Established in 2005, Allen Archaeology Ltd is an independent, professional commercial archaeological contractor and consultancy with offices in Lincoln, Birmingham, Cambridge and Southampton. We currently employ 50 archaeologists.

“Comfortably seats 12”

Alice Beasley, Project Archaeologist

You will just have to trust me but us 12 archaeologists were NOT comfortable, but at least we were warm. The all inclusive groundhog cabins provide running water, heating, a toilet, storage and the all important kettle but one thing they don’t provide is much space for people in their high visibility coats. Especially not 12 of them in thermals, jumpers, coats and anything else that looks vaguely warm because it is -5 outside and raining/hailing sideways. These cabins also aren’t very mobile so for large linear projects such as roads or cable lines you can end up miles away from your welfare in a short time. So on the day of archaeology I am taking a short 3 hour drive to collect a cabin on wheels which has all the benefits of the groundhog’s but can be moved! let’s see how many archaeologists we can comfortably fill it with!

welfare van

Shiny new van

the kitchen

All mod cons

bathroom and store

…yup, all of them…


Comfortably seats two

Call that a ‘small find’?!

Catriona Scoular, Project Archaeologist, Archives

Hello, my name is Catriona and I work in the Archives at Allen Archaeology and I wish to tell you all about my day of archaeology.

Here at Allen Archaeology, we do a weekly blog on all sorts of archaeological goings on and once a month we focus on a “find of the month”. This highlights some of the more interesting and unusual finds that we uncover. In the past we have had leather shoes, repaired mortaria and a copper alloy nail scraper.

On this fairly cloudy day, a pretty standard British summer day, I was digging around the shelves to find something exciting to write about when I came across a rather large piece of stone. It is not complete but in four adjoining pieces and is roughly half of the entire object. The diameter from outer edge to outer edge is 70cm which is a little large for a quern stone, it is much more likely to be a mill stone however it doesn’t quite fit the usual profile of a millstone.

It is made of a gritty stone, has the correct shape, the tapering profile and has a small lip around the outer edge. The central hole in the middle is not circular, instead it seems to start off in a circular shape but then come inwards.

After a fair bit of ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ (and some Googling) we came across a picture of a millstone found in the Forest of Dean back in the 1930s; we believe it came from the villa found at Woolaston but 1930s records are not as good as they are now! They were slightly bigger, 1 inch bigger in diameter, but more importantly they had an unusual centre hole that was the closest we had found to ours.

These millstones are thought to have come from a horizontal watermill. Although our site is on the side of a hill, it doesn’t to my knowledge have, and has never had, a stream or river running down it. The only known aqueduct in Lincoln is located on the other side of the city to our site so it looks most likely that our millstone was turned by animal power. You never know though, we might find a lost aqueduct in Lincoln in the future that runs near to our site. Only a few Roman water mills have been excavated but there are hopes that there are more to be found due to the frequent use of aqueducts by the Romans.

On the site where our millstone was found were also two pottery kilns, one bread/ pizza oven and several corn dryers including one with a skeleton in! This site could tell us so much more about small scale industry in Roman Lincolnshire. Our humble millstone has opened the door that little further onto the past.

And there you go, I didn’t expect to become an amateur expert on Roman mills today! You learn something new every day.

Being Confused in a Historic Building

Harvey Tesseyman, Heritage Research Archaeologist

I went to visit a local church knowing that it was Grade I listed (the Church of St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire, 1161801, I), because I thought I could find some historic inscriptions, and it sounded like an interesting building. It’s common for historic buildings to be remodelled over time, and given that churches are quite often the oldest building in town they’ve got a lot of history packed in. What follows should illustrate how complex historic buildings can get, and how difficult it can be to get your story straight when it comes to recording!

The oldest fabric of the church is the Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry which makes up the bottom of the tower (tower-nave churches are typically Saxon).

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

St Mary, Broughton, North Lincolnshire

The tower used to be four exterior walls, but one of them is now an interior wall, part of which has been ground down to make healing powder (!?).

Ground down stonework

Ground down stonework

The tiny blocked up windows are another Saxon feature along with a side door, although don’t confuse them with the blocked up Norman windows which are a different type of tiny, and match the surviving fragments of Norman arcade, which wrap around the original church replacing the Saxon chancel. Another sticky-out-bit which seems to be of 13th century origin, based on the Early English Gothic-style windows, looks like it wraps round the bit that wraps round the original bit (but the cupboard doors in here are 15th century). The round bit sticking out of the edge of the tower is a set of very precarious spiral stairs leading most of the way up the Saxon tower on the way to the 14th century belfry they put on top as an extension, possibly on top of an older belfry.

Precarious stairs

Precarious stairs

When they extended the belfry they cut down the height of the stairs and recapped the roof. The central pillar of the spiral stairs is made from reused Roman stone, and the roof seems to be capped with some reused medieval beams and supported by a modern one. When you get up into the belfry there’s a pile of Victorian glass, some unidentified machinery, and a door taken from somewhere else in the church (we’re not sure where) which has been plastered in newspaper bearing a date of 1868. The floor of the church is also Victorian, they laid it down when they installed heating pipes, and while they were doing it found the original Saxon floor surface.

