The Netherlands

VCU 3D at George Washington’s Boyhood Home

by Bernard K. Means, project director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

VCU students Alison Curran and Ian Salata participate in the Day of Archaeology by excavating at Ferry Farm.

I chose to spend my Day of Archaeology at George Washington’s Boyhood Home, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Archaeologists working here have uncovered traces of human occupation dating back thousands of years, but understandably have been focused on the period associated with George Washington’s tenancy.  George moved here at the age of 6 with his mother Mary, his father Augustine, and several family members.  A team of archaeologists is working this year–as they have in past years–seeking to broaden our understanding of George Washington’s childhood–a rather poorly documented time period.

VCU students Ashley McCuistion and Victoria Garcia look on as the “BW” spoon is being scanned.

My goal today is to use my NextEngine scanner and create digital models of archaeological objects recovered at Ferry Farm, including items recovered this year by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students as part of their recently completed field school, as well as objects recovered in past years from  contexts definitely associated with the Washington family occupation.  These objects are categorized as “small finds” or unique objects that might be lost in traditional archaeological mass data analyses.  For a recent article on small finds at Ferry Farm, and how they can broaden our understanding of the Washington family’s personal and social worlds, I recommend Ferry Farm archaeologist Laura Galke’s (2009) article “The Mother of the Father of Our Country: Mary Ball Washington’s Genteel Domestic Habits” Northeast Historical Archaeology 38:29-48.  I began the day by scanning a pewter spoon handle with the initials “BW”–representing George Washington’s sister, Betty.  This spoon and its significance for socializing Betty in gentry-class society is discussed by Galke (2009).

“BW” spoon as it is being scanned.

The spoon actually proved more challenging than expected because it is thin, dark, and the design is shallow.  But, a little fine powder coating and a long scan seems to have resulted in a nice digital model.

The second artifact we scanned is a lead alloy cloth seal that resembles late 16th century AD examples from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. We also scanned a Civil War Minie ball found by VCU student Ian Salata during this year’s field school.  An interesting artifact that we scanned was a toy hatchet made of lead dropped by a tourist visiting the place where some claim (erroneously) that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree!!!


Archaeo-Geophysics in the Netherlands

Hello! For me, the day of archaeology will be a day of interpreting geophysical data which I collected earlier. I’ll start off with a coffee and fire up my computer. I will have to spend the day behind my computer rummaging around with my GPR- and magnetometry-data. Looking through my eyelashes, trying different colourmaps, data-filters, studying other available information just to see if geophysics will reveal certain lines, shapes and anomalies in general.

Conducting geophysical surveys for a commercial firm in Holland is what I do. Officially educated as an geologist/geochemist, I spend a lot of years in the environmental engineering field (soil surveys, soil remediation), but the combination of geophysics & archaeology was always appealing to me. At our firm Saricon, we also look for UXO’s, but my main field of interest is the world of archaeology!


A week with the Hallaton Treasure Project

Today, I’m not being very archaeological at all (currently watching a repeat of Only Fools and Horses on my day off) so thought I’d write about the last week of my job as Project Officer working with the Hallaton Treasure.

The Hallaton Treasure is an internationally important Late Iron Age find comprising over 5000 Iron Age and Roman coins, a Roman cavalry parade helmet, the remains of around 400 pigs and other unique silver objects which were all buried at an Iron Age shrine in south east Leicestershire between 50 BC and AD 60ish.  Many of the finds are displayed at Harborough Museum, Market Harborough where I’m based most of the time.

Coins from the Hallaton Treasure, copyright Leicestershire County Council

Saturday 23 July

Spent the day working at the museum’s I Love Archaeology! event as part of the Festival of British Archaeology.  I was joined by Leicestershire Finds Liaison Officer, Wendy Scott, who kindly gave up her Saturday to talk to visitors about Roman coins and show them some of her handling collection.  I had fun showing kids (and a few adults) how to strike their own replica Corieltavian coins with our bespoke coin striking kit.  Also got to show off a few coins from the Treasure which aren’t usually on display and allowed visitors to carefully handle them.    A lovely day.

Sunday 24 July

Hallaton Treasure Roadshow visited a Festival event in the village of Great Bowden near Market Harborough organised by the very active Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology  group.  They were launching their new book “Furlong and Furrow” and I had another enjoyable day talking to people about the Treasure and doing more coin making.  My roadshow events usually involve me dressed as “Seren the Iron Age” woman and this was no exception.  Had a go at making a thumb pot out of clay which was one of the fun activities organised by the group for the event.  It turns out that Seren is a rubbish potter and I gave up after my third disastrous attempt.  Was good to get out of my itchy, woollen tube dress at the end of the day!

