A Day in the life of an archaeological HARPO

My name is Sarah Howard and I am a Historic England Heritage at Risk Project Officer (HARPO, not to be confused with a harpy, although it does depend on what kind of mood you get me in). My day to day job involves looking after nationally designated sites that are threatened within the North West of England and particularly within the counties of Lancashire and Cumbria. Every year the North West Heritage at Risk Team update the Heritage at Risk Register with some sites coming off, some added and others indicating progress towards their removal. In many cases, historic buildings and archaeological sites are at risk due to general decay from neglect or lack of maintenance, but many of the sites I deal with are in the uplands and here we have a particular problem with bracken. In the Lake District, this vegetation was once used for a multitude of purposes, but is now growing out of control and quickly spreading across the landscape, not only obscuring archaeological sites, but also potentially causing mayhem to below-ground deposits due to their robust root systems or rhizomes. Many of my sites are quite off the beaten track, so I had the challenge to get all my site visits in western Cumbria and the central Lake District done in 3 days (to borrow the Time Team trope ?). It was also a great opportunity to have a bit of an adventure, to rediscover the excitement and wonder of my field, actually in the field!

The video below is a recap of June 15th 2017 when I visited two Romano-British sites (The Hawk near Torver and Tongue House Barn near Kentmere). Thanks to the hard work of Lake District National Park volunteers, these sites have been cleared of bracken and are once again prominent features within the cultural landscape of the recently inscribed Lake District World Heritage Site.


Paper to Plastic: 5 Organizational Steps Behind Rehousing an Archaeological Collection

By Jessica Clark, Archaeology Lab Intern, Virginia Museum of Natural History

The Cabin Run Mitigation collection comes from Warren County, Virginia, from a project dating to the  early 1980s. The artifacts range across material culture, including decorated ceramics, stone tools,  bones that show evidence of use both for food and as tools, and much more. The artifacts arrived at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in brown paper bags, contained within about 50 cardboard boxes, without any sort of inventory or catalog. It has been my task over the past few years (!) to work with these materials and get them ready for permanent storage in the museum’s collections.

1. Bags on bags

organization post photo 1

The first step in this large project was to physically rehouse the artifacts from paper and cardboard into new, archival quality plastic bags. This process involved cutting out and keeping any notations that had been made on the paper bags, and transferring the artifacts into new bags. This was a bit of an adventure, because there was something new in every box—artifacts were stored in everything from cigar boxes to film canisters to 30 year-old plastic wrap.

2. Take stock

organization post photo 2

Next, an inventory was created, listing all the materials that we had acquired so that there would be a record of the artifacts. This involved interpreting handwritten proveniences, counting all the objects, and recording their description and material type. Some bags of lithic flakes, for example, had counts numbering in the thousands, so this process took a considerable amount of time to complete. The catalog reached a final count of over 8000 entries representing 85,281 artifacts or soil/flotation samples.

3. Manage the data

organization post photo 3

With a catalog of this size, data management became a critical next step. This collection was received and rehoused in no particular order, so the data had to be reorganized into an archaeologically relevant order based on provenience. To accomplish this, each artifact was given a temporary number (between 1 and 8000); simply rechecking the catalog and labeling each bag took an additional 2 weeks to complete. The data was then reorganized in the spreadsheet, placing artifacts with others of the same provenience (Feature A with Feature A, Test Pit B with Test Pit B, etc.). Artifacts could then be physically sorted into the new arrangement using temporary numbers as identifiers (each a discrete number) rather than using the entire provenience (which may not be entirely unique).

4. Coordinate with volunteers

organization post photo 4

Sorting 8000+ bags of artifacts is no small task and could not have been accomplished without the help of some very willing and able volunteers. Through the combined efforts of museum volunteers and staff members, we were able to rearrange and store all the artifacts in less than 4 work days, moving approximately 4,000 bags of artifacts in one day alone.

5. Store material for future research

Now that all the artifacts have been sorted and put into Delta museum cabinets, their archaeological information and current physical location are now in a searchable document and much more accessible for people interested on conducting research using these materials. While data editing and some final curation processes remain to be done, this collection is now much more useful and available than it had previously been.