Victorian ephemera

Victorian ephemera


A really fancy daisywheel

A really fancy daisywheel


Undated inscription

Undated inscription

As with below-the-ground archaeology, layers often get mixed together and it becomes difficult to work out what should have gone where, but that’s part of the intrigue. Trying to analyse historic buildings can leave you feeling as out of breath as climbing the spiral stairs might, but I did find some historic inscription…Please don’t ask me to come up with a date for it…

The struggles of being a geophysicist

Rob Evershed, Project Officer, Geophysics

Many people see geophysicists as the movie stars of the archaeological world; after all we can arrive at a random field and within a few hours reveal the wonders of the hidden archaeology buried there without once lifting a spade or shovel. In many cases the need for random trenches across a site can be replaced by fewer targeted trenches, allowing a quicker and potentially more thorough archaeological evaluation of an area.

However even geophysicists can run into problems occasionally. There have been more than a few times where the geophysics team have excitedly headed off to a new site, filled with joy at the chance to once again wield our magic machine, that goes beep a lot, and hopefully uncover lots of hidden unknown archaeology, only to arrive on site to find…

Jedlee and Ryan in a sea of nettles

Jedlee and Ryan in a sea of nettles

For those uninitiated in the dark arts of geophysics, when we arrive on site we set up our 30m or 20m grids using canes at the vertexes with help from our GPS. So far the knee-height nettles are only an inconvenience. However the next step is for the glamorous assistant (in this case Jedlee) to divide up two sides of each square with 6 inch plastic pegs that allow the surveyor (Ryan) to walk across the grid in regular traverses while the machine goes beep. Not only would the pegs be tricky to see, but a quick health and safety check would suggest that perambulating across the field could be hazardous with hidden rabbit holes or surprise vegetation ready to trip you up.

So sadly we had to wend our disappointed way back to the office to report that the field was unsuitable for surveying on that occasion. Fortunately since then the nettles have been cut and we returned to successfully complete the mission (and found some possible medieval features).

Other examples of unsuitable fields:

Rob looking wistful in the wheat

Rob looking wistful in the wheat

Deeper wheat

This one looks worse…

Tall flowers

This is just getting silly…

A river that is unsuitable for survey

Ok, enough already, that is definitely a river!

However sometimes even with adverse conditions we still struggle onwards to get the job done.

Surveying in a waterlooged field

Little can deter the plucky geophysicist

Why I volunteered in archaeology

By Alice Riley-Ward

In the past it was always difficult for me to stick to one career choice and as such I was often indecisive about my future career; and there have been multiple paths that I have considered purely because they are things that I enjoy. During my childhood and even up until a few years ago Palaeontology and Marine Biology were the most viable choices, but recently they were discarded when I finally realised that I wouldn’t want to stray too far from home. If I wished to choose one of them indefinitely, I would have had to move away from everything I knew because while Palaeontology and Marine Biology exist in the UK, what I’d be interested in would probably be difficult to find here. But a few years ago, Archaeology became a real possibility for my career.

My mandatory 6th Form work experience was difficult, as I had no ideas about where I should have gone and how anything could be relevant to my career if I didn’t know what to do with my future, and it was only after I spoke with the school’s career advisor that she recommended Allen Archaeology to me. I looked into the prospect and found it interesting, and after spending a week of work experience with Allen Archaeology I was able to partially explore what being an Archaeologist was really like. I spent most of my time on site, working with a few volunteers and the site workers in digging and similar activities, and this opened my eyes to the fact that indeed, I may actually have a future in this. It has the intrigue and ever-changing ideas that would grasp my attention, and focuses on history which I am fond of. So towards the end of the week, I entertained the idea of coming back for more volunteer work, to consolidate this hopeful possibility.

Finds tray with artefacts

A tray of finds washed this week

Unsurprisingly I’ve returned, remembering how interesting my work experience was, and while doing these two weeks of volunteering in my summer holidays, I’ve been so far blown away by what I’ve seen here and learned from the people working at Allen Archaeology. I’ve been looking at what happens off-site, staying at the offices and learning that there is more to Archaeology than just digging and searching for finds. Archiving has interested me greatly, as I can look at what has been found after it’s clean and devoid of dirt or clay (or both) and think about where it came from, and consider how impressed I’d be if I found something like it. Easily the best thing about my time here, however, is that I can ask all the questions that I have about the different paths in archaeology and I can learn all I could ever wish to know and ask as many questions as I would like, which to be fair is quite an extensive list. I do, however, know that I will hold the answers and wealth of information dearly and that I also won’t tire of what I can learn from those around me.

So now I can say that Archaeology is the right choice for me and I’m glad that I can spend time with Allen Archaeology pursuing what I cannot do through school, because it is those working here that I should thank for helping me make my choice.

