Dirty pots reveal cooking practices of early farmers in Neolithic Poland

Today, like most Fridays, is the culmination of a week’s work in the lab. I am a PhD student in the Organic Geochemistry Unit (OGU) at the University of Bristol working on the European Research Council-funded ‘NeoMilk: The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe’ project. NeoMilk is an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, College London and Poznań (Poland), and the National Museum of Natural History, Paris, researching the development of dairying practices in Neolithic Europe by archaeological, chemical, zooarchaeological and statistical analyses. These interdisciplinary proxies will provide a window on the cultural, environmental and temporal variables of cooking and subsistence practices, to better understand the context of the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture in the development of agriculture in Central Europe.

My role is to analyse organic residues from food and other organic materials absorbed in pots from sites in and around Poland from a variety of environmental and cultural contexts, and compare results on inter- and intra-site levels (individual households, chronologies and vessel typologies).

In order to find out what these residues are, I have to prepare the potsherds. The following is a typical week for me in the lab:


Take sub-samples from potsherds I wish to analyse next. Only 1-2 grams of ceramic material is required for organic residue analysis, so only small areas of each sherd are sub-sampled, nearly always allowing the profile of the sherd or any areas with surface decoration to be left intact. A modelling drill is used to remove a very fine outer layer of the sherd on all sides that it will be sub-sampled from, so the presence of any surface contaminants from handling or contact with plastics can be minimised. I then use a hammer and chisel to remove that part of the sherd and then wrap it in foil until it is ready for analysis.

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling


Crush and weigh the sherd fragments I’ve sub-sampled. Knowing the mass of the ceramic material lipids will be extracted from will allow me to calculate the concentrations of the lipids, which is useful as the analytical instruments are very sensitive and won’t work optimally if the lipid extracts are too dilute or concentrated.

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

The OGU has a weekly seminar and lab meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes which is a good opportunity to announce news, discuss any issues and tidy the lab.


Chemically extract the lipids from the sherd fragments.

David extracting lipids from a sherd

David extracting lipids from a sherd

We use gas chromatography, an analytical technique that screens the compounds in the lipid extract, firstly so we know lipids are present (sometimes they aren’t, either because of poor preservation or because the archaeological use of the vessel didn’t contribute to the absorption of lipids into the vessel – e.g. it wasn’t used for cooking food) and secondly so we know whether there are also any contaminants present that may have been introduced during extraction in the lab or before when the sherd was handled or came into contact with plastics during excavation or post-excavation. We can often differentiate these sources of contamination by including a blank in each batch of sherds we extract and analyse.


Run the samples and a blank on the gas chromatograph (GC).

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

As well as separate compounds within the lipid extracts, the GC determines the abundances of each compound, which we use with the weighed sherd fragments they come from to calculate the approximate concentrations of lipids from each sherd. At this stage I can determine which samples are suitable for further analysis tomorrow. Those that are too dilute will not be viable, though those that are too concentrated for the instruments can be diluted with hexane.


Run the selected samples on a second instrument that allows us to identify the compounds screened yesterday by finding the mass-to-charge ratios of their ions. This technique is called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). GC/MS is useful for identifying compounds that are biomarkers for aquatic species.

Sometimes I run the samples on a third instrument that finds the isotopic values of two particular compounds (palmitic and stearic acid) which occur almost ubiquitously in residues. This instrumental technique called gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-c-IRMS) works by comparing the proportions of carbon-12 and the heavier carbon-13 in these two compounds. I can then determine whether the lipids in that sherd derive from the meat of a terrestrial non-ruminant animal (e.g. pig) or a terrestrial ruminant animal (e.g. cow), or from the dairy products of a terrestrial ruminant animal.

I also have to wash and sterilise the various tubes I’ve used for extracting the lipids from all these sherds this week, so they are ready for another set of sherds next week. I usually catch up on responding to emails and doing any writing, or I may occasionally do other work, such as photograph the 425 sherds I sampled from 14 LBK sites in north-central and northwest Poland in June.

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Time for a well-earned weekend! Further information about the NeoMilk project is available at, and the instrumental techniques we use at the OGU at Last Saturday I and three other members of the OGU exhibited a stall at the Thornbury Science Festival near Bristol, which included a game called ‘Palaeodetective’ that showcases the diverse research the OGU is engaged in; you can play the game online at!

