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Wrapping Up the Day of Archaeology 2013

The Day of Archaeology team pays tribute to all of our contributors for 2013. We’ve seen some wonderful posts and some great responses on social media and via the comments form.

The day in numbers

  1. Registered users: 1,067
  2. Number of posts: 329 published (we have 13 in draft if the authors would like to finish them?). In 2012 we had 343 and in 2011 we had 429. So in total: 1,122 are published.
  3. Number of images: 3,291 have been submitted, in 2013 1,148 images were uploaded to the site.
  4. There were over 5,500 tweets sent using the hashtag of #dayofarch
  5. Facebook: reach grew by 263.6% on the previous week. (It will no doubt follow the long tail model until next year.) Average reach for posted links was 37 and for status updates 52.
    A statistical breakdown from facebook for demographics

    A statistical breakdown from Facebook for demographics

    Use of gender-specific pronouns within the text of day of archaeology posts – by Ben Marwick

  6. Our fan base by country is weighted towards the UK, USA and Spain.
  7. People from 85 countries visited the site, with the majority from the UK, USA, Canada and Spain.
  8. The most viewed posts on the ‘Day’ were by Charles Mount (326 views) and by Amanda Clarke (233 views)

Making the day better?

There are some issues , that  we need to resolve as a collective and as a contributing mass to make this project a success on a grander scale:

  1. How do we engage (this word has been debated at length in the last two years, for example at the CASPAR events at UCL) with a wider public audience and break the silo?
  2. How do we bring in funding to pay for publicity materials such as posters, stickers and mail shots? At the moment, the only costs are for running the server (covered under PAS running costs) and registering the domain name.
  3. Do we need to recruit new team members to make this project easier to run?
  4. How do we get established, big name academics and archaeologists to participate? We haven’t managed to garner contributions from people of the standing of Hodder or Renfrew, and we don’t seem to have had anything from the big name TV archaeologists even though we’ve badgered them on social media, for instance. Why have they not joined in? What is the barrier stopping these people from participating?
  5. How do we get archaeologists from developing and even many developed countries to participate? We lack a volume of entries from say sub-Saharan Africa or Japan or China or South America. The map below shows where people have come from to view the site (blue shades getting heavier means the site was viewed in greater quantities there).
    Location   Google Analytics
  6. How do we retain people annually? Contributions have gone down from the first year of the project even though we now have over 1000 individuals registered. Why is this?
  7. How do we get people with an interest, but no professional or amateur involvement in ‘archaeology’ as a discipline but maybe as a passion to contribute?
  8. How do we reach out to media channels and get our project into their output?
  9. How do we get institutional buy-in on the scale made by Museum of London or RCHAMS?
  10. Can we make this a reproducible model for other disciplines? We built on the Day of Digital Humanities for instance.
  11. What do we need to do better? Did you hear about the project at the last minute, or did you have problems registering or contributing your post? If you don’t tell us, we can’t improve.

Research potential

Some academic work has already been done on these data that have been generated via the project website. Since the 26th, Ben Marwick of the University of Washington has done some in-depth modelling using the R programming language and previously, Shawn Graham from CarletonUniversity did some topic modelling and has blogged extensively about what he did with the website content. The content added here, provides a wonderful career insight for aspiring archaeologists world-wide and can only get more useful year-on-year.

Visualisation of author groups screenshot from work by Ben Marwick.

Visualisation of author groups screenshot from work by Ben Marwick.

Now, we as a collective have to write up three years of the project as an academic article and the raw content of these posts will be posted as CSV to github shortly.

See you next year?

The Day of Archaeology team 2013: Andrew, Daniel, Jaime, Lorna, Matt, Monty and Tom.

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Curator Takes Vacation Only to Visit More Museums: How Taking My Work With Me Changed Everything

Mixing business with pleasure is not uncommon practice in the field of archaeology, as most archaeologists will tell you that they love their jobs. Sometimes, however, an opportunity will present itself so serendipitously that it can hardly be called “work” at all. Such was the case for me on a recent family vacation to Europe, where I came face to face with an important archaeological collection at the British Museum in London.

In June 2013, I accepted my first “real” job out of graduate school as Curator of Collections for the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) in Marco Island, Florida. I had finished my M.A. in Museum Studies at the University of Florida (UF) just six months prior, and in the meantime had been teaching an undergraduate anthropology course at UF while working as a Curatorial Assistant in the Anthropology Division at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). My first assignment for the MIHS would be to develop a permanent exhibit on the prehistory of Marco Island for installation in the Marco Island Historical Museum. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about Marco Island, not to mention life as a museum curator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Marco Island, it’s as picturesque as it sounds. The largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco’s natural crescent beach and fertile waters make it a hotspot for retirees, vacationers, and fisher folk alike. However, many visitors don’t realize that Marco is also home to one of the most famous archaeological sites ever discovered in North America.

 

Just another day on Marco Island, Florida. Photo by Austin Bell.

 

In 1895, a retired British military officer named Charles Durnford was tarpon fishing in the area when he was informed of an unusual find in the muck of Key Marco (now Marco Island). Not wanting to miss out on the action, he quickly set sail for Marco to perform his own excavation. It was not long before he too uncovered incredibly well-preserved artifacts made of wood, gourd, and cordage, materials that often do not survive in archaeological sites. Knowing the potential significance of these rare items, Durnford took them all the way to Philadelphia in hopes of conferring with his friend at the University of Pennsylvania, where by chance he encountered Frank Hamilton Cushing. Cushing, a famous anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed the importance of the finds and was duly inspired to make his own visit to Marco. What Cushing found in his subsequent visits (1895 and 1896) is the stuff of legend, an archaeological site so spectacular that it has yet to be replicated in more than 115 years of archaeology in Southwest Florida. Among the finds were painted wooden masks, finely woven nets, fishing floats made of wood and gourd, and beautifully carved wooden figureheads, some of the finest examples of prehistoric Native American art ever discovered. The most famous of these is the “Key Marco cat,” now housed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. The cat is so well-known that it’s been featured on a United States postage stamp (see picture)! For archaeologists and archaeology enthusiasts, the Key Marco site serves as one of best known examples of a “wet site,” where biological materials not ordinarily preserved can add greater context to our understanding of prehistoric cultures.

 

The “Key Marco cat” on a 1989 U.S. postage stamp. Image courtesy of the Marco Island Historical Society.

 

While Durnford’s cavalier removal of artifacts from Key Marco would be frowned upon today (i.e., illegal), he had the foresight to not only write up his findings in The American Naturalist (1895), but also to donate the objects to the esteemed British Museum in his home country. The fifteen objects remain there to this day, one of which (a wooden tray) has been on permanent exhibit since 1999 as a representative piece of “the Americas.”

 

The Southeastern United States section of the British Museum’s “North America” exhibit. Note the Seminole patchwork shirt at the top. The wooden artifact on the floor in the back is from Marco Island. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

The “wooden tray” discovered by Durnford at Key Marco in 1895, as seen on public exhibition at the British Museum in London. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

As fate would have it, my family had organized a trip to Europe months in advance of my hiring at Marco Island. Not wanting to miss out on a rare opportunity to spend “quality time” with my parents and two sisters (not to mention our first ever family vacation overseas), I informed the MIHS of our plans and they generously allowed me to go ahead with them. The British Museum was already on our itinerary, but with my new interest in the Durnford Collection, I put in a last-minute request to see the objects themselves. Given the short notice and my relative inexperience in the field, I was doubtful that such a request could be honored, but I figured “why not ask?” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when the good folks at the British Museum quickly replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” as I’ve come to realize that people in the museum field often bend over backwards to help a colleague. So it came to pass that on July 4th, a date on which I normally would be celebrating my home country’s independence from Great Britain, I stood inside the British Museum’s Ethnographic Collection Storage building by the grace of several wonderful and accommodating staff members, thanking my lucky stars (and stripes) to be in Great Britain. It was there that I came face to face with the Durnford Collection, an experience I am unlikely to forget.

 

Excitement builds as we pass through the gate to the British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).

 

Formulating a strategy for exploring the world-renowned British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).

 

The objects themselves are relatively unremarkable, at least when compared to Cushing’s finds of 1896. The collection consists of several shell tools, some potsherds, a few wooden float pegs, some highly deteriorated netting and cordage, and several other fragmented wooden artifacts. What struck me almost immediately, however, was that these were the very artifacts that Cushing looked at in 1895, probably in a setting similar to this one (with these same artifacts strewn across a table in a non-descript room), and inspired him to take his now famous expedition to Marco Island. Not only were these fifteen objects an inspiration to Cushing, they basically set off the more than 100 years of stellar archaeology conducted in Southwest Florida since him. As a student and practitioner of both museology and archaeology, everything finally made sense in a way that sitting in a classroom never could. I had gone from the person who preserved artifacts to the person artifacts were preserved for, if only for a few fleeting hours. All those years of wondering “who will ever look at all this stuff?” seemed to wash away and my confidence in my career choice reinvigorated. Given the age of the objects (ca. 500-1500 A.D.), the fact that they had been in collections storage for nearly 117 years, and the understanding that conservation techniques were not what they are now, their condition was remarkably good. For someone who had worked with archaeological materials from Southwest Florida for the better part of five years, the thought that someday, long after I’m gone, someone will be looking at an object or collection of objects that I helped curate and be equally excited and inspired seemed to make it all worth it.

 

The Durnford Collection as it appears 117 years after its excavation. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.

