A Day with PRAM-CV: researching Early Medieval rural settlements in Castelo de Vide (Portugal)


Pram-CV is a research project in archaeology which aims to study the early medieval peasant communities that lived in the territory of Castelo de Vide, a Portuguese village in the northern region of Alentejo. The Pram-CV is hosted by the Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM, FCSH/NOVA) and supported by the Câmara Municipal of Castelo de Vide.

This year we are back to Castelo de Vide for another summer of archaeological field work and public outreach.

As a way of trying to get the local community involved into our research, this year we are promoting the program “Archaeologist for a day”. By giving the participants a taste of what real day to day archaeology feels like, we hope to achieve a better understanding of the archaeological practice and create lasting bonds with the archaeological Heritage.

On this Day of Archaeology a team of PramCV researchers is digging a test-pit inside an early medieval farmhouse. Our average day goes like this:

We leave the village at 6:00 a.m. sharp and arrive at the site after a 15-minute jeep ride and a 10-minute walk.

As soon as we arrive we take advantage of the fact that the sun is not fully out yet and usually take extra pictures. This year we are using photogrammetry as a recording tool and so far, it has been working pretty well.

Then we carry on with the excavation. Due to the acidity of the granite soils we’re working in, it’s very difficult to recover organic materials. Most of our findings include pottery shards, metal utensils and slags and stone tools. All meaningful finds locations are recorded inside the excavation grid through three-dimensional referenciation (x, y and z coordinates).


By 9:00 we take a small break to have something to eat and stretch our legs and backs.

We keep on digging until about 1:00 p.m. By this time the temperature is around 40º Celsius and its time to head back. We usually have a beer at Martinho’s, a small bar just outside the village.

Then we have lunch at the village’s Cultural Centre, cooked by Dona Antónia, our beloved cook. We always have vegetable soup, a second dish usually made with local products and a piece of fruit as desert.

After a well-deserved shower and a small break, we go back to work in the office. This includes the treatment and analysis of the ceramic finds (washing, inventory, description), organizing the excavation pictures and drawings… we keep on working until about 7:30 p.m. when it’s time for another beer just before dinner. Some days we have snails, a very typical appetizer during the Portuguese summer.


The next day we’re off again at 6:00 a.m. so we usually go to bed really early.

This is the 3rd year we’ve been excavating within the PramCV project. The results obtained so far show evidence of a complex rural society that farmed this land between the 5th and the 8th centuries. We have already excavated several farmsteads with evidence of both living areas (fireplaces, domestic pottery…) and associated activities, such as weaving, forge and cereal grinding. We have also excavated olive press structures that seem to be in use at the same time. Both domestic and productive structures were usually covered by roof tiles. We have been systematically recording the weight of all tile fragments recovered, allowing to reconstruct tiles density and dispersion. We have weighed more than 3500 kg so far!


At the same time, in all the identified archaeological sites we have rock-cut graves, dug into granite outcrops located near the houses and press structures. There are several theories about the meaning of this unusual funerary structures but one thing seems clear so far: they were built in direct co-relation with the structures and thus play a major role during surface surveys.

In August we will be excavating with a group of archaeology students from the FCSH of Nova University Lisbon and hoping to have more “Archaeologists for a Day”!

For more details: http://arqueopramcv.jimdo.com/

The project’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocBMcfYuv4g


Pram-CV: Looking for the early medieval peasants in northwestern Serra de São Mamede (Castelo de Vide, Portugal).

Pram-CV is a research project in archaeology which aims to study the early medieval peasant communities that lived in the territory of Castelo de Vide, a Portuguese village in the northern Alentejo region. The Pram-CV is hosted by the Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM, FCSH/NOVA) and supported by the Câmara Municipal of Castelo de Vide.

Fig1 PramCV

On this Day of Archaeology a team of Pram-CV researchers dug test pits on the archaeological site of Tapada das Guaritas. The results obtained so far suggest the presence of an olive mill, dated from the transition between Late Antiquity and Early Medieval periods (5th-7th centuries). Another sector of this same site was already excavated in august of 2014 by the Pram-CV team. In that first open area excavation it was possible to identify a household structure with evidence of activities such as weaving, forge, cereal grinding… and over one hundred domestic ceramic vessels. What motivated the excavation works in the first place was the presence of several rock-cut graves in both sectors. This kind of funerary structures, most common in the Iberian Peninsula, are held as one of the most important landscape markers for analysing Early Medieval rural settlements.

Fig2 Test pit team (PramCV)

Pram-CV is a spearhead project looking forward to shed new light into the early dark ages. The works carried out so far include surface field surveys, geospatial analysis, archaeological excavations, micromorphological sampling of sediments, material culture analyses and the study of faunal and botanical remains.

Fig3 - Ceramic vessel recovery (PramCV)

Between the 10th and 30th of next August there will be a new open area excavation with Pram-CV researchers, archaeological technicians of the municipality and undergraduate students from Portuguese and Spanish universities.

Fig4 Archaeological works (PramCV)

Another of the Pram-CV’s core targets is social outreach and the involvement of the local community in these activities. Throughout August and September the new findings will be made available to the general audience trough talks, visits and exhibitions, focused on the archaeological works.

