Fires of Prometheus

Ralph Mills

A celebration of the recent past:

This site reflects my experiences and interests as an historical archaeologist – someone researching the archaeology of the recent past. I am particularly interested in industrial archaeology and nineteenth century material culture, especially mass-produced miniatures.

Within these pages you'll find pages about my past, about my career as an archaeologist, and about my travels, in the UK, in Canada, in Europe and beyond. There are lots of images, reflecting my enjoyment of photography.

LATEST UPLOAD: Old photographs of Nottingham lace machines

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My Museum
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My Museum
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Rusty Rails
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Industrial Archaeology
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Rusty Rails
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Rusty Rails
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Landscape Archaeology
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Ralph Mills
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Rusty Rails
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Industrial archaeology
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Industrial archaeology
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Exploring a new world

June 2021

After some nine frustrating and stressful months I have a new home, in Saanich, the community immediately to the north of downtown Victoria.

Back in Canada

September 2020
Vancouver Island 2020

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, my path took a new turn as I arrived to begin a new life in Canada. After two weeks of quarantine, the search for somewhere to live in Victoria, British Columbia, began... MORE

Archaeology at Ty Coch

September 2019
Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps 2019

A final fortnight of archaeology of Ty Coch lock keeper's cottage. MORE

A presentation in Finland

June 2019
Mooring, Finland

I was fortunate to be invited to present to this one-day conference, which was held in the Finnish Labour Museum in Tampere, the "Manchester of Finland." I also managed a brief visit to Helsinki and its Toy Museum. MORE

The industrial railway wagons of Leeds Industrial Museum

May 2019
industrial railway wagons at Armley Mill

In early 2019 I carried out a Project Placement at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mills. My project was to audit, research and assess the museum’s collection of some 54 industrial railway wagons, or parts of wagons, that have been neglected since the early 1990s. It was great fun, and I'm looking forward to doing more of this kind of work in the future. MORE

REMPART/Erasmus Heritage Volunteer Leaders Training, Villendraut, France

March 2019
Villendraut castle, near Bordeaux, France

I was privileged to represent the Waterway Recovery Group, and the UK, at a week-long workshop for "heritage heroes" - leaders of heritage work-camps - organised jointly by REMPART and Erasmus. MORE

My themes

I have a wide range of interests, and I've tried to introduce and enthuse about them here. The recent past is a fascinating and under-explored place. MORE

Dig where you stand

I have taken up the challenge of Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist and adapted it to make my study of the archaeology of "where" include both a geographical location — right here — as well as the people who lived (and live) here. MORE

My Museum

Museums, buildings filled with other people's material culture, may create barriers that are not just the glass of display cabinets. I believe that everyone has a life that should be valued, and that value is reflected in the unique material world in which each individual lives. I think each of us, probably unwittingly, lives in our own museum, "a private museum of memory, identity and creative appropriation" (Anat Hecht 2001). This is the beginning of my very own museum! MORE

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. MORE

Ghost signs and painted bricks

a painted advertisement in Montreal, Canada

In a time when it was assumed that businesses, their products and activities possessed permanence, advertisements were often painted on the sides of buildings. The subjects of these artworks have usually long vanished, but the paint lingers on, creating a tantalising and fragile kind of vertical archaeology. MORE

Rusty rails

abandoned railway

I've long been fascinated by the remains of forgotten and abandoned railways and tramways, which, despite once demanding complex engineering, often leave scant traces in the present-day landscape. MORE

Industrial archaeology

The present in which I live was created by the so-called "Industrial Revolution". I've put together a (growing) series of photo essays looking at the archaeology of the industrial past. MORE

My research

My MA: The historical archaeology of miniatures

Mass-produced miniatures, though ubiquitous throughout the last few centuries, have either been overlooked or given little value by historical archaeologists. MORE

My PhD: Objects of Delight

An investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts. I'm gradually creating an online version of my thesis. MORE

Garden archaeology

As a dyed-in-the-wool archaeologist, I keep my eyes open as I dig my garden. MORE

More of my stuff:

Why "Fires of Prometheus"?

The Greek god Prometheus stole fire from his peers and gave it to the mortals he had moulded from clay and given life to. Fire made metal working possible, and led eventually to the Industrial Revolution. The fires of Prometheus therefore provided power for millions of machines, and burned in millions of hearths. Without Prometheus there would be no warmth, and no industrial history.

Last updated 27th October 2022