You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Archaeologists’ category.

This year’s Day of Archaeology will take place next week, on 29th July, and judging by the comments on their sign-up page will include many new participants this year!

For those that aren’t aware, the Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on the website.

doa-noyear

The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists, and taking part in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement!

The project has been running since 2011, and last year we documented some of our thoughts on the year’s events.  It will be interesting to see if anything has changed for this year’s coverage.

We caused a big stir (7,300 views) with our 2013 headline “Ed Vaizey insults every archaeologist and heritage professional“. Now the British Museum has gone down much the same route as the ex-Culture Secretary by saying, unmistakably, (in its just published 2016 Annual Review) that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”.

That conveys to the public that any group of people with detectors they see in a field digging (1) randomly, (2) selectively and (3) for their own benefit, are archaeologists. It’s untrue and very damaging since it legitimises in the public eye a whole galaxy of activities that archaeologists would get sanctioned for and it devalues their professional and educational achievements and their dedication to scientific method, knowledge gathering and resource conservation.

How do archaeologists and heritage professionals feel about that? Should they be hopping mad and reflect where we’ve got to in Britain considering no national museum in any other country would do such a thing? Should they tell the British Museum and PAS to desist and to publicly clarify exactly what archaeologists do and, crucially, the behaviour by which they can be recognised? Currently they are giving the impression they haven’t the foggiest. What’s to be done?

.

Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and The British Museum. (Missing the bleeding obvious).

Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and The British Museum. (Missing the bleeding obvious).

.

Update, next day ….

We were interested to note that the BM’s re-branding of metal detectorists as citizen archaeologists has come almost 5 years since we succeeded in getting the BBC to almost entirely desist from calling them amateur archaeologists. How can it be right that it’s down to us, ordinary people, rather than hundreds of archaeologists, to stand up against landowners being misled?

Still, Paul Barford has now written to the BM making several additional points and suggesting they issue an official statement “defining what the BM means by the noun “archaeology” in the phrase “citizen archaeology”. Assuming he isn’t ignored a precise answer to his precise question will be very welcome indeed. How many farmers have already been told, falsely, “we’re amateur archaeologists” and now “we’re citizen archaeologists”? A lot, it can be assumed.

Update, Tuesday 12 July

Paul Barford received a reply which didn’t answer the central issue so far as we are concerned. Consequently we have just sent the following message to Susan Raikes, Head of the Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department:

We have a couple of simple but (we think) very important questions.
Does not the BM have a central duty to “inform”?
Is that duty fulfilled by telling landowners that anyone at their gate
carrying a metal detector is a “citizen archaeologist”?
Thanks
The Heritage Journal

__________________________________________

.
.
__________________________________________

We continue our long-running series, ‘Inside the Mind‘ with responses from Neil Holbrook, Chief Executive of Cotswold Archaeology.

Brief Bio

Neil gained a first class degree in archaeology from Newcastle University in 1984 before starting work in professional archaeology. He went straight from University to direct excavations on Hadrian’s Wall for English Heritage for a number of years beforemoving on to Exeter Museum where he worked on Roman finds. He was appointed Archaeological Manager at Cotswold Archaeology in 1991, and is is now head of the salaried staff as Chief Executive, responsible for ensuring that Cotswold Archaeology remains a successful and innovative company delivering high quality work. He sits on a number of Committees, including the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (formally SCAUM); the Archaeology Committee of the Roman Society and the Publications Committee of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.  He is also a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Reading University.

NHolbrook

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I became interested in the Romans as a kid, and remember that walking along a stretch of Roman road near Cambridge with my father made quite an impression on me. It was pretty much just the Romans then, although my interests have broadened considerably since. I thought Hadrian’s Wall was incredibly evocative as a child, and still do today.

How did you get started?

I decided to study archaeology at Newcastle University (because it was near Hadrian’s Wall) , but as I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like as a subject. I hedged my bets and opted for a really strange mixed degree in my first year: ancient history; archaeology and chemistry. I was told that no-one had ever done such a combination before (and probably hasn’t since!).  At the end of my first year I was sure that archaeology was what I wanted to do, but I thought I would benefit from learning some more about digging. So I took a year out and went on excavations over the winter in St Albans (really cold), and then Germany and then Israel (really hot). It was great fun. I went back to Newcastle, finished my degree, and then by a couple of lucky breaks quickly ended up running digs on Hadrian’s Wall. After a spell in Exeter I ended up in Cirencester, and for the last 25 years I’ve run Cotswold Archaeology. From very small beginnings we now have a staff of over 180 archaeologists working out of offices in Andover; Cirencester; Exeter and Milton Keynes. I am very proud of what my colleagues have achieved.

