Time Team



The author [seated right] discussing the theft of metal from Jutland wrecks with Joe Crowley of BBC1’s the One Show for a package broadcast on 30 May 2016

It is one of the wonders of the Day of Archaeology that as the day progresses we get to see in near real time what friends and colleagues are doing in one day in July, from the timeless task of troweling at the trench face, through the deployment of the latest technology to open up a new avenue of knowledge helping us to interpret the past, to the colleague who is writing about what she did yesterday because to today is a childcare day for a working mother.

Hopefully too, people from outside the profession will look in through the various windows this annual exercise in open communication provides, and in the time honoured spirit of the BBC it is to be hoped that they will be in some way or other, informed, educated and even entertained.  After all, and I know we are not supposed to admit it because we are an academic study, a humanity and a science, validated in the ivory halls of academe, archaeology done right is fun, as well as fascinating, and in its way our science, and our storytelling, can even help to make the world a better place, offering perspective by placing our today in the context of what went before, and helping to build a positive sense of place and identity for communities swept by the wind and weather of globalised existence.

That then is the informative, fascinating and fun Day of Archaeology which is just fading outside my office window.  My day of archaeology however has been thinking about the future and it is hard to avoid the sense that, to quote a certain television epic made by HBO, which contains somewhat more violence, sex nudity and dragons than your average excavation, “Winter is coming.”

In particular, as an archaeologist editing a news blog specialising in reporting and discussing archaeology and the archaeological media as news and current affairs, there are two contexts above all which could be seen as bell weathers indicating the potentially chilly environment in which future Days of Archaeology, and I hope there will be many, will be reported.

The first is “Brexit,” the narrow vote in a referendum advising the UK Government that the portion of the population which expressed an opinion by voting wished to leave the European Union.

The second is the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican Candidate in the United States Presidential Election which takes place in November.

I am not going to discuss the potential impact of Brexit on the way archaeologists are able to move around, live and work in the geographical space and political construct we call Europe; Kevin Wooldridge has already done that superbly in his article “Thoughts from a Corner of Sweden;…”  Instead I am going to look at the wider implications for archaeology and the archaeological media, of the intellectual environment within which many political and academic analysts argue that the EU Referendum, and the US Presidential Primaries, were fought.

Both the success of the Brexit campaign and the nomination of “the Donald” have been seen as an expression of what has been called “Post Truth Politics,” a phrase probably coined by the American writer David Roberts in an article for the on-line environmental magazine Grist in 2010.  Roberts analysed how post truth politics works in this way;


“Voters use crude heuristics to assess legislative proposals. This runs somewhat counter to the idealized Enlightenment view, which goes something like this: Voters

  1. gather facts,
  2. draw conclusions from the facts,
  3. form issue positions based on the conclusions, and
  4. choose a political party that shares those issue positions.

The best evidence from political science shows that the process is almost exactly the reverse. Voters:

  1. choose a tribe or party based on value affiliations,
  2. adopt the issue positions of the tribe,
  3. develop arguments that support those issue positions, and
  4. choose facts to bolster those arguments.”


Why is this political analysis important to archaeology?  There are two reasons which I would identify.

The first is the apparent view of many cotemporary politicians, put most notoriously by British Conservative politician, and leading Brexiteer, Michael Gove in an interview with Faisel Islam of Sky News on 21 June 2016.  Challenged over the number of expert bodies questioning the wisdom of Brexit, Mr Gove responded that we;

“…have had enough of experts”

This populist claim was backed up by data from polling organisation You Gov which suggested that 54% of “Leave” voters in the UK Referendum did not “Trust Academics.”  On the “Remain” side just 19% expressed the same lack of trust.

Journalist and author Jonathan Freedland suggested a reason for this shift in an article for the Guardian newspaper.  According to Freedland’s analysis it is down to a basic function of human nature;

“…fact checking is laborious, tedious and time-consuming, especially compared with the brio that can be generated by a sweeping (but false) assertion… You can almost hear the nation’s inner teenager chant in unison: bor-ing.”

However, perhaps worse for archaeology, even than the general lack of trust in experts and academics, is the sense that, outside of the efforts of a select few archaeologists and historians who get regular media work because they are able to convey enthusiasm, while at the same time translating effortlessly from academic into human, the world of popular communications and TV Factual has already abandoned mainstream archaeology for a post truth construct of its own.

The effect of this unwillingness to challenge an audience on the broadcast documentary media was seen most clearly and crudely early in 2016 in the debacle which was the reality documentary series”Battlefield Recovery” [aka “Nazi War Diggers”], which set out to excavate artifacts from Second World War battlefields in Latvia and Poland.   The production company, London based ClearStory Productions, first approached a cross section of academic specialists in the archaeology of modern conflict [myself included] for advice, only to proceed to ignore all of us, instead choosing to employ a trio of ammateur metal detectorists and a dealer in Nazi militaria to front the programme.  The result was an intellectually and chronologically shapeless jaunt around Latvia and Poland, digging up stuff, where the historical context was reduced to a few newsreel clips and a shallowly scripted voiceover.  So far just so much of a missed chance and at one level, the reason behind this casting is probably, as the advert says, “simples”.  A certain breed of militaria collecting metal detectorists are quite happy to hoik stuff out of the ground without recording it, get moist with excitement when they find guns and explosives without getting too concerned about elf’n’safety, and dealers are quite happy to put a price on the finds.  In short the chosen cast enabled ClearStory to deliver a character driven, reality show, for blokes about other blokes, finding war stuff which some people sell for cash; and they did it in a way which was cheap, with no expensive and untelegenic post excavation and reporting.

