Day of Archaeology 2016

An adventurous visit on a forbidden peninsula

Alas, on this very last Day of Archaeology I was on leave (yes, indeed, there are some of us who really can afford such luxury as having several days off from work!). Yet, despite vacation and weekend, I went off to explore a site on Saturday – and it had almost all in it that made me decide for this job: adventure, hidden places, and the great feeling of finding something someone has left behind several years or maybe even decades, centuries, millenia ago.

On my last post I still had been a post-doc in the UP-NORTH project at UCL and writing about another exciting trip – back then the team went to Jersey. Well, summertime is a very likely time to find archaeologists out in the field! Since last year I’ve been back working in Germany as a post-doc in a collaborative research centre, the CRC 1266 “Scales of transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies” at Kiel University ( The project I’m working in is about the “Pioneers of the North: Transitions and Transformations in Northern Europe evidenced by high-resolution data sets” and actually hosted at the Centre of Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology at Schloss Gottorf in Schleswig ( where I used to work before.

After a presentation about the project at a conference in spring this year, a colleague came up to me stating that he had been informed about a potential Late Upper Palaeolithic site in north-eastern Germany. Thus far, he had only seen photos of artefacts that appeared confincing to him but his time had not allowed him to take up this lead, Now he heard the presentation, he thought he could show us the photos, make a connection to the collector for our team, and maybe something comes out of it. Yay, great! Why not?

To explain why this suggestion was of particular interest for my new team, I have to introduce some details about this bit of archaeology: The first people (pioneers) to enter northern Germany after the last glaciation (c. 26,000-19,500 years ago) are archaeologically associated with the so-called Hamburgian – no, no burgers but reindeer hunters who left a whole lot of wastes near Hamburg that were found and in the 1920s firstly categorised by Hamburg university scholar Gustav Schwantes and termed Hamburgian by him. The Hamburgian is similar to the British Creswellian a Late Upper Palaeolithic entity that clearly arose from a Magdalenian ( substratum and also dates to the beginning of the Lateglacial Interstadial (appr. 14,700 – 12,700 years ago – the beginning comprises c. the first 700 years). In that period temperatures rose rapidly, precipitation increased, and vegetation and fauna reoccupied the northern regions that were more or less recently freed from the large inland glaciers. Traditionally two variants of the Hamburgian are distinguished based on their projectile typology: The classic Hamburgian with shouldered points that is considered slightly older and the Havelte Group with large but slender tanged points. Most sites of this archaeological group are found in the northern Netherlands, north-western Germany, Denmark (though only the Havelte variant), and Poland (here only the classic variant). Surprisingly, there seems to be no site in eastern Germany. Therefore, the idea that there might be a potential site in north-eastern Germany made us quite excited – what might there be between the classic Hamburgian areas in Poland, the Havelte Group material in Denmark and the diverse material in NW-Germany?

Yet, entering the site wasn’t as easy and straight forward as one might expect: The findspot is located on a private peninsula that also is in parts a natural conservation area. So the owner and the environmental protection agency had to agree on our coming. The latter is something we also know very well from sites in our part of northern Germany where somehow the relevant archaeological sites are also frequently located in natural protection zones with different degrees of excluding archaeological field works – but that’s an entirely different story that partially explains the scarcity of modern excavations of this period in the State of Schleswig-Holstein.

Back to the NE-German peninsula. Finally, this Saturday everything was arranged by our colleague and we had the permission to enter the peninsula. The trip began at 7.30am in Schleswig to arrive at the appointed time 10.45am at the gates to the private property. Well, at least that was the plan – not considering motorway closures due to accidents… the arrival time was finally at 11.30am but – thanks to modern communication media – the colleague was contacted early enough about the late arrival. So after a 4hrs ride, everybody already waited at the gates that were closed behind my car again displaying a large sign about danger of unadjusted ammunition… I learned then that prior to German unity and the decampment of the Russian troops in 1990, the area had been a military base since the 1930s with still some material of the Nazi tank shooting training remaining in the grounds. Eh, nice!? I was asked to leave my car with all that is dear to me and not waterproof at the gates and join the others in the car of the ranger. Luckily, the first swarm of mosquitos attacked me there already so that quickly I sprayed the parts without clothes – so hands and face (in the end it’s northern Germany – we had about 15°C all day) but also all my clothes with anti-mosquito spray because these nasty creatures were already trying to get through my trousers… Our ride then took us past the former airfield and the barracks village that were left to nature since 1990 but also past the former estate of those who owned the peninsula for some 650 years before the Nazis overtook it. To see nature at work on those buildings was also quite an amazing modern lesson in archaeology!