From Riveting Romans to Saints, Sailors & Pilgrims

On the Day of Archaeology 2014 I was preparing for a series of events organised and coordinated by the Archaeology Team at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives for the 24th annual Festival of Archaeology 2014. The Festival runs from Saturday 12 – Sunday 27 July 2014 and offers over 1,000 events nationwide, organised by over 400 museums, heritage organisations, universities, local societies and community archaeologists.

The purpose of the Festival is to showcase the very best of archaeology and give people the opportunity to learn about local heritage, have a go at digging and recording finds, watch experts at work and find out about the latest discoveries in their area.

The series of events has involved the Archaeology team working with a variety of local history and community groups including Bristol Threatened History Society, Lawrence Weston Community Farm, Kings Weston Action Group, Sea Mill Archaeological Research Team, Friends of Badock’s Wood and Bristol and Region Archaeological Services to trace the history of Bristol from the Bronze Age right up to the 18th century.

There has been the opportunity to explore the history of Bristol with a tour of Castle Park – the site of Bristol Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in England and once compared to the Tower of London’s White Tower. Discover and experience life before and after the Romans with events at Badock’s Wood, Lawrence Weston Community Farm and Kings Weston Roman Villa. Uncover Vanburgh’s 18th century paths at Kings Weston Estate. Learn about pilgrims in Medieval Bristol at M Shed and join a Medieval pageant celebrating pilgrimage in Brislington.

Gail Boyle Senior Collections Officer (Archaeology) at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives said:

“The Festival of Archaeology is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year for Bristol Museums’ Archaeology Team. The two week-long event provides us with a great platform to showcase Bristol’s fantastic archaeological sites, museum collections and the work of such a wide variety of local interest groups. The Bristol programme has never been so packed, there are so many opportunities for people to be inspired by all things archaeological and all our activities are free of charge. You can find out more about our events through the Festival of Archaeology or at”

As of Tuesday 22 July, five events have taken place, the Bristol Castle Walk with Mike Ponsford of Bristol Threatened History Society, Riveting Romans, Ancient Woodland Activities, Conservation at Kings Weston and one of the guided historical walks around Badock’s Wood. All of these events have been a great success with over 400 visitors.

Mike Ponsford led an interested crowd on a leisurely walk around Castle Park examining the remaining structures of the castle as well as describing the look atmosphere and history of this imposing fortification of Medieval Bristol, which once dominated the Bristol skyline. The sun shone as the ‘Riveting Romans’ event gave visitors the opportunity to explore Kings Weston Roman Villa and learn more about life and food during the Roman Period. Cherry Hubbard from Unfolding History had a table with Roman food and ingredients, kitchen utensils and recipes illustrating the variety of foods which the Romans ate and introduced to Britain. The Sea Mills Archaeological Research Team (SMART) presented their 3 years of research on the Roman Harbour at Abona whilst the Juicy Blitz project at Bread Youth in Lawrence Weston made a Roman inspired smoothie called Brutus Cassius which was given free to all visitors.

‘Ancient Woodland Activities’ took place at Lawrence Weston Community Farm with visitors having the opportunity to explore the farm and meet the animals as well as wander through Water Vole Woodland to discover woodland activities taking place amongst the trees. The activities included willow weaving and hurdle making, delicious woodland juice making using dandelion and burdock, charcoal making and drawing as well as green wood working.

‘Conservation at Kings Weston’ was organised by Kings Weston Action Group who held an alfresco exhibition on the history of Kings Weston estate in the Echo, one of the garden pavilions in the historic park. There was also the opportunity to celebrate the 350th anniversary of one of Britain’s most famous architects, Sir John Vanbrugh and discover his work on the estate. Kings Weston Action Group also launched a new walking guide and map about the estate.

The historical walk through Badock’s Wood has been led by the Vice-Chairman of the Friends of Badock’s Wood Alan Arburrow. Alan has lead a delightful and enjoyable stroll around the woodland describing the history of the woodland from the Bronze Age Burial mound through to Dr Sir Stanley Hugh Badock’s gifting of the woodland to Bristol City Corporation (now Bristol City Council), in perpetuity on the condition of the Corporation also giving 15 acres of adjacent land. Alan also showed up the gradual series of improvements which the Friends have done to maintain the woodland as well as talking about their community and young people engagement work to increase appreciation of this lovely woodland.

