◊ Dear microburins, It’s been brewing for a little while. Spurred on by successful paid work through this year, a burgeoning human network on LinkedIn, the time seems right to make a full commitment to archaeology. Now’s the time to draw a line between the past career and the palpably exciting prospect of doing what I’m passionate about. It’ll be an experiment, for sure, and I’m certain there are going to be some difficult moments. Nor does this all mean turning my back on twenty-odd years in the private sector. I’m seizing the chance to mesh together the skills and experiences gained in operational and project management with those of commercial archaeology. This is surely reflexive change management, difficult though I am as the patient / customer / opportunity. Procrastination is too easy. I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give it a try, extraordinary as it feels. So, TimeVista Archaeology is the new professional shop front, leaving microburin as the informal loud hailer, perhaps conscience. There’s much still to do: I need to sort out my CSCS safety card (deconstruction skills), Chartered Institute for Archaeologists application (peer review or die) and, if I’m to engage with activities to support prehistory in the national curriculum, I probably need a good vetting too – there’s a kid still inside this yellow-hatted archaeologist, which is a start. Of the many realities of being in one’s forties is to realise (a) there’s no such thing as grown-ups; (b) it’s OK not to like jazz, allegedly; and (c) apostrophes’ and, commas are very important indeed. That leaves me to thank you for your support, to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a rewarding, peaceful 2015, until next I holler from behind the spoil heap. ♦ Spence | “good with archaeology”
◊ Dear microburins,
I’m normally a night owl but, having collapsed in bed with a couple of archaeology journals at 10pm last night, here I am awake in the early hours. So I thought I’d do something moderately useful before the sun rises and the day unfolds. This post offers notes on recent experiences in photographing lithic artefacts – efficiently and cost-effectively – in a manner suitable for assemblage characterisation reports (‘grey lit’ and HER¹/PAS²) and archiving. There’s a shopping list at the end and an outreach, as always, for feedback and advice.
¹ Historic Environment Record (HER) | ² Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). OASIS is a publicly accessible portal for submitting archaeological and fieldwork records to the relevant HER, with documents/images uploaded to Archaeology Data Service (ADS) digital archives.
Image | A bit of paraphernalia in the lithics lab for the blogtastic Day of Archaeology 2014.
A recent bout of lithics analysis needed some rapid, efficient and consistent images for the more significant pieces. The excavation-derived collection (not an assemblage per se) was in majority chert rather than flint – one of the fascinating aspects of prehistoric raw material consumption in north-east England related to availability in base and drift geology. The late glacial ice sheet dynamics and subsequent fluvial activity have created a jigsaw of knappable raw material types including limestone-derived cherts from the Pennines and various chalk-derived flint types from beds under the north sea, Scandinavia and farther south beyond the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire wolds. Flint remains readily available in east coast beach gravels, boulder clay deposits and some river gravels. Against this canvass, human mobility, most especially in the Mesolithic, provides for some interesting patterns in terms of what one finds where.
Images (below) | Top: Late Mesolithic flint microliths (narrow blade), Bottom: Side view of a Mesolithic chert core tablet.
I’m largely self-taught and results-driven when it comes to photographing lithics. I’ve experimented with black backgrounds and lighting configurations with some success. However, depth of field and pronounced shadowing for the more substantial artefacts have provided some challenges. Inevitably, a significant amount of work in image enhancement software is also needed, plus the addition of graphical scales (I use Corel because Adobe is too expensive). There can also be problems with darker coloured materials and especially the edges against a rather brutal black background. The results have been good, I think, but time-consuming. More on dark background specifications »
What I now find is far more efficient and consistent is using an acrylic frosted block, the type you see in museums or retail displays. In diffused natural daylight the block lets sufficient light permeate around the base of an artefact to suppress excessive shadows – the object almost seems to float in a milky ether – and allows for a small enough aperture (high f/stop number) to counter blurring within the frame, or between the top of an object and the scale, such as with deep objects like cores, items with heavy curvature or a deep arête. Lighting can be tuned by raising the block on a clear acrylic stand or placing foil or white card underneath – much cheaper than using a lightbox (not very transportable) or augmenting with artificial lighting. By using a good quality photographic scale I’ve also avoided the need to overlay digital scale images, although this is easy enough to do. And if an object needs support, I actually find that soft silicone earplugs (like bluetack but colourless) work fine.
