Picking up the pieces

I’m a Project Archaeologist and one of the roles of a Project Archaeologist is to pick up the pieces when a colleague has to abandon a project.

For the last decade I have been acting as Project Archaeologist for the Irish Concrete Federation which represents the Irish Concrete and quarrying industry. The role of the Project Archaeologist is to manage the archaeological process on behalf of a client at all stages of the development process. Generally the function of the Project Archaeologist is to advise the client on all aspects of the potential cultural heritage impacts of a project from design stage, through site identification and acquisition, the planning process, environmental impact assessment, planning conditions, excavation, post excavation and publication. In Ireland the functions of the Project Archaeologist are often formally stated in a Code of Practice agreed between a development organisation and the State. Codes of Practice have been agreed with a number of organisations such as the National Roads Authority, the Railway Procurement Agency, and Bord Gais Eireann.

I like to think of the role of Project Archaeologist being similar to a film producer. The Project Archaeologist doesn’t direct the excavation but they are responsible for what comes before the excavation and for a lot of what comes after it. Like a film producer the Project Archaeologist can also be left to pick up the pieces if the Director can’t finish the project.

ICF Code of Practice

ICF Code of Practice

This year on my Day of Archaeology I’m driving to Co. Galway to collect the excavation archive from a colleague who is giving up archaeology and emigrating. Things were very different in 2008 when Michael, the man I am traveling to meet, won the contract to excavate the medieval Moated Site at Clonmelsh, Co. Carlow through competitive tender. The site at Clonmelsh was part of the manor of Grangeforth, which belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Baltinglass that was founded by the King of Leinster Dermot Mac Murrough. The site had to be preserved by record in advance of a quarry extension, and all that remains of the site today is the excavation record which consists of the context and sample sheets, site notebooks, drawings, finds and samples.


Clonmelsh under excavation 2008

Clonmelsh under excavation in 2008

In 2008, at the end of the Celtic Tiger boom, there were over a thousand licensed excavations carried out in Ireland and this was already a considerable reduction on previous years. But with the subsequent collapse of the Irish economy the number of archaeological investigations has been reducing each year and many consultancies like Michael’s have failed. The ultimate objective of any archaeological excavation is to produce a published report and the failure of his consultancy placed this process in doubt. With the support of the developer I worked with Michael and encouraged him to submit a proposal to the developer for the continuation of the post-excavation project. The developer agreed to fund the work and a certain amount of progress was made. But the situation in Ireland has continued to deteriorate and Michael has found it impossible to support his family. As a result he has been forced to quit archaeology, put his house on the market, sell his furniture and his car, and take his children out of school and emigrate in search of a sustainable future. It’s sad to see a colleague forced to abandon their career and  leave their home and start again from scratch. I wish Michael well for the future. I’m afraid he is not the first Irish archaeologist forced to emigrate and he probably won’t be the last, as tens of thousands of other Irish people have been forced to leave in recent years. Now I’m left with the excavation archive wondering what to do next.


Clonmelsh site plan

Clonmelsh site plan

I’m writing about this because it is sadly one of my main tasks this week but also because it represents the current reality of archaeology in Ireland. Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication. The National Museum has been working to acquire the finds and archives generated by consultancies during the boom so the data won’t be lost but the task is monumental, and is being carried out at a time of reducing staff and resources. Most of this material will simply remain stored away for years to come. I’m reasonably familiar with the site at Clonmelsh so, with the support of the developer, I’m going to have a go at finishing the report, but  the data from so many other sites may never see the light of day.

I regularly write about archaeology and you read more of my blogs here.

Day of Archaeology in Macedonia 3

We already sent our documentary and our letter of participation. Our third post is about underwater archaeology and making documentaries for archaeological sites.

Some of our colleagues are doing underwater archaeology, so in the following video you can see their working day, little bit different of  ours working days on the field 🙂

NGO Archaeologica together with MA Goran Sanev and Michail Stojanovski, archaeologists from Museum of Macedonia made film about the archaeological site Golemo Gradiste – Konjuh in Macedonia. Every year this site is researched by international team of archaeologists from Museum of Macedonia and Ms. Carolyn S. Snively from Gettysburg College, USA and hers students. The film is in post production and it will be presented in about few months.

This is how we celebrated The Day of Archaeology 2012. See you next year with more informations and new archaeological findings. Congratulations about the Day of Archaeology.

