Monday, 30 December 2013

We found a king, we lost a hero: archaeology in 2013

So another year is over and it's time to reflect on the discoveries, excavations and projects of the year past. It's hard to single out only a few events that have shaped the archaeological landscape in the last twelve months and I'm sure you all have your own individual triumphs and losses that make 2013 memorable for you. The following have resonated with us...

Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king's

After an ambitious project led by the University of Leicester, it was announced to the world in February 2013 that King Richard III's remains had been found in a car park in Leicester. Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: "Beyond reasonable doubt it's Richard." Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. Mr Buckley said the bones had been subjected to "rigorous academic study" and had been carbon dated to a period from 1455-1540. Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the university's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, revealed the bones were of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.

Archaeologists find escape tunnel at Sobibor death camp in Poland

A series of historic archaeological findings were made in May and June 2013 at the Sobibor Nazi death camp in what was occupied Poland. Archaeological excavations carried out at the site by Israeli and Polish researchers unearthed an escape tunnel, a crematorium, human skeletal remains, a substance that appears to be blood and the identification tag of a Jewish boy who was murdered in the camp. The findings shed new light on the camp, where around 250,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943.

Professor Mick Aston: 1946-2013

Professor Mick Aston died on 24th June 2013. He was most famous for his work on Channel 4's Time Team, which has been sold into over 30 countries and has had a huge impact on the public understanding of archaeological field practice. Professor Aston also enjoyed a lengthy and successful academic career including government posts at Oxford and Somerset Councils and academic roles at Bristol, Oxford and Birmingham Universities. Throughout his career he engaged with the public wherever possible and through any means available, particularly through extramural teaching.

Wishing you a happy and successful New Year from the CUDI team!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

'One of my cherished remembrances of the Holy Land': Lord Kitchener and Christmas at Bethlehem

It might be all last minute shopping, frantic gift wrapping and over done turkey these days but have you ever wondered what Christmas was like in the Holy Land in the nineteenth century? Well you're in luck as I am celebrating this blog's first Christmas with a detailed account by Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, a British Field Marshal and colonial administartor who died during the First World War, of 'Christmas at Bethlehem'. This article, together with another, was found among reports and other papers of the late Lord Kitchener, in his handwriting and over his signature after his death. It was published in the January 1917 issue of Palestine Exploration Quarterly.

'On Christmas Eve of 1875 we rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to be present at the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. The road, so well known to all travellers in the Holy Land, passes the Well of the Magi, where tradition relates that the three kings from the East again beheld the guiding star.

"A little farther on is a still more ancient site, the Tomb of Rachel, now an ordinary Mahommedan tomb without any appearance of remote antiquity; yet this spot has been venerated by Christians, Mahommedans, and Jews from the earliest times as the burial-place of the mother of Benjamin. It agrees so well with the Bible narrative of the death and burial of Rachel on the way to Bethlehem, that it seems hard to find objection to the genuineness of its position, and yet there are many difficulties to be reconciled before it can be accepted without any doubts. On our, arrival at Bethlehem we found the inhabitants returning from Beit Jala, where they had been to meet and bring the Latin Patriarch to their town. Any honoured person is thus met in Palestine by the inhabitants before arriving at the town, and conducted the rest of the way with great rejoicings, the mounted portion of the escort performing fantasia in front, galloping wildly about, shouting, and firing their' rusty old flintlocks into the air. On returning from Beit Jala they had started on the Jerusalem road in order to meet the French Consul, who arrives in great state as the representative of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Bethlehemites are well-to-do people, earning a good deal from their speciality of carving religious subjects in mother-of-pearl which they sell to pilgrims and travellers; they are mostly Christians, and their women have a well-deserved reputation for good looks which is enhanced by their rather peculiar costume. It consists of a dress of red and blue woollen stuff, open at the throat, and with long hanging sleeves, a mantle of the same hangs down behind, and a long white veil, sometimes embroidered, and held up by a high cylindrical bonnet, forms their headdress; this resembles the ancient oriental headdress worn by female figures representing Syrian towns seen on coins. The lower part of the bonnet is ornamented sometimes by strings of coins closely packed together, and necklaces of silver coins are worn with full dress. A Bethlehem woman might almost start a money-changer's shop with the amount of coins she wears; some are old family heirlooms, and it is their great ambition to put on as many coins as possible. This desire is fraught with some danger, as several of these women were murdered for their ornaments in the short time we were at Jerusalem. Nothing is prettier than a crowd of these women in their long white veils, bright dresses, and sparkling jewellery. The men delight in very rich and full turbans of all colours, and very bright oriental dresses."

>> Read the full article for free

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Cannon you believe it? The time and money it takes to conserve artefacts salvaged from shipwrecks

You may have seen in the news last week that further diving at the Elizabethan wreck that sank off Alderney in the Channel Islands, UK in the 16th Century has been carried out by the Alderney Maritime Trust and staff from Bournemouth University. They have uncovered three cannon and "substantial ship timbers" in addition to over 1,000 artefacts that were salvaged from the first dive to the wreck in 2008. The unnamed ship sunk in November 1592 and was discovered by local fishermen Bertie Costeril and Fred Shaw in 1977.

