?

Log in

Felicita

Giovanna Fregni's Live Journal Pages

Journal Info

Name
Giovanna Fregni
Website
Ancient Tools and Craft

View

Navigation

May 24th, 2016

Sleeping around Europe

Share





I once thought that I could get rich if I wrote a book about how to flush a toilet in every country.

No really, how a toilet is flushed is something so culturally ingrained that some people are confused when presented with a toilet that has buttons, pulls, or handles that are different than anything they've used before.

But today's observation is beds. Mattresses are something that we take for granted until we start to travel. In the US beds usually have two mattresses: a solid box-spring below and a second cushiony mattress above. That second mattress can be as firm or as soft as desired. There are even sleep number mattresses that inflate to be as soft or firm as you like. In Italy mattresses are firm. You can bounce a coin off of them.

That said, probably the most amazing bed I ever slept on was an honest to goodness antique down mattress. I used to babysit for some kids back in the 1970's and would occasionaly sleep over at their place. I looked forward to those nights. That mattress was amazing, like sleeping on a cloud. I sank into it and then the down conformed to my shape and supported me. Decades later memory foam was invented, but it still isn't as good as that experience.

In reality, I can sleep almost anywhere given the right amount of fatigue or situation. Camping is no problem for me. I've slept in airports, on friend's floors, and standing up, but when I am staying someplace for an extended period aches and pains can set in.

My knee is all bent out of shape today because I have a hard time coping with British beds. British beds are soft and usually only a single box-spring type mattress with some padding on it. On the older ones you can feel the springs below the padding. On newer ones the padding is cushiony and soft. The problem arises when my body sinks down into it, causing me to end up in a "V" shape. If I sleep on my back my knees are hyperextended, if I'm on my side there's pressure on my knees to bend sideways. I always thought hammocks were cool until I tried one and realised I had the same problem.

I originally solved the problem in England by buying an air mattress and inflating it to the max. Unfortunately they don't last very long. Sometimes they start leaking air the first time they're used. After going through a couple of them, I realised that they were good for only two things. One is that they make an excellent snow sled/sledge that can hold up to three people. The second is as a pad that makes a British mattress firmer. I eventually constructed a comfortable mattress by building up layers of dead air bed, a duvet, and a matress cover to hold it all in place. I had custom comfort for years, but now that I am on the road, I am finding my old back and knee problems returning. I've found that the only firm place for me to sleep on a British mattress is to cling to the edge of the mattress where I'm less likely to sink down.

One thing I do like about British beds is that in hotels beds always provide two pillows, one is soft and the other is firm. You can use one or the other, or pile them up as you see fit. Every other country I've been to has pillows that are the same firmness.

My ideal mattress is the result of my upbringing in the US. I grew up with idea of a certain degree of firmness and cushion. I expect Europeans coming to the US will find the beds too firm or too soft depending the types of bed they had at home. Beds and mattresses are another one of those things that people take for granted and might not realised how perceptions of comfort are so culturally ingrained.

May 11th, 2016

Life on the Road

Share




It’s about time I started up this blog again. This was originally intended a s a blog about my travels, and since my life now consists primarily of being on the road, I figured that writing about my experiences would be therapeutic for me and helpful to others.
So, what I’ve been up to since I last wrote here….

I finished my PhD, so I’m Dr Fregni now. I wrote my thesis on Bronze Age metalworking tools and have had a wonderful time travelling around the UK and Europe doing experimental archaeology and demonstrating how metalworking was done a few thousand years ago. There are a couple films of me up on YouTube, and I have a website dedicated to my work in experimental archaeology.

I also worked for a short time helping assemble the bits and pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard. That was a great job, but Birmingham Museum wasn’t able to employ me after my visa to work in the UK expired. Like the US, the UK has become increasingly conservative, and the laws are just as xenophobic. Getting a visa is expensive here (close to £500 just for the application process), and the rules for qualifying for one change frequently. Not to mention that only selected employers can employ foreigners. It was hard leaving Sheffield. It had been my home for going on eight years and I have a lot of friends there.

I figured my best action was to go to Italy where I have family, including an aunt who has Alzheimer’s. She needs 24 hour care, and although she has a woman who stays with her, I was able to stay with her on the carer’s days off and over Christmas. This was all going well, but when I went to apply for residency, I found out that I didn’t qualify. If you look on any official website, you’ll see that it says that US citizens don’t need a visa to visit Italy, and that for extended stays a permesso di soggiorno can be applied for. The catch is that in order to apply for permesso di soggiorno, a visa is needed. There is an option for the reunification of family members, but caring for family only counts for immediate family. I was told that getting a work visa was about as easy as winning the lottery. The upshot is that I can stay in Italy for 90 days and then have to leave for 90 days, after which I can return.

