A day of archaeological finds

Having followed Day of Archaeology since it started I thought it finally time I participated and shared some of the fun from the finds room. Yes the finds room can be fun, with the advantage of being dry (a big benefit today!) and having a plentiful supply of cake. As the Archaeological Archives and Finds officer for the Surrey County Archaeological Unit (SCAU) I love the variety my role now encompasses, today’s activities being a good example.

The day started with a shout out from Sara Cox on radio 2 – I was hoping she would mention our volunteers excavating the World War 1 camp at Witley but that didn’t quite go to plan! Most of the morning then involved liaising with external specialists over the post-excavation programme for a large medieval cemetery that we recently excavated, followed by me yet again covering the office desks in pottery – this time selecting examples for illustration for a publication report. I then delved into the specialist world of clay tobacco pipe manufacturers in Surrey. Who would have thought so much could be written about clay tobacco pipes! Love it. Another day in the library lined up for next week.

clay pipe

Clay pipe



Archaeological Archives are currently in a state of crisis with many museums full and contracting units faced with the prospect of having to hold onto material indefinitely. The situation has received much attention within the profession over recent years, although little progress has been made to resolve the problem thus far. The situation is also true for Surrey, with most museums no longer able to accept any archives. Rather alarmingly the news broke this week from Guildford that the Surrey Archaeology Society has been given notice to leave Guildford Museum following over a 100 years of collaboration. It is still unclear what the future holds for the substantial archives held by the Surrey Archaeology Society, and indeed the future of the museum. We are working closely with colleagues in Surrey to improve our own and local museums storage space and we may have secured a new store to start alleviating some of the pressure to house archives currently curated by contracting units, ourselves included. Hence this afternoon was spent measuring up the prospective store and obtaining quotes for racking. An innovative new use for redundant prison cells, although possibly with less cake.

A Day On Two Sites

Hello I’m Cornelius, one of the partners at L – P: Archaeology. I’ve been doing commercial archaeology for 25 years now, and I know that the following short story will be very familiar to a lot of you, but anyone who has never been involved in a trenching evaluation be warned- this rollercoaster ride of thrills, despair and elation is not for the faint hearted. Some images may contain brickearth.

As described in my earlier post, we are currently conducting a 5% sample evaluation below a car-park in Egham, Surrey. First thing this morning we broke the tarmac on a fresh new trench, full of possibilities. We started to machine away the modern overburden deposits below the surface, taking care to avoid the large water pipe we knew to be in the trench. As our very skilled machine driver was doing this I got a call from another site.

51 miles away to the south lies the lovely house of Brambletye in Keston. An extension is currently being built on the house, which involves digging some small but deep footings. As the house lies next to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Keston Roman Tombs, even very small scale work needs to be watched closely, so I leave the trench in the capable hands of my colleague Mike and zoom off down the M25.

When I get to Brambletye the crew have a small 3-ton digger ready, and have soon dug the footing. There is absolutely nothing in it but natural clay, with not even a stray sherd of Roman pot in the topsoil. My disappointment is offset by a very fine cup of tea, and then back to Egham to look at the trench.

In my absence Mike has cleaned and recorded the trench beautifully. A single linear feature in the trench has been sectioned, and is clearly a wall footing of early 20th century origin- possibly the wall of the doctors surgery we were told about by the very helpful staff at Egham Museum, who were kind enough to show us their collection of old maps. There is no other archaeology visible in the trench, so I survey it using a Smartrover GPS system and we fill it back in. I lock up the site and head home to write up the days results. Which are that I have driven about 150 miles, shifted a few hundred tons of earth and found nothing of archaeological interest whatsoever.

But it was mostly sunny, and I was out in the fresh air, and I got a close look at a very cool Roman tomb complex. And the tea was very good.

Altogether a fine day.

Photos copyright L – P : Archaeology

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 4 (Metal Finds)

Now onto our Metal store – this entire store holds a host of treasures, and more coffin nails than you’d care to imagine!

Our first lucky object from shelf 496 comes from site ABO92 – Abbott’s Lane, excavated in 1992 by the then Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLAS). Being a waterfront site this excavation produced a wealth of metal objects – all surviving due to the aerobic conditions of burial.

Our object is a medieval pilgrim badge that depicts the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570. An additional badge of better condition was also excavated from the site. The cult of Thomas Becket was one of the most popular in London during the medieval period – not surprising as he was also considered the city’s unofficial patron saint. These badges would have been collected at the site of pilgrimage – this one may have therefore travelled all the way from Canterbury in Kent, before being lost or perhaps purposefully discarded. The badge is a miniature imitation of the reliquary of a life-sized mitred bust of Becket that was held in Canterbury Cathedral.


Lead pilgrim badge

Lead pilgrim badge, depicting the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570, and from shelf 496 of our metal store


Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf

Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf (MOLAS Monograph 19)

Our second object, stored on shelf 593, is from the more recent excavation SAT00. Found in the upper stratigraphy this is a beautifully preserved pocket sundial.

Copper sundial

Copper pocket sundial, from shelf 593


A great source for comparison with these metal artefacts is the Portable Antiquities Scheme which holds the records of thousands of objects discovered, mainly through metal detecting, from across the country. Our sundial, excavated from the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral Crypt (SAT00), has a direct parallel with one found in Surrey.