You might say it takes a village to successfully manage an archaeological collection of this size. From the first crinkle of brown paper to the resounding ring of the final drawer sliding into its storage cabinet, careful organization and teamwork were the hallmarks of rehousing the artifacts from the Cabin Run Mitigation project.

Clemency Cooper: Joining the Community at Oxford Archaeology

Oxford Archaeology is a registered educational charity with a long history of instigating and participating in public archaeology, and I have a new role at the company as their Community Archaeology Manager – today marks the end of my seventh week! I’m based at OA’s East office in Bar Hill, just outside Cambridge. I’ve been liaising with my colleagues, and fellow communications ‘champions’, Ed in our South office and Adam in our North office, to coax and coerce our colleagues to join in with the Day of Archaeology. I think this is a great opportunity to capture the work that we do and share it online to give people a snapshot of what goes on behind-the-scenes at a national commercial archaeological unit like Oxford Archaeology. Charlotte, one of our illustrators at OAE, designed some very fetching posters to advertise the campaign in-house and you can read her Day of Archaeology blog post here. If you’re interested in learning more about archaeological illustration, make sure to check out the live tweets from the graphics department in our Oxford office today on our Twitter account here using the hastags #graphix #dayofarch

Close up of posters, mug and keyboard

Posters advertising the Day of Archaeology at Oxford Archaeology

In between the steady stream of emails today, I’ve been kept busy uploading the text and photos from the blog submissions I’ve received from my colleagues. I first started blogging five years ago and I think it’s a good medium for quick site updates and event promotion, interacting with readers and sharing content across different platforms.

Besides the blogging, I’ve also been making arrangements to loan out survey equipment to community groups in Cambridgeshire as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project, Jigsaw. The Fen Edge Archaeology Group recently finished their geophysical survey, and the Covington History Group and the Warboys Archaeology Project are also conducting magnetometry and resistivity surveys during the next couple of weeks – harvesting permitting!

I’ve also been working on the deployment schedule for our volunteers for next few weeks. It’s really gratifying to be able to offer people the chance to take part in excavations alongside our field staff. We have some very enthusiastic and experienced volunteers who return year after year, as well as a steady of new volunteers interested in fulfilling a life-long ambition to take part in an archaeological dig, or looking to develop the skills and experience for a career in the field. In fact, one of our volunteers has just been accepted onto the Oxford Archaeology graduate trainee scheme and she came into the office for her induction today.

I hope you enjoy exploring the posts from Oxford Archaeology this year, and that they give you a taster of the different work going on across our offices. You can read them all here.

Clemency Cooper is the Community Archaeology Manager for Oxford Archaeology, based at their East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our work with community groups and schools, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/community

A Week in the Life of the Staffordshire & West Midlands FLO

So far it has been a busy week with less time than normal spent in the office. This is the life of a FLO. Some weeks we spend lots of time in the office, other weeks we’re out and about visiting colleagues, museums, finders, coroners and other interested parties. It certainly isn’t a standard office 9 to 5 job. But that is one of the reasons why I like this job so much. That and the wonderful range of finds that I get to see on a regular basis.

Monday: Was a quiet day in the office, as none of my volunteers were in to keep me company. Therefore I spent it, catching up with paperwork and recording finds from a couple of my independent finders. I dealt with a mixture of finds from Roman pottery to Roman coins to post medieval coins. The highlights of the day were:

WMID-D0AC40: Roman coin: Complete siliqua of Valens

A siliqua of Valens, dated to 25th Feb AD 364 to 24th August AD 367, found in Lincolnshire. This was an interesting coin as siliqua are incredibly rare from Staffordshire, so it is only when the finders detect in other counties that I get to see such nice late roman coins. Normally the only late roman ones I tend to get, I often have to play ‘spot the reverse type’.

WMID-CCC70B: Roman: Incomplete Polden Hill Brooch

WMID-CCC70B: Roman: Incomplete Polden Hill Brooch

This was the other nice find, a lovely decorated Polden Hill brooch, dating from 75 AD to 175 AD. Polden Hill brooches are relatively common through the West Midlands but often, the bows are not as highly decorative as this example.

