At the City Archaeology Lab, Boston, MA

Today is a pretty quiet Friday in the City Archaeology Lab here in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. We’ve had a busy past couple of weeks, so it’s nice to be able to take it easy for a change. It also gives us some time to read through old site reports in preparation for an upcoming book on the history of Boston.

Our volunteers are hard at work reanalyzing old collections. This particular collection is from the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown, which burned to the ground during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. After the battle, the town decided to leave the site undeveloped as a memorial, which gave us some incredibly well preserved archaeology when a road tunnel was put through in the 1980s as part of the Big Dig. We are going through the collections to try to identify and organize the artifacts more accurately, so that they can be more useful to researchers in the future.

Volunteer Annie and City Archaeologist Joe examine some ceramics from Three Cranes Tavern.

Volunteer Annie and City Archaeologist Joe examine some ceramics from Three Cranes Tavern.

Another big part of our day is keeping up with social media. We’re coming off our best week ever on Facebook, gaining 431 new page likes and reaching a total 23,559 people – that’s almost a 4000% increase from last week! Facebook and Twitter are great ways for us to share exciting tidbits from our day-to-day activities and stay in touch with archaeology and history enthusiasts from Boston and beyond.

Uploading a Facebook post about a late Archaic point, 4,000 - 6,000 years old!

Uploading a Facebook post about a late Archaic point, 4,000 – 6,000 years old!

Sometimes we need to pull out old collections to find the type of artifact we want to share with our fans. Today, we got out the lithics collections from the Dillaway-Thomas House site in Roxbury, which was last excavated in 1988. We were looking for stone points from the Native American occupation of the site, going back all the way to 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. Many people don’t realize that Boston has an extensive Native component, and we want to share this relatively unknown but extremely important piece of history with the public.

We use a handbook of New England point types to identify artifacts before sharing them online.

We use a handbook of New England point types to identify artifacts before sharing them online.

Archaeology is hard work, and even on a slow day, we don’t want our volunteers to get hungry, so we make sure to provide lots of snacks.

We love cookies.

We love cookies.

After lunch, a researcher stopped by to check out some interesting pieces of redware that we’ve recently rediscovered in the Three Cranes Tavern collections. None of us have ever seen this particular style in Massachusetts, and the examples that have been found in Maryland and Maine have significantly younger dates than this piece. Exciting stuff! He took advantage of our setup to photograph this and other pieces for his research. It’s great to have a place where local researchers can come and have access to what they need.

Researcher Justin arranging some redware to photograph.

Researcher Justin arranging some redware to photograph.

Sometimes we get a little silly. The City Archaeologist made this video this morning when he had the lab to himself for a few minutes before the volunteers arrived.

Video tour of City Archaeology Lab and call for volunteers

Thanks for coming along with us today! If you want to be a part of a day in the City Archaeology Lab, shoot us an email (! We’re always looking for new volunteers.

A Day of Archaeology from the City of Brotherly Love (And Beyond)

It’s been a typically diverse summer day for me. One of my ongoing projects deals with understanding the initial adoption of pottery technology by the Indian peoples of the Delaware Valley (between roughly 1600 BC and 1000 BC) and subsequent trends in the manufacture and use of pots. Today I reviewed a number of recently published articles on the subject and made arrangements to see collections of pottery from archaeological sites in New Jersey (Gloucester County) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). I also continued my review and organization of data from an ongoing excavation project I direct, along with graduate student Jeremy Koch, in the Lehigh River Gorge of Pennsylvania. This location is a fantastic layer cake of deposits left by Indian groups beginning around 11,300 years ago and ending in colonial times. The site was brought to our attention by amateur archaeologist, Del Beck, who was concerned about the site being looted. Del remains an important member of our research team along with my old friend and amateur archaeologist, Tommy Davies, and colleagues from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Clarion and Baylor universities. We are currently into our 5th year of investigations at the site and are collecting evidence of native cultures that is rarely seen in buried and undisturbed contexts in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the site later this week.

