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Education, Documentation and Administration in The Viking Triangle

I am an Irish museum archaeologist, currently working in the historic centre of Waterford city, known locally as The Viking Triangle due to its heritage relating to the founding of the city by the Vikings in the tenth century. I work within a complex of three city museums, known collectively as Waterford Museum of Treasures ( www.waterfordtreasures.com ). The collections of the three museums range widely in chronology, beginning with Viking artefacts from the founding of the city, through the Anglo-Norman, ecclesiastical  and English monarchical influences of the medieval period, the Georgian period, and extending right up to the modern social history of the city in the late twentieth century.

As is common in most museums today, I wear many hats in my current role, which can range in tasks and content from day to day – including artefact documentation, marketing, customer services, curatorial assistance and museum education.

Documentation, one of my main responsibilities, refers to the organisation of information relating to all objects within a museum collection. When an object enters the museum collection, its details are recorded – e.g. object type, origins, dimensions and features – and it is assigned a unique museum registration number for future identification. The object is then stored in an appropriate location, and its details, registration number and current location are added to the museum database. If the object is taken out of storage, placed on exhibition, or loaned to another museum, the database record for the object is kept updated in order to monitor and track its location. A database of this nature also allows curators and researchers to search museum databases for specific object types, and to record secure curatorial and conservator information regarding a specific object. Considering that museums possess collections of thousands of objects, it would be impossible to maintain the required level of information, control and identification of their collections without the use of the documentation process.

In my documentation responsibilities, I deal with a wide and varying range of artefacts and chronologies on a daily basis, and today I am documenting a local donation of three large vintage leather suitcases into our collection. Our museum’s collection policy allows for the collection of contemporary and historical objects in order to preserve these items into the future, and the museum is extremely lucky to continually benefit from ongoing donations by Waterford citizens with a sense of civic pride for their museums.

I am currently compiling new education packs and activities for use by primary schools visiting our museums during their school terms, and that has formed the bulk of my day’s work. This will be a work pack which we will provide to visiting schools, which will provide them with worksheets and activities related to the museum exhibitions to carry out during their visit.

Due to school budget constraints relating to participation in off-site activities, it is imperative that our museum can offer a valuable, curriculum-based learning experience in order to validate the educational worth of the school visit. It is therefore vital that the questions and tasks in the education packs relate directly to necessities within the outlined curriculum targets for particular age-groups and subjects. My work trawling the primary school curriculum guidelines over the past month has given me a new-found respect for the work of school teachers! The museum provides a unique learning environment, and I hope that our work packs will reflect and enhance this advantage, and help achieve the absolute highest potential of the school visit experience. Children are a wonderful audience for archaeology, and my work in education is a great opportunity to try and pass on my enthusiasm and passion for the subject to the next generation.

I spend the morning going through our Medieval Museum in order to test the suitability of my current worksheet questions and tasks with the practical aspects of our exhibitions – such as eye levels of display cases, gallery orientation for activity trails and case lighting levels for clear observation. This involved the task of me lowering myself to a child-friendly level in front of the exhibit cases, and, understandably, I receive a number of confused looks from visitors, who quietly wonder why I am kneeling in front of the display cases!

Also to be done today is a number of administrative tasks relating to our upcoming renewal application for the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland (MSPI). This is a standards programme which aims to improve all aspects of museum practice and levels of collections care and management. Our museums currently hold full accreditation to the programme since 2009, which we will maintain by renewal application later this year. The programme is important as it helps the museum to maintain management focus and paramount collections care, and is a display of our museum’s commitment to best professional practice and management.

The day is over before I know it, and although I still have a lot of work left to do in the near future, I feel as though I’m making positive progress with it all….fingers crossed!!

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Public Archaeology – a community view

This all singing, all dancing contribution was undertaken by local film makers Delphine Coudray, and Roy Murray includes archaeologists, university students, local children and Paddy Rispin, from the Trim Living History group.

