Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why become an Archaeologist?

You’re at a posh frock gathering. Polite social ‘chit-chat’ is going on around you. Before long you know that someone’s going to ask you what you do for a living.

Is it time to fib and give a glib “nothing much, I’m an office worker” as your reply or is it time to take a deep breath before truthfully answering “I’m an Archaeologist”… (or in my case, a “lapsed archaeologist”!)

Your honest response may well be greeted with a slightly disappointed “oh…” followed by an awkward silence so painfully long and drawn out that you feel compelled (even as the wronged party) to do the correct British thing and start talking about the perfectly dreadful weather we’re having or some sporting fixture England have recently been defeated in, before politely parting ways and avoiding eye contact for the rest of the evening.

The comedians will respond with bog-standard Indiana Jones jokes. Accordingly my bog-standard answers are: “No, I don’t have a whip”, “even if I had, I won’t whip you with it” and “no, I don’t have the hat either”. Time for another hasty exit, using vines to jump over collapsing floors, outrunning massive rolling stone balls and agilely avoiding spiked dungeons.

Sometimes you’ll get “Wow, excellent! Have you designed any local buildings?”  At this point my glass is suddenly empty, or I start waving manically at a bemused stranger in the distance before making my excuses and disappearing into the crowd.

Then you get the class of ‘Elderly Explorers’. With these lovely people any conversation you start is drowned out by long winded tales of their exploits in whatever war, desert, wilderness, mountain, rainforest or hell hole they were last in, as they insist on telling you in varying degrees of graphic detail, everything to do with a most memorable trek they took part in back in some dim distant era before giving you their politically incorrect opinion about some remote region of western South America you’ve never heard of.

They do this without letting you get a word in edgeways and you wonder, as your neck starts to cramp from all the polite nodding you’re doing, how they manage to breathe, as their well-meaning but very tedious diatribe drones on and on.

You have to give others credit for even trying to continue the conversation. Some ask how much money you’ve made from the gold coins you’ve found with your metal detector and whether eBay is a good place to buy ‘genuine old stuff’. They also tend to ask whether you have your detector in the boot of your car and whether they could have a go with it as they want to throw their handful of coins in the undergrowth to see if they can find them again.

Erm, no, no, no and no.

Others ask the well meaning “what’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever dug up” question; a harmless enquiry to delight all archaeologists! They then expect you to dutifully come up with some incredibly intricate story about the bounty of rare ancient and mystical treasures you’ve located in the midst of some remote desert cave and the plethora of articles you’ve had published.

Those are the ones who look sadly crestfallen when you say, “oh, just a few bits of bone and teeth”…

‘Were they human?’ will always be their interrupting comeback, as you continue describing fragments of gnawed wood, bits of broken pottery, lumps of rusty metal and other bits and pieces thrown away as rubbish by our ancestors. All artefacts of wonder and interest to you, but another kiss of death to conversation!

You long for the day when you meet a kindred spirit – not even another archaeologist – just someone who has an equally strange profession. A profession like a Pathologist or Undertaker, as I’ve been told that they have similar conversation stopping moments! Perhaps it could be a chance encounter with someone who knows that the likelihood of excavating something truly astonishing is actually quite rare and nods with interest at what you have to say.

Yes, I’ve found the normal bits and pieces you would expect to find in generic sites in the UK. Evidence of habitation, bones – human and otherwise – lots of glazed and unglazed pottery and ceramics, worked flint scatters, some coins, lumpy pieces of misshapen metal, tile and general building materials, gnawed wood (no beaver jokes please) and the obligatory catch all for everything else, the very technical category of ‘stuff’.

Yes, I’ve processed finds for days and days, scrubbing away with a toothbrush until my hands are numb from the cold water. Yes, I’ve nearly broken my back pick-axing for hours and lugging endless wheel-barrows of heavy earth. Yes, I’ve been bitten and stung by insects. Yes, I’ve burnt the back of my neck so badly I could hardly bear to move my head. Yes, I’ve slept for weeks in an old, musty, leaky Army tent. Yes, I’ve woken up surrounded by an infestation of literally thousands of earwigs. Yes, I’ve slept in my car when the thunder storms were directly above us. Yes, I’ve slept in a barn when the rain got too much and the site was nearly swept away. Yes, I’ve ‘washed’ with baby-wipes in the absence of anything else. Yes, I’ve been stared and pointed at in Sainsbury’s when I’ve gone directly from site to do the camp shopping trip.

