Community Archaeology in Roman Æclanum

This summer, I was fortunate enough to work on a community archaeology event centred around the Roman town of Æclanum, along the Appian Way (modern Passo di Mirabella, Italy). The role of this type of archaeology in connecting local communities to their heritage is significant, with many possibilities for creativity and fun. Our teams included scholars from several international institutions and students from over 70 universities, which added to the diversity of ideas and approaches for our Open Day.

The directors of the Æclanum excavation, led by the University of Edinburgh and the Apolline Project, wanted to begin developing a presence within the community to encourage future seasons of public engagement and interest.

What made this experience challenging and exciting was that it was my first time at the helm of a community archaeology project, and it needed to be delivered in Italian. There were many things to consider when beginning to create materials and plan events. I approached the project from the ground up, so to speak: the first step was to establish the directors’ aims and objectives, then to research how previous and current community archaeology projects conducted their own programs, i.e. their methodologies. By doing so, the questions of methodology, and of desired outcomes that needed to be addressed in the Æclanum project, would be more comprehensively realized.


One of our aims was to come up with educational games and materials that would engage the schoolchildren and adult visitors on the open day and beyond. As an illustrator and archaeologist, foundational elements were essential to design and establish a consistency in the materials for the site that were accurate representations but also a bit fun. We came up with a site logo that represented the wolf, which is regionally and historically significant to the region of Irpinia.

Illustration for social media

It was a lot of fun developing the style to create the characters, images, and icons that we would use for the site. The site maps were designed with a comic style, which could be easily understood and read by any visitor to the site. Larger print items and digital materials (which could be accessed online) shared the comic style, to appeal broadly and convey information colourfully and effectively.

One of the most exciting things about doing illustration work on an ongoing excavation, and developing materials for an open day, is the things that you discover can be woven into the displays within a few days! An inscription that was found on a Friday was drawn, digitized and turned into a stamp by the following week! It was incredibly cool for me to be a part of that.

As the buses rolled in, our supervisors and students showed their expertise and enthusiasm for archaeology, with the visitors of all ages participating in the activities and tours. Based on their feedback, we were thrilled by the positive response, and grateful for input on areas which they would like to see or experience more.

What surprised me the most during this process was the importance of flexibility and fluidity. It is impossible to know how many people will turn up to an open day, and having great tours and activity tables can come down to contingency plans and experienced public speakers. Similarly, some activities, which the archaeology students were engaged in during the event, became immediate hits with the children who took to the work brilliantly! Things that weren’t planned necessarily to be interactive developed that way throughout the day, and it was fantastic to have the young visitors inform us about how and with what they wanted to interact!

With many exciting ways being developed to engage new audiences and young people with community archaeology, I am thrilled to be able to work in such a dynamic and creative area of archaeology.



Charlotte Walton: The Life of an Archaeological Illustrator

Being an archaeological illustrator can be a very varied job through creating trench plans and digitising excavations to preparing figures for publication and display materials as well as drawing small finds and pottery. Often having to flick between any one of these things in one day.

I have to use a range of software including AutoCAD, QGIS and Adobe Creative Suite on a daily basis, and relish the chance to sit at the drawing board to draw some lovely pottery by hand.

At the moment I am drawing three bells from Hinxton Genome Project, one is highly decorated with diagonal lines and crucifixes.

A desk showing grapics tools for illustrating archaeological artefacts

The tools of the trade

A close-up of a sketch of a crotal bell

A close-up of my bell drawing

Recently I have been getting to grips with geomatics and learning how to set out trenches and record features on site using the GPS. I got issued with my very first set of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and went to my first excavation (not bad for being in archaeology for nearly 10 years). The day consisted of finding my way through brambles, climbing over gates, and recording some very exciting Anglo-Saxon burials.

Charlotte Walton is an Illustrator Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our specialist graphics services, visit our website:

Picture perfect: a day in the life of an archaeological illustrator

By Hannah Faux, Senior Illustrator (specialising in finds illustration) at MOLA.

Hannah Faux, MOLA illustrator, works on some flint drawings (c) MOLA

Hannah Faux, MOLA illustrator, works on some flint drawings (c) MOLA.

Fridays are always very busy in the Drawing Office at MOLA, so we are starting the day with coffee and biscuits, as is required.

I often work on several projects simultaneously, but today I’ll just be focusing on the one. The finds from this London-based site range from prehistoric to medieval, and include pottery, small finds and flints.

One of Hannah's small finds illustrations (c) MOLA

One of Hannah’s small finds illustrations (c) MOLA

Today I’ll be preparing my pencil drawings for checking by our finds specialists. Those that have already been signed-off can be inked and scanned. We still use traditional pen and ink and combine this with digital methods.  I’m particularly looking forward to inking the flints!

An illustration of a prehistoric flint by MOLA illustrator Hannah Faux (c) MOLA

An illustration of a prehistoric flint by MOLA illustrator Hannah Faux (c) MOLA

We’re very lucky to have such a great variety of lovely objects pass through the Drawing Office here at MOLA and it makes the work most satisfying.


Art and Archaeology

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler.

Today is a really great day, as we are launching a new art and archaeology project at Kidwelly Castle – two new comics, illustrated by the acclaimed artist Pete Fowler, famed for his Super Furry Animals album cover work. I really love Pete’s style of work, and the bold use of colours really brings these old Welsh myths and legends alive for 21st century audiences.

Branwen is a retelling of an ancient Mabinogi myth linked to Harlech Castle. When Branwen is punished for the actions of one of her siblings, her brother Brân — a giant king — goes to war to avenge her. When I was little this tale was one of my favourites, and these images have stayed with me.

