Archaeologists working in UK

Cassiobury Park Community Archaeology Project, Watford, Herts – Swiss Cottage Dig


The Cassiobury Park Community Archaeology Project was set up as a part of a scheme to improve facilities in the park. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Watford Borough Council, who manage the park.

The project is overseen by professional archaeologist Graham Keevill of Keevill Heritage Limited and the work has been undertaken by volunteers from the SW Herts Archaeological and Historical Society (SWHAHS) under the leadership of Chairman Laurie Elvin.

The Day of Archaeology on 29 July 2016 marked the culmination of the dig carried out in June 2016.
An Open Day was held on 18th June to allow the general public an opportunity to inspect the site and learn about its history, talk to the archaeologists and view the artefacts uncovered by the dig.


Cassiobury Park, Watford

Cassiobury Park was created in 1909 when the Borough Council purchased part of the estate of the Earls of Essex around Cassiobury House, which was subsequently demolished in 1927.

Originally in the ownership of St Albans Abbey the estate passed to King Henry VIII on the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. In 1546 Henry granted the manor of Cassiobury to Sir Richard Morrison who began building Cassiobury House as a Tudor mansion. In 1627 the estate passed into the Capel family through marriage.

The first Earl of Essex, Arthur Capel, commissioned Hugh May to rebuild the Tudor House circa 1677-80. The park and gardens were laid out by Moses Cook.

Between 1799 and 1805 the 5th Earl commissioned James Wyatt to remodel the house in the Gothic style and Humphry Repton to improve the Park. A number of lodges, including the Swiss Cottage, were probably also designed by Wyatt and his nephew, Jeffry Wyatville.

The 7th Earl, George Capel, married an American heiress and at the beginning of the 20th century parkland was sold, mostly to Watford Borough Council for housing and a public park.

After the 7th Earl died in 1916 his widow and son, the 8th Earl, sold the house in 1922 and it was demolished for the materials, some of which were transported to the USA. More land for the public park was also purchased by the Borough Council in 1930.

The Swiss Cottage

The ‘Swiss Cottage’ was built as a summer house around 1820. It was used for picnics and parties for the Earl of Essex’s family and friends and included a small museum. School groups were also allowed to use the cottage and grounds. Part of the cottage was lived in rent-free by estate staff and their families but this ended in the 1930s. The cottage became unsafe and was demolished, in the late 1940s
Cassiobridge Lodge (also known as Swiss Lodge), which was a similar age, construction and style, is still standing in Gade Ave. and is a listed building.

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Did We Find Anything?

The answer to this common question from the public is that we revealed the full extent of the building in 5 separate trenches, containing tiled floors and cobbled surfaces in situ, badly damaged cast iron kitchen ranges set into a brick chimney breast and the colour that the walls were distempered!

Artefacts included assorted building ironmongery, lead cames from the windows and materials from the demolition of the building.

Personal artefact finds were disappointing but were sufficient to interest visitors on the Open Day. A George IV farthing, dated 1822, found on the Day of Archaeology provided some excitement and fulfilled the frequent phenomenon of finding something unexpectedly on the last day of a dig.


Comments of some of those taking part

Laurie (experienced volunteer and organiser)

I was pleased that I had been able to organise the completion of the excavation in the time allocated and very grateful to all the volunteers for their enthusiasm and good humour in spite of the hard work.
The site is in a beautiful location, next to the river Gade.

We assembled at 9am and after a reminder about health & safety hazards and tour of the trenches, I allocated tasks according to the experience of the 5 volunteers and one seasoned digger. These were minor extensions to existing trenches, recording worked stone and cast iron finds by drawing and photography and calculating ‘reduced’ levels from the readings taken with a ‘dumpy’ level.

As well as supervising these activities, I reviewed all the site drawings to ensure that they were complete and that I would be able to interpret other people’s drawings, when I digitise them to produce CAD drawings for the report of the excavation.

Then the hard work, of returning all the excavated material to the trenches, started. All the material in the spoil heap was returned to the trenches using shovels, buckets and barrows.

The next day the backfilling was completed and the site left for nature to reclaim

Shirley (volunteer – new to archaeology)

I enjoyed the day, even with the hard work re-filling the trenches! I am looking forward to seeing the ‘post’ from our group.

Jane (volunteer – new to archaeology)

I really enjoyed the day at Swiss Cottage and was chuffed I managed to see some finds as I had missed the main event in June. I found the day well organised, Laurie and Christine are good at giving direction.

Christine (experienced volunteer)

Thanks again for the opportunity to work on such an interesting site.

