haul – yes from only one dive! I only just managed to capture enough of the setting sunlight to take the picture so apologies if it’s not the best. As you can see the haul is predominately made up of small finds. The first artefact that I picked up was nicely decorated 16th/17th century button which was quickly followed by a lovely small copper alloy coin weight with what appears to be 3 fleur-de-lys within a shield beneath a crown. Several pins quickly followed (twisted wire  head type) as is the norm for this area, then some nice decorated mounts. The mounts  are prolific and appear to be unused. Although the majority of mounts I find are copper alloy like the star shaped one pictured; several are actually lead and the two small lead mounts found this evening show a typical five pellets on  the top.

It’s my theory that the majority of the dress accessories I am finding are new or should I say have never been used. They almost certainly were items that were once offered for sale by a trader or local merchant very possibly located on Elvet Bridge itself.  A classic example of these ‘unsold’ artefacts are the many small ‘beaded’ mounts, the stems of which remain straight – had they been pushed through a leather strap for example the stems would have been bent at right angles to effectively hold them in place.

Only pausing to remove a small sliver of glass that embedded its self in my finger I continued to recover artefacts at a rate of approximately one per minute (I wonder if  anyone else in the world found more artefacts that me today?). The main focus for me on every dive is to try to find more lead cloth seals. The reason is simple as I now have a significant assemblage of medieval and post medieval cloth seals all recovered from the same stretch of the river. Two weeks ago I was at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum researching their collection of
177 lead cloth seals mainly recovered from the water channels that run through the medieval city. Prior to this evenings dive my total number of cloth seals stood at 171 – unbelievably I found seven tonight! Who’s the daddy now! Two of tonight’s cloth seals are really interesting, one seal features a standing man possibly holding a spear and a second seal appears to be a dragon or griffin rampant to the left. Hopefully I can find some parallels in Geoff Egan’s Occasional Paper 93!

I should point out that previous to my early discoveries of cloth seals only two others had been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database as being recovered north of Yorkshire and only one of those was in County Durham. Research to date indicates that the cloth seals in my collection appear to have arrived in Durham City from as early as the 15th century continuing right through until the 18th century. Arriving attached to cloth from locations across England and Europe for example Augsburg in Germany.

The seven cloth seals that I found this evening were clustered in a stratified layer which also contained a really strange lead alloy mount. I am only calling it a mount for  the time being as it has a bent stem or pin on the reverse. The front features a face of what could easily be described as a cherub; you may be able to see it third from the bottom right hand side of the picture, (I will add another picture of it tomorrow) any suggestions of what it could be would be appreciated.

Just below this stratified layer the finds as you would guess should be older and this may well be the case with the four or five circular form buckles (see Egan 2002, P.58 (28)) that I found. Although the central iron pins are missing many others similar in style yet complete buckles  have been found very near to this gulley and they are almost certainly dated from the early 15th Century. A lead spindle whorl was also found at the same depth as the buckles, this singular find bring the total of lead spindle whorls recovered to 32 most unlike this one most are decorated with  pellets.

The only distraction to recovering tonight’s artefacts was the need to keep checking my air contents plus some crazy person throwing stones at the point of the river where my  exhaled air bubbles hit the surface. The stones make a loud plopping noise and  fall harmlessly to the river bed around me – I never surface to see who throws the stones for the fear of being hit on the head, strangely it is something that happens more often than not!

Many small pieces of waste lead were found, a few of which were window came, other finds include; tools (possibly for working with leather), a knife, twisted copper alloy loops, lead tokens – one with a nice anchor, a solid cast (bi-convex head) button Circ. 1650, a partial horse shoe, a copper alloy rivet, a circular lead alloy pan-weight, iron nails, a fragment of a jug handle and iron key. It will take me around two weeks to clean the artefacts, bag then record them.

There is a serious side to my endeavours in the river; it is not just a crazy dangerous hobby. For the last three years many artefacts have been loaned to Durham University Archaeology Department where their MA students have researched then as part of their studies. In addition and by working very  closely with my Finds Liaison Officer  Frances McIntosh to date 350  artefacts have been added to the PAS database. All being well in 2012 I am set to undertake an MA by Research in to the assemblage perhaps focusing on the considerable lead cloth seal collection.

