Museum of London

#ArchiveLottery 2016 part 2: Registered Finds

Now it’s time for the sexy objects, selected at some point in the past to have their own individual finds number.

To get us going how about this tip top medieval shoe from 1982’s Billingsgate  excavations. @ImAnitaSharma helped us find this by tweeting us shelf 170


This incredible piece of medieval ship was generated from shelf 352. thanks to @OldLadyBedtime for this. It comes from 1988 excavations at Gun & Shot Wharf


Also this hour we’ve had a creepy Victorian doll


and how about this tiny saxon bead


Not forgetting this doughnut shaped saxon loomweight


Thanks to @DominikaErazmus, @@bolshie_walshy, & @Kath_Creed for selecting these

Next it’s our Environmental Finds Archive. These are typically extremely small objects that take up little space (hence the small shelf range) and include objects such as seeds, pollen and small animal bones etc. Tweet me @AdamCorsini using #ArchiveLottery & a number between 1 and 40 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds… who’s going to be the first to get a coprolite?

#ArchiveLottery 2016 – part 1: General Finds

It’s great to be back and what a start we’ve had to this year’s #ArchiveLottery.

Our first object was from @lornarichardson and their choice of shelf 397 generated this amazingstoneware bottle


Also in the past hour we’ve had some flint from shelf 310 (thanks to former Archive digital records office @andyfev for this)


And one of our favourite items has been this roman strainer from Brockley Hill (shelf 4). Thanks to @Colmuseum’s @Jess_Dowdell for this one


Next up it’s our Registered finds: objects assigned an individual number (akin to an museum accession number) because they are of particular interest.  Tweet @AdamCorsini using with #ArchiveLottery and a number between 1 and 500 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds… – and we’ll post back our results around 1pm

#ArchiveLottery 2016 part 5 – paper records

To wrap up the day it’s time for my favourite section – the archaeological records.

In among our items this hour have been:

A photo of The head of Serapis from the Temple of Mithras excavations


A nice photo of an archaeologist’s backside

bum in air

A skeleton recording sheet from the Royal Mint site

skelton recording sheet

And a great graffiti covered front cover to a small finds notebook from Aldgate excavations

small finds

A massive thanks to everyone who offered a number today and joined in with our #ArchiveLottery.

Have a great #DayOfArch and hope to see you on a visit to the Archive store soon ?

#ArchiveLottery 2016 part 4: metals

We’ve having fun and hope you are too. Here’s the metal objects that your random shelf numbers have found for us.

Lead-ing the way is this fantastic pilgrim badge from shelf 253. Thanks to @Lucinda_Dixon for picking this number.


Check out this finger ring from excavations at Hay’s Dock which was chosen via @the_deku_scrub’s shelf number, 365


There’s obviously been this – Iron nails feature heavily in our metal store but really, our own @Kath_Creed should have known better


And how about this to get you excited….


We’re still uncertain whether it’s a potter’s tool (It is from Lambeth close to the area’s pottery workshops…) or whether its a pastry jigger. What do you think? Either way, nice one @amelia_dowler for selecting shelf 300 to get this one.

And of course how could we do a metal store #ArchiveLottery without some unfortunate person getting this:


Metals were fun (lots more if you search for #ArchiveLottery on twitter), but stick with us as it’s time for the most important bit of the archive – the paper records!!! Tweet me @AdamCorsini using the hashtag #ArchiveLottery with a number between 1 and 431

#ArchiveLottery 2016 part 3: environmental finds

One of my favourite #ArchiveLottery sections, it’s time to go small.

Included in this hour has been some fish bone

fish bone

and then there was some fruit seeds


and we’ve also seen some nut shells

nut shell

Fire up the barbie as we also had some charcoal


and thanks to @BodCons we also picked a coprolite! Poop!


And they were very pleased 🙂

poop praise

Time for the metals! These objects are stored separately. A dehumidified store, sealed boxes and silica gel help us maintain these objects to a high degree of preservation as they’d slowly degrade in normal room conditions. Tweet me@AdamCorsini using #ArchiveLottery & a number between 1 and 500 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

Cakes, Cottages and Manky Bones

Hello!  Gabe here.  I teach archaeology-type things at UCL, but I don’t get to dig as much as I’d like to. This year I was very excited to be able to spend the Day of Archaeology at the Museum of London’s community archaeology project at Headstone Manor in Harrow, North London, where I’ve been helping out for a few weeks.  Headstone Manor is a medieval site with a rather lovely moat full of ducks – the site was a farm for centuries, and the dig is aimed at examining the remains of farm workers’ cottages.


In the morning it rained, so to protect our precious field-school participants from getting wet we ran an impromptu indoor teaching session on human remains. The Museum of London provided a skelly – a rather nice medieval male specimen with a truly horrifying spine.  As we laid him out we saw his very worn teeth, and the severe lipping and spurring (growths of bone) on the vertebrae.  The general impression was “ouch”.

Back on the trench when the rain stopped, we got back to revealing the outline of the cottage with its flint and brick foundations and the outlines of brick outbuildings, including a mysterious circular feature (see above, on the left of the trench).


Away from the cottage, we were busy planning the rather tangled set of layers, lenses and splodges in the east end of the trench, which is both nasty and confusing.  While we were cleaning it up a local resident stopped by for a chat.  I told him what we were up to, and he told me he’d never seen middle-class people working so hard – high praise indeed … I think.

Tea break!  Both me and digger Anna had made cakes for the last day of the fieldschool, so we had a classy carby break – I made cherry and almond loaf cake (Nigella’s recipe), and Anna made a delicious chocolate banana cake.


At the end of the day we gathered around the finds processing area to look at some of the stuff that’d been found during the week, including big lumps of an iron hearth, and an assortment of mostly nineteenth century finds including clay pipe, ceramics and glassware.


Finally, a review of the weeks results on the trench by site director Ian Blair.  In the picture you can see the front wall of the cottage (partly robbed out) with part of a brick floor to the left.  All in all we had a great week of fieldschool fun with a fantastic team, some lovely finds and features, and great cakes.  Still, it’s that twisted and spiky medieval spine that sticks in my mind – ugh!

Thanks to everybody on the dig!  See (some of) you next week.

Want to see the dig? There’s a FREE open day at Headstone Manor on July 20th from 12 to 4.  Pop in for some family friendly activities. Come and see some finds from the site, go on a site tour and experience medieval re-enactments.

Headstone Manor is located at Pinner View, Harrow, HA2 6PX. The closest station is Harrow and Wealdstone.

An ‘Archaeological Anneka Rice’: A treasure hunt at the Museum of London archive

Dig for Victory

Dig for Victory

It feels a bit strange writing a post for the ‘Day of Archaeology’ when I am not an archaeologist. I am a volunteer, I am not studying to become an archaeologist and I am not in training to become an archaeologist, I have had a trowel in my hand once for a couple of hours and all I came up with was a worm, some stones, sore knees and a bad back. I don’t think I am cut out to be an archaeologist. But I do occasionally volunteer at the Museum of London archaeological archive – LAARC (London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre) and today was one of those days.

My own unsuccessful attempts at a 'dig'

My own unsuccessful attempts at a ‘dig’

I guess a lot of posts on this website are about a typical day, but this has been far from a normal day for me, it has been a glorious, busy, fun filled abnormal day. I have been helping out Adam Corsini with the ‘Archive Lottery’, a magical random archaeological day of discovery. Members of the public, via Twitter, tweet a shelf number and Adam tweets back a picture of an item from one of the boxes on that numbered shelf in the archive. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Unless of course you are the person running around getting the boxes (that would be me). I won’t write any more about the lottery here, you can read about it in more detail in the posts Adam put up on this site along with the results of all those uncovered boxes.

I will write about my day as an archaeological archive treasure hunter, my thoughts on a day of volunteering surrounded by archaeology. When I first came to the archive to volunteer in 2013, I worked on repackaging finds from a Roman villa site in Keston, south-east of London. My days were spent putting old objects in new bags with new labels, packaging and boxes. Caring for the objects, making more room in the archive, learning about my Roman ancestors. I would spend ten minutes on one bag, I would ‘oooo’ and ‘ahhh’ over one small sherd of broken pot, a box would take me an hour, a slow, thorough, measured process. It was a new experience handling archaeology, dirty broken pots and I loved every minute of it.

Today has seen me running around like an ‘Archaeological Anneka Rice’, a list of shelf numbers in my hand, up and down the aisles, on tip toe and on my knees, boxes grabbed, whipped open in a flash, iPad out to take a picture. Hardly any time to recognise and appreciate the amazing things I re-discovered; axe heads, Roman shoes, china dishes, Roman glass. Then on to the next, barely time to find all the shelves and photograph all the items before the next round began.

Boxes and numbers, numbers and boxes

Boxes and numbers, numbers and boxes

It was weird to think I would spend five minutes looking at one unremarkable piece of pottery before today, I would contemplate who made it, who used it, who broke it, how it got left behind. Yet here I was, spending no more than a few seconds looking at the most remarkable objects. I enjoyed the day so much, it went by in a blur, a frantic, rushing, whirling blur. I feel I know the archive much better now, I am intimately acquainted with the shelving, particularly rolling shelves that like to roll back and crush me, I snooped inside the metal store and enjoyed the solitude of the paper records room.

I loved being able to share the items that sit on shelves with people sitting out on the ‘Twitterverse’. Some may well have had an archaeological background, some knew the archive, but equally for some it was a new wonderfully intriguing experience to see a Saxon knife blade or a beautifully preserved Roman coin ‘fresh out of the box’. I hope it has inspired them to come and visit this amazing place. One thing hasn’t changed, my fascination of the people who dig these things up, I wonder what it must have been like to peel back the earth and scrape away at the dirt, the years that separate us from our ancestors falling away with each gentle movement.

When I started my day as the ‘Archive Lottery Volunteer’, the one part I wasn’t that excited about was the paper records. They are alien to me, these shelves and shelves of boxes, the folders of paper, the site diaries and indecipherable lists. Trying to pick out something to share and tweet was hard, these pages of contexts, the scribbled handwriting, the dirt stained notes and rough sketches. Then I came across a site diary with a shopping list, things to buy – gloves, ear defenders and lights. This was fab window into understanding these strange archaeologists that felt so far removed  from me standing in a cold storage archive.



I began to no longer see the objects I had looked at earlier in the day in isolation, these paper records felt like the voices of all those archaeologists and volunteers, the moments of discovery hidden in these pages just as the objects had been hidden in the ground. In these papery leaves I could see the hardwork and passion, I could see the dirty knees and bad backs. The real surprise for me was realising these paper records are as important as the artefacts. They are another piece in the puzzle of discovering not only the history of the objects, but the history of those who had the passion and commitment to find them in the first place.

It felt strangely intimate to hold those notes in my hand, to listen to those voices. I spent a special day sharing the objects of archaeological discovery with the ‘Archive Lottery’ but what will stay with me for much longer is that hour at the end of the day spent with those paper records. The quiet voices siting on shelves, a room full of invisible archaeologists, it was my own jackpot and a real treasure trove of discovery.

Tinkering with the machine and linking data

This post is rather belated, I’ve had a lot of things on over the last week. Family, server hardware problems, filming a short make believe piece for a children’s video conferencing workshop, editing and publishing posts for this website and developing new things for the Portable Antiquities Scheme website that I develop and manage. The actual ‘Day’ for me was an interesting affair that started the night before working till midnight with some tinkering with the site to iron out some bugs that has pre-released over 20 posts from RCAHMS (these were fantastic) and then rescheduling them following the discovery of the problem (an incompatible plugin) and then started again at around 5am when my son woke me up:

Then a fast cycle into work at the British Museum. Little glitches were identified in some of the plugins and these were fixed, probably without anyone noticing and the workflow for getting posts seems to work  well. Throughout the day load and activity on the server was monitored, we had no real problems and Tom Goskar asked for a cache to be enabled in case we had a surge in activity.

Whilst not editing and publishing posts via the scheduling feature, I was working on my current development work, which is an extension of the LAWDI summer school programme I participated in. I’m modelling Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) data to the CIDOC-CRM mappings that the British Museum have used to allow our data to be harmonised by the ResearchSpace project. I’ve been linking PAS records to the URIs that exist in the BM system, in the Ordnance Survey data endpoint, to Geonames, to Nomisma, to the thesauri exposed via Seneschal (see this post by Michael Charno at the ADS for more insight into what they are doing there). I think I’m getting there and you can see this N3 view of one of the records linked here (it might take a while to load as this is an external service), if you see problems with what I am doing tell me as I’m tinkering in the dark, some URIs are missing their identifier off the end of the URI string as I haven’t updated the search index on that server – for example OS ones. Once I get this working properly, we’ll have over 560,000 records in RDF format, who knows what people might do with the data – serendipity is king as my good friend Vuk is wont to say.

Enjoying the outputs

Running through the posts, many caught my eye. The content was fantastic (over 300 posts), the images (over 1,100) amazing and some of the commentary coming in (not the pingbacks) was insightful. For me, some stand out posts:

There’s too many to mention, and the LAARC ones were excellent, INRAP’s contributions ace. Every entry is superb in its own right and Janet Davis summed up the event succintly:

Back Channel

As usual, we tried as a collective to maintain a healthy presence or back channel (you can read more on this idea in this pdf by Ross, Terras, Warwick and Welsh) on social media using two platforms – Facebook and Twitter. In my eyes, the Twitter platform has been more productive (even though we gained fans/likes on Facebook). It was easy to measure whether links were being clicked on as I set up a plugin that automatically tweeted the majority of posts (except for when we exceeded the rate limit for daily photos being posted – I didn’t even know this was limited) and shortened them to a url. Over 5,500 tweets (inc retweets) were sent using the #dayofarch hashtag – to put this into perspective, the British Museum #pompeiilive archive that I collected showed 18,000 tweets relating to their cinema extravaganza. These tweets were collected using Martin Hawksey’s  Tags Version 5 tool which is easy to set up and the only tricky bit is setting up the authorisation with Twitter, and then the conversation could be analysed. For example we could see how many people used the hashtag in their output (696) and who the top tweeters were and how many interactions or @ were made to them using the hashtag:

Top Tweeters Volume of tweets @’s % RT
dayofarch 619 4917
AdamCorsini 132 180 17%
lornarichardson 124 209 31%
portableant 122 164 32%
rcahms 121 170 13%
m_law 83 90 33%
tharrosinfo 81 3 81%
JaimeAlmansa 78 32 23%
TRArchaeology 75 8 67%
TinctureOfMuse 69 11 61%
VitaEmilia 67 48 10%

And then we could see what the network graph looked like (this one is with mentions clicked in the bottom right corner):

TAGSExplorer  Interactive archive of twitter conversations from a Google Spreadsheet for  dayofarch

And what the timeline looked like for posting frequency:

TAGS Searchable Twitter Archive

I’ll be doing some more analysis of the Twitter archive using the programming language R shortly.

Running the project

The ‘Day’ as a concept has definitely been fun to help co-organise with a fantastic team of people over the life time of the project; for 2011-12 iterations we comprised the collective of Lorna, Matt, Jess, Stu, Tom and Andrew and myself and then this year we changed slightly with the inclusion of Jaime (who made great efforts to branch out into multi-lingual contributions), and Monty Dobson. We lost Jess, who has just got married to Leif (congrats you two) and Stu along the way. The team has functioned really well. If you’re interested in how we’ve managed to keep this show on the road, a combination of tools have been used:

  • Basecamp
  • Google+ hangouts
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • Gmail
  • Very infrequent vis-a-vis interactions as we’re a team divided by oceans

The site itself is quite straightforward. We run on:

  • a wordpress installation (even though if you look at the HTML code under the hood, you think spaghetti code) using the latest version (at all times!)
  • search is provided by the solr for wordpress plugin (which is pretty powerful and allows the faceted search)
  • the theme (overseen by Tom Goskar) is from WooThemes and is the Canvas version
  • we use OpenCalais for generating tag suggestions for post (by analysing what you have written in your contribution)
  • for posts submitted by email, we use the Postie plugin (this is superb, but you do need an account first before your post will be accepted.)
  • tweets, vimeo and youtube video links were easily converted just by placing the url in the text of a post (no need for embed)
  • Akismet stops spam comments coming through (there’s so much spam out there.)
  • A linked data view of the posts can be generated via the wp-linked-data plugin

If you’ve got any questions about the technical side, do email me (I’m easy to find on Google).

Reflection – my opinion (not the collective)

But, have we made a major impact? Reflecting on the ‘Day’ as a project, yes, we have made an impact in some ways. Readership has not been massive, the Google Analytics figures show interaction magnitude of 1000s rather then 10s of 1000s (5,818 visitors on the day). However, the people that have taken part have made a concious effort to participate and I hope that everyone that has participated has enjoyed it? Myself, I’ve been flamed on blogs for my contribution to running the site and my integrity questioned, and the author of those offered nothing to the site about his archaeological day or any positivity at all. You’ll know where to find them if you’re associated with archaeology and metal detecting debates.

I’m disappointed that more of my colleagues from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the British Museum haven’t contributed to this project (thank you to Julie Spencer, Jonathan Taylor,  Ian Richardson and  Peter Reavill for taking the time out of your working day to join in), seeing as both of these organisations were supporters of the project. I believe that this is a good project and hope that it continues for a few more years at least. The resource created, by you, the contributor, is amazing. An insight into the world of archaeology that isn’t available anywhere else in a searchable, discoverable format. It is even available as linked data.

Conservation of Archaeological Metal Assemblage

I am an objects conservator at AOC Archaeology group, a commercial archaeology company based in Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland. There are only two of us in the department so we are kept very busy and are involved in all sorts of projects with every day being completely different. We conserve and stabilise all the finds that our archaeologists in the field excavate.  Often we are the first non-archaeologists to deal with freshly excavated materials and we are constantly ensuring that the materials gain their archaeological potential.

At the moment I am conserving a large number of finds from two sites excavated by our London office. The purpose of the conservation is to stabilise the finds for the long-term archive as well as possibly reveal new details on the surface of the objects, helping the specialists identify and describe the finds.  The finds are all metal – iron, lead and copper alloy with a large number of Roman coins and many coffin nails.

All the artefacts were covered in thick layers of soil and corrosion obscuring the surfaces and masking any detail. Following x-raying of the finds, I cleaned the iron artefacts using an air abrasive machine and the copper alloy items using mechanical methods (scalpel, bamboo skewer) carefully under a binocular microscope.

Me cleaning a copper alloy spoon under the microscope


Roman coin after conservation


This morning I have been finishing the last few objects and taking after treatment photographs. This afternoon I will be documenting the treatment of each object. As the objects were excavated in London we have to follow a specific documentation procedure set by the Museum of London. Each object has a A5 proforma card with specific information about the find, its condition and how it was treated.

While I have been working in the lab Alan Braby a freelance illustrator has come in to do a recorded drawing of one of the amazing Roman altars that we have been conserving recently. If you would like to find out more we set up a blog about the conservation work we have done on these two Roman altars excavated at Lewisvale Park. Here is the link:

Conservation on a Friday afternoon at MOLA

Today so far, is a day of tidying up and sorting things out.  Unlike a lot of my collegues at  Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) we tend to work on many projects at once.  This is partly due to the nature of conservation, you often need to do a little bit to an object and then leave it for a while, so you may as well start on another object.

My plan is to try and finish cleaning some post medieval coins from a site in the city, complete an external contract on a lead fire mark and if I get a chance to play with the waterlogged wooden objects that we are currently treating.

We also say goodbye to our current interns, who have spent the last 9 months working with us at  the archaeological conservation labs in the Museum of London.