So why be an Archaeologist? Well, why not!?

I’m not an expert in any sense of the word; I haven’t had enough time or experience to become a specialist, but really I enjoy the endless questions relating to the unknown. How did an ancient community survive? What did they make? What did they eat? How did they live? Why did they..? When did they..? Who were they..? For what reason did..? How did they..? What was this..? Where did they go..? How old is it? How does it relate to…?

Layers of deposition, stratigraphy, contexts. Phases and periods of occupation. How did the site form and build up over time? Interpretations, hypothesis, debates, discussions. Endless questions and vivid imaginations… Open minded but yet precise. Determined and flexible.

Sounds like a damn fine career choice to me!

“TrowelPS” by Przemysław Sakrajda – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Day of Archaeology with the Archeological Society of Virginia, Board of Directors

As readers of the Day of Archaeology (DOA) blog have realized, there are many aspects to what goes on within the field of archaeology. Throughout much of the U.S., many states have archaeological societies. Typically, these non-profit volunteer organizations bring together those involved in archaeology as a unified voice and force for the archaeology of that particular state.

Since 1940, Virginia archaeology has been promoted by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV). Yes – the society uses the “eo” spelling variant of archaeology in its title. For the past 74 years, the ASV has been a dynamic and active voice for Virginia archaeology.

During its quarterly meeting, the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia was divided into small work groups.  The board participated in a Value Exercises to discuss and better understand the mission and objectives of the society.  Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

During its quarterly meeting, the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia was divided into small work groups. The board participated in a Value Exercises to discuss and better understand the mission and objectives of the society. Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

View of the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia at its quarterly meeting 12 July 2014 in Bridgewater, Virginia.  Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

View of the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia at its quarterly meeting 12 July 2014 in Bridgewater, Virginia. Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

It was perfect timing that the ASV Board of Directors held its quarterly board meeting that coincided with the DOA event. I felt this was a unique opportunity to participate in DOA and help bring to light the fact that archaeology is often supported by organizations such as these. The meeting was held in the Town of Bridgewater, which is situated within the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia. Being a statewide organization, the meetings move around the state.

Responsibility for directing the activities of the ASV is vested in a Board of Directors that consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, immediate past President, six elected Directors, chairs of Standing Committees and the President of each Chapter. Yes, it is a large board, but it is functional.

With this blog entry, I’ll discuss some of the topics and items brought up during the meeting.

View of one of the Batteaux Boats recovered with ASV support in 1983.   The ASV is seeking funds to help with the proper conservation and study of the remains.   The have been stored in fresh water the past 30 years.  Photo courtesy Lyle Browning.

View of one of the Batteaux Boats recovered with ASV support in 1983. The ASV is seeking funds to help with the proper conservation and study of the remains. They have been stored in fresh water the past 30 years.   The ASV Board of Directors voted to allow the boats to be submitted the Virginia Association on Museums’ annual Top Ten Endangered Artifacts Program.  Photo courtesy Lyle Browning.

Listing for Top Ten Endangered Artifacts

In 1983, during a construction project in downtown Richmond, Virginia a number of historic bateaux boat remains were recovered. Batteaux were rapids running craft, invented and patented in 1765 by the Rucker Brothers. They were up to 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, pointed at both ends with sweep oars and a hearth for the tiller man to tend. They carried tobacco hogsheads and other cargo downstream and any cargo needed was poled upstream.

Prior to the excavation, we had limited knowledge how the craft were constructed. The boats were built by master craftsmen with individual boards tapering over 40 feet to the bow. This is in contrast to later boats that were basically industrial constructs with straight boards that had pre-constructed nose-cones nailed to a rib. In order to complete the report, we need space to conserve the boats and we need the chemicals to preserve them. This boat and others have been sitting in fresh water for 30 years and are in danger of deteriorating without proper conservation and the information regarding them needs to be reported to fill a large gap in the history of Virginia history.