So, just as I thought my life was under control, I had to pack my bags and head back to England. It worked out well because friends of mine needed a house/cat sitter while they were out of the country. Then I moved on to stay with a friend, helping out with the archaeological excavation he supervises. Of course, through all this I cannot get a job in Italy or the UK without a visa. I originally set up a GoFundMe fundraiser just to get me and my stuff to Italy, but I never intended to live off of it.

I like travel, but didn’t intend for it to become my life, but for the foreseeable future, that’s how it will be. I make myself useful and try not to impose too much on friends. I have to admit that this is stressful. I wake up mornings feeling anxious or depressed, but do my best to remind myself that others have it far worse, and that some people would be envious of my nomadic lifestyle. It helps some, but I still worry about the future.

I am making nickels and dimes doing some freelance work based from my old business in the US, both through writing and art. Sadly, academic writing is all done for free. Unlike artists and musicians, academics still fall for the line that they are doing it for exposure.

Despite all this I am forever hopeful that I will land a job that will allow me to stay somewhere close to Italy. For the time being I am in England, bouncing between the excavation at Poulton and staying in Birkenhead, near Liverpool. In June I’ll be heading over to Belfast for a conference, where I’ll be speaking at a conference on ancient metalworking tools.

It's all a work in progress. At times I look at the possibility of getting a work visa in Germany, or wonder what life would be like in Eastern Europe. Everything is up for grabs at this point. In other words, the adventure continues...

April 25th, 2011


 











Today we started out a little earlier. The goal was to see all of the Stonehenge landscape and get an understanding of it before we went to the monument itself.

The first stop was Woodhenge, a circle built of timbers. There was some debate as to whether it was a massive grain storage structure, or a ceremonial monument. There’s nothing to say whether or not it had a roof, or anything other than various sized pillars set upright into the earth. For anyone not into archaeology, the monument might be a bit of a disappointment, since the pillars are represented by short stumps of varying diameters. I found it a confusing arrangement. When walking between the pillars at times it ran as a spiral and others were concentric circles. Going anti-sunwise led outward for a bit, but then it reached a point where the posts were larger and the path continued in the same circle. There were also some paths blocked by pillars. Whatever its function, the henge does control movement within the circles. For a contrasting view, I took out my phone and found the site on Google Earth, and could look at the path I was walking from a bird’s eye view as I walked around. The strange things you can do with technology.

I hung out there longer than the others, who walked across the road to Durrington Walls. This is a massive area (17 hectares) surrounded by a bank and ditch. It was here that Mike Parker Pearson found the settlement of the people who would have built Stonehenge. According to him, this was the land of the living, made of wood, as opposed to Stonehenge, the land of the dead. Wood, like living creatures, allows for change and mobility. It decays and needs renewing, where stone is durable and unchanging. There are other theories out there, but this one has always appealed to me, and seems to satisfy many criteria set up in the landscape.

But it was a beautiful day, and Durrington Walls was green and seemed full of life. I felt like running around or rolling down the slope. It just felt good to be in wide open space with everyone spread out.

I noticed that rabbit holes are much bigger here than in North America, making it more plausible that a young girl could fall into one. There were badger sets, too.

The soil here was fairly thin, and it could have been that the banks were covered in chalk, the same as Salisbury Hill, making it a gleaming bowl for the village. The chalk walls might also have served to make the place a bit brighter in the dark winter months. I found a couple bits of broken pottery (all modern) in a small cut out area. For fun, I gave them o Kevin, telling him that I’d found a couple pieces of rim sherd and a base. One did have a bit of blue decoration.

Next we toured the landscape. This was facilitated by a fair amount of road construction that forced us to take detours and drive in spirals to find our way. Kevin was leading in the car, and we came to rely heavily on my phone’s sat-nav capabilites.

We saw many barrows from the car. They make them much bigger down here. The ones up in Yorkshire (along with the stone circles) are rather small compared to what is in the south. Not that I don’t appreciate Yorkshire monuments.

We stopped for a bit and hiked through a small forest to a group of mounds. There we could see variations in their construction. All of them had been dug by antiquarians (an advantage of having smaller mounds, many of them have gone unnoticed) and had the characteristic slump at the top. We climbed to the top of one and got a good view of the landscape around us.

The final stop of the day was actual area around Stonehenge, including the cursus and the Avenue.

As always, King Arthur Pendragon, a self styled Druid and protector of the monument was there. He’s an interesting person (in the Minnesota sense of the term) who wants to see an end to British rule of the monument and free access for everyone. That’s not bad, but then there would be no provision for maintenance, or protection. While the rules seem extreme now, without an overseeing authority, there’d be little to prevent people from chipping off bits or climbing on the stones as they used to do. Lichens, some thousands of years old, would be scraped away, or destroyed by the acids from human hands.

Stonehenge is also the place of ravens. They are nearly tame, taking food from visitors and nesting among the stones.

