The Time Truck: getting archaeology out on the road

By Magnus Copps from MOLA.

My main role at MOLA is the management of the Time Truck project. The Time Truck is a mobile community engagement and event space that we use to share our findings and make the most of the research that we do with our development clients and independently.

Today, I am testing out our dig-boxes in preparation for an event at Earls Court on the 13 August. We use rubber gravel as a (slightly) less messy substitute to real dirt, and in this case, as we are looking at the post-medieval history of the area, this will be filled with animal bone, glass and ceramics from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Magnus Copps laying out a Time Truck dig-box (c) MOLA

Magnus Copps laying out a Time Truck dig-box

Our handling collections see a lot of use in dig-boxes, both at public events like Earls Court and as part of our schools programme. Along with Paige and Steve from our Time Truck Support Team I went out to Kender Primary in Lewisham last week to deliver our Cleaning up History session, sponsored by Thames Water.

Time Truck Cleaning up History workshop at Kender Primary (c) MOLA

Time Truck Cleaning up History workshop at Kender Primary

Repeated excavation and re-burying can be tough on the finds, especially given that for many of the children we work with this is their very first experience of ‘archaeology’, and it takes a while to learn how to dig carefully. Fortunately we can maintain a ready supply of post-medieval material for handling collections simply by visiting the Thames Foreshore once every few months to find as many tobacco pipes, ceramic fragments and bottle necks as we are likely to need.

MOLA's object handling collection

MOLA’s object handling collection

It’s not all hands-on work today, particularly with the busy job of planning the Time Truck events programme for the autumn. My desk-based work can be anything from securing sponsorship to finding a site for the Truck to pitch up for a particular event, or going through monographs, finds lists, and ADS reports to plan content and write captions for finds displays. Running the Time Truck is a really diverse job, and perhaps one of the best things about it is the way that I come into contact with the full range of specialisms that exist in a big archaeological organisation like MOLA, from the field team right through to post-excavation specialists. As well as the amazing finds we uncover, we try to showcase as much of the archaeological process as we can via the Time Truck.

Fieldwork: community survey at Tell Balata, Palestine

Hello again! As you might remember, for last year’s Day of Archaeology I wrote a blog on my fieldwork in Southern Germany, as part of the European NEARCH project and as part of my PhD Research at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University. This year’s blog entry comes from the same project and is included, partly, in my PhD Research as well. Therefore, I will not include the results of the fieldwork but instead focus on the practicalities of doing a community survey and, perhaps more importantly, the fun one can when have doing fieldwork in a foreign country.

During the summer of last year, in August, a party of four, including yours truly, departed from Schiphol Amsterdam. Their destination? An old town called Balata, which is situated within one of the largest cities in the West Bank: Nablus. Within that old town, an even older town once stood proud between the mountains Gerizim and Ebal, functioning as a cultureal hotspot and trade hub directing traffic from east to west. Identified as the ancient city of Shechem, archaeological remains date back as far as the 4th millenium BC: The Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages. During the decades that followed, the city collapsed multiple times and its remaining ruins formed a small hill: a so-called ‘tell’. Some of those ruins are still visible today; the park is open for visitors and has a website as well. Together with the old town of Nablus, the park is listed on the UNESCO tentative list since 2012, in preparation for its inclusion as World Heritage.

View on the East Gate at the Tell Balata Archaeologicl Park

View on the East Gate at the Tell Balata Archaeological Park

Within the NEARCH project, a team of specialists from various European countries are investigating the effects of World Heritage inscription on the local communities living on, or near those inscribed sites. Because the Faculty of Archaeology has a long running relationship with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities – MOTA-DACH, a plan was proposed to, together with the local authorities there, perform a pilot-study on the possible effects of World Heritage inscription. Both the specialists within the team as well as the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities agreed and a fieldwork project was prepared for August 2015 for Tell Balata.

