maritime archaeology

Confessions of an Archaeologist

My name is Laura Johansson and I am an archaeologist. I am originally from Pargas, Finland, but moved to the UK in 2010 to do my undergraduate in archaeology at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. My interest in archaeology stretch back to my early teenage years, and since my passion for archaeology has only grown. My real passion though is for maritime archaeology and I am currently studying for an MA in Maritime Archaeology in Southampton. University will start back up in September, but up until then I am employed as a full-time archaeologist for Southampton City Council Archaeology Unit and on annualised hours as a museum guide for The National Museum of the Royal Navy, which is based in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

I’ve chosen to write an account of one of my days at the Medieval Chantry Dig in Southampton, working for the SCC Archaeology Unit. We are currently clearing out any archaeology from an area where the Drew Smith Group is planning to build a new set of flats. As mentioned before, this site has previously been the location of a medieval chantry which was connected with St. Mary’s Church, located just across the road. In this case there is a substantial amount of documentation connected to our site, which has allowed us to understand what the different medieval features on the site may be. However, there are also several Saxon pits, containing a substantial amount of animal bones.

On this particular day I had just started digging a new feature. So far the theory is that the feature is a pit of unknown date which is being cut by a ditch which seems to be running across a large part of the site. This job is my first paid full-time position in commercial archaeology (yay me!) and it is refreshing to get to work in a different side of archaeology (previously I have mainly participated in digs organised by universities). Surprisingly (to me) it is quite different! I was told today that in contemporary British Commercial Archaeology we no longer use trowels for other things than cleaning the mud out of our boots. However, (if archaeology was a religion) I did feel like a sinner in church as I was shovelling out the layers of my pit!

Unfortunately I can’t really tell you anything interesting about my feature as I don’t know much myself. The dig started in the middle of April this year and we are now running on the last few weeks. Unfortunately time is against us and we are having speed up the process a bit (we are like digging machines!), but fortunately it looks like there is not too much left to do. Hopefully the weather will be with us these last few days as we otherwise will be sat in the office doing finds washing (which isn’t too bad either!).
It has always been my intention to pursue a degree in archaeology after university. My interests are quite wide, but my expertise lies mainly within British and Finnish archaeology. One of my greatest passions is to promote archaeology to the wider public, which is something I am hoping to continue to do in the future. Among other things I am planning to partly base my MA dissertation project on public outreach so we shall see how it goes! Wish me luck!
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Drew Smith Group, Dr Andy Russel and Emma for their kind contributions to this piece.
Disclaimer: All photos were taken by the author, except the Google map images.

Philip Robertson (Historic Scotland) – Argyll and Bute

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

I’m Philip Robertson. I work in the Scheduling, Marine and Battlefields team within Historic Scotland, and am responsible for operational management of the Scheduling programme, and leadership of Historic Scotland’s work in protecting and managing marine archaeological heritage, in particular through designation of Historic Marine Protected Areas.

As befits the interests of a maritime archaeologist, I have chosen a shipwreck!  The wreck of what we believe was a small oared warship belonging to the Marquis of Argyll, the Swan, was lost at the S entrance to the Sound of Mull during an attack on Duart Castle by Cromwellian forces in September 1653.

The Swan was discovered by a Royal Navy diver around 1979, who brought it to the attention of the University of St Andrews. The site is a particular favourite of mine as I took part in the investigations of the wreck which took place between 1991 and 2003, led by Dr Colin Martin.   The excavations revealed the well-preserved structure of a wooden vessel, including the collapsed stern, comprising the bottom part of the rudder, sternpost and associated components detached from the keel; the lower hull, comprising frames, inner and outer planking, and mast-step; and the less well-preserved remains of the collapsed bow.

The team also discovered a wide range of artefacts, including carved decorative features from the ship, rigging, small arms and one small cannon with carriage, silver coinage, ceramics, navigational equipment, galley remains, personal effects, the bones of one human being, as well as plant, animal and fish remains.

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Today, divers are welcome to visit this site and see guns and anchors on the seabed, but the remaining sections of the hull are protected under sandbags and sediment that are helping to stabilise the environment around the wreck.  As the site is legally protected, visitors must not disturb the wreck or remove artefacts without permission. Educational tours are organised through the nearby Lochaline Dive Centre, but if you’re not a diver, you can still enjoy a visit to Duart Castle where you will find an exhibition about the wreck. There is also an interpretation panel on the promontory next to the site.

