metal

Talking torcs in Newark

Our day of archaeology was spent at Newark English Civil War Museum examining the Iron Age Newark torc. This torc, which was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2005, has recently been bought by the museum and has rightly returned to the town where it was found.

11745817_10203221026646065_2929052502681573706_n 11049625_10203221029446135_6970019430380921203_n

With an eye to replicating the torc, we had the very great pleasure of being able to examine the torc up close and even to hold it. It is a truly beautiful thing. Apparently showing signs of wear on one side (the silver in the electrum has become prominent), it is unexpectedly heavy and…even more surprising…very springy. It would clearly have been easy to get onto your neck although I’m not sure I’d have fancied wearing it for too long as I fear it would have caused neck ache!

The photos show Roland William examining the torc…..and demonstrating the ancient art of torc manufacture through the medium of fruit!

A truly memorable day… 🙂

Tess Machling & Roll Williamson

Conserving a spearhead

I am an objects conservator working to help preserve museum collections in Wiltshire. Much of the work I do is with archaeological collections including the item I am working on today which is a spearhead from the Saxon period and the ferrule from the bottom of the spear.

The spearhead and ferrule

The spearhead and ferrule

Why this needs treating

The item has been part of museum collection since the 1940s and has been treated in the past to conserve it.  A thick layer of clear lacquer was applied as part of the old conservation treatment which is not the way iron objects are normally preserved today.  The lacquer gives the object a glossy appearance and several hairs from the brush it was applied with are stuck in the coating.

As well as being unsightly the coating is also ineffective. The idea behind using the coating is to prevent corrosion by stopping oxygen in the air from coming into contact with the metal. However the coating has either worn away in places or did not completely cover the object and new corrosion is forming in the gaps. Fresh corrosion can be seen as little round bubbles of orange material on the surface of the object and the corrosion is also forcing cracks to open up in the metal. If this deterioration was allowed to continue it could cause a great deal of damage to the object with fragments of metal flaking away until ultimately there would be nothing left.

The treatment

To prevent any further deterioration I am going to remove the coating and corrosion products using a technique called air abrasion. This is similar to sand blasting but done on a very small scale. The object is cleaned with fine aluminium oxide powder in a jet of air. The air and powder comes out of a hand held nozzle less than 1mm wide. I can control the air pressure and the amount of abrasive powder I am using in order to clean the object very precisely and will be working under a microscope so that I can see exactly what I am doing in fine detail. I will post another picture of the object when I have finished so that you can see the difference cleaning it has made.

 

A colleague using a the air abrasive machine

A colleague using a the air abrasive machine


Day of Archaeology: Our Favorite Moments in Michigan State Campus Archaeology

Day of Archaeology offers a snapshot into the lives and daily work of archaeologists from various subdisciplines and regions. At Campus Archaeology, we have been participating in this event for the past two years (since its beginning), and are excited to once again be a part of it. You can read our 2011 post, A Day (or 2) in the Life of the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program, and our 2012 post, Excavating Michigan State University with the Campus Archaeology Program. For our Day of Archaeology 2013, we are sharing our favorite moments from the excavations and surveys we’ve completed this summer.

goldstein 2013Dr. Lynne Goldstein: This summer’s archaeology was a little different for me. In addition to the MSU Campus Archaeology Program that I direct, I also directed an archaeology field school project at the prehistoric Aztalan site in southern Wisconsin (blog posts can be found here). Both kinds of archaeology are exciting, but trying to keep track of both when they are in different places (and different states) is tricky. As you will read below, the CAP group found lots of things in the excavations that were done as large-scale construction proceeds across campus. A very exciting moment for me was when I discovered that all of the various University offices with which we work are finally understanding that what we do is important and must be accommodated. We no longer have to argue with folks about our presence. We still have to negotiate access and timing, but that is only because of construction deadlines. I am exceptionally pleased that CAP has come so far and has been so successful in such a relatively short period of time.

Excavating at Aztalan was also very exciting and interesting. Aztalan is a palisaded village that dates to the Mississippian period (roughly AD 1000-1300), and is now a state park. We were looking at two different structures at the site, trying to figure out how they were used, and how the people at Aztalan modified their landscape. We found lots of artifacts and discovered that some of the assumptions that had been made about the site are not quite correct. See our blog posts for some details, and also visit Dan Seurer’s website that has wonderful pictures of our work.

