Sorry!

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Well that was a longer break than I thought. The original plan was to type up the summary of the weekend as soon as I got home but the home trip took a lot longer than I thought. Add that to the impending (at the time) exams and I just didn’t get around to it. Holidays now though, so here I am.

So, what was the weekend like?
We stayed at the YHA at the Rocks, Sydney, under which is the site. Back in 1994 The Big Dig happened. 20 archaeologists got together to excavate what is now known as the Cumberland/Gloucester St site. It was the site of some of the earliest European settlement in Sydney (and, in fact, Australia) and included housing, shops, and a hotel. A huge amount of artefacts were found and contrbuted so much to our understanding of the Rocks, and Sydney as a whole. Assumptions were turned on their heads, questions were answered, and more questions were raised. It is one of the most valuable sites in Australia for Historical Archaeology, arguably the most valuable. In 2009 building began on the YHA above it. In order to maintain the site the architect designed a building with foundations that impacted only 1.5% on the ground, allowing for substantial in situ preservation of the archaeology. They also incorporated the archaeology into the design of the building by showcasing the site itself (and not just the artefacts) in the entry way. Every visitor to the YHA passes through the site and can look on the remains of the past exactly where they existed in life. They can even watch the diggers at work if they want. The Big Dig has been repeated quite a few times since 1994, and in the last few years they have opened the dig up to the interested public. People can apply to work on the site for the annual Big Dig weekend and the lucky ones enjoy a weekend of archaeology, food, and museums.

The first day was simply meeting people and getting to know each other and a basic understanding of the site. I was probably at a slight advantage here as my Archaeology of Sydney unit included study of the Cumberland/Gloucester Street site, but the range of experience and the quick learning and eagerness of everyone meant that by the end of the weekend we were mostly on relatively equal footing. The volunteers ranged from archaeology students like myself (and a girl from my Sydney class), to a high-school kid and his mum, a post-grad student from Canberra, multiple historians and historical society members, and other people who were interested in archaeology but weren’t trained. The food was great and we made sure to play Indiana Jones movies at night (while loudly proclaiming how bad his ‘archaeology’ is and laughing at the terrible German accents). Coincidentally, the Vivid Festival was on at the Harbour at the time, which made nights on the rooftop terrace absolutely magical. If you click on that link make sure to look at the photos because it was incredible.

The next day we got stuck into the archaeology. I got put on artefact cleaning first, which I was quite happy about. We were cleaning artefacts found by the last person to dig on the site, Tony Robinson of Time Team fame (and Black Adder, of course). A good few hours of dunking pot sherds in water and scrubbing with a toothbrush and it was time for lunch. We had a look at what the diggers had found – mainly more pot sherds but a few bits of glass and brick as well.
After lunch I moved on to digging and it was surprisingly not as hard on my back as I thought it would be. We were just scraping away at a surface collection, not a stratified area. This area had been scraped back before but because the site is on the side of a hill, topsoil and its inclusions gets washed onto the site when there are heavy rains. Our job was to scrape the site back to the bedrock again and collect any material that had been washed into the site from the higher-up sections. The biggest problem I had was that when everything is covered with a layer of mud, it’s really hard to tell what’s a brick and what’s just a rock. We had a lot of rocks to clean the next day but I figured a rock in the bucket was better than an artefact in the bin.
Come dinner, we headed to the The Australian Hotel next door for wood-fired pizza and the beer that I had been thinking about since lunch time.

The next day was spent doing much the same thing. I spent the morning cleaning my rocks (and, to be fair, some bricks and ceramic) but then in the afternoon I got the chance to work on wall-reconstruction with a cool guy whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. At some point in the last few weeks someone from a school group had been standing on the remains of a house wall (they’re only about a foot off the ground so it’s not as dangerous as it sounds). There’s not a lot of space in the area so it’s understandable why they would have been standing on it, but the upshot is that the wall partly collapsed and had to be reconstructed in line with the building techniques of the day. This pretty much meant collecting the rocks that had made up the wall, using old photos of the area to work out where they went, and fixing in place with a mixture of sand, water, and lime. It was messy work and a lot of fun.
Since it’s really important to finish the job completely by the end of the weekend, after lunch I went back to washing artefacts.
Once all that was done we had wine and cheese and a summary of the weekend. We’d had a few interesting finds – a complete tomato sauce bottle from the late 1800s/early 1900s, and a Maori greenstone fishing shank – but mainly it was ceramics and broken glass. A lot of it still hasn’t been catalogued yet, let alone dated, so we’re planning on meeting up at the YHA some time to July to have a cataloguing working bee.

