Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.


Survey, Shell Middens, and Ceramics: Pensacola’s Prehistory

Day of Archaeology 2012 falls in the middle of the University of West Florida’s (UWF) 10 week long field school season. The university offers four archaeological field schools—three terrestrial (Campus Survey, Colonial Frontiers, and Arcadia Mill) and one maritime—and I am fortunate to serve as a supervisor at Campus Survey. Under the direction of Dr. Ramie Gougeon and graduate student supervisors, university students transform classroom knowledge into real world experience. Campus Survey teaches students about archaeological methods and techniques related specifically to cultural resource management (CRM). Students learn how to use a compass, read maps, and develop other field techniques while also sharpening their digging skills. After completing the survey portion of the field school, students also excavate a prehistoric site—named Thompson’s Landing– on UWF’s campus.

Campus Survey begins with students learning about archaeological survey techniques by digging countless shovel tests.

To begin this summer, we surveyed a portion of campus near Thompson’s Landing. Campus growth and general improvements may place a road within the survey area. As the students learned how to dig shovel tests, take notes, complete paperwork, and successfully navigate the woods, they also encountered what most people consider the most interesting part of archaeology—the artifacts!

Within the first three weeks, the students discovered and defined the boundaries of four separate lithic scatters. Two shovel tests revealed interesting features—one of shell and the other a burnt pit—that led to the first units of the summer. Unfortunately, the shells appeared modern and the other feature is likely a burnt tree. Despite these faux features, the survey portion provided great information about larger research questions relating to Pensacola’s prehistory. The lithic scatters suggest information about prehistoric peoples’ behaviors and activities while also providing information about site formation processes.

A completed shovel test– proof that a round shovel can dig a square hole 1 meter deep!

Research questions and excavations at Thompson’s Landing, however, focus more specifically on shells and ceramics. Last year, field school students unearthed a substantial shell midden with complicated, ill-defined chronology. This year we hoped to identify discrete shell deposits to better outline periods of use, to understand subsistence patterns, and to improve our knowledge of ceramic differentiation through time within the region. With the aid of auger test results, the completion of five units, and the use of student manpower, the site began to provide answers.

We exposed the shell midden in its entirety before bisecting it and excavating in levels.

Of these five units (three of which included shell midden), one proved essential to answering some of our questions with ease. The shells present included rangia and polymesoda, two different types of clams. Between the two, rangia usually serves as the dominant species, yet the midden primarily yielded polymesoda shells. The dietary shift caused new questions to arise: Did food preferences change? Did environmental factors affect the shells availability? Perhaps changes in salinity or water temperature affected the shells and enabled polymesoda to dominate?

Volunteer, Lianne Bennett, sits next to the exposed shell midden.

As we contemplated the significance of the shells, ceramic sherds began to appear in the midden. The sherds recovered were shell-tempered, consistently dating the midden to the Mississippian period. Despite modern trash, such as glass and iron fragments, resting a few centimeters above the shell midden, no modern artifacts appeared within the feature. The first half of field school enabled students to learn, provided a feature comprised of an intact artifactual assemblage, and the beginning of a fantastic answer to one of our research questions!

The material culture associated with the shell midden– from one level of one half of the unit from one day.

A shell tempered sherd with the incised and punctated decorations suggesting a Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek. The small handle likely enabled people to hang the vessels while preparing the food.

Shell-tempered ceramic sherds recovered from the shell midden consistently date the midden to the Mississippian period. The sherds pictured above are identified as Moundville Incised variety Bottlecreek.

The archaeological process often follows a pattern in which the discovery of new information leads to new questions. I hope the next year fuses the information we have (or have unearthed) with the data and knowledge that archaeology helps to uncover. If you’d like to know more about our field school, like the UWF Campus Field School Facebook page.


