United Kingdom

Brick and tile, and hospitals

Roman roof tile

Tegula – fragment of Roman roof tile

What do I have on my plate at the moment? Not all of it is archaeology, but it’s certainly historical in nature. I am currently working on some ceramic building materials (CBM) from a site in East Yorkshire. This involves recording every fragment, unless very small and unfeatured:

*context

*fabric (these days I just do a site fabric series, as I have no central series to tie it into)

*form

*weight

*dimensions (only if there is a complete length, width or thickness; in effect, this normally tends to mean thickness unless there are brick samples)

*comments – this could be if the fragment has a fingerprint, pawprints, ‘signature,’ sanded edges, and so on

After this, I create a database from the paper forms I used to note down the information above. Much sorting of the database takes place, as I look for trends and differences. Then it’s writing up the report time, which is always the difficult bit …

While this is going on, I have other projects to keep on the boil. Looming large is an exhibition at York Castle Museum‘Home Comforts: the role of Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals in the North Riding of Yorkshire 1914-1919’. I only have a small part to play, having formulated a display board about the St Johns Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals in York, using photographs from a local society image collection. Setting up will take place on 1st August.

VAD Hospitals in York WW1

VAD Hospitals in York WW1

In September, I’m off for another week in Ravenglass, cataloguing finds ready for sending off to specialists. And when I get back, I’ll be thinking over the results of brick recording in Cawood – volunteers will have recorded the bricks on local buildings, after I gave them an introduction to the wonderful world of bricks earlier in July.

Talking about brick in Cawood

Talking about brick in Cawood


Cotswold Archaeology: A typical (start to the) day on the front…

As an archaeological site manager, I like to arrive on site in advance of the team, open the access, welfare cabins and tool stores and prepare the daily briefing. Gradually, my colleagues will start to arrive on site; the fresh-faced, enthusiastic trainees, keen to crack on and get out on to site as soon as possible, then the crew bus carrying all the necessary equipment, cameras, GPS units, laptops, milk (possibly the most crucial item on site!) and the all-important site archive. This is followed by intermittent arrivals of the older, more experienced individuals who time their appearance to the last minute and then the odd one or two blurry-eyed latecomers who may or may not have been out late last night…

The daily cat-herding ritual ensues and then, once we’re all together, I deliver the daily briefing which can contain elements of weather forecast, site conditions, any specific health and safety considerations, progress on site, delegation of tasks, new demands from clients, feedback, praise or criticism from project managers or curators, details of the latest site interpretations and any interesting recent discoveries. In an effort to keep the team engaged during this meeting, I (usually vainly) try and keep things as light-hearted as possible where I can!

My briefing over, there’s a bit of nervous shuffling as I decide on which of the lucky site supervisors gets to deliver the requisite toolbox talks; this week it’s ‘Sunburn’ as, although we’re currently standing in a mist of fine drizzle, it did get a little bit warmer towards the end of Monday afternoon, and the old favourite ‘Personal Hygiene’… cue the inevitable banter. Toolbox talks delivered by a relieved supervisor, I wrap up the assembly by asking if anyone has any questions or concerns, issue the rallying cry of ‘Okay, let’s archaeologise!’ and we’re off onto site, a small, ragtag group of bright yellow troopers.

At some point I hope to be able to leave the paperwork and turn my attention to the fantastic archaeology we’re turning up. Perhaps I’ll get a brief slot around 4 this afternoon…………..

Mark

Archives and a whole lot more!

As the Archives Officer for Cotswold Archaeology, one of the UKs largest commercial units, my job does involve working with our site archives, but today like most days is much more varied.

I’ve been in this role for just over a year. I started my career as a trainee archaeologist and worked in the field for 9 years, becoming a supervisor and then a site manager. I made the move into this position as it offered such a variety of tasks and required a background in fieldwork and report writing as well as archives experience. I manage our team of post-excavation supervisors and processing staff, so even though I sometimes miss being on site I still get to see the finds as they come back to the office. I’m usually working on such a variety of different projects that there is always something interesting going on.

Today I’ve got some arrangements to make with several museums over depositing some of our archives, most are just a box or two, but we are hoping to deposit a large infrastructure project of 170 boxes soon! There are also some smaller jobs that I can deal with quickly like issuing site codes to our field staff.

I’m the co-ordinator of our volunteer programme and overnight we’ve had a few enquiries from members of the public who want to know what sort of work we do and are interested in joining us. The people who volunteer their time with us do an amazing job and help us make sure that some of the finds from historic projects which would otherwise sit on our shelves actually make it to the local museums where they can be displayed. We’ve got a work experience student in with us next week so later on I’ll be talking to colleagues in some of our other departments and organising a series of talks and workshops so they can get a taster of as many different aspects of what we do here at Cotswold, as possible.

