I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.
Why Archaeological Archives Matter: Preserving the Pieces of Our Past at the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
On the 2015 Day of Archaeology, I am working with the reserve archaeological collections in the Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology as a member of the museum’s Inventory Project. This work involves the identification, organisation and documentation of a vast quantity of varied archaeological artefacts, which are mainly stored in wooden drawers in the basement storage area below our exhibition space – an area commonly known to us as ‘the crypt’.
We document the collections from the crypt by the process of each team member working on one drawer of material at a time. Any individual drawer can contain a varied and eclectic mix of artefacts, often unrelated by chronology or provenance, with sometimes the only shared connection being that they were acquired or accessioned by the museum in the same year. Following the post theme of “Why Archaeological Archives Matter” suggested to us members of the Society for Museum Archaeology, I decided to share my work with the museum reserve collections in order to discuss this subject.
Of the last few drawers that I have documented, the artefacts have ranged widely in type and age, with some recent examples including Neolithic pottery, a bronze spearhead, a stone spindle whorl, a copper alloy seal matrix, a clay pipe stem, and some post-medieval glass and pottery sherds.
The museum’s reserve collections may often be mistakenly underestimated in value by the public due to the fact that they consist of objects which are not on permanent view in the exhibition galleries, but the worth and importance of these collections cannot be overstated. The placement of objects in the reserve collections can often be due to their inability to match the themes displayed in the institution’s current exhibitions, or simply due the lack of space to display such an enormous number of artefacts. A number of unusual and unique artefacts from the reserve collections have been re-discovered and re-assessed during the work of the Inventory Project, a number of which have been detailed on our Documentation Discoveries blog.
The museum reserve collections span all archaeological chronologies and typologies, and offer a physical timeline of the development of material culture, seen within the changes and advances of material choices and the design of objects. As an example, seeing a flint javelin head, a bronze spearhead, and a collection of musket balls all in the same storage drawer clearly shows some of the development in weaponry throughout thousands of years of the human past.
A large section of the reserve collections consists of domestic material uncovered during archaeological site excavation – items such as pottery sherds, samples of shellfish and butchered animal bone, and waste material from craft and industry. While perhaps not aesthetically arresting or unique, objects such as glass sherds, clay pipe stems and metal slag samples offer us valuable and extensive information on everyday life and practices in both the near and distant past. The reserve collections also offer an extensive base for archaeological researchers and students to study specific artefact types or groups, or the complete physical results of an archaeological excavation.
The artefacts hold further valuable information in their detailed documentation in the museum’s paper and digital records, which can consist of topographical files, accession registers, object archives and collection databases. These sources record important supplementary information relating to the object provenance, find circumstances, typology, associations and acquisition – all of which provide researchers with an improved and necessary understanding of the full story in the life of the artefact. Overall, the archaeological archives of the museum reserve collection are held in trust for a number of reasons – for conservation and security, for potential future display, as well as for their use as a research base for the future. Work with these collections constantly educates me on our sizeable and impressive national material culture, and the continual need to conserve and collect these important pieces of our past.
Hi! I’m Jolene Smith. I manage all of the archaeological data for the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. We’ve got nearly 44,000 sites in our inventory, with more being added every day. While most of my time is spent in front of a computer and not in the dirt, what I do is no less important. It’s about the follow-through. It’s taking the data produced by the destructive act of removing artifacts and features from their context in the soil and making sure it is safe, accessible, and useful. It’s about making connections. Here’s a day in my life. (more…)
Today I’m writing up my analysis of Iron Age textiles represented on the sheet bronze artefacts of northern Italy. These buckets, belt buckles and scabbards are called situla art and date to the 6th century BC. The miniature figures embossed and engraved on the bronzes are enjoying themselves feasting, drinking and riding their fine horses. The textiles are recorded with tiny points and tool marks. I’m finding ways to calculate their quantity and quality because I want to understand the textile economy.
The photo shows a reconstruction of a bronze bucket at Montebelluna museum in north Italy. The other photo is me trying my hand at embossing a figure. I was on a field visit there earlier in the year.