In the meantime I’ve had exams for both my classes (pretty sure I passed but I haven’t gotten them back yet), gotten my essays back (distinctions for both, maybe I’m not as terrible a student as I think I am) and holidays have begun. I’m using the holidays to work out my honours thesis. Martin’s convinced me to do one. I’m thinking I’ll look into some kind of maritime industry in the Illawarra, but which one? And how to look at it? Hence the reading.

Anyway: this is me signing off for the time being. I’ll try to blog something about what I’m reading during the holidays, otherwise it’ll be next semester that I’m back. For now, here’s some links to some blogs I’ve been reading:

Francis Pryor – In the Long Run
Francis has been one of my favourite archaeolgists and authors for a good few years now, ever since I bought Britain AD at Kinokuniya. He works on Time Team on multiple kinds of sites but has done a huge amount of work in prehistoric archaeology and drowned sites.
Not the Discovery Channel
For some realistic, non-Discovery-Channel considerations of archaeology (ie. not magical Nazis or alien pyramids).
Savage Minds
An anthropology blog, but anthro and arca cross over in so many ways that it’s really very relevent.
Doug’s Archaeology
Already a great blog to follow simply because it covers so much ground so succinctly, but it gets a huge round of applause for this page that lists all the other archaeology blogs that he knows about. And I’m mentioned in the list!

Shipwreck Survival Camps, The Rocks, and Procrastination

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I’m going to try and cram a lot in today because I’ve been procrastinating and need to make up for that, both on the blog and in study.

What have I been up to? Well I got my reports done for both Sydney and Maritime classes. The last one was horrible to do, though easier than the Sydney report. I guess the Sydney report was more intensive since for the Sydney report I’d picked a church site that had a rectory, stables, cemetery and school associated with it, and for the Maritime report I picked a pool. There was less to do, and the information I found on trove was more relevent, probably because typing in ‘Campbelltown + chapel’ gets you a tonne of irrelevence and ‘Bronte + Baths’ gets you what you want. In any case, I definitely feel like I gained some researching skills from doing these assignments, though I think I’ll probably lose points on the Maritime report when he realises I didn’t even visit the site in person.
I know! I know! Terrible. I wanted to. I even asked for an extension so that I could. And then I had the panic attacks and it all unravelled from there. But it got done, so there’s that.

Since then I’ve mainly been trying to catch up on all the reading that I hadn’t gotten done thanks to my badly-organised report writing. I’m trying to get it all done as quickly as I can, partly because I have exams in two weeks and not a lot of free days I can use to study (more on that later), and partly because I finally got back into playing Skyrim and I want to kill necromancers and level up my Nord Warrior who I regret naming Kristina because Skaadi is way cooler.

Anyway, I digress. This week’s catch-up has been (amazingly) focusing on readings I was meant to do recently. I have a clear conscience for having not gotten the readings done last week when I was meant to because I was sick with the Worst Cold Ever, and so was my lecturer (seriously, I thought I had meningitis). So classes got cancelled and I got a free pass to play Skyrim all week.
The readings this have been really fascinating for me, especially because they were both written by the lecturer himself (Martin Gibbs, if I haven’t mentioned that). His way of communicating matches perfectly with mine so for once in my damn life I find I have a lecturer I can actually listen to AND read along with and not want to stab chopsticks into my eyes or ears.