The ASV Board voted to approve having the boats submitted to the Virginia Association of Museums’ annual Top Ten Endangered Artifact listing. This is a program designed to help bring attention and awareness to many of Virginia’s artifacts at risk. It is our hope that awareness for the boats will lead to funding for much needed treatment and research regarding this collection.  I hope you can go on-line to help vote for our candidate.

Outreach Committee

An objective for this committee is the capacity to maintain a public presence for the sharing of both organizational and scholarly information. Current vehicles for this mission include a quarterly newsletter, a quarterly journal, special publications, a website, and an emerging social media presence. It was almost a year ago that the ASV launched its first Facebook page, which has continually grown.  Please visit our page.

Research Committee

The ASV directly and indirectly supports archaeological research in Virginia. Some chapters of the society are currently collecting slag samples from historic iron furnace sites. The slag will be chemically analyzed for sourcing purposes. As a result, iron found on archaeological sites could be traced back to where it was manufactured, thus giving insight on past economic trade patterns. Another survey activity is the documentation of Civil War earthworks at risk to loss.

A number of field schools recently took place this spring that included the ASV, in partnership with other stakeholders such as the Virginia Department of Historic Resources; James Madison University, and the United States Forest Service. These projects touched upon a range of site types, including testing of a Woodland Period shell midden eroding into the Chesapeake Bay, a low artifact density, yet stratified prehistoric site in Northampton County and a nearby 17th century historic site, and the testing around a circa 1760 house in western Virginia.

Virginia has a unique program that helps to address important archaeological sites and collections at risk. The Threatened Sites subcommittee works with the Threatened Sites Committee of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to help target a small amount of available funding for its best use. During 2013-2014, the nine projects funded by this program included the study of the effects of maize horticulture, the testing of the Nelson County Courthouse, the analysis of a Gloucester County 18th century artifact assemblage, side-scanning sonar of 1812 British Fort Albion as well as a 17th century church site, a listing of Civil War shipwrecks, a survey of sites on the Eastern Shore, the evaluation of an Atlantic Archaic site, the dating of a Prince George County shell midden, and final analysis of an occupation at Maycock’s Point. The Threatened Sites Program is important to Virginia archaeology.

Education Committee

This committee is charged with developing and implementing instructional programming, encouraging scholarly development, and promoting best uses for archaeological collections. The committee reported that two field schools had been conducted since May. An annual “field school,” with a focus on lab work, will be hosted at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Richmond. Many of the committee’s activities are held in conjunction with the Archaeological Technician Certification Program.

The ASV maintains a research library which is currently being cataloged. It was reported that nearly 4,000 items have now been cataloged. The library recently obtained collections from the estates of Cindy Dauses and Ed Bottoms. The committee strives to develop and award scholarships to students, primarily in support of student paper presentations at the ASV annual meeting.

As part of our commitment to the original deed of trust for Kittiewan (granted to the ASV from Mr. Bill Cropper in 2006), we must read the requirements of maintaining the property each year at an ASV board meeting. This year, Martha Williams read the Will.  Photo courtesy of David E. Rotenizer.

As part of our commitment to the original deed of trust for Kittiewan (granted to the ASV from Mr. Bill Cropper in 2006), we must read the requirements of maintaining the property each year at an ASV board meeting. This year, Martha Williams read the Will. Photo courtesy of David E. Rotenizer.

Kittiewan Committee

In 2006, the ASV was bequeathed from Bill Cropper, the 18th century Kittiewan Plantation and its 720 acres containing evidence of 6,000 years of occupation. This facility functions as the ASV’s headquarters and base of operations. The property also operates as a historic site and hosts the ASV collections and research library. Kittiewan recently hosted a festival event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

74th Annual Meeting of the ASV

Each year in October, the society holds its annual meeting. This conference is perhaps the highlight of the society. The meetings are always held in October. The locations move around the state. This year (2014) it will be held in Richmond. Meetings are held on a weekend, with Friday being a day of meetings and presentations hosted by the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA) – an organization of professional archaeologists working in Virginia. It was reported that the meeting is on track and the Call for Papers has gone out.

