York

The power of making – or what it means to do archaeology through creative experimentation with media

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York Cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”). And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature Game. Buried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart Eve, Kerrie Hoffman, Colleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan, www.heritagejam.org


ADS at the Heritage Jam!

ADS LogoI know the Day of Archaeology is meant to be about what archaeologists typically do, so I feel a bit odd reporting on something I’ve never done before, but it also sums up why archaeology is so great. You never know what’s going to happen… I’m at the inaugural day of the Heritage Jam; a concept dreamt up by Anthony Masinton, based on his experience incorporating gaming technologies into his digital heritage work.

I asked Anthony how the idea came to him, and he said he heard about a Game Jam that took place in Chicago, where game designers and museum curators worked together to produce innovative heritage-based outputs. While he didn’t want to create games, he saw the format of putting a group together to work intensively, and produce something over a short period of time as a way to explore heritage visualisation in a new way. In his experience, the creative discourse surrounding heritage visualisation is in need of development, and he saw the Jam format as a way to start building a canon for heritage visualisation. The Heritage Jam might have stayed an idea, but when Anthony talked about it with Sara Perry, she agreed and came on board to make it happen. They were able to secure some funding, and the ‘Jam team’ set to work to organise today’s event.

While the Chicago example took two groups of people with quite disparate perspectives and brought them together, today’s group is wonderfully mixed. Everyone has interests in visualisation and/or heritage, but come from a broad variety of backgrounds.  We have about 25 people in the room at the moment, including archaeologists, conservators, historians, artists, and digital practitioners. Even though we come from different backgrounds, its obvious what we really have is a room full of people who are combinations of all those things, and very comfortable moving into new creative territories, so the day is full of potential!

We started with a warm welcome by Sara, followed by an inspiring introduction to the Jam concept by Anthony, and a wonderful intro to the Jam topic of the representation of burials and burial spaces by Julie Rugg of the York Cemetery Research Group. Flo Laino then walked us through the extensive resources she pulled together to augment our visit to York Cemetery. Colleen Morgan also created a series of very interesting videos about the site, as well as challenges for the Jam participants, which are uploaded onto the Jam website, created by Ian Kirkpatrick. Knowing we would have lots of resources already to hand, we headed out together to the cemetery in the lovely sunshine. I must confess I’ve lived in York nearly 10 years, but I’ve never been to the cemetery, which is a pity, as it’s a fascinating place.

Walking to York Cemetery

Walking to York Cemetery

Not knowing much about the history of the place, I was immediately struck by how differently kept the site is. Everything is leafy and calm, but in some areas the landscape is manicured, while in others it appears the landscape is being encouraged to reclaim the graves. The ivy is so pervasive on the unkempt gravestones it gives the reclamation an almost aggressive quality. I walked around with one of the four groups, and we all seemed to focus on the general feel of the place, but didn’t really read the gravestones themselves. We lingered longest at the small, more private area set aside for babies. The multitude of objects surrounding the graves were markedly different from the restraint displayed with the adult graves, and we were all moved by it. After about 30 minutes, we headed back to campus, and I had a chance to speak with Julie Rugg about why some parts of the cemetery were left overgrown, while others scrupulously maintained. She said the cemetery had always been a commercial enterprise; closed in the 1960s, and left derelict until the 1980s. When the deterioration became concerning, York residents formed groups to reclaim it, though initially not as a cemetery, but as a green space. Since then, some areas are now back in active use, while others continue on as part of the green space, and the differences between the areas reflect this history.

Overgrown headstones in York Cemetery

Areas of the cemetery continue to be developed as green space.

Once back in the meeting room, everyone got to work. I spent most of the time with one group; Katie Campbell, Kat Foxton, Clara Molina Sánchez, and Mary Garrison. I got to listen to how they were interpreting the site, and the way they wanted to bring it to life visually. Ideas came from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, the Anekantavada, RTI, and well…hedgehogs.

Starting to create at the Heritage Jam

My group working through initial ideas after visiting York Cemetery in the form of a storyboard, with help and input from Julie Rugg. L-R: Clara, Mary, Julie, Kat and Katie.

At the end of the day, each group shared what they created over a glass of wine, including the paradata document (explaining their process and choices). They couldn’t have been more different, and I won’t try to explain them here. So much thought and work went into all of them, I couldn’t do them justice! They are already featured in the Heritage Jam website, alongside the twelve international ‘remote’ entries. Have a look yourself at the Jam Gallery! Brilliant day!

