Ridgewayus hic! (Ridgeway was here)

Posted July 2, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: archaeology, battlefield archaeology, geophysics, scotland

Tags: , , , , ,

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.


Peacocks and physics er…geophysics

Posted June 23, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: archaeology, geophysics, scotland

Tags: , ,

This is the first day of an entire week of geophysics. I am working at two separate sites and today was my first day at the site of Scone (pronounced like schooner without the er), Scotland. Scone is a medieval monastic site that is also the original location of the “stone of destiny”. I used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) for the first time. Affectionately referred to as  “the plough” or “the lawnmower” the GPR unit skims across the ground and as the wheel moves there is a sensor which triggers the transmitter unit and the data is collected by the receiver unit (which appears as white boxes which are slightly separated from each other). GPR is amazing because it can collect huge amount of data that allows for 3D analysis and, with enough luck, you can even tell exactly what is bellow the ground and what is it made of. We took readings every 5cm but the wheel sensor undertook all of the hard work and we managed to cover a huge amount of ground.

The work is being undertaken at Scone because it faired so poorly during the reformation. Most Catholic buildings had at least some standing elements left for archaeologists and historians to record, however, the landowners of Scone did not like to gaze upon a crumbling church and had any surface remains destroyed. Now almost nothing is known about the layout of the site itself.

It was a beautiful day for surveying and apart from tourists the site was plagued with peacocks. I have some great pictures of a seemingly interested peacock eavesdropping in on our geophysics discussions, however, because people are identifiable I won’t put them up yet (without consent). On the estate, there is an incredibly beautiful pure white (albino?) peacock. Given its uniqueness it was constantly harassed and tried to scare off these camera-happy predators by brandishing its tail. This defense mechanism would backfired and it would simply draw the attention of every tourist within view. I call it the “white peacock paradox”; I am sure there some underlying comment about the rich and famous in there somewhere.

Culloden- what a find

Posted June 16, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: Uncategorized

Last week I traveled to the Culloden interpretation center (Battle of Culloden) with my relatives. It was well done and a fantastic use of technology to aid in the understanding of archaeological results specifically battlefields in this case. Walking near checkpoints would trigger hand-held GPS units and additional information could be accessed after the narration, which combined facts with personal accounts, was completed. My personal favorite part of the center was the computer animated “aerial view” of the battle that was tasteful, educational and very easily to understand. The panoramic re-enactment of the battle was also quite good, however, sometimes I found myself disoriented. My boss was given an honorary place in the film for undertaking the archaeology and he plays the role of “scared jacobite”. The film certainly removed any romantic notions about war and battle and left only the realization that war is indeed a sickness not a game.

When I was discussing my opinion of the center with an archaeologist who was present at the original excavations at Culloden (as supposed to the later excavations to “clear” a space of the new center) she mentioned that she could personally identify many of the objects on display. The more I thought about what she said the more I realized that this connection between an archaeologist and an artefact/find is part of the reason why I became an archaeologist.

The connection between artefact and archaeologist can be felt at different stages. First, you feel humbled and goose bumpy realizing that you are likely the first human hands to touch this object for a long time (clearly depending on the artefact). Second, if you are included in the post excavation process (such as cleaning, analysis and report writing) you become further connected to the object by realizing its unique features. As you play nurse and bestow some tender loving cleaning, the archaeology version of TLC, you become a witness to the interactions between the last owner/s and the object. This interaction could be pocket-polish (arrowheads and other objects can become brightly polished by rolling around a pocket or material lined container) on a beautiful Snyder point. On the other hand, the interaction between humans and an object could manifest themselves on a musket ball as powder burns, which speak of the start of a journey, and impact marks that could speak of the end of a life.

The third stage of connection that an archaeologist can feel for an artefact is recognition. My friend and co-worker felt it at the interpretation center. With the right eyes and the right amount of personal effort invested, you see artefacts like old friends who do not feel the need to swap small talk. This relationship and respect for the object, and there for the people linked with this object, is another aspect that separates archaeologists from looters.

As of yet we cannot go back in time to re-experience history and perhaps that’s for the best. To find yourself interacting with objects from the past, on a deeply personal level, is about as close as you can get. Sure, we can never have the same kind of relationship with an artefact as its original owner/s, but, given the amount of fired musket balls, grape shot and other tools of death and destruction present at the Culloden interpretation center, perhaps it’s for the best.

Family and food!

Posted June 9, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: Uncategorized

Last weekend I went all over with some family who come down for a visit. I got to play tourist in Glasgow and ate like a king. Last Saturday we rented a car and went up to Fort William traveling through some amazing scenery. We went by Loch Lomond back through Glen Coe, which remains one of my favorite places, and eventually to our final destination. Sunday we went beside Loch Ness up to Inverness and I took a train back to Glasgow. Sadly as I had to work on Monday, I missed out on seeing the ancestral home but hopefully I can see it later. I was very productive last week and as of today I have cleaned the scanned field drawings with Adobe Photoshop. Tomorrow I will begin cataloguing, and creating a database for, the artifacts found during the first season of the TV show.