 

The point of this article, however, is not to boast about my travels or associate myself with a renowned institution like the British Museum; people visit their collections all the time. The point, rather, is to share the inspiration I felt as a professional who can sometimes take for granted the amazing things I get to work with on a daily basis. At this point in my career I am more “museum professional” than “archaeologist,” so I’m obliged to advocate for the role that museums play in preserving artifacts that archaeologists uncover. Without museums, objects like those in the Durnford Collection wouldn’t be around for new generations of hungry eyes to feast upon. What’s more, there will almost certainly be new technologies and methods of analysis for museum collections in the future, much the way that radiocarbon dating didn’t exist in 1895. This makes the role of the museum all the more important in archaeology, allowing professionals and amateurs alike the opportunity to interpret and re-interpret the meaning of material culture for centuries to come. As I now try to incorporate what I’ve learned from the British Museum into the exhibit on Marco Island, I encourage you to think about what artifact or collection of artifacts has inspired you. While it’s all just “stuff,” so often it’s the inspiration for anything from a simple idea or personal revelation to a life’s work. Little did the makers of the artifacts discovered by Durnford know that hundreds of years later, their creations would be written about in books and inspiring people from a new locale halfway around the world. So, if you find yourself lacking that personal connection to an artifact (or archaeology in general), I implore you to visit your local museum. Heck, don’t just visit it, ask for a tour of the collections. After all, museum people get excited when other people get excited about museums, so as I said before, “why not ask?”; the worst they’ll do is say “no,” but the best they’ll do is change your life!

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“What have the Romans ever done for us?”

A day in the life of the Colchester Archaeological Trust

The Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) is a busy commercial field unit working in the construction industry, primarily in Essex and Suffolk, and based at Colchester in the UK. Our new building – Roman Circus House – is adjacent to the site of the only known Roman circus in Britain. With the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, we are in the process of renovating our building and creating a circus interpretation centre plus cafe on the ground floor. Our preparations are really gearing up, now, as we plan to open the centre and the site of the circus starting-gates next door to visitors in August…

Today we were really busy, inside and out!
Two of our archaeologists were out on site, and the rest of us who were at work today were gainfully employed indoors, except for regular sessions of supervising on the site in front of our building, where a team of volunteers are excavating part of the site of the circus. Several contractors and other volunteers were also hard at work in our building today. Although we are quite an unusual field unit and this is an unusual time for us, this snapshot of our day still shows how varied the working day can be in commercial archaeology, and how many people are involved at a local level, whether professionally or commercially, as volunteers or as interested ‘consumers’.

(It also turned out to be quite an exciting day for us, and not just because we were participating in the Day of Archaeology – we also made two important discoveries on two sites!)

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CAT director Philip Crummy continued to hold everything together from his desk, despite the blistering heat today.

CAT senior archaeologist, Howard Brooks, was working on the assemblage of over 700 flints which was collected during two community fieldwalking sessions which he recently led at Wormingford in Essex. Tomorrow (Saturday) he is going to lead a hands-on flints session at the ‘hands-on history day’ in Wormingford. Both the fieldwalking and the ‘hands-on’ day, as well as other activities and events, are part of the Wormingford Landmarks Project, which CAT is contributing to. Howard says that it was great to help so many people get involved in their local archaeology.

 

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Howard with, on his desk, a complete Neolithic flint axehead.

 CAT archaeologists Ben Holloway and Mark Baister were out on site at Brightlingsea near Colchester. They are in the closing days of an excavation lasting several weeks during which we have recorded some really interesting archaeology. We have found two clusters of features, relating to occupation/domestic use and to a field system, one being late Saxon-early medieval and the other being Anglo-Saxon. We have recovered fragments of Thetford ware pottery, and some interesting finds, including a bone hair-comb and a complete sickle. Amazingly, today Ben and Mark made an exciting breakthrough and discovered evidence for two Anglo-Saxon huts in which, typically, the floors were set in the ground.

 

Ben

Ben slowly melting on site.

Mark

Mark excavating a feature.

CAT archaeologist Chris Lister was working on building elevation drawings in AutoCAD, for a historic building recording project at the former Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks in Colchester.

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Chris working on his elevations.

 CAT archaeologist Adam Wightman was working on a report for a recent excavation at the historic Stockwell Arms pub in Colchester town centre, which has recently undergone total renovation and been re-opened as a restaurant.

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Adam concentrating on the Stockwell Arms.

 CAT archaeologist Don Shimmin was hand-picking fragments of cremated human bone from material which was recovered during a watching brief. The material was from a Roman burial in the form of a pit which contained an amphora and was positioned within an enclosure, on a site at Lexden near Colchester and not far from the important Stanway funerary site which CAT excavated in 1987-2003. The Stanway funerary site included cremation burials placed within enclosures, with rich funerary artefacts, and was where members of the local ruling elite were buried just before, during and after the Roman conquest of Britain. Don also took a ‘phone call from contractors on another site, in Colchester town centre, where we are conducting a long-running watching brief, notifying him of the next phase of works on Monday.

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Don delicately retrieving fragments of cremated human bone.

 CAT archaeology volunteer Hilary was marking Roman pottery from our excavation at the Butt Road car-park site in 2012, which was a remarkable Roman cemetery. Today Hilary was working on cremation urns and also on small pottery pottery vessels which, we think, had been placed in children’s graves. The Butt Road cemetery included some very unusual elements, such as a large number of children’s graves, and a group burial plot enclosed by a fence. CAT has a team of dedicated archaeology volunteers, who come in to help us every week. Their work includes washing and marking pottery, bone, etc, and excavating the contents of Roman cremation urns. Some of our volunteers have been helping CAT for decades.

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Hilary happy in her work.

 CAT site volunteers Charlotte, Lizzie, Shirley, Nathan, Pip, Sam and Sam worked hard all day on our circus excavation site, in front of Roman Circus House, supervised by CAT archaeologists (primarily Don and Philip, though no-one here can resist making frequent checks on the site). Our great site is over a length of the north-eastern side of the circus (the seating stand or cavea) near the starting-gates and the end of the race-course. This phase of the excavation only began on Monday. Uncovered so far are part of the stone foundation of one of the buttresses of the outer wall; the top of the foundations of the inner and outer walls; and compacted soil which represents post-Roman robber-trenches. Today the volunteers uncovered part of the arena ground surface! This has fragments of stone and mortar on it which had fallen off the inner wall of the cavea after the circus went out of use.

As well as creating the interpretation centre, CAT – in partnership with the landowners – is enhancing the site of the circus for visitors. An earth bank has been created along part of the south-western side of the circus, near Roman Circus House, and we will soon be building stumps of ‘Roman’ wall above the foundations of the starting-gates in the garden next to Roman Circus House to partially recreate the stalls. Visitors in August will be able to view our circus excavation. If it is practicable, we hope to protect part of the circus foundations under glass so that visitors will be able to view them permanently.

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Six of our volunteers on the circus site with CAT director Philip, and Roman Circus House in the background (left).

 Some of our CAT renovation volunteers – Neil, Gemma and Shirley – were hard at work in our building, Roman Circus House; endlessly painting and, today, working on the original brass window and door fittings. It is a very interesting building, constructed in 1937 for the NAAFI of the Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks at the old garrison in Colchester. It was later used as the Army Education Centre and then left empty for several years, when the Army moved out to the new garrison. It is part of a small complex of surviving old garrison buildings and also stands right next to the site of the Roman circus. It is a great building but it was pretty derelict when CAT acquired it, partly with funds donated by enthusiastic members of the public, groups and local businesses. Our team of renovation volunteers has been working on our building for over a year and it is now looking fantastic, and almost ready for visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANeil even happier in his work.

 A Colchester Archaeological Group (CAG) volunteer, Don, popped in to fix some shelves in the CAG library which is currently housed in a room at Roman Circus House. The CAG is our local amateur excavation group. Don said that the interpretation centre was looking great!

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Don wielding a drill in the CAG library room.

 Volunteer David, who runs the Friends of the Trust (FCAT), called in to talk to CAT director Philip today. FCAT was set up almost 40 years ago and has about 400 members. (Members can go on regular outings and join guided tours of our archaeological sites, when possible; they receive a copy of our annual magazine; and CAT archaeologists give presentations on our recent work at the AGM every year.)

We also had contractors in the house! – ie two plumbers, installing the central heating in the interpretation centre; one electrician, wiring a bit more of the interpretation centre; one joiner, lowering the ceiling in the new cafe kitchen; one plasterer, also plastering the cafe kitchen; and a brief repeat visit from the flooring contractor!

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Nick the electrician working at a high level.

 

(CAT editorial assistant jill Adams was talking to everyone, taking these photos and writing this report on our day…)

Please visit our web-site and follow our blog at http://www.thecolchesterarchaeologist.co.uk/

 


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c.150 days… and counting

About 150 days until what I hear you ask? Just the small matter of the public opening of the new Stonehenge visitor centre.

If you’ve read my two previous Day of Archaeology posts from 2011 and 2012, you’ll know that this particular project fills all of my work hours, some of my weekend hours and a bit of my sleep. I’m the archaeologist writing, devising and advising on all the content for the new centre. This includes the permanent exhibition, the opening temporary exhibition, the external gallery, the landscape interpretation scheme, the audio tour… whatever we are going to be telling visitors about Stonehenge, I’ll have had some input into it.

The entrance to the new visitor centre - a lot of scaffolding and cones at the moment!

The entrance to the new visitor centre – a lot of scaffolding and cones at the moment!

So what I have been up to today? No surprise that I have been office bound (except for a lunchtime to trip to buy paella from the stalls in Queen Square outside my office – it’s the Bristol harbour festival this weekend) and juggling a few different things:

1. E-mails and a phone call about exciting discoveries at Stonehenge this week. Suffice to say that the recent dry weather has been showing up parchmarks beautifully and its been a bit of a scrabble to help get colleagues out on site to survey and photograph them. The last of these e-mails was at 10pm.

2. Commenting on my colleague Harriet Attwood’s designer’s drawings for her interactives for the education room – pulling stones, building Stonehenge, cut-away Stonehenge, dig your own barrow, etc.

3. Commenting on a new draft reconstruction from artist Peter Lorimer of the late Neolithic settlement at Durrington Walls – a few more trees, more activity and people, slightly zoomed in, and we’re there.

4. Commenting on my designer’s drawings of a map of all Grooved Ware findspots in the UK for the permanent exhibition display case – trying to choose which key sites to have photographs of (plumped for Skara Brae, Callanish, Newgrange, Thornborough Henges and Avebury to get a good geographical spread, but might have to double check my thinking on this!)

