finds processing

Ted Levermore: A Day in the Finds Department

A close-up of gloved hands using a toothbrush to clean a find

Finds washing


Got everyone to start washing finds. A big site has just finished so we’ve got plenty of hands on deck today. Hopefully we’ll get through some of our backlog! Some of the steadier handed of the group were asked to wash a skeleton.


Our new plastic boxes arrived. We had to order some long and flat boxes to fit our more awkward sized metal artefacts.


Organising finds that have come back from specialists to be reintegrated into our archives. And organising pottery to go off to various specialists. I wonder how much archaeology navigates its way through the postal service each day?


Still organising finds for specialists.


Took some photos of artefacts for the manager. Top secret photos of top secret finds. Assigning unique numbers to boxes of finds that have been processed, which are now waiting to be looked at by specialists. Fire up the database!


Finally done, just in time for lunch.


Found a bunch of other things to sort. Now it’s lunchtime.


Discussed a possible timetable for processing the finds for one of our massive sites. We might have it processed in a couple of months if we’re lucky! We’ve got so much on it doesn’t seem likely…


Boxing up and packaging metalwork fresh from site using silica gel and airtight boxes to begin desiccation. Once stable the metalwork can be sent off to specialists.


The pot washers have been so efficient they’ve almost run out space on the drying racks for the newly washed finds.


Tidying up and working out what needs doing next week. To do list written. Looks like it’ll be much of the same!


Ted Levermore is a Finds Assistant Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our post-excavation artefact research and conservation services, visit our website:

A day of earthquake archaeology in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, archaeological work in the city and the surrounding areas has increased exponentially. New Zealand’s archaeological legislation protects anything deposited or built prior to 1900, meaning that we as archaeologists have had the unprecedented opportunity to record and excavate the architectural and material foundations of an entire city (founded in 1850), along side the archaeological traces of indigenous Maori activity in the area before and after the city was settled.

From day to day, we (Underground Overground Archaeology Ltd) visit sites to monitor foundation removals, record 19th century buildings scheduled for demolition, excavate archaeology from rebuild sites through the city and monitor the almost incomprehensibly vast task that is fixing Christchurch’s horizontal infrastructure (roads, sewers and wastewater). We assess the archaeological potential of hundreds of sites, to determine whether or not they fall under the national legislation protecting archaeological heritage; wash, analyse and photograph boxes and boxes of artefacts and midden; and, of course, write the whole shebang up into archaeological reports and blog posts (on our own blog Christchurch Uncovered).

In the midst of all this we make some fantastic discoveries and some less than exciting ones, all of which are slowly coming together to provide us with a comprehensive idea of how this city and its people grew from a small settlement on a swamp to the place and community it is today. In a city where streetscapes and skylines can change drastically in a week, thanks to the constant demolition and construction required after the earthquakes, archaeology is so important, not only as a window into our past, but as a way of recording and preserving the heritage of Christchurch for future generations.

For the Day of Archaeology, we’ve selected a few snapshots of our day as it unfolded, from that first coffee in the morning to the well deserved beer at the end (with a bit of archaeology in between).

Archaeology in Christchurch always begins with coffee. Always. Image: Jessie Garland.

Archaeology in Christchurch always begins with coffee. Always. Image: Jessie Garland.


Washing artefacts, one of the most glamourous aspects of archaeology. Uncomfortable though it is, far better to wear the mask than to find yourself sneezing out vast quantities of dust later in the day. Image: Jessie Garland.

Recording a 19th century house in Christchurch. Since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, archaeologists in Christchurch have recorded hundreds and hundreds of houses prior to their demolition, recording the city's 19th century architecture for future generations. Apparently, on occasions like today, it can be a frustrating exercise... Image: Matthew Hennessey.

Recording a 19th century house in Christchurch. Since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, we’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of houses prior to their demolition, recording the city’s 19th century architecture for future generations. Apparently, on occasions like today, it can be a frustrating exercise… Image: Matthew Hennessey.