NGO Archaeologica – Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

Loot Busters

What can we do about looting? Lots of people like to theorise, but I tend to prefer to be more practical.
I used to work on field projects, trying to prevent looting of archaeological sites on the ground. Partly because one project in Central Asia went very wrong – several archaeologists died, I was treated for PTSD – and partly because I realised that it was futile to try to police every square inch of land, often in war zones, I decided to try another approach.
Rather than trying to stop looting often done by poor people desperate to feed their families, I decided to try to identify the material and “burn” it at the art market, in effect prevent it from being fenced. My theory is that most (not all) art dealers and collectors are basically scrupulous people, who want to be able to collect but do not support looting.
So I came up with a very simple solution – to create a web site where all the material reported stolen could be listed and therefore identified. It sounds obvious, but no-one has done it before.  Rather than giving the site a long academic name I went for the catchier “Loot Busters” (and yes, it has been hard to resist adding the Ghostbusters theme tune to the web site):
Does it work? Surprisingly, yes. And most dealers are thrilled with the project, as it means they can identify the dodgy pieces. (Okay, a few are not happy with it). I keep thinking that, for example, Nazi loot has mostly been found by now, but a few weeks ago whilst going through the database of material stolen from Poland I noticed an 18th century piece which I happened to know was in a collection in London. Ditto a Venetian painting reported stolen by the Italians I’d seen with a London art dealer. And we’ve even found some antiquities!
There are various databases already of looted art, but most concentrate on one area – for example the exemplary Turkish Ministry of Culture web site which lists stolen Turkish material – or are hard to use. The Interpol Database only makes a couple of hundred of recently stolen items available to the public. The Art Loss Register makes no material available to unregistered users, and charges a great deal for searches – an academic wanting to look up a piece they spotted somewhere and think it stolen is unlikely to pay to check …  The Carabinieri Database is unwieldy, with very hard to use search parameters and more often than not returns this message:
These days there seem to the thousands of people working on cultural property, and dozens of conferences a year. Honestly, I don’t go to any of them – I hate theorising, and prefer practical projects.
I also don’t like the “gotcha” attitude of a lot of people who theorise about looting, so when Loot Busters find a looted piece we tell both the representative of the country from which it was stolen and whoever has it (dealer, collector or museum), so that they can sort it out – we also have a policy of confidentiality, so we can’t boast about our successes … sometimes frustrating, but keeping a low profile and letting whoever is returning the item take the credit works better in the long term.
This week I’ve been busy updating the web site, so it’s all sitting at the computer loading photos and typing … Plus we should send out another newsletter soon, so I’ll be working on that this week-end.
Most archaeologists’ main concern when it come to looting is Syria at the moment. We keep hearing reports of looting, but little precise information about pieces looted. We’ve posted photos of material that has been reported missing. Damascus Museum seems to be untouched, thank goodness, but Homs, Hama and Apamea have suffered badly. I found photos of the Hama and Apamea Museums on a web site, and the photographer, Dick Osseman, has kindly allowed us to re-post them.
This mosaic from Hama Museum is extraordinary, and pretty unique in showing women playing musical instruments – so it should be pretty easy to identify if it appears on the art market:
I’ve also been busy this week re-posting images from the Carabinieri Database of material stolen from Italy. It’s going a little slowly as I am trying to sort the material as I go into categories, and then sometimes I break them down further, but the material I’ve added can be accessed through the index here (lots more coming soon):
Some of the stolen material is so generic I doubt it will ever be possible to identify it (other material I wonder why anyone bothered to steal it, as the financial value probably won’t justify the crime). Other pieces, such as the mosaic above, is extraordinary – I was at a conference in Copenhagen in early May and several of the archaeologists were amazed at some of the stolen material, which they didn’t know about.
This Roman relief depicting a theatrical performance on the upper level and a horse race in a Circus below is pretty unique and would be easy to identify on the art market (see:
I try to make people aware of the more important pieces, so I often beg David Meadows to blog about pieces on his fabulous blog Rogue Classicism, which is on every archaeologist and Classicist’s must-read list. I’m hoping that he’ll blog this relief soon, just as he blogged this stolen Afghan glass vessel with a relief depiction of the Pharos of Alexandria (here):
I tend to downplay the excitement of dealing with looting and looted antiquities – it ain’t nothing like Lara Croft – because most of it is research rather than swinging from vines. One of the things I do love is going through the material and coming across items I probably would have missed, or which bear witness to history. This gold fibula, for example, can be very precisely dated to AD 306-7 by it’s inscription, and was owned by a supporter of Constantine in the years before he became the sole ruler of the empire (
This week has been quiet, just sitting at a computer, loading up information. Sometimes things are more exciting, for example when we find a looted item and trying amicably negotiate its return. I know collectors come in for a lot of criticism for buying looted antiquities, as do auction houses and dealers for selling them, but my experience has been that the vast majority of them co-operate when they are told they have looted items, and go out of their way to help.

