Web 2.0

A Shovelbum Story: Commercial Excavation in Deepest Darkest Kent…

Working on site all day gives you no chance to compile a minute-by-minute beautifully crafted blog post.

Thankfully, we have Twitter!

My life on Twitter began at around the same time my archaeological career did. I had promised myself that I would set up an account once I had handed in my BA dissertation and, co-incidentally, my first job in fieldwork started on the very day of that deadline. Usually I tweet every so often about what’s happening on site – if we get any good finds, if something unusual turns up, if I’m working on a particularly interesting/beautiful feature, or if  when we shovelbums develop fever-like symptoms (‘trench’ and ‘cabin’ varieties, depending on the weather) – but today, of course, was an exception. My aim was to document everything I was doing. Yes, even my breakfast!









The palaeochannel is FULL of Early Mesolithic flint. The main features in this area – predominantly ditches – were excavated and recorded a few weeks ago. It is thought that we may have a hand-axe production site, as several were found when the area was first opened by machine. Now we are using test pits into the palaeochannel to sample this material and see if we need to develop and implement a different excavation strategy for the whole area.



The other test pits had produced nothing from the 3rd spit!













Trench-fever kicking in…??



We finish early on a Friday – usually to maximise the time available to spend in the pub at the end of a long week…!





A ring ditch in Area 5 turned out to be two-in-one! There were 8 slots dug through it. That’s a lot of section drawings and context record sheets to amend… And that’s before you even get started on the matrix for the area…




I’d say today wasn’t entirely an average day in the field for this site, and for commercial archaeology in general. An average day in Kent would be whacking the fill out of a ditch/half-sectioning a whole load of postholes and recording it all (filling in forms, doing scale drawings of the feature, and photographing it). The fiddly nature of our excavation strategy for these test pits means your speed is limited – something which is usually a problem for a project that is developer-funded as there is always a schedule and a budget to stick to. But this Early Mesolithic stuff deserves the time we’re spending on it, and it just means my ‘Day of Archaeology’ submission describes one of those rare days when you never really put your trowel down!

How can we reach the Public and Educate them?

Well there are many ways.  Here is one way–social media.  Im not a member of Facebook or any other such invasion of privacy but a volunteer set up a Facebook page called I Dig the Kolb Site.  It is a place for our volunteers to share information and photos and to keep in touch using the latest in communication technology.

Thank goodness for young people–the bulk of our Kolb site volunteers.


I DIG THE KOLB SITE  on Facebook

Oxford Archaeology & Twitter: Informal Outreach

Since starting at Oxford Archaeology almost four years back I (Joseph) have taken on a role different, perhaps, than that of many archaeologists. I work for an IS department now and seem to be concentrating upon communication tools, technologies and systems. I’m quite happy with this; as far as I’m concerned Archaeology is the communication of ideas and as such the discipline would be nothing without dissemination.

What does this have to do with this Day of Archaeology?

Well, I do seem to spend more time dealing with archaeologists rather than archaeology, which is an interesting distinction at times. Having said that, many of the communication technologies I work with aren’t the exclusive preserve of Archaeologists. Whilst I have installed a broadband connection to a field in France (and these layer 1-4 activities may form another post later), I thought this post should concentrate on our activities on the Oxford Archaeology Twitter account. Why do we have an account and what do we do with it? I’m not sure I know the answers to those questions, but they might be interesting to think openly about. If nothing else, I can describe what we’re doing with it today.

According to our internal forum, I registered @oatweet on July 1st 2010. At the time we’d been asked to brainstorm some concepts for new websites – one for archaeological dissemination [1] and another for commercial clients – and I signed up for the Twitter account thinking we’d use it for something. “Something” was about as far as I was thinking; I supposed it would be good for quick updates that could be syndicated easily, or simply for raising awareness of the fact that we exist and are doing a great deal of interesting work. The websites aren’t here yet, but we’re getting into Twitter. For a long time, the Twitter feed simply sucked new entries from our Library site and posted them up as links. We’re currently undertaking a program of scanning our entire collection of reports and placing them on the Library site; @oatweet let people know how we were getting on.

