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Archaeology Blogs

This is an aggregated collection of entries from archaeology blogs. The list is comprised of blogs from:

  • Past Horizons - written by Maggie and David (BAJR)
  • BAJR - written by David (BAJR)
  • ArchaeoGeek - written by Jo Cook, Information Systems Coordinator, Oxford Archaeology
  • Online Archaeology - written by Steve White
  • Theoretical Structural Archaeology - written by Geoff Carter

If you want to nominate a blog to be included in this aggregated list please get in touch.

Archaeology Blogs
my first hackathon

In all the years that I’ve been involved with open source, I’ve been a committed advocate for the idea that you don’t need to be a coder to get involved. I’m definitely not a coder- I can write a script or two, and have been known to submit bugs, but that’s as far as it goes. My strengths are in identifying and fixing problems, and getting other people enthused. That’s all well and good, but hackathons- they are for real coders, right? Why expose my terrible deficiency of coding skills to the world? It turns out, I was wrong!

So, for various reasons I don’t need to go into here, I found myself at the first MapAction/AGI Technical SIG Hackathon at our company offices in Epsom, with a mix of 40 other people: coders, MapAction volunteers, Astun colleagues, and other interested parties. MapAction had done a lot of leg-work before the event, identifying particular problems that they wanted to try and solve, with enough variety that everyone could find something of interest. As one of my current work projects involves metadata gathering, when I saw a hack around implementing a metadata gathering script in Quantum GIS, working with an existing python script (thanks Tyler), I thought it was something I could have a go at. The guy I teamed up with had even less scripting experience than me, but was also interested in the end result. Other teams looked at data visualisation, and the fantastically named “Dirty Data Dashboard”, that deliberately creates invalid or “dirty” data for use in training.

With very little experience of implementing python plugins in Quantum GIS, we had a brief attempt at using the Script Runner plugin to access the script. This definitely seems like a useful first approach, but the learning curve of adapting the script to interact with Quantum GIS (for example to return results to the logging console) was more than we could manage in the time available. Furthermore, I think it would be useful to create a wrapper for Quantum GIS, rather than rewriting the original code and risking it no longer working as a stand-alone script. Instead, we worked on extending the script to return more “human-readable” results. For non-coders, this was definitely achievable in the time available, so we had the nice fuzzy feeling of actually having a result at the end of the day.

Time for another first! Well, technically a second, but I’m not sure this counts. I love GitHub, and use plenty of repositories, but as a non-coder, putting your own code on the site for all and sundry to see is quite intimidating, and there are tales of people getting criticised publicly for nothing more than producing imperfect code. Not only does that put me right off, but it also makes me quite angry because it’s deeply elitist and non-constructive. However, once we’d extended this python script, re-committing it back to GitHub was the natural thing to do. Cue much googling on forking a repository, committing back to GitHub from my local copy, then issuing a Pull Request. And yay, it was accepted!

All in all, the MapAction hackathon was definitely a success. Lots of good things were achieved, and I would imagine that it will be repeated fairly soon. There’s no moral to this story, and I still think of myself as a non-coder, but this was just a first toe in the water of engaging differently with the open source world. Finally though, I would say that if you do consider yourself a non-coder, don’t be put off from attending a hackathon, as there will definitely be something you can contribute to.

22 Dec 2014
Theoretical Structural Archaeology
Did the Scots Burn Roman London?
At some point in the mid 120’s much of London Burnt  to the ground, around the same time construction of Hadrian’s Wall was apparently abandoned, could these events be connected - just how bad crisis in Roman Britain?
“... under the rule of your grandfather Hadrian what a number of soldiers were killed by the Jews, what a number by the Britons”
Marcus Cornelius Fronto, letter to Marcus Aurelius, AD162 