It’s great to get a quiet hour or two over the summer to read. This afternoon I was reading Peter Wells book on “Image and Response in Early Europe”, where he talks about the way people respond to this kind of art by tracing around the shape of the object with their eyes then focusing on the detailed areas. The figures on the shiny bronzes would certainly have attracted attention.
The same can be said of the textiles themselves, and there is evidence that large, intricately patterned and multi-coloured textiles were particularly prized in the early first millennium BC.
I’m a Research Associate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Some of my papers can be downloaded here. For more about the ERC PROCON textile economy project click here or check us out on Facebook. If you have any questions get in touch, I like to hear from fellow enthusiasts.
So here I am spending another day indoors in front of my laptop. Not all archaeology is having fun in the field! Instead, I have fun doing PhD research. My research topic is how to improve public perception of the Mesolithic in Britain. I’ve been undertaking an analysis of the narratives used to portray the period by academics in learned publications and in more public-facing media. I’ve also been developing resources for teachers to use in the classroom based on using compelling narratives that will help children understand this strange and far-off period of prehistory.
Item 1 – continue compiling a list of wild foods that have been eaten in Britain, and identifying which of these would have been available in the Mesolithic, and which have been found on Mesolithic sites. Why? I want to get children to see the differences between their modern foods and what their forebears had to eat, and I want them to understand what kind of diet may or may not be healthy. It’s also good for me to see how many wild plants I could now use for food myself!
Item 2 – continue my analysis of the content of 178 items covering the Mesolithic that have been published in three popular archaeology magazines since the early 1970s. Not only is this essential to see how the subject is presented to an interested public, but it also helps me learn more about the period. I’ve already come across sites I had not heard about. How about Langley’s Lane? Possible Mesolithic votive deposits on the edge of a patch of tufa.
Item 3 – read an article on ‘perspicuous meta-narratives’! In other words how archaeology should use clear language to communicate instead of jargon. Another reference I can add to my thesis, and more words that I shall have edit down later on (already over 84,000 of the damned things!).
Item 4 – make sure I have a piece of cake. I did some baking last night and brought in cake for the postgraduate room here in York – a squidgy oatmeal cake and a chocolate buckwheat cake with blackcurrant jam in the middle.
Item 5 – if I get time, investigate flights to Göteborg in Sweden in October, and trains to København in Denmark, and then to Schleswig and The Hague as part of round trip to look at museum displays and school visits on the Mesolithic later in the year.
Item 6 – pour myself a bottle of beer at home this evening and hope I have achieved half of the above.
‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Confessions of a newly minted self-employed archaeologist.
My name is Nick and I’ve been a professional archaeologist for the last 15 years. I’ve been lucky enough to be employed continuously for much of that time when I wasn’t studying and have the opportunity to work across the UK, Ireland and in the Middle East. When I saw the tweets promoting this years ‘Day of Archaeology’, I thought why not, I have time to write a blog post. This was a bit of a change from the last few years and I was surprised to find when I re-logged in its been four years since I last participated. This should probably not be surprising seeing as in that time I have been working full time, undertaking part time PhD research, writing papers for journals, giving papers for conferences and, oh yes, having a life. A busy schedule isn’t unusual for budding or experienced archaeologists, because essentially we do it because it’s the job we love, the profession we choose and so we do all that we can. But can that level of workload be sustainable in the long run?
For me the answer was no, in order to do a good job at work, write papers and pursue research, the actual process of writing and finishing my PhD was falling behind. So after thinking about it for a long time and talking with a supportive partner and family, I decided to make a change and a couple of weeks ago I quit my full time, well paid (with benefits) consultancy job to focus on writing up my PhD full time. A bit risky I know, essentially I still have bills to pay and money to think about it, but it was also the best decision I ever made. I’m now a doctoral student and freelance archaeologist and here are the reasons why it is so great.
