Monday, 28 July 2014

Anstey Big Dig

I and my son had a fabulous day yesterday on Sunday when we went to our friends' house in order to participate in Anstey Big Dig organised by the Charnwood Roots project. I felt originally that putting a whole weekend into an archaeological activity would be too much on my last weekend here for a month. In addition, considering the size of our garden and the terracing between the plots, I suspect there is very little left, even if there are bits of brick in the soil in our herb plot. But the houses tend to be brick here, so there are many fragments about. Luckily our friends wanted to dig a test pit and only committed themselves for a Sunday, which suited me and Alex perfectly. Phil ironically had a work commitment - in a community archaeology group near Market Harborough, so he only could come afterwards to the pub.

Dave removing turf (following my instructions)

It turned out that my decision not to go to London on the only Sunday I and Alex could to see the Natural History Museum due to the warm weather and curiosity (plus knowing that there was a paddling pool and tree house for the children) turned out to be a fortunate one. The Big Dig had fewer volunteers than originally anticipated and the area 'manager' just popped in thrice in order to check that the thing was started, ongoing and finished. I ended up explaining in a more detailed manner what we were doing and telling about the local geology and archaeology while keeping eye on the paperwork and weeding rocks from the find tray. Sadly, it turned out that the top soil had been stripped when this particular estate had been built in the 1960s and sold away, but we definitely could demonstrate that. There were only 25 centimetres of turf and soil on top of the virgin clay. There luckily were some finds, including an iron nail, tiny bits of porcelain, slag and a fragment from a clay pipe. The truncated stratigraphy meant that we managed to get the test pit finished while the children from four families ran riot and we had a nice outdoor lunch with hod dogs and ice cream.

Richard Huxley checks our progress

The Charnwood Roots project is related to the ongoing compilation of the Victoria County History for Leicestershire. The project got a large grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund and brought archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) to Anstey. The preliminary results, communicated in a briefing at the end of the Dig, included at least some sherds of Roman pottery, a Stamford sherd and some Medieval Potters Marston. I and my friend also spotted a big piece from a black Cistercian beaker from near the church. The project will return to tell about the results of the recording of the finds. Let's see if I am in the country then!

Monday, 21 July 2014

I do know a blogger or two

It is my annual leave and even if a Finnish newspaper warned about not having a full, proper holiday, I do keep my stress levels normal by working slowly towards the illustrations of a major article. However, enjoying my daytime with my son and digitising pot sherds every now and then do not make an interesting reading, so I forward you to my friends and fellow bloggers instead.

Alun Salt is not only our very own Godless-Father, but also an archaeoastronomer. Anybody interested in classics will find something new in his 'Ancients and meteors'.

And those of us who find death inspiring in one way or another (as long as it is not our own), can look at Archaeodeath. 'Aldworth Church' is worth visiting.

And in order to try to keep a gender balance and introduce a female blogger, not to mention interdisciplinarity, Maijastina Kahlos presents interesting thoughts. I do have a soft spot for frontiers and boundaries, so her entry on her time in Budapest is illuminating.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Digging deep for archaeology?

An article in the Independent – apparently to celebrate the start of the Festival of Archaeology – recognised the current problems of the archaeological profession in Britain. The profession has shrunken by a third, the loosening of the pay is low for graduates, one major department has closed its undergraduate course and there may be a shortage of diggers in the future, if the building and planning picks up. There are signs in our village that this is a case.

I could use this blog to marvel the unfortunate situation after the planning regulations recently. The developers build new estates to the villages where the infrastructure cannot support them. In our village the rush hour traffic is horrendous with long queues, since all the traffic to nearby villages goes through our village. The suggested solution by a developer: to remodel a roundabout to be a double roundabout that does not help to increase the flow – probably the opposite. The only way would be to create alternative realistic routes to Leicester city centre...

Anyway, archaeology is a curious profession, since the archaeological units have a margin thinning business model with competitive bargaining and short-term contracts for most of the workers when its core business is totally dependent of planning regulation. If that was to disappear, archaeology would probably go, too. The local museums are closing or cutting personnel and even if running the community archaeology will bring some jobs, it is unlikely to support thousands of fulltime staff permanently. The funding comes in piecemeal from grants and crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is offered as a solution, but I am sure hundreds of projects would not be guaranteed funding simultaneously. DigVentures is a high profile venture in this field and says that their grant money is not going to run out in three years, but they have to work continuously in order to keep money rolling in. Luckily, there will be people eager to fulfil their inner archaeologist dreams, but how many similar businesses the country could take? Businesses that could pay continuously salaries.

DigVentures is right in the fact that the archaeologist have to be creative and use all the possibilities, but it would be foolish to think that the crowdfunding will be the basis for long-term solution that will support academics, university departments and regular excavations at planning sites. However, it is a workable solution for shorter research excavations and field schools, but the market can saturate quickly. Nevertheless, the society and charity funding model is now expanding in Finland, for example, so it bring at least short-term help. We can only hope that the government do not shrink the state to the smitterings, since planning guidance is needed – not only to keep archaeology going but also to keep villages from being overdeveloped with overextended primary schools and too many cars in a daily traffic jam with no libraries or museums.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Quiet life for Day of Archaeology

The things are getting quiet at the Universities in Sweden. July is the traditional holiday month and last Friday was the last working day for many before the holidays. Some people are naturally digging or carrying out other types of fieldwork, since it is the best season.However, not me. I am still (wo)manning the Department - even if my holiday is to start soon with the end of the school term in England the coming week. However, I can look forward to be apparently the only person in our floor - unless my colleague studying pottery paintings happens to turn up. One other scholar will be working at home until August. I will have three full days of wandering about alone. I probably has to go to another floor in order to have company over lunch or coffee.

Not that I am idle. On the contrary. I have just realised how much I should do in three days. Basically work that will take two weeks. Somehow I fathom I have to do something in the evenings during my holiday. Sadly, an international journal will not wait for my article draft for peer-review, if I do not send it in in time. They will have other offers, if I do not deliver.

This has been the story of my life for some years now. Computer modelling, pottery drawing, writing, library visits and deadlines. This summer will go past like the previous ones. I probably could just repost my previous entry for the Day of Archaeology, since the content of my work seems to be the same... However, on the positive side, I do currently have a proper monthly salary and I am not working at home, but I have an office. Plus I will take part into a project. An upgrade that can naturally be downgraded again as is the story of postdocs everywhere.

However, there will be no Day of Archaeology posting for me this year. On that day I will hopefully get my tax return finally wrapped up - as you do as the first thing on your summer holiday. Since one child's last school day is the day to get anything serious done for weeks during the daytime.