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SIM cards, Skeletons, and Celebrations: Our Transylvanian Day of Archaeology

To celebrate the 2014 Day of Archaeology, Transylvania Bioarchaeology (a non-profit community interest company), had quite a lively day with both summer field projects. Our Day of Archaeology also reminded us that when trying to run archaeological field schools, a lot of what we do isn’t archaeology!

Our Jucu necropolis excavation started bright and early…well, not so bright as the torrential [trench-ial] rain dampened the clothes, but not spirits, of our brave excavation crew, led by Assistant Project Director Katie Hunt, as they left for the train station at 7am. Nick Ogden, Field Assistant and chauffeur extraordinaire, carted a lucky few in the dig car at 7.30 and looked for comical license plates away from the downpour.

Our illustrious Project Directors (Dr. Katie Tucker and Dr. Ioan Stanciu (and his Macedonian friend who we eventually discovered is called Sote) started their day with a trip to the local bus station, where they were directed from window to window and then finally up some stairs and down a corridor, to book some buses for our weekend field trips to a salt mine and a Roman frontier camp.

Meanwhile in the well churned earth of the site, duckboards were liberated from the kindly solar farm owner’s stash, to prevent the earth from swallowing the students and creating more excavation opportunities for the following season. Work continued to draw the plan of skeleton number 4 under a well duct taped covering whilst other students continued to excavate skeletons neck deep in mud, the students that is.


Katie and Dr. Stanciu’s day continued with a trip to the shopping mall in order to unlock Katie’s Romanian mobile, which had been turned off the previous night after repeated prank calls by a random Romanian bloke, only to discover this morning that the piece of paper with the unlocking code had been very successfully tidied away by the owners of the Pension we are all staying in. They arrived to find that the mobile phone shop wouldn’t open for another 30 minutes, so beat a hasty retreat to Starbucks to wait with a coffee. Phone successfully unlocked, they could finally make their way to site, and after battling against Cluj traffic and the less than perfect directions of Dr. Stanciu, they arrived, just in time to see the clouds part and allow the extraction of skeleton number 4 from his eternal resting place.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Students excavating a skeleton.

Katie and Dr. Stanciu (and Sote) discussed (in a combination of Romanian, German and English) the complicated ins and outs of the next few seasons of the project, while lifting of the skeleton from its concrete-like grave fill could begin. This took a team of six of us about two hours, while Nick had to start ferrying the rest of the site crew back to the train station for our normal Friday half working day trip home. Nick then sat in the car waiting for the rest of us to finish, so we could all go back to the Pension. The drive back included a stop at a petrol station to buy a week’s worth of road tax, only to be told that we didn’t need it because our car still had temporary number plates, swiftly followed by an ominous snapping noise from the suspension. Nick’s driving became somewhat more cautious for the rest of the journey but the car did its job and got us back to the Pension.


In the museum this morning we started out with a lively discussion about the Osteological Paradox. The students grappled with the conceptual issues brought up in the article and we all enjoyed the thoughts and points brought up by everyone.  After our discussion group had finished, all of the students donned their lab coats and excitedly entered the lab for another day full of accomplishment and frustration. Our five fragmented skeletons have proven to be a fantastic learning experience as well as an intellectual challenge to all of the students in the lab. Interesting pathologies as well as difficult fragment identification has made this session’s individuals a challenge to everyone who comes through. Kori Filipek-Ogden, Program Director, went over sex and age estimations with two of our groups, and Kayla Crowder our Museum Assistant Director helped with the stature estimation and equations for another one of our individuals.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

Kayla Crowder estimating stature by looking at a femur.

During our lunch hour we have the pleasure of experiencing many different food options that include local restaurants, food stands, a variety of pastry shops and gelato stalls. Once everyone had their fill of amazing food and drink we went back up to the lab to start the second half of our day.

students studying non-metric traits.

students studying non-metric traits.

Meanwhile at the Pension, Nick and Katie Hunt discover that one of our ill excavation students had taken a turn for the worse and decide to take her to the hospital for treatment. After waiting for four hours they were finally able to see a doctor and get her on the track to recovery.