Dodging torrential rain showers, in between excavation cuttings, this is archaeological interpretation, community style: Blackfriary Community DoA 2013

DoA video

The Archaeology:

The Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project is collaboration between the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS), Meath Local Authorities and the community of Trim, Co. Meath, Ireland. The focus of the project is the Blackfriary, a 13th Dominican Friary, founded by the Anglo-Norman Geoffrey de Geneville, Lord of Meath in 1267. The friary was quarried out in the 18th century and the remains of are mostly buried. The site, listed as a National Monument in the 1970’s, is situated in a large field and is surrounded by housing. As the town developed, around it, the field fell into disuse and eventual dereliction. The Project is challenged with investigating the archaeological remains of the site, much now underground, and working with the local community to create a space where community and visitors alike can explore heritage and use the site in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way. The Irish Archaeology Field School carries out a summer excavation project at the site annually; this incorporates a practical field programme for archaeology, anthropology and forensic students into the archaeological research project.

The Community:

Our summer excavation season depends very much on the good relationship the School has with the community; Trim has an active community that are creative, resourceful and proud of their heritage. The School asked members of the community to help out with a contribution for the Day of Archaeology, something that the community themselves would be interested in… Although not perhaps a typical day for archaeologists, the imagination, enthusiasm and fun of this contribution is very typical of the School’s experience of working in this wonderful community. Enjoy!

 

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Surveying in Ireland

Today’s only anomaly

It’s now 10pm on the Friday night of the Day of Archaeology in Ireland…. and I’m just about finished for the week. I’ll be called away to get packing for a very brief holiday soon – so in this window of opportunity I’ll post this short entry. In previous years I’ve had the luxury of time to put together a cogent entry, but this evening I’m just about to kick back and relax, so forgive the brevity.

I run a very small commercial archaeology consultancy in the west of Ireland, at peak employing 18 people full time and a cohort of contractors. We’ve been reduced to three full time and two contractors today. This has created its own problems – we have the legacy of a bigger company, with a solid IT infrastructure but we’ve lost some very experienced staff.

Earlier today Charles posted on  ‘Picking up the pieces’ after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and the problems of emigration, the resultant loss of knowledge and experience and the impact of economic failure on the cultural heritage sector, and it’s something that has affected us as well.

One element of that is that my role has become far busier – at one time I had the luxury of keeping up a consistent blog for the company, and was focussed on marketing and management – now that there’s only two full time archaeologists (me and Bill) and an ecologist (Ger), the job runs from accounting to assessment to  being out on site testing and monitoring, with a great deal of travel throughout Ireland, long days and long distances.

I started (very) early  this morning on a field survey in the East of Ireland  but was able to get back to the office by lunch. The survey was part of a large EIS for an infrastructure project and involved visiting farms to establish whether aerial anomalies were of archaeological potential or could be otherwise explained. One inspection was all that was required today. Didn’t find anything! Back in office the weeks notes had to be written up – smartphones are a lowercase godsend – all my field notes are voice recorded, my photographs are geolocated, I have a suite of maps on dropbox on the phone and just have to come back and transcribe the voice recordings (also georeferenced), upload the photos to Google Earth and remember to save everything in the right place. Paperless… That’s the aim.

Later, it’s time to complete the final draft of an EIS for a proposed gas pipeline which involves most of the afternoon working on GIS measuring distances and editing the text. A little bit of CAD work on another project brings me to dinnertime – This is something I thoroughly enjoy. I started in archaeology as a site illustrator and always enjoyed that role, doing the occasional digitisation and prettifying of site drawings these days is something I find hugely relaxing for some reason – maybe it’s all the nice colours and shades you can play with, or the uncomplicated nature of it.. I don’t know, it’s late and I’m tired.

Then – the dreaded invoicing, accounting and chasing money… less said about that the better.

And finally the day is rounded off with preparing a fee proposal. That takes me until 9… Bit of cleaning and packing and here we are, Worthingtons Red Shield and me. Goodnight from Ireland.

