Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Best and Worst B+B's and hotels in the UK

This year, I have spent most of my time in bed and breakfasts and hotels across the country, plus a number of Travelodge’s and the like. Some are fairly forgettable, others are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Then there are some places which are heaven on earth (metaphorically speaking). Most places fall somewhere in between but generally I would happily stay in most of the hotels/B+B's I've been to.

This list shouldn't be taken as gospel for a number of reasons, mostly because of the nature of my work I don't really stay in towns and cities very often and it's mostly rural settings where I do my day job. I haven't worked in Scotland or Northern Ireland this year, just England and Wales (and it is balanced, one good and one bad for Wales). I often work in more southern parts of the UK (despite being based in Yorkshire), plus I don't often get to choose where I stay! However, all of these places were affordable at under £100/room/night, sometimes under half that price. I've stayed at each of these places for at least one night often for 3 nights or more (with the exception of one place on this list), and hopefully you'll have an even better (or at least passable) experience than I had at these destinations!

So the top 5 places I've stayed in this year are:

1. Trelough House, Herefordshire. Is this possibly the best thing in Herefordshire (maybe aside from the cathedral)? Everything was brilliant except for trying to find the house (it's tucked away on a parallel side road behind some trees)! There was even a full cookie jar on arrival to my room. A FULL COOKIE JAR. With actual cookies. Very welcoming and conversant host who even allowed us to use their downstairs TV to watch Bake-Off! Ideal for a mini break.

2.  Gable Lodge, Lynton, Devon. A close run thing between this and Twitchen Farm, this is situated just outside the heart of the village, but it doesn't feel like it as all facilities are seconds away! The bedroom was excellent and in spite of the lack of a cookie jar, everything else was there that you need for a great stay.

3. Twitchen Farm, Challacombe, Devon. While it doesn't look far from Lynton, the long winding roads means that it will feel like forever! However once you are here this is a fantastic little working farm, with (naturally) welcoming hosts and a lot of walks and things to do nearby. Don't forget the Black Sheep pub down the road! This only comes third because you really do need a car to get here and its location appeals mainly to those who want an active weekend away.

4. The Bell Inn, Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire. If Carlsberg did pubs... this is probably the best pub, but between Gloucester and Stroud you are spoilt for choice for great pubs, each with their own distinct character. This one I recommend because it's based in a quiet village with the distinction of having the longest green in England and it's not far from the Severn, so if you want to go surfing this place is quite good for staying over then heading our early for the bore! The food and variety of ales is pleasant without being overbearing. Great as a base for the Cotswolds or for business (if you don't mind travelling for about 1/2 hour for Gloucester or Bristol).

5. Brandon House hotel, Brandon, Suffolk. This hotel stands out for being very accessible to both Brandon and Thetford Forest. The dinner is delightful, the breakfast was great and the staff were very helpful. However some of the rooms were at a bit of an angle (nothing serious) and strangely enough no bath towel was provided, although everything else was there, including some very nice shower cream! Ample parking too. Great for business/work trips. 

Special mentions go to:

Waverley Hotel, Workington. Although the rooms are sometimes small and the town itself is not great, the staff are brilliant, bath robes were provided (none of top 5 on this list did that!) and I enjoyed the rooms and the food (both breakfast and dinner). If you ever find yourself in this part of the world (i.e. west of Cockermouth), this is the place to stay on a budget.


 The Hand Hotel, Llangollen, Denbighshire. What a location!!! While the rooms are somewhat cramped and the room extras were a bit limited. The breakfast was memorably delicious, but I remember this place more because of Fouzi's cafe and bar and pizzeria. This is the best Italian restaurant I have ever visited in the UK. Their pizzas are amazing! Afterwards I discovered Castel Dinas Bran by foot and some other brilliant walking routes around this very quaint little town. Come for the food, stay for the scenery and history. Recommended during the summer months.

The pretty little town of Llangollen from one of the many hills surrounding it.

And the bottom 5 (although it's only the bottom 3 that are REALLY bad):

5. Rowe's Farmhouse B+B, Berkshire. Actually not that bad, it had everything you would expect from a B+B. Breakfast was BYO (some frozen toast and conserves for the brave are available free of charge), and there are some nice places to eat nearby. However, I'm fairly sure the host had a vendetta against men (or might even be a misandrist)! They inspected everything when you left for the day, even what you put in the rubbish!! However this could be explained by the health centre being next door. Don't go on a Monday if you are of a nervous disposition because that's when the centre is open. However, they keep the noise down (but parking becomes a premium). I'd recommend it only for a business trip and even then I'd send your cleanest, nicest employees who can withstand the rigours of the half an hour long health and safety talk after work.

4. The Buck Inn, Northallerton, North Yorkshire. OK, hands up, I didn't actually stay here but I nearly did. Didn't look great on the inside, standard pub affair on the outside. But based on this extract of the conversation I had with the bartender, I think I dodged a bullet...maybe would have scored worse if I had stayed?...
Me: “Hi, we've got some rooms booked for X ltd."
Bartender: "Ok, let me check the book... no, I don't have you under here"
Me: "But I booked the rooms for today last Friday! I'm sure I spoke to one of your colleagues over the phone about this"
Bartender:(after consulting with manager)"Right, what's happened is that one of my colleagues put your booking that was meant to be for today in the entry for last week."
Me: “So we don't have any reservations then?"
Bartender: "Yeah. Sorry!  But we can still give you a room"
My colleague: "But we need 2 rooms."
Bartender: "Oh. Well let me check if we have some other rooms free"
[After this my colleague rang the office and discovered our other colleagues had found somewhere much better and we decided to leave as soon as politely possible]. 

What could have been...

3. Heritage Hotel, Narborough, Leicestershire. Simple hotel, according to Google. If by simple you mean basic! The rooms look like the builders had just been round and forgotten to apply the undercoats to the walls. The showers were not good. The TV was perhaps the only plus. The receptionist was not up to scratch if I recall correctly. We decided not to go the Indian restaurant next door in the end (I think it was too expensive for our budget, but it looked quite nice beyond the reception area).