This was the first research project within NEARCH to focus on those effects, so a new and commensurable survey needed to be created. This was done based on theories and methodologies from the field of social impact analysis within the cultural heritage sector. Inspiration for creating the list of questions came, for example, from ‘Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participating in the Arts’, a book written by François Matarasso in 1997. Within this study, Matarasso lists a large number of indicators, or topics which can be measured, under 6 different themes connected to social impact, such as social cohesion, personal development and local image and identity. However, for this survey questions about the impact of World Heritage inscription and specific questions about the daily use of the Tell needed to be included as well. For example, questions such as ‘how often do you visit the site?’, ‘do you feel connected to the site?’ and ‘Do you experience positive effects from the park for the neighbourhood?’ were included. The final questionnaire was translated into Arabic since the plan was to venture into the neighbourhood ourselves, with the help of a local volunteer acting as translator.

To perform the survey as best as we could – aiming at a high number of response but also at a high quality of those responses, we split into four groups of two – each researcher having his or her own translator hailing from Balata itself or from Nablus. We then ventured into the surrounding area of the tell and performed the surveys with the local community members, who were often very willing to help and offered us more Arabic coffee and tea than we could ever drink. The responses to the questions were very helpful to get an insight into the social and economic impact and often revealed interesting information on people’s relation to the archaeological site. There were for instance multiple older people who still remembered helping to excavate at the site during the 70’s and 80’s. Younger interviewees mostly know the site as a place to relax, walk through or play football. Being in the Palestine for the first time in my life, the fieldwork made a huge impact on me. I vividly recall the first day of the fieldwork, when I was invited to a birthday celebration party of 2 siblings of a very large family. This resulted in me having pleasant talks with about a dozen family members – almost all at once – while eating delicious foods and drinking excellent coffee. They were overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable (and proved to be a rich source for survey responses as well); I had great fun, but was also terribly exhausted at the end of that day from all the impressions!

The four areas we surveyd.

The four areas surveyed

By the end of the fieldwork, the four of us had gathered more than 200 survey responses from 4 different areas of the old town, an incredible result thanks in no small part to the translators who not only translated for us the responses to the questions, but also helped us to get accustomed to local traditions, culture and the surroundings. The results from these surveys are currently being researched by the Faculty of Archaeology and will be published next year, but a teaser will of course be published on the Day of Archaeology’s 2017 edition, so keep an eye out for that!

Ma’a Salama!

Lister Steps Carnegie Community Hub project

Our Lister Steps Hub 2015 post is written by our Heritage Development Officer Kerry Massheder-Rigby.  Kerry joined the Lister Steps team in 2014 when the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) gave us a stage 1 pass and development funding.  Her role is now partially funded by HLF and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

The Lister Steps Hub project aims to regenerate a much loved former Carnegie Library in Liverpool and return it to community use.  The library was closed in 2006 and sadly the building has suffered neglect, theft and vandalism and has deteriorated considerably.  The building is still an absolute beauty despite her mistreatment!  Lister Steps, currently a charity providing childcare and family support, aim to create a community hub at the building—heritage activities, additional childcare services, a cafe, business and enterprise space, outdoor play space and a unique venue for events (such as your wedding!).

The team are currently working hard to raise the required match funding, develop the business plan, activity plan, building designs and conservation management plan.  We are holding community conversations, online surveys and events to engage the local community in the project.  We aim to take part in a review with HLF in October and hope to submit our full application in Spring 2016.

A day in the life of a Heritage Development Officer……….

My role is varied and each day brings a new challenge or experience.  I love working with Lister Steps to help develop the HLF funded heritage project and we have some exciting activities planned for the future (if we secure the funding!).

Today I am working on two tasks; developing a programme of activities for the Lister Steps Summer Playscheme project ‘Tuebrook Heritage Trail’ and gathering ideas of what to do for our next community event.

