Search

kim biddulph

Archaeology Biology Families Museums Schools Writing Consultancy

Category

Archaeology

Making a bone needle

I recently went on a workshop With Ruby Taylor of Native Hands to learn how to make bone needles. Ruby is a wonderfully generous teacher and very experienced maker who runs many workshops, especially wild basketry and pottery weekends at a wood in Lewes, near Brighton. She also runs some workshops at the Weald and Downland Museum near Chichester, which is where I went.

The method, using flint tools, is actually much easier than I had anticipated. It just takes a lot of time. In five hours I managed to make two needles, and that’s because I chose a fragment of bone that just needed to be scored once to make into two needle blanks. If you’re starting with a fresh bone, the first needle will need two scored lines to extract the blank and it’ll take a lot longer.

IMG_6123Ruby recommended deer bones from the lower leg, probably the metatarsus or metacarpus, and they needed to be boiled a little to clean them, and then the ends sawn off, leaving the hollow long bone. Deer bones are relatively thin walled to start with. Taking a sharp flint flake and protecting your hand with a piece of leather, long strokes are used to make grooves in the bone. As these get deeper and deeper, you will see that the profile of the groove is not straight down as it would be with a saw or metal knife, but is a deep v-shape due to the nature of the flint cutting edge. This means you have to cut your blanks slightly bigger than you expect to get a needle that’s not too thin.

IMG_6126You can keep scoring until you’re through the bone, or, at the point where you can see light through the base of the groove, you can take a flint with a straight edge and put it against the groove, cover the other end with some leather and take a rounded pebble to use as a hammer to snap the blank away from the rest of the bone.

 

IMG_6129The next step is to grind the bone into shape. The aim is to get a wide flat surface at one end and a point at the other. The flat surfaces are easier to drill. The bone can be ground on blocks of sandstone with a little water. As you grind this forms a paste, and this is what shapes the bone.

 

IMG_6143Ruby then taught us how to make flint hand drills. Taking a short length of fresh hazel, split one end to about an inch down with a knife. Set a flint flake with a nice pointy bit in the centre with the split wood holding it in place. You can make your own cordage or use some string to hold the split together, and therefore the flint drill bit in place. Use whipping to do this. Hold a loop of string on the surface of the hazel, with the end of the string upwards and the loop downwards. Then wrap the string round the centre of the loop tightly. When you come to the other end of the string, slip it through the loop and pull the two ends of the string, pulling the loop under the whipping. Trim both ends.

IMG_6146Key in an anchor point for the drill with another bit of flint. The drill can then be twizzled between the palms with a downward pressure to drill a hole in the flat end of the needle. I weighted the other end down with my grinding stone. When you can see light through the base of the hole, turn the needle over and go in from the other side. You’ll find the hole is chamfered slightly, again just due to the shape of the flint. The head of the needle around the eye can then be ground a little more into the desired shape.

Ruby told us that bone needles tend to break at the eye relatively frequently, and that they can then just be ground down and re-drilled until the shaft is too thin to drill a hole into. Bone needles like these may date back even as far as 60,000 years ago. A bone point that may be from a needle is known from Sibudu Cave near Durban in South Africa (Backwell, D’Errico & Wadley 2008). They were only replaced by steel in the medieval period.

IMG_6150Making my two needles was an eye-opening experience. Personally, it allowed me to think of myself as a maker, which I had hitherto not been able to do. I don’t have a history of making things and have felt a bit of a mental block about this but as I took the decision to stop grinding my first needle as it was just perfect, I felt quite emotional about it, and exultant that I had made such a beautiful object.

It has also let me see bone needles differently. They are a relatively common artefact in the archaeological record, and being so small and everyday, I had seen them as an ancient throwaway object, casually discarded. I had thought no-one spilled any tears over losing such an inconsequential object. But having spent a good three hours making one, I felt differently. When we took a break for lunch we all agreed we were going to keep our half-finished needles with us in case someone walked off with it. I took them to show a school last week and was frantic when one of them went missing. I was so relieved when I found it!

