Tours from Antiquity


Stonehenge from the Heel Stone looking towards the Slaughter Stone (foreground)

I have recently refound my love of giving guided tours through a company that aims to provide archaeologist guides around the most famous Neolithic sites of Wiltshire. Unlike the big tour buses, who herd their charges to the Stonehenge bus armed with an audioguide to explain the construction and purpose of this unique five thousand year old monument, Tours from Antiquity aims to provide a “real-life” archaeologist on small tour groups full of discerning travellers.

The power of TripAdvisor cannot be underestimated. Edward Shepherd, who set up Tours from Antiquity and has been leading tour groups on his own for the last five years, has needed to take on some help (including me) this year as his business reputation grows on the platform. There is demand from tourists who want in depth, detailed and accurate information about these amazing Stone Age sites. What also helps are the small group sizes (no 60-seater buses where half the group is talking over the tour guide), an early start to avoid the Stonehenge mania and providing more of a context for Stonehenge by taking in more of the World Heritage Site. On my tour on the Day of Archaeology, we got there and got out well before the queues started to build. It’s great that Stonehenge is so popular, but if you don’t like crowds, you’ve got to get there early.

I do love digging and discovery in museum collections, but I adore talking to the wider public about archaeology, when they’re interested. My tour group on the Day of Archaeology was made up of people from the US, Canada, Argentina, and India, and I’ve also had people from Singapore, China, Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. All this international interest in Stonehenge! I would have liked to have talked to some Brits, but I guess they get to these sites under their own steam for the most part.

The act of talking to people about the archaeology challenges me to find a narrative, a reason for things, that is often missing from the standard literature (with its talk of ritual curation of the landscape into blah, blah, blah). It makes more sense when talking to actual people to have a story, a thread to hold on to in the flood of information. It’s no good telling people a load of disconnected facts. It’s easy to connect Durrington Walls and Stonehenge by their respective avenues and alignments on the solstices, for instance. Another strand in my story is the development of archaeology from William Cunnington and Richard Colt-Hoare to Maud Cunnington to Mike Parker-Pearson and Nick Snashall. The group loved to hear about the recent ground penetrating radar work by the University of Birmingham that might have located buried stones under the Durrington Walls bank.

It can be dangerous, though, to tell too neat a story as if its the truth. So I’m careful to point out the various interpretations, and the limitations of what we can do with the evidence, too. I think there was an expectation from most of the members of the tour group that, as an archaeologist, I would also throw out certain theories without hesitation. Some of the visitors came pretty well-informed already, and had adopted a little of the old-fashioned scorn of fringe archaeology that characterised some of the previous generations of archaeologists. I know I don’t speak for everyone in archaeology when I keep an open mind about the survival of Neolithic practices into historical times, and look outside the strict boundaries of archaeological literature for ideas (anyone who has listened to my podcast knows I love Bernard Cornwell’s theory of Silbury Hill). Ley-lines and aliens can take a running jump, though. There is a limit. We saw another tour group making a crop circle in a field just north of West Kennet long barrow, and I’m afraid I couldn’t control my dismay.


Silbury Hill from West Kennet long barrow

The other thing I felt I needed to be careful about was the chronology. While many of these monuments were being constructed/used at vaguely the same time, there is the danger of presenting the ‘story’ as if there were two competing tribes trying to outdo each other on a day for day timetable. A lintel goes up at Stonehenge one day, the next day the people up at Avebury raise Silbury Hill by another ten metres. Maybe not.

I have always found that talking out loud about the archaeology helps my brain work. I’ve had a few ideas for research projects. One guy on my tour on the Day of Archaeology asked me whether there was a time of year for burying the dead under round barrows and whether the body would be buried then and then the mound built later when people had time in the agricultural year. While radiocarbon dating couldn’t detect this kind of short time scale, I need to look in the literature for pollen date of the primary burial and the encircling ditch to see if this indicates quick burial and barrow-digging at leisure.

I was able to direct my tour towards Salisbury Museum to see the Stonehenge and Amesbury Archers having mentioned them earlier in the day, a bit of bluestone potentially from Stonehenge, finds from Durrington Walls. Only one guy took me up on that suggestion, though, most people preferring to see the cathedral and have a rest from the Neolithic in the middle of the day.