- Time. Once you re-prioritise what is important and how you spend your time, a massive weight is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt you feel whenever your down the pub and should be writing eases off (doesn’t disappear entirely I’m afraid) and you know you are spending 40+ hours a week dedicated to what you want, for me it’s my PhD research. Essentially you can spend the time you want on the projects you love.
- Finding the love for archaeology again. I’ve spent 15 years working as a commercial archaeologist and have the luck to work on a number of really interesting sites. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s worked in the commercial sector would admit, there are some really boring jobs you have to do in some pretty awful places. Once I moved onto consultancy, you have to deal with some clients (not all) who don’t want to spend money on archaeology, which is a difficult place to be. I guess the problem is that sometimes you feel pretty far detached from the archaeology that you love and the reason why you do the job in the first place. Once you re-prioritise you focus on those projects that you really want to do and you rediscover that love for archaeology. It’s a pretty great feeling and massively motivating.
- Working freelance is a great challenge. It can sound a bit daunting with all the things that you have to sort out (tax issues, keeping accounts etc), however, there are a lot of great guides out there to help (BAJR, CIfA and HMRC). I’ve made some great friends in archaeology who have been there to help and send some work my way. I’ve also been looking into some part time teaching jobs, which is something I love to do from when I did PGTA work at UCL.
So essentially my Day of Archaeology, unlike all those other years when I couldn’t control where I was, is doing whatever I want. While there are some uncertain times ahead I’m doing all I can to get my PhD research done and forge a new path in the following months, and hopefully years. So today is filled with writing for me, doing some research on the landscape context on Iron Age oppidum surrounding Chichester, which will mean my head will be in some books and I’ll be typing away on the laptop. Perhaps not the most exciting day in archaeology overall but it is a pretty great one for me.
Finally, I want to write a bit about our archaeological research which has to continue while the museum is prepared for the re-opening.
Of course, an apparent question is: Why don’t the other researchers write their own posts about their work? Well, the answer is simple and, presumably, very common in science:
It’s a matter of time!
Work schedules of cooperative projects and deadlines of submitting articles have to be kept. Since most institute members also try to help with the museum, time is getting short and even shorter… So we practice one of the amazing achievements of human behavioural evolution: division of labour! So while I’m blogging, others continue with their work.
For example, Dr. Martin Street just finishes writing an article about dogs… in space… and, more importantly, in the Upper Palaeolithic. This paper is his contribution for an exhibition catalogue of another institute. You see, we help where we can!
The previously mentioned Dr. Radu Ioviță has several research projects including field projects in Romania and Kazakhstan. Besides answering questions of actors, today he worked on one of his lab projects and made figures for an article he co-authors about bifacial symmetry.
A Master student he is working with, Nina Schlösser, made spear throwing and thrusting experiments the other week to understand microscopic breakage patterns of lithic tips. Some of us helped her back then throwing and thrusting spears, measuring the depth of the shaft in the animal, or simply switching cameras on and off. Today she was one of the many helpers in and outside the museum and for some unknown reason she was using a shaft again.
Radu’s and Nina’s work contributes to our previously mentioned research theme “Diet and Nutrition”. Understanding hunting equipments and, thus, hunting strategies in the past contributes to the very old problem how to get to the food.
This important motivator helps to fill the larger picture of our research concept which is “Becoming Human: the Evolution of Hominin Behaviour”. In our institute, we focus on ice age (Pleistocene) material as the longest part of human history to portray this process.
Many people instantly think of big glaciers, massive ice sheets, snow, and cold temperatures when they hear “Ice Age”. However, these phases of glacial growth were repetitively intersected by several millenia of warm phases so called interglacials such as the Eemian and, probably, the Holocene. Another of our research themes, “Human behavioural strategies in interglacial environments”, focuses on these warm periods. Important projects in this theme are, for example, the 300,000 years old site at Schöningen or the Eemian site of Neumark-Nord 2. Both sites represent specific lake shore environments which allowed a good preservation of organic material. The bone material needs detailed recording to distinguish natural processes from carnivore and human activity. Therefore, the pieces are not just determined to body part and animal species but they are also examined for breakages and potential cutmarks. Our Basque colleague, Dr. Aritza Villaluenga Martinez, spend some of his working day with this detailed recording.
