Dorset

Post ex and festivals

In the office today after two weeks out on a cliff edge excavating a burnt mound, not too unhappy as it is pouring outside and almost dark!

Its been a game of two halves today as I start on the post excavation tasks from the dig and also prepare for a Festival of British Archaeology event at A la Ronde near Exmouth.

Seatown, Dorset. The burnt mound can be seen eroding from the cliff about a meter down

Seatown, Dorset. The burnt mound can be seen eroding from the cliff about a meter down

There are flints to process and some pottery to clean. We also took lots of samples from the burnt mound so need to think what we need to know from them, and also sort out which charcoal sample we will send off for radiocarbon dating. We found two iron age ovens as well as the bronze age burnt mound, so the samples and pottery span over both ages. As for the flints they range from microliths to possible lathe tools a real mixed bag.

 

A lovely scraper from Seatown burnt mound excavations

A lovely scraper from Seatown burnt mound excavations

 

 

Lovely sherd of decorated pottery from the Seatown excavations

Lovely sherd of decorated pottery from the Seatown excavations

The black burnt mound at Seatown Dorset

The black burnt mound at Seatown Dorset

The ovens above the burnt mound level at Seatown Dorset

The ovens above the burnt mound level at Seatown Dorset

The event at A la Ronde will be a small one woman band affair, with lots of activities for the young one to do, environmental sort trays, finds identification, colouring, and a bit of knightly brass rubbing 🙂 another mixed bag!

More about the mound and all the other things we do as archaeologists here at the National Trust south west can be found on our blog archaeologynationaltrustsw.wordpress.com

South Dorset Ridgeway- the importance of a holiday

On this Day of Archaeology I was actually at a wedding, a completely non-archaeology wedding. I feel that this is important to point out because, like most jobs people do that a) they enjoy and b) are poorly funded and highly competitive many people dedicate their whole lives to their work.

I realised a while ago that this is not healthy and even though I am doing a PhD (the ultimate demand in time) researching community archaeology (something that normally happens on weekends) I am doing my hardest to make sure I rest guilt free. I am aware that this will not last and come writing up I will spend every day in front of my computer but for now I am enjoying it whilst it lasts.

So, rather than blogging about a Non-Day of Archaeology I thought I’d write about my nearest working day to the 11th .  It was a beautiful day and one that is perhaps not that typical however here it is…

Learning about landslides

 

My PhD is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Scheme. This is a whole series of events focused on understanding, conserving and enjoying the wildlife, landscape and heritage of the region. The South Dorset Ridgeway is a ridge of chalk hills between Dorchester and Weymouth which overlooks the Jurassic Coast. This amazingly complex geology underpins everything that defines that South Dorset Ridgeway.

This includes the archaeology and therefore I felt that it is important to understand it. Luckily I was not the only person who thought this and the Ridgeway management team have put together a series of walks around the landscape for the partners, led by various experts.  This so that we all have a good knowledge of the whole landscape which we can build into our individual projects.

ridgewalk

The Partners!

The walk ran from a village at the foot of the hills (Abbotsbury), along a discussed railway line, through to Portesham where I joined the team. Did you know that in Porteshan there used to live a chap called William Weare? When he died his will stated that he wanted to be buried ‘neither in the church nor outside it’. Why he requested this is unknown, if it was an attempt to try to avoid a Christian burial he was thwarted- he was buried in the wall of the church!

The walk then continued up to Portesham Quarry, also known as Rocket Quarry or Portesham Farm Quarry. It was here that Sam Scriven from the Jurassic Coast WHS team started to enlighten us as to the geological history of the area. It’s complex and although I think I understand most of it you don’t want me to repeat it all here. It is sufficient to say that there are several different geological deposits between the ridgeway and the sea. The format that these take range from hard stones, such as Portland or Purbeck Stone, to clays, gravels and chalks. They have been twisted, moulded and eroded over the years to form the landscape that we now see.

The nature of these deposits can significantly affect the archaeology on top. For example the Sarcen stones that are used for building monuments such as the Hell Stone or the Hampton Stone Circle (later stops on our walk) are only used near the Valley of the Stones, elsewhere wood was used a building material.