Anne and Paul Kendall (volunteers – new to archaeology)

“We thoroughly enjoyed the last two days of work on the site on the 29th and 30th July. Great fun, hard work and good company. It was good to learn new skills as well. As we were not able to come for the main dig it was really interesting to see all the discoveries, especially the two kitchen ranges. Then we massively improved our spadework as we helped to fill in the trenches. Anne has developed some very impressive biceps.

Keith (volunteer – new to archaeology)

Swiss Cottage was my first full archaeological dig.  To uncover finds that haven’t seen the light of day for over 70 years was a thrill, and to try to fathom out what we were finding was a challenge on occasions.  Sad to cover it all up at the end of the day, but all good things come to an end.

Archaeological Geosemantics, the final chapter

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

GSTAR IV: Return of the GeoJSON

Following on from my Days of Archaeology in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (and for the last time), the bulk of my Day of Archaeology this year focussed on my doctoral research, writing up my thesis on Geosemantic Technologies for Archaeological Research (GSTAR). It’s been a busy three years but the project is nearing completion and will hopefully inform heritage management and research strategy over the coming years.

The aim of the project was to show how geosemantic technologies can be used to provide a framework for working with heritage data in a range of research contexts. To this end, I have built a demonstrator application which is based around a map (obvs!) for the Stonehenge landscape and which draws data from Historic Environment Records, museums and project archives, allowing users to ask questions across these diverse resources taking advantage of the semantic goodness of Linked Geospatial Data, thesauri and ontologies. Geosemantic ‘glue’ was used to integrate horizontally between resources (such as monuments and artefacts found within or nearby) and vertically (ie between excavation records and monument/event HER records and museum collection records).

The ontologies used were the CIDOC CRM, CRM-EH and GeoSPARQL which allow the concepts used by the various sources to be aligned whilst the terminology provided by the thesauri (published using SKOS) allow for the various terms used to document these concepts to be related. In other words, the semantic tools allow for the different sources to be made interoperable and queryable with the results displayed and interacted with on a map.

Moving forward, the approach taken and successfully demonstrated could be scaled up to act as the basis for the next generation of heritage information portals; think of the Heritage Gateway but with some additional bells and whistles:

  • the ability to undertake proper geospatial queries and analysis, even where there is no GIS data
  • spatial queries mediated using geospatial semantics, to get away from purely Cartesian views of space dependent on geometry and the problems that entails for historic information
  • complex querying across all of the participating providers, with differences in terminology ironed out

The demonstrator application is built using a range of standard web and geospatial technologies. Currently, the accessioning process for data is largely manual, built using the STELLAR Toolkit to process outputs from MODES and HBSMR, two major software packages used in museums and HERs respectively. A next step would be to automate this, which would be fairly straightforward from a technological if not a political perspective. If an automated pipeline could be implemented across all the HBSMR and MODES using institutions and organisations, this would cover an enormous amount of heritage information and, combined with a map based portal and live feeds to desktop GIS, would greatly improve the way in which we undertake all kinds of research activities, both in academic and commercial contexts.

Information from site archives was a little tricksier, as one might expect; such data does not typically get archived in a readily useable fashion unlike information found within the structured systems used for managing Historic Environment Record data or museums collections. However, with ongoing work relating to the digital capture and sharing of fieldwork information through OASIS, HERALD and the broader Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS), we are undoubtedly moving towards a time when this becomes not just possible but the norm. When this happens (and note I say when not if!), we can start to extend Linked Data principles more fully to our information resources, so monument records can be directly built up from linked fieldwork records, museum collection artefact records can be layered on top of linked excavation finds records and, on top of all this, our Research Agendas and Frameworks can be truly data driven, dynamic resources drawing directly on this web of Linked Data, informing and informed by ongoing research and our shared knowledge of the past, across all of our information resources.

The use of such geosemantic ‘glue’ allows for a much more intelligent approach to finding and working with geospatial information from heterogenous sources split across numerous providers. Take the following query for example:

Show me all the Bronze Age mounds where dolerite has been found during excavations and carved chalk balls were discovered nearby.

Using the HeritageData Periods thesaurus, it is possible to mediate different uses of language across sources to describe time-spans relating to the Bronze Age, using broader, narrower and/or related terms. We can use the FISH Event Types Thesaurus to find event records relating to interventions (including excavations) and draw on the project archives for these to check for finds of dolerite, potentially using geological ontologies such as GEON to mediate identifications of rock types. Using the FISH Object Types Thesaurus, it is possible to do the same for chalk balls or any other artefact type. Geospatial information may well not exist for these objects as recorded in museums collections, most likely not in the form of British National Grid coordinates at least, particularly where they were discovered in antiquity. But we do often have some basic spatial information such as an associated location (eg Stonehenge), parish (eg Amesbury) or named place (eg Stonehenge Road); in such cases we can use the Ordnance Survey Linked Data plus some of the spatial relationships defined by the Simple Features specification (used by the GeoSPARQL ontology) to perform a spatial query using these index terms via a bit of geosemantic magic. Moving forward, we can align our research questions with such resources and queries so, for example, if the dating of carved chalk balls (typically thought of as of Neolithic origin) were to change, we can use the same approach to identify contexts where such changes would have a knock on effect or where our broader understanding of deposits, sites and complexes may also need to be updated or where new research questions arise. So this may be the end of the GSTAR project, but it’s only just the beginning for the use of such approaches within the heritage sector.

