Trowel

Where’s my trowel?

For some reason yesterday I decided to look for my trowel. Said tool brought in late ’80’s (I think) and lovingly worn mostly from finding Romans on York’s waterfront (Yorkshire, UK). Last seen in the dining room, last used on a rather nice medieval moated site in Cheshire in 2013. Failed to find it for a day I spent helping/ hindering (your choice) on a community archaeology excavation in Edinburgh in June. So why do I want it now? Well I don’t need it but because I can’t find it then this takes on a whole new urgency. For years it sat lovingly on my work desk alongside a leaf (plasterers/ archaeologists tool for the uninitiated & rarely used) to remind me that 1) I used to use it all the time, 2) it was always there to help on community excavations (or days I took off to keep my ‘hand in’) as a local government archaeological officer 3) more recently to remind me that I know I can still use it!

I have temporarily given up looking for the hallowed old trowel now. Today I have been following up some contacts from a flurry of networking during Liverpool’s International Festival of Business (IFB) 2014 – a splendid opportunity. I’m a freelancing archaeological consultant providing archaeological planning advisory services to the development sector. Sometimes this feels like being ‘Daniel in the Lions den’ but like troweling skills – this takes practice and a bit of persistent enthusiasm.  ‘Hello my name is …. and I’m an Archaeologist’ is usually cause for excitement or bafflement, or fear – but at least its going to get some reaction. At one recent networking event a property consultant delighted in telling me that he’d advised a builder in the 1970’s to concrete over some burials to hide them and not tell anyone. He was somewhat surprised to hear that he could have done worse.

I have learnt much from the IFB and picked up new language being thrown about the place ‘green infrastructure’ (Ok, we know this is landscaping/ natural environment, ‘blue infrastructure’ ( this is wet stuff/ water bodies) and ‘grey infrastructure’ ( actual buildings). What’s been interesting is to go to events where the ‘green and ‘blue’ are  recognised as important economic opportunities as well as creation of a better environment.

Now where’s my trowel?

 

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.

A Day in an Archaeological Tool Kit

My day of archaeology is relatively mundane: I spend most of it working on my dissertation, a look into the transition from slavery to freedom on a 19th century plantation in Southern Maryland. While I love my work, I often get the urge to be in the field, particularly with the weather as wonderful as it has been this week. So, I thought I’d take out my archaeology bag and show you around.

The archaeology bag is more than just a bag with your trowels in it: in many ways it is a reflection of what kind of archaeologist you are. I’m one of those guys who likes to have a tool for everything. I am a gadget man, and I’m always on the lookout for a new tool that could help me be a more effective archaeologist, or to be more helpful in the field.

My bag is a Mountain Hardware Splitter. I particularly like this bag because it is comfortable and rugged, and can hold a great deal of equipment. It was originally designed for mountain climbers to hold their ropes. It has some nifty features on it. My particular favorite is a system of loops at the top of the inside: I use them to attach carabiners to, and then hang equipment from the carabiners. This way, the equipment doesn’t bunch up at the bottom of the pack. Instead, it hangs, evenly distributed, throughout the entire pack. Not only does this mean things are easy to get to, but it also means that the weight is distributed throughout my entire back, making it easier to carry.

Some of my favorite tools include my trowels, which I received during my field school. Some tools I love for their practicality, such as the duct tape or the WD-40 to keep my tools from rusting, or some of the surprises (sham-wows work). Others still tend to be a bit more personal: if you click on the images below, you’ll notice that quite a lot of my tool bag is devoted to reducing perspiration (I have a very efficient personal cooling system). Towels, hats, sweat bands, hydration packs…I even carry a bag of salt with my lunch to replenish what I lose.

The tools you carry are also going to reflect where you excavate. I used to dig in Michigan, so foot and hand warmers have become a mainstay in my pack, as have an extra pair of gloves. Now that I’m in Virginia, hydration is the most important part of my kit. In addition to the hydration pack, I typically have two or three water bottles at the ready. A mosquito net has been advantageous in both states.

Safety is also a crucial component of the archaeology bag. Mine includes a tiny first aid kit, sunscreen, a hat, gloves for screening (nails and glass can cut), a reflective vest for roadside or hunting ground survey, and a hard hat (or at least, it did…then my dog chewed it up). Archaeology is a physical activity, and you never know when one of these items might be needed.