The Hell Stone Chambered Tomb

The Hell Stone Chambered Tomb (with round barrow in the foreground)

Another example of how a geological understanding is very important for archaeologists was pointed out on the descent to Abbotsbury when we passed through the largest unmapped landslide in the UK, and it did seem very big (but thankfully stable). Not that much is know about it, as mapping would greatly aid this process, but at least it has now been recognised. On the OS it is marked as Strip Lynchets. Although the slumps may have been used for agriculture it is clear when you look at them a bit closer that they are not man made, they are irregular, not actually that flat and really not that suitable for farming.

I know that this walk may sound like the perfect day of work and, yes it is amazing to be able to spend a day learning super interesting and useful things from experts in a beautiful surroundings but there was a purpose to it, and taking a couple of days away from thinking about it meant that when I came back this week I was able to reflect, to process and to engage creatively and intellectually with what I had learnt.

For more about my PhD visit www.perceptionsofprehistory.com

For more about the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscapes Partnership visit http://www.dorsetaonb.org.uk/our-work/south-dorset-ridgeway-partnership

For more about the geology of the Jurassic Coast visit http://jurassiccoast.org/

Logo-board

 

Bits and Pieces

A day of many colours, it started with dark grey clouds and a blue green sea with white-topped waves, as I headed to a finds drop! I had to hand over a box of finds to a National Trust colleague,  from a dig we did on Brownsea Island so they can create a display for Festival of the British Archaeology event at the end of July. A drive through the glistening rain to the Warminster office, past lush green trees and between kamikaze birds jumping out of bushes! First another finds drop, this time a feely bag activity for another NT  colleague to use in Gloucestershire for FofBA. Then up the stairs past magnolia walls to my desk, first sort out more activities stuff for yet another FofBA event, this time  at Corfe Castle, spinning and weaving kit, colouring sheets, a notice to say we are closed for lunch (so my volunteers can get a break) and some pictures of mosaics. One thing I really wanted to get done was a photomontage in memory of ‘Gerry the Rope’, who passed away recently and we  will miss him so much at our event. He was a historical interpreter who had been coming to Corfe Castle for about twenty years doing rope making (both Medieval and Victorian), games, pole lathe demonstrations and candle making. He was a great communicator and friend.

As late afternoon approached I had to turn my mind to getting everyting ready for our excavations that start on Monday!  write and print risk assessment, get day volunteer form printed, and  go to the shed to sort the tools.  We are digging up the last of the mosaics at Chedworth Roman Villa; they had been re-covered by the Victorians. It’s the last part of a big Heritage Lottery Fund project to put a new cover building over the mosaics and the reinterpretation of the site. Three weeks of mosaic digging, Yay! Red, purple, green, yellow, blue ‘gorilla’ buckets, soft bruhses, hand shovels and a pick axe!  The last item is for prising up the tarmac path. Note to self ‘bring foot pump to blow up flat wheelbarrow tyre’

Nearly the end of the day,  just a couple of things to do before the weekend. One is to send a flint report, web link and finds drawing to an artist, Simon Ryder, who is making an art work for the ExLab project, part of he Cultural Olympiad down in Weymouth. He is getting a 3D scan and printed model of a Mesolithic Portland Chert microlith which we excavated from a site on the cliff edge near Eype in West Dorset, an exciting project. The final job was to check a newsletter article about a pottery grenade found at Corfe Castle and finally identifed 25 years after it was dug up!  Thanks to the Wessex Archaelogy  finds specialist for posting the pot on the Medieval Pottery Research Group facebook site, the wonders of social media.

So into my Red Berlingo and southwards to Weymouth, with the wheelbarrow rattling in the back.

 

 

 

Kirsty Millican HLA Officer RCAHMS

Cows, Cropmarks and a Cursus

View of Lochbrow, looking west from the cursus terminal (photo ©Kirsty Millican)

It is the kind of place most people would pass by without a second glance, an apparently empty field usually occupied only by cows, but the site of Lochbrow in Dumfries and Galloway is one of my favourite archaeological sites inScotland. My name is Kirsty Millican and I am a Historic Land-Use Assessment (HLA) Officer at RCAHMS. My interests, though, extend beyond HLA to encompass cropmark archaeology and the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods in Scotland. Lochbrow is a site I first encountered while undertaking research for my PhD and is a place that I have returned to several times since.

