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A Humerus Tale

7 Jul

After a tremendous time volunteering for the recent Rothwell medieval ossuary open day last weekend, and having taken part in the University of Sheffield Castleton field school for a few days afterwards (nothing beats excavating skellies in the beautiful peak district!), I had the rather unfortunate occurrence of fracturing my right humerus (upper arm bone) early last week.  Following surgery to fixate the rather stark break with the insertion of a permanent plate and screws, I remain rather immobile.  Being predominately right handed this means that posts on this site will take longer to write and produce as I cannot move the right arm.  However there should hopefully be a number of upcoming guest posts so please stay tuned.

Whilst I was volunteering at Rothwell, helping as I was to inform members of the public on how osteologists age and sex skeletal material and the limitations of the methodologies, it really made an impression on me how important it was to engage with the public face to face , especially on discussing the importance of human osteology in archaeology.  As such it is a future aim of mine to become more fully involved in outreach work.  But first I need to heal and normally for someone with McCune-Albright Syndrome this means that it could take some time.  If I can I’ll put up a picture of the x-ray as it really was an impressive full break!

As such I want to re-iterate the clarion call for guest post entries and for blog interviews across a range of osteological and archaeological themes.  Please feel free to contact me and send me an email for further information.

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‘Free Archaeology’ Series at Conflict Antiquities

20 Aug

Over at the Conflict Antiquities site, a blog ran by Dr Samuel Hardy who is a researcher at UCL, there are a series of entries on the subject of ‘Free Archaeology‘ which help to highlight the current plight of the archaeological and heritage sector in the UK and beyond.  The series is a great introduction for current cultural, political and employment issues and trends in the sector, whilst also highlighting the dire effects that austerity is having on the archaeological and heritage trades in the UK and further afield.

Free Archaeology

Free archaeology across the globe in languages (Source: myself, TBOM).

So without further ado here are a few of my favourite and informative posts by Dr Samuel Hardy*…

1.  Free Archaeology: Volunteering, Training and Crowdfunding

From the post: “One of the most striking elements of the current system is the (sometimes accidental, sometimes deliberate) confusion between archaeological volunteering and archaeological training. And (to my mind) absolutely the most troubling aspect is the shift, not merely from being-paid-to-work to not-being-paid-to-work, but actually from being-paid-to-work to paying-to-work.

A point many volunteers on archaeological excavations in the UK will recognise- am I paying just to provide labour for the company? (It is reminiscent of the ‘pay to play’ policy that some music venues used to employ for upcoming bands to perform).  Am I being trained in the best archaeological technique or am I just providing a helping hand?  It is rare that volunteering is free on UK excavations, and in some popular and well regarded excavations it can cost hundreds of pounds a week just to partake, let alone factoring in the the accommodation or living costs for the duration of the participation.

2. Free Archaeology: Precarious Excavators and Unpaid Heritage Workers

From the post: “Every tier – unemployed, unpaid, underemployed, underpaid – needs to recognise that the majority of the people in the levels above them are exploited allies trying to establish their own basic security (which is not a betrayal).”

It is important to recognise that your manager is also a person undergoing the same stress of every day living as well.  Archaeology, as a sector, has been hit hard by the recession and lack of building projects in the past few years.  Smaller units are continually feeling the pinch and costs of projects each and every week, whilst larger ‘safer’ units are themselves having to downsize and cut costs.

3. Free Archaeology: Austerity Britain- Museum Workers and Entire Workforces are Replaced with Volunteers

From the post: “They completely exclude other real-terms or effective cuts to the cultural heritage sector, such as frozen funding and frozenpositions (and consequently stretched staff); sometimes drastically reduced opening hours (and consequently reduced wages or lost jobs, or staff consequently reduced to precarious, seasonal workers).

They also completely exclude allegedly temporary, years-long closure or mothballing of sites and projectsdefinite but unspecified redundancies and funding cuts with proposed job losses and other as-yet-unstated consequences; and other threats of redundancy and precarisation, for instance through the outsourcing of (decades-long) museum contracts.

They don’t begin to address the targeting of archaeology departments to compensate for university funding cuts, such as the shutting down of Birmingham University’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity and the redundancy of the majority (19) of its staff.”

I have wrote before on this blog regarding Birmingham University’s decision to shut down it’s Archaeology and Antiquity department, and the impact that this has had on other university departments who are eagerly watching as to how this impacts the development of other archaeology departments across the university sector.  What we are seeing with the effects of austerity is the loss of highly capable individuals across council units, academic departments and commercial units.  The issue of funding PhD’s has also come to the fore as a price hikes in undergraduate degrees for students at UK universities also impacts Post-graduate study intake numbers.  It is my belief that changes to the intake numbers of archaeological departments will result in some form of academic change regarding archaeology departments, I will follow this up if it takes place with another entry.

4. Free Archaeology: Simply Illegal Unpaid Internships

A quote from the post: “When I raised the issue of unpaid internships, an employee of the Department for Work and Pensions observed, ‘it’s almost a two-tier system now.’ (I did raise my eyebrows at almost.) ‘If you can afford to work for free, you can get lots of experience and you can get a great position; if you can’t, you have to swim with the rest of us.’