Who has most influenced your career?

I owe a lot to a number of people who helped me along when I was young, and indulged some of the arrogance of youth. Charles Daniels fired my interest in archaeology at University with his infectious enthusiasm. Paul Bidwell gave me first big break, and working with him taught me an incredible amount about not only how to excavate, but equally how to interpret the findings. His approach has influenced me ever since. When I came to the Cotswolds I was lucky that Alan McWhirr, who had worked for over 30 years in Cirencester, was so welcoming and encouraged me to collaborate with him on bringing his work to publication.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

It is very hard to pick one – but the recent discovery in Cirencester of a Roman tombstone dedicated to a lady called Bodicacia is a moment I’ll never forget.   I’ve also really enjoyed leading the Roman Rural Settlement Project over the last 10 years – a great opportunity to gather together all that has been found in commercial archaeological investigations since 1990 and ask the simple question: what does this tell us about Roman Britain that we didn’t know before?

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Hadrian’s Wall. It is where my serious interest in the Past begun – and somewhere that I’d like to renew my interest in some day.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

That so many really well conducted archaeological digs on the 1960s, 70s and 80s are unpublished. All the blood, sweat and tears expended on projects that no one now knows next to nothing about. This is particularly true of many major historic towns and cities – places like Bristol and Winchester, for example. The knowledge loss is huge. It is for that reason that I am really pleased to be starting out on a project with Professor Stephen Rippon at Exeter University called Exeter: A Place in Time. This project combines delving back in to unpublished archives of digs done in the 1970s and 80s, along with with the application of cutting edge science. We are hoping that we will be able to use the information gathered to write a new archaeology of Roman and medieval Exeter. I’m excited by the prospect.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I’d like to raise the standard of field archaeology in the UK. There are some excellent organisations which produce consistently high quality work – but some fall below this standard. Even now too many reports are unpublished within a reasonable period of time. The current system of managing archaeology within the planning process works reasonably well, but it is fragile. To be successful it requires people to not only do the work, but also to stipulate it within local authorities. And the latter are under real pressure at the moment from Government cuts. What I would really like to see is some incentives for investigating organisations to turn out really top quality work rather than just a base minimum standard – and that doesn’t have to mean simply more money – sometimes better value could be obtained by thinking more flexibly and trying new approaches.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Don’t underestimate how much interest there is local history and archaeology – it is crucial to a sense of community cohesion and shared experience. And we only get one go at it – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I guess I would be a manager somewhere dull, but with archaeology as my hobby (which it still is now).

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

One of the disadvantages of moving in to management is that you become a desk jockey, so I relish any opportunity at the weekend to get outside – in the garden or a tramp across the Gloucestershire countryside with my wife. I also like cricket and follow Gloucestershire – a sunny day at the Cheltenham cricket festival with a drink in hand is a great thing to look forward to every summer.

As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Neil for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable and willing subject, please contact us.

In our Comments section we’ve just had some very interesting constructive criticism. Since it makes such a refreshing change from quite a bit of the abuse that gets left we’re reproducing it here followed by our response.

From “Middenmaid”:

“There is a lot of confusion as the role of archaeology and archaeologists on this Blog. Here is the OED definition of Archaeologist
The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.

Archaeologists are not the ultimate guardian of monuments as they seem to be perceived on this site. We can’t be as it is not within our remit nor within our area of specialism. Whilst I and other appreciate the reverence you give us it does concern me that the finger is often pointed in the direction of archaeology as being the holy grail holders of the immensely diverse historic sector. We aren’t. Archaeology can discover the past and interpret ate it but archaeology is transient in that it moves on to another project leaving the resultant custodial elements to other areas of historic custody.

As for the issue of brandalism, it really is personal rather than professional dialogue on the subject when discussed by archaeologists. The post excavation arena of history are those charged with policy development and adoption and the practical management of our historic record but I rarely see acknowledgement of these other sectors and their role on the articles that appear on here. These other areas of post excavation custodial activity really are the people you should align with as a conservation minded group.

i often see this confusion displayed as the misunderstanding of local history groups being seen as amateur archaeology groups. they aren’t. Appreciating and exploring known local or national history is not archaeology and this is where the CBA really does need to ensure that Archaeology is not misunderstood and therefore diluted as a discipline.”

……………………..

Thanks for your comments.We accept the criticism, we do tend to give the impression that archaeologists should be heritage champions and prevent destruction when in fact that’s mostly not their role and beyond their ability. On the other hand we know that many of them do have strong opinions (as shown on the BAJR thread on brandalism) and that probably most of them agree with our concern that the development/conservation scales have tipped too far in favour of developers and too far away from conservation.