I would not recommend that people try and organize and direct two separate archaeological field projects in the same summer, but we had wonderful crews, and with a lot of help, we were successful in both projects. Sometimes people tell me that they cannot get excited about “historic archaeology” or “prehistoric archaeology,” but I have never quite understood those views. Archaeology is always exciting – you are the first person to see, touch, brush, move some object that has not been touched in many hundreds or thousands of years – how can that NOT be exciting? Below is a shot of the Aztalan crew – we had an awful lot of rain this summer!!

groupshot-DMS_6496-Edit

Katy working on cleaning up the trench with the plaster floor from Saints’ Rest

 

Katy Meyers: I really love working with Campus Archaeology, so it is difficult to select a favorite moment. This summer we’ve made a lot of great finds, surveyed a variety of areas, and had an amazing team to do it all with. One of the days that sticks out most for me was when we were excavating a trench within Saints’ Rest. We had been digging the same 3 by 1 meter area for two days and had found hundreds of bricks and mortar. It was extremely difficult and very slow work. We weren’t sure if we should continue, but I decided that we should press on. At the end of the second day we were well rewarded for our patience. Almost 1 meter deep, we found a plaster floor, portions of an intact brick wall, a stove oven door, all the hardware for a door, and a clear division within the trench between the raised hallway and sand floor basement. The best part of it all was probably that the team working with me on this feature was so dedicated to finishing it before the day ended that we all stayed a few hours past ‘quitting time’. It was fantastic to be rewarded for our hard work, and this feature adds to our understanding of Saints Rest.

 

 

 

Katie working on a trench near Saints’ Rest, via Katy Meyers

 

Katie Scharra: This summer has been a whirlwind of construction monitoring, digging, and labwork.  It is hard to choose a favorite moment.  Having been a dedicated lab rat for almost all my archaeological career, I have to say my very favorite moments had to do with the analysis phase of surveys and excavations.  Of all the artifacts, one in particular struck my interest.  A small centimeter sherd of ironstone that  was a small portion of a maker’s mark.  Maker’s marks are found on the underside of ceramics; like trademarks they can tell you a lot about who, where, and when the item originated from.  This allowed us to have an engaging and successful session of identification. To identify this marker’s mark, we had to first figure out its correct orientation.  Once that was done we noticed that there was the paw and mane of a lion.  To indentify this we utilized reference books on maker’s marks and Google images.  This allowed us to discover the company that produced the product was Royal Ironstone China, a company in England made up of multiple potters.  Further inquiry led to a match of potter and a subsequent dating of the artifact.  A blog post on the specifics of this search will be posted in the next few weeks.

 

Josh cleaning up the chimney found at Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

Josh Schnell: This summer working with Campus Archaeology has taught me so much as this was my first actual archaeological field experience. One of the most memorable projects we did this summer was the dig at Saints Rest. The sidewalk construction crew was putting in a new sidewalk that happened to run straight through Saints Rest and we ended up putting two trenches in the area where they were going to be paving. The dig itself yielded a bunch of artifacts and gave us more information on the building, including the location of one of the chimneys. We pulled up a doorknob, some hinges, and a stove door from the trench located inside the building, and from the other trench I actually pulled up quite a few great artifacts. Aside from a large piece of Rockinghamware (a type of stoneware) from a shovel test pit near the trench, I pulled a spoon head out of the ground and later found the other half! We also found large portions of bottles, metal, and tons of glass and whiteware pieces. It was the longest dig we did this summer, but my own discoveries were what made this dig so memorable for me!

 

 

 

Bethany excavating the old road near MSU Museum

Bethany Slon: My favorite part of working with Campus Archaeology this summer was definitely uncovering the old road outside of what is now the MSU museum.  Today, the north side of the MSU Museum has a sidewalk running roughly parallel to the building, with grassy lawn on either side.  However, in the late 19th century, this area looked completely different.  At this time, Williams Hall stood there instead of the MSU Museum (later to burn down in 1919).  We know from research at the MSU Archives that a road used to run on the north side of Williams, passing by the water fountain slightly to the east of Williams (the same water fountain that remains on campus today).  In May we opened up a trench just outside of the MSU Museum, and were excited to find a layer that was clearly the old road.  Architecture has always been one of my favorite aspects of archaeology, so finding this road and relating it to the old buildings and campus features was extremely enjoyable for me.