The Amesbury Archer in Salisbury Museum, buried with wrist bracers, arrows, early copper and bronze implements, beakers, shale belt ring, boar tusks and more.

Over the course of the day (which starts at 7.30am) I got to bond with my tour group over a mutual interest in prehistory, and the beauty of this tour is ending in the Red Lion pub inside Avebury stone circle and henge, with a pint of Avebury Well Water, the local brew, still chatting about the nature of the past, conservation, oral history and so much more. By the end of the day I’m always sad to see them leave, knowing we won’t bump into each other again, apart from perhaps a nice review on TripAdvisor. I just hope I’ve been a good enough ambassador for these World Heritage Sites.


The Red Lion pub inside Avebury henge and stone circle, one of a kind

A history of the pot in 5000 years

I’m Rob Hedge, and I work for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service in The Hive, Worcester. I’m a Community Project Officer, and I spend some of my time doing outreach and education work for the service, and some of it locked away in the basement working on archaeological finds. Today, I’m in the Finds Room.

I began the day by preparing to get rid of several boxes of artefacts. This goes against many people’s expectations of an archaeologist’s role. Shouldn’t we peculiar basement-dwellers be hoarding everything, clinging onto dusty consignments of mysterious treasures for all eternity? Well, maybe, but the unfortunate truth is that British archaeology faces a storage crisis. Besides, there’s a limit to how often museum curators can feign interest in the contents of a Victorian dump.

But one person’s junk is another’s treasure, and I confess to being fond of the detritus of late-19th century throwaway consumerism. In this case, the finds in question were uncovered in Evesham, having spent the last 120 years in a pit. The museum didn’t want them for their archaeological collections, but thankfully a sympathetic social history curator was only too keen to snap them up for their educational handling collections. So, my lovely assortment of ‘Virol’ bone marrow containers, beer bottles and the ubiquitous ‘Camp Coffee’ jars were handed over to their new home, and will once more sit proudly on a shelf.

One item that wasn’t complete enough to be taken was this plate, depicting the bell tower of once-mighty Evesham Abbey. I love it because it highlights a very human desire to mark significance and local identity, and its discovery just a few hundred metres from the landmark it depicts amuses me. It’s as if the tower, still standing defiant and isolated, is stubbornly outliving our attempts to immortalise it in commemorative crockery.

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, c.1900

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, discarded around 1900

From one pot to another: having set up some of our volunteers and our work experience student with their tasks, I turn my attention to a site that couldn’t be further from the familiar world of late Victorian dumps. Project Officer Richard Bradley and I are working on the report for an excavation he led at Shifnal, Shropshire. It’s a fascinating but elusive site: occupied in the Neolithic period around 5000 years ago, then seemingly abandoned before once again being a focus of activity in the Iron Age, about 2500 years ago. There are few finds (a common feature of prehistoric sites in this region), plenty of pits and ditches, and a tangled web of radiocarbon dates. It’s a real challenge to unpick which features belong to which periods. One issue is resolved when we identify some grotty fired clay as ‘briquetage’: coarse Iron Age salt containers used to pack salt for transportation from the brine wells at Droitwich.

What the Neolithic finds lack in quantity, they make up in quality. Tell-tale parallel worn grooves and a smoothed, ground surface reveal a block of stone to be a rare ‘polissoir’, for polishing Neolithic stone axes. And a large chunk of a Mortlake style Peterborough ware bowl, around 5000 years old, displays the unmistakable imprint of the potter’s fingernail in the elaborate chevron decoration. A pattern which, like the bell tower, serves as a mark of identity. Pots like this were produced across Britain, in a huge variety of designs but with strong regional trends in ‘fabric’ (the material incorporated into the clay during manufacture) that seem to defy purely functional explanations. Mass produced or hand-made, ancient or modern, a pot is never just a pot – it’s a window on a world-view, and in this case a direct connection to the delicate, precise actions of a craftsperson across around 250 generations.

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Archaeologists are a merciless bunch. “Where’s the rest of it?” they tease Richard. Elsewhere, work experience student Kat is tasked with counting, weighing and piecing together an impressive assemblage of Iron Age pottery. You can see how she got on in her own day of archaeology post. I welcome a group of school and 6th form students, who get to work on processing some finds from an HLF-funded community archaeology investigation into intriguing early ironworking sites in the Forest of Dean. Later, as staff and volunteers trickle home, I set up some photographs, bringing together two pots separated by 5000 years, but crossing paths on my day of archaeology.