5. Collating and marking up photographs and images for our landscape panel scheme – we’ve been working closely with the National Trust to replace and improve the panel scheme in the Stonehenge landscape and we’re at design stage now, so quite a lot of back and forth about thumbnail maps, photographs, etc. This includes various e-mails back and forth with Nick Snashall, archaeologist at the Trust about panel positions and photo mark-ups – via Blackberry as she is digging at West Kennett avenue today! A large shared Dropbox folder later and our designer has lots to work with.

6. E-mails relating to: new photography, audio tour interviews, a request for images from Jane Ellis-Schon who is project curator at Salisbury Museum for their new prehistory gallery, temporary exhibition catalogue layouts, writing for the EH website…

The pressure is on. And I’m feeling it! That’s why this is only a short post and why it’s also a day late.

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A date with Team Dating

As Head of Intervention and Analysis, I manage a number of that provide expert advice on archaeology to English Heritage, commissioning and carrying out research in support of the organisation’s aims and objectives as set out in the National Heritage Protection Plan. This year’s Day of Archaeology saw me heading to London to take part in a meeting of the Scientific Dating team.

I’ll skip the train commute into London – I did that in my 2011 piece, and it wasn’t that interesting then.

We gathered at 10am in the Wroxeter Room in EH’s headquarters building at Waterhouse Square in Holborn.

Team Dating: Cathy Tyers, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Kate Cullen, Shahina Farid

Team Dating: Cathy Tyers, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Kate Cullen, Shahina Farid

The purpose of the meeting was to review progress across the full range of the team’s activities and projects, to look at issues arising from the team’s work, and to try to resolve the pressures that arise in a small team with a heavy workload. Much of the meeting focused on the two main commissioning budgets, for radiocarbon dating and tree-ring dating, covering progress on commissioned work and progress on completing reports. While much of the work goes on to appear in monographs and journal articles, most of the work is also disseminated through the English Heritage Research Reports series – the database of reports can be searched at http://research.english-heritage.org.uk/ (try searching using the keywords radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology).

Commissioned research can include work on English Heritage historic properties, designation casework, archaeological and characterisation projects. The team also becomes involved in specialist research arising from this work, including Bayesian analysis and wiggle-matching, and new guidelines are currently being drafted for radiocarbon dating. This work can involve working closely with European colleagues, for example in developing chronologies that will help us to date softwood timbers, much of this timber having been imported to England from Baltic states. The largest current European collaboration is The Times of Their Lives, a project jointly run by Cardiff University and English Heritage that won  €2.5m of European Research Council funding to develop a new dating framework for the Neolithic period: http://totl.eu/project-introduction/. This builds on earlier ground-breaking work on the Neolithic in Britain and Ireland (Whittle, Healy and Bayliss, 2011 Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland). This is an important and ambitious programme of research, and involves frequent travel to coordinate research across Europe, from Serbia to Scotland. It is also, of course, a demanding programme of work and travel, and quite a lot of discussion at our meeting was devoted to trying to resolve some of the programming difficulties arising from juggling this and other commitments. Too much (unpaid) overtime is being incurred, and we will have to defer some work to try to bring working hours back to within reasonable limits.

Serious discussion requires serious fuel: iced bun time.

Serious discussion requires serious fuel: iced bun time.

My role, apart from listening to and taking part in the discussions, was also to update the team on developments elsewhere in Intervention and Analysis team and in our Department, Heritage Protection. The biggest development is, of course, the recent decision to split the organisation into two parts – a new charity, retaining the English Heritage name, to manage the historic properties, and a new service under the working name of National Heritage Protection Service, which will advise government on historic environment issues including heritage protection and designation. This change will have to be implemented by April 2015, by which time we will also have to absorb a further 10% cut to our grant-in-aid from government. There’s not much I can say about this beyond recent press statements and briefings from our Chief Executive, but coming on top of the major reorganisation following on from the last Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010, a further period of uncertainty is inevitable. I also had to update the team on our Division’s response to last year’s staff survey and on developments with the Reports Series. There was also some discussion over our IT, but I’ll draw a veil over that….

We also took the opportunity to celebrate success. Since the last team meeting, another in volume in the series of Radiocarbon Datelists has been published covering the years 1988-93. This can be bought or downloaded as a PDF from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/radiocarbon-dates-1988-93/.

Alex Bayliss and Kate Cullen celebrate the latest Radiocarbon Datelist.

Alex Bayliss and Kate Cullen celebrate the latest Radiocarbon Datelist.

 

The next notable event will be the publication later this year of another major book, on the dating of Anglo-Saxon graves: Bayliss, A, Hines, J, Høilund Nielsen, K, McCormac, F G, and Scull, C, (forthcoming) Anglo-Saxon Graves and Grave Goods of the Sixth and Seventh Centuries AD: A Chronological Framework.

The meeting wound up by 3pm – my thanks to the team for wide-ranging and stimulating discussions, interrupted only occasionally by the need to explain complicated stuff to me. Thanks also for the tea and cakes.

After this I popped upstairs to see Richard Lea of the Properties Research team; we’ve been working together with another colleague, Nicola Stacey, on coordinating a programme of research on one of our historic properties, Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. This work has included a substantial programme of tree-ring dating coordinated by Cathy Tyers, and has resulted in new dates for a number of surviving roof and floor structures within this partially-roofed monument.

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We’ve recently received a revised report on the analysis of parts of the building by Wessex Archaeology, and we’ll be reading that with keen interest next week.

I also dropped in to see my manager John Cattell, and also caught up with another senior manager, Barney Sloane, before catching the bus to Waterloo and heading home. There to sit in the garden with my other half, the cat and a large gin and tonic to contemplate writing this blog.

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Frankly the cat appears at the special request of Lorna Richardson.

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A Day Somewhere between Vancouver & Bristol

DoA_ANSO2

I’m very privileged to be on sabbatical at the moment (supported by a University of Bristol Institute for Advanced Study Research Fellowship) and I’m spending my time as a Visiting Scholar in the Anthropology Department at University of British Columbia (http://anth.ubc.ca/). While my PhD was in Archaeology & Prehistory from Sheffield, I have always focused my research on the expressions and performance of archaeology in the contemporary world, paying specific attention to archaeology and the moving image. That means I research and write about TV documentaries, the archaeological information in home movies and video, the ways in which artists engage with archaeological themes, places and material in their film and video practices, and even the archaeology of screen landscapes. So, it’s really archaeology on screen and the archaeology of screens. While I’m employed by University of Bristol in the newly renamed Department of Music, Film, Theatre (previously, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television), I co-run the MA in Archaeology for Screen Media with colleagues in Archaeology & Anthropology.

My sabbatical is meant to be focused entirely on writing up my research on the screen landscapes of the Vancouver and London Olympic Games and I try to maintain a blog on this and everything urban screen related (http://aapiccini.wordpress.com/). However, the ease of networked communication means that my days out here in western Canada are not so different from my days in western England: a mix of administration, communication, fragmented writing, editing, proof reading, commenting on others’ work, maintaining research networks, struggling with universities’ conflicting network preferences, supervising PhD students, applying for funding and looking for new opportunities, having meetings, coordinating social media, and sending resource requests for next year’s teaching. Before the days of constant communication, I could focus on a single task but now it’s all about multi-tasking and ensuring that I’m circulating that information more widely. Often just beginning one thing on my ‘to do’ list will generate ten more things that all seem to need to be done simultaneously. However, I take heart in being reminded of Walter Benjamin’s essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in which he argued that distraction and the mass absorption of art by the people had a more progressive political force than the studied attention to aesthetics (see Paul Graves-Brown’s blog http://slightlymuddy.com/kuriosum/?p=183) and also in Jonathan Crary’s great book, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture (2001, MIT Press). While we might want to follow Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967) to criticize all this spectacle, it’s useful for me to remember that focused attention is historically and politically contingent, too.

Piccini_tasks

So, you get the picture that the academic archaeologist is always time-space shifting. We might have tasks to finish every day, but often those activities force us to occupy multiple times, spaces, scales. A bit like being in the field, except the trench is replaced by a strange assemblage of computer screen, office window and the illusion of mindful interior contemplation.

But what about today? What’s specific about 26 July and how does that reflect my ongoing archaeological identity (it’s a tricky one to shake off)? My day begins at 7.30am, when I check my emails and deal with all the urgent stuff while I drink a couple of cups of coffee and oversee my son getting ready to head off to his Mathemagical Minds and Filmmaking summer courses. Today, I’m reminded that I need to update my information for the upcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise. Every 7 years (give or take) the UK engages in an extremely costly exercise that judges the value of the nation’s research outputs, impact and  institutional culture. A bit like a North American tenure process, I suppose, but rather than determining the length of a person’s employment contract, it determines the allocation of core research funding from the Government to the academic institution. My department is one of the highest performing in our Faculty and in the country so I’m lucky to have fantastic colleagues. My co-editors, Paul Graves-Brown and Rodney Harrison, and I have just finished signing off the 2nd proofs of the Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World and I’m relieved that this beast of a book will be out in September and can be part of my REF submission. Before the day is out I need to edit and upload my contextualizing statement for my practice-as-research entry, which is a portfolio comprising video, exhibition and publication details for Guttersnipe, what now seems a very distant project.

Piccini_home

Although I often work from home, especially on days like today when it’s sunny and warm and I can make use of the wifi outside, today I’m going to UBC. That’s partly because Jonathan C H King (von Hȕgel Fellow, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge) is giving a talk at the Museum of Anthropology about ‘Ecstatic religion, modernisation, Arctic archaeology and the establishment of the Igloolik Mission in 1937′.

