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.

Saveock Water Archaeology

Working hard between the showers.

Evidence of burning and a clay surface with rubble.

My Day of Archaeology 2016 was spent at Saveock Water Archaeology as part of a weeks training excavation over seen by Jackie Wood. We started the day by visiting a recreation of an Iron Age roundhouse Jackie has built on her land. This was fascinating to see I’d never been in one and to hear Jackie describe how life was spent inside the round house was very insightful. There were work surfaces, a hearth and an oven, and a raised platform for sleeping on. Next we went back to the excavation in a valley with a stream running through it. We were looking for more evidence of metal working on the site as several smelting ovens had been found and a drainage system was there too. It’s a fascinating site with a natural spring that had votive offerings placed in it mostly textiles. There was a grave cut and pits with animal carcasses and pebbles from local beaches. We found some pottery C17th century and some worked flint. All in all a very interesting day.

A Student’s Day of Archaeology

Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects

Fig. 1 – Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects (Photo by Daniel Leahy)

I am currently a second year undergraduate student at the University of New England (UNE) in New South Wales, Australia.  I’m studying a Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Archaeology and History.

I had planned to visit a local site on the Day of Archaeology, however poor weather on the day (and for much of the week before) prevented this from happening.  Instead, much of my Day of Archaeology revolved around my studies.  This included catching up on recorded lectures for some of my classes; completing an online quiz about historical archaeology; and making more notes for an upcoming history essay comparing memorials of the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.  Studying via distance (i.e., online) meant all of this was done in the comfort of my own home.

Recently I have been involved in a project called the ‘Digital Air Force’ for the website,, whose goal is to digitally document Australia’s aviation heritage using modern technology.  Part of this includes 3D scanning artefacts related to aviation heritage.  So on the Day of Archaeology I started work on creating a digital 3D model of a small piece of metal from a Second World War aircraft crash site (see bottom of Figure 1).  In a nutshell, this process – known as ‘photogrammetry’ – requires a lot of photos of an object to be taken from all angles.  These photos are then loaded into a computer program which determines the angle and distance at which each photo was taken, builds a model of the object, then stitches the images together to form the textures of the object.  This is a process I learnt about at an archaeology conference last year and have been experimenting with in my own time.  The first part of this model was created overnight and resulted in what is known as a ‘dense point cloud’ of the scanned object (see Figure 2, below).  At the moment this still needs quite a lot of work done to remove the surrounding items which were captured, clean up parts of the artefact itself, and join ‘chunks’ to form a complete model but it is hoped this will be completed over the weekend.

Dense Point Cloud (WIP) of WWII Aircraft Wreckage

Fig. 2 – Dense Point Cloud of WWII Aircraft Wreckage (Image by Daniel Leahy)

Personally I became interested in archaeology (and palaeontology) at a very young age.  I was however dissuaded from pursuing a career in either of those fields because of a perceived lack of money that would be made.  Instead, I followed my uncle into the I.T. industry, completing a Bachelor of Information Technology degree then working with a variety of systems for about ten years.  It was at this time that I felt I had to change careers and decided to formally study archaeology, which today I feel is one of the best decisions I have ever made.


(P.S.  July 29th was also my birthday, hence the greeting card from an archaeologist friend which can be seen in Figure 1).

Digital Archaeology Across Disciplines

I’m spending this year’s Day of Archaeology in LEADR, which is Michigan State University’s Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research. One of the lab’s primary initiatives is to help professors incorporate digital methods into history and anthropology courses, including archaeology. Students learn a variety of skills and tools, from data visualization and mapping, to multi-media dissemination of research. I recently started as the lab’s Assistant Director and have been gearing my skills training toward 3D modeling with the goal of teaching workshops to students and the wider Digital Humanities community at MSU.