When the cars came to a stop at the coast, I found out why I had to leave everything behind – the next part of the way was taken by boat (kayak) to the other side of a little bight filled with reeds. At this point even the smartphones that were brought along – just in case and to have at least a chance to take some photos were left behind (alas – no photos to the text!). Well, it was still stormy but we gave it a try to reach the shore close to the site but having passed half the way and the main deep, our guide decided that it was too dangerous to go on and we landed on a sandy ground from where we could also reach the site by foot. Alas, through the reeds that were growing about half a meter taller than me and that were the home of the mosquitos… and the waves of the Baltic Sea splashing into the kayak had made me not just wet to the bones but had also washed away all mosquito protection… I have to admit it gave me a bit of a jungle feeling trying to keep pace with my guides through this thick and high reed forest attacked by nasty clouds of blood thirsty creatures – I guess if I had been a bit more claustrophobic and / or akarophobic that would have been a moment of pure panic! Finally, after several minutes we reached a little oak forest and after some metres that was cut by the coast exposing only a little beach and giving space to a cool wind from the sea that blew away the mosquitos.

And there we were: Several hundred metres of land cut by the coast revealing archaeological finds of several thousands of years. Once I started looking, the beach and the littoral water was filled with flint artefacts – mostly flakes but also some nice scrapers. You could see how the coast worked on the land and even see artefacts in the exposed sections of different thicknesses. In these, you could also see how the land had developed on top of the glacial moraines and tills from the last Ice Age to a fairly enriched peaty soil over millennia. Well, but the material we found that day did not resembled the potential Hamburgian artefacts that had brought us here. Yet, we were only granted a small time window to visit the site and have a look around – certainly not enough time to start a proper survey. The finds that we had made were packed up and given to the collector who will report them to the State authorities. So after a good look around, we had to return through the reed and to the boat that took us only over the main depth this time and dropped us off in another reed jungle but not as tall as the first one with some grass islands in between and not that many mosquitos. We followed a way cut into these reeds by the large wild boar population on the island until we came back to the car.

On our way back to the gates, we still made a little detour to climb up the former airfield tower to enjoy a grand view over the peninsula – and find out that after only 27 years and admittedly little knowledge about Russian army architecture, we could no longer tell what several of the rooms in the basement were used for… making us think what we do with remains that are several thousand years old and processed far more intensively by natural forces…

Finally, we arrived back at the gates and were released to our own cars and back to modern day civilisation and at this point it really felt like we had just been on a trip through time.

Though this sounds like a good end to an adventure story, a good archaeological excursion does not end at the gates. We looked for a nice café where we could sit together and talk about what we’ve seen, how we interpret what we’ve seen and how to proceed further. We remained undecided whether we come back here – we first plan to examine the original artefacts that brought us here in more detail. However, if we do come back we will hopefully have more time and then we will certainly have a more systematic survey plan. Only after another two hours there discussing and warming up with soup, coffee, tea, and cake we finally started our several hours long trips back home.

Though not as long a day as in last year’s report, I still collapsed into bed after the 13 hours day that was physically far more demanding than last year’s trip with a terrible headache, really itchy mosquito bites, still a bit wet, and dirty but still happy that my job allows me to have such adventurous, almost Indiana Jones like days.



I still cannot believe it’s the last Day of Archaeology… this is too sad.

However, as many others did before me, I want to thank the volunteering team so much for giving us all the opportunity to describe our very diverse daily lives as archaeologists. It’s been a real pleasure taking part in it and reading all the many interesting insights into other colleague’s worklife and reminding me how blessed I am with such job offering this magnitude of possibilities. Thank you, Day of Archaeology!

Dopo una mostra archeologica

Forse qualcuno di voi si ricorderà di alcuni post dell’anno scorso, nei quali raccontavamo del nostro lavoro per organizzare una mostra.

Quella mostra –  “Archaeology&ME. Leggere l’archeologia nell’Europa contemporanea”  – è stata inaugurata  a Palazzo Massimo il 9 dicembre 2016 e si è conclusa il 23 aprile 2017, quindi pochi mesi fa.

Organizzata nell’ambito del progetto europeo NEARCH, la mostra esponeva le opere di cittadini europei che si sono interrogati sul ruolo dell’archeologia nell’Europa contemporanea.

Accanto a circa 80 fra dipinti e disegni, vi era anche una seconda sessione dedicata a presentare il punto di vista di noi archeologi: quale, cioè, sia per noi il ruolo dell’archeologia, o almeno alcuni dei suoi aspetti più rilevanti nella nostra società (strumento di inclusione, metodologia, indagine sull’uso del passato, ecc.).

Il catalogo che illustra questo percorso – in inglese ed italiano – è scaricabile gratuitamente dal sito.

Ma una volta terminata la mostra, è iniziato per noi organizzatori un lavoro non meno importante di analisi dei suoi risultati, a partire dai feedback che abbiamo ricevuto attraverso i social dai visitatori reali e virtuali.

E’ un lavoro complesso, ma indispensabile se vogliamo che il progetto – lungo e faticoso – di organizzazione dell’esposizione abbia un valore che va al di là dei contenuti della mostra stessa e offra delle indicazioni per migliorare la comunicazione e renderla sempre più efficace e in grado di rivolgersi ad un pubblico sempre più ampio.