This series of Festival of Archaeology events has been successful through the enthusiasm and hard work of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives staff, local history and community groups and a donation from Bristol Threatened History Society.

Display Cases: Creativity, Arm-Waving & Ideas

Job title: Senior Properties Historian

Organisation: English Heritage

Usual base: Bristol

Currently working on: Stonehenge visitor centre

Find me at: @SueGreaney

Today in stats: 1 workshop/meeting (5.25hrs); 4 trains (3.5hrs);  2 tea runs (20mins); 1 colleague chat (45mins); 1 large chocolate muffin (5 mins); 1 very welcome beer (time tbc).

Today I’ve been up to our West Midlands office in central Birmingham, with my colleague and curator Sara Lunt, to meet with our exhibition designers Haley Sharpe Design.  We’re all currently working flat-out on our permanent exhibition which will form part of the new Stonehenge visitor centre. We’re doing our display case layouts at the moment – thinking about how our archaeological finds will be mounted alongisde text, graphics and replicas.

On the train on the way up to Birmingham I spend some time reviewing and updating my ‘to do’ list – I have so much to do at the moment that lists are the only way I can keep up with the next most urgent thing. Also checking into my e-mails and Twitter. I saw a great tweet the other day, something along the lines of – you don’t choose your career anymore, you just choose what to answer e-mails about! Well my e-mails are mostly about archaeology even if that definition gets stretched a little. With a hefty dose of project management thrown in.

Not the type of building where you’d expect an archaeologist to spend the day… Photograph by Ell Brown via Flickr

Arriving at The Axis, where EH is based, I stop for a tea on the way. The meeting quickly gets underway. Case layouts is one of those tasks that needs a spatial mind – being able to imagine the 3D layouts of the cases from 2D plans and elevations. It’s also a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – well that object needs to sit alongside that text, but that story has to be on the same side as that group of other objects… We’ll be re-creating quite a number of archaeological contexts, so we talk through the details of these. Soon our meeting room table is covered.

These meetings are quite intense but very creative and exciting – lots of ideas and hand waving today. Tea run no.2 and a grabbed sandwich. Time flies by and I forget to take a photo for this post – sorry! We talk reconstructions and look at recent examples we like. More work to be done here. Sara has been up this week to view the final objects we’re getting on loan from the Stonehenge Riverside Project and we look at where these fit in.

We have to have a really good understanding of what stories we’re trying to get across. We’re been into the detail of the archaeology to such an extent that we now have to extract ourselves and think from the position of a visitor. Imagine you are a tourist from Europe, just arrived on a coach, with only a sketchy understanding of prehistory in your own country, let alone somewhere else entirely – what does this tiny bit of flint mean to them? We archaeologists can all get geekily excited about petit-tranchet derivatives, but really… it is the people of the prehistoric past who have to shine through our displays.

We finish in good time – feeling satisfied that we’re nearly there with this task! I take the chance to catch up with another colleague Beth Thomas, the Stonehenge World Heritage Site Co-ordinator who happens to be in the Birmingham office today. We talk about some upcoming meetings relating to projects happening in the World Heritage Site. She’s also just launched a newsletter Megalith for the WHS which looks good (spot my contribution).

On the train on the way home (after devouring a large chocolate muffin and some fruit) I write up the action points from our day for everyone to make sure they complete all their tasks. I also check details for Monday – I have a site visit at Stonehenge with a colleague, following by another meeting with our exhibition designers at our Salisbury office.  It’s all go. I feel like we might need one of those Olympic style countdown clocks…. in which case it is 473(ish) days to go until we open – gulp. You can find out more about our plans on the EH website. I check into Twitter and have a conversation about capes(!), and read some of the posts on this site, before finally reaching home to catch up with my other half and his day. Now I’m writing this with a welcome Friday beer. Cheers!

PS. Thanks to the wonderful organisers of Day of Archaeology 2012 for their sterling work (again) – see you in 2013!

