We had a chance to check out the Pop-Up Museum a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve done an impressive job with temporary displays with finds from the site. The site was in the London city ditch, so all manner of artifacts came out of it. At the Pop-Up Museum, you can open up the displays and have a chat with the archaeologists who worked on site.
The displays were impressive, and in a great location–right next to a standing part of the old city wall! The excavation was very close by as well, and Guy Hunt the director of the project was providing site tours.
You can still visit! July 17th & 18th, 2015 are the last two days of the Pop-Up Museum. It’s a great, innovative experiment in public archaeology. For more information:
Back in 2012, Dan and I worked at the fantastic 100 Minories project with L-P Archaeology. They’re some of my favorite people, so I was sad that I was not able to work with them on the excavation phase of the project, which is currently in full swing. I have two blog posts about the evaluation stage, wherein archaeologists dug to 7m deep, punching test pits through the thick London stratigraphy:
There were two that looked acceptable, one still slightly auburn, but that could be overlooked. I leaned over the low stone wall and tugged the berries off the bramble. I took the reddish one and gave the other to Dan. We popped them into our mouths in unison, then both made faces and laughed.
It’s good to be back in the countryside–raincoats, wellies, huddling next to a wood-burning stove in August. The green-growingness, old brick, and ducks in the river Exe almost seem normal these days, almost go without remark.
I hopped the train yesterday out of hot and frenzied London after wading through a horrible mess at Oxford Circus (hsss, tourists…as if I’m not really one of them) frowning at loud talkers on the Quiet Carriage, towing my bright red suitcase through Paddington, which I almost don’t notice anymore, the iron work, the soaring arches, the huddled trains is a glass aquarium.
I’d like to live in London again someday; we’ll see what these unending job and grant applications bring. The countryside has a lot of quiet though–the hustle from living over Seven Sisters road was unending and the city always begged me to go down nobbly cobblestone alleyways and look in the shop windows at things I couldn’t afford.
There’s a leg of lamb from the neighbor to cook and Dan’s gone to pick vegetables in the rain. I’ll just leave you with Finsbury Park, one of my silly map drawings, my universe until yesterday.
As I mentioned in the last post, we are digging deep at 100 Minories. We finished up last week at a depth of around 7.5 meters beneath the ground surface. Working this deep is extremely dangerous and we are given a long brief about all the equipment required, called an induction. We are in a testing phase, basically exploring the depth of the deposits while evaluating our needs for post-excavation specialists (pottery, animal bone, etc) so that L – P Archaeology knows how how much to charge for excavating the entire area. Evaluating trenches are used sparingly as they are understood to potentially interfere with the broader archaeological sequence. Preservation by record–fully excavating and recording all of the deposits impacted by the building–is standard operation in the City of London (different from just London London). London archaeologists consider these 2x2m test trenches as inferior for interpretation and while they are recorded meticulously, they are used to evaluate the presence or absence of cultural remains and are not used as a primary excavation technique as they are in the States. Basically, yes, there were Romans here, no we cannot characterize their lifeways from digging a phone booth through their deposits.
For example, there was some debate over whether to call this feature that Neralie is cleaning brick paving or a garden path:
While the pit is roughly 2x2m Neralie is standing in a 1x1m that was excavated in the corner to determine a further sequence–we were not allowed to remove architecture in this case as the site may not go to full excavation…in theory, at least. You’ll also notice that she has 2m of concrete above her, and no shoring, as the concrete was determined to be stable. She does have a superstructure over the pit to ensure that nobody falls in:
In the 1×1 she is down about 1.20m from the bottom of the concrete, at that point shoring was installed.
Checking out these test trenches was an interesting return to squares after digging in open plan for many seasons. We do not collect all of the finds, just a sample to characterize each context, again to determine which specialists we’ll need to look at the materials from the site. The top trench has reached what passes for “natural” here, river terraced gravels, but it can still contain “monkey rocks”–the rather unique term that London archaeologists use for mesolithic artifacts. Another term that I’ve only heard here is “plus.” I’ve drawn them plenty, the little plus-sign at the top of the Harris matrix that indicates surface, or no previous deposits. Here “plus” can be material remains–all of the modern intrusions that are not recorded in detail are called plus and are dug out before the matrix begins. Sorry, contemporary archaeologists! Though with 7m of strat to record, the “messed-about” nature of the surface deposits in a place that is as heavily occupied as London, and the time/money calculation always running in the project manager’s head, I can’t find much to criticize. Criticise. Whatever.
Lest you think we are entirely crassly indifferent to more modern garbage, these were saved from the fills associated with the construction of the brutalist concrete building at 100 Minories that will be destroyed before we continue work. It’s a Coke can that you have to open with one of the old can-openers and two tags that had “1961” written on the back of them. They were near some rebar found in test pit #4, and probably were attached at some point.
The evaluation trenches are closed now–we’ll move off site today and I’ll be back in California in a little more than week’s time. I’ve enjoyed my crash course in London archaeology, and hopefully I’ll be back for more in the Spring.