Beautiful fragment of a clay tobacco pipe with painted relief decoration. Image: Jessie Garland.

Beautiful fragment of a clay tobacco pipe with painted relief decoration, found in a bag of artefacts this morning. Black clay pipes like this are rare in Christchurch, let alone ones with painted decoration.  Image: Jessie Garland.

Photographing artefacts behind the scenes. Image: Jessie Garland.

Photographing artefacts behind the scenes. A meta photograph of a photographer photographing even. Image: Jessie Garland.

Typical site work in Christchurch, on a beautiful winter's day. Image: Jessie Garland.

Typical site work in Christchurch, on a beautiful winter’s day. Most of the archaeological work in the city is undertaken in conjunction with mechanical excavation, especially on sites to do with house demolition or rebuild bulk-outs. Image: Teri Anderson (top), Megan Hickey (bottom).

Appraisalists appraising. These guys work hard behind the scenes assessing the archaeological potential of sites here in Christchurch. Image: Jessie Garland.

Appraisalists appraising. These guys work hard behind the scenes assessing the archaeological potential of sites in and around the city. Image: Jessie Garland.

Getting the paperwork done. Image: Jessie Garland.

Getting the paperwork done. So much of our work involves writing up site excavations, monitoring, surveying, artefact analysis and archaeological assessments. Like any other job really. Image: Jessie Garland.

That annoying point in the day when you have a maker's mark on a bone toothbrush, but you still can't decipher it to figure out who the damn manufacturer is. Image: Jessie Garland.

That annoying point in the day when you have a maker’s mark on a bone toothbrush, but you still can’t decipher it to figure out who the damn manufacturer is. Image: Jessie Garland.


Sorting midden and artefacts. Not the most exciting of assemblages (although there may be a possible association with an oyster saloon, which is fairly fantastic), but still needs to be done. Image: Jessie Garland.

Archaeology in Akaroa, near Christchurch. Stunning, isn't it? Image: Kurt Bennett.

Archaeology in Akaroa, near Christchurch. Stunning, isn’t it? Image: Kurt Bennett.

Around 4 pm, things got a little out of hand. Kim's stack of coffee cups (from the photo above) came under attack and she was forced to defend it. Surprisingly, this is not an uncommon occurrence amongs archaeologists in Christchurch. Image: Jessie Garland.

Around 4 pm, things got a little out of hand. Defending her stack of coffee cups (from the paperwork photo above), Kim was forced to take a stand. Or knee, really. Surprisingly, this is not an uncommon occurrence amongs archaeologists in Christchurch. Image: Jessie Garland.

Unsurprisingly, I got very little actual artefact analysis done today (I did try, but too much social media does not make for good analysis). Still, this is what I'd normally be doing in a day. Image: Kim Bone.

Unsurprisingly, I got very little actual artefact analysis done today. Still, this is what I’d normally be doing in a day. Image: Kim Bone.

And we're out. A few (well-deserved) beverages to round out the day. Image: Lydia Mearns.

And we’re out. A few (well-deserved) beverages to round out the day. Happy Day of Archaeology from the UnderOver Arch team!  Image: Lydia Mearns.

Jessie Garland

A Trainee Archaeologist’s First Week

I have just finished my first week as a trainee archaeologist with Oxford Archaeology East. I am based in their Cambridge office as I live in Peterborough (and adore Cambridge!). It has been an amazing week, and it’s been a long and twisting road to get here – I graduated with a BA in Archaeology in 2007, but through a series of bad choices ended up in retail jobs for the next 7 years. During this time I did a lot of volunteer work with museums, historic environment centers and city council offices, and ended up with an MA in Preventive Conservation somehow as well. I would apply for trainee jobs and internships but did not have enough experience. Then the planets aligned, and a few months after my contract finished at my last job, Oxford Archaeology East had a community volunteer dig – the Romans of Fane Road. I attended almost every day of the 3 weeks, and then applied with OAE as they were looking for trainees to take on.