Michael Stewart, archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


For the record, I’m not an archaeologist. I manage the regional historic preservation program for the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. General Services Administration. The regional headquarters is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania although the region covers six states from New Jersey to Virginia. We undertake a number of projects for the federal government that involve ground disturbing activities and I manage the regional regulatory compliance, including archaeological investigations. On June 25, 26, and 27 I reported to a customer agency about the ongoing investigation of two historic archaeological sites at their project site in southern Virginia, sent copies of correspondence and archaeological resource identification reports to a couple of Native American tribes who expressed interest in being consulting parties to a Section 106 consultation, prepared a scope of work to direct an archaeological contractor to undertake a survey to identify whether or not there are archaeological resources present in a planned project area, and worked on slides describing how to incorporate archaeology into project planning for a training presentation I’ll be giving in a few months.

Donna Andrews, Regional Historic Preservation Officer, GSA Mid-Atlantic Region, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


In the evening of June 25, 2012, I edited a draft of a publication being prepared regarding a multi-component prehistoric site (28GL228) located in New Jersey immediately east of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). The article will be published in the journal entitled Archaeology of Eastern North America and presented at the 2012 Eastern States Archaeological Federation meeting in Ohio (USA). The data from 28GL228 provides insight into Native American culture in the Philadelphia region. This project is being conducted on a volunteer basis.

Jesse Walker, MA, RPA


I, Poul Erik Graversen, MA (Masters), RPA (Registered Professional Archaeologist), spent most of my Monday, June 25, 2012, doing research for my PhD/Doctorate Degree.  I am currently living and working in New Jersey (USA), not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I grew up; however I attend the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Literature on free African Americans in the antebellum northeastern United States is sparse.  The literature that can be found on this very important topic has had little focus on the placement, layout, settlement patterns, and the archaeological record of these people.  My PhD dissertation aims to fill in the gaps of current scholarship focused on African American archaeology in the northeastern United States by means of an in depth analysis of both enslaved and free African American settlements in not only the northeastern United States, but in the southern United States and West Africa as well.  By analyzing the settlement patterns and socio-economic reasons behind the settlement patterns in other parts of the United States and the world, a clearer and more concise picture of the reasons behind the settlement patterns of free and enslaved African Americans in the northeastern United States will emerge.  Most of the information amassed in this regard up to this point stems from a historical perspective, with archaeological contributions and content lacking.  The new information gathered in this dissertation will shed light on the life-ways of these people via the archaeological record of both enslaved and free African American Diaspora in the northeastern United States of America and the ramifications of their extended exposure to European influence in North America. 

Poul Erik Graversen, MA, RPA PhD/Doctoral Candidate University of Leicester
Principle Investigator/Instructor Monmouth University New Jersey USA


Worked in the morning on several writing projects including my material culture based memoir: “Some Things of Value: A Childhood Through Objects”, my essay with my colleague Julie Steele on Valley Forge and Petersburg National Park Service sites, and some new stuff on American Mortuary practices inspired by my attendance and paper presentation at last week’s national meeting of the Association for Gravestone Studies held in Monmouth, New Jersey (USA). At about 10:30 am left Temple University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and went to Elfreth’s Alley [the oldest street in the USA) and discussed the excavations now underway, directed by my graduate student Deirdre Kelleher, ably assisted by two energetic volunteers and fellow student Matt Kalos. Three foundations have appeared (not the expected two) and need to be sorted out. Lots of stuff to think about there: the growth of 18th century Philadelphia, perhaps the first settlements there, the 19th century immigration and its impacts, all to be read through material culture; especially the remarkable surviving architecture. Greatly relieved not to get a speeding ticket as I journeyed back to Delaware City (Delaware, USA) where I answered some queries and agreed to some talks; including one on the Fourth of July!! My local historical society is busy trying to save a magnificent mid-18th century farmhouse on an imposing knoll surrounded by lowland farm ground and wetlands. Approved a draft to hopefully speed the preservation process along. Also reviewed the National Register nomination crafted by a group of us working at the Plank Log House in Marcus Hook, Pa., another early structure in the Delaware Valley. Regretfully decided that I could not attend the Fields of Conflict 7th Annual Meeting in Hungary this October. The day ended with a group response, led by my next door neighbor, to save an injured Great Blue Heron which found itself in front of our house. By 8:00 pm the heron was revived and taken care of at a friend’s animal hospital!

David G. Orr, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I spent the day doing fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) as part of my doctoral research.  Elfreth’s Alley, designated as a National Historical Landmark, is credited with being one of the oldest residential streets in the nation.  My research seeks to illuminate the lives of the inhabitants on the Alley, especially the many European immigrants who resided on the small street during the nineteenth century.  This summer, I am working behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley which house a small museum and gift shop.  During the day I worked with volunteers from the local community who came out to learn about and participate in the excavation.  I also spent time discussing my project with the many visitors who came to the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley.