The second comic is the story of Gwenllian which took place in south Wales, near Kidwelly Castle, and tells the real-life tale of the warrior princess who led a revolt in the twelfth century. A real female heroine.

As a child I fell in love with the stories: they are extraordinary tales of the medieval Welsh world.

This is a land where white horses appear magically, where a giant King can stride across the sea, there is a woman called Blodeuwedd made entirely of flowers, and goats that mysteriously changed into wild boars, not forgetting that it is within the pages of a Mabinogion tale that King Arthur makes his first appearance.

I remember my Dad reading the stories to me at bedtime, and just really loved the unpredictable and twisting plots, the mythical Welsh language and the larger than life characters.

Let’s not forget how these beautifully told stories have influenced how archaeology is presented today – in works such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones! A real Welsh legacy of these works.

You can get free high-quality printed copies of the comics at Kidwelly and Harlech castles, but we also have free PDF versions which you can download here:

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here











Working on the Butts

It’s a job which involves using AutoCAD bringing in the plans from 27 trenches dug over a year of excavation under the footprint of the Hive which incidentally is where we now work.
I’m about to make some edits to the last site drawing which flagged up a problem before starting work on the overall period plan layout.

When we’ve completed it the report will be available on-line.

Loads of great stuff – Roman ovens and Post-med casting debris are a some of highlights, but another great bunch of finds which crossed our desks are the gaming counters made from recycled bit of Roman pot.

A Day at the Shopping Mall CSI lab (Conservation Science Investigations)

A bit of an introduction and general update:

I am the conservation manager at “Anglo-Saxon CSI:Sittingbourne” [ / facebook / @CSIsitt], we reported from the lab last year and are very pleased to be taking part in Day of Archaeology again…

Our project has had some periods of closure due to lack of funding over the past year, and we are in the midst of a fundraising campaign at the moment and seeking out new ways to fund conservation of the 2nd half of the Meads cemetery; as well as expand and take forward the CSI shopping mall lab concept. We are open 10-4 Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the moment, and possibly might add Saturdays for July and August. Although we had to stop conservation work for a large part of last year, work on recording the large bead assembly, and reviewing the results of the conservation work took place, and the Assessment Report for Meads II is with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust editors and hopefully out soon. I shall be away for most of the next 2 months (family illness and then conserving on site for Rutgers University Dig in the Upper Sabina Tiberia Valley, Italy). So today we started to confirm plans to ‘down scalpels’ and carry out a further review of the conservation work and invite volunteers and visitors to attempt reconstructions of our grave groups while I am away. We also need to compile a list of research questions we may have about materials we might want to investigate further, with the portable Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) that is coming to the lab soon – thanks to a generous scientific equipment grant that has recently been awarded to Oxford University (RLAHA) for the CSI project and general conservation use, by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Our partners, Sittingbourne Heritage Museum have counted well over 18,000 visitors to date; and last summer’s count of conservation volunteer hours topped 5,000 !!

The morning’s activities:

Heritage Studies MA student Vicky Price interviewing artist Rob Bloomfield about his work with CSI.


Volunteer Vicky Price (Heritage Studies [contemporary practice] Kingston University, MA student] and I discussed her work on shield studs from grave 111, and her main task for the day – her desire to interview me and our resident artist, Rob Bloomfield for our views on the relationship between art & science in our work, and processes of how we are working with the CSI project, for her dissertation (working title: “Narrative, craft and the investigative conservator”)

Vicky’s interview with Rob then turned into a larger discussion about authenticity vs. creativity in his drawings and also his observations that the work of the investigative conservator is a bit like that of a sculptor, but at opposite ends of the spectrum… and he came up with the term “intricate deconstruction”. It is great to have such a wide mix of people involved with this conservation project… and really great to have Rob’s fabulous range of illustrations – today he was sketching ideas for a poster to advertise summer workshops and this also resulted in a possible new T-shirt design, an Anglo-Saxon Warrior (We have an unusually high proportion of warrior graves at our site)… unfortunately, the sword ended up looking more Roman than Anglo-Saxon, so this is not the final copy – it is an interesting and sometimes tricky collaboration… Rob is an unemployed artist, and this is his first experience working with a professional archaeological project.

Rob’s sketches for designing a poster advertising summer workshops “Hands on the Past”

Rob’s Anglo-Saxon Warrior drawing (although sword and scabbard should be longer)

A Day in the Life of an Illustrator

First off I should say that I always find it quite uneasy calling myself an Illustrator. To me illustrator conjurs up images of amazing artefact and reconstruction drawings; I am not one of those, I deal with plans, sections, maps using CAD, GIS and Adobe Illustrator, as well as carrying out graphic design and web design.

Today I have three main tasks to deal with:

1. Carry out edits to the illustrations for a site that AOC excavated a while ago, and is now ready to be published.
2. Finish designing a pair of interpretation boards that will eventually be placed by a Neolithic cairn.
3. Produce some maps using GIS for our York office so that they have them ready for carrying out a heritage assessment

On top of this I normally have lots of small tasks given to me over the course of a working day. These can be to place a news item on our website and then tweet a link to all of our followers, to design & produce a trenching plan for evaluations, to edit/enhance photographs, to PDF documents ready to be sent to clients (my machine is one of the few capable of producing PDFs) and so on.

7:15 I’m in the office, cup of tea made as the computer boots up and logs in. Straight away there’s an email asking me to produce some plates for an HBR report. A small job that will only take 10-15 minutes. Time to load up InDesign and make some plates!