So we wish more of them said so in public, professionals have more sway than amateurs. The list of prominent archaeologists and academics standing up to be counted at Oswestry just might make a difference but it doesn’t happen enough (with the honourable exception of the likes of Rescue). Most fights are mostly conducted by amateurs and are mostly lost. So not only have the scales been rigged by the Government, the weight of participants on the conservation side is not as great as it might be.

We understand about the implications of the sources of finance for archaeology and that it’s not a good career move to rock the boat. It’s often retired or independent archaeologists who speak out. We also realise why some of the things we say get only a private nod of approval from archaeologists but understanding the public silence doesn’t make it feel OK or make the rigged scales more acceptable. EH are billed as England’s “Heritage Champions” but in many ways they act as Government fixers, which is the opposite so it’s hard for us to hear you say archaeology is transient in that it moves on to another project leaving the resultant custodial elements to other areas of historic custody (which reads like a sort of shrug) and “Archaeologists are not the ultimate guardian of monuments” – because if EH aren’t (and NT certainly aren’t lately) and archaeologists in general aren’t,  then who is?

Another instalment of our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series brings responses to our now familiar questions from Steve Hartgroves.

Brief Bio

After an initially unsuccessful time at college, followed by a short career with British European Airways (BEA) operating their fledgling computerised reservations system, Steve set off for the almost obligatory ‘trip to India’, which was abandoned before completion due to various conflicts causing a change of plans en route. After a variety of jobs on his return, in 1976 at the age of 27, he discovered archaeology, volunteering for a dig on a Roman villa site in Bradford on Avon, being conducted by Roy Canham of the Wiltshire County Archaeological Service.

Based upon his computer experience with BEA, Roy then employed him to computerise the Wiltshire SMR – a radical idea in 1976 – and he also got involved in all the other routine work of the Archaeological Service. Having decided that this was his vocation Steve applied to Cardiff and studied for a degree in Archaeology (under Professors Richard Atkinson and Mike Jarret). 

After obtaining his degree in Archaeology at Cardiff in 1979-82, Steve had various archaeological jobs,  including excavations at  a glassworks at Nailsea South of Bristol, which had been demolished with explosives. Interesting stratigraphy!

He was appointed Sites and Monuments Officer for Cornwall Archaeological Unit in 1983 and worked with this organisation until his early retirement in 2012. His main claim to fame must be the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project (CASP) which he inaugurated in 1984 with funding from the RCHM, then, following their merger, from EH. The funding continued every year after that and altogether he did 100 flights (which works out at almost four flights a year). This resulted in an important archive of 7,348 B/W prints and 5,711 colour slides and, from 2004, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of  almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.

He was also involved in four or five episodes of Time Team, mostly head-down in a trench, not usually a speaking part. His ‘big break’ came when they did the programme about  a multi-period settlement he had photographed as cropmarks at Lellizzick on the Camel estuary near Padstow (“From Constantinople to Cornwall”), but unfortunately he was struck down with laryngitis and after the initial setting of the scene at the start of day one, was completely unable to speak for the rest of the weekend.

SHblues

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

As a teenager, I read a book called Patterns of the Past by Guy Underwood and was impressed with his account of dowsing the energy patterns of prehistoric sites. I also liked Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track. When I lived in Plymouth I would go up to Dartmoor and cut a hazel or willow wand and dowse the stone rows and so on. I decided that I needed to know more about the people that made these sites but it wasn’t until several years later that I was able to follow this up.

How did you get started?

It’s a long story….I had a checkered academic career and after leaving college with little sense of vocation, I passed an aptitude test and was employed by BEA (remember them) operating the online seat reservations computer in West London; this was in the late 60’s, when there were very few commercial computers in use, and ‘my one’ had a console like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and occupied a site the size of several tennis courts. This lasted a few years, then, like many of my generation, I dropped everything and headed off overland to India – I learned more in those 6 months than I had learned in all my time in school. I tried lots of jobs after that – landscape gardener, portrait photographer, builder, astrologer, etc, etc, but none seemed to suit me. Then one day I read in my local paper about an excavation on a Roman bathouse discovered beneath the turf of the playing field of the local school – just a few fields from where I was living in Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. I went along and volunteered; it was the summer of 1976, every day was hot and sunny and the site was impressively well preserved and full of finds. Chatting during a coffee break with the site director, Roy Canham (Wiltshire’s County Archaeologist) I learned that he was looking for someone with computer experience to help digitise the county Sites and Monuments Record…

Who has most influenced your career?

