My name’s Ewan and I’m the Historic Environment Assistant at North Somerset Council. The primary aspect of my job is maintaining the HER (Historic Environment Record), but the role is really varied, supporting the Principal Archaeologist and Principal Conservation & Heritage Officer in other work they do.
I joined the council’s Heritage & Design Team last November having completed an Archaeology & Anthropology degree at the University of Bristol as a mature student. One of my units was a placement where I first got hands on with an HER. I found the work both fascinating and rewarding - it covers the whole range of archaeology from the Palaeolithic right through to the twentieth century, and combines it with archiving, mapping, and digital technology. As much as I love getting my trowel out and into a trench, my job is just one of many which shows that archaeology isn’t just digging - something I’m especially grateful for considering some of the Great British weather we have had recently!
My first task for the day is adding new records to the HER. Every entry is different, and the sources include fieldwork reports from professional units, research by community groups, and even historical works by antiquarians. Some of the oldest documents in the North Somerset HER include The History of Somersetshire published in 1791, and a coastal map from 1539. Today’s first entry is a fieldwork report and journal article on a Romano-British site in Congresbury; three corn-driers and two iron-working furnaces have been recently excavated, within a network of ditched enclosures and a stream which had been culverted to provide a supply of water. As new discoveries, they require an Event record for the activity which uncovered them, Monument records for the features that were found, and GIS spatial data to record their size and location on the map. Another new record is a photographic survey of the archaeology on Steep Holm island, documenting the medieval priory, Victorian fortifications, and WWII camps.
Throughout the day, my work not only involves adding information to the HER database, but also making that information available through several avenues. One of these is responding to search requests, where we generally receive two types of enquiries. Today, I am providing sets of search results for two commercial archaeology units, which involves collating all the Monument, Event and digital mapping records within the radius of sites where new development is proposed. I also have an academic search request to process, and these generally relate to a specific research theme connecting sites across the whole unitary area. Recent subjects have included geophysics at Mesolithic sites, Bronze Age textiles, Roman Roads, and Church Ale Houses. Much of the HER database is accessible through a public HER map, and through Know Your Place. I’m currently adding a wonderful cache of 1960s photos to the Know Your Place community layer. Today, I also have some posts to research and write for our Know Your Place social media pages. Doing this is not just for our followers’ benefit; I’ve learned so much myself about the archaeology in North Somerset.
The afternoon is comprised of preparatory work for some community outreach. Our team hosts a Heritage Forum every six months. These are fantastic opportunities for us to get together with local archaeology, history, and heritage groups from across North Somerset, where we can discuss heritage work our team has been doing, find out about the latest research that has been undertaken, and share upcoming events and projects. The next forum is due in October, and with a few dates in mind I am contacting venues to find a suitable and accessible location to host the next event. Finally, some finishing touches need to be added to materials for our upcoming Festival of Archaeology event, where we will showcase the HER and Know Your Place alongside family friendly crafts and activities.