Person Communication and Meetings

Meetings, Musings and misplaced virtue

Here is me hugging a pot from the collections

Here is me hugging a pot from the collections

I’m Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, a job I juggle with my role here as a lecturer and Near Eastern archaeology specialist. This can make my day-to-day tasks both varied and unpredictable, as no matter what the diary says, you can never tell what you might be called on to do.

Some objects from the Institute of Archaeology Collections - how lucky am I to work here?

Some objects from the Institute of Archaeology Collections – how lucky am I to work here?

My day begins in soggy London Town, striding across a string of parks in my daily walk from Holborn to the Institute in Gordon Square. Today I’m wielding my second best umbrella, after a disastrous gust of wind demolished my rather fine Book of the Dead parasol yesterday. There’s a brief encounter with a former colleague en-route, during which we admire each other’s rain protection gear, then I arrive to see what the day holds. (more…)

Medieval Knights, Their Trash, and Urban Gardens Before They Were Trendy

I’m sitting in sunny California, in the Classics Library at University of California, Berkeley, and I’m thinking about sunny Italy. For 5 years (2006-2010) I spent Julys living in a Boy Scout camp in Sgurgola, Italy, about an hour south of Rome, field-directing the excavations of Villamagna. [See more about our project here: http://www.villa-magna.org]. And for the past three years I have spent Julys working on the material we excavated, working on the stratigraphy and working with finds specialists who were studying the pottery, glass, animal bones, environmental remains, coins, small finds and the human remains from the cemetery. This summer we are finishing the manuscript. I can tell you a bit about where we are for medieval Villamagna and what I’m doing today, and then I’ll tell you about my other project, which I’m working on in my spare time: urban gardens in medieval Italy.

DIGGING (AND WRITING) VILLAMAGNA

Our project at Villamagna looked at a site over time. In the Roman period, one of the 2nd-century emperors (Hadrian, probably) built a large country house, surrounded by vineyards and forests for hunting. The buildings of that villa are still visible in some places on the site, and what was clear even before we started digging was that throughout the middle ages people had lived among the Roman ruins–the church on the site was built and rebuilt several times in the middle ages reusing Roman bricks, columns and other pieces, and we knew there was a monastery in the area from some medieval parchment documents at the Cathedral archive. Digging was great fun. We had a super team of people from Italy, America, Britain, Belgium, Algeria, Sweden, Canada; these ranged from local high school kids to a volunteer excavator who could excavate a skeleton in minutes, perfectly (it took me hours, imperfectly). The results were very exciting. We could see an early medieval phase of occupation, with high-status pottery, in the Roman building. The monastery buildings were there, including the cloister and a huge underground cistern (a storage container for water). We found a huge cemetery in front of the church, dating mostly from the late middle ages, with hundreds of skeletons; it is now the largest excavated medieval cemetery in Italy.

At the moment, I am working with a research assistant here at Berkeley and the other editors of the project, Lisa Fentress and Marco Maiuro, to pull together the work of the entire team into a publication which makes sense of the thousands and thousands of pieces of data we have collected. Let me give you an example:

Villamagna Medieval Spur

A riding spur found at Villamagna

This is O 700, a spur which came from SU 4291 (we called contexts stratigraphic units, SUs). This was a deposit of rubble and silty soil which accumulated in the well house of the monastery cloister.

Screenshot of ARK SU 4291

This is page for SU 4291 on the database ARK, an open source online recording system, which L – P Archaeology custom fit to our project, and which stores all of our archaeological data. http://ark.lparchaeology.com/

 

Giorgio Rascaglia tells me that the pottery from this deposit dates to the latter half of the fourteenth century, and this fits with what the stratigraphy suggests about the abandonment of the monastic buildings and their conversion to an elite residence next to the church, and also what some medieval parchments record. A bull of Pope Boniface VIII from 1297 suppressed the monastery of Villamagna and gave its properties to the bishop of Anagni, and then in the 14th century, various bishops argued with one local family, the Caetani–perhaps the most powerful family in medieval Central Italy–over their occupation of the property. The Caetani, or some of their homines (their men), were probably the ones living in these buildings and stabling their horses nearby. We found four other spurs from this period (our Finds specialist, Tyler Franconi, tells me that spurs like this, with a rowell, were common from the 14th century onwards) in this and related deposits, as well as a pair of bone dice for when the knights were playing games, and lots of broken drinking glasses, which Barbara Lepri has studied (these are her drawings):