A month later and I finally get my big break and start working for OAE. Through a lot of perseverance I’m finally getting to live my dream. Enough of my back-story, this is what my first week was like!

First thing I learnt about was the early mornings – everyone has to be in the office at 7am to get to the site by 8!


I was starting along with 3 other recruits. We spent our first day being shown around the office, and talking to all the specialists (pottery, skeletal, human skeletal remains), as well as doing reams of paperwork! All of the Personal Protective Equipment we would need was issued (hard hat, high-vis jacket and trousers, ceramic-toed boots, fleece) and tried on. We spent the afternoon visiting the environmental archaeology unit (out at an old aircraft hanger) and visiting one of our sites to learn how OAE do feature photography.

Day 1 Excavation

The second day was much more exciting – on site! I was paired up with a lovely girl who had been digging for years, had already been on this site for 5 weeks, and had just started mattocking a trench in a long ditch to try and find something dateable – the previous 2 trenches had turned up empty. We took an environmental sample from the top layer, from which we soon found a piece of clay pipe and some vitrified clay. There were rabbit warrens intersecting the feature however, so we weren’t 100% that the pipe was where it should be.

Day 2 finds

We got our 1 metre trench cleaned out, so we did the context sheets for the cut and layers, and did the plans. I was a bit hazy on the specifics, but I’m sure the more I do them, the easier they will become!

Context sheets

Then the most exciting part of the day – I got to start my first solo trench! Further down the same feature, looking for more datable evidence. I only got half an hour, but it was enough to find a tiny bit of pottery in the top layer.

First trench

Day 3 was a total wash out – we only managed to spend an hour on site total in between huddling in the porta-cabin waiting for the rain to ease off. It was getting dangerously slippy, and the archaeology was in danger from us tramping muddy boots over everything.

Rain SiteRain trench

The rain never did ease off, so after an hour or 2 we headed back to the office for everyone’s favorite activity – finds processing!!

Finds Processing

Today was mostly back in the office; we had a bit more induction about the IfA and what our next 3 months will be like – starting a Personal Development Plan with our mentors, taking notes on our learning so we can join the IFA, that sort of thing. Then we all trooped into town to take our CSCS card test (which we all passed!). Most of the questions were laughably easy;

But it’s essential to show we all know the procedures to operate safely on an archaeological site.

Back at the office we learnt how to do the time sheets, and then more finds processing!

Next week we’ll be back on site again (weather permitting!), where we’ll start proceedings with our new mentors.

A day in the life of the Archaeological Research Project at Dobri Dyal, Bulgaria

On Friday 29th July 2011 I was working as site surveyor on a site at Dobri Dyal, a Roman fortified hilltop camp believed to date from the early 6th century AD and located in the central region of Bulgaria approximately 200km east of the capital Sofia. The Dobri Dyal project has about 50 participants mostly students from Nottingham and Cardiff universities but also with a smattering of students from Edinburgh, UCL a couple from Oxbridge and some from other places. There are a dozen or so supervisors, mainly professional archaeologists, covering all the main field functions, finds and environmental management, surveying and digital documentation, under the direction of Professor Andrew Poulter of the University of Nottingham. The British part of the project works in co-operation with a Bulgarian team organised through the regional museum at nearby Veiko Turnovo.

The Dobri Dyal team….

Project Background*

From northern Italy to the Black Sea coast, the only identified human impact upon the landscape during the early Byzantine period is the appearance of countless hill-top fortifications; only a few have been partially excavated, and none has been subjected to systematic archaeological research, employing the full range or modern techniques. The function of these sites and the character of the countryside during the final years of Byzantine rule, central as they are for understanding the period, remain unknown.