 

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Looking at crops and weeds from early medieval Galway, Ireland

Some Irish early medieval charred plant remains in a petri dish

Today I’m working on a research project looking at early medieval plant remains from Galway, in the west of Ireland. My focus is on material that dates from approximately 450 to 1100 AD. The objective is to pull together the results from a range of different sites, and to see whether it is possible to identify a distinctive regional pattern in the crops and weeds found. A map with all the sites included to date can be found here. It’s still very much a work in progress!

Archaeology is rarely glamorous (too much mud and dust) but somehow, today, I’ve assigned myself the most unglamorous task of all: I’ve spent my time trawling through a stratigraphic index (that’s the list of different contexts that were excavated at a site), identifying the early medieval samples, and then adding them to my database. It’s tedious and time-consuming, but absolutely necessary for multi-phase sites, to ensure that my dataset isn’t biased by the inclusion of material from a different period, either earlier or later.

The good news is that, now that this is done, I’m ready to start real analysis of the results on Monday. Meanwhile, I’m off to enjoy a database-free weekend!

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Why Should Archaeology be of Interest to Politicians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Education, Community and Irish Archaeological Research

Hi. My name is Christina O’Regan and I am the Fieldwork and Educational Director of Irish Archaeological Research (IAR). Three colleagues and I set up this non-profit social organisation in early 2011 with the aim of getting the public more involved with archaeology through education, workshops, and community events. We are all from commercial archaeological backgrounds and wanted to develop our experience in community archaeology.

A focus has been the delivery of school workshops, typically to second level students in years 8 – 12. These workshops begin with a general introduction to the archaeology of Ireland, followed by a practical session varying from how to make and decorate prehistoric-style pottery, learning about diet through artificial ‘poo’ dissection, hands-on interaction with genuine and replica artefacts and prehistoric hunting techniques. These workshops have been incredibly successful, with benefits for students and teachers alike.

My work in IAR varies from day-to-day as I develop workshops, plan for future events and shoot off a few emails to raise the profile of IAR within the archaeological and educational sectors.

For this year’s Festival of British Archaeology, we have decided to host two family-orientated events; the first at Glenariff Forest Park (July 21st & 22nd) and the second at Gosford Forest Park (July 28th & 29th). Our experience with the school workshops has shown us that the more practical the day, the better. Pottery workshops, archery, demonstrations of flint knapping and a children’s activity area will ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. There will also be a mini museum, with an interactive artefacts table as well as information on the archaeology of the areas where the events will be held (Antrim and Armagh). The Northern Ireland Environment Agency have very generously granted us a loan of some artefacts from both counties and I joyously spent an afternoon sifting through their stores, picking out choice artefacts with the help of Andrew Gault from the Agency. We are also busy planning similar events for National Heritage Week in the Republic of Ireland, August 18th – 26th.

A trial run of the Open Air Museum at the Carnival of Colours, Londonderry showed us the enormous benefits this type of venture can have in increasing awareness of local heritage within communities.

Social media has been a lifeline for IAR with our Facebook page now ‘liked’ by over 1,000 people. The page allows us to announce all of our upcoming events as well as share archaeological discoveries and support other institutions and companies. Facebook also allows us to easily disseminate our free online magazine, Irish Archaeological Research and we have just put out a call for articles for the fourth (summer) edition. As editor of the e-zine, I envisage many late nights over the coming weeks organising layout and thinking up witty headlines!

For more information on any of our events see www.irisharchaeologicalresearch.com

 

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Rathnadrinna Research Excavation, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland

This year marks the first season of excavation on Rathnadrinna Fort, funded by the Royal Irish Academy of Ireland. Rathnadrinna Fort is a trivallate, circular hilltop enclosure situated in Lalor’s-Lot townland, 3.33km south-southeast of the Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.  The hilltop affords the fort extensive views across the adjacent low lying land and is inter-visible with a number of high-status forts surrounding the Rock of Cashel, to the north. Rathnadrinna Fort is the largest and best preserved of Cashel’s forts, and research here presents an ideal opportunity to learn more about the evolution and function of such sites in a royal landscape.