2. Days Inn, Magor, Junction 23A, Monmouthshire. Only gets a stay of execution because it was a) near some pubs and b) at least the bedsheets were clean! Also not as near as you would think to a supermarket or major cities.

1. Days Inn, Watford Gap, Junction 17 of the M1, Northamptonshire. Hands down, this was one of the worst places you could imagine staying, even for one night. I'm not entirely sure the sheets had been changed and there was the smell of the motorway services coming through my window, and I wasn't even facing the motorway!! Very little on offer at the food court downstairs. Don't get me started on the outside lighting or the noise from the motorway! I recommend staying at the Travelodge on the A45 near Dunchurch if you can help it (at least there are pubs nearby and its only 10 miles away!).

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Stanwick Oppidum revisited

The Tofts in the middle of Stanwick Oppidum, previously surveyed and excavated on numerous occaisions.
I spent this morning (5th December 2015) in the company of Professor Colin Haselgrove in Middlesbrough's Dorman museum (a highly recommended museum), thanks to the Teesside Archaeology Society's annual Elgee Memorial Lecture. His lecture, "The rise and Fall of the Royal Centre of Stanwick Oppidum" (the largest Oppidum in Britain), summarised his work over the last 30 years at the site. His talk has shown how far the theories have come in such a short space of time! It also rendered my undergraduate dissertation (from 2012) as null and void, but we'll let that slide...however it was very nice to meet one of the people who volunteered to help with my geophysical survey at the lecture (thank you Geraldine)! So rather than write an essay on what was said at the lecture, I'll summarise some of the key points (without giving away too much, Colin is releasing his book on Stanwick next year).

Stanwick, in North Yorkshire, is an Oppidum which is free to visit. Oppida are Iron Age ramparts that enclosure a large space, which often contain large amounts of settlement archaeology. They are traditionally seen as "proto-towns" as the Romans refer to them as such; the name comes from the Latin meaning "town". In Britain and the continent many have some features that make them seem like a "proto-town" but Stanwick is almost unique in the huge space that seems to be empty and not doing anything! Usually they lasted for about 100 years but not Stanwick. The most pressing question has been to investigate why Stanwick appeared to be abandoned after about 30 years. Was it built to fend off the Romans? Or to impress them? While there is no definite account of abandonment it is probable that the Romans moved into the area at about the time when Stanwick was abandoned. This was based on Mortimer Wheeler's conclusions when he excavated the ramparts and he reckoned that the Oppidum met a violent end and wasn't used afterwards. However, Colin's research and excavations have demonstrated that Stanwick was in use well before the building of the ramparts, probably about 100 years before. But, the structures at Stanwick at this time were unlikely to have been permanent structures because the excavations showed rapid construction and demolition phases. The structures would be rebuilt over a number of years when they were being used. This is being seen in a number of Iron Age sites in Britain, and it is likely to have a religious or ceremonial function. Having said this there are permanent structures but they only arrive with the ramparts. The site was also likely to have been used after the abandonment of the site for its original purpose as a ceremonial space. Stanwick may also be the crossing point between the west-east route for the Pennines and north-south, roughly following the modern A1.

Wheeler also believed that Stanwick was heavily occupied with lots of housing. However, this has been thoroughly proven to not be the case. Even at the height of Stanwick's life there were only a few permanent houses on site. These also seem to coincide with the first trading links with the Romans, perhaps suggesting high status contacts or at least middle men, with artefacts travelling far and wide; some artefacts come from Africa! The evidence for agriculture comes after the abandonment in 70 AD, and is likely to be medieval, although a number of prehistoric field boundaries and houses have been found as crop and soil marks around Stanwick. The space made by the ramparts/earthworks has been shown to have been a largely boggy area, roughly where the Mary Wild Beck is today. There is a lot of evidence for Iron Age groups using water as a sacred space, and there are a limited number of depositional offerings around Stanwick. But, the biggest development in terms of archaeological evidence is the burials. These seem to have been interred in ditches in both the houses and the large ramparts. In particular skulls with weapons are being found in the ramparts. It has been estimated that the ramparts (8 Kilometres/ 5 miles in total!) could contain up to 500 skulls based on current excavation statistics! So could Stanwick be a giant graveyard? Or more likely, the ramparts are on the highest parts of land in the area, so the emphasis is on displaying the importance of the site.

Incidentally it has also been estimated that the ramparts probably took about 3-4 million man hours of moving clay to create the ramparts! This requires a lot of manual labour. So where did they all live? They were likely to be from the local area, and the archaeology so far supports this idea- there are lots of contemporary settlements around Stanwick, leaving Stanwick as a large open space in the middle of several large villages. So if the Oppidum is not a town, is it perhaps a giant park-cum-graveyard and major highways running through it?
Map showing a distribution of archaeological settlement evidence near Stanwick. Note the emphasis near Roman roads(the A1 and A66), which could be an artefact of archaeological investigations near modern roads!

Finally, this also makes archaeologists think about how Stanwick came about in the first place. With so many settlements nearby, we think that there were several origins (bear with me) for Stanwick, in a theory borrowed from human geography called "poly-focal settlements". This is where 2 or more settlements merge to form one cohesive unit. Stanwick in this interpretation could be created out of a collective decision to place emphasis on the site, rather than an individual decision.

And yes, we still think it is the capital of the Brigantes!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Origin of Archaeological Geophysics

Archaeology owes a lot of its traditions and working methods to military developments (and some civillian applications) on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, more modern methods of recording archaeology have been passed down as ex-military hardware and software. Geofizz has since become a mainstay in archaeology, made famous by Time Team and other TV programs. I will outline the developments of the principles of archaeological geophysics (or geofizz), while looking at the development of geofizz and the links to developments in other fields. Geophysics (the seperate geological subject) can trace its origins to the principles of magnetism to before Newton (see here); the Chinese invented the compass before 1000AD, knowing that it pointed towards the north pole because of the earth's magnetic properties, which they may have used to help circumnavigate the earth before Columbus (this is a very contentious issue! See here for more information).

Today I will look at the history of geophysics in archaeology and its development particularly in relation to the UK, although many other parts of the world have their own traditions in archaeologcial prospection.