Certification Program

Archeological Technician Certification Program is designed to give individuals the opportunity to obtain recognition for formal, extended training in the techniques and goals of archaeology without having to participate in an academic degree program. Certification students are provided technical training in both the field and laboratory in conjunction with rotational lectures and workshops and required readings.

The program is sponsored by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV), the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA), and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). There are currently 115 participants enrolled in the program.


ASV Facebook Page

ASV Website (Changing to:

Blog for Virginia Archaeological Technician Certification Program

Kittiewan Plantation (ASV’s Home): Facebook, Website

AROURA Project – archaeological reconnaissance in Greece

Molly Greenhouse, Teaching Assistant, ARCH 397, UMBC

The AROURA project (Archaeological Reconnaissance of Uninvestigated Remains of Agriculture) is an archaeological survey of the plain around the 13th century BCE fortress of Glas, Boiotia, in central mainland Greece. It aims to detail the Mycenaean hydraulic, drainage, and land-improvement works around the fortress, and to search for traces of the expected extensive agricultural system they served. AROURA is an official collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities (IX EPCA) of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, based in Thebes, Dr. Michael Lane (UMBC) and Dr. Alexandra Charami (IX EPCA) co-directors.

The survey and surface collection phases of the project began in October of 2010, and have since been completed. The entire project area was divided into grid squares at the outset to allow investigators to conduct geophysical survey easily and systematically across large portions of the plain, using techniques like magnetometry to detect underground “anomalies” that might be traces of previous land use. In certain grid squares, both in the plain and at the nearby settlement site of Aghia Marina Pyrghos, finds were collected from the surface of the ground too. Our goal this season is to organize, catalog, and analyze the many finds, mainly pottery, collected during previous years.


All of the finds are stored at the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, so during the week, we travel there from our home in the village of Kokkino to work on the collection. Currently, we are working on the pottery from surface collection at Aghia Marina Pyrghos. After labeling each piece and ensuring that it is properly catalogued, we start to focus on more in-depth analysis of the pottery. In the lab, we carefully examine the artifacts and record basic information about the size and shape of the pieces, as well as other more detailed information. We have been closely examining the pottery for mineral inclusions in its fabric (the constituents of the clay from which it is made). Examining hundreds of individual pieces of pottery with a magnifying glass to spot inclusions can be tedious work. However, by collecting this kind of information, we hope to be able to draw conclusions about the periods represented by the pottery and other artifacts at the settlement and where the pottery originated, as well as to hypothesize about how it made its way to the settlement.




Working at the museum in Thebes has been wonderful so far, and it definitely has had its perks. For example, this week, after Prof. Vassileios L. Aravantinos, the former Superintendent of the IX EPCA, dropped in for a surprise visit, we were invited to tour some of the ongoing excavations of the Mycenaean palace beneath downtown Thebes. We are excited to see what results the rest of this season will produce and how the project will expand and develop in future seasons!

A Day with Macedonian Archaeology – “Arheo Park Brazda” (VIDEO)

This short documentary about the first archaeological park in R. Macedonia “Arheo Park Brazda” was recorded for the celebration of international day of archaeology “Day of Archaeology 2014” by association “Archaeologica” ‘with the support of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia, Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, Cultural heritage protection office and Via Magna.

association Archaeologica

Goran Sanev, MA
Irena Kolistrkovska Nasteva
Radomir Ivanovic

Camera, Assembling, Music, Graphics:
Jane Kacanski

Author – Screenwriter – Producer
Radomir Ivanovic

Elena Karanfilovska

Arheo Park Brazda

Skopje, July 2014

From Riveting Romans to Saints, Sailors & Pilgrims

On the Day of Archaeology 2014 I was preparing for a series of events organised and coordinated by the Archaeology Team at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives for the 24th annual Festival of Archaeology 2014. The Festival runs from Saturday 12 – Sunday 27 July 2014 and offers over 1,000 events nationwide, organised by over 400 museums, heritage organisations, universities, local societies and community archaeologists.

