Digging Diaries – Skulls, Shamans and Sacrifice in Stone Age Britain

Hello all archaeology fans from the Digging Diaries Youtube channel!

Here’s a great video covering the amazing Mesolithic dig at Star Carr, North Yorkshire.

Nicky Milner and her digging team from York University are embarking on their final ever excavation on site to unlock the secrets of this mysterious landscape.

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!

A Day In The Life Of A Council Archaeologist!

Hello to everyone from West Berkshire!

I got into the office around 8:20 – first thing on the agenda is to go through my emails; luckily it’s a Friday so it’s reasonably quiet on that front. I did respond to an interesting post on the Historic Environment Record (HER) Forum regarding HERs as an education resource for schools: this is something that I was promoting in my previous role as HER Officer for Hampshire, so glad to see that others are also on board with the same ideas. Now that archaeology has a stronger presence in the National Curriculum I hope that HERs can make a positive contribution in the future.


Next on the agenda is to set up some meetings with some other West Berkshire colleagues; firstly at the West Berkshire Museum (/https://twitter.com/WBerksMuseum) to discuss good practice when dealing with archaeological archives. The Museum is due to re-open at the end of August after being closed for a while, so everyone is working very hard! Secondly, with our Conservation Officers to catch up on how our local listing and parish heritage initiatives are going. These are both important projects aimed at getting local communities to recognise their heritage and feed it into policy and good practice. This will hopefully highlight the importance of local sites and ensure that they are recognised and appreciated by everyone.

After that, I commented on some pre-applications that have come in. This involves an initial appraisal of some proposals before they are submitted as planning applications, and ensures that archaeological issues are highlighted, with suggestions on how these issues can be dealt with. This can sometimes include evaluation (such as a geophysical survey), or in other cases there are no historic environment concerns at all. Further details on our part in the planning process can be found here.


Next it’s time to get out of the office for a bit! Off to Speen (just north west of Newbury town) for a meeting to discuss the location of an information board about the Civil War Second Battle Of Newbury. This board has been developed in partnership with the Battlefields Trust and the West Berkshire Heritage Forum and will be another good example of raising local awareness of heritage. Fund raising for the board came partly through a series of talks held at West Berkshire Council’s Shaw House. The idea is to have a grand unveiling of the board in October as close to the 370th anniversary of the Battle as possible! I also took the opportunity to visit Speen Church and holy well to snap some photos!

Culver Archaeological Project: kilns and cremations

AOC Archaeology Group has been working with Culver Archaeological Project (CAP) on their excavation of a newly discovered Roman site at Bridge Farm near Barcombe, East Sussex. This post is a joint post from AOC and CAP!

team photo

Just part of the brilliant CAP 2013 team: members of CAP, Cat and Chris of AOC, and of course many wonderful volunteers (the team changes every day – sorry to those not in this photo!)

CAP began in 2005 with a simple programme of field-walking, survey and trial trenching in the hope of identifying further archaeological sites in the landscape around Barcombe Villa. Fieldwalking finds included Roman pottery and coins dating to the 1st and 5th centuries AD, and a comprehensive geophysical survey revealed impressive archaeological remains, just waiting to be investigated. CAP were successful in their application for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and with their support are conducting six weeks of excavation this year. The project is community-focussed at its very core, and volunteers are participating (for free) in every stage of the on-site work, which runs from 1st July to 10th August: excavation, wet sieving, finds processing and geophysics – and a brilliant job they are

robin excavates kiln

Volunteer Robyn came all the way from Ireland – only to be landed with the gloopiest feature imaginable!

doing too. Volunteers range from school pupils to octogenarians, and everything in between. Five local primary and secondary schools have also participated in classroom-based workshops, and then come out and visited the site before the end of term, taking part in the excavations, wet sieving, metal detecting, finds washing and so on, and we’ve also had a visit from the local YAC. There are also weekly workshops on various specialist areas of archaeology. Sounds busy, doesn’t it? It is! There is lots going on every day but everyone involved is showing boundless enthusiasm. The sunshine has helped!

Anyway,  moving on to what’s been going on in the run-up to the Day of Archaeology 2013! We are almost four weeks in to the six week programme of fieldwork, and things are getting really interesting. Our trenches were located to target specific features that had appeared through geophysical survey. This week, we have excavated an almost complete urn, which may contain cremated remains. The urn was removed intact, and will be excavated in the lab at a later date.