Taking drone footage of a Campus Archaeology dig at MSU. Photo: courtesy of the Campus Archaeology Program

Earlier this summer, graduate assistant Brian Geyer taught me how to fly a drone over a Campus Archaeology Program trench to record video of the dig, as you can see in the photo at left, and he’s been helping me brush up on photogrammetry techniques, digitally combining photographs to create 3D models. The modeling is also useful in my academic research, which is on Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey where there are hundreds of rock-cut structures with wall paintings that date from the medieval Byzantine period. I’ve been learning Photoscan and SketchUp in order to find more nuanced ways than photographs to represent architectural spaces in the classroom and in publications.

My afternoon in the lab will be spent cleaning a dataset that I collected for my recently-defended art history dissertation. To collect the data, I spent two research trips hiking in Turkey, taking pictures and recording descriptions of ceiling decoration in monuments throughout several valleys. Over the last few years I also spent time in libraries and photo archives finding other published examples. One of my favorites is Eğritaş Kilisesi (which roughly translates to “Crooked Stone Church”) in the Ihlara Valley, the monument shown in the featured image (above). It is an enormous rock-cut space from the Middle Byzantine period that has been damaged by rock falls. There are remnants of paintings on the walls, ceiling, and apse, which are visible here because the west wall has collapsed. It was originally two stories tall, and decorated tombs are still visible at ground level. The result of documenting monuments like this one will be an interactive catalog of monuments in Cappadocia where monumental crosses adorn the ceilings and influenced viewers’ use of the spaces beneath. This research will become part of Open Context, a repository and publisher of archaeology data, and is also part of my capstone project for the Institute on Digital Archaeology Method & Practice that will convene next month.

As you can see, my work is a convergence of several threads—pedagogy, history, archaeology, art history, and design. The unifying factor in all of them is a goal to use technology to convey the past—its people, philosophies, and practices—in order to better understand ourselves. Doing this encourages empathy for people (both ancient and contemporary), whether they’re from across town or in a distant place, and contributes to wider understanding of the importance of cultural heritage monuments.

A.L. McMichael
Find me on Twitter (@ByzCapp) or check out @LEADR_MSU for more about our work in the lab.

Colour, flax and Bronze Age textiles – all inspiring stuff!

Small ball of spun plant fibre. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave Webb

Small ball of spun plant fibre. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave Webb

I’m Susanna Harris and I’m a Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. Today has been a race through my to-do list. It’s been full of talented people and amazing artefacts. Archaeology is a wonderful world to work in.

In at 8.15 after my swim and straight to the lab to sort textile samples from the Must Farm Bronze Age settlement. Gert sets up the stereomicroscope and I choose my samples. I’ve been looking forward to this all week and I love it.

At my desk, Archaeology, University of Glasgow. Photo: Pablo Llopis

At my desk, Archaeology, University of Glasgow. Photo: Pablo Llopis

I go back to my office to prepare an order for microscope stubs with Agar Scientific, only to find it’s the last day of the financial year so I accelerate it through with my brilliant administrator Kelly.

Next I’m reading through a colleague’s grant application on historic dyes analysis – it’s inspiring and I am lost in the world of dye and colour.  Dropping by Tessa’s office, I meet Pablo Llopis, a photographer who agrees to take a photo for this post :-). He sees a book I’m reading on vision and we end up discussing colour theory – there’s a theme developing here. All thought provoking ideas for my research on clothing and perception.

Vision and colour theory. Photo: Susanna Harris

Vision and colour theory. Photo: Susanna Harris

I check my emails. Among a flurry of requests for next semester’s teaching, the editor of BBC History Magazine is looking for a feature on Must Farm and wants a fresh angle on the textiles. We chat on the phone and I email him some ideas.

I notice the time and remember I need to order some freshly pulled flax plants as I want to set up an experiment with my undergraduate students. I call the farm and catch Simon cutting oil-seed rape. He’ll sort the flax and post it.

Green flax plants. Photo: Susanna Harris

Green flax plants. Photo: Susanna Harris

I drop by the head of department’s office to ask him if there is a nearby lawn where I can leave my flax to ret (a rotting process to help extract the fibres). He suggests the wildlife garden. I follow his directions and check it out – it will be perfect if estates and buildings give me permission.

The last thing I need to do today is finish writing an abstract for a conference in Berlin on Neolithic and Bronze Age textile fibres. I’m off to make a cup of tea and settle down at the computer to write it.