The Bitterley Hoard – Part Five – Shropshire in the Civil War

 Portable Antiquities Scheme logo

This section has been written by Jonathon Worton who is a studying for a PhD student at the University of Chester looking at the English Civil War in Shropshire.

Shropshire at War: July 1643 – March 1644

Speeds Map of Shropshire – Copyright and permission of Shropshire Archives/ Shropshire Council

Between July 1643 and March 1644, during the First English Civil War, the military situation in Shropshire changed radically as the war became increasingly hard-fought on Shropshire soil.

Since the beginning of the conflict between King Charles I and his political opponents, the king’s supporters in Shropshire had been active and by September had effectively neutralised parliament’s following in the county. On 20 September King Charles, his court and elements of his army entered Shrewsbury. Considerably reinforced, the Royal army marched from the county in mid-October – to fight the first major battle of the Civil Wars at Edgehill in Warwickshire on the 23rd – leaving Shropshire under Royalist control.

When in March 1643 the Royalist general Lord Capel took command in Shropshire, there were still no Parliamentarian forces or garrisons in the county. Whilst skirmishing and raids by both sides took place along the Cheshire border – with fierce fighting occurring at Whitchurch and Market Drayton – most of Shropshire was at relative peace. The county was, however, being increasingly exploited to provide money, resources and recruits for the Royalist war effort. In May, Sir William Waller’s Parliamentarian army captured Hereford, and Shropshire’s Royalists feared a Roundhead thrust into the south of the county. Whilst the London press reported the fall of Royalist Ludlow, in reality Waller’s expeditionary force soon withdrew back into Gloucestershire without having ventured onto Shropshire soil.

Royalist control in Shropshire was seriously threatened for the first time in September 1643, when a group of local Parliamentarian activists who had been driven into exile in 1642 returned to the county with military support from Cheshire and London. This county committee established a garrison at Wem and fortified the minor market town with earthworks and artillery. The threat to the Royalists’ headquarters at Shrewsbury some eight miles to the south was clear, and on 17-18 October Capel’s army repeatedly attacked Wem. Although greatly outnumbered, the Roundheads beat off the Cavaliers, who withdrew to Shrewsbury having suffered heavy casualties. Defeated in battle, Capel had also become unpopular with Shropshire’s populace – Royalists and neutrals alike – for whom wartime taxation, conscription and other military demands had become an unacceptable burden; after the defeat at Wem, one London news book (the equivalent of the modern newspaper) reported that Capel feared to leave Shrewsbury in case the townsmen barred the gates behind him!

Panorama View of Shrewsbury 1630 – 1650 – Copyright and permission Shropshire Museums

Whilst the situation of the Parliamentarians at Wem remained precarious – they complained they were isolated, short of arms and ammunition and had few local recruits – psychologically they held the upper hand. Lord Capel was recalled to the king’s headquarters at Oxford in December 1643, and there is evidence that without effective local leadership, Royalist support, morale and administration in Shropshire began to crumble. One Cavalier colonel described how the defences of Shrewsbury were in ‘great neglect’. By January 1644, the Parliamentarians were strongly fortified at Wem and had established lesser garrisons in north Shropshire. On the 12th, led by Colonel Mytton, they inflicted a significant defeat on the Royalists at Ellesmere, capturing a munitions convoy, routing the escorting cavalry regiments and capturing a number of high-ranking Cavaliers. To the south of the county, just over the Herefordshire border, was the small Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan Castle. Having successfully withstood a siege the previous summer, in the New Year the Roundheads at Brampton Bryan raided and plundered Royalist territory and succeeded in establishing an outpost in southwest Shropshire at Hopton Castle.

The Royalist high command at Oxford now turned to their most famous general, King Charles’s half-German soldier-nephew Prince Rupert, to restore the military situation in Shropshire. The prince is largely remembered as the most dashing of Cavaliers, famous for his good looks and hell for leather cavalry charges. In reality, Rupert was sober in his habits and suffered fools not at all; a careful administrator as well as a skilled tactician, Rupert was a professional soldier and a charismatic leader who attracted a following of like-minded energetic and ruthless young officers. Appointed by King Charles in January to the regional command that included Shropshire, Prince Rupert arrived in Shrewsbury on 19 February leading at least 700 experienced cavalrymen. Other Royalist reinforcements, from as far afield as Bristol and Ireland, were not far behind. The arrival of the charismatic prince no doubt heartened loyalists and swayed others to the Royalist cause. At Wem, Colonel Mytton feared the power of the prince’s persona, as much as his reinforcements, ‘in regard of the reputation of the man, whose name shouts loud in the ears of the country people’.

