Post-excavation

Kate Brady: Post-Excavation and Photography

My name is Kate Brady and I am a Project Officer in the Post-Excavation (PX) department at Oxford Archaeology.

My job varies greatly from day to day (one of the reasons I enjoy it so much). Hopefully this blog post will give you a flavour of what I do on a typical day.

Thursday 28th July 2016

9am

After coffee and emails my first task is always to plan how I will complete my task for the day I have four ongoing projects at the moment and I am also in charge of photography at the unit so at the moment I have several things to keep track of.

People at their desks at work

Some of my colleagues in the PX department at Oxford Archaeology South, Oxford.

9.30am – 11.30am

This morning I am writing the discussion section for the report on excavations at Brasenose College in Oxford. The site revealed evidence of the use of the site before the construction of the current College building so I have been consulting maps and documents to match up our evidence from plans and section drawings of the site and the pottery we collected, dated by our in-house specialist John Cotter, with the documented use of the site. Because the pottery is in several cases dateable to the space of a few decades, and the development of the site in the post-medieval period is fairly well documented, I can piece together this evidence to tell a story of how the site developed. Having said that, there are still a few questions, such as why was there such a large dump of German drinking vessels recovered? John and I discuss some ideas about this and I think about how I’m going to present the possible explanations in my report. When I’m formulating the discussion of a report like this I usually print out site plans and maps and scribble all over them. Although we now routinely use CAD and GIS to overlay site plans on maps and analyse our data, I still often use this old fashioned method initially as I find it helps clarify my ideas as I’m thinking them through. The results of these scribbles will later be presented in a much more professional way, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Plans, ruler, keyboard and pen on a desk

My desk!

11.30am

Several of my Colleagues in PX are specialists in certain categories of finds and John Cotter, who sits just along from me often shows me particularly interesting things that come in for him to look at. John is a specialist in medieval and post-medieval pottery and also clay tobacco pipes, and I’ve learnt a lot just sitting nearby. Today a complete medieval crucible was brought back from one of our sites in Oxford. The project manager has asked for a spot-date. John says he thinks it is 12th century in date and the best example every found in Oxford. I always feel so lucky to get to see all these things as they come in.

Hands holding a 12th Century crucible

A 12th Century crucible

11.30am- 1pm

I continued with my discussion writing for the rest of the morning, occasionally answering questions about what cameras are available for use on upcoming sites and about plans for me to go out and photograph sites next week. We have lots of sites on at the moment so I’m busy in that respect.

1.30pm – 3pm

For the first part of this afternoon the PX department gathered together for a departmental meeting which we usually have bi-monthly to keep us all informed of what work we will be doing next and what projects are now moving into the PX phase. I found out I’ll be working on the report for a Roman site we excavated in Aylesbury and that a monograph I co-wrote on a project we completed in Bristol will soon be published. My programme is full for the rest of the year so I’m happy that I’ll be kept busy.

3 pm – 4pm

After the meeting I retreat to the photography room we’ve set up to photograph some medieval tiles we recovered from the Westgate Centre development in the centre of Oxford. Most of my photography work at OA is on site but I also occasionally undertake finds photography and enjoy getting to handle the finds and work out the best way to photograph them.

For the last part of the day I continued with the discussion text I was writing earlier. Late in the day is often a good time to write as the office is emptier and quieter and I can get lost in what I’m doing without being disturbed. However, a nice distraction arrives before I’m about to leave at 5pm, the latest edition of our in-house newsletter is ready and one of my photos is on the cover!

A hand holding a magazine

My photo from the Westgate excavation on the cover of the latest edition of the in-house newsletter

Kate Brady is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our publications, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/research/ourpublications

Core blimey! Jason Stewart and the Sediment Core Samples

The best thing about working as a geoarchaeologist at MOLA is the variety; one day I could be watching a machine ripping through the odorous remains of a 19th century gas works, the next day could find me wrestling with the implications of a newly returned set of radiocarbon dates.

Today however finds me in the lab examining sediment cores retrieved from an evaluation. The site is in Dartford within the Thames estuary and has early prehistoric peat forming on top of the cold climate landsurface with various phases of being mudflat, marshland or flooded.