Abstract: In  the 1930s Oblate missionary Fr. Etienne Bazin (1903-1972) established  a mission, in what is to to-day  the thriving Inuit community of Igoolik in Nunavut. In 1937, the year he moved the mission to Igloolik Bay, Bazin was given by  Inuit some 4-500 objects excavated casually from the  pre-Inuit Dorset  (pre AD 1500) site of  Awaaja. These were presented to Graham Rowley (1912-2003), Arctic advocate, explorer and administrator, who in turn donated them to the University of Cambridge. Bazin had become a missionary after a visionary experience at the age of 18; while looking at a crucifix he was told:  “leave everything behind, your family and friends, and come to Me.”  Central to Bazin’s missionary work was countering, and yet working with, analogous belief systems, both shamanism, and syncretic forms of Christianity which developed in the Eastern Arctic in the early 20th century.  This collection is well known archaeologically,  and here is discussed in its ethno-historical context for the first time. Bazin, for instance, was celebrated by Cardinal Cushing, the prelate who married the Kennedys and buried the president, in his 1942 Boston tribute to the Oblates The Battle of Hudson’s [sic] Bay.

 

Museum of Anthropology

My other task for today is to complete a draft of a paper I’m writing on the University of Local Knowledge (http://ulk.org.uk), a collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Arnolfini and US artist Suzanne Lacy. As part of a much larger project, our bit of ULK was led by Prof Mike Fraser in Computer Science and I was one of the co-investigators. The aim was to take the 900 video interviews of community experts and develop an online learning resource from this, influenced by Mooc culture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course) and by work I’d done on the Into the Future project (http://dedefi.ilrt.bris.ac.uk). I’m co-writing an article with Knowle West Media Centre’s Associate Director, Penny Evans, on the aesthetics, politics and ethics of the project, focusing specifically on the relationship between the video documents and website.

I am very privileged to be able to work in my home town, in the unceded shared and traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. The popular refrain in Vancouver is that it’s a city with ‘no history’ and yet there’s been 10,000 years of occupation. Archaeology here, like in many places impacted by ongoing colonization, is complex and conflicted. The British Columbia context means that archaeology in an Indigenous context is only ‘officially’ archaeology when it’s pre-contact. This makes the whole idea of contemporary archaeology problematic here but I’m keen to work with others in the community to contribute to presencing the entangled pasts of descent communities and settlers as part of the archaeological narrative of the city. Archaeology is serious business here. Land claims, rights to resource extraction, hopes for a better future, community authority and de-colonization all rest on archaeological work. It’s about money, power, knowledge, ownership, the environment, sovereignty, recognition, justice. Marina La Salle (http://ubc.academia.edu/MarinaLaSalle) and Rich Hutchings (http://ubc.academia.edu/RichardHutchings) write powerfully about the ongoing (and often unrecognized) relationships between archaeology, capitalism and racism here. Their work is important and when I stop to think about my Day of Archaeology sitting in my office, the seaweed-scented breeze and the occasional hummingbird flitting by, I think about how my privilege comes about through these relationships of inequality. And all of this reminds me that while doing archaeology in the 21st-century academy is often a distracted assemblage of electronic pings into the aether, it really does still matter and I have a responsibility to attempt to account for this mattering in whatever way I can.

UBC_viewfromoffice

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An ADS Day of Archaeology

Here it is, my Day of Archaeology 2013 and after a routine check of my emails and the daily news I’m ready to begin!

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

Silbury Hill ©English Heritage

I am currently approaching the end of a year-long contract as a Digital Archivist at the Archaeology Data Service in York on an EH-funded project to prepare the Silbury Hill digital archive for deposition.

For a summary of the project, see the ADS newsletter and for a more in-depth account of my work so far check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago: “The Silbury Hill Archive: the light at the end of the tunnel”

Very briefly, though, my work has involved sifting through the digital data to retain only the information which is useful for the future, discarding duplicates or superfluous data; sorting the archive into a coherent structure and documenting every step of the process.

The data will be deposited with two archives: the images and graphics will go to English Heritage and the more technical data will be deposited with the ADS and as the English Heritage portion of the archive has been completed it is time for the more technical stuff!

So, the plan for today is to continue with the work I have been doing for the past few days: sorting through the Silbury Hill database (created in Microsoft Access).

Originally, I had thought that the database would just need to be documented, but, like the rest of the archive, it seems to have grown fairly organically; though the overall structure seems sound it needs a bit of work to make it as functional as possible and therefore as useful as possible.

The main issue with the database is that there are a fair amount of gaps in the data tables; the database seems to have been set up as a standard template with tables for site photography, contexts, drawings, samples, skeletal remains and artifact data etc.  but some of these tables have not been populated and some are not relevant.  The site photography and drawing records have not been entered for example, meaning that any links from or to these tables would be worthless.  The missing data for the 2007 works are present in the archive, they are just in separate Excel spreadsheets and there are also 2001 data files, these are in simple text format as the information was downloaded as text reports from English Heritage’s old archaeological database DELILAH.  The data has since been exported into Excel, so, again to make the information more accessible, I’m adding the 2001 data to the 2007 database.

My work today, therefore, as it has been for the past couple of days, is to populate the empty database tables with the information from these spreadsheets and text files and resolve any errors or issues that cause the tables to lose their ‘referential integrity’, for example where a context number is referred to in one table but is missing from a linking table.

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

Silbury database relationship diagram ©English Heritage

So, this morning I started with the 2001 drawing records. The entering of the data itself was fairly straightforward, just copying and pasting from the Excel spreadsheet into the Access tables, correcting spelling errors as I went.  Some of the fields were controlled vocabulary fields, however, which meant going to the relevant glossary table and entering a new term in order for the site data to be entered as it was in the field.

Once the main drawing table was completed, the linking table needed to be populated; again, this was done fairly simply through cutting and pasting from Excel.

The next step was the most time-consuming: checking the links between the tables, to do this I went to the relationship diagram, clicked on the relevant link and ticked the box marked ‘enforce referential integrity’ this didn’t work which meant that a reference in one table was not matched in the linking table which meant going through the relevant fields and searching for entries that were not correct.  The most common reason for these error messages was that an entry had been mis-typed in one of the tables.

That took me up to lunchtime, so what about the afternoon?  More of the same: starting work on the sample records with the odd break for tea or a walk outside to save my eyes!

As much as the process of updating the database has been fairly routine, it’s an interesting and valuable piece of work for me as it is the first time I’ve ever really delved into the structure of a database and looking at the logic behind its design.  I was fortunate in that I had attended the Database Design and Implementation module taught by Jo Gilham as part of the York University Msc in Archaeological Information Systems which gave me a firm foundation for this work.  Also very helpful was the help provided by Vicky Crosby from English Heritage who created the database and provided a lot of documentation in the first instance.

The next step once the data has been entered will be to remove any blank fields and tables and then to document the database using the ADS’ Guidelines for Depositors and then to move on to the survey data and reports.

I’m looking forward to seeing it all deposited and released to a wider world for, hopefully, extensive re-use and research!

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Life in A Day: the Silchester ‘Town Life’ project

We are 164 people in a field in Hampshire: all sizes, all ages, all backgrounds, all abilities. One aim: to document life in a trench and to live life outside of it! We will share a day of our university research and training excavation with you….tune in!

AMANDA: EXCAVATION DIRECTOR

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AMANDA

“My name is Amanda and I am a dirt archaeologist. I work as a Research Fellow for the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading and I run the Silchester Field School (www.reading.ac.uk/silchester)  – a research and training excavation examining the origins, development and decline of one of Britain’s best known – and best preserved – Iron Age and Roman towns. We are peeling our piece of the town apart bit by bit (we began in 1997 and have just completed 100 weeks of seasonal excavation!) BUT we are also all about the training! This is a university undergraduate module and we teach everyone how to excavate, record and explain their own small area of the site. I have a staff of 40 and about 120 participants…Share our day! And mine!”

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/silchesterdig/

 

MATT’S TEAM

EDOARDO: EXPERIENCED EXCAVATOR

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Edoardo (front right) and team: back left to right Henrik, Sarah, Owen; front left to right Keith, Edoardo

“Hello, I’m Edoardo Bedin, postgraduate student from Italy. I came here 3 summers ago (2011), due to my love for UK and my interest in British Roman archaeology. After digging here once I fell in love with this amazing project: Silchester Insula IX Town Life Project; therefore I came back last summer again (2012), and thanks to a several good coincidences I finally found out the courage to ask to the Field project’s director if I could apply for a position within the staff team…and she said yes! I cried for the first time after a very long time.

This summer (2013) I started my first official staff position which is also my first true archaeological job: I’m in charge of the main north-south Roman street of the town, which is in Latin Cardus Maximus. I’ve always been feeling lots of pressure because of the responsibility I have toward the project and the students I’m looking after (4 at the moment), and the language is also another great barrier which makes me struggle from time to time, but I’m holding the line…it’s worthy to hold the line as this is an unique experience for me, which I would have never had in Italy (my native country and also the country where I’ve studied for the past 6 years).

I need to go back to my area on site, but let me say two more things before I do:

1. Once you’ve joined this project you will always love it.

2. If Calleva was a woman I would have married her instantly.

Maybe one more thing, quite funny if you think that I’m Italian and I came from 1200 km away, like my anchestors did once in the mid first century A.D. We came here, we built the Roman street, and I excavated it completely, isn’t that hilarious? It seems that we do things and get rid of those things all on our own (obviously many other British students and non British students dug the street, yet it seems that there was this destiny already written: the Romans built the street and one of their heirs is excavating it).

I wish you all the best and if you have a day off, why don’t you come and visit us on site? and maybe me?”

KEITH: USA STUDENT

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KEITH (far left) and EDOARDO (2nd from right)

“Archaeology isn’t just for professionals and students who want to become professionals:  I am simply an interested party who likes history and thought digging would be a fun way to spend my summer.  I know there is a plethora of people like me who see the dig as a hobby, and have come back ye ar after year.  Personally, I hope that I too can continue to learn from and participate in more digs in future summers.”

ROSIE: 1ST YEAR ARCHAEOLOGY UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT

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ROSIE’S CERAMIC LINED HEARTH

 

“For the last four days, I have spent my time excavating and recording a pottery-lined hearth, at the Roman site of Calleva Atrebatum (modern day Silchester), and what I have particularly enjoyed about this feature is that it has really given me an insight into understanding the everyday thought processes of past societies, which for a first time archaeologist, has especially helped at putting the archaeological record into context.