Many thanks again to everyone who has helped, contributed and otherwise supported this research project along the way, particularly:

  • Doug Tudhope, Alex Lohfink, Mark Ware & Ceri Binding (University of South Wales)
  • Chris Brayne (Wessex Archaeology)
  • David Dawson (Wiltshire Museum)
  • Adrian Green (Salisbury Museum)
  • Keith May (Historic England)
  • Melanie PomeroyKellinger (Wiltshire Council)

Geophysics at Tintagel Castle: Non-invasive work ahead of the excavations

I am cheating on Day of Archaeology at little, as I am going to talk about work we at TigerGeo did in May, but that is being used to inform the very-much-happening-on-July-29th excavations at Tintagel Castle. We’ve been really excited to see the excavations progress over the last few weeks and can’t wait to get our hands on the reports and plans to go back to our own data with.


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Just getting the gear onto site was a challenge!

While there has been a lot of media attention about the excavations (see Sue’s excellent piece for the insider perspective), the geophysical surveys happened without much fanfare in May, in order to give us time to process the data and report it back to the dig team at CAU. We thought it might be interesting to have an insight into the work we did on site and the iterative process of interpreting, getting feedback and revisiting the data that we are engaged in. Most of the time, we don’t get such a great chance to see the excavations that follow our surveys so this is fantastic for us as we will be able to update our thinking and interpretations in detail.

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Magnetic Susceptibility readings being taken on the lower reaches of the southern terrace

So what did we get up to? The excavation team didn’t want to make such a drastic intervention on the site blind. They had target areas, based on what was already known or assumed about the site and asked us to look at them in more detail to allow them to better target their excavations. They were particularly interested in finding buildings from the post-roman period that had lain undisturbed by recent archaeologists, so they could look at them with fresh eyes and modern scientific methods. Any excavation is inherently destructive, and on sites as unique as Tintagel, it is important to minimise the impact of destructive research, so to help them do this we came up with a package of four complimentary methods:

  • Ground Penetrating Radar, which should be able to detect buried walls and surfaces
  • Earth Resistance Survey, which should detect the same things as the GPR, but using different properties of the material, giving us a ‘double chance’ to find them
  • Magnetic Susceptibility, a method that looks at how magnetisable a material is, telling us things about the presence of certain forms of iron. This can help distiguish between different activities taking place on site: we’d expect higher MS in areas of industry or settlement thanks to burning or heating, than we would in storage areas, for example
  • Terrestrial Laser Scanning, to produce highly detailed surface models to pin down the geophysical data but also very acurately located biulding platforms that had been recorded over the years by site archaeologists.

This isn’t a photograph, it’s part of the point cloud generated by the laser scanner. You can see the team on the right trying to stay out of the scan!

A lot of fun was had on site getting ourselves and our equipment into the right places. Unlike the dig team, because we had to be quite mobile, with heavy gear, we needed to use a rope-access team to provide safety lines for us, so there were a lot of logistics to contend with around making sure we could cover the right areas. We were on site for a total of about 8 days, and really enjoyed talking to visitors to the site about what we were doing and why: people were particularly interested in the laser scanner and we’ve had to edit a lot of tourists (and seagulls) out of our point clouds!


KC getting the scanner as far along the southern terrace as possible!

So what did we find out? The earth resistance and GPR surveys taken together confirmed the locations of some of the walls and floors that have subsequently been found in the trenches, and hinted that the archaeology on the southern terrace had a different character than that on the eastern area. The magnetic susceptibility data also suggested clear differences between the two areas, with low values on the eastern area and higher values with internal patterning on the southern terrace. This suggested to us that on the southern terrace people were living or working, using fire either for heat and cooking or for industrial purposes. We could also see come strong patches of enhancement that lay between what were thought to be buildings, so we suggested there may be one larger building here instead. The eastern area showed no settlement related enhancement. So were the buildings there perhaps storehouses? Many of the already excavated buildings in this area have been interpreted as stores rather than dwellings.

