Medieval Archaeology

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 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 🙂


Hidden Archaeology in York

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Located in one of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful and archaeologically vibrant centres, our York office sits just beyond the medieval walls near Walmgate Bar, one of the four main and most complete medieval gateways into the heart of the city. Today the sun is shining and our team members are busy analysing data collected from recent excavations and geophysics projects, and preparing for the exciting projects which are starting in the next couple of weeks.

Mitchell Pollington (Operations Manager)

I spent a great morning having a look around (and under!) York’s medieval Guildhall and the adjacent ‘Hutments’ site, where we are going to be undertaking an extensive community excavation this August.

Everyone will have the opportunity to be involved with the project, and it’s all for free!


Interior of Guildhall – originally built in the 15th Century and restored after damage from raids in WW2, the stained glass window illustrates the history of York and the historical importance of the city.



Front of the Guildhall – as viewed from the rear of Mansion House


Common Lane – a hidden street beneath York’s Guildhall!


The ‘Hutments’ Site – the location of our excavations in August will be focused here. The existing building is situated on the site of a medieval monastery where Richard III stayed when in York!

Paul Clarke (Project Officer – Excavation)

Today I am in the office preparing for the upcoming York Guildhall community excavation in August, which promises to be one of the most exciting excavations in York for years! I’ve only just started working for  AOC but I have already worked on excavating a Romano-British ladder settlement in Brough over the past 3 weeks, which has turned up some really complex and fascinating archaeology – it’s a very wet site so it’s one for the palaeobotanists.


Some of our team busy in the office


Alice James (Project Officer – Geophysics)

This morning I finished writing a report on a gradiometer survey at St Andrews College and Moat near Acaster Selby. St  Andrew’s College was founded in 1470 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells and in an act of Parliament in the late 15th Century recorded as holding an estate of 40 acres in Nether Acaster. It is documented as being made up of the main College buildings and chapel which lie on top of a large square platform.  Although there are no standing remains of the college and its associated structures, the site contains earthwork remains including a moated enclosure and ridge and furrow. By using a gradiometer survey we have been able to accrue more information regarding the form and extent of these known features as well as identifying previously unrecorded features such as a series of enclosures.

This afternoon is going to be filled with the organisation and project management of the geophysics projects we will be conducting in the next couple of weeks. July and August will be busy, especially in the south of England. In mid-August we are going to carry out a GPR survey as part of our Guildhall project in collaboration with the University of York, which I am very excited about!

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St Andrew’s College and Moat – earthworks of the moat, which are still present in the modern landscape



Balancing a Bartington gradiometer before data collection


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I see dead people everywhere!

Hi everybody!

I would like to show you a nice photo in the excavation of a late-medieval cemetery, at Spain. I saw dead people everywhere…! But was nice, and required to be so careful! We did a visiting day after that, and the people went with a smile in the face. Proud, that’s the point. Archaeology, the way.

Greetings, and happy Day of Archaeology!

José A. Mármol

Medieval Castle of Zorita, Spain

P1350271Along the Tajo River around 90km east of Madrid, the ArchaeoSpain High School Field School is excavating the Medieval Castle of Zorita. The castle, said to have never been conquered by force, was built in the beginning of the 9th century as a Moorish fortress for Mohammed I of the Omayyad Dynasty of Córdoba. According to the Persian physician and writer Al-Razi, the Moors used the stones from the nearby abandoned Visigothic city of Recópolis to construct the walls. In 1174, the castle was given to the Order of Calatrava, one of Spain’s most famous group of knights. Zorita became the Order’s headquarters from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 13th centuries. Our students, hailing from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Canada, update us on their progress in units next to a Romanesque chapel inside the castle walls.