A Day of Archaeology at Mission Escambe

Today was pretty much a typical day of fieldwork at Mission San Joseph de Escambe in Molino, Florida.  We are in our fourth field season out at the mission site, which between 1741 and 1761 was home to a small community of Apalachee Indians and a Franciscan friar, along with a small Spanish infantry garrison of 4 men for a decade, and a larger 16-man Spanish cavalry garrison for just over a year. Our crew, consisting of ten students and one professor, gathered as usual at 7:30 a.m. on site to begin work.  The photo essay below will illustrate some of our normal daily activities as we gradually gather more and more information about the mission and its residents during the colonial era.

As shown below, upon arrival at the site, our first task is to unstitch our excavation units from the plastic sheeting covering them, which is carefully sealed with rows of sandbags every afternoon before we go home in order to avoid water damage in case of Florida’s common afternoon and evening thunderstorms.

At the same time, the total station is set up and resectioned for use during the day, fixing the instrument at a known point with respect to our established site grid, and allowing us to take vertical and horizontal measurements in all our active excavation units throughout the day’s work.  Sometimes this must be performed again during the day, especially after lunch when heat and simple gravity may have altered the tilt of the total station.  The photo below shows graduate supervisor Michelle Pigott working with her sister Eileen, volunteering this week at the site.

Before beginning any new work, each unit must be carefully cleaned of all loose dirt that may have fallen in from the walls or ground surface during the stitching operation, and then bags and tags must be labeled for each separate provenience to be excavated, and paperwork filled out before any new dirt can be excavated.  Tools are unpacked and field notebooks updated to record daily site conditions, crew members present, and the objectives of the ongoing work.

Once everything has been properly staged for the day, excavation can begin in each unit, sometimes using flat shovels designed to slice off thin layers of sediment across each unit and provenience, hoping to see soil stains or in situ artifacts before proceeding any deeper.  In the photo below, graduate supervisor Katie Brewer uses a flat shovel to excavate the uppermost deposits in a unit designed to track the course of a stockade wall constructed in 1760 at the site.

More careful excavation requires the use of a trowel in order to exercise greater control over depth and speed of excavation.  The Marshalltown 5-inch pointing trowel is the instrument of choice.  Below, site supervisor Danielle Dadiego excavates a portion of the stockade trench already exposed in her unit.

Below, undergraduate student Nick Simpson uses his trowel to remove loose dirt next to a profile excavated through a burned clay floor, possibly associated with the 1761 Creek Indian raid that destroyed the mission community.

Our next post will show more scenes from our day.

Roadtrips and Research – The Undergraduate’s Tale

I’m Rena Maguire. I’m almost an archaeologist, as I’m a third year undergraduate in QUB Belfast. My day of archaeology started at 6am. Not usual for an undergraduate, but I like to get a head-start on things by getting out for a few miles cycle on the bike to clear the cobwebs away and keep fit. That’s after coffee and giving morning kissies to my nutty hamsters Mo, Flo and Tim. They’re my surrogate dogs, and I daren’t ignore them! Today I’ve got a meeting with my supervisor, Dr Dirk Brandherm, with regards to research for my dissertation. He’s the metal expert par excellence. This is the start of my third year in QUB Belfast, doing my Archaeology degree, and this summer is all about research and breaking some new ground on my chosen topic.

Archaeology isn’t all research – it can be pretty strenuous on excavations, and I’m off on excavation in July, to Flag Fen, Cambridgeshire. It’ll be my first Bronze Age site, which I’m incredibly excited by. I clocked up a fair few excavations last year – Dunluce was my field school in June 2011, then I was off to an island off the coast of Norway, excavating a Hanseatic kontor, or trading post. This was followed by an Early Christian rath at Ballyaghagan. It seems that whatever digs I’ve been on there’s been television cameras there, so even if you haven’t seen my face, my backside has been on most UK TV stations! I love the constant challenges each landscape throws up, so am very thrilled at getting wetland experience at Flag Fen. It’s also one of the eras I’m interested in specialising in. Win/ win situation!

