I am a professional archaeologist and part-time PhD student from the UK. I am especially interested in the study of past environmental conditions. On any given day I might be digging on site; working in a laboratory looking for evidence of past environments from soil samples taken on site; photographing or 3D laser scanning objects we've found, teaching undergraduate students and marking their work, or working from home writing up the results of our work.

Adam Parker’s Day of Archaeology

From Adam Parker, Assistant Curator of Archaeology, York Museums Trust

 

The wonderful world of the museum archaeologist is many things – fascinating, engaging, geek-tastic, and a genuine pleasure to work in. The one word missing from this brief synopsis is ‘variable’. Such is the variety of jobs I undertaken and material I work with that no accurate description of any day in my life of archaeology could be complete without the word. Museum curation requires an appreciation, rather than a specialist understanding, of small (and sometime, huge) finds from the Palaeolithic to the Post-Medieval and the ability and confidence to work with this often mind-boggling range of material. We are all generalists, even if we have our own specialist research interests from our time before or outside of the Museum world. This short preamble introduces the idea of variability in museum archaeology, and this is what I want to talk about for my Day, but not without first contextualising this within this week of archaeology.

 

Monday morning was spent sorting out the weekend’s emailing and replying to and/or resolving enquiries sent to the museum regarding individual objects, the site, the history or archaeology of York and the afternoon identifying fragments of Roman, Medieval and Post-Medieval ceramics from an assemblage at Dalton Parlours, excavated in the 1970s. Tuesday was, primarily spent in the training of placement students in the ways of digital photography of museum objects for our permanent records and the use of a tethered SLR in combination with the Lightroom software package, whilst dabbling with some Anglo-scandinavian bone points. Wednesday started with an interview panel for our 2015/16 Research Scholar (an MA Art history student at York who will work for us for a day a week and run a year-long research project), followed by some proper curatorial activities; putting collections back on display in cases. Yesterday was spent in a warehouse documenting material and, most entertainingly, using a microscope to identify the species of several specimens of Anthraenus (carpet beetles) as part of our pest management system (carpet beetle larvae can be very damaging to museum collections so monitoring is hugely important). This data was then logged onto a national database of museum pest occurrences. Which brings us toFriday

 

In a week of documentation, photography, training, teaching, and pest-managing my Day of Archaeology continued this theme of variability beautifully. The image here shows the general set-up for what I was up to today. I’d like to break it down a little bit and highlight the key features that represent what I got up to today:

 

1)     Warehouse; Many people are astounded/horrified when they see the size and number of museum collections kept offsite. We, like the vast majority of museums, have neither the ability nor inclination to put everything we own on display.

2)     Architectural stonework on a pallet; this is all Medieval stonework from excavations in York in the 19th and early 20th Century. The quality of documentation of this material isn’t great so I’m working on a project this summer to fix that.

3)     Camera/Lights; digital photography is hugely important in our work now. All of our photographs of objects are uploaded to our online collections database and are free to use (http://www.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/collections/search/?CL[0]=Archaeology), making the collection accessible. Pictures we take are used all over the world in books, articles, presentations, leaflets, blogs etc.

4)     Vacuum Cleaner; all museum warehouses are dusty places. Good housekeeping is an important aspect of collections care. As well as fulfilling a hygienic and building safety function it also prevents potentially damaging pest species becoming established.

5)     Fork Life Truck; One of my more bizarre museum skills is the license I have to drive this Pedestrian Fork Lift Stacker. Stonework is heavy. Really heavy. I was here on my own, so help was required.

 

Four hours in the warehouse documented 4 pallets of this material. It’s a slow process, there are 60 more to go this summer. When I was working there today thinking about what I was doing and how I could write about it here, a thought struck that should be beneficial to any upcoming archaeologist or museum professional and it was that I had learned all of these skills on the job. Before I worked with YMT I was a Roman archaeologist by training, not a generalist, and baulked at the thought of identifying a 12th century springer fragment over a 14th century blind arcade moulding. Before I worked here I had never used a digital camera on the scale I do now, I certainly had not driven at Fork-lift, trained students in photography or identified a carpet beetle. I hope that this is a cause for hope for the many students and graduates working long voluntary hours in order to break into the profession – to those I say work hard, take opportunities and good luck.