See the end of the article for suggested reading! The suggested reading is also my bibliography.

The recorded history of Geophysics in Archaeology

It is tricky to mark the start of geofizz before World War 2. Pitt-Rivers arguably was the first person to record his geophysical efforts by using bowsing at Cranbourne Chase from the 1880's until the start of the 20th century. This involved slamming the flat end of a pick on the ground and listening to the change in tone. Some methods previously used include random and systematic shovel tests, trenching, soundings, probing and nose-sensitive dogsAugering is any method that makes sound travel through the ground and returns a response. As sound travels in waves, the frequency of the waves changes depending on the solids that are within the ground and reflect off different surfaces and different depths at varying frequencies (which will change the pitch and volume of the returning sound) . It's very simple- you can use a mallet and record the sound (in decibels or with a more subjective opinion) and then simply record where you hit the ground. Easy! Trouble is that augering is not very precise, and it hasn't been used by any serious archaeologists since at least World War 2. However it's a good way of explaining simple physical principles.

These approaches have been inaccurate, potentially destructive and not statistically representative, not to mention expensive. As a result many sites remained deeply buried or otherwise invisible and unstudied. A few rudimentary geophysical surveys that attempted to map buried cultural remains were carried out in Europe and America in the 1920's and 1930's,  using magnetic and resistance equipment that were developed for mining operations and often found geological anomalies rather than archaeological features but proved to be difficult to interpret.

A geophysical survey by Atkinson in 1946 at Dorchester-on-Thames is considered by many to be the starting point in modern archaeological geophysics. By using a wenner array, he could identify pits and ditches which were later verified by excavation. It was so successful (and ground-breaking, excuse the pun) that the results were published in French too. Others including Webster then went on to experiment with magnetic methods for investigating buried archaeological features in the 1950's and 1960's, most notably at Durobrivae near the A1 in the UK, where a Roman kiln was found with one of the first proton magnetometers developed for field use...

...But, the first accurately documented survey happened in Williamsberg, Virginia, where Mark Malamphy and Hans Lundberg used electromagnetic and inductive techniques from the 1920's onwards. Lundberg used an aeromagnetic survey from a hot air balloon in 1921 and may have completed the first electromagnetic survey from the air in the 1940's and he developed a vertical component magnetometer for use from a helicopter in the 1946. However, Malamphy gets the credit because Lundberg was involved in a car accident before the survey was due to take place.
By 1938 Marie Bauer Hall had set out a problem for the geophysicists at Williamsberg: a buried church that should have had a stone vault about 3 metres below the ground surface at the western end of the church. She engaged a geophysical company to investigate the site and the first technique they used was an "equipotential survey". By using grounded electrodes, a generator and a set of headphones (because the change in voltage was shown by changes in audio form an audio amplifier which was connected to two remote probes!). This was essentially a resistance survey! The survey was completed in 3rd November 1938 by Malamphy and an anomaly was found. Had they found the vault? Probably not; the anomaly was excavated and small fossil shells were found instead in a sandy sediment about 4 metres deep! Many other geophysicists carried out valuable early work but often went un-noticed because they were not based in the UK or US and hence rarely got published into English. Aktinson's work also had a far greater impact on archaeology and hence usually gets more credit.

Malamphy's results of the survey at Williamsburg. The lines in the top left are the direction of the electrical current in the ground based on a the acoustic response from the equipment.

The Start of Modern Archaeological Geophysics

During the 1950s modern archaeological geophysics began with crude but effective methods that could generate maps of buried sites, which piqued the interest of some archaeologists. Sometimes involved no more than a car battery a voltmeter and some wires and some were little more than sophisticated metal detectors! Nonetheless it paved the way for all future geophysics. Early collection was just data points on paper for later hand mapping. Some was recorded on magnetic tape for later digitisation, although this was exceptional. Sometimes field data, particularly radar, were printed on paper and could later be analysed for 3D, but this was time consuming and fraught with processing and interpretation problems. This was also very time consuming, limiting the areas that could be surveyed.
Relatively inexpensive computers in the 1980's helped increase the survey area hugely as data could be processed much more quickly by storing data in disks or on tape (in the field for the office later). The quality of the data was also improved as was the interpretations. Computer collection was quickly utilised by archaeological geophysicists and its expansion in the 1990's up to the present day.

Since Atkinson's surveys many institutes have been set up to study archaeological geophysics including MASCA in the USA and CRNS in France. One side effect was the influential journal Prospenzioni Archeologiche where many pioneering ideas and methods were tested, although many of the results were inconclusive, although this is down to the nature of the technology rather than the method itself. The UK had the Geophysics Section within the Ancient Monuments Laboratory, itself part of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments (now Historic England). The AM Lab was involved in the development of the fluxgate gradiometer, and they developed a way of continuously recording data for the first time. As a result this method dominated fluxgate surveys in the UK for 15 years from the 1970's, although coincidentally this coincided with a decline in advancement in archaeological geophysics globally. However many universities decided to teach geophysics as part of their curriculum by this point, starting with a postgraduate course at Bradford University in 1971 titled "Scientific Methods in Archaeology", followed by the undergraduate degree of Archaeological Sciences in 1975 and Bradford took over from Oxford as the leading UK archaeological geophysics centre, including developing the twin probe array for resistivity surveys, and creating software for the PC age in the 1980's, which is the mainstay for many resistance surveys today in the UK.

Today many countries have different ways of using geophyics within archaeology although many incorporate it into their archaeological strategy to identify features over a wide area. In the UK, the emphasis was on isolated sites until the late 1970's, when British Gas got the ball rolling by using geophysics in archaeological survey in a major pipeline survey across southern England as it would be buried in a known archaeologically sensitive area. Coinciding with this development was the introduction of more ubiquitous and cheaper technology, particularly GeoScan and Bartington equipment, which is still used today (albeit in improved forms). With instant data storage, less time was spent processing data, so the gratification of "instant results" was readily attainable. However, the sea-change came more completely with the change in legislation in the UK with the Planning Act and the introduction of PPG16, where the developer was made to pay for archaeological investigation in developments, leading to an unprecedented level of surveys. In 1980, barely 60 surveys were completed, mostly by the AM Lab. By 2003 over 250 surveys were completed, mostly by private firms for commercial puposes, although even today, as a guess, there are less than 500 people employed directly in archaeological geophysics, more likely closer to 250. Many amateur groups also have access to geophysical equipment. On a side note it has been argued that this legislation has made the archaeology merely a barrier to development, rather than a resource that can be used effectively to inform, entertain and educate the public, local groups and clients.