Fig5 Field record (PramCV)

29th: A sunny summer day in Portugal.

At this time of the year there’s plenty of digs going on; it’s the time of school vacations, and many projects re-start their yearly digs. There’s also good weather for construction, so more archaeological sites appear throughout the country!
Well, I believe there’s a lot to be said about the days of doing Archaeology here in Portugal.
You may think not, since no one else here seems to be sharing what they did on the 29th…
And maybe that’s the biggest indicator, and one of my biggest fears concerning the state of our archaeological science: the lack of outreach. With so many reasons that can be found to justify the un-development of our heritage resources, is any justification valid enough to not do all we can to make it accessible?
It’s not an easy situation. And the current crisis will not help it get better in the near future. The good news is that slowly we are becoming more pro-active, creating more activities, communicating more, and in time ( and if our heritage survives well until then), we will have great sites telling great stories, giving visitors and communities a great experience and opportunity to reconnect with their past, and to evaluate their present and inspire their future with it.

As an archaeologist, I long for the field work, but these days I rarely go digging. Unfortunately, field work here means mostly going to a construction site somewhere and do “emergency archaeology”. Then most of those sites go back to oblivion, some are destroyed, and the reports and materials are all that is left for someday someone to read.
I still feel tormented by the fact that, after you dig a site, and discover so much about it, that information is going to only a few people, and most of the sites are left to be destroyed or abandoned.
So these days I work mostly at heritage management and science communication.
Hence, for me, the 29th was passed half in the office, answering e-mails and preparing some activities for children, and the other half at a national news agency preparing articles about science.
Maybe nothing particularly archaeologically special or surprising happened in front of me that day, but still, those are the small efforts and steps that archaeologists also have to take in order to make their science and activity reach further, to help spread the passion we have for what we do so that more people see the importance that our past has in our present and future.

Leonor Medeiros

A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part II

Today I’ve had several different pieces of work to do, which makes it an average day for me.

After my morning cup of tea, I set about checking my work e-mails. The project I work for, the Atlanterra Project, are in the process of submitting the next financial claims for the work that has been done since January 2011. As part of this I have make sure I have all the relevant paperwork ready to upload, and this morning my in-tray contained some of the papers I needed, as well several e-mail attachments of previous project business meetings. Whilst it might not sound very glamorous and archaeology like, the project management element of work like this is very important, if perhaps not the most exciting part of the day. I do enjoy it though, as it helps me plan ahead for the next year of the project and work out how, when, why, where and what I’ll spend the project money on.

The Atlanterra Project is a European funded project with ten project partners from five countries (Wales, France, Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland) working together to preserve and promote post-medieval mining heritage.

Among the work being carried out are projects on the creation of geological gardens; reconstruction and preservation of mining machinery; surveying and archaeologically recording mining complexes and collectively working on how best to provide public access to the information collected and diseminated during the life of the project. My own particular role within the project is to provide expert advice and guidance to the other project partners on ‘Physical and Digital Data Capture, Storage and Tender Specification’. Basically, if you want a site surveying, have you actually considered why it need to be done and what you will do with the data (which could be CAD drawings, CGI animations, or someone with a tape measure, ruler and piece of paper) once you have asked someone to collect it for you?

As part of my work on the Atlanterra Project, I carry out fieldwork surveying and recording mining heritage sites which are at risk. Two of the sites I have been out to survey as part of this work are Maenofferen Slate Mine, near Blaenau Ffestiniog:


and Mynydd Nodol Manganese Mine, near Bala:


After that, I worked on a talk I am giving at the National Eisteddfod next Tuesday. The National Eisteddfod moves around Wales each year, and this year is being hosted in my home town, Wrexham. With that in mind the RCAHMW Education Officer asked me if I could prepare something for a general audience. I decided to prepare something on one of the RCAHMW projects which is being prepared for publication – in some for or another – in the long term. That project is the The Workers’ Houses of Wales Project. You can find details of four of our National Projects here:



and details of my talk at the Eisteddfod here:



Because my first language is Welsh, I’ve also been asked by CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments if I will guide a walking tour of the village of Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham, to explain its character and history. Details of my walk can be found here: 




A day in the life of a zooarchaeologist – playing with bones at the Natural History Museum

This week I have been at the Natural History Museum in London collecting data for my PhD project.

My project is looking at the size and shape change of the Aurochs across Europe over time. The Aurochs was the ancestor of domestic cattle, it appeared during the Middle Pleistocene and went extinct in Poland in 1627AD. In Britain they went extinct during the Bronze Age. This animal was quite commonly hunted by humans until domestication took place. The Aurochs was very similar to our modern day cattle, but larger. Some of the males were massive – often over 2 metres tall. Below you can see a couple of pictures of what they look like. You can imagine the amount of meat that you would get from one of these if you successfully hunted it, and you can see the size of the bones that I’m dealing with! My data collection consists of visiting Aurochs assemblages and taking measurements from the postcranial (limb bones) and teeth, as well as from the skulls.