After lunch and an expensive stop at the gift shop, we walked out into the fields to find the cursus. It’s easier to spot on areal views, but a bit more difficult to spot on the ground. Kevin found the low ridges and pointed out how extensive the earthwork was. Originally these were thought to be Roman chariot race tracks, but instead they are Neolithic structures. But while there are some explanations for most monuments, there are none to explain the cursuses found around Britain. The sides are too low to contain livestock, or to be used as a trap for animal herds. The cursus runs perpendicular to the Avenue, and so doesn’t lead to Stonehenge, and the low rise of the land obscures the view of the henge at times.

Now that we were at the opposite end of the field, we could begin the walk up to Stonehenge, the way that it was meant to be approached. It was small in the distance, and sometimes not visible, but grew larger and more prominent as we came closer. We could understand how people in a procession would feel, approaching on foot at a slow pace, building up the anticipation.

But sadly the Avenue is bisected by the A303 and we could only come as far as the fence. The road is closed now, and I’d learned from one of the guards that it will be taken out and he Avenue restored. I’ll look forward to walking the whole distance one day.

Since Kevin excavated there as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, he was able to point out the area where the excavations showed where the massive sarsen stones were dressed and carved before being moved into the circle.

We spent some more time walking around the fields and taking in the landscape and its monuments.

We all got together for dinner at the Indian restaurant again. It was a massive group.

I was feeling pretty wiped out by all the hiking and walking. There’s a considerable amount of thinking involved in going through these sites. Much of what we look at is no longer there, but while staring at the landscape, we try to see the activities and structures as they were when they were new and in use. In the case of Stonehenge, that changed considerably during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age with the circles being reconstructed and rearranged before it fell out of use.

We all made an early evening of it since we had to be up at 5:30 in order to be in Stonehenge at 6:30 the next morning.

April 22nd, 2011


 

















This was a vacation for me, but a working holiday for Kevin Cootes. The reason behind the trip was for him to lead a group of A level students through the Wiltshire Neolithic landscape. I met a few of the people the night before, but In the morning I was introduced to the rest of the class who would be riding on a bus from site to site. It was a perfect spring morning, and after a little sorting out, we were on our way, through construction, to Avebury.

There’s nothing that can really prepare you for the Neolithic landscape. You can read and study all you want, but it cannot convey the sheer magnitude of the monuments and the scale of what people created there.

The Avebury stone circle is the largest in the world. It encircles the village and opens onto the West Kennet Avenue that leads off to the Sanctuary. I was sorry that I wouldn’t be able to walk that way, but it was a couple miles. After a briefing by Kevin, we wandered around the outer and inner circles, and tried to understand what it was all about.

Kevin was an excellent leader and font of knowledge. He worried about being able to answer all the questions that the students might throw at him, but he was well prepared, and impressed everyone. Once he finishes his PhD, he’ll make a great lecturer.

Sheep and lambs wandered around the circle with us, taking no notice of all the tourists. People came from everywhere, and I heard groups speaking in Japanese and German. Kevin pointed out the Tolkien tree, a huge, old alder with an enormous tangle of exposed roots. The story is that he would come out here to sit and look at the stone circle while working on The Lord of the Rings. If that’s so, I can see how the West Kennet Longbarrow would be an inspiration for the hobbits’ adventure in the barrows.

We had lunch, and visited the gift shop. I never got around to seeing any more of the town, or the museums. I will need to go back some day…

We wandered a bit more, considered alignments with other monuments and avenues. It’s hard not to speculate and form all sorts of ideas about the landscape here. There are just so many strange and awesome monuments here. They defy modern, logical explanation.

The next stop was Silbury Hill. I’d seen it from the road, and now we had a chance to see it close up. The hill is entirely man-made of tonnes of piled up chalk and earth. Back in the day it would have been covered with gleaming white chalk. It was easily visible from Avebury and the West Kennet Longbarrow. The odd thing is that Silbury Hill seems less impressive close-up than from a distance. It’s an odd illusion, similar to that of seeing St. Peter’s from the Sabine Hill in Rome. No climbing is allowed, so after a talk and photos, we went on to the West Kennet Longbarrow.

The Longbarrow is a chambered tomb, with niches and crypt-like side chambers. Back in the day, people would come and visit the dead, interring more, and often rearranging the bones. Nowadays, people leave offerings of flowers, and other tokens. It is a powerful place, stretching away under the ground, and sited along the top of a ridge, so that it is visible for miles. We could see it from Silbury Hill, and the hill was easily visible from the Barrow.

There were few other visitors here, or at Silbury Hill for that matter. It is too bad that so many people only go to Stonehenge and Avebury, and miss all the connecting parts of the landscape. Just as important as the ceremonial monuments, are the places where people lived and moved. From analysis done on artefacts and human remains, we know that then as now, people from great distances came to visit this region, and the landscape was developed deliberately to function in a way that made sense to the people who lived then. 

The final stop on the day’s tour was The Sanctuary, the site at the end of the West Kennet Avenue. This was another timber circle, but is also thought to have been covered.

