king

A king and a cardinal

The day started early when I arrived at the office at 7.30am to my desk in the planning department. Up on the 11th floor of our aging glass and concrete building I opened my email and commented on the possible archaeological implications to a planning application. It’s all fairly standard and corporate stuff. The day then got more corporate when, at 10am, all the folk in the planning service gathered for a briefing in the central part of our office. It is all about what the service is to do in light of Government policy, how the service needs to improve the time in which planning applications are to be processed, and what may happen in light of further cuts to Government grants.

From here on in the day perked-up considerably:

As some of you may recall Leicester was the scene of some attention a six months ago when it was officially announced that the skeleton found some five months earlier, in a blast of publicity, was indeed that of Richard III. It all goes to show that you never really know what is buried beneath the surface. In the early stages of this project, some 18 months before, I recall saying to Richard Buckley, the Project Director. ‘You do realise that there is no chance of finding him. Most likely his remains will have gone long ago, but at least we may get to know something about the long lost friary.’

How wrong can you be? Not long after the trial trenching started, the bucket of the mechanical excavator encountered human remains. However, it was a few days and a lot more digging before the excavators realised that this skeleton was in roughly the location described in contemporary documents; in the west end (choir) of the chancel of the church, and returned to carefully exhume the remains in such a way as to preserve as much of the evidence as possible before it was taken to the lab.

Following the confirmation that the remains were those of the infamous (or should that be much-maligned?) King, the City Mayor acted swiftly and purchased a disused school next to the now famous car park. The school is to be transformed into a new Richard III visitor centre which is due to be opened next Spring. There is to be an entrance lobby to the visitor centre, occupying part of what was formerly the school yard. So the people who excavated the site last year returned to the site a couple of weeks ago. All that was seen of the chancel last year were a couple of 2m wide slots, this time they have investigated the majority of the chancel, giving them the chance to clear-up some of their previous misapprehensions and to recover three of the skeletons identified last year, so that they can be analysed in the lab.

The previous day the widely publicised lead coffin and the remains it contained had been removed from its resting place in a stone coffin. A host of VIPs had also visit the site on that day (the City Mayor, the Secretary of State at the DCMS and various people who decide on the City of Culture bid). I had decided to avoid this circus and take, Mike, our Head of Service to see the site. I took Mike onto the viewing platform. But the crowd was such that it was difficult to see much, so I took him round to the site itself, and got Matt, the site Director, to explain the site to him. Matt’s team were a vastly experienced group, and had done a great job exposing the remains and lifting the bodies.

The afternoon was spent on my only substantive contribution to the Festival of Archaeology. I crossed town to Leicester Abbey, where the Parks Service was hosting its own activity afternoon and where Cardinal Wolsey is believed to have been laid to rest. After spending some time chatting to some of the visitors, I gave a guided tour of the Abbey ruins. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon and the group I was guiding was a wonderfully varied group comprised of schoolchildren, young women with babies and toddlers in buggies, several adults and the usual smattering of retired people. It was a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for the site with them.

 

A Day of Archaeologists

Much of archaeology, especially in academia, comes down to how you spend your summer vacation. After finishing up the first year of a PhD at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University, this summer I’ve been making the project circuit in Italy and Jordan, the latter as part of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project.

Today was the day off for the team, and met with a slow start after a late night of football and dancing under the stars on the roof of the dig house (aka Club Sayhoun). Day off or no day off, five of us were up early and ready for a six hour hike to Jebel Harun, the grave of Aaron (Arabic: Harun), brother of Moses. And what a hike it was- you can all check out Allison’s post detailing just why visiting the tomb has been a pilgrimage for almost two thousand years. To add to her sparkling narrative would hardly do it justice, so instead I’m going to focus on the archaeologists with whom I spent the day hiking to the top of the known Petra world.

The hiking team (from left to right): Sarah Craft, Andrew Moore, Linda Gosner, and Allison Mickel

Crafty just finished up the fourth year of her PhD at the Joukowsky Institute. She researches pilgrimage sites in central Turkey, so was mixing business and ‘pleasure’ in hiking up what seemed like 10000m in 30+ degree desert sun. She’s also been a great friend in my first year at Brown in showing me both the school and the city, and will be sorely missed this coming year as she lives in Istanbul with a fellowship at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.