So why do I find such an apparently unremarkable location interesting? Because of the cropmarks of course! Cropmarks are formed by the differential growth of crops over buried archaeology, and are best recorded from the air. A scattering of such marks were first recorded at Lochbrow by an RCAHMS aerial survey in 1992, indicating the buried presence of pits and ditches. These features can be interpreted as a timber cursus monument (a long enclosure defined by timber posts usually dating to the Earlier Neolithic), at least one, if not two, timber circles (a monument form dating from the Later Neolithic into the Bronze Age) and several round barrows (later prehistoric monuments). This tells us that this apparently empty field was an important location for a long period of time, and was probably a hive of activity during the construction and use of these monuments.

Map of the cropmarks (in red) and the main topographic features at Lochbrow. The cursus is the long enclosure oriented north to south, the two timber circles lie to the east and south-west of the cursus and the barrows to the south.

What I have always found remarkable is the level of information such ghostly marks in crops can reveal. This is archaeology with no remaining above-ground features; if you visit the site today there is nothing to suggest such a complex of sites ever existed. Moreover, the cursus and timber circles were built of wood, a material that is not durable and so does not survive for us to study today. All that remains are the infilled pits that were dug to take the upright timbers forming the outer boundary of these wooden monuments; it is these pits that influence the formation of the cropmarks, allowing us to photograph them from the air. The cropmarks, then, give us a rare glimpse into the activities and structures built by our prehistoric ancestors. Indeed, without the simple technique of taking photographs from an aeroplane we would know nothing about this important group of monuments, nor the location of what was undoubtedly a very special place. It makes you wonder how much more is buried beneath your feet …!

So why have I chosen to visit this site several times, if there is nothing to see of this archaeology on the ground? Well, sites such as these are not built independently of their location, and you can learn a lot about a site by considering their locations, even without above-ground archaeology. Indeed, I believe that the sites at Lochbrow are closely connected with their location, and the cursus in particular seems to mimic the dominant topography. By visiting the site of these cropmarks, I’ve been able to suggest that the topography of this location was likely drawn into the use and functioning of these monuments, possibly defining the outer extents of this place, and may have had an influence upon the form of the monuments chosen to be built here. I have also returned twice (with colleagues from Edinburgh and York Universities) to undertake geophysical and topographic surveys of this site, to try to gain a better understanding of the sites here and their location, and to investigate the possibility of additional sites and features that have not been recorded by the cropmarks. The results so far are promising and I’ll be returning again later this year to finish the surveys. Who knows what we’ll find, but I’m excited by the notion that so much lies buried beneath my feet, and with a little perseverance we may be able to add a little bit more to the story of this site and to our understanding of what people did here and the structures they built thousands of years ago.

Undertaking geophysical survey at Lochbrow (photo ©Gordon Wallace)

To view more about these cropmarks, visit the RCAHMS Canmore page for this site with particular reference to the cursus and pit enclosure

Unlocking the past – Festival of British Archaeology

Spent the day running an event for British Archaeology festival, at Corfe Castle in Dorset. We had our National Trust activities, environmental sort trays, mosaic making, spinning and weaving, etc. The Ancient Wessex Network, a group of archaeologists and artists/artisans with their activities – prehistoric pottery, wood carving, metal casting, art works, archaeological illustration and beads. Also Gerry the rope with his Victorian encampment and games. Along with the County council historic environment department and Finds liasion officer. Had some great feed back on our comment cards with one memorable one from a child under What have you learnt today, ‘that even a stone has a history’ Its great to spend time with young people with bright eyes and lots of questions so hope fully there is still a future for our past. Now time for bed, perchance to dream …………..

An archaeobureaucrat writes…

A day or so in my life as an archaeologist working for English Heritage.

Started off by working at home at Haslemere in Surrey, eating toast with tea while dealing with e-mails with Radio 4 providing the background noise.  As usual, was mildly distracted by Frankly the cat who views my attempts to sit down and work at a laptop as his cue to demand food with menaces and then attention, generally in that order. 

A demanding cat. Frankly.

 

E-mails give me a few things to deal with before I do anything else. There are corrections to check on a chapter I helped to write for the forthcoming book on the Elizabethan Garden reconstruction at Kenilworth Castle. I was involved in organising the programme of archaeological and architectural research that contributed to the project, and I’ve co-written the archaeological chapter with Joe Prentice of Northamptonshire Archaeology, who directed the excavations, and Brian Dix, garden archaeologist extraordinaire, who advised throughout. Not much left to do – just checking that the photographs are in the right order, have the right numbers and captions, and are available in the right format for reproduction.

That done, I moved on to deal with some work on our forthcoming organisational restructuring. It’s no secret that English Heritage took a huge hit in last year’s government Comprehensive Spending Review. The organisation is having to deal with the impact of a net 35% cut in our grant from government. I can’t say a great deal about what is currently going on, but it will come as no surprise to learn that many jobs are being lost, and that I and many of my colleagues will be put formally ‘at risk’ in the autumn, and will have to apply for a smaller number of jobs in the restructured National Heritage Protection group.  We’ve been through such reorganisations before, and I know the stress that this puts my colleagues through, but the scale and scope of these changes is greater than anything we’ve seen so far. A lot of colleagues are having to consider other career options and paths; an unsettling time for us all.

After a couple of hours, time to trek to the station to catch the 11am to Waterloo. I’ve been taking a few pictures to illustrate this blog, and drew pitying looks from fellow travellers as I took a photograph of the train as it came into Haslemere station.  I’m a blogger, not a trainspotter….

 

My train arriving at Haslemere station

 

The train was fairly full, but got a seat and used the time to write up the blog of the day so far. Also did a little more on the draft publication strategy and synopsis for the Windsor Castle updated project design.  I worked at Windsor from 1989 to 1995. We started off in the Round Tower, the shell keep that stands on top of the 11th-century motte, excavating and recording the structures as part of a major engineering project.

Round Tower team, 1989, with the blogger looking much younger.

 

We’d just finished that project and evacuated our site office in November 1992 when fire broke out in the Upper Ward. That was the start of a huge programme of salvage and architectural analysis, with some excavation involved too.

Archaeological salvage of fire debris starting in the Grand Reception Room, Windsor Castle, 1993

The assessment of these large project archives was largely complete by the end of 1998, but work has been on hold then for a number of reasons.  I’ve been in deep discussion with my colleague and good friend Dr Steven Brindle over the last few months, and the next stage is to get in touch with all the project specialists to let them know that the analysis may finally be about to happen. Hence the publication strategy, so they can see what we’re asking them to do.  By Guildford my seat was surrounded by loud and excitable children, and I was bitterly regretting having left my i-pod in my bag, which was overhead and thus inaccessible.

 

English Heritage offices at Waterhouse Square, Holborn

By bus to our Waterhouse Square offices in Holborn, where I find a seat among friends in London Region. Here I dealt with a variety of business by e-mail, including mundane admin tasks such as approving invoices and expenses.  Fortunately we have quite good electronic systems for dealing with such things, so they were finished very quickly. The online press summary included a link to a Telegraph opinion piece on the listing of London tube stations. I tweeted the link with my own comments, and was later gratified to learn that my comment “Entertainingly daft Torygraph rant” appeared on the relevant page of the Telegraph website.  A small but pleasing result. At this point I lost the use of the camera; my chum Dr Jane Sidell was off to give a walking tour of Roman London, and borrowed the camera to record the event.

Trying to persuade Dr Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for London, to point the camera somewhere else.

I also had to draft a response to a member of the public who had written to say that she was disappointed to learn that we aren’t running the Fort Cumberland Festival of British Archaeology event this year. I explained that this was as disappointing to us as it was to her; our free FOBA weekend event has been very popular, usually attracting c. 2000 people over a weekend to enjoy a range of archaeological and related activities. We enjoy it as much as the visitors do. We had to take the difficult decision not to hold the event this year in late 2010; by then it was already clear that we would be in the middle of a major reorganisation, and in that context it seemed unfair to ask colleagues to commit their time and energies to planning the event at a time when they were likely to be severely distracted by other events. We hope to be able to reinstate the event next year, resources permitting…

At 2pm, I took part in a Portico project team  meeting. Portico is a project that aims to provide up-to-date research content on the English Heritage website for our historic properties. Enhanced content is already online for all of the free sites, and the first sets of pages for 12 of the pay sites are now available. An introduction to the project with links to the available content is available at (insert link).  We were updated on progress, which remains good; the first batch of site information is now online, and all of it has been or is being updated with links to online resources. Another batch of sites is nearly ready to go online, including Susan Greaney’s excellent Stonehenge pages.  The next stage of the project is currently being planned; I may have volunteered to write up one or two sites myself.  A day conference is being planned for London next April to promote the project. The introductory page on the EH site shows the content that’s available so far – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/archives-and-collections/portico/about/

Following the meeting I had a very useful discussion with Christopher Catling about the National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently out for consultation.  I think we agreed that it’s a huge improvement on the earlier practioners’ draft, preserving more of PPS5, but there are still some concerns, including the assumption in favour of development that permeates the document.

After that, there was time to check e-mails and deal with a few more bits of business before catching the train home. This included correspondence relating to one of last year’s fieldwork projects, on the Romano-British settlement around Silbury Hill, and the forthcoming excavation at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, where we’ll be digging up parts of the French Parterre to assist in its restoration.

That was Thursday 28th July – I decided to write it up for Day of Archaeology as I was taking today off.  In the event, I took a trip to Corfe Castle, which I haven’t been to for far too long.  Despite the long queues of holiday traffic, it was a useful and hugely enjoyable visit. I always particularly enjoy the path up to the keep, which passes through the tumbled remains of the demolished sections of the keep. It’s very evocative of the sheer scale of destruction on this site.

The degree of destruction caused by slighting varies from site to site; this would appear to be off the vindictive end of the scale. The site is looking very good, but I was very disappointed by the new interpretation panels, full of rubbishy unhistorical cliches. The panel about ‘oubliettes’ was the worst example. It went on about the agonies of the poor prisoners abandoned in deep pit prisons. The work of Peter Brears has, of course, demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that such structures are strong-rooms, for the safe storage of documents, money and other valuables. The reason that they often have well-lit chambers with fireplaces above them is not to provide accommodation for the better-off prisoners, but to provide a room for the clerk or steward to work in. Worst of all, having conjured up imaginary sufferings  in imaginary oubliettes, the panel finished by admitting that no such chamber survived at Corfe. So the point of this rubbish was…..?  Rant over.

The effects of undermining - the tower has slid down the slope, and the curtain wall has fallen over.

I took some time looking at the evidence for the destruction of the site, which is a particular interest of mine. This was the subject of the thesis of a friend of mine, Dr Lila Rakoczy, and since reading her work I’ve become more interested in looking at the evidence for how buildings were demolished. The walls at Corfe have certainly been undermined, but there’s no clear evidence for the use of gunpowder, despite the claims on a number of panels that the site was ‘blown up’. The surviving unused sap at the base of the keep’s latrine tower is a simple horizontal rectangular slot, which I think argues for the use of the ‘burnt timber prop’ method of undermining – i.e. using timbers to prop up the wall as the sap is excavated, and then burning them out to bring down the mass of masonry above. Drawings of near-contemporary saps used for explosive undermining, e.g. in Vauban’s work, show that these saps tend to be hollowed out behind a small opening in the outer face of the wall, to contain the blast and thus maximise the effect of the explosion on the masonry.  A bit anorakish, but it keeps me happy.

Possible sap at the base of the Keep's latrine tower, The masonry at the right hand corner is, I think, relatively-modern underpinning.

After that, I enjoyed a much faster and prettier drive home by avoiding the main roads. So there you have it – two days for the price of one, and I got to see some archaeology on one of them.

Brian Kerr, Head of Archaeological Projects, English Heritage

@jamesbriankerr