Oxford Archaeology is one of the largest and longest established independent archaeology and heritage practices in Europe. With over 250 specialist staff, and permanent full-service offices in Oxford, Lancaster and Cambridge, we provide heritage services to both public and private clients. Our projects range from major transport and infrastructure schemes, through local town centre and housing developments to minor alterations to listed buildings and small private developments. We are an educational charity, undertaking research for a variety of national and regional bodies, as well as in the course of our commercial work, and publishing the results promptly. We provide exciting opportunities for the public to engage with our work, in the field and in post-excavation activities, and through booklets, exhibitions and open days.
Visit our website for more information: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/

Clemency Cooper: Heritage, Society and Legacy

This time last year, I was still relatively new in my post as Community Archaeology Manager for Oxford Archaeology and renewing acquaintance with the many active community archaeology groups in Cambridgeshire. I’ve been charged with supporting the legacy of the Jigsaw Cambridgeshire project. It started as a five-year Heritage Lottery Funded project (2011-2016) by Oxford Archaeology East and Cambridgeshire County Council to assist local history and archaeological societies in historical research, excavation, artefact identification, recording, and much more. Since the end of the Heritage Lottery Funded term, we’ve continued to provide support to the societies affiliated to Jigsaw and maintained the resources bought and developed during the project.

In 2017, we’ve hosted 2 meetings of the community groups at Bar Hill, affiliated a new society, the Jigsaw website has been redesigned and relaunched, a new artefact identification guide on early prehistoric pottery has been added to the thirty-two existing Best Practice Users’ Guides already available, and the groups continue to undertake their own research and fieldwork, reporting on the results to Cambridgeshire HER and sharing their discoveries with others locally.

I was delighted to recognise a photo on Historic England South West’s Twitter feed yesterday showing the Warboys Archaeology Group. This was to launch Historic England’s latest report on ‘Heritage and Society’ which features Jigsaw on page 4 as a best practice case study for community archaeology. If there’s been one lasting legacy of the Jigsaw project, it has been the creation of a network of like-minded people who support one another, sharing skills, knowledge and resources.

HE South West tweet about the Heritage and Society 2017 report

Earlier in the week, I spent the morning in the village of Covington, on the western edge of the county bordering Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. Two people who have been the driving force behind the Covington History Group are leaving the village this summer so I was there to meet a couple of the other members who are taking over the reins. It was an opportunity to introduce myself to them, learn about their vision for the group with a smaller membership and discuss what support they need. Starting with test pit excavations during the first year of Jigsaw in 2011, Covington have since undertaken fieldwalking, geophysical survey and excavation, hosting the Jigsaw training excavation for other volunteers in 2015. In 2014, they were awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant for their project ‘Looking back, moving forward: Learning and sharing through archaeology in Covington.’ As part of this project, the group had pottery identification training sessions and put together their own local reference collection including Prehistoric and Saxon pottery, Roman and Medieval. I particularly enjoyed the chance to see this fantastic resource and to walk around the village to see the sites the group have investigated in recent years. Covington History Group are a testament of what the enthusiasm and interest of a few individuals can achieve with guidance, training and resources from the professional heritage sector which, as the Heritage and Society report illustrates, can have an enormous impact on society as a whole. I’m very proud to say that I play a small part of that in Cambridgeshire in continuing the Jigsaw legacy.

Clemency Cooper is the Community Archaeology Manager for Oxford Archaeology, based at our East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our work with community groups and schools, visit our website: https://oxfordarchaeology.com/community-training

Meghan French: The Student Perspective

As a student of Archaeology currently at Bournemouth University, I thought I had a fair idea of what being an archaeologist involved – or I thought. Even from two years of education in this field from lecture halls to fieldwork experience this had not truly prepared me for the world of working. When people think of archaeologists they generally think along the lines of Time Team or digging dinosaurs (grh!). They don’t tend to think of all the behind scenes and day to day life of an archaeologist which I am still learning about. Since starting my placement year at Oxford Archaeology East two weeks ago I have only just dipped my toe into what it means to be an archaeologist.