It is generally accepted that the early Byzantine Empire was at its height during the 6th century: Justinian retook North Africa and Italy and the emperor Maurice campaigned on and beyond the Danubian frontier. The lower Danube was of fundamental importance; it represented the economic hinterland and frontier, supporting and protecting the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Literary sources for the region, describing the second half of the century, have generated opposing interpretations; on the one hand, that this period witnessed a revival in Byzantine military strength or, on the other, that this century saw the progressive collapse of the empire’s economic and military power (Whitby and Liebeschuetz in Poulter 2007a). In particular, there is no agreement as to the veracity of The Buildings written by Procopius: a key reference point for any discussion of the period. However, book 4 (which covers the eastern Balkans) is unique in that the text was never completed and, in its rough form, it can be demonstrated that the author relied upon a variety of different sources, including itineraries (Poulter 2007a, 9-11). Although this conclusion does not necessarily discredit Procopius’ narrative, it raises suspicions about the authenticity of his detailed descriptions which can only be tested by targeted archaeological research.

The project requires the total excavation of the well-preserved 6th_ century fortress of ‘Dobri Dyal’ in north central Bulgaria. The objective is to discover the economic role of the type site during the 6th century. Essential projects will include zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, small-finds and ceramic research, providing datasets which can be directly compared with the substantial results from the first two programmes (cf. 24,000 bone fragments from Nicopolis and 10,000 from the late Roman fortress). The excavations will explore the functionof the site during the 6th to 7th centuries.


* written by project director Professor Andrew Poulter and cribbed from the project handbook

5am…..I leave the farm in Nicup and walk the kilometre or so into the middle of the village We have commandeered a restaurant in the middle of the village to provide us with food, starting with coffee and a snack at 5.30 each morning, before we leave for site at 6am. The site at Dobri Dyal is about 45 mins drive south of Nicup, so today like most days we are standing at the bottom of the hill at about 6.45am. The Nottingham team opened 5 excavation areas on the top of the mound last season. Three of these areas (A, B and E) are being dug again this year and two new areas (J and K) have been opened in locations where the 2010 geophysical survey indicated areas of high resistivity. A Bulgarian team from Turnovo museum are opening a trench on the southern downslope of the hill where they think the main gatehouse and approach road to the hillfort are located.

7am….The actual change in level from the bottom to the top of the hill is only about 30 metres, but some days it seems much much higher. Especially when you are carrying tools from the caravan to the top, or in my case two tripods, a total station, a prism pole and a box of assorted grid pegs, tapes, club hammer and nails. I am the site surveyor at Dobri Dyal. Most of my recent archaeological work has been in Norway and Qatar although I have been involved in a couple of English Heritage projects back in the UK in the past 3 years. Today I am assisted by two student volunteers (Hannah and Jade) and the main task for the survey team is to locate grid pegs around trench E to enable the students to practice their planning skills.

In addition to laying out grids we are 3-D locating small finds, as and when they are discovered and plotting the defensive walls on the south side of the fort currently being uncovered by a Bulgarian archaeological team. We are using two Leica 400 total stations for the day to day survey work. These are fairly straightforward machines to use and so far all of the students I have tutored have learnt to set up the machines and carry out simple survey functions (point location, setting out grid-pegs and trench locations using the stake-out function). I of course miss the robotic Leica 1200 machine that I normally use in Norway, but for training purposes it is probably more useful for the students to get acquainted with the simpler machine……For some reason I have not been able to work out, we are burning through batteries today and by lunch time have used 4 sets…..hopefully there is just enough left in the last set to see us to the end of the day…(there was – just!!)

10am…..Lunch!! Each day we are supplied lunch by a local supermarket. Like most archaeological projects we have a mix of carnivores and veggies, a smattering of vegans and the occasional allergy sufferer as well as the downright awkward, making the supply of suitable ‘off the shelf’ sandwiches fraught with difficulty. Today’s vegetarian offering is just about inedible, but I have a large jar of pickled chilli peppers in the site hut that disguises the tastlessness of the cheese and peps up the cucumber. And an apple. And a litre and a half bottle of water. The temperature in central Bulgaria gets into the high 30s in July…which is very nice, but does require drinking plenty of water if you are out on site.

