Archaeology in East Oxford

Behind the Scenes

Not much ‘official’ stuff going on – all the project leaders are on their academic holidays, so we are just doing housekeeping things.

The main one being starting on the Context Checklist; this is the first step towards the interim report – the bare-bones report we publish about the Bartlemas dig before the full report. Each different ‘Context’ in the dig has its own bit of paperwork (the Context Sheet) where we record the soil type, how hard it is to dig, the soil colour, what sort of gravel, pebbles, etc – and that’s before we get to what we actually find there! It’s something which TV archaeology tends to mask (for obvious reasons, people filling in paperwork doesn’t make exciting television!) but a dig generates an enormous amount of paperwork – and rightly so as we are destroying what we dig; we have to record it rigorously. We might miss something which to someone with a different viewpoint might find blindingly obvious, for instance, or hopefully, in the future, the data we provide could prove useful to other researchers with more powerful analytic tools, or just with a different perspective.

The Context Checklist is like an index on steroids; it gives a precis of what is on each context sheet with any ideas of what it could represent, along with the relation with other contexts, what the finds were, what specific Small Finds were found, any soil samples, drawing numbers & any photos taken (draws a deep breath!). The idea is that if we were all knocked down by the proverbial Clapham Omnibus, someone else would be able to make sense of the mountain of paperwork – apart from asking what on earth a Clapham bus was doing in Oxford! Once we have this essential bit of housekeeping out of way, we can start to put together the drawings and photos into a working order – and then we can start to try and make some sense of the whole thing. It seems a long way down the road at the moment.

I’ve also made a start of transferring the 1853 Inclosure map into a digital form – Graeame Salmon (whose book ‘Beyond Magdalen Bridge: The Growth of East Oxford’ I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the background about East Oxford) had pointed me in the direction of this map. It is much more ‘accurate’; that is, it corresponds much more accurately to modern (O.S.) maps than the older college maps – so I want to use it as a template to map the college maps, which show ownership of the medieval ‘strips’, onto. Chistopher Lewis had found a version of the map which was rolled up, rather than folded into a bound book, which made for an easier target for me to trace.

Tracing! – I hear you say – in this day and age!

Well – the map is over 2m x 2.5m (roughly) – photographing such a large map and capturing all the fine detail requires some really heavy duty, professional kit. Some of the detail on the map you need a magnifying glass to read, for instance. So tracing is the more practical option – also drawing something does concentrate the mind; even tracing makes you really look at the object of interest, rather than just glancing at it.

I’m going back to the Oxford Record Office, or the Oxfordshire History Centre as it is now known, on Friday to continue the tracing. It is going to take quite a while, as the rolled up map has been stuck together from smaller sheets which have quite a big overlap. I am having to leave a big gap round the edge of each sheet so I can then go back to the bound map and fill in the gaps – luckily the bound version, while being put together from from smaller sheets as well, uses different small sheets, so the ‘joins’ fall in different places.  It seems like a lot of work, but at least it is something which only ever (if I do it right!) needs to be done once – once the whole thing is translated into a digital format, anyone can use it; though publishing it in an electronic format is going to be another steep learning curve!

After that I’m going to being getting into Christmas properly, so a Merry Christmas and a Happy New to one and all from Gill & me.


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