We have received some funding from Carillion (thank you!) to run a 10 day project to work with 24 Playscheme children to create a heritage trail of Tuebrook, Liverpool.  Although we would like the children to take the lead on the project, design it themselves and work as a team to create a resource that can be shared with community members, some planning is required!  I’ve created an ‘ice breaker’ activity and a sheet to collect their feedback on each activity within the project.  I’ve arranged a trip to start the project off.  We will be taking the Old Dock Tour (run by the Merseyside Maritime Museum) to look at the archaeological remains, learn about the development of the dock and its important role in Liverpool’s history and hopefully get a few tips on how to make a tour (trail) interesting and engaging.  Next we will head to the Museum of Liverpool to take their Liver Bird Trail, have lunch and take part in crafternoon.  The children at Lister Steps LOVE fieldtrips and they’re really excited to take part in an archaeology themed day!  The Playscheme children have been pro active in helping to develop our Activity Plan-we are really excited to be running a mini version of activities we hope to deliver in the near future.

It is brilliant being a Heritage Development Officer within a charity that serves the local community.  The staff and local community are massively supportive of the project and are such fun to work with.  Being based in an existing childcare provider has enabled the heritage themed activities in the Activity Plan to be written to focus on children, young people and their families.

This is such an exciting project to be working on-let’s hope the project receives its HLF funding and can take part in Day of Archaeology 2016!

3D laser scan, 12th May 2015, Dr Oriel Prizeman, Cardiff University

3D laser scan, 12th May 2015, Dr Oriel Prizeman, Cardiff University

Model made by children of Lister Steps

Model made by children of Lister Steps

10.04.15 Member of Falcons designing Sky High ideas box 1

A day in the life of… a community archaeologist!

My name is Sam Rowe and I’ve been an archaeologist since graduating in 2009. I am currently the Community Archaeologist at the Museum of Liverpool where I have worked for 3 years.

Being a Community Archaeologist means doing a whole host a different jobs in one go. One day I be working with volunteers on an excavation or in the museum on a handling session, and the next I will be writing project reports and the more tedious tasks (like finances!) No day is ever the same which makes it such an exciting job! The best part of the job is working with a range of different people and bringing people closer to the archaeology of their local area.

For the last three weeks I’ve been managing a community excavation in Rainford in St Helens, Merseyside, as part of the ‘Rainford’s Roots community archaeology project’ ( We have been excavating the site of an industrial clay tobacco pipe workshop on a site now occupied by Rainford library.

This season’s dig has been hugely successful with lots of volunteers getting their hands dirty and learning new skills. We’ve had people excavating, recording, taking survey measurements, and washing finds, and a whole host of visitors have been to take a look at the site. We’ve also installed a small case of objects inside the library to display objects found during our excavations.

We uncovered a whole host of objects associated with previous activity on the site including clay tobacco pipes, kiln waste from the production process, industrial waste (slag), animal bones, glass and a whole range of pottery. Industrial archaeology isn’t always the most exciting project in term of finds (you won’t be finding neolithic flints or Roman coins!), but there is always something to find and is a fantastic introduction to practical archaeology. It’s a great way to get out of doors, meeting new people, and learning about local heritage.

Today I am writing a presentation on the project and getting prepared to host a tour of a new display case in the Museum of Liverpool which exhibits a huge collection of post medieval ceramics discovered during the Rainford’s Roots project over the last two years.

You can follow the project on twitter @rainfordsroots and facebook.

You can found out more about community archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool on their website:

Volunteers excavating and recording the site at Rainford library

Volunteers excavating and recording the site at Rainford library

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Shelley Dootson (MOLA): Community Dig at Stepney City Farm

This week MOLA archaeologists have been working with members of the public to excavate Stepney City Farm as part of a Crossrail community archaeology project, which goes on until Saturday 27 July.

Briefing our volunteers for the excavation

Briefing our volunteers for the excavation

The sun shines over Stepney City Farm in the East End of London where the atmosphere today was relaxed and eco-conscientious with a shared community spirit. Volunteers, school groups and families visit this working haven situated in the ‘village’ of Stepney, a stone’s throw from St Dunstan’s Anglican Church. We’re looking for the remains of the Tudor palace known as Worcester House, occupied by Henry Somerset, the Marquis of Worcester in the 16th century; a brick-tower gatehouse, along with many other significant archaeological finds that have already been uncovered by MOLA.