 

adam.parker@ymt.org.uk

Day of Archaeology – What have Archaeovision been doing? A Computational perspective

From James Miles:

As a relatively new commercial company we have had a lot of success within a number of research projects utilising computational methods in archaeology. We began the year by recoding the Insula Dell’ara Coeli in Rome, a second century building that can be found at the foot of the Capitoline hill. This was followed by a number of imaging related projects such as our Rode Imaging project, our photogrammetry work for the National museum of Estonia, Deerhurst Church and Salisbury Cathedral, included a 3D print of part of the medieval frieze found in the chapter house. Combined with other laser scanning projects such as the work completed at the Lady of Kazan church in Tallinn and the Ice House at Beaulieu, it has been a very busy year for us.

jmiles1

3D print of the Medieval Frieze

As those who specialise in computational methods, the majority of our time is spent in front of a computer, staring blankly at a screen waiting for our software to work and to stop crashing. Today has been no different! Archaeovision is split into three organisations, we have a company in England, a company in Estonia and a non-profit organisation that allows us to apply for research grants. We have therefore been working on a number of different projects within one day. James who is based in the UK has spent the majority of the day working on his PhD trying to process laser scan models for use within structural analysis tests and finalise a few of his thesis chapters. At the same time he been working on the admin side of the business, dealing with emails, invoices and trying to arrange our storage system. He has recently returned from California where he was part of a research led project looking at Chumash archaeology run by the University of Central Lancashire. His involvement was based on the recording of a number of different cave systems and he will spend this evening going through the scan data, tidying the data and creating virtual replicas of the areas required.

 

Openness

Californian landscape

Attached to our UK company are Tom Goskar and Paul Cripps. Both act as consultants for us and both have already posted about their ongoing work. Tom’s focused on his medieval and web based work whilst Paul’s mentioned his work on his automation project and LiDAR project. Tom and Paul are both experts in their field and it’s a privilege to be able to work with them. Part of the emails that James has been dealing with today is through a future calibration project that follows Paul’s LiDAR work. We are in the final stages of negotiating terms and hopefully this will be underway shortly. At the same time James and Hembo, who is a partner of the business, have been dealing with a request for a website design, again today was spent trying to finalise the details of the work and understand fully what our client wants. Hembo has an extensive background in web based technology and has spent most of the day working on the website for the 2016’s CAA conference that is taking place in Oslo, Norway. Hembo manages this website, along with many others, throughout the year. Today Hembo has been focussing on the Open Conference System for the CAA conference, trying to streamline the submission process for next year’s papers. Hembo has also recently returned from Italy through his involvement in the Portus Project and has been working on the archive system used on site.

jmiles2

Connected to out Estonian team, Kaarel has managed to find time away from the computer and has spent the day completing a survey in south west Estonia. Andres has spent the day working on his Haapsalu Episcopal Castle project which captured an incredible 404 scans over a two day period. He has been tidying up the model for use within a Building Information Model and has been establishing if any areas need further recording. His work made the national news this week which has been great for the company. Connected to this, James was also interviewed during the week in regard to the Ein Gedi scrolls because of his experience with Computed Tomography scanning. The article that the interview was used for was published today on the Smithsonian website. Although the majority of the interview was not used, it has been a good day for us in terms of publicity and for the University of Southampton which James is connected to.

jmiles3

Laser scan model of Haapsalu Castle

For most of us our day has been spent inside. On plus side for those of us in the UK, we have avoided the rain and have a fondness for coffee. A perfect combination for the long days’ worth of processing data and dealing with admin. Tomorrow involves more of the same but we will get to play about with some photogrammetric modelling that needs to be completed for one of our ongoing projects.

Day of Archaeology

From Sonia Zakrzewski – reblogged from https://generic.wordpress.soton.ac.uk/archaeology/2015/07/24/day-of-archaeology/

Today is the international Day of Archaeology (if you search twitter #dayofarch and the officialwebpage you will lots of postings). And it’s when some of us try to tell the world what we really do – using just one day as a snapshot.

Well my day started slowly. Heavy rain outside. Not a great day to be in the field. I felt sorry for people trying to excavate in the heavy rain – but I had a day of data analysis planned. The best news was to get an e-mail saying that my computer had a new motherboard and so was now working again. That meant that I could really get down to doing some cranial analysis – no excuses now!

Time to stay the crania from Amarna in Egypt. This is work that I am doing with my wonderful colleagues Prof Jerry Rose (UArkansas) and Dr Gretchen Dabbs (SIU). Amarna is the name given to the archaeological site comprising the capital city (Akhetaten) founded by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late 18th Dynasty. the site is amazing as it was a pristine new city when founded – and it was only occupied for about 30 years. We have a series of questions that we are trying to answer, such from where do the Amarna people derive? Do they come from everywhere around Egypt – or do they mostly come from some specific areas? Were there any foreigners or immigrants in this population? So my day has been sitting with my computer doing a whole load of statistical analyses. No final results yet – but hopefully soon!

Exploring prehistoric cooking practices through Transmission Electron Microscopy.

From George Foody:

gfoody

On today, the Day of Archaeology I am currently part of CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme), aiming to investigate prehistoric cooking practices at feasting sites in Britain. The Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age sites of Whitchurch, Potterne, East Chisenbury and Llanmaes all have large midden deposits, believed to be the result of large-scale feasting. It is not clear whether meat was filleted or cooked whole on the bone, this is important as methods of food preparation are often seen to have significant meanings. By analysing collagen in bone samples under a TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope) we hope to identify whether these bones were cooked. Though this type of method of identifying cooked bone has been proved successful before, it has never been attempted on prehistoric remains.

Pig and sheep were selected as they are the most numerous animals on these sites. In order to the see the difference between cooked and uncooked bone humeri, which would have contained large amounts of meat, and phalanges, which were more likely to have been discarded, were selected.

As I’ve just finished my third year in university, CUROP offers a great opportunity to see the aspects of a research project. Despite the fact that this is only the first week of the programme CUROP has already provided me with experience in a lab, sample preparation and opportunity sharpen my bone identification skills. Overall I’m thoroughly enjoying this Day of Archaeology being at CUROP, investigating archaeology.

Isotopes and Environments

From Jennifer Jones:

Happy Day of Archaeology! Today is a little unusual for me. I’m in Tokyo Japan, getting ready to travel to Nagoya tomorrow for the International Quaternary Union conference where I will be presenting some of my research about past climate change in the Palaeolithic, and will get the chance to hear the most up to date research on climate change, environments, and human behaviour. Going to conferences is a crucial way for archaeologists to share research, make connections within the wider archaeological and research community, and to debate and discuss key research themes.

japan

Today is a day off for me, and I visited Meiji shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, set in a huge man made forest of 120,000 trees of 365 different species donated from across Japan. This shows the huge impact that humans can have on the local environment, and even thought it was only created in the last 100 years, the forest dominates this piece of land in the centre of the city and makes for a very striking landscape.

Jennifer Jones

I am a Marie Curie funded Post-Doctoral Research Fellow based at the University of Cantabria in the North of Spain. The Cantabrian region is home to the world heritage site that encompasses the rich archaeological cave sites full or fantastic cave paintings, animal bones, portable art, and stone tools. My project ‘CLIMAPROX’ “Hunter-Gatherer adaptations in northern Iberian Refugia from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Mesolithic: a multi-proxy climatic investigation” is exploring changes in environment using stable isotope analysis of animal bones in combination with other environmental proxies (e.g. sediments, pollen, microfauna, and fauna) to understand human responses to environmental change from the Last Glagical Maximum to the Mesolithic (c.22,000-8000 BP) in the Cantabrian Region in Northern Spain. This was an important period of time, where several key things happened; there was an increase in population, we see the emergence of cave art and portable art, and we see a greater diversification in diet at the end of this time, which ultimately leads to the origins of farming in the Neolithic. I want to find out the role of the environment in driving these changes, and how the environment affected human behaviour at this crucial time in prehistory.

Recently I’ve been sampling animal bones to undertake stable isotope analysis from sites for isotopic analysis which involves visiting museum collections, to find suitable bone samples to choose for isotopic analysis. I have to make a full written and photographic record of all of the bones before I cut, them to ensure that sampling is as minimally destructive as possible. I am very privileged to work with these collections, and it is always very exciting to know that from these bones we can find out lots of valuable information about past environments. I’ve enjoyed looking out for cut marks, and marrow cracking marks on the bones-evidence that humans were using these animals as food.

Next I have lots of lab work to pre-treat the bones to extract the collagen for carbon and nitrogen analysis. I enjoy lab work, and there is a real thrill when you get back the results after all of your hard work. After that there is the fun of working out what they all mean! Hopefully for next year’s day of archaeology I will have lots of interesting and exciting results to tell you about!

 

 

Rob Ixer’s Day of Archaeology

A pretty average day, I am a geologist, or to be specific a mineralogist who did a little archaeology in the 1960s.

Now I look at rocks, pots and ores for archaeologists to try to determine their geographical origins using a couple of rather large and now ancient microscopes. I am retired and like to think of myself as a 21st century Victorian ‘Divine’ so self funded mainly but free to look where and at what I want or am asked to.
After looking at some Neolithic pottery from the West Country to decide if more work should be done on them, slicing them and grinding them to make thin sections. Some is commercial work and some is from interested amateurs and done for the joy of knowing.

However, today I have two main tasks:

To look at rocks from the Sacred Valley (‘septic valley’) in Peru as part of a long standing, over 30 years, study of Inka use of stone in their pottery and buildings. The Inka produced very large very beautiful pottery now called ATF ware now but it was called Inka Fine Ware or Cuzco Inka -it seems that the use of certain rocks from certain places was very special to the Inka.

To start to read and review two very splendidly illustrated Conference volumes on ancient gold and silver (as a mineralogist I specialised in gold, silver and PGE minerals), Recently a number of books on exotic ‘well-furnished’ grave goods have appeared from Wessex and from Europe.

I shall take a day off from my ‘day job’ working on Stonehenge although I shall trawl the Stonehenge blogs to see what is new, always something.

So a very typical day, slow progress (I hope) in old style data-gathering archaeology. I hope not to hear the words post-processualist all day.

Dr Rob Ixer, FSA

The International Catacomb Society

From the International Catacomb Society:
The International Catacomb Society (ICS) is dedicated to the preservation and documentation of the Jewish catacombs and other rare vestiges of history that illustrate the common influences on Jewish, Christian, and pagan iconography and funerary practices during the time of the Roman Empire.  The society also strives to increase knowledge about the interconnections between Judaism, Christianity, and the surrounding ancient world by issuing grants, sponsoring lectures, and disseminating information and publications.
With its annual Shohet Scholars Program, the ICS desires to support scholars of demonstrated promise and ability who are judged capable of producing significant, original research. Shohet Scholars may do their research in the fields of archeology, art history, classical studies, history, comparative religions, or related subjects. The focus of the work should be within the sphere of the Mediterranean world from the late Hellenistic Period to the end of the Roman Empire. The work does not need to be related to the Roman catacombs, although applications for projects focused on the catacombs are welcome. Of special interest are interdisciplinary projects that approach traditional topics from new perspectives. Successful applicants will be expected to present a public lecture in Boston reporting the methods, results, and significance of their work and submit a written article for publication by the ICS.
The application deadline for the 2016-2017 academic year is December 15, 2015, for funding to be disbursed on July 1, 2016.
2015-2016 Shohet Scholars:
Elizabeth S. Bolman, (Temple University) “Publishing Late Roman Paintings.”
Bolman has directed a project that recovered magnificent secco paintings in the Red and White Monasteries near Sohag in Egypt. Some years ago she also gave a Shohet Memorial lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on the subject.
Steven Fine, (Yeshiva University) “The Arch of Titus Project.”
Fine attempts to contextualize this monument, which has been and continues to be contentious in the history of Judaism and Western culture. He is also directing high-tech digital reconstructions of the polychromy of the menorah panel on the arch.
Rosa Maria Motta (Christopher Newport University) and Davide Tanasi (Arcadia University) “Burial Practices and Funerary Rituals between the Late Roman and Early Medieval Periods in the Catacombs of St. Lucy in Syracuse (Sicily).”
This project will investigate the transformation of cemeterial spaces into cult places for religious practices relating to the worship of the holy relics of St. Lucy and of other holy men and women buried in the catacombs.
Robert Tykot (University of Southern Florida) and Kevin Salesse (Université de Bordeaux), “Quantifying the Roman diet: improving the accuracy and precision of paleodietary reconstructions by isotopic analysis.”
This project investigates dietary composition and variation of the ancient imperial-period Roman diet through isotopic analyses of both human and faunal remains from the catacomb of Santi Marcellino e Pietro (Rome, Lazio, central Italy) and other Italian sites.
More information about the ICS on our website www.catacombsociety.org.

DIGITAL CATALOGING OF ARCHAEO-ANTHROPOLOGICAL FINDS

From Giulio Cosseddu:

Archaeo-anthropological finds are a valuable source of knowledge on environmental conditions, and living habits of  ancient people.
It is important not to lose this informative heritage. So, I think that even for this cultural heritage a digital cataloging process is essential.
My working day (free work) starts with a train journey to the anthropology lab in a nearby town where I graduated nearly two years ago.
First of all I look for  a workplace where I can access a PC.
This work is a continuation of the analysis of the bones found in an archaeological site. I’ve made earlier such analysis (this work was more funny!).
I currently work on taphonomic  cards and on cards containing various  anthropometric and morphometric data about the age of death, health status etc.
I use the cataloging system SIGEC that provides a special form for the cataloging of archaeo-anthropological finds.
The multimedia documentation  is very useful  and then I insert in to the card the photo of the skeleton lying on the desk.

Following the menu of the program I have to do some steps.
I insert the  discovery site  specifying the number of the grave and stratigraphic unit.
Later, I insert also the current location of the skeleton.
I specify the type of the find (organic material, anatomical specimens of a single individual or fragmented remains).
I insert information about the context where the heritage has been found (archaeological excavations, work excavations, museums, private collections …).
I insert also the historical data (birth and death dates, dating and history of the cemetery or grave or burial crypt).
Then, the analytical data allow deepening the description of the individual finds (complete or fragmented finds, sex of individuals, age of death, any pathological signs observed .. etc.).
It is necessary also to specify if the piece has been treated to improve retention,  for ritual practices etc..
So, I enter bibliographic data and legal status.
I specify if  the data can be disclosed to all people (accessible) or not (not accessible).
Finally I insert the name of the cataloguer, cataloging date and the name of the scientific referent (who currently has the availability of the property).
It is a monotonous job but not useless especially if you want review  some finds.
In fact these finds could be examined again with  more in depth methods of analysis (radiological techniques, assessments on the DNA …).
A digital cataloging with uniform criteria will allow to easily find the historical  and analytical data about a find.
Many times important finds can no longer be found simply because of the transfer of a laboratory or an improper location.
Proper classification helps ensuring the preservation of these valuable sources of knowledge.
Although the field work is much more exciting, I believe that this methodical cataloging is very important.
So, my day is over, without overwhelming emotions, but I helped to improve the protection, development and usability of our archaeo-anthropological heritage.

Team Tiger

From Lucy Moore, Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK:

Team Tiger

Team Tiger

Museum archaeology is a wondrous beast! Day of Archaeology coincided with my final few days as Archaeology Curator (Maternity Cover) at Leeds Museums. As with the close of any contract, the last few days have been a rush of tying up loose ends and reflecting on what the last six months have meant to me and my career.

Leeds Museums gave me my first post. Like everyone else (who ever walks straight into their first museum job?) I have spent the last few years balancing volunteering with a variety of part-time jobs to keep the books balanced. When I applied it was with the goal in mind of just getting the interview experience. Luckily my knowledge of Chinese hoe money and why it’s funny (to some) saw me through and since I started work in January I have succeeded in my main goal of not losing any objects!

