CA 405 Letters – November

Your thoughts on issues raised by CA.

Early archaeology in Poole

In reference to Joe Flatman’s column in CA 400, Poole may not be able to claim the title of having the first archaeologist funded by a local authority. However, it had an archaeologist working for the council  by September of 1973. Gareth Dowdell, a graduate of Southampton University, worked in Poole from 1973 to 1975 before leaving to become the director  of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust. During his time at Poole, Gareth directed the excavation of nine sites within the old town of Poole, as well as excavations in Christchurch, Hamworthy, and Swanage.

Of the sites excavated in Poole, five were on council-owned land that was due for redevelopment, and the other four were on privately owned land. Poole Council required developers to allow time for excavation prior to development as part of the conditions for planning permission. 

Ken Standing, Poole, Dorset

Pauper Apprentices

The article on the Fewston pauper apprentices in CA 403 brought home vividly the stories my father would tell of the work he did at age ten in the wool mills near Wakefield in Yorkshire.

He was born in March 1887 and began work, at the age of six or seven, doing general work around the looms.  Aged ten, he had to crawl in the space under the duckboards on which the women operating the looms stood. He was given a gallon can of grease and had to lubricate the moving parts of the looms by hand. He was lucky: many children his age lost fingers and hands.

Even though he was supposed to be in school, most families could not afford the half penny a day for their schooling. Bringing in laws for compulsory education in 1870 was not readily accepted by families for probably another 50 years. In his family’s case, he was one of 13 children; it was work or starvation. All his life, he had difficulty reading.     

He moved to Kent in the late 1920s, started a greengrocery business, and met my mother, who was 18, in 1935. I was born in February 1936 and I  had two brothers (May 1937 and August 1938). Although it is now 136 years since my father was born, I feel I can actually touch and empathise with people of that era.

David Williamson, Salisbury, South Australia

High-sensitivity ferrous detection

Having come late to archaeology by joining the Caistor Roman Project [which will feature in next month’s issue] post-retirement, I looked at the way colleagues were trying to detect if an object was ferrous or not, and wondered if it could be made more sensitive – it can.

I bought a box of 10mm diameter button magnets and mounted them in different ways. First, I sticky-taped one on to a small piece of thin card (simply to make it easier to find in my pocket). Being so lightweight, it easily sticks to ferrous objects. Then, to make it more quickly  accessible while digging, I bought a cheap digital watch, and fixed a magnet to its strap using gaffer tape (duct tape).

For greater sensitivity, I suspended a magnet on a piece of thin ribbon, and the slightest amount of ferrous, say in a piece of slag, will pull the ribbon to one side. Indeed, it’s so sensitive that you can detect the tiny amounts of ferrous that occur in some sherds of pottery. For use while sieving, I’ve mounted a magnet in the fold of a piece of ribbon, gluing it and sewing it (but not very expertly!). The ribbon is knotted at about 10cm and then the two strands of ribbon can be used to tie the device securely to the handle of a static sieve (or the frame of a swinging sieve).

For post-excavation use, I’ve mounted a magnet on the end of a single strand of ribbon, again gluing and stitching it in place. The ribbon can be fixed in a box in some way (below), ready to twitch at any nearby ferrous items.

I hope some readers will find these ideas useful.

Paul Beverley, Norwich

Archaeology and inclusivity

What a brilliant advocacy image on p.51 of CA 402 of how practical archaeology can really help people who are struggling. Smiling people enjoying and benefiting from discovering the past and gaining positive social experiences. Archaeology is (and has been) welcoming to people who ‘do not fit’ and has historically enjoyed popular characters in film and TV. The archaeological workforce includes people who may need kindness and understanding, sometimes with a range of hidden disabilities. Addressing and being understanding of workforce neurodiversity can only be positive for archaeology, their abilities seen as assets.

Keep up the good work, CA.

Paul Thompson, Coventry

Edible Archaeology

Created by the Tray Bake in Devizes, these two cakes were commissioned jointly to celebrate the opening of English Heritage’s 2023 Stonehenge dahlia show (see p.20) and to mark the 30th anniversary of the Avebury and Stonehenge Archaeological and Historical Research Group (ASAHRG). ASAHRG grew from a research group focused on Avebury that first met in 1993, so an anniversary outing to the dahlia show was accompanied by a picnic, with one cake baked for the picnic and the other to be shared by their hosts at Stonehenge. Revisiting the dahlia shows that Victorians staged at the Stones between 1842 and 1845, which were characterised by large crowds, cricket, and promenading, one cake depicted an imagined view from the cricket pitch towards the Stones and marquees, the other from inside the show tent over the shoulders of the band and picnickers at the Stones to the cricket match beyond.

Brian Edwards, UWE Bristol

CA Online: What you have shared with us this month

Adrián Maldonado @amaldon
Great to see Bethan Bryan’s hard work conserving the GallowayHoard brooches featured in the latest issue of @CurrentArchaeo! Working with the conservation team is one of the great joys of life at @NtlMuseumsScot.

Ben Cottam @TheCottam
Enjoyed seeing @Toby_Driver1 new book on Iron Age hillforts in #Wales leading latest edition of @CurrentArchaeo. Congratulations, Toby! #Archaeology

Tim Thompson @tjuthompson
New article in the current issue of @CurrentArchaeo features this wonderful collaborative community- led project [on Fewston’s pauper apprentices].