I came into academia from working in the entertainments industry, as a mature student, and I love the work. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else now. Last week I was in Armagh, handling 2200 year old horse harness and drawing it as part of my dissertation. This week I was down in the beautiful National Museum of Ireland, in Dublin, cross-referencing data going back as far as the 1830s. The archives are heaven, the staff incredibly helpful in every way – I love the old fashioned courtesy and grace which exists in this profession.

If you’re a book lover, you’d also love the poring through glorious sepia coloured envelopes, smelling sweetly as only old paper in archives can, with fabulously drawn and recorded artefacts. There is an elegance to this kind of research – I get lost in thought among them very easily. To date I’ve found a lot of information which hasn’t been in the public domain, which hopefully will read well after its added to my thesis!

I walk over to university in the rain, and get soaked, but I’m pretty happy. I miss Queens when I’m not there regularly, miss the fun, the people and the stimulus. If you aren’t familiar with Queens University Belfast, let me tell you what a really terrific place it is to study archaeology. It was always my first choice as a university, not just because I live here but because it has produced so many great archaeologists. It may be a centre of excellence, but it’s got a great sense of belonging and community.

I’ve been compiling a listing of the horse harness pieces of the Irish Iron Age which I’m doing my dissertation on, and having to devise a methodology for its presentation. This has been a most difficult things for me, as I’m very much the kind of person who goes into a situation and makes up a methodology depending on the circumstances of that moment. My supervisor keeps me on my toes and won’t let me away with being as sloppy as my past employment would accept. Order and quantifiable scientific analysis make for good archaeology – things I need to learn!

The thing I love about archaeology is that no two days are ever the same. Today, I’m presenting the results of the past two weeks of intense research work. In a couple of weeks time, I’ll be in workboots and vizi-vest, on a fenland in East Anglia. I’ll alternate between computer skills, artwork, hauling spoil buckets about, calculating carbon 14 rates of decay, sorting artefacts out – or like today, learning from Dirk how metal repairs were carried out in the Iron Age depending on the substance the actual artefact is made of. I’m going to see if I can purloin the loan of a piece of harness to get it X-rayed, and analyse how the pieces were actually made. You work hard as a QUB Undergrad ( well, you do if you want to do this thing right). I wont tell lies and say it’s an easy course to do, but the lecturers work ten times harder to pull everything good out of you, and make you into a consummate professional.

I would like to go into the academic side of archaeology, but I also love the digging – you have no idea what’s waiting in the soil. It’s like Christmas – with added mud! At Dunluce last year, on the very last day of the dig, I found a rapier, which had been buried under a ruined building from the 1641 Rebellion . God knows what its story is, but that element of humanity and pathos is just one reason why I’m in love with all the processes of this job.

So, after I finished exasperating my supervisor about my lack of forethought on categorising artefacts ( filing is not my strong point!), and I resolve to do better next time, I head to a chip shop to grab some lunch. They’re playing a song that somehow always seems to pop up every time there’s some good archaeology about to go down – Nicki Minaj’s Superbass. The song makes me think of all last summers early starts, dressing by the first light of dawn to arrive at excavations; it makes me think of plane rides, and coach rides, and smiling to myself as the sun rises on ancient landscapes, not knowing what the day is going to bring. ‘My heart goes boom-da-boom da boom like super bass’…. yes, actually,it does, when I think of the honour of working with the history of humanity, and learning how to recreate it all again in the present day This work makes me a very happy girl indeed. I’m still only learning, but I know I want to take this to PhD and excel at what I’m interested in .We get to do the best job on the planet, in my opinion, so I’m more than happy to make every day a day of archaeology!

A day with the UCL Institute of Archaeology Library: 29th July 2011

Books, books, books. Journals, conference proceedings, technical reports,  e-resources. And lots more.

Institute of Archaeology Library

Institute of Archaeology Library

You might wonder why a library wants to contribute to the Day of Archaeology and what our relevancy might be. But libraries, especially specialist libraries like the UCL Institute of Archaeology, are vital for archaeological research and have been part of archaeology since the beginning – the Society of Antiquaries Library was founded in 1751!  Researchers – students, academic staff, commercial researchers and even interested members of the general public – come to libraries to  find the factual information and the theoretical frameworks that drive and structure their work. It’s also here that the final published results of excavations and fieldwork – site reports – end up!

