UCL

Archaeology – It’s not just about digging

I am a part-time post-graduate research student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and Vice Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society, a charitable organisation, which has been carrying out archaeological fieldwork and research in Egypt for the last 129 years

The Day of Archaeology 2011, happily, fell on the same date as a scheduled meeting of the EES’ Board of Trustees: an excellent reason to take a day away from my largely non-archaeological ‘day job’ and to reflect upon my productivity on the day. Consequently, the morning started with some prep work for a forthcoming lecture and article before I travelled in to the Bloomsbury offices of the EES.

The Trustees, numbering fifteen and drawn from the worlds of Egyptology, academia and business, meet six times a year in order to govern the work of the Society and to consider and ratify the recommendations of the Society’s various task groups.

Sadly, I am unable to discuss the detail or content of our considerations or, indeed the cut and thrust of our debate. I can report, however, that attendance was excellent, with Trustees travelling some distance to be there, with one joining us from Italy via Skype and that decisions were made in respect of fieldwork, research, finance, publications and future directions.

Although it was a fairly lengthy meeting, lasting from 13:30 to 17:30 with only a short break—tea but no biscuits—I was able to catch up, briefly, with a colleague, who was there to use our extensive library. I took the opportunity to make some arrangements in order to progress the Society’s ongoing Oral History Project, which records the detailed reminiscences of senior Egyptologists for use by future researchers.

Directly following the meeting, there were some much-needed drinks in ‘The Duke of York’, the Society’s closest watering-hole and, as might be expected, the talking continued. In fact, without the constraints of an agenda and a ticking clock, there was an even greater opportunity to discuss some interesting and exciting proposals for the future both as regards the Society and in the wider Egyptological milieu.

By 19:30, dinner in Soho awaited and I headed off into the evening sunlight, satisfied, although there was neither sand in my shoes nor dust under my nails, that I had made a small but real contribution to the academic progress and public understanding of the archaeology of Egypt: a day well spent.

Further details of the history, facilities, and ongoing work of the Egypt Exploration Society can be found at: http://www.ees.ac.uk/

John J Johnston

blablablarchaeology

I am a conservation student at the Institute of archaeology, currently writing.. I mean.. finishing .. yeah it’s totally nearly finished.. ..err.. my ..err.. dissertation on the reburial of England’s remains from a conservation perspective.So my day began like all good student days do: being awoken just before six, drinking three cups of coffee and setting about making a stop motion video entry for ‘day of archaeology’. Pretty early on it transpired that having never done this before and never having given it any thought didn’t pay off in the ‘wow you’re a natural’ way or even in the ‘it’s ..umm.. charming’ that I had hoped for.

Nevertheless, it distracted me from all the books for at least an hour.

The rest of my day was very similar to all my other 2011 summer days: reading, cereal, writing, reading,writing, tea, reading, reading, banana, writing, writing, writing, library, reading… etc.. however the day did end with an amazing onigiri I bought in Waterloo station and just moments before that the Mortimer Debate.

So it was a salmon onigiri and presuming it had sat in a transport hub all day it was pretty – pretty – pretty good, and the debate, yeah that was really good too and completely not overshadowed by the ensuing food. Mortimer is the new ‘campaigning mouthpiece’ for archaeology, it is aimed at anyone and everyone who cares about our past and wants to have a voice or listen to discussions or just to create a furore (I’m inferring this part). With the philosophy “Our Past, Our Future, Our Choice”, and having no political ties, the potential for debate is compelling.

The inaugural debate saw Cllr Alan Melton (recently reached the mass media by expressing a wish to disregard PPS5 whilst simultaneously referring to archaeologists as developer hindering ‘bunny huggers’), Tony Robinson (of time team fame and YAC), Andrew Richardson (Finds Manager for Canterbury and helped develop the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and Andrew Selkirk (editor in chief of Current Archaeology and a supporter of amateur archaeology). The debate was great, but then I am a fan of debate, who isn’t? It’s so nice in a really frustrating way to see people with differences hash them out in a public forum in search (under the guise?) of finding a solution. People did really seem to be trying to find ways of understanding each others opinion and appeasing each others sensibilities, which was nice.

I am so used to putting debate on to paper for the purposes of my dissertation that I may have forgotten where my opinions lie. My dissertation is a discussion on the two year reburial edict the government introduced in 2008 applying to all exhumations within England and Wales and how this will form consequences in conservation decision making. The first part of the dissertation has rightly or wrongly found itself in the throes of an abstruse philosophical debate regarding the rights of the dead, the rights afforded to the dead and the rights of the living. I have largely managed to avoid entering the mineshaft of ‘existence’ as I am ironically see-through and quite clearly couldn’t face it. So the rest harps on about the potential for conservation to involve itself in reburial. While I do not think reburial is wrong, like many I feel that it is currently being handled badly; appeasing no one and arguably causing more ethical issues than it is solving. That said I do think we should instigate a new fashion for tombs, ones powered by solar panels that maintain perfect environment control for the newly deceased, or maybe spray people like the mary rose, or freezing people..

So this is the room I spend most of my time in. I call it ‘lounge’. About eight months ago I took over the dining/only table as my desk and have been quite happy here although I do tend to get sunburnt on one side of my face – just like a real archaeologist *sigh*.

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.

It’s viva day

Hello folks. This morning I have my PhD viva, so today is quite a significant day of archaeology for me.

A PhD is a postgraduate research degree that usually takes around three or four years to complete. In my case it has taken seven! (Mostly due to the fact that I have been working throughout that time.) The aim of a PhD is to produce a thesis of around 100,000 words in length that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to undertake independent critical research and makes an original contribution to knowledge in the field. The viva is the means by which PhD candidates and their work are examined. Today it’s my turn to go through this process. I have taken the morning off work (I am a researcher at the Arts Council) to come to the UCL Institute of Archaeology where I undertook my research.

I have been involved in archaeology since the mid 1990s and I came to London to do an undergraduate degree in archaeology in 1999. I haven’t stopped since! Over the years my research has moved from digging holes and examining artefacts to looking at the way in which archaeology connects with people’s everyday lives. My PhD research looked at government policy. Essentially, my thesis attempts to answer the question “why do we have laws that preserve some material remains of the past and not others?”.

The viva is at 10am and should last around an hour. There will be four people in the room: two examiners, my PhD supervisor and myself. I will have to defend the method, theory and findings in my research. The best kind of viva is a stimulating and challenging discussion between three researchers (the supervisor has to keep quiet!); the worst is an aggressive demolition of a new researcher by two senior academics with egos and reputations to protect. I expect that most vivas tend to resemble the former rather than the latter.

I will post again at lunchtime to let you know how I get on. Fingers crossed!