I just met Andrew this year at Petra, where he’s working for the first time after finishing his MA at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the last week I’ve already discovered he has a wicked sense of humour and, after today, I also know the man is a beast when it comes to an intense hike. I’m sure there must be some goat blood in his family tree somewhere.

Linda is another Brown student, so I’ve had the chance to get to know her pretty well in the last year. Aside from a shared love of dance (NB- she can actually dance, and I cannot), and a mutual hope for a Spain win against Italy on Sunday, we’ve also spent the last year in classes and brushing up on Latin to varying degrees of success. If I wanted to embarrass us both, I’d post the video of us re-enacting the opening scenes of the Lion King on the mountain today. I think this time discretion is the better part of valor.

Allison is another person I’ve had the good fortune to meet this season at Petra, and has just finished up her first year of a PhD at Stanford. We’ve already had some great chats about communicating archaeology to the public. I don’t know how she made it up the mountain after a serious bout of sickness yesterday, but after some strategic shady stops, a lot of water, and even more stairs we emerged victorious to greet the others and have some lunch.

Exhausted. A pilgrimage really is all about the journey.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussion of archaeology focusses on the archaeology itself- on the site, the materials, the landscape, the archive, the publication. But at least to me, the personal interactions on days like today leave a more lasting impression. Meeting and developing friendships with these people- the archaeologists, my peers- is the thing that is ultimately the most rewarding aspect of a career in archaeology. I’m looking forward to similar days of archaeological pilgrimage, both in the rest of my season with BUPAP and in the future.

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Five – Shropshire in the Civil War

 Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

This section has been written by Jonathon Worton who is a studying for a PhD student at the University of Chester looking at the English Civil War in Shropshire.

Shropshire at War: July 1643 – March 1644

Speeds Map of Shropshire – Copyright and permission of Shropshire Archives/ Shropshire Council

Between July 1643 and March 1644, during the First English Civil War, the military situation in Shropshire changed radically as the war became increasingly hard-fought on Shropshire soil.

Since the beginning of the conflict between King Charles I and his political opponents, the king’s supporters in Shropshire had been active and by September had effectively neutralised parliament’s following in the county. On 20 September King Charles, his court and elements of his army entered Shrewsbury. Considerably reinforced, the Royal army marched from the county in mid-October – to fight the first major battle of the Civil Wars at Edgehill in Warwickshire on the 23rd – leaving Shropshire under Royalist control.

When in March 1643 the Royalist general Lord Capel took command in Shropshire, there were still no Parliamentarian forces or garrisons in the county. Whilst skirmishing and raids by both sides took place along the Cheshire border – with fierce fighting occurring at Whitchurch and Market Drayton – most of Shropshire was at relative peace. The county was, however, being increasingly exploited to provide money, resources and recruits for the Royalist war effort. In May, Sir William Waller’s Parliamentarian army captured Hereford, and Shropshire’s Royalists feared a Roundhead thrust into the south of the county. Whilst the London press reported the fall of Royalist Ludlow, in reality Waller’s expeditionary force soon withdrew back into Gloucestershire without having ventured onto Shropshire soil.

Royalist control in Shropshire was seriously threatened for the first time in September 1643, when a group of local Parliamentarian activists who had been driven into exile in 1642 returned to the county with military support from Cheshire and London. This county committee established a garrison at Wem and fortified the minor market town with earthworks and artillery. The threat to the Royalists’ headquarters at Shrewsbury some eight miles to the south was clear, and on 17-18 October Capel’s army repeatedly attacked Wem. Although greatly outnumbered, the Roundheads beat off the Cavaliers, who withdrew to Shrewsbury having suffered heavy casualties. Defeated in battle, Capel had also become unpopular with Shropshire’s populace – Royalists and neutrals alike – for whom wartime taxation, conscription and other military demands had become an unacceptable burden; after the defeat at Wem, one London news book (the equivalent of the modern newspaper) reported that Capel feared to leave Shrewsbury in case the townsmen barred the gates behind him!

