Tag Archives | Humanities


The copper hoard from the XIII century was discovered as a whole X.9.5.1, in a pit from Block: XXI, in the course of archeological excavations at the Skopje Fortress in 2009. It contained 50 copper coins, including 5 items of Bulgarian imitations (no. 1-5) and items presenting rulers, namely 2 items presenting Ivan Asen II (no. 6-7), 2 items presenting Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (no. 8-9), 2 items presenting  John Comnenus-Ducas (no. 10-11), 9 items presenting John III Ducas-Vatatzes with (no. 12-20), 4 items presenting Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (no. 21-24), as well as the most numerous, 24 Latin imitations (no. 25-47). The 24 items are grouped with 2 additional items that are illegible and cannot be linked to any ruler, including a new variant under no.48. This coin diversity is an excellent indicator about the coin circulation on the territory of Macedonia that marked the first half of XIII century.

The time the hoard was buried may be linked to specific historical and political circumstances at the Skopje Fortress in the mid XIII century. Judging from coins which were produced the latest and belong to Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (1254-1258)[1], the time the hoard was buried chronologically corresponds to events in 1258 and 1259[2]. This was the period when Skopje was firstly conquered by the Bulgarian Constantine Tikh, and the same year by the Nicaeans and the Serbs afterwards.

In the following 1259, the city fell under the Nicaeans, led by Michael VIII Palaiologos, to remain under his rule until 1282[3]. Lack of coin series of Michael VIII Palaiologos in the hoard, whose share in the total monetary quantity found at the Skopje Fortress is 8.37%[4], only confirms this possible historic date.

Bulgarian imitations, chronologically speaking, were the earliest to be produced and may be dated in the

[1] M. F. Hendy, Byzantine Coins, D.O.C. vol. 4 part 2 ,T XLVI Theodore II Ducas Lascaris, Washington D.C.1999; 615-617

[2] Latin imitations have not been taken into account due to their illegibility and common chronological framework from 1204 to 1261.

[3] I. Mikulic, Medieval Cities and Fortresses in Macedonia, Book 5, Skopje 1996, 309

[4] J. Kondijanov, Review of the total numismatic material from the Skopje Fortress, MAND, Dojran 2012

period between 1195 and 1215, judging from the hoards from Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, where almost no such coins have been discovered together with Byzantium coins prior to Isaac II Angelos(1185-1195)[1]. The same representation has been confirmed in this hoard, providing similar chronological indication regarding the period when the coins were produced.

Items found in the hoard correspond to items from other hoards discovered on the Balkans, which are characteristic and linked to the final stage of placing underground, which according to M.F. Hendy may be dated within a time frame of ±1215 until c. 1250. Most frequently discovered in these hoards are items of later type A variants with an asterisk on the obverse, and most dominant numeric pattern of representation in this period in the collective monetary findings is A, followed by C and B[2] variants. This grouping, in addition to this hoard, is specific also for hoards found in Aiani, Livadion, Macedonia (’58), Trace, Vrasta (Vraca)[3].

What has been known from historical sources regarding the possible beginning of monetary production is linked to the Pope Innocent III, who apart from the crown, gave Kaloyan rights to produce his monetary series[4] in 1204, however the evidence points out that Bulgarian imitations of Byzantine trachea were in circulation prior to this date. Generally accepted chronological framework for the latest produced Bulgarian imitations is 1215, which corresponds to the reign of Coloman and to the period of brief prevention from the Bulgarian invasion of the Balkans. What becomes clear from this hoard is that production of the series could continue also during the reign of Ivan Asen II, but not later than 1230[5] , when the sphere of his influence also covered Ohrid[6]  and Thessalonica[7], considered to be possible mints that initially produced new Bulgarian monetary series. This argument is supported by a unique Bulgarian imitation (no.1) from this hoard, where the obverse pictures Christ seated on a throne with a high back, with a netted decoration, seen for the first time in Bulgarian coins, and according to style presentation, it resembles coins of John III Ducas-Vatatzes from Magnesia, produced after

[1] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol. 4 part 1, T XXVI Bulgarian imitations, Washington D.C.1999; 66-80

[2] Variant B is not represented in the case of this hoard

[3] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 1, Washington D.C.1999; 70-72

[4] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, London 1982; 238

[5] 9 March 1230: The Battle of Klokotnica, Chronica Alberici monachi Trium Fontinum; Izvori za Bъlgarskata Istoriя XXIV; 183

[6] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLVII Ivan II Asen, Tsar of Bulgaria, Washington D.C.1999; 639-643

[7] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; 105-109

1221. This hypothesis is still impossible to prove with certainty, since the coin is partially damaged, however this item could be the key to clarifications regarding Bulgarian coin manufacturing in the period between 1215 and 1230.

