University of Sheffield

A Day at the Brodsworth Project 2015

A short introduction

The Brodsworth Project is a landscape archaeology project that focuses on the parish of Brodsworth and the seven parishes which surround it. The extensive land in this area has not been widely developed, nor has it been damaged by the quarrying or coal mining activities which have been widespread in South Yorkshire. The project began in 2001 when Colin Merrony of the University of Sheffield identified it as one of the few locations in South Yorkshire untouched by heavy industry. The University of Hull began working with the project in 2004, and alongside Sheffield developed the project more widely into an annual fieldschool, training undergraduates and engaging the local community. Elmet Archaeological Services Ltd, having formed during one such fieldschool in 2009 began hosting Elmet@Brodsworth in 2011. This extended the fieldschool to a six week period with the first two weeks providing access and training to community participants.

A range of archaeological work has been carried out in the area showing a potentially continuous human/landscape interaction from the prehistoric period, right through to the present day. This makes it both an ideal research area and site for a teaching fieldschool.

Brod 12 Bilham Grange

The main aims of the project are to investigate the settlement patterns of the area, including the transition between the prehistoric and Romano-British periods, as well looking into the origins of the Medieval villages in the area. The project also studies the development of the landscapes surrounding Brodsworth, Cusworth, Hickleton, Hooton Pagnall and High Melton which had a significant effect on the landscape and its inhabitants. The project utilises a range of archaeological techniques, including excavation, geophysics and other survey methods, fieldwalking and post-excavation processing. In addition to university students from Hull, Sheffield and Cardiff universities, local school children, communities, archaeological societies and many other groups have been involved in the Brodsworth Project.

Elmet’s role from 2011 has been to provide archaeological training to as many people as possible, including students on the part time University of Hull BA programme, and groups such as the Oaks group and WEA Digability groups.


At Elmet we work closely with communities to help them explore archaeology through project work and engagement activities, exploring a wide range of archaeological sites, time periods and themes. We provide both social and academic training and education for everyone within the community through the use of educational and recreational archaeological and historical studies. We believe in the ability of archaeology, history and heritage to act as major catalysts in social cohesion and as a vehicle to impart skills and experiences which are worthwhile in the modern world.

We have worked at various sites within the Brodsworth Project study area in past years, including prehistoric enclosures and burials at Bilham and Marr and a prisoner of war camp in the grounds of Hickleton Hall. This year we were working very close to the site of Brodworth Hall itself.

The 2015 season

This year we are looking at a field to the south of Brodsworth Hall, identified as potentially containing prehistoric field systems. Earlier in the week we marked out a grid of 20m x 20m squares covering 1.6 hectares and carried out a resistivity survey across the site. The results of this survey identified areas of interest, which then became the basis for a targeted test pitting strategy using 1m x 1m test pits. This resistivity survey will be continued throughout the fieldschool.

Brod 15 Geophys

The whole of the study area is demarcated into identifiable areas, each area having a code to distinguish them. Our location had previously had 3 test pits nearby, therefore we began our numbering at Test pit 4 which was placed to investigate an area of high resistance in grid square A2. Test pit 5 was located on area of very high resistance on the boundary between A3 and A4. Test pit 6 were located to examine linear features running through the boundary between A4 and A5 and finally test pit 7 was sited at a larger area of high resistance. Work on the test pits has been carried out throughout the week, and they were at varying stages of both excavation and recording by the time we reached the Day of Archaeology.

Our Day of Archaeology

The day started with people dividing into teams to work on each test pit.

Test pit 4 had begun to uncover a layer of intermixed limestone the previous day, which now needed removing to uncover what we suspected would be the natural limestone bedrock as seen in other test pits on the site. Russ and Jo volunteered to jump in and have a go!

Brod 15 Russ Test Pit 4   Brod 15 Jo Test Pit 4

Test pit 5 was ready to be drawn, having been photographed the day before. As the test pits were 1m x 1m it was a perfect chance to teach everyone how to draw a wraparound section. After being shown how to put the drawing together, as well as drawing techniques and conventions needed, Harvey and Wayne quickly started taking measurements and translating them into a detailed section drawing. These drawings form an essential part of our record of the site.