Comunicando meglio creiamo le basi per una migliore sostenibilità della nostra disciplina… obiettivo fra i più urgenti visto che le risorse pubbliche scarseggiano sempre più, in Italia e altrove in Europa.


a day in the life of an archaeological field unit – Essex 2016

The Colchester Archaeological Trust is a busy archaeological field unit based at Colchester in Essex in the UK. We have been working in the construction industry for over 50 years and our operational area is primarily Colchester, Essex and Suffolk: we are a CIfA-registered professional field unit and both a registered charity and a limited company. Our building is the former NAAFI of the Artillery (Le Cateau) Barracks of the famous old Colchester garrison and it abuts the site of the only known Roman circus in Britain. We also maintain our own Roman circus visitor centre and tea room! Our remit as a charity includes informing and involving people and promoting the archaeology of Colchester and so, as part of that, we maintain a blog on our web-site and also publish all our fieldwork reports online, in tandem with the wide range of archaeological projects which we undertake for clients. We work as a team and we are lucky to have a great team of volunteers, and so I have written this post about all our Day of Archaeology here at the Trust.


The Trust’s HQ and Roman circus centre, with part
of the site of the circus marked out in front.

On the Day of Archaeology (Friday 29th July), we were all busy, either here in our HQ or out on site or a bit of both! Indoors, Trust director Philip Crummy was preparing the lecture which he was presenting on Saturday to the ARA (Association for Roman Archaeology) at the University of Essex, to be followed by a guided tour of Roman Colchester on Sunday morning, including the Roman circus site and centre. Senior archaeologist Howard Brooks spent the morning on site in Billericay: in the afternoon he was working on a group of finds from an excavation at Wormingford for the CAG (the amateur Colchester Archaeological Group). Trust volunteer Hannah (currently helping us before she starts at the Sixth Form College) was washing the Roman material from a very recent Trust site at a property in Lexden, Colchester.


Howard working on some of the small finds from
the CAG excavation on a rural site at Lodge Hills in
Wormingford (2007-2011). The metal finds from
the site are varied and include two jetons, a
cloth-weaver’s seal, decorative buttons, lead shot, and
several coins, ie an Elizabeth I sixpence, a Charles I
farthing, a William III sixpence, George II halfpenny,
a George III halfpenny of 1799, and a Roman barbarous
radiate coin, of Tetricius or Claudius, with the figure of
Laetitia on the reverse.


Trust volunteer Hannah with a fragment
of Roman tile from the site at Lexden in
Colchester, showing an animal paw-print.

Trust archaeologist Don Shimmin was working on the report for a long-running watching brief which he conducted at Abbey House in Colchester, which used to belong to the old garrison, and which stands within the precinct of the medieval St John’s abbey. Trust archaeologist and pottery specialist Steve Benfield spent the morning on site in Maldon, and in the afternoon he was studying the mostly late Roman pottery from our recent site at Great Chesterford. Trust archaeologist Laura Pooley was writing site reports and, later, selecting finds from our site Area J North within the old garrison at Colchester, for a small display which our client Taylor Wimpey will be mounting in their sales suite when they open it at their new development at Flagstaff House, which is also within the old garrison and just round the corner from our HQ. Trust volunteer Wendie was helping Kate in the tea room in the afternoon, after a morning of marking pottery and talking to circus centre visitors and also giving guided tours. Trust volunteers Shirley H. and Shirley W. were also helping here in the morning. Kate had made a special cake which her daughter Pip decorated with a Roman chariot, and this was on display on Friday – we are presenting a summer season of free events here on Saturdays, and that Saturday was a full day with our archaeological roadshow, a lecture on Martello Towers in Suffolk, and a guided tour of the circus site and centre!


Laura with the two Roman picture lamps
from the site at the old garrison. This was
the site of a large Roman cemetery and the
two lamps were excavated from two cremation
burials, one of which has been dated to
the mid/late 2nd-early 3rd century.


Steve doing some online research on the late Roman
pottery from our site at Great Chesterford, where we
uncovered a 2.3 metre-wide robber-trench which seems
to represent the Roman town wall.

Out on site, Trust archaeologist Mark Baister was supervising an area excavation in the grounds of the University of Essex, on the site of a new block within the Innovation Centre at the campus, which is on the outskirts of Colchester: he was working with Trust excavators Sarah, Beth and Alec, assisted by student Callum who works with the Trust during the summer. Trust archaeologist Adam Whiteman was supervising an urban excavation in Brentwood town centre with Trust excavators Nigel and Jane. Trust archaeologist Chris Lister was out conducting a watching brief on construction works for the new residential development at Flagstaff House. In Maldon, Steve investigated the possible boundary ditch of the Anglo-Saxon burh, in a footings trench in a back garden. Mark and his team were excavating pits and ditches producing medieval pottery which suggest the site of a settlement in the vicinity. Brentwood is a large town on the historic main Colchester-London road: our site there is not far from the ruins of the medieval chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury. Our site includes a huge well and evidence of previous buildings which seem to represent a previously-unknown street, including the site of a probable coaching inn with a carriageway to a rear yard.

And some of our members of staff were on leave! – ie Trust archaeologists Ben Holloway, Emma Holloway and Robin Mathieson, and tea room manager Lauren – and other members of staff were not at work on the day, for example, archaeologist Pip Parmenter and office manager Jules.
With thanks to all the Trust members of staff and our great volunteers, to all our clients, and to our circus centre visitors and tea room customers!

