Heritage Management

Settlements, Shielings & Sunshine: Archaeological Survey at NTS Torridon

Torridon. One of the most dramatic landscapes in the United Kingdom. Driving to it, from the south or the east is an unforgettable journey. Three massive mountains, Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe rise suddenly from the shore of the deep sea loch to over 1000m in height, looming over you and totally dominating the area.

Beinn Alligin & Liathac seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

Beinn Alligin & Liathach seen across Upper Loch Torridon.

The National Trust for Scotland looks after over 6,000ha of land on the north side of Loch Torridon. Along with the plants, animals, birds, footpaths & upland landscape that we manage, there are also a huge amount of archaeological remains. The majority of these are 18th and 19th century settlement and farming remains; there are very little prehistoric remains on the north side of the Loch, but plenty on the southside. Perhaps it is because prehistoric folk settled and used the same land that is still settled and in use today, thus all traces have been removed. You can find out more about the archaeology sites here

In March, I was lucky enough to lead a National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp where we carried out condition monitoring and survey work across a number of the settlements and shieling sites. This is incredibly useful heritage management work, as it allows us to see the overall picture of change of the archaeological resource & to develop a management plan to deal with all sorts of threats such as bracken & vegetation growth, erosion, burrowing and collapse.

For the condition monitoring I have developed an Android tablet based system which utilises the Open Data Kit to allow us to remotely collect the data, and then submit it to a server when we have an internet connection. Internally, we’ve found the system to be incredibly robust and useful, and much simpler to use and get data back from than paper based systems.

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

Condition Monitoring at Wester Alligin, Torridon

In total we monitored 191 sites and structures over 5 days and from this developed a really good understanding of what is affecting the archaeological remains and how.

Condition Data, Torridon

Condition Data, Torridon

I have previously written about the Data Enhancement project I work on at the Trust; the GPS survey work at Torridon has allowed us to enhance our GIS data and polygons, which means we have better and more detailed information when managing our Torridon estate. We now know the exact location and extent of a wide range of structures, dykes and cultivation remains whereas previously we had them as point data or even described as “left of the structure” “below the area of woodland” and so forth.

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Surveyed archaeological remains, Wester Alligin, Torridon

Through doing this work we have also recorded remains that are quite obvious on the ground for for a variety of reasons had never been recorded and utilised aerial imagery from a range of sources to map some of the more ephemeral remains such as cultivation ridges and furrows. I have also been able to compare the remains to the historic Ordnance Survey mapping available from the National Library of Scotland which allows us to (being to) understand when buildings were built, in use and abandoned.

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

Some of the structures which appear on the above map

We also discovered a couple of possible new sites such as a cup marked boulder, which is very exiciting.

I need to thank the volunteers, Danji, Kathy, Joanna, Will, Thomas, Abbie, Barry & Jim who made this work possible and who took to the work with such great enthusiasm and interest.

It wasn't all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.

It wasn’t all hard work! Yhe group at the top of the Bealach na Bà.


From a House to a Forest

I am the National Register Archaeologist for Minnesota, and I work in the Heritage Preservation Department of the Minnesota Historical Society.  I really enjoy my job, and working with the National Register of Historic Places program. It is a great feeling to help list an archaeological site or district in the NRHP. It doesn’t guarantee protection, but it helps, because it is an official recognition that this is an important place, and it is a record that will last after I and the current land managers for the site are long gone. In this sense, the NRHP listing is a guide for future generations, that will help make sure it is remembered. Another part of my job is Public Archaeology, and I’m currently working on a report of a 10-year project, on a site that was among the first National Register listings in Minnesota.

Petaga Point (21ML11) is an important site within the Kathio National Historic Landmark District, which was designated because of the ancestry of the Dakota nation here, and the contact with them by French explorers Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Luth in 1679, and Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. The site is located in Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, and my friend Jim Cummings (Park Naturalist and archaeologist) and I had been curious for years about a report from the 1960s on semi-subterranean houses that were thought to be about 1,000 years old – long before the French contact but likely related to the Dakota. In 2006, we suspected we had found one of the houses. It was an oval shaped depression in the ground, like what was described in the 1960s in a grassy field, but now the area is a restored pine forest in the state park. We decided to investigate by digging one 1×1 meter unit per year, during the Kathio Archaeology Day public event. Over the decade, we found a remnant of the house, amid disturbance from the 1960s excavations. By luck, we hit an intact strip of ground that they left between two large excavation blocks (a baulk about 40 cm wide). We followed this, and carefully recovered a thin layer of charcoal from each unit. This was a remnant of the burned house. Radiocarbon dates from our dig and curated samples from the 1960s yielded a surprise – the house is not 1,000 years old. It dates to somewhere around the late 1600s to early 1700s, after the French contact but within the time that the Dakota were still resident near Mille Lacs lake.