But perhaps this stems from my own experience of never making anything before. Hand-making an object to use is a very rare thing in the time and place I am living, and so the rarity increases its value. In this western 21st century world my time is also one of my most precious commodities, so investing half a day in making two tiny objects also makes them precious. Now I need to use them – perhaps I’ll make a leather bag, or go on one of Ruby’s basketry courses. There’s so much more to make.

Reference

Backwell, L, D’Errico, F, Wadley, L 2008. Middle Stone Age bone tools from the Howiesons Poort layers, Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 35, Issue 6, pp 1566-1580. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2007.11.006.

Advertisements

How did I get into freelancing?

I don’t want to use the J word, but I have been deleting old emails recently and it reminded me about the way my freelancing career has developed over the years.

At first it all started as an extra to full time work. I left English Heritage to work at the London Borough of Camden on a Heritage Lottery Funded project, but I was keen to continue to do something in association with the Charles Darwin Trust and, as it turned out, they wanted that too so I started to do some writing and teaching work with them. During the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year since the publication of Origin, 2009, I was very busy with work for them as well as work for Camden. It quietened down a little in 2010, and then got quieter still after that, and I had a new baby which also reduced the amount I could do.

IMG_1019
Pitt Rivers Museum at night

I eventually moved from the London Borough of Camden to another employed role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and freelancing went by the wayside. After the maternity cover contract ended I decided to go it on my own. The costs of childcare while working full-time were too onerous and I wanted to spend more time with my little one. At first I trained to be a childminder and managed three months of this. Childminding is not an easy job, let me tell you. I was more tired doing that than any other job I have had, and I have worked as a field archaeologist, in the catering industry and now visit schools to do days of teaching, all of which are tiring but not like childminding. So I looked for other things.

All of a sudden, I found things. I had experience of writing for teachers through English Heritage and the National Museums Online Learning Project so a friend introduced me to a friend who had set up a business called Plan Bee. She needed a history specialist to write lesson plans and resources for the new curriculum so I took that on, writing lesson plans on the Prehistory of Britain, the Shang Dynasty of China, and the Kingdom of Benin, for instance. With this experience under my belt I approached the Hamilton Trust, on the advice of another friend, and said I could write their Prehistory of Britain topic. I found the Hamilton Trust work much more in depth and I still write for them, just recently having finished a recap of all British history for a post-SATS topic for Year 6s.

IMG_1909
Roman cooking day at Wycombe Museum

At the same time I had applied for two local jobs. One was as a secretary for my village’s Neighbourhood Plan at £10 an hour and this lasted for over a year with me working mainly in the evenings. I also applied to be a workshop leader at the Chiltern Open Air Museum and I work there still on a zero-hours contract mainly teaching schools but also families and home ed groups. I also volunteered for Kids in Museums and an opportunity came along to take over organising their workshops on working with families and young people.

I set up Schools Prehistory in order to get information out to teachers for the new topic in primary history, as it is my specialist subject, and I think on the back of that was approached by a contact from the British Museum (which was part of the National Museums Online Learning Project that I had written for) to apply for a job as a writer on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website that the DoE had funded to support the new history curriculum across Key Stages. I wrote about lots of objects for them from Late Bronze Age logboats from Must Farm to a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence from 1957.

cropped_DSCF0511
Stone Age Woman, hear me roar

I also started marketing myself as a time travelling visitor with Schools Prehistory to schools and still visit schools across the south-east and midlands as a Stone Age, Roman, Saxon of Viking woman or as an archaeologist, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes on my own. I had difficulty in selling lesson plans through my own website so now they can be downloaded if teachers sign up to my newsletter.

As a time traveller, and for the purpose of developing a Mesolithic workshop at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, I developed some bushcraft skills and so my latest venture has been to set up 500 BC. I asked the Forestry Commission, who look after Wendover Woods near me, whether I could work on their site and duly applied for a licence to do so and now run toddler groups, home ed courses, family and adult bushcraft days, holiday clubs, school visits and team-building workshops. I am expanding to other sites and to sub-contracting.

I have also tendered for shorter freelance contracts conducting market research with families, or devising and piloting schools workshops but have not had much luck with those. Where I have been successful it’s usually through recommendations and word of mouth.