On my way out, I pause to check on a very exciting discovery, recovered by our archaeologists from a Worcestershire quarry a few months ago. It returned from its trip to the conservator yesterday, and soon it’ll be going on display for the summer at Worcester Museum, to delight children and adults alike… can you guess what it is?

Mystery find - watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Mystery find – watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Into the Bronze Age, commercial excavations at Llanfaethlu Anglesey

Since 2014 C.R Archaeology have been the principle archaeologist at the new school development at Llanfaethlu Anglesey on behalf of Anglesey council. A desk based assessment, geophysics and trenching uncovered a large amount of late #Neolithic pit and a possibly #Neolithic house. Further evaluation in 2015 led to the discovery of three #Neolithic houses,the largest Neolithic settlement in Wales.

As of June 2016 C.R Archaeology have been carrying out a watching brief on behalf the construction company. To the south of the #Neolithic settlement this watching brief uncovered a large group of early #Bronzeage pits and a classic #Bronzeage feature in #Wales a Burnt mound.

A break in construction this week has given the opportunity to start processing the large amount of pottery and stone artifacts.

Commercial geophysics for archaeology – a day at my desk

Cs mag survey around the long cairn

Cs vapour magnetic survey around the long cairn

We are a geophysical survey company working mostly in archaeology with some other shallow geophysical work alongside. This is ArchaeoPhysica’s second Day of Archaeology post, this time featuring mostly office work.

I’m Anne Roseveare, the Operations Manager, and I spend much of my time at a desk, make a few field visits and occasionally can be found in the workshop building and mending things. Unsurprisingly, my day involved quite a bit of time on the phone and emailing people about quote requests, ground conditions and schedules. Harvest dates are a hot topic at the moment as often fieldwork is held until the crops are cleared and we’re then wanted everywhere in a short time window. Our overall timetabling process has similarities to multi-dimensional tetris, or at least it feels like it.

We had fresh batches of data in from the previous couple of days’ fieldwork to process, visualise and prepare interim results to send to our archaeological clients. Kathryn’s been busy working through these, checking data quality and getting the data sets GIS-ready. I’ve also been working on the final stage of reporting for a multi-method geophysical survey on a deserted medieval settlement.

One of last week’s surveys was a couple of fields of magnetic data collected on a research basis next to a monument we surveyed using ERT (electrical resistance tomography) a few months ago. It’s not often you get to survey a neolithic long cairn and visit the excavation of the damaged part, so we were keen to see what (if anything) there was to see around it. Our work will inform the long term management plan for the monument.

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Our earlier ERT survey in progress

sloping slice across ERT profiles shows the internal structure

Sloping slice across ERT profiles showing some of the mound’s internal structure

some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area - useful to compare with ERT

Some of the re-excavated internal structure in the damaged area – useful to compare with ERT results

talking through findings with one of the excavators

Talking through findings with one of the excavators

The rest of Friday’s workload was as usual completely commercially confidential – most of our work is development-related and is attached to planning applications (so no pictures from these).

I reviewed a WSI (Written Scope of Investigation) prepared by colleagues Daniel & Martin for a large project, updating the sections on soils & geologies. We often produce a WSI for large or complicated projects – sometimes it is required by the Local Authority Archaeologist or the client. It contains a summary of the purpose of the project and background information that will influence our geophysical work, including heritage and environmental information. Next comes the reasoning why our proposal is the most effective way forward and what the limitations are, followed by what the outputs from our work will be.

Another chunk of my time went into preparation for a forthcoming project, where there are multiple areas to survey and strict access arrangements as the site is sensitive. In this case, our project GIS will help us and the client to map out survey & no-go zones, schedule the different work areas (and re-schedule if needed as the work unfolds) as well as be the usual foundation for our reporting. We’ll be mapping visible signs of landscaping as the fieldwork goes on, too, to give our geophysical data local context.

Behind the scenes, out of sight of clients, there’s always other things happening. For example Martin was preparing a funding proposal to support a research project on a prehistoric mining site and there was unexciting but important maintenance of our internal project archive. Also, project Pegasus is moving along, with Martin & Benj on 3D design and construction (all will be revealed later this year). We usually have a development project on the go – it’s a case of fitting things round the commercial work.

