How to be an archaeologist…

Sara Goodridge – 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. The internship has provided a unique opportunity to not only learn all about the inner workings of community archaeology but also to expand my knowledge of the beautiful North York Moors National Park and its industrial heritage.

When the email advertising the post of intern landed in my inbox, I was intrigued, I knew nothing about archaeology other than what I’d seen on the television and in text books but I knew I wanted to learn more. As a student of History rather than Archaeology my knowledge of what the internship would involve was very limited to say the least, despite this I decided to go for it – after all if you don’t try you don’t achieve. However, I felt my desire to learn may not be enough to secure me the position so I turned to the North York Moors National Park website for some much needed research. It is here that my journey began as a volunteer. Having followed the registration process I signed up for the day hoping for a crash course in how to be an archaeologist in time for my intern interview the following week.

I arrived eagerly at a car park in the middle of the moors ready to learn all about archaeological recording. As it turned out the welcome was incredibly friendly and I was expertly guided through a whistle stop tour of archaeological contexts and features. This very first day’s volunteering introduced me to the friendly approach taken by all involved in the Land of Iron Partnership and from that moment on I was hooked. The site of my first ever archaeological experience was at the former Rosedale Railway and inspired the Historian in me to find out more.

Rosedale saw rapid development in the later part of the 19th century due to ironstone mining. By 1861 the Rosedale Railway had been built, with the additional Rosedale East Railway branch completed in 1865, in order to export the iron ore north to Teesside and County Durham. An estimated 11 million tons of iron ore was removed from Rosedale. The opening of the Rosedale Railway way was documented in the Newcastle Journal on the 19 April 1862, and describes the importance of the railway coming to Rosedale;

“The opening of the North Eastern Company’s branch line to Rosedale, by the vice-chairman, George Leeman, Esq., and the directors, took place at Rosedale on Wednesday.  Early in the forenoon a large party arrived by special train from the northy, including the directors of the company and many of the iron masters, and other distinguished persons connected with the great iron trade of cleveland and the district…  After inspecting, with delight and astonishment, the Rosedale Mining Companiy’s magnificent quarries and mines of magnetic ore, the whole party retired to the Crown Inn, Rosedale Abbey, where an excellent dinner awaited them”.
(Extract transcribed by Linda Cummings)

Photo credit; Rosedale Mines and Railway (Hayes and Rutter, 1974)The experience of that volunteering confirmed my desire to learn more about archaeology and made me want to secure the position of intern even more. Luckily my interview for the position was a success! In the meantime I didn’t have to wait long to volunteer again as the Land of Iron community excavation at Combs Wood this summer provided me with the opportunity to not just learn about archaeology from the side of a trench but to actually get in and start digging myself. Over the two week period that the excavation ran I volunteered for a couple of days each week. In these days the knowledge I gained was immense I learned everything from the complexities of measured drawing to the correct use of a trowel. The approach on site, that no question was a silly question, meant that I spent my whole time learning.

Due to my experiences volunteering before my internship had even started I had learned valuable skills and felt ready to take on the finds processing role. Along with my fellow intern Louis we’ve now spent the last five weeks engaging with and learning from the finds that have been discovered across the numerous archaeological sites within the Land of Iron. Louis’s recent blog, The Everyday, the Intriguing and the Odd shows some of the more unique and interesting finds that have crossed our desk so far and is a must read for anyone who wants to find out more about some of these finds.

The industrial heritage of the North York Moors National Park has become a new found fascination for me, in particular the material culture of the Victorians has certainly sparked some interesting conversations between myself and Louis as well as with volunteers during our task days. So much so that I have decided to use the subject for my dissertation when I return to university for my third and final year at Durham in October. The knowledge I’ve gained so far during my time as an intern has been invaluable however it is only the beginning of my research.

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If, like me, you have a desire to learn more about the Land of Iron there is an upcoming Heritage Open Days on 15 September with a walk and talk through the incredible ironstone industry (Grosmont to Esk Valley). For more information and to book tickets visit the National Park website.

The Everyday, the Intriguing and the Odd

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.

The Everyday

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.

The Intriguing

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.

FIND - poison bottle. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

The Odd

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.

Louis at work. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

For more information on the Land of Iron please see our webpages, email us or phone on 01439 772700.

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