Heritage and Identity: Setting up a new Public Archaeology project…

Despite a broken ankle, life goes on. Today I am working on the set-up of a new project I have just started at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in London, UK, with colleagues Prof. Richard Hingley and Dr. Tom Yarrow from the Archaeology and Anthropology Departments at Durham University.

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Broken but scooter-aided researcher (me) goes to work.

This is a really exciting new adventure, especially in these times of heated debate over what it means to be English, British, European or (as I regard myself) simply (?) a world citizen with roots in all those great and diverse places where you are lucky enough to have family, friends and colleagues.

The project is called ‘Iron Age and Roman Heritages: Exploring ancient identities in modern Britain‘, and is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for a period of three years. Through this research we are hoping to understand how Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval pasts live in present-day Britain. How are they researched, variously used, performed and interpreted by different individuals and groups, and why? What are the implications?

The project is divided in two parts which will run in parallel until 2019. One is based at UCL, where I will be focussing on the analysis of digital heritages (Dan Pett, from the British Museum, Andy Bevan and Mark Altaweel, from UCL, are also helping!); the second part, led by Richard and Tom in Durham, is centred on offline ethnography.


Boadicea at Westmister Bridge, London, England.

During the project, we will also invite whoever might be interested in participating in our research to do so online, through the MicroPasts crowdsourcing website, which is indeed still up, running … and busy! In October, I will visit Daniel Lombrana-Gonzales and his team, in Madrid, and, together, we will create a new crowdsourcing application to aid the analysis of web data. People will be able to login and identify (via tagging) the aspects of Iron Age and Roman pasts that appear in a range of texts that are published online like newspaper or magazine articles, for example.

So, stay on the look, we’d love you to join the team!




‘Vesuvius, fare well until my return.’ A Non-Invasive Archaeological Research Project on the Shops of Roman Pompeii.

Via delle Scuole, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker.

Via delle Scuole streetscape in Region 8, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

Vesuvius and I have a little one-to-one chat each time I visit Pompeii in southern Italy. It’s the first thing and the last thing I do on every fieldwork and research visit. Without Vesuvius I couldn’t be the archaeologist and researcher that I am. 

As a Roman archaeologist specialising in socio-cultural and economic examinations of ancient Pompeii and the early Roman Empire I have visited the ancient city countless times in the past 15 years. I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand: entering at the Porta Marina gate, sharing greetings with the Pompeii superintendency staff and custodians who I haven’t seen in a number of months or years, climbing the steep Via Marina road leading into the city that widens into the city as you arrive at the forum. Turn left and it’s the backdrop to the Capitoline Triad temple remains: Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that catastrophically destroyed and preserved the Roman city, a small town that wasn’t of particular great importance in the Roman Empire. The violent eruption of AD 79 had a myriad of consequences, covering the city in several metres of ash and pumice after a 24 hour long bombardment and killing those who had not escaped the city and burying the contents of their homes, businesses, religious sites and theatres entirely.

Nearly two thousand years later the city was ‘rediscovered’ (although it had never properly been lost) under the Bourbon rulers of Naples in 1748. Ten years earlier the ancient city of Herculaneum had been found and the fever of antiquarianism was rising. Excavation revealed surprisingly familiar aspects of an ancient civilisation: statuary, belongings, homes, and so on. Despite early use of backfilling, a practice in which materials excavated, such as soil, are returned to the opened areas, Pompeii eventually became the open air museum that we understand it as today. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a city frozen in time. Since Day 1 of its burial the site has been subject to a slow, natural decomposition in addition to destruction carried out by humans, both in antiquity and from 1748 onwards.

My research, mostly carried out as part of a PhD degree, focuses upon the lesser studied shops and workshops, also known as tabernae, which fronted many of the homes along major arteries in the city. These small structures are important because they tell us about what everyday life was like for non-elite Romans, slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves) in terms of where they worked, their trades and crafts, their eating and drinking habits, and, in a few cases, where they may have lived. An insight into Roman shops at Pompeii provides an understanding of population, society, culture, urban planning, trade, and commerce. It also tells us quite a lot about the impact of war and Roman colonisation, slavery, migration, patronage, art, neighbourhood development and industrialisation across the city.


A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

In light of city’s size, I have chosen to work in a quarter known today as Region 8, just south of the forum and Via dell’Abbondanza, close to the two theatres of the Entertainment District, and bordered by the city wall and the Porta Marina and Porta Stabia gates. Most tourists to the city will walk by my shops without noticing their presence or their importance to the city, although they might notice the shops with counters looking like taverns. The majority of the 93 shops in this area are small structures under four rooms in total. Some are directly connected to the elite houses (popularly known as villas, but correctly identified as domus) that were owned by families of local political importance who also maintained commercial interests, which is in contrast to incorrect 19th & 20th century views that Roman elites avoided direct trade and monetary dealings.

