Dave Brown: Ringing in a New Era of Recording

My Job

I am a Geomatics Supervisor working in the quite newly formed Geomatics team at Oxford Archaeology East. My job has a great mix of both field and office work and often involves new forms of technology and experimental techniques and recording systems.

Over the past 5 or so years the company has changed from using primarily hand-drawn recording methods to a much more widespread use of digital recording. As a result, the divide between ongoing site work & what was traditionally post-excavation has become blurred. The Geomatics team pretty much operates within this blurred zone between field teams and graphics/post-excavation teams.

A car boot full of survey equipment

The essential tools of my trade! The car radio is permanently tuned to Planet Rock.

I enjoy the diversity of my role. On a daily basis I may travel across the Eastern Region to set out evaluation trenches or visit ongoing excavations. Or I may be inside creating trench designs or digitising site plans.

Today I am in the office catching up on my survey processing and working on some site plans for a large project recently completed in Norfolk.

One site in particular is very interesting. It has evidence of Bronze Age activity, including round structures within enclosures and remarkable post hole alignments.

A plan of archaeological features surveyed at a site

A site plan from a large project recently completed in Norfolk

The archaeological features were planned on site using Leica DGPS. Every feature was accurately planned, including all of the postholes, well over 1000 of them!

The data was sent to me & after processing I imported it into AutoCAD. I’m am currently tidying the plan and adding other data.

Archaeologists in hi-vis recording and surveying on site

The field team in action! Note GPS recording in background.

It is hard to imagine how long the process of recording all of these postholes would have taken with traditional methods.

Special Feature!- photogrammetry doesn’t quite ring true

One of the most exciting recording techniques we have recently started to use is photogrammetry. It involves taking a series of photographs which can be processed and manipulated by sophisticated software to create scaled photorealistic 3D models of objects and georeferenced orthophotos of archaeological sites (amongst other things). It means we can record sites by the use of drones even!

This technique is new to me, so one evening earlier this week, partly as a training exercise, I decided to attempt the recording of some church bells. As part of a restoration project funded by local donations and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Nassington Bell Project will see the restoration and overhaul of the existing 5 bells and frame and the casting of a new bell.

As part of this project two out of tune bells will be recast and I thought it would be good to preserve a record of their original form. Unfortunately, the bells are 40ft up in the small, dimly lit belfry!

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

My helpers- Libby 9 & Owen 7, with Hilary the church Warden & Brian the tower captain

Having gained access to the belfry I placed markers on the bells to help the software and put up bed sheets to mask out unwanted parts of the bell frame.


Bell 4 cast in 1642 by Thomas Norris of Stamford, weighing approx.. ¼ tonne

I have run the data through the OAE’s Agisoft software overnight and I’m astonished by the results! I had to use a flash for every shot. I thought the smooth regular shape of the bell would also cause problems.


Each blue rectangle represents the position of my camera. I used only a basic digital SLR and its inbuilt flash

More processing and experimenting is required but, for a first attempt, I am quite pleased. I intend to upload the model to Sketchfab eventually to make it more freely available.


Doesn’t quite ring true- there is currently a hole in the top of the model!

The End

Thanks for making it to the end of this blog! I hope it has given you some idea of the diversity of roles and interests in archaeology. Dave

Dave Brown is a Geomatics Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist geomatics services, visit our website:

Medieval Graffiti in the Waveney Valley

LogoI’m Andrew. I’m not an archaeologist. There, that’s got that out of the way.

Sometime around November last year I started seeing lots of posts on Twitter about starting an archaeology group in the Waveney Valley in Norfolk & Suffolk, where I live. These posts, it turned out, were Lorna’s first attempts to get the word out about community archaeology in the Valley. I was interested and we batted ideas about over the winter and into spring of this year.

On March 23rd the Waveney Valley Community Archaeology Group had its first meeting in a snowstorm in Bungay. One hundred and four people turned up. After the meeting we took a deep breath and went to the pub, where much good work has since been done.

Since that first snowy meeting one of the most popular activities we’ve been involved in has been hunting for medieval graffiti in the churches in the valley. We’ve been working with (and inspired by) Matt Champion of the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey to find, photograph and record medieval and post medieval graffiti, which brings me neatly to the 2013 Day of Archaeology.

On Friday July 26th Helen and I went for a bumble round the churches of the Hempnall group in South Norfolk, and on Saturday 27th July about 20 of our members looked over churches in Broome, Ditchingham, Hedenham and Earsham, and I guess between us from those two days we’ve got literally hundreds of pictures of graffiti from early medieval times through to the 1940s and later.
I’ve picked out some of the more unusual and quirky ones here (I was going to say off the wall ones..) to give you a flavour of what’s there to be found.

Some of them are likely very common, but based on my massive seven or eight weeks experience of medieval graffiti I still like them, so there.

JpegFritton church, a star of David, two crosses, a spear and some hatching.

JpegFritton church, a spear

JpegFritton church, two linked circles, similar to later linked circles on a tomb at Hardwick.