Students in archaeology

Me giving the closing address for the 2nd ASA conference (Image Copyright: Heidi Babos)

Me giving the closing address for the 2nd ASA conference (Image Copyright: Heidi Babos)

Hello, I am David Altoft, currently an MSc Bioarchaeology student at the University of York. My contribution to the Day of Archaeology last year was titled ‘Anyone can be an archaeologist!’ (www.dayofarchaeology.com/anyone-can-be-an-archaeologist). The opening paragraph summarised well my belief that archaeology needs to be more permeable to participation and sharing of ideas from an integrated audience of different demographics.

The ‘demographic’ I belong to is archaeology students. Last year I reported on the development of the student-run archaeology journal, The Post Hole (www.theposthole.org), and the Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) conference series (www.asaconference.org.uk), that I was Editor-in-Chief and founder of, respectively, in 2012-13. These two initiatives offer archaeology students an unprecedented opportunity to share their innovative research and original ideas in two accessible and increasingly respected platforms.

The Post Hole has been shortlisted for the biennial British Archaeological Award (www.archaeologicalawards.org.uk) for the Best Public Presentation of Archaeology and I will attend the awards ceremony at the British Museum with Emily Taylor and Rianca Vogels, the 2013-14 Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, on Monday to find out whether or not The Post Hole has won. I will be delighted even if it doesn’t win, because by being shortlisted, The Post Hole has been given recognition for the positive impact it has made for opening the discipline of archaeology and proving that students can be as responsible as any other demographic for the production of great archaeology.

Annual Student Archaeology conference
The Annual Student Archaeology conference has made huge strides since last year. Following the 1st ASA conference I co-organised with other students at the University of York, I established the ASA National Committee which comprises of student representatives, currently from the Universities of Bournemouth, Cambridge, Durham, Southampton, and me at York. Together we have promoted the conference series to fellow students at our respective universities and discussed the future overall direction of ASA. In January this year we received bids from groups of students at four universities in the UK to host the 2nd ASA conference and we selected the University of Reading as the Organising Committee responsible for this challenge.

The 2nd ASA conference was held at the Department of Archaeology in Reading on 19-20 June and attracted undergraduates and postgraduates from not only across the UK, but also from other countries: Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Poland and Switzerland! This has reinforced my growing realisation that an ‘integrated archaeology’ is permeable across borders as well as demographics. ASA helps break down this geographic barrier to student participation in archaeology by issuing a call for posters to those who cannot attend the conferences in the UK, and this year’s Organising Committee received poster abstracts from students in Nigeria, South Africa and the United States, amongst other countries.

ASA2 delegates networking with the IfA

ASA2 delegates networking with the IfA

ASA2 delegates networking with the Royal Archaeological Institute

ASA2 delegates networking with the Royal Archaeological Institute

The third main barrier ASA is trying to remove for student participation in archaeology conferences is thematic and practical specialisation. Archaeology is perhaps the most diverse discipline there is, as it is essentially the anything, everything and anytime study of the past. Understandably, conferences require having a scope, though many students may be unsure which one to approach to present their own work. ASA tries to be the opposite of most conferences and so the Organising Committee has the task each year of selecting the best papers from students across the discipline and then defining the sessions from those. It is difficult accommodating different fields of research and being engaging to all delegates of the ASA conferences, though I think the team at Reading achieved that balance by splitting the programme for the first ten sessions in two and having the eleventh and most universal session, ‘Issues and Debates’, attended by all delegates.

TAG session proposal
The truth of the matter is that we won’t ever achieve a completely ‘integrated archaeology’ as we all have our own interests that cause us to be involved in this discipline in the first place; however, there certainly is a lot more we can all do to ensure archaeology is at least a more integrated discipline.

For my part, I am currently finalising a session proposal to submit to the organisers of this year’s Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference. Whilst ASA is doing a great job of encouraging students to share their own work and ideas with the discipline, I would like to do almost the opposite and use another existing platform to ask the discipline as a whole how it currently interacts with students and what it could perhaps do to better integrate with this demographic.

It’s fantastic that there is growing consensus across the discipline that we need to better understand and interact with the public ‘outside’ the discipline and with practitioners between the academic and non-academic sectors of the discipline, but what about students in between all these groups? Are students the too often overlooked demographic of archaeology?

I hope that my proposal for a session on understanding of and engagement with students will be accepted for TAG 2014, and a subsequent call for papers can obtain the perspectives of an integrated audience from the different sectors of the discipline. Keep an eye out for any news via my Twitter profile, @DavidAltoft.