So while there are only a limited number of specialists today, geophysics in archaeology is considered an important part of the archaeologist's toolkit particularly in investigating and researching the landscape. There are many other areas of geophysics that are being explored today which I haven't touched on such as gravity for space, mineral and marine exploration among other fields. I've not even touched on the use of ground penetrating radar's contribution which has given us some amazing results! to give you an idea of a radar survey see the vidoe below. One day these other fields may provide archaeology with more mehods of searching for archaeology! However I could only find fleeting overlaps between geofizz and geophysics (excepting the geological principles), so perhaps my research hasn't been very thorough or archaeologists and geologists haven't spoken to each other enough! 

Suggested reading:

Bevan, B.W. 2000. An Early Geophysical Survey at Williamsburg, USA. Archaeological Prospection 7. Pp.51-58

Bevan, B.W and Kenyon 1975 MASCA Newsletter 11(2). Pp. 2-7, 

Conyers, L. B. 2013. Ground Penetrating Radar for Archaeology. Altamira Press, Plymouth. Pp.4-6

Conyers L.B, 1995 Geoarchaeology: An International Journal10 (4). Pp. 275-299

Gaffney, C and Gater. J. 2003. Revealing the Buried Past: Geophysics for Archaeologists. Tempus, Stroud. Pp.13-23

Van Leusen, 1998. Dowsing and Archaeology. Archaeological Prospection 5. Pp. 123-128

P.S. This is the second "tribute" post to Joe Raine!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

5 Fun Facts about Thornton, West Yorkshire

Long overdue, here are 5 fun facts about Thornton in West Yorkshire! These are mainly transport related, because Thornton is situated on a relatively flat part of a steep hill, so access to and from Thornton has been a major theme of my research (and my accidental discoveries).

1. Thornton was one of the last places in the UK to close its trolley bus service back in the 1970s. in case you don't know what one of these is (chances are you are under 40), they were buses attached to overhead cables, like an electric train. Designed to be more flexible than an inner-city tram to transport large amounts of passengers on roads, they dominated urban spaces in large parts of Europe and the USA for most of the 20th century. At one point in the 1920's it was reckoned you could travel from the east coast to the west coast of the USA without touching the ground by using the trolley bus system! 

2. Thornton also had a railway station until Beeching's Axe in the 1960's. It was created out of a rare joint venture between the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway and the Great Northern Railway, which connected Bradford to Keighley via Queensbury (which was the highest railway station in England), through to Denholme in the West and on northwards to Keighley. Later you could reach Halifax in the south frm Thornton. What is remarkable about this particular railway is how many viaducts and tunnels were needed to keep the trains in the relatively flat and straight line. It was so hilly compared to other railway lines, its use of viaducts and tunnels gave rise to this section of track being known as the alpine railway of England, often being no lower than 250 metres above sea level! A number of the viaducts still survive, most notably Thornton viaduct, which has no less than 13 arches AND snakes in an "s" shape so that the trains could enter the station at the correct angle without compromising on speed!

3. Anita Lonsborough, originally born in York, used the Thornton baths to regularly train for the Olympics. She held numnerous swimming records from the 1950's and 1960's and won gold medals at Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 (both olympic venues), as well as at the Commonwealth and European games around the same period of time. Sadly Thornton baths, which opened in the 1930's, were closed in the early 2000's as the council couldn't justify the running costs.

4.  It's the birthplace of the 3 Bronte sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell in the mid 1810's. The building they occupied for their early life (before moving to the parsonage Haworth in 1820) is still upstanding and is now a cafe. However, did you also know that they had 2 other sisters (Maria and Elizabeth, of whom the latter was also baptised in Thornton) born just before their father and mother moved to Thornton? Tragically they died in childhood after leaving Thornton. The font they were baptised in can still be seen at St. James Church in Thornton, which replaced the Bell chapel the 3 sisters were baptised in. There is now a brand new information board at St James church, Thornton, detailing their lives. For more information about the Bell chapel visit http://www.brontebellchapel.co.uk/ and http://www.bronte-country.com/bell-chapel.html.

5. In continuation of the Bronte theme, back then there were a lot less buildings in Thornton! It has been estimated by Alan Whitworth that there were only about two-dozen buildings. If you consider that there are now about 6,000 people living in Thornton and that 3 mills operated in Thornton during the Victorian Period (after the Brontes left Thornton), you can start to understand the scale of the Industrial Revolution's population explosion ! These included 3 pubs along Kipping lane, some farms, a school and chapels of various non-conformations (Baptist, Methodist etc.) and the Old Bell Chapel, which has its origins from the 17th century but could have replaced an earlier chapel that dated to the 14th century. The oldest surviving structure in Thornton however is Thornton Hall, which dates to just after the Domesday Book. The main road runnig through Thornton today was only built in 1826, originally as a toll road.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Some observations from the careers roundtable discussion at ASA3, Edinburgh (useful to any student wanting a career in archaeology)

At the end of the second day of the 3rd Annual Student Archaeology conference in Edinburgh, there was a careers roundtable discussion. This included 5 guest speakers (who for the sake of argument will remain nameless) who were from a variety of archaeological sectors, from commercial, research/academic and community archaeology. This provdied a great insight for the students at the conference how these archaeologists got to where they are now. On the way back form the conference I realised there were a couple of interesting underlying themes that all of the archaeologists agreed on, and students should take note (and they are all related to each other)...

1. Foreign work opportunities appear to enhance your CV to no end. From working in bioarchaeological contexts with UNESCO (in laymans terms, identifying genocide victims in the Balkans) to recording Middle Eastern buildings, getting this experience demonstrates your enthusiasm for your subject and gives you the experience of working in a very different environment from British excavations, often in more dangerous situations. Additionally it gives you an excellent range of contacts and referees for future work and friendships as well as experiencing different areas of the world in general.