A Day in Transportation Archaeology

A shot of where I spent my day

This year my Day of Archaeology is quite different from last year (  I have recently begun a new career as a Transportation Planner in the Office of Environmental Review at the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT).  My education and background in archaeology are what allow me to do preliminary project reviews for impacts to historic and cultural resources.  At the CT DOT, projects can vary from line painting on a road, to bridge replacement, to major infrastructure construction.  What I do day-to-day changes and it certainly keeps the job interesting.  Outside of work I also have other commitments of an archaeological nature.  I am on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA), and I also volunteer my time running public archaeological excavations for local museums.  A lot of my “free” time is used organizing events.

Here is a general schedule of what my day looked like today:

6:15-6:45AM: While eating breakfast I spent time searching for organization contact information to solicit participants for FOSA’s Public Archaeology Fair, which will be held Oct. 27th 2012 in Wethersfield, CT.

7:00-7:30AM: While commuting to work I listened to The Archaeology Channel’s podcast (

7:30-9:00AM: At the office I organized site maps and photos and filled out archaeology site forms to be submitted to the CT State Historic Preservation Office (CT SHPO) and CT State Archaeologist in order to get site numbers for two historic bridge and mill sites (in Plymouth and Woodbury) that were identified while out on a bridge survey last month.  This site information will eventually be added to the database of CT archaeological sites maintained by the CT SHPO and CT State Archaeologist.  This information is used by state officials for planning purposes and by CRM firms for research purposes.

9:00-11:00AM: I organized project information, maps, and recommendations to submit to the CT SHPO for review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA).

11:00AM-4:00PM: I reviewed 4 new projects for impacts to socio-economic resources, parks, refuges, scenic roads and bikeways.  (My job actually entails investigating impacts beyond cultural resources under NEPA & CEPA.)  These projects included bridge replacements and roadway and utility improvements.

5:00-6:00PM: Sent e-mails asking (begging & pleading) local archaeology and historical groups to participate in FOSA’s Public Archaeology Fair, sent out a rough draft of an advertising blurb for the event, and sent my FOSA Archaeology Awareness Month Committee an update.

That just about sums up my day.  Suffice it to say, much of my day revolves around archaeology in some way, even though I spend less and less time in the dirt.