The future of ASA
So what else have I been doing lately? On Wednesday, I and fellow representatives on the ASA National Committee ratified a constitution for the conference series. Like The Post Hole, ASA benefits from being entirely run by students as this leads to a rapid turn-over of participants, and with them, fresh ideas. However, that also creates problems. I have been working behind the scenes for ASA for almost two years, whether it’s been by rallying support for ASA on its Facebook and Twitter pages, creating it’s by-now emblematic stripy red banners, or sending hundreds of emails to universities and academic and student societies. I’ve had a mad love for ASA to thrive; however, I won’t be a student forever (as soon as September, if I don’t secure a funded PhD – hint, hint, universities and funding bodies!) and so this constitution serves as a framework of knowledge from previous trial-and-error to guide future Organising and National Committees.

Southampton representative, Alistair Galt, handing out questionnaires at ASA2

Southampton representative, Alistair Galt, handing out questionnaires at ASA2

Following lots of discussion with the rest of the National Committee, applications have been opened today for students at universities across the UK to bid to host the 1st ASA conference in June 2015 and apply to join the National Committee for 2014-15. For the former opportunity, we have designed an application form, available now at www.asaconference.org.uk/get-involved. For the latter opportunity, we have emailed the Heads of all UK university archaeology departments to encourage them to consider having elections in their departments for students to democratically elect representatives onto the National Committee at the start of the coming academic year.

Students wishing to join the National Committee at universities that haven’t held elections by 7 October will be offered a second chance by sending brief statements of interest for the consideration of the retiring National Committee during 8-27 October. The new National Committee and Organising Committee (and thereby host of ASA3) will be announced on 28 October at www.facebook.com/ASAconference and www.twitter.com/ASAconference.

My Masters and future
Like last year, I’m not writing much about what I do for my degree. That’s not because it isn’t the most important thing I spend my time on and interesting at all; it’s just something I’m sure any current or previous student reading this will already know about and identity with – lots of reading and writing!

I am currently working on my dissertation, the final element of my Masters in Bioarchaeology, before I hopefully graduate in September. I have written the chapters introducing my research and reviewing the existing literature, and am balancing that with the lab work that is generating the results I will also write on. My research is the biomolecular analysis of food residues absorbed and preserved within ceramic vessels from the Early Neolithic in western Russia, firstly, to find out whether I can find any traces of their original contents, and if so, secondly, to determine what they are to infer something of cuisine during the Neolithicisation of that region.

Hopefully, if I contribute to the Day of Archaeology again next year, I will be doing so as a PhD student. It is an uncertain time for me as I pursue funding and the best possible environment for me to be one, though far from being a distraction as some people understandably worry, my involvement with initiatives like ASA and The Post Hole hopefully prove that I am passionate about archaeology and have more to mutually give to and gain from it – especially with my now much improved time management skills!

Hidden Archaeology in York

AOC logo 2008

Located in one of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful and archaeologically vibrant centres, our York office sits just beyond the medieval walls near Walmgate Bar, one of the four main and most complete medieval gateways into the heart of the city. Today the sun is shining and our team members are busy analysing data collected from recent excavations and geophysics projects, and preparing for the exciting projects which are starting in the next couple of weeks.

Mitchell Pollington (Operations Manager)

I spent a great morning having a look around (and under!) York’s medieval Guildhall and the adjacent ‘Hutments’ site, where we are going to be undertaking an extensive community excavation this August.

Everyone will have the opportunity to be involved with the project, and it’s all for free!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Interior of Guildhall – originally built in the 15th Century and restored after damage from raids in WW2, the stained glass window illustrates the history of York and the historical importance of the city.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Front of the Guildhall – as viewed from the rear of Mansion House

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Common Lane – a hidden street beneath York’s Guildhall!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ‘Hutments’ Site – the location of our excavations in August will be focused here. The existing building is situated on the site of a medieval monastery where Richard III stayed when in York!

Paul Clarke (Project Officer – Excavation)

Today I am in the office preparing for the upcoming York Guildhall community excavation in August, which promises to be one of the most exciting excavations in York for years! I’ve only just started working for  AOC but I have already worked on excavating a Romano-British ladder settlement in Brough over the past 3 weeks, which has turned up some really complex and fascinating archaeology – it’s a very wet site so it’s one for the palaeobotanists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some of our team busy in the office

 

Alice James (Project Officer – Geophysics)

This morning I finished writing a report on a gradiometer survey at St Andrews College and Moat near Acaster Selby. St  Andrew’s College was founded in 1470 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells and in an act of Parliament in the late 15th Century recorded as holding an estate of 40 acres in Nether Acaster. It is documented as being made up of the main College buildings and chapel which lie on top of a large square platform.  Although there are no standing remains of the college and its associated structures, the site contains earthwork remains including a moated enclosure and ridge and furrow. By using a gradiometer survey we have been able to accrue more information regarding the form and extent of these known features as well as identifying previously unrecorded features such as a series of enclosures.