Here are some of my papers on prehistoric textiles:

And links to Bronze Age textiles from Must Farm:

This one with video of me talking about the finds and site:



Sustaining the practice of archaeology in Ontario, Canada

This is our 3rd year participating in Day of Archaeology, and we are excited, once again, to be joining our colleagues in this virtual space to share with you some of the diverse experiences archaeologists have over the course of a regular day.

This year, we want to focus on the sorts of technology we have available here at Sustainable Archaeology: Western University. Most of the equipment in our new facility is for non-destructive image capture and analysis: 3D scanners, 3D printer, digital x-ray, microCT scanner, etc. We are fortunate, as archaeologists, to have a single location with dedicated access to equipment such as this! On any given day, several pieces of equipment will be in use by different researchers. Today, a couple of a staff members – Hillary and Heather – have been working on chipping away the outer “envelope” of a 3D printed cuneiform tablet to reveal the inner tablet for the first time in over 4,000 years! But to explain how we got to this point, let’s start from the beginning.

Cuneiiform tablet_small

Sustainable Archaeology was built adjacent to the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in London, Ontario, Canada. The Museum houses a variety of collections, predominantly from Ontario but there are some international antiquities that were acquired by the mid-20th century curator of the Museum, including a small collection of cuneiform tablets. One of those tablets was suspected to be an Old Babylonian “envelope” tablet – a cuneiform tablet nested inside of a cuneiform tablet. But how to tell without breaking the tablet open? Sustainable Archaeology had a solution – we scanned the tablet in the microCT scanner. Sure enough, there was evidence that another tablet was enfolded within the outer layer of clay – and it appeared to have cuneiform writing on it as well!

cuneiform envelope 009_mCT

With microCT imaging software, VG Studio, Hillary painstakingly ‘excavated’, or peeled-off, the outer layer of clay. This was a tricky process, because CT images differentiate material based on the density of voxels in a 3D dimensional space – metal, for instance, is much more dense and thus appears much ‘whiter’ than wood. But the clay ‘envelope’ was the same density as the enclosed clay tablet – so selecting which voxels to digitally peel-away from the region of interest was a labour intensive process. Hillary was able to do this because there was a slight void between the clay surfaces. This lead us to an idea – if we 3D printed the tablet, would the void still be intact? In which case, wouldn’t we be able to break the outer tablet off of the inner tablet?

So for our second experiment, we did just that. We digitally cut the cuneiform tablet in half, so we could see the inside structure(s), and we we printed off that cuneiform half on the 3D printer. Sure enough, the void was there – but it was very thin. In order to create more void space – an area that would be filled with printer powder but no binder would be laid down – we scaled up the size of the tablet to double its original size. Then we printed it off and got to work chipping off the external ‘envelope’ – to reveal a clear, sharp cuneiform surface on the embedded tablet. Success!




We are constantly envisioning ways that the equipment we have here at SA can complement one another. Colin is next door in the Collaboration Room with the Virtual Reality equipment. He is working on an application that allows us to digitally pick up, move, throw and stack digital assets that we’ve scanned on our 3D scanners (such as pots!) within a virtual reality space. This way, as you are immersed within a virtual reconstruction of a Lawson site longhouse, such as that created by Western PhD candidate Michael Carter, while wearing a set of 3D goggles such as Oculus Rift of HTC Vive, you will also be able to digitally engage with objects within that virtual space.

For more information on what we do at Sustainable Archaeology, check out our website at You can also follow us on Instagram @sustarchaeology or Twitter @SustArchaeology.

Ted Levermore: A Day in the Finds Department

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

Finds washing


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.


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


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?


Still organising finds for specialists.


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!


Finally done, just in time for lunch.


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


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…


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.


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


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:

‘Vesuvius, fare well until my return.’ A Non-Invasive Archaeological Research Project on the Shops of Roman Pompeii.

Via delle Scuole, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker.