The cores are carefully laid out with the top of the borehole at one end of the lab and the base at the other. As there is 16m of sequence and the cores are 1.5m long and filled with heavy sediment this can take longer than you would think.  The cores are then methodically cleaned and the colour texture, inclusions and nature of the boundaries are recorded.  This detailed cleaning and logging allows me to think about the depositional environment of the site and the nature and rate of the changes that occur.

The next task is to select the locations from which to take samples, we take samples for radiocarbon dating, this enables us to places the changes in environment in some kind of chronological framework allowing us to compare the developments onsite with other work we have done in the surrounding area.  We also sample for things which will tell us about the environment in the past (usually pollen, diatoms, ostracods and plant remains).  These are carefully sliced from the core and sealed in labelled bags to be sent off to the various specialists.  The cores are then re-wrapped and returned to their climate controlled environment, the lab surfaces cleaned and the results typed up.

Jason Stewart

Plans, Lists, Context Sheets, Levels, Sections, Photos, and Back to the Plans: Archival clean up at Bristol Dig Berkeley

My name is Emily Glass and together with my co-supervisor at Bristol Dig Berkeley, Sian Thomas, we have been wading through piles of drawings, lists and context sheets that were created over four weeks of digging at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. This project has been an annual fixture of the University of Bristol’s Archaeology and Anthropology department for ten years under the direction of Professor Mark Horton and Dr Stuart Prior. The excavation provides valuable practical experience for students during their three year degree and for any willing post-graduates! During the 2014 season the team worked in Nelme’s Paddock (a field to the front of the Castle) on Trenches 8 and 14 – for which the paperwork now needs looking over for any glaring errors.

Emily and Sian PX-ing the Berkeley Castle excavation

Emily and Sian PX-ing the Berkeley Castle excavation

Often seen as the ‘boring’ side of archaeology – the less hands-on, indoor work of checking and cross-referencing any excavation archive is a crucial part of the process. Using the archaeological features and finds to phase the sequence of events is the basis for interpreting your site. The mantra that most archaeologists have been brought up on is that ‘the archaeology does not lie’ – so no matter how much you try to cram that theory of yours into what the evidence is telling you, if it won’t fit then it’s just plain wrong! All that needs doing next is to fit this into the wider scheme of what was going on at that particular time in that particular area and you have your story! Simple, right??

One thing about checking an archive is that no matter how long you THINK it’s going to take – it will always take longer and often drive you mad in the process of going back and forward between lists, sheets, numbers, drawings, images and notebooks until you feel like you’re drowning in paperwork! However, on occasion the Post-ex process can throw up something completely unexpected – such as our 2014 Finds Team discovering a box containing ceramic vessels from Ur! Then, when all calms down and you finally feel you’re coming out of the tunnel – you realise that your final Harris Matrix doesn’t work and the cycle of despair continues!

"Tell Us Your Secrets Trench 8...."

“Tell Us Your Secrets Trench 8….”

Trench 8 has been open now since 2009 so we have many, many drawings and records that Sian has kept on top of year on year. She even has an A1 sized trench matrix which looks amazing, but of course needs a bit of jiggling! On this Day of Archaeology we sorted out finished drawings to be scanned, filed sheets into folders and updated the context check-list.  Some context sheets were checked off, whereas others are ongoing and will be completed at the Berkeley Summer School in August. So far we can track a broadly continuous sequence of use through buildings, roads, ditches and pits from the Roman period through to Saxon, then Norman, onto Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan times. The latest phase represented is the Georgian use of the Paddock as a kitchen garden. So it’s not surprising that the sequence keeps shifting!

General niggles in the records were of the usual variety: confusion about compass orientations, forgetting to transfer levels back onto paperwork (or even work them out!), back-to-front matrices and terrible handwriting! All joking aside, completing the record checking of an archaeological archive to a high standard is not only the right thing to do ethically and morally (all archaeology being destruction / to dismantle is to understand and all that), but it is also very satisfying, especially when the job is ticked off as DONE!

Happy Day of Archaeology 2014!

