Festival of Archaeology

Tintagel II – a not as wet as I expected festival of archaeology

If you don’t know about our English Heritage research and excavation project at Tintagel, have a look at my Day of Archaeology post from last year, or catch up with the work so far during the 2017 season on Twitter or Facebook.

Checking the weather forecast the day before, it looked like it was going to be a very wet visit.

I even went out and bought a new large umbrella.

The purpose of heading to Tintagel was to see progress on the research excavations, where the fantastic team from Cornwall Archaeological Unit and their volunteers have been uncovering a series of inter-linked early medieval buildings, dating from the 5-7th centuries AD. The team has been commissioned by English Heritage to try and understand more about the site at this time. It seems there was an elite settlement, fortified town and trading post there but a full set of buildings from this period has never been excavated with modern archaeological techniques before. I was keen to see how they were getting on!

Secondly, I was also taking a new colleague, Dr Nick Holder, to the site for the first time. Nick has recently joined my properties research team at English Heritage and will be taking over from me on this particular project as it goes forward. So this was a good chance to show him the site, introduce him to people and discuss the various research and visitor projects currently taking place.

And finally, it is our Festival of Archaeology week at Tintagel, and various members of staff and people involved in the project have volunteered (or been volunteered) to lead tours for our visitors as part of the week of activites. I was due to be leading two tours, one at 12noon and one at 2pm. I’d chosen to focus my tour on the headland plateau, taking people around the various ruins and buildings that tell us about the early medieval settlement on the site.

The forecast had improved dramatically overnight and on arrival in Tintagel village it was spitting with rain but not too bad. We headed straight up to see the excavations, bumping into James (excavation site manager) and Doug (visitor site manager) on the steps on the way up.

The trenches are looking absolutely fantastic. James and Brett showed us the key discoveries – both interior and exterior surfaces, a possible hearth, really well preserved stone walling and all kinds of exciting finds. We had a discussion about possible changes to our backfilling and preservation strategy, about radiocarbon dating and environmental sampling, potential floor surfaces etc. One new interesting discovery is that the walls are held together with a firm grey clay, so these weren’t just drystone wall buildings.

Photograph of the Tintagel excavations 2017

The well-preserved wall and doorway at the upper level of the excavations.

Photograph of the Tintagel excavations 2017

Here you can see that some of the walls partly slipped down into the building as it decayed. And you can see the grey clay matrix which holds the wall together.

Photograph of Tintagel excavations 2017

Overview of the excavations, with volunteers hard at work! A possible hearth lies under the black plastic in the left-hand corner and a nice paved floor is in the central trench.

Photograph of Tintagel excavations 2017

The view from the excavations takes some beating. Even on a wet and windy day like today! That’s Tintagel parish church on the mainland, where certain elite people from the settlement were buried in the 6th century AD.

My tours of the early medieval settlement went really well – about 15 people for the first one and 6 for the second (it was pouring with rain by then!) but all interested people with good questions. Managed to make the kids make faces and say ‘eurgh’ at the mention of fish custard in the amphorae! Luckily I had a radio mic so not all my words were blown away in the wind.

The weather worsened in the afternoon so it was a bit of a battle against the wind and rain as I showed my new colleague around Tintagel properly, discussing various future projects, publishing my research on the site and decision-making behind the interpretation project we delivered last year. Then we returned to the excavations to see some of the key finds. Some of the volunteers were asking why I wasn’t in the trench with them – I wish!

On the way back up to the village we bumped into Neil Burridge, master metalworker, who had been doing silver smithing up in the mainland courtyard all week for our visitors as part of the Festival of Archaeology. He’d had a fantastic week so I was really pleased to have asked him along to help out. Giving us a lift back up in his van, we talked about the lead and silver (galena) mine under the island and the fact that the excavations have turned up some crucible fragments this week – so metalworking was certainly happening at Tintagel in the early medieval period, as well as in 2017!

After a long drive home with no voice left and tired legs after all those steps, I’ll be glad to have a hot bath! Although I’ll be handing over responsibility for the Tintagel research project to Nick, I’ll certainly be keeping up with the key discoveries and analysis over the next few years – there will be lots more to say about this magical site.


