What does a Science Advisor do all day?



Much earlier this year on a visit to the submerged forest at Erith I had found what appeared to be a hurdle; woven from thin pieces of wood. My colleagues in Historic England at Fort Cumberland had identified the wood as Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and the samples were sent for radiocarbon dating.  Today we got the results of the dating the fragments of ash wood date to the Bronze Age which is excellent news as this is consistent with other dated material from this part of the submerged forest and is exciting as the structure is likely to have been made humans rather than the trees which were overwhelmed by rising river levels.

Next I was asked for advice about a site where Vibro columns were proposed as means of ground improvement. It is very common for buildings to built using piled foundations. This method is often referred to as piling but this is misleading. Vibro columns involve a very different approach mechanically. The particles in the deposits are shaken down into place to provide a more compact and solid base for building upon. How these methods impact archaeological deposits is still poorly understood. We do know that it causes movement and settlement over a wider area and is likely to adversely affect any archaeology present. To find out more about piling and archaeology see https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/piling-and-archaeology/

I then joined colleagues from GLAAS (Greater London Archaeological Advice Service) and Development Management team for a visit to the Curtain Theatre excavations in Hackney. Here the knucklebone floor which had been much admired and re-tweeted recently was being reburied. The controlled reburial of archaeological remains to preserve them is referred to as preservation in situ this can be permanent or temporary.  The area to be reburied had been covered with a special membrane Terram and the next stage was for it to be covered with sand. The type of sand used is very important it has to be able to be packed down evenly to provide a buffer layer between the archaeology and what is to go above it and also has to have a low Iron content to avoid leaching into the archaeological deposits and potentially damaging them.

My next task was to work on our next training event. Over the last year or so we have been putting on a series of one day training sessions on Human remains in commercial archaeology, ethical legal and curatorial considerations.  These events have been very well attended and the feedback has also been very positive. The audience has included curators, consultants and contractors. This has involved lots of input from colleagues within Historic England both for technical input and logistic arrangements and also many external speakers from local authorities, universities,  the Church of England and the ministry of justice as well as and archaeology companies and freelance specialists.

So a full and varied day of archaeological science.