Who is a “Real Archaeologist”?

“Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”

Which eminent scholar confidently states that statistic? Certainly someone from the last half-century, right? Perhaps an archaeologist who is concerned with the inherently destructive nature of our field.

Nope. Indiana Jones.

He utters these words in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It rings ironic not only just for the general practices of this fictional character, but also because he has just told his students that archaeology is not “about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world,” yet he is about to hand the speciously-acquired Cross of Coronado to Marcus Brody. (more…)

My Project: “Dig for Victory”

I’m Sarah, and I’m a part time archaeology student. As I was on holiday on the actual Day of Archaeology, I’ve decided to write about a current project of mine entitled “Dig for Victory”.

My situation is a little complicated, but in summary I’m a distance learning student with the Open University but also doing practical courses with the University of Southampton. I’m finishing up my degree at the end of next month and I’ll be starting my Masters with Southampton in October. I’m particularly interested in prehistory, specifically human origins, but I’ll have to wait until October to join the postgrad world. For now I’m digging around in the dreaded depths of theory.

As a distance learner I’m somewhat limited in my project choices, and therefore cannot run out into the field wielding my trowel very often. Instead I found myself oddly drawn to archaeological theory, and in particular to an assignment I did in my first year about the politics of archaeology. Although I investigated many cases in many different countries, for my project I decided to focus on archaeology in Nazi Germany and wartime Britain. In particular I’m investigating how national identity was in part built by archaeological findings, and how these were used to include and exclude certain groups of people.

In Britain various national icons, such as the British Museum, were used to promote national identity and to unite the country during in between the World Wars. Museums in particular provided an avenue for people to explore their history and develop national pride in their country.

But in Germany it was rather a different story, with archaeology being used to prove ideological arguments and to legitimise the actions of the leaders of the Nazi party. The field of archaeology quickly came under the jurisdiction of the military, as many areas did, and was being used to investigate the “great Germanic people”. At one point excavations were being planned near every SS unit to help instil a sense of national pride. But, of course, excavations were expected to support the ‘right’ version of history, not necessarily the true version. Prehistory in particular was used (despite Hitler allegedly not thinking highly of prehistory) to write the history of the Germanic people, and therefore justify the invasion of other countries.

I’ve recently been focusing on the German archaeology, and moving onto the British side next week when I visit various museums in London. I never really realised before just how much archaeology was used, and how archaeology in Germany was littered with references to the military – for example, I’ve many images of Nazi officers attending the opening of museums and of Nazi banners at conferences.

Although I would, of course, love to be out in the field digging for my project, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to sit and consider theory in more depth. As a first year I was too baffled by theory (as is every archaeology student!) to fully appreciate why it was important, and it wasn’t until the final lecture that I really understood why we were learning this stuff!

I think it’s important for archaeology students to learn about the history of archaeology itself, and that it’s not just about what we dig up but also about the impact that knowledge has on others. Archaeology has gone through many changes in the last century, and is bound to go through many more in years to come.

I’ve certainly found an invaluable but cautionary tale in my researching, and I hope to share more details with you once I have finished. If you would like to follow me while I complete my research and move onto my Masters, you can follow my on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/archaeosarah

Thank you for reading, and happy (belated) day of archaeology!

Proofing and my pudding

In what has turned out to be a day of coincidences, I have had a lovely surprise. A fat envelope containing the proofs of my forthcoming LAMAS article landed on our office doormat. I promise that this was not all planned in advance in some sort of dodgy attempt to make my Day of Archaeology sound more interesting!

My name is Guy Hunt. I am a partner at L – P : Archaeology, a British commercial archaeology practice. I have been with L – P since 1999 which is now starting to seem like quite a long time ago. My day to day work usually involves a mix of project management, website and digital archaeology and quite a bit of time spent at a desk. I have also just become a dad, so after a couple of weeks of paternity leave I have come back to a lot of work that I need to catch up on. (If you are expecting an email from me… and are reading this post thinking “why the blooming hell is Guy writing this and not replying to me!” don’t despair, I promise to be up to date by the end of Monday.)

