University of Bristol

Plans, Lists, Context Sheets, Levels, Sections, Photos, and Back to the Plans: Archival clean up at Bristol Dig Berkeley

My name is Emily Glass and together with my co-supervisor at Bristol Dig Berkeley, Sian Thomas, we have been wading through piles of drawings, lists and context sheets that were created over four weeks of digging at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. This project has been an annual fixture of the University of Bristol’s Archaeology and Anthropology department for ten years under the direction of Professor Mark Horton and Dr Stuart Prior. The excavation provides valuable practical experience for students during their three year degree and for any willing post-graduates! During the 2014 season the team worked in Nelme’s Paddock (a field to the front of the Castle) on Trenches 8 and 14 – for which the paperwork now needs looking over for any glaring errors.

Emily and Sian PX-ing the Berkeley Castle excavation

Emily and Sian PX-ing the Berkeley Castle excavation

Often seen as the ‘boring’ side of archaeology – the less hands-on, indoor work of checking and cross-referencing any excavation archive is a crucial part of the process. Using the archaeological features and finds to phase the sequence of events is the basis for interpreting your site. The mantra that most archaeologists have been brought up on is that ‘the archaeology does not lie’ – so no matter how much you try to cram that theory of yours into what the evidence is telling you, if it won’t fit then it’s just plain wrong! All that needs doing next is to fit this into the wider scheme of what was going on at that particular time in that particular area and you have your story! Simple, right??

One thing about checking an archive is that no matter how long you THINK it’s going to take – it will always take longer and often drive you mad in the process of going back and forward between lists, sheets, numbers, drawings, images and notebooks until you feel like you’re drowning in paperwork! However, on occasion the Post-ex process can throw up something completely unexpected – such as our 2014 Finds Team discovering a box containing ceramic vessels from Ur! Then, when all calms down and you finally feel you’re coming out of the tunnel – you realise that your final Harris Matrix doesn’t work and the cycle of despair continues!

"Tell Us Your Secrets Trench 8...."

“Tell Us Your Secrets Trench 8….”

Trench 8 has been open now since 2009 so we have many, many drawings and records that Sian has kept on top of year on year. She even has an A1 sized trench matrix which looks amazing, but of course needs a bit of jiggling! On this Day of Archaeology we sorted out finished drawings to be scanned, filed sheets into folders and updated the context check-list.  Some context sheets were checked off, whereas others are ongoing and will be completed at the Berkeley Summer School in August. So far we can track a broadly continuous sequence of use through buildings, roads, ditches and pits from the Roman period through to Saxon, then Norman, onto Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan times. The latest phase represented is the Georgian use of the Paddock as a kitchen garden. So it’s not surprising that the sequence keeps shifting!

General niggles in the records were of the usual variety: confusion about compass orientations, forgetting to transfer levels back onto paperwork (or even work them out!), back-to-front matrices and terrible handwriting! All joking aside, completing the record checking of an archaeological archive to a high standard is not only the right thing to do ethically and morally (all archaeology being destruction / to dismantle is to understand and all that), but it is also very satisfying, especially when the job is ticked off as DONE!

Happy Day of Archaeology 2014!

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Multi-tasking archaeology! Teaching, fieldwork and medieval poop

I am pleased to be taking part in my third Day of Archaeology – see here for  my previous posts on work for the Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves projects in 2012 and 2013. This year I am working on a whole range of things simultaneously, illustrated nicely in the cluttered picture of my desk below. I am starting my third year working at the University of Edinburgh, and have a lot more teaching responsibilities that I have ever had before. I am in the middle of preparing undergraduate lectures for the second year course, Scotland Before History, which covers Scottish archaeology from early prehistory right up to the medieval period, and making sure all the lab facilities are in place for my third/fourth year option course in Environmental Archaeology, where students get to do a lot of hands on work with environmental remains under the microscope. Alongside teaching prep, I am also putting together my schedule for a brief fieldwork session up at the Ness of BrodgarI started working there last year, and have been applying analytical chemistry and microscopy to midden deposits to investigate fuel resource use and the types of activities that people were carrying out in different parts of the site. Under the microscope you can see the micromorphology slides I am currently working on for the Ecology of Crusading conference in Riga in September – I’ve been blogging about these slides for the past year if anyone would like to know more about them! And finally, I am getting all my samples and paperwork together for a visit to the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol at the end of this month. I have collaborated with Bristol since my PhD, as they have the best facilities in the UK for archaeological chemistry. During this visit I will be working on a wide range of samples from my own research and in my role as research associate for the Ecology of Crusading project – identifying the species and dietary signals of medieval poo!

my desk today