Some Thoughts on Interpretation and Communication

Old field gate with locks. Photo taken by author.

Old field gate with locks. Photo taken by author.

As an amateur I cannot talk about excavating something amazing or peering down a microscope in a perplexing manner! Rather, used the position as an amateur to consider the problems involved with interpretation and the resultant dissemination of any outcome(s).
Metaphor time: Imagine the past, say prehistory, is behind a large gate. Now at one time that gate would’ve been easy to open and access would have been relatively straightforward, as the ‘contemporary’ past is today. Then as time passes it creates a lock on the gate thus denying access. The keys to this lock were broken up and became what is now excavated and analysed – artefacts, ecofacts, features, structures, and so on. Thus the role of interpretation is to recreate the keys from the many items discovered and make them fit the lock. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds as there are many locks and so innumerable parts of many keys. Theories are employed to construct a general outline of a possible key which is then refined using the data from the finds. If the key doesn’t fit, the data is reassessed and the theory modified and tried again. And so it goes on until the key fits and the tumblers in the lock fall, or a new design of key (theory) is tried and the cycle continues.
The lock to the gate us now unlocked but still the gate will not open. The lock has become rusted and seized up over time – in order to release it communication is required. Thus various technical and final reports are produced, assorted papers, and possibly even a book (or two) are written. Inevitably these are aimed at their peers so involve a technical language, in which the wider public are not conversant, so creates a barrier to wider appreciation and understanding – which becomes even worse when the mass media ‘pick up’ on an item and misinterpret the findings. This isn’t to say that technical literature isn’t required, it’s vital. But what is required is an effective, unambiguous, communication platform which describes the findings in a plain, accessible, language for a wider audience. This isn’t to ‘dumb down’nothing should be simplified, just released using a vocabulary which most people will understand without having to consult ‘Google’ every other line. Another problem with interpretation is that contemporary society is often used us a metric for structuring the past – this creates a reference point but also introduces biases into the interpretation. These social biases are quite evident from the writings of Victorian antiquaries – there is never any mention of either women or children. It is all a very anthrocentric view of the past where over half the population is being ignored. Admittedly children are quite often conspicuous by their absence within the archaeological record, but women aren’t and were still ignored! One of the reasons for this is that their interpretation was a reflection of their society, where women were often subjugated and children were to be ‘seen and not heard’. Sadly, this has become a self perpetuating problem, where one teaches how they were taught – often using materials containing the same biases so reinforcing the problem. Even when using ‘gender neutral’ terms, it is often assumed that the main progenitor is male, even when no such thing has been stated. This creates the problem of both a vitally important section of society being sidelined and a potential misinterpretation of the data, who’s to say what gender did what? The solution is to only use gender specific terms where there is evidence to support their use and nowhere else.
Well that’s my ‘Day of Archaeology’ rant over for another year thank you for reading – time for a beer!

Art and Archaeology

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler.

Today is a really great day, as we are launching a new art and archaeology project at Kidwelly Castle – two new comics, illustrated by the acclaimed artist Pete Fowler, famed for his Super Furry Animals album cover work. I really love Pete’s style of work, and the bold use of colours really brings these old Welsh myths and legends alive for 21st century audiences.

Branwen is a retelling of an ancient Mabinogi myth linked to Harlech Castle. When Branwen is punished for the actions of one of her siblings, her brother Brân — a giant king — goes to war to avenge her. When I was little this tale was one of my favourites, and these images have stayed with me.

The second comic is the story of Gwenllian which took place in south Wales, near Kidwelly Castle, and tells the real-life tale of the warrior princess who led a revolt in the twelfth century. A real female heroine.

As a child I fell in love with the stories: they are extraordinary tales of the medieval Welsh world.

This is a land where white horses appear magically, where a giant King can stride across the sea, there is a woman called Blodeuwedd made entirely of flowers, and goats that mysteriously changed into wild boars, not forgetting that it is within the pages of a Mabinogion tale that King Arthur makes his first appearance.

I remember my Dad reading the stories to me at bedtime, and just really loved the unpredictable and twisting plots, the mythical Welsh language and the larger than life characters.

Let’s not forget how these beautifully told stories have influenced how archaeology is presented today – in works such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones! A real Welsh legacy of these works.

You can get free high-quality printed copies of the comics at Kidwelly and Harlech castles, but we also have free PDF versions which you can download here:

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here











The power of making – or what it means to do archaeology through creative experimentation with media

I’m oodles of days overdue in contributing to the annual Day of Archaeology (11 July 2014). The delay relates in part to what I’ll discuss below – The Heritage Jam – and in part to the fact that I’m simultaneously prepping to leave for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük on Sunday, finishing multiple articles and reports, and preparing for the adventure that will be the next five months of my life, wherein I’ll be abroad for my sabbatical (more on that another time!). But being late in writing this post has given me a bit of time to reflect—and most importantly, to collate reports from others—on the event that consumed my Day of Archaeology, not to mention all of the days leading up to it, and all of the days immediately after.

On 11 July 2014, supported by the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and the Centre for Digital Heritage, we hosted the first ever international Heritage Jam. The Jam was a variation on the jamming sessions common in the gaming industry, where adhoc groups congregate for intensive periods of time to produce game prototypes. But instead of games, we were keen to put a spotlight on the many different media that comprise the portfolio of heritage interpretation – from illustration and art to moving-imagery and animation to photography and design to sound and tactile interventions. And instead of live in-person sessions only, we were keen to open up participation to both remote and local registrants, weaving together the online and offline worlds.

The Heritage Jam

Flo Laino and Julie Rugg discuss the York Cemetery, gathering resources for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

The Heritage Jam ultimately coalesced into a multi-part project, all of which is documented on our website, blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. The goal was for individuals or groups to create some kind of visual output (whose process of creation was also documented in a paradata paper) for upload to our online gallery and for physical display at the University of York. The entries were judged on a series of assessment criteria, and had to attend, in some fashion, to the theme of burial (literal or metaphorical, of humans or non-humans). For in-person contributors, we decided to focus the Jam Day efforts on a particular case study site—the York Cemetery—which was necessary to provide some focus to what was an otherwise vague directive (i.e., “work with an assigned group to make new interpretative materials”). And our team created a series of multi-media resources to support understanding of that site, including videos, photos and compilations of archival records.

By my reckoning, the day was a success, attested to not only by the phenomenal outputs submitted by an incredible range of contributors, but also by the feedback we’ve received from those involved and those who’ve viewed the gallery, some of whom have documented the constructiveness of the approach & its outputs on their personal blogs & Day of Archaeology posts (see links below). Coupled with a specific social media use/evaluation plan that we’ve designed for the Jam, we’re analysing experiences and engagement with the project for a larger report that we’ll file at the end of the month. But the superficial numbers (which will soon be blended with qualitative data to provide a rich, contextualised understanding of participation) indicate that we had 92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people. Given that we only launched the project in May, we’re pleased with the visibility it’s received—but more so with the quality of the entries, which are truly fantastic.

You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise. My colleague Anthony has worked to summarise each contribution, and others have gone further, with the brilliant Archaeogaming blog (a forum for exploring video games as they intersect with archaeology) reviewing in detail the winner of the Remote Team Heritage Jam category – Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham’s Buried: An Ergodic Literature Game. Buried (created with the open-source, nonlinear, interactive storytelling tool Twine) is ingenious, thoughtful, fun and sensitive, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. As Archaeogaming’s Andrew Reinhard writes, “Buried is both a game and not a game. It is a playable book, and one with exceptional replay value. Archaeologists and archaeology are both portrayed realistically, and at the same time are neither boring nor sterile, proof that archaeology can stand on its own without resorting to gimmicks or stereotypes…Buried is playful, but also provides plenty to discuss regarding what is a game, and how our personal experiences are brought to bear on choices made within this kind of media, and on this story specifically.”

Equally astounding is the winning entry for the In-Person Group Heritage Jam category: Stuart Eve, Kerrie Hoffman, Colleen Morgan, Alexis Pantos and Sam Kinchin-Smith’s Voices Recognition. As Morgan summarises it on her and Eve’s joint Day of Archaeology post about the work, it was an effort “to create a cacophony in a cemetery — geolocated stories emanating from graves that would increase in intensity with the density of burials in different areas.” In true collaborative fashion, it drew upon previous experimental efforts by the great Shawn Graham in partnership with Eve, which Graham describes in evocative fashion: “I want to develop an app that makes it difficult to move through…historically ‘thick’ places…with a lot of noise when you are in a place that is historically dense with information. I want to ‘visualize’ history, but not bother with the usual ‘augmented reality’ malarky where we hold up a screen in front of our face. I want to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. I want to be arrested by the noise, and to stop still in my tracks, be forced to take my headphones off, and to really pay attention to my surroundings.”

This is exactly what Voices Recognition achieves in its prototype form, put together after a 30 minute trip to the York Cemetery and about 10 hours of intensive group work in a classroom at the university.

I have to admit that when the group presented their output at the end of the day, I was truly awestruck, so much so that it rendered me quite emotional. For it was a glimpse into what great things can be accomplished when you’re able to nurture the right context: an incredible idea (tested out previously with Graham) comes together with an incredible team of people (some of whom were strangers to one another), all converging here into something with a real and profound power to resonate. As I said to Morgan after the event, it was inspirational – and it really was; it made you want to learn how to do such work; it made you want to use the app; it made you want to join their team, and create with them, and be energised and motivated by their ideas, and to experience the cemetery through this lens that they invented right there, in the moment, on the Day of Archaeology.

These entries are just two of 17 that deserve your attention and perusal, so please browse through the gallery, and add your comments to the site or to our Twitter or Facebook feeds. There are contributions from around the world, articulated via a plethora of media, submitted by both new and established practitioners.

The Heritage Jam

Touring the York Cemetery for the Heritage Jam. Photo by Colleen Morgan

I won’t pretend that all the comments we got about the Jam were positive (although the vast majority were), nor that there’s no room for improvement. It was a massive amount of work; it depended on a team of 11 organisers; it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration.

In our effort to provide some definition to the exercise of heritage jamming, we did consciously choose to focus on a particular site – the York Cemetery – and this caused some concern around why we were privileging that environment. But archaeology has these tangible dimensions to it, and as much as we wanted to leave the Jam brief entirely open, we also wanted to create a project that knitted the material and the immaterial, the online and the offline, the tangible and the intangible, the process of abstract thinking with the real-world, concrete act of making.

To have eliminated the cemetery would have returned the event to the intellectual exercise that the subject of ‘visualisation in archaeology’ has long been. Moreover, to have deprived Jammers of the opportunity to visit the cemetery would have meant depriving them of a series of experiences—from the reflectivity that’s encouraged through walking, to the camaraderie and knowledge that are built through shared embodied engagements with a physical landscape. In her blog post about the Jam, Holly Wright of the Archaeology Data Service, speaks about of the nature of the cemetery, a breathtaking and deeply reverberating space which is barely known in the York community (despite the fact that it houses the history of much of that community). There is value cultivated for heritage spaces through both our analogue and digital—and our physical and intellectual—engagements with them. The cemetery provided us with a site to experiment with the weaving together of it all.

I’m proud of what we achieved through the Heritage Jam and I would encourage others to consider this format for their own work, particularly if you’re directing the outputs into larger, targeted, useable resources. The fleeting composition of the Jam belies a venture with a longevity to it that extends beyond the Day of Archaeology, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes on the project to see how it develops from here.

The Heritage Jam

Heritage Jamming at the University of York. Photo by Colleen Morgan,

Love in the Time of Visitor Studies

Love between strangers takes only a few seconds and can last a whole life.”  Simon Van Booy (the greatest exponent of contemporary romanticism in the World) probably did not write this with tourists and archaeological sites on his mind – but to me, it suits the situation just perfectly!

Quite often, tourists approach archaeology as something alien or indecipherable and they find it really hard to actually enjoy it. But if a site or a series of artifacts are presented in a way that live up to their expectations, visitors might change their attitude towards cultural sites forever.

What I do as a job is to find out what makes this potential long-lasting love actually bloom bright and wild as soon as the visitors walk into the archaeological site of Herculaneum.


A view of the archaeological site of Herculaneum

 I have no bow and heart-shaped arrows as weapons but just a pen, a bunch of questionnaires and a lot of patience: today I am going to interview at least 40 tourists who might not be as enthusiastic about answering my questions as I am asking them.

I am an Audience Development Consultant for the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) a collaborative project between the Packard Humanities Institute and the Soprintendenza (Italian local authority managing the site), supported by the British School at Rome that in the past 10 years has sought to address some of the most pressing threats to the survival of the site.

More and more museums and archaeological sites in Europe are doing what it takes to make visitors want to come and feel welcome and make sure they’re eager to return. Herculaneum is determined to make visitors ‘fall in love’ with its archaeology; and HCP is there to facilitate this process.

But, first things first: who the hell are these people coming and going from the site every day?! In order to answer this compelling question, an Audience Development Program was set up in early 2013.

The initiative I am personally contributing to is a 12-month campaign of questionnaires for independent visitors. The research, which is the first of its kind in Italy, aims to cluster tourists to Herculaneum under different profiles, in order to eventually produce targeted outreach and interpretation campaigns. Together with other shorter studies (targeting non-visitors, organized tours, schools and the local community) the program itself aspires to develop and nurture a relationship between the archaeological site, the local authority managing it and the public over the long term.

What my team does in practice are face-to-face interviews with tourists to the site at the end of their visit. We designed a questionnaire in order to gain information about their type of holiday and the reasons why they decided to come to Herculaneum. We also collect personal impressions, criticism and suggestions. Anything is welcome, as far as it helps us improving the visitor experience onsite.


Me and one of the visitor-interviewee in Herculaneum

I enjoy the work on the field and the whole experience of collecting data as it gives me an everyday different perspective on the site. When you work with archaeology, you are quite likely to forget that an archaeological site or a museum are also places where people come just to have a good time and maybe learn something new.

Visitor studies are then an essential tool not just to center the interpretation and outreach strategy, but also to keep the archaeology and the institution relevant to current societies and future-oriented.

You always need new tips to keep the spark alive!

Horizons – Old and New

I’m a little late with my Day of Archaeology post this year – but I managed to find some time today to do a post…. which will mainly focus on a project I’ve recently been working on as part of my work at Cadw, called: ‘Horizons: Old and New’.

On the actual Day of Archaeology, my morning was filled with lots of office tasks in preparation for the Festival of Archaeology, co-ordinated nationally by the Council of British Archaeology. Along with that, I worked on editing some Key Stage  2 school resources that will accompany the ‘Horizons: Old and New’ project which we completed last month.

The project focused on the Neolithic period on Anglesey, and focused on the passage tombs of Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodaid-y-Gawres dating to around 5000 years ago. The project was split into two main themes – ‘old’ Neolithic technologies were explored at Bryn Celli Ddu, and ‘new’ interpretations of that Neolithic in the 21st century were explored at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. The project explored what we know about the Neolithic period, and celebrate the amazing technologies of the period and present these to the public. This included flint knapping, rock art, pottery, bonework and the movement of the sun. At Barclodiad-y-Gawres, we explored how we interpret Neolithic archaeology in the present and the future – and by using the more unusual focus on sculpture and art, gave the public a new experience at an ancient monument.

It was on Friday that I finally got a chance to go through all the images that I had received from Adam Stanford taken at Bryn Celli Ddu and others taken at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. These were added to our shared portfolio system with metadata, and it took ages to complete! A photographic archive of the project.

All images Cadw: Crown Copyright

After lunch I went back to editing the Neolithic resources I’m writing, which encourages schools to take their students out to their local Neolithic site, listing a range of activities and lesson plans which they could use to inspire their classes. Some of these images will probably surface in there…

Cadw have also commissioned a series of Neolithic comics, created by the very talented John Swogger – which brings the period alive in another way…

Cadw Neolithic Comic

Images by John Swogger. Cadw: Crown Copyright

I’ve just finished edited and checking the Welsh versions on these, so they have now gone back to John so he can add the Welsh text into the right boxes, I’m so excited to see the finished artwork! The comics and school resources will be available to download from the Cadw website, very soon I hope.

That was the end of the DoA for me, and off I went to watch the new series of Game of Thrones!!!

Thanks again to the Day of Archaeology team – it’s always a pleasure to read about what others are doing across the globe!


Pete Rauxloh: A Busy Day in Archaeological IT

05:40 Youngest child cannot sleep anymore too light, too hot, tells her father (who was asleep)

06:00-07:30 Start up children make breakfast, iron shirts, make breakfast, packed-lunches, and package them off to school.  Feed fish, rabbit, cat and washing machine in that order, make beds, shut windows lock back door pedal off to work

08:15 Arrive at work – strong westerly wind makes going tough – and so many of those Boris bikes to avoid!