10.45am…back to work. We try to make sure that all of the students cover the basic skills needed to work as a field archaeologist (digging, recording, planning, section drawing, surveying) and in the store (finds processing, environmental processing, sieving, sampling etc etc)…..but this is a real research excavation and we try and maintain a high standard of work. Our research aims are to establish the plan and phasing of the settlement, its development and demise using all the facilities and methodologies available to us. The Bulgarian team use a more traditional method and are constantly amazed at how slowly we work. Attempts to explain our ‘single context – stratigraphic excavation’ methodology are met with blank looks by our host archaeologists. It’s about time that someone translated ‘Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy’ into one or more of the eastern European languages…..

1.45pm….Well that’s it for today. We pile back into the minibuses and return to Nicup for lunch. Soup and some baked cheese dish for me, some kind of sausage for the meat eaters. Our restaurant has a bar where drinks are very cheap. A 500ml beer costs 1 lev (45 pence). A double gin and tonic 1.5lev (67 pence). A quadruple gin and tonic 1.9 lev (85 pence), a 330ml glass of local wine 0.60 lev (27 pence)……the local speciality is ‘oblek’ a mixture of green mint liquor and ouzo much loved by men of a certain age (described by one non-archaeological acquaintance in the village as a cross between viagra and laxative!!) and rakia, the local plum or apricot brandy. Being sensible abstemious folk we tend to stick to a small gin and tonic and the occasional beer. Some students sit at the tables outside the bar playing cards, some return to their houses to sleep. Meanwhile….

3.45pm…..A surveyor’s work is never done!! I spend a couple of hours most days downloading the site survey data and preparing maps etc. Today a number of students are working extra hours in the finds store to make up time lost on other occasions during the week or as we like t call it ‘detention’. I slip along to Ann’s digital documentation office to print out a couple of maps. I use Leica Geofffice to download today’s site data. Normally I would use ArcGIS to process the data, create the survey database and make the maps, but as this is a ‘free’ project for me, I am using as far as possibly freely available open source software (not least so I can make the site data available to any students who request it). At present that consists of the Quantum GIS (QGIS) and the ProCAD (AutoCAD clone) packages. I am not a great fan of using AutoCAD for archaeological puposes, but find ProCAD useful for coverting GIS-based shapefiles to dwg and dxf formats for those that want them. The students in detention seem to be fairly happy with their punishment and are discussing whether universities should ‘give up’ student protesters to the Metropolitan Police…..No way!!

6pm….back to the house for a cold shower and then down to the Directors house for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. The gin on sale in the local bar is cheap, but it’s not Bombay Sapphire …. unfortunately Andrew is out of tonic so I end up with gin and lemon.. I manage to struggle through two glasses!! The project works on Saturday mornings so Friday nights are not as relaxing as a normal weekend, but we always manage to have a reasonable time. The nearest large town (Veiko Turnovo) has a culture festival on at the moment with ballet and opera performances most weekends. We have been offered cheap tickets (10lev circa £4.50) for all performances and some staff are going tomorrow to see the opera. Weather permitting, as the performance is open air….

12am……The bars are closed. Some folk drift off to houses, others to sit and chat for a while. Some of us are thinking that we have to be up again in 5 hours…

Field schools are fun, especially when the students are as nice as the bunch we currently have at Dobri Dyal….. Not so sure that many of them will end up with careers in archaeology though. Not through a lack of willingness but just the haphazard way that archaeology is organised in the UK and the failure of the profession to respond in any meaningful way to the current economic and political situation. It may be that in future years, training schools such as Dobri Dyal just won’t be available to UK students. One of the current student participants told me that next year, the archaeology department of his university plan to carry out a series of test pitting exercises in the gardens of houses close to the university campus instead of offering a field school through a project like Dobri Dyal. I think that is very sad….but if this is to be an end to a long standing archaeology tradition, we hope that the next 3 weeks at Dobri Dyal will provide long and happy memories for all those taking part…

Kevin Wooldridge, Bulgaria, August 2011

The Dobri Dyal project staff have a Facebook group called ‘Never Mind the Balkans – Summer Excavations in Bulgaria 2011’