Archive for the ‘battlefield archaeology’ category

Somewhere after the party/ early life crisis

September 8, 2008

I submitted my thesis last Monday and my body is slowly coming to terms with the cessation of the partying. Now I find myself asking the same question that my personified liver would pose, now what?!  It seems that this question is just the tip of the iceberg; some of my Scandinavian friends call this the beginning of the ‘early life crisis’. My parents noted that this would be the first time I am not going back to school in almost 20 years.

Sweet jesus, now I have to get a job. Sadly, it seems that the “credit crunch” has significantly effected development (or at least new jobs in the archaeology sector) in the UK so I will be returning to Canada. If I had EU status, it wouldn’t matter but given that I have to spend a hundred pounds just to stay on with a work visa I think its becoming too financially taxing. From the sounds of things the mythical “archaeology factory” is still running strong in Alberta, a Canadian province, economical, drunk with oil (they have more oil than Iraq does but please don’t tell our Yankee neighbors). Ok the “archaeology factory” is kind of an inside joke which mocks the job instability and unpredictable nature of professional archaeology.

I am now looking for, an archaeology-based, job until November.

If anyone is interested here is the abstract from my thesis.

This paper is composed of three sections. The first section will discuss the advantages of employing geophysics surveys on military sites followed by an assessment of the role geophysics fills within the context of other techniques employed by archaeologists. The second section will discuss the advantages of studying war graves and then will employ published geophysics surveys to assess the ability of the three most widely used geophysical techniques (resistivity, magnetics and ground-penetrating radar) to detect war graves. The third section will employ published geophysical surveys to provide examples of different features that can be detected on military and conflict sites from prehistoric times to the modern era.

If you are one of the hundred or so people around the world who is knee deep in geophysics and would like to learn more about my topic just ask and I can fire off a PDF copy of my dissertation. With feedback from the internal and external markers, I can polish that puppy up and perhaps publish it in one form or another.

Ridgewayus hic! (Ridgeway was here)

July 2, 2008

Last night I finished my geophysical tour of duty. At Scone we finished hunting for the Medieval Abbey and associated outbuildings with GPR. The last two days (The 25-26th of June) we investigated the proposed area of the Medieval village with a fluxgate gradiometer (which looks for magnetic anomalies bellow the ground). It turns out we were on the edge of a rig and furrow field (an old farming technique) and we might have located a homestead or a field building. We also scanned the nearby Skittery (sp?) ditch, which was a massive open sewage system. Sadly, this ditch was infilled in modern times and has a lot of metal in it, which effectively ruins any chances of interpreting the ditch feature.

I took Friday (June 27th) off. By took off I mean washed all of my non-magnetic outdoor clothing and readied myself for another batch of geophysics.

Saturday, June 28th, we traveled to Ecclefechan and set up a grid system at the Roman fort of Burnswark. There are actually two Roman forts, or castra (singular-castrum), based around a massive Iron Age hill fort. We primarily investigated the southern fort, which is a unique creature. The Iron age hill fort was excavated and thousands of lead slingshot were found in the ‘destruction level’. Originally thought to be a siege site, it is now thought that the hill fort was used as a training ground for the Roman. The fort has a smaller ‘fortlet’ within the typical double ditches of the larger fort. Also on the northern wall there are three mounds known as the ‘three brethren’. The purpose of these mounds is unknown. It is thought that they were created for an artillery platform for ballistae. Personally, I do not believe this as I think they are simple too close to the hill fort.

After a few days of thinking over their purpose, I have come to my own conclusion. I think that they are gateways modified to drain water away from the Roman fort. Many Roman forts have a rectangular wall a few meters out from the earthworks so that the Roman soldiers can control access to and from the fort. The fort is downhill from a very large hill, I think that water would easily enter and flood the Roman camp. I think that the standard gate system was modified with mounds so the water would collect in the ditch around the mounds and be likely be diverted away either outside the earthworks or through the double ditches. It is just a theory but any person who has camped downhill, especially in Scotland, will know just how a bit of rain can ruin your day.

There was 7 people in our crew, 95% were fellow post grads, and armed with two a fluxgate gradiometers and a resistivity meter (which compares the electrical resistance of ground) we covered a huge area. Under the watchful eyes of thousands of sheep we marched up and down the slopes to the sounds of beeps from our high tech devices and the bleating of sheep. It was a great experience and the longer you stayed at the base of that hill, the easier it was to envision Roman soldiers in testudo (tortoise) formation marching up to the hill fort with suppressing fire in the form of hails of lead sling shot. There may have been an actually Scottish opposition present (likely called  ‘Picts’ which roughly means “painted ones” due to the usage of body paint and tattoos) to return fire and clash in close combat  or it may have only been a daily drill. Only time and additional archaeological investigation will give us any answers.