Mystery, Diversity and the Joy of Archaeology

Human beings are odd beasts. So much more than political animals, our ‘habits’ are so varied that they sometimes seem far from habitual. Capable of action on all scales, from building enormous monuments that take millions of people over many generations to a single individual caring for a companion in the face of incurable illness.

Yet, go with any person to the place they sleep and you will learn much about them, their society, economics, politics, aesthetics and so on. You can learn from the materials of that space – Do they sleep on a bed? under blankets? are they clean? Do they have Justin Beiber posters? Picasso prints? Turner originals? Is there water by the bed? is the cup glass, pottery or metal?

(more…)

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.

Heeley City Farm Community Dig, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

My day started at 7am, but I drove to the dig site shortly after 9am. I was absolutely exhausted and barely functioning on a basic level, but once onsite I’d be okay to a degree.

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Why was I so exhausted? I have medical conditions which make my life challenging on a daily basis. Some people tell me I’m NOT disabled, but as my abilities have been severely restricted since I developed these conditions five years ago (including costing me my job at the time), I beg to differ. A nasty head cold triggered a balance disorder and associated symptoms including chronic fatigue syndrome, tinnitus, hyperacusis (sensitivity to certain tones and pitches of sound), anxiety and depression. Fortunately here in Sheffield we have an incredible Audiovestibular Department at one of the hospitals, staffed by very attentive and compassionate people. Not everyone suffering from a balance disorder is that fortunate. There is no “cure”, but a programme of specialised exercises set and monitored by a physiotherapist to retrain the brain into interpreting the signals for your balance correctly. Essentially, you’re being re-taught how to stand and walk and sometimes it can take years as pushing yourself too hard does more harm than good.
The hardest element of my condition is that I look normal and people judge me accordingly. I visibly lose my balance occasionally, but what people don’t see is me concentrating as hard as I possibly can to remain upright and avoid walking into people and objects. Due to the balance system no longer being automatic, my brain has to therefore think about walking and standing, so every task (physical and mental) uses up those limited energy resources very quickly. The problem doesn’t end there either – you may feel okay after a good night’s sleep. People with chronic fatigue syndrome don’t. After five years I now know that if I exert myself mentally or physically one day, I need to rest completely for a week in order to recover properly. That means doing absolutely nothing; no housework, no visiting friends or family, no going food shopping, no attending medical appointments, no studying. I don’t have a social life per se, as it’s too tiring. I visit friends and family at their homes. Chronic fatigue is cumulative, and those energy levels return VERY slowly.

Anyway, bored you enough with the background, so back to the Day of Archaeology:
I’m 41 years old and study the BA in Archaeological Studies part-time at the University of Sheffield as a mature student. I have just completed year 3 of 6, and for the second year running I volunteered my services to Sally Rodgers, Community Heritage Officer at Heeley City Farm, for the community dig during the Festival of British Archaeology.

Last year I assisted in the Finds Room with cataloguing finds. That was my very first time on a dig, and due to my disabilities I’d requested to be used where I could best contribute. This year I accepted the role of Finds Officer, partly for the opportunity to become more involved and to learn more, but also as being on a summer dig is a requirement for a module I’m taking next academic year.

The dig started on Saturday 16th July and had been taking place every day. What were we excavating? Victorian terraced houses. Boring, you might think. The local community would disagree with you there! The site of the farm was once residential housing built during the latter part of the 19th Century and we want to know about the structures and the people who once lived there during the houses’ entire history.
The Finds Room already had approximately 20 finds trays awaiting sorting and recording, but let’s start at the beginning:

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Three trenches were opened onsite and the Trench Supervisors; Ken Dash, Jane Woodcock and Joe Page, would come to me and request a context number and recording sheet. Archaeology is a precise discipline. When recording finds and structures the context in a three dimensional space is essential in mapping the distribution of those finds. Without the context the finds are meaningless and have to be recorded as un-stratified. Every time a Trench Supervisor discovered a new layer of different material (different soil layers, rubble layers etc) or if they extended their trench I would assign them a new context number made up of the site code, trench code and a unique reference number. This layer in the trench would be labelled and all finds discovered in that context would be labelled accordingly. I also provided the Trench Supervisors with additional finds trays with relevant context tags where required (which was happening more and more frequently in Trench C!). Heaven help anyone who touched my recording sheets – including the Site Director – as I’d threaten to bite them!

