The Council for British Archaeology’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month

This August see’s the first Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month swing into action, perfectly timed for those of you who are looking for something to do now the Festival of Archaeology is over for another year.


For those of you who don’t know, Home Front Legacy is a Council for British Archaeology (CBA) project, funded by Historic England, that helps community groups, local societies and individuals record the legacy of the First World War in their area. Our recording app enables people to share new knowledge about buildings, places and events and make them accessible to all via a map of sites.

We’ve already had over 3,000 sites added to our map but we’d love to get even more so we decided to create the Big Recording Month to let people know just how easy it is to discover and record sites in your local area. Over the next four weeks we’ll be providing a step by step guide to give you all the tools you need to get involved. Our first blog went live on Monday and my colleague Chris Kolonko, Home Front Legacy Project Archaeologist, tells you everything you need to know about the project and the enormous impact the First World War had on the UK. We’ll be posting a new blog every Monday for the next three weeks with details on how to search for sites and how to record and upload your data to the app.

Alongside our blog posts we’ll be busy on social media providing inspiration and encouragement and highlighting some of the new sites recorded so make sure to follow us on Twitter @homefrontlegacy and Facebook /homefrontlegacy.

We’ve also come up with some great themes to get you inspired: local events; the role of women and food and rationing. From fundraising performances at the local cinema, to schools producing scarves and clothing for soldiers and sailors, recording the Home Front covers much more than the pillboxes and practice trenches that immediately spring to mind.

Today I’ve been busy finding out about sites in York that I can add to the map. A quick search of the internet and the list is already fairly long, including an internment camp at the Castle Museum that held both civilian and military prisoners; a chemist who offered cheap tooth removal so your rotten teeth didn’t prevent you from joining up; and the Yorkshire Herald Building where the war was announced to cheers and a hearty performance of the national anthem.

I’ve also been working on our plans for a series of First World War training events, a collaborative partnership between the Home Front Legacy and Living Legacies, one of the AHRC funded First World War Engagement Centres. These events will provide training on how to record First World War sites around the country and provide help and guidance to community groups and societies who would like to develop their own First World War projects. The first workshops will be held this October at IWM Duxford and Bristol. Follow the links if you’d like to find out more.

I hope you’ll join me and take part in the CBA’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month, and get your friends, family and local societies involved too! Lets see how many new sites we can add to the map over the next month and help preserve the stories and places of the First World War at home for future generations.

My Day of Archaeology as HER Officer and freelance glass specialist

Hello everyone!

As is genuinely typical for me, I spent the first part of Friday 28th July 2017 working from home on my day job, which is Historic Environment Record Officer for Kent County Council. Each county maintains a Historic Environment Record (HER), and some National Parks have their own too. They replaced the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR), which was run by what is now Historic England, and are used extensively for both planning and research. We aim to maintain an accurate and up-to-date record of all aspects of the Historic Environment in our county, including historic buildings, below-ground archaeological remains, and designated assets such as listed buildings and scheduled monuments. The data set is a valuable resource for academics and research students (for example to assist with their research on iron age hoard deposits), and for commercial archaeological units and consultancy firms, who often request a ‘search’ of a specific area as part of a planning application or prior to an excavation to be conducted as part of the development process. We are very busy with search requests at the moment, so I spent the morning working on those at the top of the list. Unfortunately this section of the day was not photo-friendly due to a minefield of copyright issues. However, the online version of the Kent Historic Environment Record can be accessed by anyone at Exploring Kent’s Past.

Afterwards, I managed to squeeze in some time doing activities related to my freelance work as a glass specialist. Commercial archaeological units and academic and community projects send me glass from sites they have excavated for specialist assessment. I usually write a detailed report tailored to the client, the type or stage of the project, and whether the report is intended to contribute to an unpublished site report (‘grey literature’) or a publication. Yesterday afternoon I took a delivery of a small glass assemblage from an academic research project and unpacked it, and then returned to the project I am in the middle of, which is an assemblage of post-medieval glass. I recorded (identified, measured and weighed) a few more bottles and fragments from the assemblage in my spreadsheet for the project.

