What is a curator?

Originally posted on Zygoma:

What is a curator?

Every so often I’ll meet someone who asks me what I do; this draws the response “I’m a natural history curator”*. Sometimes I will then be faced with the dreaded follow-up question “what does that mean?”

I hate it when this happens, because the curatorial role involves lots of different things and it can be hard to summarise them in any kind of concise and intelligible way. Different museums expect different things from curators, which will usually depend on the rest of the staffing structure. So when I answer I can only really answer for myself and what I think MY curatorial role entails.


The most obvious responsibility is “curating collections”, which is not actually an explanation in any meaningful way. To curate more or less means to “take care of”, but these days the museum sector has become professionalised and there are other specialists who take…

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CFPo: THEN DIG – The Senses and Aesthetics of Archaeological Science

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:


I’m very excited to be co-editing a new issue of THEN DIG – the Open Access, Open Peer Review archaeology blog with Dr. Andrew Roddick. Here is an excerpt from the Call for Posts:

In this issue of Then Dig we explore encounters with the past in the context of archaeological science. From the abstract expressionist appreciation of ceramic thin sections, to the treasure hunt for phytoliths under a microscope, to the severe precautionary costumes of the Clean Room, we investigate the aesthetic, the multisensorial, and the profound in archaeological science.

After a small hiatus, the blog/journal has been thriving. I’ll be posting the last submission associated with the Zeitgeist theme very soon, and there’s a great line-up that Dr. James Flexner has put together from a conference on Oceania that will also be going up shortly.

I’ve also very much enjoyed the Open Peer Review style. It is…

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Who Has Gotten National Science Foundation Archaeology Money, Interesting Results

Originally posted on Doug's Archaeology:

Last week I presented data on National Science Foundation funding for the archaeology/Archaeometry program s and then I examined funds for archaeology projects outside of these programs . I also gave the raw data so anyone can check my results.

In that raw data are the listed Principal Investigators for each project. I took a look at that data to see if there were any ‘star’ principal investigators, at least for archaeology. This is based off of the Archaeology and Archaeology-related grants, not those that are only briefly related to archaeology (see here for discussion of the difference). Here are the top 20 performers in terms of amount won adjusted for inflation:

Name Number of Grants Amount Amount Adjusted for Inflation
David Cooper 3  $6,163,520.00  $7,505,860.75
Douglas Donahue 5  $3,970,971.00  $6,728,909.93
Michael Goodchild 1  $4,335,573.00  $6,062,437.45
T. Douglas Price 32  $3,849,165.00  $5,546,182.90
Curtis Marean 13  $4,088,408.00  $4,799,673.11
Herbert Maschner 13

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Trespassing…for Science

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:

This is of a site in Dorchester by Wessex Archaeology. I'm sure it was legitimately taken and is only used as a demonstration of the technique!

This is of a site in Dorchester by Wessex Archaeology. I’m sure it was legitimately taken and is only used as a demonstration of the technique!

Sometimes you need the shot.

The ladder isn’t high enough, and climbing up on the crane is out of the question. But you need an aerial photo of the site you are working on. So…it’s up to the rooftops!

This is a uniquely urban solution, as I realize that many sites are out in underpopulated landscapes. Sadly, most buildings are closed off to the public, even more so if you have a camera. Ideally you would build a relationship with the surrounding neighborhood, but it can be hard to get in touch with official property owners and such. Asking permission takes time and often comes back with a negative result.

Caveat: I officially do not condone any of the following actions and if you are foolish…

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Stop Saying “Archaeology is actually boring”

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:


I understand the temptation. You want to show the mundane, you feel that there is too much Hollywood glamor attached to the profession. So you begin your article, or your Introduction to Archaeology course, or public lecture with some variation of the following:

I know you all think that archaeology is all whips and snakes, Indiana Jones, and Lara Croft, but it is actually a set of methods that can involve long, boring episodes in the lab, counting things, and general tedium.

STOP. Stop this now. Take it out of your lexicon. Not only is it one of the most lazy, overused introduction strategies, but it actively works against the profession and is terribly bad form in science education.

When archaeologists introduce their work with this cliché, they are attempting one of two things:

1) They are trying to tell their audience that their work is actually Very Important…

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A basic OxCal tutorial

Originally posted on Bronze Age burials in northern England:

During some collaborative work I’ve been asked to convert radiocarbon dates from BP into BC using OxCal, it’s pretty simple so I thought I’d write a little how to.  This is useful if you are wanting to compare different dates from the literature but you only have the BP values.

Firstly, It’s best to use the online version of OxCal at https://c14.arch.ox.ac.uk there is also a download version but I’ve found it to be a bit blippy!

The program will ask for you to create a username and password.  Once you have done this and can access the program you should get a screen which looks like this.

oxcal ss 1

From here you need to go to file and select ‘new’.  This will then open a new window which you can input dates into.


Then all you need to do is press ‘insert’ this will open a little tab for you to enter…

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The Viking ”Maine Penny” Mystery

Originally posted on ThorNews:

Norse Maine Silver PennyThe Maine penny, also referred to as the Goddard coin, is displayed at the Maine State Museum. 

In 1957, during his second year of digging at the Goddard site; a large prehistoric Indian trade village in Penobscot Bay on the central Maine coast, local resident and amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found a small silver coin. The coin is later identified by experts as a Norse silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre, king of Norway 1067–1093 AD. Extensive archaeological investigation of the site has revealed no evidence for a Norse settlement.

Leif Ericson (about 970 – 1020 AD) is regarded as the first European to land in North America. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement in Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada. The sagas also tell that Leif Ericson’s discovery was…

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