Deirdre Kelleher, Doctoral Student, Temple University, Department of Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I am a Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) lecturer who teaches in three programs (Anthropology, Art History, Cultural Heritage); I also am a sole proprietor archaeological consultant with 25 years of archaeological experience – every day is always busy, diverse in the tasks and projects I work on, and linked with archaeology and anthropology. Today I: 1. Finished and submitted a review for a textbook on on Native American history and culture to a major publisher of archaeology and anthropology texts 2. Submitted an application to be listed as an independent archaeological consultant for the state of Pennsylvania 3. Gathered material for, and started writing a draft of, a syllabus for one of three courses I will be teaching next fall (“Cemeteries, Monuments, and Memorials: Cultural Heritage and Remembering the Dead”) 4. Wrote a short draft of an invited book contribution on the topic of an Alaskan archaeological site I helped to excavate in 1987 and 1994.

Katharine Woodhouse-Beyer


I just returned from a visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, where I viewed the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in which the accompanying artifacts of everyday life illuminate the scrolls themselves. I also was privileged to enjoy a preview of reconstructed transfer-printed creamware pitchers that will be included in an exhibit commemorating the War of 1812.  Curiosity about the images of naval engagements on these Philadelphia artifacts led me to explore similar prints offered on the websites of antique print dealers as well as on the Library of Congress Guide to the War of 1812. Researching Melungeons in aid of a relative’s family history quest, I examined Kenneth B. Tankersley’s work about the Red Bird River Shelter petroglyphs in Clay County, KY.

K. L. Brauer, Maryland, USA


June 26, 2012

Today, at Drexel University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), I met with two Digital Media undergraduates developing digital assets representing the James Oronoco Dexter House, the site of which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.  The 3D model will eventually serve as a virtual environment in which users interact with avatars and take part in “possible” conversations that led to the formation of the African Church, later known as, The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which are known to have occurred in this home. Jason Kirk, a junior who received a Steinbright Career Development Center Research Co-op Award to work on the project, is completing the latest digital model.  Jason and I met with freshman Joseph Tomasso who received a Pennoni Honor’s College STAR (Students Tracking Advanced Research) Fellowship to work on the project. Today is Joe’s first day on the summer term Fellowship. He will develop digital 3D models of appropriate furniture and furnishings that will be used to populate the house.  Virtual artifacts will include ceramics recovered from the archaeological site that are believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation.  The purpose of the meeting was to prepare for a session with Independence National Historical Park representatives on Wednesday, June 27th.  At that Park meeting we will review the house model and will discuss appropriate virtual furnishings with Park experts.  The model has been prepared with advice from archaeologists Jed Levin and Doug Mooney (who excavated and interpreted the Dexter House site) and guidance from Public Archaeologist, Patrice Jeppson and Karie Diethorn, Chief Curator Independence National Historical Park.

Glen Muschio, Associate Professor, Digital Media, Westphal College, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Doing archaeology today has entailed a wide range of activities, some not always associated in the public’s mind with archaeology.  I work for a cultural resource management firm. Today’s work has included such mundane activities as reviewing contracts to perform archaeology in Bucks County and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, USA; firming up logistical efforts to meet with a geomorphologist tomorrow in Delaware County (Pennsylvania); and checking time statements. Fortunately, the day also included putting the finishing touches on an archaeological monitoring report for work in Bucks County. This required nailing down dates for two artifacts found in association with a house foundation. I learned that Pennsylvania in the 1920s and 1930s stamped out automobile license plates with the year that they were issued. I also learned, through a historical marker database on the internet, that the Trenton Brewing company was incorporated in 1891 as a side line business of an ice company and stopped using the name by 1899. These two objects helped to bracket the date of the foundation that had been encountered.  In comparison to the mundane business aspect of doing archaeology, the historical information about the two artifacts, brightened my day.

Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D. Pennsylvania USA



I work for an engineering company in Pennsylvania (USA) and serve as the Vice President of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In the course of the day I went over plans for field and laboratory work for a Phase II bridge replacement project that will be starting shortly outside of Philadelphia. I spent time researching the status of industrial archaeological sites in the city for an encyclopedia article. Indications are that in some neighborhoods in the city, between 1990 and 2007, as many of 50% of the documented and listed industrial archaeological sites were completely or partially demolished, or were abandoned or fell into disrepair. In other neighborhoods with higher property values, more sites were preserved by adaptive reuse. In addition, I spent a portion of the day reviewing and proofreading comments on a visit to a laboratory for a major urban archaeological project in Philadelphia.  In the evening, I attended the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF), an organization that works to promote archaeology in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia).  After the meeting, I began reviewing the report summary for Phase IB/II testing and the data recovery plan for a major highway project in the city. The goal will be to prepare comments on the documents for submission to the agency that is sponsoring the project, on behalf of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum.

Lauren Cook, Registered Professional Archaeologist, Philadelphia, PA

Experiencing Volunteering on Community Archaeology Projects

In 2011 I gave up nearly two months of my life on three large community excavations. For free. Zilch. Nowt. Nothing. In fact it has actually cost me a lot of money to be involved. I often get asked why. Before I get the chance to answer, the interrogator normally smiles while pipeing up their own pre-conceived thought on the matter. It goes along the lines of, “Ah, you love doing that stuff don’t you?”

They are right of course, I do enjoy it, I would not do it otherwise. But there is another reason behind my apparent madness. I am a student at the University of Wales Newport Caerleon campus. I am studying for a MA in Regional History and a lot of the course is based on historical landscape interpretation. Quite simply, it is landscape archaeology in another guise. And I enjoy it, immensely. The reasons behind this are multiple. For starters the study is non-invasive, as such no archaeology is destroyed; it is cheap –  it costs me nothing to walk for hours using my eyes while taking notes and photographs; it is important to me that every available means of non invasive information is gleaned from my site of study prior to any possible excavation; lastly, and not by any means should this be last on my list, I have been blessed with tutors who have an active interest in my chosen area of study. That is probably the most important cog behind this. The advice and guidance is, quite simply, second to none.

That is why I volunteer on excavation projects! If my non invasive study is successful, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be, then the next logical step is to put together an achievable excavation strategy. And it excites me.

The first community project I was involved with in 2011 was the Caerleon ‘Lost City Excavations’ which strangely enough, were in Caerleon. The excavations came about through a geophysical survey undertaken as part of their studies. Led by Dr Pete Guest of the Cardiff School of History Archaeology and Religion, based within Cardiff University. I probably gained more experience from that excavation than any other. It was invaluable.

The recently discovered port wall on the banks of the river Usk, Caerleon.

Next up was a CADW organised excavation at Tinkinswood in Glamorgan. This lasted for two weeks. Yet again, I was fortunate to glean a lot of information on how a community excavation should be run. The site held this amazing atmospheric feel that made you tingle at times. It is hard to put a reason behind this, but it did. It is an Early Neolithic structure and it is pleasing to announce that all of the questions behind the reasons for excavation were more or less answered. Seeing as the first excavations were carried out there in the early 20C, the incredible amount of finds indicates that there should be no reason to excavate further for some considerable time to come. One of the best things things about this excavation came about through the late winter sunsets that we had chance to witness.

A setting sun at Tinkinswood. It really was a magical setting.

The last community excavation I was involved in was St Lythans. Quite lterally, just down the road from Tinkinswood. Another Neolithic structure, this site had not been excavated before. Once again, I was fortunate to learn from the role of a volunteer looking in towards how the site was run. Towards the end of the excavation I was negated to open a trench away from the main investigation. It was wet, cold and uncomfortable, but Tom and I just got on with it, while listening to the squeals of delight while the other volunteers excavated finds near to the structure.

I am on the left of the picture as you look at it. Sometimes it is just better to get on with what you are asked to do…

So, what has this got to do with the Day of Archaeology 2012? Quite simply I always keep a photographic diary of my exploits, as such I was able to deliver a talk this afternoon on volunteering in the archaeological sector at Pontypool Museum. I did not beat around the bush and it went down well.


Good luck everybody, I hope you enjoyed my blog.


David Standing.