The trays would come into the Finds Room where I would sort through them in turn, separating them into materials such as metal, wood, bone, plastic, glass, ceramic etc. Each pile would then be placed into a finds bag labelled with the context reference (as detailed above) but additionally a unique three digit finds number would also be allocated and recorded on the Finds Register. The Finds Register records the finds number, site and trench codes, context number, number of items in the bag, weight, and a brief description of the contents such as clear glass, or bone fragments etc. The bags were then set aside for later processing.

Pretty simple you’d think, but my responsibilities also included greeting members of the public who wished to be on the dig. My duties involved ensuring they were properly attired (suitable footwear and clothing), that adults were aware of the age restrictions for children, ensuring all participants had completed the relevant documentation including photography permission forms, and introducing them to Sally, Dr Roger Doonan (the Site Director and one of my lecturers) as well as Jane, Ken or Joe out at the trenches.
Engaging with visitors is essential on a community dig, and in the Finds Room Sally had created display boards of information, maps and photographs of the farm site throughout history. This encouraged visitors to ask questions and make observations, particularly the older generations who recalled living in the properties before they were demolished for a doomed relief road during the 1970’s. I would ensure these people were introduced to Sally so she had the opportunity to record their stories for future use and interpretation of the site.

Due to the number of interesting finds, I created a special tray and once those finds had been suitably recorded I placed them there for visitors to look at. This included two Police Community Support Officers and a Police Officer! Of particular interest was the button stamped GR for George Rex, made by a company called Firmin & Sons Limited (which was stamped on the reverse). They started manufacturing buttons for the military and then the Police in 1677 and are still in business today! As part of a research project in conjunction with Heeley Historical Society and the Hawley Collection at Kelham Island Museum, we had information from the Trade Directories and Census Returns for the addresses we were excavating, and we knew a Policeman resided in one of the properties as a lodger at one stage. Did HE lose the button? It was very exciting!

The day was much of a sameness with trays coming in, trays being processed, context numbers being issued, participants and visitors being greeted. The huge excitement was all of us standing around Roger’s vehicle during the morning whilst we listened to Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield. He’d been out at the site previously to interview Roger and participants regarding the dig and interesting finds. Sally was talking to Rony live by phone and we found some of the comments really funny, such as the “Knicker Hoard of Heeley”. A collection of lady’s underwear had been discovered earlier on in the dig, and this had produced much hilarity amongst the volunteer staff. You don’t have to be mad to work here – but it helps!

As the personal belongings of all participants and staff were kept in the Finds Room, I was also responsible for ensuring the security of the room. Unless another member of staff was present I would secure it if needing to go elsewhere on the farm site such as the cafe (which is excellent!) or the toilets.
The dig day ended at 4pm, but certain tasks needed to be completed before we could leave. I would ensure the large table where I worked was tidy, that all finds trays were processed in the order they came in, and that all paperwork was in the correct folder. All staff would close the shutters, ensure all tools and display boards had been brought inside and we’d signed out before the room was secured and the shutters brought down. My day ended at 4:25pm before I headed home to collapse with my cats.
Usually Rachel Walker-Higgins, a friend of mine, had been assisting me in the Finds Room, but she was poorly that day, and I would like to thank her particularly as without her help I would never have coped with the demands of the role. I would also like to thank Roger for his patience and confidence in my abilities to be Finds Officer despite my limitations; Sally for the incredible opportunity she gave me and her undying confidence that I could achieve what was required; Giovanna Fregni for her support and advice which proved exceptionally valuable; Rach, Jane and Ken for repeatedly badgering me into taking breaks to rest and eat properly; but most of all I want to thank all of them for making me take days off when my exhaustion was severe despite my sense of duty, and their compassion and understanding regarding my disabilities. They helped me feel like I have a value, that my disabilities haven’t made me worthless, and that I still have something to contribute to society and the world around me. An exceptional experience and one which will look amazing on my archaeology resume. I’m still recovering now!