Tuesday morning: Was spent in Cannock Coroner’s court as I had been called to be the expert witness for 11 treasure cases that the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery will be acquiring through the Treasure process. All were fairly small cases, and not as internationally important as the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ (now on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum, with small displays at Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral). However they are all significant finds for Staffordshire, so it is nice that they will be acquired by a museum so everyone can enjoy looking at them.



Tuesday evening: It was one of my regular club meeting nights. This time, I had the joy of the Coventry Heritage Detector Society. Club meetings are always interesting to attend. I get to find out what the clubs have been up to in between my visits and to see (and borrow) the latest finds to get recorded on the PAS database, and often a cup of tea and a biscuit

WMID-991F07: Roman Coin: complete nummus of Diocletian

WMID-991F07: Roman Coin: complete nummus of Diocletian

As part of my update to club members, I did mention about an interesting coin found by one of the club members. It was a fraction of a nummus of Diocletan, dating to AD 303. This coin celebrates Diocletian’s vicennalia (i.e. the 20th anniversary of his reign) in September 303. This kind of fractions is extremely rare. Two examples are recorded by Pierre Strauss for Diocletian. One is in now in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris, the other one was sold at autions in 1954 (sale Münzen und Medallien XIII, 1954, no. 467). Another good example of why all late roman coins or ‘grots’ should be shown to the FLO. You never know what they may turn out to be!

The added bonus to the evening was that I won a homemade ginger cake in the club raffle. It made a lovely change as I normally don’t win anything.

Wednesday: Another day out of the office and the morning was spent dodging rain showers with the County Archaeologist, Stephen Dean, checking over a site for a possible coin hoard. The finder did come out to help with our search, however no hoard was located. The afternoon was spent, drying out and catching up with missed emails from the previous day and that morning.

Thursday: Finally back in the office for the morning and once again had to deal with various emails and catching up with admin paperwork. Mid morning, just after I had made a cup of tea, I had a finder come to visit me to show me a silver ring that he had found, and several horseshoes. All turned out to be fairly modern but during our conversation, it turned out that he regularly fieldwalked a field rich in flint tools. I was able to persuade him that next time he went, to make notes of exactly where he found each tool from, ideally to bag them up individually and then come back and see me in the new year with all of them.

Friday: Back in the office, with company today as I have some of my volunteer team in to give me a hand. My work has been varied as per normal. So far: I’ve chased up local museums for them to express an interest in acquiring a couple of local treasure cases; sorted out monthly statistics for my management on how many finds I have done and how many people I have visited at club meetings; met with two finders, handed back one lot of finds and took in a Middle Bronze Age spearhead; photographed some finds; and even managed to record a couple of finds.

Today, two of my volunteers, Helen & Carl are in. Helen has been working with me for nearly 18 months now and through her volunteer work, she has gained enough experience to get an internship with a neighbouring FLO, Alastair Willis over in Derby. Today she is continuing to work through the finds for the Midlands Metal Detecting club, so they are all ready to hand back to the members in August. For her 600th artefact she has picked the Middle Bronze Age basal looped spearhead that was handed in earlier. She has taken the photographs, and will spend the rest of the day researching it and writing the report on.WMID-244D11: Middle Bronze Age: Basal Looped Spearhead


Helen recording finds

Helen recording finds

Carl is developing his photography skills by working on 3D images. He is currently sorting out the photomasking of the Severn Valley ware pot from the Shrewsbury Hoard. It is thanks to volunteers like Carl, that we have started being able to take 3D images of finds brought in for recording.

HESH-658701: Coin hoard, 2009T450

HESH-658701: Coin hoard, 2009T450

The ‘photomasking’ stage is almost complete, and now we are looking at creating the 3D model using PhotoScan. So far we have done one ‘chunk’, with several more to do, but the point cloud is definitely beginning to resemble a pottery vessel! Excellent Work. Well done Carl.

Screensnap shot of 3D model in progress

Screensnap shot of 3D model in progress

Point cloud of the Shrewsbury Hoard

Point cloud of the Shrewsbury Hoard

The other volunteers on my team are: Claire, Gail and Richard. Both Claire & Gail attended the PASt Explorers Training Day at the British Museum on Monday, which they both enjoyed. When they’re in, like Helen, they help record some of the club finds.