I lost count how many mugs of tea and coffee we got through but this week’s Friday cake was carrot cake with particularly squishy icing – important fuel!

Eclipse of the Crescent Bone: zooarchaeology in Eger, Hungary

The Neomilk Project

Sorry I’m late! I wrote my day of archaeology blog post on a (blissfully air-conditioned) bus from Eger to Budapest! I am currently in Hungary for a week and a half collecting zooarchaeological data for my PhD, which looks at bone fat processing and butchery in Neolithic Europe as part of the Neomilk project. Neomilk is an ERC funded international collaboration which investigates the emergence of dairying in Neolithic Europe. Lipid residue analysis on ceramics forms the main line of evidence used, but the affectionately named Team Bone use zooarchaeological methods to look for dairying and its effect on diet. The research involves a lot of travel around Europe (mainly tracking the Linearbandkeramik or LBK culture) and analysing key sites, especially those sampled for lipid residue analysis by the team in Bristol. For each site I analyse I try to look at every Neolithic bone fragment, sorting them into size classes, determining species and element and analysing fracture patterns, butchery and taphonomy. This leads to some pretty big datasets!

My aim in coming to Eger was to analyse Apc, but I finished that yesterday! So at the moment I am working on a site called Füzesabony-Gubakút, a settlement which dates from the early ALP culture. I’m hoping to finish the analysis of this site, but I also have a sampling strategy in place if it looks like I won’t finish. I analysed just over 1000 bones yesterday, here’s what I’ve got so far!


Preservation of the bones of this site is amazing, with bone and fracture surfaces very well preserved, which is good for my butchery and fracture analysis. Butchery marks are thin on the ground, which I’ve found is typical of sites from this time period as stone tools make precious little marks on bones (as opposed to butchery with metal objects!). The fracture analysis is very interesting. To try to find out whether people were smashing long bones to get the fat-rich marrow I look for fresh, dry and mineralised fracture characteristics. Fresh fractures (in high quantities) suggest that marrow was important to diet. Dry (and mineralised) fractures can be caused by deposition/re-deposition, carnivore gnawing, burning or trampling, so are often present on sites even where marrow is highly prized. At Füzesabony, the majority of fractures are dry, or happened when the bone was drying. This suggests that people weren’t that desperate for the fat inside bone shafts. My sun-addled brain however is thinking that it’s so hot  here that bones would dry out more quickly – the bones certainly aren’t whole, so something is breaking them! Hopefully the rest of the assemblage will tell me what!


Fresh fracture on a cattle radius (complete with impact scar!)


Dry fracture on a mandible fragment

So, back to why I composed this on a bus to Budapest – I can’t work at the place where the bones are stored (a disused mental institution, not as creepy as it sounds) on the weekend, so I’m off to Budapest to join Team Pot member Jess to do some less dusty work and eat our weight in delicious ice cream and pöttyös, strange cheese-chocolate bars that we are a bit addicted to.

The sum of all our dreams!

The sum of all our dreams!

You can find out more about the Neomilk project on their website, read more stories from my PhD here or follow me on twitter @zooarchaemily.

Happy day of archaeology!

Dirty pots reveal cooking practices of early farmers in Neolithic Poland

Today, like most Fridays, is the culmination of a week’s work in the lab. I am a PhD student in the Organic Geochemistry Unit (OGU) at the University of Bristol working on the European Research Council-funded ‘NeoMilk: The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe’ project. NeoMilk is an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, College London and Poznań (Poland), and the National Museum of Natural History, Paris, researching the development of dairying practices in Neolithic Europe by archaeological, chemical, zooarchaeological and statistical analyses. These interdisciplinary proxies will provide a window on the cultural, environmental and temporal variables of cooking and subsistence practices, to better understand the context of the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture in the development of agriculture in Central Europe.

My role is to analyse organic residues from food and other organic materials absorbed in pots from sites in and around Poland from a variety of environmental and cultural contexts, and compare results on inter- and intra-site levels (individual households, chronologies and vessel typologies).