I was doing the occasional human person tweet, but nothing very exciting; this isn’t the way to drum up followers. This was noticed by Hannah, who asked for the password so that she could get involved. Now would be the time to point out that we don’t have a Social Media policy here at work – I don’t think it’s necessary as we have a rough media policy and I believe that different media shouldn’t require different policies – and we’re not really officially endorsed by- or approved of- Oxford Archaeology. I secretly expect the day that we get shut down from upstairs. Drumming up followers is a policy that’s working, however, and between us we’re posting more frequently and trying to engage more with our followers.

There are probably ways of measuring your Twitter ROI; traffic sent to your website is something I’m sure plenty of people look into and I’m sure others will rate event attendance or book sales against the Twitter coverage they received. Frankly there’s not enough hours in the day and we don’t do any of that. If there was a Twitter metric usage we pay slight attention to, it’s our number of followers. The thinking is simple; the more followers we have, the more attention we’re bringing to the work of Oxford Archaeology. Twitter’s quick and off the cuff style of dissemination is reflected in our treatment of the media.

Still, I’ve not got on to today’s actions: Today, to celebrate #dayofarch and to try and highlight that we release books that are (if I can say this publicly) pretty-ruddy-good, we’re giving away the entire Thames Through Time series to one lucky retweeter. As far as archaeological work goes, this is quite a simple process; we write down the names of people that retweet us, they go in a hat and one gets pulled out. I’ve got a Masters degree and that’s the most archaeological I’m getting today; students take note. On Monday I’ll be putting three massive hardback books in envelopes and trying to trick someone else into paying the postage for them. Ignore that for now though, as the winner is…


Congratulations to you and big thanks to everyone that entered the competition. As mentioned above, you’ve helped highlight the fact that we write books and exist on Twitter. For this we are extremely grateful.


[1] Some might call this a Public Archaeology site, but I’m not a big fan of the phrase. I’m a member of the public, after all, so is everyone else that works at Oxford Archaeology. More so, I’ve never seen any archaeology undertaken by anyone who wasn’t also a member of the public.

RCAHMS – Skills for the Future Trainees

The Skills for the Future trainees contributed to Day of Archaeology early as they were presenting a showcase of their work at an event at Edinburgh Castle on the 21st July and some will not be around on Day of Arch as they are taking a well earned holiday! Here the trainees explain what they’ve been working on over the past 6 months and their future plans.

On the day the trainees presented their work in various sections at RCAHMS including General Collections, NCAP and placements with Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland. The trainees; Dave, Nora, Craig, Kate, Bryony, Elaine and Tania have been with the Commission for 6 months so roughly half way through their placements here.

Dave Avery and Nora Noonan
‘Goings On in General Collections’
The last four months have seen us working with a wide range of archaeological and architectural material, the focus being on hierarchical cataloguing and best practice when re-housing archival material to ensure long lasting preservation. We’ve witnessed a major migration of RCAHMS records into a new database and have acted as guinea pigs in testing this new database, working closely with Collections staff to feedback our experiences. We’ve spent time in the National Collection of Aerial Photography digitising and centre-pointing as well as producing Feature pages for their website. We have really enjoyed working and learning from people from all over the organisation, the programme of work has been extremely varied and there is still half a year to go.