Richard has been helping record some nationally important quartzite handaxes of Lower and / or Middle Palaeolithic dating as part of the ‘Waite Collection’. One of the last times Richard was in, we took some photographs of some of the handaxes so that 3D models can be created of them as well.

Without the assistance of all my wonderful volunteers, we could not do things like 3D models of artefacts but importantly also keep on top of the recording of all the finds that are handed in for recording by all the finders in Staffordshire & the West Midlands. Thanks to all of you.

Greetings from Randall Manor Year 9!

Hello from a wet, muddy, but happy corner of medieval Kent! We have been on site for 5 days now, as our 9th year on site at Randall Manor gets underway. It all started with scorching sunshine and new walls!


Day one RMS14

As the week progressed everyone has worked so hard in the new trenches for this year. Area 15 focused on walls we had found in 2011 and after a week of hard graft by all, we have uncovered the flint footings to a new building, east of the aisled hall discovered in 2011…


Pauline and Daniel working hard to uncover the join between buildings on site…RMS14…

We are also spending a 9th year examining the complex stratigraphy of the detached kitchen building. The archaeology has been well preserved under a layer of demolition and samples taken from the floor surfaces have already revealed substantial information on the medieval diet of the site’s occupiers, including lots of lovely fish bone.


A section through the kitchen floors…RMS14

After 5 days, what has struck me the most is the overwhelming enthusiasm from both young and old and the love of archaeology shared by all on site.

We have hosted 4 schools this week: Danecourt Special Needs, Valley Park in Maidstone, Manor Community from Swanscombe and Shorne Primary. Special mention must be made to Trevor for all his assistance and supervision of the schools on site and to Richard and Bernice for giving the children an introduction to archaeology and finds handling sessions.

Even today, with drizzle and rain making eventful appearances all day, over 20 volunteers turned up and got stuck in.


Our new trench, day 5, RMS14

We have enjoyed 9 years of Lottery funding for archaeology projects in the Park, but with the current project coming to a close, Kent County Council stepped in this year to fund the dig, so a big thank you to them!

Most importantly though I would like to pay tribute to all the volunteers who have supported the dig over the years, from the dig tasters, day diggers, new enthusiasts, to the band of highly skilled veterans from archaeology groups across Kent, who come back year after year and make the dig the success it is. They make new diggers feel welcome, are always on hand with helpful advice or a trusty spade, give up their time to show the public around the site and make the wider archaeology project in Shorne Woods Country Park such a joy to be a part of.

They find my trowel when I lose it, recover my wedding ring when I drop it, ferry equipment to and from site and enthuse people of all ages who come to the dig…

So on this Day of Archaeology I salute all volunteers who make archaeology projects across the country such a success and to those who volunteer behind the scenes at the Day of Archaeology itself!

We are a quarter of the way through this year’s season, on site every day to the 27th of July. On the 26th and 27th of July we have the Woodville Household medieval re-enactors in the Park, all part of the Festival of Archaeology…

For more information do have a look at www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent or @ArchaeologyKent

We hope to have a new landscape archaeology project up and running for next year’s day of archaeology, looking at the landscape around Cobham village, so do watch this space 🙂


Karen Thomas (MOLA): A day in the life of a jack-of-all-trades – The Musical!

Busy day ahead! – need to sort out work placement students for next week (and today!), help Nick with the community dig next week, answer all those unanswered emails lingering in my inbox from earlier this week and maybe do some archiving!

Phone call from the curator at Chelmsford Museum with whom I had left a message yesterday.  He sends through a new set of standards he’s been working on and I pass the info on to the relevant project manager so that he can let the site staff and processing know the particular requirements for his site (I hope!).

Tried to contact the contractor at the Community Dig about site set up but got his voicemail.  I never seem to be able to get anyone on the phone these days!

Mid-morning and I think I’ve got the students for next week sorted now.  Hélène (our intern from France) pops in to pick up her evaluation form – she has been brilliant for the 4 weeks she has been with us.  She will be very welcome if she finds herself in England again and I hope her course goes well.

(yes I know he’s Belgian but the song is in French!)

