Countdown to a PhD: 79 days to go

Yesterday was a bit of a flop. Or at the least it certainly felt that way. I am still working on Chapter 7 which compares my pottery production site to others in Yorkshire and Britain. Interesting and useful on the surface but rather boring and tedious to undertake.

I am no stranger to pottery reports having written several myself. However, they remain perhaps one of archaeology’s driest products. They are extensive (great record of lost information etc. but..!) and often pitted with long reference numbers to specific sherds, vessels or contexts from whence they came. I don’t need this much detail but I do need key information relating to landscape setting, spread of industry across that landscape, types of vessels (posh tableware or functional kitchen wares), influences on form and decoration, and methods of trade and patterns of distribution. A fairly simple hit list but the trick lies in reading these longwinded reports to filter out the information important to my chapter. Unfortunately there are no short cuts with the relevant tid bits hidden all over the tombs.

Needless to say, there was a healthy amount of procrastination as I waded through what felt like the millionth report (Facebook, WordPress and Buzzfeed should receive thanks in the acknowledgements of my thesis at this rate). This resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t actually achieved much – by the end of the day I had written precisely 795 words about two industries, not my best. The ratio for words in versus those written is heavily biased towards the long reports. If I got even half the words written for those read on each pottery industry I would be laughing – unfortunately this remains a fantasy reality!

Yesterday’s redeeming factor lay in the four hours worth of internet sleuthing I did. I have one industry that is included primarily because of its similar landscape setting to the one at the focus of my thesis (I won’t bore you with details but suffice to say they both lay in or next to Iron Age forts and their production was broadly contemporary). I had managed to find one tiny pamphlet from 1964 about the small excavation there (it was short so yey!) but it lacked much of the detail reports today include thus making comparison a challenge. I figured it couldn’t be the only thing written so I went on the hunt.


The shortest pottery report I’ve ever read. Thankfully it included enough clues to help with the sleuthing.

I managed to find it on Google Earth, historic Ordnance Survey maps, and discovered it was visible on the 1m LiDAR data available from the Environment Agency. This last produced quite a pretty map. There were also streams (ok not quite streams worth but plenty) of records on the Warwickshire Historic Environment Records website (accessed through the Heritage Gateway).

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 15.05.06

The Iron Age fort is at the centre of the image and the pottery industry was just to the east.

So my quite frankly Sherlock Holmes level of sleuthing led me to several more references I can use. This leads to today’s challenge – sift through it all, draw it all together, and attempt to make sense of it in my thesis. Then move on to the next industry – 3 more to go!

After that there’s section 7.3 to write… boo.

So I resolve to keep my pecker up and keep in mind Sherlock’s jolly witticisms and plough on through the tedium.

“To a great mind, nothing is little”

– Sherlock Holmes / Arthur Conan Doyle


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