However, it is at the deeper policy level, that the decisions made by the producers of Battlefield Recovery become really disturbing.  Having consulted expert professionals, including several with extensive media experience,  ClearStory and the National Geographic Network which originally commissioned the series, still deliberately chose to adopt a format which pandered to their perception of their target audience’s expectation for goodies, guys , guns, and stiffs rather than challenging it.  The result was a “look at that, wow!”  freak show, where tipping a human skull out of a soldiers helmet on camera, replaced a genuine exploration of the experience of that soldier in that war and deliberately short cut any attempt to establish his identity and return his remains to his family through forensic archaeology.  Like the export of post truth Trump style political campaigning to the UK during the referendum campaign, this was the export of American post truth documentary to UK television, where all that matters is the bottom line, the political or ratings win, not how you get there.

Understandably the wider archaeological community responded to “Battlefield Recovery” with fury.  Both the UK broadcaster Channel 5 and the regulator Ofcom received scores of complaints, including reasoned arguments from leading sector organisations such as the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the Council for British Archaeology and the Society of Antiquaries.  Many of the complaints focussed on the ethics of amateurs digging up human remains and and the egregious safety breaches shown on screen, both in excavations and in handling unexploded munitions and still the programmes were broadcast and still Ofcom refused to even investigate the complaints.

I would identify a number of reasons for this.  First of all there is a freedom of speech argument.  Under the US First Amendment and the European Convention on Human Rights you have to put up a pretty strong case to prevent someone having their say, however unethical or deluded you think it is.  Indeed, much as I despise “Battlefield Recovery” as a programme, I would go to the barricades to defend ClearStory’s right to make it.  The true problem lies in the fact that ClearStory felt able to use the format they did in the first place, and then in the complete lack of accountability to its subject and audience once the programme was made.  Here I would suggest that the biggest reason for the failure to have “Battlefield Recovery” held to account was that in the eyes of Ofcom and the broadcaster, the opinion of archaeologists just does not matter in the way that, for example, the opinions of the medical Royal Colleges were heard in the heated debate over the coverage of the controversy surrounding claims that the MMR vaccine caused Autism in some children.  This can only be thanks to the failure of successive generations of archaeologists to engage and embed with the broadcasters in helping to deliver the mass audiences which our media serve and which their networks and accountants crave.  We have been so comfortable in our own space, welcoming in those few who are enlightened enough to come to us, that we have made too little attempt to seek to venture outside to seek and nurture new audiences.  Now we do need to venture outside to combat ethical abominations such as “Battlefield Recovery” we find that a large part of the pass has already been sold.

Across much of the digital broadcasting spectrum, what the commissioners call history factual now consists largely of treasure hunting reality TV of the kind shown in “Treasure Quest” and of which “Battlefield Recovery” was a cheap and cheerful example;  of deluded conspiracy theory TV claiming to prove that the history we were taught at school was wrong and archaeology is one big cover up, of the kind peddled by Forensic Geologist Scott Wolter in “America Unearthed” and “Pirate Treasure of the Knight’s Templar”;  or outright fictions such as “Hunting Hitler”, “The Curse of Oak Island,” and most notoriously  of all “Ancient Aliens.”  It is the consistent failure of all but a few archaeologists to challenge and be seen to challenge these cynical, formulaic, conspiracy products which is almost certainly one of the principle factors which has enabled the media, Ofcom, and even Government to largely discount archaeology in policy making, in programme commissioning and in calibrating regulatory frameworks.

In the current post truth political climate that is a dangerous situation for archaeology to be in.  All the more so as we now live in a media world where any kind of serious questioning is increasingly difficult.    This is in large part thanks to the effect which digital activist Eli Pariser has called “the filter bubble”.  That is the sense that as the media each of us as individuals consumes becomes increasingly fragmented across multiple digital formats, which can be chosen and time shifted at will, while being at the same time personalised by the algorithms offering us the information on our Facebook pages and Google searches which the companies behind them think we want to read, confirming our existing attitudes and bias, it becomes ever more difficult for us to recognise and challenge those biases, even if we want to.

Outside the filter bubble, our world of academic archaeology where debate, discussion, and challenge are the norm and even deliberately sought out, looks increasingly isolated and odd, perhaps even in that most deadly of modern political insults, “elitist”.  Any such dismissal of the core essence of what we do could have a dangerous practical effect on the future of archaeology as we know and practice it.  To channel the spirit of the famous quote about the threat of Nazism written by Pastor Martin Niemöller.  When they come for the archaeologists, to make the cuts, to close the university departments and to liberalise the planning laws, thus destroying the economic basis of commercial archaeology and the jobs which go with it, who is going to be there to stand alongside the lecturers, the surveyors, the finds specialists and the diggers, when all those who, like the “Time Team,” reached out to a wider audience have passed on or have been dismissed as academically lazy populists.  No one will be there, because those who might have been our audience and who might have chosen to stand beside us if we had only reached out to be inclusive and bothered to put up a fight on the wider political and media stage, are instead at home, sitting in their underpants under a tinfoil pyramid watching “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.

