Archaeological sub-disciplines

Animated Archaeology

With one year of survey, three years of excavation, and one study season completed in the past few years, this summer has seen the final year of study for the Palace and Landscape at Palaikastro (PALAP) team. From excavation to conservation, we have been hard at work reconstructing the history of our site here on the island of Crete.


Over three millennia ago, Palaikastro was a thriving Minoan settlement situated on the east coast of the island. The town was rediscovered by archaeologists more than a century ago, but new campaigns have continued to reveal more of this fascinating site, and the five year PALAP excavation project has uncovered several multi-occupation buildings.

For the past two seasons, our study has focused on reconstructing the history of the site through the excavated material.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

In the lab, this has included the careful washing and conserving of objects, the photographing and drawing of selected material, and the organization and cataloguing of all conserved artifacts.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Digital tools such as GIS, combined with the study of conserved artifacts and notes from the field, enable us to better understand these objects and contextualize their histories within Minoan life.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season 

Combining artifact analysis with excavation records, digital data allows us to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of ancient life at Palaikastro.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Whether we’re digging in the field, finding pottery joins in the lab, or writing final reports, archaeology is both challenging and immensely rewarding. But no matter what, we always find time for some fun!

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Cotswold Archaeology: A typical (start to the) day on the front…

As an archaeological site manager, I like to arrive on site in advance of the team, open the access, welfare cabins and tool stores and prepare the daily briefing. Gradually, my colleagues will start to arrive on site; the fresh-faced, enthusiastic trainees, keen to crack on and get out on to site as soon as possible, then the crew bus carrying all the necessary equipment, cameras, GPS units, laptops, milk (possibly the most crucial item on site!) and the all-important site archive. This is followed by intermittent arrivals of the older, more experienced individuals who time their appearance to the last minute and then the odd one or two blurry-eyed latecomers who may or may not have been out late last night…

The daily cat-herding ritual ensues and then, once we’re all together, I deliver the daily briefing which can contain elements of weather forecast, site conditions, any specific health and safety considerations, progress on site, delegation of tasks, new demands from clients, feedback, praise or criticism from project managers or curators, details of the latest site interpretations and any interesting recent discoveries. In an effort to keep the team engaged during this meeting, I (usually vainly) try and keep things as light-hearted as possible where I can!

My briefing over, there’s a bit of nervous shuffling as I decide on which of the lucky site supervisors gets to deliver the requisite toolbox talks; this week it’s ‘Sunburn’ as, although we’re currently standing in a mist of fine drizzle, it did get a little bit warmer towards the end of Monday afternoon, and the old favourite ‘Personal Hygiene’… cue the inevitable banter. Toolbox talks delivered by a relieved supervisor, I wrap up the assembly by asking if anyone has any questions or concerns, issue the rallying cry of ‘Okay, let’s archaeologise!’ and we’re off onto site, a small, ragtag group of bright yellow troopers.

At some point I hope to be able to leave the paperwork and turn my attention to the fantastic archaeology we’re turning up. Perhaps I’ll get a brief slot around 4 this afternoon…………..


Confessions of an Archaeologist

My name is Laura Johansson and I am an archaeologist. I am originally from Pargas, Finland, but moved to the UK in 2010 to do my undergraduate in archaeology at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. My interest in archaeology stretch back to my early teenage years, and since my passion for archaeology has only grown. My real passion though is for maritime archaeology and I am currently studying for an MA in Maritime Archaeology in Southampton. University will start back up in September, but up until then I am employed as a full-time archaeologist for Southampton City Council Archaeology Unit and on annualised hours as a museum guide for The National Museum of the Royal Navy, which is based in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

I’ve chosen to write an account of one of my days at the Medieval Chantry Dig in Southampton, working for the SCC Archaeology Unit. We are currently clearing out any archaeology from an area where the Drew Smith Group is planning to build a new set of flats. As mentioned before, this site has previously been the location of a medieval chantry which was connected with St. Mary’s Church, located just across the road. In this case there is a substantial amount of documentation connected to our site, which has allowed us to understand what the different medieval features on the site may be. However, there are also several Saxon pits, containing a substantial amount of animal bones.

On this particular day I had just started digging a new feature. So far the theory is that the feature is a pit of unknown date which is being cut by a ditch which seems to be running across a large part of the site. This job is my first paid full-time position in commercial archaeology (yay me!) and it is refreshing to get to work in a different side of archaeology (previously I have mainly participated in digs organised by universities). Surprisingly (to me) it is quite different! I was told today that in contemporary British Commercial Archaeology we no longer use trowels for other things than cleaning the mud out of our boots. However, (if archaeology was a religion) I did feel like a sinner in church as I was shovelling out the layers of my pit!