Medieval Glass (Drawings by Barbara Lepri)

Barbara Lepri’s depiction of fragments of medieval drinking glasses found at the site

The final publication will include a website, based on ARK, with the records of our Objects, Pottery, Glass, single-context stratigraphy, as well as a printed volume with essays by Giorgio, Tyler, Barbara, and myself on this material. Today, we have been editing the footnotes and checking the bibliographic formats for essays on early medieval liturgical sculpture and ninth-century pottery and revising maps of the area from the Roman and medieval periods [thank goodness for http://pleiades.stoa.org/].

URBAN GARDENING IN MEDIEVAL ITALY

As I have been in the Bay Area, I’ve become quite interested in urban gardening. Here in Berkeley it is high-status display horticulture in a foodie society (people have raised garden beds in the front of their Craftsman homes, with rows of broccoli and the most elegant heirloom tomatoes you’ve ever seen) and in Oakland, it is activism and community-organisation in the economically blighted parts of the city, where there are no grocery stores which have fresh food. Among some of the immigrant populations of Oakland, like the Hmong, community gardens have provided people places to grow familiar plants not available elsewhere, speak native languages, and help the elderly to socialise. I assumed, initially, that many of the urban gardens of Oakland were built on derelict land, gaps in the urban fabric of the city created by abandoned houses or unused lots. (Some of them were.) I wondered if the urban gardens of early medieval Rome were not similar, and I wondered what I could learn about the past based on the example of the present. So I set out to collect the evidence of early medieval urban gardens not only in Rome but all over Italy, to see who owned gardens, where they were, and to determine if they were household kitchen gardens or market gardens. I also went looking for ‘dark earth’ in archaeological reports. That is the archaeological deposit characteristic of early medieval cities, with thick (.70-3.0+ m) dark soil, few inclusions of potsherds or other materials, and little or no internal stratigraphy. These have been interpreted as abandonment and decay of organic materials used in late antique and early medieval buildings, but more recent thinking suggests that they are actually the archaeological remains of cultivation.

I have spent the past few months looking through property documents from Italy up to about 1100, and archaeological reports for major cities: Milan, Verona, Lucca, Rome, Naples, Salerno, Ravenna. What I have found is this: there were urban gardens within the walls of every early medieval city, more in Rome (which was of course the largest city in medieval Europe), fewer in Salerno (which was very small indeed). These were not, on the whole, owned by the poor, or by people who rented houses, but by the elite who owned their own houses, and constituted significant social and economic potential for growing food and providing it/selling it to others.

Doc. 82 in the Regesta Sublacense, is a good example of what I have been looking for. The ‘humble monk’ Crescenzio Murcapullo gave his property on the Caelian hill in Rome to the nearby monastery of S. Erasmo in 1003:

‘It is a one-story house entirely tiled and shingled, with an oven inside it and a yard and a vined pergola in front of it. Also a garden with fruit trees next to it, with right of passage to a public road, and with all things pertaining to these, located in the region called ‘porta metrovia,’ where I Crescenzio up to now have lived. One one side is the garden of Iohannes Folle. On the other side is the garden of Iohannes, priest and cardinal. And the third and fourth sides are surrounded by public roads.’

In the same document he bequeathed a grain-field measuring 13 moggi outside the nearby Porta Metronia, in the Prata Deci (Decenniae), which was surrounded by four other grain fields. Crescenzius himself appeared as neighbour to other parcels which ended up at S. Erasmo, as a renter of other parcels, and then the donor of this land. This seems a rather plush residence and it clearly included land designed for growing grain, vine, fruit trees and vegetables. The urban plot would have been 6900 m2, and his extramural field over 4 times that. Given a ballpark-estimate that in pre-industrial Europe, 40 m2 would grow the vegetables for a single person for an entire year (this is the figure that German agronomists working on Constantinople use), this monk had a very sizeable plot, indeed.

