Penn Museum Archaeologist; Part 2

My Day of Archaeology continues (for first half, click this link)

12:00 Lunch with my Research Associate, Ryan Placchetti, discussing our efforts and the closer and closer ties with our British colleagues; how to make the definitive version of the dataset. We have recorded all of the field catalogues at this point and are moving on to examining every artifact we have from Ur, starting with a small subset, that of cylinder seals. Those need to be updated in a unified database, but the unified (if still somewhat flawed) database won’t be up for another week or two according to our colleague, Birger Helgestad, in London.

Got a message from a friend who is a professional photographer that he will be available to help document the second half of my day (he took the picture in my first post, but months ago). My computer secretary file shows that the afternoon should be spent as most afternoons have been this week, writing entries for an artifact loan from Penn Museum to La Caixa Museum in Spain. Many of these artifacts were excavated at Ur and thus relate to my overall project. I have written 14 entries so far, but there are at least another 20 that need to be done. I’ve farmed a further dozen out to Phil Jones, a Sumerologist here at Penn, since they have lengthy cuneiform inscriptions. I have studied both Akkadian and Sumerian but am by no means a specialist in the languages.

Writing entries for artifacts going on loan; photos by Kyle Cassidy

Some of the objects we’re sending have been sent out on traveling exhibits before. I wrote entries for a few of them when they went to Beijing, but those were around 1,000 words each. These have to be only about 100 words. It’s good practice to be concise, but any archaeologist will tell you that every object is more complicated than it looks, and when you want to discuss the significance of a particular object, you are almost inevitably tempted to write and write and, well you get the point. Much like this blog entry, I could be more concise, so I’ll just get to the task of writing exhibit catalogue entries.

High prow and stern boat model is in the background; flat, decked boat is in the foreground.

3:30pm I’ve spent the past hour and a half in the Traveling Exhibits holding room, examining some of the more complex artifacts that I am writing about. The first is a pair of clay boats that seem simple enough, but one of them is expected, the other is not. As I write about these artifacts, I try to make sure that all of our info on them is correct, correlates with field records where available and with archaeological thought of the period, styles, etc. The boat from Fara with high, curved prow and stern is exactly what we would expect from southern Mesooptamia in the Early-Middle Bronze Age, a reed river or marsh boat, with bundles of reeds tied together at stem and stern. The other, said in our records to be from Ur in the Old Babylonian (Middle Bronze) period doesn’t quite fit. First of all, the excavator at Ur does not mention a model boat from this season or any season within four years of the accession date. Secondly, the flat form with partial deck at prow and stern is in the history of ship building usually seen to be later, typically the end of the Late Bronze Age. Essentially, this appears to be a sea-going, plank-built vessel, akin to those on the Mediterranean at the time of the Sea Peoples and beyond. Maybe this is an early occurrence of that type, but without good context, I can’t know. I can’t solve the issues right now, but I can mention the questions in the interpretation of significance in the brief catalogue entry.

Apart from boat models, I’m also covering stone statuary today. I look again at

Examining ED sculpture from Khafaje; notice the resemblance?

an example from Khafaje and wonder where the left eye came from. In early photos, it is missing, yet this statue has two eyes. The left (proper) is a replacement, but I’m not sure when it was put there or by whom. We are sending two similar statue heads to Spain as well and I take a look at them. I take notes on these and a few other pieces, formulating most of about six catalogue entries, though I still have to chase down references for the bibliographic sections.

Even though I’ve been working with artifacts for 20 years, I still get an extraordinary feeling when in the presence of something so old, something formed by human hands thousands of years ago. Even in a relatively clinical environment, the power of ancient artwork is palpable. This is the kind of inspiration that keeps me going in writing some of the entries that might otherwise seem mundane. It’s why I wanted to be in the holding area today rather than only in my office checking books. When working directly with the objects, I notice things I can’t possibly notice in photos, and the personal enjoyment I get at staring into the shell and bitumen eyes of a 4500-year-old stone worshiper, or feeling the curve of a 3600-year-old model boat is indescribable. I may be working on virtual recreations of the ancient city of Ur, but I still believe in the importance of physical museums and the power of seeing ancient things in person. We need digital collections for study and understanding, dissemination of information, teaching, and for many other reasons; but, we need the presence of antiquities in publically accessible institutions as well to promote that unusually motivating and inspiring connection with too-long forgotten people across millennia.

We are all people, and we all are part of history.

Penn Museum Archaeologist; Near East

I love being in the field, but this year I’m not excavating. My work is museum related for now, an important part of what we do. So, here’s my Day of Archaeology so far:

Got up around 6:30am and checked my email through my Blackberry. Found that our subcontract to the British Museum has gone through (much of what I do these days is done jointly with London and they are five hours ahead of me, so they have already begun work when I get up).

Got to the museum around 8:00am. I live nearby, which I like because I can walk to work. My computer is my secretary, so I checked on my ‘to do’ file. Yes, if I were more up-to-date I’d just use Google Calendar or some such, but I like having individual files for each day on my hard drive. I looked through the previous day making sure the most pressing things got done, deleting those items and assigning most pressing for today. I had a committee meeting for the Ur Project yesterday; I have to write up the minutes today for distribution to others on the project, that gets the most pressing mark for the morning.


Brad Hafford in his cluttered office, 524 Museum


Our project is taking legacy data, excavation material from 1922-1934, and modernizing, that is, recording it all digitally and uniting it in one place — the interweb. The excavation was a very important one, that of the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq and was conducted jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Under laws of the day, artifacts collected were divided between the nascent state of Iraq with its newly founded National Museum and the two excavating institutions. Thus, half the artifacts are in Baghdad, the other half are split between Philadephia and London. But there is much more to an excavation than artifacts. There are also field notes, photographs, catalogues, letters, telegrams, receipts, drawings, watercolors, and so much more. We are digitizing and uniting all of this material. We want to create a site where anything and everything concerning Ur and its excavation can be accessed, researched, and gazed upon in wonder; all in open-source, freely accesible and linked data form.

Creating it takes time, patience, and money. It takes access to the artifacts and archives which are not solely spread among the three museums mentioned, but objects also secondarily sent to many smaller museums around the world, paricularly the Commonwealth at the time. There are Ur artifacts from our excavations as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. And many more in the UK: Almost 1000 artifacts are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries. Not only that, but reconstructing the original numbering system for artifacts and photographs, and connecting that to the modern museum numbering systems, linking objects back to their original field records is not as easy as one might think. Our work is quite complicated. But also most worthwhile.

Museum cafe opens around 9am. Armed with coffee, and organized on my computer daily to-do list, I can face the rest of my day in confidence.

10:00am Eastern: Skype conference with British Museum colleagues. We’ve been trying now for some weeks to establish dates and room reservations for a project meeting near the end of the calendar year. Since this one needs to include funding agency, high-level museum administrators, principle investigators, other museum representatives, etc. it’s been difficult to mesh schedules. It’s also difficult to get space in the British Museum since it is in high demand.

Next we discussed the state of the merger of datasets between our two museums concerning Ur. It’s going slowly because we created our digital data from two sets of records divided by decades and the Atlantic. These records have to be meshed so that a unique identifier refers to each and every object. Then we have to get it all on a server so that both museums can access, update, and correct it. As I have probably already noted, re-unification is not easy. But we have great people on both sides of the pond working on it. Birmingham is on board and we’re starting the process of contacting the other institutions that have subsets of the Ur material. And of course we’re still trying to get the Iraq National Museum on board, but politics has gotten in the way for now.

More emails and arrangements have placed me at about the half-way point of my Day of Archaeology. More in part 2…

Love at first site …. a day in the life of me

Hello All,

I’m Kelly and I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be an archaeologist and after two degrees and several years in the field, I can say that I now have the privilege of working at L-P : Archaeology who are assisting in the running of this FAB project! At L- P  I get to do a little bit of everything which other units just don’t allow and if you continue reading you’ll get a little glimpse of how I mean everything.

