historian

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.

 

A visit behind the wire at Caerwent Military Base

Hello! My name is Ffion Reynolds and I’m the Council of British Archaeology’s Community Archaeologist – placed at Cadw, which is the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. My post is part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and you can find out more about it here.

Usually, I’m a Neolithic specialist; working with the Council for British Archaeology and Cadw, however, I find myself travelling from one period to another. One minute, I’m exploring community projects about Neolithic archaeology; the next I’m organising medieval open days for the Festival of British Archaeology.

My activities this weekend will take me even further from my period of specialism, as I take 160 visitors to a twentieth-century military base, otherwise known as the Caerwent Training Area. Accompanying me and sharing their knowledge on the tour will be Jonathan Berry (Regional Inspector of South-east Wales), Medwyn Parry (Royal Commission Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales) and Don Waring (Caerwent Historian). This will take place on Sunday the 31st of July as part of the Festival of British Archaeology: the last day of the festival for this year.

As this is the Day of Archaeology, I thought I’d flag it up here, as it would be great to share this experience with you over the weekend – especially since military sites are pretty strange and interesting places.

Caerwent Military Base is a huge site, the location of a former propellant factory and munitions dump. Within the wire (or the boundaries of the MOD Training Area) there are 414 original buildings, built and used between 1938 and 1942. Later developments include the rocket manufacturing plant, within the former Royal Naval Propellant Factory; and 64 American magazines – places in which ammunition was stored. In addition, there are 75 air raid shelters, and most are still intact.

Since the departure of the Americans in 1993, the site has become a troop training area, as well as an explosives demolition practice area, which is limited to a few structures. These days, a number of buildings are used by visiting troops for training purposes, and also by civilian companies as storage.

Recently twentieth century military sites have been recognised as an important element of our heritage and, as such, we’re hoping to set up more community projects at the site….

…so I’ll be back on Sunday with more about how the tour went!

Prehistory by phone and e-mail

Hello! I’m Sue Greaney, and I work for English Heritage as a Senior Properties Historian. A historian, I hear you gasp? I thought this was a place for archaeologists? Fear not, I am an archaeologist – my job title isn’t particularly accurate as its archaeology and prehistory that are my specialist subjects!

Today is an office day in Swindon. Not huge amounts of digging in my life, unfortunately, unless you count digging in archives, libraries and my own computer filing system. My day also doesn’t have any meetings or scheduled site visits in it, so that is a bonus – I’ll be catching up on quite a few different pieces of work, so you’ll get an idea of the wide range of things I do.

Me at my desk.

The major project that I’m currently working on is the new visitor centre that we are planning for Stonehenge. I’m the archaeologist advising on the content of the new exhibition and the new interpretation for our thousands of visitors. It’s a really important project and most days I have to pinch myself that I get to work on it. I work closely with a small project team dedicated to the interpretation, learning and outreach elements of the project.

First thing I uploaded photographs from a field visit to Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, Scotland last week and put them on our SharePoint site. Not a usual port of call as by its very nature working for English Heritage usually involves England! But Kilmartin House Museum is renowned as a prehistoric museum, and the landscape has been fully interpreted and designed for visitors to explore. It even has two podcasts. We went to see the new European funded interpretation scheme in the area, to meet the museum curator. It’s not a dissimilar approach to the one we’ll be taking at Stonehenge– we want to equip people in our visitor centre to understand Stonehenge, but also the various monuments and features they’ll see in the landscape, and also encourage them to get out and explore the rest of the World Heritage Site.

Some of the new interpretation at Kilmartin Glen

A series of phone calls followed. Talked to an interpretation colleague about the reconstructed Neolithic houses that we’re planning for the external gallery at the visitor centre, arrangements for a site visit to Stonehenge next week and our temporary exhibition programme. Talked to a scientist colleague of mine down at Fort Cumberland about some externally commissioned research. Talked to a visitor operations colleague at Stonehenge about the Neolithic houses. You wouldn’t believe what a busy summer they’re having! Couple of e-mails sent to Stonehenge team members and archives staff at our National Monuments Record.