Better health and a more mature self

May 20, 2008

I can tell I am an adult now. How can I tell this? Well for starters, while I am typing this post I am sipping on a glass on Laphroaig whisky. First, that alcohol ‘wince’ has long since surrendered thereby allowing me to finally taste the subtitles of Scottish whisky. This newfound ability to ‘taste’ whisky is only part of my maturity milestone. Another maturity milestone is the ability to find a sense of satisfaction with my job (placement…for now) this whisky represents a reward for a job well done, in a non-alcoholic way. Many of my visions of the working man is one who drags his bedraggled body through the door and pours himself a stiff drink. Note that this vision is that from television and not from my family life.
Today I felt I gave my all to my work, luckily my work does not evoke the seemingly soul-crushing feelings which plagues the tie-clad, borderline alcoholic television personality. Instead of wanting to drown my sorrows in an ocean of booze, I find myself beaming with pride at my accomplishments. I archived the paper work from three different sites; normally it takes me just under a day to archive one site. Big boy pants ahoy! Now I just have to wait on that final batch of chest hair and everything else will fall into place.
Not only have I hit a maturity milestone but I have also hit a ‘project milestone’. Today I finished archiving the second season of Two Men in a Trench, which is another source of pride. Between the two seasons I shuffled, shorted, and shipped 1084 documents; I am now moving on other projects but anything else is a bonus. Next week I will begin digitizing the drawings, pictures and slides from the projects. Other plans for my work placement include: checking out the artefact assemblage and the survey data, working on a competitive tendering document, and more!
Although my work will continue, soon, I will be without a work placement patriarch. My boss is going to France to undertake trial excavations on what WW1 Astro-German archives suggests, and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) has confirmed, to be the mass grave of over 400 soldiers from “the Great War” (sorry about the lack of names but I don’t wish to step on any toes). Such is the life of a world-renowned battlefield archaeology.
Oh, I have also started up a Flickr account so I can share some of my European adventure pictures. My user name on the site is Ridgeway Williams, feel free to have a browse of my photos but if you decide to use them please give me credit and cut me in if you are trying to make money off them.  I learned about Flicker through the photography podcast “This Week in Photography (TWIP)”. I enjoy the podcasts but the website is somewhat less intimidating for beginning photographers (like myself) as it ‘drops’ considerably less names and terms which maybe confusing to those who are not professionals. The website also acts as a portal to the portfolios (on Flickr) of tremendously talented people (check out the winners from their themed biweekly competitions), one can always become inspired by taking in some the amazing art, and knowhow, that is being shared.
Speaking of art, this whisky is like the perfect combination of a goose bump-inspiring photo, a childhood lullaby and the smell of a summer bonfire carried by an ocean breeze.

Brown Bess and Tonsillitis

May 14, 2008

I love working in the battlefield archaeology center. Last week one of my coworkers casually asked me if I wanted to shoot off some muskets after work. Clearly, I said yes and it is great fun. I was wearing my aviators, under the required goggles, and I felt very Hunter S. Thompson-ish. Now we weren’t just shooting the guns to sound cool. We were conducting an experiment on the correlation between the final appearance of the musket balls and the soil in which they embedded themselves. We did the shooting at “the farm” which had a hill, which we used as a back catcher for any rogue musket balls, and a lot of sheep around ahh Scotland.

On the less fun side of my life I was just informed that I have tonsillitis. Yesterday it felt like I was swallowing razorblades and then the fever hit. It is a cruel trick to be sweating buckets and feeling freezing cold simultaneous. I tried to go to the clinic yesterday but they are closed on Tuesday afternoon for no apparent reason. I dragged my carcass out of bed this morning and now I am popping penicillin tic-tacs and I already feel a bit better.

It is times like this that I appreciate the diversity of sources for innovation and discovery. It seems to me that the words which follow the greatest discoveries and innovations are some form of “what the hell”. Clearly, I am thinking directly, and thankful, of Fleming’s contaminated plate culture. Henri Becquerel and the discovery of radiation is another great example. Becquerel left a bag of uranium salts on some photographic film and, on a hunch, developed the film only to find that the salts had fogged, by exposure to radiation, the portion of the film they were sitting on. My knowledge of the effects of radiation hurts me to think about carelessly throwing bags of radioactive stuff about but I can’t really judge the person who first discovered it. One could argue that another example of careless behavior is giving black powder muskets to a bunch archaeologists. Ya seriously who does that?

Job placement announcement

May 1, 2008

I apologize for using a teaser and then following it up with only the deafening sounds of silence. Come to think of it, my blog is always silent but you get the point.

My work placement will be very diverse but the part, that is concrete and, I am excited about is my involvement with battlefield archaeology. I, think, I can safely announce that I am compiling the work undertaken by the British archaeological television show “Two Men in a Trench”. There are at least twelve battlefields; they range in dates from the medieval era to the Second World War. The battles include Culloden, Bannockburn, Dover, and Flodden just to name a few.

I will be working on the largest archaeological evaluation of battlefields in Europe! I think I am actually compiling the largest archaeological evaluations of battlefields in the world but I can’t prove that and I don’t care enough to waste my time looking in it to. If you somehow do know that my work constitutes as the largest in the world, don’t even tell me; my ego is just the right size and I think I would just look silly with a “big head”.

There is talk of a lot of other cool stuff but nothing is certain and I do not want to come across as a liar, a braggart or some unholy combination of the two. I am content to ride this crazy wave for now.

OK I have to brag here for a minute. I get to work on the first battle where that new-founded “grenade” was used. Back in the day when they looked like something Wyle E. Coyote would use to try to kill Roadrunner, and no I don’t mean anvils either. Being in Scotland I find it interesting that I get to work on the battles where Scotland gained, and then lost, its independence. Heck, I get to be a true spectator to the very poor military track record of Scottish rebellions. Hold on a second, didn’t I just promise not to brag and doesn’t that make me a liar? And so the slow descent begins.

Well my lunch break is over so I probably should get back to…wait for it…archiving the last “pitched” battle in the UK. Yes, that is correct, right now I am thumbing through the mud-caked field records of Culloden. It is like being there, minus the blood, the mud or both. Wait, did you hear that? That my friends, is the sound of my blog is silently yelling with joy.