Having a colour-correction scale has helped to maintain consistent hue/chroma results and I can, pretty much, adjust all images in a sequence using batch mode in photo/paintshop software, including corrections for barrel distortion (depends on your lens). The results feel good enough for archive/grey lit reports and need little extra work for publication-quality, as and when that becomes necessary. You can also combine objects, matched to scale, in a single merged image. You can’t really beat a good lithics line drawing but these remain open to the biases of interpretation – the eye of the penholder – and completeness in terms of what is included, excluded or emphasised. Drawing is subjective.
The beauty of this toolkit is that it can all be carried in a small plastic storage box and set up pretty much anywhere that’s suitably lit, perhaps excepting the lighting equipment which I keep in the lab. Office/fluorescent/tungsten lighting is challenging but can be neutralised/compensated for with camera settings (or manipulating raw file images).
So here’s the set-up I am operating. I’m absolutely open to advice and suggestions too. Supplier information is offered in good faith without any implied endorsement or coercion. It’s just good stuff, well-priced (although the camera and macro lens are relatively expensive – try second-hand if you don’t have one), and it works. I hope the following is pragmatic and useful:
The lithics selected for photography were photographed to display their dorsal and ventral faces, and additionally to give a side or platform view when required. Each image included a metric 50mm scale and true-colour correction panel. The lithic was placed on an opaque (frosted) acrylic display block and photographed in partially diffused natural light with the following equipment and settings:
- Camera: Canon EOS 450D SLR with remote shutter release
- Lens: Canon EFS 60mm f/2.88 macro lens
- F-stop: f/14 (small aperture)
- Exposure: 1/6 second
- ISO speed: ISO-400
- Focal length: 60mm
- White balance: Auto
I’ve not needed artificial lighting yet but assuming gloomy winter days:
- Professional photographic lighting (2x 300 Watt opal, filtered white, lateral, no fluorescent overhead) | Calumet, see shopping list below
Images were uploaded as JPEG files and colour-corrected using Corel PaintShop Pro X5 software against the true-colour panel (batch processing was cross checked). TIFF files are also appropriate and an accepted format for long-term archives. The images included in the written report are compressed at 220dpi resolution, the maximum permissible in Microsoft office applications³. Original unmodified JPEG images have been retained; RAW files were not generated due to their large file size and memory requirements although archive retention is recommended.
³ For MS Word or Powerpoint, go to File > Options > Advanced and click the “do not compress” box before saving to PDF or PDF-A (Archive).
Left: Late Mesolithic quadrangular (rhomboid) chert microlith, dorsal and ventral views | Right: Mesolithic chert core tablet, platform and base views.
Online Shopping list
- Frosted acrylic blocks and transparent stands | 3D Displays | http://www.3ddisplays.co.uk/display_blocks_and_shapes.htm
- Desk clamp and jointed lockable arm (separate items), Remote shutter release cable | Studio lighting | Calumet | http://www.calphoto.co.uk/
The arm lock needs considerable force to rotate; it isn’t broken.
- Photo scales | Past Horizons | http://www.pasthorizonstools.com/Tapes_and_Scales_for_Archaeologists_s/1632.htm
Usually next-day delivery too.
- Soft silicone earplugs | Retail | http://www.funswimshop.co.uk/bioears-silicone-earplugs-17878-p.asp
After an exquisite summer of digging and fieldwork, I’m landed back at the surrogate home in London W10. Some recent personal events – not pleasant ones – are now likely to fast-track a series life-changing decisions, including committing to the Masters next year with a burning passion to continue Mesolithic research (I now have ten 14C dates for White Gill!), perhaps renting out the London home and moving to the soul’s home in Yorkshire and the north of England. I’ve given notice on the lithics lab too – now too expensive to retain, with enough done to be able to continue “in the sitting room” which doubles as my library and portal on inner-city London life. This has been also a juncture where relations with Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation ended to allow me to focus on commercially viable work. I appreciate their good wishes and value the collaboration during my time there.