Roy Canham (see above), my first archaeological employer, my mentor and role model. I worked for Roy on various projects over the next few years; excavating, fieldwalking and surveying. I also infiltrated his aerial survey project, first by offering to develop and print the films from his flights overnight, so that he had the results the following day (the alternative being to send the films off to get developed and printed and returned a week or two later), then I sat in as navigator when no-one else was available, then I finally got my hands on the cameras.

When I realised that an archaeologist could get paid to play with computers, walk over fields picking up interesting stuff, and flying around taking photos I sensed that I had found my vocation at last. With Roy’s encouragement, I signed up to do a degree in Archaeology at Cardiff.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Undoubtedly the Cornwall Aerial Survey Project, which I inaugurated in 1984 when I got the job as Sites and Monuments Officer with Cornwalll Archaeological Unit in Truro. One hundred flights (from 1984-2010) produced 7,348 B/W prints, 5,711 colour slides and, latterly, 5,995 digital images – a grand total of almost 20,000 aerial images of every aspect of the historic landscape of Cornwall and Scilly.

Possibly more significant in archaeological terms though, and no less exciting, was my work computerising the Cornwall and Scilly Sites and Monuments Record, and overseeing its transformation, via GIS, into the Historic Environment Record, thereby linking the sites database, with a few clicks of the mouse, to historic maps of various dates, modern maps at various scales, ground and air photos, project reports (Grey Literature), digital terrain models, and much much more.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

I would rather not let on because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to go there – I like to be quiet and enjoy it alone. Suffice to say it’s a stone circle.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

I would have liked to work abroad – in the Middle East and Africa, but I struggled, as a humble archaeologist on low pay, just to find the rent and provide for my family.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

The current system seems pretty good and is a huge improvement on how things were when I first started out. However, I’d like to see it properly enforced by people who understand what the point of it all is.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

I don’t think that I would have much to say to them; I don’t think that they have as much influence over events as they seem to think they have. They don’t seem to understand what’s important and what’s trivial. Overpopulation and climate change need to be addressed urgently; compared to these threats archaeology can take a back seat.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I have absolutely no idea – I’d have liked to have been an astronaut.

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I like gardening and building dry stone walls – that is, Cornish Hedges; I like cycling (I have renovated my father’s racing bike – a Raleigh Record Ace from 1936), and I still take lots of photos.

As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Steve for his participation.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

We continue our, now long-running, ‘Inside the Mind‘ series with a peek into the head of author and historian Craig Weatherhill.

Brief Bio

Craig is an author, historian, novelist, artist, and an authority on the Cornish language. He worked for many years as a planning officer for West Penwith and has undertaken a number of surveys for the Cornwall Archaeology Unit amongst others. He lives near St Just and plays an active part in many activities celebrating the Celtic revival of Cornwall and its people.

Craig

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

When I was “discovering” prehistoric monuments on the West Penwith Moors at the age of eight, and finding that my school couldn’t tell me anything about them.  I was the sort of kid who had to know, so I set out to find out.  I never stopped!

How did you get started?

In 1971, the late Vivien Russell produced a catalogue list of known archaeological sites in the Land’s End peninsula (which is stuffed full of them).  I realised that few of these sites had ever been recorded by means of accurate measured and drawn surveys, so I tasked myself with doing that.  I surveyed over 300 sites, from large to small before professional archaeologists were ever appointed in Cornwall to do that.  And they were paid to do what I was doing for nothing.

Who has most influenced your career?

The late Vivien Russell that I’ve mentioned, and the late Peter (P.A.S.) Pool, both outstanding local archaeologists and historians and who became close friends.  I still feel very sad at losing them both in the 1990s.  Peter was also a champion of conservation in West Cornwall, using his legal training to take on the mighty and win.  Also, the work of Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, who I met for the first time recently.  What a thoroughly nice man he is, too!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

My survey of all (then) known Late Iron Age courtyard house sites, which are confined to the Land’s End peninsula, with a single example on Scilly.  It had been called for in the 1930s and no one had done it.  This sort of work was a spare-time pursuit, so it took me 4 years.  Sadly, it was never published, but a copy can be found in the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth.  It would now need updating and adding to.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

It sounds rather parochial of me, but it’s the courtyard house settlement of Bosullow Trehyllys, north-east of Chun Castle.  It’s an amazing site, with such an atmosphere of peace which is so hard to find in the modern world.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

