museum

Archives and a whole lot more!

As the Archives Officer for Cotswold Archaeology, one of the UKs largest commercial units, my job does involve working with our site archives, but today like most days is much more varied.

I’ve been in this role for just over a year. I started my career as a trainee archaeologist and worked in the field for 9 years, becoming a supervisor and then a site manager. I made the move into this position as it offered such a variety of tasks and required a background in fieldwork and report writing as well as archives experience. I manage our team of post-excavation supervisors and processing staff, so even though I sometimes miss being on site I still get to see the finds as they come back to the office. I’m usually working on such a variety of different projects that there is always something interesting going on.

Today I’ve got some arrangements to make with several museums over depositing some of our archives, most are just a box or two, but we are hoping to deposit a large infrastructure project of 170 boxes soon! There are also some smaller jobs that I can deal with quickly like issuing site codes to our field staff.

I’m the co-ordinator of our volunteer programme and overnight we’ve had a few enquiries from members of the public who want to know what sort of work we do and are interested in joining us. The people who volunteer their time with us do an amazing job and help us make sure that some of the finds from historic projects which would otherwise sit on our shelves actually make it to the local museums where they can be displayed. We’ve got a work experience student in with us next week so later on I’ll be talking to colleagues in some of our other departments and organising a series of talks and workshops so they can get a taster of as many different aspects of what we do here at Cotswold, as possible.

I’ve got some costings to review and need to place several orders for more supplies for the post-excavation team, not my favourite part of the job but a very important one.

I’ll also be working on some of our annual fieldwork summaries to be included in several regional journals and providing time and cost estimates to project managers for processing and archiving work.

Finally, I’ll be helping out on our stall at a Festival of Archaeology event in Bristol tomorrow (http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/events/2780) so I’m running through my checklist and making sure there won’t be any last minute hiccups (well other than the rain that is!).

 

That grey area between museums and archaeology

Museum networks are pretty strong and active in Scotland – whether an independent museum, local authority or national, a freelance curator or educator – there is a networking body for you. One such is the Scottish Museums Federation, of which I am an ordinary member, and semi-regularly write a blog post on work my work with the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF). I think of myself as being a museums person working on an archaeological project – a funny grey area where I’m not a curator, nor an archaeologist (strictly speaking). The SMF blog, then, is a really valuable way of sharing the archaeological side of my work for a museums audience, and likewise hopefully any archaeologists reading this will get an insight to a more museums-y focused project. So, this post has also been shared on the SMF blog, which you can see here.

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For a number of years now, there has been a project running called Day of Archaeology, wherein people working in the myriad different fields of archaeology (excuse the pun) write a blog post of what they have been up to that day. It’s provided a great insight to a ‘life in the day of’ archaeologists, not just in the UK but spanning all corners of the globe. Sadly, today is the last ever Day of Archaeology. I thought, then, that this might be a nice opportunity for another blog post showing where my job fits into the archaeological world, being as it is in that grey area betwixt museums and archaeology.

I’ve written a couple of posts before about my project (Museums Officer for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework) but this will give an insight to an ‘average’ day in the ScARF office.

I start by checking emails – who doesn’t – reading up on latest museum news from various mailing lists and catching up with to-do notes I’ve left myself. Much ScARF time can be taken up with meetings, events, admin and dealing with incoming requests. With a team of two part-time staff, managing our time is crucial. But, this month is uncharacteristically office-based so it is that I’m working through panel reports and research recommendations spanning all of Scottish archaeology.

 Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

These recommendations come from the 2012 ScARF panel reports and will form the beginning of a research framework for farming and fishing, based upon the work I’m doing with museums in Aberdeenshire and Orkney. It’s a new approach for ScARF and will take into account research on museum collections in both the aforementioned regions. A favourite part of this for me is producing maps and visual aides to help me visualise just where the collections and questions cross-over, if at all. My manager, Emma, is a whiz with data and GIS so we’re able to produce some nice maps and visuals.

Whilst all this work is very archaeological, I have to remind myself at all times that the collections in each area come front-and-centre. A quick flick through the photos I’ve amassed from visit to each area helps with this at a glance, as does the paperwork I share with my colleagues in each museum service. Their collections are broad, interesting and really speak of the places they represent.

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

When I’ve finished reading as much as I can handle in one go, I turn to thinking about the skills workshops we want to deliver, helping to bridge that gap between archaeologists and museum professionals. We’re looking at what themes and skills would be appropriate, who might be able to help us deliver and so on. Logistics, asking nicely and identifying needs – three important parts of the process.

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Finally, I review what details need sorted out for forthcoming visit to our project partners – travel, accommodation, making sure everyone who needs to know does know. My next SMF blog post will be from the road, as I visit colleagues in Aberdeenshire again at the end of next month. ‘Til then – happy Day of Archaeology!

Get in touch: anna@socantscot.org

For more information on ScARF go here: http://www.scottishheritagehub.com/

For more information on the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland see here: http://www.socantscot.org/

ScARF is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland.