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Earth resistance underway (with ropes!) on the southern terrace

The laser scans were useful not only to us but to the excavation team as well as they will form the basis for the topographical data being collected about the site. We were able to use them to make important topographic corrections to our radar profiles, without which interpretation would have been very difficult!

GPR survey on the southern terrace: this is where one of the walls was found

GPR survey on the southern terrace: this is where one of the walls was found

So, what next? Well, our first and most exciting job is going to be to get all the plans and sections back in from the excavation team and see how they match up with our interpretation, especially of the radar: we were able to survey a larger area than could be excavated, so we can refine our interpretation based on the dig and better predict what other walls and floors lie on the southern terrace. Ideally, we’d like to come back and do even more radar and see if we can cover the entire southern terrace: this might give us the best chance of understanding the exciting structures there and their immediate context. We would also like to do more scanning to provide detailed topographic data for the entire islands. The Tintagel Research Project is set to continue, so watch this space….

You can see more photos from our work on facebook!

You wouldn't beleive how many of these we had to delete from the sky in our scans!

You wouldn’t beleive how many of these we had to delete from the sky in our scans!


Sieving the Mesolithic

The rain was mercifully holding off and the mid morning breeze had all but blown itself away as I crouched at the edge of a sand lined pool in the rough corner of a reed-thick, marshy field and slowly lifted the tarnished metal object like some venerated long lost relic, dripping from the shallow water. A swallow dipped silently, swiftly low to my right and was gone.

The on-site sieving pool.

The on-site sieving pool.

As a complete and utter novice when it comes to archaeology, I’d been thrilled to be offered an opportunity recently to be a volunteer for a day on the mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows, Sefton, near Liverpool. Fortunately, my enquiry to participate in the dig had neatly coincided with the run up to the Day of Archaeology. It was Friday 29th July 2016 and I was actually, finally, having a close encounter with prehistory.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

The site was identified beneath low-lying farm land close to the river Alt in 2012, by the Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, Ron Cowell. During his team’s four-year long dig some intriguing finds have been unearthed, perhaps most notably and mysteriously a shiny yellow stone consisting of iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

What the meticulous excavation process at Lunt Meadows is gradually revealing includes datable evidence within and around the surface of a number of curved walls, shallow pits, tree roots and what appear to be traces of several post holes.

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

These findings appear to suggest that nomadic hunter-gatherers of 8,000 years ago could have created simple structures there, in the form of semi-permanent dwellings. It is thought that generations of family groups may have inhabited the North West England site seasonally and that individual occupations were intermittent.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

By late morning I’d been shown how to correctly sieve a bag of Shirdley Hill sand. Once all the finer particles had passed through the sieve’s one millimetre mesh, I was able to confidently identify, separate and quantify what remained from each sample. The three and four litre bags of grimy-looking sand, troweled systematically from various levels and locations on the site, might contain material of real significance. The analysis of the sand’s contents could indicate what might have taken place there around 6,000 BC.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

What I could see as I scrutinised the ancient evidence trapped in the seive, were the tell-tale small chunks of charcoal, along with a few unmistakable fragments of blackened hazelnut shells, both of which were evidence of burning. These were intermixed with small clumps and threads of the brown fibrous material I’d been told to expect.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

However, what delighted me was the presence of the elegant, tangible thing that had first caught my eye. I’d pretended to ignore it as I clumsily separated the ancient spoils. But there it was, a small flint flake, stark and glistening in the sieve, like a tiny shark’s fin. Even though this lithic was only a byproduct of probable tool making, it was nevertheless an indicative link to human prehistory and represented a rare encounter for me.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Having done the best I could to divide and estimate the proportions of fibrous and burnt material from my sieving, I consigned them together into small bags on which I’d written the original sand sample numbers and the rest of the relevant data. The extracted ‘lithics’, in the form of my flint shark’s fin and another smaller dark flake, went into a separate bag which then re-joined the sample material.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

I spent what remaind of my Day of Archaeology sieving, bagging and recording the data relating to the sand samples. Towards the early evening, as I gazed across the Nature Reserve to the skyline, I began wondering whether there may be other opportunities for a novice like me to continue learning, while helping in some small way to unlock the secrets of prehistory.

And the moorhens called to each other and a reed bunting sang.

Publishing archaeology

Working on an archaeology magazine means we always get to hear about fascinating projects happening around the UK and Ireland, and sometimes – if we’re lucky – we get to go out and about to see what’s going on.

Fire!Fire! at the Museum of London

The Fire! Fire! exhibition at the Museum of London.