Jetlag and a very full day – GIS manuals, Egyptology and conference preparation

Hello!

Yesterday was a very busy day, thus I am only now able to submit a post here!

Australia!

I got back from a two-week holiday to Western Australia on Thursday. My Dad and I went to visit his brother who moved to Perth from the Isle of Man 40 years ago, and his family. We had an awesome time, saw lots of places and wildlife: Roos, Quokkas, Koalas, the lot 🙂

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

My family out there is lovely! I am still rather tired and recovering from a long journey back, which commenced on Wednesday afternoon: 5h flight from Perth to Singapore, then 13h Singapore to London-Heathrow. Then another 3h back to Liverpool by train. My poor Dad had to fly back to Hanover, which is close to Peine, Germany, where I am originally from!

The thing that struck me, whilst visiting Australia, however, is the general attitude towards archaeology. Whenever I mentioned my interest in visiting a particular museum, or seeing anything related to archaeology, I was told that “Australia doesn’t have very much history at all”, and that “surely, there is not very much archaeology around”… I was rather shocked and saddened by this, given the huge amount of aboriginal culture in Australia. I did point this out, and obtained some understanding, but the attitude of Australians towards Aborigines is a very problematic topic in general. When visiting the Western Australian Museum in Perth, however, I saw a very well-displayed and super-informative exhibition on aboriginal culture in Western Australia. Shame it didn’t seem to be too-well visited! 🙁

Back to work!

I had to get up extra-early yesterday (29th July), as I had to get straight back to work: I work as a Supervisor in Geomatics for Oxford Archaeology North, specialising in open source GIS. I totally love it and really do think it’s the way forward, especially given that proprietary software can “lock in” archaeological data, which can lead to data loss – something that should be avoided, I guess we all agree! Over the past couple of years we have been using open source GIS software, such as gvSIG (both the “original gvSIG” and the OADigital Edition), Quantum GIS, GRASS,  in addition to some 3D GIS visualisation tools, such as Paraview. Furthermore, we have been testing and using database software, such as PGAdmin (PostgreSQL and PostGIS), and illustration software, such as Inkscape successfully. I must say that all of the software we used has come a long, long way in those past two years, and at OA North, we use open source tools more or less as a standard and I can confidentially say that it is replacing the proprietary software previously used, such as AutoCAD and ArcGIS.

My friend and colleague Christina Robinson and I were given some time to document our combined knowledge in order to make it accessible to both colleagues within the company, and also the wider archaeological community – what is better than a free guide to open source GIS, which allows you learn to use free, powerful GIS software, and edit and analyse your own survey data! 🙂 We have produced guides and manuals during the past couple of years – they are available for free download on the OA library website and released under the creative commons license. Here are the manuals we released so far:

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Hodgkinson, Anna (2010) Open Source Survey & GIS Manual. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Using the Helmert (two-point) transformation in Quantum GIS. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd.. (Unpublished)

Robinson, Christina and Campbell, Dana and Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Archaeological maps from qGIS and Inkscape: A brief guide. Third edition. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished) – this is the third edition, re-released today!

And here are two brand new guides, produced on the Day of Archaeology and made available today:

Robinson, Christina (2011) QGIS Handy Hints. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Download of the Leica 700 and 800 series Total Station. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Please download and  use these and extend your skills; please burn them and let us know, we are grateful for your feedback! Some more guides/manuals are currently in production and will be added to the library, so please watch this space!

Lunch Break – (not really) time for some Egyptology

I briefly escaped work at lunchtime in order to go to the bank – I had to make an international transfer, the only way (annoyingly) to pay for my speaker’s fees for the upcoming 16th International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, Vienna, November 2011. My paper on “Modeling Urban Industries in New Kingdom Egypt” was accepted for presentation, my abstract an be found here. I will be presenting my current research on the distribution of (mainly) artefactual evidence from Amarna, ancient Akhetaten, in Middle Egypt. Using open source GIS (naturally), I am studying the distribution and density of artefacts relating to high-status industries, such as glass, faience, metal, sculpture and textiles within the settled areas of Amarna, in order to establish how products and raw materials were controlled and distributed.