This afternoon is going to be filled with the organisation and project management of the geophysics projects we will be conducting in the next couple of weeks. July and August will be busy, especially in the south of England. In mid-August we are going to carry out a GPR survey as part of our Guildhall project in collaboration with the University of York, which I am very excited about!

DSC_0020 ne

St Andrew’s College and Moat – earthworks of the moat, which are still present in the modern landscape

 

DSC_0074

Balancing a Bartington gradiometer before data collection

 

AOC Archaeology Group provides a UK-wide service, from three main offices, in Edinburgh, London and York. For more information about our professional services or any of the projects we working on please go to:

AOC logo image     Twitter Icon      Facebook Icon       LinkedIn Icon

 

 

 

I’m no David Hockney…

Montage of my desk

My desk at Internet Archaeology

 

This is the view from my desk most days here at Internet Archaeology. As a 4 day week kind of gal, I only work mornings on a Friday so my day today is full of small jobs that I know I can complete and feel some sense of achievement about. Today, I have been:

  1. Creating this post (and think I just managed to avoid my home email address from being blacklisted after sending all these montage photos to work from my iPad! Duh. In my defence, I’d not had my 3rd cup of coffee)
  2. Posted out a call for applications for 2 new PhD positions at York and Aarhus in Digital Heritage
  3. Sent out requests to recent authors to fill in my author survey to make sure they think I’m doing ok. Looking at the responses so far, authors seem to be generally very happy!
  4. Added final edits and bibliographic tweaks to the last article about to be published in issue 36
  5. Accepted a new article proposal in principle from a researcher in Norway
  6. Having crossed these jobs off, I’ve added at least the same number again to my to do list

Now, I can sit back and enjoy my coffee 🙂

 

 

The working day of Cape Town’s Archaeology-Cool-Kids-Club

Cape Town has been relatively grey this week; I woke up this morning thinking I was back in York. Having got my bearings correct I set about the morning getting ready for work. I’m the new archaeology intern at the Iziko South African Museum (www.iziko.org.za) and for Day of Archaeology I’m basically going to play the role of a journalist, going around asking people about their day and taking photos. So let’s start with my day.

SAM_0843

Iziko South African Museum

Keneiloe (Kenni) Molopyane

SAM_0873

Bioarchaeologist turned Physical Anthropology PhD candidate

At some point in the morning I finally made it to my office in the Archaeology Department bracing myself for a relatively calm day filled with admin work, gathering Physical Anthropology data for my potential PhD proposal and sorting out my relocation logistics… I quickly slip into my general intern routine that includes running up and down the stairs to collect the mass amount of prints I send to the printing machine one floor above us. Then it’s a quick scanning of the notice-board, which I inherited from the last intern. I decided it didn’t need any updating today besides; I have somehow managed to paste the wall around the actual notice-board with short articles, notices, comics and job/funding posts. The actual notice-board is bare!! I seem to have some mad skills there. Right, then it’s my favourite part of the day, reading emails. Depending on how many emails I’ve sent out the previous day determines how many responses I get back and for how long I’m going to be sat in front of my computer. The most interesting bit of news from the electronic mailman is that my new office at the next institution I’ll be tutoring at is in the basement! How awesome, I get a crypt-like office!! My dream of becoming “Bones” is that much closer to becoming reality; I’m a bioarchaeologist by the way. I’m more interested skeletal or mummified remains of past peoples than I am of the artefacts left behind. I’m the creepy chick in the department.

Emails, done; printing, done; coffee *slurp* finished; and so I grab my camera and dash out over to Iziko Social History centre to go bug the guys up at Historical/ Maritime Archaeology. I started my Iziko career over in that building in Maritime Archaeology, so it’s always grand to just chill up there with the guys over a cup of coffee, laugh and be teased at. So, I get there and do my paparazzi gig and stare, dumb-founded, at all the shipwreck material in the lab.
Jaco Boshoff

SAM_0820

Getting into the proposal writing zone

Jaco is the curator of Maritime and Historical Archaeology. This morning I found both him and Jake (maritime archaeology intern) in the wet lab calibrating the ph reader, so they can start using it on a series shipwreck material that dots the lab and the balcony. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to serious curator business…making the hardworking interns some delicious coffee =). Hie, hie, jokes aside, Jaco gets settled in working on publications and research monies to keep myself and Jake coming back for more work experience and most importantly the awesome diving adventures that are in the works. Leaving Jaco to get on with his day, I turn my attention to Jake.