In order to find out what these residues are, I have to prepare the potsherds. The following is a typical week for me in the lab:


Take sub-samples from potsherds I wish to analyse next. Only 1-2 grams of ceramic material is required for organic residue analysis, so only small areas of each sherd are sub-sampled, nearly always allowing the profile of the sherd or any areas with surface decoration to be left intact. A modelling drill is used to remove a very fine outer layer of the sherd on all sides that it will be sub-sampled from, so the presence of any surface contaminants from handling or contact with plastics can be minimised. I then use a hammer and chisel to remove that part of the sherd and then wrap it in foil until it is ready for analysis.

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling


Crush and weigh the sherd fragments I’ve sub-sampled. Knowing the mass of the ceramic material lipids will be extracted from will allow me to calculate the concentrations of the lipids, which is useful as the analytical instruments are very sensitive and won’t work optimally if the lipid extracts are too dilute or concentrated.

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

The OGU has a weekly seminar and lab meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes which is a good opportunity to announce news, discuss any issues and tidy the lab.


Chemically extract the lipids from the sherd fragments.

David extracting lipids from a sherd

David extracting lipids from a sherd

We use gas chromatography, an analytical technique that screens the compounds in the lipid extract, firstly so we know lipids are present (sometimes they aren’t, either because of poor preservation or because the archaeological use of the vessel didn’t contribute to the absorption of lipids into the vessel – e.g. it wasn’t used for cooking food) and secondly so we know whether there are also any contaminants present that may have been introduced during extraction in the lab or before when the sherd was handled or came into contact with plastics during excavation or post-excavation. We can often differentiate these sources of contamination by including a blank in each batch of sherds we extract and analyse.


Run the samples and a blank on the gas chromatograph (GC).

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

As well as separate compounds within the lipid extracts, the GC determines the abundances of each compound, which we use with the weighed sherd fragments they come from to calculate the approximate concentrations of lipids from each sherd. At this stage I can determine which samples are suitable for further analysis tomorrow. Those that are too dilute will not be viable, though those that are too concentrated for the instruments can be diluted with hexane.


Run the selected samples on a second instrument that allows us to identify the compounds screened yesterday by finding the mass-to-charge ratios of their ions. This technique is called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). GC/MS is useful for identifying compounds that are biomarkers for aquatic species.

Sometimes I run the samples on a third instrument that finds the isotopic values of two particular compounds (palmitic and stearic acid) which occur almost ubiquitously in residues. This instrumental technique called gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-c-IRMS) works by comparing the proportions of carbon-12 and the heavier carbon-13 in these two compounds. I can then determine whether the lipids in that sherd derive from the meat of a terrestrial non-ruminant animal (e.g. pig) or a terrestrial ruminant animal (e.g. cow), or from the dairy products of a terrestrial ruminant animal.

I also have to wash and sterilise the various tubes I’ve used for extracting the lipids from all these sherds this week, so they are ready for another set of sherds next week. I usually catch up on responding to emails and doing any writing, or I may occasionally do other work, such as photograph the 425 sherds I sampled from 14 LBK sites in north-central and northwest Poland in June.

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Time for a well-earned weekend! Further information about the NeoMilk project is available at, and the instrumental techniques we use at the OGU at Last Saturday I and three other members of the OGU exhibited a stall at the Thornbury Science Festival near Bristol, which included a game called ‘Palaeodetective’ that showcases the diverse research the OGU is engaged in; you can play the game online at!

Crafting Stories of the Past: Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project 2015

Two weeks today the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project was packing up and leaving Perthshire, Scotland.  Trenches in various locations around the small village of Dunning had been excavated, recorded and were ready to be back-filled by machine.  SERF is both a multi-period research project and an archaeological field school run by the University of Glasgow since 2007.  This year we had over 50 participants helping out with fieldwork which revealed evidence from the Early Neolithic, Iron Age, Medieval and Modern periods.

Today the SERF team is sorting through the variety of materials that have come back from the field, piecing them together to create stories about the past.  Dr Dene Wright, director of the excavations of the Early Neolithic pit complex at Wellhill, has been making sense of the records (drawings, context sheets, notes and photographs), and completing his data structure report.  During this process a final check is done to ensure that all the records correspond to one other, when they don’t amendments are made and further notes are taken.  Dene can then draw links between features, compare the results from this site to others, and then put into words an initial interpretation for the site, situating it into wider narrative.