 

The feature, as it is clear now, had two functions, firstly as a pit and then as a hearth, which has been indicated the change in material and finds as I excavated. The pit, which consists of a single primary fill currently provides very little information of its function (waste or storage), and analysis of the removed material will provide more information on this.

 

However, the material that is stratigraphically later, up until the top fill, provides clear evidence for the later change in function to a hearth, due to the nature of the material, which has also incidentally inferred at least two phases of use. The first fill indicates a clay-lined hearth, whether the burnt clay was intentionally deposited or has burnt in the hearth, it is unclear, but the layer of black fill containing charcoal above it, confirms its function as a hearth.

The top fill above the layer of black fill is where it can be inferred that there is a second phase to the hearth, due to the pieces of broken pottery that have been deposited as a lining. It is unsure as to whether this is for the purpose of repairing or strengthening it, however the amount of pottery that has been excavated is incredible, including two large pieces of pot rim, which suggest that the pot fill is from the same pot.

 Except for the vast amount of pottery, there have been very few other finds, except an amazing piece of a stone cooking vessel, which at first sent the finds team into a bit of confusion as it did look like a piece of clay at first, however not only is it a beautiful piece, but it does help to confirm the hearth as a domestic hearth.

Excavating the hearth, as small a feature as it is in the whole landscape of this Roman town, has been such a fun and interesting experience because it gave me an idea of how people used not only the landscape for domestic use, but also the material used to aide this process.”

 

  JESSE: STUDENT VOLUNTEER

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JESSE

“As a Canadian who studied classical archaeology I thought it would be difficult to get on-site experience after I graduated as Canada is not know for its wealth of Greco-Roman archaeology. But here at Silchester I’ve learned more more about practical excavation than I did during my undergraduate degree.

Over the course of a normal day we are exposed to centuries worth of archaeology, from Iron Age long houses to Roman baths and even a couple Victorian gin bottles. Between more delicate work like planning or excavating small features and heavy mattocking of  two thousand year old cultivation deposits we gain a broad range of experience.

Almost as important as the archaeology itself is the people we work with, some of the best excavators I’ve met in over six months of on-site experience. The connections we make here can last a lifetime. Through excavations like this you can learn about others all over the world.”

HEN’S TEAM

Hen -  Supervisor – South East Area

“I’ve worked at Silchester for 7 seasons now, working from volunteer through the ranks of staff, making some of my best friends in the process. Rain or shine I wouldn’t spend my summer holidays anywhere else.

I supervise the training and excavation of an area of the site. I work with students, volunteers and staff members to ensure that the archaeology is removed in the correct manner and that the students and volunteers leave the field school trained up with the necessary skills. I see my role as the person who draws all the small things together into a coherent picture for that part of site, ensuring that all the paperwork and matrices are correct. I also support and encourage the diggers in their personal and professional growth (I hope)!

 A typical day at Silchester starts with a very large strong cup of coffee with some of the other staff. At quarter to 9 students, volunteers and staff start to gather on the side of the trench to await the days directions. This part of the day always feels very hectic as I need to ensure every person has something to do and that this is building their experience and skillset up. Once I have everyone set to their particular roles, planning, sampling, excavating, recording, cleaning etc I generally spend the day to-oing and fro-ing my desk where I try and catch up on paperwork to the trench where I sometimes feel I am spinning in circles as all the diggers shout my name to ask my opinion on their features!  A typical day will finish with a quiet half an hour once all the diggers are off site to try and catch up with my paperwork before dinner (and drinks usually).

Some days can be quite challenging, when features seem complicated and it can feel like nothing is getting done, but other days there is so much progress made on site I can’t quite keep up.”

JORDYN: STUDENT EXCAVATOR

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JORDYN

“My name is Jordyn Heimbigner and I am a student from the USA, working for 6 weeks in the field at Silchester! Silchester has been the ideal place to gain experience in archaeology for me. Each day I find myself both excavating and recording. As a result I witness a large part of the process rather than just one area, as I would have at my University’s field school back home. Planning the features prior to excavation adjusts my eyes and I have heard that many field schools don’t allow you to record, so I feel privileged with the responsibility to take part in recording. Additionally my supervisors have taught me to recognize the stratigraphic relationships among the features. Because the features here are not obvious structures built up, but were timber buildings, my eyes have required much adjustment to see the features, which is the exact adjustment my eyes needed for the experience I would like to have for my future career. Though I didn’t expect it to be this warm during my visit to the UK, it has been a wonderful experience here, and I will definitely be returning, if possible, next year.”

WILL: 1st year Archaeology undergraduate

“I have attended the excavations at Insula IX for the past two seasons. From both seasons I have gained a lot. Many new friends have been made living in a field together has been a bonding experience from which I have lifetime friends.

Many new skills have been gained and shall be gained in the next season. Archaeological skills are first and foremost and from my time at the project I have learnt to dig, record, analyse and interpret all of which shall contribute to my archaeological career. My team working skills have improved as this project requires us all to pull together as a team. The team are all supporting and willing to help making the project a place of learning and friendship. The team are all a credit to the project.

Overall I would say that my time involved with the Insula IX town life project has been a life enriching experience I will never forget.”

MARIA: 1st year ARCHAEOLOGY UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT

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MARIA

“During my time in Silchester I have learnt so much from digging and taking samples to planning a feature. I was really impressed as to how Archaeologists are able to interpret an archaeological feature only by looking  at the soil colour. During my four weeks at Silchester I enjoyed mostly planning and the talks provided by the University which were very informative. The excavation also allowed me to meet new people from different countries as well as make new friendships. In addition to that, everyone at the site was very friendly and ready to help which made my first excavation experience even better.”

LUNA: 1st YEAR ARCHAEOLOGY UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT

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LUNA (far left)

“I am a first year Archaeology student from Reading University and the Silchester escavation is my first ever digging experience . Being a part of this excavation also means I have to camp on the site for a month. Camping is challenging because of the lack of facilities, however it is also rewarding because it is social and I can get to know other people with the same interests. My average working day on site can consist of cleaning a context, planning a new context,or mattocking; we also take on sometimes other responsibilities on site such as: helping to clean finds,helping to process samples for the science department and giving talks to visitors. After two weeks working on site I have found Silchester to be a very rewarding experience and I hope to return next year.”

 BABS: SILCHESTER VOLUNTEER

“I have been a volunteer at Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) for 12 years. What compels me to return each year is watching history unfold year on year 500 years from the Romans to the Iron Age.

A typical day would consist of planning a feature eg. A floor or a pit the process could include taking soil samples such as XRF these are taken to look at elements in the soils such as metals etc.

After the samples are taken and recorded the feature is removed by troweling, collecting any objects such as ceramics bone etc as you trowel. These processes are repeating again and again to unravel the history of that particular part of the site.”

NATALIE’S TEAM

MATT: TRAINEE

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MATT

“My name is Matt Cano and I am a Trainee excavator employed at Silchester Roman Town. I have just completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Reading, and having worked on this site for 2  seasons as a student, I am now employed in a Trainee capacity. Here is an entry from my Dig Journal: I awoke this morning armed with powers yet unbeknown to me. I took control, as Natalie (supervisor) had a holiday and Flick (Assistant supervisor) was a Mortimer person so would arrive late. I assigned jobs for a good ten minutes before Flick got back. It was time to put a slot into the triangle of doom part of our area, as this has been just as complex as the eastern part of site. Me and Douglas did this, creating a rather paralellagram looking rectangular slot we went through a substantial chunk of orange gravel and came onto the underlying silt. As Flick then went to the office to work on the matrix I helped supervise for the whole day, between me and Hannah we managed to keep everybody ticking over well. Overall I think I did a good job giving good advice and sometimes being absolutely impotent, but it was an awesome experience and I felt like I was learning so much. Saturday evening was Heroes and Villains themed party night. So I put on my superman onesie and cape and had an awesome night.”

 JENNI’S TEAM

 

SARAH: EXPERIENCED EXCAVATOR

Today my main task was to set up and excavate a 0.5m x 4m slot, across what is thought to be a large Victorian trench. Excavated by using a mattock and trowel, the slot produced ceramic building material (CBM), pottery, nails and a copper brooch pin, to a depth of 100mm.

My other duties include helping and supervising others in the trench, mostly those in close proximity to myself. I am working within a 30m x 15m trench in Insula III, in the Roman town of Silchester. Each year the University of Reading excavates here for a season of 6 weeks. I began as a novice in 2010, and have returned every year since, currently under the title of ‘Experienced Excavator’. I enjoy myself thoroughly each time and hope to return next year.”

MUBARIZ: 1st Year ARCHAEOLOGY UNDERGRADUATE

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MUBARIZ

“Silchester has definitely provided me with the necessary skills needed to carry out any excavation anywhere in the world, for example, the concept and importance planning as well as section drawing. During my four weeks at the Roman site, I attended lots of lectures such about the different soil layers, Geoarchaeology and the Stratigraphic matrix which allowed me to think beyond what I see and to successfully link different contexts and situations with each other. Washing and sorting finds showed me what happens to them once they are found. The staff members were very friendly, supportive and looked after all my needs throughout.”

VISITORS’ KABIN

ROSS: VISITOR MANAGER

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ROSS (left) and JOE

 

So, how to describe a ‘day in the life’ of the Visitors Cabin at Silchester? The short answer is that we never really have a typical day. The variety, of people and activities, is something I consider a real bonus of being on the Visitor team here. And just as there’s no such thing as a typical day, there really isn’t a typical visitor either. At Silchester we are visited by individuals, smaller and larger groups, families, clubs and societies and school groups. So far this year we have had visitors ranging from Silchester and Reading to Tasmania and Texas. Some visitors make a special trip to see us whilst others stumble upon the excavation quite accidentally. We have many first time visitors but also lots of returning visitors checking on our progress from previous years, and it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

There are some constants though. We are the face of the excavation, and as such have a dedicated Visitors Cabin, where our visitors can find more information, activity sheets for the children and a modest shop (a quick mention should be made here of our best-selling Roman Rubber Ducks!).

