I’m in London for meetings, fall asleep on the train after staying up too late writing reports. One of the lads drops me off at the station on his way to site, he sings the entirety of London by The Smiths at me in the car, singing along to the fast live version from the Rank album. All the way down I have the lyrics “do you think you’ve made the right decision this time?” stuck in my head as I fall asleep and wake up again. Also stuck in my head are the words from the Bo Selecta Bored of the Rings sketch which is a site banter favourite, particularly for the last few weeks. At the station he hands me a report and assures me “I’ve sprayed upon every page!” “I’m going to London town centre in the middle and I shan’t be back!” I tell him and leave. It’s typical site banter, seizing on little artefacts of pop culture like the most obscure and occult small finds.

After the meetings I make it to the Tower of London for the last hour. It’s crawling with tourists and I must have ended up in about fifty holiday snaps as I head for the White Tower. Two teenage American girls regard the codpiece on Henry VIII’s suit of armour. “Oh my god! If this guy got hit in the junk NOTHING would have happened!” I look at the design, it is very ostentatious, like a party seven emerging from the groin but I imagine it reflects contemporary clothing fashions. Having worn groin guards for various sports over the years I wonder if the design had any hidden practical merits, as getting kicked in the knackers while wearing the modern cricket box design always makes me flinch. I imagine “my junk” would be safer lying in the armoured barrel of Henry VIII’s armoured codpiece, I wonder if there is a paper in this somewhere, if I decided to test the hypothesis by experimental archaeology I would have no problem finding volunteers to kick me in the knackers. Such is the life of the small company archaeologist.

In my hotel at Tower Bridge I try to relax by watching the film Plunkett and MacLeane, but I’ve still got my game face on, I notice the drain they run down near the end has an egg-shaped profile, something yet to be invented in the 18th century. The egg-shaped profile in London drains had a brief vogue in the 19th century as it was less likely to block but problems with repairing and cleaning saw the normal tunnel profile return. I end up in the Red Lion in Westminster, I love that most London pubs have stayed traditional but my arm sticks to the unwiped counter. It wouldn’t have happened in one of my pubs, it feels like not that long ago I was still a barman, an out-of-work-archaeologist, now there’s so much archaeology work on I haven’t got time to wipe my metaphoric counter.

Seeing with archaeological eyes

2.30 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

4.00 am. Change diaper. Feed baby.

6.00 am. Tell toddler to go back to sleep. Change diapers just in case. Fed the cat… or was that the baby? Woops, put diapers on the cat.

8.00 am. Go to work.

Having a baby and a toddler has completely changed our lives. It’s also changed the material culture of our house. Diapers! Who knew they came in so many different varieties? What is common to all of them is that they are branded. Here an Elmo, there a Big Bird, woops, here’s a Dora and Diego… These are the things I notice in the early morning, as I sing ‘Morningtown Ride‘ for the umpteenth time. Does the branding go with age? Is there a gender difference? In the store, do Elmos get better shelf space than Oscars? There’s certainly a spatial component within our house…

Archaeology isn’t just a job, it’s a way of seeing the world.  You start to look for patterns, you start to see patterns, in places where others see nothing at all. You wonder why is it that *this* building faces *that* way, when the rest of the street seems to be on a different alignment. You stand in forest clearings and notice the presence of lilac bushes, indicating an abandoned farmhouse. It’s a bit like poker – the landscape, the social environment, all have little tells, and we’re trained to see ’em.

I’m now the first – and only – archaeologist in my department at my University. We’ve got a long hallway on the top floor of the building. There’s no common area (if you don’t count the stair landing). The layout of the department reflects the way that historians have often traditionally worked – in isolation. The contrast with the archaeology department at Reading (where I did my PhD work) is striking. There, all of the offices and work spaces are arranged around a communal atrium. From one office door you can see pretty much anyone else’s door, and the workrooms – and the doors have windows in them.

Atrium in the Reading University Archaeology Department

I’m still new here at Carleton. There are other archaeologists squirreled away in other departments, somewhere on this vast sprawling campus. I really must make contact, some day.

On the other hand, being the only archaeologist amongst the historians means that my archaeological eyes are seeing things they wouldn’t otherwise see, which has its benefits! One of which is a project I’m working on this morning, ‘HeritageCrowd’, a project using the Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform to solicit memories and knowledge of the historic landscape. It’s a crowd-sourced map of the tangible and intangible memories and erasures in this region. Of course, the map is as wide as the world, so if anyone else wanted to use it in their own neck of the woods, there’s no reason they couldn’t – please check it out!  This project is an outcome of the great conversations I’ve been having with the oral history folks and public history folks here at Carleton.

My student assistants and I were to go out to the ruins of the Ottawa Electric Company, (Google map pic) but it looks like we’ll have to reschedule. In which case, I guess I’ll spend the rest of my day planning my syllabi for next year’s courses: Digital Antiquity; The Historian’s Craft; and Augmented Reality & Public History.


HeritageCrowd.org Screenshot

Contracts Department

My name is Jon Burton, I work in the contracts department of GGAT. I normally spend a fair amount of time out in the field, dealing directly with clients, carrying out watching briefs, evaluations, and on occassions full scale excavations.

Most of this week I’ve been working on post excavation reports, related to watching briefs carried out in the Glamorgan and Gwent area.  These include watching briefs carried out in the Caerleon area, related to the line of a former roman road, and another watching brief in the Port Talbot area along the line of a new road scheme which, has uncovered a number of features related to former industrial activity.

Today I had hoped to continue with the writing up of a small watching brief, carried out this week in Cowbridge.  However, another fieldwork project has come up in Merthyr which, requires cover next week, and so now I’ll have to produce a risk assessment, and gather some background information in preparation for this new work.