So if you want to find out a little bit more about what we do and what our customers use our facilities to research, read on!

 Our day…

My day starts at 8.30 a.m. I have an hour before the library opens and I usually take this time to open up, sort out the ‘reshelving’ (books used in the library or returned during the previous day) and have a look round for any problems, potential areas of work or to get ideas about how to improve our working space and collections. Ian, one of our shelvers, has been working on periodicals (journals) ‘weeding’ and created some extra space for both the periodicals and the

Egyptology shelves

Egyptology shelves

Edwards Egyptology Library.  I work through the Egyptology collection, assessing where we need to shift the books to leave space for growth – I estimate we have space for 3-5 years’ growth overall that can be distributed amongst the shelves. Most humanities and social sciences research libraries have space problems and we’re no exception. Because so many of our books and journals are used for research as well as teaching, we can’t send older material to Stores, as it needs to be on the shelves for researchers to consult. We’re trying to make space where possible by sending journals that are also available electronically to Stores – ‘weeding them’. Electronic access means that we can still provide access to key resources, but we don’t have to have them physically on the shelves.

Yu-ju Lin and Paul Majewski, two of our library assistants, arrive and the library opens at 9.30 a.m. Paul starts work on the virtual exhibitions page we’re building to accompany a Friends of the Petrie Museum exhibition that will be opening in the library in September.

Yu-Ju Lin

Yu-Ju and the missing book

Yu-ju goes out to look for missing books. In a library with over 70,000 books and 800 periodical sets (I’ve no idea how many actual individual volumes of these we have!) books can easily become mislaid. So shelf tidying and looking for books reported missing to us each week is a vital part of our work. It’s a good day – she finds an important missing book needed by the Ancient History department straight away.

I look through my emails and answer any enquiries. These can be from our current students and staff about their library records and our collections, but also from other researchers asking about our archive material (which is held by UCL Special Collections), staff and students from other universities asking about using our collections or from members of the public who just want answers to archaeological questions. There aren’t too many today, so I start working through our Accessions List (the list of new books that have arrived in the library that month) highlighting some for our Ancient World/Archaeology blog. Once I’ve done this, I continue some on-going work with free online journals. I have a long list of free electronic resources from AWOL (Ancient World Online) that I’m working through looking for digital duplicates of our paper resources. Where possible, we try to always provide digital access to resources – students and staff can get to the 24/7 and pressure on our paper copies – both in terms of use and preservation (general state of repair) – is lessened.

Ricky Estwick

Ricky Estwick

Ricky Estwick comes with our delivery of mail from elsewhere in UCL Library Services. Although we’re a library in our own right, we’re also part of UCL Library Services and our work flows and patterns fit in to the larger structure of the organisation. We don’t for example, do our own cataloguing. This is done in a central cataloguing unit to ensure standardisation across UCL’s library collections and so our material is in line with global information standards. Ricky brings books and periodicals that have arrived for us from different libraries, as well as materials from cataloguing, acquisitions and Stores.

Scott Stetkiewicz comes to the Issue Desk to ask about obtaining materials from Scottish excavations for his MSc dissertation on slag analysis. We have a look through the resources available in the library and online through English Heritage, the Archaeological Data Service and Heritage Gateway.

Stuart Brookes comes in to borrow books for his project ‘landscapes of governance: assembly sites in England, 5th – 11th centuries’.  (more…)

Jetlag and a very full day – GIS manuals, Egyptology and conference preparation


Yesterday was a very busy day, thus I am only now able to submit a post here!