Tea break. Right, onto some proper work. The rest of the morning was spent doing some research that will support the contents of our display cases in the visitor centre exhibition. This involved writing up a paper for discussion at a meeting next week, using our own internal (and rather wonderful) webGIS, the Pastscape website (we have our own internal databases behind this, but Pastscape works so well I use it a lot) and the fantastic Wiltshire Heritage Museum collections database. I can’t tell you much about what’s actually going into the cases, as it wouldn’t be a surprise when you all come and see the new visitor centre when it opens in 2013! Suffice to say that I spent the rest of the morning and a few hours after lunch looking at lovely prehistoric objects and reading antiquarian and 20th century archaeology accounts of their discoveries.

After sending off this and another paper to the Stonehenge interpretation officer and curator, I sent confirmation to a freelance researcher that we were taking him on for a small piece of synthesis/writing work.

Ok, time to clear some of my e-mail inbox. I’ve been so busy this week that several things have been neglected for quite a few days. First, I arranged a meeting date with colleagues in September to review the next stages of the Stonehenge scanning project. Next, I responded to a query from the curator at Salisbury Museum about where the late Paul Ashbee’s archive is residing. I downloaded some mapping tiles that I need to create a map which will go on an interpretation panel at Kingston Russell Stone Circle, one of our small free properties down in Dorset. When I’m not thinking about Stonehenge I usually pick up a few interpretation projects at our free properties.

Kingston Russell stone circle, Dorset

And then the most important e-mail of the day – anyone up for the pub? Well, it is a Friday! Cue random exchange of e-mails from my friends at work.

Next I respond to request from BBC Learning for an EH expert on Vikings. Not sure if we have one of those! And reply with photographs to a colleague of mine in York who is working on the EH Coastal Risk Assessment and wanted some information about cliff erosion near one of our guardianship properties at Halangy Down on the Isles of Scilly. This is somewhere I did some research and interpretation a couple of years ago.

Me at Halangy Porth beach, Isles of Scilly, a few years ago

Well, there ends the Day of Archaeology. Now to add the blog post! Let’s do this again next year.

Day of a dabbler

I’ve been lucky enough to have been in Rome the last 6 months at the British School in Rome doing some post-ex work for the Kent-Berlin Ostia dig I’m involved with, and tying off some loose ends for it’s interim report. I’ve also been doing my own research which is looking at urban space in late Roman Italy and have given a few papers. I’m trained as an historian, so I’m a dabbler when it comes to archaeology, but it’s a crucial part of my work. I’ve excavated many times, can spot a context and backfilled in a thunderstorm, but AutoCad and such things leave me cold and a tiny bit confused.

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m leaving Rome on Monday and the library here is all but closed so today hasn’t been typical, but I’ll regale you anyway. The BSR as a research institute is pretty, well, institutional, but in the nicest possible way. Bells ring for breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times and cleaners come to clean your room every other day. Toilets and showers are communal so that’s a bit like being in the field, but with hot water. This is a wonderful place, full of inspiring people, of which I’ve met many over the past few months, and is a perfect environment to research.

My typical day would involve a trip to the Ostia archives in the morning via a Rome rush hour, and the afternoon in the amazing library here with some gelato and coffee at convenient intervals. Today, however, I first went to the library, dodging the librarians stock checking, and took notes from and photographed part of a book I needed for my Italy project, in this case the late antique religious topography of Cosa. I did a couple of other things there and then the library closed and I have spent the rest of the day sorting through my images with the test match in the background. England are collapsing – good to see some things never change.

 

Love at first site …. a day in the life of me

Hello All,

I’m Kelly and I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be an archaeologist and after two degrees and several years in the field, I can say that I now have the privilege of working at L-P : Archaeology who are assisting in the running of this FAB project! At L- P  I get to do a little bit of everything which other units just don’t allow and if you continue reading you’ll get a little glimpse of how I mean everything.

10:30am: Well my day started off with a horrid shock when I found we’d run out of coffee, never a good thing in our office and so set about the very important task of ordering some more for myself and the other thirsty L-P bods.

Midday: After opening our post and doing a bit of express accounts admin and checking messages and emails etc. etc. I set about a day issuing quotations for new work, contacting county archaeologists about sites we have on and where to position trenches etc. and phoning some of our clients to give them updates on where projects stand. All of these tasks are associated with the business side of working in commercial archaeology, it’s imperative that we build relations with valued clients and this is really what is the bread and butter of the job.