It should be said at the outset, the use of the term “Scots” is generic for the people who still controlled the upper third of the island, and when Hadrian visited Britain the early second century,  were contending the middle third.   While we like to think of the Wall as a great triumph of Roman engineering, but at the time it may have been strategic disaster, a roman Maginot Line,  which was replaced by a shorter frontier further North by Hadrian’s successor. 
What we actually know about this period comes from a handful of references, inscriptions and archaeology,  thus it is quite possible to imagine a scenario where London was Burnt for a second time by rebellious Britons.  Like the possible disappearance of the IX Legion in this period, the early second century is full of potential mystery.  
Cause and Effect
Archaeologists in London as well as Colchester and St Albans are familiar with the layer of red burnt clay and charcoal left by Boudicca’s rebellion, but in the former there is a second destruction layer widely ascribed to the period 120s [1];  [St Albans suffered periodic catastrophic fires, so this not necessarily suspicious].   The fire may have been quite extensive, and was particularly evident along the line of Roman Cheapside, west of the Walbrook. The large public buildings initiated by Hadrian during his visit in 122 visit don’t seem to have been effected. [2]   It was clearly, a significant event, but there is no particular evidence of malice or loss of life, so it simply may have started accidentally in catillamen lane, but the inhabitants may have fled on either account.  
The temporary abandonment of the Wall building project perhaps more than once, [dislocations] [3], is widely accepted, the detailed study of the stonework by Peter Hill showed the work once resumed both the scale and quality showed a marked decline indicating a loss or shortage of skilled manpower. [4] There is a large army in northern England but it is spread out along a 80 mile frontier, the main legionary units are themselves probably split up into smaller units engaged in specialist construction work.   They face an over the horizon threat; while they have had political and military relationships with the lowland tribes for forty years, beyond these buffer states, the highland and Islands, even Ireland, are still something of unknown quantity, beyond their immediate scrutiny and reach.
It is thought that the northerners had lots of cavalry,[5], so a fixed barrier makes sense; while it possible to overpower it, making a breach takes time, allowing for a counter attack. The weakness in the wall was not only its length, but also the number a gates, while these allowed for mobility and counter attack, a Roman forte, they were also ready-made breaches in the wall.
The Temporary Wall
I have argued that the evidence demonstrates the existence of the temporary Timber and Turf wall with camps for the legions and the auxiliaries engaged in the construction and guarding the frontier [6].  Also, I contend that that the Vallum was dug a road foundation trench, work normally ascribed to slaves, and in this context probably prisoners of war; another complication when security breaks down, [7].  After securing the frontier with temporary works, construction of stone Wall started in the east, where the Romans probably had their strongest position.  It all seems to have gone wrong when they reached the the Tyne and were about to build section that the tourist now visit.  
The whole enterprise was predicated on the temporary defences, this is the WW1 tactics of holding a line at all costs, but as WW2 demonstrated, if the enemy achieves a significant break through, its game over for the battle plan.
It is my view that the Northerners broke through in this central section, which was unfinished, furthest from the coasts, and gives them the high ground in the centre with various options to head south.  While from a simplistic point of view the high ground looks an unlikely place to attack, it offers broken country and dead ground, and perhaps surprise.
In 63 AD the tribes of southern England had rebelled and burnt London and other towns to the ground, massacring their population; apart from taking on the army, that’s how rebellions went. So is it possible that having broken into England, the Caledonians would they head south and burn London?
The North-South Dynamic
History repeats itself because geography is slow to change, and it was April 1746 before the fighting in the North finally came to an end at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness.  This marked the end of the final Jacobite rebellion led by Charles Edward Stewart, and was probably close to the lost site of battle of Mons Graupius, where Tacitus tells us that Agricola defeated an army of 30,000 Caledonians, the high water mark of Roman power in the North [8]
Charles Edward Stewart, the Young Pretender, arrived in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August 1745, by November 8th he'd crossed into England, and by the 18th controlled Carlisle.  By 4 December, he was in Derby on only 125 miles (200 km) from London,  a determined effort could see them approaching London within a week; it is alleged that there was some degree of panic in London on Friday 6th, the day the Jacobite began their retreat.  The advance on London was achieved by bypassing serious concentrations of Loyalist Troops, including those of general General Wade based at Newcastle who still effectively held the East end of the Wall; [which he later had demolished to build his Military Road ].  
The point of this tale is to illustrate that London is not far from Carlisle, and a determined force can reach it in less than a month, especially if it avoids open battle and sieges.  Any loss of control in the north can have serious implications in the south.  
The following emperor the frontier was moved north, the Antonine Wall was shorter, easily supplied by sea, and closer to the threat.  This suggests that the Army's attempt hold and build Hadrian’s Wall had been a failure, quite what the consequences of this were may never be known, but not for the first time, or even the last, the future of Roman Britain was probably on the line. 

Sources and Further Reading.
[1]. G. C. Dunning, 1945,  Two Fires in Roman London', Ant. J. 25 (1945) 48-77.
Roskams, Steve & Watson, Lez 1981 `The Hadrianic fire of London - a reassessment of the evidence' London Archaeol 4, 1981 62-6
[2] Roman London By Dominic Perring P72.
[3] Breeze, D.J. 2003. "Warfare in Britain and the Building of Hadrian's Wall." Archaeologia Aeliana 32, 13 –16
[4] Hill, P. R. 2006. The construction of Hadrian's Wall. Tempus.
[5] Vindolana tablets ; . the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.'
[6]Hadrian's Timber Wall - Free Download
[7] Reverse Engineering the Vallum
[8] http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Agricola 

05 Nov 2014
Past Horizons
British archaeologists fight with Italian farmer to save ancient aqueduct
In January father and son team Edward and Michael O’Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome. A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water […]
06 Jun 2010
All change!
As you may have noticed, BAJR Blogging has remained unloved since December. This is because of the shiney new BAJR Federation site… http://www.bajrfed.co.uk get along there and enjoy…  with news, galleries and forum to keep you up to date and … Continue reading
09 Feb 2010
Online Archaeology Blog
OPEN ARCHIVE - a new web based system for accessing our past
The wealth of information gathered by local archaeological groups and societies on excavations, surveys and documentary research is one of the important sources of data for the study of archaeology in the UK. Currently, this archive of British archaeology is stored locally, within libraries and local history centres as well as with the originating group [...]
16 Sep 2009
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