In the last week I have been making connections with archaeologists, heritage, museum and related professions on the “professional” social media app LinkedIn.
- My profile on LinkedIn spanning the past career in international sales operations, change management, customers services and NOW archaeology!
- Why not connect with me? Believe in the human network and the power of togetherness.
“I’ve been on LinkedIn, as one of the first million UK users, for over a decade now – it was launched in 2003. It has also been immensely useful in terms of professional visibility, networking, recruitment (both directions) and informed discussions. This is my personal experience and I am certainly not in a sales role here! In essence, people can find you. Doors open, without having to share pet stories, favourite foods, funny walks, or the other miscellany implicit in social media.” | Read more in my post »
I think I am also now in a position, after substantial recent experience, to apply to the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA, and now with a Royal Charter) at the appropriate level, referees required (and primed), peer reviewed and requiring a commitment to ongoing career development. In this sense, the Archaeology Skills Passport developed by David Connolly at BAJR is a key tool.
More news will follow, and thanks for following me in these volatile but positive times. Hey, the fieldwalking, supported by Solstice Heritage, on Teesside “came up with the money” – lowland Late Mesolithic-Early Neolithic lithics presence (we have Early Mesolithic adjacent too) around a micro-wetland area for which English Heritage’s Rapid Assessment Toolkit is also useful. Much to wash and write up with a prospect, thanks to impassioned landowners, for more work next year. PS, by kind permission we are using (and tuning) the excellent fieldwork recording sheets developed by Clive Waddington’s Archaeological Research Services.
And life doesn’t get quieter
Ongoing commitments as Chair of the feisty Teesside Archaeological Society mean that we are also trying to engage on local authority-approved (but not archaeologically supported) planning debacles on Teesside. You can review our engagements and, frankly, frustrations in being an Advocate of Heritage At Risk on our facebook page. Acklam Hall, Middlehaven and increasing Green over Brownfield developments need a community to care about their heritage when due process threatens destroying it.
And, in my final term as CBA Yorkshire’s Editor, I will be focusing on the third volume of FORUM YORKSHIRE – our annual journal – for the final call-for-papers by end of this calendar year. If you are doing archaeology in Yorkshire….you know where to publish.
As if the world isn’t dangerous enough, @microburin is now on video – sounding alarmingly like Prince Harry – at Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar & Cleveland. The video introduces the Street House Before the Saxons exhibition which runs until July 2015. There are a few of my Mesolithic flint images (and text) on the info-boards too. The Street House Farm archaeology project has been running since the 1980s under the directorship of Steve Sherlock, archaeologist extraordinaire and the chap currently responsible for the archaeological oversight of the A1(M) works between Leeming and Barton, including Roman Catterick CATARACTONIUM fort and town.
Street House, near Loftus in East Cleveland, has archaeological remains from at least the Neolithic − an early timber mortuary structure – through numerous Bronze Age burial mounds (and a wossit), an extensive Iron Age farming community who were probably making and selling salt, Romano-British canny folk who were manufacturing Whitby Jet objects like beads, spindle whorls and probably pins, with suggestions of continuity into the early post-Roman ‘dark ages’. There are also hints in the lithics of possible Later/Terminal Mesolithic activity, which is right up my street.
Of course, despite many thousands of years of human activity, Street House is probably best known for the Anglo-Saxon Royal Princess buried in a 7th-century AD cemetery, in her bed, with breathtaking jewels of gold and garnet, on permanent display. Do try visit both exhibitions—and peruse the Street House Roman phallus carving from the 2013 excavations?
