important site

Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past

Well, hello from a soggy south-west Scotland. I’m Giles, Development Officer for Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past and I wanted to tell you on Day of Archaeology 2012 about the project and what we are going to be doing over the next week or so…

DDGP is an exciting new community archaeology project based in south-west, providing training in using geophysical survey to help volunteers record, understand and interpret the region’s fascinating archaeology. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for local people right across the region to get involved in the surveys – it’s a great way to find out more about buried archaeology without having to excavate.

What is geophysics, and what can we find out using it?

Not all archaeology is about excavation – you may have come across ‘geofizz’ on TV’s Time Team where it’s often used to plan where to put the trenches in. Geophysics is a way of mapping buried archaeological deposits – be they ditches, pits or building material – without ever breaking the ground surface.

There are two main techniques for geophysical survey:

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking resistivity survey

Resistivity: By passing a small electrical current into the ground, and measuring the amount of resistance that results, it is possible to locate buried remains of archaeological interest.

Resistance is related to the amount of moisture in the soil. Around buried walls, for example, the surrounding soil will often be dryer. The current cannot pass so easily through this dry soil, so stonework can often show up as areas of higher resistance. This technique is therefore ideal for locating building walls and foundations.

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking magnetic survey

Magnetometry:  This technique detects extremely small variations in the earth’s magnetic field, caused when the ground has been disturbed by previous activity. Burning, for instance, will often leave a significant magnetic trace.

Magnetometry is excellent for locating ditches, pits, middens, hearths and kilns – and is great at covering large areas quite quickly.

The great thing about geophysical survey is that the results can be rapidly downloaded on site to a laptop, and even with minimum processing it is possible to define ‘anomalies’ which can represent buried archaeology. For volunteers on the project surveys this is great – they can see the fruits of their labours in the field. We are aiming to get these very quickly into reports which will be uploaded onto our website, to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Our next survey
It’s all a bit hectic in the office today as we put the finishing touches to our programme for next week’s survey. We’ll be undertaken both magnetic and resistivity survey at the nationally important site of the Roman fort at Birrens. This continues work that the University of Glasgow have been concentrating on – looking in and around Roman military sites in Eastern Dumfriesshire.

Magnetic survey results around Bankhead Roman fort, Dalswinton

This has looked at fabulous sites around Lockerbie, such as the Roman fort at Dalswinton. As you can see this has added loads of detail (as you can see on the right) to both the inside of the fort of Bankhead and the surrounding area – which aerial photographs have shown to be really interesting.

At Birrens Roman fort, near Middlebie, we’ll be focusing on similar things. A group of 6 volunteers will be joining us for 3 days next week to carry out some resistivity survey on the interior – hopefully we’ll get detail of the street pattern, as well as an idea of how the buildings – both the barrack blocks and administrative headquarters of the fort – were laid out.

You can find out more about Birrens fort – known to the Romans as blatobulgium (literally the ‘flour sack’) here.

We’re having an Open Day on Saturday July 7th – it’ll be a great chance to show the public the results as well as an opportunity to show just how geophysics ‘works’ – including the amount of walking in straight lines that’s involved! The response has been fantastic locally – so here’s hoping for some sunshine!

I hope this has wet your apetite both for ‘geophysics’ and the project – please see our website to keep up to date with the latest – discoveringdgpast.wordpress.com.

The project is jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The European Community, Dumfries and Galloway Leader 2007-2013; The Crichton Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

Reconnecting people with their heritage

This summer a hardy band of volunteers and one or two paid professionals began a second season of excavation at a 50 room villa and extended Iron Age/Roman site, which stretches across and beyond the East Cliff at Folkestone, Kent, writes Dr Lesley Hardy, Project Director for A Town Unearthed: Folkestone before 1500 and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Rescue archaeology on a cliff-edge

Folkestone sits in a liminal position on a bed of greensand rock which juts out between the chalk Down-land and the clay weald. It is the closest crossing point to France and so also, depending on your perspective, marks a boundary or a route-way between Britain and the continent probably used for millennia.

The site overlooks the English Channel and is in a stunning though precarious location on the edge of the chalk cliffs there. Its direct sight line is Boulogne and on a clear day other Roman bases at Dover and Lympne can be seen, as can the North-Downs Way which ends abruptly interrupted by cataclysm at the cliff edge above Folkestone.

Erosion makes this rescue archaeology and has justified excavation which would not have been allowed on a less compromised scheduled site.

A Town Unearthed

The dig is a part of a three-year Lottery-funded community archaeology project based in Folkestone called ‘ A Town Unearthed’. It’s a title of double meaning, intended to reflect multiple meanings attached to community archaeology in general and in particular to this project’s aim.

It aims not only to deliver community archaeology in the sense of fieldwork but also to ‘dig’ in the more critical sense of understanding how the community of Folkestone sees and understands itself in relation to its past: an archaeology of itself.

If we want to understand the processes by which communities identify with certain archaeological and historical places, this is an important site.

Folkestone

Folkestone is a town which has come to be defined by a relatively recent history. The town was developed at a rapid pace in the 1860s and 70s as a health resort.

If you visit today you would see a somewhat modernised but largely Victorian/Edwardian resort. The decline slowly eroded the prosperity of the resort from the 1940s also continues to leave its mark.

Reconnecting townsfolk and their heritage

We hope that by re-awakening interest in the larger time-span and the rich ancient landscape that surrounds the town to contribute towards challenging this narrative of decline and to reconnect people with the significant and rich ancient heritage that surrounds them.

These include the Bayle – the site of a C7th Royal Minster; Castle Hill- a large Norman earthwork (one of Pitt-Rivers’ first excavations) and also the large amount of unpublished reports, artefactual collections and other material which trace a history dating from earliest times.