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Visiting the military training estate...

For work today we got to go on a bit of a jolly to the local Ministry of Defence Training Estate at Otterburn -


It was pretty cool. In addition to the MASSIVE decommissioned Russian tanks (with impressive "exit wounds" buckling out the plates on one side) that were placed so as to imitate an attack creeping down over the slopes (and are now rusting gently into the earth and home to many nesting little creatures) there were the WWI Training Trenches near Silloans...


... a 1960s-ish reinforced concrete bunker set into a hillside, which would have commanded an impressive view over the valley into which it faced except for the blanket of mist that suddenly descended after the rain...


... and the FOB (forward operating base) which simulates an army base in Afghanistan. I wasn't able to get any photos of that on account of sudden serious cloud cover - everything just disappeared into a pale grey haze.

The rest of my day involved mad final preparations for tomorrow's archaeology club activity at work. Of course during the 3 hours the [outdoor] activity is planned for, there is a 30-40% chance of rain. Luckily only 15 kids have signed up so they should all fit under the available shelter!

Oh, I almost forgot - I went to the opera!

There's a little bird nesting in the wall of my cottage (at least I hope it's a bird)... I can hear it busily scratching around in the wall. I may have to take a chair, some knitting and a jug of iced tea out into the little bit of sunshine in the courtyard and see if I can catch it coming and going.

The archaeology club is approved and members are signing up. Here's hoping it all works. Beautiful sunny Easter weekend - shall get out and enjoy the fine weather shortly.

But first - the opera!

It was really... weird. Daf had review tickets to see King Priam, by Michael Tippet, performed by the English Touring Opera. A friend of ours from dancing, who has a lot of experience with Opera, went "ooh. that's a hard one to start with!" - apparently King Priam is a pretty modern opera (it was only written in the 1960s) and is not the most accessible for a complete opera newb.

Not to say it wasn't visually striking (the costumes were beautiful!) I really loved the symbolism of the horns incorporated into all the crowns and helms, and the feathers worn by the Queens/Goddesses -- and the fact that each of the three queens - Hecuba, Andromache and Helen - was associated with a goddess & [sometimes] her symbolic animal - Athene (Owl), Hera (peacock, though tbh there were no feathers in her outfit) and Aphrodite (a swan, as Helen is the daughter of Zeus and Leda - and Zeus seduced Leda in the form of a swan... I do wonder what the ancient mythwrights were thinking when they came up with that one) -- and played by the same actresses. The animal elements in their costumes made them seem a bit like strange beasts - especially during the call/response scenes where they were crying out to eachother, without words -

Not to say it wasn't at times stirring - Priam kissing Achileles' hands to beg for his son Hector's body, after Achilles has killed and most horribly mutilated Hector - that was pretty striking. The whole thing seemed to be about the hard choices you make and the horrible consequences of even your most noble intentions, and this scene showed him dealing with the result of saving one son at the cost of another.

Not to say it wasn't funny sometimes as well - After Hera and Athene offered Paris some eminently sensible things if he were to say they were the fairest Goddess of all and give them the golden apple, such as a strong home and victory in battle, all Aphrodite had to say was "Helen" and Paris basically threw the apple at her.

But. But. For me at least the most stirring vocal parts were the slaves and soldiers singing together, en masse, and in harmony with eachother - at other times it was hard to suspend disbelief because the main characters just worked their way up and down the scale without it really following the music. I understand that the opera was representing the discord and disharmony of war and that the singers were clearly masters/mistresses of their craft to cope with the tortured scales, but ... Oh well. I think the surtitles also made it harder to get engrossed in the performance - it's hard to take Priam seriously when you constantly have to switch over to the screen. Perhaps it might have been better to understand less of the dialogue but end up more engrossed in the feeling and drama of it all.

We agreed that King Priam is to opera as Acid Jazz is to Trad Jazz. An acquired taste.

But I'm glad we went. It was really nice to see MathGreek in the pub beforehand - it's been a couple months as he's been off in Greece. After, we went to the tag end of the April Fools dance and I got to dance with some Sheffield folks again! It's much more fun dancing with people I know well - I missed all their little habits and signature moves.