This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory post. I wanted to show how I built my freelancing portfolio, which is a little unusual, but has all the elements of how to be successful at freelancing whatever field you’re in.

  1. Network. Having a good network that you stay in contact with via social media and attending sector events is essential.
  2. Don’t be afraid to approach people cold. Before you do this you have to do your research and be sure that they want something only you can offer.
  3. Create your own opportunities if you can – apply for funding, see a need in the market you can fulfill.
  4. Collaborate. Find like-minded people you can sub-contract to (you’ll need employer’s insurance) or pass work to, and they will hopefully pass some back.
  5. Try to have a couple of relationships that bring in a regular income and supplement them with shorter contracts. Then when you need to find the next job, you still have a little work and money to tide you over (I can’t say I’m very good at saving!)
  6. Be flexible. Not everything you will end up doing is going to totally rock your world. As you get more confident and busier, you will be able to say ‘No thanks’ to those contracts that don’t totally float your boat.
  7. I hate saying this, because it’s not something I love doing, but you will need a brand. Either that’s your name or a trading name that will represent you. As you can see, I have a couple of different ones for different strands of my work.
  8. If something doesn’t work, learn from it and move on.
  9. Keep at it!

The gender pay gap in heritage – is it a thing?

Following interesting discussions on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues from the archaeology sector about the perceived leaky pipeline for women (i.e. lots of women studying archaeology at university – not so many in management positions in the profession) I decided to look at the publicly available data covering the gender pay gap. Organisations that employ 250 people and more are obliged to publish data on pay for men and women employees under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 which came into force on 6th April 2017.

This obliges these larger organisations to publish the difference between the mean and the median hourly rate of “male full-pay relevant employees and that of female full-pay relevant employees”. It also requires them to publish the proportions of male and female full-pay employees in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and top quartile pay bands. What the intention is to see whether men and women are paid the same rate for the same work, and whether women are represented in the upper pay bands at the same proportion as men. A “full-pay employee” does not mean a full-time employee but “a relevant employee who is not, during the relevant pay period, being paid at a reduced rate or nil as a result of the employee being on leave”. Overtime is not included. Bonuses are reportable, but are not included here as they are not routinely used in this sector.

There are three commercial archaeology companies who would qualify (according to the Institute for Archaeologist’s Yearbook detailing numbers of employees in 2017), Oxford Archaeology (OA), Wessex Archaeology and Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA). I could only find the gender pay reports for the first two. MoLA may have reported as part of an umbrella organisation, I guess.

I also decided, as I work in museums and heritage myself, to see if I could find other organisations who had reported. I found the British Museum (BM), National Maritime Museum (NMM), the National Gallery (NG), the National Trust (NT), the National Archives, and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

The first table below shows a comparison between all of these organisations in where women’s pay sits above or below the mean and median hourly rate in 2017.

OA Wessex BM NMM NT Archives NG NPG
Mean -5.20% -6.90% 0.00% -2.30% -12.80% -1.10% -14.40% -8.30%
Median 0.00% -2.10% 4.00% 0.50% -14.40% 2.00% -15.20% -13.10%

The national average gender pay gap in median hourly rate was 9.1% in 2017. The National Trust and National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery therefore have a greater gender pay gap than the national average, whereas all the other organisations do not.

Now let’s look at the percentage of women in each quartile of pay bands in each of these organisations.

OA Wessex BM NMM NT Archives NG NPG
Top 37.00% 41.00% 57.00% 60.70% 55.00% 46.70% 62.00% 61.40%
Upper middle 36.00% 46.00% 61.00% 54.80% 63.00% 53.30% 64.00% 65.50%
Lower middle 38.00% 44.00% 58.00% 51.90% 72.00% 56.00% 79.00% 65.50%
Lowest 49.00% 50.00% 49.00% 61.50% 72.00% 42.00% 79.00% 79.80%

This is really revealing, as in the museums (BM, NMM) and galleries (NG, NPG) and the National Trust, women outnumber men at all pay levels. You will not that in many of these organisations there is a tail-off so that the percentage of women at upper levels is lower than those in the least well paid quartiles. The British Museum is slightly different, in that it is only in the lowest quartile that women and men are virtually even, and then the percentage of women is higher in each of the higher pay quartiles. The National Archives is also an interesting case where women outnumber men in the middling pay quartiles but not at the bottom or top.