Monday 25 July

My first full day back in the office for a while was spent catching up on emails and working towards the next major stage of the project – the displaying the Hallaton Helmet at Harborough Museum following three years of conservation at the British Museum.  Conservation work will finish in December this year and the helmet will be displayed at the end of January.  It’s such an exciting project to be involved in, but there is still lots to do before the public get to see this magnificent example of a 1st century AD, silver-gilt, cavalry helmet.

Cheekpiece from the Hallaton Helmet, copyright University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Tuesday 26 July

Another Hallaton Treasure Roadshow, this time at Charnwood Museum, Loughborough.  A great museum featuring lots of local archaeological finds, well worth a visit.  About 100 people took part in the day which included kids craft activities such as making a “Roman helmet” out of card or an Iron Age torc from glittery pipe cleaners.  Older visitors could chat to me about the Treasure.  Hopefully I didn’t bore them too much, once I get started it’s difficult to stop!

Wednesday 27 July

Back in the office, more helmet planning.  Took a call from a Roman re-enactment group who we hope to work with at the public launch of the helmet at the end of January.  Chatted about hiring stunt Roman cavalrymen and ponies to ride around the town centre.  Also sent some emails to the conservation team working on the helmet regarding photographing the finds and timescales etc.

Arranged to visit Tullie House Museum, Carlisle to see their new Roman Frontier Gallery which currently has a Roman cavalry sports helmet from Nijmegen, The Netherlands.  This helmet as loaned to the museum following their unsuccessful bid for the Crosby Garrett Helmet.  Can’t wait to see it and chat to staff about Roman helmets next month.

Thursday 28 July

Another Roadshow event, this time at The Guildhall, Boston where the Hallaton Treasure Travelling Exhibition is on display.  This exhibition has been touring the East Midlandsfor two years and is another interesting aspect of the Hallaton Treasure Project.  The Guildhall recorded their highest ever number of visitors in one day, hope in part due to the free activities we were providing.  Was impressed by the many finds being displayed in the Guildhall which have just been dug up in an excavation taking place in the town’s Market Place.  A wooden patten was the latest find and staff had to spray it with water every hour!

Friday 29 July

Welcome day off.  Getting ready for last Festival of Archaeology event taking place at Harborough Museum tomorrow.  Re-enactors in for Celts V Romans – should be a great way to end a hectic few weeks.

Archeology and education


Mm, first picture of us working is not so exciting. Just sitting behind a computer, writing stuff. But, the project we are working on, is actually a lot of fun. For the Limburgs Museum in the Netherlands, we are developing educational activities for schoolkids. They can be archaeologists too;  examine sherds, bones and seeds from an imaginary wastepit in 17th century Venlo (southern Netherlands). Were the people who used the pit poor or rich? And what did they wear in Roman times, when Venlo already existed? That’s also part of our work, sewing clothes from past times. Preferably by hand, but we do know how to use a sewingmachine!



Being a post-doc

Today, technically I’m not at work, but I’ll still be doing some archaeology! In March I started a post-doc (a research position design for someone fresh from their doctoral thesis) in the Netherlands. It was all very sudden- once I accepted the job I had about 5 weeks to up sticks and move to another country that I’d only visited once, and could only manage the absolute basics linguistically. The role is part time- four days a week, which is great because on my day off I can do some work on my own research- a PhD doesn’t stop when you graduate! I need to write papers based on my research, and get them published. This will be good for me; publishing lots is key to getting (and keeping) academic jobs- and ultimately I want to be a lecturer. It’s also very important for the subject. We’ve got an obligation, whether we work in commercial or ‘university’ or community archaeology, to get our results published and into the public domain.


Me doing borehole geophysics in Calabria

Me doing borehole geophysics in Calabria


New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum

We have a morning mystery. I have no idea what to expect when I get to the British Museum at 10am, other than there will be two hoards, both from the Late Bronze Age, c. 950-800 cal. BC., that have recently been found, and I have to identify the contents and write a specialist report.

If any of you have ever watched Time Team, you’ll know that archaeologists come in all shapes and sizes, and do numerous different jobs. So, we don’t all dig. At least not all the time. Rather than putting trowel to dirt, I spend most of my time routing around in museum archives looking through collections of artefacts.

I’m a doctoral researcher at the Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. I am doing my PhD on the use of bronze weapons, that is rapiers and swords, of the Later Bronze Age in southern England, c. 1400-950 cal. BC.

I’m what they call a metalwork expert, specialised in the bronze artefacts of the Bronze Age, in my case covering what is known as the Atlantic Bronze Age, being the British Isles, coastal and Channel France, the southern Low Countries, and Iberia. I currently live in London, and am in the last 6 weeks of writing up my thesis.

