Archive | July, 2012

Skeletal Series Repository, Amongst Other Things…

17 Jul

I’ve recently updated this blog with a side page, the Human Skeleton tab, for the skeletal series posts.  It can be found just next to the ‘About’ section.  Here you can handily find all the posts that I have wrote so far about the bones in the human body as used in the study of human osteology in archaeological contexts.  The posts discuss the human body in easily recognisable sections (such as leg, arm etc), and the contents include information on how to recognise and name various elements, anatomical landmarks and what to expect if you have the pleasure of digging them out!

Hopefully the series will give you enough information on how to differentiate and recognise the various type of bones in the human skeletal system, and also provide information on how individual bones fit together as whole in the skeletal system.

Meanwhile I’m currently back home relaxing and reviving myself after the 2nd semester of the masters program.  Shortly I’ll be heading out to visit our nearest continental neighbour, France, with the family for a week or two, so you may not hear from me in a while.  I am hoping that there will be a further guest blog or two in the near future, but I’ll be back to write about the next entry in the skeletal series, the human foot (Pes), soon enough.  In the meantime I’m sincerely hoping the dissertation has wrote itself whilst I am frolicking in the French countryside, but I highly doubt that will the case…

I recently had the great pleasure of excavating a medieval site in the lovely Peak District village of Castleton with the University of Sheffield.  Obstinately, the yearly project aims to find the medieval leper hospital in, or just outside the village, but there has been little luck this season of digging which was recently completed.  Whilst I only partook in a few days worth of excavating, it was with great pleasure I found myself in the great (wet) outdoors once again.

One particular highlight was the digging of a test pit in someone’s back yard under a gazebo with a dear friend, as the rain lashed down and the thunder rolled and roared overhead.  Minutes after the downpour the bright rays of the sun penetrated through the dark clouds and the backdrop of the 12th century medieval castle high up on the hill became clear for all to see, it was an immense sight for sore and tired eyes!  The excavation provided immense relief from sitting at a keyboard and it reminded me why I love field archaeology, and archaeology in general, so much.

Across my travels online I have had the pleasure of reading the adventures of various archaeologists recording their views of the sites they have dug at.  A particular favourite can be found at The Facts of My Ignorance site, a delightful read of Callum Dougan’s traipse across Mediterranean and Levantine archaeological sites, volunteering in various countries and at various digs as he goes.  His entry on the City of David project is enlightening, and revealing.  I have heard of this site before through friends who are studying for the MA in Biblical Archaeology here at Sheffield, and it seems archaeology will forever be tied in with politics, particularly in light about out who funds archaeology and why.

Over at Amateur Archaeologist, an impressive self leaner has collated a vast range of online archaeological and linguistics archive as well as writing detailed articles on a vast range of interests from Egyptian archaeology to Mesoamerican linguistics, cultural heritage management  to archaeological ethics amongst other topics.

I haven’t mentioned it yet on this blog, but Dr Fitzharris’s The Chirurgeons Apprentice is a site to watch out for!  It is an amazing repository and archive of detailed research on the ‘early modern chirurgeons’, the forerunners to today’s medical surgeons.  This site never disappoints and provides some fascinating insight into what terrors awaited the 17th century person if they ever happened to have an accident or become ill.  The subtitle perhaps says it all- ‘A website dedicated to the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery’.

Up next is Robert M. Chapple’s site who is a professional field archaeologist based in Northern Ireland.  On his site are a number of interesting articles on Irish archaeological sites he himself has dug at, alongside various posts on archaeology in the wider world.  His entry on his own ‘Transit Van experiment‘ is edifying, and revealing, about the state of theoretical and field archaeology.

Meanwhile Hazelnut Relations is a blog ran by the PhD student Marcel Cornelissen at the University of Zurich.  It focuses on use wear analysis of microlithic tools across the Mesolithic-Neolithic (Pre) Alpine Central Europe.  While his blog does focus on this topic, it also carries a much broader selection, and the author has many years experience in field archaeology in various European countries.

Finally we have Wunderkammer, a tumblr blog dedicated to arresting medical/historical images.  The byline, ‘a curiosity cabinet of (un)natural wonders’ intrigues, and the site does not disappointment.  One perhaps not for the faint of heart.

I’ll be back in a while, hopefully with a few different articles on palaeopathology, and the next instalment of the skeletal series.  In the meantime au revoir!

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Guest Blog: ‘Archaeology and Me: A Volunteer’s Perspective’ by Mike Young.

5 Jul

Dr Mike Young is a former dentist whose career has including running his own practice, working as a clinical teacher, and as an independent expert witness. He is now a full-time author.  His first book, ‘Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way‘, won the 2011 Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title. He has also had published ‘How to be an Effective Expert Witness‘. He is currently working on a second practice management book, alongside a novel.

Mike’s interests away from dentistry include archaeology, history and the arts. He has been a volunteer at York Archaeological Trust for over eight years.


I was flattered when David asked me to write something for his blog.  He suggested several topics, but in the end it was left up to me what I wrote about.  After some thought I decided that a piece about how a ‘retired’ dentist ended up as a volunteer for York Archaeological Trust (YAT), and about what, if anything, I got out of it, or indeed if I gave anything to them, apart from my time, that is.

It has to be taken as read that anyone who volunteers for YAT has an interest in archaeology.  Mine was not what you could call a passion or an obsession, it was more your passing interest type of interest.  I’d been on a dig at the then recently uncovered Roman fort at South Shields (Arbeia) when I was about twelve or thirteen, but after that my interest was confined to Time Team, tramping around Roman remains on Hadrian’s Wall, and reading books.  So when in early 2004, after I’d had to give up my career as a dentist because of arthritis in my hands and wrists (not a good thing for a dentist to have!) I applied to volunteer at YAT, and you’d probably say that I had no more than a working knowledge of what archaeology was all about.

Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, England.

The first thing I learnt was that there were an awful lot of volunteers at YAT.  In fact, where I worked in the Finds Department, it was nearly all volunteers.  This is clearly good for YAT and good for those who want to experience archaeology at first hand without being employed.  Apart from the number of volunteers, the next thing that struck me was the relaxed pace of it all.  I’d come from a background where time was everything: keeping to time and charging for time were the prime daily objectives.  Not anymore.  And then there were the people; again, very different to those I’d been used to, but in a good way.  Dentists can be a weird lot, which is probably why I never really mixed with many of them socially, but I found everyone at YAT so friendly and so sociable.  Lunches to celebrate birthdays, after-work visits to the pub, and meeting up at weekends with some of those I work with have all been part and parcel of what for me is a very happy working environment.

YAT get one day a week from me, although this is flexible.  I like to think that what I give them is worthwhile.  In return they give me the opportunity to do something I really enjoy.  The social side is important, and is probably the best thing that all of the volunteers get out of it.

I didn’t go to YAT with any aspirations of becoming a Dental Anthropologist or such like, but obviously my knowledge of teeth and dental diseases could have come in useful to them at some point.  However, one other thing that I quickly picked up at YAT is that there’s very little money in archaeology, so when I was asked by someone outside of YAT to do some dental analysis on a collection of skeletons, and I asked if I would be paid, the reply was ‘No’.  I stopped offering and certain people stopped asking.  Despite this, I did work on the skeletons for the Plague, Poverty and Prayer exhibition at Barley Hall in York 2009-10.  Further details and the publication can be brought here.  As I got to see more and more skeletons and more and more teeth I began to think about what problems the owners of the teeth might have experienced as a result of the condition of their teeth and gums.  This led me to put together an article for Yorkshire Archaeology Today (18) titled ‘What’s behind a smile?’.  The article can be read here.  On the back of this, one of my fellow volunteers asked me to give a talk to their local archaeology group about teeth and archaeology, which I did in 2011.

Mike’s article in Yorkshire Archaeology Today.

Secretly I think I had hoped that YAT would have made more use of my dental knowledge, but sadly this has not really been the case.  Although in reality I doubt if I would have had the time, what with writing a prize-winning book and all my other writing commitments, but it would have been nice to have been asked.

Closures and Petitions: University of Birmingham & Wincobank Hill in Sheffield

2 Jul

There have been a few outrages recently in the heritage world in the United Kingdom.  Firstly I want to draw your attention to the threatened closure of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA) at the University of Birmingham.    The institute has been threatened with closure as a result of University cutbacks.  It is proposed that a total of 19 staff would be left without a job, whilst only 4 out of the 18 employed archaeologists would retain their job.  The remaining IAA staff would then be spread around the Universities various departments.  Just how will the University provide valued and respected teaching in the subjects of archaeology,  ancient history, and classics, has been the subject of heated debate and speculation by all those involved.

The University has provided a statement saying that the closure of the IAA would be mitigated by the setting up of a Centre for Archaeology Research in its place.  A claim which the UCU University of Birmingham website state that it would just be an online website, and not a true centre for research of academic excellence.  The UCU website has a detailed entry setting out how this whole debacle has been ‘disastrously mishandled‘ from the outset.  The ‘Archaeology’ facebook group has been active in calling out for signatures to help show public support for the subjects involved at the University, as it is a scenario that is likely being watched very closely by other universities that house archaeology, ancient history and classical departments.  Archaeologists remain upbeat however- an unknown person has made a humorous youtube Downfall parody, showing an angry Hitler threatening to take archaeology back to the dark ages (sadly copyright has been slapped rather fast on this video!).

Meanwhile in my section of the woods, there has been much speculation and dismay at the plans to build a new housing estate on the Iron Age site of Wincobank Hill, located just inside the city of Sheffield. Information on the site of Wincobank Hill can be found here, and there is an English Heritage page about it here.  A petition has been set up for signatures to be gathered showing support for new housing not to be built on the protected land.  There are already worries that sections of the Iron Age enclosure are being damaged through neglect, and it would be unfortunate if more of this interesting site was lost to professionals and enthusiasts alike.  The planning meeting was held recently, and it was with great pleasure that the application to build 24 new houses on the site was turned down.  However, there will be further developments, and it is vital that this campaign is sustained.

It is hoped that there will be another guest entry on this blog in the near future, but for the moment I have to focus on my dissertation research and write up.  I’ll be around though…

The View From Wincobank Hill (Change Petition 2012).

Update 07/09/12:

The fight still goes on for both of these causes.  Regarding Wincobank Hill near the city of Sheffield, the City Council have decided to refuse planning permission on the site.  However the battle continues as the decision now goes to the Planning Inspectorate to uphold the decision of Sheffield City Council in the preservation of this little understood Iron Age/Romano-British site.  You can do your part now in protecting Britain’s heritage by signing this petition here.

Update 29/09/12:

A fairly depressing update regarding the position and tactics used by Birmingham University regarding the department of archaeology.  The article can be read here, and the headline says it all, ‘The University of Birmingham throws in the trowel- as College buries Archaeology! ‘.  The tactics also seems to be promoting past projects to entice new students, whilst ignoring the on-going destruction of a valued department.

Update 14/01/13:

Fantastic news regarding the Scheduled Ancient Monument of the Iron Age site of Wincobank Hill in Sheffield- the Planning Inspector has dismissed Investates appeal to build houses on the site, and the site will remain green and building free.  It is an excellent result, and an impressive show of the interest of both professionals and of the interested public.