Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 2

So – the results of our survey are in! I’ve been busy with the visible diggers team over the past week crunching number from our survey, which was completed by over 100 students who had undertaken archaeological fieldwork from around the country. In the process of pulling out the main points for our presentation at the Cardiff CiFA conference next month, several main issues have become apparent. The aim of this piece of research was to assess student perceptions of archaeological fieldwork and to find out whether students in general felt that their interpretations were being heard in the field.

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Our survey showed that most students had enjoyed their fieldwork placements, but the few that didn’t were all in their first year – maybe this was just down to the fact that they had no prior experience of archaeology and it simply just wasn’t for them or maybe the reason lay in the amount of instruction and support they received. Interestingly, ten percent less female students surveyed felt that they had received sufficient instruction than male students. Could this be because of gendered differences in communication? Could it be that there is too much ‘mansplaining’ at archaeological excavations? Indeed, most of the figures at the top of the archaeological profession are still white, middle-class males and perhaps greater racial diversity and gender equality will help rectify this problem. Archaeology students are, in general, much more diverse in terms of age and background and can often provide fresh interpretations which approach the archaeological material from a fresh angle.

Perhaps the most poignant issue raised by the survey was that the majority of students surveyed, from first year right through to masters, either said that they weren’t or were not sure that they were contributing to the overall interpretation of the site when they had clearly engaged in interpretive acts such as section and plan drawings, context sheets, photographs and discovering a significant find. This is clearly problematic, as if students are not made aware of the skills they possess, which have been developed by classroom teaching and on-site tuition then they are being failed by their institutions. This also has impacts for the future – if students are not aware that they are making interpretive contributions, how are they going to communicate this with members of the public or with colleagues if they enter the archaeological profession?

Our paper will be presented next month, so I’ll keep you updated with how it is received at the conference!

In other news, two major exhibitions are opening in Manchester next week – Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island at Manchester Museum, for which a 3.3 ton moai statue has arrived on loan from the British Museum, and Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design at Manchester Art Gallery. Of course, not one to miss a preview, I’ll be attending both and will report next week! Until then 🙂

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Archaeology, History

Roman meets Medieval at Cefn Caer

Last weekend I visited Cefn Caer Medieval Hall House and Roman Fort near Machynlleth, on the western Welsh coast. After a tip-off from a local antiques dealer who had a keen interest in archaeology and a lovely antiques shop in Machynlleth, my group sought out the house (a roadside signpost is coming shortly!) after making a telephone appointment for a tour. Arriving without really knowing what to expect, we were blown away by the Medieval house and its inspiring and engaging owner, Elfyn Rowlands, which was built upon the site of a Roman Fort in the 14th century. The building is now grade II* listed and the attached barn grade II, mainly thanks to the tireless restoration work by Elfyn and its links with Owain Glydwr, and it was interesting to hear about the challenges faced when living in such an important historic house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: www.cefncaer.com

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: http://www.cefncaer.com

Rowlands was enthusiastic and fascinating – and a real character too! It was inspiring to see the work he had put into the restoration of his family home and the energy and wit he injected into his tours. He was keen to show us reconstructions of two beautiful – and intact- roman vases that he had found in the grounds of he house. The originals are now on display at the National Museum in Cardiff, who commissioned the painstakingly scaled and painted reconstructions for Cefn Caer.

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

The interior of the house is steeped in history in every corner and the smell of the wood and smoke help create an immersive authenticity. The tour was a real delight and well worth a visit if around those parts. The Cefn Caer website with more information and directions can be found here.

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Archaeology

Ancient Ink

At the weekend, I attended the annual ‘Tattoo Tea Party’ convention at Manchester Event City, where hundreds of tattoo artists from across the country convene to showcase their work and advertise their trade. Amongst the many artist practicing using electric needles, there were several using traditional ‘dotwork’ techniques. This method involves a needle which is dipped in ink, mounted on to a wooden shaft with a long handle. The handle is struck lightly which pricks the skin and leaves a dot, which are built up into an image on the bearer’s skin.

a 'dotwork' tattoo in progress at Tattoo Tea Party

a ‘dotwork’ tattoo in progress at Tattoo Tea Party

This traditional method takes much longer to master than using an electric needle, and is still practiced widely in areas such as Thailand, Samoa and parts of South America, as well as seeing a resurgence of popularity in the UK. Watching the tattoo taking shape using this ancient technique, I thought about the tattoos found on Otzi, the 5,300-year-old ice mummy found in 1992. He bore around sixty tattoos on his body, many of which are still plainly visible today. As Maria Pabst et. al. (2009) explain, Otzi’s tattoos were made with soot from the remains of a fire, possible using a mounted thorn or something similar. They were most likely applied by a third party, but the reasons for these tattoos remain uncertain. Possibly a rite of passage or part of a ritual – and interestingly most are covered by his clothing suggested their primary purpose was not overt display.

I couldn’t resist adding to my collection of tattoos myself while there, although I opted for the electric needle! For me, my tattoos form a kind of personal biography and I feel inquisitive about the reasons why other people have theirs. I find prehistoric examples particularly fascinating as we will never truly know the reasons why the markings have been applied or even what they represent, but we can speculate! I like to think that Otzi’s tattoos were a link to his kin which stayed with him while he travelled, and ultimately perished, into the Italian Alps.

Pabst, Maria Anna, et al. 2009. The tattoos of the Tyrolean Iceman: a light microscopical, ultrastructural and element analytical study. Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (10): 2335-2341.

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