And then we get to the archaeology companies (OA and Wessex). From virtually even numbers of men and women at the lowest pay quartile the numbers of women drop off alarmingly in the upper pay quartiles, arguably the ones that don’t entail working in the field as much. Oxford Archaeology, in it’s report on its own website, has committed to determining what the barriers to progression for women are. Interestingly, of course, OA’s CEO is a woman, Gill Hey. Chris Brayne of Wessex Archaeology has also published some objectives for his company to combat the lack of women in upper pay grades.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experiences to share in either archaeology, museums, galleries or heritage? Are things moving forward?

 

Excavating the site of a replica Iron Age roundhouse

IMG_2463In July 2017 I ran a small excavation for families at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. We debated where it would be safe and interesting to open a trench and decided on the site of the first replica Iron Age roundhouse that was built at the museum at the end of the 1970s. The current version is a 21st century construction, and the house platform for the first is clearly visible next to it.

34I was lucky that there were extensive photographs (those old square slightly brown-tinged 1970s style – see right) of the original build which helped to prepare the families for what we might find including the remains of a turf wall and some big post-holes. What is also really useful is having some of the original builders of the house still working at the museum, though they couldn’t remember whether we would find a cobble or rammed chalk floor, as have been used in the new roundhouse.

 

IMG_2481A small trench was opened over the area where I thought the turf wall might have been, and I hope to hit at least one post-hole, and over a lump that would be inside the house. We found a wooden post under the surface, not big enough to be an abandoned post from the house, and the lump was a small dump of flint cobbles – which also housed an ant’s nest to was abandoned immediately. John Hyde-Trutch, the buildings manager at the museum, remembered leaving a heap of flint cobbles behind after the dismantling of the old house, and that a fence was built along the line of the old turf wall – the source of the wooden post.

IMG_2433Dating evidence for the house was found in the interior, in the form of a twenty pence piece from 1994 and a Stella Artois bottle cap! A broken pencil and pencil lead that refitted, and a stray plastic gemstone also gave us an idea that the house might have been used for educational and family activities.

Parents often asked if the ground had been seeded with objects, which it hadn’t. Children and adults alike loved being able to do ‘proper’ archaeology, and everyone thought the finds were very funny. The Aylesbury Young Archaeologist’s Club helped out on one weekend day as well (very useful as my co-leader Vicky Guy is a field archaeologist). The best bit for a lot of children was reinstating the site, which was done in record time with their help!

It was such a success that I’m running it again year in the first week of the summer holidays from 23rd to 27th July, despite the lack of the Festival of Archaeology this year. It will run for more days (five instead of three), with higher numbers of participants and a larger trench. There’ll be a small charge this year to cover costs and hopefully make it sustainable. It will be on the site of the old house again, and, this year, I want to see if we can find some post-holes and maybe the site of the hearth.

Open Day at the Rollright Stones

IMG_1611On August bank holiday in 2017 I was privileged to be asked to be a Neolithic woman at the Rollright Stones in Warwickshire. The Rollright Stones are made up of several monuments that may have been erected over several hundred years in the Neolithic and potentially early Bronze Age too. There is a stone circle, the remains of the stone chamber of a long barrow, also known as the Whispering Knights, and a lone standing stone, the King stone, which is now across the road from the rest. There is a wonderful legend about the stones about the king being tricked by a witch and his whole host being turned to stone.

It was a hot day so I tried to keep to the shade, and enjoyed showing people how to boil water using hot stone technology, demonstrating back-strap weaving with nettle fibre and a little bit of flint-knapping. Children and their families also tried out grinding grain on a flat quern and making pots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A sword is a sword is a sword – right?

Wrong.

IMG_0461I’ve been practising HEMA (historic European martial arts) for a couple of years now (i.e. not very long) and have tried my hand at sword and buckler, longsword (that’s me with a nylon longsword on the right) and backsword. All of these types of swordplay have manuals from about 1300 AD onwards to help us work out what people were doing with them at the time they were used. Of course, their use would have varied depending on whether they were used in judicial fights, duels or by soldiers in an army. What I hadn’t fully realised until recently was that each sword demands slightly different play partly because they all have different defences for the hands.