Back at the museum we were joined by Jucu Project Director Katie Tucker and one brave excavation student who was ready and willing to wash and separate some stubborn vertebrae that had been excavated from Jucu earlier in the season.


Katie Tucker and Kori went around the lab to assess the possible differential diagnoses for our many unique pathologies on our individuals. After a long and cloudy day in the lab, the students packed up and headed back to the Pension while Kori, Katie, and Kayla made their way to the cake shop to pick up a special birthday surprise cake for one of the excavation students. After retrieving the cake the cheerful trio started home but got caught in a rain shower with no taxis in sight. Immediately after phoning Nick for a lift, as fate would have, it they found a taxi to take them back.

They got back to the Pension only to discover that the birthday girl, as well as 90% of the remaining students had gone to the mall. When they eventually returned we were able to finally eat the delicious cake, celebrate a great birthday and reflect upon our Day of Archaeology.

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Searching for Archaeological Sites on Oderin Island, Newfoundland, Canada

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for archaeological sites.

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for previously unknown archaeological sites.

On July 29, 2011, I found myself sitting in a kayak, paddling quietly off of Oderin Island,  in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. I couldn’t help but marvel at the good fortune that brought me to this beautiful place in the name of doing archaeology.

As a way of explaining how I came to be sitting in a kayak with archaeology gear stowed in the hatches and strapped to every available space on the boat’s deck, I suppose I ought to backtrack a little.

My name is Amanda Crompton, and I work and study in the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’m an almost (almost!) completed archaeology PhD candidate, a sometime undergraduate course instructor, and part-time co-ordinator for a large research project. My own research interests revolve around the European presence in Newfoundland—and Europeans have been coming to Newfoundland for a very  long   time—which means there’s lots of different kinds of archaeology to do in Newfoundland.

I’m particularly interested in the French presence in Newfoundland. The French have a long history in Newfoundland; since the early sixteenth century, French fishing ships sailed across the Atlantic to catch, process and dry codfish on Newfoundland’s shores. This was  a seasonal venture for a long time, so the French didn’t live here year round. That all changed in the mid-seventeenth century, the French founded an official colony at Plaisance (now the community of Placentia).

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

I  was fortunate enough to direct an archaeological project at Placentia that explored the remnants of the colony for four years, and the project continues on today. I’m now interested in the French settlement that occurred outside of the colony—the unofficial settlements that were established in Placentia Bay, on the Burin Peninsula, and off the south coast of the island of Newfoundland.

One of these settlements was established on Oderin Island. We know it as Oderin today, which is an English adaptation of its original French name, Audierne.  Oderin is located in western Placentia Bay, about 9 kilometers offshore from the Burin peninsula.   The first reference to permanent settlement on the island is by two families, one of whom was the Lafosse family. Only a handful of historic documents mention the Lafosse settlement, and most of those don’t contain much detail.  This means that most of what we’re going to learn about the settlement is going to come from archaeology. Still, what we know of the Lafosse family from these documents is fascinating, and their story was one of the main reasons behind my decision to do archaeology on Oderin Island.  I think their story would make a fantastic movie, actually. It’s a complicated story, which means it’s a long one, so bear with me.


General antics of Public Archaeology student

As a student archaeologist, life is routine but fairly relaxed. I am currently finishing my Masters with only my dissertation left to do. I spend most of my time in the Institute of Archaeology library and talking to fellow Institute students in the park. I like the fact that we all do a range of subjects for our dissertations, from archaeology and art to conservation; it is surprising where archaeology plays a role. My dissertation is part of a project at the British Museum – I am helping to develop a new video-conferencing session, related to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the work it does with treasure finds. The session is going to be structured around challenge-based learning – this involves a real life situation where students have to make their own decisions based upon the resources/evidence available to them.  Its main elements consist of allowing students to work by themselves with minimal input from an adult, using teamwork and applying technology. Having fun is a key aspect of the activity. I am currently making Top Trump cards of treasure finds… this should make my next presentation more entertaining, will also help me to decide which artefacts should be used for the session.