But, of course, there is still work to be done which will impact on how the site is interpreted.   Post-excavation processing is just beginning.  Gert Petersen (Laboratory Technician), pictured here with student Ilia Barbukov, has just started to sort through the residue materials from the flotation of soil samples.  The residues are carefully examined for carbonised wood and grains, bone, and any other artefacts.  These will then be sent to specialists, such as palaeobotanists, for further identification and analysis.

Now is also the time to sort through our finds and get them ready for specialists. This year we retrieved a record number of pottery sherds (relative to other SERF years).  Wellhill produced just under 200 pottery sherds, many of which came from a pit that also yielded our first fragment of a polished stone axe.  A variety of pottery sherds also came from our hillfort excavation at Dun Knock.  Although all the pottery was first thought to be of Iron Age date,  sherds from one of the ditches were unusual for this time period and may be much earlier.  This is where our specialist, Dr Ann MacSween, will come in and examine the whole assemblage.  Today all the sherds have been cleaned and were laid out in the lab ready for inspection.

For me (Dr Tessa Poller) today was also about interpretation and pulling together the evidence from the hillfort excavations at Dun Knock.  Like Dene I have a data structure report to write and much of my time has been collating the records from the site director Cathy MacIver.  The SERF hillfort programme, which has investigated ten forts over the past nine years, has also been piloting a digital visualisation project.  In collaboration with Dr Alice Watterson and Kieran Baxter this project is about exploring how archaeologists formulate and communicate interpretations, utilising digital media and visualisations as tools in this process.   Today I had a meeting with Alice to discuss progress, look over footage recorded in the field, suggest further work and to pull together a structure for a paper we will be presenting at the EAA conference in Glasgow.  Exciting ideas flow as this is all new to me and there are lots of creative potential.

Although we may not be in the field for long, there is always work to be done on the SERF project and more fantastic findings to be made.

Aerial view of the Neolithic pits at Wellhill 2015.

Aerial view of the Neolithic pits at Wellhill 2015.

Dr Dene Wright collating records for Wellhill.

Dr Dene Wright collating records for Wellhill.

Gert Petersen and Ilia Barbukov sorting through soil residues.

Gert Petersen and Ilia Barbukov sorting through soil residues.

Prehistoric pottery from SERF excavations.

Prehistoric pottery from SERF excavations.

Dr Alice Watterson collaborating on a digital visulisation project.

Dr Alice Watterson collaborating on a digital visulisation project.

serf logo


Digging Diaries – The House As Old As Stonehenge

Following on from the wonders of Star Carr, here’s our next video, ‘The House As Old As Stonehenge’

A digging team has uncovered the remains of a building which is over 4000 years old. It’s been found on the vast Neolithic landscape of Marden Henge situated within the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

The University of Reading Archaeology Department have been carrying out the excavations in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Wiltshire Museum.

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!

Horizons – Old and New

I’m a little late with my Day of Archaeology post this year – but I managed to find some time today to do a post…. which will mainly focus on a project I’ve recently been working on as part of my work at Cadw, called: ‘Horizons: Old and New’.

On the actual Day of Archaeology, my morning was filled with lots of office tasks in preparation for the Festival of Archaeology, co-ordinated nationally by the Council of British Archaeology. Along with that, I worked on editing some Key Stage  2 school resources that will accompany the ‘Horizons: Old and New’ project which we completed last month.

The project focused on the Neolithic period on Anglesey, and focused on the passage tombs of Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodaid-y-Gawres dating to around 5000 years ago. The project was split into two main themes – ‘old’ Neolithic technologies were explored at Bryn Celli Ddu, and ‘new’ interpretations of that Neolithic in the 21st century were explored at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. The project explored what we know about the Neolithic period, and celebrate the amazing technologies of the period and present these to the public. This included flint knapping, rock art, pottery, bonework and the movement of the sun. At Barclodiad-y-Gawres, we explored how we interpret Neolithic archaeology in the present and the future – and by using the more unusual focus on sculpture and art, gave the public a new experience at an ancient monument.

It was on Friday that I finally got a chance to go through all the images that I had received from Adam Stanford taken at Bryn Celli Ddu and others taken at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. These were added to our shared portfolio system with metadata, and it took ages to complete! A photographic archive of the project.