And it is not as if we did not have the chance.   For twenty years the seminal archaeological procedural “Time Team” on Channel 4 delivered audiences in the millions, in the process becoming, and remaining, an instantly recognisable national institution.  The trouble was no one else stepped up to the plate to challenge “Time Team’s” hegemony, or to develop other formats grounded on evidence based process, until like the mega fauna caught out by the deadly double whammy of climate change and predatory humans, even “Time Team” became an evolutionary dead end, succumbing to changing priorities at Channel 4 and the inevitable aging of its cast and core audience.  Time Team’s co-creator, the late Professor Mick Aston of Bristol University summed this up in his last major interview, given to Current Archaeology in June 2013;

“But even though Time Team built up an incredible audience, the archaeological world never really ran with it. All the public interest generated in that first 15 year period was wasted. Our colleagues were too busy saying ‘you can’t do it in three days’, or ‘I don’t like the way you’ve done that.’ Nit picking really, but it could get nasty. If you went to a pub and mentioned Time Team to a bunch of archaeologists you’d instantly have a fight on your hands. People who got what the programme was doing thought it was great, but others just said ‘you can’t do archaeology like that’. I feel as though I’ve suffered from that for 20 years.”

Aston added later;

“The sad thing, I think, is despite the public interest in archaeology we don’t seem to be able to harness it. I don’t know why, because so much work does need doing. If every parish had a project like Winscombe going on not only would we learn a lot, but the spin-offs in terms of social cohesion and the involvement of people would be absolutely phenomenal.”

It is difficult to communicate when you no longer even have the means.


Martin Baron, the executive Editor of the Washington Post [and hero of the recent film “Spotlight” which celebrated the role of investigative journalism in exposing the scandal of paedophile priests in the United States] put the danger we are all in, on account of this failure to communicate outside our particular silos of knowledge and opinion, most succinctly in his commencement address to the School of Media and Communication at Temple University earlier this year;

“Today we are not so much communicating as miscommunicating. Or failing to communicate. Or choosing to communicate only with those who think as we do. Or communicating in a manner that is wholly detached from reality.

Too often we look only for affirmation of our own ideas rather than opening ourselves to the ideas of others.

Too often we are inclined only to talk. Too rarely are we inclined to listen — when listening is the superior route to learning and understanding. Listening has become a lost art.”

And before anyone asks why I am quoting a journalist and not an archaeologist, especially when “journalistic” is so often inscribed on an undergraduate, or higher, essay as a term of criticism, ask yourself this.

What is the point of being an archaeologist if you cannot and do not communicate your work to anyone who wants to listen and learn?

And do we too not all too often take the easy route of only discussing our work with the people who think like us, and when we do, are we also often guilty of using a jargon ridden language only we, and sometimes not even all of us, can understand?

Ask also, when did a leading archaeologist last talk about the need to communicate with the world in those terms?

We have enough trouble even communicating with each other.

This brings me to a related issue, one with which I am particularly engaged, and which has risen up to bite again in the course of my research and writing during my day of archaeology.  That is the issue of access to the transfusing lifeblood of academic debate, academic articles communicated through publication in journals of record.

As happens to all of us, a notification sat in my inbox this morning regarding a paper which would, on the face of it, be directly relevant not just to a paper I am currently writing, but also to a heritage crime investigation I am currently involved with; so in that routine way you do I tapped on the link.

Of course, as a freelance archaeologist and writer with no current academic affiliation I do not have the magic login which serves as the free pass to the higher degrees of academic discussion [in spite of the fact that I do self identify as an academic, possessing as I do a Masters degree and some subject expertise, which should be tested, and might even be of use to colleagues], so having been treated to the abstract, which confirmed I certainly wanted to read the full article, I was asked to pay £26 for the article, or £124 for the complete issue of the journal concerned.

The verbal response to this shameless demand for a poll tax on knowledge is of course well known to scholars of Old English and consists of two words, the second of which is “off”.

You do not have access


As a result of this short sighted imposition of an academic exclusion zone there are no winners.  I do not get to access the information and arguments contained within the article which might well have helped to ground, focus or enrich my paper, thus impacting on anyone who reads my work when it is published [which it will be, in an open access format of course].

Meanwhile the four joint authors of the paper I would like to read suffer because they lose a citation, and the pleasure and challenge, of being quoted and maybe questioned.  The brutal marketing decision of their publisher has taken them from High Impact to No Impact at the click of my mouse.

The only bright spot in this is that the publisher also loses because their greed and willingness to facilitate a research apartheid has gained them precisely nothing.

