University of Edinburgh

Community Archaeology in Roman Æclanum

This summer, I was fortunate enough to work on a community archaeology event centred around the Roman town of Æclanum, along the Appian Way (modern Passo di Mirabella, Italy). The role of this type of archaeology in connecting local communities to their heritage is significant, with many possibilities for creativity and fun. Our teams included scholars from several international institutions and students from over 70 universities, which added to the diversity of ideas and approaches for our Open Day.

The directors of the Æclanum excavation, led by the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project, wanted to begin developing a presence within the community to encourage future seasons of public engagement and interest.

What made this experience challenging and exciting was that it was my first time at the helm of a community archaeology project, and it needed to be delivered in Italian. There were many things to consider when beginning to create materials and plan events. I approached the project from the ground up, so to speak: the first step was to establish the directors’ aims and objectives, then to research how previous and current community archaeology projects conducted their own programs, i.e. their methodologies. By doing so, the questions of methodology, and of desired outcomes that needed to be addressed in the Æclanum project, would be more comprehensively realized.


One of our aims was to come up with educational games and materials that would engage the schoolchildren and adult visitors on the open day and beyond. As an illustrator and archaeologist, foundational elements were essential to design and establish a consistency in the materials for the site that were accurate representations but also a bit fun. We came up with a site logo that represented the wolf, which is regionally and historically significant to the region of Irpinia.

Illustration for social media

It was a lot of fun developing the style to create the characters, images, and icons that we would use for the site. The site maps were designed with a comic style, which could be easily understood and read by any visitor to the site. Larger print items and digital materials (which could be accessed online) shared the comic style, to appeal broadly and convey information colourfully and effectively.

One of the most exciting things about doing illustration work on an ongoing excavation, and developing materials for an open day, is the things that you discover can be woven into the displays within a few days! An inscription that was found on a Friday was drawn, digitized and turned into a stamp by the following week! It was incredibly cool for me to be a part of that.

As the buses rolled in, our supervisors and students showed their expertise and enthusiasm for archaeology, with the visitors of all ages participating in the activities and tours. Based on their feedback, we were thrilled by the positive response, and grateful for input on areas which they would like to see or experience more.

What surprised me the most during this process was the importance of flexibility and fluidity. It is impossible to know how many people will turn up to an open day, and having great tours and activity tables can come down to contingency plans and experienced public speakers. Similarly, some activities, which the archaeology students were engaged in during the event, became immediate hits with the children who took to the work brilliantly! Things that weren’t planned necessarily to be interactive developed that way throughout the day, and it was fantastic to have the young visitors inform us about how and with what they wanted to interact!

With many exciting ways being developed to engage new audiences and young people with community archaeology, I am thrilled to be able to work in such a dynamic and creative area of archaeology.



Codes, Bones, and a Backstory

Happy Day of Archaeology 2014! It is a day where archaeologists from all around the world share what they are doing in order to spread awareness of the breadth and diversity of archaeology not only to the public, but to other archaeologists. For me, I always love learning about the different projects that people are working on, and learning how they are using similar methods and theories on completely different regions and time periods, or conversely examining a time period similar to mine in a unique manner. It is also a time when we learn what archaeologists really do: it’s not just digging in the dirt and interpreting fantastic burials. We spend a lot of time doing lab work and analysis.

Coding at my kitchen table

Coding at my kitchen table

Today when I woke up early, the sun was shining, there was enough dew on the ground to ensure easy digging, and there was a light breeze that meant outdoor work would be nice and cool. But I’m not digging today. I’m sitting inside at my desk coding cemetery data, which means that I’m taking archaeological reports on cemeteries and creating digital versions of them on my computer that I can use to run statistical and spatial tests. It is one of the parts of archaeology that is both mind-numbingly boring but also extremely insightful. As I go through each grave coding it for age, sex, type of coffin, presence or absence of artifacts, and 30 other variables, I start to make some connections and see patterns. For the most part though it is the most lackluster element of archaeology. So instead of recounting this day that has been beyond boring, I’m going to retell the story of how I came to be where I am.

I spent most of my summers as a child running up and down the gullies of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. I would often find fossils of brachiopods and trilobites, as well as old bottles and ceramics. My collections each day would be brought back up to my parents cabin for analysis. The first time I thought about becoming an archaeologist was when I began playing the first-ever version of Tomb Raider on my computer. My dad actually helped me find khaki shorts and a turquoise tank top so I could pretend to be her while exploring the gullies (of course it was the kid version, so it wasn’t that scandalous).

Working on my first archaeology dig in Ohio!

Working on my first archaeology dig in Ohio!

When I started college, I had chosen anthropology as my major and archaeology as my sub-field, not so much because I was interested in it, but because I loved history and wanted to travel. During my first undergraduate osteology course I fell in love with the study of human remains and mortuary practices. I wanted to piece together who the average person in the past was, and what their afterlife beliefs were. My first ever mortuary field school was in Giecz, Poland and other than some culture shock at the beginning, I really did enjoy it, and I knew that this was what I wanted to be.