One particular aspect of shops is a favourite of mine: the architecture. Quite a lot of my time is spent at my desk in England analysing field research carried out site and the architecture is often the most revealing because 18th & 19th century excavation records rarely include recordings of finds from the shops despite being rich sources of materials and decorated buildings in their own right. Archaeologists often refer to this type of analysis as non-invasive research’ because it doesn’t require further excavation and damage to ancient structures and landscapes. Pompeii is an excellent site to carry out this type of approach because the wealth of material and speed of early excavations means that much remains to be interpreted from exposed buildings and their contents. It is quite a lot like putting a massive puzzle back together when you don’t have an entire understanding of what that puzzle is meant to be.

To keep track of the extensive number of photographs, plans, archival records and my own analysis findings I developed a digital database (along with some generous assistance from Derek Littlewood, @eggboxderek). I love reading the walls for the information that they provide, with or without their finished decoration, revealing building phases and additions, and most importantly telling archaeologists about reconstruction following the seismic activity, including earthquakes, leading up to the fatal eruption in AD 79. Even details such as the simple thresholds set within shop doorways are thrilling: I can understand how and when these doorways and their doors operated, learn about Roman carpentry and locks and take part in scholarly debates around differences between mezzanines and upper floors and why their different terminology and definitions affect their use.


Database, Tabernae of Roman Pompeii. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

Database record for 8.4.27, The tabernae of Roman Pompeii: shops & workshops of Region VIII. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

And while my PhD research isn’t a group project, I depend on the regular exchanges of ideas and discussion of new developments at Pompeii with a number of other researchers. Some of the especially important individuals, projects, and publications, that have impacted my area of research in the recent past include Dr Joanne Berry, Drs Steven Ellis and Eric Poehler of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79), and many, many others.

Sera Baker is currently completing a PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She enjoys discussing Roman archaeology on her Twitter feed, @seraecbaker. To learn more about Pompeii take a look at the official archaeological website from the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (English & Italian; for most complete information use the Italian site).

Using archaeology to promote the study of STEM subjects

My Day of Archaeology is a bit different to previous years. Back in 2012 and 2013 I was doing lab work (for Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves respectively) and in 2014 I was doing teaching preparation and looking at microscope slides. This year I am technically not doing archaeology at all, though I have been using archaeology. Let me explain – I am a geoarchaeologist, which means I use methods and approaches from geoscience to address questions about the human past. In my current job, which I just started this month, a large part of my role is trying to increase the numbers of students (and women in particular) studying Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University. Like archaeology with the popular image of adventure and Indiana Jones, civil engineering has it’s own public image (bridges, buildings! machinery!) and if you say geoscience, the first thing most people think of is rocks. Compared to the image of archaeology which has a broad appeal, it can be much harder to convince people that civil engineering is something they would enjoy. Likewise, there is much more to geoscience than rocks (though personally I am quite a fan of rocks…). This is where the archaeology comes in.

For my Day of Archaeology, I have been putting together outreach events for schools and families, to try and broaden the appeal of geosciences, and to convey the diversity and breadth of the subject. One of the talks I am doing is on Geoscience and Archaeology, using case studies from archaeology to show how we can apply geoscience methods in ways people might not have thought about. I am also working with the Great North Museum: Hancock, to develop geoscience inspired activities for Earth Science Week in October. In a similar vein, I have been writing a blog post (not yet published), on the links between civil engineering and heritage. Back to the bridges stereotype, many famous bridges (or civil engineering structures in general), have become part of the cultural heritage of a place, and it could be argued that their symbolic function is equally as important as their practical one. The Golden Gate, Millau Viaduct, London’s Tower Bridge – all have become iconic symbols of a region or city. In Scotland, the Forth Bridge was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. And of course anyone with an interest in Roman archaeology knows the importance of bridges as material culture. Newcastle itself was known as Pons Aelius (Hadrian’s Bridge) to the Romans! Archaeology is everywhere, even where you may least expect it.


Bridges: iconic landmarks and heritage symbols (images from Wikipedia)


On a day when the July weather in London is doing the best impression of a combination of mid October and the moment after Mrs Noah announced, “It’s just started raining dear”, it is no bad thing that a working day in today’s archaeology can include being desk based, alternating thinking [OK staring out of the window], with monitoring the latest Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and media websites in search of  stories.  Today of course it also includes the somewhat surreal experience of breaking off from writing and editing an on-line blog to write this piece for an on-line blog.
Although I undertake my own research and undertake research work and consultancy for various agencies and media companies today has mostly been about following up stories for thePipeLine.  That is why this morning began with an e-mail conversation with contacts in the Midlands, Sweden and Egypt who are trying to get the Temporary Export ban on the statue of Sekhemka extended in order that talks can take place to keep the statue on public display, preferably in the UK.  It is approaching crunch time-  the temporary ban runs out on 29 July, next Wednesday and so far the Culture Minister is refusing to engage with the Save Sekhemka lobby because they have taken the principled stance that they won’t raise money to buy the statue because the initial sale, for £15.76 million at Christie’s last Summer, was unethical, so to raise money would be to reward this.  That story is one which will develop over the weekend and into next week.

Then it was monitoring the share price and message boards regarding Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Florida based treasure hunting company who have a contract from the Maritime Heritage Foundation to salvage material from the wreck of HMS Victory 1744.  This is a story I have been following and writing about for over three years and it still has a way to go.  Particularly as today also happens to be the last day of a public consultation over a licence application by the MHF to the Marine Management Organisation.  The outcome of that application will be interesting to say the least. Watch this space as it is going to be one of the major archaeological stories of the year which ever way it turns out and sadly not because of the archaeology.

Then on to Twitter and what is worth tweeting about, commenting about at greater length on Facebook or parking for future research and reference [and what is worth flushing down the electronic disposal unit].  There is a provocative article in the Guardian advocating reintroducing Museum charges in the UK, a report into falling use of libraries by under 18’s and the implications of the Government ignoring and suppressing the advice of an expert panel on neonicotinoid pesticides in the face of a commercial lobby from the National Farmers Union, which could have implications for expert advice in heritage matters.  In the end I park that one for future use and go with comments on the Museum charges piece on Twitter.  For a start the author appears to equate Museums with Art Galleries when traditionally the research and archive functions of the two types of institution are very different.  It also appears to play to the Government’s “everything has a price you can buy into if you want to” agenda and to my mind conserving an archive of local, national and world culture and cultural material for the longterm is a somewhat different cultural ask than a subscription to watch Sky or BT Sport.  Sometimes we are consumers and sometimes we are conservationists on behalf of ourselves and future generations and we confuse the two at our peril.

At the end of the day- and Friday night and Pizza Night in this household-so it is time to upload this and head for the kitchen-  my eye is also drawn back to the posts under the #dayofarch which are a fantastic reminder of why we do this thing called archaeology and why thePipeline and other campaigners and commentators exist to hold to account the people who would seek to damage or abuse it, or seek to debase the language and ideas of history and archaeology.

Let’s stay, open source, exciting and international and whatever gets thrown at us let’s keep digging literally and metaphorically,  remembering it is


Andy Brockman
Freelance Conflict Archaeologist and Writer
Editor of thePipeLine


PS:  The History Channel has just tweeted about the new series of “Counting Cars” says it all really…

Heritage as Future Making Practice

One of the things I love about my career in archaeology is that it keeps changing. I love learning new things, that’s the discovery hit that so many archaeologists thrive on. While archaeology has a strong culture of expertise, of knowing as much as possible about a tightly defined subject, it also revels in connections between those subjects. So there’s room for people like me who love the new.

My new job this year is as a Post-doctoral research associate on the Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage project, more commonly called Heritage Futures.  I once read an undergraduate essay that began “Archaeology definitely deals with the past” and that may be true, but heritage is intimately concerned with the future. Many archaeologists are committed to the project of ‘saving the past for the future’. What is this future like? Why do we care about it? How do we contribute to it? My new role is to help answer these kinds of questions.

Luckily I don’t have to do this all by myself. Heritage Futures is a four year project with teams at four different universities, all dealing with different aspects of the topic and all comparing heritage practices of future-making with those of other disciplines. My own work is concerned with deep futures and I’m comparing practices of World Heritage with nuclear waste management and messages sent to deep space. My fieldwork is in the Lake District.

As you may imagine, there’s a fair amount of reading and thinking involved in the work and getting up to speed in future studies, nuclear waste management and space communication is no mean feat. But this summer I am also planning my fieldwork for the autumn. As the project is a heritage project, much of my work will involve ethnographic approaches working with people building futures in the Lake District, shepherds, B&B owners, heritage managers, distillers and more.

But since I’m an archaeologist I’m also interested in what material traces of these futures exist in the landscape today. Water, stone, soil, and plant life all hold futures in different ways. The future of this tree is mismatched with the future of this street furniture.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 15.18.01

If the topic didn’t provide me with enough challenge, we’ve also committed to using film making practice in our research. Film making is an entirely new skill for me and I was really excited to join the rest of the project researchers in an intensive course organised by our Creative Fellow Antony Lyons and run by Nathan Hughes of Rough Glory films. In addition to teaching us basic camera, audio and editing skills, they encouraged us to think critically about how films construct understanding. A process much more akin to archaeology than I had realised.

One of the things they impressed upon us is that fumbling with your equipment doesn’t make for good interviews. So I’m keen to practice though the summer so that I come across professionally when I get into my fieldwork this autumn.

With that in mind I took the opportunity to film at Thingvellir when I was transferring through Iceland earlier this summer. A World Heritage site on the intercontinental plate boundary, the world’s oldest functioning parliament where new land is appearing every year, Thingvellir feels like a great example of future heritage to me.


So I’m spending the Day of Archaeology editing that footage, using different editing and audio styles to see what kinds of different arguments I can make in this new (to me) medium. I’ll post what I get when I’m done, rough and ready as it will be.

Heritage Data and the National Trust for Scotland

I am the Archaeological Data Officer for the National Trust for Scotland. We are a conservation charity who own and care for almost 80,000ha of land, making us the third largest landowner in Scotland. Across our land we have over 11,000 heritage sites of which 101 are designated as Scheduled Monuments and 271 are Listed Buildings, we also have the dual World Heritage Site of the St. Kilda Archipelago.

The majority of my workload revolves around our heritage data management, databases and GIS; over the last two years I have polygonised all our heritage sites, and these have associated records linked with the RCAHMS Canmore database. Our GIS also pulls in Ordnance Survey data, including historic maps, survey data created by ourselves or contractors, historic estate plans from our archives, condition monitoring data and so on, all of which helps us to efficiently, and effectively manage the heritage for everyone.

Aside from the data management work, I also have a number of different projects on the go which should enhance the understanding and visibility of the heritage sites to our staff, our members and the public. These range from carrying out detailed surveys of our Scheduled Monuments and other archaeological sites, to developing a system for aiding the monitoring of the condition of our heritage sites, to acquiring and processing LiDAR survey data. One area that I’m increasingly working in is the visualisation of heritage sites, artefacts and architectural details through techniques such as close-range photogrammetry. (more…)

Digging Diaries – Old Shipwreck, New Mystery – The Wreck of the London

Hello all, it’s time for a new vid!

Back in 1665 an enormous warship, named The London, exploded in the Thames Estuary. The crew had been preparing a seventeen gun salute before the vessel was due to set sail for the Second Anglo-Dutch War when a stray flame ignited 300 barrels of gunpowder.

A team have been diving this summer to rescue the archaeology and to solve the mystery of ‘The Wreck of the London’.

Subscribe to our channel and follow us on Twitter (@DiggingDiaries) to keep up to date with all  the new exciting digs and dives happening all over Britain this summer.

The Business School archaeologist’s Friday

Ian at workIn a University setting, Friday can often be a day of catching up, with attempts to carve out some thinking time or at least a chance to focus on tasks with a little less distraction from normal.  For me, as an archaeologist who also runs a University Business School based in Suffolk, England, I am using the day to combine the subjects of archaeology and business in a serendipitous way.  So far today I have marked a tourism management student’s undergraduate dissertation focused on ‘The economic and cultural impacts currently experienced by the Heart of Neolithic Orkney as a heritage site’, and have also spent an hour discussing a journal paper which I am contributing to with a colleague here at UCS as well as collaborators over in Italy.  This paper is exploring the interplay between residents in towns and villages on the Amalfi coast and the World Heritage Site designation which covers the area.  Using a web-based survey tool, it has gathered a dataset which we are now exploring to consider the views of citizens on their inter-relationships with the built and natural environment in which they live, ‘official’ bodies associated with conservation management and policy, and tourism and economic development organisations.

Ipswich waterfrontWhilst considering the relationships communities have with archaeology in far flung parts of Italy and the Orkneys, my eye is drawn to the office window and the great view I have over the half-finished regeneration project that is the Ipswich Waterfront.  Another part of my role at the moment is to help support the development of a co-ordinated tourism strategy for the town as part of a revitalised urban vision, through the creation of a Destination Management Organisation – and archaeology has a key role to play in this: the historic environment and bits of upstanding archaeology are to be seen on the historic quayside and found all over the town.  The story of Ipswich is one which can be told readily and engagingly through archaeology with the Anglo-Saxons at its heart, to a thriving mediaeval town and port, to an industrial hub and gradual resurgence as a University town  – and there is a strong desire by many in the town to see a celebration of this heritage and an opportunity to provide a visitor experience which could support economic growth and inward investment.

Digging Diaries – The House As Old As Stonehenge

Following on from the wonders of Star Carr, here’s our next video, ‘The House As Old As Stonehenge’

A digging team has uncovered the remains of a building which is over 4000 years old. It’s been found on the vast Neolithic landscape of Marden Henge situated within the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

The University of Reading Archaeology Department have been carrying out the excavations in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Wiltshire Museum.

Subscribe to our channel and follow us on Twitter (@DiggingDiaries) to keep up to date with all  the new exciting digs and dives happening all over Britain this summer.

Happy Digging from all the team!

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