As the Editorial Assistant for Current Archaeology magazine, I had the chance this morning to pop over to the Museum of London to take a look at their new exhibition, Fire! Fire!. It does an excellent job of bringing together the archaeological evidence to highlight the extent of the damage, while using wooden beams, audio, and graphics of smoke and flames to recreate 1666 London. There are microscopes and magnifying glasses to peer through and see burnt tiles and bricks up close, and melted locks and keys from an ironmonger’s stock shown along with their x-rays. Fire buckets and other equipment tell of the attempts to put out the flames, and later developments to the city’s fire defences.

We got the latest issue of Current Archaeology back from the printers today, ready to go on sale on 4th August.

CA 318 back from the printers, ready to go on sale on 4th August.

The exhibition’s curator Merial Jeater spoke to our editor Matt for a feature on the Great Fire of London in the latest issue of Current Archaeology (318), which has just arrived in the office today from the printers. This is probably one of the most rewarding parts of the process – it’s always exciting to see our contributors’ amazing research looking lovely on our pages. We’ve had a final check through to make sure everything has printed correctly, and now it’s ready to go on sale on Thursday 4th.


A sneak preview of the Fire of London feature coming up in this issue.

We do love Hadrian's Wall!

Looking at past issues featuring Hadrian’s Wall, while we plan the conference.

The office is a hive of activity today, as we’re busy working on our upcoming conference Hadrian’s Wall: 40 years of frontier research at the moment too, which we’re holding in partnership with Durham University. So much work goes on behind the scenes of an event like this, and it takes months of planning. The booklet has been proof-read by 3 separate people today, and now that the finishing touches have been made, the final version has been sent over to the printers. We should get this back in the office next week, and then we’ll be sending it out to all the delegates ready for the conference at the start of September.

Deputy Editor Carly hard at work on a fascinating sounding Roman feature

Deputy Editor Carly hard at work on a Roman feature.

We have two other titles here at Current Publishing, and plenty of work is underway on these too. New features are coming in for Current World Archaeology, and issue 72 of Military History Monthly was sent to the printers yesterday, so they’re now moving on to the next cycle of the magazine today. We’re a small publishing company, but there’s always a lot going on!

Lucia Marchini
Editorial Assistant, Current Archaeology

If you’re interested in finding out more about the magazine, you can visit our website here:, or you can find us on social media:

Twitter: @CurrentArchaeo
Instagram: @current_archaeology

The latest issue of Current Archaeology, hot of the press!

The latest issue of Current Archaeology, hot of the press!

“A concept made concrete”: 40 years of Shropshire HER

A belated Happy Day of Archaeology from Shropshire Historic Environment Record (HER)! This July has been an exceptionally busy one for the team, which is our excuse for not actually publishing on the Day of Archaeology itself. However, seeing as 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of Shropshire HER, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to tell you a bit more about what the last 40 years has involved…

By the way, the “concept made concrete” reference is a reference to the brutalist building we have occupied since the start, Shirehall, Shrewsbury. It continues to be a ‘marmite’ building for the town, but our offices on the 5th floor certainly afford good views over the Marches. The header image was taken from my desk, looking out over the concrete domed roof of the council chamber…sorry about the dirty windows!

Where it all began

Compilation of the Shropshire Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) began in May 1976. In those early years, the records were created on A5 record cards with their location marked on a set of record maps, and linked to collections of supporting material such as air photos.

Searches of the card index were carried out by means of “Optical Coincidence sheets”. These had cells for every number between 1 and 9999. Holes were punched in sheets that represented a range of different attributes . In this example a hole is punched in the cell for 251 in the Church Stretton Parish sheet, the Cross Dyke Type Sheet and the Scheduled Monument Status Sheet.

Searches of the card index were carried out by means of “Optical Coincidence sheets”. These had cells for every number between 1 and 9999. Holes were punched in sheets that represented a range of different attributes . In this example a hole is punched in the cell for 251 in the Church Stretton Parish sheet, the Cross Dyke Type Sheet and the Scheduled Monument Status Sheet.

By 1979, about 3000 records had been created, mostly relating to archaeological sites and find spots. Then, in 1979, MSC (Manpower Services Commission) labour became available, and using this resource, by 1983 records of over 6000 historic building had been added, derived not only from the Statutory Lists of Listed Buildings, but also from the results of MSC surveys as well as thematic gazetteers.

It now became difficult to interrogate a card index of such a size, but the advent of personal computers meant that computerisation was now an option. From 1984 to 1985 the core fields of the archaeological records only were entered into a basic system (on the Shirehall’s first PC!)  that allowed indexes and gazetteers to be printed out.  In 1990 the data was moved to the “STAIRS” mainframe system, and over the next couple of years the computerised records were fleshed out with their Description and Sources details. By 1995, the records for the Listed buildings had been computerised as well, by scanning the statutory lists, although the remainder of the buildings records remained on record cards.

The record maps - the back bone of many SMRs up and down the country.