The purpose of the Festival is to showcase the very best of archaeology and give people the opportunity to learn about local heritage, have a go at digging and recording finds, watch experts at work and find out about the latest discoveries in their area.

The series of events has involved the Archaeology team working with a variety of local history and community groups including Bristol Threatened History Society, Lawrence Weston Community Farm, Kings Weston Action Group, Sea Mill Archaeological Research Team, Friends of Badock’s Wood and Bristol and Region Archaeological Services to trace the history of Bristol from the Bronze Age right up to the 18th century.

There has been the opportunity to explore the history of Bristol with a tour of Castle Park – the site of Bristol Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in England and once compared to the Tower of London’s White Tower. Discover and experience life before and after the Romans with events at Badock’s Wood, Lawrence Weston Community Farm and Kings Weston Roman Villa. Uncover Vanburgh’s 18th century paths at Kings Weston Estate. Learn about pilgrims in Medieval Bristol at M Shed and join a Medieval pageant celebrating pilgrimage in Brislington.

Gail Boyle Senior Collections Officer (Archaeology) at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives said:

“The Festival of Archaeology is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year for Bristol Museums’ Archaeology Team. The two week-long event provides us with a great platform to showcase Bristol’s fantastic archaeological sites, museum collections and the work of such a wide variety of local interest groups. The Bristol programme has never been so packed, there are so many opportunities for people to be inspired by all things archaeological and all our activities are free of charge. You can find out more about our events through the Festival of Archaeology or at”

As of Tuesday 22 July, five events have taken place, the Bristol Castle Walk with Mike Ponsford of Bristol Threatened History Society, Riveting Romans, Ancient Woodland Activities, Conservation at Kings Weston and one of the guided historical walks around Badock’s Wood. All of these events have been a great success with over 400 visitors.

Mike Ponsford led an interested crowd on a leisurely walk around Castle Park examining the remaining structures of the castle as well as describing the look atmosphere and history of this imposing fortification of Medieval Bristol, which once dominated the Bristol skyline. The sun shone as the ‘Riveting Romans’ event gave visitors the opportunity to explore Kings Weston Roman Villa and learn more about life and food during the Roman Period. Cherry Hubbard from Unfolding History had a table with Roman food and ingredients, kitchen utensils and recipes illustrating the variety of foods which the Romans ate and introduced to Britain. The Sea Mills Archaeological Research Team (SMART) presented their 3 years of research on the Roman Harbour at Abona whilst the Juicy Blitz project at Bread Youth in Lawrence Weston made a Roman inspired smoothie called Brutus Cassius which was given free to all visitors.

‘Ancient Woodland Activities’ took place at Lawrence Weston Community Farm with visitors having the opportunity to explore the farm and meet the animals as well as wander through Water Vole Woodland to discover woodland activities taking place amongst the trees. The activities included willow weaving and hurdle making, delicious woodland juice making using dandelion and burdock, charcoal making and drawing as well as green wood working.

‘Conservation at Kings Weston’ was organised by Kings Weston Action Group who held an alfresco exhibition on the history of Kings Weston estate in the Echo, one of the garden pavilions in the historic park. There was also the opportunity to celebrate the 350th anniversary of one of Britain’s most famous architects, Sir John Vanbrugh and discover his work on the estate. Kings Weston Action Group also launched a new walking guide and map about the estate.

The historical walk through Badock’s Wood has been led by the Vice-Chairman of the Friends of Badock’s Wood Alan Arburrow. Alan has lead a delightful and enjoyable stroll around the woodland describing the history of the woodland from the Bronze Age Burial mound through to Dr Sir Stanley Hugh Badock’s gifting of the woodland to Bristol City Corporation (now Bristol City Council), in perpetuity on the condition of the Corporation also giving 15 acres of adjacent land. Alan also showed up the gradual series of improvements which the Friends have done to maintain the woodland as well as talking about their community and young people engagement work to increase appreciation of this lovely woodland.

This series of Festival of Archaeology events has been successful through the enthusiasm and hard work of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives staff, local history and community groups and a donation from Bristol Threatened History Society.