I got back from a two-week holiday to Western Australia on Thursday. My Dad and I went to visit his brother who moved to Perth from the Isle of Man 40 years ago, and his family. We had an awesome time, saw lots of places and wildlife: Roos, Quokkas, Koalas, the lot 🙂

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

A herd of Kangaroos at Rockingham Golf Course

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

Myself and a hungry Quokka on Rottnest Island

My family out there is lovely! I am still rather tired and recovering from a long journey back, which commenced on Wednesday afternoon: 5h flight from Perth to Singapore, then 13h Singapore to London-Heathrow. Then another 3h back to Liverpool by train. My poor Dad had to fly back to Hanover, which is close to Peine, Germany, where I am originally from!

The thing that struck me, whilst visiting Australia, however, is the general attitude towards archaeology. Whenever I mentioned my interest in visiting a particular museum, or seeing anything related to archaeology, I was told that “Australia doesn’t have very much history at all”, and that “surely, there is not very much archaeology around”… I was rather shocked and saddened by this, given the huge amount of aboriginal culture in Australia. I did point this out, and obtained some understanding, but the attitude of Australians towards Aborigines is a very problematic topic in general. When visiting the Western Australian Museum in Perth, however, I saw a very well-displayed and super-informative exhibition on aboriginal culture in Western Australia. Shame it didn’t seem to be too-well visited! 🙁

Back to work!

I had to get up extra-early yesterday (29th July), as I had to get straight back to work: I work as a Supervisor in Geomatics for Oxford Archaeology North, specialising in open source GIS. I totally love it and really do think it’s the way forward, especially given that proprietary software can “lock in” archaeological data, which can lead to data loss – something that should be avoided, I guess we all agree! Over the past couple of years we have been using open source GIS software, such as gvSIG (both the “original gvSIG” and the OADigital Edition), Quantum GIS, GRASS,  in addition to some 3D GIS visualisation tools, such as Paraview. Furthermore, we have been testing and using database software, such as PGAdmin (PostgreSQL and PostGIS), and illustration software, such as Inkscape successfully. I must say that all of the software we used has come a long, long way in those past two years, and at OA North, we use open source tools more or less as a standard and I can confidentially say that it is replacing the proprietary software previously used, such as AutoCAD and ArcGIS.

My friend and colleague Christina Robinson and I were given some time to document our combined knowledge in order to make it accessible to both colleagues within the company, and also the wider archaeological community – what is better than a free guide to open source GIS, which allows you learn to use free, powerful GIS software, and edit and analyse your own survey data! 🙂 We have produced guides and manuals during the past couple of years – they are available for free download on the OA library website and released under the creative commons license. Here are the manuals we released so far:

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Survey and GIS Manual for Leica 1200 series GPS

Hodgkinson, Anna (2010) Open Source Survey & GIS Manual. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Using the Helmert (two-point) transformation in Quantum GIS. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd.. (Unpublished)

Robinson, Christina and Campbell, Dana and Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Archaeological maps from qGIS and Inkscape: A brief guide. Third edition. Documentation. Oxford Archaeology North. (Unpublished) – this is the third edition, re-released today!

And here are two brand new guides, produced on the Day of Archaeology and made available today:

Robinson, Christina (2011) QGIS Handy Hints. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Hodgkinson, Anna (2011) Download of the Leica 700 and 800 series Total Station. Documentation. Oxford Archaeological Unit Ltd. (Unpublished)

Please download and  use these and extend your skills; please burn them and let us know, we are grateful for your feedback! Some more guides/manuals are currently in production and will be added to the library, so please watch this space!

Lunch Break – (not really) time for some Egyptology

I briefly escaped work at lunchtime in order to go to the bank – I had to make an international transfer, the only way (annoyingly) to pay for my speaker’s fees for the upcoming 16th International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, Vienna, November 2011. My paper on “Modeling Urban Industries in New Kingdom Egypt” was accepted for presentation, my abstract an be found here. I will be presenting my current research on the distribution of (mainly) artefactual evidence from Amarna, ancient Akhetaten, in Middle Egypt. Using open source GIS (naturally), I am studying the distribution and density of artefacts relating to high-status industries, such as glass, faience, metal, sculpture and textiles within the settled areas of Amarna, in order to establish how products and raw materials were controlled and distributed.