However, I was asked on Wednesday evening by the British Museum’s Curator of European Bronze Age archaeology in the Department of Prehistory and Europe, Dr. Ben Roberts, if I would stop by the British Museum and have a look at two new Late Bronze Age hoards that have just been discovered. Upon discovery they were reported to their local museum, where a Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme would have reported and listed the objects. They have subsequently come to the British Museum to be studied and a short, specialist report produced on them.

It’s these specialist reports, known as treasury Reports, that I’m going to be working on today, and blogging about.

I have no idea what to expect when I get to the British Museum, other than there will be two hoards, both from the Late Bronze Age, c. 950-800 cal. BC, and that there are fragments of sword and socketed axe in them…

Further details about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, your local Finds Liaison Officer and what to do if you find something that you may believe to be of historical and archaeological significance can be found on the Portable Antiquities Website ( Elsewhere on the Day of Archaeology site you’ll also find members of the Portable Antiquities Scheme blogging about their days too.

Predictive Modelling for Archaeological Heritage Management

Marlies Janssens (Vestigia BV, The Netherlands) is analysing Dutch soils today.

Vestigia BV, a Dutch company, operates in the field of commercial archaeology primarily as a consultant to policy makers, project developers, spatial planners on the role of cultural heritage, archaeology and history, in corporate, social and sustainable development. Colleague Marlies Janssens is conducting fieldwork today, with the aim to test the predictive model that was constructed based on desktop survey.

“Six in the morning: no office outfit for today. I’d better wear an old pair of jeans and firmly tied shoes. Because in my job at an archaeological consultancy company I’m not only working at the office. Several days a month I’m out in the field all through The Netherlands.  Today is one of those days. Together with one of my colleagues, in a car filled with geological and archaeological equipment like hand corers, sieves and sample bags, we’re heading for the cover sand region in the province of Brabant, The Netherlands. The local authorities here have asked us to develop an indicative map of archaeological values that can serve as a starting point for their local policy on archaeological heritage management. To develop this map we’ve already been analyzing existing maps (like soil maps, historical maps, geological maps), known archaeological sites and archaeological databases. However, analyzing a landscape from maps and databases will always leave us with questions which cannot be answered by desktop survey only.  “What do the soil layers look like?”, “Can we see former landscape surfaces which might have been inhabited during the past? And if so, are these surfaces and soils still intact? Or have they been disturbed by recent human activities?” To answer these questions we’ll have to conduct fieldwork.

And that’s what is scheduled for today. We’ll visit several sites as part of a larger project where several colleagues, each with his or her own expertise, will aim to answer these questions. Today we will mainly focus on the landscape an soil characteristics, since me and my colleague are both physical geographers and approach archeology from the landscape point of view.

The first stop is at a site which is indicated on the soil map as an ‘enkeerd’ or plaggen soil. This man-made type of soil is often associated with late-medieval farming, when people added a mixture of heath sods and cattle manure to fertilize their arable land. By doing this year after year, they created a thick humic agricultural topsoil. These soils have a high archaeological potential; archaeological remains can be found within this plaggen cover (for the late medieval period), or underneath the cover (for older the period prior to that). After we’ve asked the owner for permission to enter his field, we start coring and find a thick humic sand layer. First, we think that this might indeed be the enkeerd soil as described on the soil-map, but while getting deeper, we start doubting whether this is really the medieval soil we were expecting to find. The humic layer looks very homogeneous, and the transition from the black topsoil to the yellowish cover sand  underneath it looks very sharp. Imagine this farmer ploughing his land, blending the black topsoils with the yellowish cover sand year after year. That probably won’t result in a sharp  boundary between the two layers. Furthermore, an older soil, which is often found underneath these man-made soils, is completely missing.  Looking at the landscape and noticing that this field is extremely flat and somewhat lower than the surrounding areas, we have to conclude that this soil has probably been disturbed recently and is leveled with black sand. Former surfaces or soils are missing, so the archaeological potential might be lower than we would have thought before.

The next coring, we had better luck. About a few hundred meters away from the previous site, we’ve found a podzol soil, which is still intact. These soils have been formed in cover sands since the start of the Holocene, about 10.000 years ago. This means that the surface we are standing on now,  is the same surface as the one people could have lived on  since the Stone Age.  Later in the afternoon we were also lucky enough the find a nice undisturbed enkeerdsoil, with remains of an older podzol soils underneath, meaning high archaeological potential for the complete range of historical and even prehistorical periods.

At the end of the day, after visiting some more sites in this cover sand region and several brook valleys, we’re heading back home again, feeling a bit tired from working in this very sunny afternoon, but also satisfied.  Actually seeing the landscape and the (sub)soils  in the field definitely gave us a better idea of the this area, which will help drawing up the archaeological document. Moreover, this was again one of those days that make me realize how lucky I am to have a job in archaeology that offers the opportunity to go outside and work in these lovely Dutch landscapes.”