All the Trust’s fieldwork reports are published online at . Visit our web-site at .


Trust volunteer Wendie in the tea room.


Some happy circus centre visitors on the Day of Archaeology.


The Roman chariot cake.

The images show the Trust’s HQ and Roman circus centre; Hannah with a fragment of Roman tile; Howard in a back room with the finds from Wormingford; Laura with two Roman picture lamps; Steve doing some online research; Wendie in the tea room; some circus centre visitors; and the cake…  (No photos of Philip or Kate were permitted… and I was in the building all day and wrote this post!)

The site photos below show our work on that Friday at Maldon, Brentwood and at the University of Essex.

Maldon-burh w-s

On our site at Maldon, the footings trench was excavated
through a large feature which was not bottomed at a depth
of 80 cm: we think that this represents part of the Anglo-
Saxon burh boundary ditch. The photo shows the dark upper
backfill of the ditch and a possible tip-line (by the measuring
rod). The other end of the trench may have exposed the western
edge of the ditch (not shown in photo.). The feature has produced
pottery fragments dating to about the 12th-14th centuries.

Brentwood w-s

Alec working on the medieval street on our site at Brentwood.

university w-s

The university site photo shows one of the features
which we investigated on the Friday.


Day of Archaeology: Camping in Mongolia

Day of Archaeology: Camping in Mongolia

So on the actual Day of Archaeology I was in my archaeological office job daydreaming about my recent fieldwork in Mongolia. Here is the story of my Mongolia summertime excavation amid wildflowers and beautiful mountain passes in pictures …

The roads were fairly rough; this is the main road between the Soyo site and the tiny mountain village of Ulaan-uul. Tiny ground squirrels bounded around among the trackways, and often yaks or herds of other animals including camels, goats, sheep or horses, would cross the road in front of us.

The vans that took us were built to a 1950s Russian design. They were made for Siberian winters, with an engine inside so it could be fixed in relative warmth even if it was snowing outside. They forded many rivers remarkably well, but in the instance above, we did get stuck. Our driver changed to four-wheel drive but on several occasions we had to get out and push the car.

We camped beside beautiful clear streams in meadows filled with wildflowers. Mongolia is great for camping! Our site office in the field was a ger, which took a remarkably short time to set up and was very weatherproof! We drank from the local clear streams as well; I used a water-filter to purify the water before drinking.

The food at the dig was typically Mongolian – lots of meat, and very freshly cooked! The head is considered one of the best bits; a special portable blow-torch is used to remove the hair from the skin so that the skin can also be eaten. I really enjoyed the breakfast porridge or khosh; there was a delicious breakfast donut that was quickly became one of my favourite foods!


We surveyed and sampled and excavated different parts of the Soyo landscape; I was hoping to find out more about the environmental changes that happened when pastoralism increased and large herds of animals began roaming the central Asian steppes. It will take some time to process the samples I collected in the laboratory and answer the question of how much things changed under a mobile, pastoral economy. Thanks to Dr. Julia Clark at the American Center for Mongolian Studies for a really great archaeological research opportunity!

Banish the Incoherence – a project from Gothenburg, Sweden

day of archaeology

The exhibition and project Banish the Incoherence takes its starting point in the city. There are no city plans, no models, and no discussions about what should be built or developed in this project. Instead we want to focus on the human need for context and the search for a common ground to build on.

On my day of archaeology I am meeting up with some students early in the morning. Wheelbarrows, shuffles, buckets and all the usual archaeological stuff is paced for a short walk to our venue of our two days of archaeological dig. The dig is situated in the hearth of Gothenburg at the absolute center of the city called Götaplatsen. We are part of the project “Banish the Incoherence” which is the name of the art exhibition at Konsthallen (the main arena for contemporary art in Gothenburg). The archaeological project is also a part of the EU project NEARCH.

We start our dig after a while having to remove some seagull babies from the space we will investigate. The space is today a parking lot with some green spots. But in 1923 it looked quite different. Gothenburg then celebrated it´s 300 anniversary with huge exhibition that should come to have a big impact of the future design of Gothenburg. The art museum as well as Konsthallen was built for the exhibition. At our digging site there stood several buildings also the used for art exhibitions. After the exhibition ended one of the buildings was being used as an art school for several years to come. Here some of the most famous artists, which works you today can see in the art museum beside, learned their skill. We will excavate this former art school building.

The three archeological students meet up with four students of fine art that also will take part in the dig. We start out discussing where to set the shuffles. The dig is open to the public, so we are expecting both children and adults to participate during the day.

The artists and archaeology students are working side by side opening up pits and the findings start coming: bricks, glass, plastic, unknown objects of all kinds. We have visitors participating during the day and some like to just enter some of our quite deep pit which is both square and round. A lot of questions about the former buildings at the site is discussed and the findings of a color tube and some charcoal pencils put some light and feeling of the previous activities at the site.