So;   For inflicting that completely avoidable collateral damage to the ongoing, international, debate and development of archaeology and on the careers of five professional archaeologists, Routledge, of the Taylor and Francis Group, publishers of World Archaeology,  consider yourselves named and shamed.

[In fairness I should add that other publishers and Journals of Record are equally guilty of turning legitimate researchers without an academic login into the research equivalent of Cassandra, speaking truths, but condemned never to be listened to]


But this is the day of archaeology.  A day when we celebrate each other, our work and let the public in to see us, so I should finish on some form of up beat.  Let me suggest what we can and should be.

Later in the commencement address quoted above Martin Baron quoted one of the founding principle of the great newspaper the Washington Post;

“The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”

The Day of Archaeology proves every year what a diverse, brilliant, thoughtful and thought provoking profession and calling we are lucky enough to participate in, as our work attempts to ascertain what those sometimes elusive and difficult historical and archaeological truths are, as nearly as maybe.   It is also a profession and a calling which I think most of us would agree is at its strongest and most creative when we think, talk, and act together.

And it can be done.   The package about the theft of metal from the wrecks of ships sunk in the Battle of Jutland pictured above, was broadcast on BBC 1’s daily magazine programme the One Show on 30 May 2016, the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of the battle.  Working closely with academic colleagues, the programme production team, their lawyers and presenter Joe Crowley, himself a history graduate, in seven minutes, using a popular magazine format in Prime Time, we managed to cover the historical context of the story, show the archaeological evidence for the theft and identify the thieves, address the ethical issues surrounding maritime military graves and explain the Protection of Military Remains Act, all to an audience of over three million, who also saw the human aspect of the battle and the emotional cost of the theft, expressed through an interview with a relative of one of the sailors lost in the sinking of HMS Queen Mary.   It is a bonus that we also managed to embarrass and hold to account the Ministry of Defence by forcing them to answer questions about their failure to protect the wrecks.

Overall, the One Show package was a prime  example of the kind of popular public service broadcasting which can still be achieved if archaeologists seek out the right stories, the right partners and employ the right visual and spoken language.

However, allowing the continuation of ever decreasing literary circles to take place in a succession of sealed and self regarding academic halls of mirrors, is not only in my view counter productive for our profession, risking rendering it increasingly inward looking and to the wider world, irrelevant.  Worse, in the post modern, post truth environment, where we breathe the atmosphere of lies and misrepresentations generated by the likes of the Brexiteers, the Donald and the producers of “Ancient Aliens” and “Hunting Hitler”, not to communicate what we do in the widest most effective way possible is also a dereliction of our duty to take an active role as participants in the wider world which we go home to when our day of archaeology comes to an end.




About Andy Brockman

Andy Brockman is a specialist in the Archaeology of Modern Conflict and editor of the on-line archaeological media and current affairs blog thePipeLine 

He particularly enjoys researching, reviewing and debunking pseudo history from buried Spitfires in Burma to Hitler’s 1945 excursion to Argentina by U-boat.

Indianahannah and the Desk Based Adventure

Name:  Hannah Smith

What do you do?
Currently I’m working on the Historic Land-use Assessment project. HLA is a joint project between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. It is an analysis of the present landscape, recording the visible traces of past land-use across Scotland, and presenting it as a digital map. My day is spent in front of a computer, working with digital sources in a GIS. This suits me well, I was always a bit of a fair weather archaeologist!

How did you get here?
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow University, and then went on to complete a Masters in Professional Archaeology there as well. As a student, I volunteered as a placement supervisor on the Hungate site in York with York Archaeological Trust. Working with YAT gave me the best crash course in field archaeology I could have asked for. Although I think the biggest thing I took away was that I preferred to work indoors!!


Dangerously close to that murky water!

I began volunteering as soon as I could, as I knew it would be difficult to find a job in archaeology. I volunteered with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust after I graduated, helping their HER officer, and with various research projects. I was then really lucky to get an HLF workplace learning bursary in Information Management at RCAHMS in 2011.

What’s your background?
I’ve worked in various posts at RCAHMS since 2011. After completing my bursary in Information Management, I began working with the HLA project, before moving on to a data management role with Project Adair, and then working as Data and Standards officer within the Data and Recording section.

HLA mapping in progess

HLA mapping in progess

Favourite part of your job? 
I’ve enjoyed working on many different projects and in different sections at RCAHMS. It’s allowed me to gain a better understanding of all of the work undertaken by staff here. Also helping to produce our Day of Archaeology posts with staff is always a highlight.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer as much as you can.

Say yes. Even when you’re in a job, say yes to everything that comes your way.

Keep at it. Jobs are often few and far between, but you’ll be surprised at the range of archaeology jobs out there and the ways you can enter this field as a career.

Wish I hadn't said yes here, too many midges!

Wish I hadn’t said yes here, too many midges!


Exploring Archaeology with the Video Storyteller

“You are an archaeologist, I mean, you dig dinosaurs?!”
“What are you saying? Archaeologists dig for the truth…”
“Dear friends, listen to me! Archaeologists dig very important sites, study pottery and write very boring scientific publication for reconstructing the life of the past. This is archaeology!”
“But it’s not all. Archaeology is pointless if you don’t tell it to people. To involve people in the telling of archaeology via video, that’s the way I like archaeology!”
“Telling stories via video? I’m not sure you are an archaeologist!”