After a month of woeful visa problems, I finally got on site at the 100 Minories Project with L – P Archaeology. We’re working on getting the website for the project up and running, but I’ve spent about half my time on site, down a fairly deep trench. I’m digging in a 4m deep 2x2m shored trench right next to a giant underground concrete wall that is part of the tube. There are a lot of disturbed post-medieval deposits that are, as I learned today, primarily poop. Never say that London archaeology is glamorous, I guess!
I’m working with Chiz Harward who is an absolutely incredible resource for London archaeology in particular and excavation methodology in general. He endures my questions about peg tiles and “cessy” deposits vs. midden deposits, how clay pipes are made and fired, and health and safety on archaeology sites with aplomb. As far as I can figure it, he’s trained a lot of the archaeologists that I deeply respect and I’m pretty chuffed to work with him.
I have to say that working in London is pretty humbling. Like I said, I turned up on the last week on site. As anyone who has ever worked on a developer-funded project knows, the last week is CRAZY. You are pushed to dig more and faster. FASTER. So I found myself the first day on site, trying to get my eye in, under the gaze of 5 construction workers (builders), someone from the planning commission, the dig director, and the most experienced London archaeologist ever. Since I am at the bottom of a deep trench, it’s probably the most horrible panopticon kaleidoscope ever. I actually felt a little lightheaded and made the most classic mistakes–working in circles, not cleaning things properly, and just getting frustrated and losing confidence. Absolutely deadly in field archaeology.
It’s humbling to work on new continents, on new projects, on new sites. I can see why academic archaeologists stick to one era or one area–you have to relearn site assemblages, deposits, and feel like an idiot as someone describes particulars of the stratigraphy that are known to even the most junior of hands on site. The thing that holds it together is, at heart, single context archaeology. Still your fears of overdigging or underdigging, quiet your interest in getting to exactly 10cm beneath that last “level” and trust your eyes and your hands and the change in the soil. It’s much harder to do than you think.
I have a million things to say, about how amazing it is to be on site where health and safety is first, obnoxiously first, and how great it feels when people actually understand the risks associated with our job and value me enough to insist that I know every nuance. How A-frame gantry hoists would have prevented the destruction of many large & lovely ashlars while trying to get them out of the trench in Dhiban. Dealing with deep site excavation while keeping your archaeologists safe. And as I said on Facebook, walking through an enormously rich part of one of the richest sites in the world, with people turning their noses up at you because you are essentially wearing the shit of their ancestors.
So, expect to hear more about 100 Minories. I’ve learned about peg tiles and hoggin (flinty gravels that serve as ballast) and how gas monitors work. We are digging pits that are essentially in the basement of a brutalist 1960s structure–the excavation will proceed after the building is demolished and we’ll clear away all of the archaeological deposits, down to seven meters in places. London commercial archaeology is where single context methodology began and it is fantastic to work at the source.
Anies Hassan dropped me a line about a new series of videos he’s making about the Thames Discovery Project. He’s getting pretty slick with his production techniques! Oh, and the archaeology is interesting as well…if you like that muddy, cold, London type of archaeology! (don’t hit me!)
Credit the music and slap a CC license on it and I’ll be a happy girl.
I finally got around to uploading more of the movie we made (So You’re an Archaeologist?!) for the Afghanistan display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
Sadly, I only got through the first two videos before I promptly threw away the main file I was working with to make more space on my hard drive. After I get the source video from Dave (again!) I’ll post the rest of it.
And, if you’re up for a little bit of surrealist ethnography, here’s Las Hurdes or Land Without Bread, one of the movies we’re going to watch as part of our Ethnographic Movie Night next Fall. More about that later.
Walter Benjamin’s great project, a study of the arcades of Paris, has been deeply influential in my work, and in the work of many of my peers. While there are more academic reasons for this (this interaction with place, deep annotation, his use of photography and other visual materials, montage, his theory of knowledge/progress) part of my interest in his work stems from my love of places-in-between. Seattle was the first real walking city that I lived in (and, later, New Orleans, which was more of a running city, at least in the late 90s) and I’d wind my way around the three great hills, up staircases, through wet, dense foliage, and between moldering brick walks. More than museums, more than shopping, this is what I like to find in cities. There are several paths in Berkeley, helpfully mapped and groomed, like Sharon Court:
It’s really more of a wander through an apartment complex than anything. Nearby is Acton Crescent Path, which is basically a sidewalk between two houses.
Anyway, in anticipation of a late-October visit, I was perusing the Londonist, a blog equivalent to the SFist or the Gothamist, though I find that each of the *ists has a distinct flavor–SFist is about quirky news stories, gay rights, and Gavin Newsom’s hair, while the Austinist runs stories on Texas’ hilariously corrupt government and the music scene. The Londonist features “secret places” and…”back passages.” It’s okay, I giggled too.
But the alleys in London sometimes have pubs in them! This merits intensive exploration.