From Housing to History & Archaeology

Posted on behalf of Jonathan Howells, Department Administrator for Department of History & Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

I am no archaeologist. Before working for the museum my idea of an archaeologist was vague and mostly gathered from watching Lucas’ Indiana Jones films.

Therefore, this blog can only highlight my experience since joining the History and Archaeology department at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales as their administrator; covering Cardiff Museum and St Fagans National Museum of History.

How did I come to be at the museum? Well, I was sadly made redundant from my previous position working for the national representative voice for tenants in Wales. Finding a suitable position or any work for that matter was difficult (especially in the Valleys). Thankfully after signing up to an agency, they managed to find me the right kind of work and more importantly with the best kind of people – and the rest is history!

Like going into any new working environment, it was a bit daunting at first, but the people were very welcoming and wouldn’t mind sharing their knowledge and past stories over a cup of filtered coffee.

Apart from administration I’ve been involved in a few archaeology-related activities, for example; I assisted with the cross-departmental Discovery Day that was based on the theme Colour, which was filled full of family-friendly activities, visitors were able to learn about the objects that were exhibited (including the impressive Treasure 20 display) and to take tours of the Collections with the curators.

One of the hidden gems that I’ve found at National Museum Cardiff is Clwb Pontio, an hourly break-time session that encourages staff, those who are Welsh learners and fluent speakers, to come together and converse in Welsh. It mostly starts and ends up with a game of Welsh scrabble (just to let you know, I’m bad at scrabble in any language!). I mainly go to enjoy the company of colleagues and it gives me a chance to find out who they are and what it is they do.

I’ve treasured my experience at the museum. It has facilitated in the development of my work skills and rekindled my interest regarding the history of the land of my fathers and even kept me from “abandoning” my mother-tongue – Nefoedd Wen!

Not only is the museum “Making History” but it has added a vital layer to the forging of my future, creating a solid cast for my career by providing me with further prospects.

I can honestly say Diolch o’r gallon.

Busman’s Holiday

Just a short blog this year – some of my previous ones have been quite epic!  If you want to know more about my general Historic Environment Record work then please check my previous posts.

Recently I’ve been to a few archaeology events.  It’s been good to go to a few Festival of Archaeology things to remind myself how fun archaeology can be (sometimes when you’re stuck in an office all day you start to forget!).  Since my son is now 4 1/2 we’ve had fun dragging him round things..!  Also my Father in Law is a flint knapper, and my Sister in Law assists him, so we’ve seen them as we’ve visited things.  It’s a bit of a family affair, really.  🙂

Bradgate Park Fieldschool Open Day

Flintknapping and hornblowing at Bradgate Park – photos from Fieldschool Facebook page

We went to the Bradgate Park Fieldschool Open Day at the beginning of July.  This is a student training and research excavation project being run by the University of Leicester.  They’ve been test pitting/excavating all sorts of things including a Scheduled Monument of a moated site, which has come up with some amazing results.  And of course, at Bradgate Park there’s always the Palaeolithic site to talk about.  (I posted about that previously.)

Romans at Jewry Wall

Roman lady and man at Jewry Wall Museum (his lady expression makes me laugh…)

The other big event we went to was ‘Bringing the Past to Life’ at Jewry Wall museum in Leicester.  This is a major re-enactment spectacle in the museum and Roman Bathhouse ruins.  It has to be said that my little boy was more interested in running around than paying attention to much, though we did get him interested in mosaic jigsaws and tic tac toe.  Plus his Granddad was there, and his Auntie, and he was also very interested in the Leicestershire Industrial History Society display because they had a model of Stephenson’s Comet.

Of course we also managed a summer holiday in Norfolk where we made him look at things such as windmills and castles.  But I don’t think we’ve had as much as a Busman’s Holiday as my colleague, who has been off digging with local groups.  Maybe that’s yet to come!

Bringing archaeology to life through public interpretation at Montgomery Parks

Henson portrait line drawing

Josiah Henson

This week, volunteers and staff of Montgomery Parks Archaeology Program worked through the latest blistering heat wave in Maryland to continue excavations at the Josiah Henson site and progress towards the eventual goal of our work here – public interpretation of the past through a museum dedicated to the life of Henson and to slavery in the county. Henson led a remarkable life; he lived on this plantation for more than two decades, eventually escaping to Canada to start a new, free existence. After publishing his slave narrative, Henson became a role model for Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom” character in her best-selling novel. To say this one slave’s experience had an influence on the arc of history in the United States during the mid-19th century would be no exaggeration! Montgomery Parks has committed to making that story as widely accessible as possible – many people have heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin but many fewer have heard of Josiah Henson.

tooth and WW

Recent artifacts

B+GSGSW

 

photo 55

Volunteer Fran sharing the latest finds with a school group

Other than continuing our excavations on the plantation where Henson was enslaved – we continue to find the typical trash and features of a 19th century farm – this week we also welcomed an independent filmmaker on a mission to create a documentary of this largely unknown man’s life. The filming team, comprised of two Canadian gentlemen, are following Henson’s travels around the country and we were happy to have them visit us and share our findings as well as the place where Henson experienced life as a slave.

Paul profiling

Volunteer Paul profiling a finished unit

This week also marks the start of next stage in the design process for the Josiah Henson Museum – both for the outside landscape design and the indoor exhibit spaces. This upcoming year will see designs finalized and I expect it to be a fantastic and exciting way to bring so much of what we’ve learned to the public. As archaeologists, we love to find the bits of the past that survive in the ground, but making them meaningful to non-archaeologists is how we can share our particular focus on reconstructing that past. It makes the past alive again and that is what public interpretation is all about!

henson portal

Preliminary design plans for some of the museum exhibits

 

http://www.montgomeryparks.org/PPSD/Cultural_Resources_Stewardship/heritage/josiahhensonsp.shtm

 

The Work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The Work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. The curatorial record of 1994 said this Italian 14C casket had one lock that was closed. We had a written conservation record from 1982 stating the casket was not locked, merely jammed, and could be opened with "appropriate leverage". X-ray shows 3 locks, all open.

The Work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. The curatorial record of 1994 said this Italian 14C casket had one lock that was closed. We had a written conservation record from 1982 stating the casket was not locked, merely jammed, and could be opened with “appropriate leverage”. X-ray shows 3 locks, all open.


Museum.Dià: museums in the 2.0 era

The field of museum studies is experiencing a period of great discussions and changes as new technologies and new ways of cultural heritage presentation have become part of our daily lives.

To foster the dialogue in the field, Fondazione Dià Cultura has created, in collaboration with the British School of Rome, the Museum.Dià project. It has been imagined has a tool for reflection, strategic elaboration and international professional cooperation.

We structured Museum.Dià as a series of international study meetings to spark the discussion on the themes of museum design, programming, and management.

The case studies that have been presented at the international conference that launched the project, RomArché 2014 V Salone dell’Editoria Archeologica, were diverse. Although they varied in location, typology, and objective, all of the presentations imagined the presentation cultural collections in a structured environment.

The conference covered many topics including: museums and storytelling, the importance of research on collections and how to communicate it, object preservation, the character of historic properties and Home Museums, virtual museums, protecting the function and physical integrity of museums in war zones, and the public role of contemporary museums.

We are now planning the second cycle of meetings for May 2016. Follow our activities and you will know this year’s theme very soon!

copertina museum.dià

Where art meets archaeology: Finding artefacts for an art exhibition of excavations at Calleva Atrebatum

Today I’m working at Hampshire Cultural Trust with Dave Allen. I’m lucky because my visit times with the regular weekly volunteer day at the Archaeology Stores, managed by the Curator of Archaeology, David Allen.

To find out more about the work of David and the team, visit their excellent blog, which has a new post every Monday.

Hampshire Archaeology blog: https://hampshirearchaeology.wordpress.com/

Nicole Beale

Sarah is a volunteer at Hampshire Cultural Trust and has been working with Lesley (who is not in today so we couldn’t get a snap of her!) to prepare a display on some of the material from 1970s and 1980s excavations at Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester).

Sarah – A Trust volunteer

The pieces will be on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, another Trust managed museum, from the 15th to the 29th August and will accompany a special exhibition ‘Silchester: Life on the Dig’ which is made up of works by Silchester’s Artist in Residence for 2014, Jenny Halstead.

The exhibition will be on display in numerous other locations in the south, but the Silchester objects that Sarah has been selecting will be exclusive to the Willis Museum.

Sarah and Lesley need to choose a representative sample of objects, but also to identify objects that are appropriate for display, because they have an interesting feature, are not too fragile, and in the case of some of the tiny coins, large enough to see!

They picked out a selection of coins, there is also a glass bead that will be included in the display.

Coins! Lots of coins!

I don’t know what I love more, the coins, or the envelopes that the coins are stored in

Lovely coins

The glass bead

Sarah is holding a whetstone that is a fragment of sandstone, originally used as a roof tile, and then reused as a whetstone to sharpen chisels.

Sarah is holding the whetstone

The whetstone

The Samian bowl is very attractive and caught the eye of both of them when they were selecting items. It has all sorts of animals, including a deer, a goat, a hare, a boar, a bird, a dolphin, around the outside of it, and Sarah and Lesley thought that it would be fun to find out a bit more about the decoration. The bowl was made in Lezoux in the 2nd century AD.

The Samian bowl

A boar and a hunting dog?

A hare

The pair also found some nice details on some of the tiles in the stores, including one that has a clear dog print on it.

Some of the tiles and brickwork from Silchester

Naughty dog

Finally, just before re-packaging the items to be sent over to the Willis Museum, Sarah needs to type and print labels that will go on display alongside the objects. This task can be quite time consuming as it is nice to be able to provide a little contextual information for each object, and so some research must be done for some of the less common artefacts.

The objects will be on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke: http://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/willis-museum

Nicole Beale