Excavating an Archaeologist’s Desk

In honor of the Day of Archaeology, in which we endeavor to display the “wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe” (Day of Archaeology 2012 [archaeologists cite things]), I’m throwing this together as an archaeologist who embraces three different roles within the profession, has worked across 10 states and 3 foreign countries (Mexico, Cuba, and the British Virgin Islands), and still hasn’t finished graduate school (much to the chagrin of many, including myself).
To convey this complex existence, I’m choosing an archaeological metaphor and excavating my desk. My workspace is, to no surprise, a reflection of the many things that occupy my time, pique my interest, and, I hope, lead to some insight into the pasts of the common people of history, a group that counts my ancestors, German and Welsh immigrants, among its numbers. I have imposed a classification system on the contents of my desk, by which I will unpack the contents and, in turn, my life as an archaeologist working in the SAU Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Indiana Jones once told a student (while running from the KGB) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” While I fully endorse this sentiment, you must realize that a lot of archaeological research involves bookwork. We read a lot about the work of our forebears as a way to help orient our own research, building on and modifying that which came before, and to avoid scientific dead-ends. The books on my desk include those oriented towards:
Dissertation: I am a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the cradle of historical archaeology in the United States. I am trying to knock out a dissertation that will be the final step in my formalized education. This requires both books on epistemological issues relevant to the way I do research, such as Tim Murray’s Time and Archaeology or Anders Andrén’s Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. Combining the clarity of thinking derived from such sources with the results of fieldwork are then combined with the insight derived from other books, such as D.W. Meinig’s The Shaping of America and Kenneth Lewis’s The American Frontier to produce a document that will add to the historiography of southwest Arkansas and the American West… and earn me a diploma (please please please).
Teaching: I just finished teaching two classes at Southern Arkansas University, one a survey of world archaeology and the other a criminal justice research methods class. The detritus from preparing the lectures, including Catherine Hakim’s Research Design and Henn et al’s A Critical Introduction to Social Research still haven’t left my desk. They’re actually checked out from the University of Arkansas (5 hours away), so the next time I get called up to the coordinating office in Fayetteville, I’ll drop them off.
Methods: We demonstrate our competence as archaeologists in the field, showing each other and the cosmos that we can dig properly (carefully and fast), map precisely, and document our findings appropriately. I’ve got Hester et al’s Field Methods in Archaeology on my book rack for reference, and the bookshelves surrounding my desk are full of books on aerial remote sensing and LiDAR research.
Conference preparation:  One of the high points of any archaeologist’s professional year is a conference. For me, that usually means the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings, though in my current position the Arkansas Archeological Society conference is important as well. I’d like to go to the Fields of Conflict conference this year, but Budapest is a bit out of the range of my wallet (my truck needs work…). This week, I’ve been pulling together a session for the SHA with colleagues and classmates at William & Mary, and I’ve been using the abstract books from past conferences and De Cunzo and Jameson’s Unlocking the Past to write abstracts and encourage the session to take form.
Fieldwork Papers
As mentioned above, proper note taking is an integral part of archaeology. Documentation of context is key. It separates us from looters, provides a basis for scientific work, and is a backstop for ideas and information that might otherwise get missed. If ideas were baseballs, an archaeological dig is like being a catcher behind home plate, facing a battalion of pitching machines. Even if you’re Johnny Bench, you can only hold so many of those baseballs at once. Paperwork is like having a canvas bag to put those ideaballs (I’m liking this metaphor less and less) in so you don’t lose them. On my desk may be found
–        A green 3-ring binder from Area B of the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Dig, directed by my boss/friend/mentor Jamie Brandon. See his post here on the dig itself. The stack of papers inside is probably 2 inches thick. All of that came from two weeks in the field. It’s a lot of stuff to sift through, but every sweat-stained word is archaeological gold.
–        Field books. I see three, though there may be more buried in there somewhere. These nifty little books, usually with yellow covers, have waxed pages, making them resilient in rainy or sweaty conditions, and are the place where we jot our notes about the project we’re working on. My field book from the Society Dig contains the shot log for our surveyor’s total station, so we have a redundant copy of all that information. I also have my field book for site visits done on behalf of the Survey. The notes I take in the field can then be transposed into either a site form, which I submit by way of report to the Survey, or included in subsequent publications on that research. Writing notes, particularly under hot or busy conditions, is one of the disciplines that archaeologists must learn. As with so many other things, when it comes to notes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. In some positions, such as federal jobs, field books are part of the paperwork associated with a project and subject to subpoena and other legal strictures, so don’t draw too many cartoons about gophers in them.
The final big section of research-related equipment can be classed as technology.  Technological advancements in computing, remote sensing (Johnson 2005), data sharing (Kansa 2012), and numerous other fronts in the past twenty years is revolutionizing archaeology. The very fact of this blog post, the internet, and personal computing is evidence of this. Hallmarks of this advancement are, of course, found on my desk.
