Taking the Iron Age to the Romans: Researching Iron Age finds for an open day at Rockbourne Roman Villa

Today I’m working at Hampshire Cultural Trust with Dave Allen. I’m lucky because my visit times with the regular weekly volunteer day at the Archaeology Stores, managed by the Curator of Archaeology, David Allen.

To find out more about the work of David and the team, visit their excellent blog, which has a new post every Monday.

Hampshire Archaeology blog:

Nicole Beale

Two of the Trust’s volunteers, Peter and Jane, have spent the morning working through a collection of artefacts from a late Iron Age site near to Rockbourne.

Peter and Jane checking objects against the archive inventory

The site was excavated in the mid-1970s as part of a British Gas pipeline being installed, and our intrepid volunteers have been doing some detective work to try to make connections between the objects from the stores here at Chilcomb and the paper archive which was published some time ago.

Objects need to be located and then checked. This is also a great opportunity to re-pack some of the more fragile objects.

Rockbourne Roman Villa is run by the Trust and this weekend will be hosting a family fun day. The event organisers want to celebrate the area’s Iron Age connections, and so the team at Chilcomb have been set to task to find objects to showcase on the day.

In the first few boxes, they had already found some great objects to be taken up to Rockbourne for visitors to see.

Lots to work through!

In one of the boxes, Jane unpacks a huge tankard. It’s much larger than we had all expected and lots of jokes about the serious business of beer-drinking in the Iron Age ensue.

Jane finds an Iron Age tankard

The huge tankard

Unpacking the tankard

Next, they unpack fragments of a kiln lip. On the underside there are clear finger-marks, left from where the clay had been quickly shaped.

The kiln rim

The pair spend some time focussing on the profile of a Late Iron Age large pot that is in several parts, and manage to piece it back together. It will provide a great prop for showing younger visitors how archaeologists can infer pot shapes from diagnostic sherds.

Hang on a minute, I think there’s a good profile here…

Does this go here?

Now we’ve got it!

Tucked into one of the boxes is a nice example of a spindle whorl and also a small box which contains a bronze pin, probably from a brooch.

The brooch pin (you can just see the spindle whorl under Jane’s right hand)

A big pot!

Still plenty left to unpack and check

Peter and Jane

We’ll create labels for all of these objects and then transport them up to Rockbourne in time for the event on Sunday. Do come along if you’re in the area.

More about the event:

Nicole Beale

Education, Community and Irish Archaeological Research

Hi. My name is Christina O’Regan and I am the Fieldwork and Educational Director of Irish Archaeological Research (IAR). Three colleagues and I set up this non-profit social organisation in early 2011 with the aim of getting the public more involved with archaeology through education, workshops, and community events. We are all from commercial archaeological backgrounds and wanted to develop our experience in community archaeology.

A focus has been the delivery of school workshops, typically to second level students in years 8 – 12. These workshops begin with a general introduction to the archaeology of Ireland, followed by a practical session varying from how to make and decorate prehistoric-style pottery, learning about diet through artificial ‘poo’ dissection, hands-on interaction with genuine and replica artefacts and prehistoric hunting techniques. These workshops have been incredibly successful, with benefits for students and teachers alike.

My work in IAR varies from day-to-day as I develop workshops, plan for future events and shoot off a few emails to raise the profile of IAR within the archaeological and educational sectors.

For this year’s Festival of British Archaeology, we have decided to host two family-orientated events; the first at Glenariff Forest Park (July 21st & 22nd) and the second at Gosford Forest Park (July 28th & 29th). Our experience with the school workshops has shown us that the more practical the day, the better. Pottery workshops, archery, demonstrations of flint knapping and a children’s activity area will ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. There will also be a mini museum, with an interactive artefacts table as well as information on the archaeology of the areas where the events will be held (Antrim and Armagh). The Northern Ireland Environment Agency have very generously granted us a loan of some artefacts from both counties and I joyously spent an afternoon sifting through their stores, picking out choice artefacts with the help of Andrew Gault from the Agency. We are also busy planning similar events for National Heritage Week in the Republic of Ireland, August 18th – 26th.

A trial run of the Open Air Museum at the Carnival of Colours, Londonderry showed us the enormous benefits this type of venture can have in increasing awareness of local heritage within communities.

