We would like to give a big welcome to our new member of staff Kent Jones who joined the London & South East team today. Kent joins the team as a trainee and over the next few weeks we will follow Kent as he finds out what it’s like to be a professional archaeologist working at Wessex Archaeology’s London & South East Office in Maidstone.
On day 1 Kent was shown around the office and introduced to the team and Team Leader Mark Williams.
Most of Kent’s first day was taken up with a fairly intensive health and safety induction which included site and office safety, asbestos awareness and a driver assessment which each driver for Wessex Archaeology has to pass. Later in the week Kent will have to pass a CSCS test in order to work on most of our sites.
It wasn’t what Kent was expecting on his first day but as the majority of archaeological works are associated with the construction industry it is essential that all staff are fully trained in a full range of Health and Safety matters.
We will provide regular updates of Kent’s progress as he learns the ropes and finds out what it is like to be a professional archaeologist right here or follow his progress @WAsoutheast #KentJones
When people think of archaeology, they often think of excavation. Just as important is post-excavation and this week Kent has been learning about one of the first stages in that process, washing and marking finds. When artefacts are found they are sent back to our offices for processing. This involves cleaning all finds meticulously using a variety of tools including, toothbrushes and nail brushes. There are various reasons for processing; so that the finds don’t degrade any further, and so that specialists can examine them more easily.
One of the most important things to know is exactly where each find came from after the excavation. We do this by marking each find with a special pen and black ink. Each find is marked with two reference numbers. Using these numbers we can see which site it came from and which layer on the site. With the help of our site survey kit (covered in a future blog) we can tell exactly where it came from to within a few centimetres.
The image on the right shows Kent marking pottery, trying to keep that writing very small!
In future posts Kent will learn about the different types of material we find on site and the different information we can get from the material.
The following week Kent had a welcome day off from the office to accompany Marie Kelleher, one of our Heritage Consultants at the London and South Office, on a schools visit to provide an archaeology workshop to children. The day started off well with Marie’s map reading skill called into the fore to get them through London rush hour traffic!
The workshops were for children aged 7 – 8 although our education team can help with any age group. The classes had been learning about ‘Stone Age to the Iron Age’ and Marie and Kent went along to provide some hands on experience of what it is like to be an archaeologist but also what life was like in the prehistoric times.
The session involved an introduction to archaeology including dressing up in PPE (safety clothing). Here is Kent showing just how well his hi visibility kit works. No one has mentioned that the horizontal stripes make him look fat!
Also the children got to dig for finds in sandpits, put together pottery jigsaws and imagine themselves as artefact detectives. This got the children to use their imagination and developed their interpretation skills and they had fun too! The photo shows Kent preparing the sand pit excavations...and keeping an eye out for archaeologists of the future!
If you would like Kent or a member of our equally talented education team to visit your school, please contact our Community & Education Team.
Kent Jones has been learning how important photography is in archaeology
Archaeology is a destructive process, so it is important to get as accurate a record as possible and this is partially achieved by photography. Everything excavated on site is photographed, from the most important features to the least important because you never know what some archaeologists find interesting!
Also important are photographs of finds for publications. This can be a very technical process involving understanding and careful adjustment of focal length, aperture and lighting . . . or alternatively stick it on auto, that usually works!
Some sites can generate tens of thousands of photographs. Each photograph has to be carefully logged with direction, subject and date recorded. These records will eventually be stored in museum archives in case anyone wants to see them again. This is so much easier with digital photography and takes up much less space, but the use of digital technology raises important questions such as, how do we know the computers of the future will be able to read the files we produce today?
Kent has also been helping out with an excavation. Most commonly archaeological excavations start with mechanical removal of recent overburden, in rural areas this will usually mean topsoil and subsoil, in urban areas this can often mean large deposits of ‘made-ground’ the accumulation of rubble and rubbish in recent times. This work is monitored by an archaeologist to ensure that no archaeological finds or features are damaged during the process and that anything which may have been disturbed from its original context can be recovered and recorded.
Once the overburden has been removed down to natural levels, mechanical excavation stops. Cleaning of the area is carried out by hand tools, often with a trowel, so that any sensitive archaeological remains can be identified.
This can be slow and painstaking work and requires a keen eye, to identify often very subtle changes in the soil colour or composition, which may indicate that activity has taken place at the site; perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
Once finds or features have been identified, a site plan is created so that the archaeologists can decide how best to investigate the features and recover the finds in as accurate and careful a way as possible. See Kent’s next post on Survey for more information on this aspect of the work.
Young Kent has been learning about site survey. A key part of archaeological site work is knowing where things were found. This is essential if you are going back to find them again, perhaps to carry out an excavation.
Archaeologists use a variety of methods, but most survey work is carried out using a GPS – Global Positioning System, this uses orbiting satellites to accurately locate the find or feature. This works in a similar way to a car’s Sat Nav but is much more accurate and considerably more bulky!. It can locate finds and features to within centimetres. Computer drawings are produced from the survey data and these form the basis of our site plans.
Like mobile phones the GPS doesn’t always get a signal so we sometimes have to resort to more old fashioned methods such as tape measures and dumpy levels. Below (right) is a photo of Kent using a dumpy level to find the height of an archaeological feature – together with a tape measure, this old school method can find out exactly where Kent is!
Kent really enjoys helping our Heritage Team do some desk-based research. It is called desk-based because it involves reading, rather than digging.
This important part of our work involves finding out what is already known about the archaeology of a site. We find that information in different places, such as on old maps and documents, and in published books and journals.
We also get information from the Historic Environment Record (HER). Each county has an HER, which is a database containing details about all the known archaeological remains in that county. It is a very useful starting point for anyone who wants to find out more about the archaeology and history of their area.
Like excavation, therefore, desk-based research involves piecing together lots of bits of different information – which presents Kent with a whole new set of challenges!
We do desk-based research so that we can tell people who want to build something whether there are likely to be any archaeological remains on their building site. This often means giving advice to people don’t know a lot about archaeology – which is why today Kent is all dressed up and wearing his tie.
It is really tricky to put on a tie when you are a teddy bear!
When our Maidstone office was having an open day Kent helped out with the organisation of the upcoming events hosted by the London & South East Office. Up first is our Open day to celebrate five years in our old office and looking forward to the future at our new office. Secondly, we were putting on a conference at Greenwich University (Medway Campus) on the subject of Prehistoric Kent (the County not the Bear).
Kent has learnt that a key part of hosting an event is letting people know about it. So Kent was charged with putting together a list of places and people that might be interested in hearing about the events.
Following this Kent’s creative input was needed in the design and layout of the flyers, posters and ticket design. Kent had to present his ideas and findings to his colleagues so that timescales and logistics could be agreed. They were very appreciative of his input and creative flair!
Kent has been practising his best Radio voice and jingle writing skills in case we opt for a radio advert!
At last Kent managed to get out on site excavating archaeological features. He has spent several weeks in the office amassing a large amount of site kit, he has been really excited about the opportunity to use it.
Once a site has been machined and cleaned, allowing archaeologists to see differences in soil colour which can show where archaeological features are. These features can include ditches and rubbish pits which were dug in the past and then filled up with a different material. That’s when the hard work really starts; we have to dig the fill out of these features in order to see their original size and shape. Below Kent has excavated a ditch and is cleaning up the section, this allows archaeologists to see how the ditch filled up and see if there are finds to date the features.
Once the feature is excavated they are drawn and photographed. Digging for a full day can be really tiring but it is never a good idea to be caught sleeping on the spoil heap!
Kent has recently been working with Patricia Voke who leads the geophysics team at the London & South East Office. The team are really busy at the moment and needed his expert help. Geophysics is a great way to investigate sites without digging holes – it is also a brilliant way to identify the best areas to dig holes. This minimises costs, damage and disruption at early stages.
We have lots of different techniques from resistance surveys that measure the electrical resistance of the ground, to ground penetrating radar, which uses radio waves like the radar used for planes, but we use it to see below the ground. This week we are using a magnetometer which measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Technical stuff but really interesting!
We then download the information onto a laptop where the data is processed with some complicated software. It takes a lot of skill as the equipment doesn’t know what is archaeology and what isn’t – that takes some complicated programmes and a lot of skill by the geophysicist – Trish was impressed with Kent's skills.
But like of lot of archaeology – there is a lot of hard work and it’s really hot at the moment ...and he is quite furry.
By Mark Williams