The urn is carefully excavated to reveal its true size, then wrapped in bandages for support. Note the smiles of relief as it comes out intact!


tile-lined feature

Tile-lined feature with opus signinum in situ

We also have an interesting tile-lined feature, which contained a large chunk of opus signinum (a type of Roman cement). The current thinking is that the cement might have been prepared to line the feature, however for some reason the job was never completed and it solidified to the tiles below. A bit of research has found a similar feature excavated in Tuscany, which the archaeologists there interpreted as a basin. Still speculation however.

Nearby is a possible kiln, which has a hard-baked clay lining. The fill of this feature was particularly sludgy, and Robyn and Clara had a very enjoyable day removing it! The look on their faces amidst the slop and squelching was something to behold! However the hard clay lining gives us more certainly that it may be a kiln, but it’s exact use is still uncertain. Postholes nearby may represent the traces of associated structures.

Today Dr. Mike Allen attended site and at tea break gave our students and volunteers a talk from the point of a geoarchaeologist, a very interesting point indeed, we now understand post depositional gleying, which explains the difficulties we are having identifying some features on site.

With two more weeks of digging to go, we are excited to learn more about the site. We couldn’t possibly explain it all in one post –  this is just a snapshot of life at CAP 2013 – so please come on over to CAP’s website to catch up on the rest.

Culver Archaeological Project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Follow the project! www.culverproject.co.uk www.facebook.com/culverarchaeology @culverproject

To find out more about AOC, go to www.aocarchaeology.com or follow us on social media @aocarchaeology www.facebook.com/aocarchaeology 

An Archaeologist on Holiday

Street sign in Bath

This Day of Archaeology 2012 I was on holiday! My wife (not an archaeologist) and I had long promised to take a few days off at the end of what we knew was going to be an exceptionally busy June, so on this Friday June 29th we were taking the day off as part of a long weekend. What do archaeologists do on holiday, you ask? Well this archaeologist goes to the spa. Normally, I’m an archaeologist working jointly between local government and the university sector, and consequently I spend a lot of time cooped up in offices bent over a computer or in meetings about heritage policy and site management. As a result, a good way to rapidly unwind is for me to go to a spa, to move from pool to sauna and back again – and if the nearest/nicest spa to me happens to be in the historically rich and aesthetically pleasing city of Bath, then all the better for it. So, my wife and I got the train over from London and did *not* work on the train but actually read fun, non-work books (unusual in itself). We then pottered around the town pleasantly blending a bit of window shopping, real shopping and lunch, before spending the rest of the day in the wonderful ‘new’ spa complex in the middle of the city with its awesome rooftop pool from which we could laze around in the hot waters, gazing at the historic buildings and idly chatting about everything and anything under the sun. Drinks at a little bar we’d spied earlier followed (a martini being this diggers hit of choice), then dinner at a restaurant well recommended by the bar manager, before home to an early night in our hotel, full of food, snoozy and a hell of a lot more relaxed than the day before. It may not be every archaeologists dream day off, but it works for this one…


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


Mapping Interactive Workshop – Festival of British Archaeology (28 July 2011) by Sam Rowe

As a Community Archaeology Trainee for National Museums Liverpool every day at work is different for me; some days I will be excavating an industrial site with a group of volunteers, other days I will be surveying a graveyard with a local society, assisting with museum education workshops, and at other times accessioning objects for museum collections. I love the range of activities I get to do as part of my training.

I have also been involved in several events for the Festival of British Archaeology. Last Thursday I helped run a workshop in the Merseyside Maritime Museum on the Mapping Interactive resource that will form part of the History Detectives gallery in the new Museum of Liverpool, which incidently also opened its doors during the festival fortnight. The interactive map of Merseyside will allow the public to explore local buildings and places, peeling back layers of historic mapping to reveal how the landscape of Merseyide has changed since the last ice age up to the present day.

Thursdays’s workshop was a chance for the public to get a sneak preview of the early stages of this new learning resource before it enters the museum later in the year. Archaeologists who have been working on the project for the last few years were on-hand to guide visitors through the features of the map, allowing them to search for historic sites, buildings, famous people and periods of Merseyside. We also prepared a ‘lost places’ activity that highlighted several buildings that the centre of Liverpool has lost over the last millennia including Liverpool Castle and the overhead railway . Visitors were challenged in trying to place these lost building in the correct place on the map where they once stood in the city.