Samantha Odrowaz-Sekely, 16, Toronto, Canada:
For the past two weeks I have participated in the ArchaeoSpain program excavating at Castillo de Zorita de los Canes, in Guadalajara, Spain. This castle has a magnificent history: it was built by Arabs in the 9th century, then taken over by Christians, and it fell into the possession of the Calatrava Order. The most remarkable and thrilling find so far was a nearly complete skeleton. We found a skull, with a roof tile embedded in the head, in the first stratigraphic layer. As we continued digging around the skull, we uncovered a nearly complete skeleton! The skeleton, dubbed Rodrigo, was identified as male based on his hip structure. Rodrigo was missing both of his patellas, but was otherwise almost complete. We used small, delicate brushes to remove as much soil as possible while still providing the necessary amount of support for the skeleton. When it was time to remove Rodrigo, each set of bones was removed, starting with the left foot bones, and continued until the skull. Each set of bones was put in a separate bag, with a label to identify the bones. Overall, it is a truly exciting project!
Juan Merino, 17, Valencia, Spain:
We are a group of seven students and two professors who are digging in Zorita castle, in Guadalajara, Spain. The day starts at 6:30, with a quick breakfast and we immediately go up to the castle to start digging at 7:00. Today we were very excited because we were going to take “Rodrigo,” the skeleton we found a few days ago, out of his tomb. It was easier than expected, because Rodrigo’s tomb was only a hole in the ground, and a professional anthropologist helped us. Step by step, all the bones were put in boxes, one for the head, another for the left arm, etc. After a few minutes, the skeleton disappeared in front of my eyes, much faster than it had appeared.  This experience was very exiting for me. In fact, it’s completely different from high school and I can’t stop feeling happy and very interested about all that is happening these days at the site. It’s really an adventure.
Madison Taylor, 16, Knoxville, Tennessee:
Today is the tenth day of our three-week-long excavation of the Castillo de Zorita de los Canes in Guadalajara, Spain. I worked with Kate to clean and to excavate Layer 104, and to attempt to puzzle together what the small room could have been used for.
Layer 104 is in the northeastern corner of area 2 and approximately two and a half meters by three and a half meters. Layer 104 is surrounded by walls (units 105 and 106) that consist of stone and Roman-style plaster and was the first thing we cleaned with brushes and small picks. The dirt throughout the unit was a dark beige color and was very dry, sandy, and dusty and contained many rocks and river stones ranging in size from a half a centimeter radius to 15 cm in length; the rocks made scraping the surface of Layer 104 difficult at times. Also, there are many pieces of charcoal and gypsum ranging in size from grainy dust to 3 centimeters in length. Roof tiles exist throughout the sandy layers and into the layers underneath. Toward the center of the unit is a piece of iron about 12 centimeters long and three jawbones and other bones of goats and sheep. We removed the animal bones but left the iron, waiting to remove it with the earth around it intact tomorrow. We scraped away approximately 3-5 centimeters off of the surface of unit 104 using picks and trowels and brushes. Many more bones were found; all of the bones found are likely animal because we have only found animal skulls and each intact, recognizable bone is animal. Sometimes, there were pieces of charcoal beneath the bones.
Also found were many pieces of ceramic. Smooth, plain, clay-colored shards to large chunks of green and manganese pottery were found. Some pieces had ripples on one facet. The green and manganese plate pieces that were found had a white background with black and white striped patterns in the shape of an eye and spots and shapes of a bluish-green. These pieces are thought to be Arab because of the color and pattern. Also found were pieces of glass about a centimeter in length and very thin and unclear, and iron nails. Overall, ceramic outweighed any find in numbers; about fifty or more pieces were uncovered. Layer 104 contains many different types of objects from animal bones to shards of ceramic to glass to iron. This leads one to believe that this area may have been a rubbish pit. The unit is between the wall of a church and a room, and it is isolated and comparably small, and yields no whole skeletons or whole ceramic vessels. We will continue to excavate to find out if this was a rubbish pit and what was thrown away. The objects inside this unit may tell us who used this pit, what the people of the castle ate, what they used as vessels, and what they burned to cook or fuel a flame with (charcoal). The structure next to the rubbish pit is thought to be a room for a castle prior or priest; this might also help us understand what this corner was used for.
Kate Hodge, 17, Henderson, Kentucky:
Today we began by excavating around a house-shaped structure. I was digging in the stratigraphic layer 104, which is outside the walls of the house in the northeastern corner of Area 2.kate
My goal was to dig down through 104 to see if the two flanking walls had an end point. This question has not yet been answered, as the trench is not deep enough to tell. Layer 104 has gray-white colored soil that is very light, sandy, and extremely dry. The soil frequently yields white, flaky gypsum and chunks of charcoal that are 0.5 to 3 centimeters in diameter. We have found many bone and pottery fragments along with some iron and glass in this layer as well. All of the bone fragments are presumably animal because the most recognizable ones belonged to a sheep or goat. The pottery ranges in color from white, to green-blue, to black. Many of the pieces lack decoration, but some have geometric patters painted or stamped on. This layer is thought to be a trash area because of the volume of random pottery shards, charcoal lumps, iron pieces, and bone fragments.
Sydney Comstock, 16, Kensington, Maryland:
Today was just like any other day on the site, exciting and fascinating. As always, the walk up to Zorita Castle was filled with beautiful views, but the site was where the real finds were waiting.Sydney
The team continued digging in Trench Two, which turned into a room from a few large rocks that begged for us to investigate them. The doorway is facing west with a fireplace in the eastern end of the structure. After brushing and excavating the walls, the team started in on the floor. Working on the southern end of the room was tough going, the soil was quite compact with a sandy brown coloring. Using a little pick, I slowly began to level out stratigraphic Layer 102, which contained pieces of rocks, white gypsum, and some pottery fragments. As I was troweling out the pieces of ground I had just excavated, something didn’t fit in with the light brown coloring of the surroundings. A white, smooth stone had revealed itself and shone differently than all the usual finds. I picked it up and approached the director of the site. Immediately his face lit up and as he showed it to the other director she let out a squeal. As they explained to me that I had stumbled upon an ax head from the Neolithic age! I couldn’t believe it. I had held something thousands of years old and it had survived those many years to tell its story. The room, located directly next to the church, was presumed by our director to be a home of a priest who probably owned the stone. These smooth pieces that were made into ax heads were revered by the many people in the medieval age and were considered to have magical powers. The stone itself was about seven centimeters with a dull but cut edge. On the opposite end of the rock a chip was made so it could be attached to a stick by tying it with leather. This could not have been a greater start to the day.
The rest of the time was spent working on Layer 111 at the western end of the room by the doorway. Although finding the ax head was by far the highlight of my workday, excavating in this new layer was exciting as well. Here, the soil had contained many medieval roof tiles that had fallen when the ceiling collapsed. Those were photographed, drawn, and removed. This layer was also filled with charcoal and white gypsum, giving it an Oreo-like effect. The soil surrounding it was much darker and although it had a sandy feel, a small pick was needed for the firm parts. Altogether the day had been a great one, filled with interesting finds and new information. I wonder what will be discovered tomorrow.