Excavating a burned house in Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

Excavating a burned house in Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

Archaeobotanical analysis by Seppo Valppu revealed many more surprises. There were many charred needles of white and red pine, and charcoal of spruce, balsam fir and birch. These were likely materials used in the construction of the house, and therefore provide a glimpse of the forest cover around that time. And there were many charred seeds. Lots of these were from food – blueberries, raspberries, pin cherries, elderberries, bunchberries and hawthorn, along with Chenopodium (goosefoot). These all point to the mid-summer months. Surprisingly, there was no wild rice, which was widely used by the Dakota, but that is not available until late summer. And there were many plants of unknown function, that may have been used as medicines or for other purposes.

Pin cherry pits from the burn layer.

Pin cherry pits from the burn layer.

As we write our report, we feel that the best use for the archaeobotanical data is to go to the elders of Minnesota’s Dakota communities, to use as they wish. It is gratifying to see such a benefit from environmental archaeology, from one of the state’s most significant sites. Kathio Archaeology Day, and the 10th year of our project, is September 26, 2015.

Day of Archaeology blog – a view from rural Yorkshire

The Day of Archaeology is a chance for me to talk about real life archaeology as an historic environment adviser in England. I’ve read the various Day of Archaeology blogs with interest over the past few years and I’ve seen exciting blogs of jungle excavation, lab work, and contract archaeology on building sites (my life for 10 years before I started my current role) but I haven’t seen much about the life of a rural historic environment adviser in the green hills of Yorkshire so here goes…
I work for Natural England, which is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. We look after nature conservation (particularly SSSIs) and landscape – and cultural landscapes include archaeology and historic buildings. I’m based in Yorkshire and I advise on 5 counties worth of rural archaeological sites in farmland but have colleagues across the country. I bet you thought Historic England did all that!

Morning: I have some sites that I want to discuss with colleagues so instead of working from home on my laptop, I am going into our Natural England offices in Leeds. I work in a large mixed office where most of the staff has an ecology background; however they have made me very welcome – although they do tend to assume that I know everything about the entire history of human civilization and can answer at the drop of a hat. The reality is that I have a BSc in Archaeology (focusing on European prehistory and environmental archaeology) and an MA in Archaeology & Heritage Management including project management, buildings archaeology, landscape archaeology and cultural resource management. However in my work I have to be a generalist and do a little bit of everything, mainly advising farmers on how to manage the archaeology that they have on their land, as well as arranging projects to help them improve the condition of degraded monuments. Originally I was a city girl but I’ve learnt more about farming in the last 5 years working in rural areas.

I really enjoy this work. It feels very constructive to improve the condition of neglected sites rather than just dig them up and record them so that they can be built on. Some of my past sites are quite spectacular like the stabilization and conservation of Frith Hall.

My favourites are the little sites though. Places such as Oxygrain’s packhorse bridge –
few people will ever see this tiny scheduled monument in a moorland landscape other than from the nearby road bridge. It was collapsing and on the At Risk Register but since we grant aided its sensitive repair I know that it will stand for another few hundred years. Along with writing guidance and giving general advice I design several projects each year (some of which run for 2 or 3 years), mostly managed by architects or archaeologists on site. Once set up each requires periodic input to keep them running smoothly. It’s like spinning plates, giving each one the right attention at the right time.

I also enjoy getting out and about talking to farmers and landowners – I have to be able to inspire and enthuse them about archaeology and the historic environment if I want them to undertake projects as all our schemes are voluntary. Sometimes a tiny change in land management such as planting a grass strip around a barrow can make a massive difference to whether archaeology deteriorates from ongoing ploughing or is preserved for future generations to enjoy. Some farmers ‘get’ archaeology right from the start, others need persuading, but they usually come around in the end.
In my job I get a LOT of e-mail which is considerably less enjoyable than getting out and about. It takes me 2 hours or so to work through this. I also update my diary with today’s site visit so my boss knows where I will be (for safety). We work a lot on trust but he could call and check up on me at any point and he will also be checking my diary to see what location I am working in. After the e-mail, there’s time for a quick lunch before I head out.