The Mapping Interactive resource has been formed from Historic records but also from pictures and information from the public and is still an ongoing project that anyone can get involved in.

Historic Environment Action Plans for the Cranborne Chase

My name is Emma and I am the Historic Environment Action Plan Project Officer for the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What a mouthful! Basically what this is about is a gorgeous piece of protected landscape on the Wiltshire Dorset border which incorporates the amazing prehistoric archaeology of the Cranborne Chase, a host of Medieval hunting landscapes, the Vale of Wardour and the chalk landscape of the West Wiltshire Downs. Since 2009  we have been prodocuing a landscape scale vision for the conservation and enhancement of the historic environment of this landscape, and have developed a series of 20 actions to achieve this. We were lucky to secure English Heritage funding for this project as a best practice exemplar for other protected areas.

We are now at the stage of implementing these actions, which leads to a snapshot of my day which has been as is typical very varied…

… first thing I had a meeting with a AONB volunteer who is leading on an action to help our parishes and communities to analyse record the historic landscape character of their villages and the surrounding landscape to inform Village Design Statements and the like. We had a trial workshop at Pimperne on Monday evening and we went through the results and looked at what worked and what didnt

… I drafted a proposal for South Wiltshire CPRE outlining how they might potentially help with the implementation of the Historic Environment Action plans

…I  sat down with my manager Linda and discussed the arrangements for a guided walk we have organised in conjunction with Martin Green on Down Farm on the Cranborne Chase. This is the second event which we have organised as part of the  festival of archaeology. The first was an archaeology seminar last Saturday on the history and archaeology of the area which 85 people came to and which was a fantastic day

…I then coordinated with Laura the eductaion officer at Salisbury Museum over a meeting she is hosting next week focusing on interprepation, education and access to the historic environment of the AONB, and how the various museums, organisations etc can work together better

…next up I responded to a proposal for a Higher Level Stewardship scheme from Natural England on one of the designed landscapes in the AONB and gave some feedback

… I sent some details on a historic farmstead i visited yesterday to one of our local councillors

… finally I got some GIS files and maps ready for next week. I have scanned some slides for Martin Green and amgiving him the .jpegs tomorow. On Tuesday am visiting the Wiltshire Archaeology Service to hand over the AONB Historic Landscape Characterisation and some other GIS files, popping into the Wiltshire Building Record and then going to see our collegues at North Wessex Downs to chat through some Historic Landscape Characterisation data with them.

…the last thing I am doing today is completing this for the Day of Archaeology and will probably post it to my own blog too. See http://historiclandscape.blogspot.com/

Thats all for me if you want to know more about our project visit www.historiclandscape.co.uk



A Bicycle and the British Museum

Arriving at the British Museum

Most days start with a bike ride down the hill to the British Museum, on the collective of metal and rubber that is,probably, at a guess, three times heavier than your average ‘I can cycle wearing lycra with a gut’ bike. It was bought a year ago on the basis that it is totally indestructible, even if I am not (a big thanks to the British Museum for that employee loan!), and it really is quite the pal now. After a perfected struggle from the top floor I feel pretty happy about the idea of not shelling out over a ton for a monthly TFL travel card, and a bit smug on my way in!

All hands on deck today. The Treasure Valuation Committee (http://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/people) is meeting, a television producer + his camera need looking after, the post-medieval curator requires a little extra help processing a multitude of reports about objects of Treasure (http://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/summary) that have been written by a fantastic crew of Finds Liaison Officers dotted across the country, and objects need to be transported across the museum for the committee members to view. And I remind myself that I probably account for much less than 1000th of what goes on here.
Toilet Implement Set

Toilet Implement Set found by Woolwich John

After a quick dash over to the Department of Prehistory and Europe, we looked through all the items that the FLOs had sent in. Most of the items that are reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme are found by metal detectorists, and todays collection of items was quite indicative of the type and range of post-medieval artefacts of potential Treasure that are handed in; from thimbles and cufflinks to a toilet implement set found by Woolwich John on the Thames Foreshore.

Filming at the British Museum

The rest of the day was mostly occupied being at the meeting preparing the items for viewing by the committee members. By about 4 o’clock the Treasure Team is wiped out (and hot- we couldn’t find the air con), but we ‘struggle’ onto 5, dreaming of a pint, bed or both, possibly at the same time.