Me with an Aurochs at the Zoology Museum in Cambridge


The data collection part of my work has taken me to various places across Europe. So far I have visited Portugal, Denmark and Poland, and later this year I will also visit Italy and France. This summer I am concentrating on the British material. This will take me to a number of museums, including the Natural History Museum in London and the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

This blog post will talk about what I have been up to over the whole week, because then this gives you a sense of the different material I have been working on.

I had visited the NHM very briefly before so I knew pretty much what to expect, however you never know what you might find in hiding away there, so I was pretty excited about my visit. At the start of the week I was booked in to look at material held by the Mammal Group, then later on in the week I visited the Palaeontology Department too. The general rule is that the Palaeontology Department deals with anything up to the end of the Pleistocene, and then the Mammal Group keeps material from the Holocene (the Mesolithic onwards), with a few exceptions.

An Aurochs displayed at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen

When you first arrive at the NHM you have to go through a number of security checks and they issue you with a security pass so that you can get ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. I arrived at the Fleet theatre entrance on Exhibition road with a lot of stuff – I had all of my equipment, and other stuff to keep me going for the week. The security guard wanted to search all of my bags and was especially intrigued by the metal implements that I had with me. These included two pairs of callipers. One smaller pair for taking smaller measurements, and a larger pair curved callipers which I had brought in order to take measurements from massive skulls. In the end he seemed satisfied that I wasn’t going to try and kill anyone with them and let me go through.

Next I met up Roberto Portela from the mammal group who organised my security pass. Only then was I allowed loose on the bones. In the mammal group you aren’t allowed to take any bags or food down to the stores, you have to take everything you need down in a plastic box, so this always takes a little while to sort out. Then we went down to the basement. I was given a desk in the centre of the mammal collections surrounded by tall cupboards full of bones, and glass cases with articulated skeletons. There was no one else down there and it might have been a bit scary if it wasn’t for the fact that I was thoroughly distracted by the bones.

In the mammal group I was primarily interested in material from the site of Star Carr, a Mesolithic site in Yorkshire. A lot of aurochs were excavated from here, along with a large amount of Red Deer, and other wild animals. I was given access to the appropriate cupboards and then it was up to me to have a rummage through to see what I could find. Often it takes longer to find good bones to record than to actually record and measure them. Every museum (or even museum department) has a different system and many museums do not have an electronic database so you have to check things manually. This can be annoying, but also exciting because you could always randomly come across things that you weren’t expecting.

I managed to track down all of the material I needed and by the end of the day I had made a good start on it. On Tuesday I was able to get going a lot earlier because I didn’t have to deal with so much security and working was much faster once I had got into a rhythm.

The way that zooarchaeologists record bones can differ depending on their project. Some people try to identify every piece of bone if they can, but this can be very time consuming, especially if you have a very large number of bones. One way of getting round this is to decide on specific parts of bones that you will record. Because primarily I am interested in measurements, my protocol focuses on the parts of bones that will be able to provide me with that information. For example the distal end (the bottom end) of long bones, because these provide very useful information. I record all of my bones in an access database which, along with excel, I will later use to do my statistical analysis.

By the end of Tuesday I had finished recording most of the aurochs bones from Star Carr and a few other sites with less material. These included Thatcham, and East Ham. On Wednesday morning I only needed to come back to measure 3 skulls – these were in great condition, and absolutely massive. This may have something to do with the fact that they were much older than a lot of the bones I have been looking at – they were from the Pleistocene.

By Wednesday afternoon I was finished in the Mammal Group so I phoned Andy Currant in the Palaeontology Department and went over there to see what stuff they had. I spent the remainder of Wednesday afternoon and the whole of Thursday there.

The Palaeontology department had material from a site called Ilford in Essex. This material has been dated to the late middle Pleistocene so is much older than the Star Carr stuff, and much bigger! Surprisingly, considering it’s age, this material was also in much better condition than that from Star Carr, with many complete bones. Complete bones take longer than partial bones to record because there are more measurements to be taken so it actually took me a fair while to record all of the bones. There were a number of skulls found at Ilford, some with complete horncores. These were neatly packed into a cupboard but were extremely heavy and difficult to get out. We spent a long time figuring out what was the best way of moving them.

After I had recorded all of the bones from Ilford I had a hunt around to see if there was any other material that could be useful. The staff in the Palaeontology department were extremely helpful, and provided me with a list of potential sites, and cupboard numbers. Still, I had to hunt through quite a few cupboards and drawers before I eventually found another assemblage that would be useful. The material was from a site called Grays Thurrock. This stuff was less complete than that from Ilford, but there were an awful lot of teeth, which took a while to record.

Finally at 4pm on Thursday I finished with all of the material in the Palaeontology Department, and treated myself to some tea and cake in the museum cafe (I recommend the lemon drizzle – a real treat!).


So that brings us to the end of your whirlwind tour of my time at the Natural History Museum. If you have been inspired by zooarchaeology and want to find out more about the kinds of things that we do, then go here to the webpage of my research group: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/research/zooarchaeology/


I would like to thank the NHM Mammal Group, especially Roberto Portela, and the Palaeontology Department, especially Andy Currant and Spyridoula Pappa for their help with access to the collections and their general enthusiasm during my week at the Natural History Museum.