Bronze Age

Bits and piecing

Hundreds of fragments of Bronze Age bronze objects, but do any of them join together?

Large collections of complete and broken bronze objects have been discovered buried in the ground throughout Europe. Here in Kent we have several examples including the large hoard from Boughton Malherbe buried around 2,800 years ago. It contains approximately 352 items but many of these are fragments. Today I am trying to see if any of the fragments join together. I want to know why these different items have been gathered together and buried. Were any of them deliberately broken? Were the pieces buried together? Why?

Sophie in the cellarmould frag

Most days I am studying archaeological reports on excavated evidence for prehistoric bronze casting and working of gold and silver. So I relish this opportunity to actually handle the ancient artefacts (even if through gloves), rather than just reading about them. Digging and being the first to see, to touch, to smell an object or a surface, a structure, even the bottom of a pit, that’s what inspires me. If I can’t be out in the field then examining the objects off-site is a satisfying alternative. There are so many stages of discovery in archaeology and these continue for years after the dust has settled on the excavation site. The detailed examination of artefacts is just one of those exhilarating stages.

Knole Handling Knole Handling 3Knole Handling 2

Research is just one of the many activities I have the fortune to be involved in as an archaeologist. Take this week for example: for me it began on-site, digging with the Young Archaeologist’s Club (18th century archaeology – see Andrew Mayfield’s DoA post). This was followed by a Festival of Archaeology event at Knole House (17th century related) showing and sharing the tactile and sensory handling kit I have prepared for all visitors especially those with a Visual Impairment. Next it was library based research in London looking up metalworking sites (c.2500BC to AD 50). Today has been working on the Boughton Malherbe hoard and I’ll finish the week with a Festival of Archaeology event at Maidstone Museum presenting the latest results on the hoard, and showing some of the objects to the public.

And what did I discover today? Most of the fragments don’t join together. But there are two definite refits: a socketed axe and a socketed gouge. Should I let my mind’s eye imagine a Bronze Age procession of people carrying a fragment to represent themselves? The pieces of the community buried together? One thing is for certain, I keep finding more and more questions in need of answers.


Thanks to Maidstone Museum and Kent Archaeological Society, Allen Grove Fund, for making the Boughton Malherbe hoard research possible. Thanks also to the National Trust for the opportunity to make the sensory handling kit for Knole. Extra special thanks to all the staff at Maidstone and Knole for their encouragement and interest.

Into the Bronze Age, commercial excavations at Llanfaethlu Anglesey

Since 2014 C.R Archaeology have been the principle archaeologist at the new school development at Llanfaethlu Anglesey on behalf of Anglesey council. A desk based assessment, geophysics and trenching uncovered a large amount of late #Neolithic pit and a possibly #Neolithic house. Further evaluation in 2015 led to the discovery of three #Neolithic houses,the largest Neolithic settlement in Wales.

As of June 2016 C.R Archaeology have been carrying out a watching brief on behalf the construction company. To the south of the #Neolithic settlement this watching brief uncovered a large group of early #Bronzeage pits and a classic #Bronzeage feature in #Wales a Burnt mound.

A break in construction this week has given the opportunity to start processing the large amount of pottery and stone artifacts.

What does a Science Advisor do all day?



Much earlier this year on a visit to the submerged forest at Erith I had found what appeared to be a hurdle; woven from thin pieces of wood. My colleagues in Historic England at Fort Cumberland had identified the wood as Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and the samples were sent for radiocarbon dating.  Today we got the results of the dating the fragments of ash wood date to the Bronze Age which is excellent news as this is consistent with other dated material from this part of the submerged forest and is exciting as the structure is likely to have been made humans rather than the trees which were overwhelmed by rising river levels.

Next I was asked for advice about a site where Vibro columns were proposed as means of ground improvement. It is very common for buildings to built using piled foundations. This method is often referred to as piling but this is misleading. Vibro columns involve a very different approach mechanically. The particles in the deposits are shaken down into place to provide a more compact and solid base for building upon. How these methods impact archaeological deposits is still poorly understood. We do know that it causes movement and settlement over a wider area and is likely to adversely affect any archaeology present. To find out more about piling and archaeology see

I then joined colleagues from GLAAS (Greater London Archaeological Advice Service) and Development Management team for a visit to the Curtain Theatre excavations in Hackney. Here the knucklebone floor which had been much admired and re-tweeted recently was being reburied. The controlled reburial of archaeological remains to preserve them is referred to as preservation in situ this can be permanent or temporary.  The area to be reburied had been covered with a special membrane Terram and the next stage was for it to be covered with sand. The type of sand used is very important it has to be able to be packed down evenly to provide a buffer layer between the archaeology and what is to go above it and also has to have a low Iron content to avoid leaching into the archaeological deposits and potentially damaging them.