As this is the last ever Day of Archaeology (sob!) I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to the volunteer team who dreamt up this wonderful idea and give up their own days of archaeology to edit, monitor and publish posts. May we all have many more days of archaeology in the future.




Becky Peacock: Pop-Up Museums and Outreach Preparations

I am Becky Peacock and I am a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology. I worked as the Outreach Officer for the Westgate Project in Oxford during 2015 and 2016. The Westgate Project is a commercial redevelopment of a large shopping complex in the centre of Oxford, with clients Westgate Oxford Alliance and contractors Laing O’Rourke. The excavations are the largest ever undertaken in Oxford city. The Westgate project won the Best Archaeological Project award at the British Archaeological Awards in July this year and the outreach programme which included a Pop Up Museum, schools programme, site open days, lecture series and community collaborations were contributing factors to this achievement. It was through working on this project that I have become more involved with outreach events at our Oxford office.

An archaeologist removes soil from around a densely packed group of loomweights in a trench

The loomweights discovered at Thame, Oxfordshire

This week I have been unpacking the displays from our very successful event in Thame for the Festival of Archaeology. We had 400 visitors come and visit us and our Joint Venture partners Cotswold Archaeology, who we excavated a large site in Thame with in 2015. It was here we found a previously unknown neolithic Causewayed Enclosure and some fantastic early neolithic pottery. We also found evidence for iron age weaving. A decorated bone comb, a bone gouge for making holes in cloth or leather and a polished bone toggle, were among the finds from this period on display. Alongside these we also had evidence for weaving from the Roman and Saxon periods. The Saxon spindle whorls and a complete loom weight from the sunken featured building were a highlight. My favourite find is the bone toggle as it looks like it could have come off a duffel coat today and so much work has gone into making it.

Two children in replica Roman costume smiling

An Oxford Archaeology Roman activity day

Today I have been preparing for our next event in the middle of August. It is ‘Potty about the Romans!’ Family Day with the Museum of Oxford. Since our Westgate Pop Up Museum was hosted by them this spring, we have joined together to host this event and one for the Oxfordshire Science Festival at the end of June. It was hugely enjoyable welcoming the public to see our specialists in science and 3D modelling and environmental archaeology and to learn about the application of science in our understanding of finds. This time we will be looking at Roman life in Oxfordshire through the finds from our sites. There will be a chance to handle some objects and we will have information about some significant discoveries we have made at sites such as Gill Mill and the Bicester to Oxford Rail Improvement Scheme. I have spoken to many of our Post Excavation specialists as they see all the finds from the sites and can pick out some fantastic standout items. They also provide summary information about the finds for me as they produce the detailed report for the site publication. All our displays involve a high level of research behind the scenes so we can show finds and tell as accurate a story as possible about the site, often a long time in advance of the final analysis and publication. I have also been familiarising myself with the Roman games and activities we have in store for the families that come along on the day.

This has been my Day in Archaeology for 2016.

Becky Peacock is a Project Officer at Oxford Archaeology’s South office in Oxford. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our award-winning project at Westgate Oxford, visit our website: http://oxfordarchaeology.com/community/westgate-excavations

Greetings from Randall Manor Year 9!

Hello from a wet, muddy, but happy corner of medieval Kent! We have been on site for 5 days now, as our 9th year on site at Randall Manor gets underway. It all started with scorching sunshine and new walls!


Day one RMS14

As the week progressed everyone has worked so hard in the new trenches for this year. Area 15 focused on walls we had found in 2011 and after a week of hard graft by all, we have uncovered the flint footings to a new building, east of the aisled hall discovered in 2011…


Pauline and Daniel working hard to uncover the join between buildings on site…RMS14…

We are also spending a 9th year examining the complex stratigraphy of the detached kitchen building. The archaeology has been well preserved under a layer of demolition and samples taken from the floor surfaces have already revealed substantial information on the medieval diet of the site’s occupiers, including lots of lovely fish bone.