After three weeks digging we have uncovered a stone-lined corn-drying kiln outside the fort, the excavation of the fort ditches is underway and these are proving to be substantial in nature. We have revealed the old ground surface beneath portions of the fort banks and the excavation of the fort interior is revealing many interesting features. Finds to date include worked flints, an unidentified ferrous object from the fill of the kiln, and an interesting assemblage of late post medieval finds from a dumping episode outside the fort bank.

Our international team of volunteers includes diggers from Brazil, USA, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Austria, England and Ireland. We have facilitated local primary school visits where the children were able be archaeologists for a day, meet the diggers and see our discoveries. For the Day of Archaeology Rowan Lacey gave a display of flint knapping, James Bonsall did a Magnetometer Survey over our kiln, Liudas Juodzbalys showed us a DVD of his experimental iron working, we had a game of hurling, the site director bought everyone a bag of the finest Morelli’s chips and Mickaela from San Paulo made a cheese fondue! Follow us on www.facebook.com/rathnadrinna

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It Isn’t All Fieldwork!

Today I am putting the finishing touches on a grant application in order to get money to do some digging at a site in Ireland called Dun Ailinne. This site dates to about 2000 years ago, and tells us important things about life in Ireland during the Iron Age. We are applying to the National Science Foundation in the United States to get money so we can go and dig at the site over the next two summers. Digging can be expensive because we have to buy the tools and other equipment we need, get people to the site, and get them food to eat and a place to stay while we are digging. Describing what we want to do and why we want to do it is the easy part. Figuring out how much money we want and explaining how we are going to spend it is trickier! I just had to write something about why it is we need to rent portable toilets while we are on the site. You’d think that would be obvious!

Even though I’m not in the field doing research, it’s still fun to think about what I want to do and plan how I want to do it. I really like my job! But I need to get back to writing and planning. The grant is due July 1 so we only have a few days left to finish. Hopefully next year I will be writing to you from our dig in Ireland!

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Rubicon’s Best Ever Find? Discovering A Uniquely Preserved Medieval Object

Today has been a typically varied day in the offices of Rubicon Heritage; we have just this week relocated our main Irish office from an industrial estate in Little Island to a much more central premises in Midleton, where our new neighbours fix pianos! Amidst the chaos of the move and some of the less glamorous but vital aspects of running a commercial business (such as checking and authorising payments, reviewing accounts and writing tenders) there has been one real highlight that I want to share with you. As Cork experiences horrendous weather conditions and widespread flooding, the Irish Summer has been forgotten in the Rubicon offices. The reason for this is an email I received yesterday, which revealed that we had discovered what appears to be an internationally significant archaeological find.

What is particularly interesting about this find is that it is an advertisement for the wonders of archaeological conservation. During archaeological excavations for Cork County Council on a medieval castle site in Caherduggan, Co. Cork last year, we uncovered a well which contained a fantastic array of objects. Amongst the treasure trove of material that emerged from its muddy depths were a medieval leather shoe and an exquisite medieval bone die. But most interesting was a long strip of leather, with what appeared to be metal studs along its length (to read a post about when we discovered it see here). We initially thought this might be a belt, and without  further ado sent it off to the conservator, Susannah Kelly of University College Dublin, to see what remained.

The leather belt on its discovery at Caherduggan Castle, Co. Cork

The leather belt on its discovery at Caherduggan Castle, Co. Cork

After months of painstaking work, leather specialist John Nicholl took possession of the belt from Susannah this week, and yesterday sent me on some photographs of the now conserved object. When I opened the attachment to view the pictures I was greeted with a jaw-dropping sight- one of the most beautiful archaeological objects I have ever come across. The images revealed a phenomenally well preserved strip of leather with buckles at each end, and hinged heraldic shields mounted along its length. Excitement spread throughout the office like wildfire and I quickly got sidetracked, spending long minutes gazing at reference material. We put up a post here to share the information, and I arrived to work this morning to find some very interesting and helpful comment and responses. What we initially thought may be a scabbard belt is perhaps more likely a decorated medieval horse harness, undoubtedly the best preserved ever found in Ireland (and quite possibly Britain as well). All that normally survives of these decorated trappings are single harness pendants, but here we have a virtually complete example!