Personally I can relate to this as well (without sounding pretentious!). I got into my current job as a direct result of getting some geophysical work with the British School at Rome in Tunisia last year, working alongside snakes, boars and some locals who couldn't even speak French (it looks like it will be even harder to get into Tunisia for work given what has recently happened in Sousse)! Sadly this was down to sheer good fortune. I was very much in the right place at the right time with the right skills to exploit the situation.However, there are ways and means around this, such as applying for a funded placement for an excavation abroad at the Grampus European Archaeology Skills Exchange at http://www.grampusheritage.co.uk/. I did a placement out in Italy with Grampus and it was the single best excavation I did during my student days. The best part for my CV is that the methodology used in these areas wasn't that different from British archaeology, such as using the standard MOLA context sheets (although there are some minor differences which will differ depending on where you go and who you work with). 

2. Working for multiple companies (in the commercial and academic contexts) is no bad thing. If anything it gives you an idea of how the sector works by seeing how different companies and charities work.  However, there is no problem with working for just one company either. It is whatever is best for you personally and whether the company or charity concerned is doing the best it can for you. One of the biggest issues for students is the catch-22 (also highlighted at the roundtable discussion)- you need experience to get employed but you need employment to gain experience to get into that job! The best way to remedy this is to basically be lucky and find an oportunity (see point 1 above) or try to find an opportunity at University or a local society/local commercial unit.

This may lead to being in positions that don't relate to what you want to do (like menial office jobs), but often you will pick up valuable transferable skills, or even some job-specific skills that can be used in an archaeological role! With an archaeology degree you demonstrate to employers that you already have a large number of transferable skills (as they tell you at University).

3. Take every opportunity you can. New skills are easy to come by (if you have the money). All the panel agreed that the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists will become increasingly important, where you will gain a lot through networking (if you go the conferences and training events). However, you DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF CIFA TO BE AN ARCHAEOLOGIST. Additionally the panel generally concluded that no University can prepare you for everything, so much like the Grampus charity, be prepared to put in some legwork to fill in any skills gaps you can identify yourself. You can use the skills passport advocated by BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs and Resources).

On a slightly worrying note, there are not enough archaeolgosits with the right skills in the workplace at the moment (mainly post-processing). If you think this is something you want to do, you will be in demand in the commercialworld, although sometimes this may require a PhD (or lots of experience). The main things that will help you most in getting a commercial job (aside from a Uni degree) are a driving licence, a CSCS (construction skills certificate scheme) card and the CIFA. More than this though, archaeological employers want commitment, enthusiasm (optional, but generally a given) and some demonstration of relevant experience.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Examples of Archaeology Society outreach projects- get volunteering!!

Having just returned from the 3rd Annual Student Archaeology Conference (ASA) at Edinburgh, it was amazing to see so many enthusiastic undergraduate and postgraduate students presenting on the subjects they are doing out of love. A number of papers presented at ASA were based on student projects. As a former president of a student archaeology society (Arch Soc) I am keen for students to show their enthusiasm for the subject by channeling their passion into community projects, run by the societies, that can help disadvantaged communities and empower them with their archaeology and heritage. Anything is possible with your time at university, so at least some of it should be spent constructively! It may surprise a number of students, but there are often disadvantaged and deprived communities right on the doorsteps of Universities across the country. In these communities, they have no knowledge of how to empower themselves, but often have willing volunteers who simply don't know about how to research archaeology, or even have access to these resources.

Therefore, as a follow up to the ASA3 conference, I am collating as many projects as I can get my hands on to inspire future student archaeologists to deicate their time and enthusiasm to these worthwhile projects! I know there are individual students who have done amazing outreach projects in their dissertations. Other projects are also run within other Universities which fall under this category and some volunteer projects that aren't necessarily archaeological in their scope (for example, see my article in the Post Hole Journal). However, a number of these aren't advertised either. If you want to suggest some project for me to include here, leave a message below!

Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project (thanks to Katie Roper for presenting this at ASA3!)

The Edinburgh Achaeology Outreach Project (or EAOP) began in 2013 and has the unique distinction of being the only project to have been presented at the ASA more than once! Any Edinburgh Arch Soc student can join up for free. The project aims to "provide children in the Edinburgh and wider communities with a free experience and insight into a subject that before may have been closed to them. We hope that through the Project an interest in their local heritage, history and archaeology will be ignited". This involves giving training sessions to student archaeologists so they can go into primary schools in some of the most deprived areas of the Edinburgh and Lothian areas, giving practical sessions using archaeological themes, including digging for artefacts using real archaeologists tools, aerial photography and even mummifying pieces of fruit to demonstrate the basic idea of mummification! One of the more unexpected boons of the project has been the realisation that many teachers are not confident in teaching archaeology to their pupils, even though there is a wealth of information about it in their local area (although sadly it doesn't include dinosaurs!). The project has been perfomring consistently with 20 volunteers over the 2014/2015 academic year, established links with Edinburgh City Council and at least a dozen schools, local museums and the DigIt!2015 project. They have also obtained funding from Edinburgh city council and Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) to assist with travel and so far they have won 2 awards from EUSA for their work.

Liverpool School and College Liaison

The major difference between EAOP and this project is that this is run by Liverpool University. This has a more broad approach to community outreach, giving students from many subjects (from politics to archaeology) the opportunity to give pupils of all ages the chance to experience archaeology in the classroom. With access to the Garstang Museum of Archaeology and experimental archaeology labs at the University of Liverpool, it gives pupils an idea of the variety of things that archaeologists do, from practical reconstructions in the classroom to seeing how artefacts are preserved. There are also summer schools and the Liverpool Schools Classics Project, which allows schools the opportunity to learn ancient languages like Greek and Latin (useful for understanding ancient texts and plays like Homer's the Illiad).

But it's not just about going into schools and labs! Many Universities allow schools and groups to visit their sites, but this one has been chosen as it came up first in a Google search and personal interviews with friends about the opportunity (although never having worked on it myself).

Operation Nightingale

Operation nightingale is an initiative that allows ex-servicemen with war injuries (particularly Afghan veterans) to go to excavations across the country. Many organisations, including Wessex Archaeology (of Time Team fame) and some Universities have contributed access, money and resources to the project, including Barrow Clump in Salisbury Plain. Students were also allowed onto a number of the excavations to help out, although I'm not sure if that's still the case.

There are loads more student projects out there, but I hope this provides students the inspiration to go out there and show their enthusiasm by setting up an exciting archaeology project that not only benefits them, but those not so fortunate as themselves!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Who should archaeologists vote for in the 2015 UK General Election?

In light of the political debates that have dominated the TV screens in the UK, social media and in my office space, I have decided to write a personal view of who archaeologists should vote for, based on available information from party websites and other sources. Despite being a long blog post, I don't consider this an exhaustive list.

For those who want a nice summary (like me), see this link to the Heritage Alliance.

What have the current coalition done for archaeology? Their main achievement for heritage is to tweak previous policies, and not necessarily for the better. Out has gone some of the legal protection for archaeology, in comes non-statutory (read statutory as compulsory) legislation in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This has been interpreted in 2 ways- the IfA's official publication, The Archaeologist (TA), had an article where the Editor and a county archaeologist agreed that for scheduled monuments, there was no real change observed in the planning process (see Archaeology Examined at Appeal in TA 84). Yet its flexibility makes it much harder to enforce when people break the law. In the case of the TA 84 article, no law had been broken, but it was assessing the appeal of a rejected planning proposal on a major site. However, there has been a huge rise in the number of planning applications, and this workload that the county archaeologist has to contend with has been exacerbated by the cuts in the public sector, in particular the local authorities. It is estimated that as of 2012, planning policy (and not, for example, legislation for scheduled monuments as derived from the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 (although some changes are being made as of after 4th April 2015) or the separate legislation for burials, which can become a crime scene if the skeleton is less than 200 years old!) accounted for the only protection for 96-97% of all undesignated archaeology in the UK. If the NPPF can be upheld in court, then we don't have a problem, right?

The other side of the coin is that this is not legally binding, and what everyone defines as nationally or even regionally important archaeology can vary from person to person. The cuts that the coalition and future governments seem obsessed with (although in principle I agree with) have had a huge impact on heritage and archaeology. Jobs in the public heritage sector have been lost, or transferred to private companies. Northamptonshire Archaeology is a good case study, which has the dubious distinction of having gone through both scenarios! Having no county archaeology service means that the archaeological reports are not sent to the council (or at least the numbers are reduced) and these sites cannot be protected, as private commercial firms (as of yet) have no responsibility for protecting sites in a designated area, only to either identify, record or excavate archaeology. Councils and organisations like the CIfA provide the frameworks that these units should aspire to, but these are not legally binding. However, these are the opinions that the law courts look to in order to support the NPPF and uphold decisions like these.

On the other side of the coin, it is possible to misinterpret the NPPF, as the definitions of what heritage is and it significant are relative and vary from person to person and require previous cases to make British Common Law work (it becomes a chicken and egg situation). In previous years, developers have also been crafty in exploiting plot holes in the planning system, so that planning applications only go through either local councils or county councils, so the responsibility of deciding how important the local archaeology is, or even tendering a contract for identifying archaeology, may not be authorised by the county archaeologist. Additionally, what if someone goes ahead without any prior planning and retrospectively discovers that they have irreplaceably damaged a monument? This has happened a number of times under previous governments, not just this one, and in the age of social media, it is easier than ever before to identify when this happens, such as the destruction of a 50 yards stretch of Offa's Dyke in 2014, which the offender stated they didn't know it existed (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/allowed-bulldoze-offas-dyke-because-7214632). But the law now no longer makes it so easy to prosecute these offenders, and even though it’s a scheduled monument with the highest level of archaeological protection in the UK alongside Stonehenge, the police couldn't prosecute the offender because of a "lack of evidence" (the offender simply claimed he didn't know what Offa's Dyke was). This has been called a "defence of ignorance" argument. This strikes me as ironic, as an archaeologist's job is to collect evidence, and while people can be completely ignorant of something, there are so many rules for planning applications, it’s hard to believe they couldn't prosecute him for any other number of reasons, like deliberately obstructing footpaths, not undertaking an ecological survey, etc.! Based on this worrying development, I can only conclude that if the entire population of the United Kingdom plays dumb about the importance or even the very existence of archaeology, then no archaeology is safe. Denying the existence of something blatantly obvious is akin to the Armenian Genocide denial currently practised by the Turkish government (it's been 100 years since the Armenian Genocide, by the way). This archaeological situation needs to change.

Additionally, outsourcing work could be more expensive in the long run, although for Northants, they at least have the knowledge of having got some money for selling their unit to another company.  (On a personal level, I feel Northants is essentially being run like a private enterprise rather than a council, which brings to mind Serj Tankian's lyrics from his song Jeffrey are you Listening: "Nations and their governments should provide, protect and serve its citizens, not the interests of the multinationals"). Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in the TA85 (The IfA Debate: What is the Future for Local Planning Authorities and Archaeology? pages 25-29), Jan Wills states that the commercial service needs to be adequate.  However, Northants is just one county with issues with spending cuts and archaeology. Try speaking to those areas which have had no principal archaeologist or archaeology service for the last few years, like Portsmouth, Southampton, Merseyside, Walsall and those councils which consistently seem to undermine their own heritage, like Teesside. Other councils are having to merge their archaeology units with other divisions, so that the position of county archaeologist may not have to be a qualified archaeologist!

More vital services, such as the Historic Environment (HER) offices, which each county should have, are also at risk from cuts. In Northamptonshire, the HER officer will probably lose their job and be replaced by the HER Assistant, which represents a significant pay cut and a loss of knowledge, less manpower for recording sites and increasing the risk of unnecessary and potentially illegal damage to irreplaceable archaeological sites. On top of this, there will also be less outreach projects, a vital component in educating the public and local communities about their past. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) clearly states that Local Authorities should either maintain or have access to archaeological information in an HER as well as expert advice to inform its planning decisions. Surely this contradicts the council's plan for 2014-2019, which says that they will 'continue to celebrate Northamptonshire’s rich cultural heritage' and 'continue to strive to connect [local residents] with the county’s rich cultural heritage and unique identity’ (
https://cmis.northamptonshire.gov.uk/cmis5live/MeetingsCalendar/tabid/73/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/410/Meeting/2211/Committee/399/Default.aspx)? They won't be able to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Northants if it's all been built over or excavated out of the ground, especially when Northampton Borough Council's museums will get no funding from Arts England until at least 2019 because of the Sekhemha statue incident! If the council continue to cut publivc services, the museum's nationally important knowledge and resource for shoes will be lost, potentially for ever (Northampton also being a Victorian centre for shoe-making, among other things).

So why should we preserve this vast quantity of archaeology? From a commercial point of view, one of the reasons is that we've seen a rapid shift in our beliefs in interpreting archaeological evidence since the 1990's, providing new ways of looking at the past. This can be largely attributed to the sheer quantity of archaeological data coming out of the ground, and not necessarily to do with changing beliefs in society as a whole (although these are important too). Larger areas of archaeology have been discovered, and most hasn't been excavated, in keeping with the principle of in-situ conservation (which is often the best way to preserve the archaeology). Some of the knowledge accrued is also to do with some excellent research projects from Universities and others (although Universities are also suffering major cuts to funding, particularly the humanities). To summarise our changing views on just a few of Britain's archaeological periods based mostly on evidence from commercial excavations, I've created a summary table below:

Historical period (BP beginning from 1950 AD)
Conventional view before planning protection (PPG16) 
Conventional view today
Anglo-Saxons (1,540-984BP)
Germanic invasions dictate settlement patterns, Viking invasions, King Alfred, largely illuminated by religious sources e.g. Bede, Cuthbert
Greater understanding of relations between "invaders" and local communities, greater number of settlements known (particularly towns (wics), greater understanding of burial practices and settlements built over or near to prehistoric settlements, showing continuity with communities over hundreds of years/
Romans (2,007-1,540BP
Invaders who implemented their own culture into the existing communities. Large areas of undeveloped land exploited
Romans did have large economic impact, but also incorporated a lot of existing infrastructure into their development e.g. roads and settlements, migration from all across the empire into Britain and vice versa. A large amount of "undeveloped land" may well have been used already but archaeological trace is more difficult to spot.
Iron Age (c.2,000-3,000 BP)
Lived in small communities, warriors and burials, Asterix and Obelix-style feasting, some developed roads and possible proto-states
Large aggregated villages, well-developed roads and field boundaries, many Roman roads developed from existing Iron Age routes, some proto-states functioning as states in their own right, improved knowledge of burials (e.g. Wetwang chariot burial), and settlements may have lasted for hundreds of years.
Bronze Age (c.3,000-4,000 BP)
Stonehenge! Field systems, warriors and burials, all external influences from central Europe, more gradual changes from burial culture to 
Greater exploitation of maritime sources and links with European neighbours (e.g. Cornish tin in Germany, skeletons near Stonehenge were from continental Europe (Amesbury Archer)), greater variety of settlements and greater changes across the period. Settlements may have lasted for hundreds of years.
Neolithic (c.4,000-6,000 BP)
Greater exploitation of maritime sources and trade, greater understanding of Neolithic religion and settlement. Settlements may have lasted for hundreds of years.
Mesolithic (c.6,000-12,000 BP)
Hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Britain largely forested
Possibly exploited early farming methods and created houses with no external influence from migrants, maybe some evidence for man-made clearings?
Palaeolithic (c.12,000 BP up to almost 1 million years ago)
Almost no knowledge of this period, presumed uninhabitable except in very warm periods. Limited knowledge of known hominin species in Britain.
Extended knowledge of ice age occupation of Britain by several hundreds of thousands of years, Britain was inhabitable for much longer than anticipated. Multiple Hominin species must have been in Britain based on palaeological evidence. 

My point is that no major party since the introduction of PPG16 has appeared to either anticipate this quantity of data, or how to preserve it for future generations, excepting the principle of in-situ preservation. As archaeology is so fundamental for education, why has it been considered that the only industry to benefit from archaeology is the tourism sector (maybe it's because there aren't enough archaeologists as a whole)? It needs greater protection so that we may have the opportunity to have changing views on the past and to educate the public about its importance. A more pressing issue is that if it was all excavated, we would quickly have a crisis in storing all of the finds from commercial excavations (we have one already but it simply isn't reported. If you think we have it bad, spare a thought for Italian archaeologists!). No party has offered a solution, believing that the voluntary sector can take this workload if it falls apart.

Should we be leaving heritage to volunteers to replace the paid services? I don't agree with that view but the Conservatives seem to be taking us down this route, potentially losing large amounts of skilled archaeologists. There is also a current culture within some sections of commercial archaeology where there is a "race to the bottom", where market forces dictate the costs of archaeological work, forcing companies to outbid each other for work, which in turn reduces the money available for training, recruitment and repairs, which in turn reduces the efficiency of the workforce and in turn reduces how much money is available for bidding for contracts. This vicious cycle needs to be stopped and the CIfA, for all that it has Registered Organisations paying a minimum wage and providing training, is not a compulsory thing for all archaeological firms. However, this would limit the opportunities for innovation in the sector and not everyone agrees with the way the IfA is run (it's not a charity, so it is not strictly apolitical), or its mission statement. On the subject of minimum wage, for the over-qualified subject that we are, many of us are hilariously under-paid. Many of my colleagues have Master's degrees and earn less than £20,000 P/A. That is £5,000 LESS than the average UK earner, regardless of qualification! We really do this job for love and not for money, although I wouldn't say that is the problem. Its managers who are not taught how to run businesses properly, or who don't appreciate heritage (having not studied archaeology) who are ruining the firms. Personally I am in favour of an overarching organisation that could force some regulation of the market. The archaeologists trade union, the CIfA, have a conference on the future of the profession in mid-April 2015. But if it now recognised by the government as the regulatory body of the profession, (TA 94), where does that leave other archaeological professions who are not accredited in this way? More worryingly, some older members of the profession (ironically some of these are lecturers) question why the CIfA should even be advertising to archaeology students, when many won't become archaeologists at all! While this is true, the vast majority of new archaeologists come through the University route. The opinions expressed by some members of the CIfA seem self-defeatist and appear to neglect the future of the profession.