Panorama View of Shrewsbury 1630 – 1650 – Copyright and permission Shropshire Museums

Whilst the situation of the Parliamentarians at Wem remained precarious – they complained they were isolated, short of arms and ammunition and had few local recruits – psychologically they held the upper hand. Lord Capel was recalled to the king’s headquarters at Oxford in December 1643, and there is evidence that without effective local leadership, Royalist support, morale and administration in Shropshire began to crumble. One Cavalier colonel described how the defences of Shrewsbury were in ‘great neglect’. By January 1644, the Parliamentarians were strongly fortified at Wem and had established lesser garrisons in north Shropshire. On the 12th, led by Colonel Mytton, they inflicted a significant defeat on the Royalists at Ellesmere, capturing a munitions convoy, routing the escorting cavalry regiments and capturing a number of high-ranking Cavaliers. To the south of the county, just over the Herefordshire border, was the small Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan Castle. Having successfully withstood a siege the previous summer, in the New Year the Roundheads at Brampton Bryan raided and plundered Royalist territory and succeeded in establishing an outpost in southwest Shropshire at Hopton Castle.

The Royalist high command at Oxford now turned to their most famous general, King Charles’s half-German soldier-nephew Prince Rupert, to restore the military situation in Shropshire. The prince is largely remembered as the most dashing of Cavaliers, famous for his good looks and hell for leather cavalry charges. In reality, Rupert was sober in his habits and suffered fools not at all; a careful administrator as well as a skilled tactician, Rupert was a professional soldier and a charismatic leader who attracted a following of like-minded energetic and ruthless young officers. Appointed by King Charles in January to the regional command that included Shropshire, Prince Rupert arrived in Shrewsbury on 19 February leading at least 700 experienced cavalrymen. Other Royalist reinforcements, from as far afield as Bristol and Ireland, were not far behind. The arrival of the charismatic prince no doubt heartened loyalists and swayed others to the Royalist cause. At Wem, Colonel Mytton feared the power of the prince’s persona, as much as his reinforcements, ‘in regard of the reputation of the man, whose name shouts loud in the ears of the country people’.

The influence of the prince was soon felt, with a series of Royalist successes. On 23 February he despatched one of his protégés, Major Will Legg, with a task force of cavalry and infantry to seize supplies of food and fodder from the countryside around Wem, thereby denying it to the Parliamentarians. On 4 March a Roundhead supply convoy was captured near Tong, and the next day Rupert led a raid on Market Drayton, taking by surprise and routing a Roundhead cavalry force encamped there, including a regiment from Yorkshire. Around 18 March the Parliamentarians had established a garrison at Apley Castle near Wellington, but on the 24th a Royalist force, including a Welsh regiment, occupied the town and captured the castle. The following day at Longford, near Lilleshall, 600 Parliamentarians under Mytton were defeated by a similar number of Royalists. With their last mobile force defeated, the Parliamentarians were pinned down in their garrisons. On 24 March Hopton Castle was surrendered after a hard-fought siege, and the Roundhead garrison massacred. In co-operation with Royalists from Cheshire led by Rupert’s deputy, Lord John Byron, the prince’s forces took the minor enemy garrisons in north Shropshire; and by 30 March at Ellesmere, 600 Royalist soldiers from Shrewsbury had joined forces with Byron’s men to threaten Wem. The same day another Royalist officer wrote from Shrewsbury, with obvious enthusiasm, that ‘we shall not be long troubled by our neighbours of Wem’.

By the end of March 1644, Royalist supremacy in Shropshire had been largely restored, and the Parliamentarians were contained in their garrisons at Wem, Tong and Longford, and over the Herefordshire border at Brampton Bryan. These remaining outposts soon came under Royalist pressure, and by the end of April, Wem remained once again as parliament’s sole stronghold in Shropshire.

Marshall Prospect of Shrewsbury – a view of the town in the restoration?
Copyright: Shropshire Museums

Reflections on the Bitterley Hoard – from a County perspective

From the above, it is difficult to attribute the deposition of the Bitterley hoard to a specific military event during this period. Whilst the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan was stubborn and determined, it lacked the manpower and resources to range widely into south Shropshire, and would have been checked by the Royalist garrison at Ludlow. For this period of the Civil War in the county most of the fighting occurred in the northern half. Thus, with the exception of the perceived influence of the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan – and that of the lesser, short-lived outpost at Hopton Castle – and the ‘scare’ engendered by the brief Parliamentarian occupation of Hereford in May 1643, for much of the period July 1643 to March 1644 south Shropshire must be considered to have been relatively safe for Royalist supporters, with the direct threat of Parliamentarian military action fairly minimal – although of course it is easy to state this with the hindsight of history!

There may have been Royalist soldiers from Shropshire who had served in the garrison of Bristol since its capture in July 1643, and later returned to serve in the county. A locally recruited regiment – Colonel Richard Herbert’s – had fought at the capture of Bristol, and may have been part of the garrison for a while. After fighting at Newbury in September, it returned to Shropshire and was, at least in part, in garrison at Ludlow from October. Prince Rupert’s own regiment of foot had been part of the Bristol garrison, and marched from there to Shropshire when the prince assumed command at Shrewsbury. Rupert’s ‘Bluecoats’ may have been in action at Hopton Castle, but were more likely at Brampton Bryan. An officer of the regiment who having been quartered at Bitterley and had hidden his monies there, before leaving to be killed or fatally wounded at Brampton Bryan? –  tenuous, perhaps! Bristol was also a source of Royalist war materiel that found its way to Shropshire via Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

As mentioned, Royalist military taxation became increasingly oppressive. Although in March 1644 Rupert reformed the system set up by Capel, if anything the demands became greater; and doubtless Rupert’s tax collectors were not adverse to seizing what they thought was due and considered had not been paid under the formal collection process. Parliamentarian sympathisers would of course have been under closest scrutiny for concealed wealth, but neutrals and Royalist supporters would not have been immune from these demands, the grinding financial severity of which should not be underestimated. Perhaps the Bitterley hoard is a classic case of wartime tax avoidance?

A summary of Jonathon’s current research can also be seen here:

http://finds.org.uk/research/projects/project/id/322

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012

 

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

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The coins in the Bitterley Hoard were analysed by Dr Barrie Cook and Henry Flynn of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum.

The summary of their report can be seen below.

The hoard comprised:

Edward VI, silver: 1 shilling

 

Elizabeth I, silver: 46 shillings

 

 

 

James I

  gold: 1 Britain crown;

 

 

 

 

 

silver: 4 half-crowns and 20 shillings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles I,

  Tower mint, silver: 31 half-crowns and 33 shillings

 

 

 

 

 

Charles I, provincial mints, silver: 1 half-crown

Charles I, Scottish coinage, silver: 1 30-shillings and 1 12-shillings

In total there are 1 gold and 137 silver coins. The gold was of the crown gold standard, 22 carat fine, and the silver of the traditional sterling standard over 90% fine metal. The face value of the silver coins was £9 6s., including the Scottish coins in English value terms; the single gold coin was originally worth 5s. but was later re-valued to 5s.6d., giving a total for the hoard of £9 11s.6d.

The latest coin is the Bristol half-crown dated 1643, produced between July 1643, when Bristol fell to Prince Rupert for the king, and March 1644. This places this group among the large number of hoards that were deposited in the early years of the English Civil War, never to be recovered until modern times.

The range of coins present is entirely consistent with such a date, with the appropriate representation of Tudor and early Stuart material. Apart from the gold coin, there are only two denominations present, the half-crown and shilling, making this a batch of quite highly selected material, without even sixpences, usually the third denomination present in large numbers in mid-17th century coin hoards.

The full Catalogue can be found here:

http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/430201

Further Reading:

Anyone interested in coin hoards from this period should have a look at the excellent study by Edward Besly.

E. Besly, 1988 English Civil War Coin Hoards British Museum Occasional Paper: 51 British Museum, London.

Peter Reavill

June 2012

Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip

Sydney Observatory, Fort Phillip, the missing Greenway magazine and Windmills

Fort Phillip used to send signals in the early 1800s.

Since the flag mast was reinstated in 2007, a flag decoder permits visitors to determine the daily astronomical, shipping, meteorological and ceremonial flags flown on Sydney’s highest hill in the CBD.

The significant heritage value of Sydney Observatory 1858 including the remains of Fort Phillip 1804 have been officially recognised at both local and state levels. The care and use of the site must protect the values that make it a significant part of the heritage of Sydney and NSW. 