The students of fine art will take the objects to their studios and make use of it in a forthcoming exhibition at the site in August. My aim with this project is to create a meeting place between archaeology and art with the dig as the venue of this meeting. Since this is a contemporary archaeology project the findings can be used in whatever way we like. A wonderful day of archaeology has come to its end which gave many new insights, ideas, thoughts and laughter.

A small film done by Archaeosoup Productions is to be found here:

Inside the Vigna Randanini Catacomb

 Photograph: Jessica Dello Russo, Suor Maria Francesca Antongiovanni of the Catacombs of Priscilla, New Liturgical Movement editor Gregory Di Pippo, and other visitors to the Vigna Randanini catacomb.

Photograph: Jessica Dello Russo, Suor Maria Francesca Antongiovanni of the Catacombs of Priscilla, New Liturgical Movement editor Gregory Di Pippo, and other visitors to the Vigna Randanini catacomb.

International Catacomb Society Executive Director Jessica Dello Russo is a doctoral candidate at the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology (PIAC).  Her thesis, “Between Rome and the Levant: The Architecture, Setting, and Cultural Significance of Late Antique Jewish Burials in Rome”, seeks to make more explicit the layout and operation of burial sites used by Jews in Late Ancient Rome and how these sites have been contextualized in the study and excavation of catacombs to the present.  Prior to her nomination as executive director of the ICS in 2015, Dello Russo received funding from the society to complete course work at the PIAC and assist with the ICS-funded project to restore wall surfaces inside the Vigna Randanini catacomb and ensure the site’s continued accessibility.  The preliminary results of her PIAC work on Jewish catacombs was published in the form of reports on the “Roma Subterranea Judaica” between 2010 and 2012. These peer-reviewed articles made available for the first time in print government reports and other unpublished data on the excavation and study of the Jewish catacombs, and revealed a number of new features and artifacts in these sites that Dello Russo was able to identify through on-site survey work and archival research.  Copies of these articles can be downloaded for free at:
Dello Russo’s lectures and publications since then have focued on her PIAC doctoral study, “Between Rome and the Levant: The Architecture, Setting, and Cultural Significance of Late Antique Jewish Burials in Rome”, which is being prepared with additional data and a more unified presentation of structural and architettonic features in the ancient tombs of Jews that should contribute to a greater understanding of the Jewish element in the making and mapping of “Subterranean Rome”.

Cassiobury Park Community Archaeology Project, Watford, Herts – Swiss Cottage Dig


The Cassiobury Park Community Archaeology Project was set up as a part of a scheme to improve facilities in the park. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Watford Borough Council, who manage the park.

The project is overseen by professional archaeologist Graham Keevill of Keevill Heritage Limited and the work has been undertaken by volunteers from the SW Herts Archaeological and Historical Society (SWHAHS) under the leadership of Chairman Laurie Elvin.

The Day of Archaeology on 29 July 2016 marked the culmination of the dig carried out in June 2016.
An Open Day was held on 18th June to allow the general public an opportunity to inspect the site and learn about its history, talk to the archaeologists and view the artefacts uncovered by the dig.


Cassiobury Park, Watford

Cassiobury Park was created in 1909 when the Borough Council purchased part of the estate of the Earls of Essex around Cassiobury House, which was subsequently demolished in 1927.

Originally in the ownership of St Albans Abbey the estate passed to King Henry VIII on the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. In 1546 Henry granted the manor of Cassiobury to Sir Richard Morrison who began building Cassiobury House as a Tudor mansion. In 1627 the estate passed into the Capel family through marriage.

The first Earl of Essex, Arthur Capel, commissioned Hugh May to rebuild the Tudor House circa 1677-80. The park and gardens were laid out by Moses Cook.

Between 1799 and 1805 the 5th Earl commissioned James Wyatt to remodel the house in the Gothic style and Humphry Repton to improve the Park. A number of lodges, including the Swiss Cottage, were probably also designed by Wyatt and his nephew, Jeffry Wyatville.

The 7th Earl, George Capel, married an American heiress and at the beginning of the 20th century parkland was sold, mostly to Watford Borough Council for housing and a public park.

After the 7th Earl died in 1916 his widow and son, the 8th Earl, sold the house in 1922 and it was demolished for the materials, some of which were transported to the USA. More land for the public park was also purchased by the Borough Council in 1930.

The Swiss Cottage

The ‘Swiss Cottage’ was built as a summer house around 1820. It was used for picnics and parties for the Earl of Essex’s family and friends and included a small museum. School groups were also allowed to use the cottage and grounds. Part of the cottage was lived in rent-free by estate staff and their families but this ended in the 1930s. The cottage became unsafe and was demolished, in the late 1940s
Cassiobridge Lodge (also known as Swiss Lodge), which was a similar age, construction and style, is still standing in Gade Ave. and is a listed building.

IMG_0601 edit reverse

Did We Find Anything?

The answer to this common question from the public is that we revealed the full extent of the building in 5 separate trenches, containing tiled floors and cobbled surfaces in situ, badly damaged cast iron kitchen ranges set into a brick chimney breast and the colour that the walls were distempered!

Artefacts included assorted building ironmongery, lead cames from the windows and materials from the demolition of the building.