I spent last week editing my photos and the later part of the week was dedicated to stretching out the stiffness in my muscles from Parkour. I realized in that week that my photography skill is improving dramatically and that I could hurt in places I didn’t think possible, its ok it is a good hurt and I am in the best shape of my life.

I was rushing to edit the photos as my relatives left today and I spent the weekend with them in Edinburgh. Clearly, I wanted to give them the photos before they left. When I meet back up with the family in Edinburgh I continued to eat as if I was a professional glutton.  We had a lot of modern Scottish cuisine that took the traditional dishes to the next level and many had exotic twits towards the end of the trip. In Glasgow we/I had haggis fritters, venison sausages, ham with a creamy/buttery sauce and mashed potatoes with pineapple and seaweed crème brule. Elsewhere we had Ostrich topped with haggis and asparagus, Wild Boar burger with amazing chips/fries, Banoffee pie (bananas and toffee), and a baked chocolate fondant that can only be described as orgasmic.

Well now that I have justified my absence, I will try to be more regular with the posts. Oh and if anyone is coming to Scotland just give me a shout and I will be more that willing to talk about Scottish food and restaurants for all types of budgets,

Indiana Jones and the Risk Assessment Form!

Posted May 21, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: archaeology, Indiana Jones, movies

Tags: ,

With the upcoming release of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, archaeology is again at the forefront of media attention. Some of my comrades directed me to the following article on how Indiana Jones does not seem to be a real archaeologist. It is shocking, I know. The fictional Dr. Jones is more of a scruffy, Nazi-slaughtering, ‘tomb raider’ (yes Lara Croft you are an archaeological criminal as well). Listen I hate fascism so I don’t mind the departure of a few racist goons but taking artifacts out of context (without employing the proper procedures) and making the entire field of archaeology appear to be a ghoulish endeavor through the desecration of graves (via his use of a femur bone as a torch), this just not acceptable Indy!

Many will be saddened to know that archaeology is not one big adventure. Sure it is not your normal job as I was firing muskets two weeks ago but it is a job. Although, archaeologists are sometimes called the “cowboys of science” we try very hard to come across as professional and an important part of the planning/pre construction process. How else can we bring our wages to acceptable levels? A field archaeologist, with a university degree, in the UK makes £15k that is not enough money to start paying back any type of student loan. I think I mentioned this earlier but back in Canada a construction worker with a high school degree makes more money that an archaeologist with a university degree. The big question is will this newest movie help or hinder us in our cause. Only time will tell. The next big question is will it entertain us. *Fingers crossing* I sure hope so!

While ‘true’ archaeology can often be very boring, tedious, and makes very bad TV shows/films. Can you imagine Harrison Ford’s character filling out paperwork for his adventures? Hell, I would love to read THAT risk assessment form!

  • Project leader: Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Walton Jones, Jr
  • Sources of risks and associated/potential risk/s

The jungle-illness, damage/destruction of equipment, personal injury and/or death

Pit lined with spears-personal injury or death

Pressure triggered blowgun traps-personal injury or death

Optically triggered spear trap-personal injury, death and/or loss of treacherous guide

Pressure triggered ‘rolling rock’ trap-personal injury, death and/or loss of Fedora hat

Treacherous guide-becoming stranded in a collapsing temple in an unfamiliar jungle with an angry tribe likely leading to climatic meeting with personal nemesis, personal injury and/or death

Armed and angry indigenous tribe-personal injury or death. Highly likely that it will lead to death as I am stealing their sacred idol and can’t speak their language

Snake in cockpit of seaplane-loss of temper with pilot over choice of pets

  • Practices, methods and techniques that will be employed to minimize risks

“Stay(ing) out of the light.”

Running like hell and employing fancy footwork

Employing a bullwhip to bypass obstacles

Utilizing a bag of sand as a counterweight when attempting overcome traps meant to stop the looting the sacred site

Swimming across an unfamiliar body of water to escape via seaplane

Somehow, I cannot imagine him getting the funding for that particular project. He didn’t even think of wearing a ‘high-viz’ leather jacket or a saftey-Fedora, pfft… rookie mistake.

I have to say though I have had fun thinking this up. I will likely continue this kind of joke as the countdown to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill continues.

Better health and a more mature self

Posted May 20, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: archaeology, battlefield archaeology, scotland


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

Posted May 14, 2008 by RidgewayWilliams
Categories: archaeology, battlefield archaeology, scotland

Tags: ,

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?