Like this example from Rome, these gardens were mostly owned by churchmen. This may be an issue of the documentation (the vast majority of property documents from the period record properties which eventually came to the hands of churches or monasteries), but it also may reflect new social values which emerged in relation to changes in social structures. Abbots and bishops–and priests as well–became powerful figures in early medieval cities, and one of the ways in which they negotiated their new status was by showing themselves to be good managers of estates–a new book by Kristina Sessa  makes this point very clearly. As good estate managers, they provided for their households and their dependents, and also provided charity for the poor and for pilgrims. The gardens attached to their houses, and the many gardens inside monasteries, helped them to do that. Towards the central middle ages, in the eleventh century, populations of Italian cities grew, and so too their economies. Where there had been lots of empty lots in cities and very little in the way of a market for foodstuffs and firewood, in the eleventh century these were sold off and rented out to new people and there were market gardens, mostly outside city walls. Historians have often made the gardens out to be subsistence-level food-production in the gaps left among decaying Roman buildings. I think, however, that they were controlled by the cities’ elites and while the mustard-greens and onions of these gardens may indeed have fed the poor, they did so through a new system of redistribution organised by the cities’ churches.

Betsy Ross’ Pitchers

I have been an archeologist in the U.S. National Park Service for 24 years (can it really be that long?), where I now serve as head of the History Branch at Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Today, June 27th, I spent several hours working with colleagues preparing a small exhibit commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. This temporary exhibit will feature two ceramic pitchers we recovered in Independence Park during the excavations at the site where the National Constitution Center now stands. The pitchers were found in the bottom of a privy pit (outhouse) that once stood in the backyard
behind the house where Betsy Ross spent her last years.  Did Betsy throw them away?

Pitchers found in the bottom of a privy pit

Made in England between about 1816 and 1820, the pitchers bear images of two War of 1812 naval engagements in which the fledgling U. S. Navy was victorious over the mighty British Navy.  English potteries produced many such designs specifically for  export to the American market. In so doing, they were helping an adversary celebrate a victory over their own navy. I don’t know if they appreciated the irony in that. I do know that they were glad to find a willing market for their goods.  Whatever they meant to the British potters, for Betsy Ross’ family they probably marked the stirrings of national pride sparked by the War.
During the course of the day I also spent time meeting with a colleague from our maintenance staff trying to figure out the safest way to remove an obsolete 1970’s ventilation duct from inside the vault that protects some of the remains of Benjamin Franklin’s house at our in-ground archeology exhibit in Franklin Court. There was yet another meeting today. This last one involved deciding on how the archeologists and the museum curator in the park could best assist a team of faculty and students from Drexel University’s Digital Media program in adding accurate details to a 3D digital reconstruction of the 18th century house in which a African American coachman lived. The reconstruction is base on another site we excavated within the park.…and of course, as every day, there was lots and lots of paperwork to fill out. I do work for the government, after all.

Jed Levin
Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

The Archaeology Data Service, Working to Keep Your Bits in Good Order

Welcome to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

Stuart Jeffrey

Stuart Jeffrey

Another busy day at the ADS today, lots of looming deadlines and lots of work to be done.  Since the last Day of  Archaeology the ADS has continued to expand its collections and participate in more and more national and international projects, which is great news and it certainly keeps us out of mischief. In terms of recognition for ADS’s work, it’s actually been a very good year too, the ADS was a major part of the submission that got the University of York’s Department of Archaeology a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and we are also short listed for a BAA award for innovation (to be announced on 9th July, so fingers crossed!).

The project that is occupying most of my time today is the Economic Impact of the ADS project. The ADS is a free to access digital archive, but it’s really important to us, and funders, that we have a good idea of what the actual economic value to the whole sector of the ADS actually is, so we have embarked on a JISC funded project to try and find out, it’s no easy task to try and put numbers on this kind of ‘value perception’.  I’m preparing for a meeting with John Houghton the Professor of Economics (from CSES in Australia) who is carrying out the analysis for the project in Oxford on Monday. This will be our first meeting since the on-line survey of users and depositors will have closed and I’m really looking forward to seeing the responses. (BTW is closes tonight so if you want to participate there is probably a bit of time left, follow the project link above).