Cheshire HEROs

Bronze Age burial mounds Illustration by Dai Owen

Bronze Age burial mounds illustration by Dai Owen. ©Cheshire Historic Environment Record.

As jobs go, being an Historic Environment Record Officer (or HERO as we like to be known) is a pretty interesting one, not least because I get to look at maps, aerial photographs and read about archaeology every day.

A large part of the job is maintaining the Cheshire Historic Environment Record (HER), adding new records and updating existing ones. We also carry out searches for archaeological consultants, academic researchers and the public. This does involve a lot of time spent in front of a computer, but occasionally I get to go and look at actual archaeological sites (outside!).

This week, thanks to information from a member of the public, I am making a visit to a possible round barrow, deep in rural Cheshire.  Cheshire has 135 round barrows, but in general they are not much to look at on the ground, being mostly ploughed out. Looks however, are deceptive. In 2012 a training excavation for the HLF funded Habitats and Hillforts project uncovered four Bronze Age cremation urns from a de-scheduled round barrow. This barrow (one of a group of seven) was believed to have been completely ploughed out.

It’s not only looking at archaeology in the field that can yield exciting results though. We receive regular updates from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. When we incorporate the new information about individual finds into the HER we can discover some surprises. Most recently  we have added a  group of around fifty Roman coins found in close proximity and including four radiate coins, over thity nummi, five other copper alloy coins and an Islamic coin. Amongst the group are three unusual coins from the Eastern Mediterranean; a nummus from Constantinople c.AD 348-51; a decanummium of Justinian I from Constantinople AD 542-9 and an Islamic coin which probably dates from the eighth to tenth centuries AD. The coins all display corrosion consistent with exposure to the British soil conditions, suggesting that they are not souvenirs introduced to the site at a much later date. This is a notable concentration of coins from the eastern Empire and may represent a hoard which has been dispersed by ploughing.

In addition to the PAS data, a regular flow of new information into the HER comes from Grey Literature, local society journals, members of the public and research projects.

Today I received two new research and recording reports from the Cheshire Gardens Trust. We have been assisting their volunteers in their work in recording survival of undesignated historic gardens and landscapes. Their reports are full of really useful information about the development of large houses,  gardens and designed landscapes and their survival today.

They do a lot of documentary research and we recently held a training day in the HER for their members so we could show them what resources they could access by visiting the HER, in particular the digital aerial photographs and maps.

Visitors to the HER can view our full set of digitised aerial surveys of the county, taken every 10 years since the 1970’s as well as the 1940’s RAF Aerial Survey. They also have access to the printed source material behind our digital HER records and as much tea as they can drink (and occasionally cake.)

For more information about the Cheshire Historic Environment Record and to visit the online version of the HER visit

Geophysical surveys, Castles, Ice Cream and Sun

Hi from the team at ArchaeoPhysica!

We are an archaeological geophysics company based in Herefordshire, working nationwide and internationally. Much of the work we conduct is magnetometer survey, and we specialise in extra sensitive caesium vapour magnetometers, which we tow on a GPS guided sled array system behind a quad bike. This allows us to cover vast areas of land in a very efficient manner, compared to traditional walking magnetometer surveys (it’s also more fun!).


The towed caesium vapour, GPS guided magnetometer sled

The day started extremely well, with the team situated down in Cornwall to conduct a commercial magnetometer survey over a mixture of pasture and just cropped fields (the harvest is very early this year) in advance of a proposed development. Luckily the weather was a warm 20oC so survey was extremely pleasant indeed. By lunchtime, the survey of two fields (approximately 5ha) was complete. To celebrate, the team headed to Launceston to see the castle, and have some fish and chips!

 A quick lunch break around Launceston Castle

A quick lunch break around Launceston Castle

Believe it or not, our next destination was Callestick Ice Cream Farm an hour away, to meet up with a new client who aims to create an archaeological community research project across many areas in Cornwall (and to taste the local produce). After a successful meeting, the team were back to work again to present the geophysics equipment and survey a 3ha field. The local farmer and his very interested grandchildren also came and visited the site, some budding future geophysicists no doubt!