I was also hoping to do a little bit on the conference paper I am preparing based on my recently-completed PhD thesis on Anglo-Saxon vessel glass, but it is the first week of the school summer holidays, so that didn’t happen!

Glass delivery!

Project in progress…


UK > Iceland #worldinterview #12

UK > Iceland

Interviewee: Gísli Pálsson

What drew you to archaeology and what path did you follow in your archaeological career?

I came to archaeology rather late. After spending years working for a civil engineering firm on construction projects, I was gripped with an irresistible urge to tear things down. I still bear the signs of those early years, as I’ve found myself specializing in fairly technological and computational ways – GIS, survey, archaeoinformatics.

What difficulties do you think students face in pursuing a career in archaeology?

One of the most significant decision is whether to choose a well-established (but probably densely populated) subfield, which may lead to more job security in the long run if they get their foot in a door somewhere, or to go for an emerging subfield (or a non-existent subfield), which will probably give them the ability to impact the discipline more radically, while being a risky proposition job-wise, particularly in academia.

Do you think academic departments need to demonstrate ‘relevance’ to public audiences – if so what are the challenges?

I think the core practices of archaeology are very relevant to public audiences, but I also think archaeology has much more to offer beyond those practices. In my experience, the public are very open to creative archaeologies and more experimental applications of archaeological practices, but the issue is that getting funding for such practices seems much more difficult than getting funding for projects in line with how archaeology ought to be practiced. So the challenge, to me, lies in convincing those with the fingers on the purse strings that archaeology needs more leeway for experimentation, but that is not going to happen when most of the people in our discipline are perpetually suspended on a budgetary knife’s edge.

How do you see digital technology contributing to the interpretation and research agendas for archaeologists and anthropologists in the future?

Digital technology has contributed to archaeological interpretation for as long as digital technology has been around in the humanities. As far as I’m concerned, archaeology has always been at the forefront of adopting digital technologies in the context of the humanities and historical disciplines, and it will continue to do so.

About Gísli:

Archaeologist, into landscape, data, networks, creative sides to the profession, as well as some other things.

last paper:

Questions from Raksha Dave in the UK.

Click the worldinterview tag for more interviews in this series.

Albania > UK #worldinterview #11

Albania > UK

Interviewee: Raksha Dave

What drew you to archaeology and what path did you follow in your archaeological career?

I’ve always been interested in history and archaeology as far as I can remember. I have a photo of me; I must have been about three years old trying to trowel in the back garden so I think the draw to pursue a career in archaeology has always been strong.

I studied at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL graduated in 1999 and have practised archaeology ever since. My archaeological roots are firmly planted in field archaeology having worked for commercial archaeology companies in London but this has happily deviated to a more Public Archaeology focus through my broadcasting work. I spent 10 years as a Senior Archaeologist and Presenter for the ‘Time Team’ and have since then presented a documentary for the BBC.

I’m very lucky to have had a varied career,  I’ve worked for the UK’s professional body Chartered Institute for archaeologists(CIfA) and developed and delivered community archaeology projects but now I’ve come back full circle to broadcasting and I’m currently working on a TV documentary for Channel 5 that I’m presenting which should be out in autumn 2017.

What difficulties do you think students face in pursuing a career in archaeology?

Here in the UK we have our own particular set of problems. For the commercial sector the bottom line is the lack of pay and the offer of permanent contracts in particular for those entering the profession at the graduate level.  A lot of archaeology graduates realise that a career in commercial archaeology is piecemeal, they often have to go from contract to contract, little or no training is offered, and career progression is difficult. Conversely, I also know from friends that trying to get employed into academic posts can require a lot of luck and persistence so most people look to shoehorn themselves into better paid and structured jobs in curatorial archaeology, the museums or consultancy.

The downside to this is that retention is poor and the sector inevitably haemorrhages talent. It’s not unusual for early career archaeologists in the UK to decide to re-train or move sectors because they feel the profession is unable to support a decent standard of living.

Rather frustratingly these problems have been recognised for a long time and yes, whilst there has been some move towards addressing the above we now have other issues such as attracting students to archaeology in the first instance – but that’s another discussion for another time!

