Ceramics and Cultural Interactions on the Colonial Frontier

A project that we are currently participating in is the Lord Ashley site, located outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The Lord Ashley site was the 1675-1685 fortified plantation and trading post for Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the original eight Lords Proprietors of the Carolina colony. Archaeological research here has identified the foundation of oldest British brick foundations in the Carolinas, and the defensive moat. Research here has furthered our understanding of the Proprietary period and Lord Ashley’s involvement in the development of the Carolinas, even though he never had a chance to visit his Carolina estate. The artifacts have allowed us to identify specific groups of Native Americans who interacted with the colonists and the likelihood that at least some of the fifteen enslaved adult Africans there made their own pottery.

Nicole Isenbarger, our president, conducted an analysis of the locally produced earthenwares recovered during the 2011 College of Charleston/The Charleston Museum archaeological field school excavations. These ceramics, otherwise known as Colono Wares, are the non-European low fired hand built pottery found in the colonial sites of the eastern United States that were produced by both free and enslaved Native Americans and Africans. Her analysis gave us an idea of the different groups of people who interacted with one another at the site. A brief blog on her work can be seen on the Lord Ashley site blog at http://lordashleysite.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/making-pots-and-mixing-traditions/ One of our main questions was to look for evidence of cultural mixing or the sharing of potting traditions within these ceramics. So far the ceramics are very distinct and separate and we have not seen any evidence that the potters were sharing their ideas and techniques for making ceramics.

This year, Nicole volunteered with the field school excavations, which now also included students from Salve Regina University. She spent 3 weeks in the field working with students and teaching them proper excavation techniques. The artifacts from this field season will be processed at The Charleston Museum by student interns from the College of Charleston. Once the artifacts have been cleaned and catalogued, Nicole will study the Colono Wares we found looking for evidence of specific pottery traditions/styles and possibly even wares that show the sharing of traditions between these different groups.

To learn more about the Lord Ashley site you can follow the blog at http://lordashleysite.wordpress.com
where we will be keeping you up to date on the progress of our research as we begin to research the artifacts we uncovered during this year’s excavations.

Digging for Roman Pottery

This year’s day of archaeology starts more or less where I ended last year. I have spent the past 13 months working in Albintimilium, the archaeological site of the ancient city at the frontier of Italy. The work is a mixture of several things: on weekends, the site is open to the public and with my colleague I guide visitors through the small introductory exhibition, the Roman baths (with mosaics, too), the city walls and the Roman theatre. We could have more people visiting us, admittedly, but in April and May we had many schools. As you can imagine, 10 years old kids are much smarter at understanding the Romans than most adults, let alone archaeologists, will ever be, so there’s some satisfaction in it.

On weekdays, the work is different and it varies from coding open source databases for archaeological finds to cataloguing of Early Medieval architectural decoration. And, of course, Roman pottery. Lots of Roman pottery, as in two entire buildings filled with more than 5000 crates of stuff. Some of these finds date back to 1915! The vast majority is resulting from the more than 30 years of excavation by Nino Lamboglia, who pioneered stratigraphy and chrono-typology in Roman archaeology starting as early as 1938. All this material needs reviewing, reordering, cleaning etc. on a regular basis. For some reason, the recent finds are the ones who need the most work. This month I am going through some 140 crates from excavations carried out in the 1980s at the Late Roman and Medieval site of Costa Balenae (gallery of images from Wikimedia Commons), some 30 km away from Ventimiglia.

An older inventory. Note that it was written entirely on paper records.

An older inventory. Note that it was written entirely on paper records.

From a general inventory done some years ago we already know that 90% or even more of these finds is made of bricks and tiles, and I am separating actual pottery and amphorae into smaller and more manageable bags. Bricks and tiles need to be stored separately, and the best approach to quantification is probably by using weight. One may also suggest that, once a quantification is available and no particular differences can be seen in fabrics or shapes, they can be disposed of, allowing us to save a lot of space in the ever-crowded building. The remaining pottery will be processed in further detail, even though at a first look its breakage rate is very high and that will pose serious identification problems, not to speak about functional interpretation. Quite surprisingly for a site that has Late Roman phases, I could not see but one small piece of African Red Slip (or terra sigillata chiara as Lamboglia labelled it in the 1950s) so far. I have only reviewed 15% of the material however.

