Contemporary Military Archaelogy, Landscapes, Research, Outreach & Blogging



Writing about my core PhD research goals, workflow, writing progress, and ideas development.

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™‚

#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.


“The Archaeology of No Theory”…

Many moons ago (in 2004), I spent a year in Japan and wrote a Japanese-language research paper on the presentation of archaeology in Japanese media and pop culture.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I borrowed Cornelius Holtorf‘s book Archaeology is a Brand, and found my name in the acknowledgements (!!). I had corresponded with him during my research year, as I’d come across his work on archaeology in the media, but I had no idea I’d made it into print.

This nice little surprise somehow reminded me of this article, the Archaeology of No Theory by Leo Aoi Hosoya. Memories of it had been bubbling to the surface anyway as part of (re-)thinking over my literature review – it seems archaeological resource management here shares at least some of the same pressures mentioned by Hosoya in the mid 1990s- pressures of time, funding, management responsibilities, a common ‘rescue excavation’ context, and sometimes not-so-explicit decisions on what to record and what not to. The recent news coverage of possible implications for archaeology and the HS2 and house building projects also brought it to mind.

These decades in Japan, the word ‘excavation’ is almost a synonym of a rescue excavation, as more than enough mentioned in Japanese archaeologists’ conference papers or articles. According to Akira Teshigawara’s “Proceedings of Japanese Archaeology” (1995; p.229), because of the rapid increase of constructions for the economic growth of Japan, the number of rescue excavations increased as remarkably as from 3400 to 8500 for 10 years between 1980 and 1990.

In this situation, research or academic excavations had to be very un-welcomed, because they are supposed to be not in urgent and not worth to spend time, money or people. As the result, not only the number of academic excavations never increases, but also most of archaeologists need to get a job in administrative bodies rather than academic institutions. …

In this background, namely most of excavations are administrative ones and most of archaeologists are administrative ones, the main direction of Japanese archaeology cannot help following administrative policy of the Cultural Property Protection rather than academic criteria.

In my stint as a commercial digger I definitely felt I was at the trowel end of an archaeology of no theory (not to say that the units I worked with weren’t meeting regional research goals with their fieldwork research designs, but rather than as a subcontrator I was not exposed to this part of the process, which was quite frustrating sometimes). I love finding works which draw on the ‘grey’ literature of archaeological resource management to inspire, test, challenge and develop theoretical approaches to the past and as part of this have really enjoyed Craig Cessford’s presentations at CHAT2015 and PMAC2016.

PS The link to Figure 1 in the English language version of Hosoya’s article seems to be broken – here it is from the JapaneseĀ  version.


This is a variant on the “3 blind men investigating an elephant” story…

The banner reads: “Japanese Archaeology. Who am I?”

The annoyed man with the Japanese flag is saying something like “This is why they don’t understand anything!” or “they don’t know anything!”

From left to right, the three people are saying “It’s definitely a rhinoceros”, “This is a hippopotamus!”, and “a cow….?”


Pt. 11 The narrow-gauge target railway #survey #archaeology #military

Saturday was a bright sunny day spent finishing up the survey of the second case study area and also doing a conditions survey of the target railway itself (previously I had been concentrating on mapping evidence of later use of the railway area as shown through distribution of blank training rounds and other target features – of which there was a lot).

A “clearance cairn” north of the target railway (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

The railway survives in relatively good condition though it would require clearance of gravel infill and some tumbled stones from the track before it was usable again. Many of the rail mechanisms are still in place and appear to be complete but extremely rusted. These included a railway switch and turntable. For some reason, half of the track runs over wooden sleepers and the other half over concrete ones; again, most of these survive in good condition though about six of the concrete sleepers show signs of disintegration/degradation.

Changing from wooden sleepers to concrete sleepers, and a different style of track (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

There is some evidence of the railway line being used as a track for wheeled vehicles about 2m wide – the whole area is extremely boggy so the track bed may be the most solid route for heavier vehicles. The whole interior and surrounds of the tank area is crossed by narrower tracks suitable for quad-bikes/ATVs used by the farmers, so this reuse of the track may beĀ  the result of military activity, though I would need to ask the farmer and estate manager to confirm.