After graduating, I became a Ph.D student at Syracuse University in their Bioarchaeology program. Despite doing well and enjoying my study materials, grad school wasn’t quite what I had expected. I was getting to study bones, but wasn’t learning anything about the context of the cemetery or culture. So I applied for a one-year Masters program at University of Edinburgh. It was the best decision I ever made. I left Syracuse, moved to Scotland, and spent an entire year completely immersed in osteology (I also did a lot of traveling around Scotland and did develop a taste for fine whiskey, but that’s a different story).

Excavating on MSUs campus

Excavating on MSU’s campus

After Edinburgh, I knew that I wanted to keep studying the dead, but I didn’t want to be a bioarchaeologist. I wanted to be a mortuary archaeologist who looked at death rituals, funerary behavior, and the entire archaeological culture in order to understand the dead. I was accepted into the Ph.D program at Michigan State University. Since starting there, I’ve been involved in a number of digital archaeology projects, traveled to Rome and England for research, and discovered that I’m truly passionate about learning about variation in mortuary practices. It was when I started at MSU that I began Bones Don’t Lie as a way to force myself to read a wide range of mortuary archaeology journal articles and stay up to date in the field.

My advice for anyone wanting to become a mortuary archaeologist is this:

  • Take geographic information systems classes, and take them early. It was something I was forced to learn during my undergraduate work, and I’m so glad I did. Being able to use mapping software is a major advantage.
  • Keep up to date in the field. You don’t need to write a blog, but set aside time to read from a range of journal articles to stay current with research and methods.
  • Don’t be afraid to change universities. If you aren’t happy in your program and it isn’t what you expected you can always change.
  • Take a one-year Masters course in osteology. You can a lot of experience quickly, and it aids the transition into grad school. The Ph.D is very different from undergrad, and can be a tough leap for some people.
  • Find a number of mentors to help guide you. Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to have a number of mentors that I could ask open and honest questions about my decisions.

Learn more about the Day of Archaeology on their website or Twitter!


Also, check out Heritage Jam today! I’ve submitted my Ieldran map project, and this year’s theme is death! So cool!


Multi-tasking archaeology! Teaching, fieldwork and medieval poop

I am pleased to be taking part in my third Day of Archaeology – see here for  my previous posts on work for the Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves projects in 2012 and 2013. This year I am working on a whole range of things simultaneously, illustrated nicely in the cluttered picture of my desk below. I am starting my third year working at the University of Edinburgh, and have a lot more teaching responsibilities that I have ever had before. I am in the middle of preparing undergraduate lectures for the second year course, Scotland Before History, which covers Scottish archaeology from early prehistory right up to the medieval period, and making sure all the lab facilities are in place for my third/fourth year option course in Environmental Archaeology, where students get to do a lot of hands on work with environmental remains under the microscope. Alongside teaching prep, I am also putting together my schedule for a brief fieldwork session up at the Ness of BrodgarI started working there last year, and have been applying analytical chemistry and microscopy to midden deposits to investigate fuel resource use and the types of activities that people were carrying out in different parts of the site. Under the microscope you can see the micromorphology slides I am currently working on for the Ecology of Crusading conference in Riga in September – I’ve been blogging about these slides for the past year if anyone would like to know more about them! And finally, I am getting all my samples and paperwork together for a visit to the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol at the end of this month. I have collaborated with Bristol since my PhD, as they have the best facilities in the UK for archaeological chemistry. During this visit I will be working on a wide range of samples from my own research and in my role as research associate for the Ecology of Crusading project – identifying the species and dietary signals of medieval poo!

my desk today

Philip Graham (RCAHMS) – Western Isles

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

Western Isles ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Western Isles ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

The Standing Stones of Calanais

I’m Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager at RCAHMS, responsible for letting people know about our work and for encouraging people to use our unique resources through an expanding series of lectures, group visits and tours, training and induction sessions, and events like Doors Open Day. A major part of my job is responsibility for our social media channels Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr so I get to work with the amazing range of images that we hold in our collections and on a daily basis share what we’re doing with the rest of the world.

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Although I trained as an architect at the University of Edinburgh my job enables me to immerse myself in the whole spectrum of the built heritage, including archaeology and industry. The #MyArchaeology site I’ve chosen is the extraordinary Standing Stones of Calanais (or Callanish) in Lewis, part of a landscape dating back 5,000 years.

I was lucky enough to visit Calanais as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project I worked on a few years ago called Recording Your Heritage Online which worked with community groups across the country to share their information and images with us to make them more widely available; now through MyCanmore people can upload their images and information directly into our website. The project also worked with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland to produce four books in their popular series of Illustrated Architectural Guides.

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Our aerial view shows the full extent of the stone circle. At the heart of this cross-shaped setting stands a solitary monolith 4.8m high with lines of smaller stones radiating south, east and west and an 83m avenue running from the north. Surrounded by the stone circle is a chambered tomb.