No doubts, I am an archaeologist. I have a degree in archaeology and I tell entertaining stories of archaeology using video. This is also my “Day of archaeology”.
There are many specializations in contemporary archaeology: the landscape archaeologist, the geoarchaeologist, the osteoarchaeologist, the GIS and the 3D expert etc. I am a video storyteller of archaeology!

I don’t think I don’t do archaeology. I dig with my other colleagues, I use trowel and pickaxe, I fulfil my sheets and write my diary. But my scope is to communicate what I dig and the way I like most is recording videos. Why recording videos?
Video is a way of telling but also the scope, the final product. Almost everyone like to take part in a video, everyone like to see themselves in a video and to say to friends: “Hey, have you seen me in that video?”. Last but not least, YouTube is one of the most popular search engine on the Web and when you publish your video on YouTube everyone can see it.
Video is also the medium that narrates stories in the best way because it puts together images and sounds. And every archaeologist knows that a site is an infinite container of stories. We have all the ingredients for a good recipe!

Film making a Vignale 2

I ask constantly myself if I can record a story about what I’m digging and in which way I can tell it. There are countless ways to do it: free you creativity and choose the one you think better for your necessity. You can let archaeologists talk about the site or write and record a story set in the past. You can make a time-lapse video or tell a day at the excavation. What about a point of view of a child or the memories of an old man?
The first step is one of the most difficult: if you aren’t a field director you need an approval for recording your footage; secondly you need the availability of the archaeologists for taking part in the video. Usually archaeologists like to stay in front of the camera. After some shooting they will be confident and involved in what they are doing. Have a look at this video recorded in Vignale and presented at TAG 2012 in Liverpool. Its title is “Last days of fieldwork in room 14” and tell what have been dug in this area of the site through words, photos, time-lapses and diaries. The point is that also excavation can be told in a entertaining way using the right media.

One of the aspect I like more of narrating archaeology via camera is that video is not only a visual medium but also an involving one. It can involve common people to take part in the narration of an archaeological site. At Vignale (Tuscany), a Roman mansio excavated by the University of Siena, in October 2013 children help archaeologists in denounce the activity of looters in the site with a brief video, entitled “Giù le mani dalla nostra storia” (Hands off our history). In agree with archaeologists, they wrote a screenplay and got to the site to record this footage. They had a strong relationship with Vignale and recording this video they had the possibility of doing battle for the site.

After this brief venture in the world of the video storyteller of archaeology, I would like to have a good screenplay with an archaeo-story and record it. Unfortunately, as in 2013, July isn’t a period of film making, so my “Day of Archaeology” is a static day of study. Anyway I’m sure I’ll see many videos embedded in other posts. I’ll enjoy them and the stories inside them!

1st Dig

On the Day of Archaeology 2013, I was on the 3rd day of 4 of my very 1st archaeological dig. I was a volunteer at Bodfari Hillfort in North Wales, one of several hillforts on the Clwydian Range, the smallest and apparently the steepest!

I have had no previous formal training or any kind archaeological experience other that visiting castles & museum etc. and watching TV programs such as Time Team. So I was very keen to learn as much as possible whilst volunteering but also very aware that the team were only going to be onsite for 2 weeks. I felt a little torn between just getting stuck in and questioning every action and decision the Archaeologists were making. I soon realised that the Archaeologists were quite happy to explain their methods and ideas to me and I think we all found the natural cadence of the team we were allocated to.

I was helping to dig trench three at the southern end of the hillfort. The section I was excavating was an extension which cut across the inner and middle ramparts; the team had found a wall structure at the middle rampart with a rubble and soil section packed behind, there was also a section of bedrock further in towards the inner ramparts which the Archaeologists thought could have been used to build the wall. These structures had all shown as anomalies on the geophysical image data taken in 2012.

I was chasing out the edge of the wall with my trowel, hopefully to reveal a nice straight line, we hadn’t gone very far down at this point so much more work was to be done to be sure that this was indeed a wall structure, before that could happen all digging, mattocking and troweling stopped for soil sampling and measuring. Although I’d never done this before the Archaeologists and the more experienced volunteers explained everything to me so I was able to get directly involved in the measuring and sampling, not rocket science I know but with limited time for the team to get as much done as possible, I really appreciated this attention.

Middle rampart - wall

The Archaeologists also didn’t seem to mind my close attention while they were discussing what their thoughts were on what they were looking at and during and after the planning stage. I was quite intrigued with their discussions and thought process’s especially when they didn’t quite agree with each other, I found it absolutely fascinating to watch and to listen to.

By the time I left the dig the next day, the last hour being thwarted by a thunder storm, we were not really any closer to working out whether the wall was a wall, if it was Iron Age or Roman and where if anywhere there is a soil level down there. There are still so many unanswered questions, though I think that this is the nature of Archaeology and why we all love it so much.