Today I am going on a visit to a farm which is considering entering an agri-environment scheme. These are schemes where farmers agree to farm their land in ways that are sympathetic to wildlife and habitats, don’t cause water pollution, are friendly to school visits – and most relevant to me – good for the historic environment and landscape too! This farm is a former parkland, one of the more complex sites I work on, so this will be a joint visit with ecologist colleague, Fiona.. If I was going out alone I would phone a ‘buddy’ with a finish time when they need to check up on me as working alone in remote locations with no mobile phone signal can be dangerous, but today we’re fine as a pair. I borrow the work camera and handheld GPS to take out with me in case we need to map new features but mainly we want to talk to the farmer about their plans for the land, the historic and natural features that they already know about and how to manage them, and whether they are interested in joining an agri-environment scheme.

After a quick chat (with cup of tea) and a look at some plans in the farmer’s kitchen we head out in his Land Rover. We’ll hike once we are closer to the fields. Fiona is very excited about the wood pasture in the parkland (an area of mixed grassland and trees which is grazed) which could be habitat for rare insects and bats – she checks the trees for signs of droppings that could be a roost. I am looking at boundaries such as iron railings and estate walls, structures, and views and vistas to see what the potential is for restoring some of the original design. I know from old photos and talking to the farmer that this parkland used to have an avenue which has lost a lot of trees through age and disease – replanting this in the old location would be a great ways of enhancing the historic feel of the parkland as well as creating good habitat (although we might have to wait 100 years or so for the trees to get big enough for that!). The farmer is concerned that his cattle might damage the trees when planted so we discuss different types of tree guards to protect them or possibly moving the cattle to another field and grazing this one with sheep instead. It’s not as glamourous as the building work but it’s all important.

Evening: I’ve dropped off Fiona, returned the hire car and got a lift back to my house from the hire company so now I log on quickly to my laptop. I need to download the camera shots and write up some notes from today’s visit. It’s been a long day (it’s about half 5 now but I need to work past 6 to make my full hours) but I check my diary too in case I have anything to prep for Monday. Luckily there are no visits just an office based meeting where I have already made notes on the agenda so there’s no more work to do on that. Eventually it’s time to log off and pack everything away securely.

Night: I draw a really strong line between my work life and my home life – I find it the best way not to burn out. If archaeology was not my job it would be my hobby – but it is my job and so tonight I’m going out with friends. I have a much better social life than when I was a field archaeologist (less away work, more time for hobbies, family and friends) but I wouldn’t swap those times either. I think I needed to learn and experience field archaeology before I could be effective in a role like this.

Love in the Time of Visitor Studies

Love between strangers takes only a few seconds and can last a whole life.”  Simon Van Booy (the greatest exponent of contemporary romanticism in the World) probably did not write this with tourists and archaeological sites on his mind – but to me, it suits the situation just perfectly!

Quite often, tourists approach archaeology as something alien or indecipherable and they find it really hard to actually enjoy it. But if a site or a series of artifacts are presented in a way that live up to their expectations, visitors might change their attitude towards cultural sites forever.

What I do as a job is to find out what makes this potential long-lasting love actually bloom bright and wild as soon as the visitors walk into the archaeological site of Herculaneum.


A view of the archaeological site of Herculaneum

 I have no bow and heart-shaped arrows as weapons but just a pen, a bunch of questionnaires and a lot of patience: today I am going to interview at least 40 tourists who might not be as enthusiastic about answering my questions as I am asking them.

I am an Audience Development Consultant for the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) a collaborative project between the Packard Humanities Institute and the Soprintendenza (Italian local authority managing the site), supported by the British School at Rome that in the past 10 years has sought to address some of the most pressing threats to the survival of the site.

More and more museums and archaeological sites in Europe are doing what it takes to make visitors want to come and feel welcome and make sure they’re eager to return. Herculaneum is determined to make visitors ‘fall in love’ with its archaeology; and HCP is there to facilitate this process.

But, first things first: who the hell are these people coming and going from the site every day?! In order to answer this compelling question, an Audience Development Program was set up in early 2013.