Castles and Crowdfunding – Part Two

After the site visit this morning, I’ve spent the afternoon at my desk at home writing up part of a chapter of my PhD and deciding what I’m going to blog about in my weekly post. I set up to be able to write about experience of PhD research, or research which I’d like to incorporate into my PhD, but for one reason or other probably won’t find a home there. So tonight (I usually do this on a Sunday but this week I won’t be able to) I’ll post up my latest thoughts.

The part of my chapter I have been working on concerns north west Shropshire, which has been included in my study area because it shares very similar topography with north east Wales, but has been under ‘different’ ownership and government for hundreds of years. Within this area are three medieval deer parks which are all within a few miles of each other, and which are all almost identical in size at about 0.3 hectares. I’m not sure why this is yet, but I spent the afternoon looking at the available maps and aerial photographs trying to identify any common characteristics and pattern in their layout. It’s the hardest part of my research, but when I get it right it’s very rewarding.

Finally, I was overjoyed to see that the research and excavation project being run by a fellow PhD student had made it onto the BBC Wales news website.

Mark Baker has been working on establishing a chronology for the medieval and post medieval house at Brynkir (Longitude 52.969888; Latitude -4.201307). As part of my own research I identified a medieval deer park just to the south east of the house, and realised it related to a motte and bailey castle at Dolbenmaen (Longitude 52.964195; Latitude -4.225157) some  1.5km (0.9 miles) west.


The Park at Brynkir. The elongated oval in the centre of the picture marked in red is the park, and the house is in the trees to the top left of the park boundary.

Subsequently Mark and I agreed that an excavation of the boundary of the deer park would be incorporated in his research excavation this coming August, and my final job of the day has been to ring the BBC journalist in order to arrange to be interviewed on site talking about this discovery.

As I said this morning – the joy of archaeology is you never know what is going to happen next. So, if you are reading about the exploits of archaeologists for the first time or have come to this website to find out more, I hope we’ve all been able to inspire you into finding out more about our discipline.


Preparing for an public event at Chew Magna

Chew Magna poster download (doc)

Being a museum archaeologist, often means not doing archaeology but today…. I am!

We’re working with Richard Sermon, the Bath & North East Somerset Council’s senior archaeological officer to prepare for our event for the Festival of British Archaeology.

Each summer we leave the hot busy city and descend on a community to run an event highlighting the archaeology and history of the area.  This year we’re heading out to Chew Magna, a lovely rural village with Medieval origins, in Bath & North East Somerset.  Even the venue we’ll be in (the Old School Room) has an amazing Medieval hammer-beam roof.

So we’re getting out objects from the collection that have been excavated from the village to show and explain to visitors on the day.  Even small bits of pottery have a story to tell and we always share the secrets of how to date them (if it’s green-glazed it’s a fair bet its Medieval).

Archaeology is not just about digging and so a lot of our information and activities this year will be looking at what we call standing buildings (if they weren’t standing surely they’d be called ruins wouldn’t they?).  To save themselves money house-owners often rebuilt and modernised just the fronts of their houses, but behind the posh Georgian or swanky Victorian exterior there’s often a much earlier house lurking.

And by looking at old maps you can see the growth of a village even if its not documented. Chew Magna’s in the Domesday Book so that’s another bit of information we are using.

The event is on Saturday 14th July so there’s still time, to print the handout, write information for the displays, pack the objects, photocopy the trail…

Hope to see you there!

Susan Fox

Collections Manager, Roman Baths Museum, Bath