Harvey contexts Test Pit 6   Harvey Wayne and Phil drawing Test Pit 5

Test pit 6 needed cleaning back using trowels and brushes on the limestone natural before it could be photographed and drawn. Martin and Helen volunteered, and the test pit was ready for photographing before break. We quickly discovered that everyone on site was too short to get a good plan shot of the test pit, but luckily, Bronwen didn’t mind getting a piggy back so we could get a good photo! This was a great help as the aerial photo ladders were back at base.

Bronwen and MArtin photograph Test Pit 6

Bronwen was also busy in test pit 7, cleaning back another clay and limestone context with the help of Jake (who Bronwen likes to call Ryan 2). This was so that once it had been cleared, we could determine what to do next in the test pit. To the joy of both our volunteers on test pit 7, it all needed mattocking out!

Jake Test Pit 7   Bronwen Test Pit 7

Lunchtime brought the much loved tradition of fish and chip Friday, and there was much rejoicing!

fish and chips

Fuelled on copious amounts of chips and tea, in the afternoon everyone learnt how to use an auto set, or dumpy level. We use this to record the height of features and section lines relative to Ordnance Datum levels in order to give our drawings more accurate location and scale information, creating a 3D aspect to an otherwise 2D recording technique.


After photographing in the morning, test pit 6 was ready for drawing. Martin and Helen got started on the second wrap around section of the day, setting it up and starting to record points.

Martin and Helen draw Test Pit 6

Over in test pit 5, Harvey and Wayne were finishing up their drawing of the sections, and were now able to add in a level point for their string line, completing the record. Once this section drawing is complete, we will be able to draw a plan section using the offset method to record the base of the test pit, as well as more level points, resulting in a more complete record of the excavation and results found in the test pit.

Harvey and Wayne draw Test Pit 5

Back at test pit 4, the limestone and clay context had been cleaned back, enabling us to decide what to do next. From the way that this context appears in multiple test pits across site, the red clay which runs closely in between the limestone, as well as how the size of the limestone pieces increases the closer they get to the centre of the paleo channel that runs through the site, we think it could possibly be the remnants of glacial till, which would be swept along and left behind by the movement of a glacier.

Russ cleaning Test Pit 4

At the end of the day we narrowly missed the rain which swept across South Yorkshire shortly after we put our fences back up and carted all of our equipment back to base. We hope that everyone had as good a day of archaeology as we did, especially Bronwyn below with her happy archaeology face!

If you would like to read more about the Brodsworth Project 2015, you can read updates on our blog here, and take a look at the University of Sheffield and University of Hull project pages.


End of the day

Osteoarchaeology with the WEA in Sheffield

This is my last summer of ‘freedom’ before I start writing up my PhD thesis, and so I thought I would spend some time avoiding my database and volunteering for the WEA, who are now well into the first year of their Inclusive Archaeology Education Project. The project is being rolled out across Yorkshire and the Humber, and aims to provide opportunities for people under-represented in archaeology to learn about and participate in archaeology.

The three year project will enable 300 people, including adults with learning disabilities, mental health service users, adults with physical disabilities and members of black, asian and minority ethnic communities to get involved in archaeology. The courses include a classroom component and then a number of field trips to archaeological sites across the region.

This week I was involved in a ‘bones’ session with the Sheffield group. A couple of us from the Osteoarchaeology group at the University of Sheffield ran a session looking at both human and animal bones. This involved an ‘exploding sheep’ activity, where each of the learners were given some bones from a sheep and had to work out what part of the body they were from, and re-fit them. We also did a similar activity for our human skeleton. We also talked about bones from different animals and the learners had to guess which animals some bones belonged to. It was a great afternoon, the learners were very enthusiastic about the activities, and we had loads of fun!

I’m very much looking forward to volunteering on some of the upcoming field trips with the group over the next month. It has been a pleasure working with them!

To find out more about the Inclusive Archaeology Education Project then visit their blog here:

To find out about Zooarchaeology and Human Osteology at the University of Sheffield go to:




Heeley City Farm Community Dig, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

My day started at 7am, but I drove to the dig site shortly after 9am. I was absolutely exhausted and barely functioning on a basic level, but once onsite I’d be okay to a degree.