He is one of the researchers having his desk in our comparative collection on the top floor.
Such collections are needed for more reliable determinations but in some difficult cases, direct exchange with other experts is the best way to come to a reliable conclusion. Therefore, most of our archaeozoologist have desks on the top floor.
Likewise others, Aritza used the Friday afternoon to additionally work on corrections of two reviewed papers. Moreover, earlier today he helped together with our colleague Geoff Smith cleaning up outside the museum.
Another one working late on a Friday afternoon is Wolfgang Heuschen M.A. For his dissertation, he examines schist plates from the Magdalenian site Gönnersdorf. These plates were regularly engraved with Pleistocene mammals such as woolly rhino or mammoths as well as stylised female silhouettes. Continuous use and post-depositional damages make finding and documenting these engravings a difficult task, in particular, requiring a moveable light.
Wolfgang focuses on signs and symbols which are occasionally difficult to distinguish from unintentional scratches. Therefore, he systematically records the plates and establishes regulations in the composition of engravings. Thus, regulations of early societies, our third research theme, can be filtered from the archaeological material.
In a comparable manner, we all contribute to the three research themes that support the research concept – if we are back to our usual working mode. Then we fill large parts of the process of becoming human as a team and explain more and more bits and pieces of the evolution of hominin behaviour – from Tuesday on, we also present what we already learned to the general public in our newly re-opened museum.
So if you are interested: Please, come and visit us!
Hi! I am Dr. Rhonda Bathurst, Facility Manager here at Sustainable Archaeology: Western. Kira Westby is our Administrative Assistant. Together we’ll be sharing what a general day is like here at our state-of-the-art research and curation facility!
Sustainable Archaeology: Western is an off-campus facility of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada under the Direction of Dr. Neal Ferris. Together with our partners at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, we consolidate archaeological collections from across Ontario both physically in our two repositories, and (perhaps more importantly) digitally, in our web-based database. To learn more about the particulars of Sustainable Archaeology – our funding bodies, mandate, policies, and more, be sure to visit our website.
As a relatively new facility (we have existed as an actual building for only three years this September), there are still a number of daily challenges to meet, from administering the grant that funds the project, to purchasing and maintaining equipment for our labs. We are also developing policies and protocol for managing over 80,000 boxes of artifacts that our project will physically curate between both facilities. One of our current areas of focus is the development of our informational platform. We have four staff members on site on any given day, three of who spend most of their day on database development – including Kira, who wears several hats around here! We also have four work study students and a broad array of researchers, grad students and others who filter through our doors on a daily basis – we’ll introduce you as they drop in!
As an Archaeologist, my background informs decisions that are made here in regards to equipment, space utilization, and research opportunities. But Administration is my day-to-day. I start each day by going over the daily and weekly calendar with Kira – we discuss what appointments to expect and what our goals are for the week. Today we’ve got a lot on the agenda! First we’ll need to go through our email, and then prepare for a work study orientation session. We’ll have to watch for a grad student who will be coming in to do some research on the microCT scanner. Our 3D scanning & printing Lab Technician, Nelson, will be in today as well working on setting up mounting methods for the white-light laser scanners up in our Research Mezzanine. We’ll need to keep an eye out for Western Facilities Management and Western ITS, both of whom will be in to install an additional power outlet and network connection in our Collaboration Room in preparation for our new Videoconferencing equipment that will be delivered in a few weeks. I have a Purchase Order I need to submit today for some new computer furnishings and a vendor I need to speak to about setting up a proactive pest monitoring system for the storage area. There are two meetings I have to schedule with other Administrators in the Western Support Services Building to discuss the ongoing administration of our grant funds. Kira will likely squeeze in some temperature and humidity readings, as she does every other week, to monitor the conditions of our storage room. I’ll need to remind the cleaning service that we are due for our quarterly window cleaning. And at some point, I will need to finish up some vacuuming around the facility. If we’re lucky, we’ll spy some deer in the ravine from our Collaboration Room. Those are some of the things we are aware of as we start the day, but each day brings new developments. On the surface, it all seems to have little to do with archaeology, but without these tasks, this facility would cease to be or to function.