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OUR ROMAN RUBBER DUCKS

Every morning I open up the Cabin and set up for the day with the help of my brilliant Visitors team, Joe and Emily. I can then be found outside the Cabin, eating my chocolate croissant (a little bit of sugar in the morning goes a long way), checking my paperwork for what is happening that day and who is on Visitor Duty, and watching the trench slowly fill up with archaeologists before I open the gate.

When a visitor arrives they are greeted by either myself as Visitor Manager or by one of my team. They are given a brief introduction to the site and offered a site tour by one of our undergraduate students on Visitor Duty. Visitor Duty is a key component of the University’s undergraduate student assessments for their time at Silchester. From there we like to leave it up to the visitors and their guide to determine how long a tour they would like. They can see all areas of excavation, and are free to chat to any of our diggers, Finds or Science teams. Everyone is happy to talk about what they are doing – we’re a pretty friendly bunch! The visitors always seem to love the tours, and often remark on the enthusiasm and knowledge of the students who guide them.

On the Visitor team we are also responsible for providing and organising school visits during term time, special group visits, and our Open Days. Schools get a special programme that includes tours, a talk from our lovely Finds team, curriculum related activity sheets, the chance to plan and dig like an archaeologist in our special planning activity and mini excavation pit, and try out some Roman-related crafts. These visits are a particular favourite of mine, being a teacher and freelance education officer in ‘real life’, and you can’t beat the boisterous enthusiasm of between 30 and 81 children learning outside of the classroom!

Open Days are also a massive part of the Visitor team’s season. Our first Open Day this season was the 20th of July, and was a great success with over 700 visitors. We ran site tours by Mike and Amanda, and special children’s activities including the mini excavation pit, decorating a pot before smashing it and piecing it back together like an archaeologist, and the brilliant Story-time. The day resulted in lots of sales in the shop and donations, all of which helps to fund the excavation. Putting on an excavation like this every year is a massive undertaking so we are really grateful for anything people can afford to give. Our next Open Day is 3rd of August so do visit if you can!

A particular highlight for me this year was helping to arrange a lovely after-hours visit by a local Brownie pack. I really enjoyed seeing some of them get to make their Promise on our lovely peaceful site, and was especially proud to be presented with my very own ‘Night at the Museum’ badge!

So I hope you can see from this that in the Visitor Cabin no one day is ever the same, and we get a massive range of visitors to the site who all take away something different. At the end of every day I close the gate, and then my team and I pack up the Cabin once again until the next morning. After dinner I spend some time writing my student assessments for those on Duty that day, all the while reflecting on how lucky I am to spend the summer meeting all the wonderful and interesting people that visit us, at one of the most interesting archaeological sites and most beautiful parts of the country you can imagine.”

SCIENCE@SILCHESTER

Cindy: Science MANAGER

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SCIENCE@SILCHESTER: left to right Zoe, Nellie, Cindy and Patricia

I start of my day with a cup of coffee…I survive on coffee during the season, and I am lucky enough to have power in my cabin and a kettle, so it’s the first port of call. It’s either me or Tom who sticks it on, and we drink it while listening to the radio, before the madness of the day starts.

I start by bagging all of the dried heavy residue from flotation; emptying the trays ready for more sorted samples. When the students come along, we have a group discussion all about site formation processes and Science@Silchester…it’s a great way to get to know them and to try and remember all of their names, and teach them important aspects of archaeology and archaeological science. While I knatter away, the rest of my team are setting up and getting started on their tasks…flotation, sieving and sorting. We are a well-oiled machine at this point as we are in week 4 and everyone knows what they are doing. The day is then broken up by more coffee breaks, answering questions, sorting, and the occasional talk to members of the public, and the excitement of what my team may find in the samples…whether it be a seed or an iron age coin!

It’s a great atmosphere and I have a fantastic team, and it’s been an amazing season so far…but we have a few more weeks to go. I look forward to every day, to spend time with my team and I wonder what we will find!

Zoë:Science Placement

http://archazoeology.wordpress.com

“I awaken in a tent in a field on an often-deflated mattress and stay in it until the heat turns it into an unbearable Sweat Lodge of which I must escape from. From there I have my morning tea and toast (2 slices if I’m lucky, brown bread if I am luckier) then prep my body with all the sun lotion in the world before heading off to the Science Hut. Myself and the others set about prepping all the various areas of science, such as setting up buckets and sieves or putting out samples for people to sit in the sun and sort. Depending on the week, I may start by sieving through floated samples or floating whilst students get told about site formation, else I will be sorting through last year’s samples. It is the best place to be on a hot day- hands in the flotation tank or holding a hose, and teaching the students can be nice, if not a tad bit repetitive! As much as finding things like brooch pins, iron age coins and silver sheets are amazing, my favourite things are finding perfect complete small animal bones- they are so pretty!

During lunch and tea break I relax with friends (of which I have made so many at Silchester, archaeologists are fun friends to have) then I will come back and switch back to the tasks in Science I have not done that day, if it is sorting it is nice to do something a bit less effort-inducing for the post-lunch period, though sorting can be awfully strenuous, especially if you have to pick out countless pieces of charcoal with a tweezer!

After site is over (sometimes early because us pale Brits can’t cope with this crazy heat), I eat a usually decent dinner, relax with friends and then either party (it is hard to imagine an archaeologist without a can of cider/beer in their hand), wander the Roman walls of the site and star gaze or engage in games of Frisbee or pub quizzes before returning to my now freezing cold tent to cover myself in about 10 sleeping bags and a boyfriend.

Being an environmental archaeologist might not be what one imagines of archaeologists working in a trench with trowels (I brought one with me, it is now an extra tent peg) but we find some darn brilliant things, and picking out a tiny, perfect seed from a heap of charcoal and knowing it, gives us some greater insight into what was eaten/grown/traded in those times is so rewarding.”

Nellie: Science Placement

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Nellie (left), Zoe and Cindy

“As a budding archaeologist there is nothing that beats waking up in a hot, airless tent racing to get dressed before suffocating. Yes, it does sound odd but the life lived next to the open excavation area cannot be beaten. The interesting combination of food served alongside the lack of proper showers and cold drinks is outweighed by the vast amount of archaeology and social activity that Silchester has to offer. And there really is something for everyone.

Having been nervous about the idea of the science undertaken on site in my first year, it surprised me that it was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my time here. Thus, I sent off my application for a Science@Silchester placement and hey presto, here I am; and it hasn’t failed to disappoint. With the temperature reaching highs of 34 degrees Celsius the process of flotation and sieving in the shade with the added bonus of the use of a hose-pipe has been bliss. While many would argue that the process of breaking up bits of soil as mud to find gravel and organic remains sounds horrific-ly dull I can confirm that it is totally the opposite. The finding of several small finds has also been rather rewarding. The sorting side of things has certainly had its highs too with plenty of people to meet and old friends to catch up with. Indeed, the flotation tank seems to be gossip central. But nothing can beat the vast array of food and drink devoured in the science hut. Nicknamed cake Mecca in previous years, this year’s focus has turned to biscuits! A day is never complete without the fast sugar fixes gained at tea breaks.

Never knowing what is going to be found is a significant driving force in archaeology as a whole, whether in the trench or elsewhere and the environmental sector has certainly produced some remarkable finds this year. But it is the social side of the dig that also plays a huge part in keeping morale high as the half-way point in the season brings with it colds and tiredness. There really is never a dull moment in a field in the middle of nowhere when 150+ students are pooled together! Events such as quizzes and ultimate Frisbee in the nearby amphitheatre bring out the competitive nature of many, with Silchester’s very own beer festival and pirate night (I’m not sure who is more scared – the local children being charged by a group of sword brandishing archaeologists dressed as pirates, or the archaeologists being bombarded and hacked at by toddlers with plastic swords!) providing more relaxed entertainment!

Silchester would not be the same without the relaxed and friendly science team and despite not having picked up a trowel in weeks, time spent floating, sieving and sorting has been just as fun!”

FINDS

PHIL: FINDS TRAINEE

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PHIL

“Each day in the finds cabin we receive the artefacts the archaeologists have found that day. We process the finds by washing, marking and sorting them ready for our specialists to inspect. This summer we have a number of interesting small finds, such as a Roman Seal Box and part of an inscription with the letters ‘BA’. These small finds can often tell us what activity occured in the town 2000 years ago. As Finds Trainees we also teach the students and volunteers that come to site in what they might find in the trench. In this way we can help ensure that they know what to look out for and how the record the finds accurately to build a better picture of the site.”

Back to:

AMANDA: Excavation Director

These are just a small selection of the people who make up the Silchester excavation ! So many people behind the scenes who help keep a research and training excavation like this running – from the man at the top, Professor Michael Fulford, to Jean our cook who makes 164 sandwiches a day, day in, day out to feed our hungry stomachs, to Jon my site manager who knows the recycling bins inside-out and who can recite the Reading-Mortimer train timetable in his sleep as he transports our daily commuters back and forth! I have 5 Supervisors, 5 Assistant Supervisors, a database manager – and my wonderful Jen who goes cross-eyed over the rotas she has to produce on a daily basis. Nick, my talented 2nd, keeps me on the straight and narrow archaeologically – and Dan who can level a plan with a glance, and is able to turn stratigraphic somersaults with ease. I cannot mention them all! But together we hope we are providing one of the most detailed and informative slices through a major Roman town – as well as learning the tricks of the archaeological trade to pass on to all those who come after us!

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TEAM SILCHESTER

Over and Out Team Silchester!


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Digging in the Archives: Re-Discovering the Excavations of John D. Evans

I saw the poster for the Day of Archaeology (DoA) in our lift and thought I’d join in, looking at the importance of archives to the documentation and re-interpretation of older excavations. I planned to focus on archives related to the first century of excavations by a fairly eccentric cast of characters from the British School at Athens, at Knossos in Crete, where I am currently working. But in the event, I’ve been side-tracked in quite different directions, digging into the archives of John Evans, allowing me to dip into archaeology in five countries in one day, all without leaving an overcast London.

Last July, one of the former Directors of the Institute here in London, Professor John Davies Evans, died at the age of 86. I didn’t know John well, we had only met a few times, but we had a good talk at a workshop held at Sheffield in 2006, organised in honour of John and his excavations at Knossos in 1958-60 and 1969-70, which provide the entire framework for, and our most comprehensive evidence supporting, our understanding of the four millennia of the Neolithic period on Crete (see V. Isaakidou and P. Tomkins (eds) 2008. Escaping the Labyrinth. The Cretan Neolithic in Context. Oxford: Oxbow Books). As we talked, it was clear John was extremely pleased that his work at the site was still considered so fundamental, and he was also immensely relieved to be able to hand over the completion of its publication to others.

Fig. 1. Saliagos. Left: the islet of Saliagos; right: the main trench

I was working at Knossos on a current project when I learned of John’s death. I knew that while he had handed over much of his Knossos excavation archive, a large amount of the original documentation had not yet been collected from him. This was needed for the full publication of his excavations, and would eventually be archived in the British School at Athens.

Fig. 2. John Evans sorting Saliagos pottery on Antiparos

Via e-mail, I contacted his family, and we agreed that on my return from Crete in September, I would collect his academic papers, sort them, and determine how and where it would be most appropriate to archive them. With my Institute colleague Andrew Reynolds, and with help from John Lewis of the Society of Antiquaries, we collected all of John’s academic papers, and they have been taking up about half of my office ever since. (On the plus side, any meeting involving more than one other person has had to take place elsewhere – fa’coffee.)

Fig. 3. Excavations in the central court of the Minoan palace at Knossos

My original hope of sorting the papers over the Christmas or Easter breaks disappeared behind mountains of marking, and it was only last week, when I finished that and could take over one of our vacant teaching rooms to unpack it all, that I had a chance to find out what’s there. Now having consolidated it into some 40 boxes, in place of the odd assortment of boxes, suitcases, a filing cabinet, card and slide chests and a full chest of drawers, I now don’t have to slam my door whenever our fire safety officer walks by.

One of our recent PhD graduates who specialises in the history of archaeology, Amara Thornton, very kindly gave up her week to help me, and we’ve done a first sort of everything. So we now have an overview of the material, which allows us to approach others who we suspect may be interested in particular elements of the archive, and gives us an idea of the scale of the further detailed cataloguing which will be involved. I have no idea when we will be able to do this, and we will have to find some funding, as there will be a couple of months worth of work involved. But particularly relevant to today, are John’s excavation records, so let’s go digging in the archives, working, as archaeology usually does, from the known to the unknown.

I was familiar with John’s excavations on the tiny Greek Cycladic islet of Saliagos, co-directed with Colin Renfrew in 1964-65 and published in 1968 as Excavations at Saliagos Near Antiparos. [Figs 1-2 above] I talked a local boatman into taking me to the tiny offshore islet about 20 years ago to see the over-grown ruins, so seeing colour slides of the site under excavation was a treat. Colin handed over the bulk of the excavation archive to the British School some years ago, but John kept his correspondence and many slides, so I’ll copy a few for teaching, before I pack them off to Athens.

I was also very familiar with John’s Knossos excavations (Fig. 3 above and Fig. 4 below) from 1958-60 and 1969-70, through my own work at the site (our current project was the subject of a post for last year’s DoA by my colleague Andrew Shapland at the British Museum). The eight boxes of notebooks, finds lists, photos, and numerous rolls of plans and sections will be absolutely essential to complete the full publication of this major excavation. I’ve scanned and sent a couple of documents to Peter Tomkins in Leuven, which I know will help his current work on reconstructing the development of the Neolithic community.

Fig. 4. The deep sounding in the central court at Knossos

John is particularly well known for sorting out the sequence of prehistoric occupation on Malta, documented in his 1959 Malta in the classic Thames and Hudson ‘Peoples and Places’ series, and in more detail in his monumental survey of Maltese prehistory, The Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands, published in 1971. [Fig. 5 below] Tucked away in the latter are extremely succinct accounts of small but strategic stratigraphic tests he did in 1953-55 in eight Maltese monuments, which enabled him to establish the cultural sequence used in his publications (and still valid) to organise the results from all previous investigations. I have found about 100 photographic negatives and some section sketches from these excavations, but so far, no detailed excavation notes, nor any plans; it is just possible he archived these in Malta, and any plans may be hiding among the many rolls of drawings which I have yet to sort through individually [Fig. 6 below].

Fig. 5. John Evans on Malta, 1954-56.

An exciting surprise was recognising several original excavation notebooks by other investigators on Malta, from 1911 to 1930, which John must have brought back to the UK to draw on for his synthesis, and over 300 early photos of sites and excavations, which should go to the archive of the National Museum in Malta. Some of these seem to have come to John from the Palestine Exploration Fund, and a note says ominously ‘Harris Colt Malta orig: throw away if not wanted 20s or 30s’ – thankfully he didn’t!

I’ve e-mailed a former student, Anthony Pace, now the superintendent for cultural heritage on Malta, to work out how best to return this material. I hope we can locate John’s excavation notes, and link these with his abundant photographic documentation. As well as photos documenting his own tests, there are some 600 negatives of pottery and other finds, only some of which were used in his 1971 volume. More significant are some 300 negatives representing site visits he made in the early 1950s, only a few of which were eventually published, which document the condition of many monuments half a century ago. Altogether, this might just be the spur for a busman’s holiday to Malta, which I’ve wanted to visit for over 30 years.

Fig. 6. Malta excavations 1954. Left: Hagr Qim trench E; right: Mnajdra trench C

What I wasn’t at all familiar with, were John’s unpublished excavations, and I spent the week dashing off to the library, doing web-searches or sending e-mails to colleagues and former students, each time I stumbled across a new paper trail. With some follow-ups this week, I think I’ve now got the outlines, and since none of them are in my own field of specialisation, they generate some of the excitement of discovery, without having to say au revoir to decent coffee.

The first surprise was an excavation John conducted jointly with Francisco Jordá Cerdá of the Seminario de Historia Primitiva del Hombre, in 1950, at the earlier Bronze Age Argaric site of La Bastida de Totana in south-east Spain. This was the last in a series of campaigns in a settlement with abundant intra-mural burials. [Fig. 7 below] I haven’t yet discovered any correspondence to indicate why John got involved, but he spent much of that year in Spain researching his PhD dissertation on the possible relations between Argaric Spain and Early Bronze Age Anatolia. The specifics of how he got involved in the project may eventually emerge from his papers, though I’ve found no clues so far.

Fig. 7. La Bastida, 1950. Left: the excavation area; right: jar burial.

An e-mail to a Spanish former PhD student, Borja Legarra Herrero, now working in both the Aegean and Spain, pointed me to the web-site of the recently resumed excavations at the site, now one of the largest field projects in Spai. There, and in interim publications, the directors indicate that in 2009 John had sent them the original excavation notebooks of his Spanish collaborator, which had been bequeathed to him in 1960, along with a photocopy of his own 1950 excavation notebook (still among his papers). [Fig. 8 below] Seemingly over-looked by John at that time, are 78 cards mounted with excavation photographs, primarily of burials in situ, identified by burial and context. These relate to the 1944-45 seasons of excavations, before John became involved in the project; there must be an interesting story of personalities and politics behind why these were sent to John, but whether we can piece it together from surviving clues at either end remains to be seen.

By chance, I had taught Roberto Risch, a co-director of the new project, during his MA nearly 20 years ago, and an e-mail out of the blue from me received a reply within a couple of hours (though he cut it short because the Portugal vs Czech Republic Euro 2012 game was starting – I guess we all have priorities).

Fig. 8. La Bastida, 1950, excavation notebook

While the notebooks John sent them have allowed members of the current project to restudy the original material for publication, they had not come across these photographs in any archive in Spain, and they have had difficulty reconstructing the contexts of individual burials. (Purely coincidentally, Borja and Roberto met at a conference in Denmark a few weeks ago, and had arranged to meet for dinner while the former is working with me, and the latter is on holiday, on Crete in August; Borja planned to bring me along, though hadn’t yet mentioned it to me – I think I’d better go via the cashpoint, just to play it safe.)

So the first of today’s tasks has been to finish scanning these photographs. Ultimately, I hope the originals will be returned to Spain for archiving with the other dig records and the finds in the newly built museum at the site. In the meantime, the scans should assist the study of the old material, which has been going on for several years, and Roberto is going to get back to me for higher resolution scans of some of the photos, for incorporation into the new museum displays.

The second surprise was a series of small notebooks, a few photographs, more negatives, a few small bags with potsherds, and a box with 1/3 of a skull, from John’s 1956 excavation of three Bronze Age barrows at Earl’s Farm Down, just east of Amesbury, ca. 6 kilometres south-east of Stonehenge. [Fig. 9 below]

John Evans at Earl’s Farm Down, 1956

Amara had her laptop with her, and a Google led to the Wiltshire sites and monuments record, which, while not seemingly aware of John’s excavation, noted the excavation of four nearby barrows by Paul Ashbee in 1956. A quick run up to the library to consult Ashbee’s 1983 publication in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine confirms which barrows were excavated by John, so we can put them on the map. A contemporary report (by John – uncredited, but the typescript is among his papers), included in N. Thomas 1958, ‘Excavation and field-work in Wiltshire: 1956′ Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 56:238-40) provides information on each barrow, and indicates that these, as well as Ashbee’s excavations, were undertaken for the Department of the Environment, so this seems to have been fill-in employment just before John took up his appointment as Professor of Prehistoric European Archaeology at the Institute, to succeed Gordon Childe. [Fig. 10 below]

 

Fig. 10. Earl’s Farm Down, 1956, excavation notebook

A much later letter mentions in passing that John thought the finds were all stored in the Institute. On the off chance that there were more than the few sherds he had kept with the notebooks, I fired off an e-mail to my colleague Rachel Sparks, who manages our collections, only to get her out of office message – jury duty! However, that evening I got a message back that a search of the records suggests we have material from Earl’s Farm Down which wasn’t identified as John’s excavation in our records, so has been in that special limbo all collections have for under-documented material.

