ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I spent the entire day washing buckets and my fingernails are not happy (the gloves are not tight around the wrist, so water seep in from the hose spray).

Small bones and charred seeds etc are usually recovered via soil samples, and it's the environmental department that deals with processing these and washing the buckets to send them out to the next site. Normally there's no problem with keeping up with demand, but when all sites (or what felt like all) call for 20 or 40 buckets each for the end of the week we suddenly found ourselves with 180 buckets to wash. Unfortunately that coincided with a large move of samples between offices: 2000 buckets from us to Cambridge, and that was a full-time job for all environmentalists*. Since I didn't have any urgent deadlines, I was asked to wash as many buckets as I could.

I washed 120, and at the end of the day my colleague came and asked if I wanted the bad or the good news first. One site put in an order for 160 buckets... On the plus side, the deadline is not until Monday and I don't have to wash all of them.


*: As a bone specialist I'm sort of between finds (handcollected bones) and enviro (sieved bones), although in the office administration I fall under enviro. So, technically part of the environmental department, although in reality a bit to the side from the soil processing part of it.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I've had a break from soil processing lately, as I was roped in to finish sorting some processed soil samples where we had an upcoming deadline. It is a great site, the old kitchen backyard from an Oxford college, and I can't wait to get my hands on the bones and do the analysis. The samples were full of fish bones and foot bones from rabbits (presumably the rest of the rabbit was discarded elsewhere with the food leftovers), as well as other bits and bobs. But oh how my eyes were tired. I had to give up my usual embroidery hour in front of the tv every single evening after doing the sorting of the 10-4mm and 4-2mm fractions.

Imagine one stack of A4 papers for the printer. Fill a tray of that volume with small gravel, charcoal and bone, all from the 4-2mm sieve. Carefully tip out what you can get with one hand stroke on to a shallow tray. Sort it and discard the leftovers. Repeat 6-7 times (or more) until the big tray is empty.

 photo P1060379_800px_zps850108b4.jpg
One such shallow tray before sorting.


 photo P1060381_800px_zps50b6ca59.jpg
What I got from an entire 4-2mm tray. Mammal and bird bones to the left and fish bones to the right. Thankfully we ignore the charcoal from this sieve size.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I took a bag of bones and tipped them out. Thought "Wait a second…" and promptly put one bone aside. The rest went into a new bag, neatly labelled and put in the "someone else’s problem"-box.

Romans… *shakes head* Always burying people all over the place.

Well, to be fair, it’s something the people in the Iron Age also did. And then pits and ditches were dug into old pits and/or ditches - sometimes so old you wouldn’t know they even were there - and what was originally in them got mixed with new waste and soil.


animal and human bones
From left: cattle metacarpal, very fragmented human pelvis and the shaft of a human humerus.


As an aside, this is why it's very useful to study both human and animal bones, even if you only want to work in zooarchaeology. Disarticulated human bones are rather common on rural sites, and they are not always so complete that they are easily recognised.
ossamenta: Moominpappa sitting on a rock in the sea, writing on his typewriter (Muminpappa skriver)
I finally handed in the huge EEK report today. It's been going on more or less constantly since January(-ish), and I'm incredibly glad to see the end of it. Well, I assume I will get some comments back before it goes to print, but hopefully it will only be language errors and not "Finds expert X discussed these features in detail. Could you do the same for the animal bones?"

To celebrate the end of EEK report writing, I plan to do absolutely nothing this weekend. In fact, I'm about to go *flop* on the sofa now.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
One week at work and I'm already feeling quite knackered. Although, to be fair, that probably has more to do with the Ph.D. application for Uppsala University that's due on Monday than the work situation per se. And it's getting chilly too over here: just a few degrees plus for the next few days. I have to go to the fabric shop tomorrow to see if I can get hold of some good wool to make leg warmers. I swear there is a small but persistent draught from the window in my office and all the cold gathers below my desk.

I've also been asked to do a talk for the university's Roman discussion forum this term. That will be fun! Admittedly it will also mean work, since I have no base to build the talk on. And in contrast to the medieval period there are no pretty manuscript images to catch the audience's eyes and interest. On the plus side, if they're not interested in animals, then they won't come. It's not like a conference where you have to sit through uninteresting talks to get to what to you is the good bits.


And to finish this post: an example on why collaboration with science and archaeology is good: "To the naked eye, the white, powdery substance appeared to be plaster. That’s what the professional and volunteer archaeologists at a dig in Israel concluded. To be certain, though, they subjected the chalky dust to spectroscopy and a petrographic microscope, only to discover that it was not a manufactured substance, but decayed plant life and fecal matter." And that's how you turn a house into a stable...
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
I can't believe it's already November. At least here in England it's still quite a nice autumn: leaves in many different colours and it's not too cold yet. I shouldn't complain. Although I still feel time is passing too quickly. Christmas decorations are up in the larger shops, and I guess it'll only be a short time until they start pumping out the Christmas music too...

For extra fun and joy I'm now working on four sites: I got an evaluation that needs to be in very soon, and that must take precedence over the other sites. Evaluations are "pre-excavations", where we set out trenches across the entire development area and then see what we find in these. That way we can estimate how much archaeology there will be in the development area, which then influences how much it will cost to properly excavate the area. This will then get tendered on, so if you estimate too high, you are not very likely to get the job. On the other hand, if you estimate too low you will either do a rush job which English Heritage/the county archaeologist will not like and force you to do a better job (but for the same low cost...), or you risk losing money if it turns out that there was more exciting and costly things below ground that you originally expected and costed for. It's fine line to walk between doing a good job and actually getting the job contract.


In case you wonder, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, or the blogging/short story/knitting/whatever equivalent. I'm writing a lot in my job and both the ph.d. applications, the job application and the conference talk have kept me extra busy this year. Technically I could tackle the UFO* pile, but I think that will be a "slowly but surely"-project rather than a focussed "let's keep all evenings very busy"-project. Best of luck to you who are giving NaNoWriMo a go.

*: UnFinished Object


There has been more info on the spindle whorl I linked to in last post: the back of the piece is also decorated and shows some wear, indicating that it's been made from another artefact. The archaeologists are unsure whether the decoration would be runes or a Sami pattern. There are also small holes on the back, two of which contain small bits of iron.

And since I assume only a few of you read online horse magazines, here's a link to an article on the new evidence for horse domestication in Saudi Arabia and in Kazakhstan. (Thanks to Lee Broderick from the ZooArch list)

Close-up on some of the Swedish finds that are going to be in a touring exhibition on Vikings in 2012. [personal profile] pearl, this is relevant to your interests.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Work has been going frustratingly slow today. I’m wrestling with a new mouse, and it’s not quite cooperating. The standard office mouse is too big for my hands and a few years back I developed pain in the tendons of my mouse hand’s index finger. I found an interesting mouse online, the Wow Pen, which turned out to be excellent for my small hands. Sadly, it died a few weeks ago, and it seems to be out of stock everywhere. As an alternative I’m borrowing a Bamboo pen tablet, which I’m quite frankly not sure about. Admittedly they said it was a one week learning curve, so I’ll have to stick with it until Monday, when the regular user is back from his holiday.

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