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

Distribution of the evidence of glass- and faience-working within the North Suburb at Amarna

This paper presents part of my PhD research on high-status industries within the capital and royal cities in New Kingdom Egypt, Memphis, Malkata, Gurob, Amarna and Pi-Ramesse. I have now completed my third year of part-time research and am hoping to finish the whole thing within the next two or three years. We will see, thought I’d better get on with it!! 🙂

I am a member of the fieldwork team at Gurob, and I am very much looking forward to our next fieldwork season in September this year! Check out the project website for reports of past fieldwork seasons and my work in the industrial area, which I also presented at The Third British Egyptology Congress (BEC 3) in London, 2010.

After-work seminar and more open source GIS

We had an in-house, after-work seminar at 5pm, at which Christina and I gave our paper on “Open Source GIS for archaeological data visualisation and analysis” to colleagues, which we presented at OSGIS 2011 in Nottingham. You can watch the webcast of the original talk online (scroll down until you find it), unfortunately it only works for Windows, though. :'( The paper, which was presented on June 22nd 2011, is about our successful case study, moving Geomatics at OA North to open source GIS and away from proprietary software. We even won the prize for the second-best presentation! It went down well with colleagues, and after a discussion we moved on outside for a barbecue, which was very nice, as it stayed warm all day (unusual for Lancaster). I had to eave rather early unfortunately, as the commute back to Liverpool takes about 1.5 hours. At least I was able to relax and read George Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons”on my Kindle!

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham

Our Presentation for OSGIS 2011, Nottingham

Hamhill 2011

On this day, the 29th of July Cardiff University and the University of Cambridge are currently one week in to an excavation field season at Ham Hill hillfort.  This is in advance of quarrying by the Ham Hill Stone Company but is also an important training dig for the Cardiff Students.  It is a typical training dig in that we are all staying on site and living and working together for the 8 weeks of this year’s season of project. 

Around 7.30am students and staff alike begin to emerge from caravans and tents, making their way across the long dewy grass to the toilet block and large mess tent.  Breakfast is a generally quiet affair with everybody helping themselves.  The kettle is always on.

Boots, suncream and hats are then donned for work on site at 9.00am.  We are extremely lucky here in that our trip to site is only a two minute stroll! Camping on site has its disadvantages but also advantages!

Today we are digging test pits.  Overlying the archaeology is a soil deposit that we are trying to understand better by digging the test pits.  We are looking to see if there are any artefacts in it, which will hopefully tell us when it formed.  Everything is sieved.   Once this is complete we will remove the rest of this layer with a machine and will then be able to see and plan the archaeology (this will take more than a day though!).  Adam the site director is usually wandering around, sometimes talking to himself, planning the next stage of digging, but more often is joining in and helping to teach the students.  Andy, the Cardiff Supervisor, is watching our big yellow machine during the removal of the top soil.  This is one of the most important jobs on a site, if you take off too much soil you will remove the archaeology, if you don’t take off enough you won’t see the archaeology!  It can be quite stressful but he does get to see the archaeology first as it emerges from the ground. 

Lunch is a simple affair with bread, ham and cheese.   There are many different people on site; we have students and staff of different levels from Cardiff University.  A real mixture of backgrounds is making for interesting conversations!   Members of Cambridge Archaeological Unit are teaching the students, we have a machine and a truck driver and many members of the public that keep wandering over to see what we are up to.  The quarry manager has popped over to see how things are progressing and I’m sure we’ll get many other visitors. 

We are also processing our finds on site (well, close to site in a shed that the quarry have lent us).  This is also where the environmental processing will occur.  Selina is our finds manager for the site and has things running smoothly.  We have a finds bucket on site, where once bagged and labelled, finds are put.  She then collects these and with a couple of students spends the morning, tooth brush in hand, cleaning and then letting them dry before identifying them.  This can then be instantly fed back into our understanding of the site as we are excavating.  Our find of the day is the tip of a flint arrowhead/dagger.  It has yet to be identified properly.