Perhaps, and it reminds me of the mantra of archaeology is ‘that you do not go into it for the money but for the passion’.  Personally I have been able to volunteer extensively because I have had the time and have had the money to provide for transport and food whilst volunteering.  I have mentioned this before, but if you are a UK or an EU student, try and get onto a European Union funded Leonardo Da Vinci archaeology placement– all fees, accommodation and travel is provided for and you get spending money and a fantastic archaeological experience.**

5. Free Archaeology: Drawing the Line Between Work Experience and Work; Identifying Structural Disadvantage and Exclusion

From the post: “but are not recognised as workers and paid as such. And those who cannot afford to volunteer, those who cannot afford to pay for the opportunity to work, cannot gain skills that are ‘essential’ to their entry to the cultural heritage profession.”

There are further posts in the series but I shall leave you to discover them.  You may not agree with every point that Dr Hardy makes, but they do help to highlight the changing face of the archaeology and heritage sectors over the past few years.  It is something I would heavily advise students or individual’s who are considering working in these sectors to consider and to research.  As an archaeologist without a job in the sector, and as a volunteer for numerous years with numerous units, it is fantastic to see a series of posts discussing the current employment, political and cultural situation within the archaeological and heritage sector.  And it is rather refreshingly frank!

* Who I hope will forgive me for advertising the excellent posts.

** Full disclosure, I attended the 2011 Magdeburg placement and gained invaluable new skills, friends and experience.

Mesolithic Project on the North Yorkshire Moors

18 Dec

There is a nice little article on the Past Horizons website on the work of my local archaeological group, Tees Archaeology, and their continuing work on the Mesolithic project based in the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire Moors in north eastern England, carried out in conjunction with North York Moors National Park.  The Mesolithic period in this area lasted from to 8000 BC  to roughly 3800 BC, with flint tools used during this period often belonging to the microlithic tradition- specialised mini-tools.  The human population during this time were largely nomadic, often moving from place to place as season/food dictated.  However, it can be hard to make specific claims about this period as the evidence can be so scattered and diffuse.  Projects, such as this one spearheaded by Tees Archaeology, can help to unveil concentrations in Mesolithic flints and tools, and possibly even help to highlight camp sites or hearth sites, whilst also involving the public to become engaged with prehistory and heritage management.

The north east of England is generally unrepresented in the archaeological record compared to later periods (Source: Project Summary), and is certainly lesser known compared to the more well known sites of Star Carr in the Vale of Pickering, or Mesolithic houses of Howick in Northumberland.  Yet the evidence gathered from the many hundreds of flints from the project so far could indicate concentrations of Mesolithic activity on the North York Moors, with nearly 450 flints found near Goldsborough, Whitby, with evidence of burn flints which is often taken as a sign of camp fires or hearths (Source: Past Horizons).  This project helps to highlight the systematic approach to the prehistorical archaeological record, especially taking into consideration the change of environment between now and then.

The Tees Archaeology led project is split into 3 main phases, which include:

Phase 1 (completed 2006):

The collation of existing data, including the work of unpublished and unrecorded material, palaeoenvironmental evidence, and information from private collectors.  The information was entered into a database and graded accordingly to type, and from there 6 types of location were identified for Mesolithic sites.  The sites were then targeted in Phase 2 (Source: project Summary).

Phase 2 (completed 2008-2012):

Targeted fieldwork explored the 6 location types identified from the 1st Phase in order to characterise the different types of activity present, detail the chronology at the site, and provide information for future management.  The 6 location types are termed as Zone 1– low lying areas in the Tees valley, Zone 2– lowland activity in prominent locations, Zone 3– lower lying northern and eastern fringes of present moorland block, Zone 4– upland activity in prominent locations, Zone 5– upper reaches of streams in upland locations, and Zone 6– highland springhead locations (Source: project summary).

Phase 3 (projected 2013)-

The majority of finds from Phase 2 of this project included extensive field walking at a number of sites to find, record and plan flint finds, whilst the 3rd Phase aims to finish trial shoveling, pitting and field walking at specific sites in conjunction with geophysical surveying, whilst testing the methodologies used in Phase 2.  The final section will bring together the lessons learnt from the project, and help produce and inform heritage management planning.  A popular booklet will be produced to help educate and inform the public.

Further Information, Publications and Reports-

A Tees Archaeology produced series of Flint Fact Sheets can be found here.  The detailed fact sheets help to provide information on the importance of flint collections, their value and how knowledge can be attained from them.  It describes the quality and the nature of flint, how to recognise different period production of flint tools (from Mesolithic microliths to Neolithic fabricators), as well as a guide on how to recognise the different functions and type of flint tools and artifacts that can be found in the area, ranging from scrapers, burins, awls to saws, knives and leaf shaped arrow heads.

The Tees Archaeology Phase 1 Final Report, from 2006, can be found here, which describes the objectives and research design in further detail.  On the project homepage further information can be found on the specific sites that have been targeted since 2006, such as Farndale Moor in 2009 or Goldborough in 2012, with yearly reports produced for each site available on the webpage.  This brief report outline both the completed Phase 1 and Phase 2, and the upcoming Phrase 3 in 2013.  A future report is expected within a year times, whilst trial trenching and test pitting on the North York Moors will be carried out in early 2013 (volunteers wanted!).

