Monthly Archives: July 2016

Another day, another site: urban archaeology in Christchurch, New Zealand

It’s been over five years now since the earthquakes that devastated the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. Over those years the city has steadily worked its way through the aftermath of the quakes, dealing with lost lives, emotional upheaval, broken houses and businesses, damaged infrastructure and roads that resemble river beds more than city streets. As Christchurch slowly rebuilds itself, we – the archaeologists – have been working to make sure that the physical heritage of the city is not completely lost. We record and investigate 19th century buildings, sites of Maori occupation and early European settlement, the early drainage and roading infrastructure of a colonial city, and the material culture with which the people of Christchurch’s past constructed their world.

Last year, we wrote a post showcasing the various aspects of urban archaeological work in Christchurch, from buildings archaeology to artefact finds and the tedious but necessary tasks of report writing and paperwork. A year later, in truth, not much has changed. Day to day, we still do all of the same things, carry out all the same tasks and steps to make sure that Christchurch’s archaeological record – and the historical identity that goes with it – is preserved for future generations. If anything has changed, honestly, it’s not the process but the focus of the work, a reflection of where the city finds itself five and a half years after the most devastating of the earthquakes. There’s less demolition now and more rebuilding. Fewer crumbling structures to be dealt with, but more empty lots on city streets. From an archaeological perspective, this translates to more analysis, historical research and report writing, as we consolidate the information that we’ve gathered over the last five years, while keeping on top of the site work that just doesn’t seem to stop! Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it’s frenetic, sometimes it’s tedious and sometimes we require a whole lot of baking to get us through the day, but it’s worth it to make sure that the story told by Christchurch’s archaeology isn’t forgotten.

Here’s how our Day of Archaeology played out…

We began with a bunch of archaeologically themed food. Because we're cool like that.

We began with a bunch of archaeologically themed food. Because we’re cool like that. Also, we get hungry. Image: J. Garland.


Some of our team spent the morning at Archives New Zealand, where beautiful old books and records reside, doing their own bit of historical sleuthing. Our appraisalists assess the archaeological potential of sites in Christchurch according to the New Zealand legislation, which governs the modiciation or desctruction of pre-1900 archaeological sites.

Some of our team spent the morning at Archives New Zealand, where beautiful old books and records reside, doing their own bit of historical sleuthing. Image: A. Gibson.



Our appraisalists assess the archaeological potential of sites in Christchurch according to New Zealand’s legislation, which protects sites of pre-1900 activity throughout the country. Like so many archaeological jobs, it’s often heavy on research and detail, but there’s nothing like finally figuring out the mystery of a site or the people who lived there. The odd account of scandalous goings on doesn’t hurt either. Image: A. Gibson.


Meanwhile, out on site, at least one of our field archaeologists was deep in concentration. I'd like to say that we're concentrating this hard all the time, but I'd be lying.

Meanwhile, out on site, at least one of our field archaeologists was deep in concentration. I’d like to say that we’re all concentrating this hard all the time, but I’d be lying. Image: T. Wadsworth.


It really was a beautiful day for archaeology in Christchurch though. Stunning.

It really was a beautiful day for archaeology in Christchurch though. Stunning. Image: T. Anderson.

Even if we weren’t finding anything. Nothing. Nothing at all…

Back in the office, some of us spent the afternoon refitting saucers.

And teapots.


Image: J. Garland.



Others gave their best impression of diligent and hardworking archaeologists, writing reports, creating digital illustrations and site plans and researching site histories. Image: J. Garland.


Others are stuck in the lab photographing artefacts, a tedious but important task.

Some were stuck in the lab photographing artefacts, a tedious but important task. Image: J. Garland



And some of us were finding cool things in artefact assemblages. This is the bone mouthpiece from a tobacco pipe, possibly a meerschaum (a carved pipe). Image: J. Garland.


By the end of the day, a s

By the end of the day, as it turns out, all that hard work and diligence still didn’t give us enough of an appetite to get through all the food we made. Honestly, I’m still trying to get through the biscuits. Image: J. Garland.

Not every day is like this (not every day involves this much food, for one). Sometimes our days are more exciting – sometimes we find great things on sites, sometimes we’re out and about creating exhibitions and communicating Christchurch’s histories, sometimes we get to go out and survey and excavate in stunning scenery. Sometimes, we even get to ride about in helicopters (well, the lucky ones do…). Other times, our days are more boring – a whole office of archaeologists working in silence, doing the dull things that still need to be done. There’s always variety, though, and we’re always working towards the same goal – recording and retaining Christchurch’s archaeological record for future generations. Telling stories of the city that was, so we can better understand the city that is and the city that will be.

 – Jessie Garland


The Explorator Newsletter ~ Spreading the News of Archaeology

Let me preface this ‘Day of Archaeology’ post by noting that I am not an archaeologist and do not profess to be. I’m a Classicist by training and a couple decades ago I thought the then-emerging World Wide Web would be a great way to promulgate news about archaeological finds specific to the Classical world. The idea was spawned by a clipping of the 1997 discovery of the Demosion Sima in Athens (not, as I have mistakenly said elsewhere, the discovery of plague victims in the Kerameikos) which was posted on the old-style bulletin board in the Classics department at McMaster University. The initial idea became a webpage known as Commentarium, which was somewhat regularly updated and did not just concentrate on the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome. By May of 1998, assorted technical issues with the website encouraged changing to an email format and the Explorator newsletter was officially born.  It originally came out every couple of days, but eventually settled into something that came out every Sunday morning and grew from a short newsletter with a dozen or so links to a much longer beast with links sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

And so, today — as with most Sundays for the past twenty years or so — I’ve thumped down the stairs and done the compilation of this newsletter. Over the course of the week, my spiders (a couple of decades’ worth of tweaked Google alerts) and my correspondents have sent to me plenty of links which need to have some order imposed on them. I should, of course, mention that I am eternally grateful to my correspondents, many of whom have been diligently sending me stuff for over a decade and a few (Mike Ruggeri, Trevor Watkins, John McMahon, and Arthur Shippee) from before the turn of the millennium. Their contributions are generally not in need of ‘vetting’, but the stuff my spiders bring back does required a bit of checking. As readers of Explorator are aware, I usually have more than one link for a particular story, but the links that make it into Explorator do have to meet some ‘quality control’ criteria, most of which relates to closeness to the original source and readability. This results in a sort of hierarchy of links — e.g., the ‘big three’ (, Science Daily, and Eurekalert) are usually first listed because they usually reproduce a press release or are one step removed from a scholarly paper on whatever is being presented.  After that (depending on what section of Explorator we’re dealing with) come the UK news sources, which are among the last to have reporters who actually deal with archaeology, and the LiveScience folks. In the ANE section, the Israel press sources tend to come next. After that, it’s a bit of a tossup, with news sources closest to the site tending to get privileged.

I try to avoid linking to sites (including blogs) which generally present just a rewrite of an AP or other news source piece (e.g. the Huffington Post and others) but make an exception for the Past Horizons blog, which is compiled by people with archaeological backgrounds and cites sources. Other blog sites which don’t cite where they’re getting their information, which charge to look at their articles, or which simply link to the ‘front page’ of a news site do not meet my criteria. Another exception I make is to Daily Mail coverage of archaeological stories. Almost without exception, the Daily Mail presents rewrites of other things (often poorly edited), but they usually have all the photos that are available and some useful sidebars with other information. Even so, I continue to struggle every week to justify including the Daily Mail.

Whatever the case,  over the course of the week I’m usually checking what’s been sent to me (I generally get 200 or so emails a day) and applying Gmail labels to things in anticipation of Sunday’s compilation. Come Sunday, I’m cutting and pasting those links into separate Google Documents (one for each category), and checking to ensure that links are still live, if necessary — one of the nice things about the development of the Internet over the past couple of decades is that links have a much longer shelf life than they once had. There are some annoying irregularities, though, with some news outlets limiting the number of times you can look at their site ‘for free’ during a one-month period (e.g. the New York Times). The Wall Street Journal is a bit of a puzzle for me as well because often articles show up without problem when I first look at them on my phone or tablet, but when I’m looking on my laptop on Sunday they only have a preview. Ha’aretz is somewhat similar, and sometimes is visible and sometimes isn’t (and there are assorted Internet tricks which sometimes work and sometimes don’t).  Getting back to the the ‘nice developments’ side of things we should also mention the use of some useful extension for Firefox which make compilation a bit easier: one extension gives me a nice vertical tab view of all my sections (separate Google doc in each section) and I have another which cleans up a lot of the detritus that gets added to an url when it is sent out by email. Their existence in Firefox but not Chrome (my primary browser) justifies the continued use of the former.

It generally takes three to four hours on Sunday to compile a typical Explorator issue. Once all the links are compiled in their respective Google Doc — and I don’t get my double espresso until the Classics section is complete — the relevant sections are cut and pasted into a template which has grown markedly over the years (the first issues just had ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’!). The newsletter is then posted in a number of ways in an effort to give it the widest possible exposure. Currently, the primary email delivery method is via Yahoogroups, which sends it out to 5581 subscribers (according to the latest stats). It is also posted to the Britarch email discussion group. Early on, Explorator was also posted to a trio of usenet newsgroups (sci.archaeology, sci.archaeology.moderated., and de.sci.geschichte) and continues to be posted there since usenet’s acquisition by Google a number of years ago. It’s possibly worth noting that if one is looking for an archive of Explorators, sci.archaeology.moderated is much more complete than Yahoo’s, which seems to be perpetually having issues. That Yahoo seems to regularly have issues also is the reason I’ve recently been posting the newsletter online in a WordPress blog — there was a period when Yahoo was cutting off everything after sixty lines. The creation of the WordPress blog, in turn, led to the posting of a link to the online version in the Reddit archaeology group (posting the whole newsletter ages ago was deemed a ‘link scrape’ and so I discontinued posting there for a while).

So that’s my contribution for the past couple of decades to the world of archaeology. Currently in its twentieth year (give or take), Explorator continues to present news of the world of archaeology every Sunday, cost free and ad free. I hope you find it useful.

Saveock Water Archaeology

Working hard between the showers.

Evidence of burning and a clay surface with rubble.

My Day of Archaeology 2016 was spent at Saveock Water Archaeology as part of a weeks training excavation over seen by Jackie Wood. We started the day by visiting a recreation of an Iron Age roundhouse Jackie has built on her land. This was fascinating to see I’d never been in one and to hear Jackie describe how life was spent inside the round house was very insightful. There were work surfaces, a hearth and an oven, and a raised platform for sleeping on. Next we went back to the excavation in a valley with a stream running through it. We were looking for more evidence of metal working on the site as several smelting ovens had been found and a drainage system was there too. It’s a fascinating site with a natural spring that had votive offerings placed in it mostly textiles. There was a grave cut and pits with animal carcasses and pebbles from local beaches. We found some pottery C17th century and some worked flint. All in all a very interesting day.

“Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library”

Archaeology is seen as an exciting and adventurous occupation by many. More often than not, mentioning my job will make people say things like „Oh, I always wanted to become an archaeologist, too!“. And of course there will be the inevitable Indiana Jones reference. I have long learned not to ask back why this dream didn´t become true – the answers mostly include getting a real job. But the glamour of childhood dreams is on my side.

And it´s so easy to fulfill everyone’s expectations, for example by talking about things experienced on excavations in more or less far away countries. I am involved in research in Romania (Rotbav, a Bronze Age settlement) and Turkey (Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic sanctuary) right now. The effect on the audience is of course much better, if you say Transylvania and explain that it is the rough landscapes of southeastern Turkey, largely unknown to western tourists. And some will even have heard of Göbekli Tepe. First monumental buildings (oh, let´s simply call them temples for the conversation´s sake), 12.000 years old. So, really important, really old sites, really interesting regions. You can go on and talk about all the travelling you have to do to attend conferences. For me, it´s Vienna, Göteborg and Vilnius this year. The summer will see me in Romania (yeah, alright, Transylvania) studying Bronze Age artefacts, the autumn maybe back in Turkey working with Neolithic finds.

Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey, 2007 (Photo: O. Dietrich).

Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey, 2007 (Photo: O. Dietrich).

The archaeological site of Rotbav, southeastern Transylvania, 2006 (Photo: O. Dietreich).

The archaeological site of Rotbav, southeastern Transylvania, 2006 (Photo: O. Dietrich).

So, a day in archaeology. Driving up dusty roads to an enigmatic site in a far away land, uncovering and writing new chapters in the history of mankind. There are these days, sure (and here is a great account of such a day by my colleague Jens). But at the moment, my usual workday starts around 9 o´clock and ends around 6. I am a researcher at the German Archaeological Institute. These days my work centers on writing up a monograph on the sculptures found at Göbekli Tepe. And then, there is another one scheduled on the iconic architectonic feature of this site, the richly decorated T-shaped pillars, and a third one on the features from the main excavation area. Dusty roads? At the moment rather dusty bookshelves. Surprised? Well, you watched the movie, didn’t you? Dr. Jones standing in front of the class, saying “Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Doctor Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.” That much is true.

Excavation work in Enclosure D, one of the monumental circular building structures of Göbekli Tepe (Photo O. Dietrich), in contrast to...

Excavation work in Enclosure D, one of the monumental circular building structures of Göbekli Tepe (Photo O. Dietrich), in contrast to…

The place where most of my work really starts: the library (Photo O. Dietrich).

The place where most of my work really starts: the library (Photo O. Dietrich).

Actually, I love these seventy percent (let´s rather make it 80% by the way). Because that is where the real discoveries happen, where you write history. Let me explain. I have written up a lengthy catalogue of all the zoomorphic (animal-shaped) and anthropomorphic (human-shaped) sculpture from Göbekli Tepe. What I am doing right know is looking at the find contexts of the sculptures, their preservation and similar finds in other sites. Why the find context matters? Find context is everything in archaeology. Have a great find somewhere from a field? Still a great find, but without knowledge on the place it ended up hundreds or thousands of years ago, possibilities of interpretation are severely limited. Was it found in a domestic area, is it an object of everyday use? In a sanctuary, connected to ritual and belief? What was it used for exactly? Here is an example. Some of my sculptures portray rather nasty snarling predators. They also have long conical taps at one end. It´s obvious they were put in somewhere. But without some of them discovered in the original place of use (in situ, introducing some more fancy archaeological jargon) we wouldn´t know much more. A find from 2011 reveals that the snarling predators were set into the walls of Göbekli Tepe´s megalithic buildings. They were literally jumping at visitors, invoking awe and fear, setting the scene and mood for the rituals performed there. All of that would have been lost without find context. So, find context is everything to archaeologists, and it is what makes the difference between us and treasure hunters (and Mr. Jones).

Sculpture of a snarling predator set into a wall of one of Göbekli Tepe´s enclosures (Photos K. Schmidt, D. Johannes, copyright DAI).

Sculpture of a snarling predator set into a wall of one of Göbekli Tepe´s enclosures (Photos K. Schmidt, D. Johannes, copyright DAI).

The predator example of course is a very simple one. But if many clues are taken together, there really is the possibility to tell a fairly coherent story. That is what I love about archaeology, and what I am doing right now day by day. Want to know more? Below you find a longer text on the image of the use of sculptures at Göbekli Tepe that is right now emerging. And of course, we have to start with some context.


What do buildings archaeologists do at the weekend?

Day of Archaeology was one of those occasional days on which my regular job found me staring at a wall, tapping away on my computer. I decided not to post about that… But I also postponed posting because I knew that the next day I was going to go to Westminster Abbey. Amazingly, for a London-based buildings archaeologist, it was my first ever visit there. It’s also come at an interesting time because in the last few weeks, I have also visited (for the first time) Vatican City and the Tōdai-ji temple complex at Nara in Japan. All three are monumental structures, religious centres and World Heritage Sites. I thought that to prove once again that archaeologists are never truly away from work, I would share a few weekend-y thoughts on how the three compare.

Piazza San Pietro

Piazza San Pietro


Unsurprisingly, I’m more familiar with the history associated with Westminster Abbey than the Vatican or Tōdai-ji, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the cult of personality at its centre. I think you would learn more about what Britain thinks about its own history through a trip to Westminster Abbey than anywhere else. Its memorials are, as in most churches, dominated by aristocracy and the military. In the UK, larger religious buildings in particular have a tendency to be overwhelmingly martial spaces and the same is true at Westminster Abbey. There are plenty other people commemorated here too, of course, not all of them dead (at the time of installation!). Look closely at the less well-known memorials and you’ll find ‘the mothers’. I spotted more than one on with text along the lines of ‘When XX died, her mother, who loved her more and longer than anyone, and was sadder than anyone else when she died and suffered greater pains than all others, paid for this memorial…’ Well, the dead are buried by the living after all. There’s also an amusing memorial where the text praises the exact manner in which the subject kept her household expenses. You can certainly find a less obvious history than the ‘main’ one, if you look (and don’t be led by just the audio guide).

I felt at the other two sites that although there is, of course, a great history associated with each, they also had more obviously active presents beyond the tourism. There were lots of people praying at Tōdai-ji and frequent pilgrim processions at the Vatican as well as nuns all over the place. It would be hard to pray at Westminster Abbey even if you wanted to.


Westminster Abbey is full to bursting with stuff. It’s like a packed antiques shop or, perhaps more accurately, like the too-well-used shed of someone who can’t bear to throw anything away. Although large parts of the Abbey are great to look at, moving even, there are corners where the addition of a defunct exercise bike, some broken skis and an unused bread maker wouldn’t look out of place.

We didn’t actually go into any of the Vatican buildings, so can’t comment on them, but Piazza San Pietro, in front of the Basilica, was not nearly as busy as I expected. There are statues everywhere, but generally on the top of buildings so the space is very open. Tōdai-ji is a huge space and packed as it was with school-children (as most of Japan seemed to be) it didn’t feel busy at all.

Interior of Great Buddha Hall at Tōdai-ji

Interior of Great Buddha Hall at Tōdai-ji

If I’m honest, the amount of stuff combined with the number of people made Westminster Abbey a slightly less-then-pleasant experience in parts.

Not on the tour!

Westminster Abbey has a route. You all walk around the place in the same way. This means that you also get the chance to peer past the ropes and see what hasn’t made it into the visitor experience. Noël Coward’s memorial, for instance, is beyond the rope at the point where people turn to go out into the cloisters. He’ll generally be missed. The rope actually passes directly over Andrew Bonar Law, so I suspect he’s missing out too. Thomas Telford is at an odd angle so you have to try pretty hard to see that his statue is him. My favourite memorial, to Mrs Mary Kendall, is just inside a door so most people walked straight past it.

I was a bit too over-awed to do much ‘around the back’ exploring at Tōdai-ji. We went around the back of the Vatican though and happened upon a scene of people coming in and out of a courtyard hotel with a bouncer on the door, next door to a shop selling ‘religious articles’, and a sudden rush of immigrant hawkers running away from the Vatican police. It struck me as a beautifully medieval moment and quite different to the ‘front’ side.

So, a few thoughts on a few sites. For the rest of my weekend, I’m going to see some more archaeology, then I’m going to write about some archaeology, then edit someone else’s archaeology.

Oops, I forgot to mention the buildings…

Digging into a A Project Archive

by Karen Lind Brauer
Maryland, USA

Today I spent time reviewing the excavation records and administrative archives of the Baltimore County Center for Archaeology. BCCA served as the field component of an elective high school course, “Exploring Our Buried Past”, taught in as many as 18 high schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), a large, suburban, kindergarten-through 12th grade-school district located in the US state of Maryland.

The Center involved high school students with first-hand, real-life experience undertaking primary research at the site of a 19th century, iron-producing, company town. During the winter months, in the middle of the school year, the Center presented Grade 3 school visitation programs serving as many as 100 classrooms per year. There were Summer school camps and multiple Teacher-in-Service programs that also took place at the Center which was located in a Baltimore County Recreation and Parks property called Oregon Ridge.

The archaeological education in the BCPS was part of the essential, or taught, curriculum (as opposed to being extra-curricular, ‘outside’ the formal instructional offerings). In operation for more than two decades, the Center closed down in the mid-2000’s due to changing academic requirements that constrained social studies educational offerings and the retirement of the project’s creator and leader, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist and Teacher Archaeologist for the BCPS, George Brauer.

I am picking through the Center’s archive of files today because I recently learned that a fellow archaeologist, Stephen Israel, is attempting to gather information on the Center’s programs and on its teacher participants. I know this archive should contain information that could be of help to him. Israel is preparing profiles on individuals who have contributed to Maryland Archaeology for a project entitled, Maryland Archaeology: Past Portraits. Looking over these files today I happily recall my time in the 1980’s and 90’s assisting with this enriching, educational opportunity that was experienced by almost 10,000 students being raised in our county.

Tours from Antiquity


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.


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.


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

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Colleen Betti, DAACS Archaeological Analyst and Graduate Student, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, catalogs buttons and marbles from Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Photograph by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Today we are surrounded by bags of 19th-century marbles, buttons, beads, ceramics and pieces of iron and copper alloy hardware. Our job is to catalog and analyze each one of these artifacts, which were excavated from domestic sites of slavery—the houses and surrounding yards where enslaved people lived and worked—at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a typical day for us in the office, although we aren’t always surrounded by such amazing material culture. We work at the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). Our database and website, serve archaeological data from over 80 sites of slavery in the southeastern United States and Caribbean free of charge to researchers and the public. Founded in 2000, and funded by the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, DAACS is based in the Archaeology Department at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The homepage

The homepage

Why do we do this?

Although it’s fun to study artifacts all day, we do have a larger purpose for our work. DAACS facilitates the comparative archaeological study of regional variation in slavery by providing researchers with standardized data from archaeological sites that were once homes to enslaved Africans and African Americans. A critical goal of our work is making data from archaeological excavations (those conducted in the 1970s all the way up through today) accessible and usable for archaeologists, historians, educators, and the public. Although excavation is essential to archaeological research, thousands of collections sit in museums and archaeological repositories that have not been cataloged or analyzed but have the potential to greatly inform our understanding of the past. By making data that has been cataloged using the same protocols from a variety of archaeological sites available via our website, DAACS is helping scholars advance our historical understanding of early-modern slave societies, by encouraging data sharing and comparative analysis across archaeological sites and geographic regions.

How do we do this?

Our staff consists of our Director, three full-time archaeological analysts and one or two part-time analysts. Although we are small staff, we get a lot done! On any given day we alternate between analyzing excavation information from field records, cataloging artifacts, answering material culture questions from colleagues, digital data management, and analysis for our own research projects.

There are four different ways that archaeological data gets into DAACS:

  1. Archaeological collections come to us at Monticello and we catalog them on-site in the DAACS Lab.
  2. We travel to the collections and field sites (so far we have cataloged collections in Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Nevis, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina).

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

    Leslie Cooper, DAACS Senior Archaeological Analyst, catalogs coarse earthenware ceramics from Seville Plantation, a large 18th-century sugar estate, at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in Kingston, Jamaica. Photograph by Jillian Galle.

  3. We conduct our own field work projects on Jamaica and Nevis through the DAACS Caribbean Initiative and enter the data into the DAACS database. All information from these sites are launched on within a year of excavation. Learn more about our work in Jamaica and Nevis through DAACS and the International Slavery Museum.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

    DAACS staff and students from the University of West Indies, Mona excavated shovel-test-pits at the Papine Slave Village. A massive masonry aqueduct that drove the estate’s sugar mill stands behind the excavators. Photograph by Jerry Rabinowitz.

  4. Finally, our colleagues who are trained in DAACS protocols and database entry can directly enter their data into DAACS via our web application,

Over the last five months we have analyzed material culture from Stratford Hall’s West Yard in Virginia, the Morne Patate Estate, an 18th c. sugar plantation in Dominica, and slave dwellings associated with The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Tennessee.

The data is entered using our standardized set of protocols into a PostgreSQL database thorough a web application built in Ruby-on-Rails software (   In addition to analyzing artifacts, and the archaeological contexts from which they came, DAACS staff digitize site maps, photograph artifacts, digitize existing slides of fieldwork, produce Harris matrices, and develop detailed site chronologies and discursive background content for each site. All of this content accompanies the artifact data when an archaeological site is launched on the DAACS website.

Interested in learning more? Stop by our site at and take a look around. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@DAACSORG).



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.