Selina is also our site ‘mother’.  The group on duty for cooking dinner provide her with a list of ingredients so that they are ready prepared to cook for 25.  Looking forward to tonight’s tuna pasta J.

This project, although we are only a few days in is revealing some important things.   Archaeologically it is very exciting, digging on the top of a hillfort is cool, there’s no doubt about that.  We have already found some interesting artefacts and features but I think the most important things to have come out have been summarised by Joe, one of the students. 

‘I’d be a liar if I said the thought of excavation didn’t worry me. As someone who has never been on a dig- let alone camped before I had horrific expectations and ridiculous hopes.’

It was no secret that I looked forward to learning practical skills  the most, camping was definitely my biggest worry but the first thing I learnt was just get on with things – go with the flow.  I came to excavating a few days ago with no practical knowledge and already I’ve learnt about dumpy levels, sieving, and the importance of paperwork (yeah, you even escape it in a field…) I also learnt that the people you don’t talk to in class or never heard speak before will become the best people in the world when you live together for weeks.  But practical skills weren’t the only thing on my excavation wish list.  I wanted to (hopefully) find something- and here lies an important lesson: don’t get your hopes up and be patient instead.  You can work and work for hours on a test pit whilst it seems like the world and his dog are finding things but you’ll find the camaraderie makes the rewarding feeling a shared experience.  You are, after all, a team.  As of yet I’ve not found any of the interesting or significant things I wanted to find but there is still time and plenty of it, so I have to be patient. 

And the other thing I have learnt so far this week?  Getting messy is rewarding!’


Detectorists and statistics, or why there’s more maths in Archaeology than you’d think

Tea drinking seems to be a common theme amongst the Day of Archaeology entries, and why not? A nice hot beverage does seem a fairly fool-proof way to stimulate the grey cells, and is an almost mandatory accessory for a research student like myself.


My name is Fliss Winkley, and having completed a Masters in Artefact Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and done a brief stint training with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), I am now studying again. I’m in the first year of a PhD investigating metal detectorists’ relationships with landscape, inspired by the experiences of seasoned detectorists and searchers who I met whilst working with the PAS. I hope to issue a questionnaire to at least 1,000 detectorists (representing 10% of the conservative estimate of the number operating in England currently) to find out just how many of them detect regularly on the same landscape and how they feel about it, particularly in terms of reconstructing a historic landscape and generating a sense of place.


First step today is to check the emails: I find not only that library books need renewing, but also that I have had several responses on Twitter, the former referencing a traditional method of research that I am very comfortable with, the latter a new technique of outreach that I am only just beginning to understand! This reminds me that I need to upload more information to the Twitter page as well, to give people a better idea of what I am up to.


Next step (thanks to a reminder e-mail from my supervisor) is to design a cover sheet for my questionnaire, so that paper versions can be circulated far and wide, alongside the web-hosted version with which I am hoping to snare those respondents I can’t get to! I already have a cover sheet on the online version, but managed with great oversight to forget this might be useful in the paper copy! The relationship between metal detectorist and archaeologist has often been a prickly one in the past, with old prejudices remaining steadfast in some corners even today. As such, I have to be diplomatic when approaching potential respondents and take care to emphasise on the cover sheet that they will not be asked to reveal the exact locations of their findspots (the point at which an artefact is found).


After attaching the completed cover sheet to the questionnaire, I am ready to distribute the word doc and the link far and wide and cross my fingers that the responses start coming in. I am determined to achieve my target of 1,000 responses so that my data is statistically sound: I didn’t go through the pains of battering my fluffy theoretical brain with basic statistics to get a bad set of data and spoil it all! So if you, or anyone you know is a metal detectorist, please take a look at my questionnaire, and help an archaeologist today!

Pass – no corrections!

Hello again. Well, let’s start with the basics: I passed with no corrections required. This is pretty much the best possible outcome from a PhD viva. First of all a few words about the process, then onto the flavour of our discussions.