The influence of the prince was soon felt, with a series of Royalist successes. On 23 February he despatched one of his protégés, Major Will Legg, with a task force of cavalry and infantry to seize supplies of food and fodder from the countryside around Wem, thereby denying it to the Parliamentarians. On 4 March a Roundhead supply convoy was captured near Tong, and the next day Rupert led a raid on Market Drayton, taking by surprise and routing a Roundhead cavalry force encamped there, including a regiment from Yorkshire. Around 18 March the Parliamentarians had established a garrison at Apley Castle near Wellington, but on the 24th a Royalist force, including a Welsh regiment, occupied the town and captured the castle. The following day at Longford, near Lilleshall, 600 Parliamentarians under Mytton were defeated by a similar number of Royalists. With their last mobile force defeated, the Parliamentarians were pinned down in their garrisons. On 24 March Hopton Castle was surrendered after a hard-fought siege, and the Roundhead garrison massacred. In co-operation with Royalists from Cheshire led by Rupert’s deputy, Lord John Byron, the prince’s forces took the minor enemy garrisons in north Shropshire; and by 30 March at Ellesmere, 600 Royalist soldiers from Shrewsbury had joined forces with Byron’s men to threaten Wem. The same day another Royalist officer wrote from Shrewsbury, with obvious enthusiasm, that ‘we shall not be long troubled by our neighbours of Wem’.

By the end of March 1644, Royalist supremacy in Shropshire had been largely restored, and the Parliamentarians were contained in their garrisons at Wem, Tong and Longford, and over the Herefordshire border at Brampton Bryan. These remaining outposts soon came under Royalist pressure, and by the end of April, Wem remained once again as parliament’s sole stronghold in Shropshire.

Marshall Prospect of Shrewsbury – a view of the town in the restoration?
Copyright: Shropshire Museums

Reflections on the Bitterley Hoard – from a County perspective

From the above, it is difficult to attribute the deposition of the Bitterley hoard to a specific military event during this period. Whilst the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan was stubborn and determined, it lacked the manpower and resources to range widely into south Shropshire, and would have been checked by the Royalist garrison at Ludlow. For this period of the Civil War in the county most of the fighting occurred in the northern half. Thus, with the exception of the perceived influence of the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan – and that of the lesser, short-lived outpost at Hopton Castle – and the ‘scare’ engendered by the brief Parliamentarian occupation of Hereford in May 1643, for much of the period July 1643 to March 1644 south Shropshire must be considered to have been relatively safe for Royalist supporters, with the direct threat of Parliamentarian military action fairly minimal – although of course it is easy to state this with the hindsight of history!

There may have been Royalist soldiers from Shropshire who had served in the garrison of Bristol since its capture in July 1643, and later returned to serve in the county. A locally recruited regiment – Colonel Richard Herbert’s – had fought at the capture of Bristol, and may have been part of the garrison for a while. After fighting at Newbury in September, it returned to Shropshire and was, at least in part, in garrison at Ludlow from October. Prince Rupert’s own regiment of foot had been part of the Bristol garrison, and marched from there to Shropshire when the prince assumed command at Shrewsbury. Rupert’s ‘Bluecoats’ may have been in action at Hopton Castle, but were more likely at Brampton Bryan. An officer of the regiment who having been quartered at Bitterley and had hidden his monies there, before leaving to be killed or fatally wounded at Brampton Bryan? –  tenuous, perhaps! Bristol was also a source of Royalist war materiel that found its way to Shropshire via Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

As mentioned, Royalist military taxation became increasingly oppressive. Although in March 1644 Rupert reformed the system set up by Capel, if anything the demands became greater; and doubtless Rupert’s tax collectors were not adverse to seizing what they thought was due and considered had not been paid under the formal collection process. Parliamentarian sympathisers would of course have been under closest scrutiny for concealed wealth, but neutrals and Royalist supporters would not have been immune from these demands, the grinding financial severity of which should not be underestimated. Perhaps the Bitterley hoard is a classic case of wartime tax avoidance?

