Louis Monntero – Land of Iron Archaeological Finds Intern
This summer I have been granted the privilege of working with the Heritage Fund‘s Land of Iron Landscape Partnership as an Archaeological Finds Intern, through the Santander Internship Programme at Durham University.
My internship deals with the processing of small and bulk finds from the community excavations conducted over the last few years (Combs Wood, Goathland, etc.). I have a range of responsibilities: cleaning, marking, labelling, documenting, and photographing so that the finds are ready for both display and archive with the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum. I am also responsible for leading the training of any volunteers we have for these tasks.
The volunteers during my internship thus far have been fantastic, and I’m always impressed by their dedication towards the project. Contrary to my belief that they would only be interested in the excavation side of archaeology, we have a multitude of volunteers offering their services for just about any task you can imagine.
Post-excavation finds processing can be long work at times, but that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding, as I have learned first-hand. All the finds from years past end up on the desks of myself and my fellow intern, Sara. Over these past few weeks, we have seen both the every day as well as the more intriguing (and occasionally the odd).
Today, I’d like to share some of my personal favourites with you.
Perhaps some of the most interesting items to come from the excavations have emerged from Goathland Incline.
In order to overcome the steep incline between Beck Hole and Goathland, over which horses were unable to haul locomotives, Whitby and Pickering Railway installed a hydraulic lift. The abandoned reservoir from this system was later used as a a rubbish dump by locals, and it was from here that we’ve had most of our finds, as well as some of the most well-preserved glassware and pottery.
It may not look like much at first glance, but this salt or pepper cellar quickly became one of the things that I became intrigued by. Instead of the presence of a logo or some other feature, embossed upon the base is the word ‘foreign’.
My initial thought was that this was likely for economic purposes, ruling out the label as a means to denote this as a prestige good. The main parallel that this drew for me was with country of origin markings used to impose tariffs (e.g. ‘Made in China’). Perhaps this was from a period which predated a requirement to list the specific country of origin.
Let me first defend myself in my choice of this item. Those who are familiar with Victorian archaeology will immediately note that this is a poison bottle, which is not that uncommon a find. Poison bottles were primarily green, but they could also be a range of colours from a deep blue like this, to clear, or even a brown. The green was supposed to immediately stand out and warn any would-be drinkers about the contents; however, there were some other safety precautions as well. Embossed upon the side of the bottles are usually some variation of the words ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN’ or ‘POISONOUS’. Should that too be missed, bottles were made to feel poisonous; they characteristically had “ribs”, either vertically or horizontally.
So why did I pick this item? Well, at Goathland Incline, the reservoir was used as a rubbish pit for some time. As I was sifting through some of the finds, I noted the similarities between the colourful glasswork of the Victorian Era as well as that of the 1900s, when a variety of glasswork known as “carnival glass” increased in popularity. It was surprising to me that such bottle colours became destigmatised in such a short period of time. Indeed, carnival glass, with its bright colours, was often highly sought after, being awarded as prizes at fairs and carnivals, leading to its name.
This was probably one of the most bizarre finds that I have come across thus far. The design itself is not a popular one; however, more interesting is the level of detail that was applied in its creation.
Upon closer inspection, the face was found to feature many smaller details such as hair and ears (when viewed from the side), jawline, and the philtrum (the little cleft underneath your nose). The use of colour; blue for the eyes, black for the eyelashes, and red for the cheeks; all further display the thought that went into the design of this object.
Perhaps this find was purchased humorously as an unwanted gift, as it is still largely intact. Perhaps it was thrown out as the individual who purchased it grew out of their previous tastes. I’m hoping to look more into this sort of pottery later on.
All of these finds were simple enough to prepare for archive, as we tend to avoid marking the glassware as well as the glazed pottery, removing an extra step from the process. Nonetheless, we needed to both photograph the profile of this glassware, as well as the base to ensure all of the key features were visually recorded. This was to allow for the creation of a digital archive, so that researchers might be able to remotely access the collection.
Overall, I’m enjoying my time here. I’ve learned new skills and can carry out tasks safely, efficiently, and independently. I’ve been able to handle a range of artefacts with differing properties, and have been taught how to process them. It’s a pleasure to work with the Land of Iron team, and especially with the volunteers and the local community, who always take a friendly interest in what we’re doing.