Personal artefact finds were disappointing but were sufficient to interest visitors on the Open Day. A George IV farthing, dated 1822, found on the Day of Archaeology provided some excitement and fulfilled the frequent phenomenon of finding something unexpectedly on the last day of a dig.


Comments of some of those taking part

Laurie (experienced volunteer and organiser)

I was pleased that I had been able to organise the completion of the excavation in the time allocated and very grateful to all the volunteers for their enthusiasm and good humour in spite of the hard work.
The site is in a beautiful location, next to the river Gade.

We assembled at 9am and after a reminder about health & safety hazards and tour of the trenches, I allocated tasks according to the experience of the 5 volunteers and one seasoned digger. These were minor extensions to existing trenches, recording worked stone and cast iron finds by drawing and photography and calculating ‘reduced’ levels from the readings taken with a ‘dumpy’ level.

As well as supervising these activities, I reviewed all the site drawings to ensure that they were complete and that I would be able to interpret other people’s drawings, when I digitise them to produce CAD drawings for the report of the excavation.

Then the hard work, of returning all the excavated material to the trenches, started. All the material in the spoil heap was returned to the trenches using shovels, buckets and barrows.

The next day the backfilling was completed and the site left for nature to reclaim

Shirley (volunteer – new to archaeology)

I enjoyed the day, even with the hard work re-filling the trenches! I am looking forward to seeing the ‘post’ from our group.

Jane (volunteer – new to archaeology)

I really enjoyed the day at Swiss Cottage and was chuffed I managed to see some finds as I had missed the main event in June. I found the day well organised, Laurie and Christine are good at giving direction.

Christine (experienced volunteer)

Thanks again for the opportunity to work on such an interesting site.

Anne and Paul Kendall (volunteers – new to archaeology)

“We thoroughly enjoyed the last two days of work on the site on the 29th and 30th July. Great fun, hard work and good company. It was good to learn new skills as well. As we were not able to come for the main dig it was really interesting to see all the discoveries, especially the two kitchen ranges. Then we massively improved our spadework as we helped to fill in the trenches. Anne has developed some very impressive biceps.

Keith (volunteer – new to archaeology)

Swiss Cottage was my first full archaeological dig.  To uncover finds that haven’t seen the light of day for over 70 years was a thrill, and to try to fathom out what we were finding was a challenge on occasions.  Sad to cover it all up at the end of the day, but all good things come to an end.

Lunt Meadows Mesolithic Settlement, Merseyside: A Site for Sore Eyes

Over the last four years I, and a faithful band of volunteers,  have been excavating a rare kind of Mesolithic site at Lunt, Sefton a few miles north of Liverpool, on behalf of the Museum of Liverpool. This dates to about 8000 years ago, in the Mesolithic period, when groups of hunter-gatherers lived in the flood-plain of the River Alt leaving behind relatively well-preserved traces of a series of building floors dotted with pits in two defined, adjacent areas.

Information board next to the excavations

My day of archaeology though has been less concerned with investigating the intrinsic importance of the archaeology than with another important facet of the site, as it passed an important milestone in its development this week when it was officially opened for public viewing while the excavations continue.

Open Day

The Open Day was organised through the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside which now manages this part of the valley, after being farmland for the last thousand or more years. It was during the Trust’s creation of a wetland nature reserve here that, along with several other deeply buried Mesolithic sites, the Lunt Meadows settlement was discovered in 2012.

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of viewing platform

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of the viewing platform

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

The Open Day attracted over 500 people many of whom were given tours of the site and learned about hunter-gatherers and the local Mesolithic landscape.

It is hoped that as the site becomes better known more visitors will seek it out. Once the excavations are finished the ground essentially will be left open and the vegetation managed, and possibly there may be reconstructions of some of the buildings on the excavated site.


Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral.....

Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral …..

... who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

… who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

For me, such visits will be made worthwhile by its location. The site lies in the floodplain and formerly lay on a slight rise of sand which had been buried by later wetland sediments after the settlement was abandoned. Choosing this location was a deliberate strategy by the hunter-gather population of this area. Previous archaeological survey has shown that there is very little evidence for sites of this period away from the floodplain throughout the valley.

It is hoped that visitors will be able to gain a deeper appreciation of this ancient connection through seeing at first-hand the (re-)integration of a prehistoric wetland settlement into a modern day version of its former setting that has been made possible by the kind co-operation, support and help of the Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, who cannot be thanked enough.

landscape and site2

In turn, it is hoped that visitors looking primarily to visit a wild place on the fringes of Liverpool for its modern amenity value of peace, greenery and wildlife will be inspired to see the landscape in a multi-dimensional way when encountering this special, long-lost place nestling into what looks something like its former ancient wild landscape.

Snapshot 1 (05-08-2016 16-20)

It is this integration that many of the volunteers who excavate on the site tune into: the subtle changing sounds and sights of the natural world giving partially glimpsed reflections of a former world which is pulled into more focus through the immediacy of working from day to day on the ancient surface, or through lifting from where they had been dropped, placed or thrown the stone artefacts that once helped sustain the people who lived in this environment.

And soon, as the days shorten the relative quiet of summer will be broken by the noise and sights of the incessant flocks of migrating wildfowl who will make their home in the wetland this winter bringing another year’s excavation full circle and we witness the latest modern installment in a seemingly timeless, long-interrupted cycle of life in the wild in the flooded wetland.

Snapshot 4 (05-08-2016 16-30)


Archaeological Geosemantics, the final chapter

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

Panoramic View of the Stonehenge Landscape from Fargo Plantation

GSTAR IV: Return of the GeoJSON

Following on from my Days of Archaeology in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (and for the last time), the bulk of my Day of Archaeology this year focussed on my doctoral research, writing up my thesis on Geosemantic Technologies for Archaeological Research (GSTAR). It’s been a busy three years but the project is nearing completion and will hopefully inform heritage management and research strategy over the coming years.

The aim of the project was to show how geosemantic technologies can be used to provide a framework for working with heritage data in a range of research contexts. To this end, I have built a demonstrator application which is based around a map (obvs!) for the Stonehenge landscape and which draws data from Historic Environment Records, museums and project archives, allowing users to ask questions across these diverse resources taking advantage of the semantic goodness of Linked Geospatial Data, thesauri and ontologies. Geosemantic ‘glue’ was used to integrate horizontally between resources (such as monuments and artefacts found within or nearby) and vertically (ie between excavation records and monument/event HER records and museum collection records).

The ontologies used were the CIDOC CRM, CRM-EH and GeoSPARQL which allow the concepts used by the various sources to be aligned whilst the terminology provided by the thesauri (published using SKOS) allow for the various terms used to document these concepts to be related. In other words, the semantic tools allow for the different sources to be made interoperable and queryable with the results displayed and interacted with on a map.

Moving forward, the approach taken and successfully demonstrated could be scaled up to act as the basis for the next generation of heritage information portals; think of the Heritage Gateway but with some additional bells and whistles:

  • the ability to undertake proper geospatial queries and analysis, even where there is no GIS data
  • spatial queries mediated using geospatial semantics, to get away from purely Cartesian views of space dependent on geometry and the problems that entails for historic information
  • complex querying across all of the participating providers, with differences in terminology ironed out

The demonstrator application is built using a range of standard web and geospatial technologies. Currently, the accessioning process for data is largely manual, built using the STELLAR Toolkit to process outputs from MODES and HBSMR, two major software packages used in museums and HERs respectively. A next step would be to automate this, which would be fairly straightforward from a technological if not a political perspective. If an automated pipeline could be implemented across all the HBSMR and MODES using institutions and organisations, this would cover an enormous amount of heritage information and, combined with a map based portal and live feeds to desktop GIS, would greatly improve the way in which we undertake all kinds of research activities, both in academic and commercial contexts.

Information from site archives was a little tricksier, as one might expect; such data does not typically get archived in a readily useable fashion unlike information found within the structured systems used for managing Historic Environment Record data or museums collections. However, with ongoing work relating to the digital capture and sharing of fieldwork information through OASIS, HERALD and the broader Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS), we are undoubtedly moving towards a time when this becomes not just possible but the norm. When this happens (and note I say when not if!), we can start to extend Linked Data principles more fully to our information resources, so monument records can be directly built up from linked fieldwork records, museum collection artefact records can be layered on top of linked excavation finds records and, on top of all this, our Research Agendas and Frameworks can be truly data driven, dynamic resources drawing directly on this web of Linked Data, informing and informed by ongoing research and our shared knowledge of the past, across all of our information resources.

The use of such geosemantic ‘glue’ allows for a much more intelligent approach to finding and working with geospatial information from heterogenous sources split across numerous providers. Take the following query for example:

Show me all the Bronze Age mounds where dolerite has been found during excavations and carved chalk balls were discovered nearby.

Using the HeritageData Periods thesaurus, it is possible to mediate different uses of language across sources to describe time-spans relating to the Bronze Age, using broader, narrower and/or related terms. We can use the FISH Event Types Thesaurus to find event records relating to interventions (including excavations) and draw on the project archives for these to check for finds of dolerite, potentially using geological ontologies such as GEON to mediate identifications of rock types. Using the FISH Object Types Thesaurus, it is possible to do the same for chalk balls or any other artefact type. Geospatial information may well not exist for these objects as recorded in museums collections, most likely not in the form of British National Grid coordinates at least, particularly where they were discovered in antiquity. But we do often have some basic spatial information such as an associated location (eg Stonehenge), parish (eg Amesbury) or named place (eg Stonehenge Road); in such cases we can use the Ordnance Survey Linked Data plus some of the spatial relationships defined by the Simple Features specification (used by the GeoSPARQL ontology) to perform a spatial query using these index terms via a bit of geosemantic magic. Moving forward, we can align our research questions with such resources and queries so, for example, if the dating of carved chalk balls (typically thought of as of Neolithic origin) were to change, we can use the same approach to identify contexts where such changes would have a knock on effect or where our broader understanding of deposits, sites and complexes may also need to be updated or where new research questions arise. So this may be the end of the GSTAR project, but it’s only just the beginning for the use of such approaches within the heritage sector.