For over 2 years, the database crew have started their day working on code. As we enter our final stages of beta testing, the focus now is on tweaking the small things such as the layout of the online data entry forms, wording, even colours. We have a number of volunteers working with the database crew to test functionality and work-flow both in-house and externally. Today the focus of attention is on developing a tagging system for boxes in our inventory management, and solving coding bugs that have appeared in our data entry sections. Later in the day, our Facility Director, Dr. Neal Ferris will meet with the database development team to go over issues and questions arising over the last week. On the agenda – user interface, managing loans, and edits to the variables recorded for artifacts.
Work Study Students
With the end of summer classes, we have an influx of four new Western work-study students joining our ranks for the next couple of months. This morning, Kira and I will be providing an orientation for them that will outline everything from what to do in the event of a fire drill to how to pack boxes, recognize artifacts and enter data into the database. We will explain to them how we plan to inventory and track over 80,000 boxes of artifacts, and we will demonstrate how we’re utilizing 2D barcodes to aid with organization, tracking and data entry.
Research at Sustainable Archaeology
Our micro-CT scanner and its water-cooling unit are humming mechanically in the background of the Ancient Images Laboratory as Amy St. John, a PhD student in Anthropology at Western, works on scanning pieces of First People’s pottery that are several hundred years old. Amy’s thesis aims to differentiate different types of pottery temper used in the construction of these vessels. This will inform her about 1) different methods of pottery construction and 2) different styles of construction that may, in turn, allow her to hypothesize about who was making different styles of pottery and how wide spread they were throughout the region.
Meanwhile across the pond, Dr. Andrew Nelson, an affiliate of the SA and primary user of the microCT and digital x-ray, is on holiday in the other London, in England. Today he is visiting the company that built our microCT scanner. For the past few days he’s been spending time at the British Museum, working on a collaborative project with the Art Gallery of Ontario to scan medieval prayer beads. You can follow Andrew’s progress on our Twitter feed or on our blog, where we’ll be highlighting his adventures!
The Museum of Ontario Archaeology
Located adjacent to our new facility is the well-established Museum of Ontario Archaeology, which has been here since the early 1980’s. Staff from the Museum pass by with a cart full of boxes formerly housed in their offsite storage, now cleaned and repackaged to our standards and ready to be housed in the SA repository.
It’s been a full day and we’re starting to wrap things up here. Our work study students survived their orientation relatively unscathed, and are wiser about how archaeology is done here in the province as well as how we aim to care for those collections over the long term here at Sustainable Archaeology. Dr. Ferris and the database team had a productive meeting this afternoon, and it’s exciting to see the database coming into shape – we’ll soon be entering data! The mCT scanner was humming all day as Amy worked through some trouble-spots she was experiencing as she learns to scan this particular material, while Nelson was busy calibrating scans and software on the 3D scanners in the mezzanine all afternoon. Dr. Nelson, over in the UK, reports he had a great visit with Andrew Ramsey at Nikon Metrology, and will be bringing home some valuable new tips and tricks on how to use our microCT XTH225 XT unit (not a bad way to spend a birthday – enjoy a pint for us – Happy Birthday Andrew!).
I managed to get enough administrative tasks done today that I even managed to squeeze in a bit of training on our new Nikon SMZ25 digital microscope, to flex some of my analytical research muscles! Kira and I have gone over our preliminary calendar for next week, so that we are prepared and know what to expect when we return to work first thing on Monday morning. Thanks to all our fellow Archaeologists for sharing their day’s activities – there is so much more to archaeology than digging!
If you would like to keep in touch with more of our day-to-day experiences, please follow our blog http://sustainablearchaeologyuwo.blogspot.ca/
I’m Mariapia Statile and I’m an archaeologist. Thanks to Day of Archaeology I will tell you a little bit more about me and especially my disclosure archaeological project that is the fixed lens of my day: I call it my “daily devotion”.