The initiative I am personally contributing to is a 12-month campaign of questionnaires for independent visitors. The research, which is the first of its kind in Italy, aims to cluster tourists to Herculaneum under different profiles, in order to eventually produce targeted outreach and interpretation campaigns. Together with other shorter studies (targeting non-visitors, organized tours, schools and the local community) the program itself aspires to develop and nurture a relationship between the archaeological site, the local authority managing it and the public over the long term.

What my team does in practice are face-to-face interviews with tourists to the site at the end of their visit. We designed a questionnaire in order to gain information about their type of holiday and the reasons why they decided to come to Herculaneum. We also collect personal impressions, criticism and suggestions. Anything is welcome, as far as it helps us improving the visitor experience onsite.


Me and one of the visitor-interviewee in Herculaneum

I enjoy the work on the field and the whole experience of collecting data as it gives me an everyday different perspective on the site. When you work with archaeology, you are quite likely to forget that an archaeological site or a museum are also places where people come just to have a good time and maybe learn something new.

Visitor studies are then an essential tool not just to center the interpretation and outreach strategy, but also to keep the archaeology and the institution relevant to current societies and future-oriented.

You always need new tips to keep the spark alive!

The business (school) of archaeology

Ian's office at UCS in Ipswich

Ian’s office at UCS in Ipswich

Unsurprisingly in University Business Schools we spend a lot of time thinking about the management and operations of organisations and the way people work.  I think we’re rather lucky at UCS because we have embedded heritage and archaeology in the business school too (it always helps if you are in charge, which I am!).  So, I’m spending today at my desk overlooking the historic Ipswich waterfront thinking about the first year of delivery of our Foundation Degree in Management for the Heritage Sector which has just ended, how the students have performed in it, and how we continue to develop the content for the course.  It has been interesting to talk to students who are seeing archaeology and heritage in a whole new way when considered from a management and business point of view: it is no longer humps and bumps in the ground, or objects behind a glass case, but a resource, or a way of working, or a product, or a service.  The intrinsic knowledge of the historic value of the thing is not forgotten, but is just one factor in a range of ways we can approach and analyse what is going on in, on, to or around it in a business sense.

Heritage Futures

Doing the corporate thing – ‘managing’ archaeology and heritage in the University.

I’m also looking at the role which archaeology and heritage can play more widely in the University as it moves into its new strategic plan period.  The academic team has therefore prepared a position paper on achievements to date and future opportunities, and I am still delighted and surprised at how we are managing to weave in the potential of archaeology to so many things which the institution does (it’s a not very subtle take over!).  Quite apart from the potential of a dig site next to our building which we will eventually construct something on as we develop the campus, we’ve worked with our computer games design course team to make a game for West Stow Anglo Saxon Village, and their students are now looking at the potential for specialism in “heritage gaming”; colleagues in arts and humanities hosted a conference on board games which featured archaeological finds; we’re about to sit down with the dementia research unit in the science department to look at using museum objects in health settings locally; and our events and tourism students who may normally be more comfortable studying theme parks and music festivals have been looking at developing archaeological sites for visitors and historic re-enactments.  The list goes on and on, proving a) that archaeology is fascinating and fun for everyone, and b) in educational terms, the subject and its learning objects can be deployed in conjunction with almost any other subject to create interesting and innovative educational experiences.

Why Should Archaeology be of Interest to Politicians?

Of course, most archaeologists will know exactly why they feel archaeology should be of interest to politicians: it provides vital information about human life in the past, in all of its fascinating complexity. This information in turn entertains and enriches us, giving a sense of perspective and depth to modern life, helping us to see and understand where we have all come from and the skills, struggles and mistakes it has taken to get the human species this far.

But why should any of this be of any interest to those who are elected to represent the populace in the political arena? By its very nature, the job of an elected politician is to represent people’s interests, and there are many, many pressing interests which they are asked to represent. Some of these are local – planning disputes, resolving local conflicts, campaigning for greater resources for healthcare, childcare, schools, roads and rubbish collection. Other interests are wider and more strategic – representing their party’s interests, the slow grind of arguing for and implementing policy and, inevitably, doing things that might help them get elected the next time around too.

I work for the Northern Ireland Assembly as Research Officer for culture and heritage. I see the intensely competing claims on the time of our local MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) first hand, and I often wonder if and how archaeology is of any relevance to them. I am an archaeologist by background; having spent time in commercial archaeology, then carrying out academic research in Britain, Ireland and in the Middle East, and then teaching, I found myself at the Council for British Archaeology with its headquarters in York. It was there that I first began to understand the crucial interface that exists between politicians and organisations like the CBA, and the crucial nature of the work that they do in representing and explaining the significance of archaeology at every twist and turn of legislative, policy or fiscal change to the Ministers and MPs who make significant decisions.