The first was Behavioual Models of Crisis Response as a Tool for Archaeological Interpretation (that’s a link to a Wiley Online Library source so you’ll need a way to log in). The gist of the article is clear in the name. It’s a study of the psychological progression of crisis management and how that is expressed archaeologically, and he uses the Batavia as his examples throughout.
I feel terrible saying this as an Australian, but I didn’t know much at all about the Batavia. I’m blaming the education system, since if I’d had even an inkling of the story as a child I would have been all over it like a rash. Basically a Dutch East India Trading Company ship is sailing in the Indian Ocean, mistakes waves washing over shoals to be moonlight reflecting off the ocean surface and smashes into rocks and reef 60km off WA. Most people survive the wreck (about 250) and end up on Beacon Island. After a few days of crap hunting the Captain and Senior Officers get into one of the rescue boats and sail three thousand kilometres to Jakarta. In an open boat. Balls of steel, right there.
When they get back to Beacon Island, they find that the junior officers they’d left in charge had been somewhat pessimistic (some would say realistic) about their rescue chances, and had instituted a form of law that we’ll call “Do Whatever I Say, Now Bend Over and Give Me Your Money As Well.” They stole, raped and murdered their way through the rest of the survivors until there was only 73 people left of the 198 that the officers had left behind. The survivors had been separated into groups and their camps had been divided so that people couldn’t band together to overthrow the officers. All so that they could retake the rescue ship and run away with the gold and silver that the Batavia had been carrying.
That’s Pirates of the Carribbean stuff. It’s pure gold to a kid. Why did I not hear about it until now?
I’d heard of the ship. I’d heard it was wrecked. I even heard something about mutiny, but that’s it.
Come on history teachers, why hide the good stuff?

OK. The second article is slightly less Disney and more academic, but really quite interesting:
The Archaeology of Crisis: Shipwreck Survivor Camps in Australasia (that’s a jstor link for which you will need a log-in). Again, the gist of the article is in the name. It’s pretty fascinating when you look at the different variables that affect the creation of survival camps. Obviously there are physical factors: cliffs, currents, waves, cargo and valuables, the way the ship was wrecked… But you don’t tend to consider the social or psychologial factors: authority systems and how they change or stay stable after a wreck, likelihood of rescue, social bonds such as family or work groups… I’m only part way through this one so I can’t write a good summary for it, but it’s what prompted me to write another blog post (apart from the nagging in my head). It’s already interesting enough that I want to share it with everyone, so click on that link and read it. I especially like that a lot of what Martin writes tends to be general. It’s not country-specific to the point that people from other parts of the world would find it irrelevent. It’s wide enough that anyone doing Maritime archaeology should read it, and contains local examples that make it clearer to Australian archaeologists who are probably familiar with them and can visualise what he’s saying.

And finally, what am I up to this week? Well as I said before, I don’t have a lot of spare days to study in. That’s because this weekend I’ll be doing The Big Dig. The Big Dig is an ongoing excavation at the Youth Hostel in The Rocks, Sydney. As most Australians know, The Rocks was one of the first areas of our country to be colonised (for want of a better word) by Europeans. The First Fleet settled here (among other places) and created a town, then a city, from the bush. The poorest people and convicts lived in The Rocks, but although we think of their poverty as pretty abject, the finds at the Rocks can be astonishing sometimes. Valuable crockery which was clearly new, not passed down for years, luxury items, work tools that show productivity and employment, even education tools for children.
The weekend will involve hands-on archaeology of both the digging and sorting kind, plus museum visits, movies, and pizza. It should be a brilliant experience and I’m already completely freaking out.
I will report on it once I’m back. Ish.

The reports

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The reports have been killing me for weeks now. Both the same thing, just with different focuses (focii?). Pick a site (Sydney: A site commissioned by Governer Macquarie; Maritime: A site in Greater Sydney Harbour or Parramatta River). Research its history. Find out what remains. Judge the likely success of any excavations or imaging in the site. Fill out the Heritage Site Application form for each site. Hand it in.
Seems pretty simple, yes?

Not when you do your back in at the worst possible moment. Honestly, two days before uni started back after the Easter break and I manage to put my back out. I still can’t work out how. All I know is that one day I was ok, and the next I could barely even sit up straight, let alone drive to Campbelltown and march around a church taking photos.

I stressed, I cried, I hammered out sobbing emails like a madwoman, and I studied my butt off – almost literally. All it did was make my back worse and send pain rocketing down my legs to stab my ankles like ninja death stars made of wasp stings. I forced myself to sit up and work on the Sydney report. At least I’d done research for that already, and even if I’d lose marks for not checking the site myself, I should still be able to pull together a pass. The Maritime report was pointless to even look at. Having only just chosen a topic, I had nothing researched. I might as well focus on what I could do. With the help of codeine, in a week and a half the pain finally wore off and I was able to drive to uni and back. The next day it was surprisingly still ok, so I hit up Campbelltown for some photos, and I think I got some good ones:

Grave with fallen leaves and syringes

Sacred to the memory of Lencelot Nethery who died September the 12th 1865, aged 51 years, leaving a disconsolate widow to mourn her loss.

