Northern Archaeological Associates: It’s not all digging in the dirt

Straight from the rather picturesque north-eastern countryside that Barnard Castle inhabits here is a snap shot of what’s happening today in our offices at Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA)…


Therese Falk – Project Officer

I am currently compiling a specialist background information report for a modest assemblage of artefacts recovered from an Iron Age settlement site that we excavated between January-June this year. This will provide the finds experts with information on where the artefacts came from, which may help them with their analysis.

The site itself was interesting, with some really well preserved features. The roundhouses were the best I’ve ever seen! Unfortunately, the people who inhabited them didn’t leave many artefacts behind; they must have been very good at recycling. The weather outside is awful, so I’m quite happy here in the warm office.


Dr Elizabeth Foulds – Finds and Archives Project Officer and Small Finds Specialist

Today was quite exciting for the Post-Excavation Team. We send artefacts to a conservator who x-rays, cleans, and sometimes repairs them. Old bronze and iron objects can be in particularly poor condition because the metal corrodes over time.

When metal artefacts come out of the ground, it is often difficult to see the detail of them because of dirt and metal corrosion. X-ray can help, especially with iron, but it still means that fine detail from decoration can’t be seen. Our conservator cleans and stabilises them, so that our finds specialist can identity and describe them better. Sometimes cleaning reveals surprises that we did not expect! Now that the artefacts have been returned, I check them back in on our system and arrange for them to go to one of our specialists, who will write a report on them.

This batch of finds included some particularly impressive items, so we are leaving them out for all NAA staff to come and see!


Dr David Griffiths – Finds and Archives Senior Project Officer and Roman Pottery Specialist

I’m currently working on pottery from a Roman pottery kiln discovered during NAA’s excavations at a site near Carkin Moor Roman fort located on the A66 in North Yorkshire. The kiln survived with its load of pots intact providing a very rare opportunity to understand pottery production in this region.

The kiln contained a range of wares made from a number of different clay types. Archaeobotanical remains recovered through sampling indicate the use of only heather as fuel (information provided by L. F. Gardiner and J. Baines), which perhaps is a strange choice for kiln fuel. The post-excavation reporting for the site is ongoing with the aim to publish the findings in the journal Britannia.


Dr Hannah Russ – Post-Excavation Manager

 Today I am mostly working on providing costs for post-excavation works on both internal NAA and external projects. NAA has recently expanded its internal finds and environmental specialist team and we are busy working on promotional materials and activities to raise our profile and advertise our services. Today is the last day for contributors to comment on the text and figures for the fourth volume in NAA’s Monograph Series, which details the findings from our excavations at Greatham, County Durham. I’ll be collating all of the responses so that we can amend the text before NAA editorial and typesetting.


Freddie Sisson – Environmental Supervisor

Environmental Archaeology: Life among the samples

It seems that it takes a certain type of person to work in the processing of environmental samples. You spend all day washing mud off stones and end up with nothing but a stony residue and environmental flot. This may not sound like much but it is an important part of the post-excavation section of archaeology.

Environmental samples are taken from features on site, up to 40 litres or 100% of the feature. Once all the sediment is washed away in the Siraf flotation system the residues are left to dry. The residues are then sorted for any finds missed on site, as well as for charcoal and plant remains which can be used for dating evidence.

The time this process takes depends on the type of sediment on site. For example, clay based samples take longer than sand based ones. Oh and the whole thing requires you to, at some point, end up getting covered in mud.


Aiden  Pratt – Junior Project Officer  

Catalogue consolidation can be quite boring. Checking sheets, registers and drawings and finding all of the mistakes you missed in the field. Going through everything and trying to make sense of the mass of data that you’ve got in front of you like some kind of papery octopus. You keep catching glimpses of the reality through the haze of context sheets but it keeps slipping away from you until you finally get a grip on it and start to pin its legs down into order. But just occasionally, through the mire of bad hand writing and tea stains you find a gem, a diamond in the rough, that spurs you on to get the damned thing finished.


Alice James – Project Manager (Geophysics)

I have just spent my morning wrestling with AutoCAD. I finally finished the interpretation of a geophysical survey data set and weirdly every time I pressed ‘plot’ the cursed ‘Fatal message’ box appeared. Luckily I sit near team-CAD who are amazing solutionists and with help I was able to win the battle with autocad and PDF the figures. Illustration victory, report done and emailed to client makes for a great conclusion to the week!


Jonathan Baines – Archaeobotanist

Jonathan is actually busy in Germany defending his PhD at at Tübingen University (fingers crossed!!!), but he gave us this on Wednesday as a general sample of what he normally gets up to…

After many weeks of identifying charred plant remains from Roman period excavations, with a microscope and comparative reference collection, today I began writing a report on my findings. The results are encouraging, and though I had become unused to typing and staring at a computer screen, my eyes were mighty pleased for the break of gazing down the binoculars. Just a few hours into the task my mind began wandering down the path of creative writing, rather than true dull discussion of the value of a particular plant in the assemblage. Soon I longed again for the opportunity to get up and rummage through the collection and drawings; the detective’s work of identifying a badly deformed oat, wild radish or lentil. This all changed again when I tackled a graph on the ubiquity of vetch in a confusing trench of ovens, floors and walls. Goodday !


Gav Robinson – Senior Project Officer

Today I am juggling three projects as well as providing report-writing support to some of my colleagues. When you say ‘I’m an archaeologist’ to some people they instantly picture us on our knees with trowel or brush in hand painstakingly removing soil from around some ancient treasure. Don’t get me wrong, this does happen, but a career in archaeology involves so much more.

What archaeologists all around the world are doing is attempting the near impossible task of reconstructing the human past largely from what survives below the ground. So every little bit helps, but how does all the data we collect make it from site to other researchers?

Today, my main job has been writing an article about a very important early Neolithic site we excavated at Stainton Quarry, near Barrow-in-Furness for Tarmac ltd in 2015. The analysis undertaken as part of this project produced the earliest evidence of dairying in Cumbria (approximately 6000 years ago), which is very exciting. The article, once published, will provide a pointer to our data and the archive at the museum so the wider world of researchers can critically assess and build upon our work in the future. Hopefully, our discoveries will bring us a step closer to understanding how and why farming first arrived in the region.