My next task was to work on our next training event. Over the last year or so we have been putting on a series of one day training sessions on Human remains in commercial archaeology, ethical legal and curatorial considerations.  These events have been very well attended and the feedback has also been very positive. The audience has included curators, consultants and contractors. This has involved lots of input from colleagues within Historic England both for technical input and logistic arrangements and also many external speakers from local authorities, universities,  the Church of England and the ministry of justice as well as and archaeology companies and freelance specialists.

So a full and varied day of archaeological science.


Digging Diaries – The House As Old As Stonehenge

Following on from the wonders of Star Carr, here’s our next video, ‘The House As Old As Stonehenge’

A digging team has uncovered the remains of a building which is over 4000 years old. It’s been found on the vast Neolithic landscape of Marden Henge situated within the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

The University of Reading Archaeology Department have been carrying out the excavations in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Wiltshire Museum.

Subscribe to our channel and follow us on Twitter (@DiggingDiaries) to keep up to date with all  the new exciting digs and dives happening all over Britain this summer.

Happy Digging from all the team!

Moving a site on Sanday – Bronze Age buildings, a well with steps, and much, much more.

Never assume you know what you’re going to find – sites always throw up surprises. SCAPE’s project with the Sanday Archaeology Group in Orkney is a perfect example… who thought we’d find a Bronze Age well during a reconstruction project!

Steps down into the well, with water at the bottom. ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Steps down into the well ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Our Day of Archaeology 2014 was very eventful, and to get an idea of the hive of activity, see a time lapse film of the first two hours on site. The Day came half way through our project on Sanday, where we were working with the local group to relocate a previously excavated Bronze Age site. Local residents had reported structures revealed on a beach after a storm, leading to an emergency evaluation (it was thought that there might be a burial within the stone tank). The excavation had showed the site to be one of only a handful of burnt mounds with surviving structures within them. After the excavation, the sea continued to attack the stone tank, orthostats and a corbelled cell, and the local group wanted to preserve something of the site by moving some of the stones to their newly opened Heritage Centre, away from the sea. The group contacted SCAPE’s Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project – and a plan to relocate the stonework was devised as a ShoreDig project.

The Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk logo  ©SCAPE

The Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk logo ©SCAPE

Before we could transfer the large stone slabs to the Heritage Centre, we had to reveal the masonry from under the beach cobbles. The original excavation had located a corbelled cell buried in the coastal section, but health and safety concerns had prevented full excavation. By the time we started digging in early July, the sea had eroded back the coast edge, allowing access the cell. After getting our Shetland stonemasons, Jim Keddie and Rick Barton, to check the structure, we excavated demolition and backfill material to reveal six steps leading down to an underground chamber.

Excavating the Bronze Age well on Sanday ©SCAPE

Excavating the Bronze Age well on Sanday ©SCAPE

The prehistoric structure stood three metres high to the top of its corbelled roof. The lower chamber was full of water; and the silt at the bottom of the well was full of remarkably well-preserved organic material (I’ve never seen Bronze Age seaweed before). Part of our Day of Archaeology was spent sampling the organic silts, bagging 100% of the material for future analysis.

Bronze Age seaweed from the well excavated on a beach, Sanday, Orkney. ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Bronze Age seaweed from the well excavated on a beach, Sanday, Orkney. ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Burnt mounds often have a large trough or tank, and in Scotland, some of these tanks are made of large, flat slabs of stone. We excavated the cut for the stone tank, finding that the base was far larger than the size of the tank – and that the four side-stones had been placed on the flat slab at the bottom.

Preparing to move the base slab of the stone tank.©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Preparing to move the base slab of the stone tank. ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Much of our Day of Archaeology was spent moving the last of the stones to the reconstruction site. We plotted the relative positions of the stones with an EDM; and photographed, numbered and drew all the stones before lifting them. Jo and Ellie from SCAPE worked with Sanday Archaeology Group members to prepare the site so that the stones could be lifted. A second team of local volunteers were ready with tractors, trailers, digger and slings to move the stones off site.

Moving stones from the site at Meur ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Moving stones from the site at Meur ©Tom Dawson/SCAPE

Once the base slab was lifted, we saw that it had been built over an earlier, possibly corbelled, structure, perhaps explaining why such a large stone was used. This was very unexpected, and we managed to capture the moment as part of the filming we were doing for possible inclusion in the next series of Digging for Britain.

Jo filming Tom while stones are moved in the background. ©Ellie Graham/SCAPE

Jo filming Tom on site. ©Ellie Graham/SCAPE

Our Day of Archaeology was a great success – to learn more about what we found, (and what was under the slab) visit our Facebook page; or follow us on Twitter.