–        Computer: Shocking, I know. Nowadays, computers are everywhere and used in most pursuits, but mine is special, consarnit! First, it’s a laptop on a dock, which is necessary given the high mobility of many archaeologists. Since you can’t bring sites to you, we have to go to the sites, often for extended periods of time. We just finished two weeks at Historic Washington State Park, and in the last year, I’ve spent weeks at Toltec Mounds, Wallace’s Ferry, and Prairie Grove, all in Arkansas, as well as making numerous trips to the Coordinating Office in Fayetteville. My Army job was just like that, as was my time with the NPS, just that in the federal gigs, the projects are usually spread over greater areas. Laptops are essential in taking our computing power along with. Crucial to that computing power is the software held on the machine, particularly, in my case…
–        Geographic information system (GIS) software. I do a lot of work with spatial documentation and analysis, so I need mapping software. Being able to document the location of sites and areas within sites is an important part of the documentation process.
–          Scanner: I scan lots of things, primarily to make back-ups (hard to lose all copies of a document) and to share them with colleagues. Information sharing is a big part of the research process, as those who share your interests and expertise are not likely under the same roof as you. This is partly why conferences are so important. Information exchange stimulates, as Poirot liked to call them, “the little grey cells” and advance the discipline. Scanners help make that possible.
–        Telephone: Again, rather mundane, but an important part of my job. The Arkansas Archeological Survey does a lot of public outreach work for people of all walks of life from across the state. My station covers 11 counties in southwest Arkansas, and I get calls to come out and look at sites or assist colleagues at museums and parks in the area with public outreach work (come to the Red River Heritage Symposium at Historic Washington State Park on the 28th of July). Much of that begins with a phone call.
As this all should indicate, I spend a LOT of time working, well more than 40 hours a week. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the office or in the field, and my desk contents reflect that.
–        Coffee mug and empty Coke/Diet Coke cans: I am a caffeine addict, plain and simple. I often get little more than 5 hours of sleep a night, and with as stacked of a to-do list as I have, it’s rather unavoidable. I can’t keep up with a friend, who runs on five cappuccinos a day, but there are times when I wonder how awesome that feels. I’m guessing “pretty.”
–        Mulerider Baseball cup: Our host institution and my erstwhile employer, Southern Arkansas University has a great baseball team, and the Muleriders just won the GAC Championship… again. Great job, guys! One of the ways I avoid having the pressures of all of these jobs and responsibilities burn me out is by having a mental outlet. For me, that’s baseball and hockey. We don’t get much of the latter down here. However, the baseball stadium is right across the parking lot from the office (really, I can see it from my desk), and those evening games are a nice break from the grind.
–        Yellow duct tape: Why yellow, you might ask? Because every station in the Survey system was allocated a color to mark their equipment with so that we could tell whose stuff is whose when we collaborate on projects. Our station’s color is yellow, Henderson State’s is orange, Toltec’s is blue, etc. etc. etc. Marking things as ours helps avoid confusion and trowel fights.
–        Field hat: I saved this for last because it’s one of my favorite things. For archaeologists, the attachments we form with crucial bits of equipment can be very strong. Many people still have their first trowels, and carefully guard them (think of a mitt for a baseball player). They’re things, but they’re things intimately tied up in the art of our discipline, and that makes them special. For me, there are three things that fall into this category. My trowel is the first, and I keep it distinct from all other trowels by wrapping the handle in hockey stick tape. The second is my Brunton pocket transit (think a compass on steroids with neon flames shooting down its hood), which is not only a very useful bit of equipment, it was also my father’s when he was doing his dissertation, and that carries great meaning to me. Finally, there is my field hat, a mid-crown cattleman with a 4” brim from Sunbody Hats in Houston, Texas. No matter how hot it gets, it’s always a little cooler under this thing, and it was a wedding gift from Jimmy Pryor, the owner of Sunbody and a childhood friend. It’s a link to home and my wife all at once, and it cheers me up when I’ve been out on a project for a couple of weeks and starting to get a little barn sour.
Now, having looked at these piles for a few hours while writing this, it may be time to do some cleaning…
Andrén, Anders
1997     Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. New York: Plenum Press
Day of Archaeology
2012    About the Project. Electronic resource (, accessed 29 June 2012).
De Cunzo, Lu Ann and John H. Jameson, Jr.
2005     Unlocking the Past: Celebrating Historical Archaeology in North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Hakim, Catherine
2000     Research Design: Successful Designs for Social and Economic Research. New York: Routledge.
Henn, Matt, Mark Weinstein, and Nick Foard
2006     A Critical Introduction to Social Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009     Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th edition. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Lewis, Kenneth
1984     The American Frontier: An Archaeological Study of Settlement Pattern and Process. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Meinig, D.W.
1988     The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800-1867. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Murray, Tim, editor
1999     Time and Archaeology. New York: Routledge.