The finds that have been recovered so far total over 2000 artefacts and will without doubt help to re-write the history books of Durham. If you are a small finds expert and would  like to help identify many of the unusual artefacts then please do get in touch  garybankhead@360.com plus you can follow news of the assemblage and indeed what
my latest discoveries are by following me at twitter.com/garybankhead

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Day of Archaeology 2011!

River artefacts

Artefacts recovered on #dayofarch

 

 

Proofing and my pudding

In what has turned out to be a day of coincidences, I have had a lovely surprise. A fat envelope containing the proofs of my forthcoming LAMAS article landed on our office doormat. I promise that this was not all planned in advance in some sort of dodgy attempt to make my Day of Archaeology sound more interesting!

My name is Guy Hunt. I am a partner at L – P : Archaeology, a British commercial archaeology practice. I have been with L – P since 1999 which is now starting to seem like quite a long time ago. My day to day work usually involves a mix of project management, website and digital archaeology and quite a bit of time spent at a desk. I have also just become a dad, so after a couple of weeks of paternity leave I have come back to a lot of work that I need to catch up on. (If you are expecting an email from me… and are reading this post thinking “why the blooming hell is Guy writing this and not replying to me!” don’t despair, I promise to be up to date by the end of Monday.)

My morning was spent trying to sort out a knotty javascript problem for a forthcoming website. This sort of thing can sometimes take an inordinate amount of time. The classic problem is caused by needing to code websites for a range of different browsers. All that hard work, you get things looking “just so” and then you have to test in Internet Explorer… grrrr.

Proofs (and a red pen)

This afternoon it was time to turn to something a little more archaeological, taking a look at those proofs. This is the (almost) final point in the life of a project that started out 12 years ago when I first joined L – P. The site is now the Grange City Hotel, but will always be known to us as “Cooper’s Row” (AKA: Coopers, Cooperz, Das Coop or Coopers la Rue). The site is located at the eponymous Cooper’s Row, at the eastern fringe of the City of London.

Despite an impressively roomy sounding 18,000 words this article is actually an incredibly ‘boiled down’ account of the archaeology of the site. The publication is the culmination of the work of hundreds of people, most of whom are sadly not mentioned by name in the article. The site includes a write up and synthesis of 4 sites (ASQ87, CPW99, CPQ03 and CRZ06). On top of the archaeological evidence from those sites, the paper also wraps up the current state of knowledge about the city wall in this area and prints two brand new elevation drawings of the wall.

ASQ87 was excavated over 20 years ago by the then Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London (DUA) and the fact that I could go back and revive the records from this site is a testament to the quality of the original recording and record keeping. CPW99 was excavated in 1999 and 2000 by AOC archaeology, supervised by Diccon Hart who also supervised the CPQ03 site, this time directly for L – P. Diccon wrote up the stratigraphic sequences for both of these sites, doing all of the stratigraphic analysis (heavy duty number crunching!) as well as writing up the group narrative.

On top of the stratigraphic analysis, there was a huge range of material from all of the different specialists. To name just a few of the specialists, who hail mostly from the Museum of London: pottery (Lyn Blackmore & Amy Thorpe), registered finds (Geoff Egan and Angela Wardle) animal bones (Kevin Reilly). My job was to bring all of this material together and to try to hang it onto the framework provided by Chris Phillpott’s report on the documentary sources available for Cooper’s Row. As well as the text, our own GIS people Andy Dufton and Jess Ogden mangled our plans into gorgeous looking drawings. Finally Pete Rowsome did a very very well needed edit to the text adding detail and giving a well deserved ‘haircut’ to the shaggy parts.

So there you go, I wrote nearly 700 words and I didn’t even get a chance to thank any of the wonderful diggers and back office staff who made all this possible. Let me be absolutely clear: without you, none of this would be possible!

It’s great to see these proofs looking so lovely… and I am relieved to say, needing very little editing… now where is my pudding?