A section through the kitchen floors…RMS14

After 5 days, what has struck me the most is the overwhelming enthusiasm from both young and old and the love of archaeology shared by all on site.

We have hosted 4 schools this week: Danecourt Special Needs, Valley Park in Maidstone, Manor Community from Swanscombe and Shorne Primary. Special mention must be made to Trevor for all his assistance and supervision of the schools on site and to Richard and Bernice for giving the children an introduction to archaeology and finds handling sessions.

Even today, with drizzle and rain making eventful appearances all day, over 20 volunteers turned up and got stuck in.


Our new trench, day 5, RMS14

We have enjoyed 9 years of Lottery funding for archaeology projects in the Park, but with the current project coming to a close, Kent County Council stepped in this year to fund the dig, so a big thank you to them!

Most importantly though I would like to pay tribute to all the volunteers who have supported the dig over the years, from the dig tasters, day diggers, new enthusiasts, to the band of highly skilled veterans from archaeology groups across Kent, who come back year after year and make the dig the success it is. They make new diggers feel welcome, are always on hand with helpful advice or a trusty spade, give up their time to show the public around the site and make the wider archaeology project in Shorne Woods Country Park such a joy to be a part of.

They find my trowel when I lose it, recover my wedding ring when I drop it, ferry equipment to and from site and enthuse people of all ages who come to the dig…

So on this Day of Archaeology I salute all volunteers who make archaeology projects across the country such a success and to those who volunteer behind the scenes at the Day of Archaeology itself!

We are a quarter of the way through this year’s season, on site every day to the 27th of July. On the 26th and 27th of July we have the Woodville Household medieval re-enactors in the Park, all part of the Festival of Archaeology…

For more information do have a look at www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent or @ArchaeologyKent

We hope to have a new landscape archaeology project up and running for next year’s day of archaeology, looking at the landscape around Cobham village, so do watch this space 🙂


Gazebos and garden furniture

After this morning’s excitement (being on the radio and Britain’s oldest piece of iron- see my previous blogs) I have spent this afternoon away from my normal den and been at The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. After packing up my selection of objects for tomorrow’s object handling session (flints, beaker, Anglo-Saxon bling and a few other bits and bobs) I drove over to the museum to unload and lock it all securely away until tomorrow, and then helped out the team here, erecting gazebos in the garden and moving the garden furniture to make enough space for tomorrow’s reenactment group, Dumnonika. We’ll have crafts for children too, thanks to the Education and Outreach team, and now (fingers crossed) I think everything is ready to go for the opening day of the Festival of Archaeology tomorrow. We’ve been planning it for months, and its really satisfying to see it all coming together, and we are already starting to think about next year’s festival, the main thought being we should begin planning much earlier!
Anyway, my 5:30 start seems a long way off now, and I have only had one bacon butty since then and another long day ahead of me tomorrow, so I am signing off to go home and lounge in the bath. Its been an unusual day, a long day, but a very satisfying day. The kind of day that makes me think there is no better job than being a Curator of Archaeology, and how very, very lucky I am!

Manchester Museum – #cakehenge, smashing pots and wood conservation

Today is our last day of family and adult activities all about archaeology which Manchester Museum has organised to join in with the UK wide Festival of Archaeology!  In our Discovery Centre families are busily digging in sand boxes, painting Greek paper plates and making clay amulets. Festival of Archaeology is a great opportunity for the Museum to highlight its rich archaeology collections.  This year we’ve had a Big Saturday where people were able to wash finds from and meet the archaeologists, Whitworth Park Archaeology and History Project, smashed pots and painted casts of pre-dynastic hippo bowls to find out about the art and science of conservation and even decorate cookies to look like scarab beetles.  There has also been an experimental archaeology workshop looking at how a Coptic sock was knitted and a talk on wood conservation by Ian Panter, from York Archaeology Trust.  A real highlight of the Festival has been a donation of a bronze age burial cake (as part of our #cakehenge campaign)!

Post written by Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes.  Follow Anna on @MuseumMeets 

@littleminsbakery's bronze age #cakehenge c. Manchester Museum

@littleminsbakery’s bronze age #cakehenge c. Manchester Museum