Nature Reserves & World War Two Archaeology

My job involves visiting and advising on management of archaeological sites for the UKs largest wildlife charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). We manage land across Britain from Shetland to Cornwall, Suffolk to Ceredigion and also throughout Northern Ireland. I get to see an amazing variety of sites from shell middens to hillforts to 19th century timber storage ponds – thousands of sites including 200 which are Scheduled (legally protected). Many of the best preserved archaeological sites can be found in wild places because this land has not been subject to intensive agriculture or commercial development. In particular we have hundreds of World War Two sites and I’d stick my neck out and say we must have one of the largest and best preserved collections of any land owner (with exception of the Ministry of Defence!).

The military used many wild places for training, storage,  firing/bombing ranges or  fortified them against invasion.  Heathland and coastal wetland were particularly heavily used because they were out of the way spotst where they could conduct live firing. The military flooded areas as a form of  invasion defence, leading wildlife to recolonise in the 1940s – so conservationists have alot to thank the military for in Suffolk, see:

Today I visited two wetland sites in Suffolk which have well preserved buildings – RSPB Boyton Marsh and Hollesley Marsh in Suffolk. I was hosted by wardens Dudley, Reg and Aaron – a happier crew you will not meet, and once you get to see where they work you can understand why. Nice sunny day in the countryside, quiet landscapes with grass bending in the wind and some beautiful concrete block houses and pillboxes! Boyton was an Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) firing range where tanks trained in the run up to D-Day and a group of block houses survive which would have operated pulley systems to move targets for the tanks to fire at. It is hard to imagine the noise, and the tanks trundling past today. At Hollesely we have a beautiful pillbox, which was part of the coastal crust of defences that carpeted the east coast of England – and a nice place to stop on a walk, eat your sandwiches and look at the view. We discussed how we good interpret these sites for visitors and keep them in good order – luckily,  by and large they were built to last! Returned home to see the kids for a Romans vs medieval knights battle……historical accuracy is everything to us archaeologists.

A Slightly Less Archaeological Day Than Usual

Last weekend my left knee decided to stop working. So I had the day off today.  This means doing work for the course I am undertaking alongside my full-time job.

I work as the archaeology officer for Southwark Council. Other than staff in the Heritage team who work in the Borough’s museum, I am the only archaeologist at the Council. I work within the Development Management department (we no longer control development, we manage it!). I advise planning officers on whether proposals comply with the requirements of the Borough’s archaeology policy, wider heritage policies and the relevant paragraphs of the National Planning Policy Framework. I issue briefs for archaeological work, check WSIs, monitor site work, check reports, make recommendations for the discharge of archaeological conditions and manage much of the digital data for the department. Along side the archaeological work I also undertake some conservation work where an archaeological input is necessary or valuable or if it is a GIS heavy project.

I work in a team with conservation officers, urban design officers and a tree officer. As part of my employer’s commitment to staff training I am currently undertaking a postgraduate diploma in Historic Environment Conservation at the Ironbridge Institute. This is part of the Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology at Birmingham that is currently threatened with closure. Ironbridge is an immensely valuable training organisation that provides recognised degrees and qualifications that are organised in a way whereby those in full-time work can easily undertake the qualification with a minimal level of interference with their full-time jobs.

I have nearly finished by essay on concrete conservation (far more interesting than it sounds) and would urge anyone reading this to visit this web page for more information on the potential closure If you wish to support the effort to preserve the IAA please sign the petition

New Zealand Archaeological Association 2012 Conference Fieldtrip

New Zealand Archaeological Association 2012 Conference Field Trip

The conference this year is being held in Oamaru in New Zealand’s South Island.  Two bus loads of archaeologists went on the field trip today – coincidentally the Day of Archaeology – it is a feature of every annual conference run by the Association.

There is information about the Association and the conference including a programme here:

The conference programme and abstracts can be downloaded here.


Inspecting the Awamoko shelter site

Inspecting the Awamoko shelter site


Oamaru is renowned in New Zealand for its architecture. It had early wealth from its fine agricultural land, first in exporting grain but later from other crops, and pastoral farming. The wealth of the town in the late 1800s was reflected in its classical architecture. The buildings utilised a local white limestone – Oamaru stone, which was valued for building here and elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand


One of the buildings in Oamaru

The area is also rich in prehistoric sites. Early Maori sites occur at river and estuary mouths. They commonly have the bones of New Zealand giant extinct birds, moa, but also other birds, marine mammals and fish exploited by the first residents.

The most notable prehistoric sites in the area are the rock art sites that occur in overhang shelters and caves along the valleys in, and at the margins of the limestone. These date from the whole of Maori occupation and into the contact period where settler items also appear.