Via delle Scuole streetscape in Region 8, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

Vesuvius and I have a little one-to-one chat each time I visit Pompeii in southern Italy. It’s the first thing and the last thing I do on every fieldwork and research visit. Without Vesuvius I couldn’t be the archaeologist and researcher that I am. 

As a Roman archaeologist specialising in socio-cultural and economic examinations of ancient Pompeii and the early Roman Empire I have visited the ancient city countless times in the past 15 years. I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand: entering at the Porta Marina gate, sharing greetings with the Pompeii superintendency staff and custodians who I haven’t seen in a number of months or years, climbing the steep Via Marina road leading into the city that widens into the city as you arrive at the forum. Turn left and it’s the backdrop to the Capitoline Triad temple remains: Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that catastrophically destroyed and preserved the Roman city, a small town that wasn’t of particular great importance in the Roman Empire. The violent eruption of AD 79 had a myriad of consequences, covering the city in several metres of ash and pumice after a 24 hour long bombardment and killing those who had not escaped the city and burying the contents of their homes, businesses, religious sites and theatres entirely.

Nearly two thousand years later the city was ‘rediscovered’ (although it had never properly been lost) under the Bourbon rulers of Naples in 1748. Ten years earlier the ancient city of Herculaneum had been found and the fever of antiquarianism was rising. Excavation revealed surprisingly familiar aspects of an ancient civilisation: statuary, belongings, homes, and so on. Despite early use of backfilling, a practice in which materials excavated, such as soil, are returned to the opened areas, Pompeii eventually became the open air museum that we understand it as today. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a city frozen in time. Since Day 1 of its burial the site has been subject to a slow, natural decomposition in addition to destruction carried out by humans, both in antiquity and from 1748 onwards.

My research, mostly carried out as part of a PhD degree, focuses upon the lesser studied shops and workshops, also known as tabernae, which fronted many of the homes along major arteries in the city. These small structures are important because they tell us about what everyday life was like for non-elite Romans, slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves) in terms of where they worked, their trades and crafts, their eating and drinking habits, and, in a few cases, where they may have lived. An insight into Roman shops at Pompeii provides an understanding of population, society, culture, urban planning, trade, and commerce. It also tells us quite a lot about the impact of war and Roman colonisation, slavery, migration, patronage, art, neighbourhood development and industrialisation across the city.


A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

In light of city’s size, I have chosen to work in a quarter known today as Region 8, just south of the forum and Via dell’Abbondanza, close to the two theatres of the Entertainment District, and bordered by the city wall and the Porta Marina and Porta Stabia gates. Most tourists to the city will walk by my shops without noticing their presence or their importance to the city, although they might notice the shops with counters looking like taverns. The majority of the 93 shops in this area are small structures under four rooms in total. Some are directly connected to the elite houses (popularly known as villas, but correctly identified as domus) that were owned by families of local political importance who also maintained commercial interests, which is in contrast to incorrect 19th & 20th century views that Roman elites avoided direct trade and monetary dealings.

One particular aspect of shops is a favourite of mine: the architecture. Quite a lot of my time is spent at my desk in England analysing field research carried out site and the architecture is often the most revealing because 18th & 19th century excavation records rarely include recordings of finds from the shops despite being rich sources of materials and decorated buildings in their own right. Archaeologists often refer to this type of analysis as non-invasive research’ because it doesn’t require further excavation and damage to ancient structures and landscapes. Pompeii is an excellent site to carry out this type of approach because the wealth of material and speed of early excavations means that much remains to be interpreted from exposed buildings and their contents. It is quite a lot like putting a massive puzzle back together when you don’t have an entire understanding of what that puzzle is meant to be.

To keep track of the extensive number of photographs, plans, archival records and my own analysis findings I developed a digital database (along with some generous assistance from Derek Littlewood, @eggboxderek). I love reading the walls for the information that they provide, with or without their finished decoration, revealing building phases and additions, and most importantly telling archaeologists about reconstruction following the seismic activity, including earthquakes, leading up to the fatal eruption in AD 79. Even details such as the simple thresholds set within shop doorways are thrilling: I can understand how and when these doorways and their doors operated, learn about Roman carpentry and locks and take part in scholarly debates around differences between mezzanines and upper floors and why their different terminology and definitions affect their use.