Not Roman! 19th or 20th century glazed pottery.

Not Roman! 19th or 20th century glazed pottery.

What is perhaps most interesting is that there are some pottery finds that are not Roman, such as this big sherd of a late 19th or early 20th c. basin. There is little evidence of stratigraphic contexts for these so I assume they came from the topsoil cleaning done before the actual excavation. I have written before about the need to adopt a less mechanical approach to work done on finds, without forgetting that storage facilities are not separate from the real world and they tell stories that should be very familiar for an archaeologist. For example, at least 3 different people must have been doing some kind of work on these finds before myself, based on the different handwritings I can see on the finds, on the labels, on the inventory. There should be a record of who they are, but I couldn’t find one yet.

Instagram filters will make anything look beautiful. Almost anything at least.

Is this the best time of the year for this kind of work? Not really, as the temperature is constantly above 30 °C during the day. However during the winter it would be much less comfortable (cold, rain, not enough natural light) and spring is always busy with schools as I said above. There is also a lot of dust in the bags, so I need to wear a dust-mask. Not a good item to wear in the summer if you ask me. The other reason for doing this right now is that there are new excavations ongoing (since a few years actually) at the site and reviewing the extent of older excavations together with their finds is very important. What I forgot to mention, but it should be obvious by now, is that this material was never published ‒ as happened for many other excavations done in that period. Nowadays the situation is slightly better, even though in general there is a lower detail in the short reports that get regularly published. My day of archaeology was dedicated to making these finds easier to manage and study.

Geophysical Surveys for the Minor Centers Project

Hello! Kayt here, and this year I am finally in the field for the Day of Archaeology! I’m working with my colleagues Gijs and Tymon (who isn’t here because his third child is arriving any day now!) from the Minor Centers project at the University of Groningen in the Pontine Plain. The project is looking specifically at the role of minor central places in the economy of Roman Central Italy. You can read a lot more about the background of the project and access our fieldwork reports and papers on the project website.

We’re in Italy for a few weeks to do two things. First of all, Gijs is here with a team of student volunteers drawing and cataloging finds from fieldwalking surveys last Autumn and early this year. There is an awful lot of ceramic material associated with the sites we’re examining as part of the project, so they have a huge task! Yesterday they passed the 1,000th sherd drawn, and they still have crates and crates to process! It’s vital work though: we need a good understanding of the ceramics in order to date the sites we find, and if possible, understand their function. Sometimes we can locate sherds with a very specific purpose, like milk strainers used in cheese production. At other times we can identify production sites because we find by-products of industrial processes like iron slag or over-fired pottery that has a particular glassy surface. With a thorough understanding of the ceramic material, we can date our sites and say something about their function. If we can go one step further and identify pottery production sites and trace the clays and temper used in the pots, we can start to examine short-distance trade networks. We have a specialist joining the project in the Autumn to do just this! With all of these elements in place, we can build up a network of minor towns and road-stations trading with each other and over greater distances, and with the chronological data from the ceramics, we can examine how that network changed over time, perhaps in response to policies handed down from Rome.

Drawing progress at basecamp

Drawing progress at basecamp

I arrived two days ago with a team of topographical survey specialists from our institute to carry out a series of geophysical surveys on targets identified by the fieldwalking. The aim of our geophysical surveys is to understand the spatial limits and layout of the sites we find by fieldwalking, or that are already known from historical records and previous archaeological work. The reason we are braving almost 40 degree temperatures to do this, is because one of our key sites, Astura, lies within a major military base. We can only have access for survey in July and August, when the military (quite rightly) think it is too hot to work and go on shut-down. So we’ve been there today and yesterday. It’s painstaking work because the area is covered in dense forest. We have identified a series of open clearings that are probably in the area of the archaeological site and we are slowly surveying them with single-sensor handheld gradiometers. We can’t use the very fast cart-based systems with multiple sensors, in part because of all the trees and bushes, and because the more modern systems rely on dGPS: we have tree cover. This means we need to work on grids recorded in a total station and tied in to the ‘real world’ using reference points on things like buildings. This is why we have the specialist topographers with us! Sander and Erwin make my life a lot more simple. I only have to worry about the geophysics, and they take care of the rest, which is great. We did some work in the same area last year and identified two possible kilns or perhaps salt-production hearths and possible traces of walls. But the data from the last two days is disappointing: either we are outside the settlement area, or the buildings are too deeply buried or poorly contrasted for us to discover. We’ll have a discussion tonight about whether it is good to return tomorrow to finish the area free of trees, or whether we should move on to one of the inland sites near the via Appia. The picture below is one of the most open areas of the site, right by the sea. You can just about see the Torre Astura in the background, between the pine trees. The building you can see now is medieval but it occupies an area in use since well before the Roman period.