I’ve got some costings to review and need to place several orders for more supplies for the post-excavation team, not my favourite part of the job but a very important one.

I’ll also be working on some of our annual fieldwork summaries to be included in several regional journals and providing time and cost estimates to project managers for processing and archiving work.

Finally, I’ll be helping out on our stall at a Festival of Archaeology event in Bristol tomorrow (http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/events/2780) so I’m running through my checklist and making sure there won’t be any last minute hiccups (well other than the rain that is!).

 

Being Confused in a Historic Building

Harvey Tesseyman, Heritage Research Archaeologist

I went to visit a local church knowing that it was Grade I listed (the Church of St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire, 1161801, I), because I thought I could find some historic inscriptions, and it sounded like an interesting building. It’s common for historic buildings to be remodelled over time, and given that churches are quite often the oldest building in town they’ve got a lot of history packed in. What follows should illustrate how complex historic buildings can get, and how difficult it can be to get your story straight when it comes to recording!

The oldest fabric of the church is the Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry which makes up the bottom of the tower (tower-nave churches are typically Saxon).

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

The tower used to be four exterior walls, but one of them is now an interior wall, part of which has been ground down to make healing powder (!?).

Ground down stonework

Ground down stonework

The tiny blocked up windows are another Saxon feature along with a side door, although don’t confuse them with the blocked up Norman windows which are a different type of tiny, and match the surviving fragments of Norman arcade, which wrap around the original church replacing the Saxon chancel. Another sticky-out-bit which seems to be of 13th century origin, based on the Early English Gothic-style windows, looks like it wraps round the bit that wraps round the original bit (but the cupboard doors in here are 15th century). The round bit sticking out of the edge of the tower is a set of very precarious spiral stairs leading most of the way up the Saxon tower on the way to the 14th century belfry they put on top as an extension, possibly on top of an older belfry.

Precarious stairs

Precarious stairs

When they extended the belfry they cut down the height of the stairs and recapped the roof. The central pillar of the spiral stairs is made from reused Roman stone, and the roof seems to be capped with some reused medieval beams and supported by a modern one. When you get up into the belfry there’s a pile of Victorian glass, some unidentified machinery, and a door taken from somewhere else in the church (we’re not sure where) which has been plastered in newspaper bearing a date of 1868. The floor of the church is also Victorian, they laid it down when they installed heating pipes, and while they were doing it found the original Saxon floor surface.

Victorian ephemera

Victorian ephemera

 

A really fancy daisywheel

A really fancy daisywheel

 

Undated inscription

Undated inscription

As with below-the-ground archaeology, layers often get mixed together and it becomes difficult to work out what should have gone where, but that’s part of the intrigue. Trying to analyse historic buildings can leave you feeling as out of breath as climbing the spiral stairs might, but I did find some historic inscription…Please don’t ask me to come up with a date for it…

Fighting for survival: PhD student experience at the University of Manchester

This final Day of Archaeology finds me busy and distracted. I am roughly at the half way point in my part-time PhD at the University of Manchester, but as the department falls quiet with academic staff dispersing across the globe to introduce undergraduate and post-graduate students to archaeology as diverse as Convict era Tasmania, Neolithic Herefordshire and the multi-period site of Ardnamurchan, Scotland, senior managers at the University are busy trying to decimate the department by getting rid of 50% of the already small staff of 8.

The M2020 ‘vision’ includes making 171 members of staff redundant, including a spectacular attack on the department of archaeology, which is due to suffer a disproportionate cut to staff numbers. If we are left with just 4 members of staff, the department is likely to merge with Classics, and unlikely to be able to continue running the single honours BA degree. The MA course has already been scrapped from 2018. With 15 PhD students currently enrolled, 4 members of staff are unlikely to be able to offer appropriate supervision, let alone provide the breadth of expertise expected, or needed.

The staff at Manchester have been vocal in their opposition not only of the plans, but also the way in which they have been implemented. In correspondence the M2020 project team have insisted that the changes will ‘improve the student experience’ yet it is difficult to see how slashing staff numbers will achieve this. The Archaeology department has an unparalleled reputation for positive student experience and at the moment is the only subject in the University to have 100% student satisfaction. It is also the only Archaeology department in the UK to achieve this figure. In recent years, our staff have won four University wide awards for teaching excellence, in the fields of Social Responsibility, Mental Health Champion, Best E-Learning Experience, and Best Communicator. From the perspective of the PhD students the proposed cuts will do nothing but irreversible harm to the department. 

