December Day 11: Sonic Horizons of the Mesolithic

In a continuation of the search for archaeological sounds, the Sonic Horizons of the Mesolithic is an amazing project, and as the Tumblr explains:

The Star Carr: Sonic Horizons of the Mesolithic project aims to explore the sound world of Mesolithic Britain, focussing on the famous Star Carr archaeological dig in North Yorkshire.

Archeologist Ben Elliott and sound artist Jon Hughes are working as part of the Postglacial research project run by Professor Nicky Milner at the University of York.

Their aim is to build up an archive of sounds relating to life at Star Carr, which will be used in different ways.

Worth exploring…

December Day 9: The Sounds of London’s Past & An Homage to Dalston

The London Sound Survey is an incredible project collecting CC-licenced  sound recordings of life and places in London. It also has a detailed list of references to the sounds of London through the centuries, which I love. This is a

A database of several hundred historical descriptions and references to London’s sounds. They’re drawn mainly from primary sources such as autobiographies, diaries and statutes, as well as novels written around the times they depict.

Reading about historical sounds is, for me at least, imagination-fuelled time travel. The entire website is worth exploring, but the Historical References to London’s Sounds page can be found here. There is also a map with recordings of London sound from the 1930s and 1940s from the BBC on the website, many of which must have been familiar sounds for centuries before they were captured – the cries of a lavender seller, children’s singing games, and street musicians.

Dalston_junction_1This recording here is one I have chosen for today, which is rather more contemporary, and apt given our upcoming walk on Saturday through the archaeology of austerity in contemporary London. The recording was made in 2009 at Ridley Road market in Dalston in East London. I lived in the Borough of Hackney for the majority of my adult life, and for some of it in Dalston, before it got gentrified. Ridley was always a favourite spot to shop for cheap veg, and to look on in terror at the buckets of tripe and the rows of trotters at the butchers, or the boxes of edible land snails for sale. I wonder how long the market will last, as it is surrounded by expensive housing and businesses catering for far richer customers?

December Day 8: The Archaeology of Sound & Music

An entire issue of the archaeological journal World Archaeology was dedicated to the archaeology of sound and music in 2014, and it is well worth a read if you are interested in archaeology and sound. All of the articles within it are currently free to download here.  Get them while you can – these articles may not always stay open access!

As John Schofield says in the opening editorial…

This collection contains a diversity of examples, from the Palaeolithic to the present, from the Near East and South America to Europe and the USA. It raises a number of questions which archaeology, in partnership with researchers from other disciplines, appears uniquely placed to address, combining under the single big question: what did the past actually sound like?

As an aside, this article which explores what it would be like to experience of bird song in the past at an Anglo Saxon site is just lovely.

December Day 7: A Museum Archaeology Curator at Work

I missed a few days of the project due to health problems, as expected, but I am back on the case again, and this is a great opener for ‘working sounds’.

Here’s the brief sound of Gail Boyle, the Senior Curator of Archaeology at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives going about her everyday work life. She says:

This is a recording I made on my phone of my journey from the office through the public galleries and them down to the basement to my store using the lift …a typical everyday occurrence in the life of a museum archaeologist.

Click the link here to hear the recording.

December Day 3: A Roman Bell

This find from the London Archaeological Archive & Research Centre at the Museum of London is utterly adorable, and rather cheering on a day tinged with sadness.

I take this quote directly from the blog Tincture of Museum, one which I thoroughly recommend reading. You can follow Tincture on Twitter @TinctureOfMuse:

Museum interpretation, how we see, read, experience and understand an object helps us to connect and relate to the object. So bearing that in mind, I am actually going to break with my Thursday group of volunteers and go over to the ‘otherside’. Tuesday’s group of volunteers came across this small but beautiful and to me totally amazing Roman bell, if you folllow the link below you will see why this is so fab. I have chosen this as my object of the week, because not only can you see, and hold history in your hand you can hear it as well.

Roman bell

Interpretation is so important, but sometimes your senses are enough to take you to a different time and place. It is the immediacy of sensory connection – sight, sound, touch, taste that we don’t always have but makes a more visceral experience, one you are unlikely to forget.