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Michael Marshall (MOLA): looking at small finds from Cheapside, London

I’m spending this Day of Archaeology writing up the small assemblage of Roman and medieval small finds and Roman glass from a MOLA excavation on Cheapside in the City of London. It is a bit of a break from the Roman Walbrook sites which have really been at the centre of my working life for the last couple of years.

The Cheapside excavation is an interesting site overall but the finds assemblage is small and not terribly well-preserved and so it makes only a modest contribution to the wider story of the site. The Roman glass is fairly commonplace (mostly 1st-century cast ribbed bowls and 1st-/2nd-century jars and bottle glass) and there are only seven Roman small finds, again mostly common types such as bone hairpins and counters.

Roman glass bowl rim fragment.

Roman glass bowl rim fragment

See a complete example of a Roman pillar-moulded bowl  here.

These objects will help us date the stratigraphic sequence and can tell us a little bit about what was going on in the local area. But the careful records we make mean that these objects can be incorporated into wider projects of finds research based around London more generally and hopefully they will get a second chance to shine in the future. The two hairpins, for example, can be incorporated into a big project on the date, distribution and function of Roman hairpins from Londinium that is currently underway.

Roman hairpin

Roman hairpin

The medieval finds are mostly early in date, belonging to the Saxo-Norman period, the first centuries after the walled city was reoccupied. There is some interesting evidence for craft activity such as most of a hemi-spherical crucible with a pinched pouring lip. This is in quite a few pieces now but can be reconstructed by the conservation team to allow it to be illustrated.

hemi-spherical crucible

hemi-spherical crucible

See a complete crucible with a similar form but in a slightly different fabric here.

The star piece from the site though has to be a lovely bone ‘trial-’ or ‘motif-piece’. This is a section of rib with carved interlace designs typical of the period. The precise function of these objects is unclear. Some people have argued that they could be used as moulds or formers but it seems more likely that they are a way of practicing or working out designs which can then be executed in other mediums. Similar objects have been found in contemporary contexts at sites such as York and Dublin; there are plenty of other examples from London too but this is a particularly interesting example.

The new Cheapside trial-piece

The new Cheapside trial-piece

See some more examples here and here.

Writing in 1991, Frances Pritchard noted that most of the trial pieces  found in London seemed to come from a fairly restricted area in the western half of the city north of Cheapside. We’ve found a lot of new examples since then so this morning I spent a bit of a time plotting more recent finds in GIS to see if this pattern still holds true. It seems like the distribution has expanded a little to the area directly across Cheapside to the south and a little to the north in the area at Basinghall Street where there is a recent find and also another older find, not plotted here, from nearby at London Wall. In general, however, the pattern remains strong and more recent excavations near this area have produced large groups of these finds as at Guildhall Yard and No 1 Poultry. The outlier to the south along the waterfront is from a much later 13th century context and was probably redeposited during dumping to expand the waterfront. Overall, the evidence seems to suggest strong quite tightly focused evidence for Saxo-Norman craft activity around Cheapside and the immediate vicinity.

Preliminary GIS plot of Saxo-Norman bone trial piece from modern excavation

Preliminary GIS plot of Saxo-Norman bone trial pieces from modern excavations


Jess Bryan (MOLA): All work and no play

My day of archaeology is not typical by any means. It started last night at the Bloomberg London summer party. Held at a warehouse in Shoreditch, London, this was the kind of party rarely seen by archaeologists, and then usually only by company directors. Working on the Bloomberg London project (yep we are still doing the post-ex) has allowed me to attend more than my fair share of these corporate do’s and the relationship between Bloomberg, MOLA and McAlpine means the whole team get to go. This party did not disappoint: champagne, edible mist, ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, BBQ, photobooths, live band and a DJ. Of course there was the obligatory networking and hobnobbing to be done but everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves (perhaps a little too much).