Neolithic Settlement, Bulgaria, 2013

If people do have an idea of what an archaeologist does its usually based around digging and I’m not going to lie that is a fun but tiring (and in this country likely wet!) part of the job. Whilst based here, I have had a good mixture of field and office-based work revolving around a small excavation in Fulbourn. From week one, I was involved in the excavation side; digging, section drawing, context sheets and photography, but from week two I got my first proper glimpse into the report writing side which previously had been nothing more than ‘a report will be written’ as if it’s as simple as that!

I have been involved in; inputting the field data (from context sheets) into a database for further analysis, creating queries that have been exported into useful tables. The last couple of days, I have been using site plans and the queries created to write an early draft about the features found on site (explaining what we found and how it relates to the rest of the site!)

Office work at Oxford Archaeology East, 2017

There many other sides of this job which I have yet to explore such as finds, environmental, geomatics, outreach, graphics and archives. There really is something here for everyone in the world of Archaeology. From exciting research digs and interesting lectures to commercial digs and extensive post-excavation work.

Durotriges Project, Bournemouth University, 2016

Meghan French is a placement student from Bournemouth University currently based at Oxford Archaeology East’s office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology‘s volunteering and training opportunities, visit our website here: https://oxfordarchaeology.com/community-training/volunteeringhttps://oxfordarchaeology.com/

Paddy Lambert: A Day in the Office

Today is a day of report writing for a small evaluation. I am sitting here at this desk, sifting through the context sheets and photos, typing with furious abandon in the vain attempt to weave together the rich tapest…

Ok, I’ll stop there. In reality, it’s 10:20 AM on a Friday morning. I have drank approximately 5 cups of coffee and I am sitting here, observing with no small amount of protest, my colleague constantly fiddling with his ludicrously tight jeans that I think he must have borrowed from his young daughter, all the while excavating an entire packet of Bakewell pies and discussing with me the importance of putting a bed together with the correct fittings. We do this, sat metres away from a sword forged in the depths of the Anglo-Saxon past, wrapped magnificently in TESCO cling-film.

We pepper this narrative with the occasional conversation with other archaeologists in the office regarding their current sites, a particular astonishing find, their drinking habits, or their weekend. But it always comes back to archaeology.

This is what archaeologists really do when they are caged up, day to day. They mix the mundane with the fascinating and high-brow. It actually serves to understand what we do far more than a simple paragraph on section drawing. We engage with the idiosyncrasies of our world, because it actually helps to engage with and understand the idiosyncrasies of theirs. With lots and lots of tea and coffee…

I spy… 4 cups of coffee!

Paddy Lambert is a Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/7-top-level-pages/14-burials-archaeology

Katherine Hamilton: Cataloguing small finds or the various uses of a nuclear bunker

Hi!  My name is Katherine Hamilton and I am the Archives Supervisor for Oxford Archaeology East. For most of this year I have been subcontracted to Cambridgeshire County Council Historic Environment Team (CCC HET) for one day a week to assist them with the re-cataloguing of their on-site archaeological store at Shire Hall in Cambridge.  The store is a nuclear bunker built towards the end of the Cold War, under one of the buildings on Castle Hill.  This is not I should point out as exciting as it sounds, mainly it is rather cold and health and safety states that I should have air breaks every hour as there’s no ventilation down there, for obvious reasons.  There are currently two rooms in which the finds are kept – one for metalwork and the other for non-metal small finds and nice artefacts like complete pots.

The work I do down there is to go through each of the finds boxes stored there and add the contents of them onto a spreadsheet provided by CCC HET, at the same time providing each individual artefact with a unique barcode and recording which shelf the overall box lives on in the store.  Sometimes I can get through a lot of boxes fairly quickly but boxes of coins and particularly beads can take several days to wade through.  (I would happily never see another amber bead if I could help it!)

I really enjoy my time in the bunker each week as it gives me a nice break from dealing with the day to day of my job back in our office in Bar Hill.  It also means I get to see some of the really cool artefacts that have been excavated in Cambridgeshire over the last 50 plus years!