Copyright Clive Ruggles from ImageBank

A nice image from the ADS archive, Cloonsharragh, Ireland, Copyright Clive Ruggles, image taken from ADS ImageBank

Also today, I’m also putting the finishing touches to a joint application, with Internet Archaeology, for an IfA HLF work place learning bursary. We have hosted a couple of these in the past and have always enjoyed the experience of giving someone the opportunity to bring on their skills in a work place environment. We also think there is still a skills gap in the archaeological work force when it comes to digital data management, especially the complexities of digital archiving, and managing data and understanding archiving should really be core skills for archaeologists.

I’d also like to mention the fact that the ADS are proud to support the Day of Archaeology. We’ve been really impressed with the response to the Day of Archaeology project in general and the way a ‘snapshot’ of archaeological activity has been built up covering all sectors including academic, commercial, fieldworkers, specialists, students and curators. As well as fulfilling its role of information sharing and community building amongst the profession, it is also clear that the snapshot created on this one day in 2012 could well become a valuable document for the historians of the archaeological discipline in the future. With this in mind, the ADS are keen to help archive these contributions for the long term. Everyone’s contributions today could well be part of a future research project in 2112!

Finally, as we near the end of the month it’s time for me to change the ‘featured collection’ section of the ADS front page. Ray has been busy archiving and validating a lot of Grey Literature reports, our total is now over 17,000 I think, and some of these relate to archaeological work done in advance of the construction work at the Olympic sites in London. Given that the Olympics are nearly upon us it seems a good idea to make the major MoLAS report (533 pages!) on this work the featured collection for July, very topical. Topicality is not always something that easy to manage when dealing with archaeological archives, but we like to give it a try.

Details of Ray’s Day to follow…….

 

 

A day with the Archaeology Data Service

ADS logo 

Welcome to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog. Before we start looking at some of the nitty-gritty of our busy day it might be useful to give a little bit of background on what we do, especially for those of you who maybe don‘t know anything about us at all.

It’s not all trowels, beards and woolly jumpers:  In lots of the other Day of Archaeology blogs you will be reading about archaeologists out in the field excavating, surveying, recording and so on. You’ll also read about the careful cleaning and analysis of artefacts that have been recovered the pots, metal work, skeletons and so on.  This is often exciting and stimulating work, but it raises an important question, why is it being done? There are lots of good answers to this question that range from the very philosophical to the very practical. However, almost all the answers rely on the fact that the information that archaeologists create, the data they gather, will be around for everybody to reuse in the future.  This can be said to apply to many disciplines, but it is especially important for archaeology because the process of excavating a site is of course the process of destroying it too! What remains after the site is excavated are the memories of the experience, the impressions of those affected by the site and the ideas about the past that those involved in the work – and those watching it happen – have created through direct  contact and through consideration of the material that has been recovered.  After the project is over the main connection back to the site apart from memories and the physical remains considered important enough to  keep in a museum are the records that are generated throughout the archaeological process (sometimes called primary data) and the ideas about people in the past that these records have helped to inform (often called interpretation).

The King's Manor, York - where the ADS is based.

The King's Manor, York - where the ADS is based.

So it is important for archaeologists and all those with an interest in the past that these records are kept safe for the long term, especially because they can’t be recreated. At first glance this might seem like a straightforward problem, but it is a surprisingly complex one and has become more so in the last 25 years. This is because almost all archaeological information is created in digital form and now covers a huge range of data generation and recording  techniques, databases, text documents, images, videos, sound recording, aerial photographs, satellite images, laser scanning, digital mapping, sonar data, three-dimensional models etc. etc. It is often very surprising to discover that even with all this new technology, and sometimes because of it, the data created is really quite fragile and requires a lot of looking after. This is where the ADS comes in. The ADS are a digital archive with two main objectives:  1) to provide a safe place for those interested in keeping the results of their archaeological work available to others in the long term; 2) exploring new ways of making all these exciting results  available, findable and usable to anyone and everyone over the internet.