My morning was spent trying to sort out a knotty javascript problem for a forthcoming website. This sort of thing can sometimes take an inordinate amount of time. The classic problem is caused by needing to code websites for a range of different browsers. All that hard work, you get things looking “just so” and then you have to test in Internet Explorer… grrrr.

Proofs (and a red pen)

This afternoon it was time to turn to something a little more archaeological, taking a look at those proofs. This is the (almost) final point in the life of a project that started out 12 years ago when I first joined L – P. The site is now the Grange City Hotel, but will always be known to us as “Cooper’s Row” (AKA: Coopers, Cooperz, Das Coop or Coopers la Rue). The site is located at the eponymous Cooper’s Row, at the eastern fringe of the City of London.

Despite an impressively roomy sounding 18,000 words this article is actually an incredibly ‘boiled down’ account of the archaeology of the site. The publication is the culmination of the work of hundreds of people, most of whom are sadly not mentioned by name in the article. The site includes a write up and synthesis of 4 sites (ASQ87, CPW99, CPQ03 and CRZ06). On top of the archaeological evidence from those sites, the paper also wraps up the current state of knowledge about the city wall in this area and prints two brand new elevation drawings of the wall.

ASQ87 was excavated over 20 years ago by the then Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London (DUA) and the fact that I could go back and revive the records from this site is a testament to the quality of the original recording and record keeping. CPW99 was excavated in 1999 and 2000 by AOC archaeology, supervised by Diccon Hart who also supervised the CPQ03 site, this time directly for L – P. Diccon wrote up the stratigraphic sequences for both of these sites, doing all of the stratigraphic analysis (heavy duty number crunching!) as well as writing up the group narrative.

On top of the stratigraphic analysis, there was a huge range of material from all of the different specialists. To name just a few of the specialists, who hail mostly from the Museum of London: pottery (Lyn Blackmore & Amy Thorpe), registered finds (Geoff Egan and Angela Wardle) animal bones (Kevin Reilly). My job was to bring all of this material together and to try to hang it onto the framework provided by Chris Phillpott’s report on the documentary sources available for Cooper’s Row. As well as the text, our own GIS people Andy Dufton and Jess Ogden mangled our plans into gorgeous looking drawings. Finally Pete Rowsome did a very very well needed edit to the text adding detail and giving a well deserved ‘haircut’ to the shaggy parts.

So there you go, I wrote nearly 700 words and I didn’t even get a chance to thank any of the wonderful diggers and back office staff who made all this possible. Let me be absolutely clear: without you, none of this would be possible!

It’s great to see these proofs looking so lovely… and I am relieved to say, needing very little editing… now where is my pudding?

Day in the life of a HERO

My name is Helen Wells and I’m the Historic Environment Record Officer (HERO) at Leicestershire County Council.  There are archaeologists here in both the Museums and Planning sections – I’m based in the latter.  I do work with the Museums archaeologists though, including Wendy Scott (the Portable Antiquities Scheme officer).  My job is basically to look after a database of all the county’s known archaeological remains and historic buildings.  It’s a fascinating job – I’ve been here since 2004 and I’m still enjoying it!

Before I start describing my day, I thought I’d give a bit of background about how I became a county council archaeologist.  (more…)

2. Getting started in Archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

Getting started in archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

I’m going to explain how and why I came into archaeology (which will discuss volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student), and why I went into the field of early medieval archaeology. I hope this will show the positive effects of history and archaeology in schools, the role of museums in stimulating interest, and the significance of public access to archaeology. It will also hopefully provide some insight into the value of education, and the challenges of studying archaeology as a mature student.


Digging for fun

So on the Day of Archaeology I will be digging in a field in Somerset with a community archaeology group. It’s been a couple of years since I have done any excavating and so I am looking forward to it. My day job is in archaeology but unfortunately it doesn’t give me many opportunities to actually dig any more. (I have taken annual leave to take part in this excavation).