Stratigraphy

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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Jacquetta Hawkes, Sir Isaac Newton, and the idea of stratigraphy

Archaeologists don’t just dig – they also write. And I’m spending today in the library trying to get today’s 500 or 1,000 words written for a book I’m working on over the summer vacation.

In the Bodleian Library

In the Bodleian Library

So, my small contribution to today’s ‘Day of Archaeology’ is to share something that’s looking back at me from the oak desk in front of me. It’s a 248-page volume, published in the middle of the last century, in which I have just this afternoon discovered this brilliant  explanation of the concept of stratigraphy . It’s from a chapter on ‘Recollection’ from Jacquetta Hawkes’ visionary book A Land. Published in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, A Land sought to ‘use the findings of the two sciences of geology and archaeology for purposes altogether unscientific’ (p.1).

A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes

A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes

 

As a celebration of how archaeologists understand the landscape around them, the book is hard to beat, and is an inspiration to all those today who are interested in sharing how archaeologists see the world – what Michael Shanks calls ‘The Archaeological Imagination‘ – with others:

‘Geologists and archaeologists, those instruments of consciousness who are engaged in reawakening the memory of the world, have one guiding principle for their work. It is called the Law of Stratification, but it as simple as falling downwards – and, indeed, resembles it in that both are inevitable results of the working of gravity.

‘If instead of one apple falling on the head of Sir Isaac Newton a heavenly orchard had let tumble a rain of fruit, one of the greatest of men would have been overwhelmedand then buried. Anyone examining the situation afterwards in a properly scientific spirit, clearing the apples layer by layer, would be able to deduce certain facts. He would be able to prove that the man was there before the apples. Furthermore, that the blushing Beauty of Bath found immediately over and round Sir Isaac fell longer ago than the small swarthy russets that lay above them. If, on top of all this, snow had fallen, then the observer, even if he came from Mars where they are not familiar with these things, would know that apple time came before snow time.

‘Relative ages are not enough, the observer would want an absolute date, and that is where Sir Isaac comes in again. An examination of his clothes, the long-skirted coat, the loose breeches and the negligent cut of his linen, the long, square-toed shoes pointing so forlornly up to the sky, would date the man to the seventeenth century. Here would be a clue to the age of the apples and the snow.

The apples and snowflakes of this whimsical analogy are the equivalent of the falling grains that compose sedimentary rocks, and the whole of the Great Law of Stratification means no more than this – that the Beauty of Bath must be older than the russets lying above them. ’ (Jacquetta Hawkes A Land 1951, p. 26).

You can read more about Jacquetta Hawkes’s life in Christine Finn’s biography of her, published online here – Jacquetta Hawkes – archaeo-poet – and you can read some of A Land online here.

Image: a camera-phone snap of one of the illustrations from A Land from my desk today - Ben Nicholson's "Cornwall"

Image: a camera-phone snap of one of the illustrations from A Land from my desk today – Ben Nicholson’s “Cornwall”

 

6. Roman and early Medieval Crickley: Matrices and contexts

This post will outline one of the most important tasks in post-excavation analysis – working out and showing how features relate to one another. I’ll discuss how records of data retrieved from the Crickley excavations might be used to establish stratigraphic relationships, and illustrate one common way of showing relationships – a type of diagram known as the Harris Matrix. I’m currently undertaking this task in I’m preparation to digitise plans of a building in a GIS programme (see 7. ‘ Digitising Crickley Plans and Using GIS‘). I’ll begin with an example of how a matrix might be used, in conjunction with context records.

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