Finally, there’s lunch. It’s important to make sure that you eat an adequate lunch each day, as well as a few snacks throughout. I purchased a lunch bag from Mountainsmith (“The Sixer”) that can adequately hold enough food, snacks, and water, to keep me fueled for the day. It easily attaches to my pack via carabiners if necessary, or I can throw it over my shoulder with the strap. I always freeze one of my water bottles to serve as an ice pack. This saves me some room, and I have ice cold water to drink at lunch time. I also love my Mr. Bento: this contraption will keep food hot or cold for up to eight hours. There’s nothing like pulling out warm soup at lunch time when you’re excavating in frigid temps. The best part about the “Sixer”? It holds exactly six beers for post-excavation relaxing.

Feel free to browse the photos below for a glimpse into my bag of archaeological goodies. You’ll probably recognize most of them: we archaeologists are wonderful at the reuse of everyday objects. Click on an image and it will take you to my Flickr set, where I have added notes to the image describing the tools, what they are, and how I use them!


The Archaeology of Food!

I’ve been a commercial archaeologist for 13 years and have worked in Ireland, Greece and Australia. My days once consisted of jumping into a muddy hole in the depths of winter to shovel out the sticky and waterlogged fills within and then trudge to the spoil-heap with heavy boots. My days also consisted of excavating beautiful wooden troughs in fulachta fiadh (burnt mounds) or excavating postholes of Bronze Age structures in the balmy summer sun. However, the recession in Ireland has led to a decline in commercial archaeological work and the absence of muddy viz-vest clad hordes of trowel-grasping excavators is the most visible proof of this!

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Our Day in Dirt

Get up at 5 am.  Eat breakfast

Perry T. meets Oleg to get the UAZ 94 in garage at 6:15

We meet the crew at 6:30 am:

Lyuba the recorder of levels and units for finds’ bag.

Vlad the expert archaeological worker, who returns to his full-time job at the heating plant

Oleg, the driver and field worker

Kostya, who has worked with us since he was 11.

Pasha, local high school student.

Today’s plan:

1.  Clean the mud brick platform and the living surface outside the house.  It rained last night—trowel scraping

2.  Check out Context 61 and probable Pit house, underlying mud brick melt from last year’s excavation.

3.  Clean up tandir (bread oven)

4.  Map the upper mud brick contexts

5.  Take elevations both across the 8 m x 8 m excavation block, north and south.

 

CELEBRATE the DAY of ARCHAEOLOGY—leave site at 12 noon.

 

Wash finds at 4 pm.

 

Is work ever done?

 

Burials & the Last Day on Site

Who are we?

Irish Archaeology Field School is a research project and teaching dig based in the Boyne Valley in Co. Meath, Ireland. We have three sites, one at Blackfriary in Trim, a C13th Dominican abbey, one in Rossnaree, near Slane, a multi-period site, and one at Bective Abbey, a C12th Cistercian Abbey. Blackfriary is a community archaeology initiative with support from the Department of Arts, Heritage & Local Government, the local authority, and the American Institute of Archaeology Site Preservation Fund. The sites at Rossnaree and Bective are being excavated by our research partners, with funding from the Royal Irish Academy.

Blackfriary: A day in the life:

Blackfriary Abbey in Trim, Co. Meath is the site of the abbey has lain abandoned for decades and been surrounded by the expanding town. The abbey walls have largely been robbed out and the site is mostly under grass.

The current season’s research programme was designed explore the interface between the church and the cloister, which is situated immediately to the north of the church. The first month of excavation revealed lots of loose stone, evidence of the deliberate destruction of the abbey walls (the stone was likely reused elsewhere) and it is only in the last few weeks that we are finally accessing the base of the walls with foundations and stone work in situ. We are only using hand tools to excavate so there is a lot of mattocking and shovelling involved, to move a lot of material:

Plate 1: Melissa Clarke wields a mattock

While the cloister wall was found reasonably quickly, the north wall of the church was heavily robbed out, and we are also reaching levels that contain f burials, both disturbed and undisturbed.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in C16th, the abbey was no longer officially a religious centre. However people still considered the site as sacred and such sites were often used as graveyards in the centuries following. The abbey graveyard, lies to the south west of the church. There are also burials within the church. As yet we have found no conclusive diagnostic material to date them – we may have to wait for radio-carbon dates. What we do know is that we have 3 distinct burials, but we at least 6 individuals are represented by the skeletal remains recovered so far.