I met with my PhD supervisor ten minutes before the scheduled start of the viva, we had a general chat about how the viva might pan out and he was kind enough to drop some heavy hints that things were likely to turn out well. I was quite nervous as I entered the exam room and introduced myself to the examiners. I knew their identities in advance and I knew one of them fairly well as he is an academic at the same department where I was studying. Their opening gambit was not “what do you think you have achieved?” or “what do you think is your original contribution to the field?” but “let’s start by saying that you have passed and we will not be asking you to make any further corrections”. What a relief! This instantly put me at ease and the rest of the viva was then a vigorous discussion about my research, my conclusions and the nature of archaeology and government. This might sound dull to some of you but I promise it is all really important stuff.

One of the difficulties I encountered while conducting my research was attempting to reconstruct the actual history of how certain pieces of government policy were put together. I attempted to do this through interviewing key people in those processes, going through archives and reading about previous attempts by historians and archaeologists to do something similar. How was I supposed to differentiate fact from fiction and triangulate these various sources of data? Honestly, I’m not sure if I managed to do that sufficiently but I managed to convince my examiners that I had done the best that anyone could do. Another issue that we touched upon was whether I had been able to get a comprehensive picture of how and why certain government policies came into being. Had I varied my source material enough? This was something that I had been conscious of throughout my research. The formulation of public policy (and this is true in the case of archaeology policy) is a fairly opaque process which eludes critical examination. Nevertheless, I once again managed to explain my efforts to my examiners who made helpful suggestions for further sources of evidence that I might want to consult should I choose to publish my research. So, although my research was not about the archaeology of a particular place at a particular time, or about the emergence of farming or human evolution, it did exhibit the characteristics of all archaeological research: I was having to work with framgentory remains of past human experiences and reconstruct them into a coherent narrative that sought to explain something about our place in the modern world. That is what archaeology is all about.

Enough philosophising… back to the viva… after a full 75 minutes I left the exam room with congratulatory handshakes from my examiners and a hefty slap on the back from my supervisor. It’s great to be at the very end of my PhD research, it’s been a hard slog at times with some serious bouts of intellectual insecurity but it has also been an amazing journey through the intersecting worlds of politics and archaeology. I have discovered new things, met some amazing people and hopefully made a modest contribution to human knowledge (wow, that sounds heavy). My research activities have helped me to get a really interesting job with the Arts Council that looks more broadly at the development of cultural policy in England. I’ll try and write a post about that at the end of the day. In the meantime, it’s back to the day job…

‘The Commercial’

So I’ve been hard at work for half a day now, putting my 7 hours in my ‘day job’. At the present I am writing the text for a publication of a site that was excavated in late 2008.  Whilst due to privacy reasons I can’t tell you where the site is, or who the work was done for, I can tell you about the amazing archaeology that we found. You might be thinking that it has been quite a while since we excavated the site, so why am I just working on the publication now?

Well, there is a huge amount of work to be done in what is called the ‘post-excavation’ stage of a project. Firstly the supervisor of the site must organise all of the records done on site and send all of the finds and samples away to the specialists to look at and make their reports. This, depending on the amount, can take months. After this stage an ‘Post-Excavation Assessment’ is completed by the site supervisor, which looks at the records and the specialist reports, and works out preliminarily what was found and what this may represent. It also outlines the publication to be undertaken later on. After this stage, this report has to be approved by the client and the county archaeologists which may take a few more months. A lot of time and further specialist analysis later, and here I am, three years later, writing the final text.

So what did we find? On a relatively small site we found evidence of occupation for 10,000 years! At first the site was occupied in the Mesolithic by hunter gatherers, shaping flint tools to hunt with. The site was revisited multiple times by different groups of families over hundreds of years. Later the site took on a ritual focus with the establishment of a large ringwork (a ring ditch) which may have been of a ceremonial function and was later expanded on by two smaller versions. This site would be have been revisited by people in the Neolithic as a spiritual site. There was further evidence for occupation in the Anglo-Saxon, and Post-Medieval period too. It’s an exciting project that should hopefully be published next year!!!

I’ll come back later to update on the PhD work done today,,,,