Research links: Another satisfied customer

Research links: Another satisfied customer

Robert Fry, Martin Roseveare, Anne Roseveare, Sam Purvis & Dale Rouse

Twitter: @archaeophysica

“Poultry”: a little canal archaeology.

I spent my day of archaeology on/in one of Britain’s wonderful linear archaeological sites – the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Two hundred and something years old, and dug to link steep-sided industrial valleys with the sea at Newport, the canal carried coal, iron and bricks and was pretty much abandoned well before WWII. Some 33 miles of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal have been navigable since the 1970s, but that section that has only six locks. By contrast, the remaining 20 miles of the Monmouthshire Canal between Cwmbran and Newport, together with the section up the long-truncated Crumlin Arm, include some 74 locks as the waterway climbs in two branches from sea level.

During its working life, during which a web of tramways delivered the outpourings of the dozens of mines and collieries that once clustered along the valleys, people, the raw material of archaeology, lived on and beside the canal. As usual they left ample evidence of their presence – a scatter of artefacts that we disturb as we work to restore the canal. On the Day of Archaeology I was leading a Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camp, a week-long gathering of 19 volunteers, young and not so young, all intent on getting suitably muddied, weatherbeaten, blistered, sore-muscled, insect-bitten, wet, parched, chilled and sweaty as we bashed recalcitrant vegetation, extracted tree stumps like giant molars, hauled around back-breakingly huge chunks of masonry, laid and repointed acres of stonework and dug heavy puddling clay to seal leaks.

This isn’t an archaeological site that features nice stratigraphy. For over a century it was a work site, constantly being repaired, dredged and altered. But it was also the lock keepers’ and boat families’ back yard, where they discarded their garbage and cultivated their vegetable patches fertilised with “night soil”, human waste and sweepings collected from their privies. So as we dig through the jumble of redeposited soils beside the locks to lay the foundations of the hopefully restored canal (it will be at least a decade before boats once again ply these weedy waters) we find a scatter of small sherds of nineteenth century pottery, along with a few traces of more recent picnicking. There is also a fair amount of rusty ironwork – nails, bolts and staples that were discarded during the regular replacement and repair of lock gates and other timber structures.

Last year a preliminary excavation beside “Shop Lock”, at Ty Coch near Cwmbran, revealed the foundations of what had presumably been a nineteenth century carpentry workshop (hence the lock’s name) complete with a saw pit in fine condition.

On the Canal Camp I attract curious glances from my fellow volunteers, who are more concerned with lime mortar and mattocks than historical archaeology, as I hover, vulture-like, over heaps of muddy soil and dredged silt, occasionally pouncing on a fragment of blue and white pottery. Eventually most of them join in the search. This week, amongst the Asiatic Pheasant and Willow Pattern we found several sherds of a platter bearing a great design entitled “Poultry”, an interesting comment on what themes were popular during the nineteenth century! I can’t see “Poultry” being a big seller in John Lewis these days…

Although the heritage of the standing structures of our canal system is recorded and studied, not much work seems to have been carried out on the buried evidence. Yet artefacts from different locations and contexts along the canals may tell us a little more about those who built them as well as those who lived on and alongside them. For instance, material found in 2012 beside the Swansea canal appears, at an initial glance, to reflect the change from locally-manufactured wares to Staffordshire products that I think occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century.

So far this has been a personal salvage activity, a sideline of a necessary focus on rescue and restoration rather than detailed archaeological recording. It would be good to have the opportunity to approach the archaeology of the canal in a more methodical manner. For example, can concentrations of material be identified, and can these be related to now-vanished structures such as lock-keepers’ cottages, occupation areas, temporary construction sites or vegetable gardens? I’m working on it…

South Dorset Ridgeway- the importance of a holiday

On this Day of Archaeology I was actually at a wedding, a completely non-archaeology wedding. I feel that this is important to point out because, like most jobs people do that a) they enjoy and b) are poorly funded and highly competitive many people dedicate their whole lives to their work.