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Why was I so exhausted? I have medical conditions which make my life challenging on a daily basis. Some people tell me I’m NOT disabled, but as my abilities have been severely restricted since I developed these conditions five years ago (including costing me my job at the time), I beg to differ. A nasty head cold triggered a balance disorder and associated symptoms including chronic fatigue syndrome, tinnitus, hyperacusis (sensitivity to certain tones and pitches of sound), anxiety and depression. Fortunately here in Sheffield we have an incredible Audiovestibular Department at one of the hospitals, staffed by very attentive and compassionate people. Not everyone suffering from a balance disorder is that fortunate. There is no “cure”, but a programme of specialised exercises set and monitored by a physiotherapist to retrain the brain into interpreting the signals for your balance correctly. Essentially, you’re being re-taught how to stand and walk and sometimes it can take years as pushing yourself too hard does more harm than good.
The hardest element of my condition is that I look normal and people judge me accordingly. I visibly lose my balance occasionally, but what people don’t see is me concentrating as hard as I possibly can to remain upright and avoid walking into people and objects. Due to the balance system no longer being automatic, my brain has to therefore think about walking and standing, so every task (physical and mental) uses up those limited energy resources very quickly. The problem doesn’t end there either – you may feel okay after a good night’s sleep. People with chronic fatigue syndrome don’t. After five years I now know that if I exert myself mentally or physically one day, I need to rest completely for a week in order to recover properly. That means doing absolutely nothing; no housework, no visiting friends or family, no going food shopping, no attending medical appointments, no studying. I don’t have a social life per se, as it’s too tiring. I visit friends and family at their homes. Chronic fatigue is cumulative, and those energy levels return VERY slowly.

Anyway, bored you enough with the background, so back to the Day of Archaeology:
I’m 41 years old and study the BA in Archaeological Studies part-time at the University of Sheffield as a mature student. I have just completed year 3 of 6, and for the second year running I volunteered my services to Sally Rodgers, Community Heritage Officer at Heeley City Farm, for the community dig during the Festival of British Archaeology.

Last year I assisted in the Finds Room with cataloguing finds. That was my very first time on a dig, and due to my disabilities I’d requested to be used where I could best contribute. This year I accepted the role of Finds Officer, partly for the opportunity to become more involved and to learn more, but also as being on a summer dig is a requirement for a module I’m taking next academic year.

The dig started on Saturday 16th July and had been taking place every day. What were we excavating? Victorian terraced houses. Boring, you might think. The local community would disagree with you there! The site of the farm was once residential housing built during the latter part of the 19th Century and we want to know about the structures and the people who once lived there during the houses’ entire history.
The Finds Room already had approximately 20 finds trays awaiting sorting and recording, but let’s start at the beginning:

Gill as Finds Officer

Gill as Finds Officer

Three trenches were opened onsite and the Trench Supervisors; Ken Dash, Jane Woodcock and Joe Page, would come to me and request a context number and recording sheet. Archaeology is a precise discipline. When recording finds and structures the context in a three dimensional space is essential in mapping the distribution of those finds. Without the context the finds are meaningless and have to be recorded as un-stratified. Every time a Trench Supervisor discovered a new layer of different material (different soil layers, rubble layers etc) or if they extended their trench I would assign them a new context number made up of the site code, trench code and a unique reference number. This layer in the trench would be labelled and all finds discovered in that context would be labelled accordingly. I also provided the Trench Supervisors with additional finds trays with relevant context tags where required (which was happening more and more frequently in Trench C!). Heaven help anyone who touched my recording sheets – including the Site Director – as I’d threaten to bite them!

The trays would come into the Finds Room where I would sort through them in turn, separating them into materials such as metal, wood, bone, plastic, glass, ceramic etc. Each pile would then be placed into a finds bag labelled with the context reference (as detailed above) but additionally a unique three digit finds number would also be allocated and recorded on the Finds Register. The Finds Register records the finds number, site and trench codes, context number, number of items in the bag, weight, and a brief description of the contents such as clear glass, or bone fragments etc. The bags were then set aside for later processing.

