From Community Cheer to Painful Pathologies

Hello. I’m Rob Hedge, and I’m a CBA Community Archaeology Bursary holder at the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. The service is based at The Hive, Worcester – a new (and very shiny!) facility that also houses the integrated city and University of Worcester libraries. Being in such a prominent building has meant a big increase in visitors to our public office, where people can drop in and find out about the information we hold on the archaeology of their area in our Historic Environment Record (HER).

The Hive, Worcester

The Hive, Worcester


Besides the staff who maintain and update the HER and carry out ‘searches’ for the public, the Service includes archaeologists who advise developers and local authorities on issues such as planning and countryside management. Our Field Section, Worcestershire Archaeology, are a commercial unit who carry out developer-funded archaeological work. All of this means that we are one of the largest local authority archaeology organisations in the UK, and that my role in helping to plan and run outreach projects is busy and varied!

Today, I’ve been sorting through the records and photographs from our #DigBromsgrove community excavation. The dig was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a scheme to regenerate Bromsgrove town centre by unlocking the hidden heritage of the town. Throughout the course of the dig we had around 40 volunteers involved in the site work, doing everything from setting out the site grid and drawing scale plans to finds processing, filling out the context records and putting together the site ‘matrix’. We believe that it’s really important that participants in community archaeology projects don’t just ‘dig’, and that they learn about all the other skills that are crucial to being able to carry out an excavation. Many of our volunteers are members of local societies, and the skills they learn with us with benefit those groups when they undertake their own fieldwork.

Teaching Volunteers, DigBromsgrove

Teaching Volunteers, DigBromsgrove


In addition to the volunteers, we had around 500 schoolchildren coming to visit the site, for whom we constructed an archaeological sand-box complete with features and genuine archaeological artefacts for them to uncover.

Constructing an archaeological sandpit

Constructing an archaeological sandpit


We backfilled the trench and dismantled the sand-box on Monday, and are now beginning the post-excavation process. All the finds from the site are currently being cleaned, catalogued and labelled, and will then be analysed by our specialists.

The DigBromsgrove finds, awaiting processing

The DigBromsgrove finds, awaiting processing


I’ve also spent part of the day planning for an event taking place next week at the brilliant Infirmary Museum in Worcester. During a watching brief on building works as the old Worcester Royal Infirmary became the University of Worcester’s new City Campus, archaeologists from our service came across a peculiar deposit: a jumbled assortment of over 1800 fragments of human bone, with various grisly features from saw marks to embedded iron pegs, as well as a whole range of painful-looking pathologies! Were these the victims of some maniacal serial killer?

Femur showing lytic lesion caused by cyst, and saw 'kerf'

Femur showing lytic lesion caused by cyst, and saw ‘kerf’


In fact, Ossafreelance‘s brilliant analysis revealed a much more intriguing source – the bones turned out to be medical waste from 18th and 19th century, including items from amputations, dissections and teaching collections – some still with traces of the fixings that would have held the skeletons together! This gory assemblage is the largest discovered within a post-medieval provincial infirmary, and is a fascinating insight into historic surgical practices.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time today looking through some pretty grisly pictures, and feeling rather lucky to live in the 21st century.

If you’re around in Worcester on Wednesday 31st, come along to Infirmary Unearthed and find out more!

If you’d like to find out more about what I’m up to, I’m on Twitter: @robhedge. You can also follow community archaeology projects supported by our service via @worcsdigs, and updates on events run by us through @explorethepast.

2 thoughts on “From Community Cheer to Painful Pathologies

  1. Mortimer Wheeler says:

    I’m not much of a one for reading, I much prefer flint – can you re-format this blogpost from debitage so I can read it please?

  2. Rob Hedge says:

    Certainly, Sir Mortimer! On one condition: that you admit that your extrapolation of the layout of the entrance to the oppidum at King Harry Lane, St Albans was flawed. We dug some holes and it wasn’t like you said it’d be! Yours,


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