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Rebecca Jones RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Rebecca Jones and I’m a Romanist. My regular work at RCAHMS is as an Operational Manager in the Survey and Recording group where I am responsible for Data and Recording, overseeing a range of projects relating to the data in our online database, Canmore, and its mapping application, and working in partnership across the sector to deliver information to the public. Information Management is one strand of my research interests but another is very firmly placed in Roman military archaeology.

View of the eastern defences of the Roman fort at Ardoch (©Rebecca Jones 2008)

Scotland is one of the best places in the Roman empire to study the archaeology of the Roman army. Repeated attempts to conquer Scotland left a legacy of remains that are the envy of the rest of the Roman world. One of the places where this is most evident is the Roman fort of Ardoch in Perthshire.  This is the location of one of the best earthwork Roman forts in Britain, and the plain to the north of the fort was a marshalling ground for large armies on campaign through Perthshire to the north.

The fort itself was occupied several times leaving a legacy of multiple ditches still surviving as earthworks. I have accompanied several tours of the site and visitors never fail to be impressed by the scale of the defences. Some of these were excavated in the late 19th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and some of the photographs from those excavations are amongst the most fascinating early excavation shots held in the Collections at RCAHMS.

But not only is the fort an amazing site. To the north lie at least five marching camps. These were temporary structures occupied by invading armies who were housed in rows upon rows of leather tents. We are fortunate that they built ramparts and ditches around the perimeter of their encampments, for it is these that leave visible archaeological remains. Imagine a field of tents from T in the Park or Glastonbury: after the weekend is over and the tents have gone – what have you left? No doubt a sea of litter but the Roman’s did not live in our disposable culture. Once the litter is cleared you probably have a muddy field. But then six months later? Is there any evidence that those tents were there? But if a regular perimeter rampart and ditch with particular rounded corners and entrance protection is built, then that leaves an archaeological footprint that we can detect as Roman. The majority of the camps at Ardoch have been levelled through centuries of ploughing and only the perimeter ditch can be seen from the air through differential cropmarkings in dry summers, although stretches of three still survive as upstanding earthworks.

Rebecca Jones explaining the camps at Ardoch

A handful of other camps in Scotland have revealed internal rubbish pits and ovens through aerial and geophysical survey and excavation but for most camps, it is the perimeter which we can identify. The camps at Ardoch witnessed one of the largest Roman forces that ever took to the field in Britain, with the largest camp enclosing over 54 hectares / 130 acres.

It’s this combined evidence of the transient Roman army plus the troops stationed in the fort here for several years, that make these seemingly peaceful fields in Perthshire so fascinating.

A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part III

After finishing my talk for the National Eisteddfod I went back to working on the Atlanterra Project. As part of the work I need to carry out for the project I have to prepare entries for Coflein.

Coflein http://www.coflein.gov.uk/ is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. The name is derived from the Welsh cof (memory) and lein (line). Coflein allows access to details of many thousands of archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and maritime sites in Wales, together with an index to the drawings, manuscripts and photographs held in the NMRW archive collections.

The survey work at Maenofferen Slate Mine (see earlier blog post) involved recording all the standing buildings and structures for ‘preservation by record’. Each of the standing buildings or structures is given a number – known as an NPRN – and each of the standing buildings or structures requires a site description entry.

Some of these entries can be quite simple, and describe the general history of the site, and any other documents which might have been consulted in writing the entry. Other entries can be much more complex and describe in significant detail the building or structure and any modifications or rebuilds it may have gone through during its life.

Maenofferen Slate Mine is a very complex site and is still in operation today. Given that the site began working in the 1860s, there are several phases which need understanding and writing up. The rest of the afternoon was spent checking through entries I’d already written, and making sure I’d got an entry for each of the buildings and structures which needed them – and also ensuring that I’d checked all the Ordnance Survey maps on our GIS (Geographical Information System) for anything which might not have been recorded on the maps, plans and photographs I’d already looked at. 

On the train journey home I was looking over a series of articles written on medieval licences to crenellate – which was a grant that gave permission for a building to be fortified. I was trying to see whether any of the castles I am looking at were given licences to crenellate, and I found one – so I’ll have to get the full reference for it so I can use it in my PhD.

The last bit of work I did this evening was to write this blog entry and a final check of my e-mails. Tomorrow is the weekend, but I’ll still be working on the papers I was reading through on the train this morning. And really, that’s why I’m an archaeologist. I’m fascinated by people and how they lived their lives, and I enjoy reading about them whether its the weekend or not.

 

Accessing Egyptian archaeology through a British Museum exhibition

As an Egyptologist, currently working at the British Museum, I’ve been involved in a number of archaeological digs, but most of my research life has been devoted to trying to make sense of what other people have dug up and trying to share it with a wider audience. And that’s what I’ve been busy doing today.

A lot more ancient material than people might imagine has been found and then relatively ignored in pursuit of new discoveries, and it’s not always shared with as many people as it could be. Part of the work of the curators at the British Museum, whom I have been lucky to join as part of the BM’s Future Curators programme, is trying to make sense of the archaeological legacy that has been left to us. Curators have many different responsibilities, including current fieldwork, but they also persevere in contributing research on the museum’s existing collections, which is made freely available to the public in an online database, online research catalogues, and online journals. Outside researchers are also gladly welcomed to work on the collections; there’s always more that can be learnt from the objects.

Most of what I’ve been working on today relates to a BM UK touring exhibition, Pharaoh: King of Egypt, which I’ve been highly involved in, that opened recently in Newcastle before it tours the country. The exhibition explores the ideals and realities of kingship in ancient Egypt, and, as part of the BM’s Partnership UK programme, allows objects from the national collection to tour to museums outside of London.

I started today with further research into the objects that are currently part of Pharaoh. Exhibitions shed light on objects both literally and figuratively, bringing them out of storage to be shared with thousands of curious people, as well as being an excellent prompt to pursue further research into them. My hands on research, examining the details on objects up close, has sadly already passed, and now I’m chained to the computer and library books, fleshing out the context. Today I finally got round to working on one of my favourite objects from the exhibition, the massive wooden tomb guardian statue from the tomb of Ramses I. It towers at about two metres high and through the conservation work done on it, we learned that it is surprising in its construction as it is made from native Egyptian sycamore wood rather than the imported cedar wood which was usually used for large objects. Making sense of the object also involves tracing its history back to its discovery by Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817 and some subsequent misinterpretation in later publications!

Of course, as all archaeologists will understand, my research time didn’t last long, as administration, meetings, and other commitments took over. I worked on our slowly evolving project of making the Pharaoh website a better guide and online catalogue for the exhibition: today we added the exhibition themes to the website, which you can see here. Then we had a debriefing meeting to discuss what we learned during the installation of the exhibition at the Great North Museum: Hancock to help us better prepare for transporting and installing the objects in the subsequent venues around the UK. All sorts of things like scheduling, personnel, improved packing techniques, security, and providing contextual information and images were discussed.

Finally I also exchanged farewells with our visiting curators from Egypt and around the world, who were here for the past 6 weeks as part of the British Museum’s International Training Programme. I led a couple of sessions with the visiting Egyptian curators, as well as attending some of training sessions alongside the ITP participants, and I certainly learned as much from them as I was able to teach. On their last whole day here yesterday, they presented their ideas for future exhibitions based on some of the new approaches they’d learned from colleagues at the BM, partner museums, and each others. It was amazing to see presentations on exhibition concepts like the trade route between China & Europe or Somali wedding traditions, and given in partnerships such as Brazilian and Nigerian curators working together.

One can always learn more, whether from meeting new people or revisiting old objects, and continually asking questions is one of the most important tenets of archaeology.

RCAHMS – Amy Gillespie CBA Community Archaeology Placement

RCAHMS also hosts placements from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and at the moment Amy Gillespie is working as a Community Archaeologist. Below is her contribution to Day of Archaeology as she explains her placement, work she’s currently undertaking particularly with the Scotland’s Rural Past team at RCAHMS as well as her plans for the future.

RCAHMS Amy Gillespie, CBA Community Archaeology Placement

As I’ve described in the video clip I’m here at RCAHMS for one year as a trainee community archaeologist. I recently completed an MSc in Scottish Studies and I was working part time at the University of Edinburgh as an e-learning resource developer when this opportunity came up. There are quite a few ‘on the job’ training opportunities out there at the moment and I think they are a great way for newly qualified people like me to gain lots of skills and experience.

Today I’m working on Gairloch estate maps, using our online database to catalogue and link each map to relevant sites on Canmore. Once this is completed the maps will be available to the public online. The maps came to be digitised following an SRP training session in Gairloch and so I’m sure the SRP groups in the area will be keen to see them.

One of the great things about my placement is the variety of projects and activities I can get involved in: I have been working with the SRP team validating records sent in by volunteers before uploading them to Canmore; I’ve been to conferences, including one on the Isle of Man where we held a training session in survey and recording techniques; I’m spending time at East Lothian Council and Archaeology Scotland in the run up to East Lothian Heritage Fortnight and Scottish Archaeology Month; I’m in the process of starting up the Edinburgh branch of Young Archaeologists’ Club; and I’m preparing for a two week survey trip to Rum! Phew.

I hope you have a good Day of Archaeology! For more information on the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project go to the CBA website and visit out Facebook Page.