Unfortunately I can’t really tell you anything interesting about my feature as I don’t know much myself. The dig started in the middle of April this year and we are now running on the last few weeks. Unfortunately time is against us and we are having speed up the process a bit (we are like digging machines!), but fortunately it looks like there is not too much left to do. Hopefully the weather will be with us these last few days as we otherwise will be sat in the office doing finds washing (which isn’t too bad either!).
It has always been my intention to pursue a degree in archaeology after university. My interests are quite wide, but my expertise lies mainly within British and Finnish archaeology. One of my greatest passions is to promote archaeology to the wider public, which is something I am hoping to continue to do in the future. Among other things I am planning to partly base my MA dissertation project on public outreach so we shall see how it goes! Wish me luck!
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Drew Smith Group, Dr Andy Russel and Emma for their kind contributions to this piece.
Disclaimer: All photos were taken by the author, except the Google map images.

Exploring Archaeology with the Video Storyteller

“You are an archaeologist, I mean, you dig dinosaurs?!”
“What are you saying? Archaeologists dig for the truth…”
“Dear friends, listen to me! Archaeologists dig very important sites, study pottery and write very boring scientific publication for reconstructing the life of the past. This is archaeology!”
“But it’s not all. Archaeology is pointless if you don’t tell it to people. To involve people in the telling of archaeology via video, that’s the way I like archaeology!”
“Telling stories via video? I’m not sure you are an archaeologist!”

No doubts, I am an archaeologist. I have a degree in archaeology and I tell entertaining stories of archaeology using video. This is also my “Day of archaeology”.
There are many specializations in contemporary archaeology: the landscape archaeologist, the geoarchaeologist, the osteoarchaeologist, the GIS and the 3D expert etc. I am a video storyteller of archaeology!

I don’t think I don’t do archaeology. I dig with my other colleagues, I use trowel and pickaxe, I fulfil my sheets and write my diary. But my scope is to communicate what I dig and the way I like most is recording videos. Why recording videos?
Video is a way of telling but also the scope, the final product. Almost everyone like to take part in a video, everyone like to see themselves in a video and to say to friends: “Hey, have you seen me in that video?”. Last but not least, YouTube is one of the most popular search engine on the Web and when you publish your video on YouTube everyone can see it.
Video is also the medium that narrates stories in the best way because it puts together images and sounds. And every archaeologist knows that a site is an infinite container of stories. We have all the ingredients for a good recipe!

Film making a Vignale 2

I ask constantly myself if I can record a story about what I’m digging and in which way I can tell it. There are countless ways to do it: free you creativity and choose the one you think better for your necessity. You can let archaeologists talk about the site or write and record a story set in the past. You can make a time-lapse video or tell a day at the excavation. What about a point of view of a child or the memories of an old man?
The first step is one of the most difficult: if you aren’t a field director you need an approval for recording your footage; secondly you need the availability of the archaeologists for taking part in the video. Usually archaeologists like to stay in front of the camera. After some shooting they will be confident and involved in what they are doing. Have a look at this video recorded in Vignale and presented at TAG 2012 in Liverpool. Its title is “Last days of fieldwork in room 14” and tell what have been dug in this area of the site through words, photos, time-lapses and diaries. The point is that also excavation can be told in a entertaining way using the right media.

One of the aspect I like more of narrating archaeology via camera is that video is not only a visual medium but also an involving one. It can involve common people to take part in the narration of an archaeological site. At Vignale (Tuscany), a Roman mansio excavated by the University of Siena, in October 2013 children help archaeologists in denounce the activity of looters in the site with a brief video, entitled “Giù le mani dalla nostra storia” (Hands off our history). In agree with archaeologists, they wrote a screenplay and got to the site to record this footage. They had a strong relationship with Vignale and recording this video they had the possibility of doing battle for the site.

After this brief venture in the world of the video storyteller of archaeology, I would like to have a good screenplay with an archaeo-story and record it. Unfortunately, as in 2013, July isn’t a period of film making, so my “Day of Archaeology” is a static day of study. Anyway I’m sure I’ll see many videos embedded in other posts. I’ll enjoy them and the stories inside them!

By Any Means Necessary…

I guess this is my Day of Archaeology Reloaded.  My original contribution from Friday of the film I made whilst working at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology doesn’t really reflect the present realities of my archaeological life, which are taking interesting turns. As you probably know, the Day of Archaeology project is mine and Matt Law’s baby, and so Friday was spent checking and uploading new contributions, answering email, tweeting and generally drowning in social media. Much like the last two years… I won’t bore you with the details, but Team Day of Archaeology are an ace bunch of people to work with, and it all went smoothly without any major hitches, although it was a long day.

Saturday gets a little bit more interesting as far as an actual Day of Archaeology…

In 2012, I made the difficult decision to move out of my beloved Hackney after 16 years, and head back home to the Norfolk/Suffolk border where I grew up and where my family are.  The prospect of a country life after living in London for so long was terrifying, not least because I couldn’t drive, and knew I’d be reliant on rural public transport and my bike.  But I had been nursing the plan to set up a community archaeology group in the Waveney area, so what I lost in easy access to the British Museum and Stoke Newington pubs, I planned to make up in creating exactly the type of archaeology group I would want to join…

LogoThanks to Twitter (again) I met a fellow Norfolkian, Andrew, who was keen to set a group up, and so we launched the Waveney Valley Community Archaeology Group in April 2013.  We planned from the beginning that this group would be the antithesis of formal structure and hierarchy – that the group would work together, valuing equally people’s experience and interest, and actively avoid having committees and job titles. Rather, we would work on the basis of inclusion, shared ownership and supporting people to explore their own local heritage and personal interests.

If you know me well enough, nothing above should surprise you. I don’t get called Comrade Lornaski for nothing…

So four months down the line, after expecting 20 or so people to join up, we have nearly 180 people involved with the group.  We are slowly developing our programme of activities, based on what the group members want to do, and are offering a range of events from digging test pits, to finds identification sessions, archival research and going to the pub.  We’ve also set up a Young Archaeologists Club, something that was missing from the Waveney area when I was growing up here in the 1980’s and desperate to be an archaeologist…

One of the most popular projects for the group is our work with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti project, and this returns me to my Day of Archaeology.  On Saturday, the Waveney Archaeology Group went on a very informal expedition around some beautiful South Norfolk churches, pootling about and looking for grafitti.  We didn’t expect to find much, but were more than pleasantly surprised.. Andrew’s post will fill you in on that..

Lorna_wagThere is nothing I love more than the landscape of the Waveney Valley. It’s not dramatic, or majestic. It’s flat, and wound through by streams and rivers, with vast skies, birdsong and the wind whistling through the wheat fields.  And of course, some of the most beautiful medieval churches in the country.  The possibility of exploring these churches for graffiti is a wonderful excuse to indulge my love of the landscape, and return, albeit briefly, to the world of medieval archaeology.

The rest of my Day of Archaeology is perhaps less exciting.  My work at Cambridge University Museums ends this week, so I had to finish writing up a short report for the project co-ordinator – about the impact of social media on the museum staff and their attempts to encourage public participation.  I re-read an article I am submitting for the Papers from the Institute for Archaeology on Wednesday, on the issue of the impact of digital communications on Public Archaeology.  Took a short break to bang my head repeatedly on my desk, whilst trying to finish the Waveney Archaeology Group newsletter, what feels like a Sysyphean task.  And I started to make notes for a proposed conference session on digital technologies for the Institute of Field Archaeologists Information Management Group, of which I am a committee member.  I’m back to my PhD writing from next week, so life is changing again.  I am passionate, if that is the right word, that as many people as possible can explore and enjoy their shared pasts, either IRL or through digital means… by any means necessary.  So whether it’s advocacy through the Waveney Group, or high-falutin’ theorising in my thesis, I want to walk the walk on this.

Eastbourne Ancestors Day of Archaeology 2012

This is the first ‘Day of Archaeology’ that we (Eastbourne Ancestors) have taken part in and so we are quite excited to be involved!

I’m also excited as this is my first full time job in archaeology as the Project Co-ordinator for Eastbourne Ancestors. I work in the commercial world of archaeology as an osteoarchaeologist (human and animal remains) in my spare time too, as well as excavating with a local society and the Eastbourne Museum Service. Archaeology is for everyone and I strongly believe in the community aspect, getting hands on.

You can follow our progress here:

Although the ‘Day of Archaeology 2012’ fell on 29th June, I was in meetings which wouldn’t have made for exciting reading…but today is a different story.

We are a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by the Eastbourne Museum Service in East Sussex. Our aim is to To fully examine all the human skeletal remains in our collection from the Eastbourne area in order to produce a demographic profile of the past populations that were living here.

The skeletal analysis will include determining the age, biological sex, stature, metric and non-metric traits, ancestry, health, diet, handedness and evidence of pathology. We will also be conducting research into migration studies using isotope analysis, physical appearance using facial reconstruction and family connections, DNA and C14.

