#FlintFriday | A little small talk between friends?

If you’re a Twitterer and ‘into’ archaeological lithics and flint, why not join the weekly #FlintFriday celebration of beautiful flint—as well as good fieldwork, recording, curation and sharing? Do you have a favourite in your local museum or archive?

This week’s latest from @microburin


Late Mesolithic narrow blade microliths from North Yorkshire archaeological excavation.


Please always ask permission to take photographs, and a scale is useful! Always report finds to the landowner (who remains the legal owner), the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Historic Environment Record (HER) or seek advice | See useful contacts and links »

Remember | if an artefact isn’t accurately recorded, it’s lost its context and much of its meaning for everybody else.

St Swithun’s cycle | Mesolithic press | CBA Yorkshire’s FORUM journal v2

Been a bit quiet on here? Microburin has been living out his own kind of St Swithun’s (or Swithin’s) cycle—forty days* in an alter ego role as Hon Editor of an archaeological journal. The Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire Group’s annual journal, FORUM Yorkshire, is about enter the second year in its new, refreshed format.

The ‘forty days’ allegory reflects this last cycle of pulling together 180 print pages for volume 2 (2013)—twelve substantial articles, seven archaeology notes, a book review and archaeological register of some commercial activities in the fine county.

*St Swithun’s day is mid-July, but hopefully you follow my drift?

The reason for bringing this up here, other than the feeling of exhilaration towards the ‘end game’ and the desire to smell brand new printed paper (a lifelong predilection), is that my friend, mentor and collaborator Paul R Preston accepted an invitation to write for the journal. Paul is director of Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation, a not-for-profit venture focused on all things prehistorically lithic:

‘Lithoscapes is an innovative, educational non-profit organisation established in 2012. As a think-tank, we research, promote and educate on best practice related to the study of lithic artefacts and assemblages, their recovery, analysis, preservation, conservation, archival storage, display and publication.’

Research agendas and new frameworks

Paul’s paper, one of two with a central Mesolithic focus—the other deals with the Late Glacial palaeoenvironmental context of a Bos skeleton from Flixton, Vale of Pickering—is important and precedes publication of his full doctoral thesis (Preston forthcoming) that deals with the Central Pennines, due later this year. With permission, here’s his FORUM abstract:

‘This paper aims to present an overview of recent research on the Mesolithic lithic scatters in the Central Pennine area. In particular, it aims to exemplify a new analytical and interpretive approach to these lithic scatters by outlining—on a broad level—the new methodology, themes and conceptual links between the artefactual evidence (including the chaîne opératoire model), and hunter-gatherer behaviour. The main conclusions are summarised including a radically new narrative that intimately links prehistoric lithic consumption and tool use with Mesolithic mobility strategies, and settlement patterns in Northern England. In doing so, the author also hopes to highlight the need for a radically different methodological and paradigmatic approach to the recovery, study and recording of the lithic heritage of the Pennines and beyond.’ – Preston (2013)

There’s more in FORUM Yorkshire

cbaylogoThere are two thematic areas in particular where I believe this second volume provides new insights and reflects trends not catered for in more formal periodicals. Firstly, I set out with an intention to showcase the growing success of community-based archaeological projects. At a time where academic-based research funding is waning, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other grant-based outlets have transformed the ability of local groups to explore their archaeology and heritage in well-planned, inclusive and entirely voluntary ventures. These inspiring projects have a canny knack of bridging between traditional stakeholders—academic institutions, commercial practices, museums and archives—to build a compelling enterprise that would be the envy of any individual party. I’m  pleased that a number of such (and often award-winning) project practitioners have also contributed here in a way that future, formative groups may learn from.

Secondly, this volume reflects a readerships’ desire to know more about the behind the scenes aspects of archaeological practice and related disciplines that seldom see, by function of their inherent complexity, a presence in more traditional periodicals—in terms of the principles, methods and human processes involved.The papers by a distinguished artisan pottery expert and by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) will give a background to the skills (and challenges) involved and the ongoing learning process that we might otherwise not appreciate.