What is the relation between archaeology and the public in the UK?

It’s probably been the best it ever has been – the UK has a strong public archaeology presence and year upon year the public offer is very strong. Impact is now seen as an integral output to any archaeological project whether that’s commercial, research or academic. Advancement in digital technology has made it possible to access and disseminate archaeological information and stories instantly. Public and community archaeology in the UK has emerged as a specialist field in its own right and I look forward to see how this develops further.

The main problem for the UK is finding new ways to engage those audiences we don’t reach. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t attend a conference session discussing the lack of diversity and representation in archaeology but I haven’t seen any real progress on how this agenda has moved on. We are really good at disseminating information to audiences but only to the individuals that are ‘engaged consumers’ of archaeology, not to others who may have zero knowledge or appreciation about the subject. Archaeology as a career, sadly, is a reflection of this, we lack diverse representation within the sector at differing career levels whether that’s on basis of gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity and disability, to name a few. I’d like to see archaeology in the UK move towards addressing this issue.

There’s a debate in the UK at the moment about the lack of alternative narratives in the public history we produce and teach, that we are still reflecting white, male, colonial attitudes. Archaeologists are way ahead of the historian curve and are well aware of the dangerous pitfalls of having such a narrow outlook.I don’t want to see equality and diversity shoe-horned as a specialist interest; surely it’s in everyone’s interest to have a varied workforce that produce and curate narratives that reflect all aspects of society.

What are the challenges that archaeological theory faces in the new millennium/post-processual era?

Blimey what a question and what a minefield! I think the real question is what does archaeology theory do for us? For the majority of the non-academic sector many would wonder what relevance theory has for them in the everyday practise of archaeology in their workplace. Many would say none or not hugely but in reality their work and methodology has in some way been influenced by archaeological theory.

I’ve been very lucky to have worked with Ian Hodder and with Peter Ucko both of which left a huge impression on my ideas of collaborative working. In fact I remember feeling quite shocked that Ian had taken his time out to thank me for coming out to Catalhoyuk. It was the first time that anyone – not to mention an eminent archaeologist, acknowledged my specialism as a field archaeologist rather than, ‘just another digger’. That experience left a huge impression on me -the realisation that everyone’s contribution is valid.

It’s really important that academic institutions and the commercial sector look at ways to work towards a more collaborative economy. The time of working in silos is over and we need to think more on how to deliver projects that would benefit academia, commercial practice and impact outcomes delivered to the public. I think it would be quite exciting to see this sort of reflexive working, one where new technology, theory and methods would be tested within a commercial setting and on the other hand commercial units benefiting from larger research agendas facilitated through graduate studies. This partnership working would benefit us all I can also see further positive knock-on effects with regards to training and career pathways into archaeology.

About Raksha:

Field Archaeologist, Pubic Archaeologist and Broadcaster.

Twitter: @Raksha_Digs

Questions from Nevila Molla in Albania.

Click the worldinterview tag for more interviews in this series.

Novel electrical resistivity tomography @ The University of Bradford

Today, like almost every day between May and September this year I’ve been working on my MSc research Project. Instead of just explaining what I’ve been doing today i thought it would be more interesting to describe what is going into my individual research project.

I’m experimented with a new novel way of collecting electrical resistivity tomography data  with a zzGeo FlashRes64 which as you might expect involves a significant amount of lab and field data collection.

To allow inversion of these novel techniques far too much of my time has been devoted to developing software to allow analysis of the data, and investigation of different visualisation techniques. Though  it does make a nice change from the driving rain outside.

FlashRes to Geotomo program

Before going out in the snow and rain its important to know that the data collected will be as good as possible. This means i spend a lot of time visualising different data collection techniques as point clouds as below. I promise they end up being quite relaxing.

Eventually after determining the best collection strategy, standing out in the rain and the cold for hours, extracting, converting and comparing data you do end up with a decent representation of whats beneath the surface.


P.S You should be able to zoom and play with the images above. If you can’t i’d suggest a modern HTML5 compatible browser

I can iz archaeologizt?

