Manchester

Finds recording and more

As an archaeologist and a mum of two young children life is very much about juggling at the moment. This year’s Day of Archaeology is my first as a mum of a school going child and so with the arrival of our first lot of school summer holidays I find that tomorrow I will be busy being mum instead of at work in my role as a Portable Antiquities Scheme’s (PAS) Finds Liaison Officer, (FLO). So instead I find myself writing a day early and looking forward to enjoying what others have written tomorrow.

Photographing an early medieval inscribed stone LVPL-018000

Photographing an early medieval inscribed stone LVPL-018000

As the FLO for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside I visit local metal detecting clubs where I record their finds for the PAS database, finds.org.uk. Here we have over a million objects recorded which can be used by members of the public and researcher’s to advance our archaeological knowledge. Today I had a day in lieu, time off earned from visiting the detecting clubs at night, and spent the time putting the finishing touches on my book ’50 Finds from Manchester and Merseyside’. My deadline is Monday so it was a day of re-numbering images and checking references, not the most fun part of the process.

LVPLD80A36 Medieval Spindle Whorl

LVPLD80A36 Medieval Spindle Whorl

Writing this book has been really interesting as it has allowed me to stop and think about all the objects which I am constantly recording on the PAS database. Metal detecting is a popular hobby and finds recording an interesting job. I love the variety of objects which I get to record and learn about from Prehistory to 1700s, however often I find myself pushed for time and so I record the finds for the next club meeting or museum finds surgery and move on to the next batch and the next deadline. Now I’ve been able to take a step back and have a look at what has been found in Manchester and Merseyside, to put the finds into context and view them as more than just finds but as connections to people and the past.

LVPL-39BCF5 Roman patera handle from Cheshire

LVPL-39BCF5 Roman patera handle from Cheshire

Although I record lots of finds from Cheshire, I also record a huge amount from Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire. Greater Manchester and Merseyside are large urban areas and although there are small pockets of rural land many detectorists venture further afield. I have not recorded many local finds from Manchester and Merseyside and so I’ve had to look a bit harder to find some fantastic objects for my book. By recording finds and accurate find spots we can spot patterns but also voids, for example I realised yesterday there are only 5 Iron Age objects recorded from Merseyside for example.

LVPL-F7E419 Bronze Age flint dagger

LVPL-F7E419 Bronze Age flint dagger

One of those finds is this fantastic flint dagger found near Bolton LVPL-F7E419, it’s a really fantastic object but one which came to me through a chance conversation. The PAS is well known in the archaeological and detecting communities but outside of those groups many people are unaware of what we do. A chance find like this dagger found while out walking could have easily remained unrecorded. So my next challenge is to try and get more local finds recorded, I know there are more local objects out there waiting to be recorded and as I’ve been hearing a lot lately ‘gotta catch em all’!

Surprise find @ Manchester Museum

Working as Curator of Archaeology at Manchester Museum is never short of variety. I am currently working on a temporary exhibition about figurines from Koma Land in Ghana in West Africa that opens October 25 2013. This will be the first time that such figurines, which date roughly from the same time as our Middle Ages, have been shown outside Ghana with the approval of the Ghanaian authorities. It has been quite a learning curve and it’s been a great privilege to work with Prof Tim Insoll of the University of Manchester and Dr Benjamin Kankpeyeng of the University of Ghana to find out about what these beautiful but enigmatic figurines mean. Today I am editing some text for the exhibition. Shaving off words in order to reduce the number for the designer is challenging as a few words can subtly change the meaning about figurines that are already loaded with significance and complexity.