How do you get hold of FORUM Yorkshire?

Reserve your copy* by joining CBA Yorkshire—the student rate is £5 with the Journal! We operate a ‘green level’ Open Access policy which means that the previous volume becomes available online at no charge once the new edition is published in hard-copy print. If you want to write for FORUM Yorkshire, simply contact me at my other self: forum-editor@cba-yorkshire.org.uk.


FORUM Yorkshire vol 2 (2013) is now at the printers and will be available in early April 2014, at which point vol 1 becomes available online (via ISSUU, ADS and our website). ADS archives will be in  PDF-A format, the accepted standard for future-proof archives.


PS: More White Gill Mesolithic Project news is coming soon as the final suite of radiocarbon dating for this amazing site gains a grant funder (to be announced).


Preston, P.R. 2013. New Perspectives and Suggested Directions for Future
 Research on Central Pennine Mesolithic Lithic Scatters. Archaeological Forum Journal: CBA Yorkshire 2, 1–20.
Preston, P.R. Forthcoming. MESO-Lithics, Landscapes and Mobility: Towards a New Research Framework. BAR British Series. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Burns Night or Burins Night? | One Mesolithic vowel

Robert BurnsWith two-and-a-half hours to go for the rituals of Burns Night, I share a lithicist’s frustration. On all social media, simply, Burns looks like Burins. You hadn’t noticed? Shame. Oh, for the extra vowel. My eyes have been everywhere (should have gone to Specsavers), looking for the burin spalls, between mashed fauna, tatties, turnip mash and whisky.

burns mealThe level of cruelty to innocent lithics analysts on this special night is untold. If you are within 10 feet of a Mesolithic person, wrap your arms around her or him, and sympathise? We are rare, precious and need constant love, feeding occasionally, debitage tray emptying. Our debitage is our story. So consider sponsoring a lithithicist: lithoscapes.co.uk (especially if you are an uber-rich oil magnate or similar.)

Microburin | Twitter @microburin


The Trauma of a Second Burglary told by a Lithicist

Web_pic_off03 As some of you may know, the Lithoscapes* “South” lithics lab in London NW2 was broken into again—this time on Christmas night at 1am, the second time in six months. I rent office space to execute excellence in lithics protocols, which includes laying out all the pieces from regional (North Yorkshire) Mesolithic assemblages—thousands of flints and a few chert artefacts thrown in.

*The Lithoscapes website is presently being built by your own dearest. There will be shock and awe at the Durham Wild Things conference next week.

Web_pic_off08So, in a peaceful and analytical space, when somebody decides to break in, kick your door in, and you have thousands of lithics laid out, what and how do you feel?

Panic? Yes. Everybody in my office block, laden with valuable laptops, gadgets, servers, cameras, media equipment, asks me. They look at me knowing, now, that two decades of work would be destroyed. Tiny bits of stone rendered meaningless—that’s why I love my leased office colleagues.

You cannot insure lithics. They have no commercial value. They are our enduring eyes and ears, by proxy, into the Mesolithic. Silence. I then, usually after a burglary, tell the story about what they mean. Jaw dropping awe.

Web_pic_off01This second time, the “juvenile” was recorded squashing his face against a CCTV camera. He jumped in through a window, a 3m drop. He then let himself in and out. The first burglar is now in prison—meaning we are now being targeted. Our doors are being repaired and thickened, the windows barred. Who would have thought that Lithics could garner such an interest? I suspect it’s the gadgetry in the other office units. Be proud of me? Why? I am the first leasing Tenant to voice concerns as to why our security is so faulty, our doors not thick enough, alarms do not sound, security never turns up, and asking why our rent is going up again by 5%.

My Babies

Are my babies safe? Layered out on their B&Q polystyrene sheets? Yes. For now. But this is one London gang-land trauma too far. Our own local, three streets away,  Christmas Eve “domestic” shooting incident kind of resonates. I mean: you have a domestic moody, get a bit upset, yet you have a….gun? How so? London.

Hard Hammer?

Beware my hammer—the soft or the hard option. A little flint trepanning to follow? I’m so sorry for the holes in your head.