IFA conference and subtle terror in art

And I was back in Scotland again this week – I’m just on the train back from Glasgow after spending 3 days at the Institute for Archaeologists conference and realising just what a tiny world archaeology in the UK is. At some point I’ll get around to typing up my notes and posting them here (though now I’m not sure if I should, as one person I met at the conference remembered me as “the blogger” from the Bristol Conflict Archaeology conference in 2013, after someone else found my livejournal entry about the conference and emailed it to her – and she tweeted it! So... internet stardom and the recognition of my peers, and I had no idea).

In brief, the conference was nice though occasionally frustrating – I have my own opinions on the “professionalization” of archaeology and the upcoming granting of Charter to the Institute (I need to read their documentation more thoroughly but there was mention in the opening speech of the idea that “if someone is practicing archaeology but they are not a member of the Institute then they can not be said to be professional” and I’m sorry, but no.)

The Wednesday night wine reception was in the grand hall at Glasgow Council Chambers, which was indeed grand. The provost (? I thought mayor, on account of the big shiny necklace) was wheeled out to give a speech rendered completely incomprehensible by wretched sound quality and the vasty echoing hall; the freely flowing wine may not have helped. A wealthy few stayed for the formal commencement dinner (at £45 a head, no thanks) and by some mysterious process of accretion about 25 of us formed a straggling group and headed off to an Italian restaurant somewhere in Glasgow which managed to feed us all quickly and deliciously. Thereafter we retired to the Horseshoe pub, so named for its 100 foot long horse-shoe shaped bar, and talked shop, played ‘oh, I worked for that company too!’ and generally schmoozed until I remembered I had to get back to the hotel in a fit state to record that week’s community archaeology audio update.

The wine reception on the Thursday night was held at the Hunterian Gallery, and included access to the Scottish Gold exhibition (le wow). I was actually happier about the Whistler exhibition in the ground gallery – the only Whistler painting I’ve ever seen before was the reproduction on Dad’s ancient Whistler’s mother gig poster that’s been on his loungeroom wall for as long as I can remember, and what do you know, his style’s distinctive enough in the other painitngs – a series of tall panels, portraits of his wife and her sisters in the main – that even a luddite like me thought they seemed familiar.

Speaking of paintings and illustrations, the other highlight of the festival was shared between tw archaeological illustrations in the small display in the lobby of the conference area.

My favourite was an illustration – a photorealistic reconstruction - which at first glance seemed to show a distant oblique aerial photograph large circular millpond, with the twin millhouses clearly visible on the far bank, and a scattering of people on a cleared area on the otherwise heavily wooded shore. The people are tiny figures, so small as to be featureless. A rope with a scrap of white cloth tied at its centre is stretched across the pond, each end held by a man on either bank, not unlike in a game of tug-of-war. Looking closer, you see that the scrap of white cloth is a dark haired woman in a loose white smock. She looks like a scrap of cloth because she is folded almost double over the rope – you can just see her feet and hands dangling over the water. The caption describes it as a reconstruction of the last recorded witch trial in the Netherlands in the 17th century. I spoke to a few other attendees about the picture and none of them had read the caption – they all thought it was simply a landscape reconstruction of the millpond. I did too, until I saw the woman’s little feet at the hem of her smock – the realisation upon looking closer actually gave me a little shock or shiver.

The second interesting illustration was a reconstruction of the execution of a supposed Viking raiding party which was discovered in 2009, the site now known as the Ridgeway Hill Viking Burial Pit – their headless bodies were found piled into a mass grave with their heads stacked neatly to one side (another interesting write-up on the site is at the Oxford Archaeology Page, but I can't find any reproductions of the illustration).

The illustration shows one of the unfortunate raiders, stripped down to his breeks, arms pinioned by two men behind him and being pushed double, forward over the edge of the pit. A third man stands in the pit, almost eye level with the raider – he’s hauling the raider forward by the hair, with his foot braced on the edge of the pit. A fourth man is drawn mid-swing, bringing a sword down on the raider’s extended neck. Splotches of blood mark the lip of the pit; several corpses and a pile of heads are behind the third man. Other Vikings are being marched towards the pit, a horse rears up, and onlookers cheer.