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

This paper presents part of my PhD research on high-status industries within the capital and royal cities in New Kingdom Egypt, Memphis, Malkata, Gurob, Amarna and Pi-Ramesse. I have now completed my third year of part-time research and am hoping to finish the whole thing within the next two or three years. We will see, thought I’d better get on with it!! 🙂

I am a member of the fieldwork team at Gurob, and I am very much looking forward to our next fieldwork season in September this year! Check out the project website for reports of past fieldwork seasons and my work in the industrial area, which I also presented at The Third British Egyptology Congress (BEC 3) in London, 2010.

After-work seminar and more open source GIS

We had an in-house, after-work seminar at 5pm, at which Christina and I gave our paper on “Open Source GIS for archaeological data visualisation and analysis” to colleagues, which we presented at OSGIS 2011 in Nottingham. You can watch the webcast of the original talk online (scroll down until you find it), unfortunately it only works for Windows, though. :'( The paper, which was presented on June 22nd 2011, is about our successful case study, moving Geomatics at OA North to open source GIS and away from proprietary software. We even won the prize for the second-best presentation! It went down well with colleagues, and after a discussion we moved on outside for a barbecue, which was very nice, as it stayed warm all day (unusual for Lancaster). I had to eave rather early unfortunately, as the commute back to Liverpool takes about 1.5 hours. At least I was able to relax and read George Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”on my Kindle!

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham


DoA, Digi-Arch, and Geofizz

Jess' Desk

Jess' Desk

After much delay, I’ve finally sat down to write my Day of Archaeology post. Yay! As some of you might already know, I’m one of the co-organizers of the event along with Andy, Stu, Tom, Matt, Lorna and Dan. We’ve been working hard on the event for many months now, so it’s been totally amazing to see everything go so well! I’m still in the process of reading over the many many posts from around the world – it’s truly exciting to see that so many archaeologists turn out to share their experiences.

Today (yesterday!), as many of you can probably guess, I spent the majority of the day 9am – 9pm holding down the DoA inbox. We were still issuing logins at 9pm, which is a testament to the entire event I think. In the words of Lorna, “We done good”.

But when I’m not doing the DoA, I’m actually a partner and archaeologist at L – P : Archaeology, a commercial archaeology partnership based in the UK. My work at L – P usually entails being a jack of all trades, but mostly with a technological spin. I’m very involved with our open-source archaeological recording kit (ARK) and provide support for many of the projects which are using it in the field (as mentioned in Andy Dufton’s post!). We also do lots of work with HLF funded projects which often involves creating websites for community groups wishing to branch out into the digital engagement side of archaeology. Most of this is usually done from my desk in our London Office.. featured left!

Portus Hyperbola

Portus Hyperbolas

On top of that, I’m also in charge of geophysical surveys for L – P and can often be seen pushing a pram (GPRrrr!), stylishly wearing no metal, or yelling at my computer screen full of black and white blobs.. :-S I’m very grateful that the geophysics gets me out of the office once and a while, that’s for sure! Currently I’m processing a load of GPR data for the Portus Project, which is (as always) turning up lots of interesting results for the team. (See lovely hyperbola(s) on right)

But I guess that’s about it for now. I’m pretty shattered from the last few days of helping with the DoA and juggling my work responsibilities. And now I shall shoot off for an afternoon in the pub to celebrate everyone’s hard work. Many, many thanks to everyone who made it such a great day. If anything I really hope that these sorts of events will not only raise awareness about the true (and diverse!) nature of archaeology as a discipline, but also highlight the sorts of things that are possible when we all just open up and share what makes us all passionate about archaeology. Thanks again!

New Bronze Age finds from the British Museum: why…

The point of all this is, of course, to produce a specialist report. In this case a Treasury Report for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (http://finds.org.uk), that will eventually be published (previous Treasury Reports can be found here: http://finds.org.uk/news).