Having moved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, I now support statutory committees by providing them with (hopefully) informative, objective papers and presentations on topics within my brief. I also support individual MLAs who often request research to support either their own internal party discussions, or sometimes constituency business. Starting here in 2010, I suddenly had to think about not just archaeology but also things like arts policy, sport, public libraries, and languages. What funding do each of these sub-topics get within the over-arching remit of ‘culture’? How are the policies pursued here different to the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, or elsewhere in the EU? What could be tried here in Northern Ireland that has worked elsewhere? Is there evidence of problems within particular policy areas?

These are the kinds of issues which come up regularly, but I am often surprised by how often archaeology and heritage come forward as important issues for MLAs. I have been asked, for example, for papers on the scale of undeposited archaeological archives from commercial projects, the role of cultural rights within museums, differences between the planning policies for the historic environment in each of the jurisdictions of the UK, metal detecting, the restoration of historic canals, and the quantity of Irish artefacts held outside Ireland. All of this work involves careful liaison with staff in the relevant departments here (the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of the Environment), but also in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London, and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Dublin. It also involves talking to those who are often the real experts on these topics: those working in the field, in NGOs and in voluntary organisations. What surprises me further about this work is that the relevance or legitimacy of archaeology alongside all of the other political issues which are around at any particular moment is rarely questioned. Some of the anxieties which I know that archaeological organisations can sometimes feel, like how to argue for resources and parliamentary time for archaeology in the midst of seemingly more urgent business, are almost never real issues for politicians. I have never heard it said that archaeology and heritage are less deserving of discussion or consideration than schools, hospitals or crime. Of course, there are different views on how such issues are to be funded or addressed, but heritage is recognised as being fundamentally important in contributing to community identity (something of real significance in Northern Ireland), but also as an economic driver for tourism and regeneration.

So today I am working on a paper which examines the social impact of heritage: what role, for example, do museums, the historic environment, and community archaeology play in contributing to quality of life, or to alleviating social exclusion? There are lively debates around all of these issues and plenty of evaluations, strategies and assessments to plough through. I will be speaking to National Museums Northern Ireland, to the Northern Ireland Museums Council, to academics at the University of Ulster and, of course, doing plenty of reading, reading and more reading. The Assembly is in recess now so it’s a good time to tackle a complex topic and try to get to the bottom of it before the MLAs return to the Assembly in September.

29th: A sunny summer day in Portugal.

At this time of the year there’s plenty of digs going on; it’s the time of school vacations, and many projects re-start their yearly digs. There’s also good weather for construction, so more archaeological sites appear throughout the country!
Well, I believe there’s a lot to be said about the days of doing Archaeology here in Portugal.
You may think not, since no one else here seems to be sharing what they did on the 29th…
And maybe that’s the biggest indicator, and one of my biggest fears concerning the state of our archaeological science: the lack of outreach. With so many reasons that can be found to justify the un-development of our heritage resources, is any justification valid enough to not do all we can to make it accessible?
It’s not an easy situation. And the current crisis will not help it get better in the near future. The good news is that slowly we are becoming more pro-active, creating more activities, communicating more, and in time ( and if our heritage survives well until then), we will have great sites telling great stories, giving visitors and communities a great experience and opportunity to reconnect with their past, and to evaluate their present and inspire their future with it.

As an archaeologist, I long for the field work, but these days I rarely go digging. Unfortunately, field work here means mostly going to a construction site somewhere and do “emergency archaeology”. Then most of those sites go back to oblivion, some are destroyed, and the reports and materials are all that is left for someday someone to read.
I still feel tormented by the fact that, after you dig a site, and discover so much about it, that information is going to only a few people, and most of the sites are left to be destroyed or abandoned.
So these days I work mostly at heritage management and science communication.
Hence, for me, the 29th was passed half in the office, answering e-mails and preparing some activities for children, and the other half at a national news agency preparing articles about science.
Maybe nothing particularly archaeologically special or surprising happened in front of me that day, but still, those are the small efforts and steps that archaeologists also have to take in order to make their science and activity reach further, to help spread the passion we have for what we do so that more people see the importance that our past has in our present and future.

Leonor Medeiros