Audit Trail

To be clear, the only items of no value in the Lab are:

  • A USB set of calipers;
  • A USB set of digital scales;
  • One of two mag loupe glasses (my dearest remains around my neck all times, how dare you ask);
  • A USB kid’s 200x microscope (which performs better than most science labs: yes 200x!);
  • Rotring pens and a miserable amount of permatrace, plus duct tape;
  • A 20 sq m poly sheet which is the 1:1 site plan for entertainment purposes
  • Lots of boxes and a million ziplock bags;
  • A strange bag of charcoal;
  • Several pairs of surgical rubber gloves and a white smock: don’t…don’t..but I do things proper, envy my C14;
  • My litter bin, for posterity.

Let me get my hands on the pathetic thugs. But listen? If you have been let down by family, by schools, by governments, by everybody—what do you do? If the Uber Rich never pay their taxes—why should you care?

My burglary is a function of the System, stupid. The System is stupid.

What it all means for the burgled is quite a different story—those that stole my mam’s heirlooms in 1986 should fry in hell for a very long time. Social victims, I’m sure.

You destroyed a memory. You destroyed trust. You took something you will never have, nor ever understand.


Photography, Diplomacy and Grub | 1986 archaeology on a moor in Yorkshire

Dear Microburins.

Danby RiggI was flipping through some old (scanned) pictures from the prehistory of my archaeological past and thought you might enjoy these. It’s 1986 throw-back time, the second season investigating the Bronze Age upland landscape on Danby Rigg in the beautiful Esk valley on the North York Moors.

Aerial photography | On-site diplomacy | Sectioned lunch

The Bronze Age triple dykes subsequently radiocarbon dated to the Viking period, which was a surprise. The Durham University project included re-examination of a Bronze Age ring cairn with a large monolith, proving it to have at least one cremation burial.

Ring cairnThe landscape survey plotted the entire network of field systems and cairns hidden under the heather—certainly one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind in north-east England, and executed before the advent of GPS or Total Station technology, but we did have an EDM. This was all dumpy level and back-sighting. I’m proud to be able to set up a theodolite in five seconds, while sleeping!

There is a tenuous Mesolithic connection in that, on the long walk up to the moor each morning, Microburin discovered a small Mesolithic assemblage at relatively low altitude. It included some blades and a scraper with edge gloss from processing plant materials, but no microliths. A large Mesolithic core was, inevitably, lying at the bottom of the deepest Viking ditch (residual). It’s a bit like the “token” sherd of Roman Samian Ware (posh dinner service crockery) found most other places, no matter what period you’re digging.

AF Harding Danby RiggHarding, A., Ostoja-Zagorski, J. 1994. Prehistoric and Early Medieval Activity on Danby Rigg, North Yorkshire, Archaeological Journal 151, 16-97.

The plans and sections are mostly mine, but some cheeky rascal got the credit.


Blogging Archaeology | Movember +/- 1 BP | Why do I blog?

blogging-archaeology-e1383664863497When you get a personal email from anybody called Doug Rocks-Macqueen, summut’s up?

Dec 3 Update | Read Doug’s amazing summation of Blogging Archaeology round 1, and discover the next set of questions! »


CarnivalDoug is orchestrating a carnival, a virtual event, about blogging in archaeology #blogarch. Now, I’m under no illusion that this will be anything like an ethereal Notting Hill Carnival, on my door step every August. For one, the aroma of weed will not pervade our space here, allegedly. For two, you will not see me dressed in exotic regalia, even if I’m writing this post as my alter ego in a thong (please read on, I am no a Methodist). However, in the lead up to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) 2014 conference, Doug has invited the network of archaeological bloggers to explain their motives, to be held to account for their, our, post cards in time, about time, about people who study dead things through time. Each month there will be a new theme, a new question, a whole new month of introspection and conscience-divining.

This month’s question, the one I have missed by a short standard deviation around my norm, is twofold:

Why did you start to blog? (You fool);

Why (in the name of some divinity) do you still blog (or not)?