The unacknowledged dangers of office archaeology

By Kat Fennelly

(photo by Josh T. Hogue)

Not all archaeology is mud and glory. Behind every field archaeologist heroically scooping out ditches and pits in the endless pursuit of datable material, there are the office staff. The DBA writers and context sheet transcribers. The GIS users and drawing digitisers. The planning legislation readers and setting assessors. The report authors and the database surfers. The tweeters and public engagers. The backbone, if we may say so, of any successful excavation. We put our bodies on the line every day, all in the name of archaeology. And this is OUR Day of Archaeology too.

We cannot stress enough the health and safety concerns associated with heritage research. In order to secure our historic maps and Kelly’s Directory listings, we brave the confines of a poorly lit local archive, and the scowls of the archivist. An archive is an obstacle course of minor health concerns, from the threat of paper cuts to the inhalation of dust while unfurling the 1836 Tithe map. Not to mention the constant barrage on one’s mental health, while overhearing even the kindest archivist becoming surly in the face of constant questioning by public visitors regarding grandmother’s houses on forgotten streets, and optimistic would-be heirs, all in a volume not commensurate with research. A medieval well or a Second World War air-raid shelter in a field may be an interesting discovery for a field archaeologist, but the cartographic and documentary groundwork for that discovery is laid in a local archive. When we return to our office, we commence collating our data, and this comes with a whole new set of hazards.

Who can deny the inevitable weight gain attending to eight-hour days sitting at a desk? The day in – day out slog of typing up reports and lining up site drawings for digitisation. Not to mention the daily torture of the ice-cream van visit – sometimes two ice-cream van visits – outside of the office building. The jaunty tones of the ice-cream jingle, vaguely familiar and yet maddeningly (and, I daresay, legally) just different enough to be almost three different familiar childhood nursery rhymes at once. The haunting timbre of the van-mounted speaker is enough to distract from any dry DBA, and drive one out of doors to partake of the hygienically questionable wares. In a British summer viewed through double glazed windows in an office without air conditioning, the ice cream van is irresistible. Equally alluring too are the bags of charity company sweets that sit temptingly on the break room table, promising tangy unbranded chocolate and chalky-tasting gelatine for the every-so-small fee of £1. And it’s for charity. I don’t know which charity, or who the man with the long hair who delivers them works for, but the cheerful yet budget branding of the charity sweet box promises that for every pound you put in (and every pound you put on), someone deserving will benefit. These sugar injections can’t be enjoyed, either, without an accompanying mug of tea – whatever the weather – we may be indoors, but we’re still archaeologists. In consequence, we can find some nights that sleep doesn’t come easy, and we lie awake for hours worrying about the setting of heritage assets. This dedication to our craft can take its toll, and without an 8-hour excavation to help us keep the pounds off or tire us out, we are forced to take our lives in hand, and peddle to work on push bikes.

Today, spare a thought for us who sit in our offices, wistfully gazing out the window at the company Land Rovers and dream of trowelling. Who neatly arrange our digging equipment and steel-toe cap boots in a corner, in case a field archaeologist is required at the shortest notice. Who occasionally don full PPE to write a heritage assessment just to get a feel for the hard-hat. Just in case. Today is our Day of Archaeology too, and we should stand up to be counted.

Archaeological face-off: London vs Lincoln

By Natasha Powers

Last October I left the smoke to head north and work as Senior Manager at Allen Archaeology. I think it would be fair to say that I got some pretty odd looks when I said where I was going but actually they have a lot in common…They both begin with L for starters…

London and Lincoln both have a mysterious prehistoric past, we know it’s there but only little glimpses of it come through at the edges from time to time.

The archaeology is dominated by the Romans: Londinium and Lindum were joined by Ermine Street. Both cities have considerable and visible remnants of City wall, amended and added to over the years, but here Lincoln wins as it has the only Roman gate still in use for traffic (some of it less than welcome). The City wall actually runs down the back gardens of the terrace of houses I live in, which I think is pretty cool.

Roman City wall, Lincoln

Roman City Wall (and the wall of my garden)

The Saxons also made a home in both places but left the perfectly good Roman ruins in favour of the watery bits downhill.

London might have the Tower and the Crown Jewels, but Lincoln has a newly restored castle and the Magna Carta (paper-y version and pub).

London was a little careless with its medieval buildings – apparently there was some big fire or something, whereas Lincoln’s medieval past is still very much on display, there’s even a bridge with houses on it…ahem…ours didn’t ‘fall down’…and whilst no-one can doubt the architectural or iconic credentials of St Paul’s Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral is frankly incredible and, of course, home to an imp.

Lincoln Cathedral looking up!

Lincoln Cathedral…it’s big!

All in all I reckon Lincoln can give London a run for its archaeological money…Oh, and I’m still working in an ex-industrial building with a conveniently located pub nearby and a storeroom full of skeletons.