This is effective in a different way to the witch trial illustration – in a way it is less effective as everything is in plain sight, and there is no moment of realisation. However this illustration has its impact in the amount of action and detail conveyed in a single snapshot of chaos.

I do think there should have been more blood: surely the third man – the man standing in the pit, pulling the raider toward the pit and stretching his neck for the headsman, presumably keeping hold of the head once severed and throwing it on to the pile behind – surely he would have been slick with blood, from the chest down, just wading in the stuff? Surely a beheading produces more than just the modest gouts implied by the splashes on the lip of the pit? (And a bit of internet research suggests that I may be wrong... "The human circulatory system has a pressure of about 1.5 psi. To compare, a car tire has 30 psi. ...Because of this pressure, an artery on its own with the help of no outside force..., can spurt up to 7 inches high, such as from loss of a head, and up to 16 inches away, such as from a lopped-off limb..."... The things you learn, eh? Well, even if the hair-pulling dude remained out of spurting range he should at least have got very splattered boots!)

There’s an article I read for the Archaeology of the Viking Age module last year that looks at funerary assemblages from Viking contexts (Passing into Poetry: Viking-Age Mortuary Drama and the Origins of Norse Mythology, by Neil Price, Medieval Archaeology 54 (2010), 123-157)– where a doxen horses, as many slaves, and a few farm animas for good measure, were slaughtered and added to the heap on the deck of the dead cheiftain’s boat prior to the whole lot being buried under a great earthen mound. To us it’s a puzzle, a relatively sterile thing to unearth (never mind the mud and dirt and organic fragments) but at the time – on the night – it must have been something straight out of hell. Imagine the noise and the stink of terrified humans and animals – and what sounds must the onlookers have made? For surely there must have been onlookers – why all this spectacle and death if there was no one to impress?

I found this quote, referring to the oft-cited description of the Kievan Rus funeral on the Volga by Ibn Fadlan, particularly interesting:

"The deaths of the animals are interesting, and quickly blur any easy categories of ‘sacrifices’ and ‘offerings’. First, the different creatures are chosen with care, and have a part to enact before they are killed — witness the horses being run until blown and lathered. It appears significant how many animals there are, of different species, entering the scene at specific points in a clear sequence. They are participants, and they are killed in precise ways that have nothing to do with the efficient methods of the slaughterhouse. The horses in particular are hacked to pieces while alive, presumably rearing and screaming, while the dog is bisected and the birds decapitated both with knives and by tearing. The body parts are also treated precisely, being thrown either to one side of the ship or onto the deck" (Price 2010: 135).

I do worry what these musing say about my thought process.

Anyway, these two illustrations join Mucha's The Star, or, The Wandering Woman, or The Winter Night, a painting of a woman lost in the night, looking up at the moon while the wolves watch and wait, their eyes dull blue circles in the darkness (here) – and a photograph of the old woman in the cemetery that I saw at a gallery in Manchester (which I've never been able to find online), as images I’ll probably return to on dark nights.

A little side trip to Edinburgh

As part of my job at the Park I got to go to Edinburgh to do a day’s autism awareness training – aside from having to get up at 5am to make the 6:15 train, the day got off to a really nice start. The workshop was pretty interesting and we (the participants) got a few good tips on communication strategies: although of course every person with autism is different, sometimes it helps to provide a schedule of activities, to use visual instructions instead of verbal ones, and to remember that some kids with autism don’t consider themselves part of a group, so instead of saying “and now we’ll go and do this!”, it’s better to say “and now everyone, and you too, John, will go and do this!”. So, now you know.

On a whim, I decided to stay the night in Edinburgh – somehow I lucked into the last bunk in the hostel (Budget Backpackers in Grassmarket), and the last on-the-door ticket to see The Picture of Dorian Gray at the Bedlam Theatre. It seems lately that I’ve been revisiting places on my excursions and I really don’t mind – I love being able to come back to a place and see what’s been happening. (I saw The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr, Abridged there in 2011 or thereabouts...).