There is lots more about the ADS and it’s history here.

So that’s the headlines, what does it mean in practice? Apart from these main objectives there are lots of other activities we undertake to support them, such as giving advice and creating guides to good practice, but you’ll read more about these activities in the sections below. Different people do different things at the ADS so the sections below will detail a number of activities on or around the 29th July.

Stuart Jeffrey – Deputy Director (Access)

Stuart

A busy day for me, right now I’m concentrating on various European projects that the ADS are involved with, it’s important to remember that the national boundaries we work within today are a relatively new invention and people in the past wouldn’t recognise them, so to help people study human activity in the past it’s crucial to work with colleagues in other countries.  Information on all the ADS research projects can be found under the ‘OUR RESEARCH’ pages on the main ADS website.

First things first though, a good big cup of coffee is in order to get me ready for the day! I also like to check activity on twitter and see if we have any big collections coming up for release. My colleague Jen Mitcham and I normally have a check to see if her ADS facebook page has more new followers or if the ADS_Update twitter account which I run has more, twitter is winning so far, but it can be a close run thing.

It almost goes without saying that after the coffee and a short gloat over twitter’s success most of the morning will be spent on the computer dealing with emails, lots of emails. The ADS are involved in quite a number of projects with partners all over Europe and also in the USA, keeping in touch with these colleagues is a very important part of my job. Today I have been writing a progress report for the CARARE project which is about getting ADS 3D data into a big Europe wide heritage search mechanism called Europeana.

Coffee break time!  – then onto arranging exhibition space for a photographic exhibition on the diversity of archaeological practice as part of a project called the Archaeology of Contemporary Europe (ACE). A couple of weeks ago I was escorting the photographer round the sites of York including stone masons at the famous York Minster, the Jorvik center and the Hungate excavations by YAT.

After sandwiches for lunch and a quick walk round town, York is lovely in the summertime, my afternoon is split into two tasks. Firstly I’m looking at progress on the development of some new features on the ADS website, if you are a regular user you will know it has been recently updated with a new design and also lots of new features. We are working hard on trying to integrate the Imagebank (a free to use collection of archaeological images for teaching and learning) into our main search – ArchSearch. This means that when someone searches on, for example, Stonehenge, they get a series of good pictures to use in their results set as well as monument inventory records and archives relating to the site. Progress on this is good thanks to the hard work of the development team and others. Secondly I have meetings with the ADS development team in the afternoon to discuss our plans for services –this means that as well as the various ways of discovering data held by the ADS via our website we are working to publish data as ‘services’ that can be consumed by other search mechanisms. This is quite a technical discussion, but it’s also quite exciting because we can see lots of potential for making our holdings more easily discoverable to wider and wider audiences, and in my job that’s what makes me really happy.

So after a long day I’ve got no dirt under my fingernails, and discovered no new sites, but I feel that it’s been a good and satisfying day working on ways to both keep archaeological data safe and to get it out to people who need it to continue their work or simply have an interest in our shared past.

Tim ponders some worrisome floppy discs

Tim, one of our curatorial officers ponders some worrisome floppy discs, will the data be recoverable?

 

Jenny Mitcham (Curatorial Officer)

Jen

I work for the Archaeology Data Service as a digital archivist. I have an archaeology degree and did a couple of years digging in the UK before I decided that an office job was more my style. I am engaged in the very useful task of preserving the digital data that archaeologists create in the field (and the office).

At the ADS we know that in order to keep files safe and accessible long into the future, we need to migrate or refresh them to create newer versions to replace the old obsolete files (which will soon not be readable by modern software). To this end, I am currently working on one of the first large collections that was entrusted to us back in the very early days of the ADS. The resource I’m looking at is an archive of Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Research Reports. A run of reports dating back to 1955 which were no longer in print so were scanned and given to us in digital form to make more widely available on-line. The collection consists of some 100 reports and covers many different topics and themes within British Archaeology. This has remained one of our most popular and well-used resources ever since we started making it available on-line in 2000.