PS. I know BP is AD 1950. Imagine, today, it was Doug’s deadline, yesterday.

Even Bill might get confusedWhy, Spence, why? – Love, Bill.

The honest truth is that I almost didn’t. There are a few layers of personal history in a rather strange life-trajectory that give context to the genesis of microburin.com, and a visible portal to nobody, in April 2012.

The undelivered pizza

The physical capability was there. For reasons largely to do with ivory towers, a constant need to escape, and the transformation of my bedroom into a plant sanctuary after returning home from Durham Uni in 1987, I entered a 26 year career in “the other world”. Starting as a precocious box packer in a Soho basement (London) I wandered into the cosmos of seedy bars and primeval software – the first Unix software—long before graphical interfaces (and Hazelnutsopen-source “freeware” Linux, the demise of this stage of my career in 1999). Bill Gates was barely shaving. Life was an incredible command-line experience, in a nut ”shell” script. The birth of the Internet was us (actually an intranet), The Santa Cruz Operation, and we transacted the very first on-line pizza order—the first in the world! The pizza, of course, was delivered to the wrong address. Managing websites became a part of daily existence. I remain proud of my first flashing gif. So, here were the foundations of visibility, exposure, and blue screens. I could write documents in Elan Eroff (tagging language) and read HTML like some people can calibrate C14 radiocarbon determinations in their head.


The next evolutionary phase, the bombshell explosion, was probably the advent of so-called Web 2.0 technologies. My last “hi-tech” career phase at Cisco involved supporting sales people across 83 countries, 23 time zones, Argentina to Kazakhstan by way of Cape Town and Moscow. The dynamism, interactive experience and multi-media portfolio of “enabling tools”, combined with the pivotal maturity of instant “on-demand” messaging, virtual meetings, video-streaming and social presence (e.g. LinkedIn) and interactive media such as the formative Facebook, no longer offered an opt-in. Web 2.0 was coercive, or one had to resign oneself to perpetual irrelevance.

Aversion therapy

In bed with Ray Mears

However, therein lay all the reasons to reject social media—not just blogging, but the plethora of energy-burning conduits through which one “worked, learned and played”–corporate mantra. At the point I took voluntary redundancy—took the money and ran—in 2011, Cisco had 65,000 employees (about 40,000 now). The company underpinned “The Internet” and we were all players by necessity and peer pressure in a constant series of often surreal “interactions”. Simply, one had to keep up to date with around 65,000 blogs in between the midnight conference calls and “something strange going down in Qatar”.

Image| sleeping under Ray Mears

So I departed Cisco with a veritable aversion. And I slept, very well, for a very long time.

Blank sheets and knapped blanks

KnapperMy passion in archaeology, more especially the Mesolithic, has never waned. It has undulated, for sure. I committed to myself to spend time, so long as I can afford it, to finish some earlier research—including the ethical writing-up of a Mesolithic rescue excavation—now to see a poster presentation at the Wild Things 2.0 conference in Durham in January. But how does one, after 26 years, re-engage with archaeology? I was invisible, largely. I was outside academia. I faced the firewalls, paywalls, cold shoulders and the eyes, look at my eyes, look into my eyes, that said “oh no, another crank”. Academic conferences can be cruel affairs, but then I am no longer a teenager.

“Debitage flew in my face like shrapnel.”

– A corruption of Laurie Lee after far too much cider with Rosie

It’s the network, stupid

Cisco Sales Training 2008If you ask me what underpins success in a convoluted but, humbly, successful business career, my answer would be singularly simple. Networking: building a mesh of supportive, trusted and trusting contacts—ultimately a series of molecular teams—as the basis for service, collaboration, enablement and perspective. Two trajectories, after awakening from sleep, after committing to a transition of some sort back to heritage and archaeology (a move my late father would have certain opinions about: I can hear his voice when the wind blows from the north), have centred on the network.

  • Develop a credible research framework and attend conferences, meet, mingle, socialise, question and learn;
  • Build a complementary web-presence and voice that fills an untapped niche; grasp the nettle and morph one’s online persona away from the past and back to the past for the future (ha!)