The hoard discovered contained two items (no. 6 and 7)of exceptionally rare trachea of the Bulgarian Czar Ivan Asen II  (1218-1241), which according to numeric representation and concentration of the hoards, are most frequent at the territory of modern Macedonia. Most of these billon tracheas, 24 items, were found at the hoard in Ohrid[1], but there were also 8 items discovered during the excavation of St. Achilles at Prespa[2], and 8 items found at the Skopje Fortress including the two items from this hoard.

Arguments regarding geographical representation of these variants have been supported by the discovery of the unique piece of golden hyperpyron of Ivan Asen II which was found in Prilep[3], but now is an item of the numismatic collection at the Archaeological Museum in Bulgaria[4]. The location of the mint to manufacture coins of Ivan Asen II is still disputed, by Hendy claiming it was in Ohrid[5] while Penchev claiming it was in Thessalonica[6], basing his claim on stylistic similarities with the coins of Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (1224-1230).

The second in size quantity of monetary types found at the hoard presents the Nicaean emperors with 13 items (26%), with a special place given to the Thessalonica variants of John III Ducas- Vatatzes[7], produced in the period 1246-1254 to which 9 of the 13 (18%) items belong. A real rarity are the remaining 4 coins of   Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris [8] (1254-1258), produced in Thessalonica, which apart from this hoard discovered at the Skopje Fortress, are only represented by another single item. The 4 items are a chronological indicator to date the period the hoard was buried, corresponding to historical events in the period 1258-1259. Yet another significant data is the discovery of a new type of Theodor’s billon


T. Gerasimov, Kolektivni nahodki na moneti prez 1965g. IAI, XXIX 1966; 213

[2] M. F. Oicononomides, Monnaies trouves les foouilles de la basilique de Saint Achiles, RN 1967; 252-265

[3] I. Yourukova, V.Penčev, Bulgarian Medieval Seals and Coins, Sofia 1990; 78-84

[4] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; 105-109

[5] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol.2, T XLVII Ivan II Asen, Tsar of Bulgaria, Washington D.C.1999; 639-643

[6] V. Penčev, Where have the coins of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen been struck? Macedonian Numismatic journal  No.2; Skopje 1996; 105-109

[7] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLV John III Ducas, called  Vatatzes, Washington D.C.1999; 601-614

[8] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C.vol. 4 part 2, T XLVI Theodore II Ducas-Lascaris , Washington D.C.1999; 615-617

trachea, notably item no. 22, where instead of a labarum, the emperor is holding a spear. An interested item is coin no.18 of John Ducas-Vatatzes, which was re-coined with new design, also belonging to this ruler.

The remaining 4 legible items belong to Epirus rulers, 2 of which (no.8-9) to Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (1224-1230), who other than this hoard, has been identified only in another hoard in Macedonia from the Plaoshnik-Ohrid[1] locality. Also, here we can add two items (no. 10-11) of the despot John Comnenus-Ducas[2] (1237/1242-1244),the son of Theodor Ducas, who is represented in many XIII century hoards discovered at the territory of Macedonia.

The hoard is clearly dominated by Latin imitations, 23 in number or 46% of the monetary quantity, providing a realistic picture for their monetary representation both in this hoard as well as other hoards from the XIII century. Their series are some of the most numerous judging from their concentration at the Balkans and point out to political and economic instability, and most probably to inflation that was caused by their overproduction evident from their representation in almost all discovered hoards dated back to 1206-1261.

Nicetas Choniates[3] a contemporary, who witnessed the fall of Constantinople in 1204, wrote about the large quantities of copper coins and about the fact that all city statues of the Hippodrome were melted down into coins. However, this was not the end, since almost all series manufactures by the Latins in Thessalonica[4]  between 1204 and 1224 or in Constantinople [5]  between 1204 and 1261, more or less resemble series of emperors of the XII century and even carry their names such as Alexios, John, and the most frequent Manuel[6]. Later types of official series are less similar to XII century designs, and may be found in several variants coined with new iconographic presentations. These iconographic changes are probably due to the Byzantine (Nicaean)-Venetian treaty of 1219[7], including a clause that obliges both parties to restrain from imitating the other party

[1] D. Razmovska-Bačeva Hoards of the Late Byzantine coins of Theodore Angelus Comnenus Ducas, Numismatic journal  No.4, Skopje 2000; 121-135

[2] M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol.2, John Comnenus-Ducas , Washington D.C.1999;