Many thanks to Gary Lock and John Pouncett and their brilliant Bodfari13 team of Archaeologist and volunteers. Thank you.

Picking up the pieces

I’m a Project Archaeologist and one of the roles of a Project Archaeologist is to pick up the pieces when a colleague has to abandon a project.

For the last decade I have been acting as Project Archaeologist for the Irish Concrete Federation which represents the Irish Concrete and quarrying industry. The role of the Project Archaeologist is to manage the archaeological process on behalf of a client at all stages of the development process. Generally the function of the Project Archaeologist is to advise the client on all aspects of the potential cultural heritage impacts of a project from design stage, through site identification and acquisition, the planning process, environmental impact assessment, planning conditions, excavation, post excavation and publication. In Ireland the functions of the Project Archaeologist are often formally stated in a Code of Practice agreed between a development organisation and the State. Codes of Practice have been agreed with a number of organisations such as the National Roads Authority, the Railway Procurement Agency, and Bord Gais Eireann.

I like to think of the role of Project Archaeologist being similar to a film producer. The Project Archaeologist doesn’t direct the excavation but they are responsible for what comes before the excavation and for a lot of what comes after it. Like a film producer the Project Archaeologist can also be left to pick up the pieces if the Director can’t finish the project.

ICF Code of Practice

ICF Code of Practice

This year on my Day of Archaeology I’m driving to Co. Galway to collect the excavation archive from a colleague who is giving up archaeology and emigrating. Things were very different in 2008 when Michael, the man I am traveling to meet, won the contract to excavate the medieval Moated Site at Clonmelsh, Co. Carlow through competitive tender. The site at Clonmelsh was part of the manor of Grangeforth, which belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Baltinglass that was founded by the King of Leinster Dermot Mac Murrough. The site had to be preserved by record in advance of a quarry extension, and all that remains of the site today is the excavation record which consists of the context and sample sheets, site notebooks, drawings, finds and samples.


Clonmelsh under excavation 2008

Clonmelsh under excavation in 2008

In 2008, at the end of the Celtic Tiger boom, there were over a thousand licensed excavations carried out in Ireland and this was already a considerable reduction on previous years. But with the subsequent collapse of the Irish economy the number of archaeological investigations has been reducing each year and many consultancies like Michael’s have failed. The ultimate objective of any archaeological excavation is to produce a published report and the failure of his consultancy placed this process in doubt. With the support of the developer I worked with Michael and encouraged him to submit a proposal to the developer for the continuation of the post-excavation project. The developer agreed to fund the work and a certain amount of progress was made. But the situation in Ireland has continued to deteriorate and Michael has found it impossible to support his family. As a result he has been forced to quit archaeology, put his house on the market, sell his furniture and his car, and take his children out of school and emigrate in search of a sustainable future. It’s sad to see a colleague forced to abandon their career and  leave their home and start again from scratch. I wish Michael well for the future. I’m afraid he is not the first Irish archaeologist forced to emigrate and he probably won’t be the last, as tens of thousands of other Irish people have been forced to leave in recent years. Now I’m left with the excavation archive wondering what to do next.


Clonmelsh site plan

Clonmelsh site plan

I’m writing about this because it is sadly one of my main tasks this week but also because it represents the current reality of archaeology in Ireland. Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication. The National Museum has been working to acquire the finds and archives generated by consultancies during the boom so the data won’t be lost but the task is monumental, and is being carried out at a time of reducing staff and resources. Most of this material will simply remain stored away for years to come. I’m reasonably familiar with the site at Clonmelsh so, with the support of the developer, I’m going to have a go at finishing the report, but  the data from so many other sites may never see the light of day.

I regularly write about archaeology and you read more of my blogs here.

Definitely Not a Typical Day For Me!

I am an archaeologist and would love to say I work as one but I can’t no jobs around where I live!  I was inspired to do a degree in Archaeology and Landscape History mainly by watching Time Team! Another success story for Mick Aston as I graduated in 2008.  I do a lot of volunteer work for various organisations including a lot of Heritage work for the Northamptonshire Museums and Historic Houses Forum.

I, along with another committee member, have been organising an Awards Ceremony in the county.  We have a VIP attending, one of the Royal family, and on Friday I met up with his personal protection officer and Northamptonshire Police, just to make sure the venue was secure etc.. All very interesting.  It has been a lot of work to organise.

The day before, Thursday,  I had the chance to visit the Time Team excavation in a local town which was rather fabulous, had a chat with Tim Taylor (what a nice man).  The day after the 29th, I had co-organised a visit for the CBA (Council for British Archaeology) East Midlands to the Prebendal Manor at Nassington which was a great success, lovely weather, lunch, Manor and walk to a site of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground.  We had 35 members attend the day and the star of the show was ‘cat’ sitting in the window of the 15th Century Manor!

