Fires of Prometheus

THEMES


My interests

Once upon a time I was, for a while, "Hawkeye", assistant to Big Chief I-SPY of the I-SPY Tribe. My job was mostly to be curious, to find stuff that would interest, excite, surprise and enthral the children who were the members of the I-SPY Tribe and who were exploring Britain armed with pocket-sized I-SPY Books. The concept of a couple of palefaces running a group that appropriated some visual aspects of indigenous North American culture would not be appropriate in these thankfully more sensitive times, but the idea of opening children's (and adults') eyes to the incredible detail that surrounds them in everyday life was, and is, a good one. The role suited me, for I am lucky in being insatiably curious, in having a buterfly brain that can flit easily from subject to subject, from task to task. This can of course be frustrating for others, as I zig-zag along country walks, peering at a lichen here, a liverwort there, a ruin here, a pond there. As an archaeologist I necessarily see my world in ways others might not, and so this web site reflects my vision, and I don't apologise for its slightly crazy mix of topics.

DIG WHERE YOU STAND

The past as it is generally taught is populated by elites, by chiefs, generals, kings, princes, despots, politicians, religious figures, industrialists and the like. Sven Linqvist pointed out that in truth history is created by all the anonymous people who made up armies, workforces and those who support, are employed by or enslaved by leaders. He suggested that to investigate the past we should dig where we stand, that is, expore our immediate surroundings, the lives of our own people, our own pasts.

I'm attempting an experiment to see if I can create a sort of virtual museum of my own, as well as a collection of material culture, an archaeology of me, that reflects my life, not because either would be spectacular, but to demonstrate the value of prosaic objects in the ordinary lives that together make up history.

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THE HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY OF MINIATURES

I am fascinated by the relationships between humans and the phenomenon of miniaturisation. Mass-produced miniatures, though ubiquitous throughout the last few centuries, have either been overlooked or given little value by historiucal archaeologists. I developed this interest in both my MA and PhD research, and my enthusiasm continues...

The historical archaeology of Vancouver streetcars

Streetcar suburbs and other aspects of the development of a city whose historical archaeology has rarely been examined.

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The mines of south east Spain

La Union, east of Cartagena, Murcia, has been mined since pre-Roman times and is an industrial archaeologist's heaven. I explored its abandoned shafts and headgear with my camera in 2008.

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Rusty rails

I have a strange passion for forgotten and abandoned railway lines and tramways.

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Waterways

Since 2008 I've taken part in some 15 Waterway Recovery Group canal camps, helping to restore the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

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Photography

As an eight-year-old I used to watch, entranced, as my father exposed and developed contact prints in our Adelaide suburban kitchen blacked-out with blankets. He would place the contact frame below the kitchen lamp on top of a teetering pile of books and count the seconds "one thousand, two thousand, three thousand..." or "one elephant, two elephants, three elephants..." I've never lost my love of the magic of photography, and I still capture too many images, some of which are here.

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Last updated: 26th April 2018
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CONTENTS

Dig Where You Stand
History is about everyone
My museum
My object world
A life in material culture
The value of ordinary things
Found photographs
The archaeology of anonymous lives
Lost and Found
The importance of prosaic objects
The topsoil project
Tiny treasures from topsoil
Industrial Archaeology
A series of albums expressing my passion for the recent past
Industrial archaeology miscellany 1
A randomish introduction to some industrial archaeology that caught my eye
Industrial archaeology miscellany 2
More random photographs of the industrial past
Snailbeach lead mine
A miraculous survival in Shropshire
Rusty Rails
Musings on railway archaeology
La Union
An industrial landscape in Spain
The Ripley branch
Amongst what was once a busy industrial landscape, an abandoned line decays
The High Peak Trail
A cycle ride along a Peak District railway
The Tissington Trail
A cycle ride along a transformed historic railway
Ironbridge
Exploring an industrial landscape
Llanberis Slate
We visit Welsh slate mines
Faded Paint
"Ghost signs," painted on brick
Waterways
I help, a little, to restore derelict canals
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal 2008
My first-ever canal camp
Mon&Brec 2009
The beauty of a bywash channel
Drapers Lock 2011
Learning about lime
Ty Coch 2012
I am promoted to Assistant Leader
Ty Coch 2013
Bashing the bullnose, and wasps. I lead my first camp
Ty Coch 2014
Mud
Swansea Canal 2015
I lead a canal camp at Trebanos Lock
Ty Coch 2015
Rubble and roots
Stover Canal 2016
I lead a canal camp at Ventiford Basin
Ty Coch 2016
Picnic-site paths and a little archaeology
Ty Coch 2017
The archaeology of Dick the Lock's cottage
A waterway miscellany
Towpath photographs
Archaeology
Beginning as a schoolboy volunteer, I spent several decades as a field archaeologist
Hadrian's Wall
My longest archaeological post was Assistant Director of the excavation of Hadrian's Wall in the National trust estate, Northumberland
Chells
I directed a rescue excavation for a year on the edge of Stevanage
Caldicot
In 1991 I dug on a Bronze Age waterlogged site in Wales
The streetcar archaeology of Vancouver
I am studying the ways streetcars influenced the growth of Vancouver
A ceramic assemblage from Ralph's allotment
An examination of tiny sherds of decorated pottery found while cultivating a vegetable garden in Nottingham
Photography
A series of albums displaying my efforts in the art of photography
Travel
Photographs from my explorations
Ralph Mills
My professional web pages