I also finished the small area north of the derelict tank and found evidence for infantry training, in the form of target panels – wooden frames with three panels each with a foil thermal target attached to the panel.

Three-panel target frame north of the target railway – the foil targets have almost completely disintegrated (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

Unlike in the area around Bellshiel Law long cairn I have not found any blank cartridges or other evidence of small-arms fire. This may be because of the much wetter conditions, softer soil and different ground cover – isolated cartridges are hard enough to spot on dry ground or short grass, due to their colour and small size. However, I tended to find cartridges in concentrations at firing points. If this area north of the railway has been used by troops moving across the slope and firing at these scattered targets, there would be no static firing points for me to identify.

Pt. 10.5 #Archive research success!

Friday was spent, very successfully, investigating the collections of the Woodhorn archives in Ashington.


The archive houses the earliest correspondence (dated to 1908!) regarding the possible purchase of land for an artillery range and associated camp at Redesdale.

I also found several maps showing its WWI extent and proposed expansions for WWII and beyond.

The highlight of the day was the photographic archives of a former Lt.-Col. commander who was based at Otterburn from 1971 to 1991.

These photo albums are an amazing trove of evidence for military management of archaeological features – there is an entire series of photographs charting the progress of removing derelict target hulks from the Ranges in 1988. The charming “incidents” file with its catalogue of Things That Can Go Wrong On A Training Estate – bogged vehicles, soldiers damaging stone tents during improvised barbeques, training rounds going astray – made for funĀ  reading.

Whilst not all of it was strictly relevant to my research questions it gave me a better feel for the creation of the Ranges as a historical entity.

Not a bad way to spend a Snow Day.

Pt. 10. Another snow day.

Friday’s forecast:Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.08.36 am

Seeing as most of my study area is about 200m, and it is more *in* the yellow warning area than towards its “fringes”, I will spend today either in the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberand Archives or (based on the results of a phonecall to range control) doing some buildings recording of stone tents in the dry firing area.

Pt 9. Snow day! What a difference a day makes…#archaeology #otterburn

WARNING: I have safety training and permission from Range Control to access these parts of the OTA. If you want to visit the OTA you must follow all safety and access guidelines and the byelaws.

It’s taken longer than anticipated to finish the second survey area due to some technical problems, and some surprise snow. Such is the nature of the British spring!

View south along the railway target tracks, heading back to the car. The snow had started to settle by then and there’s no point surveying when you can’t see the ground any more! (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved.

In between a phone meeting with my supervisor to resolve some ‘interesting’ error messages on the survey kit and sudden heavy snow in the early afternoon, I did however record another tank target.

View north towards target panel (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved
View south from bank behind target panel (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

I also found evidence that another tank* (or perhaps the tank I’ve already recorded to the north of the target railway) had been present within the target area and used as a target before being moved elsewhere. (*based on the presence of some tank tread fragments similar to those in the tank I recorded yesterday).

Part of a scatter of vehicle components including tread fragments and metal plating within the railway target area (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

Also present were more of the same background scatter of small to medium finds.

Pt.8: Fieldwork blog! #tanks and #bunker #archaeology, oh my

WARNING: I have safety training and permission from Range Control to access these parts of the OTA. If you want to visit the OTA you must follow all safety and access guidelines and the byelaws.

On Wednesday I finished up a transect across the Otterburn target railway and investigated the earthwork feature in the north-western corner. The earthworks protect a small bunker which now seems to offer shelter to sheep rather than soldiers (though there’s still a bench inside so it could be a useful port in a storm).

Tank north of Target Railway on the west side of Bushman’s Road, Otterburn Training Area (c) K Moore 2016 all rights reserved

Just north of this is a tank repurposed as a target, with the entire lower part filled with concrete to make it even harder to destroy. I’m also reviewing historic aerial photos to see how long it has been there.

Google Earth gives another perspective on this piece of landscape… (very helpfully, as I’ve not been able to find reference to any kind of topographic survey in the Historic Environment Record database).

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 10.01.21 pm
The same area, from above – image from Google Earth.




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