Safety first

Correct PPE must be worn at all times in the photobooth

And so my task today involves organising our own party, as tonight MOLA are hosting a Bloomberg London (or Bucklersbury House as we call it) reunion! People who worked on the site (and those that didn’t) can come along, catch up with old colleagues, and hear where we have got to in the Post-ex process. It’s over a year since we came off site, and although we are still wading through all of the records, we thought it would be nice to update everyone on our findings and show them what their hard work on site has resulted in so far. So often you leave a site and never hear of it again. So I am putting the final touches to my presentation, checking the finds and enviro specialists are still coming to speak and making sure the pub that we have booked is ready for the onslaught of 50 archaeologists. Although it will not be on the level of last night’s party, there will be a few drinks and nibbles available to all…

The day begins…

Another year, another Day of Archaeology!

It may seem odd to begin a Day of Archaeology talking about accounts… but we are in the process of signing off the 2013-14 accounts so this is uppermost on my mind at the moment. After yesterday’s meeting with the auditors my first task today is to prepare the financial parts of the Trustees’ papers for the Board Meeting next Friday. It will be quite a busy Board meeting as there is a lot to discuss about the various changes I am making at the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust – all very positive news, but a lot of it!

This year is the last year that my administrator Jenny will be with us; she will retire later this year and just at the moment we are recruiting for her replacement. Applications for the job – advertised here – close at the end of the day on Monday, so there is still time to apply. Since I am the line manager of this post, and we have no HR department (just me!), then this has been another time-consuming process… it is always a fascinating one though.

Most of the team are out of the office today on various fieldwork projects. We have just finished two substantial Cadw-funded community archaeology projects and so the building is full of the detritus from those! I am immensely proud of Viviana, Sophie and Richard for their work at Buckley. This was quite a new departure for the Trust, with over 350 schoolchildren involved in an excavation of a post-medieval pottery site over a period of three weeks.

Pupils from Elfed School at Buckley with CPAT staff and members of the Buckley Society. Pupils from Elfed School, along with CPAT staff and members of the Buckley Society. 10535739_260455044150244_8390290249251283690_o

At the same time we also ran the fourth field season at Hen Caerwys, where the oldest and most experienced member of the team – Bob – was joined by our newest and youngest recruit, Menna. It is really rewarding to see experience and knowledge being handed on in a very practical way to the next generation. I was lucky enough to come out from behind my desk last weekend and spend a bit of time wielding a mattock on site at Hen Caerwys.

Mennas dog Merlin helps with the surveying of her trench at Hen Caerwys last week.

Some more Cadw-funded fieldwork will be done later in the summer, and Richard is out for the next two weeks doing geophysics in advance of those. At the moment Nigel is organising everyone’s very busy schedule over the next month or so for various contracts ranging from watching briefs to large evaluation projects – with churches, quarries, medieval villages and prehistoric ring-ditches among the targets.

Meanwhile, on the curatorial side, Mark and Wendy continue to monitor planning applications and, where necessary, issue briefs for work. This year has seen a gradual upturn in the number of applications being received, which suggests that the economic recovery may be cautiously approaching mid-Wales. Finally, Jeff has taken a break from his usual HER duties this week to help Viviana with the first schools placement week. Today the six local pupils will carry on with a variety of field- and office-based activities. Yesterday they were outside my office on the back steps cleaning pottery in the sunshine – great to hear their enthusiasm and interest as a refreshing counterpoint to the tedium of the accounts.

Later this morning I have to go over to my old stomping ground at Ironbridge to give a lecture on the origins of metallurgy to students on the Building Conservation course there. Sadly this is the last time that this course will run in its current form. I am very much looking forward to seeing my recently-honoured former colleague Harriet Devlin MBE!

All in all a typically busy start to a typically busy day in the life of the Director of a Welsh archaeological trust!

 

Community ‘Environmental’ Archaeologists!

The community archaeologists on the Archeox: Archaeology of East Oxford Project have been involved in every aspect of their project including the following:

  • Desk based research
  • Geophysical survey
  • Test Pitting
  • Excavation
  • Recording
  • Inking drawings
  • Finds washing
  • Finds sorting
  • Wet sieving their soil samples
  • Processing their residues and flots
  • Identifying their animal bones and any modifications
  • Report writing
  • Place names research

…. and that’s just some of what they have been up too!

