Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (vii)

Welcome to all who are visiting via the BBC website and from the discussion on Britarch. Please scroll down to see earlier posts about the project. Work on the van continues and further exciting discoveries have been made, including more coins and other debris from the van's working life. Analysis of the structure itself has also found evidence for former uses - illicit as well as official.

Some comments already made by correspondents to the Britarch list include...

" will add much to the Daily Mirror's fun and nothing to the profession's credibility" (Nigel Swift)

"Discussion of the goings on at Bristol Uni reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from a fieldwork report in Hertfordshire some time ago... 'During the excavation for the foundation of the Junior School, an entire car (dated to c.1935) was recovered. This was reported to the police, who confirmed that it had been stolen 20 years earlier'." (Mark Barratt)

We very much look forward to your comments - make them here by clicking on the '** comments' button below, or on Britarch or BAJR or wherever you like - but please let us know what you think!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (vi)

John Schofield has sent a second interim report on the excavation of the Van which is now ongoing in Bristol...

The Van – work continues
Conceptually things have changed at the van – we no longer think of our van as a van, but as an archaeological site, with structures, deposits, features, contexts, finds and so on. And this reflects the fact that our procedures, our close attention to detail and the dialogue and language we use are similar to those on any archaeological site. But there are differences. For instance how we describe things (engine and body parts for instance) involves constantly referring to our Haynes manual, which also instructs us in the order of our excavation - though Haynes assumes the vehicle will be reassembled, and as ours’ won’t be we can treat some parts with a heavier hand.

What else? Fingerprints appear to be widespread in the cab and outside it, but less so in the back. Some mysterious chips on the offside front widow ledge have defied explanation to date (see picture below). Artefacts beneath the wooden panelling in the rear and the rubber mat in the cab include part of a confetti box, lots of screws, some raw plugs, wire, a crushed walnut, rolled quality street wrappers, a small sherd of seventeenth century slipware, some slag, a piece of coral and a Victorian threepenny bit (see picture below). All of the various pens and pencils we found were around and underneath the driver’s seat, and numerous bits of paper from hole punching were all immediately behind the passenger seat. In the engine a number of parts are pristine – the air filter for example. Other parts are very worn and some damaged.

The list of unanswered questions is getting longer. Anna returns to site tomorrow (Wednesday) to work in the laboratory; Greg continues to film progress and interview visitors – archaeologists like Mick Worthington and others who pass us on their way to lunch; and Cassie and I continue with the excavation, recording and interpreting as we go. We are conscious that this project has caused a mixed reaction, and for us that’s a clear justification for what we’re doing – it’s creating dialogue and debate about the very nature and scope of contemporary archaeology, as in archaeology of the familiar, and archaeological practice today.

Chips and fingerprints on driver’s door

Clearing deposit on nearside sliding door step

Finds from the cab floor

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (v)

It is now one month since the BAJR poll was first put up. Between then and now, 57 people have voted...

The key above shows abbreviated interpretations of the original four options for which people have voted. The original questions were...
1. It is utterly pointless and a complete waste of time - you cannot be serious ('absolutely against')
2. It is interesting but does not contribute anything to archaeological theory, method or practice ('not really convinced')
3. It is interesting and is useful as a way of questioning and/or refining archaeological methodology ('fairly convinced')
4. It is extremely interesting and will make a significant contribution to archaeological methods ('totally in favour')

We have also had a number of further comments, which include the following...

"Modern and experimental archaeology over the years has proved invaluable in determining how the evidence is interpreted. There may also be spin to forensics. So for example can it be determined where this van has been purely from the physical evidence? ... In a strict sense I would regard the project as ethnography rather than archaeology. Using an archaeological van will mean that many people will be willing to help with infomation to test the physical evidence of the van."
Dr. Peter Wardle

"Sounds like a load of crock to me and makes archeology look stupid! I really think that archaeologists could do without this form of publicity at the moment. Especially if you want more funding. You wonder why some people don't care about what you passionately believe in."

"[The project seems to me]... worthwhile if you are applying the full logic and methodology that currently pervades UK archaeology. I wonder if it might be possible to do the same with three or four similar vehicles and apply random/specific sampling strategies, excavation techniques etc. If my memory serves me right in the archaeology museum in Stockholm one of the galleries contains a half sectioned site hut backed onto a half sectioned site vehicle. My favourite part of the museum, (especially as I suspect that one of the curators occasionally changes over the assorted footwear in the site hut. Probably a very funny archaeological joke in Swedish)."
Kevin Wooldridge

"Whilst contemporary Archaeology is well out of my field and something I wouldn't really pretent to know a great deal about, I think that it is an excellent way to push the boundaries if you like. The forensic side seems to have a lot of value and I am sure that there is plenty of theoretical stuff for people to get their teeth into (like I say, not an expert)."

"If some think it a waste of time to investigate the van archaeologically because we have other sources of information, surely that undermines all archaeological practice in 'historical' periods. We know better than that. The Van project has a lot in common with established ethnohistory and contemporary archaeology research practices and potentially raises very interesting questions about how we remember (and forget) alongside the micro/forensic data that the project will produce. The archaeology will stand in relationship with the other methods being used so there will be quite practical outputs from this in terms of best methodological practice."
Dr. Angela Piccini

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (iv)

The Bristol team have begun work on the van and have prepared this first interim report. John Schofield writes...

The Van – first news
Work has now started on The Van. On Monday Cassie and John started surveying the interior of the van, and mapping some of the artefacts. This has continued, and today – Wednesday – Anna arrived to begin sampling the van for her forensic investigations. A wide range of materials were collected including hair, rust, screws and nails of various kinds, window glass, a fruit stone and what may be tiny sherds of pottery. The interior is now largely clear. Greg has been filming and taking sound recordings of the entire process, and interviewing some of our visitors. Work begins on the engine tomorrow. Some photographs of the site, and the recording are included here. We continue work at least until next Friday, 28 July. Visitors are very welcome.

The site in landscape context.

Front elevation

Our list of tasks for engine checks, after Haynes.

Artefact scatter in the rear of the van.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ironbridge Archaeology Van (iii)

Update! A Draft Project Design is now available on the Contemporary Archaeology page of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum website.