Craig Turner and Kate Cochlan
‘Mosaics, Documentaries and Field Trips’
We’ve been based for the most part in the NCAP department. We’ve undertaken a range of tasks via which we have slowly but surely familiarised ourselves with the photographic material in its varied forms – film, print and digital. We were lucky enough to be involved with the work preceding the Operation Crossbow documentary, broadcast on BBC Two in May, helping to digitise, centre-point and prepare the relevant imagery. Other activities have included learning about the surrogate copying process while working with All Scotland Survey material; receiving preservation and conservation training; learning about colour balancing and RAW image processing; going on field trips with the Survey and Recording department and spending time with the Collections department. We particularly enjoyed developing the Glasgow news item on the NCAP website – preparing snapshots of two geo-rectified aerial mosaics and writing accompanying feature articles. We’re both exited about the next stage of our training – working collaboratively to deliver a prototype package for a fresh and exciting new look for the NCAP website.

Bryony Jackson, Elaine Johnston and Tania Dron
‘French Verbs to Facial Hair’
We began our Education and Outreach work programme by developing resources for Scran – Features, Pathfinder Packs, and PDF supporting materials on themes relative to the Curriculum for Excellence. We were able to select out own languages, citizenships, battles, royalty, nuclear power, comedians, cannibalism and facial hair! We really enjoyed Scran’s variety and the opportunity to expand on our experiences of developing web content. Stepping from online resources to on-site activities, our three month placements with Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland started in April. This gave us the chance to develop the educational aspects of locations ranging across Scotland’s castles, museums and country houses.

Showcase Event

Some more photographs of the event itself in the Devil’s Elbow at Edinburgh Castle.










The Skills for the Future trainees can be followed on their

own blog at http://skills.rcahms.gov.uk and Twitter page and by following the #SftF hashtag.


(Photography by Derek Smart RCAHMS)

A Day In The Life

So what’s all this ‘geophysics’ nonsense about, eh?

I went to a lecture by an archaeologist at the local university yesterday, and he said that the most important thing about archaeology is to have fun. And this applies to geophysics and, indeed, any career (except accounting, I would imagine). I became an archaeological geophysicist out of passion, interest and a genuine enjoyment out of the job. Each site always has something new and fascinating to learn, and the site I am currently looking at is no exception.

But before I can do anything… where did I put my bloody laptop cable? I misplaced the power cable to my laptop about a week ago, and I ran the battery flat last night (I am writing this from my desktop computer), so I am having difficulty processing the data I collected a few days ago!

No matter. Let me now waffle on for a while about my current area of focus. I am putting together a proposal for a geophysical survey of a nineteenth-century railway near Melbourne (Australia). A temporary (i.e. it lasted for almost four years) settlement for the railway workers was established alongside the railway, and there was even a cemetery which is known to have the burials of a number of infants in a paddock nearby. I have been asked to find the graves (no grave markers exist at the site now) and also to try and find the settlement (which is believed to have been just tents and timber houses for the most part. The settlement site is about 700 x 700 metres in dimensions, so is quite a large site. I have decided to propose a magnetic susceptibility survey, the results of which will allow a magnetometry survey to be narrowed-down (to reduce costs and time spent in the field). This research is being done simply out of interest, rather than as part of a commercial project, so funding is going to be scarce. But I am truly excited about this one!

So today I am talking with Heritage Victoria about the proposal and preparing the proposal itself to pass on to the client. In between doing that, and writing this blog post, I am also doing a bit of marketing (which is a daily habit) to keep up interest, and have been discussing the railway settlement site with the Hunter Geophysics ‘fans’ on Facebook. I feel that informing the public about my work is vitally important; it is, after all, their history that I am researching. Facebook is just one method of letting the public know what I am up to. I am also preparing a presentation for the upcoming Royal Historical Society’s meeting in Bendigo (country Victoria) about my recent work in another cemetery (most of my work is in cemeteries!) – I want to get at least half an hour of work done on that today, but half the trouble is finding the time. It might be a job for the weekend. Finally, this evening, I have a meeting with the Secretary of the local historical society – she has been a mentor since my high school years; it will be good to catch up with her.

Now, it’s the end of the day; time for a Parma at the pub. Oh, wait, damn; I’m not doing fieldwork today – no Parma for me.