Then when I went into the church to ask the receptionist some questions, everyone in the office got into a conversation about what we all knew about the history of the site. I got some good info that I managed to slip into the report, though I have to work out how exactly to reference a conversation I had with someone. To top it all off, the receptionist took my number and said she’d ask the author of one of the books I used for my research to contact me. I’m hoping she will, but for now I have the report complete enough to just print it out and hand it in on Wednesday.

Now to start on the Maritime one…

Edit: The author rang. At 5:15pm on a Sunday.
My notes were all over the place, I was mid-rant about disappearing internet coverage, I couldn’t collect my thoughts and I sounded like a mental case.
It didn’t help that my phone was echoing my own voice back at me a second after I said everything.
I couldn’t ask my questions comprehensibly and I’m pretty sure she thought I was an idiot.
To top it all off, I don’t know if I’m allowed to have asked her questions anyway, since we’re not cleared to do interviews with people yet. I don’t know if asking the author questions to clarify what you got from their book counts as an interview but knowing my luck it will and I’ll cop a mouthful for it. Marvellous.

A Bit of Background Info

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I guess if I’m going to be doing this I should probably explain a little about who I am and what I’m doing.

I’m a 2nd year student at Sydney University. This semester (the first of 2012) I’m doing two units: ARCA2603 Archaeology of Sydney, and ARCA2620 Maritime Archaeology. So far (third week in) the classes are both turning out to be really interesting. The professor, Martin Gibbs, is a lot of fun. He knows his stuff, and he manages to convey it in a way that doesn’t make you want to stab your ears with hatpins. Somehow, despite the fact that all of the lectures are two hours long and I have ADHD, I manage to stay interested the whole time.

Archaeology of Sydney focuses mainly on Australian colonialism. What happened once the Europeans arrived, how they set up a colony, how that colony grew into a nation and what effects we had on the land (and vice versa). Obviously a huge part focuses on the material remains left from those times and how to go about cataloging sites and artefacts.

Cataloging is also a major component of Maritime Archaeology but the focus there is (unsurprisingly) on water-related sites. That sounds really vague and I guess it is, but there’s not really a way to limit the scope of maritime archaeology that wouldn’t exclude some really important sectors of related research. For example, shipwreck survivor camps. They’re on land so most people wouldn’t classify them as maritime sites, but they’re indelibly linked to maritime activities. They’re a part of a maritime landscape and you can’t look at them in a culture-less vacuum. The unit seeks to teach us both the distinctness of maritime archaeology as a method of study, but also its important links to regular archaeological research.

And so that should do for now. I’ll start regular programming from next week. For now let me just relate a little story I overheard today:
Apparently a guest lecturer for an unspecified unit came in one day, all prepared with his USB stick loaded with that day’s powerpoint to go along with his lecture.
…And his porn, unfoldered and blown up larger than life thanks to the projection screens.
His defence? “I probably should have deleted that before I came in.”
Possibly.

Okay Let’s Get Going Then

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So many times it has happened, that someone asks me what I’m studying at university, I reply “I major in archaeology” and they respond with “Wow that’s so cool! …So have you dug up any dinosaurs yet?”

I don’t think it’s a reflection of the person so much as it’s a reflection of how little archaeology seems to be in people’s minds. It’s not unsurprising. Time Team is about as public as archaeology seems to get these days, and even that’s on ABC which means it may as well be a straight-to-DVD foreign film.

I’m hoping to change that a bit. I’m probably deluding myself by thinking that anyone other than myself and one friend will read this, but on the other hand I can’t just sit idly by and let my field of study whimper and die in a muddy field while the rest of the world studies graphic design.

So here goes: I’m going to try and post at least weekly. It’ll usually be about something related to my university studies or what I’m reading that week. I’m going to explain what I’m researching, how I’m doing it, and what I’m writing.
I’m going to talk about the books and articles I’m reading and I’ll try to summarise them a bit, and hopefully give you a link to where you can get a copy if you would like one.
I’m going to talk about things I’ve learned that week that I think you might find interesting. I’ll correct some misconceptions about what I’m learning. I’ll ask out loud questions I’ve been thinking about. I’ll tell you the funny things I’ve overheard on campus or the ride home (and man, there are some doozies).

So, until I remember to post again:
Adios.
ARCA Student