Wil Fairhead as Dorian Gray. Photo copyright Paul Alistair Collins: click photo to go to source website

The play was very good – the ‘times-are-changing’ dance montage which shifted from ballroom to Charleston to show the calendar moving on while Dorian Gray remained forever young got a cheer from me, and I got shivers at the appropriate moments.

On the Sunday I just mooched around Grassmarket and up and down the Royal Mile, bought a copy of Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (which I’m still trying to get my head around) from Transreal Fiction, had the best ramen I’ve eaten since Tsukuba at Tang's Japanese Restaurant in Grassmarket and visited the Museum of Edinburgh and the Museum of Childhood on the Mile -- somehow I missed them on my previous visits, I have no idea how.

I also somehow ended up talking about the bad life decisions of characters in horror radio-plays with a woman at the K1 Yarns Knitting Boutique and may have bought a little skein of sky blue fingering-weight yarn to make a pair of mittens with... oops.

Finally! The trip to Slovenia and Croatia!

Apologies for the long gap since the last post – having FINALLY got my paper diary up to date, I am back to updating the online one.

Honestly, it’s almost like I’ve got a grown up job or something…

Anyway – the dancing holiday!

Click here for a wall of text and hopefully photos!Collapse )
I can't think of Easter-relevant Cthulhu jokes (well, except the That Which Is Not Dead Can Eternal Lie bizzo...) BUT I thought the recent trip to Slovenia and Croatia was a good enough excuse to do some more Cthulhu postcards. I missed them for the last 2 Cephalopodmases - damn thesis & settling-into-new-job! - so it's nice to see I can still draw Him, in all His squishy, squishy horribleness.

"Pshaw! That's just a normal postcard!", I hear you say....
Photo on 2014-03-22 at 18.32

But no! The Horror!
Photo on 2014-03-22 at 18.32 #2

If you are the lovely Paul and Loreena, maybe don't click to see the image behind the cut! This is your postcard, but it's my favourite so I wanted to show it off :)Collapse )

This may be a sign I need to get out more.

I can only do one more (Slovenia - Go Red!... use your imagination on how that will turn out) as the rest are on glossy non-watercolour-friendly card.

In other news - it's a quiet Saturday in Hexham. I have bought my own bodyweight in produce from the farmer's market, am trying to make raw milk yoghurt (I'll find out if it worked in about 6 hours - if it's successful I'll be dancing about like Dr. Frankenstien -- It's alive--ALIVE!!), have turnips and squash boiling on the stove (downside of farmer's market vege bags: LOTS of turnip. Just the one turnip, mind. But a lot of it.) I also collected my typewriter from the repairman, will see if it works later.

God I am such a hipster. This is a result of me trying to be more frugal after my holiday otherwise I would totally be on a train back from Newcastle today after spending the day at the Canny Little Library at the Star & Shadow Cinema. Next week!

Surveying north of Sewingshields

This week is all about survey skills – inspired by more training with the budding archaeologists at Newcastle Sixth Form College and the Tynedale North of the Wall Community Archaeology group's survey north of Sewingshields.

On this most recent visit to Newcastle Sixth Form College, we took advantage of Wednesday's sunny (but windy) weather and spent the afternoon practicing archaeological survey and recording skills.

When surveying a site, it is important to decide what exactly you hope to learn from the survey.

Are you interested in getting the basic information only? Do you want to complete a survey detailed enough to serve as the final record for that site? Or do you want to complete a highly-detailed survey for a significant site?

The level of detail you wish to record determines the nature of your survey, from Level 1 (the basic information) to Level 3 (the highly-detailed survey).

For our "site" we decided on a Level 1 reconnaissance survey, and created quick sketch maps to identify the important "archaeological features" we wanted to record in more detail.

Having decided the rectangular flower beds were clearly the most interesting things, we then set up a Tape and Offset survey to record these interesting features to Level 2.

We set up a baseline using a 30m tape, which intersected the features we wanted to record. We then used a hand tape to measure the distance of key points from the base line.

These measurements were transferred to a sheet of graph paper at a scale of 1:100, and we created a plan of our "site".

I hope I can get the students out into the park to try surveying some genuine earthworks soon.

