Digging Diaries – Old Shipwreck, New Mystery – The Wreck of the London

Hello all, it’s time for a new vid!

Back in 1665 an enormous warship, named The London, exploded in the Thames Estuary. The crew had been preparing a seventeen gun salute before the vessel was due to set sail for the Second Anglo-Dutch War when a stray flame ignited 300 barrels of gunpowder.

A team have been diving this summer to rescue the archaeology and to solve the mystery of ‘The Wreck of the London’.

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Virgil Yendell: Geoarchaeologist and his lovely sediments

Here are some shots of a trial pit under a former pub in Victoria. The lovely sediments from the base show c. 10,000 yr old fluvial gravels over lain by sandy deposits of a substantial tributary of the Thames, possibly the Tyburn, running through Victoria. During the prehistoric this river appears to have silted up and a waterlogged woodland is evident from the brown peaty deposits, which later developed into possible clayey water meadows that would have been used for pasture during the historic period.


A Day in the Life of an Archaeobotanist

8AM: As an archaeobotanist I can have a bit of variety in my work schedule. I can be called on to go on site at very short notice, but generally my base is in the office, doing assessments and analysis on any plant remains retrieved from site.


I arrive at the office (Museum of London Archaeology) around 8am. First order of business is usually making a cup of tea and eating breakfast while I wait for my computer to boot up. Then I check through any emails that arrived overnight before starting on my current project.


The practical work I’m doing today is part of an environmental assessment for a large waterfront site in London. Around 250 bulk environmental samples were taken during excavation at the site. We processed these in flotation tanks and now it’s my job to scan through the clean remains under a low powered microscope to see if they’re archaeologically interesting, recording very broadly what’s present. Once I’ve finished scanning all the flots, I’ll produce tables of the remains and write a report with recommendations for the next stage of work. This might include anything from recommending further archaeobotanical work on certain samples, to beetle analysis or wood species identification.

Cups of tea: 1.


where the magic happens

My work space

10 am: I’ve assessed two flots so far this morning – I could easily have spent much longer on them, but keeping to deadlines and budget is very important in commercial archaeology. Both samples contained lots of stems, some meadow type taxa, bran (the outer layer of cereal grains) and some fruit remains like fig seeds and apple endocarp (the tough bit around the seeds). At this stage I’d suggest they might be mixed dumps of stabling waste and household waste, but I’ll leave it to the analysis stage to really investigate.

Cups of tea: 2

Flots assessed: 2


12pm: Not much to report I’m afraid. I’ve assessed two more flots, one with quite a lot of wood chips in it, which might suggest woodworking at the site. At least all the flots have lots of plant remains though! I’ll often have to slog through loads of samples with nothing interesting at all turning up.


I’ve also been reminded of one of the perils of being married to another archaeologist – I have been tasked with carrying a metal detector home on the bus so he doesn’t have to come in to the office on Monday morning to collect it himself.

Cups of tea: 3

Flots assessed: 4


12.30pm LUNCH!

Cups of tea: 5

Flots assessed: 4.5

Lunchtime conversation topics: Tim Burton movies, Start Trek TNG, cheese fondue.


2pm: Still plugging away at the flots, and am now assessing one that’s full of charred wheat chaff as well as waterlogged wood chips. A pretty odd mix, but then all sorts of things float up on a river bank, as anyone who’s taken a walk along the Thames foreshore could tell you. I’ve also fielded a few tech queries from one of the less IT literate of my colleagues here, and a phone call about flotation tank meshes. Ah, the adventurous life of an archaeobotanist.

Cups of tea: Still 5

Flots assessed: 6


3.30pm: Had a good chat with our timber specialist about exotic wood timbers (exotic for us being anything not native to the British Isles). Working in London, which has been a trading hub since the Romans founded the city in the first century AD, means that we get woods from all over the world turning up in excavations, particularly in postmedieval deposits. Wood species ID is another one of my jobs at MOLA, so we often work together on assemblages.

Cups of tea: 6

Flots assessed: 8


3.30-4pm: For the last half hour of my working day I’ll be replying to emails, tidying up my workspace and washing my lab ware, and filling out my timesheet for the week.


And maybe I’ll squeeze in one last cup of tea.

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 2

A big thank you everyone who suggested shelf numbers for our general finds LAARC lottery – we’ve taken the first 6 replies and tweets, and had a rummage around in our shelving, and come up with the following selection of artefacts:

From shelf 1967 we have a large piece of wood, from an unknown object, excavated from the BIG82 site, which amongst other things found the remains of a Roman quay. The proximity of the site close to the Thames allowed for the good preservation of organic remains like wood in the waterlogged soil conditions

Part of wooden object from BIG82 excavation - from shelf 1967

Part of wooden object from BIG82 excavation – from shelf 1967

Next up we have shelf 2019, which produced this piece of medieval pottery from the RAG82 excavation, in the City ofLondon, which resulted in a range of items from Roman, Saxon/Medieval, Medieval and Post Medieval periods

Medieval pottery sherds from RAG82

Medieval pottery sherds from RAG82 – and shelf 2019

Now we move on to shelf 4633, where we found this piece of ceramic building material (CBM) – and which looks to my eye like a part of a stone water pipe or channel (but I’m not an expert on building material so happy to be corrected). It came from site SQU94, the former Spitalfields Market, and may be associated with the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital

Stone water channel? from SQU94 and from shelf 4633

Stone water channel? from SQU94 and from shelf 4633

From shelf 23 we had this set of animal bones, from site WFG3, which was dug back in 1947

Animal bone from WFG3

Animal bone from WFG3 – and shelf 23


For shelf 121 we had the ubiquitous post-medieval clay tobacco pipes – these ones from site GM131 – near the Old Bailey

Post-Medieval clay tobacco pipes

Post-Medieval clay tobacco pipes – from shelf 121

Finally, from shelf 291, and nicely related to the above pipes, we have a rather nice example of debris from a clay tobacco pipe kiln – with unfinished bits of pipes stuck in the waste.


Clay tobacco pipe kiln waste from BRE77

Clay tobacco pipe kiln waste from BRE77 – and shelf 291

Next up it’s our Registered finds: objects assigned an individual number (akin to an museum accession number) because they are of particular interest. Coins would be an obvious example. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 1 and 816 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds… – and we’ll post back our results at 1pm