 While eating lunch put finishing touches to letter about next Young Archaeologists’ Club session and sort out sending some books over to MOL for a LAMAS function on Tuesday.  Managed to eat a jam doughnut without wearing most of the jam – generously supplied by Patti who is leaving us today.  The poor girl got stuck in the Archive for a while when she first joined us and we will miss her chirpy personality.

Finished off a few things on the Community Dig (yes I did manage to get hold of the guy in the end) and lined up some more to be done on Monday.  These things are so time consuming but I think it will be quite good fun in the end.

It’s 4.30 and I’m now going to do some archiving!!!!  AutoCAD site plans here I come!

Maya Research Program’ s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

MRP Logo 2013

What is the Maya Research Program?

The Maya Research Program is a U.S.-based non-profit organization (501C3) that sponsors archaeological and ethnographic research in Middle America. Each summer since 1992, we have sponsored archaeological fieldwork in northwestern Belize and ethnographic research in the village of Yaxunah, Mexico. The Maya Research Program is affiliated with the University of Texas at Tyler.

Our goal is, first and foremost, to conduct research that helps us better understand the complex ancient societies of the Americas. MRP is proud to have a diverse staff of talented scientists contributing to this goal and many of our affiliated scholars are recognized as leaders in their fields. Recent support has come from the Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the Blue Creek field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the project was recognized as the winner of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excavation Outreach contest.

Another key MRP goal is to encourage the participation of students and volunteers — anyone who wants to experience the real world of archaeological or anthropological research and understand how we learn about cultures may join us. We see this as a critical educational component of MRP’s work and it helps us accomplish our research goals as well. The ages of our participants range from 18 to over 80. So many of our participants return year after year that MRP has become an extended family. About half of our participants are university students under 30 years old and the other half are professionals and retirees. While the majority of participants come from the United States and Canada, we have students from Australian,  European, Latin American, and Japanese institutions as well. For students, academic credit can usually be arranged either via UTT or the student’s home institution. Many of our students go on to become successful graduate students in archaeology or a related field and return to focus on MRP projects for their theses and dissertations.

In 2014 and 2015 we again offer opportunities to participate in our field program and learn about the Maya of the past and today. The Blue Creek Archaeological Project is open to student and non-student participants, regardless of experience. The field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and participants will receive training in archaeological field and laboratory techniques. Academic credit and scholarships are available. We invite students and volunteers to participate in the Maya Research Program’s  archaeological field season in northwestern Belize.

2014 Season Dates:
Session 1: Monday May 26 to Sunday June 8
Session 2: Monday June 9 to Sunday June 22
Session 3: Monday June 30 to Sunday July 13
Session 4: Monday July 14 to Sunday July 27

2015 Season Dates:

Session 1: Monday June 1st to Sunday June 14th

Session 2: Monday June 15th to Sunday June 28th

Session 3: Monday July 6th to Sunday July 19th

Session 4: Monday July 20th to Sunday August 2nd

If you are interested in joining the team this summer or next  – please get in touch soon as space is limited! If you have any questions – please don’t hesitate to contact us:

Maya Research Program
1910 East Southeast Loop 323
#296; Tyler, Texas 75701
Phone: 817-831-9011
Email: mrpinquiries@gmail.com

MRP’s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

The Maya Research Program is having a very successful 23rd archaeological field season in northwestern Belize! This summer we are concentrating on the site of Xnoha. Xnoha is a medium sized Maya center located on the edge of the Alacranes Bajo. We are delineating the architecture of the site core, three of its elite residences, and a possible shrine structure. In addition, we have recorded and conserved the mural recovered from Tulix Mul, secured numerous soil samples from wetland features, and finalized excavations at “Alvin’s Cave” and “Rice Mill Cave 3.” Our bioarchaeology field school is active this session and we are looking forward to our 3D modeling and photogrammetry workshop next week.  If you are interested in seeing weekly updates from the field – you can follow our progress on our Facebook page or via the photo gallery on our website.


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

Phil Jeffries (MOLA): a hybrid job is never boring

I hold a hybrid job role within MOLA, being both an Archivist and a Senior Archaeologist for watching briefs. Combined, these provide me with a variety of different tasks and settings in which to spend my working days.

Within the MOLA Archive team I am principally responsible for preparing all the finds and finds records from sites, in readiness for their deposition into the relevant accepting public repository. Much of the material I handle relates to excavations from within Greater London and therefore is ultimately to be deposited into The London Archaeological Archive and Resource Centre (LAARC) run by The Museum of London, which has its own standards to which the prepared material must conform.

So many rows - he's getting data vertigo...

Phil in Archive-mode, checking finds data tables

Whilst having several small – medium sized finds projects currently on the go, I am also overseeing a long term finds archive project which has been opened up for the public to get involved with. This volunteering opportunity is concerned with preparing all the finds material from the excavation of the Guildhall Yard in the City of London during 1992-1997 (Site Code GYE92).

GYE92 is perhaps the largest finds archive to be prepared by MOLA and also one of the largest ever to be received (eventually) by LAARC. To give you an idea of the scale of the project, there are some 2339 boxes of finds/environmental remains stored on 157 shelves across three bays of the building we occupy, plus larger objects yet to be discovered off site. There are over 20,500 Accessioned Finds, some of which are on display in the Guildhall and others already noted as missing in action. In order that the material is archive worthy, the finds must be packaged and labelled according to LAARC’s standards and these must then run in numerical sequence within boxes of material type. The boxes are then stored in material and numerical sequence on the shelves. All the finds must be checked against and systematically logged onto the finds or environmental inventory spreadsheets which have an initial combined cell count of over half a million cells. Where appropriate, errors, omissions, additions and amendments noted must also be updated on MOLA’s primary Oracle database and a running Archivist’s Note of un-resolvable errors/omissions kept to accompany the final archive deposit.

We currently have a pool of 6 members of the public volunteering on the project two days per week and for the last few months they have been processing the bulk animal bone from the site, (all 924 boxes of it)! Typically the volunteers can come in and once settled, get on with the day’s tasks with minimal direction, however I’m on call to assist with queries as and when they arise. This might be concerned with relocating non-bone material that has incorrectly made its way into the animal bone boxes or resolving discrepancies with context numbering or packaging policies. The information that the volunteers collate is then updated onto the final Excel finds inventory which is growing by the day as new discoveries not captured on the original database are brought to light during re-packaging.

Whilst not preparing finds or chasing up their present whereabouts in a building the size of an aircraft hanger or overseeing the volunteers, I might well be involved with other archive duties such as checking field records or converting digital files into archive storable versions. Alternatively, I may be dealing with one of the fieldwork watching brief projects I have been assigned to look after in the capacity of a Senior Archaeologist within the Field Team. Two of these projects are what can be described as long term and intermittent in nature and involve me monitoring certain key ground works on infrastructure projects that span several years. A watching brief is usually undertaken on sites where the proposed construction works do not require an archaeological excavation to be conducted or follow on from earlier evaluation trenching or archaeological excavations close by and are usually undertaken by one attendant experienced Field archaeologist.

Be Safe!

Phil with his Archaeologist Hat on now (c) MOLA 2013

The job essentially requires a high degree of observation under less than ideal circumstances, where a few minutes may be all the time permitted to make quick records of archaeological features and natural strata as they are removed by the machines at work. My projects require me to remotely monitor complex construction schedules via phone and email with lead engineers on the sites and organise myself to be on site when the latest sequence of excavations for new foundations, utility trenches, shafts or general ground reduction is due to begin. The sites I visit are varied and fall in numerous London boroughs, from public spaces such as the streets of The West End and central London parks to industrial sites of former power stations or basements of residential and commercial properties. Generally, schedules rarely stay on track and an anticipated site visit might be put back on the proposed day as problems arise with anything from a break down of a machine to discovery of asbestos or particularly reinforced concrete. In this case I have to be pretty flexible with my diary and be accommodating to working on several separate pieces of indoor archive work which will ultimately be interrupted. As well as actually creating the primary field records during my on site monitoring, I am also responsible for producing reports based on these observations, this brings me into contact with several other departments such as the Drawing Office, Photography Studio and Geomatics/Survey team. All in all it’s rare that I get two successive days that might be described as repetitive!