10:30am: Well my day started off with a horrid shock when I found we’d run out of coffee, never a good thing in our office and so set about the very important task of ordering some more for myself and the other thirsty L-P bods.

Midday: After opening our post and doing a bit of express accounts admin and checking messages and emails etc. etc. I set about a day issuing quotations for new work, contacting county archaeologists about sites we have on and where to position trenches etc. and phoning some of our clients to give them updates on where projects stand. All of these tasks are associated with the business side of working in commercial archaeology, it’s imperative that we build relations with valued clients and this is really what is the bread and butter of the job.

13:30pm: My afternoon however has picked up and has consisted of research of Roman roads in Hampshire, Bronze age settlements in Surrey, 19th century stucco buildings in West London and then a period of georeferencing maps in ArcGIS for several map regression exercises. Furthermore I have been entering HER data provided by an un-named county HER department into GIS as unfortunately they still send us photocopies of their card system. In an ideal world it would be lovely if councils countrywide could all be on the same page about the dissemination of archaeological information. I think everyone would have a much higher opinion and a greater understanding of commercial archaeology in the UK if archaeology becomes more accessible to use and interact with. That’s just one reason why this Day of Archaeology is such a good idea. Let’s face it we have the best job in the world so we should let everyone know about it.

15:00 pm: Now I am arranging my travel across southern England for next week for several site survey visits, meetings with clients and trips to county archives.

In other exciting news we have just updated our copy of AutoCAD and I fully intend having a play around with that at the end of the day. I think I’ll CAD the office in 3D if our total station is charged up and if I get a spare half hour. I am not concerned in the slightest that this is my idea of having fun (or should I be… :-/ ).

So really, to some up, this is a typical day of me multi-tasking. Today its multi-tasking in the office, beverage supplier, accountant, secretary, consultant, marketer,  researcher, trench placer, GISer, historian, archaeologist and report writer. However, I am also a seasoned digger (or at least I was before the recession decimated field archaeology) and am also training myself up in building recording and this is something I really want to pursue.

Versatility is the key to this game and I know that I am incredibly lucky to do what I do with the great people at L – P! Now if you don’t mind I haven’t even had time for lunch so I’ll be off ….

FLO work – a 15 year olds perspective


My Archaeology Work Experience with Wendy Scott, FLO for Leicestershire,  by Lewis Monkfield (15).

 First Week

Monday – I went to the record office in  Wigston to set up a Viking exhibition, it was ok but maybe because it was my first day I wasn’t that confident to help or do anything. (he was very helpful! WS)

Tuesday – I went to the record office again as I more determined and confident to join in and help out as I knew what was needed. We then finished the exhibition mid-day and went back to County Hall and started on some objects which had to be recorded.

Wednesday – I was at County Hall identifying all the objects and treasure a detectorist found and started weighing, measuring and taking photographs of them. That then took all day and was still unfinished.

Thursday – I then went to Burrough Hill near Melton to do a dig, unfortunately I didn’t find anything but it was an experience to see what it is like for people who do this daily. I did find out that at the top of Burrough Hill there had been a body discovered, unfortunately they didn’t excavate it so I was unhappy. After lunch I met a nice women (ULAS finds officer) who showed us some Iron age and Roman finds. I met another women (Phd Student) who helped me identify bones of various animals and humans and how to tell if they were female or male which was nice of her.

Friday – I  spent all day putting the photographs on the computer and started to crop them ready for adding to the website. I had to do a lot of editing of Roman coins which had to be sent to the British Museum once completed, which took me some time.

 Second Week

Monday – After completing the photos I then had to put them on a database.  I had to describe them and say what age they were. To go with that I had to match the pictures to the objects and add a find spot, this is to show people who look at the database where the object came from.

Tuesday – I went to the archaeology store in Barrow and looked at all the collected items from people. There was a large variety of different things. The things I liked most and fascinated me were the bugs, beetles and birds in the Natural History collection, which were shown to me by Carolyn Holmes the Curator.