The exceptional heritage aspects of the Sydney Observatory have been outlined in a ‘statement of significance’ in the Conservation Plan (Kerr). The statement forms a succinct summation of the particularly unique and significant aspects of the site and its values, and is used to guide decisions regarding the care of the site:

‘The Observatory is of exceptional significance in terms of European culture. Its dominant location beside and above the port town and, later, City of Sydney made it the site for a range of changing uses, all of which were important to, and reflected, stages in the development of the colony. These uses included: milling (the first windmill); defence (the first, and still extant, fort fabric); communications (the flagstaffs, first semaphore and first electric telegraph connection); astronomy, meteorology and time keeping ;

The surviving structures, both above and below ground, are themselves physical documentary evidence of 195 years changes of use, technical development and ways of living. As such they are a continuing resource for investigation and public interpretation;

The place has an association with an extensive array of historical figures most of whom have helped shape its fabric. These include: colonial Governors Hunter, Bligh, Macquarie & Denison; military officers and engineers Macarthur; Barrallier; Bellasis and Minchin; convicts: the as yet unnamed constructors of the mill and fort; architects: Greenway (also a convict), Lewis, Blacket, Weaver, Dawson and Barnet; signallers and telegraphists such as Jones and the family Moffitt; astronomers: particularly PP King, Scott, Smalley, Russell, Cooke and Wood;

The elevation of the site, with its harbour and city views and vistas framed by mature Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) trees of the surrounding park, make it one of the most pleasant and spectacular locations in Sydney;

The picturesque Italianate character and stylistic interest of the Observatory and residence building, together with the high level of competence of the masonry (brick and stone) of all major structures on the site, combine to create a precinct of unusual quality;

Finally, the continued use of the observatory for astronomical observations and the survival of astronomical instruments, equipment and some early furniture, although temporarily dispersed, and the retention of most interior spaces, joinery, plasterwork, fireplaces, and supports ensure that the observatory can remain the most intact and longest serving early scientific building in the State (Kerr 1991: 39)

Also of significance for relationship of Commonwealth and State powers. Site of the first inter-colonial conference on meteorology and astronomy. (Pearson et al 1999)

An excellent example of a Colonial building erected for scientific purposes and continuing to perform its function at the present time. The structure makes an imposing composition atop the historic hill originally known as Flagstaff Hill and occupies the historic Fort Phillip site (1804-45). Designed by the colonial architect Alexander Dawson and built in 1858.

After completion of recent restoration from 2008  to 2011 the remains of Fort Phillip are now used for Australian historical archaeology workshops. Two of which are being set up today, June 29 for the school holiday period commencing tomorrow. They are Time Detectives and Dig It! Both workshops are being used as school holiday programs with the intent to run them on a regular basis for school and community tours.

Dig it! Archaeologists in training workshops run several times each holiday period and last just under two hours. They are always sold out and we use the following ad online and in our collateral:

“Become a hands-on archaeological detective and investigate the history of Fort Phillip and the site of Sydney Observatory. Experience a simulated archaeology dig, find out what happens to artefacts after they are ‘dug’ out of the ground. In wet weather, the dig is replaced by a fabulous 3-D Space Theatre session. Suitable for: ages 6–10 years”

Budding young archaeologists learning the trade in the Signal Master’s Cottage atop Fort Phillip.

 

More “Dig It!” archaeologists with one of our very own archaeologists, Anthea.

Our second workshop is Time detectives: a science and archaeology game. “Treat your child to a fabulous day of science investigation at historic Fort Phillip, part of Sydney Observatory. This workshop includes a simulated archaeology dig, investigating finds, making an electronics analysis device which they then use to solve a mystery dating back 200 years. Participants get to view through binoculars and telescopes and experience the 3-D Space Theatre. Suitable for: ages 8–12 years.” This workshop lasts 6.5 hours and again is always sold out.

The third archaeology program is offered to Vacation Care groups. In a typical 2 week holiday period we may have up to 10 groups attend and it is this one we have been preparing today in particular by cleaning the “dig pit” and planting our artifacts. Vacation care groups: dig it! And map it!A fun, hands-on simulated archaeology dig. In the program for primary and infants school age children participants dress up and take part in a simulated dig with our resident archaeologist and record their findings. Binoculars are used to view South Head and the children decode Sydney Observatory flags. For high school children measurement is made using instruments and participants map a section of the site, recording their archaeology finds. Participants safely view the Sun through a telescope (weather permitting) and record their measurements of solar activity. This workshop caters for up to 60 children at a time and is suitable for ages 5–9 years and 10–14 years.

