British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 97

Issue 97

November/December 2007

Contents

news

Curlew care leads to lost royal residence find

Wat's Dyke dated: was it Coenwulf's dyke?

Little dig goes to big festival

Orkney finds confirm early Scottish colonisation

In Brief & Phase 2

features

Made in China
The exhibition that you will never forget opens in London

Viking treasure
An early inside look at the Viking hoard from Harrogate

Caribbean tragedy: under the volcano
David Miles and Julian Munby say island heritage matters on Montserrat

on the web

Recommended websites
Archaeological science, and digging up a hearth (and home)

letters

Views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Dan Hull explains the CBA's pioneering initiatives in archaeological publishing

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

on the web

Looking for archaeological science

Caroline Wickham-Jones puts the web under a microscope.

Archaeogeek (Sep/Oct, www.archaeogeek.com/blog/2007) champions scientific techniques in archaeology. It is a wide field. Where can we find archaeological science on the web?

It helps to know the exact process you wish to explore before you enter the digital world of scientific archaeology. Google brings up a journal (the Journal of Archaeological Science: www.elsevier.com/locate/jas), a society (the Society for Archaeological Sciences: www.socarchsci.org), and an explanation with plenty of links (Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeological_science). Boring but basic information is provided by TORC (www.torc.org.uk/factsheet3.asp). Most of this is free, but the journal is not – unless you have access to a subscribing library.

Various specialist groups appear, though many have surprisingly little information on line. The Materials Science-Based Archaeology Group (users.ox.ac.uk/~salter) is concerned with metallurgy, but you would need to get in touch to learn much. Kevin Greene's online companion to archaeology offers more (www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/kevin.greene/wintro/chap5.htm) with both useful links and snippets of information, but it does not seem to have been updated since 2002.

Alone among major organisations, English Heritage has a dedicated section on scientific techniques, though it is well-buried and brief (www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1272). University websites naturally reflect their staff interests, and tend to describe results rather than how the research is done (eg the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at the University of Oxford: www.rlaha.ox.ac.uk) – you have to attend as a student to find that out. The School of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford maintains a useful resource list (www.brad.ac.uk/acad/archsci/subject/archsci.html), but with no explanation or discussion.

What about science in action? Many field units provide examples of the results of scientific analysis. High Pasture Cave in Skye offers online copies of specialist reports as they are written (www.high-pasture-cave.org/index.php/the_work). On other sites work such as this is harder to find, though worth the search, as with the human bone report from Canterbury Archaeological Trust's work at St George's Church (www.hillside.co.uk/arch/clocktower/bones.html).

Children are catered for by several websites of which Dignubia stands out (www.dignubia.org) for originality and content. You can check out the ology of the day at ology.amnh.org/index.html, another imaginative site that places archaeology firmly as a science. Mysteries of Çatalhöyük offers a lively introduction to scientific archaeology in action for kids (www.smm.org/catal/introduction).

Where archaeologists provide it most news organisations use the scientific detail (eg www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/08/12/sciship112.xml). The BBC is generally good at commenting on the application of science behind its stories (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1493535.stm), though its archaeology website is light on techniques (www.bbc.co.uk/history/archaeology/excavations_techniques). Most news stories, however, concern excavations and lack technical data. Is this what people want? Or is it what archaeology thinks people want? Sites such as the children's pages above suggest there is a demand for information regarding how things are done.

Overall the lack of accessible online discussion of the scientific techniques of archaeology is disappointing.

Archaeoogical science on the web


Blog: an excavation

Christine Finn turned round the archaeological experience – and dug up her own home.

Archaeology begins at home. It does for me, at least, as over the past year I have been exploring the house where I grew up as a combination of art space, museum, and excavation site.

It began as a BBC Radio 3 programme called Leaving Home. It then grew into a 10-day event for RIBA's architecture week, in which the radio programme played against photographs of the house in transformation, and new art installations.

What was crucial to the project was showing the various lives of the house over my time there, with those of previous owners who had made changes that were still observable as fragments of wallpaper, old emulsion, and the layers of fireplaces revealed in an excavated sitting room.

For an archaeology/art project about something as solid and bricks-and-mortar as a house, Leave-Home-Stay built quite a virtual presence.

And blogging about it presented me with yet another form of exploration (blogs.guardian.co.uk/art/2007/06/want_to_snoop_around_my_house.html). The daily ritual helped me make sense of this at-home installation in which I exposed myself to the readers' gaze, and solicited a range of unspoken responses from strangers, seeing the project perhaps as blatant look-at-meism or, more charitably, an unusual exercise in digging.

I first talked about it online at Michael Shanks's Stanford site (humanitieslab.stanford.edu/leaveHomestay).

This gave me a space to ruminate on what the project was about. Once the dust has settled, I will go back to that site to talk in more detail about how my project sits in contemporary archaeology, and how it connects with other work on "home" and emerging contexts, such as Second Life (a 3D virtual world built and owned by its "residents": secondlife.com).

RIBA's architecture week gave me a dedicated place in cyberspace, a place which also hosted my audiotour, and a visitor guide – both intended to extend the range of the Arts Council-funded project (www.solentcentre.org.uk/architectureweek/leavehomestay)

The Guardian blog gave me a place to draw in other people, places, and dimensions. I had no shortage of subject matter: schoolchildren, people who had lived and played at the house 50 years before; or artists, architects and curious locals.

In my blog I could talk about the oddness of everything in my house being – to a visitor – a part of the installation. An oddness which has left me comfortable with a refined space, instead of the usual clutter. The style meant I could be open about the way dyslexia affected my family, and its role in the project, and watch as over days my url reached related sites which I would not have come across (blogs.guardian.co.uk/art/2007/06/my_home_speaks_louder_than_wor.html).

Nearly 200 visitors physically walked through the door, but hundreds more – thousands possibly – visited online. I had messages from audiotour listeners in New York and California, Italy and Ireland. I found (and find now) elements of the project ending up on associated sites such as the Arts Council, the Marine Conservation Society, Dyslexia, and Disabled Arts.

I did not get many comments written in the blog itself – in truth, just one – but people found my email, and wrote to me personally. Perhaps the diary format was too intimate an approach for public critique. Maybe what I wrote did not spark opinion on the day. Blogging is best when it fires up debate.

But it is was fascinating excavation of its own. And it is all still out there, somewhere.

Christine A Finn is a writer and broadcaster and honorary research fellow at the Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford. She will continue with Leave-Home-Stay on an MA in fine art at University College for the Creative Arts, Canterbury.

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