Pretty simple you’d think, but my responsibilities also included greeting members of the public who wished to be on the dig. My duties involved ensuring they were properly attired (suitable footwear and clothing), that adults were aware of the age restrictions for children, ensuring all participants had completed the relevant documentation including photography permission forms, and introducing them to Sally, Dr Roger Doonan (the Site Director and one of my lecturers) as well as Jane, Ken or Joe out at the trenches.
Engaging with visitors is essential on a community dig, and in the Finds Room Sally had created display boards of information, maps and photographs of the farm site throughout history. This encouraged visitors to ask questions and make observations, particularly the older generations who recalled living in the properties before they were demolished for a doomed relief road during the 1970’s. I would ensure these people were introduced to Sally so she had the opportunity to record their stories for future use and interpretation of the site.

Due to the number of interesting finds, I created a special tray and once those finds had been suitably recorded I placed them there for visitors to look at. This included two Police Community Support Officers and a Police Officer! Of particular interest was the button stamped GR for George Rex, made by a company called Firmin & Sons Limited (which was stamped on the reverse). They started manufacturing buttons for the military and then the Police in 1677 and are still in business today! As part of a research project in conjunction with Heeley Historical Society and the Hawley Collection at Kelham Island Museum, we had information from the Trade Directories and Census Returns for the addresses we were excavating, and we knew a Policeman resided in one of the properties as a lodger at one stage. Did HE lose the button? It was very exciting!

The day was much of a sameness with trays coming in, trays being processed, context numbers being issued, participants and visitors being greeted. The huge excitement was all of us standing around Roger’s vehicle during the morning whilst we listened to Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield. He’d been out at the site previously to interview Roger and participants regarding the dig and interesting finds. Sally was talking to Rony live by phone and we found some of the comments really funny, such as the “Knicker Hoard of Heeley”. A collection of lady’s underwear had been discovered earlier on in the dig, and this had produced much hilarity amongst the volunteer staff. You don’t have to be mad to work here – but it helps!

As the personal belongings of all participants and staff were kept in the Finds Room, I was also responsible for ensuring the security of the room. Unless another member of staff was present I would secure it if needing to go elsewhere on the farm site such as the cafe (which is excellent!) or the toilets.
The dig day ended at 4pm, but certain tasks needed to be completed before we could leave. I would ensure the large table where I worked was tidy, that all finds trays were processed in the order they came in, and that all paperwork was in the correct folder. All staff would close the shutters, ensure all tools and display boards had been brought inside and we’d signed out before the room was secured and the shutters brought down. My day ended at 4:25pm before I headed home to collapse with my cats.
Usually Rachel Walker-Higgins, a friend of mine, had been assisting me in the Finds Room, but she was poorly that day, and I would like to thank her particularly as without her help I would never have coped with the demands of the role. I would also like to thank Roger for his patience and confidence in my abilities to be Finds Officer despite my limitations; Sally for the incredible opportunity she gave me and her undying confidence that I could achieve what was required; Giovanna Fregni for her support and advice which proved exceptionally valuable; Rach, Jane and Ken for repeatedly badgering me into taking breaks to rest and eat properly; but most of all I want to thank all of them for making me take days off when my exhaustion was severe despite my sense of duty, and their compassion and understanding regarding my disabilities. They helped me feel like I have a value, that my disabilities haven’t made me worthless, and that I still have something to contribute to society and the world around me. An exceptional experience and one which will look amazing on my archaeology resume. I’m still recovering now!

Community Heritage at Heeley City Farm

I am the Community Heritage Officer at Heeley City Farm in Sheffield.

We are running a Community Excavation ‘Life at No.57: The Sheffield Terraced House Dig’, its part of the CBA Festival for British Archaeology. Today is Day 14 of 16 days of excavation. It is a community dig run in partnership with the University of Sheffield but with lots of volunteers of all sorts and ages. The project really wouldn’t be possible without our amazing volunteers who are doing everything from keeping the finds room under control to supervising the trenches and keeping me organised. The Dig is free and open to everyone.