 

Because Kevin and I were in Kevin’s car and separate from the coach, there was some confusion over dinner. Felicity, the lecturer for the class got a ride with Kevin and me. We thought that the others were going to the Indian restaurant in Amesbury, and headed that way. But first we made a stop at the site of Blue Stone Henge. Kevin was part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project run by Mike Parker Pearson and the University of Sheffield, and got to excavate here. Blue Stone Henge was rather a surprise, a large stone circle composed of the spotted dolerite that makes up the inner circle of blue stones at Stonehenge. Parker Pearson’s theory is that the dead were ferried along the river Avon from Durrington Walls and then landed here. After crossing through this stone circle, they would continue on to Stonehenge. But then, who knows how many more monuments lie buried in this landscape?

We didn’t find the others at the Indian restaurant, but had a good time and ate far too much. Afterwards we went across the street to the pub where we found they had a mini air museum. There’s a society devoted to the Spitfire, models, newspaper articles, and a history of military aviation. The region around Salisbury plain is largely used by the military, and the fields are used for tank and gunning practice. While driving around we saw plenty of barracks, and occasionally military helicopters flew overhead, following the Neolithic roadways.

After a pint, we went back to our rooms and got ready for the next day.

 

April 16th, 2011















The day started out with a whirlwind tour of Chester. Any town in Britain with “chester” or “cester” in it indicates that it was once the site of a Roman fort, and Chester can boast of a lot of Roman heritage. There is an excavated arena with a Shrine to Nemesis, and an original hypocaust (now located under a pota
to shop). Kevin raced me from one area to another pointing out markets, the town layout, medieval sites, modern sites, and always more Roman. We walked along the city walls and walked past the pub where Charles I conducted his affairs during the Civil War. We had to get back on the road far too soon, and on the way we drove past the Cheshire Cat pub, the original.

The Chester plain flattened as we headed farther south. Now I know why I was asked if I had found any of the lowland type metal hoards here. It would fit the pattern. But as we continued, the landscape became more dimensional. We stopped briefly in Shrewsbury to look for a Virgin mobile phone store and for Kevin to check the charity shops for more ceramics. Shrewsbury’s claim to fame, besides being the home of Brother Cadfael, was the birthplace of Charles Darwin.

Along the way Kevin told me about family road trips to visit aunts and uncles in South Wales. There was always a stop at the Lazy Trout diner. So, of couse we drove past and stopped. It is amazingly like an American diner that you’d see in smaller towns that were bypassed by the freeways. The food was British, but the diner seemed slightly out of place, although I noted that a motorway is almost indistinguishable from an American interstate or an Italian autostrada.

The next stop was in Pewsey to visit Kevin’s aunt and uncle. Pewsey is a very small town and they live in a medieval house that has a shop below. The house is filled with objects they’ve collected or have been given over the years. I sat quietly in a too comfy chair and tried not to doze off as Kevin talked about family and old times.

We had to get on the road again. The side trip to Pewsey took us far out of the way, and Kevin wanted to get as much driving done as possible before it got dark. We got turned around in the small towns, and got lost for a bit, but were saved by the wonderphone and google maps. I acted as navigator, trying to figure out how to get all the features on the phone to work. Problems were compounded by construction, but we finally found our way to the motel in Amesbury.


















Kevin showed up at 7 am, and we loaded my stuff into the car and headed out of town. I realised that we were driving through the same landscape that I see from the park at the end of my road. We went through the Rivelin Valley and heading towards the reservoir, driving through the Snake Pass, and headed through Glossop. Kevin put in a cd of Meatloaf. Some road trip music is universal, and it reminded me of Kate Worley's rule that any music left in a glove box long enough will eventually turn into The Best of Queen. The scenery was amazing and after a gorgeous ride through the Peaks, we looked down on Manchester spread out in front of us. There we turned and  Kevin headed into a small town in North Wales to pick up some sandwiches. What I didn’t realise was that the first stop on vacation was the excavation where Kevin is the finds officer. I still have some North American ideas of distance, so I hadn’t realised that I was always so close to Wales and the Isle of Man.