What interests me most about the Swan is that it shows that Scotland’s underwater heritage can be just as rich and significant as our heritage on land. With the aid of scuba equipment and the traditional skills of the archaeologist, underwater archaeology can contribute just as much to our knowledge of the past as the very best archaeological investigations on land.

The online record for the Swan held at RCAHMS, was recently upgraded as part of a partnership between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland, aimed to enhance and promote information on the marine historic environment. More information about Project Adair can be found on the RCAHMS website including the full project reports.

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. © RCAHMS

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. Copyright RCAHMS (DP151172)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


Day of Archaeology in Macedonia 3

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

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

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

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

NGO Archaeologica – Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

Learning, Laughing and Living: An Archaeology Student Group from Down Under

In an average week, members of the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) committee spend hours organising events and opportunities for the professional development and social interaction of archaeology students from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Today is different, however, because we are taking time out for the exam period and end of semester assessments, and although we are not doing an incredible amount today, ArchSoc wanted to support this fantastic project nonetheless.

Semester one, 2012 has been a particularly busy semester for ArchSoc as we have organised an unprecedented number of events, and we have witnessed unprecedented high membership rates. For the most part, we assist the Department of Archaeology in hosting visiting archaeologists by making their time at Flinders an enjoyable experience. In many ways we are the life and energy of Flinders archaeology.

This semester began with a field trip. We sent a group of eight students to the Port Arthur Heritage Site in Tasmania to assist the local archaeologists in cleaning and cataloging artefacts from a recent excavation. The students that attended this trip had no previous archaeological experience and ArchSoc is proud to have given them this opportunity.

Site survey at Port Arthur

Next we ran a pub crawl. This event saw around one hundred archaeology students hitting the town in our bright blue t-shirts. How do you like the design? 🙂

ArchSoc conducted a site survey and a ‘Meet the Archaeologists! ‘ night to coincide with National Archaeology Week and ‘About Time: South Australia’s History Festival’. These events saw many members of the public actively engaging with archaeologists and students (out of over 500 events, ours were consistently listed as the first and second most popular throughout the festival!).

Our final event for semester one was a quiz night among the cells and gallows at the heritage listed Adelaide Gaol. The table of lecturers lost to a student table by only 0.5 points!!

Without a doubt, this semester has been fantastic and beneficial to Flinders archaeology students, not only in their professional development, but in social interactions as well (arguably the greatest aspect of this semester has been our new item of merchandise: Flinders ArchSocks!).

Here’s to another great semester! What have other archaeology student groups been up to this year?

Flinders Archaeological Society

SeaCity Museum: Environmental Monitoring

Today I have been doing environmental monitoring of archaeological collections on display at the new SeaCity Museum (opened in April this year). I was lucky enough to start a new job last week as Collections Care and Access Trainee for Southampton City Council Museum Collection Management, funded by the Heritage Lottery Skills for the Future scheme. So far I have had some fantastic opportunities to learn about collections and documentation and today we are focused on environmental monitoring to ensure the objects’ conditions are stable.

Tiny Tag in the Millbrook Roman Hoard display case

The museum houses a range of objects related to Southampton’s past which includes this fantastic hoard of Roman coins excavated in Millbrook, Southampton. Over 4,000 late 3rd century Roman coins were found during building work. 1,000 of these coins have been put on display for the public to view at SeaCity Museum. The coins are copper alloy and need to be monitored to preserve them in as good a state as possible. To achieve this Tiny Tags were put in cases with vulnerable objects to record temperature and humidity readings at regular intervals on a daily basis.

Next job is to download the information to create graphs and interpret if the levels are right for that particular case. These Tiny Tags can record and store data for three months so the data is logged and the Tiny Tags reset at a minimum of every three months.

Another display case for monitoring is the settlement in Hamwic case. This consists of loom weights, a cooking pot, lamp, spindle whorl, linen smoother, bone comb, whistle, ice skate and tweezers. It is important to monitor this case to keep the bone and metal in the appropriate conditions to prevent the objects from deteriorating.

