OPEN:Fading Star - Shining light: Integrating an evidence-based decision support system for in situ preservation of waterlogged archaeological remains

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

Across the UK and Europe, a policy of preserving an archaeological site in situ (leaving it unexcavated) for the benefit of future generations is widely pursued, according with UK and EU government planning policy. However, recent research, notably a NERC-funded project focused on the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, indicates that this policy is not always advisable. In some cases, changing environmental conditions may accelerate the decay of organic remains such as bone and wood left in situ.

Waterlogged sites are most at risk, as they are more susceptible to environmental change; however, these are also the sites that contain an abundance of organic materials, which aren't preserved at other sites, making them valuable cultural assets. In the UK, examples of archaeologically significant waterlogged sites are abundant, and include Sweet Track (a prehistoric wooden trackway across the Somerset levels) and Must Farm (a Bronze Age site where recently numerous rare log boats have been excavated, and a wooden wheel, described by the excavators "unprecedented in terms of size and completeness").

A wealth of research into the factors contributing to successful in situ preservation has been carried out in both academic and cultural management sectors throughout Europe. Through this research it has become clear that a comprehensive assessment of potential environmental risks to a site, and the state of preservation of organic artefacts should be carried out prior to deciding how an archaeological site should be managed. However, there is currently a lack of standardisation of how this assessment is conducted.

The NERC-funded "Fading Star" PhD CASE studentship developed a number of cheap, easily applicable and informative tests by which organic preservation could be assessed and monitored. Levels of deterioration were then consolidated with geochemical data, allowing the effects of site geochemistry on organic preservation to be determined The aim of this proposal is to enable those tests to be utilised by the wider archaeological community to assess the preservation potential (and recognise rapid degradation) of other waterlogged sites.

Key to the success of this fellowship is working closely with Historic England, who currently provide guidance on preservation in situ, and archaeological field units, who undertake developer-funded assessments and excavations. This will allow the knowledge gained from the study at Star Carr to be successfully translated to people who work directly with archaeological excavations (ranging from archaeological professionals to volunteers), so that all relevant information can be taken into account both during and after excavations.

The principal outcome of the project will be the development of a decision-making tool that not only incorporates new and existing knowledge amalgamated from past and ongoing research projects, but also the wealth of knowledge from archaeological practitioners. This system will guide the user to make an assessment of the archaeological significance, possible environmental and geochemical risks to a site, and assess the current levels of organic preservation. This data will then be translated into realistic advice on how best to proceed with management of the site, whether it be to preserve in situ with or without a monitoring programme, conduct further investigations, or to proceed with a 'rescue excavation'. The assessment can also be used to recommend where attention should be focused post excavation; for example which artefacts need immediate conservation to prevent further decay and loss of archaeological information.

The availability of this tool directly addresses a recognised need to standardise the steps taken to successfully safeguard archaeological sites against changing environmental conditions, resulting in the preservation of our precious archaeological assets for future generations to both study and enjoy.
 
Description The initiation of the project has started dialogues between project partners and other stakeholders that are likely to be incredibly valuable in the long run. By collaborating with a wide range of people, from both academic and non-academic institutions, the project is somewhat playing the role of an impartial link between the two, which shows promise for successful outputs in the future. The dialogues opened up may start to facilitate a change in perspective within these institutions.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Outreach grant
Amount £1,550 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Society of Chemistry 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
 
Description Royal Society of Chemistry - Summer Studentship
Amount £1,440 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Society of Chemistry 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 09/2017
 
Description Historic England (project partners) 
Organisation Historic England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This project will be heavily directed by the needs identified by Historic England, and as a result contributions are anticipated to be high. So far, the project has achieved less tangible outcomes, such as getting groups of people together to talk about issues that the project will cover, and started conversations and dialogues within the organisation around the area of preservation in situ. I also contributed to a conference session on preservation in situ co-organised by Historic England.
Collaborator Contribution Historic England staff contribute staff time to the project in advisory roles. So far, this has constituted meetings and providing advice on what routes the project should take. An initial project meeting was also held at HE's research base in Portsmouth, for which they covered costs.
Impact No tangible outcomes yet. The collaboration is interdisciplinary and with a non-academic organisation (HE). The disciplines covered are: Chemistry, Archaeology, Heritage Management
Start Year 2016
 
