First up we have a story from the Roman for Epiacum, near Alston in Cumbria. Since the site is a scheduled monument it is hard to get permission to excavate it; scheduled sites are of particular importance and so English Heritage (EH) restrict who can excavate (essentially destroy) them through fear of evidence being lost. If scheduled monuments aren’t in danger of serious damage EH prefer to leave them be for the future. Luckily for archaeologists we don’t have to dig there because moles are doing it for us! Apparently, that’s a good thing. Moles it seems are digging through the site and bringing artefacts to the surface for people to find, serving an important purpose according to the BBC. This goes back once again to the issue with metal detectors I have talked about previously, these moles are damaging the site and removing things from their contexts. How this can be considered a good thing I don’t know. Yes we get to see some finds, but we lose a lot of information by their presence and it runs counter to the entire conservation plan being used by EH. It never ceases to amaze me how the media present archaeology as being all about finding things, little fragments of objects at the expense of anything else. Once more they miss the bigger picture. I say we relocate the moles before they do any more damage, not celebrate their ceaseless burrowing through mosaic floors.
One of the more interesting news stories recently has been that Shawn Ross, an archaeologist at the University of New South Wales, Australia has created an app to create and share records of archaeological sites. Just think of it, one day soon archaeologists won’t have to use paper anymore, what a difference that will make! Now don’t get me wrong, I think easy dissemination of information is very important, and there are a number of projects around the world pushing this agenda. I can’t help but feel though, that whoever in the Australian government handed over the $1 million funding was about as logical as Ross himself. There is a reason we still use paper, archaeological work, whether it’s on site or in a lab, is dirty and wet. Before the day is out anyone using this app to make the primary record will have a broken smart phone/ tablet. I’ve had multiple old, more robust phones die from dust on digs, I can’t imagine an iPad surviving long. Just to call archaeology low-tech, because of this practical necessity I feel is a bit misrepresentative, modern archaeology uses a whole host of high-tech equipment, just look at the laser scanning work done at Stonehenge last year and tell me we use little more than excel and GIS.
From over the pond comes confirmation that Jamestown colonists, the first permanent British settlers in America, resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter of 1609-1610. This had been rumoured since the colony was relieved by a ship laden with food and new colonists, but the signs of butchery on the skull and tibia of a 14 year old girl are the first pieces of evidence for this. This is a great example of how archaeology can be used to investigate specific aspects of history which aren’t fully understood.
In other news the Whithorn Trust, which runs a heritage centre, and publishes archaeological work about the Whithorn area may be forced to close soon due to a lack of funds. Head over to www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-whithorn-trust.html to show your support for local heritage services.
Finally, this Thursday sees one of the biggest conferences in archaeology, TAG, come to Chicago for three days. If you are interested in the latest trends in archaeological theory head over to http://tag2013.uchicago.edu/ for more information. That’s it for this weeks round-up, check back soon for more news and commentary.