When a burial is uncovered, we first try to find a grave cut – that is the evidence that might remain of the grave that was dug for the burial. We then photograph it, to add to the record. The photo board notes the site registration number, the number assigned to this burial, area of the site in which it occurs, the date, and the initials of the photographer:

Plate 2: Malika Hays photographs Burial 3 prior to excavation

Burial 3 is that of a young child or infant; the remains are in reasonable condition however the bones are fragile and are particularly difficult to recover. The tools of an archaeologist include a standard trowel, and a leaf trowel for intricate or delicate work but is this instance we improvise with some wooden skewers; these are useful for precision and because the point is softer.

Plate 3: Malika excavating: using a wooden skewer for precision

Excavation of material this delicate is slow work: the soil must be cleaned off each fragment of bone and stored for sieving, and each bone fragment lifted and placed in a specific box for that burial. Given the age of the individual when he or she died, the bones are small and delicate, only partially fused in some instances. Some bones are so small they may not be identifiable during excavation and may only be recovered from the sieved material. We had barely made any progress on the excavation of this burial by the end of the day so the burial has been carefully packed with bubble wrap and covered to protect it and keep it from drying out overnight.

Rossnaree – today was a day of logistics:

The dig at Rossnaree finished up today. The site is in a rapeseed field and with the harvesters on the way, the heat was on to backfill the excavations, to ensure that all the recording of the archaeological features is complete and that every detail has been noted.

Behind the scenes though is the inevitable demobilisation of the site. At Rossnaree, there was a small crew of 8-10 people for most of the four week excavation. The contents of their site cabin fitting into the back of our small van:

Plate 4: Mattocks and sieves – tools of the trade

After loading up all the equipment, finds, samples, registers, plans and notebooks, all that’s left to do is close the gate behind us…. until next year!

Plate 5: The laneway to Rossnaree archaeological site, located in the Boyne Valley – Knowth passage tomb is just out of view behind the trees on the right.

References

A Polar Bear at the Tower and a whole lotta Moodle – a normal day in the IoA.

It’s just another Polar Bear at the Tower…

Today is an odd day for me and one I can only enjoy in the relative peace of the summer months when all the students are away on fieldwork and the folk at UCAS have stopped sending applications to us.  I’ve spent the morning in a meeting with Dale Copely at the Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London.  The Fusiliers Museum have taken on one of our Museum Masters students (from 2010-2011) and are offering to take another, on a voluntary basis, during the 2011-2012 academic year.  A large number of other London Museums, including the British Museum, V&A and the Museum of London also take on Masters students (and some undergrads) throughout the year.  This means more meetings next week at the Florence Nightingale Museum, Horniman, Operating Theatre Museum and the London Fire Brigade Museum.  These meetings are a pleasure, and a great chance to meet with a wide range of Museum Professionals: as well as satisfying my geeky love of all the wonderful London Museums! 

My normal work, and in fact the way I will spend the rest of my day, includes a range of administrative tasks – reading and processing UCAS forms (come October), sorting fieldwork grant applications, creating statistical reports (spreadsheets / graphs) for entry and application figures, running open days and visiting schools as part of UCL’s outreach programme. Today I’ll be uploading and processing photographs from the Festival of British Archaeology Day held on Wednesday, photos from my visit to the Tower today (some of which may be used on the IoAs website www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology) and the continuation of my project to collect and collate photos from our large student body for use in the Institute’s promotional material, on the Fieldwork Website and on the Twitter (@IoA_UCL_Friends) and Facebook accounts – both of which I am responsible for updating and maintaining.  

Festival of British Archaeology 2011 Swanscombe Flint

This afternoon I also have meetings with our Faculty adviser Cristy, regarding the A-Level results day (just a few weeks away now), and a potential applicant for the Archaeology BA degree in 2012.  It is 11 years since I did my undergraduate degree in Archaeology, a fact I always share with these applicants and every time I say it I hear the shock in my voice!  These meetings with applicants always include a tour of the IoA culminating in a viewing of our ‘Wolfson Archaeological Sciences’ plaque with Harrison Ford’s name on – a highlight of the tour for me (at the very least) and hopefully them as well.  It will be a sad day for me and the IoA when the applicant hasn’t heard of Indiana Jones.

 

Glorious UCL!!!