As we continue to develop our programs and target schools and community groups it is expected that archaeology will continue to expand at Sydney Observatory.

 

Work on Fort Phillip commenced in 1804 but ceased in 1806.

 

Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip ground plan circa 1870s. Note no mention of the magazine.

 

One of the many relics found at the site.

Geoffrey Wyatt

Education Officer

Sydney Observatory and Fort Phillip

geoffw@phm.gov.au

Adventures with the Maya

On Fridays, my husband and I are usually writing or researching or doing school visits, but this week we were at home working on our website. We co-write and illustrate a Maya-themed adventure series for 9-14 year-olds called The Jaguar Stones. Eight years ago, we gave up our jobs in a London advertising agency to become writers in rural Vermont. At that point, I knew nothing about the Maya and never dreamed that one day my life would revolve around them – to the extent that we’ve now explored nearly forty sites in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize, got to know many leading Mayanists, presented at the AIA Archaeology Fair, and visited countless schools around the United States.

Our books – note the Bulgarian edition that just arrived!

It all started when we decided to write a children’s book set in the jungles of Central America. My husband Jon had grown up there and the book grew out of his memories of a wild childhood. So at first, the Maya pyramids were just a cool background for our story. But the more we researched the Maya, the more we realized that truth was more fascinating than fiction.  It soon became apparent that most textbooks were out-of-date and did not reflect the latest archaeological findings. Since then we’ve made it our mission to bridge that gap.

Everything we write is checked by Harvard professor, archaeologist and epigrapher, Dr Marc Zender, who keeps us up-to-date with the latest thinking. For example, one of our main characters was a Maya king nicknamed Lord Six Rabbit, a name we loved. Six Rabbit was supposed to be his birthday in the Maya calendar, but Dr Zender advised us that the Rabbit interpretation of that day glyph is now seen as Aztec. (The Maya reading now being star, as in Venus the morning star.) Given the amount of misinformation that’s already out there about the Maya, we wanted our books to be as accurate as possible. So, with a sigh, we changed our king’s nickname (and his birthday) to Six Dog.

When we visit schools, we often wear pith helmets in a tribute to one of my personal heroes, Sylvanus Griswold Morley – the dashing, daredevil director of the Chichen Itza project and WW1 secret agent. (I even gave the hero of the Jaguar Stones the middle name of Sylvanus.) Or sometimes we wear leather hats like the most famous archaeologist of them all, Indiana Jones. But one of our greatest pleasures is meeting and talking to real life Mayanists. We’re trying to film as many of them as possible for our website and today Jon was editing an interview with Dr Mark Van Stone, Professor of Art History at Southwestern, leading expert on 2012 and author of one of the best books on the subject. When it’s up, you can view the interview here, along with all the others. Link to archaeologist videos

In the clip, Dr Van Stone is talking about how the myth of the world ending in 2012 arose and why it’s complete nonsense. If kids google 2012, they find literally thousands of websites proclaiming doom and gloom and blaming it on the Maya. Many children are terrified, but it’s virtually impossible for them to access the truth. So when we visit schools, we try to empower the students to question everything they read on the Internet and give them a much broader understanding of the Maya world. We also try to convey something of an archaeologist’s life with a video mash-up of archaeologists and anthropologists talking about their hairiest experiences – usually involving skulls, snakes, scorpions, giant centipedes, cave spiders, killer bees and, in one case, a cockroach sandwich.

This student made dolls of four characters from our book. Ah Pukuh - Maya god of death, Lola - a modern Maya girl, Lady Coco - a howler monkey, Lord Six-Dog, Maya king.

This student wrote a hilarious tourist guide to Xibalba, the cold, wet Maya underworld, "a wonderful place full of suffering, misery and sorrow."

While Jon was editing videos, I was scanning in some amazing projects presented to us by students on our last book tour. I’m trying to create some new teacher pages to go along with our lesson plan CD. Sometimes we’ll walk into schools and find ourselves surrounded by Jaguar Stones projects on every wall. Other times, they’ll decorate the school like a jungle in our honor. One school even had a fog machine to generate an appropriately spooky atmosphere. Recently, a student wrote to us and said: “I used to want to be a doctor and save lives, but now I want to be an archaeologist.” Not sure how I feel about that one.

The Maya king holding court in our dining room.