Putting a Tiny Tag into the Hamwic display case

Hamwic was a Middle Saxon (c.700-850) town situated around what is now Northam and St Marys in modern Southampton. It was an important port and excavations show that many crafts and industries were practiced in Hamwic. The excavations at Hamwic have resulted in one of the best collections of Middle Saxon finds in Europe so I feel privileged to work so closely with such exciting finds!

I have a background in archaeology with a BA in History and Archaeology and a Masters in Maritime Archaeology so it has been a very interesting day learning about monitoring conditions for objects post excavation and the dimensions and concerns about displaying objects, and that has been my day of archaeology. Not all archaeological work is in the field!

Now it’s back to learning about documentation and recording and exploring more interesting objects.

If you are interested in seeing the above mentioned objects for yourself then please visit the SeaCity Museum website.

The Cog: A Medieval Chatterbox

My name is The Cog. I’m a medieval shipwreck. Found in 2000 during construction works in the harbor of Antwerp (Belgium). A dendrochronologist was able to date my wood. He told me it was chopped in the winter of 1325-1326. Somewhere in the northwest of Germany.

This is how I was found in the Deurganckdok (Antwerp) in 2000. (Copyright ADW)

Since my discovery I just can’t stop talking. But what did you expect? I was lying there, under a sedimentary layer of 7 metres, for several centuries. Nobody to share my thoughts or feelings with. Doomed to pass my days in solitude. Until this huge crane brought me light in the darkness – and unfortunately also a stabbing pain in my hull.


Facebook and Thesis Research: A Students Life


By Cassandra Morris
Flinders University,
Master of Maritime Archaeology Candidate,
2011 Flinders University Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) Vice President

A student’s life is full of research. This week classes at university began again, forcing me to an early wake up, hours spent looking for a carpark and then finally getting on to campus only to discover that the information you went to pick up and work on is not there.

This week I have been working on promoting a facebook page. “Take the Plunge – Protect Australia’s Heritage” is a page created to promote the UNESCO 2001 Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage and its ratification by the Australian Government. A group of students (including myself) developed this page as a way to promote this controversial topic to the public, as well as to students and professionals. On the site is a downloadable letter that can be sent to our Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The letter lists beneficial points of ratifying the Convention in addition to pointing out that nearly all of the WW2 wrecks off the coast and in other countries are not protected. So far this page has spread like wildfire, appearing on many museum, university, dive groups and interested parties pages that it can. It has also made its way via facebook overseas. On Friday 29th the page reached 100 ‘likes’ and the letter viewed over 350 times! During the week we decided that we should take this opportunity to send letters to other members of parliament which are now in the writing stages. This page and its process are also being considered by another member of the group and myself for a poster, to be presented at the 2011 AIMA Conference.

Furthermore, my thesis for my Masters in Maritime Archaeology is in its research phase, and therefore, never far from my mind. Time spent making lists and reading previous theses and publications is not interesting to the outside observer. However, for my studies this past week’s efforts have been fruitful, and, at the same time, rather mind boggling. Ahead of me I can look forward to shuffling my way through museum policies and exhibitions. On my to do list: many phone calls and many more emails.

One of the highlights of my week was stumbling across a rather amusing book in the University bookshop. “The Archaeologists Book of Quotations” by K. Kris Hirst gave me a good laugh just flicking through the pages. Pride of place at the beginning of the blurb is a quote from Kent V. Flannery, “Hell, I don’t break the soil periodically to ‘reaffirm my status’. I do it because archaeology is still the most fun you can have with your pants on”. I think this sums up the feelings of most archaeologists, most likely due to all the time spent researching in libraries and at desks!

Indiana Jones was Right.