Description Natural England 
Organisation Natural England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I have been involved in an advisory role on an ongoing monitoring project on a Neoltihic trackway in Hatfield Moor National Nature reserve. Over the next year, it is anticipated that this role will develop, as a large project is planned by Natural England surrounding the trackway, in which I will be involved.
Collaborator Contribution Natural England have provided me with access to data on the monitoring project, and access to the site to observe the project.
Impact Outcomes so far have been the generation of data. Continued involvement over the next 12 months is anticipated to yield further data, which will be written into a case study for publication. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary, covering: Chemistry, Archaeology, Land management, Geochemistry, Heritage Management
Start Year 2017
 
Description Somerset Archaeology projects 
Organisation South West Heritage Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I have acted in an advisory role on a monitoring project surrounding the Neolithic trackway of Sweet Track, and have conducted a condition assessment of archaeological material from both Sweet Track and Glastonbury Lake Village; two important projects involving in situ preservation and monitoring of environmental conditions.
Collaborator Contribution South West Heritage Trust have provided me with archaeological material for analysis. The data form these analysis benefit themselves, but will also contribute to development of guidelines for best practise for analysis, anticipated to be the primary outcome of this project. In addition, they have provided me with monitoring data and access to Sweet Track during the installation of monitoring equipment, and ongoing involvement in decisions made at the site. This access to data and the processes in decision making is critical to my wider understanding of the issues surrounding the project.
Impact Outputs so far are the data generated, which will be critical to the success of the project and published over the next 12 months. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary, covering: Chemistry, Archaeology, Heritage Management, Geochemistry.
Start Year 2016
 
Description York Archaeological Trust (project partners) 
Organisation York Archaeological Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaboration is in early stages, although it is anticipated that the project will provide data that YAT will utilise in the day to day management of archaeological sites. Over the next year, this will be in the form of an extensive literature review and subsequent guidelines of best practise for the assessment of archaeological materials.
Collaborator Contribution YAT have so far provided staff advice and unpublished data to contribute to a literature review. They have also provided archaeological material for analysis (bone from Hungate excavations, wood from Flag Fen and a Neolithic timber). This material is critical for developing guidelines of best practise for analysis.
Impact This collaboration has existed since a previous related grant (a CASE studentship). The outputs of this studentship were; two journal articles, two conference proceedings, contribution to a monograph, a PhD thesis, and the successful attainment of the current Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, which will continue the work from the studentship.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Article written for "The Conversation" on in situ preservation in wetland sites 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An article was written for "The Conversation" on the work at Star Carr on chemical degradation of organic artefacts, and the importance of understanding these types of deposits when pursuing the policy of in situ preservation of archaeological deposits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://theconversation.com/environmental-change-could-be-damaging-some-of-the-worlds-most-precious-...
 
Description BBC Radio York interview on degradation at Star Carr 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio interview with BBC Radio York on the research undertaken on chemical degradation at Star Carr, and the steps taken to move forward at this and other sites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Chemistry at Work 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools workshops, delivering "Analysing the Past: The chemistry of a bog body" in workshop format to groups of KS4 pupils as part of the 'Chemistry at Work' initiative.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Creation of project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project website was designed and made available through the internet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://sites.google.com/a/york.ac.uk/fading-star---shining-light-nerc-knowledge-exchange-fellowship...
 