A summary of Jonathon’s current research can also be seen here:

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012


The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

PAS Logo

The coins in the Bitterley Hoard were analysed by Dr Barrie Cook and Henry Flynn of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum.

The summary of their report can be seen below.

The hoard comprised:

Edward VI, silver: 1 shilling


Elizabeth I, silver: 46 shillings




James I

  gold: 1 Britain crown;






silver: 4 half-crowns and 20 shillings







Charles I,

  Tower mint, silver: 31 half-crowns and 33 shillings






Charles I, provincial mints, silver: 1 half-crown

Charles I, Scottish coinage, silver: 1 30-shillings and 1 12-shillings

In total there are 1 gold and 137 silver coins. The gold was of the crown gold standard, 22 carat fine, and the silver of the traditional sterling standard over 90% fine metal. The face value of the silver coins was £9 6s., including the Scottish coins in English value terms; the single gold coin was originally worth 5s. but was later re-valued to 5s.6d., giving a total for the hoard of £9 11s.6d.

The latest coin is the Bristol half-crown dated 1643, produced between July 1643, when Bristol fell to Prince Rupert for the king, and March 1644. This places this group among the large number of hoards that were deposited in the early years of the English Civil War, never to be recovered until modern times.

The range of coins present is entirely consistent with such a date, with the appropriate representation of Tudor and early Stuart material. Apart from the gold coin, there are only two denominations present, the half-crown and shilling, making this a batch of quite highly selected material, without even sixpences, usually the third denomination present in large numbers in mid-17th century coin hoards.

The full Catalogue can be found here:

Further Reading:

Anyone interested in coin hoards from this period should have a look at the excellent study by Edward Besly.

E. Besly, 1988 English Civil War Coin Hoards British Museum Occasional Paper: 51 British Museum, London.

Peter Reavill

June 2012

Day of Archaeology as a PhD student

Hi.  I’m a part time PhD student researching thirteenth-century manorial buildings using medieval documents.  I’m studying at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I spent most of Friday analysing information from manorial accounts for three manors in the south east of England.  Medieval documents are not the usual focus of an archaeological PhD, but I am interested in the information about buildings that they contain.  These accounts have lots of information about what the buildings were roofed with, what the walls were made of and the different types of buildings on the manor.  There is also interesting entries, like the mole catcher, who is employed to catch moles in the lord’s pasture, or the castrating of pigs.  Some times specific historical events are recorded, like the great storm of 1361-2.  The only problem is that the accounts are in medieval Latin, which I had no knowledge of until last September.  I’ve had to learn medieval palaeography to be able to decipher the hand writing and translate the Latin.

The most interesting outcome of my analysis was that there appears to be an increase in spending on the maintenance of buildings at the end of the 1330s.  Some of the manors spent more money on repairing the buildings and others rebuild some of their buildings.  I’m yet to understand why this change occurs and so far I have only identified it in four manors, but it is a pattern that I will look out for as I investigate more manors across England.  My goal is to advance our limited knowledge of what medieval manorial buildings looked like and what they were built from, as well as how much maintenance they required.

On Friday evening, I headed up to Northern Ireland’s north coast to visit a site that I have been excavating with the National Trust.  The site is the eighteenth-century palace of the Earl Bishop, Frederick Hervey [Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol].  This has been the third year of the project and we have now uncovered many structures in the two domestick yards to the rear of the house that have been hidden since the Second World War.  There have been loads of finds of ceramic, glass, bone and iron; we needed large plastic storage boxes for the finds, instead of the usual finds bags.  We are already planning to return next year to investigate further areas of the palace.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to do some practical archaeology, it makes a change from reading medieval documents.  While I was up this weekend, filming was taking place for the next season of ‘Game of Thrones’.

I also spent a bit of time working on stuff for the Ulster Archaeological Society Newsletter.  As Assistant Editor, I have to write up notes from the Society’s lectures and field-trips, as well as contributing other notes.  This is a great way to keep informed of what is going on in Irish archaeology – Twitter and Facebook is a great help in doing this.