Magnetometers warming up this morning, with Torre Astura in the background

Magnetometers warming up this morning, with Torre Astura in the background

It is very hot and dusty work, and I am very grateful to my student volunteer Tom, who is giving up a chunk of his summer to help out. I wouldn’t change my job for all the tea in china though. Italy is an amazing country, with wonderful people and beautiful places to be outdoors working at. Today alone I’ve seen three different kinds of lizards and a wild boar and her stripey piglets running across the road to the site. Who knows what we’ll see tomorrow? Or find in the data? Perhaps a nice early christian church, or a roman cemetery? Maybe I’ll find the kilns Gijs really wants to go with his pottery! However, tonight we have a big festa in the town we are staying in to enjoy, because it is the feast of Santa Anna, who is locally venerated. If you want to keep in touch with what we are up to, you can follow me on twitter @girlwithtrowel – I try to update at least once a day from the field, sometimes more often.

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

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

Briefing our volunteers for the excavation

Briefing our volunteers for the excavation

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

Dave helping one of our volunteers identify finds

Dave helping one of our volunteers identify finds

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



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

The Stepney City Farm allotments complete with upcycled plastic bottle greenhouse

The Stepney City Farm allotments complete with upcycled plastic bottle greenhouse

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

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

Examining the finds from a feature

Examining the finds from a feature

Karen and volunteer washing finds

Karen and volunteer washing finds

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

An array of bowls and plates

An array of bowls and plates

A plethora of finds

A plethora of finds

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

Volunteers getting a little face-time on the BBC

Volunteers getting a little face-time on the BBC

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

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Cantankerous Billy the goat

Cantankerous Billy the goat

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

Shelley with artefacts

Shelley with artefacts

Des milliers et des milliers de tessons…

Je m’appelle Alban Horry, je voudrais profiter de ce « Day of Archaeology » pour parler ma discipline, la céramologie.
Si quelques mots suffissent pour définir l’univers du céramologue, donc mon univers, c’est bien ceux-ci! La céramologie au même titre que l’archéologie est un métier et c’est aussi une passion. J’aime les caractères de cette discipline, la masse des informations à gérer, participer de près à la compréhension de l’histoire d’un site et finalement, de « mettre de l’ordre dans le désordre ». La céramologie c’est aussi pour moi le partage, c’est aller à la rencontre des autres pour échanger et sortir de son propre univers. Elle n’est pas une discipline isolée mais participe d’un travail collectif. Elle est intégrée aux travaux d’une équipe archéologique afin de mettre en forme les données issues d’une fouille.

Tessons de céramiques

Une de mes plus belles « aventures céramologiques », et je tiens vraiment à utiliser le mot aventure, c’est celle que j’ai connue lors de la fouille du Parc Saint-Georges à Lyon entre 2002 et 2004 (dont le film présente une partie du travail que j’ai réalisé). J’ai eu pour mission d’investir cette collection exceptionnelle de poteries modernes découvertes sur les bords de la Saône. Les habitants du quartier avaient alors utilisé la rivière comme dépotoir pour rejeter leurs déchets domestiques. Ces fouilles ont livré le lot le plus important de céramiques postérieures au Moyen Âge découvert à ce jour à Lyon, une collection remarquable reflet éclatant de ce que les intérieurs des maisons contenaient d’objets du quotidien en terre cuite. L’étude de ces objets vient compléter celles des lots issus des fouilles archéologiques de ces trente dernières années au cœur de Lyon, dont j’ai pu étudier une bonne partie et qui ont permis d’amasser une collection exceptionnelle de poteries datées entre le XVIe et le XIXe siècle. Cette documentation unique, qui compte à ce jour près de 400 000 fragments, a offert, offre et offrira encore aux chercheurs de riches heures et perspectives inépuisables de travail.
Mon quotidien à l’Inrap c’est aussi effectuer les études et les expertises de céramiques du Moyen Age et de la période moderne découvertes lors des diagnostics réalisés préalablement aux fouilles. Ces missions de courte durée où il faut travailler vite et aller à l’essentiel visent à fournir des données de chronologie indispensables à la réalisation des rapports de sondages archéologiques. J’apprécie beaucoup ce stade de mon travail où je perçois les études que j’aurai à mener par la suite à l’issue des fouilles archéologiques.

Alban Horry at work

J’aime le fait d’étudier des céramiques allant du Ve au XIXe siècle, donc sur une très longue durée, ce qui permet considérablement de varier « les plaisirs ». C’est la même chose pour ce qui concerne les régions sur lesquelles je remplis mes missions tant en Rhône-Alpes, Auvergne et Bourgogne. Cette vaste entité géographique permet d’observer par exemple les phénomènes de diffusion des productions céramiques.

Un des autres aspects de mon quotidien de céramologue et non des moindres, est bien sûr de communiquer les résultats de mes recherches et travaux sur les céramiques médiévales et modernes, par le biais de publications scientifiques et de participation à des colloques.

Enfin, j’ai plaisir aussi à présenter mon métier et partager ma passion avec un plus large public. Ce dernier aspect me semble indispensable pour sensibiliser chacun à l’archéologie. Le céramologue travaille finalement sur des morceaux choisis du quotidien qui témoignent à leur façon d’instants de vie passée. Ils nous plongent au cœur de l’histoire, pas celle des grands événements, mais au plus proche de nous, dans celle de nos ancêtres dans leur vie de tous les jours.

Alban Horry, céramologue à l’Inrap

Lire la version anglaise du texte / Read the english translation

Voir toutes les ressources audiovisuelles de l’Inrap

Day of Archaeology 2013 – LAARC Lottery! part 1 (General Finds)

What a start to LAARC Lottery! Big thanks to all of those that have been suggesting shelf numbers. Here’s the results:

First up we’ve a classic object type probably found on every archaeological site. Thanks to @omatopopi for suggesting shelf 3553 which had a box of clay tobacco pipe from 1988’s excavations at Wardrobe Court 


Then we had a look at one of the lowest shelf numbers in the archive, shelf 8, as suggested by @WulfgarTheBard. Here we found a box of Roman Flagons from 1972 excavations at Brockley Hill


This was particularly lovely and suggested by @alitorlo and found on shelf 2014. A pipkin from Foster Lane, dug in 1982


The next one’s really cool as I can pin point it to an exact date. Thanks to @IndianaHannah for suggesting shelf 102 which had this piece of Metropolitan Slipware from Nonsuch Palace with ‘1671’ glazed on it


The Empress of #DayOfArchaeology herself, the lovely @lornarichardson, predicted that her shelf 5478 would have some CBM. She was right of course but hey, we still found this decorated brick pretty sexy. Comes from the PCA site at Kings Road


A couple more for this round. One of LAARC’s recent volunteers @TinctureOfMuse has our favourite discovery. Low numbers produce old sites = things that need a bit better packaging. Here’s what we discovered on shelf 12 (another Brockley Hill excavation)


This was inside though!


Here’s how we discovered it: Opening the boxes

Finally in this round, Thanks to @TheHeronEC2 for suggesting shelf 26 which produced a couple more bits of Roman samian pottery, excavated at Noble Street way back in 1949. These two bits however should really fall into part two, our registered finds. So thanks @TheHeronEC2, you’re contribution has helped us discover objects that should be in another part of the archive! And these objects have a pottery maker’s stamp on (left) and a bit of etched roman graffitii ‘Bii’ (right)


Next up it’s our Registered finds: objects assigned an individual number (akin to an museum accession number) because they are of particular interest. The stamp and graffiti are examples as well as something obvious like a coin. Tweet using #dayofarch #LAARCLottery or #LAARC, or message us below, picking a number between 1 and 815 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds… – and we’ll post back our results at 1pm

Amy Thorp: Roman Pottery Specialist

While I spend many of my days as a pottery specialist handling lots of pretty objects, today is a statistics day. Quantification is a vital tool for inter-site comparison so lots of time is spent trawling through our databases. At the moment I’m looking at a City site near the location of the Roman forum with an assemblage totalling a mere 24,000 sherds. I’m also returning to DUA reports (Department of Urban Archaeology for those who remember) for comparative data from a nearby site.

Amazing how quickly reports date – look at that font!


Simon Davis: A Snap-Shot of 18th-Century Daily Life

Today is the final day of excavation here on our site in the City where we’ve been digging inside a series of twelve tiny early 20th century coal vaults. We’ve been working in these for the last fourteen weeks and with two archaeologists in each vault friendship is certainly a bonus!

Archaeological survival beneath each vault floor has been quite deep (up to 3m in places). Some of the most exciting finds this week were discovered within a deep brick-built cess-pit that had been filled up with a wide range of domestic finds that probably came from the kitchen, the domestic quarters or even straight off the dining table (see photo). The pit had been reused as a rubbish dump in the 18th century and was full of general household detritus, these include a broken metal candlestick (pictured), several glass bottles, a small (possibly delftware) bowl (pictured) that looks like it could have been used as a table item to serve sugar or butter. Several other small fineware vessels including tea cups and egg cups (pictured) were also kept. Two very fine worked bone objects including a dress comb were also collected and two clay pipes were recovered with the bowl and almost the entire stem intact (pictured). The assemblage is exactly the type of thing that archaeologists want to find, as such common items paint an immediate picture of working households; a snap-shot of daily life for the relatively well-off middle classes of 18thcentury London.

Andrew up to his elbows in an 18th century brick-lined cess pit

Special thanks also to Andrew Cochrane (pictured) who is leaving today to take on a new role at the British Museum; his hard work on site over the last 14 months has been greatly appreciated. Many thanks and best of luck!

Feeding Stonehenge – a view from the laboratory

Large pottery sherd from Durrington Walls

So, today is another day of laboratory work for me. I work as a research associate in the BioArCh group at the Department of Archaeology, University of York. I am part of a large team of archaeologists working on the AHRC funded Feeding Stonehenge project, which is investigating the provisioning and consumption patterns of people who lived at Neolithic Durrington Walls – the settlement site associated with the construction of Stonehenge. My role in the project is to analyse the distinctive Grooved Ware pottery for food residues and to see if there were differences in the types of food products that were being consumed by different households, and to see whether certain animals were selected for feasting. I have already looked at over 300 individual pottery sherds, and today I’ll be analysing another 10-20. I’ll also be supervising undergraduate students who have recently started their dissertation projects, working on pottery from other archaeological sites. One student is carrying out work on modern reference pottery that has been used to cook and process marine animals. The results from these experimental studies can be used to help us interpret what we find in archaeological pottery. The day starts off by coming into the lab and switching on the kit in the fume hood – we have to heat the samples to 70 degrees so I have to do this first so it gets up to the right temperature. Then it’s time for the first coffee of the day….


A New Day

Morning in York. A new day. A day doing archaeology. Not that many would recognise it as archaeology. I’ll be going through a pile of references on engaging young people in archaeology to help complete a report for the CBA. Do most archaeologists spend most of their time digging? No! We spend most of our time reading.

Just read on the BBC News website that some pot sherds from Xianrendong in China have been dated to 20,000 BP. The oldest pottery yet discovered. That puts British Neolithic pots into perspective.

Also just received a nice photo of an Acheulian hand-axe from Prof. Bae in Korea to help illustrate an article I’ve written for the Young Archaeologist magazine. The hand-axes at the Jeongok-ri site are made of quartzite. It’s very hard and tough to knap – I tried when I was out there last month. I have my poor attempt at a my very own hand-axe on my desk as a paperweight.