Missing consonants:

“Does my bum look big in this bog?”

The catalyst, ironically at a social media day-school hosted by Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire (that I’m now Trustee and Editor for), was the first connection point. Pat Hadley, then a PhD researcher at York (now York Museum Trust’s Wikipedian In Residence) corralled the sparks of my enthusiasm, and hesitance, and amongst other kindnesses, lit the blue touch paper that was to become my blog. His rebellious streak captured my imagination, built my confidence in wanting to have some kind of worldly dialogue around the “unwritten”, human aspects of archeology—the unbearably exciting as well as the numbingly frustrating—of research against the impenetrable bastions of academic sobriety and the furred arteries of theoretical impediment obscured by (usually French) philosophers’ quotations in the tomes of doctoral verbiage.

So, introducing humour (I hope), an irreverent and informal style, a presentation of the journey of discovery, conspire to make the mysteries of the Mesolithic, of lithics analysis, of rigorous methods, accessible, human, palpable, navigable and fun. There are too few blogs about Mesolithic archaeology, but I took solace and inspiration in an enduring favourite: hazelnut_relations.

“Any research project whose inception is the result of being bitten by an adder and falling arse over tweets into a deep crevice in a peat bog – must surely be enshrined in a blog?”
» The White Gill Project

Why do you persist, Spence?

Gated RoadMy blog, then, now boasting over 14,600 visits in less than two years—about the Mesolithic, remember!—is about story-telling, about a personal metamorphosis, and a journey without destination. Archaeology, after all, is concerned with constructing a series of plausible narratives, each with inherent perspectives and vested interests. What we miss, beyond the media-induced headline-grabbing sound bites of unique “one-offs”, is the nature of the learning process, of interaction with material culture in the field and in the lab, and the emotions lost to peer-reviewed articles locked away behind “open access” paywalls » see a rant about “open exclusion”. My blog has afforded an opportunity to opine about that debacle as well as the stagnant impasse of archaeological pay and conditions. I do because such issues hurt, because they haven’t shifted since I graduated, and because I can “from the outside”.

“My blog, and blogging, is also an implicit reflection of a re-assessment of Life’s values, with a big L.”

My people network, acknowledging that the blog is one component of a multi-node social media presence, can now be counted in the hundreds. I have new friends “in the industry”, some now very close collaborators, others “secret followers”. The complete “trip”, for me, must include the varying degrees of immediacy and interaction embodied in other media such as The Facebook, The Twitter and, a one-off dapple, YouTube. There’s more of course, but my world is not yet ready?

Web_pic_off12There’s also a very practical, perhaps altruistic aspect to blogging. When did a Mesolithic researcher share the practical processes, techniques and learnings through an exercise like turning a lithic assemblage from bags of flint, metrics and coordinates into a narrative? Some of my blog content offers more than a key-hole view—what I learn, I share, even though at least one idea has been “pinched”; that’s OK, for now. It’s a privilege to have questions thrown my way. It’s compelling to be relevant (or at least entertaining?) across a broad spectrum of interest, from the hard core academic to the college student who searches with their essay title, to the casual visitor with an interest in their place, community, history, prehistory and environment. Above all else, blogging is cathartic—others have spoken eloquently enough about the development of ideas and thinking, the re-enforcement of subject familiarity.

Stats, metrics and demographics

I come from an operations background. Every breathing minute was underpinned by metrics. There’s a satisfaction, a habit-forming indulgence, in monitoring the reach of one’s presence across communities, geographies, political landscapes. I chose WordPress in the end partly because of the mesmerizing demographics and insights into how one was being discovered (referral sites), exploited (the web-bots and SEM spammers), questioned (search terms), enjoyed (comments, likes, community diversity, exchanges) and context (click-throughs).

In the pressFrom my first nervous post, I have more questions now about the motives of visitors from 102 countries than I do of my own self-indulgent verbosity. How different will this landscape look if I return to School next year, in later “mid-life” to re-enter the labyrinths of learning? Will you still love my pollen cores then?

Spence | Twitter @microburin