Dave helping one of our volunteers identify finds

Dave helping one of our volunteers identify finds

Temperatures soared to 27 degrees as staff and volunteers excavated the remains of the Tudor palace whilst we listened to the hee-haws, oinks and clucks of hot but contented farmyard animals, surrounded by trees and many varieties of herbs and colourful flowering plants.



The allotments, buildings and pathways were designed from recycled materials; bunting swayed in the breeze overhead, a flourishing and successful outcome to a plot of land where squatters once stood their ground and won!

The Stepney City Farm allotments complete with upcycled plastic bottle greenhouse

The Stepney City Farm allotments complete with upcycled plastic bottle greenhouse

The vision underground, however, is very different.  Dark and eerie caverns and utility tunnels weave between London’s tube and rail lines at depths exceeding 35 metres.  These caverns under Stepney Green are some of the largest mined and constructed tunnels in Europe with many people employed by Crossrail, below street level, in protective clothing, oblivious to the temperatures above. This heavy and dangerous work will continue after we and our volunteers move on.

Back on the surface, MOLA has an archaeological excavation underway that has exposed a ditch, moat and boundary walls of Worcester House, otherwise known as ‘King John’s Palace’.

Examining the finds from a feature

Examining the finds from a feature

Karen and volunteer washing finds

Karen and volunteer washing finds

Archaeological small finds include a copper dress pin and remains of a Tudor shoe from the moat, glass beaker bases from the cess pit and a bone ivory ring from Garden Street. Exciting recoveries are being made on a daily basis!

An array of bowls and plates

An array of bowls and plates

A plethora of finds

A plethora of finds

The site was visited by BBC TV television crew and their film was broadcast at 6.30pm on BBC London. The East London Advertiser also made a visit.

Volunteers getting a little face-time on the BBC

Volunteers getting a little face-time on the BBC

In-depth archaeology has been undertaken by MOLA on this site and includes bore holes, nine trial trenches and full scale excavation of the area.  This is to pave the way for the 42km of Crossrail tunnel that will pass under Stepney Green for the high capacity London railway line that is due to open in 2014.  Despite all of this, above ground, the residents of Stepney City Farm carry on as normal.  Sid the ferret was rescued by Dave Sankey when he wandered into a trench, Billy the goat never failed to amuse the visitors with his cantankerous ways and my favourite Stepney animal, that I have named Mollie, was a big white fluffy bantam chicken that crossed the road!

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Cantankerous Billy the goat

Cantankerous Billy the goat

These happy animals, the amazing variety of flora and the community that created this magical place, continue to live in blissful co-existence, oblivious to the archaeology and construction below their feet and roots.  This eco environment, along with the history of the site and the current work being undertaken by MOLA appealed to my sentiment and made my day at Stepney City Farm both memorable and gratifying!

Shelley with artefacts

Shelley with artefacts

A Different Kind of Fieldwork: A Day in Public Archaeology

As one of the Outreach Coordinators for the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), a not-for-profit program of the University of West Florida dedicated to outreach and education related to Florida’s amazing historical and archaeological resources, I see this year’s Day of Archaeology as an opportunity to extend my influence far beyond the Florida Panhandle region in which I typically work. The Day of Archaeology, in my opinion, is a wonderful international component of the every-day job of the public archaeologist.

On a daily basis, the staff of FPAN, like other public archaeologists throughout the world, take on the equally difficult and rewarding task of convincing the public, a public that is largely unaware of the actual role of archaeologists, that archaeological resources are something to be valued and protected. For those I often encounter, the archaeologist can be one of any number of popular media-influenced archetypes: the “Indiana Jones,” the “treasure hunter,” or the “dinosaur specialist.” My job, and that of other public archaeologists, is to dispel these misleading images and to show how truly amazing archaeology actually is without out being any of the above. Most impressive to me is how quickly people are willing to give up those old stereotypes. When those with which we engage begin to better recognize the science, research, time, and dedication that goes into archaeological research, a deeper appreciation for the goals of the discipline, and for cultural resources in general, is often not far behind. For those who seek to understand, archaeology can provide a deep and lasting connection to the past that gives us a sense of where we are and just how far we have come!

Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola, Florida

The Coordinating Center for the Florida Public Archaeology Network: our home base!

The Coordinating Center for the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

Summer is a fairly busy time for us at FPAN. Working out of our Coordinating Center in Pensacola, Florida, we co-direct a summer camp, present talks on local history and archaeology in a variety of venues, and host a public archaeology lab. On top of these tasks, we are constantly generating new promotional and informational materials that aid us in our goals of raising awareness about local cultural resources.

I work with one of our History & Archaeology summer camp students to  use an atl-atl and illustrate changes in hunting technologies throughout human history.

I work with one of our History & Archaeology summer camp students to use an atl-atl and illustrate changes in hunting technologies throughout human history.

For the first half of every day this week, I am co-directing the History and Archaeology Summer Camp that FPAN helps run through the University of West Florida in partnership with West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. The camp offers us a chance to dedicate a week of our summer to truly engage campers in the daily life of the historian and archaeologist. The children who attend our camp are immersed in hands-on activities in history and archaeology. Campers visit our public archaeology lab, as well as local museums, historic sites, and archival collections. The camp curriculum and activities attempt to build a deep appreciation of Pensacola’s rich past and to instill stewardship for local cultural resources. While this may sound overwhelming for children, all of our campers become incredibly dedicated and the camp has consistently received excellent feedback from both attendees and parents.

I speak with an audience about Florida's fishing history at Fort Pickens, located in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

I speak with an audience about Pensacola’s fishing history at Fort Pickens, located in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The demands of summer camp do not slow me down, however, and I head next to the Fort Pickens Auditorium on Gulf Islands National Seashore. In partnership with the National Park Service at Gulf Islands National Seashore, FPAN has helped put together a summer lecture series on local history and archaeology. On this particular day, the topic is my Master’s thesis work on the Red Snapper fishing industry that dominated Pensacola’s waterfront from 1860-1930. Utilizing historical documents and archaeological materials, I tell my audience the tale of the rapid boom and bust of the industry and how it continues to affect daily life in the local area (namely, the strict conservation measures on commercial fishing and the subsequent rise of recreational fishing tourism). I get a lot of great questions and some interesting insight from individuals who remember seeing commercial fishing vessels ply the waterfront in the sunset years of the industry.

I work with one of our volunteers in the Public Archaeology Lab to identify and rough sort artifacts from University of West Florida excavations.

Working with one of our volunteers in the Public Archaeology Lab, I help identify and rough sort artifacts from University of West Florida excavations.

After the talk at Fort Pickens, I put on my hat as Public Archaeology Lab supervisor and head back to our Coordinating Center. With the wonderful help of our senior intern, Tristan, FPAN invites the general public to come in a couple days a week to rough sort artifacts from actual excavations that the University of West Florida has undertaken in past years. The lab allows interested individuals to get hands-on with cultural material, the archaeological process, and, more abstractly, their past. While lab work is not for everyone, those who do come by always leave with a greater appreciation of the vigorous, but sometimes surprising, nature of archaeological analysis. Over the past few years, we have also retained a number of very dedicated volunteers who come every day that we are open.

A new heritage sites and museums map that FPAN is putting together to promote heritage tourism in the Pensacola area.

A new heritage sites and museums map that FPAN is putting together to promote heritage tourism in the Pensacola area.

To wrap up a long day, I sit down to work on some of the new materials we will be releasing to promote heritage tourism in our area. By creating colorful, accessible handouts and making them available to visitor centers and popular tourism destinations, we hope to have a significant influence on visitation to the many spectacular museums and sites that feature local cultural resources.