 

As a researcher, these are important, as in some cases they will be all that will ever be available or accessible in respect of the the finds in question, with some being returned to the owners rather than ending up in museum collections.

Accurate measurements, descriptions and typological assignations are important for assigning objects to specific periods, and must be reliable in order to be used as the basis for future arguments and interpretations about these past communities. Of course, accuracy, particularly when in a hurry, need not be pretty…

 

For example, in the 2005/2006 Treasury Report, a hoard from Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, was reported to have a hilt or handle fragment of a sword of Carp’s-Tongue type (the bottom row of swords in the below picture). This association meant that the hoard should be dated to somewhere late in the period c. 950-800 BC. The same phase as our hoard from Nottinghamshire. However, subsequent work during 2007-2011 on swords of this type in Iberia and France, have revealed a type of proto-Carp’s-Tongue sword, known as Type Huelva/St. Philbert (the top row of swords in the picture below). These swords, however, have been demonstrated to be dated to the period c. 1050-950 BC. This is the date of the Wilburton phase which, as we described in an earlier post (…: when… ), is the period prior to the one our Nottinghamshire hoard belongs to. Tiny changes such as these can require us to radically revise our ideas about what types of objects we believe might have been available to people at any particular time, and the connections and relationships that they may have represented.       

Such typological work on bronze objects, however, was for long out of fashion, snubbed and rejected by many in both the academic and commercial sector, in Britain. Less so on the Continent, however. This is partly because it was seen as a laborious and time consuming way of what is, so it was believed, merely cataloguing. But typology is and can be so much more. These tiny objects, whole and broken, represent the technological choices of the past communities that both produced them and consumed them, and the socio-political and economic conditions in which they existed.  These little pieces of metal, and all the tiny idiocracies of morphology, over which so many have laboured, are glimpses of styles and tastes, of changing fashions and fads. Aesthetics have always been important to people, not only as indicators of how we live but what we wish to communicate to others about ourselves, our choices and our relationship with our communities. What French ethologists have long called ‘technological choices’.

This Maussian approach to metalwork typology very much characterises the modern typological endeaver. But whereas contemporary archaeological theory has attempted ever more leaborate slights of hand to reveal the agency of the ‘individual’ in the archaeological record, Bronze Age researchers are mopre frequently orientated to revealing communities, of which such objects are highly evocative.

So much of what we own, use, and wear defines us. Whilst the accessibility today of such things might have radically changed, as might approaches to their production, the significance of these pretty little things for persons and communities is far from being representative of a ‘modern’ condition.  

 

A Bicycle and the British Museum

Arriving at the British Museum

Most days start with a bike ride down the hill to the British Museum, on the collective of metal and rubber that is,probably, at a guess, three times heavier than your average ‘I can cycle wearing lycra with a gut’ bike. It was bought a year ago on the basis that it is totally indestructible, even if I am not (a big thanks to the British Museum for that employee loan!), and it really is quite the pal now. After a perfected struggle from the top floor I feel pretty happy about the idea of not shelling out over a ton for a monthly TFL travel card, and a bit smug on my way in!

All hands on deck today. The Treasure Valuation Committee (http://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/people) is meeting, a television producer + his camera need looking after, the post-medieval curator requires a little extra help processing a multitude of reports about objects of Treasure (http://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/summary) that have been written by a fantastic crew of Finds Liaison Officers dotted across the country, and objects need to be transported across the museum for the committee members to view. And I remind myself that I probably account for much less than 1000th of what goes on here.
Toilet Implement Set

Toilet Implement Set found by Woolwich John

After a quick dash over to the Department of Prehistory and Europe, we looked through all the items that the FLOs had sent in. Most of the items that are reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme are found by metal detectorists, and todays collection of items was quite indicative of the type and range of post-medieval artefacts of potential Treasure that are handed in; from thimbles and cufflinks to a toilet implement set found by Woolwich John on the Thames Foreshore.

Filming at the British Museum

The rest of the day was mostly occupied being at the meeting preparing the items for viewing by the committee members. By about 4 o’clock the Treasure Team is wiped out (and hot- we couldn’t find the air con), but we ‘struggle’ onto 5, dreaming of a pint, bed or both, possibly at the same time.