As part of this project, we will be giving volunteers the opportunities to participate in artefact conservation, osteoarchaeology workshops, field work, study days, talks and demonstrations and much more. We will conclude the project with academic and public published material as well as an exhibition.

On Friday, Jo (the boss) and I took a road trip to Bournemouth University to deliver 30 skeletons to students to study for their MSc dissertations. We also have a student from Exeter University studying clavicles for two weeks with us for her research. In a few months time we will be taking some of the collection to Canterbury University to be studied by their MSc and BSc students too.

Today is our first volunteer day, we have 5 volunteers busily cleaning skeletal remains from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery site in Eastbourne. Each day for a month, volunteers will be helping to get the remains ready for analysis, which they will also receive training for as part of the Project.

By the 2013 ‘Day of Archaeology’ I hope to have some interesting findings to write about: Where did these people come from? Are they local? How did they live and die? What did they wear? What did they look like?

A Day of Archaeological Work at the University of Bradford, UK.

The University of Bradford’s Department of Life Sciences is a busy place. The Phoenix South West Building, a former 19th century mill, is home to disciplines of archaeological science, biological anthropology, environmental sciences and forensic science. On any given day it is a hive of activity full of undergraduates, taught and research postgraduates and staff. On Friday the 29th of July the department was a hive activity with staff and postgraduates’ alike, working hard at their research and general day to day duties. Below are just a few of the activities, taking place in the department, on that day.

Making Archaeologists

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen.

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen. Source: Kate Deeley

The weather report says that today is hot and humid. High 101° F.  Heat index near 110° F. The students of the 2012 Archaeology in Annapolis field school from the University of Maryland know that it will be a sweltering and tiring day as they walk through their morning haze to collect their equipment from storage. They also can’t wait to see what they will find today.

Two weeks ago, we were in Annapolis. In view of the Maryland state capitol building, we excavated in three backyards, exploring the connections of past tenants to the Naval Academy and to nineteenth century immigration to the United States. For the second half of the field school, we moved to the Wye House plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to a line of Edward Lloyds stretching back to the mid-seventeenth century. Here, the students chase the foundation walls of two slave quarters discovered last year.

South Long Green students.

South Long Green students. Source: Ben Skolnik

The site is separated into two parts. The South Long Green is located on the yard of the plantation, within sight of the Great House, and the home of the remains of a two-story brick slave quarter. The East Cove, where the students search for a building called the “Brick Row Quarter” on a historic map, is sheltered by a thicket of trees across the creek from the Long Green.

In running the field school, co-directors Kate Deeley, Ben Skolnik, and I recognize that we must perform a balancing act—prioritizing in turns the education of undergraduate students, our PhD dissertation research, and the communication of information to the public. It is a mixture of a classroom and training grounds. The instruction is as much somatic as it is intellectual, and the students have come a long way in their movements within the units, techniques with the trowel, and familiarity with the artifacts and their significance.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape. Source: Ben Skolnik

The other element to add to the juggling show is motivation and good spirits, especially on a day like today.  The excitement grows as the brick rubble, glass, nails, and ceramic sherds coalesce into interpretations about where these buildings are situated on the landscape and in time. Despite this, the work is hard and the knowledge that Monday will be their last day to dig their units is beginning to settle in. Conversation is informal and playful—ranging from the childhood nostalgia of Pokémon to everyone’s top desert-island reading choices—and it helps the buckets of dirt go swiftly by.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers. Source: Ben Skolnik

After lunch, the students are joined by Dr. Mark Leone and gather on the East Cove for the site seminars, which are held every Friday. The shade of dense trees is a relief.  One by one, the crew of each unit describes to the rest of the class the accomplishments and interpretations of that week. Using an extended folding ruler as a pointer, the crewmates take turns to indicate features, explain level changes, and point out soon-to-be-excavated artifacts.

It is a chance not only for the students to connect their unit to the others within the larger landscape, but also to proudly demonstrate their knowledge and achievements. They grow accustomed to fielding questions about the steps they took and the conclusions they continue to draw from their findings. After the students on the East Cove complete their tour, we move across the creek to the South Long Green.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel. Source: Ben Skolnik

The students applaud their peers and create a rough circle in the shade of a tulip poplar tree. Though the environment is quite different, this is still a college class. There are weekly reading assignments, and each Friday afternoon the students discuss what they have read. The articles for today, focusing on race, class, gender, and identity in historical archaeology, are Barbara Little’s “She was… an Example to Her Sex” (1994), Maria Franklin’s “The Archaeological Dimensions of Soul Food: Interpreting Race, Culture, and Afro-Virginian Identity” (2001), and Theresa Singleton’s “Race, Class, and Identity among Free Blacks in the Antebellum South” (2001). The students direct the conversation, working through the topics of race, critical theory, politics, and the differences between an archaeology of gender and a feminist archaeology.

Like any other class, writing assignments provide a means for the students to individually articulate what they have learned. To balance this academic obligation with the project’s emphasis on  public outreach, the students contribute to the Archaeology in Annapolis blog. They demonstrate their comprehension of the work they complete in their units while also practicing their abilities to communicate this information to a general audience. Undergraduate Paige Diamond’s post, written today, highlights the discovery of the east wall of the two story quarter.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic. Source: Ben Skolnik

Throughout the day, Ben pulls students aside to pose for “dirty archaeologist portraits.” He encourages them to take pride in their sweat-soaked, filthy appearance and take pictures with their field equipment. They take possession of this identity—archaeologists in the field. The portraits show the students as they are now at the end of the field school: trained archaeologists armed with the methods and knowledge that will allow them to contribute a unique perspective to this or any other field.

To see more archaeologist portraits from today, please visit our Flickr account. For more information about our excavations, please visit our blog.

Historical Archaeology & Visual Art

I am an historical archaeologist who teaches at Cheyney University and at West Chester University, two campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education that are located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am not teaching during the summer term which gives me time to pursue my research which involves studying the public’s engagement with the archaeological resources in Independence National Historical Park (a U.S. National Park Service property commemorating the birthplace of American democracy). Today, June 27th, has been a ‘catch-up’ day for me where I had time to move ahead on several items on my ‘wanting to do’ list. First, I wrote to the editor of the “Images of the Past” column of the Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter (Benjamin Pykles) proposing a write-up about Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr.  Moore, a retired archaeologist and a Native American Chippewa, excavated in Philadelphia in the 1960’s at the site of Benjamin Franklin’s mansion.

Jackson Ward 'Smokey' Moore restoring a historic dish

Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr. in a National Park Service Public Affairs Photo, circa 1960. (Independence National Historical Park Archives).

My offer to undertake this write-up required researching the Newsletter’s back issues to determine the type of information expected for the column and I spent an hour doing this prior to contacting Pykles to make sure I had the kind of information wanted. I then turned to some on-going background research I’ve been doing for a possible book project that the art photographer John Edward Dowell Jr. and I have talked about doing. This would be a book designed for the general reader which would feature photographs John took during the excavation of the President’s House archaeological site in Independence Park. These photographs document the archaeological excavation and its findings about slavery and freedom at the birth of the American nation and, in doing so, they help create African American history. They are also art pieces made by a Black artist. Beyond documenting new American history evidence and documenting new African American history evidence, his photographs are art pieces (re’ artifacts) of black visual art. Today I spent time researching and considering how these images therefore fit into the history of Black visual art. After reading a significant portion of N.I. Painter’s Creating Black Americans I realized that Dowell’s President’s House archaeological site photographs not only help make Black history more visible but also help make black art history more “visible” and that this is something we would likely want our manuscript to address given that the history of black visual art, like African American history, has been ignored, overlooked, and excluded in the canon.

View of the President's House by J. E. Dowell

ne of artist John E. Dowell’s photographs of the President’s House Site in Independence Park (right center, above the blue tarp-covered, back dirt pile). Dowell takes large format images (2 x 5 – 4 x 20 feet) which are then digitally scanned to produce highly detailed, deeply contextualized, images. His photographic style is known to convey life in the urban metropolis and he uses both unique perspective and lighting — namely pictures shot from high-rise vantage points that are taken at sun-up and sun-down.

Later on in the day I began typing up the meeting notes taken during the last monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF). I am Secretary of that non-profit advocacy group and I post the meeting minutes on the PAF listserv. However, I am coordinating a local version of the Day of Archaeology for the PAF and I switched to work on this task. I am coordinating Philadelphia area Day of Archaeology contributions from local area archaeologists as well as members of the public during the period June 25th-June 28th. I will use these contributions to develop a new page of content for the PAF webpages at www.phillyarchaeology.orgthat will help demonstrate and explain what people in our area do with archaeology both at work and at play. I will also be forwarding the contributions to the coordinator of the international Day of Archaeology blogging project.

Philadelphia Archaeological Forum Logo

The logo of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, which is based on a commonly found historic dish.

Mystery, Diversity and the Joy of Archaeology

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

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