Back to the prehistoric future

It’s so nice to be doing archaeology again. My training was in archaeology (specifically the prehistory of north-western Europe) but after graduation I drifted into museum education, which turned out to be perfect for me in every way except one: there was very little archaeology. I ended up teaching and writing about the Tudors, Victorians and World Wars a lot. What archaeology there was in these topics was shunted aside by the overwhelming pile of historical documents and images.

But now (oh happy day!), archaeology is going to be taught in English museums in a big way. Not just as a fun add-on to a school’s day out, but as central to understanding the newest school topic in town: Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Today I spent the afternoon at an event held by the Surrey Museums Engagement Officer Haidee Thomas at Brooklands Museum. Teachers and senior school leaders were asked along to find out how to embed the contribution of museums and cultural organisations into their planning in history, geography and the arts. I sought out the museums offering prehistoric resources, as did many teachers who are currently baffled by the requirement to teach 800,000 more years of history.


Extract of the National Curriculum for England

The museums with prehistoric collections were creating handling boxes of real and replica Palaeolithic handaxes, Neolithic axes and arrowheads, Bronze Age palstaves, and Iron Age coins. It’s going to be amazing for kids to feel real ground stone axes, an original from Farnham Museum had been set in a new handle so kids could get an idea of how it was used. Elmbridge Museum had a real lava stone grinder in their handling box, which was clearly well used. Surrey Heritage’s box explores the production of a flint tool from the nodule to core, to flake and finished hafted tool. Chertsey Museum already runs archaeological digs in the museum and out at schools, and aims to create an Iron Age walk around Queen Anne’s Hill, which has a hillfort on it.

Comparing a broken original handaxe with a complete replica

Comparing a broken original handaxe with a complete replica

In a most interesting discussion with Farnham Museum, we tied learning about hunter-gatherers with the Forest School movement that is taking off in UK schools. Learning how to make fire, know what resources the natural world can provide, and what skills prehistoric people had as well as their rich cultural world can all be delivered alongside a Forest School programme.


The best thing about the day was hearing from teachers and museums that teaching local prehistory was going to be high on everyone’s list. The wonderful thing about prehistory is because it was such a long period, there’s something found near everyone. Whether it’s a stray arrowhead that was found down the road, or the round barrow that’s up on the hill nearby, it ties archaeology in with children’s lived experiences. I can’t wait for the new academic year!

A day in the life of the MicroPasts project

Writing to you from the UCL Institute of Archaeology on a rather grim London day, the MicroPasts team does not rest for a moment! Our project has been engaging the public with real academic and museum-related tasks, by creating a fun and dynamic crowd-sourcing platform with several applications. Teaming up with the British Museum, our first tasks were related to a magnificent collection of British Bronze Age metal finds (covering ca. 2500-800BC). We started off with two major types of tasks: the first one is document transcription, and the second is the careful masking of object photos, as a step in the process of 3D modelling.

But what can contributors actually do on our platform?

If you like the challenge of deciphering old handwriting and the digitisation of beautifully handcrafted index cards, one of the several transcription application could be just for you. Each application actually represents a real physical drawer located at the British Museum. These drawers form the National Bronze Implements Index – a catalogue of about 30,000 index cards of metal objects discovered mainly in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. These have never been digitised, so you can help British Museum curators to get this really important job done! The transcription application enables you to type the text you see on these cards (such as object type, measurements, collection, date of discovery, condition, etc.), as well as marking its findspot on a dynamic map (if exact location of discovery is known). A digital database of all these finds will complement the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, which includes a large part of metalwork discovered in England and Wales since 2003. This will result in a mega-database of prehistoric metal finds – probably the most comprehensive in the world!

An index card of one of the Arreton Down Hoard objects

An index card of one of the Arreton Down Hoard objects

There’s another type of application for you, if you fancy 3D modelling. We have three photo-masking applications – two are of Bronze Age metal objects such as axes or spears, and one of an Egyptian funerary figurine – a shabti. But what is photo-masking anyway? It is an important step in the creation of 3D models using Structure-from-Motion technique. With SfM, you don’t need to be a 3D expert to create high-quality 3D models. You need to take photos (using a regular camera!) of an object of your liking, or even a landscape feature, following simple guidelines. The object should be photographed from about 40-50 angles (or more if you really want to), with sufficient overlap. And this is where photo-masking comes in. Before processing your photos via 3D-modelling software (e.g. PhotoScan or VisualSfM), it is much better (especially for artefact-scale work) to tell the software where the object ends and where the background begins. Separating the object from the background can be done by drawing an outline polygon of the object. This can be done on the MicroPasts platform! Then the raw images and their ‘masks’ can be uploaded to the software, and you can go on and create your 3D model by building a dense cloud, mesh and texture. While the MicroPasts team are still doing most of these things – you can help us by creating really good quality photo masks. We will then create the models and make them available to you!

