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kim biddulph

Archaeology History Museums Schools Writing Consultancy

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Archaeology

Public Programmes Manager at Billingsgate Roman House and Baths

Billingsgate Roman House and Baths is a little known Roman site in the old Roman Londinium, very close to the Tower of London. It is hidden underneath an office block opposite Old Billingsgate Fish Market and you have to book special tours to get in.

I had a year and a bit trying to open it up more often for more audiences before Covid hit. During lockdown we all learned how to use digital tools, and I used my new found skills in video calling to record various talks about the site.

Here’s just a little taste of some of the videos on that link, an introduction to the early Germanic brooch dropped in the ruins of the Roman bathhouse when it was ruined.

I also started to work in partnership with other Roman sites in the City of London to create a livestream school session that was recently nominated for a Museums & Heritage Award.

Stone Age woman at the Chiltern Open Air Museum

I’ve been a Stone Age woman in so many different places (including the Rollright Stones, on the Ridgeway and in my dreams), but I had so much fun devising and delivering the Mesolithic workshop at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, and running workshops inspired by Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother too (I got to speak to Michelle Paver on my podcast).

Don’t worry, the deer was a stuffed toy, given special knitted innards to remove with kids to talk through how all the animal would have been used.

Other activities included learning how to make paint, string and fire using the materials available in the environment. It was definitely the most exciting workshop to run – but working in the Iron Age roundhouse came a close second.

To Build a Broch: From Construction to Conservation

Another amazing publication from Forestry and Land Scotland that I had the great joy of researching. Working with Alex Leonard I was able to pull together a lot more evidence of how people dressed and the personal possessions they may have had because much more evidence survives from the Iron Age than the Neolithic and Mesolithic.

The book is free to download as a PDF.

Into the Wildwoods: Explore the Mesolithic in Scotland’s Native Woodlands

This book was such a joy to research and write for. Once again I worked with artist Alex Leonard to develop authentic characters from Scotland’s Mesolithic. I looked for evidence of materials that would have been available and examples of them having been used in other cultures to counter the idea that hunter-gatherers would just have worn fur. Sealskin, fishskin, birdskins and even some woven or netted fabrics were featured. The character’s appearance is also informed by genetic studies of Mesolithic human remains from Europe which consistently reveals people had dark skin tones and dark hair, but often with pale eye colours.

The activities in this book include wonderful storytelling and map-making activities. Imagine living in a world with no maps, no roads, no signposts, no sat nav. We know that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers moved around, but how did they know where to go? How would they give instructions to each other?

The book also explores the different environments available to support small groups in Scotland, from forest to coastline, mountain to lowland. It’s free to download a PDF from the Forestry and Land Scotland.

Amazingly, Matt Ritchie of Forestry and Land Scotland invited me back one last time.

BBC Bitesize educational and historical consultancy

Having a combination of archaeological and historical knowledge is really useful for the primary history curriculum in England, as most of the topics are understand through one or both. I’ve been lucky to provide historical and educational consultancy for the development of animated videos or games for BBC Bitesize on the following topics:

Shang Dynasty of China

Ancient Greeks: The Argo Odyssey game

Horrible Histories: Viking Raid and Trade game

First Foresters: explore the Neolithic in Scotland’s native woodlands

I’m incredibly proud to have been part of a team of creators on a book commissioned by Matthew Ritchie of Forest and Land Scotland (formerly Forestry Commission Scotland) that’s available as a free PDF or as a hard copy just for the price of postage and packing. Go to this web page to download it – First Foresters: exploring the world of the Neolithic pioneers in Scotland’s ancient wildwood.

Matt brings together groups of writers and artists most, but not all, with an archaeological bent and always produces fantastic resources for specific use with the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, but that will be useful to schools in the rest of the British Isles as well. This publication focuses on the use of forests by Neolithic farmers.

The First Foresters COVER (copyright Liz Myhill and Alex Leonard) (low res)
Front cover of The First Foresters with linocut by Liz Myhill and characters by Alex Leonard

It is organised roughly into chronological sections looking at the development of timber monuments throughout the Neolithic in Scotland, but there are parallels for many of these Scottish structures in the rest of the Britain and in Ireland. Huge timber halls, wooden circles and post flanked cursuses accompanied the stone monuments that we know so much better because they’re still here, for the most part.