So on this day of archaeology I urge you to please sign our petition against the planned redundancies and have a look at the letters of support for University of Manchester staff and in opposition to the proposed staff cuts at https://resistrestructuringmcr.wordpress.com/

In other news, my day has also involved the more normal activities of a PhD student. I’ve been reorganising my methodology chapter, written a bit of book review and been trawling through some 1891 Census records. I am looking for the people who lived close to the Chelsea Embankment shortly after its construction. I’m interested in the differences in the socio-economic make up of the community in the pre- and post-embankment periods, trying to work out how the Embankment construction and associated removal of working class housing and waterfront businesses affected them. I’ve been creating maps, based on historical maps and documents, to visualise where people lived and worked, looking for the places they may have moved around, between and within. The map below plots out residential buildings-coloured according to Booths Maps of London Poverty, blue = poor, red=well to do/comfortable, yellow=independently wealthy. In addition the multi-coloured blocks on Royal Hospital Road, formerly Queens Road, indicate a variety of businesses and shops, whilst the coloured areas on the foreshore relate to archaeological remains I surveyed last year.

 

2017 OS map with 1891 residential buildings, businesses, parks identified. 19th century archaeological remains on the foreshore as surveyed by H. Steyne 2016.

Whilst I’m unable to make any conclusions yet, I’m encouraged by the diversity in the population close to the river front, and to the co-location of archaeological remains with former businesses on the waterfront. The impact of losing these sources of employment must have been enormous for this community.

So, whilst on the one hand I despair and worry about the future survival of my department, I am steadily plodding through data for my own research. All the while wondering whether I’ll still be a Manchester University student this time next year. Let’s hope so.

Please sign our petition. Thank you.

You can find more about me here and my research here

 

A Day in the Life of a Zooarchaeologist

Hi everyone! I’m a zooarchaeologist, PhD student, and American transplant here in England and today I’ll be taking you through the average day of a zooarchaeologist in the lab.

Quick rundown on what a zooarchaeologist does for those who don’t know: basically, I specialise in animal bones. May sound a bit niche to some, but I find that zooarchaeology is incredibly rewarding! Not only do you get to study how fascinating animals are, but you also get to figure out how they fit in to the overall archaeological record alongside humans. Studying the relationships that exist between human and animal at different sites has been an incredibly interesting journey for me!

Now, back to my day…

11 AM: I’ve finished up reading through my emails in my office and drinking my fifth cup of coffee for the day, so now I head into my lab down the hall to start sorting through today’s assemblage.

Usually I get assemblages of bones fresh from excavation, so I’ll have to start cleaning them off first. Oddly enough, I find this task really relaxing! Although there’s probably something strange about getting into a Zen-like state while washing up dog bones…

12 PM: Now that I’ve cleaned the bones to the best of my ability (there will always be a bit of dirt that will not come off no matter how hard you try!), its time to look at what we got.

Probably looks a bit intimidating, huh? When I first started out as a zooarchaeologist, assemblages were terrifying! The more I stared at the pile of animal bones, the more they all looked the same to me.

But everything takes time and practice, and nowadays I can look into an assemblage and quickly start picking out bones that I recognise – there’s a mandible, a lot of bird bone, some humeri and ulna bones…etc.

Of course, not every bone is ingrained in my brain yet (hopefully one day!). So that’s when I start pulling out specimens from our reference collection.

Having a reference collection is so vital to being a successful zooarchaeologist – not only does it help you learn all the different bones you’ll need to know in the field, but its also helpful to have something to compare to when you get a little stuck. Animal bones are very fickle and you’ll usually get them very fragmented (especially if there’s been some butchery involved!).  So it becomes a very complicated puzzle, where you’ll start pulling out bones and comparing the two.

This isn’t the most fragmented bone I’ve ever worked with, of course, but this is a pretty good example of how I use the reference collection. The mandible on the top is from an assemblage I’m working on and the mandible on the bottom is a grey seal mandible from the reference collection – think it could be a match?

The longer you work in the field, the more “shortcuts” you discover that will help you identify bones faster and more accurately. For example, one of my go-to tricks for identifying mandibles is looking at the teeth. Many animals have very distinct looking teeth – in the above photo are teeth from a boar. How can I tell? I’ve always found that pig/boar teeth look similar to human teeth…but much, much more disgusting. Kinda like someone took a human tooth and put it in a microwave and it popped like popcorn…maybe that makes more sense to me, but hey! It works!