A screenshot of our photo-masking application - this spear is from the Arreton Down Hoard

A screenshot of our photo-masking application – this spear is from the Arreton Down Hoard

But MicroPasts is not only about helping out with tasks – it’s also about learning and skill building. If you’re interested in the themes covered by our project, you can learn more about them on our Learning Resources page. We regularly write blog posts and tutorials on topics such as 3D modelling or British prehistory. In addition, we have a community forum where you could ask us anything you like, and if you have ideas for research using the data created on MicroPasts – we are really keen to hear. We are keen to develop and take forward MicroPasts with our community! Obviously, all data created on our platform is freely accessible for anyone – just have a look at our Data Centre page. We’re also working on another component – a crowd-funding platform, where joint academic-community projects could raise funds from interested members of the public. You will be able to contribute to something that you are passionate about, or start a crowd-funding appeal of your own.

So if you’re also rained in, why not go to and check it out? If you have any questions or feedback, we’re happy to help!


The MicroPasts team:

Adi, Chiara, Andy and Dan

Uncovering the Mysteries of a Bronze Age Burial

This is the second year Wiltshire Conservation Service has taken part in Day of Archaeology. This year I thought I’d blog about the work I’ve been doing on an amazing Bronze Age cist burial.

The burial cist was excavated in August 2011and was located on Whitehorse Hill, northern Dartmoor, on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.   The work was carried out by archaeologists from the Historic Environment Projects Team, Cornwall Council, led by Andrew Jones, with assistance from English Heritage (EH) and Plymouth University specialists.

Cist in situ

The cist was first discovered over 10 years ago when what appeared to be its end stone fell out of the peat mound which had been concealing it.   Since that time the peat has slowly eroded away from the sides and the top of the peat mound and after several attempts to protect the cist, a Scheduled Monument, the decision was taken by the Dartmoor National Park Authority and English Heritage to excavate it in order to recover any surviving archaeological and environmental information before the site and its context were lost.  This was the first excavation of a Dartmoor cist for nearly one hundred years.

During the late afternoon, three days into the excavation, the stones of the cist were dismantled and the large cover stone (measuring 0.8 x 0.6m) removed.  This revealed a burial deposit lying in situ on the base stone of the cist. Visible remains included bone fragments, a shale bead and what appeared to be hair or fur. Two sharpened wooden stakes were also discovered outside the cist, one lying horizontally against one of the side walls and the other still vertically placed into the peat against one of the end stones.

Located within peat at 600m altitude on one of Dartmoor’s highest tors, the cist offered high potential for good preservation of any remaining contents. It was at this point that I was contacted to carry out a microexcavation of the cist – little did I know the extent of what would be found inside!

The level of preservation inside the cist has been fantastic and the objects I have found have far exceeded all our expectations. The occupant of the grave was cremated and the bone wrapped inside an animal pelt. Grave goods include a woven band with tin rivets, a basketry bag containing a flint, two sets of wooden studs and nearly 200 shale, amber and tin beads. There is also an object made from leather and woven plant material which is so far proving to be a bit of a mystery. The craftsmanship that has gone into making these objects is pretty mindblowing and it is clear that their owner was someone of importance.

Back of woven bag (flipped over)

The project team are gathering the results of analysis that has been carried out and we hope to be able to share the results later on this year. Of particular interest is DNA analysis of the pelt, which we hope will reveal the species of the animal skin used to wrap the cremation. Meanwhile, I have been working on the conservation of the objects which is still ongoing. Today I’ll be working on cleaning and consolidating the woven band and checking on the pelt, which is being dried under controlled conditions.

Removing fur-hide layer2

The project has provided an opportunity not only to try and discover who the occupant of the grave might have been, but to also give a unique insight into life in the Early Bronze Age and I am extremely privileged to have been involved. The objects will be going on display at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in 2014 so check their website for more details I’ll also be posting updates on Twitter @helenwcons and on our blog

The project was jointly funded by the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and English Heritage, with contributions from a number of other local funders.

Digging a Tell

On the 29th of June I was digging in Százhalombatta (Hungary) in the middle of a Bronze Age tell, where there has been continuous habitation from c. 2200 BC to c. 1800 BC (Nagyrév and Vatya cultures) and a 4.5 m deep stratigraphy was formed.

It is a training and research dig and although I am a Roman specialist, the site director invited me, together with other more experienced diggers, to take part in the season.

So what was my day like? I have spent my day in the 20 x 20 m trench and delicately excavated and recorded a 1 x 1 m grid inside a Bronze Age house. I have only removed a couple of cm, but in a tell like that, this is a usual amount of work you can do within one working day.  Also there was a lot of sampling, and we sieve every bucket, we are even collecting every pebble!

The dig will run till the end of July, and you can find out more information here.