13:30pm: My afternoon however has picked up and has consisted of research of Roman roads in Hampshire, Bronze age settlements in Surrey, 19th century stucco buildings in West London and then a period of georeferencing maps in ArcGIS for several map regression exercises. Furthermore I have been entering HER data provided by an un-named county HER department into GIS as unfortunately they still send us photocopies of their card system. In an ideal world it would be lovely if councils countrywide could all be on the same page about the dissemination of archaeological information. I think everyone would have a much higher opinion and a greater understanding of commercial archaeology in the UK if archaeology becomes more accessible to use and interact with. That’s just one reason why this Day of Archaeology is such a good idea. Let’s face it we have the best job in the world so we should let everyone know about it.

15:00 pm: Now I am arranging my travel across southern England for next week for several site survey visits, meetings with clients and trips to county archives.

In other exciting news we have just updated our copy of AutoCAD and I fully intend having a play around with that at the end of the day. I think I’ll CAD the office in 3D if our total station is charged up and if I get a spare half hour. I am not concerned in the slightest that this is my idea of having fun (or should I be… :-/ ).

So really, to some up, this is a typical day of me multi-tasking. Today its multi-tasking in the office, beverage supplier, accountant, secretary, consultant, marketer,  researcher, trench placer, GISer, historian, archaeologist and report writer. However, I am also a seasoned digger (or at least I was before the recession decimated field archaeology) and am also training myself up in building recording and this is something I really want to pursue.

Versatility is the key to this game and I know that I am incredibly lucky to do what I do with the great people at L – P! Now if you don’t mind I haven’t even had time for lunch so I’ll be off ….

Seeing with archaeological eyes

2.30 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

4.00 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

6.00 am. Tell toddler to go back to sleep. Change diapers just in case. Fed the cat… or was that the baby? Woops, put diapers on the cat.

8.00 am. Go to work.

Having a baby and a toddler has completely changed our lives. It’s also changed the material culture of our house. Diapers! Who knew they came in so many different varieties? What is common to all of them is that they are branded. Here an Elmo, there a Big Bird, woops, here’s a Dora and Diego… These are the things I notice in the early morning, as I sing ‘Morningtown Ride‘ for the umpteenth time. Does the branding go with age? Is there a gender difference? In the store, do Elmos get better shelf space than Oscars? There’s certainly a spatial component within our house…

Archaeology isn’t just a job, it’s a way of seeing the world.  You start to look for patterns, you start to see patterns, in places where others see nothing at all. You wonder why is it that *this* building faces *that* way, when the rest of the street seems to be on a different alignment. You stand in forest clearings and notice the presence of lilac bushes, indicating an abandoned farmhouse. It’s a bit like poker – the landscape, the social environment, all have little tells, and we’re trained to see ’em.

I’m now the first – and only – archaeologist in my department at my University. We’ve got a long hallway on the top floor of the building. There’s no common area (if you don’t count the stair landing). The layout of the department reflects the way that historians have often traditionally worked – in isolation. The contrast with the archaeology department at Reading (where I did my PhD work) is striking. There, all of the offices and work spaces are arranged around a communal atrium. From one office door you can see pretty much anyone else’s door, and the workrooms – and the doors have windows in them.

Atrium in the Reading University Archaeology Department

I’m still new here at Carleton. There are other archaeologists squirreled away in other departments, somewhere on this vast sprawling campus. I really must make contact, some day.

On the other hand, being the only archaeologist amongst the historians means that my archaeological eyes are seeing things they wouldn’t otherwise see, which has its benefits! One of which is a project I’m working on this morning, ‘HeritageCrowd’, a project using the Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform to solicit memories and knowledge of the historic landscape. It’s a crowd-sourced map of the tangible and intangible memories and erasures in this region. Of course, the map is as wide as the world, so if anyone else wanted to use it in their own neck of the woods, there’s no reason they couldn’t – please check it out!  This project is an outcome of the great conversations I’ve been having with the oral history folks and public history folks here at Carleton.

My student assistants and I were to go out to the ruins of the Ottawa Electric Company, (Google map pic) but it looks like we’ll have to reschedule. In which case, I guess I’ll spend the rest of my day planning my syllabi for next year’s courses: Digital Antiquity; The Historian’s Craft; and Augmented Reality & Public History.

 

HeritageCrowd.org Screenshot