Never having been able to make archaeology a professional career.  I couldn’t open doors: no letters after my name, you see.  And I’d upset “English” Heritage.  Several times.  I was the old Penwith Council’s Conservation Officer from 1988-98, in charge of listed buildings and conservation areas, but that wasn’t the same.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I’d abolish the national quango “English” Heritage which, in Cornwall, has been an ongoing disaster.  It cares only for the “honeypot” sites it manages and for nothing else.  It suspended all new scheduling in West Penwith in 1987, lied about that for years, and has never resumed to this day.  In any case, there’s no call for a financially irresponsible two-tiers of administration in the heritage field.  I would devolve all its responsibilities and funding to existing county and regional heritage agencies, on the grounds that you can’t do better than local knowledge and the deep love and respect for the sites and monuments that results.  I feel exactly the same about the natural environment quango, Natural “England” which, like EH, has caused great damage to local landscapes and habitats in recent years – and to archaeology too.  NE’s activities in West Penwith damaged the scheduled Tregeseal stone circle no less than 13 times in 5 years, with neither of the quangoes appearing to care.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Exactly the same as I’ve said in my previous answer.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’ve gloriously retired a year early from freelance architecture, but I never really had an archaeology/heritage career.  So, I do what I’ve always done:  research and write.

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

My favourite relaxations include reading and playing music on a mellotron, that legendary, haunting keyboard instrument from the 60s and 70s, and made famous by bands like the Moody Blues. I finally managed to acquire one 3 years ago after decades of wanting one.  They’re quite rare and difficult to play effectively.  I’ve even played it on three songs recorded by others.  The most rewarding relaxation I have comes from my lifelong love of horses and riding them on the moors and cliffs of West Cornwall.  My current steed, Shogun, is a fabulous guy, a gentle giant who stands at 17.3 hands high and is truly amazing to ride and work with.

We’d like to express our thanks to Craig for being so forthright and passionate with his answers.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

Our next ‘victim’ for our ‘Inside the Mind’ series comes courtesy of David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute and Project Director at Blick Mead, near Stonehenge, which is featured in the May/June 2015 issue of British Archaeology magazine..

Brief Bio

David was educated at Middlesex University and Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has been a 6th Form College teacher, and combined that role with working for the Open University between 2001-2013. Since then he has been a Senior Research fellow for the University of Buckingham.

David Jacquesitmp

David’s field of research explores the use of the Stonehenge landscape in the Mesolithic period (8500BC-4000BC). Since 2005 he has been the Project Director of Blick Mead, a nationally siignificant Mesolithic site, about 2 km from Stonehenge. His team has discovered the oldest settlement in the Stonehenge area, the longest continually used Mesolithic site in the United Kingdom, as well as the communities which built the first monuments at Stonehenge. These discoveries have started to contribute to a new understanding of the initial settlement patterns and practices in the Stonehenge landscape, and to a broader understanding of the sense of place, ritual and memory such hunter-gatherer societies had more generally.

As a Fulbright alumnus, David worked extensively to improve the education system of the Republic of Georgia, setting up and running a charity which stimulated an investment of $12 million into the Georgian education system between 2005-08. In 2011, he was chosen as one of two ‘Outstanding’ British Fulbright Teacher Program alumni of the past 60 years by the US Embassy in London.

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t fascinated by objects by the past and their stories. I loved ‘Time team’ and the way they were brave enough to show there were lots of different interpretations. Over the years my interests have broadened and deepened and I feel really privileged to have been able to follow my enthusiasms through into a career in such a fascinating area. It has taken a long time, but it is all so worth it.

How did you get started?

Getting involved on a slave plantation site in America when I was on a teaching scholarship supposedly studying varieties of African American English! After I returned to the UK I applied to do an Archaeology Masters at Cambridge directly as a result and then started to get my hands dirty.

Who has most influenced your career?

Ian Hodder, for the way his ultra close engagement and care when thinking about artefacts from the past has helped establish more detailed ‘biographical’ social histories of individuals and communities. Tom Phillips and Tom Lyons; brilliant field archaeologists, project partners and friends.  Tony Legge’s interest in our bone assemblage at Blick Mead, plus his support of us and what we were trying to do as a team, really helped put the site on the map.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Blick Mead. Not only is it exciting to be involved in a potentially paradigm shifting excavation, but it has been great seeing the way the project has engaged people in the town of Amesbury in such a genuinely meaningful way. A museum/History Centre has come out of this interest, I’m told the Amesbury downtown has re-generated partly as a result, and people’s sense of themselves and their town has been lifted. This is most evident when large numbers of people from the town process to the site just before Christmas by torch light. It really shows what archaeology can do. Many of our most knowledgeable volunteers come from the town and long may it remain so!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Mule in the Isle of Man. This Neolithic chambered tomb was excavated just after the war by a German prisoner of war. It is located in an absolutely stunning position which overlooks Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It is also the only point on Man where you can see right across it. This site, like the Isle of Man itself, is a sleeping archaeological giant in the Irish Sea. It was clearly an enormously important, but now largely ‘lost’ place in the British Neolithic.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

1) That archaeology barely took off as a subject at school and is now already on the decline. It could not be more of an important – it should be a national curriculum subject. There are huge benefits for people’s individual and collective sense of identity.