Post Excavation

Having now completed my report on the medieval floor tile from Bicester Priory, today I am largely writing up ends of watching briefs and reading through specialist reports from other sites in the course of being written up; I’ll also be getting together some text and plans for Linzi Harvey, the osteologist who is looking at 24 Roman individuals excavated at Dorchester-on-Thames

Later on today, I hope to go out on site to a watching brief at Folly Bridge, Oxford, from where i’ll be uploading some photographs

5 Reasons Why I Became an Archaeologist

1. Travel

Ever since my parents took me on a trip to the Caribbean as a child, I plotted to find a way to spend every winter in the tropics. I wanted to get paid to travel. I wanted to escape the Chicago snow.

My chance came in grad school when I had the opportunity to teach field schools in Belize. I was in grad school for a long time so I was able to look forward to flying south with the birds each time spring semester rolled around.

Since completing my MA and PhD in Archaeology I’ve continued living a nomadic life by working on projects in Mexico, California, and Arizona. What I didn’t expect was that I’d eventually tire of travel after moving from motel to motel off remote desert highways as a CRM archaeologist. So now I’m what they call an armchair archaeologist, and today I’m exploring world archaeology via posts to this blog.


Medieval & Post Medieval artefacts from the River Wear, Durham City

Shakespeare’s  famous line; ‘Once more unto the breach‘ taken from Henry V, Act III, 1598 captures my #dayofarch 2011 quite nicely! For my breach is also associated with a gap in a high city wall or perhaps more accurately a 850 year gap that still to this day forms the main  thoroughfare in to the heart of a historical medieval city.

I  am actually talking about Elvet a medieval bridge built around 1160 by Bishop Hugh Du Puiset; once guarded by gate and tower protecting the historic City of Durham. Why once more? Simply because it has been a three year exploration by me of the River Wear as it flows under Elvet Bridge and around the stunning peninsular that forms the World Heritage Site. The sole purpose of the explorations many often undertaken in extremely challenging conditions using sub-aqua diving equipment is to recover medieval and post medieval artefacts  from the river bed.

My #dayofarch should have actually been much different but for a late cancellation I was due to be some 270 miles south in the study rooms of the British Museum in London researching their collection of lead cloth seals. As it happened Friday 29th July started quite early enough as I had to take my daughter Sarah to Newcastle airport to catch an 8 a.m.  flight. Then followed a 74 mile drive south for a hastily re-arranged family day out in another historic city this time York. Fortunately my detour from archaeology was not terminal as I was kindly  allocated 60 precious minutes to take in the Roman and medieval splendours of the Yorkshire Museum.

Arriving back in Durham City where I live at 6.p.m. was actually quite good timing as it meant that the bulk of the river traffic – tourists on hired rowing boats, Durham University peeps with their torpedo like super fast 8s and the dreaded Prince Bishops river cruise boat with its huge propeller should have pretty much vacated the stretch of river I am currently excavating.

Strangely for this time of year I had not actually dived for the best part of three weeks. My previous dive was done with TV cameras following my every move both above and under the water not to mention spending much of the day discussing medieval river artefact’s with the delightful historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes! And so as any diver will tell you pulling a diving drysuit on after a prolonged spell of inactivity is no easy nor pleasant task.

My usual entry point in to the river this late in to the summer was now heavily overgrown; Himalayan balsam seed pods exploded violently all around me as I picked out a path through the now giant plants down the steep bank to the water’s edge. My usual (just submerged) rock clearly visible through the clear water was still in situ, as indeed it  has been for the last three years; it’s partially flattened upper surface proving an ideal platform to sit and put my fins and dive mask on.

The last thing a diver needs at this point is to realise that their cylinder first stage valve is not open. However, complacency is a real danger and a full kit check had been carried out back at the car park – my demand valve fed me cool air. I spat in to my dive mask and gave it a rub before rinsing it in the river water and shaking it dry and in less than 18 minutes from leaving home I slipped under the water – again!

My first thoughts were wow how warm is the water and great the underwater visibility is superb! A thin deposit of silt no more than .5 cm deep lay like newly fallen snow on the river bed, its pale brown colour suggesting a peaty origin. Heavy rain fall two weeks earlier in the area of the Pennines near the source of the river was almost certainly the culprit. I remember not being too deterred by the silt deposit I had seen it many times before, a few fin strokes around the gully I had planned to continue searching would send it off downstream.

The flow of water at my dive site is unusually slow, the current held back by a series of weirs further downstream. Within 3 minutes of entering the water I  was positioned directly above the gully I was looking for. I call them gullies for an obvious reason as they are quite simply a series of narrow channels worn in the sandstone bedrock by centuries of water passing over it. Some gullies are wider, while some gullies are deeper than the others.

Conditions this evening 2 m underwater on the river bed were as good as they probably ever get. Although the visibility is really important much of the work I do  underwater recovering the artefact’s is very physical; imagine working intensely for an average of around 140 minutes in one single location. Concentration is  essential, meticulously picking through pebble after pebble looking for artefact’s that quite often can measure as little as 1 cm. You cannot simply drift off in a day dream thinking about what’s for supper when I get out or how  many goals will Sunderland put past Newcastle when they meet at the Stadium of Light in August. Forget nitrogen narcosis or the bends the one really dangerous threat to diving in the river is the possibility of being struck by the propeller of the Prince Bishops boat. However, if you maintain your concentration throughout the dive you will pick up the faint chuk chuk chuk the boats engine makes well before it gets anywhere close, giving you plenty of time to swim off to the safe shallow river edges.

So what medieval or post medieval artefact’s did I recover on #dayofarch Friday 29th July 2011 from a single gully formed in the sandstone riverbed? In short tonight’s haul was fantastic! predominately from a 16th century origin they were in the main made up of dress accessories, items linked to trade, industry and a few pieces of broken pottery. These ceramics are just as
important as they help date the artefact’s as they come out of the stratified layers.

The picture below shows tonight’s haul – yes from only one dive! I only just managed to capture enough of the setting sunlight to take the picture so apologies if it’s not the best. As you can see the haul is predominately made up of small finds. The first artefact that I picked up was nicely decorated 16th/17th century button which was quickly followed by a lovely small copper alloy coin weight with what appears to be 3 fleur-de-lys within a shield beneath a crown. Several pins quickly followed (twisted wire  head type) as is the norm for this area, then some nice decorated mounts. The mounts  are prolific and appear to be unused. Although the majority of mounts I find are copper alloy like the star shaped one pictured; several are actually lead and the two small lead mounts found this evening show a typical five pellets on  the top.

It’s my theory that the majority of the dress accessories I am finding are new or should I say have never been used. They almost certainly were items that were once offered for sale by a trader or local merchant very possibly located on Elvet Bridge itself.  A classic example of these ‘unsold’ artefacts are the many small ‘beaded’ mounts, the stems of which remain straight – had they been pushed through a leather strap for example the stems would have been bent at right angles to effectively hold them in place.

Only pausing to remove a small sliver of glass that embedded its self in my finger I continued to recover artefacts at a rate of approximately one per minute (I wonder if  anyone else in the world found more artefacts that me today?). The main focus for me on every dive is to try to find more lead cloth seals. The reason is simple as I now have a significant assemblage of medieval and post medieval cloth seals all recovered from the same stretch of the river. Two weeks ago I was at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum researching their collection of
177 lead cloth seals mainly recovered from the water channels that run through the medieval city. Prior to this evenings dive my total number of cloth seals stood at 171 – unbelievably I found seven tonight! Who’s the daddy now! Two of tonight’s cloth seals are really interesting, one seal features a standing man possibly holding a spear and a second seal appears to be a dragon or griffin rampant to the left. Hopefully I can find some parallels in Geoff Egan’s Occasional Paper 93!

I should point out that previous to my early discoveries of cloth seals only two others had been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database as being recovered north of Yorkshire and only one of those was in County Durham. Research to date indicates that the cloth seals in my collection appear to have arrived in Durham City from as early as the 15th century continuing right through until the 18th century. Arriving attached to cloth from locations across England and Europe for example Augsburg in Germany.

The seven cloth seals that I found this evening were clustered in a stratified layer which also contained a really strange lead alloy mount. I am only calling it a mount for  the time being as it has a bent stem or pin on the reverse. The front features a face of what could easily be described as a cherub; you may be able to see it third from the bottom right hand side of the picture, (I will add another picture of it tomorrow) any suggestions of what it could be would be appreciated.

Just below this stratified layer the finds as you would guess should be older and this may well be the case with the four or five circular form buckles (see Egan 2002, P.58 (28)) that I found. Although the central iron pins are missing many others similar in style yet complete buckles  have been found very near to this gulley and they are almost certainly dated from the early 15th Century. A lead spindle whorl was also found at the same depth as the buckles, this singular find bring the total of lead spindle whorls recovered to 32 most unlike this one most are decorated with  pellets.

The only distraction to recovering tonight’s artefacts was the need to keep checking my air contents plus some crazy person throwing stones at the point of the river where my  exhaled air bubbles hit the surface. The stones make a loud plopping noise and  fall harmlessly to the river bed around me – I never surface to see who throws the stones for the fear of being hit on the head, strangely it is something that happens more often than not!

Many small pieces of waste lead were found, a few of which were window came, other finds include; tools (possibly for working with leather), a knife, twisted copper alloy loops, lead tokens – one with a nice anchor, a solid cast (bi-convex head) button Circ. 1650, a partial horse shoe, a copper alloy rivet, a circular lead alloy pan-weight, iron nails, a fragment of a jug handle and iron key. It will take me around two weeks to clean the artefacts, bag then record them.

There is a serious side to my endeavours in the river; it is not just a crazy dangerous hobby. For the last three years many artefacts have been loaned to Durham University Archaeology Department where their MA students have researched then as part of their studies. In addition and by working very  closely with my Finds Liaison Officer  Frances McIntosh to date 350  artefacts have been added to the PAS database. All being well in 2012 I am set to undertake an MA by Research in to the assemblage perhaps focusing on the considerable lead cloth seal collection.

The finds that have been recovered so far total over 2000 artefacts and will without doubt help to re-write the history books of Durham. If you are a small finds expert and would  like to help identify many of the unusual artefacts then please do get in touch plus you can follow news of the assemblage and indeed what
my latest discoveries are by following me at

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Day of Archaeology 2011!

River artefacts

Artefacts recovered on #dayofarch



Returning to archaeology

In my ‘day job’, I’m an IT professional at the University of Nottingham: my alma mater from which I graduated in Archaeology and Geography some time ago. However, I’ve retained my fascination with archaeology and I’m excited to be starting a part-time MA in Archaeology here in September. In the year leading up to this, I’ve read academic books and papers voraciously, enjoyed the regular research seminars in the Department, joined The Prehistoric Society  and attended some fascinating conferences. I’m really looking forward to studying the subject again in depth over the next two years.

Today, however, archaeology had to be set aside for the morning, as my wife and I attended a friend’s funeral. It was an occasion to share happy memories with her family and to celebrate her life, so in that sense, it was a positive event and we were glad to be there. Recently, I was reading some of the papers regarding the Neolithic landscape of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mike Parker Pearson’s suggestion of the landscape being divided into domains of the living and of the ancestors, with the transition from life through death to the realm of the ancestors perhaps being related to ritual passage through the landscape. During moments of reflection at the graveside before the committal, I realised that the ritual in which we participating was one which people and communities have shared for thousands of years and that, just at that moment, we had something intangible in common with our Neolithic predecessors.

On a happier note, my archaeological activity today involved some preparation for a conference on Deer and People which is being organised by our zooarchaeology lecturer in the department, Naomi Sykes. It’s to be held in September in Lincoln and I volunteered to help. We’ve discussed some issues for supporting the conference, so I’ve set up an e-mail address for it and provided a link to the conference web page on the University’s web site. Today, I’ve done some work on Powerpoint slides for the conference to be displayed on screen before or between speakers, themed to the colours of the various sessions in the programme.

Lastly, we’re packing tonight for our regular family holiday in Northumberland, my home county and the original inspiration for my interest in archaeology, with its landscape rich in remains from the past. I’m looking forward to the luxury of some time to sit and read. I have some papers in PDF format to catch up with on my laptop and iPad while we’re away but I won’t be able to resist packing a few of the archaeology books I have on loan from the University Library and of course there’s Barter Books to visit in Alnwick. Can one have too many archaeology books? My wife may disagree but I think not!

6. Roman and early Medieval Crickley: Matrices and contexts

This post will outline one of the most important tasks in post-excavation analysis – working out and showing how features relate to one another. I’ll discuss how records of data retrieved from the Crickley excavations might be used to establish stratigraphic relationships, and illustrate one common way of showing relationships – a type of diagram known as the Harris Matrix. I’m currently undertaking this task in I’m preparation to digitise plans of a building in a GIS programme (see 7. ‘ Digitising Crickley Plans and Using GIS‘). I’ll begin with an example of how a matrix might be used, in conjunction with context records.


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!