DeepStore – the ultimate destination of Cambridgeshire’s archives

Katherine Hamilton is the Archives Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our digital archiving, visit our online library: http://library.thehumanjourney.net/

Lauren McIntyre: Investigating the dead – a day at Heritage Burial Services, Oxford Archaeology South

My name is Lauren McIntyre and I’m Project Officer at Heritage Burial Services, Oxford Archaeology South. Following our post on the Day of Archaeology blog last year, we thought it would be great to provide another snapshot showing the kind of work that our team undertake here. I will also be live tweeting my day in the office from the Oxford Archaeology Twitter account – you can follow us at @oatweet to see exactly what we’re up to!

Today is my first day back in the office after working out on site for quite a number of weeks. My first job of the day was to take some bone samples for radiocarbon dating (after catching up with the rest of the team on project updates and answering lots of emails!). Stratigraphic information and dates from spot finds were only able to provide a broad “Roman” date for one of the cremation burials in question. The second burial (an inhumation) was completely undated. Radiocarbon dating will therefore allow us to establish more accurate dates which will help us to contextualise the burials in question. We take approximately 2g of bone for the sample, being sure to identify and weigh the fragment. This information is then recorded on a proxy note, which is put back with the remainder of the skeleton. This is very important, so that it is clear to any future researchers accessing the skeleton (usually after the skeleton has been deposited in a museum) that a sample has been taken, and they can easily see what has been sampled and why.

Cremated bone sample for C14 dating, and proxy note

The rest of my day is spent discussing a variety of upcoming projects, including strategies for excavating an inverted cremation urn recently excavated on one of our sites, as well as starting analysis of the small assemblage from which the C14 samples were taken. The assemblage comprises both cremated bone and unburnt inhumation burials. I start analysis of the cremated material by sorting the bone into identifiable and unidentifiable fragments. Cremated bone deposits can contain large identifiable fragments, although a large proportion are often unidentifiable. Once fragments are sorted, they are weighed and examined for evidence of age, sex and pathology. This helps us to determine how many people are represented, and potentially gives us demographic and health information. We also record the level and pattern of fragmentation, as well as the colour of the bone, and degree of shrinkage: this information can tell us a lot about the cremation process, which is known to vary between different time periods.

Sorting cremated bone into identifiable skeletal elements

Helen, the second member of our team, is spending today writing up one of our larger assemblages, a post-medieval hospital assemblage from Oxfordshire. The skeletons in this assemblage have substantial quantities of pathological lesions, and have produced some very interesting case studies!

Helen, PO at HBS

Adolescent male skeleton with peri-mortem fractures of the cranium and left ribs

Transfemoral leg amputation with peri-mortem tibial fracture

So far today Helen has been looking at the fracture patterns from a single skeleton, trying to establish whether these injuries may have been caused by a single traumatic event, or whether they were accumulated over time. The skeleton potentially has ribs that have been dislocated where they meet the vertebrae, as well as ante mortem fractures to the sternum, ribs, scapula, arm and wrist. As well as this she has been looking at fracture patterns across groups of skeletons – one group contains several male skeletons which all exhibit fractures to the wrist, first metacarpal (base of the thumb) and nasal bones. One possibility is that these people were all partaking in activities such as boxing or bare knuckle fighting, a fairly popular activity in late 18th century towns.

Louise, Head of the Heritage Burial Services team, is busy today scoping out a desk based assessment of a disused post-medieval burial ground. She is exploring the number, date range and extent of burials present at the site in question. A desk based assessment of a known burial site would primarily involve a headstone survey and visits to the church and local records office to examine burial registers and plans. The results of the research would then assist with plans for future development of the site.

Louise Loe, Head of HBS, working hard as always!

Yet again, you can see that the work we are undertaking here is very diverse. Whether we are sorting and quantifying cremated bone fragments or analysing data to look for patterns of health and activity, everything we do helps to build a picture of how people lived and died in the past.

All photographs within this post are copyright of Oxford Archaeology.

Lauren McIntyre is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford, in our Heritage Burial Services. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist burial services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/7-top-level-pages/14-burials-archaeology

Ted Levermore: A Day in the Finds Department

A close-up of gloved hands using a toothbrush to clean a find

Finds washing

8:00

Got everyone to start washing finds. A big site has just finished so we’ve got plenty of hands on deck today. Hopefully we’ll get through some of our backlog! Some of the steadier handed of the group were asked to wash a skeleton.

9:15

Our new plastic boxes arrived. We had to order some long and flat boxes to fit our more awkward sized metal artefacts.

9:30

Organising finds that have come back from specialists to be reintegrated into our archives. And organising pottery to go off to various specialists. I wonder how much archaeology navigates its way through the postal service each day?

11:11

Still organising finds for specialists.

11:41

Took some photos of artefacts for the manager. Top secret photos of top secret finds. Assigning unique numbers to boxes of finds that have been processed, which are now waiting to be looked at by specialists. Fire up the database!

12:36

Finally done, just in time for lunch.

13:21

Found a bunch of other things to sort. Now it’s lunchtime.

14:10

Discussed a possible timetable for processing the finds for one of our massive sites. We might have it processed in a couple of months if we’re lucky! We’ve got so much on it doesn’t seem likely…

15:20

Boxing up and packaging metalwork fresh from site using silica gel and airtight boxes to begin desiccation. Once stable the metalwork can be sent off to specialists.

15:21

The pot washers have been so efficient they’ve almost run out space on the drying racks for the newly washed finds.

15:30

Tidying up and working out what needs doing next week. To do list written. Looks like it’ll be much of the same!

 

Ted Levermore is a Finds Assistant Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our post-excavation artefact research and conservation services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/specialist-services/10-oxford-archaeologys-services/specialist-services/32-artefact-research-and-conservation

Helen Stocks-Morgan: Discussing the Significance of Beaulieu, Chelmsford

An open area excavation with archaeologists working on site

On site at Beaulieu, near Chelmsford

I spent the day writing a site report for an excavation we did at Beaulieu, Chelmsford in Essex. For all excavations and project we do we have to write a site report and compile an archive of the site records which are then deposits with the County’s Historic Environment Record (HER). This means that in the future people can go back to our excavations and know exactly what we found and help them with any future research. These are available to the general public with summaries of all previous known archaeology available on the Heritage Gateway and the individual HERs can be contacted / visited if more detailed information is required. Part of the process of compiling this archive is to write a report which is a detailed account of what we found and is the most studied part of the site archive that people and future archaeologists will look at as it contains all the information and eventually will be available online on the ADS website.

The first part for the site report gives an introduction as to what happened on site and provides a summary of the known archaeology in the area. The second part gives the results of our excavation, this is then followed by a discussion of what we found and its significance in the wider landscape and to the known archaeology of that period. The discussion was what I am writing today and writing this blog is giving me a break from trying to work out what some confusing brick linears are and how they formed part of the landscape in one of Henry VIII’s summer palaces.

Helen Stocks-Morgan is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our fieldwork services, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/professional-services/fieldwork

Kate Brady: Post-Excavation and Photography

My name is Kate Brady and I am a Project Officer in the Post-Excavation (PX) department at Oxford Archaeology.

My job varies greatly from day to day (one of the reasons I enjoy it so much). Hopefully this blog post will give you a flavour of what I do on a typical day.

Thursday 28th July 2016

9am

After coffee and emails my first task is always to plan how I will complete my task for the day I have four ongoing projects at the moment and I am also in charge of photography at the unit so at the moment I have several things to keep track of.

People at their desks at work

Some of my colleagues in the PX department at Oxford Archaeology South, Oxford.