December Day 1: The Sounds of Stonehenge

Screenshot 2015-12-01 19.03.44

Today, Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage released a video which aims to demonstrate what Stonehenge might look and feel like if the A303 is replaced by a somewhat controversial 2.9km tunnel under the site. You can listen (and see) the video here:

So it seems an appropriate start to the month to begin this project with a link to an existing ‘archaeological sounds’ project from Stonehenge itself by Dr Rupert Till, who is Senior Lecturer in Music Technology at Huddersfield University. According to the Bradshaw Foundation page, ‘Dr Rupert Till suggests that most previous studies of Stonehenge focused on looking at the site, rather than listening to it. He came up with the theory that the famous ring of stone could have sung like a crystal wine glass with a wet finger rubbing the rim.’

You can read, and listen, to more about his project here:

What does archaeology sound like?

I couldn’t decide on a project for Public Archaeology 2015, given a multitude of personal mishaps and a year of my interest in grey literature waning, as my interest in writing the future best-selling coffee table book of 2016 (‘Erratica’, a journey through mythic geology and great big bits of rock) grew. So I left the choice of the final project to random chance, well, to Twitter, and did a poll, as it’s all the rage. Doing a poll was interesting, and it was good to hear the comments from people on their specific interests in each of the choices. I shall follow each choice up eventually over 2016 (Erratica will make my millions I bet) but 45% of the voters decided that Archaeology Sounds was the winner.


What does archaeology sound like? What are ‘archaeological’ sounds? What noises does the practise make? (No, not like hot air being released from a balloon, to whoever shouted that at the back). What investigations have taken place before now into the sounds of archaeology either in the past (musical instruments etc) and what can we record today in our daily existence as wind blown archaeologists in the field, or tame ones at a desk?

So my project will be a month long laid back festival of sound, some of which I hope will have public contribution and some of which I will post as links, pictures and general information, hopefully, depending on health and physical location, every other day or so. I will be asking some of you to contribute your own sounds (keep it clean) from your archaeological lives. Right then. 1st of December tomorrow. 31 days of sound.

December 2015: Lorna Richardson, archaeologist of sorts

My project is designed to be either deliberately provocative, or incredibly banal, I haven’t worked it out yet…

So at the moment I am working as a field archaeologist. I’m digging pits and ditches and the dull stuff that even the people that created the archaeology in the first place wouldn’t think twice about. But it’s this banality of archaeological features that I find fascinating. As a bigger picture, the mundane field boundary, shallow pit or discarded piece of pottery becomes a piece of modern theatre, a human action, the faint shadow of a human thought process, a commonplace yet extraordinary sliver of time captured and enclosed by the earth; the earth as aspic. We, the professional archaeologists, commercial or otherwise, retrieve that archaeological action and turn it into records on paper, in binary form, or wrapped in plastic. It is then sent forwards to the specialists for the next bit of the process of creating an archaeological narrative. And that is often the last we, the diggers, hear of it, as staff move site, company or career path and the analysis and publication takes place further up the food chain. The humdrum actions of thousands of archaeologists throughout the country. Dig, record, bag up, begin again…

I digress.

So if we as archaeologists are creating a body of information that includes the commonplace ditch, the sterile feature, the isolated find, as we half-section time, can anyone outside the archaeological sector find anything meaningful in this work? Can grey literature be less grey and more colourful in its original landscape? Will the fact pits and ditches were found in place X add to the understanding of the history of place X for the inhabitants of place X? Can the common or garden evaluation report, available as grey lit through the ADS for example, be used as a tool for public engagement? And can I provoke some tuts of disapproval from my beloved discipline in the process of exploring this?

So my project, although in it’s infancy, is this: Lost Heritage.

Each month throughout 2015, I will create a Lost poster, as you can find on any tree or noticeboard where a dog or cat has gone missing. It will include a summary of a grey literature report about a location and the link to a website with further information (you didn’t think I’d make this project totally analogue did you?). The posters will contain information on 12 different sites, and will be place in 12 different locations throughout the year. The website links will be pull-off bits at the bottom of the poster. It’ll be designed to look like something truly has gone missing.. in this case, it will be part of the narrative of the history of each location.. perhaps not lost, but lost from plain sight or common knowledge. I hope that some people will pull off the slips and visit the website and discover more about their landscapes. Or they might be so incredibly underwhelmed by the bread-and-butter archaeology of the field archaeologist that they just don’t care.

This will be an experiment in inactivity, in sitting back and letting it happen. All I have to do is post the posters and hope I don’t get in trouble for doing so…

Feedback is welcome, this is at the developmental, prototype, whimsical stage, much like myself.