Many thanks again to everyone who has helped, contributed and otherwise supported this research project along the way, particularly:

  • Doug Tudhope, Alex Lohfink, Mark Ware & Ceri Binding (University of South Wales)
  • Chris Brayne (Wessex Archaeology)
  • David Dawson (Wiltshire Museum)
  • Adrian Green (Salisbury Museum)
  • Keith May (Historic England)
  • Melanie PomeroyKellinger (Wiltshire Council)

Geophysics at Tintagel Castle: Non-invasive work ahead of the excavations

I am cheating on Day of Archaeology at little, as I am going to talk about work we at TigerGeo did in May, but that is being used to inform the very-much-happening-on-July-29th excavations at Tintagel Castle. We’ve been really excited to see the excavations progress over the last few weeks and can’t wait to get our hands on the reports and plans to go back to our own data with.


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Just getting the gear onto site was a challenge!

While there has been a lot of media attention about the excavations (see Sue’s excellent piece for the insider perspective), the geophysical surveys happened without much fanfare in May, in order to give us time to process the data and report it back to the dig team at CAU. We thought it might be interesting to have an insight into the work we did on site and the iterative process of interpreting, getting feedback and revisiting the data that we are engaged in. Most of the time, we don’t get such a great chance to see the excavations that follow our surveys so this is fantastic for us as we will be able to update our thinking and interpretations in detail.

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Magnetic Susceptibility readings being taken on the lower reaches of the southern terrace

So what did we get up to? The excavation team didn’t want to make such a drastic intervention on the site blind. They had target areas, based on what was already known or assumed about the site and asked us to look at them in more detail to allow them to better target their excavations. They were particularly interested in finding buildings from the post-roman period that had lain undisturbed by recent archaeologists, so they could look at them with fresh eyes and modern scientific methods. Any excavation is inherently destructive, and on sites as unique as Tintagel, it is important to minimise the impact of destructive research, so to help them do this we came up with a package of four complimentary methods:

  • Ground Penetrating Radar, which should be able to detect buried walls and surfaces
  • Earth Resistance Survey, which should detect the same things as the GPR, but using different properties of the material, giving us a ‘double chance’ to find them
  • Magnetic Susceptibility, a method that looks at how magnetisable a material is, telling us things about the presence of certain forms of iron. This can help distiguish between different activities taking place on site: we’d expect higher MS in areas of industry or settlement thanks to burning or heating, than we would in storage areas, for example
  • Terrestrial Laser Scanning, to produce highly detailed surface models to pin down the geophysical data but also very acurately located biulding platforms that had been recorded over the years by site archaeologists.

This isn’t a photograph, it’s part of the point cloud generated by the laser scanner. You can see the team on the right trying to stay out of the scan!

A lot of fun was had on site getting ourselves and our equipment into the right places. Unlike the dig team, because we had to be quite mobile, with heavy gear, we needed to use a rope-access team to provide safety lines for us, so there were a lot of logistics to contend with around making sure we could cover the right areas. We were on site for a total of about 8 days, and really enjoyed talking to visitors to the site about what we were doing and why: people were particularly interested in the laser scanner and we’ve had to edit a lot of tourists (and seagulls) out of our point clouds!


KC getting the scanner as far along the southern terrace as possible!

So what did we find out? The earth resistance and GPR surveys taken together confirmed the locations of some of the walls and floors that have subsequently been found in the trenches, and hinted that the archaeology on the southern terrace had a different character than that on the eastern area. The magnetic susceptibility data also suggested clear differences between the two areas, with low values on the eastern area and higher values with internal patterning on the southern terrace. This suggested to us that on the southern terrace people were living or working, using fire either for heat and cooking or for industrial purposes. We could also see come strong patches of enhancement that lay between what were thought to be buildings, so we suggested there may be one larger building here instead. The eastern area showed no settlement related enhancement. So were the buildings there perhaps storehouses? Many of the already excavated buildings in this area have been interpreted as stores rather than dwellings.

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Earth resistance underway (with ropes!) on the southern terrace

The laser scans were useful not only to us but to the excavation team as well as they will form the basis for the topographical data being collected about the site. We were able to use them to make important topographic corrections to our radar profiles, without which interpretation would have been very difficult!

GPR survey on the southern terrace: this is where one of the walls was found

GPR survey on the southern terrace: this is where one of the walls was found

So, what next? Well, our first and most exciting job is going to be to get all the plans and sections back in from the excavation team and see how they match up with our interpretation, especially of the radar: we were able to survey a larger area than could be excavated, so we can refine our interpretation based on the dig and better predict what other walls and floors lie on the southern terrace. Ideally, we’d like to come back and do even more radar and see if we can cover the entire southern terrace: this might give us the best chance of understanding the exciting structures there and their immediate context. We would also like to do more scanning to provide detailed topographic data for the entire islands. The Tintagel Research Project is set to continue, so watch this space….

You can see more photos from our work on facebook!

You wouldn't beleive how many of these we had to delete from the sky in our scans!

You wouldn’t beleive how many of these we had to delete from the sky in our scans!