[3] Nicetas Choniates, Historia, ed. Jan Louis van Dieten; Berlin 1975 ;(Corpus Fontium Historia Byzantinae #11)

[4] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, Latin coinages, Plate 79, London 1982 267-270;  M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol. 4 part2, T LII The Latin states-Thessalonica, Washington D.C.1999; 668-669

[5] P. Grierson, Byzantine coins, Latin coinages, Plate 77-78, London 1982 267-270;  M. F. Hendy, B.C., D.O.C. vol.4 part 2, The Latin states-Constantinople, T XLVIII-LIII Washington D.C.1999; 664-667

[6] M. F. Hendy, Coinage and  Money, 191-201, 215-217

[7] Nicetas Choniates, Historia, ed. Jan Louis van Dieten; Berlin 1975 ; (Corpus Fontium Historia Byzantinae #11)

hyperpyrons[1], manouelaton [2] and stamenon[3] (it is clearly implied that the Byzantines needed to protect themselves from imitations of the Latins, not vice versa)[4].

The fact that the treaty fails to also note copper tetarterons implies that they were not a factor worth mentioning, or they considered the coins made by the Latins in gold, silver or billon to be real counterfeits that were almost identical to the Byzantine[5].

Latin imitations may be divided into two basic groups according to dimensions that differentiate them into large module and small module, a fact that is evident also in this hoard, where items no. 25-32 belong to coins of large module, whereas items no. 33-48 are coins of small module. Coins of large module found at the hoard were produced in the mints in Constantinople and Thessalonica, and were manufactured between 1204 and 1261, which chronologically corresponds to coins of small module; however, the mint where they were produced is still a mystery and leaves room for debate.

It is significant to mention item no. 48, which is a new copper trachea of a small module, but so far cannot be correctly prescribed to any ruler. This item demonstrates similarities to Latin imitations of Manuel I, of a small module, however, rather than labarum or sword the ruler here holds a three-pronged scepter. However, despite similarities, in terms of iconography and style, the design at the reverse is different and cannot be safely placed in the group of other Latin imitations.

[1] Hyperpyron – gold trachea

[2] Manouelaton  – electrum or silver aspron trachea

[3] Stamenon – Billon or copper  trachea

[4] Tafel and Thomas, Urkunden, II, pp. 205-7, esp.207; S.Brezenanu, RESEE 12 (1974), 143-146

[5] Examples are hyperpyrons of John III Vatatzes, who are different from the Latin by the sigilla and the nimbus of Christ on the obverse.

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Curator Takes Vacation Only to Visit More Museums: How Taking My Work With Me Changed Everything

Mixing business with pleasure is not uncommon practice in the field of archaeology, as most archaeologists will tell you that they love their jobs. Sometimes, however, an opportunity will present itself so serendipitously that it can hardly be called “work” at all. Such was the case for me on a recent family vacation to Europe, where I came face to face with an important archaeological collection at the British Museum in London.

In June 2013, I accepted my first “real” job out of graduate school as Curator of Collections for the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) in Marco Island, Florida. I had finished my M.A. in Museum Studies at the University of Florida (UF) just six months prior, and in the meantime had been teaching an undergraduate anthropology course at UF while working as a Curatorial Assistant in the Anthropology Division at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). My first assignment for the MIHS would be to develop a permanent exhibit on the prehistory of Marco Island for installation in the Marco Island Historical Museum. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about Marco Island, not to mention life as a museum curator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Marco Island, it’s as picturesque as it sounds. The largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco’s natural crescent beach and fertile waters make it a hotspot for retirees, vacationers, and fisher folk alike. However, many visitors don’t realize that Marco is also home to one of the most famous archaeological sites ever discovered in North America.


Just another day on Marco Island, Florida. Photo by Austin Bell.


In 1895, a retired British military officer named Charles Durnford was tarpon fishing in the area when he was informed of an unusual find in the muck of Key Marco (now Marco Island). Not wanting to miss out on the action, he quickly set sail for Marco to perform his own excavation. It was not long before he too uncovered incredibly well-preserved artifacts made of wood, gourd, and cordage, materials that often do not survive in archaeological sites. Knowing the potential significance of these rare items, Durnford took them all the way to Philadelphia in hopes of conferring with his friend at the University of Pennsylvania, where by chance he encountered Frank Hamilton Cushing. Cushing, a famous anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed the importance of the finds and was duly inspired to make his own visit to Marco. What Cushing found in his subsequent visits (1895 and 1896) is the stuff of legend, an archaeological site so spectacular that it has yet to be replicated in more than 115 years of archaeology in Southwest Florida. Among the finds were painted wooden masks, finely woven nets, fishing floats made of wood and gourd, and beautifully carved wooden figureheads, some of the finest examples of prehistoric Native American art ever discovered. The most famous of these is the “Key Marco cat,” now housed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. The cat is so well-known that it’s been featured on a United States postage stamp (see picture)! For archaeologists and archaeology enthusiasts, the Key Marco site serves as one of best known examples of a “wet site,” where biological materials not ordinarily preserved can add greater context to our understanding of prehistoric cultures.