I sincerely hope I can join in with the project in the coming spring, as this seems like a fantastic opportunity to become involved with a Mesolithic project, a period I am especially interested in.

Archaeological Unemployment

16 Nov

Unemployment is doubtless a thing that many archaeologists will experience during their careers.  This is especially the case for archaeologists hired for temporary fieldwork, where contracts can run out and expire or where work can become lean (during certain periods of the year or during economic instability).  There are factors outside of your control that can either work in your favour or work against you.  These include, amongst others, the current economic climate, your work experience and previous employment, your educational record, where you live, if (in Britain) you are CSCS card holder, and if you can drive.  Archaeology, as a whole, is generally a very well-educated sector, with many people having at least an undergraduate degree to their name, if not a Masters.  However, it is often said that once you have entered the fray and became a paid archaeologist it is much easier to gain employment once again at the same or other archaeological units.

Generalisations aside, the past two and a half months have led me in a fruitless search to gain employment, and I have recently signed onto Job Seekers Allowance, a financial safety net for those searching for work in the UK.  I was somewhat shocked, and impressed, that I was able to choose archaeology as a main option on my job seekers agreement form after hearing many horror stories from friends.  Although I hold out hope for carving out a career in the archaeology/heritage sector, I realise that now is a particularly tough time.  I also realise that as a physically disabled person (see previous posts), picking archaeology as a career choice was never going to be a straightforward career progression or job choice (but I’m not one for easy rides).

As a recent guest post from Charles Hay pointed out, a career in archaeology is not easy for anyone, and you will have to find work in other sectors to help pay your way whilst you search for that dream archaeology job.  Be open for anything, don’t be afraid to move, and always apply, even when you don’t think you stand a chance.  Whilst I may feel sorry for all the archaeological units that have received my CV in their email inbox’s, I do not for a moment regret not sending it.

As always there is hope.  Many of my friends who I have studied with, or have got to know at University, have gained jobs in the archaeological sector.  There has been another recent round of Institute for Archaeologists/Heritage Lottery Funded training placements released (8 in all), based in either Scotland, England or Wales.  (Be fast though, the closing date for some of the positions is the 19th of November, a few days away, whilst others are open until early December).  BAJR, the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources site, always presents new jobs as soon as they are available.  The IFA job sheet is also well worth signing up, as is the daily checking of the University of Leicester Museums Jobs Desk.

And if worst comes to worst, you can always volunteer!  If you have a day free and there is a local dig coming up, why not join in and gain experience, get to know some new people and have fun.  I have volunteered for quite a few units now, both during my undergraduate degree and during my ‘gap  year’ (i.e. surgery year), and I’ve managed to get to Germany for free as a volunteer, managing to work on an excellent site.

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.

A Clarion Call For Guest Blog Entries

19 Apr

Archaeology, and all of it’s related disciplines, heavily depend on collaboration between various people’s, projects, institutions and countries worldwide.  Blogging can play its part in informing a new audience of goings on, recent finds and new approaches in research in various disciplines.  Blogging can open up research projects to the public and allow opportunities for various sets of people with broad-based skill sets to inject their own knowledge into projects, often in new and interesting combinations.   Science is an inclusive discipline and encourages a broad audience to digest and produce results based on research and experiments adhering to a peer review process.  An interesting example comes via John Hawks own advertisement of the Malapa Soft Tissue project, a project which aims to investigate hominin skin preserved from a 2 million year old site in South Africa, and openly calls for people to join in the research.

These Bones of Mine hopes to introduce the basics of human osteology to a new and disparate audience, whilst also discussing and highlighting interesting news from the archaeological world and beyond.  I also hope it to be a site where information can be passed on to interested sectors of the internet audience.  Therefore, I heartily welcome guest posts on a range of topics.  These include, but are not limited to, the following range of subjects:

  • Osteology (both human and animal)
  • Archaeology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Archaeological Practice (experience of fieldwork, units etc)
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Palaeoanthropolgy
  • Ethnography
  • Palaeontology
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Palaeobotany
  • Genetics
  • Palaeogenetics
  • Forensic Anthropology

Alongside outside subjects such as Human Rights Issues, Heritage at Risk, Cultural Sociology, and Literature or Music.  Any subject within these titles will be considered, and I am particularly keen on prehistory, human osteology, and the effects of an holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the research of archaeological remains.

Please feel free to email me at the following address with ideas for blog posts: thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com

Do not be offended if the subject matter is not appropriate or if I do not reply quickly the academic year is quickly filling up with approaching essay deadlines, dissertation research  and conferences to attend.  The guest posts should be referenced as appropriate (Harvard style) and not extend beyond 2000 words.  Images are welcome, as is the inclusion of the writers own thoughts and interests.  I cannot offer any monetary funding, nor will I openly advertise commercial or private sector companies.  Thank you for your time.

Previous guest blogs include the following (top most recent):

Further updated posts can be found on the ‘Guest Posts‘ tab.