2) That sometimes new ideas can be given a rough time because people don’t like change. The new needs friends. There’s a need for outsiders in most walks of life.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

That full assessments of sites and landscapes (including hydrogeology) always need be done before plans are drawn up. The Stonehenge tunnel policy is a case in point. It is based on a pretty limited assessment of a limited area in that landscape (only the WHS has been assessed) and would have benefited from broader assessment criteria and broader assessment full stop.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

There are enormous public benefits which come from understanding the historic environment we all live and work in and I think the earlier we can get to excite people about it and get them involved the better. Speaking as someone who has been a teacher, I think that archaeology, including hands-on excavation, should be an integral part of the school curriculum. It really is a subject for all – we have disabled people, the young, the old, people from all different walks of life on site at Blick Mead. What we have found is that people find discovering things and being part of a non hierarchical team enabling and empowering (learning about team skills and the different ways that teams can be structured would be another learning opportunity). I am sure that archaeology in school would vitalise children’s enthusiasm for learning in a way that nothing else can match. It is the ultimate mixed ability subject and it suits and empowers different mentalities. We see it on site all the time. It can also connect well with other disciplines.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I would be working in teaching, or for a charity I should think. I am truly lucky to be working as an archaeological researcher and say that to myself most days!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I’ve got a lovely 7 year old, who’s stimulating in a way that is ultimately relaxing. I love reading a bit of fiction when I get the time. I can really recommend ‘” target=”_blank”>Skippy Dies’ by Paul Murray, If anyone is looking for something to read at the moment (it is better than it sounds!).

We’d like to express our thanks to David for taking part during what has been a busy few months for him.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

After a short hiatus, we’re pleased to be able to continue our ‘Inside the Mind‘ series, with the co-operation of Professor David Breeze OBE, FSA, FRSE, Hon FSA Scot, Hon MIFA.

Brief Bio

David Breeze was educated at Blackpool Grammar School and University College, Durham. After graduating in modern history he carried out research on the junior officers of the Roman army, being awarded his doctorate in 1970. He was formerly Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland and has written books on both the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall as well as Roman Scotland, Roman frontiers generally and the Roman army. David prepared the bid for World Heritage Site status for the Antonine Wall, which was successfully achieved in 2008. He retired in 2009 but continues to write about Roman frontiers and the Roman army. David is an honorary professor at the universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Newcastle, and is chairman of the International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies, on which subject he presented at the recent Current Archaeology Live! conference in London.

DavidBreeze

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I have always liked history. My longest running research project started when I was 10, which is studying my family tree. So I went to university to read history and happened to have Eric Birley as my first tutor. He sparked an interest in archaeology. After my PhD, I was appointed an inspector of ancient monuments in Scotland and therefore a cultural resource manager, which I found that I enjoyed!

How did you get started?

see above

Who has most influenced your career?

In Durham in the 1960s, each student had a tutor and Eric Birley, Professor of Archaeology and a specialist in the Roman army, was my first tutor. He encouraged me to attend the university excavation and I was hooked. Eric asked Brian Dobson to supervise my undergraduate dissertation and Brian went on to supervise my PhD. I learnt a lot from his approach to archaeology and teaching.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

I would like to offer two. In 1971, I excavated a complete Roman fortlet, Barburgh Mill in Dumfriesshire, and this became a type site. Then, from 1973 until 1982 I investigated the fort at Bearsden on the Antonine Wall. This has been the largest excavation project on the Antonine Wall since before the second World War, and led to the developer gifting the land on which the bath-house sat to the State and I was able to completely excavate it and lay it out for public inspection. We found the sewage which had drained from the latrine into the fort ditch and this showed what the soldiers ate, and, most interestingly, that the diet was mainly plant based.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Hadrian’s Wall! This is marvellous monument, sitting in a wonderful landscape, with centuries of study behind it but at the same time with many secrets to reveal. I have written 5 books and guide-books on the Wall yet I continue to learn more about it year on year.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