Database, Tabernae of Roman Pompeii. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

Database record for 8.4.27, The tabernae of Roman Pompeii: shops & workshops of Region VIII. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

And while my PhD research isn’t a group project, I depend on the regular exchanges of ideas and discussion of new developments at Pompeii with a number of other researchers. Some of the especially important individuals, projects, and publications, that have impacted my area of research in the recent past include Dr Joanne Berry, Drs Steven Ellis and Eric Poehler of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79), and many, many others.

Sera Baker is currently completing a PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She enjoys discussing Roman archaeology on her Twitter feed, @seraecbaker. To learn more about Pompeii take a look at the official archaeological website from the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (English & Italian; for most complete information use the Italian site).

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


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!


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:

Dave Brown: Ringing in a New Era of Recording

My Job

I am a Geomatics Supervisor working in the quite newly formed Geomatics team at Oxford Archaeology East. My job has a great mix of both field and office work and often involves new forms of technology and experimental techniques and recording systems.

Over the past 5 or so years the company has changed from using primarily hand-drawn recording methods to a much more widespread use of digital recording. As a result, the divide between ongoing site work & what was traditionally post-excavation has become blurred. The Geomatics team pretty much operates within this blurred zone between field teams and graphics/post-excavation teams.

A car boot full of survey equipment

The essential tools of my trade! The car radio is permanently tuned to Planet Rock.

I enjoy the diversity of my role. On a daily basis I may travel across the Eastern Region to set out evaluation trenches or visit ongoing excavations. Or I may be inside creating trench designs or digitising site plans.

Today I am in the office catching up on my survey processing and working on some site plans for a large project recently completed in Norfolk.

One site in particular is very interesting. It has evidence of Bronze Age activity, including round structures within enclosures and remarkable post hole alignments.

A plan of archaeological features surveyed at a site

A site plan from a large project recently completed in Norfolk

The archaeological features were planned on site using Leica DGPS. Every feature was accurately planned, including all of the postholes, well over 1000 of them!

The data was sent to me & after processing I imported it into AutoCAD. I’m am currently tidying the plan and adding other data.

Archaeologists in hi-vis recording and surveying on site

The field team in action! Note GPS recording in background.

It is hard to imagine how long the process of recording all of these postholes would have taken with traditional methods.

Special Feature!- photogrammetry doesn’t quite ring true

One of the most exciting recording techniques we have recently started to use is photogrammetry. It involves taking a series of photographs which can be processed and manipulated by sophisticated software to create scaled photorealistic 3D models of objects and georeferenced orthophotos of archaeological sites (amongst other things). It means we can record sites by the use of drones even!

This technique is new to me, so one evening earlier this week, partly as a training exercise, I decided to attempt the recording of some church bells. As part of a restoration project funded by local donations and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Nassington Bell Project will see the restoration and overhaul of the existing 5 bells and frame and the casting of a new bell.

As part of this project two out of tune bells will be recast and I thought it would be good to preserve a record of their original form. Unfortunately, the bells are 40ft up in the small, dimly lit belfry!

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

Having gained access to the belfry I placed markers on the bells to help the software and put up bed sheets to mask out unwanted parts of the bell frame.


Bell 4 cast in 1642 by Thomas Norris of Stamford, weighing approx.. ¼ tonne

I have run the data through the OAE’s Agisoft software overnight and I’m astonished by the results! I had to use a flash for every shot. I thought the smooth regular shape of the bell would also cause problems.


Each blue rectangle represents the position of my camera. I used only a basic digital SLR and its inbuilt flash

More processing and experimenting is required but, for a first attempt, I am quite pleased. I intend to upload the model to Sketchfab eventually to make it more freely available.


Doesn’t quite ring true- there is currently a hole in the top of the model!

The End

Thanks for making it to the end of this blog! I hope it has given you some idea of the diversity of roles and interests in archaeology. Dave

Dave Brown is a Geomatics Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist geomatics services, visit our website: