Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Lyminge Archaeological Project: Anglo-Saxons in Kent

Aerial view of part of the monastic phase at Lyminge (8th/9th centuries AD)

Aerial view of part of the monastic phase at Lyminge (8th/9th centuries AD)

Hello and welcome to the contribution direct from the field in Lyminge, Kent! I’m sitting in our ex-Korean War mess tent on the edge of the excavation watching the archaeology unfold in front of me.

We are an AHRC funded research project run from the University of Reading and we are undertaking open area excavation in a picturesque village in the south-east of England. Lyminge has an extensive Anglo-Saxon history and we have been working in the area since 2007.

We began open area excavation in 2008-2009 and uncovered the precinct of the monastery that existed in Lyminge in the 7th-9th centuries AD. In 2010 we moved to a new area and discovered part of the pre-existing, pre-Christian royal vill at Lyminge, dating to around the 5th-7th centuries AD. Lyminge appears to have been a highly significant settlement over several centuries, and we have been uncovering some very high-status Anglo-Saxon evidence. Last year we revealed the full plan of a 21×8.5m feasting hall that dates to c.600 AD, together with datable finds in the wall trenches of the building, like the beautiful horse harness mount that dates from AD 525-575.

The Lyminge excavations in 2012.

The Lyminge excavations in 2012. The feasting hall is clearly vsible across almost the whole trench!

I’m Dr Alexandra Knox and I’m the assistant director. The project is led by Dr Gabor Thomas, and we have a small full-time team thoughout the year, with Simon Maslin (Data Manager and Environmental Supervisor) and Zoe Knapp (Zooarchaeology of Lyminge PhD and Site Supervisor).

A view from the spoilheap of this year's trench

A view from the spoilheap of this year’s trench – it looks like it’s empty but all the features have baked to the same colour as the natural clay!

Dr Alexandra Knox

Me!

It’s in the summer that we get out for six weeks and our team expands! University students and local volunteers sign up to learn field skills and join in for the season, with training provided by Rosie Cummings, our excavation manager. Roo Mitcheson (Egypt Exploration Society), Keith Parfitt (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) and Andy Macintosh (also CAT) and Ben Parker (University of Kent) complete the supervisory team and Helen Harrington runs Finds with Emily Harwood (University of Kent), her assistant. Finally, Bethany Wood (University of Reading) looks after our visitors!

Lots more information about our digs over the years can be found at www.lymingearchaeology.org and throughout the dig I write a blog to record our discoveries.

Today we are almost a full week in to the dig, which means that cleaning back our 30x30m trench is almost

Gabor uses the total station to finish laying out the grid today

Gabor uses the total station to finish laying out the grid today

complete. So far we haven’t begun full excavation into the features, as we open a new area each year and have to hand clean the trench after the machine has removed the topsoil to reveal the archaeology. Students and volunteers have been deployed on those areas that need extra attention and we’re starting to make sense of the series of dark shapes in the natural orange clay. The extremely hot weather has been difficult to deal with, both for those digging and for the geology – the clay bakes very hard and we have to keep watering the site. Finally the weather has turned in our favour and we are finding it much easier to dig with a few clouds and a light breeze!

Rosie waters down the site so we can clean it much more easily!

Rosie waters down the site so we can clean it much more easily!

Today, Gabor and Roo are finishing laying out the internal grid on the site while the volunteers finish up cleaning. We can then do a full pre-excavation plan of the site today, something that isn’t absolutely necessary in terms of records, but we always like to do – it can be so helpful to go back to the pre-ex plan to compare what things looked like before you started to dig them, and to locate lost post holes! We will also begin labelling our features with context numbers so we have everything ready to begin digging into the features. As I wrote in my blog post yesterday on our own project blog, we know we already have several sunken-featured buildings and a possible timber hall, so things are looking very good for the next five weeks in terms of Anglo-Saxon archaeology.

Simon arrived today and is busy digging a nice hole in the spoil heap so that he can set up his flotation

Charlotte digs out the spoilheap so the flotation tank has somewhere to drain.

Charlotte digs out the spoilheap so the flotation tank has somewhere to drain.

tank and have somewhere for the water to soak away. He’s also getting the generator going for his pump, and we will be able to process our environmental samples on site. It’s great to be able to process samples on site as we get immediate feedback about the features and can adapt our strategy accordingly.

Simon, Ben and Warren get the generator for the flotation tank pump sorted out

Simon, Ben and Warren get the generator for the flotation tank pump sorted o

We also have a very busy Finds tent, with lots of local volunteers coming back each day to help with finds processing. We’ve had a core team of local ladies that come back year after year. Being week 1, of course, there isn’t so much to wash yet! What we do have lots of are mesolithic and neolithic flints, with a spread of these flints all over the field that we dig on, Tayne Field. While we don’t have prehistoric archaeological features, we are certainly able to interpret the site as a place frequented by mesolithic peoples who were sourcing flints and perhaps beginning to knap tools before taking them away for further use. The spring located at the head of the valley would have been an excellent source of fresh water for settlement and stopping over for many thousands of years. The Finds team are also hard at work recording the first small finds and other items coming up in the cleaning of the trench.

Emily (left), Rebecca and Ben sorting out finds

Emily (left), Rebecca and Ben sorting out finds

We’ve got lots going on today – even filming! Steve is a local camerman and producer and has generously agreed to help us document the excavation on film. This will be part of the sit archive but could also potentially be used in any future television documentaries. Steve grabs us when we’re not expecting it and gets us to explain what we’re doing to the camera!

Steve films Helen with a find

Steve films Helen with a find

I usually get a bit nervous in front of a camera but it’s all good fun and before you know it you’ve chatted away about an exciting find without worrying about the lens in front of you!

It’s currently the afternoon break and everyone is off site for a well deserved cup of tea. Some great features are coming up and you can see one of the sunken-featured buildings in the photo below, which has been nicely wetted down so you can see the edges. We’re really looking forward to starting to excavated these features as they’re often full of datable finds – certainly those that we’ve found in previous seasons have had fantastic artefacts within them (you can see a few of them at www.lymingearchaeology.org/photo-gallery)

The rest of the day will be spent finishing the cleaning back, planning, labelling and photographing, to say nothing of the blogging!

Andy cleans back next to one of our SFBs

Andy cleans back next to one of our SFBs, the rectangular dark shape in the foreground


A Day at the Shopping Mall CSI lab (Conservation Science Investigations)

A bit of an introduction and general update:

I am the conservation manager at “Anglo-Saxon CSI:Sittingbourne” [www.anglosaxoncsi.wordpress.com / facebook / @CSIsitt], we reported from the lab last year and are very pleased to be taking part in Day of Archaeology again…

Our project has had some periods of closure due to lack of funding over the past year, and we are in the midst of a fundraising campaign at the moment and seeking out new ways to fund conservation of the 2nd half of the Meads cemetery; as well as expand and take forward the CSI shopping mall lab concept. We are open 10-4 Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the moment, and possibly might add Saturdays for July and August. Although we had to stop conservation work for a large part of last year, work on recording the large bead assembly, and reviewing the results of the conservation work took place, and the Assessment Report for Meads II is with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust editors and hopefully out soon. I shall be away for most of the next 2 months (family illness and then conserving on site for Rutgers University Dig in the Upper Sabina Tiberia Valley, Italy). So today we started to confirm plans to ‘down scalpels’ and carry out a further review of the conservation work and invite volunteers and visitors to attempt reconstructions of our grave groups while I am away. We also need to compile a list of research questions we may have about materials we might want to investigate further, with the portable Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) that is coming to the lab soon – thanks to a generous scientific equipment grant that has recently been awarded to Oxford University (RLAHA) for the CSI project and general conservation use, by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Our partners, Sittingbourne Heritage Museum have counted well over 18,000 visitors to date; and last summer’s count of conservation volunteer hours topped 5,000 !!

The morning’s activities:

Heritage Studies MA student Vicky Price interviewing artist Rob Bloomfield about his work with CSI.

 

Volunteer Vicky Price (Heritage Studies [contemporary practice] Kingston University, MA student] and I discussed her work on shield studs from grave 111, and her main task for the day – her desire to interview me and our resident artist, Rob Bloomfield for our views on the relationship between art & science in our work, and processes of how we are working with the CSI project, for her dissertation (working title: “Narrative, craft and the investigative conservator”)

Vicky’s interview with Rob then turned into a larger discussion about authenticity vs. creativity in his drawings and also his observations that the work of the investigative conservator is a bit like that of a sculptor, but at opposite ends of the spectrum… and he came up with the term “intricate deconstruction”. It is great to have such a wide mix of people involved with this conservation project… and really great to have Rob’s fabulous range of illustrations – today he was sketching ideas for a poster to advertise summer workshops and this also resulted in a possible new T-shirt design, an Anglo-Saxon Warrior (We have an unusually high proportion of warrior graves at our site)… unfortunately, the sword ended up looking more Roman than Anglo-Saxon, so this is not the final copy – it is an interesting and sometimes tricky collaboration… Rob is an unemployed artist, and this is his first experience working with a professional archaeological project.

Rob’s sketches for designing a poster advertising summer workshops “Hands on the Past”

Rob’s Anglo-Saxon Warrior drawing (although sword and scabbard should be longer)


The comic strip: Find of the Day

Promoting the project takes many different forms. As a PR-type person, I’d argue that all finds and information from any archaeological project only take on value when their existence is communicated. This is an amazing time for being able to reach people without having to rely on the purchase of a newspaper, seeing or hearing a broadcast, waiting for an article or book publication…

Communication

A Town Unearthed has Heritage Lottery funding. It’s only a couple of years ago that I wrote a communications plan for a successful BIG Lottery grant of nearly £300K without mentioning social media. I can’t see that happening today. One of ATU’s lovelier means of communication is through the development of a wonderful comic strip. You’ll need to click on those words as sadly the ancient lap-top can’t support the illustration otherwise.

This is being done by the wonderful Marine Clabaut, who is spending the summer on the dig while working as an intern with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Tech trouble

I’m clearly having trouble with technology today: I caught sight of Lorna Richardson and a couple of  other contributors on the Google+ hang-out: they could hear me but I could not hear them…