My Day started with a live phone interview with BBC Radio Sheffield to promote the Dig, my phone contribution was part of a large piece which had been record on site the day before with interviews with Dr Roger Doonan from the University of Sheffield, Megan and Morgan two 10 year old volunteers on their first dig and Joseph one of our volunteer supervisors who began his career in Archaeology through the Sheffield YAC (Young Archaeologists Club) and who is now just waiting for his A-Level results, we all have our fingers crossed for him as he wants to take up his university place to study Archaeology. We talked about why we are excavating 3 Victorian terraced houses on a city farm, who lived in them what we have found and who has taken part so far.

Radio Interview

During the interview a lady living in rang the radio station, she lives in Hampshire and had been listening on-line as she used to live in Sheffield, it turns out that she lived on the very street we are excavating! The houses were all demolished in the 1970’s and she lived there as a child just before they were pulled down. The BBC producer passed on my number to her and we had a lovely chat, she is going to e-mail me her memories of the street.

When I began work on site the volunteers had already started and our 3 trenches were going very well. We have 3 large trenches, Trench A has the front wall of No.50 Richards Road, Trench B has the front cellars of No.52 and 54 Richards Road and a passage into the back yards, the biggest trench , trench C has the back yards of 4 houses and an outhouse.

This is the third year of this project and its getting better each year, this year we have been looking for evidence of light trades and home-working, trades such as button-making and handle-finishing, we have found evidence of this in previous years. Our work will be supported this year by an exhibition all about trades in Heeley 100 years ago at Kelham Island Museum.

I spent most of the Day supervising volunteers and the trenches. Today we had about 40? volunteers or visitors to the site (it might be more, not had time to add everyone up yet) all the children are getting credit for their involvement through the Children’s University so i spend some time registering people for this.

We had a visit from a local Heritage Photographer who is artist in residence at the moment in the Archaeology Department at Sheffield University he took lots of lovely photos of people at work in the trenches as well as a few of our reconstructed Iron Age Roundhouse which happens to be in the same field as the trenches.

We finished and packed up at 4, I said some sad goodbyes to volunteers digging for their last day, tidied and locked up up our finds room and came to do some paper work.

I’m working on getting ready for a lovely new storytelling project next week, a summer holiday week of activities built around a historical mystery with lots of trips out for 9 to 11 year old’s.

Community Heritage always involves doing at least 3 projects at once. its now 5.30 and I’m going to walk home for my tea.

3. Crickley Hill: an outline of post-excavation analysis

I dug at Crickley Hill in 1993, but began research on the Crickley Hill archive in 1997, as part of my MA in Archaeological Research at the University of Nottingham. My dissertation would focus upon the late- to post-Roman activity on the site, and provide a platform from which I could continue research in order to publish Volume 6 in the series of site reports. This report will cover the late pre-Roman Iron Age (‘Period 3c’), Roman, and Early Medieval (‘Period 4’: also called the ‘Early Middle Ages‘, or ‘Dark Ages‘) phases of occupation and ritual within the Early Iron Age hill fort. In this post, I’m going to provide a brief outline of work on the Crickley Hill archive


2. Getting started in Archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

Getting started in archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student

I’m going to explain how and why I came into archaeology (which will discuss volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student), and why I went into the field of early medieval archaeology. I hope this will show the positive effects of history and archaeology in schools, the role of museums in stimulating interest, and the significance of public access to archaeology. It will also hopefully provide some insight into the value of education, and the challenges of studying archaeology as a mature student.


Introduction to a day of ‘post-ex’, research and education

I’m taking part in the Day of Archaeology to demonstrate that there’s more to archaeology than digging. I’m current involved in archaeological  research, although I also teach archaeology (primarily within the Adult Education sector, but I have taught workshops in schools). At present, I am preparing to teach a workshop on Derbyshire in the Roman period and early Middle Ages, writing up research I undertook whilst at the University of Sheffield, and completing post-excavation analysis on the late pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA), Roman, and early medieval activity at Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire, in order to write volume 6 in the series of site reports in this series. For more information on this work, I’ve started a website, but I’ve provided a summary of the site here.