Contemporary Military Archaelogy, Landscapes, Research, Outreach & Blogging



General blog about being an archaeology PhD student; this may involve cross-posting with the Research, Fieldwork or Outreach tabs as appropriate. It’s all about interdisciplinarity…

Conference Recap – Modern Conflict Archaeology (Bristol)

I’ve attended the MCA conference in Bristol almost every year since arriving in the UK in 2010, and this year I finally managed to present a paper.

I keep turning up due to the depth and variety of the presentations which look at unexpected facets of the archaeology of modern conflict. Presentations from other disciplines are often included. Looking at modern conflict through the lens of other academic disciplines helps me to clarify what I can do with archaeology and also what I should strive for in terms of creative approaches to the material culture and its cultural context.

The abstracts and speaker information are available on the MCA 2016 website; several attendees (myself included) also had a go at live-tweeting the talks (which is much harder than it looks, considering that people just kept on sayng really interesting things!). So, I shan’t summarise what has already been made available online but will just share a few thoughts.

The not-immediately-archaeological talks were the ones which stayed with me the most, for the new perspectives they offered on material culture, commemoration, materiality, the imagination.I’ll only comment on two here due to time restrictions (I have a chapter to write, after all).

Stephen Hurst’s talk on the use of “armoured virgins” in recruiting and memorial imagery in the early 20th century was fascinating and his choice to use only his sketches of the monuments rather than photographs has stayed with me. I’ve been seeing armoured virgins everywhere since – I hadn’t realised how common they were in the landscape where I live. He paraphrased Ruskin, how drawing is a way of seeing; it’s the same for landscape archaeologists planning a monument in order to understand its development. I spoke a little with Stephen and Sylvie (his wife) during lunch and he told me he started out doing sketches in the armed forces (a career which, apparently, didn’t long survive the invention of the long-range sniper rifle); I learned later that he is a renowned artist and sculptor.

Bea Crayford’s presentation on the short stories of Elizabeth Bowen, and how the author used story elements originating from Gothic fiction to describe the blasted interiors of domestic spaces shattered by bombing during London’s Blitz, was an evocative look at a genre of fiction I never knew existed. I’d never considered looking at fiction as an angle into historical archaeology but of course even if the author takes liberties with the facts they may more accurately express the emotional impact of an event than the most accurate list of details. I think I’ll look up more of Bowen’s work, when I have the time.

Although I’ve attended several MCA conferences already, this was my first as a student. I hope my own presentation was of interest to the group – I tend to be the odd one out in terms of conference presentation topics due to working on an active training landscape using an archaeological resource management approach. At lunch I was happy to meet several archaeologists working in that very field, including some people whose books I had gone over several times in my literature review. I was happily chatting away before remembering to ask their name, then I confess I got a bit star struck… (Clearly, I need to pay more attention to author photographs).

Anyway – that’s my blogging time limit done! To sum up, I’ll say that the MCA was another excellent conference with a good cross-section of the great variety of work being done in modern conflict archaeology today. There are several projects I intend to keep an eye on, because they’re just so darn cool (battlefield tour reports! Spanish civil war trenches! Post-soviet monument reuse!), and I really enjoyed the chance to meet fellow students and other archaeologists. See you again next year, MCA.








Getting focussed – 3 busy months ahead

In three months, near enough, I’ll have come to the end of YEAR 2 of my PhD. By that point I aim to have completed my data collection and analysis and given myself a good foundation to start writing in earnest (and hopefully a bit of wriggle room for some extra fieldwork, as I always want to do more!).

So it’s all about focus. Here’s an interesting bookmark that came up just now, as I was trying to get back into another website (thanks, Firefox).

I don’t know if I can ever fully give up multi-tasking but I need to limit it to particular tasks. I’ve noticed since I started doing more work online (e.g. in Google Docs) it’s a lot easier to go down the internet rabbit-hole, and I miss the flow I’d get from working in a word processor with no tempting tabs in the corner of my vision.

Anyway, that’s enough distraction! Back to my word document now… šŸ™‚

Re-inspired! #CHAT2016 and #MCA2016

So I got back from the CHAT 2016 conference in Orkney last night (a nice LONG drive back down to Yorkshire!) and realised it’s been a couple of months since I updated this blog regularly.

I wish there was some way I could do a PhD by portfolio – a portfolio of conference papers and practical reports, as they’re the way I seem to think the best. It’s really helpful for me to render ideas down into 15-20 minute presentations and then thoughtful questions from other conference attendees help to put things in a new light for me.

I’ve had 2 great conferences in as many weeks and they’ve inspired me to get more active on this blog again as a way of Thinking Out Loud.