The record maps – the back bone of many SMRs up and down the country.

Meanwhile, in 1990 the issuing of the PPG16 planning guidance had led to the production of a rising number of reports on developer-funded excavations, evaluations and watching briefs, which needed to be fed into the SMR, as well as an increasing demand for information from the SMR. The 1990s also saw a wide range of projects aimed at, or with the potential for, enhancing the range and coverage of the SMR.  These included:

1993 to 1995: The Industrial Survey, which added 820 Industrial sites to the SMR;

1993: Paul Stamper’s Historic Parks and Gardens desktop survey which added 290 records ;

1993 to 1996: The Central Marches Historic Towns Survey which added 1446 records

1995 to 1997: The Shrewsbury Urban Archaeological Database added c1100 records

1994 to 1996 North West Wetlands Survey: 8 areas studied.

The Marches Uplands Survey included the recording of c 2200 features along 12 fieldwork transects.

The associated Marches Upland Mapping Project involved the transcription and analysis of AP evidence for the MUS survey area and generated c 1400 records.

The Millennium saw new challenges and opportunities for the SMR. GIS (Geographic Information System) software was now available, allowing the records to be viewed and interrogated via computer mapping. STAIRS was closed down, but the SMR was migrated to a specialist relational database system called SMR (now HBSMR). This in turn allowed all the Interventions (excavations, Evaluations, Watching Briefs) and Surveys to be recorded in their own right as “Event” records.

Subsequently the database developed modules for storing the Historic Landscape Character Assessment records created by the 2001 to 2004 HLC project, and another for Designations, so that Scheduled Monument, Listed Building and other designations could be recorded and managed in their own right and then linked to the monuments to which they relate.

In the last decade, the SMR has morphed into the Historic Environment Record (HER). It now underpins the work not only of our Archaeological Advisors, but also, since the creation of Shropshire Council in 2009, that of the Conservation Officers. Considerable progress has been made, largely with the help of a number of volunteers, not only in computerising the records for unlisted buildings but also bringing their level of detail up to that of the other records. Recently the HER has used an add-on to HBSMR called “Library Link” to link and manage our large and growing collections of digital images and report pdfs.

Where we are now…and where we might be heading

Our focus on a day to day basis is the results of fieldwork carried out as part of the planning process. This includes ensuring that we have to date information on all investigations relating to the archaeology and historic buildings of the county. Much of this work is unpublished, but our library, includes a wide array of fieldwork reports (from watching briefs, archaeological evaluations, excavations etc.), surveys, photographic records and desk-based appraisals.

Historic mapping of a trio of farmsteads near Trefonen

Historic mapping of a trio of farmsteads near Trefonen

National and local projects undertaken over the course of the last few years have also significantly enhanced our records, and our focus remains on making the results of these accessible to all researchers. The Historic Farmstead Characterisation Project, for instance, mapped and described the locations and characteristics of all historic farmsteads across Shropshire based on Ordnance Survey 2nd edition maps of c.1900, published after the final significant period of development of traditional farmsteads and the general use of vernacular materials. Modern maps were then used to identify the rates of survival to the present day. The results of this project – which mapped over 6000 farmsteads – forms an integral part of the HER collections.

A particular project that may interest readers is the Shropshire Council Aerial Survey Project (you can read more about it in lat year’s Day of Archaeology Post). Undertaken in several stages from 2008, with funding from English Heritage/Historic England, the project has sought to reinvigorate aerial survey in the county.  It has photographed many previously identified sites, as well as recording additional detail of previously known sites. The project has included survey of a wide range of ‘targets’, representing good geographic coverage of the county – including photography of cropmarks, earthworks, buildings and structures.  The full results have been integrated with the Historic Environment Record, and the full size digital images are available for consultation at Shirehall. A large number of these images have also been made available on the Discovering Shropshire’s History website.

From 1976, the HER has relied heavily on voluntary help and this tradition continues to this day. Our volunteers have recently been involved in a wide range of both field and office-based projects. Particular successes include work on the war memorials of the county (which are currently the subject of a programme of designated by Historic England), identifying non-conformist chapels from the desk and in the field, and a number of projects enhancing the way we have recorded street furniture, toll houses, workhouses, and enhancing our building records with dating information.

A few photographs of Chapels in Shropshire, taken by an HER Volunteer. All photographs (C) John Haynes:

A few of the 150+ free-standing War Memorials recorded in Shropshire HER with volunteer help. All photographs (C) John Haynes:

The Historic Environment Record will never be complete! Whilst we work hard to ensure that our records of the varied historic environment of the county are as complete as they can be, we rely on new contributions representing a wide range of research topics.