Social media has been a lifeline for IAR with our Facebook page now ‘liked’ by over 1,000 people. The page allows us to announce all of our upcoming events as well as share archaeological discoveries and support other institutions and companies. Facebook also allows us to easily disseminate our free online magazine, Irish Archaeological Research and we have just put out a call for articles for the fourth (summer) edition. As editor of the e-zine, I envisage many late nights over the coming weeks organising layout and thinking up witty headlines!

For more information on any of our events see


Children and Families Workshops

I’m one of the ever increasing breed of part-time workers and freelancers.  In the past twelve months I have worked for five different organisations including the British Museum, Geffrye Museum, Sir John Soane Museum, National Army Museum and at Hackney Museum for the Building Exploratory.  The most difficult part of my job is remembering where to head to each morning!

For this Day of Archaeology post I’d like to present to you the ‘Create a Canopic Jar’ children’s workshop that I’m running at the Sir John Soane Museum.  Truly a fabulously quirky and endlessly fascinating museum, if you haven’t been I highly recommend it (although be careful of the queues for their candle-lit openings).

The workshop description is thus:

Explore the Ancient Egyptian secrets of mummification and look at the magnificent sarcophogus of Seti I.  Then make your own Canopic Jar fit for a Pharaoh.”

It caters for 10 children who will spend the day with me in the Soane Museum and their education space.  The workshop itself will take place in early August but the preparations began far in advance.  It was over a year ago that I came up with this concept and was booked in to run the workshop.  In the last few months I have been planning the workshop logistics, creating material lists & resource, and, most importantly, doing a test run.  Always important to do a test run!  As well as seeking out potential problems it also helps to refine the process, you can work out where breaks should be (lunch time is a sacred time that no workshop must impinge on!), write process lists and make sure you know what’s what and when to do what.

And, with a workshop like this, you get to get your hands dirty (I used to be a fieldwork archaeologist, I miss the mud), so doing a test run is even more appealing!

So, test run day came and, with much excitement and a little trepidation (I’ve never worked with modrock before and my modelling skills aren’t exactly world renowned) I began to create my own canopic jar.

Advisory notice:  No organs were harmed in the making of this post.

Materials I had to hand:  modrock (like the stuff they use to bandage broken limbs), newspaper, masking tape (vital!), empty plastic squash bottle (although my Mother, when looking at my pictures of the test run, thought that it was a glass bottle and asked me if I should use glass with children… I am a professional you know…), bowl, tepid water, yeowling cat (I threatened him with mummification but he didn’t seem worried).

Step 1:  Make a newspaper tube that will enable the head to be slotted into the top of the squash bottle.

Canopic jar step 1

Step 2:  On the top of the aforementioned newspaper tube create the head of the canopic jar as a ball of newspaper.  Make ears and any other features for the head. Liberal use of masking tape is advised.

Canopic jar step 2

Can you guess which head I’m making yet?

Step 3: Masking tape ears and other features to head ball.

Canopic jar step 3

Step 4: Check the head fits snuggly into the squash bottle.  At this point you may need to tape the squash bottle down with duct tape, I didn’t do this.  Cue ‘hilarious’ moments during the next few steps of balancing squash bottles whilst modrocking, gently pushing cat from under feet and needing at least four arms.

Canopic jar step 4

Step 5: Quick cup of tea – necessary preparation as tepid water is needed so you might as well have tea as well. Put a layer of newspaper on the counter and put tepid water in a bowl (I suggest one that isn’t precious to you).  Now wrap the head carefully in modrock.

Canopic jar step 5

Step 6:  Stand back and admire your work so far.

Canopic jar step 6

Step 7:  Modrock the squash bottle, one layer is enough.  Give the cat a treat so that he stops trying to interfere with the artistic proces.

Canopic jar step 7

Step 8:  Voila!  Canopic jar is complete!  Well, except for adding painted decoration, but my workshop is only one day and so the children won’t have time to do this.  They will design on paper the head decoration and can complete this at home once the modrock is totally dry.

Canopic jar step 8

At this stage it is also advisable to ignore certain family members who liken your creation to Bugs Bunny.

I am also devising other activities that will complement this workshop and help to fill the whole day.  These include creating card collars for the jars (dual purpose – will be decorated like Egyptian necklaces but also serve to hide the join between head and bottle), the design of the decorated head, a tour round the museum and a discussion of the practice of mummification (to highlight not just the process but the reasoning behind it).

Workshops like this are designed to enthuse, occupy, interest, create learning opportunities and engage.