As you reach out to lay a blow or thrust on your opponent, your hands are the nearest target for your opponent to hit. With the sword and buckler that small metal shield is there mainly to protect this outstretched hand. With longsword, the protection comes in the form of quillons, as well as how you play with the sword in contact with your opponents for most of the time. With a backsword, which is played one-handed, there is more of a swept hilt that provides a little more protection for that hand, but not against thrusts, which is because it’s more of a slashing weapon.

Recently (like in the last two weeks) we have started to play with round shields in the Viking or Anglo-Saxon style. While there are no manuals for this period there are hints in sources and body mechanics to go on, and the capabilities of the weapons themselves (Roland Warzecha’s YouTube channel has useful tips – see embedded video below). Swords of this time do not have very prominent quillons or crossguards, and one of the main threats is therefore sliding down the sword to snipe at the hands. Only by being in constant motion and reacting to the feeling of your opponent’s blade and shield on yours can you hope to control their blade and not get hit. Every now and then something clicks for me when playing with swords and this was one moment. I have to admit it was after being hit on both thumbs that it came to me!

I would very much like to try out similar techniques with prehistoric swords, which also have very little crossguard, and the round or oval leather or wood shields of which only a few have been found. Bronze Age swords were generally much shorter than later iron swords because they were cast, not hammered. Bronze cools and hardens very quickly so there was a limit to the length of the sword that could be made (thanks to Brett Thorn of Bucks County Museum for that insight). Because of the size, did they have to be played out in longpoint, thereby making the hands more of a target? Or, like in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period would the shield be the primary weapon? Something to find out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Going further back in time to middle Bronze Age rapiers (nothing at all like later rapiers) they are actually tangless swords. Because of this they could not make a lateral cutting motion, but had to be thrusting weapons. Perhaps this meant that hands were not such a target, but this is something to play with. This is a good description of these earlier swords and the development of swords up to Viking times. There is so much more fun to be had with swords!

Stone Age woman in the Chilterns

cropped_DSCF0511Back in May I led an archaeology themed guided walk along part of the Ridgeway National Trail at Ivinghoe Beacon as part of the Chiltern Walking Festival. I was dressed as a Stone Age woman all in skins and fur but I covered the archaeology of all prehistoric periods at Ivinghoe Beacon and the surrounding area. I brought along some replica artefacts for people to connect with as we walked and tried to build up a period of a changing landscape from the Ice Age to the Iron Age.

I have been thinking about a number of things since. The choice of Stone Age clothing was not mine but my clients. I would have preferred, before the walk, to have been Bronze or Iron Age so that I could feel like my character could look back at the past. But, in reality, would a person in the first or second millennium before the common era have had any concept of the developments in the past before them? Well, yes, but they would have been mythical and largely not factual, I would have thought. So I ended up not in character at all, as I wanted to talk about so many different periods. Still, I rock that Stone Age look.

DSCF0471The other issue that came up was the authenticity of the Ridgeway and the related Icknield Way. A whole heritage industry has built up around the idea that these were long distance routeways from the Neolithic onwards but the evidence is less than compelling. It has become an axiom repeated again and again with little reflection or reference back to its origin myth in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum. The article I encountered a few years ago, “The Icknield Way – Some Queries” by Sarah Harrison in the Archaeological Journal, had clarified some of this for me and I felt that I couldn’t in all conscience perpetuate this legend.

The essence of Harrison’s queries are that the old arguments for the existence of the Icknield/Ridgeway long distance route is the survival of upstanding monuments on the chalk uplands, but the emergence of developer-led archaeology has shown that there is just as much if not more settlement in the valleys, but it’s just been covered with alluvium or flattened by later ploughing. The only other argument is that there is flint from Norfolk in Wessex, but there are plenty of other ways it could have got there. A counter-argument is that any actual tracks found near the route of the so-called Icknield/Ridgeway are generally aligned a different way.

