Sussex

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.

urn_montage

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 

Eastbourne Ancestors Day of Archaeology 2012

This is the first ‘Day of Archaeology’ that we (Eastbourne Ancestors) have taken part in and so we are quite excited to be involved!

I’m also excited as this is my first full time job in archaeology as the Project Co-ordinator for Eastbourne Ancestors. I work in the commercial world of archaeology as an osteoarchaeologist (human and animal remains) in my spare time too, as well as excavating with a local society and the Eastbourne Museum Service. Archaeology is for everyone and I strongly believe in the community aspect, getting hands on.

You can follow our progress here: http://www.facebook.com/EastbourneAncestors

Although the ‘Day of Archaeology 2012’ fell on 29th June, I was in meetings which wouldn’t have made for exciting reading…but today is a different story.

We are a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by the Eastbourne Museum Service in East Sussex. Our aim is to To fully examine all the human skeletal remains in our collection from the Eastbourne area in order to produce a demographic profile of the past populations that were living here.

The skeletal analysis will include determining the age, biological sex, stature, metric and non-metric traits, ancestry, health, diet, handedness and evidence of pathology. We will also be conducting research into migration studies using isotope analysis, physical appearance using facial reconstruction and family connections, DNA and C14.

As part of this project, we will be giving volunteers the opportunities to participate in artefact conservation, osteoarchaeology workshops, field work, study days, talks and demonstrations and much more. We will conclude the project with academic and public published material as well as an exhibition.

On Friday, Jo (the boss) and I took a road trip to Bournemouth University to deliver 30 skeletons to students to study for their MSc dissertations. We also have a student from Exeter University studying clavicles for two weeks with us for her research. In a few months time we will be taking some of the collection to Canterbury University to be studied by their MSc and BSc students too.

Today is our first volunteer day, we have 5 volunteers busily cleaning skeletal remains from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery site in Eastbourne. Each day for a month, volunteers will be helping to get the remains ready for analysis, which they will also receive training for as part of the Project.

By the 2013 ‘Day of Archaeology’ I hope to have some interesting findings to write about: Where did these people come from? Are they local? How did they live and die? What did they wear? What did they look like?

Today I’m an archaeologist, yesterday an office administrator

That’s the trouble – trying to find the time to finish archaeological work and keep afloat otherwise – it works OK but I’ve got 5 part-time jobs just to be able to engineer a day to work on the incomplete monograph. Today’s the day! So, back to the location issues of the early Anglo-Saxon settlement and their soil preferences – also tidying up a report on a textile impression on a stove tile – a completely new area for research apparently, oh and there’s the old site archive to sort out and think about a paper abstract for TAG. Plus this is the worst area (East Sussex) for internet access. Actually, it’s all rather interesting, so I’ll stop moaning and get back to it. All the best.

A day in the life of a National Finds Adviser for the PAS

I work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme as the Deputy Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins and part time as a Roman Finds Adviser. It’s my job to help our national network of Finds Liaison Officers to identify and record all the tricky coins and artefacts brought in by metal detectorists to record and to emphasise their research potential. Every day working for the Scheme is different. The past couple of weeks have seen me give lectures at metal Detecting Clubs in Liverpool and the Wirral, attend a conference on Roman coins from Britain and record more than 1000 coins from new sites discovered throughout the country. This entry gives a snapshot of what I’ve been doing today.

9.15am: I arrive at work at the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum and spend the next half hour answering email queries from finders and Finds Liaison Officers. Answering queries is a major part of my role. Today, I’ve identified and referenced a couple of coins from the Isle of Wight, where the FLO, Frank Basford, works very hard with detectorists to record as many objects as possible. As a result, he has recorded more than 1500 Roman coins for the island which has totally changed our understanding of the Roman period there.
9.45am: I check in to the Finds Liaison Officers’ Finds Forum and leave a couple of opinions on objects posted there. One of the FLOs wants to know where he can find examples of iron Roman brooches, whilst another queries whether an unusual wire feature on the foot of a Roman brooch is a repair or part of its decoration. I make a note to flick through some Roman catalogues later to try and find parallels. I post a map of the distribution of Roman knee brooches recorded by the PAS which I’ve been working on and it provokes some interesting discussion from FLOs…
10.20am: I start putting together a provisional object and image list for a display on ‘Roman coins as religious offerings’ which will form part of a new Money Gallery at the British museum. I want to use a combination of objects from the museum’s collections and some reported through the PAS. I choose a selection of coins found in the River Thames at London Bridge, some cut and mutilated coins from a range of sites throughout the country and decide it would be a good idea to also have some artefacts too. I therefore email the curators in the Department of Prehistory and Europe to see whether they have any votive objects in their reserve collections which might be suitable. I’m hoping for a miniature object and a lead curse tablet!
1pm: Lunch and a bit of a rest!
2pm: I check up on my intern, Victoria, an MA student in Museum Studies from George Washington University. She’s spent the summer recording coins on the PAS database and scanning accompanying images and has done an amazing job, entering more than 1000 over the past month. We get a lot of help from students and volunteers and I hope they get as much out of it as we do!
2.30pm: Back to the museum display. I’ve just found out I have to write the general display text to accompany my finds by Monday. It’s only 80 words explaining the theme of my display but I think it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.
3pm: Start recording part of a large assemblage of coins from a site in Wiltshire which looks like it might be a Roman temple site. Amongst the coins are about 20 pierced with iron nails – possible evidence of a ritual practice I aim to investigate in more detail later. I add these coins to my spreadsheet of ‘mutilated coins’ recorded by the PAS and will come back to them next week when I start writing an article on ‘Cut and mutilated Roman coins recorded by the PAS’.
4pm: I start collecting together all the reference works and recording sheets that Victoria and I will need tomorrow. We’re going to a Finds Day in Sussex as part of a team of FLOs and PAS Finds Advisers to record coins and objects. Getting out and about to let people know about the Scheme is really important. We’re hoping to see some interesting finds and meet some new finders..