(we’ll see how well this fits in with the rest of PhD life…)

Watch this space for conference reviews and research updates as I work through the ongoing synthesis and analysis of my fieldwork data and try to get the rest of my archival and interview data collection done by February!


Writer, academic…

#ResearchFriday: Sorting out my @FieldtripGB survey results

I continue to be very impressed with the ease of mucking about with FieldtripGB survey data. It has really sped up this second batch of fieldwork, and the automatic linking of my quick tablet photos with their spreadsheet records via Dropbox fills me with joy. (Disclosure: I’mĀ  not affiliated with them and they’re not paying me anything! I just think it’s a neat free tool and am happy I found it).

Checking my results I’ve noticed that multiple duplicate records have been created, seemingly at random (and with unique system-generated IDs, just to make my life interesting).

I did find the program would hang a little when I tried to save records sometimes, and I had to tap ‘save’ again. I thought this was a result of the protective tablet case* I was using making the touch screen less sensitive – perhaps tapping again created a double save? I don’t think this happened 120 times though (I have 120 duplicates).

Anyway, it was easily resolved. I am currently working with Calc in LibreOffice to manage my spreadsheets (MS Office and I are having … time apart) and found this helpful tutorial to speed up the process of detecting and removing duplicates.

Now I have 120 fewer records to worry about categorising! (Phew).

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.34.08 pm


*Cases! I had one Otterbox impact case tucked inside a waterproof case I could wear round my neck in case I needed my hands free. I’m clumsy, OK?

Functional categories #picoftheday

The week thus far has been spent collating my fieldwork results and testing the categories I developed in my first fieldwork session back in Spring. The material culture in and of the stone tents contrasts interestingly with that in the active training contexts of the live firing area.

I am trying to use a grounded theory approach to conceptualise the development of my functional categories – this approach is used much more in sociology and social sciences but has an application here as my categories are developing from qualitative data such as conditions reports and my own observations.

At the moment however it is mostly about writing lists. Many, many lists of cross-referenced categories, comparing like with like and different with different, to see which categories and properties emerge.


#PicOfTheDay “HAM(BURGER) + BEANS” #MRE pack

Foil ration packets must be one of the most frequent find types I’ve encountered in my fieldwork. From gel drink packets to cereal bar wrappers,  MOD branded ready boil in a bag meals to Mars Bars and Haribo, these little parcels are almost everywhere. 

It makes sense – folks gotta eat after all. But I think this type of find can tell me more than simply “sometime, somewhere, someone ate something”.


When recording I distinguish when possible between a windblown food wrapper and an in situ one. Windblown is easy… caught up against a fence, in a snarl of grass, looking like it won’t be there much longer. In situ is also easy… soldiers are supposed to take their rubbish away with them, but some prefer to deposit the packaging somewhere out of sight where it won’t blow away. 
It is often easy to tell when something has been deliberately put somewhere.  It might be folded,  rolled, squashed into place; for example, rolled up and tucked into the gap between two stones in a machine gun emplacement formed from the surface stones of the Bronze Age cairn.

Today’s photo is probably of a deliberately placed bit of after-dinner debris. It was neatly folded into thirds and placed near the back of one such gun emplacement in the ‘beacon’ cairn. Another similar wrapper was rolled up and tucked in between the stones. 

I thought it was picture-worthy because it’s the first wrapped I’ve seen with a hand-written label.

#PicOfTheDay: #Ritual. Definitely ritual.Ā 

Checking the last stone tent today.

I know it was in use by troops earlier this week and they left little traces behind, such as this hard-boiled egg in a niche by the main door, with cigarette end accompaniment.

A few more pieces of eggshell in the enclosed porch from another, presumably eaten, egg, suggests someone didn’t want their second egg, or ran out of time to eat it.

If I’d found this with a Roman wall, however…

Sardis dig yields enigmatic trove: ritual egg in a pot

#PicOfTheDay Fieldwork in #Otterburn #Northumberland. It’s bin day!

Picture from yesterday… I spent most of the day trying to sort out the phasing of the building and extensions at Shillmoor stone tent, so I haven’t any grand sweeping landscapes or bits of iordnance to share today.

Rather this image made me smile as I was leaving site (in my defence, it had been a very long day!)

The postbox and bins partly obscuring the official and slightly intimidating MOD PRIVATE ROAD sign are an interesting reminder that the Otterburn Training Area is an occupied rural farming landscape as well as a military training landscape. 

It’s a nice illustration of how nothing is black and white around the fringes of this constantly negotiated landscape. 

#PicOfTheDay Queen’s Own Yeomanry badge graffitiĀ 

Queen’s Own Yeomanry badge drawn on interior door in Carshope stone tent. Only the second badge I’ve found!

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