If we get the website sorted before the end of the day, I’m also hoping that we’ll get around to packing up the Maya king costume that’s currently adorning a mannequin in our dining room. We originally made it to take to schools, and we set it up last week for some passing tourists, but now it’s scaring our dinner guests! I think it’s the taxidermy eyes in the jaguar mask that freak people out. Of course, no actual Maya king costumes survived the jungle and the Spanish conquest, but we based our design on wall paintings and sculptures. I spent many long hours on eBay bidding for the feathers and found a Las Vegas showgirl headdress that we deconstructed to form the base. The whole thing was made and put together by our niece who’d had experience making circus costumes at university. When we take the costume to schools, it’s usually modeled by a teacher, much to the students’ delight. We had it with us for school visits in Florida when we went to the Maya at the Playa conference last year. Predictably a late-night reveler insisted on trying it on and wore it back down to the bar where the eminent archaeologist speakers were still, ahem, gathered. We thought they might be horrified at the liberties we’d taken in our design but they all loved it and many of them posed for photos with it!

As soon as we’ve got the website updated and the costume packed away, it’s back to work revising, editing and illustrating The Jaguar Stones book three.”

Spreadsheets, Guidebooks and That Cake With The Sprinkles

I’m currently working as Special Projects and Strategy Assistant at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

At the moment, I’m co-ordinating two publication projects and one exhibition and also help to co-ordinate the organisation’s strategic work. It’s not

Spreadsheets and Post-its

My working life is defined by a series of colour-coded spreadsheets and project monitoring charts. Fortunately, I’m the kind of person who derives great satisfaction from organised lists of things plotted against timescales! This morning, like every other morning, began when I sat down with a strong cuppa and reviewed my project charts.

Next, I sorted through yesterday’s post-its. The post-it note easily tops my list of Desert Island Office Items: every task, telephone number and interesting fact I come across through the day gets scribbled onto a yellow (or pink, or blue) square (yes, they’re colour-coded too). Each morning, I sort out Stuff That’s Actually Important from Irrelevant Stuff That Caught My Oft-Wandering Attention.

Once I’m done with my spreadsheets and post-its, I have a list of Things To Do for the day. This is what I got up to this fine Friday:

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site

In 2009, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal was inscribed on the World Heritage List. It became the third World Heritage Site (WHS) in Wales, alongside the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd and Blaenavon Industrial Landscape. I’m currently working with colleagues and partner organisations to produce an official guidebook to the WHS as a key outcome of the agreed Management Plan.

My day-to-day job involves interpreting existing archaeological and historical records to produce a comprehensive, user-friendly guidebook. I spent this morning adding to my ever-expanding database of images that could potentially be used in the guidebook.

My favourite image from this morning was this early photograph of Valle Crucis Cistercian Abbey close to Pentrefelin Aqueduct. The photograph was taken in 1855. This scan was produced from a rare salt-paper negative held in the Commission’s archive.

Yesterday’s image of the same site later in the 1800s was well creepy, so a rather more pleasant view was welcome!

Inside Welsh Homes

In addition to working on the guidebook, I’m also looking into the Commissions’ records of domestic interiors in Wales. Some of the photographs and records I’m uncovering will feature in an image-based book and a touring exhibition, both of which are due for release in mid-2012.

Just before lunch, I met with Royal Commission photographer Iain Wright to talk about some of the recent colour digital images he’s made that could be relevant. We also discussed a programme of photography for pre-historic and early-medieval sites, to ensure we covered as full a range of historic periods as possible.

The Staff Away Day!

The rest of my afternoon was spent making arrangements for the Commission’s Staff Away Day in September – an important part of our working year as an organisation. We’re planning on visiting several archaeological sites near Goginan in mid-Wales, and possibly taking a look at the records held in the National Library of Wales. If all goes to plan, it’ll be an interesting and insightful day for everyone!

Most importantly, I sorted out tea and cake for the afternoon session of the day. By popular request – well, more of a demand, really – I’ve ordered that vanilla and buttercream icing with sprinkles. Yes, it’s the same one we get at training days.

After Hours

Once I’m done here at work, I’ll be heading home to do… well, more work!

I’m in the final stretch of my MA in Interpretation, Representation and Heritage (a distance-learning course through the University of Leicester) and spend most of my time outside of my job here at the Commission working on my dissertation. I’ll liven up the Friday night diss session with a glass of schnapps as an end-of-week treat! Living the dream!

Accessing Egyptian archaeology through a British Museum exhibition

As an Egyptologist, currently working at the British Museum, I’ve been involved in a number of archaeological digs, but most of my research life has been devoted to trying to make sense of what other people have dug up and trying to share it with a wider audience. And that’s what I’ve been busy doing today.

A lot more ancient material than people might imagine has been found and then relatively ignored in pursuit of new discoveries, and it’s not always shared with as many people as it could be. Part of the work of the curators at the British Museum, whom I have been lucky to join as part of the BM’s Future Curators programme, is trying to make sense of the archaeological legacy that has been left to us. Curators have many different responsibilities, including current fieldwork, but they also persevere in contributing research on the museum’s existing collections, which is made freely available to the public in an online database, online research catalogues, and online journals. Outside researchers are also gladly welcomed to work on the collections; there’s always more that can be learnt from the objects.

Most of what I’ve been working on today relates to a BM UK touring exhibition, Pharaoh: King of Egypt, which I’ve been highly involved in, that opened recently in Newcastle before it tours the country. The exhibition explores the ideals and realities of kingship in ancient Egypt, and, as part of the BM’s Partnership UK programme, allows objects from the national collection to tour to museums outside of London.

I started today with further research into the objects that are currently part of Pharaoh. Exhibitions shed light on objects both literally and figuratively, bringing them out of storage to be shared with thousands of curious people, as well as being an excellent prompt to pursue further research into them. My hands on research, examining the details on objects up close, has sadly already passed, and now I’m chained to the computer and library books, fleshing out the context. Today I finally got round to working on one of my favourite objects from the exhibition, the massive wooden tomb guardian statue from the tomb of Ramses I. It towers at about two metres high and through the conservation work done on it, we learned that it is surprising in its construction as it is made from native Egyptian sycamore wood rather than the imported cedar wood which was usually used for large objects. Making sense of the object also involves tracing its history back to its discovery by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817 and some subsequent misinterpretation in later publications!

Of course, as all archaeologists will understand, my research time didn’t last long, as administration, meetings, and other commitments took over. I worked on our slowly evolving project of making the Pharaoh website a better guide and online catalogue for the exhibition: today we added the exhibition themes to the website, which you can see here. Then we had a debriefing meeting to discuss what we learned during the installation of the exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock to help us better prepare for transporting and installing the objects in the subsequent venues around the UK. All sorts of things like scheduling, personnel, improved packing techniques, security, and providing contextual information and images were discussed.

Finally I also exchanged farewells with our visiting curators from Egypt and around the world, who were here for the past 6 weeks as part of the British Museum’s International Training Programme. I led a couple of sessions with the visiting Egyptian curators, as well as attending some of training sessions alongside the ITP participants, and I certainly learned as much from them as I was able to teach. On their last whole day here yesterday, they presented their ideas for future exhibitions based on some of the new approaches they’d learned from colleagues at the BM, partner museums, and each others. It was amazing to see presentations on exhibition concepts like the trade route between China & Europe or Somali wedding traditions, and given in partnerships such as Brazilian and Nigerian curators working together.

One can always learn more, whether from meeting new people or revisiting old objects, and continually asking questions is one of the most important tenets of archaeology.

Supporting students in the field

I have a strange job, and one that doesn’t exist at too many other universities. My official title is ‘Project and Fieldwork Officer’ and, along with my partner in crime Anthony in the role of Computing Officer, you could say we act as a sort of half-way-house between the students and the lecturers in the Department of Archaeology at York.

We spend a lot of our time teaching the undergraduate and postgraduate students techniques like survey, geophysics, and computing skills such as GIS, but invariably this doesn’t stop in class. As soon as a student decides to use a fieldwork technique, piece of kit, or computer in their dissertation, this means a lot of one-to-one support and coaching from us. This puts us in a nice position, as we really get to know the students well, in a more relaxed environment. It also means we are rewarded handsomely with wine and chocolate at the end of the year.

With the undergraduates away for the summer it’s quiet in the department, but there’s still plenty to do. The postgrads are still here, desperately trying to finish their dissertations and in need of GIS and other general computer help, but today I had other responsibilities.

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