In the last six months I have contributed to the new guidebook for Kirkstall Abbey, organised a weekend of Industrial Archaeology at Armley Mills and introduced new volunteers to the joys of working with archaeological and numismatic collections. Under my enthusiasm we’ve brought about weekly ‘Collections through Cake’ in the staff room, created a ‘SCIFAX’ dance  and made friends for life.

No day has been the same the previous and I have embraced the huge variety in the role. I know significantly more about palaeoanthropology, Cistercian architecture and geology disguised as archaeology than I did last December. However, a day that will forever stand out is the day we moved the Leeds Tiger.

Now, I am not about to confess that I am a secret Natural Scientist (clearly Archaeology is the Ultimate Science), but as I gazed at our tiger’s bottom whilst we moved him to be photographed, I reflected that what has really made this dream work has been the support and encouragement of my colleagues. The knowledge in your head is nothing if you don’t have colleagues who you can bounce ideas off, get carried away with, be inspired by, be reigned in by and enthuse and inspire. My day of archaeology is about the people and the terrific career-start I’ve had! Go Team Tiger Go!

A Day of Solidarity

Day of Archaeology - the Bristol desk

Day of Archaeology – the Bristol desk

The Day of Archaeology is probably my favourite day of the year. As part of the volunteer team that co-ordinates the project I tend to spend the day reading through incoming posts,  proofreading them and checking links work before they’re published. When not doing that I’m checking our e-mail account for queries and new sign-ups, and tweeting about the posts I’ve just read. I think I said last year that I learn so much new about archaeology through taking part ion Day of Archaeology. This year I’ve also learned some useful things about being an archaeologist. Many of us have quite varied working lives (see, as one example, David Gurney’s series of posts about his work as county archaeologist in Norfolk), and so it is with me.

Currently, most of my time is occupied by working for a small commercial archaeology unit in Somerset. I’m also a freelance environmental archaeologist, an hourly paid lecturer at Bath Spa University (where I was lucky enough to work as a maternity cover lecturer last academic year) and a part-time PhD student at Cardiff University. Additionally, I’m working on a few other fun projects – Day of Archaeology being one of them! Right now, a number of people who started PhDs the same time as me at Cardiff, but who have funding for full-time study, are submitting or very close to submitting their theses. It’s an exciting time, and I’m really proud of them, but it does make me wonder about my own situation. Some days submitting my PhD, even finishing the data collection, feels like a very distant prospect indeed.

Being a part-time PhD student can be wonderful, because you have a lot of freedom to manage your time in a way that suits you, and I have a phenomenally supportive supervisor, but it can also be a bit isolating. I seldom see my fellow PhD students, and I have no yardstick against which to measure my progress. I was pleased then, to read DoA entries this year from other part-timers, who actually seem to have reasonably similar experiences to mine.

Bob Clarke, for example, seems to divide his non-PhD time between commercial archaeology, community archaeology and his old career in engineering (his post contains a wonderful quote from Mick Aston incidentally). Duncan Berryman had the fortune to be working on his PhD on the Day of Archaeology, and takes quite a positive view about the timescale a part-time PhD affords for developing his research. Spencer Gavin Smith, who is trying out crowdsourcing as a way to fund his studies, also divides his time between commercial archaeology and PhD research. I’m sure there are many others like us – it’s encouraging to hear from some once in a while.

I think it’s important for those working with heritage to be mutually supportive, and for me one of the strengths of Day of Archaeology within the archaeological community (engagement with other archaeologists is still good engagement!) is that it helps foster a feeling of solidarity. It  couldn’t work without collaboration – not just those of us who have managed the project over the past three years  – Lorna, Dan, Tom, Andy, Jess, Jaime, Monty, Stu and Pat – but also the 1048 people who are registered contributors on the site, and everyone who shared links on facebook, twitter and elsewhere. Although in practice, I spent Day of Archaeology on my own (with the uninspiring view in the photo above), I felt very much connected to a network of people working in different ways towards the same broad aim. Fittingly, Sara Perry wrote an especially thoughtful post for DoA this year on the importance of collaboration in her work life. Thank you so much to all of you who have contributed, shared or read DoA posts. Let’s do it again next year.