The “Key Marco cat” on a 1989 U.S. postage stamp. Image courtesy of the Marco Island Historical Society.


While Durnford’s cavalier removal of artifacts from Key Marco would be frowned upon today (i.e., illegal), he had the foresight to not only write up his findings in The American Naturalist (1895), but also to donate the objects to the esteemed British Museum in his home country. The fifteen objects remain there to this day, one of which (a wooden tray) has been on permanent exhibit since 1999 as a representative piece of “the Americas.”


The Southeastern United States section of the British Museum’s “North America” exhibit. Note the Seminole patchwork shirt at the top. The wooden artifact on the floor in the back is from Marco Island. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


The “wooden tray” discovered by Durnford at Key Marco in 1895, as seen on public exhibition at the British Museum in London. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


As fate would have it, my family had organized a trip to Europe months in advance of my hiring at Marco Island. Not wanting to miss out on a rare opportunity to spend “quality time” with my parents and two sisters (not to mention our first ever family vacation overseas), I informed the MIHS of our plans and they generously allowed me to go ahead with them. The British Museum was already on our itinerary, but with my new interest in the Durnford Collection, I put in a last-minute request to see the objects themselves. Given the short notice and my relative inexperience in the field, I was doubtful that such a request could be honored, but I figured “why not ask?” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when the good folks at the British Museum quickly replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” as I’ve come to realize that people in the museum field often bend over backwards to help a colleague. So it came to pass that on July 4th, a date on which I normally would be celebrating my home country’s independence from Great Britain, I stood inside the British Museum’s Ethnographic Collection Storage building by the grace of several wonderful and accommodating staff members, thanking my lucky stars (and stripes) to be in Great Britain. It was there that I came face to face with the Durnford Collection, an experience I am unlikely to forget.


Excitement builds as we pass through the gate to the British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).


Formulating a strategy for exploring the world-renowned British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).


The objects themselves are relatively unremarkable, at least when compared to Cushing’s finds of 1896. The collection consists of several shell tools, some potsherds, a few wooden float pegs, some highly deteriorated netting and cordage, and several other fragmented wooden artifacts. What struck me almost immediately, however, was that these were the very artifacts that Cushing looked at in 1895, probably in a setting similar to this one (with these same artifacts strewn across a table in a non-descript room), and inspired him to take his now famous expedition to Marco Island. Not only were these fifteen objects an inspiration to Cushing, they basically set off the more than 100 years of stellar archaeology conducted in Southwest Florida since him. As a student and practitioner of both museology and archaeology, everything finally made sense in a way that sitting in a classroom never could. I had gone from the person who preserved artifacts to the person artifacts were preserved for, if only for a few fleeting hours. All those years of wondering “who will ever look at all this stuff?” seemed to wash away and my confidence in my career choice reinvigorated. Given the age of the objects (ca. 500-1500 A.D.), the fact that they had been in collections storage for nearly 117 years, and the understanding that conservation techniques were not what they are now, their condition was remarkably good. For someone who had worked with archaeological materials from Southwest Florida for the better part of five years, the thought that someday, long after I’m gone, someone will be looking at an object or collection of objects that I helped curate and be equally excited and inspired seemed to make it all worth it.


The Durnford Collection as it appears 117 years after its excavation. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


The point of this article, however, is not to boast about my travels or associate myself with a renowned institution like the British Museum; people visit their collections all the time. The point, rather, is to share the inspiration I felt as a professional who can sometimes take for granted the amazing things I get to work with on a daily basis. At this point in my career I am more “museum professional” than “archaeologist,” so I’m obliged to advocate for the role that museums play in preserving artifacts that archaeologists uncover. Without museums, objects like those in the Durnford Collection wouldn’t be around for new generations of hungry eyes to feast upon. What’s more, there will almost certainly be new technologies and methods of analysis for museum collections in the future, much the way that radiocarbon dating didn’t exist in 1895. This makes the role of the museum all the more important in archaeology, allowing professionals and amateurs alike the opportunity to interpret and re-interpret the meaning of material culture for centuries to come. As I now try to incorporate what I’ve learned from the British Museum into the exhibit on Marco Island, I encourage you to think about what artifact or collection of artifacts has inspired you. While it’s all just “stuff,” so often it’s the inspiration for anything from a simple idea or personal revelation to a life’s work. Little did the makers of the artifacts discovered by Durnford know that hundreds of years later, their creations would be written about in books and inspiring people from a new locale halfway around the world. So, if you find yourself lacking that personal connection to an artifact (or archaeology in general), I implore you to visit your local museum. Heck, don’t just visit it, ask for a tour of the collections. After all, museum people get excited when other people get excited about museums, so as I said before, “why not ask?”; the worst they’ll do is say “no,” but the best they’ll do is change your life!

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How do you like your walls, Your Majesty?

My name is Helen and I am an archaeologist. Some people would call me an amateur, non-professional or volunteer… Whatever, the truth is, I don’t get paid to do this.

I am involved with the Thames Discovery Programme (the TDP) – we monitor and record the archaeology of the tidal Thames in London. I actually had a weekend of archaeology, which is why I’m writing this on Monday evening!  This year’s Day of Archaeology coincided with one of our main events of the year, the Open Foreshore at the Tower of London, and it’s left me a bit spoilt for choice for what to write about. But as it was the Tower of London, and I have got a little bit of annual leave to use up, I decided to escape the office on Friday and do some archaeology instead.

So here’s what I did on the Day of Archaeology…

The TDP had spent the whole week working on the foreshore in front of the Tower. The whole of the river foreshore is very vulnerable to erosion, and the section at the Tower has had some of the worst damage, in places it has dropped 30cm in a year.

Not a bad way to spend your day off

It’s reached crisis point, as the medieval foundations of the river wall are now visible and being undercut, which really doesn’t bode well for long term future of the wall. There are plans to cover the whole area with rock reinforcements to stop it falling into the river, but this means that the archaeological features that we’ve been recording and monitoring will be covered up, so Friday was one of the last chances we’d got to record and take samples of what we’ve found.

Recording the riverwall. The exposed foundations are at thigh height here.

Cracks are starting to appear in the wall.

As well as recording the wall, we also finished recording and sampling several different timber structures that are on the site, including the remains of a medieval jetty and what possibly, might be an Anglo-Saxon fish trap. Maybe.

And the rest of the weekend? As well as our week long summer fieldwork sessions, Foreshore Recording and Observation Groups (known as the FROGs) also visit various key sites along the river to monitor the archaeology and how it is changing. I coordinate the Greenwich FROG and on Saturday a small group of us met up to visit the foreshore in front of the Old Royal Naval College. Like the Tower, this section is being heavily eroded, and there are a lot of interesting features, including the remains of two large jetties, one 12th century and a later Tudor one, as well as everything from preserved prehistoric peat to the remains of 19th century barge building structures.

The Greenwich FROG recording a mediaeval jetty at Greenwich last month

Then Sunday I was back at the Tower to help steward the Open Foreshore event, the only time in the year the foreshore is open to the public. You can see lots of pictures from the event on the Thames Discovery Programme’s Flickr feed.

I don’t normally do so much at one time. One of the great things about being a part of the TDP is that you don’t have to give up weeks of your annual leave and spend time away from your family to get involved. But the Tower is such an interesting site, and I really like helping in the public outreach work, because it reminds me how much fun there is in what we do!

Walking over the foreshore at Greenwich, a site that I’ve come to know and love over the years, it can be dispiriting to see the damage that is being caused by the erosion. However, the group have been thinking about our future plans and one thing we want to do more of is raising awareness of the amazing archaeology, and creating a record to share what we’ve found, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the weekend talking to people about how we can make this happen. So all in all it’s been a really positive few days, even if going back into the office on Monday felt like a nice relaxing break ;)

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Writing on archaeological findings of battlefields in Montana


Images of Nez Perce National Historical Park- Big Hole National Battlefield (left) and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (right) during the summer of 2012.

 Today is like any other day for me these past few weeks:  trying to stay cool during the extremely hot summer days while writing follow-up reports and future articles.  Although I recently completed my doctoral research on four archaeological sites in Montana, I have a lifetime of exciting explorations on the varied ways people of the past, and present, interpret and commemorate history.

Archaeology is not just about surveying, excavating, cataloging, and preserving artifacts and features, but also exploring profound questions about humanity.  To quote Carl Sagan, “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”

We humans like narratives.  Archaeology is a type of story that uses tangible objects and landscapes to tell a tale.  Archaeology is a discipline rooted in the sciences and humanities.  Archaeologists must balance both fields of inquiry to interpret their discoveries with reliability and validity.

My discoveries concern the varied ways contemporary visitors and personnel of Bear Paw, Big Hole, Little Bighorn, and Rosebud battlefields use these landscapes for their own place-based cultural heritages and historical understandings.  Overall, these places are still socially relevant and significant after nearly fourteen decades since the battles.  And, whether these battlefields are of cultural, geographical, historical, personal, military, national, spiritual, and/or other heritage value for visitors and personnel, archaeological data, historical research, and oral traditions continue to contribute to these individuals’ values and understandings of the battles.  These contributions lead to not only more answers, but also more questions as to how and why humans have used cultural landscapes to maintain or change their heritages.  The relationship between a space and people’s beliefs and interactions within that environment is intriguingly complicated.

Well, back to writing while enduring the hot temperatures!



Images of Rosebud Battlefield State Park (left) and Nez Perce National Historical Park- Bear Paw Battlefield (right) during the summer of 2012.

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The Archaeology Data Service, keeping the Grey Literature Library going

Welcome to another post to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and this one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

ADS logoRay Moore

As a digital archivist at the Archaeology Data Service, my day to day activities involve the accessioning the digital data and other outcomes of archaeological research that individuals and institutions deposit with us, developing a preservation programme for that data, but also curating existing ADS collections.

Today, and indeed for the past week, I have spent much of my time working on the Grey Literature Library (or GLL).  The GLL is an important resource for those amateur and professional archaeologists working in archaeology today providing access to the many thousands of unpublished fieldwork reports, or grey literature, produced during the various assessments, surveys and fieldwork carried out throughout the country. These activities are recorded using OASIS (or Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) and after passing through a process of validation and checking the reports produced in these projects arrive at the ADS. On first impressions then the digital archive may seem like an ‘end point’, a place where archaeological grey literature goes to die, but the ADS, through the GLL, makes these reports available to other archaeologists and the wider community allowing the grey literature to inform future research. At the same time as a digital archive we take steps to preserve these reports so that future generations can continue to use the information that they contain; an important job as many of these reports do not exist in a printed form.

Grey Literature Reports

Reports from the Grey Literature Library.

So what does digitally archiving a grey literature report entail? Initially all the grey literature reports must be transferred from OASIS to the ADS archive; the easiest part of the process. More often than not the report comes in a Portable Document Format (or PDF) form, and while this is useful for sharing documents electronically it is pretty useless as preservation format for archiving. One of my jobs is to convert these files into a special archival form of PDF, called PDF/A (the A standing for Archive). Sound’s easy, but often it can take some work to get from PDF to PDF/A (my all time record is 2 hours producing a 900mb PDF/A file). These conversions must also be documented in the ADS’ Collection Management System so that other archivists can see what I did to the file to preserve the file and its content. While OASIS collects metadata associated with project, the ADS uses a series of tools to generate file level metadata specific to the creation of the file, so that we can understand what and how the file was created. Only once these processes are complete can the file be transferred to the archive, with a version also added to the GLL so that people can download and read the report. With a through flow of some 5 to 600 reports per month the difficulties of the task should become apparent; and all this alongside my other duties as a digital archivist. This month’s release includes an interesting report on The Olympic Park Waterways and Associated Built Heritage Structures which stood on the site now occupied by the Olympic Park. Anyway I’d better get back to it!

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Lights, Camera, Action!

My Day of Archaeology 2012 has been an exciting one, as my volunteers arrived on site for the first time, not to dig, but to make a movie.

I am the lucky archaeologist leading Project Florence, a community project aiming to get local residents involved in spreading the word about an exciting army excavation taking place on Salisbury Plain. This excavation is part of Operation Nightingale, a rehabilitation programme for wounded soldiers.

One of our key aims for the project is for volunteers to produce a DVD about the excavation as a record of the dig and to provide a legacy for Operation Nightingale. The volunteers, aged between 14 and 25, are being trained by professional film-makers to plan, film and edit the movie, which will be premiered at the Salisbury Arts Centre (SAC) in November.

Today was the first day of filming on site, following training sessions at SAC last week, and we were all eager to start catching the action. As I have no experience of movie-production, I am making the most of the chance to learn some new skills along with my volunteers. We are all working towards an Arts Award certificate.

We started our after-school training session with the basics, running over the things we learnt last week like how to frame the shot and how to find the best angle. Our ever-patient instructors, Jamie and Simon, explained that we need to take a mixture of interviews and ‘pretty pictures’ to stick together in the edit. So, we set about filming wide shots of trench activity, interviews with the archaeologists and soldiers, and close ups of interesting finds, so far including an Anglo-Saxon brooch and some amber beads. Our highlight of the day was getting to film one of the soldiers, Al, and his son Ben, lifting the most complete skeleton on site so far.