The excavation site was amazing. It’s near Poulton on this side of the stream separating England from Wales, and spans all periods from prehistory to Medieval. I was set to work in a section with a couple circular ditches, while others worked at a Roman section.The site has a reconstructed roundhouse, a home made wood henge, and boasts an authentic WWII landing strip. There’s also a medieval cemetery being excavated that’s next to a chapel. Despite all that, the search continues for the Cistercian monastery that was the primary reason for starting the excavation. Most of what I did was clean up a trench, but it felt good to get a bit messy and work in the warm sun. Yes, it’s t-shirt weather. I also got to impress people with the new wonder phone and its metal analysis applications. Unfortunately, on Saturdays the work only goes until early afternoon, so we took off for Kevin’s place in the Wirral. We crossed the Mersey and were there in about twenty minutes. Kevin’s place has an amazing view of Liverpool.
Kevin collects pottery, and his house is full of Wedgwood and other pieces of ceramics he’s collected. He had to work that evening, so  hung out. I really intended to get some marking done. But I realised how many years it’s been since I just stretched out on a couch
and watched TV.
I went out in the evening to see Kevin at work where he tends bar at the social club.  The Wirral is a nice village. The evening was balmy and people were out talking and walking around. It’s the closest I’d seen to a passaggiata in Britain. It’s a comfortable and congenial place.
I’d seen social cubs (I live down the street from one), but never been inside. They are a holdover from much older days, where everyone is smartly dressed and go out to enjoy an evening of cocktails and dancing. They used to have live bands, but now there is recorded music. Kevin tends the bar and tells jokes all evening and everyone seems to have adopted him there. Bingo is played (and it’s much different than Bingo in the US, you have to fill the whole card, not just one line) with much ritual and cultural references that I had to ask about. People asked me about America and politics, curious about the recent problems with the government shutting down. It was a pleasant and fun evening, but
the club is slowly aging and dying away. it will be sad when it’s down to the last few people and the place changes or closes. An entire culture will have passed away.

Day 2:
It was a laid-back morning. We went off to a boot sale, the British equivalent of a flea market, and the only alternative to rummage sales. Despite arriving late, I managed to find a couple decanters to put in the fresh batch limoncello in. I also got a good deal on a sturdy tabletop tripod
that will make photographing museum collections much more efficient. One vendor gave me a horse brass with a sheaf of wheat on it. It was a gorgeous day. I got to see more of the Wirral. Once back at Kevin's I gave in and spent the rest of the day marking papers, writing, and indulging in television. Except for the TV part, it was pretty much like a day at home in Sheffield.


April 11th, 2011

Vacation Day 1: The Wirral and an unexpected excavation

(photos to be added later)



Kevin showed up at 7, we loaded my stuff in the car and headed out of town. I realised that we were driving through the same landscape that I see from the park at the end of my road. We went through the Rivelin Valley and heading towards the reservoir, driving through the Snake Pass, and heading through Glossop. Kevin put in a cd of Meatloaf. Some road trip music is universal. The scenery was amazing. After a gorgeous ride through the Peaks, we looked down on Manchester spread out in front of us, and then we went into Chester. Kevin headed into a small town in North Wales to pick up some sandwiches. What I didn’t realise was that the first stop on vacation was the excavation where Kevin is the finds officer. I still have some North American ideas of distance, so I hadn’t realised that I was always so close to Wales and the Isle of Man.
The excavation site was amazing. It’s near Poulton on this side of the river separating England from Wales and spans prehistory to Medival. I was set to work in a section with a couple circular ditches, while others worked at a section that was Roman. The site has a reconstructed roundhouse and a wood henge. There’s also a medieval cemetery being excavated that’s next to a chapel. The search continues for the Cistercian monastery. Most of what I did was clean up a trench, but it felt good to get a bit messy and work in the warm sun. Yes, it’s t-shirt weather. Also got to impress people with the new wonder phone and is metal analysis applications. Unfortunately, on Saturdays the work only goes until early afternoon, so we took off to Kevin’s place in the Wirral. We crossed the Mersey and were there in about twenty minutes. Kevin’s place has an amazing view of Liverpool.
Kevin collects pottery, and his house is full of Wedgwood, and other pieces of ceramics he’s collected. He had to work that evning, so  hung out and watched tv, and really intended to get some marking done. But I realised how many years it’s been since I jst lied on a couch watching tv.
I went out in the evening to see Kevin at work where he tends bar at the social club.  The Wirral is a nice village. The evening was balmy and people were out talking and walking around. It’s the closest I’d seen to a passaggiata in Britain. It’s a comfortable and congenial place.
I’d seen social cubs (I live down the street from one), but never been inside. They are a holdover from much older days, where everyone is smartly dressed and enjoy an evening of cocktails and dancing. They used to have live bands, but now there is recorded music. Kevin tends the bar and tells jokes all evening and everyone seems to have adopted him there. Bingo is played (and it’s much different than Bingo in the US, you have to fill the whole card, not just one line) with much ritual and cultural references that I had to ask about. People asked me about America and politics, curious about the recent problems with the government shutting down. It was a pleasant and fun evening, but
the club is slowly aging and dying away. it will be sad when it’s down to the last few people and the place changes or closes. An entire culture will have passed away.

Day 2:
It was a laid-back morning. We went off to a boot sale, the British equivalent of a flea market and the only alternative for rummage sales. Despite arriving late, I managed to find a couple decanters to put in the fresh batch limoncello in. I also got a good deal on a sturdy tabletop tripod and was given a horse brass with a sheaf of wheat on it. This will make photographing museum collections much more efficient. It was a gorgeous day. I got to see more of the Wirral and then spent the rest of the day marking papers, writing, and indulging in television. Except for the TV part, it was pretty much like a day at home in Sheffield.