So the second of today’s tasks has been to see whether this material is from the barrows, and to get an idea of the potential size of a publication project. The writing on the bags is John’s, and the recording system matches that on the few bags he kept with his notes, so that’s confirmed (see Rachel’s DoA entry). There is a fair collection of material, and with it in the box were a few more negatives, as well as a few finds from other sites which had been mis-filed in the same box. So confirmation for me, a few mysteries back to limbo for Rachel to try to sort out – but fewer than she started her DoA with, so I’d say we’re winning.

Writing-up this excavation should be suitable as a student dissertation project, possibly for publication in WAM (I mentioned it in passing to Andrew Reynolds, the editor, and he’s interested), after which the finds and records should probably be archived with other local material in the Salisbury Museum.

A third surprise was that John conducted a single season of trial tests in 1972 in collaboration with local archaeologists at the Iron Age hillfort of Segovia in southern Portugal. John’s principal academic interests were in the Mediterranean Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, so what led him to get involved in a major Iron Age and Roman site? [Fig. 11 below] Hopefully there will be some hint when I can work through the documentation and correspondence systematically.

Again, purely coincidentally, his Portuguese collaborator, José Morais Arnaud, was completing his PhD at Cambridge when I began mine in 1980, and Teresa Judice Gamito expanded the 1972 trenches in connection with her own doctoral research in the early 1980s, publishing her thesis with BAR (Social Complexity in Southwest Iberia 800-300 B.C.), which we have upstairs, though we don’t have the Portuguese journal where she reported her excavations. Her summary indicates the importance of the excavation, providing the principal regional stratified sequence from the Late Bronze Age through the Roman conquest.

Fig 11. Segovia, 1972. Left: site; right, summit trenches

The documentation for this excavation is more extensive, involving several trench notebooks, photos, plans, sections and finds drawings, which I will need more time to sort through. Because the trenches were subsequently extended, I expect John gave his collaborators copies of everything, but I’m chasing this up with José to see if we can supply whatever may be needed for their archives, to facilitate future study.

Following this trial field season, John became Director of the Institute, and administration seems to have taken over his life (a feeling all of us are now experiencing) and he stopped fieldwork; he was only able to return to working on his excavations after his retirement, as several boxes of transcribed notebooks, finds and photo lists for Knossos, along with a large box of computer disks testify (now I have to find a working Amstrad computer, to read the disks, to make sure we have copies of all the relevant files).

Sorting the Segovia records, along with more detailed cataloguing of all of John’s papers, will have to wait until sometime in the winter at earliest, when I may get another chance to unpack the boxes. So I’ve just had to figuratively back-fill my excavation in the archives, until the next season.
But as a final surprise, my query to Rachel about Earl’s Farm Down, has turned-up other materials in our storerooms, brought in by John, and checking these with Rachel is my third task for the DoA, which she has noted in her own DoA account. As well as various small bits of pottery useful for teaching purposes, given to John by excavators during his early travels in Spain, which we may be able to document more fully (presently simply catalogued by site name), two more significant collections exist. We have the human and animal skeletal material from his excavation of six communal rock-cut tombs at Xemxija on Malta. Summary reports on this material were included as appendices in John’s 1971 volume, but more could now be done to study the human remains in terms of community demography, the health and life history of individuals, and the social and ritual contexts of burial; the much smaller collection of animal bones holds much less potential. The former would repay new study, particularly in comparison with more recently excavated material, and could make an excellent dissertation project for a student on our MSc in skeletal and dental bioarchaeology.

The second collection consists of two boxes of carbonised plant remains and soil samples (to which I can add another box John had at home) from Knossos. The site is one of half a dozen representing the earliest Neolithic communities in Europe, established ca. 7000 BC. The plant remains were originally studied as part of the British Academy’s Major Research Project on the Early History of Agriculture, with John taking enthusiastic advantage of the newly developed flotation recovery technique and fine sieving in his 1969-70 excavations. The botanical samples from the two different campaigns were distributed among different specialists in the UK and Denmark.

I had hoped we could track down all of these through the paper trail of John’s administrative correspondence for the project – I wasn’t expecting to find any still in London. Checking them, they are still in bags with their context labels (Rachel and I took the opportunity to replace a few fragile bags) so their study should contribute to our understanding of early agriculture in the Aegean. I’ve notified Valasia Isaakidou of Sheffield University of this material, as she is co-ordinating the study and publication of the environmental and bioarchaeological material recovered by John at Knossos.

Finally, still completely unexplored, are some rolls of plans and a box with the documentation and a few finds from several small excavations conducted by John’s wife, Evelyn Sladdin, before she started her undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge and met John. She published one, but the others, small Roman and Medieval digs, apparently not. I may have to pencil-in the ‘excavation’ of that multi-site box for the DoA next year.

So what’s next? My priority for the autumn and winter, to fit in around teaching, will be to catalogue the Knossos documentation, about five times as much as all the rest together, as this major excavation is actively being worked up for publication by a number of colleagues, and the full documentation is eagerly awaited. Peter Tomkins, who is writing-up the stratigraphy and pottery from John’s excavations, and synthesising this with his own extensive work with Sir Arthur Evans’ tests below the Bronze Age palace, is coming to London in September for a meeting at the Society of Antiquaries being organised to commemorate John’s career, so I hope we can start going through this material together then.

It’s frustrating to have started this ‘excavation’, but have to leave it – but then most real excavations are like that too. This has turned into a far larger, but also much more interesting task than I anticipated nearly a year ago when I contacted John’s family. From my conversation with John in 2006, when he was both pleased that his excavations at Knossos were still important, and relieved that their publication would be completed, I’m sure he would approve our excavating his archive, to make the material available to other researchers.

This Day of Archaeology marks the last attention I can give to it for some time, but has clarified what we have, and what we need to do next. Realistically, considering the job ahead (and there is a lot more to his papers than just his excavation documentation), I think it may be some time before I’ll see the floor on that half of my office again. It’s been busy but intriguing – and it isn’t often that one can dig into archaeology in five different countries in one day.

Today has also brought home forcefully three things that confront me every time I work on Knossian material: how productive and cost effective re-examining older material can be, despite the constant push to recover new evidence with up-to-date techniques; that we have a responsibility to squeeze as much information as we can out of what we dig up – it is a non-renewable resource; and how crucial it is to understand our own disciplinary history – who collected what, when and why – to understand that evidence most effectively.

I’d like to thank Judith and Mike Conway, John Lewis, Andrew Reynolds, Kelly Trifilo, Stephen Shennan, Cathy Morgan, Peter Warren, Sandra Bond, Katie Meheux and Gabe Moshenska who helped arrange for and assisted the transfer of the material to the Institute of Archaeology; Lisa Fentress, Reuben Grima, Borja Legarra Herrero, José Morais Arnaud, Anthony Pace, Colin Renfrew, Artur Ribeiro, Roberto Risch and Tim Schadla-Hall for responding to my queries; Stuart Laidlaw for scanning slides and negatives; Amara Thornton for helping me sort John’s papers and providing details about some of the colourful characters who dug on the then colonial ‘circuit’; Rachel Sparks for chasing Institute collections records, digging out John’s material from the Institute storerooms, and helping me look through it; and the DoA folks for coping with this submission.

All images from J. D. Evans archive.

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Not Just an Archaeologist

I am an archaeologist.

Right now I am also working toward a PhD at the  University of Cenral Lancashire (UCLAN) in Preston, United Kingdom. My subject area is the historical archaeology of South Central California, and I am looking at how people create their sense of identity and attachment to place through the process of belonging. This means I am theorizing on what an Archaeology of Belonging is and can do particularly in colonialism.

Overview of Pueblo San Emigdio toward the San Emigdio Hills in Kern County California.

Originally my husband (who is also an archaeologist) and I came to the UK from the United States for a one year MSc by Research degree. We wanted to get a higher degree because we wanted to have a family at some time in the future. At the time we made the choice of coming to UCLAN, we were working in the field for a CRM company in California. Although we were not completely unhappy, it was time for a change. We had been field technicians for about five years, had not had a home in two as we were in near constant ten day rotations. When not working we would visit and stay with family. While working our house became the contents of two large blue totes and a red roller suitcase of books placed in exactly the same way in every hotel room we lived in. Life was good (we even had annual passes to Disneyland and would work a full day and have dinner and a ride at night) but we wanted to one day have a family as well. So we finally accepted the invitation from a colleague to study at the university he worked for. Equating more education with a more stable position in archaeology.

Why the background story? It’s important, as on the 29th of June during the Day of Archaeology, archaeology was but one aspect of my identity (a theme in my PhD).

Almost half way through the MSc and right before I was to start my field work last year, we discovered our future dreams of a family were to happen a whole lot sooner. I gave birth to my son in November, a couple of weeks after I graduated from my Masters. In January I started the PhD.

My Day of Archaeology consisted of:

General email round-up from the school email system to see if I have succeeded through Progression and Registration for my degree with the university. (Can’t forget about Facebook as a tool to keep in touch with family, friends, and old colleagues.)

Taking my son to Baby Club at the local Sure Start Centre. See how I include in my day attendance of a social group event, but have completely completely disregarded the countless minutes of my domestic work as a mother including cooking, cleaning, baby care (and those loads of nappies, expressing breast milk, and new baby solids which I made not bought). Maybe as archaeologist we fail to think and look at the mundane as we see it as too everyday, but it is the everyday rituals that show my identity in the archaeological record. Just something to think about, as I think about it more and more every day. What are the mundane things we miss as archaeologist that are / were actually so important to peoples in the past?

While my son takes naps in the afternoon I TRY and read for my literature review. Today it was Vicki Bell’s edited volume Performativity and Belonging. I am particularly inspired by Anne-Marie Fortier’s article “Re-Membering Places and the Performance of Belonging(s).”

 

The biggest bit of archaeology today was writing an abstract to present an oral presentation at the Theoretical Archaeological Group (TAG) for the 2012 Liverpool conference, on my work on developing an Archaeology of Belonging. It will be the first major conference in which I will be an oral presenter. I am a mix of excited and very nervous.

As I said: I am an archaeologist. But I am also a PhD researcher, a wife, and a mother.

 

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