JpegShelton church, a possible merchant’s mark

JpegHardwick church, May 19th 1688 and four linked circles on an alabaster tomb. 1688 was the year of the Glorious Revolution, so maybe more research needed here.

JpegHardwick church, a hex mark on the head of an angel or cherub on the same tomb.

JpegDitchingham church TS 1727(?) carved by the west door. The S is back to front.

Jpeg P1000047Hedenham church Face of a bearded man

hitler1Earsham church Hitler

JpegEarsham church Sweethearts of 1953?

JpegEarsham church –  A bicycle

Variety – The spice of life?

Working as an archaeologist within a local authority may not always be the full Indiana Jones experience but taking today as a ‘typical’ day it can certainly be varied. I work within the Historic Environment Service at Norfolk County Council as the ‘Assistant Historic Environment Officer (Countryside)’. In a rural county like Norfolk the countryside is obviously highly significant but what does this really mean for us?

In my case it mostly means undertaking historic environment consultations for ‘Farm Environment Plans’ as part of the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme. This is an agri-environment scheme delivered by Natural England that provides funding to farmers and other land managers in England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.

We are consulted on every HLS application in the county to assess the potential opportunities to manage the historic environment as part of the scheme. We identify what historic environment features are present within each holding and which are worthy of management, we then use a series of standard recommendations and additional feedback to advise on the best way to manage sites. For example we might suggest that a Roman villa which is currently under the plough would benefit from removal from cultivation to prevent damage or we may have earthworks like a Bronze Age burial mound which we want to see cleared of scrub and managed in grassland. Natural England can then make informed decisions on how best to proceed. This process alone gives me a huge amount of variety and allows me to have a fantastic overview of so much of the county and the amazing historic environment sites it possesses. My colleague, the Historic Environment Officer (Countryside) also deals very much with helping landowners manage sites on their land through the very successful Norfolk Monuments Management Project which I’ll let him talk about!

So today I have started work on a consultation for an HLS FEP but I have also carried out a number of other entirely different tasks. For example, I work within the Heritage Asset Management Team here at the HES which also deals with planning applications and archaeological work associated with development. I take on a number of planning cases each week and specifically deal with works in churches and churchyards so I have responded to a number of planning queries this afternoon including those regarding drainage in churchyards and works in redundant churches.

I also have a post graduate specialism in maritime archaeology and have had the opportunity to use this today by accompanying a colleague on a site visit with maritime implications in an advisory capacity.

So you see – never a dull moment!

Heritage asset management – and why sometimes archaeology has to be a bit secret!

As the Planning Archaeologist for Norfolk County Council Historic Environment Service I work as part of a team providing heritage asset management advice to local planning authorities, developers, consultants and archaeological contractors. This can take the form of advice on the possible impact of proposed developments on the historic environment and the requirements for archaeological work to be carried out through the planning process both ahead of, and during, developments.

Another aspect of my job involves monitoring the work being carried out by archaeological contractors in Norfolk – making sure that archaeological projects are carried out to the appropriate standards from the design stage, through the fieldwork and reporting, right through to the archiving and publication.

This morning a colleague and I were out of the office at a site meeting to discuss a current excavation of an important archaeological discovery ‘somewhere in Norfolk’. The meeting involved the archaeological and construction contractors and representatives from the organisations funding the construction work. Discussions focussed on the significance of the discovery, the progress of the excavation and the requirements for post-excavation analysis and conservation of the archaeological remains.

All very well, but you are probably wondering what these archaeological remains are and where in Norfolk they are being excavated? That unfortunately is where this part of my post has to fall silent for now and here’s why. It may seem strange on Day of Archaeology to talk of archaeological fieldwork needing to be carried out in relative secrecy but this is sometimes the case. During the process of excavation archaeological sites can be vulnerable to accidental damage by interested visitors, deliberate vandalism by disinterested visitors or the removal of artefacts – most likely through illegal metal detecting. Consequently it is sometimes necessary for details of archaeological discoveries to be kept quiet until after the fieldwork has been completed. In this particular case not only does the fragility of the archaeological remains place them at risk of damage but the archaeological work is taking place within an active construction site where unaccompanied public access would present a serious health and safety issue.

It is likely that the current phase of archaeological fieldwork will be completed within the next week after which there will be a press release with full details of the archaeological remains. If you want to find out more about this exciting discovery keep an eye on our Twitter feed @NorfolkHES or Facebook page and we will share the news item as soon as it’s available!

James Albone, Planning Archaeologist, Norfolk County Council Historic Environment Service

Norfolk Update

My final task of the day is to start writing a report on heritage actions at or connected to former RAF Coltishall for the Project Board.  This includes our own work managing heritage assets on the site, preparing heritage statements to accompany planning applications, our work with the Airfield Research Group and the University of East Anglia (the Cold War Anglia project; see, liaison with the Spirit of Coltishall Association, liaison with English Heritage, our work with local communities (we have a formal Community Liaison Reference Group) and special interest groups and dealing with any heritage issues arising from the publication on Wednesday of our Development Vision for the site.