Working at the Museum means that I come across some great objects during my day to day activity. Yesterday I was just about to take a seat at the staff presentation when Lindsey Loughtman, one of the Assistant Curators  called me over to say she’d found an object in the Botany collection that appeared to be archaeology. I recognised it immediately as a neolithic ground and polished stone axehead dating from about 3500-2000 BC. Not only that, it had the original ‘O’ number museum reference written on it together with the name of the place where it was found: Winton near Eccles. It was a stone axehead I knew of from references in J.Wilfrid Jackson’s papers about the archaeology of Manchester. Jackson was the very widely respected curator who worked at Manchester Museum during the first half of the 20th century. The Eccles axehead is listed in Jackson’s ‘The Prehistoric Archaeology of Lancashire and Cheshire’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 50 (1936), pp.65-106; and in his ‘Contributions to the Archaeology of the Manchester Region’, The North Western Naturalist 11 (1936), pp.110-119.

The axehead turned up during the building of the new Westwood housing estate at Winton in 1922. At the time it was described as one of the finest and most perfect specimens in the Manchester area. J.J.Phelps in a short article ‘Stone Implement found at Winton, Eccles’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 40 (19XX), pp.42-44 described it as ‘a remarkably fine specimen’ and ‘one of the finest and most perfect specimens found in the district around Manchester’.

Wilton Axe c. Bryan Sitch

Wilton Axe c. Bryan Sitch

 

The axehead was found in June 1922 by Mr. James Caine, who saw it lying on top of spoil thrown out of a drainage trench cut in the soil about the centre of a newly made roadway named Westwood Crescent near Parrin Lane. The axehead has been sampled petrologically. You can see the thin slot cut in the side of the axe in order to provide a thin section to be used for identification. The stone was identified by J.W.Jackson of Manchester Museum as group VI greenstone, a kind of rock known as volcanic tuff. It is fine grained because it is made up of the compacted dust and grains from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. It shares characteristics with glass and flint which means it can be shaped by flaking because it will break in a predictable way. The source material outcrops in Langdale in the Lake District and the Pike O’Stickle quarry is famous for its breath-taking location. The prehistoric axe-makers made rough-outs and then ground and polished the rough-out until it was smooth and of a regular, symmetrical shape. I wanted to display it with other Manchester neolithic discoveries in our new Ancient Worlds displays which opened last autumn but unfortunately I couldn’t locate it at that time. And to think it was in the Botany department all the time!

So all-in-all a wonderful surprise and great to be reunited with an old friend.

Written by Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections and Curator of Archaeology at Manchester Museum.

Follow @BryanSitch

Manchester Museum – #cakehenge, smashing pots and wood conservation

Today is our last day of family and adult activities all about archaeology which Manchester Museum has organised to join in with the UK wide Festival of Archaeology!  In our Discovery Centre families are busily digging in sand boxes, painting Greek paper plates and making clay amulets. Festival of Archaeology is a great opportunity for the Museum to highlight its rich archaeology collections.  This year we’ve had a Big Saturday where people were able to wash finds from and meet the archaeologists, Whitworth Park Archaeology and History Project, smashed pots and painted casts of pre-dynastic hippo bowls to find out about the art and science of conservation and even decorate cookies to look like scarab beetles.  There has also been an experimental archaeology workshop looking at how a Coptic sock was knitted and a talk on wood conservation by Ian Panter, from York Archaeology Trust.  A real highlight of the Festival has been a donation of a bronze age burial cake (as part of our #cakehenge campaign)!

Post written by Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes.  Follow Anna on @MuseumMeets 

@littleminsbakery's bronze age #cakehenge c. Manchester Museum

@littleminsbakery’s bronze age #cakehenge c. Manchester Museum


Morning in Scotland

After a day of scorching sun, followed by a day of damp rain, we now wake to a day of white cloud.   perfect!

The Rampart Scotland fieldschool is into day 4.

18 folk from around the world, Canada, USA, Australia, Manchester , and local volunteers are working on the  iron age fort of Whitecastle in the foothills of the Lammermuirs in South East Scotland.

White Castle View

White Castle View

Off to site now, and some survey, erosion checking and digging…   I will keep you up to date.   But first off, I need to finish my coffee  and check my emails.   You see, I also run BAJR.   !    but that is another story.