Wednesday- In the morning I was again identifying more objects which I didn’t like doing so early in the morning as I was still half asleep. But then when it came to mid-day I went to Melton Museum to set up an exhibition, I liked this as I organised many objects in my own way , also I met  man called Denis Wells (Secretary of Melton and Belvoir Search Society) who is really nice man to let us look at and display his objects. When I looked at it completed it looked really well organised, as we divided each level into a different time period.

Thursday – it was nearly the end of my work experience and for this day I helped Wendy sort out resource boxes and  categorize different period times and materials into their own little section. This was helpful as I learnt a bit more on how to identify what period they are from.  I tried to laminate words to go with the resource boxes and I made a mess, so yet again I had to cut the words again and laminate them. Wendy sent me home early as I was getting stressed!!

Friday – Last day – Today I helped Wendy finish the resource boxes and upgraded the Roman box and finished everything that was needed which was; cutting which I don’t like doing, and laminating which I mastered this time round. Because of my hard work for two weeks I was allowed to leave early as I was a big help to Wendy during work experience.

I have learnt a lot during my two weeks here at the County Council, as it was a challenge for me. I also had a lot of fun during work experience and I have met a lot of people. I also want to thank Wendy Scott for putting up with me for two whole weeks. I am delighted that Wendy has allowed me to see what she does for a living, which is kind of her. This work experience has shown me what she has to do day in day out, which is hard work! But most of all I’m happy that I came here as I have learnt a lot from Wendy.

Lewis digging at Burrough Hillfort

A Day In The Life

So what’s all this ‘geophysics’ nonsense about, eh?

I went to a lecture by an archaeologist at the local university yesterday, and he said that the most important thing about archaeology is to have fun. And this applies to geophysics and, indeed, any career (except accounting, I would imagine). I became an archaeological geophysicist out of passion, interest and a genuine enjoyment out of the job. Each site always has something new and fascinating to learn, and the site I am currently looking at is no exception.

But before I can do anything… where did I put my bloody laptop cable? I misplaced the power cable to my laptop about a week ago, and I ran the battery flat last night (I am writing this from my desktop computer), so I am having difficulty processing the data I collected a few days ago!

No matter. Let me now waffle on for a while about my current area of focus. I am putting together a proposal for a geophysical survey of a nineteenth-century railway near Melbourne (Australia). A temporary (i.e. it lasted for almost four years) settlement for the railway workers was established alongside the railway, and there was even a cemetery which is known to have the burials of a number of infants in a paddock nearby. I have been asked to find the graves (no grave markers exist at the site now) and also to try and find the settlement (which is believed to have been just tents and timber houses for the most part. The settlement site is about 700 x 700 metres in dimensions, so is quite a large site. I have decided to propose a magnetic susceptibility survey, the results of which will allow a magnetometry survey to be narrowed-down (to reduce costs and time spent in the field). This research is being done simply out of interest, rather than as part of a commercial project, so funding is going to be scarce. But I am truly excited about this one!

So today I am talking with Heritage Victoria about the proposal and preparing the proposal itself to pass on to the client. In between doing that, and writing this blog post, I am also doing a bit of marketing (which is a daily habit) to keep up interest, and have been discussing the railway settlement site with the Hunter Geophysics ‘fans’ on Facebook. I feel that informing the public about my work is vitally important; it is, after all, their history that I am researching. Facebook is just one method of letting the public know what I am up to. I am also preparing a presentation for the upcoming Royal Historical Society’s meeting in Bendigo (country Victoria) about my recent work in another cemetery (most of my work is in cemeteries!) – I want to get at least half an hour of work done on that today, but half the trouble is finding the time. It might be a job for the weekend. Finally, this evening, I have a meeting with the Secretary of the local historical society – she has been a mentor since my high school years; it will be good to catch up with her.

Now, it’s the end of the day; time for a Parma at the pub. Oh, wait, damn; I’m not doing fieldwork today – no Parma for me.