On expedition to Russell Square

Archaeology is digging. Simple. It’s one of those professions that makes for good dinner party conversation, easy banter in the pub and suitable fare for family reunions, because everyone knows what archaeologists do – they dig stuff up. Or do they? Archaeology and the people who get paid to do it may have a clearer (and more positive) brand image than bankers, consultants and CFOs, but the field is anything but one-dimensional. Sure, some of us dig or get our hands dirty in other ways, but archaeologists are involved in all manner of work in their pursuit of a greater understanding of human activity. I hope that in the course of viewing these blog posts, readers will get an appreciation of the vast scope of ‘our’ world.

My own day of archaeology began with a visit to our offices in Russell Square by a cameraman who was capturing footage of a colleague for the next instalment of the History Channel series ‘Mud Men’. Our building is a converted Georgian terraced house facing on to Russell Square and is connected to the British Museum via our back garden. I set to work typing up the minutes of a recent meeting and watch my colleague reposition a few props to make the space seem more ‘archaeological’. There isn’t so much as a trowel in our office, but this space is the epicentre of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the network of archaeologists (Finds Liaison Officers, or FLOs) across England and Wales who are working with the public to record their finds and help transform our understanding of the past.

Some days it can seem like we are sitting at the other end of the Bat Phone, where the next call could be one that informs us of a compelling discovery. This is one of those days – a hardworking FLO has just rung to let us know there has been an Iron Age hoard found in a northern county. We start a new file and enter the information into our treasure database, giving the case a very bureaucratic ‘T’ number.

 

Installing a selection from the Frome Hoard in the Treasure case

I dash off to a meeting in a nearby building about the future display of ‘Room 2’, the ‘Changing Museum’ gallery here at the British Museum. As part of our role in administering the Treasure Act 1996, the British Museum takes in hundreds of finds of Treasure each year for study. Many of these are eventually acquired by regional museums, with others being returned to the people who found them. Until last year, these finds remained locked away in secure storage for the duration of their stay, but recently we’ve been offered the chance to display some of this material in the public galleries. We currently have a case in Room 41, but as this gallery is closing for redevelopment, our next ‘home’ will be Room 2. Even though we only have one case and one information panel, at a large museum like this there are a great number of people involved in making the project a success. Today I’ve found out that the folks in exhibitions have sourced a new case for our use, one with interior lights and more space than a previous example, so I’m excited at the opportunities for display.

Back at my desk, my work takes me in the direction of the PAS Database, where I’m checking to make sure some specific finds have been recorded and recorded properly. The magnificent rebuild of the database by Dan Pett has made for a much more ‘user-friendly’ platform. In the past, as finds of Treasure were recorded as part of a legal process, they weren’t always given an entry on the PAS database, so one of the tasks that we engage volunteers for is to go through historic Treasure reports and create a database record for the items in them. They’ve been doing a great job, but there is plenty more work to be done.

Its time to organise the logistics for a Finds Day that the PAS is running at Arundel Castle in Sussex on Saturday. There will be a team of us heading to the town from across Southeast England, and we are all bringing various supplies – among other things the British Museum has a good supply of latex gloves so I’ll be taking those. We’ve also sourced an old banner to pack up. The Finds Day is the culmination of a busy two weeks of outreach organised under the banner of the Festival of British Archaeology by the CBA. Many of the PAS staff have been participating in or running events throughout the country since mid-July.

Most days I ask a colleague to return my museum keys for me, so that I can leave directly from our front door on to Russell Square. But today I have change of mind and walk along the ‘East Road’ behind our offices and the hotels on Montague Street, out into the forecourt of the British Museum. Tucked away behind a computer screen it is amazing how quickly the image of those massive columns disappears from the mind, but such is their presence that all it takes is one glance to instil one with a renewed sense of purpose. I may not be traipsing amongst Mayan ruins in the Yucatan but there is plenty of archaeology to be found here in Bloomsbury.