Having finished digging at Kiplin Hall, a quick trip south, I’m back in Yorkshire and looking forward to meeting friends – new, old and social mediaries – on Saturday 23 August at the Flixton Island mesolithic party-in-the-peat open day, hopefully arriving around 9am. Sunday is an open day too. Details follow below »
Kiplin, where I was supervising and training volunteers with two lovely colleagues for three weeks, was a splendid, friendly HLF-funded project with fantastic archaeology that spanned several thousand years in finds: Mesolithic chert (and a microlith!) to 17th-century musket balls, WWII bullet cases and a 1964-dated pigeon ring which we can trace. I’ll write more in a future post.
A Mesolithic chert core tablet from Kiplin test pits.
Stone Age Open Days – Flixton Island Mesolithic Site near Scarborough, 23rd and 24th August
Walk back 12,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age. See the latest excavations and finds, and quiz the expert archaeologists about life in the past.
Come along and learn about excavations of the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites from 12,000 to 11,000 years ago that once existed on an island in the now vanished Lake Flixton.
FREE site tours will take place on both days at 10.00am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm. Tours will last around 30 minutes.
On the Saturday, Tim Burkinshaw @CarrsWetland from The Carrs Wetland Project will lead tours at 11.00am and 1.30pm around the wetland landscape looking for clues to the shrinking peat and explaining how local farmers are helping to protect the heritage of the floodplain with its wildlife.
There will be opportunities to see some of the recent finds and talk to the experts about what they tell us about life at the end of the Ice Age.
Visit the bookstall where you can buy the small booklet (£2) or the illustrated book (£13) about the famous nearby site of Star Carr and the Mesolithic sites around Lake Flixton. All profits go towards further public events.
Artist Ruth Collett will be on site on Sunday afternoon to talk about her work interpreting the excavation in film and sculpture.
Getting to the site
Travelling from York, take the A64 to Staxton, then take the A1039 towards Filey. When you get to the village of Flixton, take the left hand turn down Flixton Carr Lane (if you reach the Foxhound Pub, you’ve travelled too far through Flixton village). Parking is available in a nearby field. For safety reasons, please park there and take the short walk to the site rather than driving up to the site huts.
FOR IT IS DIGGING SEASON AND THE SEASONING IS GOOD!
Been busy writing up some lithics in the temporary luxury of the air-conditioned lab, outside temperature above 30, experiencing delight with the new desk-clamped anglepoise camera attachment device thingy and gossiping with my neighbouring office friends – who have nothing to do with heritage or archaeology let alone tiny lithic tools – about what I’m up to. I love how interested they are and the brilliant questions they ask. I’m even Tweeped-up with the lovely office manager, Lenka, who observed my early antics (and burglarized anxieties) as I tried to make sense of excavation outputs. Turns out that the corporate film company, next door, know the DIG Ventures crew through family. Archaeology does get about a bit.
Tool boxes x2, bags, undies (unserialised), caps hats and bonnets, insect repellents, mattocks, ranging poles, hampers, odd socks and coolboxes are now packed for the next adventure – the annual digging round, this time supervising and training volunteers on an exciting project in North Yorkshire. There’s more than 10,000 years of archaeology in prospect here, post-glacial up to the present day. The most enjoyable aspect, as always, as every one of the past few years, is the direct human repartee – the crowd of folks from amazing backgrounds – who make any fieldwork compelling and rewarding.
I hope you have a brilliant summer too – much appreciate you taking an interest.
Charting Chipeling – The Archaeology of Kiplin Hall
For the past six months we’ve been slowly uncovering the archaeology of the Kiplin Hall grounds through a variety of archive research, landscape and earthwork survey, historic building recording and test-pitting. Now the three-week excavation is upon us and you are very welcome to come to Kiplin and take part in the excavations. The dig will be running from Monday 28 July to Friday 15 August (except Sundays) and there are currently spaces available on all days.
Targets to be excavated include a ditch-and-bank enclosure currently thought to be part of the wider medieval grange that pre-dated the Jacobean Hall, built by the founder of Baltimore USA, a probable post-medieval brick kiln and the line of the medieval and potentially earlier road that preceded the turnpike road to Northallerton. Anybody interested please contact email@example.com with your preferred dates and he’ll add you to the list.
More information on the project can also be found at www.chartingchipeling.co.uk