Although we are not “field archaeologists” in the typical meaning of the phrase, public archaeologists are constantly working in their local and regional communities to spread knowledge and appreciation of the many historical and archaeological resources that piece together the puzzles of the past. This type of “fieldwork” provides similar gratification and, at times, frustration as does standard archaeological fieldwork, but I have never felt entirely unsuccessful in any of the programs or events in which I’ve played a role. Even if all I was able to get across to a group is that archaeologists do not, in fact, dig up dinosaurs, I have decidedly brought my community one step closer to appreciating the roles of the many individuals who work in academic, public, and private archaeology. More frequently, however, I feel that those groups with which I talk and engage actually learn a great deal about archaeology, the role of archaeologists, and the relevance of archaeology to our modern world. Thus, a day in the life of the public archaeologist may not be filled with excavations of 16th-century Spanish shipwrecks or laboratory analysis of cultural material from 18th-century British fortifications, but it is certainly equally exciting to help the public navigate history in ways they never knew were possible.


If you are interested in the Florida Public Archaeology Network, our mission, or what we do every day of the year, please visit our website ( and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Working in the palace of the Queen She-Wolf: the Mallou hilltop fort in Galicia


The impressive location of the Mallou hilltop fort.

An independent team of archaeologists, journalists, anthropologists and people from many different disciplines and professions is working on the last two weeks of July in the hillfort of Mallou, led by archaeologist Anton Malde and the popular science writer and university professor Manuel Gago. This is a public archeology project promoted by the  Council of Carnota.


Main gates at Mallou hilltop fort

The hillfort of Mallou is a small fortified town on the Atlantic coast Galician striking monumental in its structures (especially the walls and the original door),  original configuration (a combination of large elongated structures near the wall and small circular huts in the center) and its excellent state of preservation, which allows understanding the original urban even without digging! The village, inhabited by Iron Age people of the Celtici Supertamarici  (the Celts located at North of the Tambre River) offers a unique perspective for the end of the Iron Age II on the Atlantic coast, very little known from a scientific point of view. The two closest excavated forts are more than 60km away.


South Walls

The fort has an important symbolic role for the local community, which identifies this as the residence of the famous Queen Lupa (The Queen She-Wolf), the mythical pagan figure who allowed disciples of St. James burying the body of the saint in the sacred woods of Libredón.

But the Mallou Castro Project is also special for the attention given to the local community and public archeology. Although the archaeological team has eight experienced professionals in the field, the design of this action encourages the participation of the local community and everyonge interested in archeology, through activities adapted to the conditions of training, health and interests of the participants in the project. The aim is involving society in the process of building knowledge and creating experiences and strategies for the local community to be the leading advocate and user of the archaeological site.

Thus, the project offers volunteers a wide range of activities: since cleaning the dense fields, support archaeologist technical tasks, and even literary workshops on writing historical tales. Over sixty volunteers from Mallou villaje and allGalicia are involved in the project for one or more days, enriching the local tourist economy and creating a new way of relating to heritage.

Connect live from 18:00 h. Friday July 26

Live streaming video by Ustream

Education, Community and Irish Archaeological Research

Hi. My name is Christina O’Regan and I am the Fieldwork and Educational Director of Irish Archaeological Research (IAR). Three colleagues and I set up this non-profit social organisation in early 2011 with the aim of getting the public more involved with archaeology through education, workshops, and community events. We are all from commercial archaeological backgrounds and wanted to develop our experience in community archaeology.

A focus has been the delivery of school workshops, typically to second level students in years 8 – 12. These workshops begin with a general introduction to the archaeology of Ireland, followed by a practical session varying from how to make and decorate prehistoric-style pottery, learning about diet through artificial ‘poo’ dissection, hands-on interaction with genuine and replica artefacts and prehistoric hunting techniques. These workshops have been incredibly successful, with benefits for students and teachers alike.

My work in IAR varies from day-to-day as I develop workshops, plan for future events and shoot off a few emails to raise the profile of IAR within the archaeological and educational sectors.