All images Cadw: Crown Copyright

After lunch I went back to editing the Neolithic resources I’m writing, which encourages schools to take their students out to their local Neolithic site, listing a range of activities and lesson plans which they could use to inspire their classes. Some of these images will probably surface in there…

Cadw have also commissioned a series of Neolithic comics, created by the very talented John Swogger – which brings the period alive in another way…

Cadw Neolithic Comic

Images by John Swogger. Cadw: Crown Copyright

I’ve just finished edited and checking the Welsh versions on these, so they have now gone back to John so he can add the Welsh text into the right boxes, I’m so excited to see the finished artwork! The comics and school resources will be available to download from the Cadw website, very soon I hope.

That was the end of the DoA for me, and off I went to watch the new series of Game of Thrones!!!

Thanks again to the Day of Archaeology team – it’s always a pleasure to read about what others are doing across the globe!


A Life in a Day

Last year I quit my job in the city, moved back home, and made the decision to move back into archaeology. It was a very difficult decision to make as I had to give up the life I was used to in London, but I feel it was the right one. I’m very passionate about community archaeology, and I believe it is important for people to be aware of the landscape and history around them as this helps to increase the understanding of their heritage and identity. I also believe that so many skills can be gained through participation, both practical and personal.

When I first left my job I was so nervous I’d be unable to find any volunteer roles, and I’d be sitting around not working at all. How wrong I was! I’ve been very lucky to be involved in a range of amazing projects and the experience I’ve gained has been invaluable.

As my main interest is community archaeology I tried to focus on getting experience in that, both in how community archaeology works behind the scenes, and general experience of working with the public. I’ve been involved in a range of projects over the last few months. Rather than focus on one day, I’m going to give an overview of each of them, along with a link to their websites so you can find out more.

The first place I got involved in at the beginning of the year was the Portable Antiquities Scheme. My nearest branch is in Winchester, with the Winchester Museums Service. I had experience working with finds on excavations, but I rarely got to see anything other than pottery and animal bones, so the experience has been so important. The scheme is a funded project to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Most of the finds are bought in by metal detectorists, but not all. It has been really successful in encouraging good practice in finders and land owners, and many finds have been recorded on the database, including the location of where they were found. I am one of the many volunteers round the country who help to photograph and record these finds. I feel very fortunate to be able to handle these items, and learn more about them.


Photographing worked flint 


Editing the image on the computer, ready to put on the database

As well as recording items, I’ve also been on training courses during my time with the PAS. I’ve had a day course on Roman coins at the British Museum, and a really interesting session on Roman brooches, and the different types. The Portable Antiquities Website is:

I then got involved at Stonehenge, signing up to be a Neolithic House Interpreter. I took all the training, and then the opportunity came up to work on building the houses too. It was a fantastic experience, as it really gave me insight into how these buildings could have been built originally and the range of materials available. It was great to look at the archaeological evidence from Durrington Walls, and really think about how these buildings were first built, and how they were used. I also really enjoyed daubing, using a mixture of chalk, water and straw to cover the walls, it’s very therapeutic! The houses were built under the guidance of the Ancient Technology Centre, more information can be found here –


Putting the daub onto one of the Neolithic Houses

The volunteers have also received training on fire training (very important in a house made of wood and straw!), bread making, flint knapping, and clothing and organic materials. This is so beneficial and has really helped when speaking to visitors onsite.


As the houses only opened at the beginning of June, I’ve only done a few sessions as a house interpreter, but the knowledge gained on the building of the houses has really benefited. I feel I can really explain to the public about how the houses were created. I’m also very proud of the houses and the team that worked on them, they are beautiful structures. More information can be found on the Neolithic Houses blog – 


These are the two main projects I’ve been involved in, but I’ve also had the odd day here and there. I helped to survey the roof of Hampton Court Palace, which was a bit scary balancing on the wooden beams! I’ve also done some work with the East Oxford Project helping to sort finds from test pits, and attending a really interesting pottery weekend run by Paul Blinkhorn. I additionally spent a day in the Natural History Museum in Oxford moving small mammal skulls, and repacking them into more suitable containers!


Balancing on a beam in the dark Hampton Court attic!

So, although I’d absolutely love a proper paid secure job (it’s exhausting fitting in the babysitting and gardening!) I feel very privileged to be involved in all these projects, which is why I wanted to write about all of them. There is such a range of work going on around the country, and it’s very exciting.