Although we practiced in the college campus, these skills are exactly the same as those used in the field.

As a matter of fact, Tynedale North of the Wall is currently conducting their survey of the prehistoric landscape north of Sewingshields as a Level 1 survey.

This survey will identify sites that are not already on the Historic Environment Register, and the results could inform further more detailed Level 2 and/or Level 3 surveys.

Despite rough weather on Tuesday and a gloomy forecast ahead, the group has already identified several interesting features that have never before been recorded. This is a great result for the group, and I've been told to keep an eye out for a write-up in the local newspaper soon.

I'll join in with the survey later this week – but for now, Tynedale NOW have kindly shared their site visit photographs. It's not too late to join in – the last day of survey is Saturday 22nd March.

Further Reading and Resources

For more detailed explanation of Level 1, 2 and 3 surveys, see English Heritage's "Understanding the Archaeology of Landscapes"(2007).

The "Scotland's Rural Past" project (2011), run by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, created "A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites". This helpful manual aims to help community archaeology groups record archaeological features to a professional standard, and includes instructions on Sketch Maps and Tape & Offset Survey.

Exploring The Park - Lordenshaws

I’ve been able to go exploring in and around the park and have some great sites I’d definitely recommend for a visit if you feel like getting your boots muddy and wandering around some complex archaeological landscapes.

Remember, though, that the park is also a working farming landscape. You must follow the Countryside Code, always closing any gates you open, keeping your dogs under control and staying on the Rights of Way.

With lambing season approaching fast, it’s very important to obey signs and keep your dogs on a lead!

Today’s post is about a visit to the Lordenshaws complex, a site known for its panels of rock art, at one end of the prominent Simonside Hills, which form part of the southern end of the fell sandstone ridge of the Cheviots. Lordenshaws is not open access – we stayed on the rights of way, which are clearly marked by paths and signposts.

The rock art panels are characterised with cup and ring marks, a distinctive abstract design that has yet to be interpreted. They are now thought to have been carved in the Neolithic to early Bronze Age, though earlier scholars thought they were Iron Age features as they were so close to the impressive Iron Age hill fort at Lordenshaws, or Bronze Age, because some Bronze Age stone features incorporate rock-art panels. Rather, it seems that this part of the landscape remained consistently important to people over thousands of years.

On our walk around the area, we encountered a Bronze Age burial cist, with its cap stone pushed to one side, and the Iron Age Hillfort with its distinctive double ramparts. The outlines of later Romano-British roundhouses are visible inside these ramparts!

Nearby, the long, low, stony ridge of Robert Fitzroger’s late 13th century Deer Park wall and the rectangular outlines of medieval sheilings are to be found. A Holloway cuts across the landscape and reminds us of cattle droving in the area, and more recently signs protecting the rock art under the Ancient Monuments Acts of 1913-1953 and a geocache has been installed nearby: some “modern” archaeology to keep future archaeologists on their toes.

The RAMP (Rock Art on Mobile Phones project) site is a great resource for exploring Lordenshaws. If you can access the internet on your smartphone, you can scan QR codes on the guide-posts located on the walking paths, or you can download audio commentary and maps to take with you.

There’s also a National Parks walk leaflet available here and at NNP offices around the park.

Local expert Stan Beckensall has been working on the rock art for over 40 years – the Newcastle University Northumberland Rock Art Project has made his rock art archive available online.

So many different periods of prehistory and history are represented in this one small corner of the park’s landscape – it’s a great example of the archaeological concept of palimpsest. The term described a parchment which has been written on, scrubbed clean and written on again; traces of the earlier writing could be seen, ghost-like, beneath the most recent layers.

“The landscape is a palimpsest onto which each generation inscribes its own impressions and removes some of the marks of earlier generations ... The present patchwork nature of settlement and patterns of agriculture has evolved as a result of thousands of years of human endeavour, producing a landscape which possesses not only a beauty associated with long and slow development, but an inexhaustible store of information about many kinds of human activities in the past.” (Aston and Rowley 1974: 14-15).