Missing the opportunity to visit archaeological sites in those parts of the world which are now off limits. This is, of course, a personal regret, but there are wider issues. For a proper understanding of an archaeological site, it is important to visit and seek to appreciate it in its setting: this is now denied to a whole generation of students. Over and above that, we are witnessing the terrible destruction of elements of our world heritage: this is a catastrophe for us all and diminishes us all.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

One problem with our legislation is that it is still site-based and I should welcome an approach which focused more on the landscape in which these sites sat.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

What is important to all of us is a sense of place. This permeates so much of our life, not only the streets we walk along and the buildings we admire, but our attitudes and prejudices. Our sense of place is deep seated and extends well into the past. There is a reason that the treaty establishing the EU was signed in Rome, but we also want to understand Stonehenge and the people who lived in Skara Brae. This desire to understand where we came from and how we have related to our neighbours in the past is so important to helping us understand our position in the world today.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

Teaching in a school (I have 10 teachers in my family).

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I have 3 grandchildren who I am lucky enough to see regularly, and I have a project to take each of them abroad – so far my grandson has been to Rome twice and this year my elder granddaughter goes to Paris for the first time. I also have a garden, and I enjoy walking and reading.

We’d like to express our thanks to David for his thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

It’s been a while, but Sue Brooke has once again managed to get a response from one of the prinicpals on the Caerau dig. In a departure from our usual email response format, Sue actually managed to sit down with Niall Sharples for a chat at Caerau. Here’s her report…

Over the last 8 days I’ve been popping up to the CAER Heritage Project excavations. I’ve seen lots of exciting things in the ground, held some beautiful items, learned a lot and generally have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve met Professor Niall Sharples quite a few times before and he has always stopped to chat. I emailed him to ask him to do a little ‘Inside the Mind of…’ article but really had got nowhere fast. Fair enough though, he has been quite busy during the digging season. However, having seen him a few times up on the hill I decided to ask if he would sit and answer my list of 10 questions. ‘Yes, of course, tomorrow’, he would say. Tomorrow would come and I would bump into him just as he was leaving and I was arriving or, just as I was leaving and he was arriving. Still, undeterred I kept my list of questions tightly tucked into my bag. On day 8 I arrived on site and yes, he was there. Unfortunately so were the BBC, following him around with their television cameras. In the distance I could see him being filmed on the edge of a trench, arms waving as he did his press relations thing. Ah well, I thought, not today.

Since this is a community dig that involves lots of visitors there were a group of local young people attending. Some were digging, some were sieving and others were helping to clean the finds. Some young people were making pots out of clay, learning how these were made and the skill that it took. I wandered around the site to see how things had progressed in the trenches and eventually sat to watch some pot making, keeping well out of the way of the telly cameras.

After a while Professor Sharples appeared and asked if I wanted to ask my 10 questions. Oh yes, right! We found a couple of chairs quite near and sat in the sun. I’m not sure how I thought this would work. I had questions, I had paper and a pen (well 3 – just in case) so I just asked the questions and made notes about the answers. We chatted about some things that came up, discussed things I hadn’t thought of and generally made our way through the questions. It was all rather laid back but, for me, very interesting.

NiallSharples

What sparked your interest in archaeology? was the first question on my little list of ten. Well, apparently it was women – ‘there was a better class of women involved in the archaeology course’. Although this was said, kind of tongue in cheek, I got an inkling that there may be just a little grain of truth in that comment! Niall did however go on to talk about how, when he was younger, he had an interest in what he described as the ‘weird mysteries’ to be found in books such as those written by Erich Von Daniken. Inside my head I could hear a nice little sigh of relief. Having spent quite a few days up at the dig I had chatted to the Cardiff University students who gave me the impression that Professor Sharples was ‘fierce’ and that he ‘knew everything.’ So here I am, sat with the fierce guy, in the corner of a Welsh hillfort, who ‘knows everything’. When he mentioned Von Daniken I was delighted as I had read him too. I knew what he was on about! That felt like a good start.

Niall described how he had initially started at Glasgow University studying archaeology, maths and Scottish history. He didn’t actually learn geography but had an interest in it. Niall described how archaeology was a really interesting subject and one that allowed him to combine history and the geography that he enjoyed. He dropped maths after a couple of months. Niall felt that history was something that ‘could actually be open to interpretation and although an academic subject is not actually based on anything scientific’. Archaeology, in his view however, “…has to have an evidential base. Links between research and the actual archaeological evidence is clearer and therefore provides a far better connection to the past”.