March 26th, 2011

Northampton

Share


 














I got up at 5 am, just before dawn on the equinox. That gave me time to do a short bout of Tai Chi at dawn before starting a long day. I find that rather than blowing off a day of practise, the stretching and movement helps make life easier when I have a day of lugging around equipment.

It’s a beautiful spring morning. The train was packed and I crammed myself into a seat with all my gear. I wrote some notes about defining hoards and played a game of chess on the new smart phone while the woman next to me read a book about Lady Gaga.

I’d wanted to see this particular hoard for two years now. Back when I started writing my masters dissertation, I was supposed to write on the Roseberry Toppng hoard. But just before I began, the curator left Weston Park Museum and shut down all access to materials for research. I made a mad effort to find another hoard, and found this one on the database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I couldn’t find the hoard’s current location in time and had to write on something completely different.

After a short wait, I was on the train headed towards Birmingham, but changed again at Tamworth. As we headed south, the land started to get flatter. Outside of the train stations and the roofs on houses distinguish this region from small industrial towns in the upper Midwest. Or maybe after a couple years the landscapes are blending in my head. There are occasional hills in the distance, not too high, but they stick out in the low rolling landscape.


This hoard was found by a detectorist in Northampton and ended up being bought by the museum. A great relief, since the Portable Antiquites Scheme released it to the finder, who would have the option of selling it all on EBay. The hoard is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the hammer and ingots. These are rare in Britain.

After a few minutes waiting on the platform in Tamworth, I was on the last leg of the trip. These cross-country trains are amazingly fast, and almost frightening as they rocket past the station. It makes the Trans-Pennine Express seem quaint as it chugs along through the Peak District.

I feel as if my thesis is being hand written in notebooks and on my little netbook as I travel from place to place.

When I arrived, Northampton was just waking up and the shops beginning to open. I saw a sign for the River Nene, off to the right. The river flows down to Peterborough and Flag Fen. All of my hoards are connected in one way or another to waterways or wetalnds.

The Northampton Museum and Gallery was a short walk from the station. Since it was closed today, I rang the bell and was let in. I met Paul Robinson and we went upstairs to his office where a desk had been cleared and the hoard was neatly stacked in three boxes. The place was quiet except for the occasional phone call and music playing in another office.

I spent as much time as I could allow on the hammer. It was unremarkable in every way, except for the fact it is a hammer and it is in a hoard. The face was smooth except for the pitting caused by being in the ground for about 2500 years. Despite being buried for so long, all the objects were in remarkably good shape.

I got through the first box of artefacts and we quit for lunch. I got a chance top stroll around for a bit, trying to decide on a café. A bacon, brie and cranberry chutney sandwich in a window made the decision for me. I wandered a bit more and admired the blossoming cherry trees in the city centre. Northampton is a nice town, and one that few people would think of visiting. I learned later that it was famous for manufacturing shoes and elevators. 

I got back to work with the ingots and axes. Paul took little notice of me as he worked at his computer. The museum is the local one and not the regional one where most archaeology would go. Its focus is pretty much on shoes and local history, so it is odd that the hoard did end up here. Friends of the museum gathered the money to buy the hoard from the finder for a modest sum, which then would be split with the landowner according to law. And so here it is, stored in ethifoam and archival boxes. Some of the spearheads and axes are in wonderful condition. They would make an impressive display, including one spearhead bent into a curve.

I finished right on time at 5 pm. I thanked Paul for letting me spend time with the hoard and making space for me, and then set out into Northampton. The day went quickly and now the city was shutting down. At lunchtime I bought a loaf of bread, and figured it would be nice to have some cheese to go with it for dinner on the train. I passed a Polish grocery store (no English here!) and went in. The woman at the counter was astonished that I only wanted a small piece of cheese, only about 100 grams. She kept picking up massive kilos of it and I kept directing her to smaller ones. Then there was more confusion as I bought one sausage. I compensated by buying a massive poppy seed pastry.

The next train out would be in about an hour, but there was an earlier one that I could take that went through Birmingham and then on to Sheffield. The woman at the counter explained that I would have more time at Birmingham that way. I don’t know what that advantage would be, but I got on to the nearly empty train and enjoyed the space to spread out. The cheese is a kind of Finnish Gouda with small holes, like Swiss cheese. The polish sausage was amazing. Crunchy skin and juicy inside. I’d missed that and hadn’t had it since I left the States.

It was a long, but comfortable trip back. I read notes off of my laptop, played with the new phone, and ate my Northampton Polish buffet. I was back home by 9:30 with a new pile of data to sort.

March 11th, 2011


 











Archaeology days are one of those British institutions that should be imported to the US, but I’m not quite sure if they would fly. Britain is a place where people, even non-academics, still go out to lectures for the enjoyment of it. And in Britain almost every town has an archaeology day. It’s like a mini conference where people speak about the latest excavations going on in the area, new research, or just generally interesting things about archaeology.

I came along the Dearne Valley Archaeology Day to give Tom Barnard a hand. I’d been at his dig since January and was looking forward to talking about the medieval metallurgy and slag we found there.

Since I got a ride from Tom, I was early enough to help set things up (and also had first crack at Colin Merrony’s book stall).

After coffee and socialising we settled in to listen to the first session of talks. Tim Cockrell started the day with a talk about the archaeology of identity in Cyprus. Five thousand years ago, during a relatively brief period, people were buried with cruciform pendants carved from a greenish form of picrolite, a for of steatite (also known as soapstone). Because the cemeteries were used by multiple settlement groups, in the past, they could have signified individual members of different groups. In a more modern context, the crosses have new significance as symbols on Cypriot coins, and are used to create a communal identity for a divided country.

Roger Doonan gave the next paper, and spoke about helmets. As humans developed, skulls became increasingly vulnerable, and Roger’s paper described the technological development for cranial protection. In 2600 BC, Ur provided the first depictions military helmets. With this began the first arms race as weapons technology became ineffective and had to improve in order to overcome the protection provided by helmets. As this progressed, more specialised helmets were evolved. Helmets were continually redesigned to improve the wearer’s ability to hear and see while their head was encased. Helmets became increasingly complex through Attic and Roman times, and up into Anglo Saxon and Viking periods. But with the advent of firearms, helmets fell out of use until the advent of harder steels (A South Yorkshire innovation). Helmets became simplified in appearance, but more complex in their metallurgy. The development of the different types of steel made mass production possible, providing effective helmets that protected heads in the First World War. In an added note, Sheffield industries employed the use of camels and elephants, as all the horses had been sent off to war on the continent.

After a break (where I put my time into adding to my pile of books), Bob Johnston spoke about the water powered grinders of the Rivelin Valley. The area is now a picturesque nature trail, but in the mid 19th century the Rivelin River powered twenty wheels on a three mile stretch. Despite that, the area was both woodland and industrial, and a place where people from the city (townies) could come and have a tea in the countryside. The university has an ongoing excavation there at the Holme Head Mill, and the public was invited to visit the excavation during open days in June or July.

Chris Cumberpatch followed with a discussion of the history medieval pottery of South Yorkshire. Analysis and study have shown that the standards and sequences are more complex than the accepted models. Chris’ work shows that the accepted framework has collapsed and that new ideas of pre-conquest relative dating need to be employed.

In addition, Chris put out a call for museums to preserve archives and artefacts. Many museums are getting rid of these as a means for short term savings. All of our research depends on being able to return to objects and records, to re-examine and re-evaluate them. The destruction of the archives not only destroys the ability to do continued research, but also destroys valuable heritage. He urged everyone to contact their MPs and museums. Further information about the situation can be found at Rescue, The British Archaeological trust www.rescue-archaeology.org.uk. Print copies of the organisation’s newsletter were also available.

After a buffet lunch we heard Angela Walker speak on flotation techniques and her work in Romania, charting the progress of agriculture from Turkey through Greece, and Bulgaria during the Neolithic.

Colin Merrony followed with a report on the goings on at Wombwell Wood. The area consists of ancient enclosures, hengiform monuments, and field systems on the coal measures. The scheduled monument backs up to residential houses where residents have slowly been extending their back gardens onto the henges. In the twenty years between surveys, almost half the site is gone. The landowner is buying property around the site and the ‘quiet attrition of the archaeological record’ will likely pave the way for the landowner to develop the area. There was much discussion of the issue and a hope that both residents and local groups would be made aware of the destruction of the heritage site.

After the final break we heard from Alex Sotheran speaking on archaeology of the Great War. His group No Man’s Land specialises in excavation of WWI sites. The most recent work was commissioned by the BBC at the location of the Battle of Somme (1915 and 1916). The site was chosen because the poet, Wilfred Owen was there. While some of the archaeology was lost to the plough, there were standing supports for barbed wire still in situ. Of the 70,000 missing from those battles, 122 bodies were found, some of whom had been identified. One man, a German, was found with a local piece of Neolithic worked flint in his pocket. He was identified only as coming from a Stuttgart regiment. In an amazing sequence of synchronicity, a relative of the soldier contacted Alex’s group after the Stuttgart paper ran an article on the excavation. She happened to be in Stuttgart and saw the article while she was travelling with a theatrical group that was performing a play based on Wilfred Owen’s poetry.

The final paper was given by the day’s organiser, Tom Barnard, who started what was going to be a simple excavation in his back garden for his undergraduate dissertation. While working in his garden he began  finding knoggins (the knob ends of long bones) and off-cuts that were probably from a small knife handle works. Since then it has grown into a complex site examining the origins of the medieval farmstead of Osgathorpe. After doing geophysics, he found that the medieval cottage was surrounded by a bank and ditch. The section of ditch that was excavated yielded a complex series of re-use including iron smelting and white charcoal manufacture.