The well preserved buckle still attached to the leather, and partial pendants

The well preserved buckle still attached to the leather, and partial pendants

I began this morning with a look through my trusty copy of The Medieval Horse and It’s Equipment to learn more (meanwhile bombarding an equally excited specialist John with questions!), and it appears we really may have something special with this find. Indications are that in the 13th century the use of these pendants on horse equipment became more numerous, but were in decline by the end of the 14th century- this may suggest a potential 14th century date, which would tie in with our other objects from the well. Next I fired off an email to the Office of the Chief Herald in Dublin to see if they could tell me anything about the heraldic symbol on the pendants, which appears to be a lion. They informed me that a lion rampant is associated with the O’Keeffes, a Cork family, although there is no evidence as yet that the object belonged to them. They also pointed out that on the Caherduggan pendants the lion is facing the opposite way to what would normally be expected in heraldry (described as lion counter-rampant or lion rampant to the sinister), making it a rarity. Contact with the National Museum of Ireland revealed that they have a collection of individual pendants that have been retrieved from illegal metal detectorists, so we now have the always enjoyable prospect of a trip to the Museum to have a look for some parallels. I also took a few minutes to look through the Portable Antiquities Scheme database to discover if there were any parallels in the UK (to have a look at the results I got see here).

A detail of a portion of the belt with the mounts complete and intact, showing the lion motif

A detail of a portion of the belt with the mounts complete and intact, showing the lion motif

We have barely scratched the surface of uncovering the story of this beautiful and potentially unique find, and there is undoubtedly much more to add before we are finished. However, for today we are still trying to get to grips with the excitement of the discovery, and are busy getting experts together so we can explore all the possibilities- all in all a very good day to be in the Rubicon office! To follow updates on this object and other work we carry out you can check out our blog at www.rubiconblog.com!

The other buckle with complete hinged pendants visible

The other buckle with complete hinged pendants visible

 

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Archaeology & Photographs

When a site is being investigated for an archaeological study one very important resource can be old photographs.

Photographs record an instant in time which can be invaluable at a later date for identification purposes particularly if the scene photographed has changed greatly over time. Fields may have been ploughed over, buildings demolished or altered or the people depicted have long gone.

As cameras became cheaper and readily available more and more people start to take photographs of their relations, friends, homes, towns, excursions and travels abroad. In addition, they also record scenes of particular interest to them and this often includes archaeological remains. This includes the roman mosaic shown below when newly discovered in Box, Wiltshire.

Identification, however, can be problematic particularly if the scene has changed greatly over time and is not identified either on the photograph itself or on documentation to accompany it. This can also make dating difficult as can not knowing who the photographer was. Despite this, however, they are an invaluable resource.

Some examples of photographs which could be of archaeological interest include some from a collection of glass magic lantern slides ranging from 1890 to around 1914.

One of these is of the Box mosaic previously referred to, found in 1898 and now reburied to preserve it from frost damage. Others in this collection where the location is recorded  could also be of use to archaeologists. These include a cottage in  Schull,Ireland, a windmill near Rhyll,Walesand a replica  medieval cross inBristol. The original was moved toStourhead in Wiltshire, while parts of the replica were moved toBerkeley Square

Box Mosaic 1989.176.8.69

Cottage, Schull 1989.176.8.5

Rhyll Windmill 1989.176.8.17

CrossBristol1989.176.8.72

Others in the collection are not identified so any help with possible locations would be appreciated.

These include:

1989.176.8.36 The name of the shop owner is clear but where was the photograph taken?

1989.176.8.37  This was probably taken near Warleigh but does anyone know who the people in the photograph are ?

1989.176.8.12. Finally, this stone tower building may possibly be inCornwall, any ideas?

Penny, collections volunteer

 

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