Where were you on the Day of Archaeology, 2011? I’ve spent my day (so far) moderating posts for the Day of Archaeology and spreading word about the event on social media. I suspect the other members of the organising committee for #dayofarch are stuck with the same predicament. We’ve been amazed by the response to the day; it’s great fun to be involved in something with such a wide breadth of contributions and such international interest.

As much as I like the metablogging aspect of dedicating a post to a day of reading other posts, spending a day overindulging in coffee and chatting online I’m left thinking “So what is there to discuss?” And yet things like today are not that different than how I’ve spent some of my time in my last 3 years as the head of digital at L – P : Archaeology. The task of collecting and organising data from archaeological projects, excavations or otherwise, and getting that data into a format which is useful to archaeologists and the public is an overwhelming one. I’ve worked with commercial excavations in London (Prescot Street); with research projects abroad (Villa Magna); with community-driven archaeological projects (Thames Discovery Programme); with international collaborations (FastiOnline). In all of the above there’s been a focus on engaging people with the past, on opening information to a wider audience, and encouraging new voices in the discussion.

I finish up my 6 years at L – P this month, today in fact although courtesy of some unused annual leave I’ve had my last week off, to begin a programme of (yet further) study at Brown University in the autumn. We’ve recently finished up a new release (v1.0!) of the ARK open source archaeological database system. If you’ve not heard about it already, or if you’re interested in this much-improved latest release, you can check out our website. The team from Villa Magna are working toward a comprehensive digital publication for the site stratigraphic narrative which, paired with ARK, will help future researchers to use the data from our excavations to ask new questions. The Thames Discovery Programme finishes up a stream of Heritage Lottery funding this September, passing the project on to the local volunteers originally trained by the project. Working with the team at Day of Archaeology, contacts and friends from the last six years, to encourage online discussion and narrative about archaeology serves as a pretty apropos bookend to this digital work.

Based solely on impressions external to the discipline (and some particularly old-school archaeologists), ‘archaeologists’ are the people in the trench with mattocks and trowels, the sandal-wearing beardies and the tweed-jacketed academics, occupying a space somewhere between Indiana Jones and Time Team in the imaginations of the public. But the profession covers so much more ground than that, and there are so many other important skills needed to make a successful project or to get the story of archaeology to the public. The characterisations above are no more the only archaeologists than are heart surgeons the only doctors, or robins the only birds. Archaeology as a discipline encorporates aspects of classics and history, anthropology, chemistry, computer science, geography, forensics/medicine… The list is, truly, endless. This variety of interdisciplinary interests results in a variety of interdisciplinary professionals, a variety of interesting jobs and a variety of interesting personalities. It is maintaining and expanding this variety that is most at risk when we talk of the impact of the global recession on the archaeology in education and in practice. Let’s hope the content from today’s posts helps both to reinforce the importance in protecting and enhancing our unique skillsets and to celebrate the diversity of archaeological practice.

Found it!

I have located some flint tools donated to the museum a number of years ago. No wonder I couldn’t find them. They are tiny. They were unearthed near Frensham (just south of Farnham) and the finder kindly wrote all of the grid references on to the bags. The finder has given a number of other objects to the museum in the past and it is great to have people in the local community donating to the museum regularly and increasing our knowledge of the local area. On this occasion he has donated 23 flint tools.

One of my main tasks at the Museum of Farnham is to deal with the ‘accessioning backlog’. To ‘accession’ an object is to formally accept it into the collection and deal with all of the paper work that comes with this process and finally find a home for the object. Quite a few museums have problems with ‘backlogs’ of objects. This is generally because there are not enough staff hours to deal with the backlog and other things such as events, applying for funding etc. appear more pressing and have solid deadlines which need meeting. If some flint has sat in a corner for a year it can sit in the corner for another year and be totally fine…right? Not really. The longer objects are left in limbo the more chance there is of information about them being lost and objects deteriorating due to poor packaging and an unstable environment.

So on with the paper work, assigning an accession number, taking photographs, recording all of the information about the objects onto a database (we use Past Perfect, recording the same information onto an index card as a backup and  finding a home for the object in the archaeology store. Should take some time with 23 to do…