The day was a great success. In addition to the papers presented, new contacts were made, and information about local heritage was shared. I came away with a pile of reports for South Yorkshire archaeology.

I would think that these sorts of events would be great for the various towns and communities in the US. Rather than having lecture series at universities or museums, they are held in community centres and local halls with a mix of both commercial and academic archaeology. A community archaeology day is not only an educational experience, but also makes community members aware of their heritage. The result is that archaeology becomes less the stuff of fiction, and more of what is part of everyday life.

 

 

The Bowes Museum

Share


 


This was the first trip out with the XRF looking at hoards. For this trip I was headed up north to Durham county to the Bowes Museum to look at the Gilmonby Hoard. In addition to a lot of axes and spears the hoard includes tools, fragments of cauldrons and metalworking debris. Petra and I got up early, got to the station and headed to Darlington. We had a nice walk from the station into town where we could catch the bus to the museum. Along the way we admired the cemetery and I told Petra of my adventures in Darlington, now nearly four years ago. The museum was 17 miles from town and a bus was supposed to go straight there. Well except that it didn’t. We managed to catch the milk run that took about an hour. Then it dropped us off in the town of Barnard Castle. The driver didn’t know where the museum was, but said he thought that it was at the bottom of the road. We walked down and found the castle. It was interesting, but in ruins, and definitely not the place we were looking for. We asked some people who lived in a house that was almost attached to the ruins where we could find the museum, and learned it was a ten-minute walk from there. I realised then that I was far too citified, because I would have taken a cab. That is if there were any to be taken. Later we learned that there was a bus that did run directly from Darlington to the museum, but it only runs three times a day.

We made it to the museum, a grand and imposing place that rivals Chatsworth. Unfortunately, Karen Barker, the curator and all the storage was back down all those stately steps to the gatehouse. There, it was far less stately and more like our on labs at Sheffield. Karen had the artefacts out and everything set up for us. It was comfortable and well lit, plus we could have endless cups of tea!

So we got a late start, but I got Petra set up doing the recording while I photographed and worked the XRF. We worked straight through, stopping to change batteries now and then. We stopped for a late lunch and walked down to an impressive café and gallery. The town did have many touristy type shops, but we didn’t expect a full-blown gallery with poetry nights.

Back at the museum we kept going. The museum director came by to watch the portable XRF in action. We talked about bronze hoards, metals, art, and how XRFs work. Usually if they have analysis done, it is for paintings. They take the smallest flake of paint possible and then send it up to Newcastle where they analyse it using XRD.

Petra managed to get ahead of me, and since we didn’t want to have too many boxes open at once, she took a break to look at some Anglo Saxon skeletons. They weren’t in very good shape, but the curator showed her a couple skulls that thrilled her. One had an oddly elongated cranium, and appeared to have been handled a lot. It could be that at one time it was part of a teaching collection. But the best was a skull with some mummified skin still attached to the face, and an amazing trauma that looked like an upward sweep of a sword to the lower back of the cranium. The upper half of the hole looked as if the bone had been broken away, rather than the cut continuing up and shearing away the back of the skull. It’s somehow comforting to know that the guy never saw what hit him and must have died instantly.

Back to work, and we had half the collection done. I’d tried to avoid the axes, spears, and swords, so I could concentrate on tools and casting debris, but because we needed to keep the stuff organised according to the boxes they were in, there was no avoiding doing everything we came across. At the end, we tried to concentrate on finding the boxes with some of the tools listed in the catalogue. But they weren’t there. It could be that they had been on display at one point, and then when they were taken off they were put somewhere else (there are many empty bags that the curator is trying to link up with missing contents).

Like most museums, this one is understaffed and underfunded, and one person has to coordinate everything and try to organise everything that’s gone on for the last 100 years or so. She has a couple volunteers, and they apply for student placements (the equivalent of interns in the US), but next month Karen goes down to two days a week. In addition she has to go on the road to talk about collections care. I have to say that the metals were kept in fantastic shape. Each object in a plastic bag with an ethafoam inset, and all in plastic storage bins with sacks of silica gel and an RH monitoring strip. Whoever set it up knows their metals. There was less than 10% humidity in each bin.

So no silver swan this trip. We didn’t get to see anything in the major museum, although we learned that there is very little archaeological stuff on display, and there was no mummy, only a mummified hand (can this be a proper museum? I must check for a polar bear!). I do want to go back to record the rest of the hoard, but I hope in the meantime the other artefacts might be found, but that might be a long shot. On the other had, this was a good first time out. I know now how long the process takes and we got it pretty streamlined. I’m ready for the next hoard, but this weekend will be spent sorting through and organising all the data...

Powered by LiveJournal.com