I hope that anyone reading my blog today has found it of some interest.

Best wishes, and have a great weekend.


David Gurney, Historic Environment Manager (County Archaeologist), Norfolk County Council



Day of Archaeology – Norfolk

This morning I’ll be working mainly on former RAF Coltishall, a World War Two and Cold War airfield, which closed in 2006 and which Norfolk County Council bought in 2013.  This currently takes up a lot of my time, and little did I expect when I started digging in 1970 that one day a) I’d be a County Archaeologist and b) that we’d have expanded the scope of our interest to include, for example, milestones and other roadside heritage assets, and buildings as recent as 1980 (another Cold War heritage asset, a rare DIY bunker just outside Norwich).  Anyway, I’m just about to make two calls.  The first to a conservator at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (Cambs) to get some advice on how best to maintain and/or restore the huge military murals painted during the First Gulf War on the insides of the steel doors of Hangar 1.  Second to a local resident who turns out to have detailed knowledge of the site, including the World War Two E-pens, for Spitfires or Hurricanes, two of which are extant and one of which we have just cleared of ivy, undergrowth and weeks (through our Norfolk Monuments Management Project).  He also knows about our three Pickett-Hamilton forts, two of which were very recently relocated by the Airfield Research Group, hiding under the turf (and locations not known to anyone who I’ve met on site, some of whom have been there for decades and involved in its maintenance).  Also they are not visible on aerial photographs, which I would have expected.

David Gurney, Historic Environment Manager (County Archaeologist), Norfolk County Council



Dusty Muddy Stuff (“I think you will find its called Archaeological Mateeeeriaaal!”)

Elena Jones: Assistant Registrar/Registration Assistant, Department of Prehistory & Europe at the British Museum.

Today I am sitting down in an ancient and threadbare office swivel chair at my bubble-wrap and acid free tissue covered desk. I am in a British Museum office – away from the main Bloomsbury site – that has been little changed, by my reckoning, for 25 years or so.

To fill you in on what I do, my current work here is on the same project it has been Monday to Thursday for over a year now. It involves the registration of an archaeological assemblage from an excavation of the Etton Landscape in Norfolk (if you want to know more see No.109, 2005: Archaeology and Environment of the Etton Landscape, by Charles French and Francis Pryor ISBN 0 9520616 2 7).

This site, of late Neolithic and Bronze Age features has delivered to us, in the department of Prehistory & Europe, a large assemblage of flint implements, pottery sherds, animal bone and human remains. It has been my privilege (and my job!) to sort, identify, photograph and document the finds, working from the finds themselves and the site publication.

All this, often very repetitive work, eventually culminates in a well-organised collection of objects properly housed in long-term storage and marked with a unique registration number which refers to a detailed online digital record which can be found on the British Museum website

But back to today! and this snap shot into the world of museum Registration. I am ‘registering’ the last of ten Etton Bronze-Age human burials. I have a particular interest in human remains and as such I take my time to carefully identify, side (is it from the left or the right side of body?) and individually bag each bone of this skeleton. The burial in question is of a young male with relatively good preservation and no apparent health problems. It is quite common for me to come across the bony growths, spurs and polished surfaces of an individual with arthritis or the carious legions on the teeth that tell me this person probably had tooth ache. Moreover, after working with so many burials from numerous sites you soon come to appreciate the splendid variations in the dimensions of people’s facial bones. Beetle brows, high cheek bones and prominent chins are all in the mix!

The burials from this particular site are taking a little longer than one might expect because, although they have been given a burial number, many of the bone fragments have also been assigned an individual field number. This means that I must transcribe the full site details onto the new bag for each of these pieces of bone rather than just noting down the burial number.

After accurately transcribing the site details from the original, and now rather ropey, finds bags I group bones and fragments within larger bags and label them with general skeletal parts such as “pelvis”, “ribs”, “skull” or “right foot”. I hope that when someone- probably a student- comes to study this individual, my careful bagging and labelling will speed up their task and reduce any possible confusion. To those of us who work in registration and documentation it is always essential that things are well ordered, accurate and above all, make sense.

Throughout this packing process I keep a detailed list, for the database description, of the various pieces of bone I come across and the proportions that have survived. I also use a visual method of recording the burial and colour in, on a schematised drawing of a skeleton, the portions of each bone we have, annotating the number of fragments or loose teeth and any oddities or pathology. Finally, the burial and this skeleton sheet are carefully packed into archival boxes, with bubble wrap and acid-free tissue for protection, which are marked in permanent marker with their individual registration number and the number of boxes for that particular number.

It will be a very satisfying day when the last of this Etton Landscape material is marked and placed in its cabinet or on to its shelf, the table is stripped of its cushioning bubble wrap and I begin to consider how to tackle the next- and there always is a ‘next’!- dusty unregistered archaeological assemblage. Any day now!