Jake Harding

SAM_0822

The “not sure if Jaco is talking to me or himself again” look.

Jake is the maritime archaeology intern on the same funding programme I’m on (DST-NRF). Now Jake, just like Jaco, is crazy about all things maritime archaeology related, aka shipwrecks. He’s day starts out with checking on the many shipwreck artefacts that are in the lab. Documenting and treating numerous cannon balls and strange iron pieces, as well as your occasional knocking off concretion with a chisel and hammer is all a part of Jake’s day. I haven’t a clue what’s going on with all these artefacts, and Jake is just going on about each iron piece in solution and how they all fit together or not, with this pure, unadulterated excitement. I wonder if I get that way when talking about skeletons.

I had a video recording (or at least I thought it was) of Jake taking me through his day and the artefacts, but because technology is way higher grade for me, I can’t find the video on the camera. =(

One cup of coffee later, I’m making my way once more to the South African museum or ISAM as it is known among the inner circles of Iziko.

So, I’m sat in my office after a quick run upstairs to the printers again and I hope to finally sit down and type out the pathology report I put together a week ago. An email pops in and it’s from the University of York’s alumni about taking part in their “where are you and how you doing” survey. I can foresee this is going to take me a while, so I’ll put it off for Monday. Wilhelmina pops in and we sit down and go through her day.

Wilhelmina (Wil) Seconna

SAM_0860

Now where would that Khoe pot be?

Wil is the Assistant Collections Manager…actually she’s the best Collections Manager ever! She makes sure that all the operations going on in the department run smoothly and that everybody is happy. It seems that we have similar morning routine going on here. Wil’s morning begins with going through a mass amount of emails and research requests for access to the archaeology collections. All the SAHRA permits applications and all things admin were taken care of with a quick session at the computer, and Wil just make’s it look so easy. A quick run to the printers is followed by a mini adventure in search of a Khoe pot for the Land Act exhibition coming up soon
.
Naturally, when you have a department filled with girls, you can expect there to be shopping talk involved at some point in the day. Today, Wil & Erica kidnapped Pascal and went out shopping…for safety gear quotes. Overalls, boots, gloves and hard hats aren’t exactly what us girls want to be shopping for, but hey, we’ll take it. Why are we buying safety gear? The museum is currently going through a major revamp and so there’s construction being done in the building…as you would have it, the archaeology collection is required to move. So yes, we need heavy duty outfits that can be worn while we methodologically relocated the storeroom which houses over 100 (at least) sites in and around the Cape. Shopping trip over it’s time to get the shelving out from the storeroom and into the main lab, and Erica takes charge.

SAM_0866

Erica Bartnick

SA_WCP_Cape Town_ISAM_Level 3 Store_Sutherland Material_Feb 2012

“Kenni, stop with the paparazzi-ness”

Erica is the Collections Assistant working on the Physical Anthropology collection.
Her day today went along these lines: first task was to photograph the de-installation process of the casts made by former taxidermist, John Drury, in the Ethno Hall. It’s been decided that the casts of the human figures are to be removed and replaced with wire figurines; it’s all very futuristic and arty looking. Then there was the shopping trip followed by admin work regarding the Physical Anthropology collection. New labels for the skeleton boxes were prepared as well as a mapping system for the new layout of the collection. As already mentioned before, the archaeology storeroom is being shifted around and so today’s main activities were centered the moving of the shelving and ensuring that the next site collection (Klasies River Mouth) to be moved is all prepped and ready to go.

Packers

SAM_0870

The manpower behind moving the shelving and super heavy boxes containing Stone Age material are our resident packers!! Sam, Angus, Pascal and Manzi
These guys do all the heavy lifting so that pretty girls such Wil, Erica and (depending if it’s a bad hair day or not) myself don’t have to.

SAM_0869

And that’s a wrap folks, off to the pub I go!!

Ok, it’s the end of the work day and I need to head off to a farewell gig for one of my SAHRA mates and dive buddy. She’s heading out to the USA for some warm-water-diving adventures. Goodbyes always suck, but it’s the one time in what has felt like forever since I hung out with the SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency)Underwater Unit, it’ll be great…they’re great! Here’s a short piece and video link to what my awesome Maritime Archaeology mates do =).

Sophie Winton

IMG_1660

Can I get in the water now?

When I sat down to write something for Day of Archaeology, my mind went blank! As a maritime archaeologist in South Africa, there are just too many wonderful things that I want to share about the world below the waves.

So instead of writing a 20 page essay, I thought I would let this video sum it up for me. This was filmed during SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Field School in 2012, hosted in Cape Town. Table Bay was a toasty 10 degrees Celsius and we were doing NAS training with some wonderful students from South Africa, the Netherlands, Swaziland and Canada.

If you would like to find out more maritime archaeology in South Africa, visit www.sahra.org.za/about/maritime

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9j8kQpZi2daSUc4cElONUZvaUk/edit?usp=drive_web

 

Sticks and stones: a day in the life of a finds specialist

My name is Dawn McLaren and I am a finds specialist here at AOC Archaeology Group, based in Loanhead, Scotland.  On a day-to-day basis I’m involved in analysing artefacts recovered as the result of archaeological excavations undertaken by AOC’s fieldwork team.  Most of the objects that I have the privilege of working on come from archaeological sites in Scotland but as we have offices in York and London I’m also involved in identifying finds from digs across England.  My job is to identify any artefacts uncovered and this means figuring out what material the objects are made from, what date they could be and what they might have been used for.  In order to get as much information from the finds as possible, I work closely with AOC’s fieldwork team to understand as much as I can about the context of the finds on site and their possible significance, as well as working with AOC’s conservators to ensure that the objects are cared for properly once they come out of the ground.

Examining the grinding face of a rotary quernstone

Dawn examining the grinding face of a rotary quernstone

To give you an idea of the range of finds that I deal with, in the last few weeks I’ve been looking at a some Neolithic pottery from a site in northeast Scotland, some ironworking waste from a Roman site in southeast Scotland and a post-medieval assemblage of iron and worked bone from an urban site in Edinburgh. As I said in my 2012 Day of Archaeology blog, each artefact I meet presents its own challenges and it definitely keeps me on my toes!  They all have their own story to tell, so let’s see what’s in store today….

Today I’m examining a small group of worked stone objects from a Roman site in southeast Scotland. My first step is always to examine the individual objects in detail to allow me to observe any surface markings that might be tool marks left from manufacture of the object, wear from use or damage sustained to the object before it was deposited.  Some types of stone tools are more recognisable than others, such as this wonderful fragment of a rotary quernstone (see images), but this detailed approach allows me to categorise the wear and helps me to create, where possible, a biography of the artefact- from its manufacture to its deposition after its use had ceased.

Analysing a Roman quernstone fragment

Analysing a Roman quernstone fragment

The next stage is to catalogue the objects and this means describing each artefact in detail and taking measurements of each item.  Assisting me in this task is Marissa, an overseas student who I’m supervising here at AOC Archaeology this month on an Arcadia Internship.  The internship aims to provide training and experience in post-excavation work and is an important part of AOC’s commitment to making archaeology accessible to a wider audience and to provide valuable experience to promising students.

Taking measurements of central socket

Taking measurements of central socket

Having now looked at all stone objects within this particular assemblage, the star find for me is definitely this wonderful quernstone fragment!

Roman quernstone fragment

Roman quernstone fragment

These rotary quernstones would have been used as a pair – an upper and lower stone – to grind grain into flour. The lower stone would remain stationary and the upper stone would be turned by hand as the grain was fed down a central hole in the upper stone.  This particular stone represents approximately one half of a lower grinding stone and has a clear series of vertical grooves decorating the edges of the stone and a convex grinding face which has been deliberately dressed to make a rough surface for the grain to be ground against.  What is really interesting about this example is that the style of the quern mimics imported Roman lava quernstones but is almost certainly made from local sandstone.

For more information on our post-excavation services please check out our website:http://www.aocarchaeology.com/services/post-excavation

 

 

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!

A Day in the Life of Archaeological Services Inc. (Ontario, Canada)

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is one of the largest archaeological consulting firms in Canada with over thirty years experience in the production and dissemination of knowledge concerning our past. We have over 100 full-time and seasonal staff members and three offices – two in Toronto and one in Burlington. Our company is divided into separate divisions and here you will find little snapshots about what each field director or division at ASI is doing at the moment. Enjoy!

From Field Director Robb B:

Today I was stripping on site. Now that’s not what you think it means. We began stripping/removing the topsoil from our site today in hopes to uncover settlement patterns. We started roughly 20m away from outside the limit of the previously mapped extent of artifacts (as determined by surface artifact scatter or test unit artifact drop-off). As we move northward and closer to the main concentration of artifacts, hopefully we’ll find some sort of settlement pattern!

photo

The Gradall machine stripping the topsoil off Robb’s site.

From the Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscape Planning Division:

Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscapes is busy this week with projects that are taking place in Downtown Toronto, in the farming communities near Toronto and in a very old and historic area near Niagara Falls.  The cultural heritage assessments that we do are a form of archaeology that takes place ‘above ground’. Right now, one staff member is working on cultural heritage evaluation of bridges in Eastern Ontario and even managed to find an old bridge in the middle of the bush! Another member of the team is developing a plan for salvaging architectural material from nineteenth-century properties that are slated for removal. Meanwhile, the team near Niagara Falls is exploring ways in which modern  infrastructure projects can fit into a landscape that is associated with Canadian heroine Laura Secord and which still contains a number of important historic sites. And, in downtown Toronto a team is looking at how the built heritage of the city can be best preserved; their work will contribute to the establishment of three new heritage conservation districts in the city.

_MG_8686 - Copy

The incredibly talented (and good-looking) Built Heritage team.

From The Geomatics Team:

Today Blake is overlaying historical maps of Fort York dating back to 1815 and digitizing the buildings and features in Geographic Information System (GIS). This will allow researchers to examine the changes that have occurred at the Fort overtime. It will also aid officials to better protect their hidden archaeological resources should improvements within the fort be planned.  Shady is working with CAD files provided by clients in GIS and he is mapping built heritage features and areas that have archaeological potential that could be impacted by different alternates of transit projects. The clients can take Shady’s graphics and avoid archaeologically sensitive areas and they can try to ensure that built heritage features are not negatively impacted by future development.

From Field Director Jes:

My crew and I are currently working on a stage three historic site being impacted by a service line associated with a wind turbine. The view is quite nice, with 7 foot corn on one side and a farm with animals on the other. Unfortunately, excavating here is like trying to dig through a rubber tire, but my team is tough and knows how to get things done! Below is a a shot of the crew as well as our monitors from Caldwell, Walpole Island, and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

20130717_083337

Jes’s crew on site beside the cornfields.

From the Special Projects Division:

ASI is also conducting excavations at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto at the site of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks of the New Fort York. Eventually, the exposed foundation of the barracks will be placed under glass and featured in an entranceway to a new hotel.

In south-western Ontario, ASI is investigating dozens of new sites dating to between six and three thousand years ago in cooperation with Six Nations of the Grand.  ASI is also currently documenting the artifact assemblages recovered over the last century from a number of Huron-Wendat ossuaries prior to their return to the earth as part of a large repatriation project planned for later this fall. The Huron-Wendat Nation, the University of Toronto, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Heritage Trust are jointly participating in the project.

From Field Director Wes:

Our crew (Wes, Nina, Chris, and Kristen) have been excavating the remains of three outbuildings located behind the East Enlisted Mens Barracks at the New Fort Site in Toronto. The foundations of the buildings are partially intact, as are numerous brick and clay drains associated with the buildings. The first photo shows the remains of a brick and limestone structure built overtop of an earlier limestone privy building. It also shows that we are constantly having to battle ground and rain water! The second photo shows the remains of a brick sewer drain later replaced by a clay drain, both of which are beneath the limestone foundation of what was known as a Cleaning Shed.

Print

The foundations and drain from Wes’s site.

From one of the Material Culture Analysts:

I come into our box filled office that I share with two other historic analysts and pull out the collection that I’m currently working on. Each bag full of artifacts is labelled according to its provenience and I work provenience by provenience to lay out each bag’s contents and assign a catalogue number to every artifact, and slowly my database grows!

Untitled

Typical desk of an ASI material culture analyst.

From Field Director Stacey:

We have been working on a stage three pre-contact settlement. So we have been digging a 1x1m unit every 10m in order to determine how large the site is and create a grid of units across the site.  When we find a unit with over 100 artifacts we will dig four more units one on each side, 5m away from it. So far we have found lots of pottery, fragments of chert (flint) and animal bone. We have also found evidence of the walls of the houses in the site from post moulds in the ground. Once we finish determining how large the site is, we will begin stage four, block excavation.

photo

Stacey resting in one of her (very deep) 1×1 units!

From the Environmental Assessment Division:

Work continues along the expansion corridor of a major east-west highway north-east of the City of Toronto. Five separate crews are working on everything from test-pitting tree-covered and bug-infested lots to preliminary excavation of pre-contact villages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of five crews working on the transportation project east of Toronto.

Environmental Assessment teams are completing work on the sites of future wind turbines. First archaeology, then clean energy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the crews excavating an area for the wind turbine project.

We are also currently excavating a portion of a fourteenth century ancestral Huron-Wendat village north of Toronto. Previously disturbed by road construction, ASI crews will be on site this summer salvaging data resulting from proposed road improvements.

From the TPOK Organizers:

On Thursday, July 25th, ASI hosted its bi-monthly lecture series, Two Pints of Knowledge (TPOK).  TPOK started at ASI two years ago and has been a resounding success in drawing large groups of ASI employees out to its bi-monthly lectures.  By covering a broad range of topics from lithics and pre-contact ceramics to present-day garbology and historic beer tasting, in an informal, company-sanctioned space, and often lubricated by a beer (or two), TPOK has created a space of learning and socialization within a corporate, CRM environment.

Untitled

ASI staff and TPOK regulars listening to one of the Thursday evening talks.

The existence of such spaces is paramount to the well-being and sustained ethicacy of the CRM industry at a time when the deadlines placed upon the industry by their clients are making the existence of such events harder and harder to host.  As the last line of defense in the daily battle to preserve cultural heritage, it is critical for contract archaeologists to keep up with the developing methodological and theoretical trends happening within the discipline.  While life and bills and a full work schedule get in the way with much of the reading that goes along with the work conducted by our colleagues in university and public sector-based academia, facilitating a lecture series like TPOK allows contract archaeologists to spread much of the research work along them while bringing fellow-minded archaeologists together for open discussion.  Thus, not only does TPOK allow for training and education in a socially-friendly format, it creates an open environment so that new conceptions on how best to approach cultural heritage management can emerge.  It is our hope that TPOK continues to be a thriving success and that similar venues spring up in other CRM companies to advance the cause of heritage conservation around the world.

From Laboratory Services:

The lab is the entry point for all artifacts that are coming in from the field.  We wash, sort, organize and keep track of all the artifacts excavated by ASI crews.  Every day is different since we receive such a wide range of artifacts, everything from precontact lithic scatters to nineteenth century urban sites.  Being in the lab we have the privilege of seeing the best finds come in from the field as well as discover the secrets of seemingly mundane artifacts. Today we received four bags of artifacts from the New Fort site, more specifically from privies associated with the enlisted men’s barracks (see Wes above).

We also worked on washing, sorting, and cataloguing some artifacts that came from various sites associated with a major east-west highway northeast of the city of Toronto.  Two of these sites are villages from the pre-contact era, which include beautiful decorated pottery, pipes and stone tools.  We also washed a small 19th century historic surface collection which had some nice decorated ceramics, a pipe stem, some bottle finishes and machine made nails.  This surface collection will be analysed and catalogued in the lab, to determine if this site needs to be excavated further.

In order to keep up with all the artifacts that arrive from our 10 field crews we have a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Archaeology Centre where we rent a space in their building as well as hire archaeology students to wash artifacts. Right now they’re washing a collection from a redware pottery. Because the site includes all the refuse, misfires, and other cast-offs there’s a lot to wash!

Print

A collection of pictures taken yesterday in the ASI lab and the U of T lab.

From the Toronto Survey Division:

The Toronto Survey division has recently completed the assessment of a project at the crossroads of two former concession roads in the Region of Peel. The subject property was comprised of a portion of a former landfill site and recently ploughed lands adjacent to a water course along the west perimeter. The former landfill portion of the site was deemed to have no remaining archaeological potential, while the ploughed lands were subject to a pedestrian survey at five metre intervals.  Despite careful scrutiny no archaeological finds were discovered.

From Field Director Rob W:

Today our group is focusing on some rolling landscape. We were all thankful for the break in the heat and the rise in the windspeed as we searched for artifacts on the hills and valleys of our long-standing project. More field crews working on site together meant time for catching up on projects from across Ontario. Nothing improves the work day like running into old friends in a familiar place.

20130722_105736

Rob W’s crew, Kiara’s crew and Jes’ crew working together on a slope!

If you would like to learn more about our most famous projects and artifacts, visit our website here.

If you would like to learn more about us on a daily basis, follow us on Facebook, Twitter @ArchaeologyTO, and LinkedIn.

Thanks for stopping by!

Mystery, Diversity and the Joy of Archaeology

Human beings are odd beasts. So much more than political animals, our ‘habits’ are so varied that they sometimes seem far from habitual. Capable of action on all scales, from building enormous monuments that take millions of people over many generations to a single individual caring for a companion in the face of incurable illness.

Yet, go with any person to the place they sleep and you will learn much about them, their society, economics, politics, aesthetics and so on. You can learn from the materials of that space – Do they sleep on a bed? under blankets? are they clean? Do they have Justin Beiber posters? Picasso prints? Turner originals? Is there water by the bed? is the cup glass, pottery or metal?

(more…)