Although the means by which the HER is compiled, maintained and disseminated has changed beyond measure in the last 40 years, our core objective is still to make available in one place as much information as we can on all aspects of the historic environment to all those who need it or want it. 

Penny Ward (HER officer 1983- 2016)
Giles Carey (HER officer 2016 – present)

Natural England Day of Archaeology 2016

I am an historic environment lead adviser for Natural England. Natural England is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs . We look after the natural environment including nature conservation (particularly SSSIs) and landscape – including cultural landscapes and the historic environment. We also work closely with the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission. I’m based in Yorkshire where I work with rural archaeological sites, traditional buildings and historic landscapes.

This year has been an interesting one for me as much of my work is involved with agri-environment schemes and this work has been affected by the Brexit vote. Some decisions have been delayed but we are all working hard to make up lost time and help our farmers with this year’s grant applications which are due in for September. Natural England have also moved to a new delivery model where we have categorised our work into ‘business as usual’ and ‘priority focus areas’ – in these focus areas we will allocate added staff time to things like partnership working to achieve common objectives by working together with other organisations in the public and private sector. In Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire we have 9 focus areas and I work within 5 of these; Yorkshire Dales & Nidderdale, Humber, South Pennines, Dearne Valley, and Humberhead Levels while my colleague deals with archaeology in the other areas.

Natural England focus Areas

Today I am working from our head office in York (although I am usually based in Leeds with one day per week of home working and usually another out on various farms or nature reserves). I’ve got paperwork and email to catch up on as this has been a very busy week.

At my desk, with headset ready to dish out some heritage advice

Some of this work relates to the Dearne Valley where there is a Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership. On Tuesday I went to a meeting at Elsecar Heritage Centre with the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership and their new archaeological consultants. As part of Natural England’s in-kind contribution to the project I helped to write the brief and assess tenders. This first meeting with the successful consultants, ArcHeritage, was to plan a series of events to involve the community within the Dearne Valley more closely with their heritage and inspire them to protect it. As the Dearne river valley has interesting mosaic habitats of wetland, woodland, farmland and restored coal tips it is an important wildlife refuge. It also has an amazing amount of archaeology, not just industrial – as you can see here in the Dearne Valley Heritage Audit.

Due to its habitat interest Natural England staff work a lot with farmers here, showing them how to manage their land sustainably, while my contribution is to help them manage their archaeological sites. Today I’m checking the sites that the consultants thought would be suitable for access and outreach activities to see if there are any clashes with our grant schemes, or if there are sensitive species which might mean that we need to alter our plans. So far I haven’t found any major clashes! I’m confident that we can work together as a team to make the project work for nature, for the historic environment and for the local people but I can see from my maps that there are a few things which might have to be tweaked. I’ve contributed to a real reduction to heritage at risk in Yorkshire along with the farmers who manage the land and it’s something I really do feel proud about.

The other big event this week was the reopening of Plumpton Rocks parkland. This Grade II* parkland was placed on the heritage at risk register in 2012 then in 2013 it applied for an agri-environment scheme. Along with the owner, Historic England and the Country Houses Foundation, Natural England have helped to grant aid a restoration including lake desilting, planting of new wood pasture (the planting plan being taken from historic OS mapping) and tackling of invasive species such as rhododendron and Himalayan balsam. While Natural England restored the landscape our partners have focused on the structural elements including the dam. It has been one of the trickiest restoration projects of my life (I usually have 6 or 7 medium to large restoration projects per year to deal with but this is a big one!) as there are lots of designations both for the historic structures and for the natural environment, all of which needed to be taken into consideration before we made any changes. I have been on the project steering group for the last 3 years so it was a big privilege for me to attend the reopening after so long making things happen behind the scenes. It’s very unusual for us to be greeted by Betty’s fat rascals and a glass of (non-alcoholic!) bubbly – and it’ll all have to be reported on the central gifts register to ensure that I’m not being inappropriately influenced – but the owner really wanted to show his appreciation despite the rainy weather!

Country Houses Foundation cutting the ribbon at Plumpton Rocks parkland while the owner looks on
The work there will help local people see the parkland in its former glory, and I was simply busting with excitement to see how the press and local people would feel at the transformation. It was a little disappointing to have rain on such as special day although we braved the weather to walk around the lake and point out the transformation wrought by desilting, tree planting and felling and structural restoration. There are a few bits of restoration work still to complete but to see a neglected site transformed and teach owners how to care for their land long term is one of the best parts of my job. Today I’m writing up the experiences from this project so that other colleagues can learn from it as a case study and other sites will be able to benefit from my experiences. I’m also sending information about the press articles that are being written on the site to our communications officer and highlighting any tweets that we might want to retweet. Soon I will move on to another project but I do always feel a special connection to the places that I’ve been able to help.