At the end of a busy two hours, I asked the group what they thought of the session:

“I found the archaeology interesting and liked learning about excavation and watching the skeleton being lifted.” Matt, 17

“I really enjoyed learning to use the sound equipment today, especially the boom. I can’t wait to put all our shots together to make the DVD!” Jess, 15

To find out more about both Project Florence and Operation Nightingale check out our blog – click here

Laura Joyner

Project Florence Officer

Wessex Archaeology


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The Archaeology Data Service, Working to Keep Your Bits in Good Order

Welcome to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

Stuart Jeffrey

Stuart Jeffrey

Another busy day at the ADS today, lots of looming deadlines and lots of work to be done.  Since the last Day of  Archaeology the ADS has continued to expand its collections and participate in more and more national and international projects, which is great news and it certainly keeps us out of mischief. In terms of recognition for ADS’s work, it’s actually been a very good year too, the ADS was a major part of the submission that got the University of York’s Department of Archaeology a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and we are also short listed for a BAA award for innovation (to be announced on 9th July, so fingers crossed!).

The project that is occupying most of my time today is the Economic Impact of the ADS project. The ADS is a free to access digital archive, but it’s really important to us, and funders, that we have a good idea of what the actual economic value to the whole sector of the ADS actually is, so we have embarked on a JISC funded project to try and find out, it’s no easy task to try and put numbers on this kind of ‘value perception’.  I’m preparing for a meeting with John Houghton the Professor of Economics (from CSES in Australia) who is carrying out the analysis for the project in Oxford on Monday. This will be our first meeting since the on-line survey of users and depositors will have closed and I’m really looking forward to seeing the responses. (BTW is closes tonight so if you want to participate there is probably a bit of time left, follow the project link above).

Copyright Clive Ruggles from ImageBank

A nice image from the ADS archive, Cloonsharragh, Ireland, Copyright Clive Ruggles, image taken from ADS ImageBank

Also today, I’m also putting the finishing touches to a joint application, with Internet Archaeology, for an IfA HLF work place learning bursary. We have hosted a couple of these in the past and have always enjoyed the experience of giving someone the opportunity to bring on their skills in a work place environment. We also think there is still a skills gap in the archaeological work force when it comes to digital data management, especially the complexities of digital archiving, and managing data and understanding archiving should really be core skills for archaeologists.

I’d also like to mention the fact that the ADS are proud to support the Day of Archaeology. We’ve been really impressed with the response to the Day of Archaeology project in general and the way a ‘snapshot’ of archaeological activity has been built up covering all sectors including academic, commercial, fieldworkers, specialists, students and curators. As well as fulfilling its role of information sharing and community building amongst the profession, it is also clear that the snapshot created on this one day in 2012 could well become a valuable document for the historians of the archaeological discipline in the future. With this in mind, the ADS are keen to help archive these contributions for the long term. Everyone’s contributions today could well be part of a future research project in 2112!

Finally, as we near the end of the month it’s time for me to change the ‘featured collection’ section of the ADS front page. Ray has been busy archiving and validating a lot of Grey Literature reports, our total is now over 17,000 I think, and some of these relate to archaeological work done in advance of the construction work at the Olympic sites in London. Given that the Olympics are nearly upon us it seems a good idea to make the major MoLAS report (533 pages!) on this work the featured collection for July, very topical. Topicality is not always something that easy to manage when dealing with archaeological archives, but we like to give it a try.

Details of Ray’s Day to follow…….



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Decisions decisions …

This morning my first point of call is my presentation for the Digital Humanities 2012 conference in Hamburg in 3 weeks time. I am really looking forward to this conference as it will be my first after Bess was born. She and the husband are coming along (not to the conference itself ;-) ) too so we might be doing a bit of sight seeing while we are there.

The title of my paper is: ‘ Aiding the interpretation of ancient documents’ (its on the Thursday at 11am if anyone is there and interested) and its all about decisions/interpretations in Humanities,  how we remember our interpretation (or get a computer program to do it) and how we can store these interpretations/decisions and retrieve them when we need them again. It is a round-up of my PhD research in Ancient History at University of Oxford (also part of the now concluded eSAD project).