Description Interview for "Analytical Scientist" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kirsty Penkman was interviewed for the "Analytical Scientist" magazine, which resulted in a multi-page article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://theanalyticalscientist.com/issues/1117/on-the-dating-scene/
 
Description Invited lecture: Manchester Metropolitan University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture to the Chemistry and related departments at Manchester Metropolitan University, at which our research was showcased.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited lecture: University of Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture to the Chemistry and related departments at University of Reading, at which our research was showcased.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited lecture: the Open University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture to the Chemistry and related departments at the Open University, at which our research was showcased.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Lunchtime seminar at Historic England research group meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited to give a lunchtime talk at Historic England workshop on conservation science (meeting entitled: Where are we now and what do we need to do next?) The talk was at the Historic York offices but live streamed to other regional offices. The talk was entitled: "Translating academic research into useable tools: The case of in situ preservation (deterioration) of organic materials"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Media coverage - PNAS paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Following the publication of the PNAS article "Lessons from Star Carr on the vulnerability of archaeological remains to environmental change" I was in contact with several media outlets. This resulted in several news articles related to the paper, which lays out the issues to be addressed in this Fellowship.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37826894
 
Description Membership of EU working group for standardisation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I participate as the UK expert in a working group that is writing EU standards for the assessment of archaeological waterlogged wood. At the moment, this involves bi annual meetings to write the standards, and these will be available to members of the heritage community (archaeologists, conservators, museum staff) once published.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Physical Geography Research Group Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation given about the wider issues addressed within the research fellowship, at a departmental seminar in the Environment Department, University of York.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Pittcon Analytical Chemistry conference, Chicago, March 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Keynote speech at major international conference. Key contacts made.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Poster presentation: Standardising methods for assessing the condition of archaeological wood 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A poster entitled "Standardising methods for assessing the condition of archaeological wood" was presented at a symposium on wooden built heritage run by ICOMOS in September 2018. This was an opportunity to engage with a new group of people, mainly consisting of professional practitioners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Poster presentation: The value of wetlands to archaeology and the Historic Environment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On three occasions in 2018, I co-presented a poster with a collaborator from Historic England at peatland and palaeoecology focused conferences. The aim was to raise the profile of the Historic Environment within these fields.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at Chartered Institute for Archaeologists annual conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation was given at a session on Research Impacting Practice at the annual CIfA conference, April 2018. The talk generated a lot of interest, and reached a group of people outside academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Radio 4 Today Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a short interview on the Today Program (Radio 4) on 1/11/2016. The interview relates to the publication in PNAS that lays out the issue that this Fellowship project aims to address.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Symposium involvement: Trans-disciplinary Conversations on Peatlands (UCC) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The symposium aimed to start conversations between all sorts of people involved in peatland research, including from the peat cutting industry, artists, ecologists, charities and academics. I presented a poster on the importance of archaeology in peatlands, and engaged in discussions with many of the other participants. As an outcome of these conversations, many people expressed that acknowledging the cultural heritage value of peatlands has an important role to play in peatland policy that is often overlooked.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Trackway Through Time public engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A one day exhibition to launch the "Trackway Through Time" event at Hatfield Moor visitor centre. The event was focused on peatland archaeology and local archaeology, particularly the Hatfield moor trackway. We had a stand discussing the Chemistry of a Bog Body (financed by the Royal Society of Chemistry).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description York Festival of Ideas "Science out of the lab" event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presented our work at a public outreach event, with attendance by over 2500 individuals. The focus was on how chemistry can be used to understand the past, and through development of a range of activities around a "bog body", we were able to showcase the advances our research has made in this area. The feedback was excellent, with many reporting increased interest in science because of the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://yorkfestivalofideas.com/2017/community/science-out-lab-fri/
 
Description York Festival of Ideas Science out of the Lab 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We presented a science fair style stall based on our research at a public outreach event, with attendance by over 2500 individuals. The focus was on how chemistry can be used to understand the past, and through development of a range of activities around a "bog body", we were able to showcase the advances our research has made in this area. The feedback was excellent, with many reporting increased interest in science because of the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018