Kat Hopwood-Lewis, BSc (Hons), MA, MCIfA

From dirt to pixels

I’m a commercial archaeologist, but as chance would have it I booked the 29th of July off work to spend some time with friends in Bath. It seems fitting then that for this Day of Archaeology post that I discuss not just my professional life but also how archaeology has bled into other parts of my life – I’m never off duty!

I spent most of last week completing a report for some evaluation trenches which were undertaken (in accordance with a planning condition) as phase one works to assess the archaeological potential of a site. In the office and far from the scorching sun, I used Adobe Photoshop to digitise trench plans and section drawings. What had been originally been carved out by mechanical excavator and trowel, then represented as pencil marks, was then rendered into pixels.

Editing a digital trench plan on Adobe Photoshop

As a 21st century archaeologist, I’m continually involved in creating digital records pertaining to archaeological investigations, whether this be in the form of digital photographs, standardised word processed documents or indeed digital technical drawings. All of these combined represent the digital footprint of archaeological works. Just as a trench clearly has a definite, tangible existence at the time its being cut, its subsequent recording through digital means entails that it also exists in a kind of parallel, digital reality.

Even when I leave work, I’m still thinking in archaeological terms. I’ve recently started to play Life is Strange, an episodic adventure game which involves a teenage girl who can rewind time (as an archaeologist I really envy this superpower!). I’ve also started to keep a games journal. Just as dirt became pixels in the process of recording and digitising trenches, conversely pixels became marks on a page through my games journaling which allows me to reflect on immaterial culture.



A sneak peak at my games journal!

The setting in the screenshot below is a junk yard that the protagonist visits with her friend. So often video game environments fail to convey a sense of dirt and decay but in this case you can almost smell the rust and mildew. It would even be possible to analyse the stratigraphical deposition of the detritus.


American Rust junk yard in Life is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time

In contemporary archaeological practise, the analogue and the digital are inextricably intertwined. It’s no surprise that archaeogaming (the study of archaeology in and of video games) seems to be gaining more attention recently. As archaeologists, we are creators of both material and immaterial culture; both paper and digital context sheets, for example, are artefacts in their own right. The digital sprawl of an excavation entails that it needs to be managed long after the last trench has been backfilled.

With archaeological sites leading a digital afterlife, it appears that the commercial archaeologist could benefit from putting down their trowel, picking up a joystick and playing with the idea of studying immaterial culture. I know I have.

A day at Links of Noltland, Orkney, Scotland

Links of Noltland is a large prehistoric site located on the north coast of the small island of Westray in Orkney. Excavations have been underway here for 10 years, carried out on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland (the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment). The site comprises Neolithic and Bronze Age remains, including houses, middens, a cemetery and field systems. The site is complex but also very rich in finds. Pottery and stone and bone tools are very common, as is animal bone and shell.

The work is taking place because the site is under threat from erosion and the aim is to recover as much information as possible via excavation before it is too late and to present the results through publication. I thought that as part of the Day of Archaeology we would show the range of activities which were carried out over one day on site this year. There is also a facebook page for anyone who would like to follow progress on site over the next few weeks.

Anna and Roland carry out survey work in the area of the Bronze Age field system

Anna and Roland carry out survey work in the area of the Bronze Age field system

Criostoir is excavating a thick layer of midden which overlies earlier buildings

Criostoir is excavating a thick layer of midden which overlies earlier buildings

Dan and Kevin are investigating the Bronze Age Sauna

Dan and Kevin are investigating the Bronze Age Sauna

Dawn is drawing a profile over a cell in the thickness of the wall of one of the Neolithic houses

Dawn is drawing a profile over a cell in the thickness of the wall of one of the Neolithic houses

Keith is excavating a late wall inserted into a Neolithic house, to reveal the earlier house plan, we often recover nice artefacts from these types of locations

Keith is excavating a late wall inserted into a Neolithic house, to reveal the earlier house plan, we often recover nice artefacts from these types of locations and the walls themselves contain large numbers of decorated stones.

Lesley is excavating floor material inside a Neolithic house. The bags contain soil samples which will be processed to recover charred plant material -seeds, wood charcoal etc.

Lesley is excavating floor material inside a Neolithic house. The bags contain soil samples which will be processed to recover charred plant material -seeds, wood charcoal etc.

All of the finds are located in three dimensions using survey equipment.

All of the finds are located in three dimensions using survey equipment.

Here is Maeve's find, a piece of worked/utilised cattle tibia from inside a Neolithic wall

Here is Maeve’s find, a piece of worked/utilised cattle tibia from inside a Neolithic wall

And finally here is a pic of me supervising

And finally here is a pic of me supervising

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.