DSCF0535It felt good to do research again when doing this walk. I had a good sense of what I wanted to say but I went back to the sources to get the specifics. The original excavation of Ivinghoe Beacon in the 1960s was reported in Records of Buckinghamshire and, though referenced by later articles, one aspect was never again mentioned, and that is the recovery of a trepanning disc from a human skull that had been turned into a pendant. Imagine my delight! I promptly made one myself (from a sheep shoulderblade though!) I got some good reactions from that.

References

Cotton, M. A. and Frere, S. S., 1968. Ivinghoe Beacon excavations 1963-65. Records of Buckinghamshire 18 (3). pp 187-203.

Harrison, S 2003. The Icknield Way: Some Queries. Archaeological
Journal 160:1. pp 1-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2003.11078167

 

Roman cooking day at Wycombe Museum

Early in July I headed back to Wycombe Museum after doing an Iron Age food day to do a Roman cooking day! I worked with families to create dishes from Roman cookbooks by Apicius and Columella.

DDulk5qXgAAfK56We started with a salad from Columella, which involved crushing salad leaves with chopped leek and soft white cheese (feta is good). Mixing in some vinegar with peppercorns crushed in a mortarium added a bit of a bite.

We then made Apicius’ roast tuna with a vinaigrette including the famous garum, a fish sauce. You can still get a Thai fish source that’s quite similar. It smells awful but makes food taste amazing.

 

IMG_1909We finished with another from Apicius which was boiled ostrich! The sauce involved making a roux from red wine and flour, and then adding vinegar and garum as well as crushed coriander seeds and dates. This was, perhaps, the most popular dish.

Throughout the day we talked about where all the ingredients came from, with some of the most exotic like peppercorns and coriander being traded from India to the Roman Empire, and on to Britain, while some are very local like the flour, celery seeds and leeks. We also talked about how these recipes would be for the very richest people, perhaps some in Londinium would have had access to such exotic ingredients as ostrich!

IMG_1901The table and storage wares were used for their original purposes, from grinding food on mortaria, to storing dates in a carrot amphora, and drinking mulsum (a spiced wine but we used grape juice) from little Samian cups poured from an authentic flagon.

All the kit I use is made by an amazing group of craftspeople, e.g. Graham Taylor of Potted History, Trinity Court Potteries, Gilbert Bourroughes, and the metalwork by Steve Norris of Red Dog Forge. My outfit was based on a 2nd century tunic found in a grave in northern France and drawings of Roman people by Jane Huggett.

First Public Archaeology Twitter Conference #PATC 28th April 2017

The amazing Lorna-Jane Richardson organised the first Public Archaeology Twitter Conference as part of her work and experimentation in digital public archaeology on 27th and 28th April 2017. It was an amazing day full of brilliant presentations in the format of maximum 12 tweets over a 15 minute period. There were 58 papers, and on 28th April they ran from 9.15am to 11.30pm (BST)!

It was wonderful to see the incredible projects people are doing around the world to engage people in archaeology, particularly by Gavin Mackenzie and Kenneth Brophy with Team Build ‘n’ Burn.

I got fired up about the image problem archaeology has, thanks to a lack of diversity, most brilliantly expressed by Cath Poucher (plus she inspired me to use more gifs).

 

I researched and presented my own paper, and I’ll let the tweets speak for themselves.

This image above is from Stone Age Boy from Satoshi Kitamura, so ‘woman on hide’ is alive and well in children’s picture books being used in schools today.

The books were Stone Age Boy by Satoshi Kitamura, The Wild Girl by Chris Wormell, Ug by Raymond Briggs (a book, by way of full disclosure, I absolutely hate btw), The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein, Stone Age Bone Age by Brita Granström and Mick Manning, and Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett.

This image above is of the central character in The First Drawing by Mordica Gerstein. Is it a boy or a girl? S/he is referred to in second person all the way through to encourage the reader to put themselves in their place whether boy or girl. But everyone I know who has read it (including my daughter of 7) thinks it’s a boy.

It was also great to get some feedback from other tweeps.

 

 

And this couldn’t have been done without Lorna, obviously. I wholly support this tweet.

 

The conference was, quite simply, incredible.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