 I’m up to item number 105 on my to-do list (1-104 are satisfyingly ticked off – another advantage of the summer quiet!) – it reads ‘Moodle’ – it seems this afternoon will also be spent uploading handbooks / timetables and further information to the Moodle website – the job I put off the longest and usually the job that takes the least amount of time…well, let’s hope so anyway!  Sometimes I miss digging and the more practical aspects of Archaeology (not really so much this year with the horrific weather), and I do still get out in the field when I can, in fact I just bought myself a new 4” WHS trowel on my way back to the IoA today – just to be ready for anything…! 

Charlotte Frearson, Institute of Archaeology UCL: Undergraduate Administrator / Fieldwork Administrator / Museum Placement Coordinator.

Digging in Denmark

In brief, I’m Joss, and I’m a field archaeologist from the UK, who, due to the financial crisis etc. etc. has failed to find work in that country, and has been forced (kicking and screaming mind you) to relocate to Denmark to get a job.

I’m kidding of course!

I’ve been here in Copenhagen for the last three months, and have one month to go on the project. We’ve been gradually working our way down through layers of the city’s past in one of the major squares in the centre, which seemed to mostly consist of wooden water pipes for quite a while! On one edge of the site we have the foundations for the 16th century city wall and the moat outside it, and last week we finally finished recording it and removed the last of the huge boulders.

Yesterday, underneath where the boulders had sat, I found the remains of a reasonably well preserved wooden structure which appears to be a wattle fence – small stakes situated 30 to 40cm apart, with long thin twigs woven around them, some short thorny twigs amongst those, and a layer of brown organic material mixed with bits of straw surrounding the twigs. This smells quite strong, so our current theory is that it might be a daub made partially from manure!

 

We’ve still been uncovering the full extent of it today, and I feel like a bit of a fraud actually – most of the time I’m used to using a mattock and shovel, or at the very least a 4 inch pointing trowel (the standard tool of the trade), but right now I’m living up to every cliche by picking gingerly around the fragile remains with a tiny leaf trowel and a paint brush.

We’re coming up to our deadline on this part of site soon, and the contractors want us gone, so I will probably be working this weekend too. A digger’s work is never done… (until the contract expires…)

GGAT’s Commercial Dept

Welcome to a series of blogs today from the commercial department (GGAT Projects) of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd. My name is Richard Lewis and I am the Head of Projects for the Trust. My role involves supervising all of the many projects we undertake and making sure we have many new projects too!

The kind of projects we carryout are quite diverse and range from Prehistoric and Roman excavations (Swansea Bay and at Neath Nidum) to recording relict early-Industrial iron-stone extractive landscapes in the south Wales valleys.

This morning, my time has been taken up with liaising with the Local Planning Authority’s archaeological advisor (GGAT Curatorial) to provide archaeological cover for an emergency arising in Merthyr Tydfil.

My next problem to solve is how to cover all of our archaeological watching briefs next week with so many staff on holiday. I may have to dust off my old boots and trowel…!!

 

Why I …..

I know it’s true, I’ve seen their eyes glaze over half way through my  excited explanation of something I’m working on –  but  really, how could any journalist not want to write about archaeology? How could they not want to be the first to pass on  some  revelation into, literally, the ground beneath our feet?

I’ve come to accept the rule that any third rate political story knocks any second rate archaeology story out of consideration, but not without protest. I mourn the little spindle with runic inscriptions, the grots that gave us another trowel full of information about some obscure and short lived Roman emperor, the nuns’ bronze dress pins from a sewer at Lacock, all the  stories that I never managed to get into print.

And it still puzzles me  that  so many don’t get it  that damage to archaeology, from local museum cuts to night hawks, from   a kamikaze attack by a Tory councillor with a name to make  to all the finds still not being reported under Portable Antiquities, is stealing all our history.

I  did a bit of  excavating myself when I was eight, and discovered  the books of Leonard Cottrell, and that the name of the Victorian Dublin suburb   where I grew up meant The Not Very Impressive Ring Fort. We had no money, but we did have a big  house – then despised as  “second hand” and so costing my parents considerably less than a new semi-d – with  such a big garden that I had my own walled corner of it.  I set to with my little shovel. I didn’t find a ring fort, but I did find a large decorative cast iron knob which stood on my mantelpiece all the remaining years of my childhood: every time I looked at it I remembered that other worlds, sometimes almost visible, lie all around us.

I’m very interested in all the stories I do otherwise I wouldn’t write them. But nothing gives me the shiver of excitement of a good archaeology story. Archaeology is the true social network: you can like and befriend people who died thousands of years ago – but as with Facebook, having made that link, you may never hear another word from them again.