Finds in context

Pot sherds awaiting cataloguing

Pot sherds awaiting cataloguing

Hey, well I suppose I should start by introducing myself. My name is Kyle Young and I’m a second year (going into third year) student studying Archaeology at Cardiff University. I am currently taking part in the post-excavation archiving of the Cosmeston site, mainly dealing with the past three years of excavations. The past three digging seasons have concentrated on the area of the site marked as Cosmeston Castle on the Ordnance Survey maps, which refers to the manor house complex. The post-excavation work involves sorting through, and labelling the archaeological material (mainly pottery) that was excavated, along with creating the digital archive from the paper record sheets.

I was at Cosmeston for the 2010 season and the work I am currently doing with the finds from the site is enabling me to have a better understanding of what occurred there. Through working on the site I  could see and understood what it was, but it is through studying the finds that I am beginning to fully appreciate what actually happened within the manor house, and also during the post-medieval period when it was demolished.

The medieval pottery that has been uncovered at the site appears to be of quite fine quality. There are a large number of imports from France and large amounts of Bristol-ware. This suggests a high-status household. There are also examples of extremely fine locally made products, such as the ram’s head vessel (a possible aquamanile) found in this season’s excavations. The only other similar vessel from this area was found at Cardiff Castle during excavations in 2004-2005 by local unit GGAT, indicating that this was a high-status item.

The large quantities of post-medieval pottery excavated at the site – such as North Devon sgrafitto wares, Bristol tin glazed bowls and a Cistercian style lid (a 16th Century style of glazed pot) – are useful in dating the final phases of the manor. Found in contexts associated with the demolition of the manorial buildings and robbing of walls for building material, they help tell us when these activities occurred.

Applied clay spirals on the body of a medieval Saintonge jug.

Applied clay spirals on the body of a medieval Saintonge jug.

It is the job of archaeologist in post excavation to look at the assemblage from the site and attempt to sort it, which is currently what we are doing with the Cosmeston collection. Most of the previous seasons’ work has already been sorted and catalogued and merely requires each sherd to be labelled with the site code and context number (as Louise noted in her blog earlier). Currently we are dealing mainly with the 2009 excavations, so the site code is COS09.

The 2011 excavations, however, have yet to be fully sorted and catalogued and so require us to do this before we can label anything. So far we have sorted the pottery finds from the 2011 demolition layer and labelled the sherds accordingly. As we continue to work through the material we will bring you all the latest news on the Cosmeston blog.

Piecing togther our past in post-excavation

Hiya everyone, Louise writing here.

Archaeology and medieval history is something I’ve been interested in for years, but never really knew how to get involved with any projects and I was put off applying for a history degree by my careers adviser when I was in college. ‘Why do you want to do a history degree when your A level subjects are sociology, law and English? Best you apply for an English degree somewhere’. Rather disheartened by this negative response I decided that education wasn’t for me and I joined the world of full time employment. I tried my hand at many different careers, from care assistant and pharmacy technician to burger van and mushroom picker, but I never felt satisfied with the work, so as my 30th birthday was fast approaching I took the plunge and enrolled at Neath Port Talbot college to do an Access to Humanities course. It was brilliant. The lecturers were all very supportive and encouraged us all to go down which ever route we felt was right for ourselves.

Is it local or from Bristol?

As a result of going back to college I have ended up studying Archaeology and Medieval History at Cardiff University. Part of the course requires you to undertake work placement in an archaeological environment. I chose to do post excavation as it’s what I would love to do with my degree eventually, I find it fascinating how small fragments of pottery or bone can be dated and analysed to give us a better understanding of how our ancestors lived. I think that in post excavation more time can be taken to look at the finds and details from site that may have been missed in the field.

Kyle checking his fabrics

This week we have been labelling pottery, a very tedious but vital task and one which provides the opportunity to cross fit pottery from different contexts to try and piece together complete vessels. Each tiny sherd of pottery must be labelled with the site code and context number just in case a little bit gets misplaced. It was pretty dull but then Alice (Cardiff PhD student and Cosmeston finds co-ordinator) did a workshop on how to identify the pieces that we were labelling. Suddenly the bits of pottery began to mean something more to me. I can now tell the region that each piece would have been made in and how the complete item may have looked, which is making the essential job much more interesting. Post excavation is a long meticulous process but very rewarding as I know I am helping to preserve the archaeology for future generations to appreciate.