9.30am – 11.30am

This morning I am writing the discussion section for the report on excavations at Brasenose College in Oxford. The site revealed evidence of the use of the site before the construction of the current College building so I have been consulting maps and documents to match up our evidence from plans and section drawings of the site and the pottery we collected, dated by our in-house specialist John Cotter, with the documented use of the site. Because the pottery is in several cases dateable to the space of a few decades, and the development of the site in the post-medieval period is fairly well documented, I can piece together this evidence to tell a story of how the site developed. Having said that, there are still a few questions, such as why was there such a large dump of German drinking vessels recovered? John and I discuss some ideas about this and I think about how I’m going to present the possible explanations in my report. When I’m formulating the discussion of a report like this I usually print out site plans and maps and scribble all over them. Although we now routinely use CAD and GIS to overlay site plans on maps and analyse our data, I still often use this old fashioned method initially as I find it helps clarify my ideas as I’m thinking them through. The results of these scribbles will later be presented in a much more professional way, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Plans, ruler, keyboard and pen on a desk

My desk!

11.30am

Several of my Colleagues in PX are specialists in certain categories of finds and John Cotter, who sits just along from me often shows me particularly interesting things that come in for him to look at. John is a specialist in medieval and post-medieval pottery and also clay tobacco pipes, and I’ve learnt a lot just sitting nearby. Today a complete medieval crucible was brought back from one of our sites in Oxford. The project manager has asked for a spot-date. John says he thinks it is 12th century in date and the best example every found in Oxford. I always feel so lucky to get to see all these things as they come in.

Hands holding a 12th Century crucible

A 12th Century crucible

11.30am- 1pm

I continued with my discussion writing for the rest of the morning, occasionally answering questions about what cameras are available for use on upcoming sites and about plans for me to go out and photograph sites next week. We have lots of sites on at the moment so I’m busy in that respect.

1.30pm – 3pm

For the first part of this afternoon the PX department gathered together for a departmental meeting which we usually have bi-monthly to keep us all informed of what work we will be doing next and what projects are now moving into the PX phase. I found out I’ll be working on the report for a Roman site we excavated in Aylesbury and that a monograph I co-wrote on a project we completed in Bristol will soon be published. My programme is full for the rest of the year so I’m happy that I’ll be kept busy.

3 pm – 4pm

After the meeting I retreat to the photography room we’ve set up to photograph some medieval tiles we recovered from the Westgate Centre development in the centre of Oxford. Most of my photography work at OA is on site but I also occasionally undertake finds photography and enjoy getting to handle the finds and work out the best way to photograph them.

For the last part of the day I continued with the discussion text I was writing earlier. Late in the day is often a good time to write as the office is emptier and quieter and I can get lost in what I’m doing without being disturbed. However, a nice distraction arrives before I’m about to leave at 5pm, the latest edition of our in-house newsletter is ready and one of my photos is on the cover!

A hand holding a magazine

My photo from the Westgate excavation on the cover of the latest edition of the in-house newsletter

Kate Brady is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our publications, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/research/ourpublications

Katherine Hamilton: Archiving the Past for the Future

My name is Katherine and I am the Archives Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology East based in Cambridge. My role in this part of the company is to make sure that, once a given project has been dug, recorded and written, all the paperwork and finds are filed correctly and then sent off to their final destination at the relevant archive or museum. My day to day work largely consists of putting archives onto our archive database and making sure they meet the relevant guidelines, managing our OASIS records, uploading finished reports to Oxford Archaeology’s online library and looking after the in-house library.

People often forget about archiving as part of the archaeological process, mainly I think because it isn’t deemed as exciting as actually excavating something. It certainly isn’t glamourous sitting amongst stacks of cardboard boxes trying to reorganise finds into context order or spending hours checking all the context records are there. However, if we do not archive projects then the information gathered during that project could be lost for future generations.   There are plenty of cautionary tales out there about projects from the past where the site director has stored the project archive under his or her bed for decades only for it to be lost once they have died. Thankfully these days there is much more of an awareness within archaeology of the need to make sure projects are archived and that the information gathered is available to a wider audience. Because that’s why we do this job, right? To preserve the past for the future.

A stack of finds archive boxes and a clipboard

Archive boxes as far as the eye can see

Katherine Hamilton is the Archives Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our digital archiving, visit our online library: http://library.thehumanjourney.net/