Office Day

The day before was the final day of a Time Team shoot, which is a television programme based on a three day excavation. It always gets quite hectic on the last day and I finally got on the train at 6:30 and was home by 10:30, still sweaty and muddy! As such Friday morning wasn’t an early one for me and the day consisted of office bits and pieces. First up was finances: I don’t know if it’s because of the recession but more and more clients are grumbling about having to pay! I had to check to see if money had been paid in and go through some timesheets for another job to confirm we were on site. Second up was GIS: we are involved in a development which might have quite a high impact on the landscape and we are using GIS models to work out the impact areas. I had picked out a few clusters of important features on high ground and the client wanted shapefiles to show where they were. Another client wanted shapefiles to show where the early foundations of a Listed Building may remain on a development site so that he could design foundations around them. The final job of the day was proof reading. All the reports our company, produces are proof read and edited to make sure they making sense and there are no mitsakes. 😉 I was looking over a Desk Based Assessment which is a report that assesses the potential for archaeological remains on a possible development site. The research suggested that there wasn’t much there so the report was quite short and also well written, so an easy way to end the day!


Matthew Williams is a Partner in L – P : Archaeology a UK based commercial archaeology (CRM) company.


Making Archaeologists. Caerleon Excavations.

As ‘Day of Archaeology 2012’ sprung into life, the excavations on the Iron Age Caerleon 2012 dig came to a close. This is our final day of a brisk five day project. At the moment it’s about 8:15 in the morning, and I am looking out towards the University of Wales, Newport campus. There are clouds, lots of them, and they are not the fluffy light ones, they have a pretty foreboding look about them… The campus is roughly a twenty minute drive from our excavation site, and our team this year has been dependent on our committed core of undergraduates. I should clarify that these are history undergraduate students, rather than archaeology undergraduates. Time was, our university had a bustling and well respected archaeology department, but for a variety of reasons, we sadly lost that department, and history was left standing alone. However, there are enough of us archaeologists who survive in and near to the university, and the desire for archaeological research stands strong, even if we don’t have the name ‘archaeology’ on our department notice board anymore. A strong tenant of our excavations in the past was to train prospective field archaeologists, and that has been seen again this year, with the majority of the team being made up of first time archaeologists.

You would not know to look at them, but all five of the team members here are on their very first field excavation.


The excavations this year are just below an Iron Age hillfort (Lodge Hill), which overlooks the Roman fortress at Caerleon. We’ve been following up on a number of features, and today we are focusing on the second of our two sites, the excavation of a trackway feature. We have some great maps that suggest the length of the trackway to be pretty significant, and running in a temptingly straight line (tempting if you like Roman features that is), going straight over the top of the hillfort. Lots of questions were being asked of this feature, how was it made, how old was it, what was it used for? As the final day of our excavations proceed, hopefully we’ll be able to deal with some of those queries.

The trackway.

(…several hours later…)

Well, back home now, 6pm(ish), in the warmth of the office, feet up and in front of the computer. Those black clouds spied earlier gave as expected, and turned the majority of our ‘day of archaeology’, into a day of mini trench floods and occasional soakings. Such is the way with field archaeology. That though is not to say that our last day of excavation was in any way a negative, in fact we had quite a successful day.

First things first though, for many of the entries posted for Day of Archaeology, we have been treated to some stunning artefacts and insights. Alas, the most time consuming activity that took place on our final day, was, as is often the case for field excavation, back filling! It’s one of those questions that is often asked of us by passing visitors, ‘what are you going to do with it (the archaeology) once you’ve finished?’, the standard short answer is ‘fill it in’. So for our day in the life of an archaeologist, it was a day of hole filling, more so than it was for hole excavation (although it’s not always a dull affair as these keen excavators hopefully show)!

As some of the trenches were being filled in though, we had sunk two test pit sections through our trackway feature, which previously in the week had revealed two distinct surfaces, and in the last hour or so of the day, revealed a third. Coming down on a really compact clay surface (you can see the moment when it was revealed here), the most obvious inclusion was a wealth of charcoal material.

The discovery of this surface was one of the last acts of archaeology on site for the year. However, the questions go on. Dating from the charcoal will be next on the agenda. We only returned a few sherds of probably post medieval pottery (though it might be late, you never know) from the first two surfaces, but the charcoal may well let us take our site back much further, we’ll have to wait and see. When we do get the results though, that should go a long way to helping us tackle some of those many questions we had going into this, so it’s a great result, even if the result means that we must wait on some more results.

And so as the day of archaeology ends, so does our excavation. It’s been a blast being involved in field archaeology again after some time away, but as interesting as the excavation element has been, today, as with the rest of this week has reminded me of one thing in particular. Field excavation has a funny effect on people. There is something about going through the hours of excavation, be it in sunshine or rain, be it through the excitement of discovering a road surface untouched for however many centuries, or the frustration of sifting through yet another find free ditch (two of our team know what that is all about now), that brings people together. At the start of this week, we had probably four distinct groups of people, different backgrounds, different social groups, different interests, yet spending the week sharing the experience of field excavation, those barriers gradually whittled away. Those involved became friends, became united, and that is both a surprising but also familiarly reassuring thing about field excavation. At the end of it all, we had had a wonderful time, become good friends, and ultimately, we were united as archaeologists. Here’s hoping your day of archaeology was as good as ours!


Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past

Well, hello from a soggy south-west Scotland. I’m Giles, Development Officer for Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past and I wanted to tell you on Day of Archaeology 2012 about the project and what we are going to be doing over the next week or so…

DDGP is an exciting new community archaeology project based in south-west, providing training in using geophysical survey to help volunteers record, understand and interpret the region’s fascinating archaeology. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for local people right across the region to get involved in the surveys – it’s a great way to find out more about buried archaeology without having to excavate.

What is geophysics, and what can we find out using it?

Not all archaeology is about excavation – you may have come across ‘geofizz’ on TV’s Time Team where it’s often used to plan where to put the trenches in. Geophysics is a way of mapping buried archaeological deposits – be they ditches, pits or building material – without ever breaking the ground surface.

There are two main techniques for geophysical survey:

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking resistivity survey

Resistivity: By passing a small electrical current into the ground, and measuring the amount of resistance that results, it is possible to locate buried remains of archaeological interest.

Resistance is related to the amount of moisture in the soil. Around buried walls, for example, the surrounding soil will often be dryer. The current cannot pass so easily through this dry soil, so stonework can often show up as areas of higher resistance. This technique is therefore ideal for locating building walls and foundations.

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking magnetic survey

Magnetometry:  This technique detects extremely small variations in the earth’s magnetic field, caused when the ground has been disturbed by previous activity. Burning, for instance, will often leave a significant magnetic trace.

Magnetometry is excellent for locating ditches, pits, middens, hearths and kilns – and is great at covering large areas quite quickly.

The great thing about geophysical survey is that the results can be rapidly downloaded on site to a laptop, and even with minimum processing it is possible to define ‘anomalies’ which can represent buried archaeology. For volunteers on the project surveys this is great – they can see the fruits of their labours in the field. We are aiming to get these very quickly into reports which will be uploaded onto our website, to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Our next survey
It’s all a bit hectic in the office today as we put the finishing touches to our programme for next week’s survey. We’ll be undertaken both magnetic and resistivity survey at the nationally important site of the Roman fort at Birrens. This continues work that the University of Glasgow have been concentrating on – looking in and around Roman military sites in Eastern Dumfriesshire.

Magnetic survey results around Bankhead Roman fort, Dalswinton

This has looked at fabulous sites around Lockerbie, such as the Roman fort at Dalswinton. As you can see this has added loads of detail (as you can see on the right) to both the inside of the fort of Bankhead and the surrounding area – which aerial photographs have shown to be really interesting.

At Birrens Roman fort, near Middlebie, we’ll be focusing on similar things. A group of 6 volunteers will be joining us for 3 days next week to carry out some resistivity survey on the interior – hopefully we’ll get detail of the street pattern, as well as an idea of how the buildings – both the barrack blocks and administrative headquarters of the fort – were laid out.

You can find out more about Birrens fort – known to the Romans as blatobulgium (literally the ‘flour sack’) here.

We’re having an Open Day on Saturday July 7th – it’ll be a great chance to show the public the results as well as an opportunity to show just how geophysics ‘works’ – including the amount of walking in straight lines that’s involved! The response has been fantastic locally – so here’s hoping for some sunshine!

I hope this has wet your apetite both for ‘geophysics’ and the project – please see our website to keep up to date with the latest – discoveringdgpast.wordpress.com.

The project is jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The European Community, Dumfries and Galloway Leader 2007-2013; The Crichton Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

29th: A sunny summer day in Portugal.

At this time of the year there’s plenty of digs going on; it’s the time of school vacations, and many projects re-start their yearly digs. There’s also good weather for construction, so more archaeological sites appear throughout the country!
Well, I believe there’s a lot to be said about the days of doing Archaeology here in Portugal.
You may think not, since no one else here seems to be sharing what they did on the 29th…
And maybe that’s the biggest indicator, and one of my biggest fears concerning the state of our archaeological science: the lack of outreach. With so many reasons that can be found to justify the un-development of our heritage resources, is any justification valid enough to not do all we can to make it accessible?
It’s not an easy situation. And the current crisis will not help it get better in the near future. The good news is that slowly we are becoming more pro-active, creating more activities, communicating more, and in time ( and if our heritage survives well until then), we will have great sites telling great stories, giving visitors and communities a great experience and opportunity to reconnect with their past, and to evaluate their present and inspire their future with it.

As an archaeologist, I long for the field work, but these days I rarely go digging. Unfortunately, field work here means mostly going to a construction site somewhere and do “emergency archaeology”. Then most of those sites go back to oblivion, some are destroyed, and the reports and materials are all that is left for someday someone to read.
I still feel tormented by the fact that, after you dig a site, and discover so much about it, that information is going to only a few people, and most of the sites are left to be destroyed or abandoned.
So these days I work mostly at heritage management and science communication.
Hence, for me, the 29th was passed half in the office, answering e-mails and preparing some activities for children, and the other half at a national news agency preparing articles about science.
Maybe nothing particularly archaeologically special or surprising happened in front of me that day, but still, those are the small efforts and steps that archaeologists also have to take in order to make their science and activity reach further, to help spread the passion we have for what we do so that more people see the importance that our past has in our present and future.

Leonor Medeiros