Cosmeston Medieval Village

Why I Love Pot

Hello, this is Alice Forward, PhD student at Cardiff, wrapping up the Cosmeston Archaeology contributions for Day of Archaeology 2011. We have had three excellent blogs today; Nicolle who started the day with photo scanning, Louise at lunchtime discussed how she was lured to archaeology by medieval dreams, and afternoon tea with Kyle, a Cosmeston old timer who is particularly familiar with the 2010 season of excavation. These three are part of a group of six students undertaking a post-excavation course on the material from Cosmeston. We will be bringing you blogs from each (Stuart, Sarah and Beth) over the next three weeks on our Cosmeston archaeology blog, so please check us out!

Post-excavation generally places archaeologists into two camps. Those who secretly enjoy organising things and those who are likely to start taking holiday time in order to avoid those rainy pot washing days. I most definitely fall into the former of these, but it isn’t the cataloguing that gets me going! Post-excavation enables you to directly engage with the archaeological record and analytical process. As Kyle said you understand so much more when you begin to bring it all together.

This week has involved initial work with the paper archive and, as all the finds had been washed and bagged on site, we moved straight to marking and sorting the pottery. The key principle for marking pottery is that it should be resilient but reversible, so that if necessary it can be removed. In order to achieve this we use Paraloid B72 (a non-yellowing acrylic resin) mixed with acetone (20% weight to volume). A thin band of this is painted on the object and, after it has dried, the site code and context number is written on in black ink. When the ink has dried a second layer of Paraloid is applied to seal the information. This can be removed without damaging the object using a cotton swab and 100% acetone (for more information see Collections Link).

As Louise also mentioned, marking pottery is necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, boxes get dropped, mice can chew through plastic bags and plastic bags degrade. With pottery all marked up, there is no danger of losing context, enabling future generations to study assemblages. Secondly, particularly with pottery, interpretation of contexts can be helped if it is clear that parts of one vessel were deposited within a number of different features. To keep a record of this, and to enable reconstruction of the pot, you need to be able to know specifically where the sherds came from.

Sherd Nerd

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Why do I have such a fascination and love of pottery?! I first began to find it particularly interesting when I was excavating in Leicester city centre on the High Cross development. The work there was bringing up massive amounts of ceramic material and I was particularly frustrated that I couldn’t identify the sherds (other than what was medieval and what was Roman). This lack of knowledge cultivated a desire to be able to know my way around a ceramic assemblage. I was lucky enough at ULAS to have a supportive manager, Nick Cooper, who began my formal training. Since starting the PhD at Cardiff University I have developed a good knowledge of South Welsh pottery. This saved me this week, as people were tired of just marking random bits of pottery, but once they were able to recognise what they were marking the job became far more interesting.

Reading the last paragraph back has slightly surprised me and made me realise how exciting my life must seem…

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.

Cosmeston post-excavation morning report

Hello everyone,

This is Nicolle Grieve, 20, Cardiff University 3rd year student studying BA joint honours Ancient History and Archaeology.

Although I had originally entered university to study single honours Ancient History, the archaeology modules provided an opportunity to study the ancient Egyptians and a chance to get physically involved in the process of excavation.

Last year I took part in an excavation of a Neolithic site at Brodsworth. It was a brilliant experience and, although the work was hard and the thought of living in a tent for a month wasn’t appealing, I found I really enjoyed my time on excavation. I returned healthy (very tanned), I met a lot of great people and the Wednesday night BBQ was always something to look forward to.

This year however, I wanted to experience the other side of excavation, the post-excavation work. At Cardiff University we are looking at what happens with the material found after excavations. As a group of six students we have looked at material found at Cosmeston.  We have been sorting and marking the pottery found in each context. Each sherd of pottery is marked with the site code and context number (where it was found), so if lost or misplaced it can be reconnected with the area from which it was discovered.

My main job though has been writing up the Cosmeston context sheets, and following this, scanning in the photographs taken during work in the 1980s to cross reference them with the catalogue to build a digital archive. This is very important because post excavation is about organising and ensuring the material and information is preserved. With the completed digital archive it not only makes the work of archaeologists studying the finds of the 1980’s easier but it allows us as archaeologists to find patterns within similar sites and find links in which we can form theories.  The overall process of post excavation is the most time consuming part of archaeology but the final stage, cataloguing the information ready for publication, is in some ways, the most rewarding part in my opinion.

Post-excavation – if you love alphabetising your DVD and CD collections this is the job for you.

We are the Cosmeston post-excavation team based in and from Cardiff University. Our job involves working with the paper and material archive, preparing it for analysis and interpretation. This year’s excavation at Cosmeston ended last week after a month of hard digging (see our blog) and this week the post-excavation team has been digitising the paper archives, scanning in slides from the 1980s excavations, as well as sorting and marking pottery. After four years of excavation there is a good amount of work to do and already the context information, registers and half of the pottery excavated in 2009 have been digitised, archived and organised. Today we will introduce you to a number of our students and provide an account of a day in the life of a post-excavation team.

Cosmeston is a medieval settlement in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales. Initially discovered in 1979 by local archaeology company GGAT, University excavations since 2007, involving students and the local community, have advanced our understanding of this complex medieval settlement. The site was reconstructed in the 1980s on the foundations of a number of the excavated buildings and is now a living museum with pigs, ducks and sheep, cared for by the staff who also manage and maintain the buildings and land. This is a well loved local resource which also acts as a set for the filming of Merlin.