Quoting from PAS object entry SUR-7790B4:

“These sundials are known as simple ring dials or poke dials (‘poke’ being an archaic word for pocket). The sliding collar would be set into position for the month of the year and, when the dial was suspended vertically, the sun would shine through the hole in the lozenge-shaped piece, through the slot, and onto the interior of the ring. The hour could then be read by looking at the closest gradation mark to the spot of light on the interior of the ring.”

Next it’s our Textile artefacts. Again, segregated and stored in a controlled environment, this store is humidified to preserve these important materials. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 784 and 910 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

The Final Day of the Woking Palace Archaeology Project on the Day of Archaeology

The Day of Archaeology coincided with the final day of the Woking Palace Archaeology Project.  We are in our final season of a three year project which has seen us discover more about this fascinating site.  To find out more see: Friends of Woking Palace

For the 2011 season we have opened up three areas:  Trench 12 to look at the kitchens, Trench 13 to look at the gatehouse and Trench 14 to investigate buildings to the north of the site, possibly the chapel for the Palace or a later kitchen area connected to the Great Hall (part of its walls were uncovered in the 2009 season).

Trench 14 was excavated by members of the public taking part in archaeology for the first time as part of the ‘Dig for a Day’ scheme.  This year we have had over 160 local people taking part in the dig, including local groups such as Woking Brownies, and the U3A.

The last day of public participation was on Thursday 28th, and by this time both Trenches 12 and 13 had been completed.  However, there was still plenty to do in Trench 14, so it was all hands to the trench to finish excavating and tidy the site for photos at lunch.  The team on the Day of Archaeology mainly consisted of members of the Surrey Archaeological Society and Friends of Woking Palace who have supported the project throughout.

A video-blog has been created of the dig in progress: Woking Palace Video Blogs

The Woking Palace Archaeology Project is a collaborative partnership project involving and supported by Woking Borough Council, Surrey County Council, Surrey Archaeological Society, the Friends of Woking Palace, Heritage Enterprise (Surrey County Archaeological Unit), Archaeology South-East, Quest (University of Reading), and the University of Nottingham.

Find out more about archaeology in Surrey here:

Community Archaeology in Surrey

Exploring Surrey’s Past

Surrey Heritage

Join in the conversation at #surreyheritage

Abby Guinness
Community Archaeologist
Surrey County Council



Laura completing her first wall sheet WP2011

Woking Palace 2011

Father and daughter George and Beth finishing off their feature WP2011

Woking Palace 2011

How many volunteers can you fit in Trench 14? WP2011

An archaeobureaucrat writes…

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

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

A demanding cat. Frankly.


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

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

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


My train arriving at Haslemere station


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

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


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

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

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


English Heritage offices at Waterhouse Square, Holborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Kerr, Head of Archaeological Projects, English Heritage


Love at first site …. a day in the life of me

Hello All,

I’m Kelly and I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be an archaeologist and after two degrees and several years in the field, I can say that I now have the privilege of working at L-P : Archaeology who are assisting in the running of this FAB project! At L- P  I get to do a little bit of everything which other units just don’t allow and if you continue reading you’ll get a little glimpse of how I mean everything.

10:30am: Well my day started off with a horrid shock when I found we’d run out of coffee, never a good thing in our office and so set about the very important task of ordering some more for myself and the other thirsty L-P bods.

Midday: After opening our post and doing a bit of express accounts admin and checking messages and emails etc. etc. I set about a day issuing quotations for new work, contacting county archaeologists about sites we have on and where to position trenches etc. and phoning some of our clients to give them updates on where projects stand. All of these tasks are associated with the business side of working in commercial archaeology, it’s imperative that we build relations with valued clients and this is really what is the bread and butter of the job.

13:30pm: My afternoon however has picked up and has consisted of research of Roman roads in Hampshire, Bronze age settlements in Surrey, 19th century stucco buildings in West London and then a period of georeferencing maps in ArcGIS for several map regression exercises. Furthermore I have been entering HER data provided by an un-named county HER department into GIS as unfortunately they still send us photocopies of their card system. In an ideal world it would be lovely if councils countrywide could all be on the same page about the dissemination of archaeological information. I think everyone would have a much higher opinion and a greater understanding of commercial archaeology in the UK if archaeology becomes more accessible to use and interact with. That’s just one reason why this Day of Archaeology is such a good idea. Let’s face it we have the best job in the world so we should let everyone know about it.

15:00 pm: Now I am arranging my travel across southern England for next week for several site survey visits, meetings with clients and trips to county archives.

In other exciting news we have just updated our copy of AutoCAD and I fully intend having a play around with that at the end of the day. I think I’ll CAD the office in 3D if our total station is charged up and if I get a spare half hour. I am not concerned in the slightest that this is my idea of having fun (or should I be… :-/ ).

So really, to some up, this is a typical day of me multi-tasking. Today its multi-tasking in the office, beverage supplier, accountant, secretary, consultant, marketer,  researcher, trench placer, GISer, historian, archaeologist and report writer. However, I am also a seasoned digger (or at least I was before the recession decimated field archaeology) and am also training myself up in building recording and this is something I really want to pursue.

Versatility is the key to this game and I know that I am incredibly lucky to do what I do with the great people at L – P! Now if you don’t mind I haven’t even had time for lunch so I’ll be off ….