 

 

 

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‘Combination Tree’ by Alan Braby

I provided ideas for the classroom and woodland based activities that could help teachers explore the use of the timber resource in Scotland’s heavily forested Neolithic. One of these was like a ‘Combination Man’ game where one person draws the feet and legs, covers what they’ve done and passes it on and then the next person draws the torso, and the final person draws the head. With the help of Alan Braby, a superb illustrator, the book suggests ‘Combination Post’ game where children draw what they think the posts of a timber circle might have looked like. Is it carved? Painted? Left as it is? Has the tree been turned upside down so the roots stick out of the top?

[AW1] Hafted Axehead (copyright FCS by Alice Watterson 2018) (low res)
Hafted Axehead by Alice Watterson

Alan Braby also provided very intricate reconstruction drawings of the monuments in use, including a very grisly ‘Table of Bones’, a mortuary structure for excarnation. Alice Watterson produced more intimate reconstructions of the personal use of tools in the Neolithic. Linocut landscapes, including the one on the cover, were produced by Liz Myhill. John MacPherson was given the task of locating typical woodlands around Scotland and photographing them without people, to get a feel for the different types of woodland and the emotions they evoke. As Matt Ritchie says in the book, he wanted photos of woodlands that were ‘open, light and safe;… bare, skeletal and dormant; deep, dark and scary…’

Gavin MacGregor and Ingrid Shearer of Northlight Heritage were given the job of writing stories exploring the different ways that people in the Neolithic may have used and viewed the forest; as a resource; as a scary place to be avoided; as an ancestral home. These evocative tales were the basis of ten characters sketches that I wrote. Alex Leonard really brought them to life, though, with his beautiful cartoon style drawings of them. Winta and Shaarmarke, Ani and Uri (and Boudin the dog), Tanta and Laki have all become my friends now.

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Characters created by Alex Leonard

Gavin, Ingrid and I took part in the Third Public Archaeology Twitter Conference and explained some of the process from storytelling to illustration. Here is the moment I created on Twitter: 

I was so lucky to work on this wonderful project with all these talented people, who could have thought I would ever get the chance to do anything quite so cool again. But that’s another story.

Archaeology photo challenge January 2019 #archaeology31

Happy New Year everyone!

Inspired by #museum30 created by Gracie Price (@magnifyzoology) that runs in November, I decided to create an #archaeology31 photo challenge on Twitter to brighten up everyone’s January.

The idea is for archaeologists to post one photo a day in January, with a specific theme each day (see list below). I kept some of the same themes as #museum30 but changed others. These are very broad so they can be interpreted however you like. Any feedback on them would be welcome.

You don’t have to do every day.  You can catch up or just start on the day you hear about it. The photos should be yours for the most part. You don’t have to be a digging archaeologist. It’ll be fun to show tweeps what archaeologists really do!

The last day coincides with the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference (#PATC3) on 31st Jan, which is about archaeological storytelling so our theme for that day is #agoodstory.

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  • Day 1: What am I working on?
  • Day 2: The nitty-gritty
  • Day 3: Who am I?
  • Day 4: Communication
  • Day 5: People
  • Day 6 In theory
  • Day 7: Animal
  • Day 8: Vegetable
  • Day 9: Mineral
  • Day 10: First Aid
  • Day 11: Notebook
  • Day 12: Reconstruction
  • Day 13: Broken
  • Day 14: What am I reading?
  • Day 15: Tools of the trade
  • Day 16: Controversy
  • Day 17: Layers
  • Day 18: Something big
  • Day 19 Something small
  • Day 20: Art
  • Day 21: Travel
  • Day 22: Food
  • Day 23: Water
  • Day 24: Throwback Thursday
  • Day 25: Inspiration
  • Day 26: What a view
  • Day 27: Colour
  • Day 28: Shape
  • Day 29: Texture
  • Day 30: Working together
  • Day 31: A good story (to coincide with #PATC3)

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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