For this year’s Festival of British Archaeology, we have decided to host two family-orientated events; the first at Glenariff Forest Park (July 21st & 22nd) and the second at Gosford Forest Park (July 28th & 29th). Our experience with the school workshops has shown us that the more practical the day, the better. Pottery workshops, archery, demonstrations of flint knapping and a children’s activity area will ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. There will also be a mini museum, with an interactive artefacts table as well as information on the archaeology of the areas where the events will be held (Antrim and Armagh). The Northern Ireland Environment Agency have very generously granted us a loan of some artefacts from both counties and I joyously spent an afternoon sifting through their stores, picking out choice artefacts with the help of Andrew Gault from the Agency. We are also busy planning similar events for National Heritage Week in the Republic of Ireland, August 18th – 26th.

A trial run of the Open Air Museum at the Carnival of Colours, Londonderry showed us the enormous benefits this type of venture can have in increasing awareness of local heritage within communities.

Social media has been a lifeline for IAR with our Facebook page now ‘liked’ by over 1,000 people. The page allows us to announce all of our upcoming events as well as share archaeological discoveries and support other institutions and companies. Facebook also allows us to easily disseminate our free online magazine, Irish Archaeological Research and we have just put out a call for articles for the fourth (summer) edition. As editor of the e-zine, I envisage many late nights over the coming weeks organising layout and thinking up witty headlines!

For more information on any of our events see


Seeing with archaeological eyes

2.30 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

4.00 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

6.00 am. Tell toddler to go back to sleep. Change diapers just in case. Fed the cat… or was that the baby? Woops, put diapers on the cat.

8.00 am. Go to work.

Having a baby and a toddler has completely changed our lives. It’s also changed the material culture of our house. Diapers! Who knew they came in so many different varieties? What is common to all of them is that they are branded. Here an Elmo, there a Big Bird, woops, here’s a Dora and Diego… These are the things I notice in the early morning, as I sing ‘Morningtown Ride‘ for the umpteenth time. Does the branding go with age? Is there a gender difference? In the store, do Elmos get better shelf space than Oscars? There’s certainly a spatial component within our house…

Archaeology isn’t just a job, it’s a way of seeing the world.  You start to look for patterns, you start to see patterns, in places where others see nothing at all. You wonder why is it that *this* building faces *that* way, when the rest of the street seems to be on a different alignment. You stand in forest clearings and notice the presence of lilac bushes, indicating an abandoned farmhouse. It’s a bit like poker – the landscape, the social environment, all have little tells, and we’re trained to see ’em.

I’m now the first – and only – archaeologist in my department at my University. We’ve got a long hallway on the top floor of the building. There’s no common area (if you don’t count the stair landing). The layout of the department reflects the way that historians have often traditionally worked – in isolation. The contrast with the archaeology department at Reading (where I did my PhD work) is striking. There, all of the offices and work spaces are arranged around a communal atrium. From one office door you can see pretty much anyone else’s door, and the workrooms – and the doors have windows in them.

Atrium in the Reading University Archaeology Department

I’m still new here at Carleton. There are other archaeologists squirreled away in other departments, somewhere on this vast sprawling campus. I really must make contact, some day.

On the other hand, being the only archaeologist amongst the historians means that my archaeological eyes are seeing things they wouldn’t otherwise see, which has its benefits! One of which is a project I’m working on this morning, ‘HeritageCrowd’, a project using the Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform to solicit memories and knowledge of the historic landscape. It’s a crowd-sourced map of the tangible and intangible memories and erasures in this region. Of course, the map is as wide as the world, so if anyone else wanted to use it in their own neck of the woods, there’s no reason they couldn’t – please check it out!  This project is an outcome of the great conversations I’ve been having with the oral history folks and public history folks here at Carleton.

My student assistants and I were to go out to the ruins of the Ottawa Electric Company, (Google map pic) but it looks like we’ll have to reschedule. In which case, I guess I’ll spend the rest of my day planning my syllabi for next year’s courses: Digital Antiquity; The Historian’s Craft; and Augmented Reality & Public History. Screenshot