I am a Public Archaeologist. Frankly, I admit that my knowledge of historical periods/civilisations is very superficial. However, I am comfortable with this as I am primarily interested in how the public perceive archaeology – through television, newspapers, museums and even politics.  I work as a facilitator at the British Museum, a job I love and enjoy; it is always good to see children getting really stuck into an activity (trying to get a balance between entertainment and education, of course) and I like hearing the questions they ask. Sometimes they approach objects with a completely different perceptive, which is refreshing after reading so much academic literature. The activities I am involved in range from following museum trails, presenting arts and crafts to schools groups and making news reports. I actually spent most of my time in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where we use technology and the museum’s collections to create both family and school activities. One example is the Sutton Hoo Headline, where  school children create a news report of the discovery using a video camera and a green screen – we get them to gather content by visiting the galleries using a video mobile phone.

On the ‘Day of Archaeology’ I attended the Mortimer debate, an organisation named after Mortimer Wheeler which focuses on archaeology and the future, using the tag line ‘our past, our future, our choice!’. There have been problems of late with the government trying to reduce the amount legislation that protects our environment and heritage. The debate had four panel members: Tony Robinson (Time Team), Cllr Alan Melton (who sparked recent media fury by calling archaeologists ‘bunny huggers’), Andrew Selkirk and Andrew Richardson. Some interesting points were made about sustainability and the costs of commercial archaeology, ie who should pay. The debate got quite heated, especially between Tony Robinson and Alan Melton. Melton suggested that the public were not that interested in heritage, with Robinson arguing that it is human nature to be interested in the our heritage. Does the past have value to you?

Chill out

After such day full of adventures and hard work, it’s time for rest.

Chill out in Old Pub Jaszczur in Elbląg, the most archaeological pub in this town 🙂 Old bricks and arches all around with nice atmosphere. Have a nice party!


Ok. Olaf has gone. His cell phone rang (he has a cell phone!? how???) he has sent me MMS few minutes ago…

There is quite nice party at the Museum 🙂 Hope we don’t need to clean after it!

I wish you all good weekend!


The Big Picture: Archaeological Records after the Project is Done

Greetings! I’m Jolene Smith. I work for the Department of Historic Resources in Virginia, USA. I decided to post on Day of Archaeology because I am most certainly not what most people would consider a “typical” archaeologist. I manage digital and paper records and mapping for nearly 43,000 recorded archaeological sites in Virginia through our government agency, which is also the State Historic Preservation Office.

Sometimes I miss being out in the field, but certainly not today. It’s currently 100°F/38°C outside at lunch time, so I’m very happy in my air conditioned office cubicle.

Distribution of Sites in Virginia by County

Distribution of Recorded Archaeological Sites in Virginia (work-in-progress!)

My work so far today has been very heavy on GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I spent the morning creating a quick map showing the density of recorded sites in Virginia’s counties for a publication of the Archeological Society of Virginia (our state’s wonderful avocational archaeological organization). It’s still a major work-in-progress, but I’m happy I was able to easily generate this data. The ASV hopes to use this info as a guide for where to conduct future archaeological surveys. With a little more work, I’ll be able to clean up some errors, pretty it up, and label everything so the data will be easily understandable.

I spent much of the rest of the morning working on creating records for a large project conducted by a CRM (cultural resource management) consultant, making sure the GIS mapping is accurate and matches the information in our databases and in the printed site form records. Quality control is a big part of what I do. It’s fundamental to remember that archaeology is inherently destructive, so it’s critical to have good, clear records.

Here’s what I have on tap for the rest of the day: I’ll work with some more consultants to create records for new archaeological sites and add information to previously recorded sites. I’ll also be responding to a few emails from members of the public interested in recording small cemeteries in our inventory. Then, I’ll probably review a few archaeological projects that have been conducted at the future sites of mobile phone/telecommunications towers as part of Section 106 compliance to make sure that there won’t be impacts to important archaeological deposits. Quite a variety, isn’t it?