Where do Historic England (the new statutory part of English Heritage) stand? English Heritage is the UK government’s advisor on heritage matters, but in reality their position is the same as before, if not weaker for not having the funds from their old properties (which are in EH hands). This leaves Scotland as the only nation in the UK where the Historic buildings and statutory body as the same organisation, an interesting situation that could have dramatic consequences for both sides of the border. The Council for British Archaeologists? As a charity they have to be politically neutral but they have been around for a long time and have a number of respected individuals, and they did pioneer the Young Archaeologists club and currently help organise a number of World War One memorial projects. Most importantly though, they are the most active in showing the public how important archaeology is, and allowing the public a way of legitimately protecting their archaeology in a national network, through the Local Heritage Engagement Network (LHEN). While this is open to the accusation of using volunteer labour in place of professional archaeologists, it allows the public to get involved in their local archaeology without losing the professional advice of archaeologists. The LHEN provides free advice for volunteers to help promote and protect their archaeology. Other professional charities and institutes, as far as I can discern, are too small to have a unified voice for the archaeological profession.

Some firms seem to be monopolising the market by virtue of being larger than others, or being part of a developer or other construction-based company, so they can run other firms into the ground with either money or manpower (look at Birmingham Archaeology and other University archaeology departments, as well as council-run firms). The future could be very bleak if this continues, leaving archaeology in a position where developers will simply force archaeologists off-site halfway through excavation simply because they have overrun their agreed contract through lack of manpower etc., leaving archaeology discovered but permanently lost. This is arguably worse than the 1970's, when volunteers ran to sites to stop them being developed at the 11th hour so they could excavate it before the archaeology was lost forever. Academia is not going to cover the commercial sector on its own and volunteers can't provide the necessary manpower to do this job. Combined? Even then, commercial archaeologists are paid to do this job. They will be far more committed and knowledgeable in the cause than both sectors put together through regular fieldwork and research.

So what have manifestos and policies offer archaeologists? Generally speaking, NONE of the main parties (even that is a relative definition these days) seem to have a concerted plan for heritage in England, although the main parties in Wales and Scotland, including Plaid Cyrmu and the SNP, have more emphasis on archaeology, and their local councils support archaeology more readily. Additionally Wales is already passing legislation for June 2015 (regardless of the election result) that will remove the defence of ignorance argument I mentioned above when it comes to scheduled monuments, and will be make more archaeological monuments protected by legal statute.

The Tories? Guarantee housing, Increase minimum wage (albeit by less than the other parties), and continue to build away, while tinkering with an education system that probably didn't need tampering in the first place. Labour? Guarantee housing, stop HS2 and minimum wage up to £8/hour. Interestingly, this webchat by Chris Bryant (then MP) gives support to the 1954 Hague convention, which would protect cultural property in a time of war. But not to the white paper that was scrapped before the 2010 election that would have given greater weighting to the HERs (something that is currently being assessed by English Heritage, having contracted MOLA and possibly others to help assess the situation with research new ways of storing and accessing data for future consumption). UKIP? Only to stop HS2, scrap tax for minimum wage earners and stop illegal migrants (only a small proportion of archaeologists are from outside the UK, although the EU would rather we had more foreign workers in our profession, but archaeology is a knowledge-intensive subject whichever way you cut it so the migrants have to be skilled). Greens? Minimum wage up to £10/hour. And Lib Dems? Greater minimum wage (mostly for apprentices), some support for housing.

So they all promise more houses, ring-fencing or increasing the NHS budget, but only Labour seems to be offering anything like the support needed for archaeology (and that is only from one informal source). There is no promise to revise the NPPF plan. No plan to promote archaeology in the education curriculum or to integrate it into the planning protection, to end the conventional wisdom of a Levi-Strauss-like dialectic of archaeology versus the developer, archaeology as a drain on economic resources rather than an enabler of jobs, archaeology that can only be enjoyed as a tourism attraction as opposed to education, and archaeology that shouldn't be legally protected like it was under PPG16 or PPS5. Additionally the main parties in England all seem to be focused on London centric figures i.e. their leaders were born, bred, educated and worked around south eastern England, and so don't understand the true character of the United Kingdom. They all plan to continue to cut services to some extent, so we will see more public sector job losses. While I personally want to see the deficit come down, it will have to come down somewhere. The main issue for archaeologists is that we simply get overlooked. Whoever gets voted in, the government will focus on building houses, but not on those who have to do the groundwork, such as archaeologists, builders, ecologists, etc. If it satisfies the majority, it doesn't matter. The government get the vote it needs to stay in power. But I'm not saying don't vote! There's only so many of us, and we need to fight together. The trouble is that no one is offering us a formal political solution.

In conclusion, I worry for the future of commercial archaeology. If you build something and claim you didn't know it existed, it seems that non-statutory protection will not be able to prosecute you. Even more worrying is that no political party seems to be offering a long-term solution to this, and this has been identified as a major issue for the last few years by the IfA. The exception are the parties that oppose HS2 (Greens, Labour, UKIP), although on the flip side it has provided some work for archaeologists. The current business model of a number of archaeological units needs to change their business model, and we need to do it in a collective manner. The real enemy are those who allow this to happen, like the developers, who continue to accept rock bottom prices, and the parties at Westminster, who offer nothing for archaeologists. As a sector, we need to be more proactive in recruiting the next generation with a promising career that is not only rewarding for finding out more about archaeology, but also a fair wage and fair working standards by going against some of the received wisdom. This future can allow community  archaeology to exist alongside commercial work, and this has been done successfully many times in the past, but the commercial sector fills out the backbones, muscle and flesh of British archaeology, and gets little credit for it. Vote for what gives you a fairer society.

To make your own informed decisions, I will be uploading links to the official manifestos for each party (in alphabetical order) as and when I can find them:


Greens :

Liberal Democrats: