A Day on the Iron Farm: A post on Jake Harding’s day

My name is Jake Harding. I am an intern at the Iziko Museums of South Africa working in the Historical and Maritime Archaeology section. We are currently working on three major projects, each of which is at a different stage. This means that in the course of a day my duties are varied, both in terms of site and focus.

Our current sites are:
Marion Island: An Island to the South East of South Africa with a history as a sealing station. This Island is also the site of a shipwreck that left its crew marooned for 3 months. We have a number of artefacts undergoing conservation from sites across the island.
V&A Waterfront Grain Silo Shipwreck: A shipwreck was discovered during development of the Grain Silo Precinct at the V&A Waterfront early in 2012. This site included the lower parts of a wooden vessel (such as the keel, some planking and the lower frames) and a large number of iron objects including cannonballs, pieces of machinery and currently unidentified fragments. The majority of artefacts currently being conserved in the lab come from this site.
Clifton Site (Sao Jose): Possibly the wreck site of the slave ship Sao Jose, the Clifton site is currently our primary field site. We have a small collection of artefacts undergoing conservation including copper alloy spikes and a cannonball. Plans for the future are to retrieve one of the cannons from the site for conservation and study.
Our facilities include an office and resource library for research and organization, a dive store for our more specialist fieldwork gear, a ‘wet lab’ facility for artefact conservation that requires the use of chemicals, an outside area for the dirtier aspects of this conservation and a store for our collection materials.
I am not a morning person. As such I survive the beginning of each day with the comforts of routine. I come in at 8am. First thing to do is log on to my computer. To allow it time to get ‘towards itself’ I then do a round of the lab to check on the various artefacts that we are working on in order to observe any changes during the night. Is the barrel stave from Marion Island consolidating in its polyethylene glycol (PEG) solution? How have the iron objects from the V&A Silo wreck changed overnight? Once I have done my round I ask my boss, archaeologist Jaco Boshoff, if there are any developments in the planning of projects or if there are specific tasks that need to be performed today. This is the time when I source quotes for gear and conservation materials as well as perform any necessary correspondence, such as organizing a presentation at the Institute of Maritime Technology (IMT) next month.


Jaco planning projects

Once this is done with the practical side of my day starts. As we currently have so many iron objects undergoing conservation (almost 200) the majority of my time will be spent working on them. These objects are kept in plastic bins or PVC lined milk crates, each with a code to describe where the contained objects came from on the site (context is everything after all).


So how are we doing today?

To prevent the degradation of the objects through cracking and oxidation (rust), the artefacts are kept in a weak caustic soda solution (5-10%). This increases the pH of the solution which slows down the oxidation process whilst the solution helps to desalinate the iron. Desalination is the removal of chlorides that have permeated the metal during its time in seawater and is very important in artefact conservation as these salts both speed up oxidation of the metal and create cracks from expanding crystals.
The solution needs to be changed in order to remove salts that have already been washed out and most of my day is spent doing this. As archaeologists and conservators we must record what we do to artefacts in our care so that if someone else wishes to work on the artefacts they can see what has already been done. As such we test the condition of the objects by testing the pH and conductivity of the solution both before and after treatment in order to gauge the progress of the desalination process.
Once the initial test is complete I remove the artefacts from their solution and place them on a pallet for cleaning. The solution is disposed of and the container cleaned. Cleaning the artefacts themselves requires everything from hammers and chisels to brushes and hoses. When iron oxidizes underwater it often develops a layer of corrosion product called concretion. This material is fixed to the object and extremely hard. This is where the hammer and chisel come in. Great care is needed to remove the concretion however as not only do we not want to damage the underlying artefact but the concretion itself may hold fragments of smaller objects. Having removed the majority of concretion from an object it is time to brush off any loose corrosion layers or irrelevant organic material. This requires the brush, hose and fine detail hammers. Having cleaned the artefacts I return them to their container and fill it with water to a known volume.


Jake’s choice of weapons

This process is repeated for as many of the containers as I can do in a day. Once the last container is processed I add caustic soda to each to create a solution of known concentration (usually 5-10%). I give the solutions about 30 minutes to begin reacting and then go back to them in the same order that I added the caustic soda to test their new pH and conductivity.
Once this is done the results of the days recording are added to a spreadsheet for future reference.
I end the day with a final round of checking the artefacts to make sure everything is ok.

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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.


Iziko South African Museum

Keneiloe (Kenni) Molopyane


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


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


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


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.


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.



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.


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


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