I’m not sure how many of us would admit this, but I decided to become an archaeologist because of Indiana Jones. He had it all: action, adventure, the whip and fedora. And the theme song. Man, that theme song! When I was a kid, I used to spend my summers on the boat at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, begging my dad to take me to Hospital Canyon so that I could see the building that were lurking just below the surface of the water. Each time we went, I would look down into the water, see the wooden buildings and tell myself that one day, I would go down there. Afterall, Indy would want me to.
Fast forward twenty years. I no longer live in southern New Mexico but in Northern Michigan. I never did get to go and check out the buildings of Hospital Canyon, but I did decide to follow in Indiana Jones’s footsteps. Kind of. I am a student of archeology, you see- nautical archaeology. Not something I would have expected from myself having grown up in the deserts of New Mexico, but there you are. I am not a diver, which some might think would hinder my ability to participate in field work. When I started studying the subject, I honestly thought the same thing. As it turns out, Lake Michigan is the place to be this summer.
I teamed up with a couple of NASII students this summer to do a project at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan. We were lucky enough to have this amazing speciman wash ashore this past fall after what amounted to an inland hurricane. The structure was magnificent! We worked with an amazing archaeologist who helped guide us in our work, encouraging us in every way. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but it was my Indiana Jones “moment” and the coolest day of my life. When the survey was over, we divided up the what needed to be done to get the monograph complete and went home.
Which brings me to today. Today, I am reminded of something that Dr. Jones told his students before he went off to find action and glory. He said that “Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library; research, reading.” That is what I am doing today: research and reading. It’s nothing glamorous, or sexy. And I am certainly not getting dirty digging in the dirt, or in this case knocked around by waves. But there is certainly a lot of work that goes into historical research of an unidentified vessel, the region it was found in, the circumstances under which it was found, and how it might possibly fit into the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, I spent most of my time in the library when the project plan was developed so today is dedicated to internet research: images mostly- period maps, lighthouse logs, meterological reports. This is something I can do comfortably in my pajamas at my kitchen table.
Today isn’t the most glamorous day of my archaeological career, and I’m sure it won’t be the last day like it. But I know that I can say that with each bit of research I uncover, I am that much closer to uncovering the mystery identity of this unknown shipwreck. And as I sit here at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, I know that the fictional archaeologist was right. Archaeology is a lot of research. But the day that I go back out into the field, I will most definitely be humming my own theme song.

Day in the Life of an Adjunct Professor

By training, I’m an archaeologist, but currently I teach cultural anthropology for a community college in the Northeastern section of the United States.  I leave my archaeology work for volunteer archaeology workshops for middle school students, writing pieces for a science advocacy’s publication, and for whenever I can incorporate my knowledge of the discipline to my students (to give them a preview of what else is included within anthropological research). This summer, my work included items like lesson and syllabus planning, previewing videos and DVDs for classtime discussions, and adapting to the different textbooks selected for the fall semester. I also worked on writing book reviews, columns, and articles for submission to anthropological and science-based publications.

However, this week, I’m partaking in a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks workshop geared toward community college faculty, where my days are chockful of archaeological work. Earlier this week, I got to see a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) device in action and also ever so briefly use it to scan over a shipwreck site in one of the Great Lakes. We also watched others use sonar devices under the lake and bay waters. We’ve gone further up the coast to see the remains of a wreck washed ashore and worked on practicing mapping the pieces which remain. Although I have never formally studied the Great Lakes or maritime/nautical archaeology beyond archaeobotanical coursework, my summer included days of reading articles and books on the subject matter.

You see no matter what you do as an archaeologist, constantly learning subject matter is essential work and involves a level of professional development. I came here to upstate Michigan this week to learn, explore, but most of all, to find new materials, approaches and activities to spark a new level of teaching from within. My students are my primary focus, although a lot of what went into my decision to apply this spring for this particular workshop series included the chance to spend a week somewhere I had never travelled, with facilitators and colleagues I never met before this week. Of course, maritime history and archaeology are topics I never explored before as well.

Today, we will be coming together as 25 students who teach across the United States (and within different academic departments and disciplines) to learn from experienced archaeologists, historians, doctoral students and governmental employees for a final day of workshops. While it is hard to imagine surpassing snorkeling over a wreck, and surveying a wreck on the shoreline yesterday, the same speculation could have been made earlier in the week. I mean, how do you top using and watching others use an ROV over a wreck? Or, seeing sonar being used to map shapes and features on the bottom of the water? The life of an archaeologist or an aficionado of the field can be quite eclectic, but no matter what your age, pathway, or deviations throughout the course of life, no matter what, you can always find your way to or back to, archaeology and enjoy the experiences.

For now, I plan on working on my final assignment then heading off to the marine sanctuary for a day of presentations, a boat ride, a few more research and photography hours, and then closing events. I should have some photos on my webspace at some point, so do feel free to take a look and also to write me an email with any questions. Likewise, if you are a community college instructor in the United States, I highly encourage you to check the NEH website for more on all the professional development opportunities which could be awaiting you as well next summer!