Mike Harrison, coordinator trustee, said more work on the site was going to go ahead next summer and explained the large lapse in time between dives by stating that "[t]hings move very slowly with marine archaeology, the work we've done in the last few years... has been conserving objects." However he also noted that "it's very, very expensive... we've got a lot of fundraising to do, it's tens of thousands of pounds, conserving a cannon is £10,000 for example."

I took a look in our online archive to read more about conservation in maritime archaeology and came across the article 'In situ conservation of cannon and anchors on shipwreck sites' by Ian Donald MacLeod in a 1996 issue of Studies in Conservation. In the article the author explains how a wrought iron anchor and a cast iron carronade from the wreck of HMS Sirius (1790) received In situ electrolysis treatment using sacrificial anodes in the shallow waters off Norfolk Island in the South Pacific Ocean.This pre-treatment stabilises the artifacts and ensures that they can be safely recovered and transported.

Monitoring on the seabed and in the laboratory showed that approximately 80% of the chlorides had been removed from the carronade before excavation. The cathodic
pre-treatment results in a significant improvement in the quality of the surface of the metals. He argues it is possible to maintain artifacts on the seabed by continued use of sacrificial anodes.

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 9 December 2013

Digging deeper (literally): 150 years of the London underground

For this month's Digging Deeper we are turning to the interdisciplinary publication The London Journal: A Review of Metropolitan Society Past and Present and its recent special issue celebrating a number of significant milestones in the history of the London underground.

In the case of London’s underground railway system, the focus of this special issue, several key dates vie for commemorative attention: 1890, the date of the first deep-level, wholly underground line, when new technologies — electric traction and deep-level tunnelling — were united; 1933, the key political–managerial date, when the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) took over control of almost the entire Underground network; even 1853, when the North Metropolitan Railway, which became the Metropolitan Railway, first received Parliamentary authorisation, and the process of planning and building the Underground began in earnest. The last two dates have the satisfying arithmetic quality of being exactly 80 and 160 years ago, and the first was, in fact, celebrated (albeit modestly) as the ‘Tube Centenary’ in 1990. But 150 years is a more obvious anniversary, not least because it marks the longest period of operation of any underground railway, reminding us that the first section of the Metropolitan, the ‘world’s first underground railway’, opened to the public in January 1863, employing tried and tested technologies but in a novel combination to solve a new problem: how to handle traffic in cities that could no longer be traversed comfortably on foot. Ideas about traffic and comfort have changed since then, and will continue to change in the future, making us mindful of both marked continuities and the contingency of change.
The article "Celebrating the Underground's Architectural Legacy" provides a retrospective of the statutory protection of the London Underground’s built heritage since 1970, when the first Underground listing, St James’s Park Station and 55 Broadway, Westminster took place. It sets out the criteria used in assessing Underground buildings for designation, with illustrated examples from a comprehensive resurvey undertaken by English Heritage in 2010–11, which resulted in seventeen new listings and four upgradings:
"London’s Underground system has endowed the capital and its suburbs with some of its most outstanding examples of architecture and design. Seventy Underground stations, approximately one-quarter of the total on the network, are now included in the National Heritage List for England. Statutory listing, introduced by the Town & Country Planning Act (1947), is a recognition of special architectural or historic interest in a national context. Over half a million buildings are listed nationally, graded under three categories: Grade I (of exceptional interest); Grade II* (of more than special interest); and Grade II (of special interest). These account, respectively, for approximately 2.5 per cent, 5.5 per cent and 92 per cent of all listed buildings. Most pre-1840 buildings are listed; after that date, increasing selectivity is applied. Buildings under 30 years old are listed only exceptionally, and must be of outstanding interest and under demonstrable threat in order to be considered; this is because the lapse of time is usually insufficient for their significance to be properly understood."

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 2 December 2013

Volunteer at SAA 2014!

The 79th Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Annual Meeting will be held in Austin, TX on April 23-27, 2014. SAA is looking for volunteers to assist with all on-site meeting services.

Volunteer Requirements:
There is only one requirement for volunteering: You must be able to work a total of 8 hours (two four hour shifts). In return for your time, you will receive a free meeting registration that gives you full access to the 79th Annual Meeting.

Training will be provided through detailed and targeted manuals sent to you electronically prior to the meeting along with on-the-job instruction. Volunteers must pick up their registration packet at the volunteer registration table in the registration area at the beginning of the annual meeting. As always, SAA staff will be on hand to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have!

Continuing this year:
Session attendant volunteers (please see note under the description for session room attendants as there are changes) will be allowed to request specific sessions once the Preliminary Program is available in December. If you submit an application before the Preliminary Program is available, you can revise your shift availability to reflect those sessions you would like. Please send any changes to Josh Caro, and please note that these requests will be taken on a first come, first served basis. We may not be able to accommodate all of your choices. We will send an e-mail to all session attendant volunteers to let them know when the Preliminary Program is available.

If you would like to volunteer, please complete the application form at the bottom of this page and send it to SAA headquarters. The deadline for the application is February 3, 2014. Be sure to press the Send Form button at the bottom of the page. Volunteer opportunities are limited so please respond ASAP. If you are a presenter, we understand you will not know your schedule until the Preliminary Program is online in December and you will never be scheduled for a shift that conflicts with your session. You will receive an email confirmation if you are accepted as a volunteer within two weeks of the receipt of your application. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Josh Caro at or by phone at +1(202)559-7382.