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis. Titled 'Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.' Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis.
Titled ‘Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.’ Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)



The stones are nicely depicted in this sketch drawn in July 1866 by GR Mackarness who was an antiquarian and the Vicar of Ilam in Derbyshire, taken from the book ‘Views in Scotland’.





The fact that no one definitively knows what the purpose of this site was adds to its mystery. Some have argued that it was built for ritual or astronomical reasons, and you may have some ideas of your own!

There are loads more great images of the Standing Stones of Calanais on our websites:

Find out what we’re up to by following RCAHMS on:

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


Lots of Little Jobs and One Big Job

My day of archaeology, like the title says, consistence of lots of little jobs and one big job. The one big job actually has nothing to do with archaeology but pays the bills. I spent the vast majority of my Day of Archaeology working at Gengage. Gengage is the Scottish Healthcare Genetics Public Engagement Network. If it sounds like it has nothing to do with archaeology that is because it does not have anything to do with archaeology. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh after finishing my Masters, after working in CRM in the US. While I got some funding to cover my tuition I still have to pay rent and buy food. So 9 to 4 was spent at the Gengage office making ends meet.

However, just because you have a job that has nothing to do with archaeology does not mean you can not make it relevant to archaeology. I spent that 9 to 4 editing videos a skill that has helped me in archaeology and will probably continue to. I used the video editing skills I picked from Gengage to edit the videos of the Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online workshop. You can see the different videos here, here, here, here, and here. Just because your current job has nothing to do with archaeology does not mean you can’t make it relevant.

The rest of my day was broken up into a bunch of smaller jobs for the variety projects I am involved in:

  • Spent an hour on the phone to one of my more archaeology related jobs, Profiling the Profession project with Landward Research. If you do not not know what Profiling the Profession is then check out the Landward website all of the profiling the profession reports are there. We discussed the new project, which is about to get started, and what need to be done over the next few weeks. I won’t bore you with the details.
  • I spent a half hour working on the Open Access Archaeology blog. Basically, I looked at recent open access archaeology publications and made a blog post for each one, about three in total. I also connected the posts with Twitter. All of the posts are in a queue so that if I miss a day a post still goes out. This day I blogged about a new open access issue of Expedition and a new landscape article about the Inca providential capitals, the posts will be out in a few days.
  • I also blogged a little bit about soil identification for archaeologists on my personal archaeology blog. That took up another half hour.
  • I then spent about an hour looking through job adverts on Not because I need a job but because it is part of the research I conduct on jobs and pay conditions in archaeology. This mainly involved transferring data from job postings into an excel sheet, FUN TIMES (sarcasm).
  • Finally, I spent about two hours working on my PhD research. This involves working with agent based modelling to create a site predictive model. Right now I am cleaning up one of my models on hydrology, the purpose of which is to get an accurate idea of where water would be in my arid environment. Like all computer modelling I spent about 1hr and 55 mins. trying to figure out why my agents were not doing what they were supposed to and five minutes hating myself because of the stupid coding mistake that was screwing everything up. Here is a pic, not much to look at.

It looks like I got a lot done but actually it was not too much. However, that is how I work. I like to break down my work into bit sized tasks that I complete over several days or weeks.

RCAHMS – Amy Gillespie CBA Community Archaeology Placement

RCAHMS also hosts placements from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and at the moment Amy Gillespie is working as a Community Archaeologist. Below is her contribution to Day of Archaeology as she explains her placement, work she’s currently undertaking particularly with the Scotland’s Rural Past team at RCAHMS as well as her plans for the future.

RCAHMS Amy Gillespie, CBA Community Archaeology Placement

As I’ve described in the video clip I’m here at RCAHMS for one year as a trainee community archaeologist. I recently completed an MSc in Scottish Studies and I was working part time at the University of Edinburgh as an e-learning resource developer when this opportunity came up. There are quite a few ‘on the job’ training opportunities out there at the moment and I think they are a great way for newly qualified people like me to gain lots of skills and experience.

Today I’m working on Gairloch estate maps, using our online database to catalogue and link each map to relevant sites on Canmore. Once this is completed the maps will be available to the public online. The maps came to be digitised following an SRP training session in Gairloch and so I’m sure the SRP groups in the area will be keen to see them.

One of the great things about my placement is the variety of projects and activities I can get involved in: I have been working with the SRP team validating records sent in by volunteers before uploading them to Canmore; I’ve been to conferences, including one on the Isle of Man where we held a training session in survey and recording techniques; I’m spending time at East Lothian Council and Archaeology Scotland in the run up to East Lothian Heritage Fortnight and Scottish Archaeology Month; I’m in the process of starting up the Edinburgh branch of Young Archaeologists’ Club; and I’m preparing for a two week survey trip to Rum! Phew.

I hope you have a good Day of Archaeology! For more information on the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project go to the CBA website and visit out Facebook Page.