The stick-(wo)man (I clearly can’t draw and I don’t care) is a documentary scholar but could just as easily be an archaeologist asking: ‘why did I think this context was a part of house A last week when it is so clearly a part of house B today?’. My research took place in the field of Ancient History so is aimed at documentary scholars mainly. However, the conclusions draw in a much wider audience from all over Humanities as decisions in Humanities are usually interpretation-based and:

  • Subjective
  • Have very little supported material
  • Are near impossible to quantify
  • Are difficult to map

If you would like to know more – let me know! Now I better get back to actually making the presentation.

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Conservation of Archaeological Metal Assemblage

I am an objects conservator at AOC Archaeology group, a commercial archaeology company based in Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland. There are only two of us in the department so we are kept very busy and are involved in all sorts of projects with every day being completely different. We conserve and stabilise all the finds that our archaeologists in the field excavate.  Often we are the first non-archaeologists to deal with freshly excavated materials and we are constantly ensuring that the materials gain their archaeological potential.

At the moment I am conserving a large number of finds from two sites excavated by our London office. The purpose of the conservation is to stabilise the finds for the long-term archive as well as possibly reveal new details on the surface of the objects, helping the specialists identify and describe the finds.  The finds are all metal – iron, lead and copper alloy with a large number of Roman coins and many coffin nails.

All the artefacts were covered in thick layers of soil and corrosion obscuring the surfaces and masking any detail. Following x-raying of the finds, I cleaned the iron artefacts using an air abrasive machine and the copper alloy items using mechanical methods (scalpel, bamboo skewer) carefully under a binocular microscope.

Me cleaning a copper alloy spoon under the microscope


Roman coin after conservation


This morning I have been finishing the last few objects and taking after treatment photographs. This afternoon I will be documenting the treatment of each object. As the objects were excavated in London we have to follow a specific documentation procedure set by the Museum of London. Each object has a A5 proforma card with specific information about the find, its condition and how it was treated.

While I have been working in the lab Alan Braby a freelance illustrator has come in to do a recorded drawing of one of the amazing Roman altars that we have been conserving recently. If you would like to find out more we set up a blog about the conservation work we have done on these two Roman altars excavated at Lewisvale Park. Here is the link:

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The end of a season: Teleac, Romania

An overview of the trench earlier in the season, when the weather was better!

The end of any excavation is usually an experience outside the normal routine of the dig; this seems to be especially the case in academic excavations, where many of the participants may have left prior to the final day due to other commitments. This was at least the case this year at the site of Teleac; a late Bronze Age hillfort in the Transylvanian region of Romania, run by the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin (DAI). I was taking part in the field school as a PhD student of the Forging Identities project.

Putting the magnetometer together to carry it up to site

On the last day on site we were down to a rather small team, which meant that I was the only student to go up to site, whilst the others stayed at base camp to finish tasks there, such as packing up the artefacts. I got a lift to site with the Bulgarian geomagnetics team; these guys were surveying the site with equipment that can detect differences in the magnetic field of the ground, which means that archaeological features such as ditches can be seen through their difference to the surrounding undisturbed soil. Since we arrived a little later than usual, we had missed the tractor which usually pulled all the equipment up to site; therefore we had to carry everything up the steep hill where the site is located by ourselves. This was facilitated by carrying the magnetometer without its case.

Drawing a section in the rain – hence the use of the beach umbrella to keep the paper dry!

Once I finally made it up the hill along the slippery, muddy track to the site, it had started raining pretty heavily. It was then my job to draw the section of a sondage; this means drawing the vertical face of the small but fairly deep trench we had dug in a corner of the overall excavation area, whose purpose had been to find out how deep the cultural deposits of the site went before reaching the natural, undisturbed soil of the hill below.

Back-filling in action

Once I had completed my drawings, I helped the local workmen (high school students earning a bit of holiday money by helping out on site) with back-filling the excavation area. This means putting back all the soil we removed over the course of the fieldwork, so that the site is protected until used again, and no animals or people can get hurt falling into the deeper parts of the trench.

Almost back at the modern village of Teleac

Thanks to the rain, it was no longer possible for the tractor to safely make it back up the hill to collect us and the equipment, so we had a long, muddy walk back down the hill again, taking great care not to slip or fall.

Back at the home base, various final tasks were being completed in between power cuts caused by the thunderstorm…

Pottery reconstruction in progress; these ceramics were found this year at the site

Artefacts and equipment packed up for transportation

Taking samples for metallurgical analysis, to investigate the composition of the bronze

Shooting the final artefact photos

Trying to interpret the geomagnetic survey results, and pondering the future of research at the site

After at last managing to find enough time between power outages to shower, it was finally time to pack my own things and have a last farewell drink with what was left of the team. The end of another good season, and for me – time to think about my journey to the next one!

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