I realised a while ago that this is not healthy and even though I am doing a PhD (the ultimate demand in time) researching community archaeology (something that normally happens on weekends) I am doing my hardest to make sure I rest guilt free. I am aware that this will not last and come writing up I will spend every day in front of my computer but for now I am enjoying it whilst it lasts.

So, rather than blogging about a Non-Day of Archaeology I thought I’d write about my nearest working day to the 11th .  It was a beautiful day and one that is perhaps not that typical however here it is…

Learning about landslides


My PhD is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Scheme. This is a whole series of events focused on understanding, conserving and enjoying the wildlife, landscape and heritage of the region. The South Dorset Ridgeway is a ridge of chalk hills between Dorchester and Weymouth which overlooks the Jurassic Coast. This amazingly complex geology underpins everything that defines that South Dorset Ridgeway.

This includes the archaeology and therefore I felt that it is important to understand it. Luckily I was not the only person who thought this and the Ridgeway management team have put together a series of walks around the landscape for the partners, led by various experts.  This so that we all have a good knowledge of the whole landscape which we can build into our individual projects.


The Partners!

The walk ran from a village at the foot of the hills (Abbotsbury), along a discussed railway line, through to Portesham where I joined the team. Did you know that in Porteshan there used to live a chap called William Weare? When he died his will stated that he wanted to be buried ‘neither in the church nor outside it’. Why he requested this is unknown, if it was an attempt to try to avoid a Christian burial he was thwarted- he was buried in the wall of the church!

The walk then continued up to Portesham Quarry, also known as Rocket Quarry or Portesham Farm Quarry. It was here that Sam Scriven from the Jurassic Coast WHS team started to enlighten us as to the geological history of the area. It’s complex and although I think I understand most of it you don’t want me to repeat it all here. It is sufficient to say that there are several different geological deposits between the ridgeway and the sea. The format that these take range from hard stones, such as Portland or Purbeck Stone, to clays, gravels and chalks. They have been twisted, moulded and eroded over the years to form the landscape that we now see.

The nature of these deposits can significantly affect the archaeology on top. For example the Sarcen stones that are used for building monuments such as the Hell Stone or the Hampton Stone Circle (later stops on our walk) are only used near the Valley of the Stones, elsewhere wood was used a building material.

The Hell Stone Chambered Tomb

The Hell Stone Chambered Tomb (with round barrow in the foreground)

Another example of how a geological understanding is very important for archaeologists was pointed out on the descent to Abbotsbury when we passed through the largest unmapped landslide in the UK, and it did seem very big (but thankfully stable). Not that much is know about it, as mapping would greatly aid this process, but at least it has now been recognised. On the OS it is marked as Strip Lynchets. Although the slumps may have been used for agriculture it is clear when you look at them a bit closer that they are not man made, they are irregular, not actually that flat and really not that suitable for farming.

I know that this walk may sound like the perfect day of work and, yes it is amazing to be able to spend a day learning super interesting and useful things from experts in a beautiful surroundings but there was a purpose to it, and taking a couple of days away from thinking about it meant that when I came back this week I was able to reflect, to process and to engage creatively and intellectually with what I had learnt.

For more about my PhD visit

For more about the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscapes Partnership visit

For more about the geology of the Jurassic Coast visit



Day of Archaeology Video from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey

This is a video submission for the Day of Archaeology submitted by the Illinois State Archaeological Survey-American Bottom Field Station (ISAS-ABFS). The primary function of the ABFS is to conduct research based on excavations mandated by law for transportation related projects, and conduct public outreach across the state and region relating our findings.  Since the ABFS’s area of responsibility includes the Metro East communities of St. Louis, Missouri we often have to conduct research related to large-scale transportation infrastructure improvements. This area also includes the Native American city of Cahokia and its related communities, which means that sites ranging the spectrum of very large villages/urban precincts to small farmsteads have to be investigated when they cannot be avoided by the planned construction. Given the scale of many of our past projects we have a large staff at the ABFS and rather than just give you an example of one persons day, I thought it would be good to show you a typical day at our field station. I have provided a link to the ISAS website and the video on Youtube. Enjoy.