On Saturday the 30th our volunteers took part in an Environmental Archaeology Workshop with the Archeox project and Oxford Archaeology. We processed soil samples from our excavations at Bartlemas Chapel in east Oxford, most of which were from grave fills.
Volunteers sorted their residues by size using microscopes and hand lenses. They collected artefacts and recorded their proportions on recording forms as well as what material was discarded for each fraction (sample size). The artefacts were bagged together with their forms ready for the next stage of analysis.

Our volunteers said they really enjoyed the session and found it really interesting to see the material that can be collected through this process (including some charred seed’s, teeth, bone fragments and tiny mammal bones). They also said that participating in post excavation helped them to understand why soil samples are taken and why careful labelling and accurate recording is so important on site! They said that being involved in these post excavation processes helped feed back into the way they worked on site.
The Archeox project is extremely proud to announce it has been shortlisted for Best Community Archaeology Project at the British Archaeology Awards 2012!
You can follow the work of our volunteers at our website: www.archeox.net, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArchaeologyOfEastOxford and on Twitter too: http://twitter.com/#!/archeoxnet

Tim Braybrooke: Senior Archaeologist Daydreams of Experimental Archaeology & BBQs

Today, I am in the office mostly crunching numbers in a post excavation analysis, data basing stylie.

Crunching numbers but fondly remembering my most recent fieldwork site, down by the river where, after finishing up for the day, we would spark up a BBQ and, with the smoke and scent of grilling bangers and chicken wafting through the warm evening air, we started making pots and votive figurines out of the clay freshly machined from a trench and then firing them on a bonfire.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm………

Oooooohhhhh………

Ta-dah!

Oh happy days…

BBQs and pot making don’t constitute a normal working day for professional archaeologist but demonstrate that the best advantage must always be made of any given situation.

Until the next given situation: crunch, crunch, click, click, tap, tap, scribble………

 

Finds in context

Pot sherds awaiting cataloguing

Pot sherds awaiting cataloguing

Hey, well I suppose I should start by introducing myself. My name is Kyle Young and I’m a second year (going into third year) student studying Archaeology at Cardiff University. I am currently taking part in the post-excavation archiving of the Cosmeston site, mainly dealing with the past three years of excavations. The past three digging seasons have concentrated on the area of the site marked as Cosmeston Castle on the Ordnance Survey maps, which refers to the manor house complex. The post-excavation work involves sorting through, and labelling the archaeological material (mainly pottery) that was excavated, along with creating the digital archive from the paper record sheets.

I was at Cosmeston for the 2010 season and the work I am currently doing with the finds from the site is enabling me to have a better understanding of what occurred there. Through working on the site I  could see and understood what it was, but it is through studying the finds that I am beginning to fully appreciate what actually happened within the manor house, and also during the post-medieval period when it was demolished.

The medieval pottery that has been uncovered at the site appears to be of quite fine quality. There are a large number of imports from France and large amounts of Bristol-ware. This suggests a high-status household. There are also examples of extremely fine locally made products, such as the ram’s head vessel (a possible aquamanile) found in this season’s excavations. The only other similar vessel from this area was found at Cardiff Castle during excavations in 2004-2005 by local unit GGAT, indicating that this was a high-status item.

The large quantities of post-medieval pottery excavated at the site – such as North Devon sgrafitto wares, Bristol tin glazed bowls and a Cistercian style lid (a 16th Century style of glazed pot) – are useful in dating the final phases of the manor. Found in contexts associated with the demolition of the manorial buildings and robbing of walls for building material, they help tell us when these activities occurred.

Applied clay spirals on the body of a medieval Saintonge jug.

Applied clay spirals on the body of a medieval Saintonge jug.

It is the job of archaeologist in post excavation to look at the assemblage from the site and attempt to sort it, which is currently what we are doing with the Cosmeston collection. Most of the previous seasons’ work has already been sorted and catalogued and merely requires each sherd to be labelled with the site code and context number (as Louise noted in her blog earlier). Currently we are dealing mainly with the 2009 excavations, so the site code is COS09.

The 2011 excavations, however, have yet to be fully sorted and catalogued and so require us to do this before we can label anything. So far we have sorted the pottery finds from the 2011 demolition layer and labelled the sherds accordingly. As we continue to work through the material we will bring you all the latest news on the Cosmeston blog.