So, how did he get properly started as a ‘real’ archaeologist rather than just a class based student? It was after he had gained student experience on the Glasgow University digs led by Leslie Alcock. Niall worked and learned on digs such as that led by Alcock during the later part of the 1970’s at Dundurn in Perthshire. Niall described one of his own early but exciting finds. It became clear as we chatted that Leslie Alcock really stimulated Niall’s original interest in archaeology. We spoke briefly of the digs Alcock had directed locally to Caerau at Dinas Powys and of course, at Cadbury Castle. He also talked about working on digs alongside David Clarke, now of the National Museum of Scotland. Niall found David to be what he described as an ‘interesting guy’ and together they worked on such sites as that at the very well known Neolithic site at Skara Brae. Niall credited Leslie Alcock as ‘probably the person who has most influenced my career’.

Niall has been recently found working on Ham Hill in Somerset so, excluding that site I asked which other site had he thought of as his most interesting project. Niall talked about Bornish, in the Outer Hebrides, a Iron Age and Norse settlement. I was a little surprised at his very obvious enthusiasm for the Vikings but Niall explained that the site there ‘…integrated different categories of evidence. There were structures, ditches, stratification, all giving up lots of chronological evidence and providing a very complicated story’. It is this kind of complication that clearly holds Nialls attention. I got the impression that he would find absolutely no fun at all in going onto a site, digging it and finding archaeology that all fitted nicely into a neat story. A little bit like his ‘weird’ Von Daniken mysteries – there clearly has to be that little bit of an extra challenge, to stretch him just that little bit more.

We talked about what Niall felt was his favourite British site, at which point he threw up quite a few names. Maiden Castle, on which of course Niall famously worked, and Mousa an Iron Age coastal Broch in the Shetlands, which was a site not familiar to me at all. Finally, Avebury a placename recognizable to most. When I asked him to explain why he simply stated that they were ‘spectacular’.

My next question was about what Niall felt was his biggest archaeological or heritage regret. He described his feeling that archaeology had gone downhill. He spoke with passion about the lack of available resources, the way museums were no longer being valued and what he described as the ‘quality of the experts’ available. He accepted that everyone, with experience properly gained, can become an expert but stated that today’s archaeologists are valued more and more for their ‘ability as good administrators’. Archaeology had become privatized and ‘heritage is not now being looked after as it should be’. The opinion now tends to be more that private companies will pay. There is a real sense of over commercialism. Such emphasis was placed by Niall on this subject that I struggled to keep up with writing my notes.

Moving on I asked if you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation then what would it be. He answered quite simply that “Archaeology should be returned to the care of the government and they should be investing more in their heritage”. My next question was if you could address Parliament for 30 seconds what would you say – referring to his answer from the previous question he stated, and I can quote, “It would be that!”

Grateful that my next question changed the subject I then asked Niall if he hadn’t made it in his archaeology career then what did he think he would be doing now. He gave it a little bit of thought and said he quite fancied being a film producer or director. I commented along the line of this being rather different to what he did now but he disagreed. He made the comparison with the dig up at Caerau saying there were lots of people there to organize and that, at the end of the dig, they were hoping to be able to tell a story. Just like making a film. He quickly pointed out that he had no ambition to be a film star, which I could understand since we were chatting immediately after he had been filmed over and over for a news item.

The questions were almost done. My last question was, away from his day job what did he do to relax. He talked about how he likes to simply watch TV and films. He still likes his mystery books only now preferring crime novels and murder mysteries by authors such as Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. He pointed out though that he does read ‘literature’ too, particularly admiring the work of Gabriel Marquez on South America.

Once the questions were out of the way we chatted a little bit more about the finds up at Caerau and I thanked him for answering the questions for me. As we got up to leave a young person who had been washing some finds came up with a wet pebble. Niall took it from her and said, “Ah yes, that could be a games piece. Although it’s a pebble it’s water worn and shouldn’t be up here. Where did it come from? Was it the river? Was it used to play games with?” The young lady took back her discovery and just stood looking at it. I just loved it!

Many thanks to Niall (and to Sue). Previous articles in this series can be found here or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

There are just two months to go before this year’s Day of Archaeology, which this year falls on July 11th.

The idea behind the Day is for those working, studying or volunteering in archaeology to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. In this way, a picture can be produced, showing the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology – it’s not just about the digging, after all! In this way, those behind the project hope to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.

dayofarch14

Now in it’s third year, the Day was first mooted by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson whilst attending a Day of Digital Humanities conference in March 2011. Others were brought on board, and the first Day was held on July 29th, 2011. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement.

So. If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want. Here at the Heritage Journal we certainly look forward to reading the posts from this year’s event!

And. If you’re not involved in archaeology, but are intrigued to know what goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not keep an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!

Archives

December 2016
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,117 other followers

Twitter Feed

%d bloggers like this: