National Trust

Post ex and festivals

In the office today after two weeks out on a cliff edge excavating a burnt mound, not too unhappy as it is pouring outside and almost dark!

Its been a game of two halves today as I start on the post excavation tasks from the dig and also prepare for a Festival of British Archaeology event at A la Ronde near Exmouth.

Seatown, Dorset. The burnt mound can be seen eroding from the cliff about a meter down

Seatown, Dorset. The burnt mound can be seen eroding from the cliff about a meter down

There are flints to process and some pottery to clean. We also took lots of samples from the burnt mound so need to think what we need to know from them, and also sort out which charcoal sample we will send off for radiocarbon dating. We found two iron age ovens as well as the bronze age burnt mound, so the samples and pottery span over both ages. As for the flints they range from microliths to possible lathe tools a real mixed bag.


A lovely scraper from Seatown burnt mound excavations

A lovely scraper from Seatown burnt mound excavations



Lovely sherd of decorated pottery from the Seatown excavations

Lovely sherd of decorated pottery from the Seatown excavations

The black burnt mound at Seatown Dorset

The black burnt mound at Seatown Dorset

The ovens above the burnt mound level at Seatown Dorset

The ovens above the burnt mound level at Seatown Dorset

The event at A la Ronde will be a small one woman band affair, with lots of activities for the young one to do, environmental sort trays, finds identification, colouring, and a bit of knightly brass rubbing 🙂 another mixed bag!

More about the mound and all the other things we do as archaeologists here at the National Trust south west can be found on our blog

Digging at a Cliff Top Palace

This year we are now in the fourth season of excavation at the Bishop’s Palace at Downhill, on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Many people will know this site from the iconic Mussenden Temple. Over the past three seasons, we have cleared out and uncovered many of the domestic buildings of the amazing building, showing us what life was like for some of those who worked in the big house. The Palace was built in the 1770s by the Earl Bishop, Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry.  During construction, the Earl Bishop was often on the continent and continually sent back instructions for alterations to the house.  This has created a convoluted house that has been considerably altered; now a team of archaeologists are now attempting to understand these structures and conserve them for the future.  The Palace and much of the demesne is owned by the National Trust and the whole excavation has been run by the NT archaeologist for Northern Ireland, Malachy Conway, and a team of dedicated volunteers (some professional archaeologists and some interested amateurs)

This season we have been beset by bad weather and a small volunteer workforce.  Our aim this year is to prepare the West Yard for public access and to finish clearing the northern part of the East Yard.  I have spent a few weeks refilling the gas holder that we spent the past two seasons excavating, it’s approximately 7m wide and 3m deep.  On the Day of Archaeology, we were all digging in the East Yard, working on the entrance to an animal enclosure.  Across the area, there is a scatter of sherds of white ceramic, probably plates used by the RAF when they were stationed here.  This season has not yet provided any interesting finds; unlike previous seasons, which have revealed Roman statue fragments and a Bronze Age bowl.  Much of our excavation has been assisted by a digger and mini-dumper, moving spoil and masonry around the site.  We now have two weeks left to finish clearing the yard.


As well as volunteering with the National Trust on the Downhill Project, I’m doing a part-time PhD in medieval archaeology.  My research is looking at 14th-Century manors in England, recreating the buildings through an analysis of the annual manorial accounts.  Many of these sites have been lost or drastically altered, so documents are one of the few ways of studying them.  I’m looking at the types of buildings that were on the manor, the choice of building materials and their maintenance.  So far, I have only looked at a small number of manors, but there are already patterns emerging of high status buildings being constructed from very different materials to the agricultural ones.

On Day of Archaeology, I was translating accounts from the manor of Oldington in Worcestershire.  Once you get an understanding of medieval Latin, medieval accounts are not that hard to read – they follow standard formulae and have a limited vocabulary.  But they are quite fun to read, as they describe the daily life on the manor, often naming the people doing the work and describing what they are doing, you can create a vivid picture of the bustling manor and its inhabitants.  This is a really interesting research project and will create a new understanding of medieval manorial buildings and their construction and repair.

Bits and Pieces

A day of many colours, it started with dark grey clouds and a blue green sea with white-topped waves, as I headed to a finds drop! I had to hand over a box of finds to a National Trust colleague,  from a dig we did on Brownsea Island so they can create a display for Festival of the British Archaeology event at the end of July. A drive through the glistening rain to the Warminster office, past lush green trees and between kamikaze birds jumping out of bushes! First another finds drop, this time a feely bag activity for another NT  colleague to use in Gloucestershire for FofBA. Then up the stairs past magnolia walls to my desk, first sort out more activities stuff for yet another FofBA event, this time  at Corfe Castle, spinning and weaving kit, colouring sheets, a notice to say we are closed for lunch (so my volunteers can get a break) and some pictures of mosaics. One thing I really wanted to get done was a photomontage in memory of ‘Gerry the Rope’, who passed away recently and we  will miss him so much at our event. He was a historical interpreter who had been coming to Corfe Castle for about twenty years doing rope making (both Medieval and Victorian), games, pole lathe demonstrations and candle making. He was a great communicator and friend.

As late afternoon approached I had to turn my mind to getting everyting ready for our excavations that start on Monday!  write and print risk assessment, get day volunteer form printed, and  go to the shed to sort the tools.  We are digging up the last of the mosaics at Chedworth Roman Villa; they had been re-covered by the Victorians. It’s the last part of a big Heritage Lottery Fund project to put a new cover building over the mosaics and the reinterpretation of the site. Three weeks of mosaic digging, Yay! Red, purple, green, yellow, blue ‘gorilla’ buckets, soft bruhses, hand shovels and a pick axe!  The last item is for prising up the tarmac path. Note to self ‘bring foot pump to blow up flat wheelbarrow tyre’

Nearly the end of the day,  just a couple of things to do before the weekend. One is to send a flint report, web link and finds drawing to an artist, Simon Ryder, who is making an art work for the ExLab project, part of he Cultural Olympiad down in Weymouth. He is getting a 3D scan and printed model of a Mesolithic Portland Chert microlith which we excavated from a site on the cliff edge near Eype in West Dorset, an exciting project. The final job was to check a newsletter article about a pottery grenade found at Corfe Castle and finally identifed 25 years after it was dug up!  Thanks to the Wessex Archaelogy  finds specialist for posting the pot on the Medieval Pottery Research Group facebook site, the wonders of social media.

So into my Red Berlingo and southwards to Weymouth, with the wheelbarrow rattling in the back.




Day of Archaeology as a PhD student

Hi.  I’m a part time PhD student researching thirteenth-century manorial buildings using medieval documents.  I’m studying at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I spent most of Friday analysing information from manorial accounts for three manors in the south east of England.  Medieval documents are not the usual focus of an archaeological PhD, but I am interested in the information about buildings that they contain.  These accounts have lots of information about what the buildings were roofed with, what the walls were made of and the different types of buildings on the manor.  There is also interesting entries, like the mole catcher, who is employed to catch moles in the lord’s pasture, or the castrating of pigs.  Some times specific historical events are recorded, like the great storm of 1361-2.  The only problem is that the accounts are in medieval Latin, which I had no knowledge of until last September.  I’ve had to learn medieval palaeography to be able to decipher the hand writing and translate the Latin.

The most interesting outcome of my analysis was that there appears to be an increase in spending on the maintenance of buildings at the end of the 1330s.  Some of the manors spent more money on repairing the buildings and others rebuild some of their buildings.  I’m yet to understand why this change occurs and so far I have only identified it in four manors, but it is a pattern that I will look out for as I investigate more manors across England.  My goal is to advance our limited knowledge of what medieval manorial buildings looked like and what they were built from, as well as how much maintenance they required.

On Friday evening, I headed up to Northern Ireland’s north coast to visit a site that I have been excavating with the National Trust.  The site is the eighteenth-century palace of the Earl Bishop, Frederick Hervey [Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol].  This has been the third year of the project and we have now uncovered many structures in the two domestick yards to the rear of the house that have been hidden since the Second World War.  There have been loads of finds of ceramic, glass, bone and iron; we needed large plastic storage boxes for the finds, instead of the usual finds bags.  We are already planning to return next year to investigate further areas of the palace.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to do some practical archaeology, it makes a change from reading medieval documents.  While I was up this weekend, filming was taking place for the next season of ‘Game of Thrones’.

I also spent a bit of time working on stuff for the Ulster Archaeological Society Newsletter.  As Assistant Editor, I have to write up notes from the Society’s lectures and field-trips, as well as contributing other notes.  This is a great way to keep informed of what is going on in Irish archaeology – Twitter and Facebook is a great help in doing this.

Unlocking the past – Festival of British Archaeology

Spent the day running an event for British Archaeology festival, at Corfe Castle in Dorset. We had our National Trust activities, environmental sort trays, mosaic making, spinning and weaving, etc. The Ancient Wessex Network, a group of archaeologists and artists/artisans with their activities – prehistoric pottery, wood carving, metal casting, art works, archaeological illustration and beads. Also Gerry the rope with his Victorian encampment and games. Along with the County council historic environment department and Finds liasion officer. Had some great feed back on our comment cards with one memorable one from a child under What have you learnt today, ‘that even a stone has a history’ Its great to spend time with young people with bright eyes and lots of questions so hope fully there is still a future for our past. Now time for bed, perchance to dream …………..

3. Crickley Hill: an outline of post-excavation analysis

I dug at Crickley Hill in 1993, but began research on the Crickley Hill archive in 1997, as part of my MA in Archaeological Research at the University of Nottingham. My dissertation would focus upon the late- to post-Roman activity on the site, and provide a platform from which I could continue research in order to publish Volume 6 in the series of site reports. This report will cover the late pre-Roman Iron Age (‘Period 3c’), Roman, and Early Medieval (‘Period 4’: also called the ‘Early Middle Ages‘, or ‘Dark Ages‘) phases of occupation and ritual within the Early Iron Age hill fort. In this post, I’m going to provide a brief outline of work on the Crickley Hill archive