Out field trip visited a number of these sites, on a cold clear day, where there was fresh snow on the adjacent hills. We were guided by Maori manawhenua (people of the land) Ngai Tahu who have an active programme in preserving and studying these sites. Brian Allingham who works with them and has long studied them talked at each of the five sites visited as did Amanda Symon, curator of the Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust. They requested that any website use of images has their approval. As a consequence it is only the social views that appear here, but there are many images on the web – see the links.

The images we saw in the sites we went to included a spiral carved into the rock and drawings of people, dogs and animal forms. At other sites there are pictures of birds, canoes and many decorative elements.

Entering a decorated shelter

The Te Ana rock art museum in Timaru is a great place to start a visit to the area  It is run by the Maori manawhenua, Ngai Tahu.

Some more information on rock art can be found here and here and here and here.
A google search for images can be made here

Amanda Symon - one of our guides

Amanda Symon – one of our guides

Shelter near Duntroon

The buses near Duntroon

Walking between sites in the limestone outcrops

Snow on the Southern Alps foothills


The last stop on the trip was at Otekaieke. This is a grand estate house built in the Scottish manorial style by an immigrant Scot, Robert Campbell. He imported Scots craftsmen to assist in its construction. It is one of a number of like estates in the South Island built on wool wealth. Huge sheep runs were the locations of all these estates. It was only occupied as a house for a few years before Campbell died young, followed shortly after by his widow. They had no descendants. It was subsequently part of the series of estates broken up around 1900 under Government pressure to create more land for small farmers. The home and site was later a boy’s reformatory school but went out of that use and is now privately owned. The gardens are now much degraded and the site cluttered with a diverse range of more modern buildings dating from the school use.


Otekaieke – Robert Campbell’s great estate


The New Zealand Historic Places Trust register entries for the house and the associated stables can be seen here:

There is more about the station history  here.

A fuller set of pictures from the trip can be seen here on facebook.

The site locations are here on Google Maps


Zen and the Art of Curation


Greetings from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois-Champaign! Recently, I have been spending my days in the lab helping to update and transcribe site inventories into a digital database.  The excavations that produced these artifacts were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, and the only inventories that exist are on hard copy.  Additionally, some of the artifacts are still in their original paper collection bags.  I am currently relabeling and rebagging artifacts, mostly lithics, and entering catalogue and provenience information into a digital database.  (Provenience refers to the exact location on the site at which the artifact was found; as opposed to the “Antiques Roadshow” term provenance, which refers to the entire history of the object from its discovery to the present).  It is important to curate these items using materials and technology that will help to preserve both the artifacts and their associated provenience information.


While this task might not entail bullwhip-cracking excitement and Spielberg-worthy finds, I think it is every bit as valuable as the discovery of a new site, the excavation of a unique artifact, or the ground-breaking research taking place daily.  This is due in part to my recent completion of a Master’s thesis in which I analyzed artifacts from the Chesapeake Bay region, despite living about 800 miles away in the Midwest.  I was able to conduct a majority of my research and some data collection using the Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture database (, created by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory and other Chesapeake archaeologists and collaborators.  This information was available to me thanks to the careful curation and meticulous inventorying of thousands of artifacts by Tidewater archaeologists in Maryland and Virginia.


As I work on curating the artifacts and information from excavations conducted years ago in Illinois, my recent research experience is always in the back of my mind.  I hope that our careful curation of the artifacts from decades-old excavations will assist researchers investigating these sites to more easily access this information.  The field of archaeology continues to advance both technologically and theoretically, and it is important to preserve artifacts and information as completely as possible to assist future researchers in the reinvestigation and reanalysis of previously-excavated sites.  Who knows what exciting reinterpretations might someday be based on these nondescript bags of broken rocks?

These chert samples were collected from a site investigated in the 1960s and 1970s.


The John D. Cooper Center series: archaeoLOGIC

At the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, we feel it is our duty to not only share Orange County’s heritage with our residents, but with the world. So we started The Cooper Channel! Our very own YouTube channel where we can educate the world the wonderful and rich history that Southern California has.

This series is called archaeoLOGIC, an archaeology quiz show, where Cooper Channel host and archaeologist, Diana Gurfein, presents local artifacts for our viewers to try and guess.

So in honor of Day of Archaeology 2012, we are presenting a few of our best episodes of archaeoLOGIC. Give it a watch and see if you identify the artifacts.

Good Luck!

For more information on the Cooper Center, visit our websites!!/CooperCenter_OC

Some Previous Episodes