I introduce myself. After finishing my artistic studies, I decided to enroll at the Second University of Naples, where I earned a degree in Cultural Heritage, discussing a thesis in Aerotopografia Archaeological, then I took the Master’s Degree in Archaeology with a thesis degree in Ancient Topography. Later on I obtained a Diploma from the School of Specialization in Archaeological at Second University of Naples, Santa Maria Capua Vetere – University of Naples “Suor Orsola Benincasa”, with a diploma thesis about Restoration of archaeological.
During the university studies i have undertaken work activities, study and research, accompanied by internships and training courses concerning the Aerial Photography Methodology applied to archaeological research, the Ancient Topography and Aerotopografic archaeological, Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Methodologies vectorization of the documentation and coding functional to presentation, dissemination and publication, together with scientific collaborations with museum exhibition, catalogs with storage, processing and computerization of graphic and photographic documentation, archaeological survey of the structures, analysis and investigation through software graphics processing, as well as participation in various campaigns of archaeological excavation. Also, I have carried out studies and research with production of specific papers; guidance and illustration of sites and monuments of historical, artistic and archaeological interest. In addition, I had a teaching experience as an external expert in high school. In addition, I am a member of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists.
This has always been first and foremost a passion that is reflected in the continuous and constant communication, dissemination and promotion of cultural heritage.
My personal path gives the mark to my own project which is called OsservArcheologiA : it is to “observe” the archeology through the image, so that we can know the importance of what surrounds us and at the same time understand, appreciate, preserve and enhance what we have, becoming aware of our membership with our cultural environment, as good of all.
The structure of this project has been conceived with the aim to convey the immense archaeological, artistic, historic, cultural, national and international level through photographs and historical images, with particular attention to references and cultural events. To obtain this goal is given the opportunity to collaborate to all those who are interested, whether in the field or simply amateurs; OsservArcheologiA can evolve over time thus. It’s basic concept is disclosed by the observation that, in turn, the project itself creates individual interpretation: a dowel that together with the others, leads to the specific meaning of visual exploration: everyone will have the opportunity to observe, learn and discover with their own eyes, and through those of others, the preciousness of culture.
It is an idea that arises due to my training and constant passion for knowledge, history, photography and graphics with special interest in communication and cultural dissemination in the field of history and archeology.
The archaeologist has a duty to pass on his knowledge to offer it to others, knowing the history we know ourselves. Research, Valuation, Exploitation and Dissemination of culture are the goals of the archaeologist in his daily working process.
As an archaeology student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, I have learnt and have been able to do so many interesting things that made me more passionate about archaeology every day. Something I have also learnt is the importance of engaging the public in archaeology and informing them about our heritage. I have become very interested in Public Archaeology the past two years, and have therefore chosen to focus on this aspect for my Master’s thesis – in particular about blogging.
Concerning public outreach activities, there have always been target groups that have been easy to reach because they already have an interest in archaeology. There have also been target groups that are harder to reach, as for instance young adults (18-30 years old). The latter often seem to be avoided because of their lack of interest. However, this seems to be an on-going process; to raise interest in archaeology and our heritage, an improvement of knowledge is needed – which will not happen if these target groups are avoided.
I am still in the very first stages of writing my thesis. However, the above-mentioned ‘dilemma’ has made me interested in ways to make archaeology more accessible for young adults, in particular concerning the use of blogs and social media. To be able to find out if these methods make archaeology more accessible for this age group, I will be conducting visitor studies and want to find out more about the readers of blogs about archaeology and their age. A great example of a wonderful and interesting blog about archaeology is, of course, the blog you are visiting right now: A Day of Archaeology.
So, if you are reading this blogpost and are willing to help me with my research, I would appreciate it very much. I have created a small questionnaire, which will not take more than a couple of minutes, I promise. It does not matter what age you are, every reader is of significance for my research. You can find it here. Thanks in advance!