The year 2000 was a long time ago in computer terms. The internet was quite different to how it is now and many people relied on very slow dial up speeds. The decision was made at the time that people would not be able to download the CBA Research Reports in one go and would prefer to access them in small chunks of 3 or 4 pages per pdf file. This was all well and good at the time but things have moved on since then and the majority of our users now have access to faster broadband speeds and would actually prefer to download the whole report as a single file.

The other issue with these original CBA Research Reports is that the files are quite an early version of the PDF standard (1.2) and though they are not yet obsolete, some of them are throwing up error messages and they would all benefit from being refreshed.

The exciting job in store for me today is to turn all of these CBA Research Report chunks into full and complete pdf files (one file per report), to refresh them into a more up-to-date file format (the archival version of pdf) and also to update the web interface which people use to access these reports.

OK, so I know this isn’t the most exciting of posts (or exciting of days for me!) but it just highlights some of the essential and ongoing work that we have to carry out in order to make archaeological data available to anyone who wishes to access it, both now and into the future.

 

Kieron Niven (Curatorial Officer)

Kieron hard at work on the new Guides to Good practice

As with other members of the ADS curatorial team, my day can be quite varied ranging from archiving datasets and creating web pages right through to dealing with helpdesk queries coming in through our website or providing guidance and support to potential data depositors. Although I’m currently posted to helpdesk (we rotate this on a weekly basis and it’s been satisfyingly quiet this week!) my main activity today has revolved around the finishing up of major chapters of our new Guides to Good Practice. This has mostly been focussed on completing outstanding sections in the guide for marine survey data (looking at data from bathymetry, single and multibeam sonar, etc.) but I’ve also had a brief ‘catch up’ skype call with the guides project partners in the U.S. at Digital Antiquity /Arizona State University. As a minor break to my predominantly ‘guides focussed’ day I’ve also done some tweaking to the introduction and overview pages of a large laser scan project archive that we will be imminently releasing. The archive has come to us as part of the LEAPII project (a collaboration with Internet Archaeology to showcase projects featuring linked digital publications and archives) and contains laser scans of a number of objects from Amarna (Egypt). The really interesting thing – for me, at least – is that we have data for each object at a number of different points in the laser scan lifecycle e.g. individual point clouds from the scans, registered scans, meshes and – my favourite – 3D PDF files. This variety, I hope, will make it a really useful dataset for those interested in the process of laser scanning.

AM: Eating toast – planning the day.

I am Nicole Beale (nee Smith),  a PhD student at the University of Southampton, looking at the impact that the Web is having on professional practice in the cultural heritage sector.  As with every weekday, my morning has begun with some toast, a cup of tea, and my RSS feeds.  I have a meeting with my supervisor later today, so I’ll mostly be spending time with my own thoughts this morning, but there’s still time  to do a few little fun ‘archaeology’ themed jobs.

Firstly, after I have brushed my teeth I am planning to clean up a blog that I set up for a great project that is run by two insanely motivated archaeologists, between Southampton University and Zupanja Museum in Croatia.  The blog is quite dusty and needs a spring-clean before the next load of students begin to populate it with this year’s fieldwork data (they survey/dig through August).  The blog aims to give updates about the fieldwork season as it goes on, but invariably has been updated at the end of a season with a few personal thoughts and then a season summary.  I’m going to try to encourage more ‘raw’ content this season, but don’t know if those digging and surveying will be able to find time to contribute content.

In an attempt to lessen the frustrations of visiting a blog that doesn’t have regular content updates, I have tried to fashion it more like a static website.  Not sure if that does actually make the lack of new content less frustrating for the subscribers, but it certainly does lessen my guilt for not spending much time cleaning it up as I should have last year (or the year before).  Time is the biggest barrier I think to the success of communication avenues like the blogs we set up every year.  Along with persuading team members that content can be brief and still worthy of inclusion.

Next up; the semantic web and art gallery data sets…