Its not just about identifying the bones to species and elemental, however – I’m also looking out for any evidence of modification. This could be any charring, cut marks, teeth marks, pathology…anything that looks different gets analysed and noted on my recording forms. The above photo shows an Atlantic cod that’s displaying clear signs of butchery.

4 PM: Most of the day has gone by and the assemblage has been identified and recorded to the best of my ability. With a bit of time left in the day, I’ll be doing a bit of a photo shoot! Unfortunately not with me…but with some bones. The eventual goal is to have a database of our bones uploaded onto tablets with photos, but for now I’ve been keeping a photo record of some of the more notable bones in my assemblages. Taking good, clean photos for publishing is a skill I’m still working on! But I also get a bit of practice in taking photos of our reference collection for posts on my blog, Instagram, and Twitter.

5 PM: And that’s a wrap on my day! Time to clean up the lab, shut the lights off, and spend at least 10 minutes trying to remember how to lock the door (fun fact: our doors lock differently in America, so locking doors in the UK has been a learning experience for me!).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick look through my average day as a zooarchaeologist! Its been a blast blogging about it for Day of Archaeology – looking forward to be back next year!

Tours from Antiquity

IMG_8235

Stonehenge from the Heel Stone looking towards the Slaughter Stone (foreground)

I have recently refound my love of giving guided tours through a company that aims to provide archaeologist guides around the most famous Neolithic sites of Wiltshire. Unlike the big tour buses, who herd their charges to the Stonehenge bus armed with an audioguide to explain the construction and purpose of this unique five thousand year old monument, Tours from Antiquity aims to provide a “real-life” archaeologist on small tour groups full of discerning travellers.

The power of TripAdvisor cannot be underestimated. Edward Shepherd, who set up Tours from Antiquity and has been leading tour groups on his own for the last five years, has needed to take on some help (including me) this year as his business reputation grows on the platform. There is demand from tourists who want in depth, detailed and accurate information about these amazing Stone Age sites. What also helps are the small group sizes (no 60-seater buses where half the group is talking over the tour guide), an early start to avoid the Stonehenge mania and providing more of a context for Stonehenge by taking in more of the World Heritage Site. On my tour on the Day of Archaeology, we got there and got out well before the queues started to build. It’s great that Stonehenge is so popular, but if you don’t like crowds, you’ve got to get there early.

I do love digging and discovery in museum collections, but I adore talking to the wider public about archaeology, when they’re interested. My tour group on the Day of Archaeology was made up of people from the US, Canada, Argentina, and India, and I’ve also had people from Singapore, China, Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. All this international interest in Stonehenge! I would have liked to have talked to some Brits, but I guess they get to these sites under their own steam for the most part.

The act of talking to people about the archaeology challenges me to find a narrative, a reason for things, that is often missing from the standard literature (with its talk of ritual curation of the landscape into blah, blah, blah). It makes more sense when talking to actual people to have a story, a thread to hold on to in the flood of information. It’s no good telling people a load of disconnected facts. It’s easy to connect Durrington Walls and Stonehenge by their respective avenues and alignments on the solstices, for instance. Another strand in my story is the development of archaeology from William Cunnington and Richard Colt-Hoare to Maud Cunnington to Mike Parker-Pearson and Nick Snashall. The group loved to hear about the recent ground penetrating radar work by the University of Birmingham that might have located buried stones under the Durrington Walls bank.

It can be dangerous, though, to tell too neat a story as if its the truth. So I’m careful to point out the various interpretations, and the limitations of what we can do with the evidence, too. I think there was an expectation from most of the members of the tour group that, as an archaeologist, I would also throw out certain theories without hesitation. Some of the visitors came pretty well-informed already, and had adopted a little of the old-fashioned scorn of fringe archaeology that characterised some of the previous generations of archaeologists. I know I don’t speak for everyone in archaeology when I keep an open mind about the survival of Neolithic practices into historical times, and look outside the strict boundaries of archaeological literature for ideas (anyone who has listened to my podcast knows I love Bernard Cornwell’s theory of Silbury Hill). Ley-lines and aliens can take a running jump, though. There is a limit. We saw another tour group making a crop circle in a field just north of West Kennet long barrow, and I’m afraid I couldn’t control my dismay.

IMG_8543

Silbury Hill from West Kennet long barrow

The other thing I felt I needed to be careful about was the chronology. While many of these monuments were being constructed/used at vaguely the same time, there is the danger of presenting the ‘story’ as if there were two competing tribes trying to outdo each other on a day for day timetable. A lintel goes up at Stonehenge one day, the next day the people up at Avebury raise Silbury Hill by another ten metres. Maybe not.

I have always found that talking out loud about the archaeology helps my brain work. I’ve had a few ideas for research projects. One guy on my tour on the Day of Archaeology asked me whether there was a time of year for burying the dead under round barrows and whether the body would be buried then and then the mound built later when people had time in the agricultural year. While radiocarbon dating couldn’t detect this kind of short time scale, I need to look in the literature for pollen date of the primary burial and the encircling ditch to see if this indicates quick burial and barrow-digging at leisure.

I was able to direct my tour towards Salisbury Museum to see the Stonehenge and Amesbury Archers having mentioned them earlier in the day, a bit of bluestone potentially from Stonehenge, finds from Durrington Walls. Only one guy took me up on that suggestion, though, most people preferring to see the cathedral and have a rest from the Neolithic in the middle of the day.

IMG_8625

The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum, buried with wrist bracers, arrows, early copper and bronze implements, beakers, shale belt ring, boar tusks and more.

Over the course of the day (which starts at 7.30am) I got to bond with my tour group over a mutual interest in prehistory, and the beauty of this tour is ending in the Red Lion pub inside Avebury stone circle and henge, with a pint of Avebury Well Water, the local brew, still chatting about the nature of the past, conservation, oral history and so much more. By the end of the day I’m always sad to see them leave, knowing we won’t bump into each other again, apart from perhaps a nice review on TripAdvisor. I just hope I’ve been a good enough ambassador for these World Heritage Sites.

the-red-lion-at-avebury

The Red Lion pub inside Avebury henge and stone circle, one of a kind


WINTER IS COMING: COMMUNICATING ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST TRUTH WORLD

One-Show-31-May-2016-Web-Ve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“…have had enough of experts”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aston added later;

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have enough trouble even communicating with each other.

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

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

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

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

You do not have access

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

About Andy Brockman

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

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

Archiving Ipswich

Two years after posting about my work on the Silbury Hill digital archive, in ‘AN ADS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY’, and I’m still busy working as a Digital Archivist with the ADS!

For the past few months, I have been working on the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive, deposited by Suffolk County Council, which covers 34 sites, excavated between 1974 and 1990.

Ipswich2

Excavation at St Stephen’s Lane, Ipswich 1987-1988

To give a quick summary of the work so far, the data first needed to be accessioned into our systems which involved all of the usual checks for viruses, removing spaces from file names, sorting the data into 34 separate collections and sifting out duplicates etc.  The archive packages were then created which involved migrating the files to their preservation and dissemination formats and creating file-level metadata using DROID.  The different representations of the files were linked together using object ids in our database and all of the archiving processes were documented before the coverage and location metadata were added to the individual site collections.

Though time consuming, due to the quantity of data, this process was fairly simple as most of the file names were created consistently and contained the site code.  Those that didn’t have descriptive file names could be found in the site database and sorted according to the information there.

The next job was to create the interfaces; again, this was fairly simple for the individual sites as they were made using a template which retrieves the relevant information from our database allowing the pages to be consistent and easily updateable.

The Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive called for a more innovative approach, however, in order to allow the users greater flexibility with regards to searching, so the depositors requested a map interface as well as a way to query information from their core database.  The map interface was the most complex part of the process and involved a steep learning curve for me as it involved applications, software and code that I had not previously used such as JavaScript, OpenLayers, GeoServer and QGIS.  The resulting map allows the user to view the features excavated on the 34 sites and retrieve information such as feature type and period as well as linking through to the project archive for that site.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

OpenLayers map of Ipswich excavation sites.

So, as to what I’m up to today…

The next, and final step, is to create the page that queries the database.  For the past couple of weeks I have been sorting the data from the core database into a form that will fit into the ADS object tables, cleaning and consolidating period, monument and subject terms and, where possible, matching them to recognised thesauri such as the English Heritage Monument Type Thesaurus.

Today will be a continuation of that process and hopefully, by the end of the day, all of the information required by the query pages will be added to our database tables so that I can begin to build that part of the interface next week.  If all goes to plan, the user should be able to view specific files based on searches by period, monument/feature type, find type, context, site location etc. with more specialist information, such as pottery identification, being available directly from the core database tables which will be available for download in their entirety.  Fingers crossed that it does all go to plan!

So, that’s my Day of Archaeology 2015, keep a look out for ADS announcements regarding the release of the Ipswich Backlog Excavation Archive sometime over the next few weeks and check out the posts from my ADS colleagues Jo Gilham and Georgie Field!