A date with Team Dating

As Head of Intervention and Analysis, I manage a number of that provide expert advice on archaeology to English Heritage, commissioning and carrying out research in support of the organisation’s aims and objectives as set out in the National Heritage Protection Plan. This year’s Day of Archaeology saw me heading to London to take part in a meeting of the Scientific Dating team.

I’ll skip the train commute into London – I did that in my 2011 piece, and it wasn’t that interesting then.

We gathered at 10am in the Wroxeter Room in EH’s headquarters building at Waterhouse Square in Holborn.

Team Dating: Cathy Tyers, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Kate Cullen, Shahina Farid

Team Dating: Cathy Tyers, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Kate Cullen, Shahina Farid

The purpose of the meeting was to review progress across the full range of the team’s activities and projects, to look at issues arising from the team’s work, and to try to resolve the pressures that arise in a small team with a heavy workload. Much of the meeting focused on the two main commissioning budgets, for radiocarbon dating and tree-ring dating, covering progress on commissioned work and progress on completing reports. While much of the work goes on to appear in monographs and journal articles, most of the work is also disseminated through the English Heritage Research Reports series – the database of reports can be searched at http://research.english-heritage.org.uk/ (try searching using the keywords radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology).

Commissioned research can include work on English Heritage historic properties, designation casework, archaeological and characterisation projects. The team also becomes involved in specialist research arising from this work, including Bayesian analysis and wiggle-matching, and new guidelines are currently being drafted for radiocarbon dating. This work can involve working closely with European colleagues, for example in developing chronologies that will help us to date softwood timbers, much of this timber having been imported to England from Baltic states. The largest current European collaboration is The Times of Their Lives, a project jointly run by Cardiff University and English Heritage that won  €2.5m of European Research Council funding to develop a new dating framework for the Neolithic period: http://totl.eu/project-introduction/. This builds on earlier ground-breaking work on the Neolithic in Britain and Ireland (Whittle, Healy and Bayliss, 2011 Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland). This is an important and ambitious programme of research, and involves frequent travel to coordinate research across Europe, from Serbia to Scotland. It is also, of course, a demanding programme of work and travel, and quite a lot of discussion at our meeting was devoted to trying to resolve some of the programming difficulties arising from juggling this and other commitments. Too much (unpaid) overtime is being incurred, and we will have to defer some work to try to bring working hours back to within reasonable limits.

Serious discussion requires serious fuel: iced bun time.

Serious discussion requires serious fuel: iced bun time.

My role, apart from listening to and taking part in the discussions, was also to update the team on developments elsewhere in Intervention and Analysis team and in our Department, Heritage Protection. The biggest development is, of course, the recent decision to split the organisation into two parts – a new charity, retaining the English Heritage name, to manage the historic properties, and a new service under the working name of National Heritage Protection Service, which will advise government on historic environment issues including heritage protection and designation. This change will have to be implemented by April 2015, by which time we will also have to absorb a further 10% cut to our grant-in-aid from government. There’s not much I can say about this beyond recent press statements and briefings from our Chief Executive, but coming on top of the major reorganisation following on from the last Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010, a further period of uncertainty is inevitable. I also had to update the team on our Division’s response to last year’s staff survey and on developments with the Reports Series. There was also some discussion over our IT, but I’ll draw a veil over that….

We also took the opportunity to celebrate success. Since the last team meeting, another in volume in the series of Radiocarbon Datelists has been published covering the years 1988-93. This can be bought or downloaded as a PDF from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/radiocarbon-dates-1988-93/.

Alex Bayliss and Kate Cullen celebrate the latest Radiocarbon Datelist.

Alex Bayliss and Kate Cullen celebrate the latest Radiocarbon Datelist.


The next notable event will be the publication later this year of another major book, on the dating of Anglo-Saxon graves: Bayliss, A, Hines, J, Høilund Nielsen, K, McCormac, F G, and Scull, C, (forthcoming) Anglo-Saxon Graves and Grave Goods of the Sixth and Seventh Centuries AD: A Chronological Framework.

The meeting wound up by 3pm – my thanks to the team for wide-ranging and stimulating discussions, interrupted only occasionally by the need to explain complicated stuff to me. Thanks also for the tea and cakes.

After this I popped upstairs to see Richard Lea of the Properties Research team; we’ve been working together with another colleague, Nicola Stacey, on coordinating a programme of research on one of our historic properties, Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. This work has included a substantial programme of tree-ring dating coordinated by Cathy Tyers, and has resulted in new dates for a number of surviving roof and floor structures within this partially-roofed monument.



We’ve recently received a revised report on the analysis of parts of the building by Wessex Archaeology, and we’ll be reading that with keen interest next week.

I also dropped in to see my manager John Cattell, and also caught up with another senior manager, Barney Sloane, before catching the bus to Waterloo and heading home. There to sit in the garden with my other half, the cat and a large gin and tonic to contemplate writing this blog.


Frankly the cat appears at the special request of Lorna Richardson.