Satterthwaite volunteers visit Archaeology labs

Posted on: 28 September 2018 by Harold Mytum in 2018 posts

Satterthwaite volunteers
Satterthwaite volunteers are welcomed to the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology.

Welcome Week was not just for new students – Professor Harold Mytum and Research Assistant Rob Philpott welcomed community volunteers from the Lake District who had worked as part of the team that surveyed and excavated a medieval iron smelting site at Satterthwaite in Cumbria in May. Read Harold's blog from the day.

‌Part of this HLF-funded project, awarded to the Department by Rusland Horizons and the Lake District National Park, was to introduce the volunteers not only to aspects of fieldwork on site but also the many aspects of analysis that takes place after the digging is over. A day-long coach trip allowed everyone available to come and see the cutting-edge facilities at the University, and to appreciate something of the normally hidden aspects of archaeological research.‌

Scanning electron microscope

Juliet Spedding demonstrates the Scanning Electron Microscope

The volunteers had collected numerous soil samples in the field, and I showed how through flotation and wet sieving – and the subsequent sorting and identification – environmental, technological, geological and cultural information is obtained. Rob demonstrated how the digital images taken on-site are used to generate a photogrammetric survey and are then linked to the written and hand-drawn field records which the volunteers had helped create.

The afternoon was devoted to analytical laboratory-based aspects, explained by enthusiastic research students DeeDee Nikolova and Juliet Spedding. Juliet demonstrated the principles and practice of the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), using one of the samples from the Satterthwaite dig as an example, as well as showing how she is applying the technique in her own research. Meanwhile DeeDee explained the way in which the Microwave Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (MP-AES) operates and how accurate its measurements can be. There was also a brief opportunity for Jason Hall, School Technician, to show how the experimental work in the Lithics laboratory could apply to both early hominid tool production, but also the types of artefact the volunteers have been finding on their other Lake District projects.

Sample preparation

DeeDee Nikolova explains sample preparation

The volunteers were amazed at the variety of activities possible after the fieldwork, and how so many types of equipment could be used on the samples they had collected to create new insights about the technology of the iron smelting and its impact on the landscape. Rob and I will be presenting details of the results of some of the scientific analyses at a conference in Cumbria in November, and we are looking forward to sharing these with such a motivated, able, and articulate community group.

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