08:30 – Check inbox and general helpdesk call queue down to 8, my queue – generally full of slower burn more tricky development tasks – sticks at a belligerent 12.

08:40 Tried to understand a change in Microsoft pricing structure for charities which would affect any new licence purchases we wished to make.

09:00 Passed on message to Rafel  – our engineer who works for the outsourced helpdesk team – from Jazz (my colleague in IT) that Jazz will be watching all 6’2″ of Maria Sharapova on court number 1 at Wimbledon today while we bake in the office.

Jazz’s day of archaeology

10:00 Finally nail the MS licensing issue.  We need to have more than 10% of our income from charitable donation to qualify for their special pricing, which while we don’t now we could do in a few years with the launch of the new MOLA charitable foundation about which I am very excited.  This could be a great resource and banner for so much of the community outreach, applied research, educational and capacity building ideas in UK and abroad which we need to get further into.

11.00 Short discussion re the new MOLA website.  We want to re-align our website to focus on the needs of our major clients so we can build revenue in this area and thereby have the financial momentum to keep the organisation healthy and to allow us to really get involved in those engaging, worthy and ultimately valuable activities such as research partnership project, volunteer inclusion programmes and community engagement, which are generally less lucrative. New website has to have a more user-friendly authoring interface and we need to understand our audience, their language how they’re likely to navigate our site. We then need to have that information architecture translated in to a web site design then get the thing built and tested. We have some short deadlines and I am suspicious of external consultants not being as frank as we need them to be about what we absolutely must do as opposed to what we could do. Am reminded of Paul Theroux who wrote in the Mosquito Coast about Amazonian Indians seeing a block of ice for the first time produced by a massive homemade fridge built by Harrison Ford, that ‘ any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’ and worry that some consultants assume that the same is true of arcane knowledge, and hope that punters will pay for their advice because they don’t understand it. We need to be on our guard for half-naked emperors, people!

11.15 More responses received on familiarity with Office 2010 poll, conducted by email; looks like 1 in 5 people have never used it.  One commented it was rubbish and should be thrown out, but I pointed out he’d said the same things when we migrated from a Unix Word editor to our first Word for Windows in 1995.

11:20 My turn to make Rafel tea, into which 7 spoonfuls of sugar are shovelled; reminded of Jazz’s idea to deduct costs from monthly helpdesk payment to cover this wanton consumption; we’ll call it  a saccharine levy

Talk about a sweet tooth

11:30 Start manipulating a surface model of the City of London and the home boroughs interpolated from about three thousand modern spot heights.  Aiming to use this as an upper surface then interpolate beneath it a surface representing the top of natural (aka the bottom of archaeology). This is interpolated from archaeological and geological borehole data and the thousands of deposit survival forms, which are filled out at the end of excavations, recording the height at which geological layers were encountered. First results encouraging, notwithstanding concerns over identification of truncation (which would show geological deposits as being un-naturally deep) and I have a satisfactory wedge of cheese, which very roughly represents the layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City.  Enthused and with the idea of Eskimos cutting out ice blocks from the surface of a lake in my head, I experiment with extruding building footprints downwards to represent the pieces of cheese (or ice) which have gone,  due to cutting of basements.  Having pleaded for a sample city building height data from a friendly supplier,  am able to extrude a small area of the city upwards, and render things so you can see the bit above and the bit below ground.  It’s all pretty vague of course, but it may do as a proof of concept for EH and archaeological advisors to have them contemplate the benefit of a decent basement data collection project.  Fingers crossed.

Layer of archaeological deposits overlying the two hills of the City

13:30-14:00  Helped Rafel  bring 16 new PCs and monitors up from the goods yard. As if by magic  Jamie turns up with a pallet truck which saves us using our cake-trolley, and I drag the lot through the middle of the office. Am greeted like Vespasian in Triumph entering Rome; everyone always wants a new PC.  Piled them up on the desk and had our photograph taken – sent to Jazz on number 1 court to show him how we suffer while he is enjoying himself (Maria was winning).

Hail the conquering heroes!

An update from our correspondent in the field

14:15 – Laura says it is 32 degrees in the office – we mumble about the cost of fans and electricity used to push the hot air about our un-air conditioned “air conditioned” offices

14:25 I eat three digestive biscuits and remember I’ve had no lunch again – it’s the heat!

14.30 15:15 Discuss with Sarah next week’s Geomatics seminar on one recent and one current mapping project.  These involved digitally stitching together scanned version of 16th and 18th century maps, georeferencing them, and the extracting a road and place network from them which were then given an identify by relating them spatially to an existing index which had been located on the individual scans. Phew, we wrote a blog about it too you can see it here

This picture is an example of how good a fit we were able to get between adjoining sheets of the 1746 Rocque map through cunning manipulation of the sheet scans to allow for the differential shrinkage and warping that map sheet experienced since they were made.

Fleet prison with a lovely horizontal seam going straight through it

And now… the seam is gone

The movie (linked below) shows a traverse of the street network of London c.1746 used during processing to check that the graph was truly connected, but it also has geo-social research applications interested in proximity, distribution and so forth.

Traverse of the street network of London c.1746

16:00 Fill out a change control form to inform IT and the outsourced helpdesk of a server re-boot I want to do tomorrow.  We have a problem with old GIS files that access data on an older server (which we want to decommission) hanging when that server is switched off, rather than failing gracefully by opening but without the unreachable layers. Purpose of shutdown is so I can log the TCP connections the old GIS file tries to make as it starts up.  This should help diagnose the problem.

16:15 Query Jamie on uncertainties regarding the modification wanted to the dendrochronological recording form on our central database. This one was around date ranges.  Do we need and if so which fields ought we to be using to record the date range of the tree? – i.e. acorn to death, the date range of the archaeological feature of which the timber is part, or the lifespan of the tree.  How to best record an estimate or actual lifespan if the entire record of rings is not present which it often isn’t.  Sometimes we can also identify timbers from the same tree (as possible amongst the massive Roman and Medieval oak waterfront  timbers recently excavated on a large site on the Thames foreshore), but how best to record? Appears to be a one to many situation but to avoid a horrible Cartesian product,  the likely SOP is that timbers from the same tree are mapped to that with the lowest context number; on the logic that the lowest one is more likely be the first discovered.

Timber structure on recent Thames foreshore site

16:45 Prepare screen shots for staff meeting, and recruit Steph and Nigel to enthuse about on-going vitality of our Facebook and Twitter streams. Much interest indicated following our discussion of the Shakespearian Curtain Theatre in Hackney. This was a major find and such a well-timed one. Named after the nearby Curtain Close, it was the main venue for Shakespeare’s plays between 1597 and 1599 until the Globe was completed in Southwark. Popular recent posts include other small wonders such as the discovery of a bricked-up collection of head-gear and other apparel during our work at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Curtain Theatre foundations (those knobbly things which make up a yard area are Sheep knuckle bones)

17:00 We say good bye to an old colleague who is retiring after 30 years work with MOLA.  Andrew was an old mentor of mine when I first arrived as a green student, in the then Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) 22 years ago. Having been used to excavations on the wide open spaces of Salisbury plain, I probably drove him mad with all my questions about how the DUA dig this complex urban stratigraphy, and how they understand what it is they have dug.  Getting my head around all the procedures that had been devised to allow accurate but also time-effective recording.  He was all over it and remained so.  A great archaeologist and friend, I will miss him.  Carol, our bubbly receptionist, does him proud with a wonderful homemade cake which she produces for all leavers – the woman is a diamond.

17:30  Intense discussion with training supplier on subject of Application Express, a data entry environment  for Oracle databases that’s totally web-based and would be a valuable tool in our tactic to move more data entry into the field to reduce double-handling of information. The big idea is to re-appraise the paper recording sheets used on site for various types of context (a valuable exercise on its own) and then from that look at what could be usefully recorded digitally.  Don’t want to record stuff digitally simply because we can, there has to be a purpose and a benefit.  That benefit should be in greater efficiency, but equally I want to ease some of the more mundane aspect of recording.  For example change a prompt requiring a discursive response, which analytically does not have great value, into a tick-box.  Want to do this as we need to get our archaeologists, especially the younger ones coming into the profession more engaged with the process of thinking what it all means.  We don’t want people just filling out checklists, we want them engaged, and enfranchised, and if we can give them more time to do that by streamlining the data collection then that will really help.

17:40-18.30  Have third and final cup of tea, update helpdesk call list with work done, restart the computer, turn off the screens and pedal for home.