The concept was pioneered by W. G. Hoskins in his 1955 book The Making of the English Landscape. More recently, Frances Pryor has included the development of Scottish and Welsh landscapes in his 2010 book, The Making of the British Landscape!

The concentration of Bronze Age cairns near the rock art panels, the quarrying and reuse of the rock art in some Bronze Age monuments, and the subsequent Iron Age use, suggests that people have been reusing and reinterpreting earlier features of this landscape (Frodsham2004) long before antiquarians and archaeologists came along.

What traces do you think our generation will leave behind, to add to the palimpsest?

To get in touch with Krissy on social media, visit @Nland_CommArch on Twitter or https://www.facebook.com/kris.nnpa on Facebook.

References/Further reading:

Aston, M. & T. Rowley, 1974. Landscape Archaeology.

Frodsham, P., 2004. Archaeology in Northumberland National Park. CBA Research Report 136, Council for British Archaeology.

Hoskins, W. G., 1955. The Making of the English Landscape.

Pryor, F. 2010. The Making of the British Landscape: How we have transformed the land, from prehistory to today.
Archaeology - it's class!

A lot's been going on behind the scenes with community archaeology at Northumberland National Park recently. A large part of my role is to get young people involved with the park and I'm lucky to be able to continue the park's relationship with Newcastle Sixth Form College.

At the end of January, I was very happy to go and do an archaeology careers advice presentation with archaeology and classics students. It's great to see a class full of potential archaeologists and heritage professionals.

I made sure to talk about all the other things archaeology is useful for: working well in a team, being able to plan and execute complicated excavation plans, managing the huge amount of data you can amass through the course of a research project or field survey, identifying patterns in the distribution of data over time and space, and not being afraid of a bit of hard work in the great outdoors ... all of these things help you to develop your organisation, confidence and independent thinking.

Field archaeology is HARD work though, so go on a few training digs and community archaeology projects to make sure you love it enough to make a career of it!

Last week, I was back at the college again, to teach an archaeological skills workshop for non-archaeology students. A fascinating thing about archaeology is how it allows us to create narratives about the past through looking at material culture.

To establish a narrative, you need to work out the sequence of events – and so I decided to teach a workshop-based around stratigraphy, which is an essential tool in creating the chronology of a site. In a nutshell, stratigraphy is an idea borrowed from geology, that layers (or "strata") of sediment form one atop the other, and the older layers are at the bottom and the newer layers are at the top.

Therefore, looking at the stratigraphic relationships between different layers lets you work out how old they are in relation to each other, that is, to establish a relative chronology (an absolute chronology relies on calibrated calendar dates established through scientific methods such as radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology).

By working out in what order the different layers in a site were laid down, you can create the narrative of how that place developed. This means you can start understanding the site without having to go back to a laboratory and wait for results. This is really important, because you need to understand the relationships between features as you excavate and record them, so you can later identify the phases in the development of your site.

Stratigraphic relationships are plotted out using a Harris Matrix, developed by Dr. Harris in 1973. If you enjoy logic puzzles, you'll love creating Harris Matrices. (Dr. Harris has made his book Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy available for free PDF download at http://www.harrismatrix.com/)

I spent an interesting afternoon with the students plotting out matrices for a range of simple and not-so-simple section drawings. We also discussed how stratigraphic principles can apply to more than just layers of sediment in an excavated site.

For example, renovations on an ancient building also show stratigraphic relationships, in that new parts of the building must build onto existing older parts. I'm looking forward to working with the students again soon.

Community Landscape Survey at Work -

Community Landscape Survey

Hello everyone

Local community archaeology group Tynedale North of the Wall Archaeology has their first survey for the year coming up in March.

Tynedale NOW will be surveying an area north of Sewingshields Crags from Wednesday, March 19, to Saturday, March 22.

Participation is open to Tynedale NOW members only, for insurance purposes, and full details and membership forms are their website.

You can also follow Tynedale NOW on facebook (tynedale.archaeology) for more updates, and I'll pass on updates as they become available.

To get in touch with Krissy Moore, NNPA's Community Archaeologist on social media, visit @Nland_CommArch on Twitter or https://www.facebook.com/kris.nnpa on Facebook.


young peter and olivia

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