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There are just two months to go before this year’s Day of Archaeology, which this year falls on July 11th.

The idea behind the Day is for those working, studying or volunteering in archaeology to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. In this way, a picture can be produced, showing the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology – it’s not just about the digging, after all! In this way, those behind the project hope to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.

dayofarch14

Now in it’s third year, the Day was first mooted by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson whilst attending a Day of Digital Humanities conference in March 2011. Others were brought on board, and the first Day was held on July 29th, 2011. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement.

So. If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want. Here at the Heritage Journal we certainly look forward to reading the posts from this year’s event!

And. If you’re not involved in archaeology, but are intrigued to know what goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not keep an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!

English Heritage recently announced subsidised school travel to a selection of their sites. The list of available sites for the scheme was a subset of the National Heritage List, and very heavily skewed in favour of post-Roman sites. (The announcement itself was a little misleading as it suggested that free travel was being offered whereas the small print identified a cap of £4 per child). So we’d like to present our own list of sites to which schools can arrange visits (sadly, without the English Heritage subsidy). These are places that, rather than boring the children with facts, names, dates etc. (does anyone still remember the whole of the “Willie Willie Harry Steve, Harry Dick John Harry 3.” rhyme that was pumped into us at school?) can provide a proper education on what it was like to live in ancient times, using skills that could still prove useful today in helping to actually create something tangible. Most of these are commercial concerns rather than ‘National Heritage’ sites, but that doesn’t make them any less useful in engaging school children in our ancient heritage.

Wiltshire – The Ancient Technology Centre

TheATC

The Ancient Technology Centre consists of 6 reconstructed buildings from different time periods, all built by schoolchildren and volunteers, using traditional tools and techniques. The Centre has developed a unique program of hands on learning for children of all ages.

Such is the standard of the work here that they have been awarded the English Heritage contract to reconstruct three Neolithic Houses based on excavations of house plans at Durrington Walls. Prototype building began this March at Old Sarum, and the final reconstructions will be built outside the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre in October 2013.

Hampshire – Butser Ancient Farm

Butser

Butser Ancient Farm, founded in 1970 following an idea from the Council fro British Archaeology, Consists of an Iron Age roundhouse and Roman Villa, in a farm setting. School visits are catered for, with material covering a wealth of topics including: Celts, Romans, Invaders and Settlers, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, Houses and Homes, Discovery for Reception Age, Medicine through Time, Sustainable Technologies and Archaeology. Carefully planned activities tie in with different aspects of Key Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 – from history and art to DT and maths.

Cambridgeshire – Flag Fen

FlagFen

Flag Fen archaeology park is home to a wooden causeway some 3,500 years old that is so unique it is held by experts all over the world in the same esteem as Stonehenge. There are reproduction roundhouses from the Bronze and Iron Ages on site and a small museum.

Schools are catered for with sessions covering ‘Invaders and Settlers’, ‘Dig! Hands on Archaeology’, ‘Hunting and Gathering’ and ‘Patterns in Nature’. Suitable for Key Stages 1,2,3.

Silchester – Calleva Atrebatum, A Roman Town

sil-dig-from-above

This Roman town, which was founded in the first century AD (nearly 2000 years ago), was built on the site of an Iron Age town, Calleva. The Roman amphitheatre and town walls are some of the best preserved in Britain. The site has been under excavation since 1997.

As this is an active and working archaeological dig site, activities for schools tend to be closely related to the archaeological activity and discoveries at Silchester rather than exclusively to a Roman theme. Activities include a children’s finds pit, a planning exercise, activity sheets, tours and talks, finds handling etc.

Pembrokeshire – Castell Henllys

PembsCoastNP

Set within 30 acres of woodland and meadows, the hill fort at Castell Henllys contains four roundhouses and a granary, reconstructed on the Iron Age foundations. A wide range of education services is provided and their Schools Programme currently caters for up to 7000 children every year.

If you’re a schoolteacher or home educator who has taken children to one of these sites for educational purposes (rather than as a ‘treat’ day out), why not let us know how the trip went? Or better still, get some of the kids to tell us! We can offer an interactive CD tour of Avebury for any stories that we subsequently publish!

If you know of other, similar centres providing a service to schools, please let us know in the comments.

Last weekend saw two archaeological events, some 25 minutes travel apart, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

The first was an Open Day, held by Wessex Archaeology and entitled Extracting the Past. It highlighted their recent work at the Kingsmead Quarry, Horton, west of Heathrow Airport. The area is a complex archaeological landscape with evidence of human occupation spanning a period of over 12,000 years, since the last Ice Age. Particular focus was given to the recently announced find  of a rare ‘Beaker Burial‘ of a woman, which included several gold beads (the bling always draws them in!)

The event, in the local Village Hall at Wraysbury, comprised of several information panels, leading through the story of the use of the area, from the Ice Age through to Roman and Anglo-Saxon times. In addition, cabinets of some of the wonderful finds were available to peruse, with several very knowledgeable, friendly and approachable staff on hand to answer any questions. We were greeted and guided as we arrived and generally made to feel most welcome. The various exhibits were explained as we moved around the hall, with someone always on hand to answer any queries or questions. My particular thanks go to Dr Alistair Barclay, who allowed us a close-up examination of an exquisitely worked Picardy bronze clothes pin.

A Beaker vessel from the quarry.

A Beaker vessel from the quarry. Fine lignite beads can be seen in the dish at bottom right.

As you’d expect of Wessex Archaeology, a  couple of experts ‘of Time Time fame‘ were also on hand  to draw in the public with known names:

Jackie McKinley was examining a human skeleton. Was it the Beaker woman herself? I’m not sure but doubt it, as the bones were open for examination by visitors. Jackie was explaining what the bones could tell us about the person and how they lived.

Meanwhile, in a side hall, Phil Harding was giving demonstrations of his flint knapping knowledge and skills, and generally entertaining his audience with tales of how he started knapping. I found this to be extremely informative, with Phil explaining in plain language the nuances of the different techniques, and what he looks for in a piece of flint when selecting a piece for a particular purpose.

Phil Harding, in his element!

Phil Harding, in his element!

In addition, there were activities for children – including simple pot making and excavation (in a sandpit!) as well as several trays of finds to identify by period.

In terms of outreach, and from what I saw and experienced, I’d have to say the event was an unqualified success. I had arrived relatively early in the day, and after an hour or so decided to take my leave, by which time the hall was filling up and getting quite busy – the event obviously  proving popular with the locals!

But I had another appointment, some 10 miles south as the crow flies, in Woking: the AGM of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust, of which Heritage Action are proud to hold Affiliate membership.

A relatively short business meeting was held, with the usual reports from Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, and elections for vacant posts. This was followed by an Open Meeting with Gail Boyle, chair of the Society of Museum Archaeologists and Duncan Brown from English Heritage talking about ‘Trouble in store: the crisis facing archaeological archives‘.

The bald facts are that many museums simply cannot keep pace with the scale of developer-led archaeology and, largely due to swingeing government cuts simply do not have the resources to deal with the finds and documentation archives created by development such as those from  Kingsmead Quarry, visited earlier in the day.

The point was made that although publication and deposition of findings is often a legal requirement attached to many developments, there is no associated legal requirement for local authorities a) to provide museum facilities or b) to provide deposition facilities, which creates a very large problem.

The talk centred around two documents – a report from the IfA’s ‘Southport Group‘ collated in 2010  which discussed the fact that:

Ultimately, the underlying principles of PPS5 and the Government Statement paint a vision of the future where planning-led investigation of the historic environment delivers far greater rewards and far more immediately recognisable benefits for society as a whole than ever before. Even if or when PPS5 is absorbed into the National Heritage Planning Framework, as anticipated will take place later this year, those principles are set to endure.

and also a recent survey and report produced by the Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) . The preface to the report states:

Despite a tacit acceptance that archaeological archives present their own particular  set of problems and a few clarion calls like the one above, penned by Dr Ian Longworth as far back as 1991, the archaeological world has continued to find it difficult to come to terms with housing the end product of its investigations.
A growing realisation that, in some areas at least, the situation had become critical resulted in a number of initiatives, not least the day-conference Trouble in Store, organised by the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers and held at York in July 2011.
Following the conference FAME and the Society of Museum Archaeologists embarked on a joint initiative, with financial assistance from English Heritage, to attempt to quantify and qualify the current picture, and produce a set of recommendations for future storage strategies.

The report (161 museums were surveyed, 134 provided responses) includes some quite damning statistics.

  • Only 84 museums were able to accept depositions without known conditions.
  • In 47 local authority areas, there were no museums accepting collections. An interactive map is available on the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) showing details of organisations that are accepting archaeological archives.
  • Only around 30% of museums had a specialist archaeology curator.
  • In terms of storage, on average, local history collections took up 45% of storage space compared with 22% for archaeological collections.
  • Archaeological collections and archives are used in many different ways. A significant number of these would be impossible without specialist archaeological expertise.

The report put forward a series of eight recommendations, and these are currently being worked on, in league with other organisations. In addition, a set of pan-European standards are being worked towards.

There was some discussion following the talk, with mention of use of a Cumbrian salt mine as an economical repository, but there was some concern about the effects of salt on some depositions. The situation is being monitored closely.

As a non-archaeologist, I was surprised at the scale of the problem – I’d been aware that Devizes Museum had announced they would take no more depositions due to lack of available space, but wasn’t aware that so many areas had no facility for deposition at all, nor about the legal dichotomy involved within the planning process. There is obviously much work to be done to try to resolve some of these issues, but with very few easy answers forthcoming.

Slides from the presentation can be viewed here.

We would urge everyone concerned about the multitude of threats to our archaeological heritage to support RESCUE in their campaigning work. Individual membership costs less than 5p per day (£15/year) and every membership helps.

Heritage Action member Sue Brooke continues her journey of discovery with Caerau Hillfort in Wales. New readers should start at Part 1 or put Caerau in our search box to get up to date.

Ok, so I’d had a real problem in what the Romans may have been doing here, above my garden. This site was isolated. Yes, a possible Roman road could be identified as the current A48 through Cardiff which leads to the Roman Castle in Cardiff to the east and the Roman town in Cowbridge to the West as Jeff had explained. But even so, surely there had to be a reason for a Roman Camp to be here. The site is’ Scheduled’ as a (possible) deserted medieval village. OK, well that’s good but why was it deserted and, where are the houses? Surely medieval homes would have at least have been akin to what we know about thatched cottages. There didn’t seem to me to be much evidence of that as there was no sign of building on the ground. It clearly was important locally as anyone who would listen to me would often be able to add a story or two of visiting the site, either to attend weddings in the old and now ruined St. Mary’s Church or as part of the Whitsun Treats.

Now, with Mark’s input this was getting really exciting! But, umm, could anyone tell me anything about the Iron Age?

More books to read. More Time Team episodes to watch and re-watch. As the episodes came and went I began to learn quite a bit about the Iron Age people and how they lived. I found I could buy some really old books on eBay or in local antique type shops. I learnt a lot. Then Dr Francis Pryor appeared on Time Team.

Now, I already knew of Dr Barry Cunliffe and, thanks to Santa Claus, had collected a couple of his books. I had even visited the experimental archaeological hillfort site at Castell Henllys (most definitely recommended, by the way!). But Dr Pryor just seemed to pop up. He then mentioned his work at Flag Fen. That was really convenient as my husband is from Peterborough and Flag Fen is ‘just around the corner’ to where his dad lives. I was really interested in this in relation to what I’d already read about Maisie Taylor’s work at Sea Henge. The recovered wood was taken to Flag Fen for investigation and preservation.

We visited, we were smitten and we became members. This was a bit different to your usual museum visit. You can wander around; in the round houses you can sit down or walk around, there would be a story-teller, in the grounds there would be a bloke making axes. You could touch and you could hold. Overall, you could learn. And yes, I confess, I did actually buy the T shirt. You should visit; it’s well worth the trip.

Making axes at Flag Fen, Peterborough
                        Making axes at Flag Fen, Peterborough

At a members ‘do’ at Flag Fen you could buy Francis Pryor’s latest book, and as a bonus he rolled up so he could sign it. It was actually quite surreal to be sat in a marquee with that bloke off Time Team, just chatting, sharing lunch and being friendly. We talked a bit about me being Welsh. It’s something us Welsh have grown accustomed to; the poking of fun at the accent, our rugby team etc. However, in this case it was the difficulties Francis Pryor has with the Welsh being described as ‘Celts’. But then, that’s a book in itself. However, I actually felt I could hold my own in these chats. But then Mr  B. suggested I should send my work to Time Team and get them ‘up there digging’.  Absolutely not. No way.

to be continued…

by Alan Simkins, Editor

Our series of questions for archaeologists, ‘Inside the Mind of…’ has been a great success and we’ve published responses from eleven archaeologists so far with more coming soon. In every case we’ve been struck by how generous they have been with their time no matter how prominent they are. So as Series Editor I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar by putting some relevant questions to a particular subset of the archaeology world – the Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) at the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Sadly it went pear-shaped. One of them seems to have contacted their boss, Dr Roger Bland at the British Museum, asking if they should respond and he sent us a message expressing surprise we had contacted the individuals direct “as they will come to me and my colleague Michael Lewis for advice on how to respond.” To say I was surprised in return would be an understatement as the questions were very similar to the ones sent to other archaeologists, completely uncontroversial and personal and nothing to do with PAS policies. Of course, it’s no secret we have issues with PAS policies but that really has no bearing on an innocent set of questions to individuals. But I was even more  shocked to read what Dr Bland added: he was willing to give his blessing to the project if we were to recant our position on our Erosion Counter!

Following a further exchange he added: “I have to say that the feelings that our staff have about initiatives such as the Artefact Erosion Counter (…) together with the fact that they are all at full capacity recording the finds that are offered to them, mean that it’s unlikely all will be able to respond. We will circulate this exchange to them so they can decide for themselves whether they wish to contribute.”

Altogether I’m not too impressed. He was right, not all responded. In fact not one of the 39 FLOs has said they would be willing to take part and only two have even replied (both using remarkably similar wording and saying they were far too busy but wishing us luck with the project). Hmmm. If people can tweet they can surely find a few minutes? And I don’t think FLOs are the only archaeologists with very busy jobs yet many archaeologists have found a few minutes for us. I myself have a very busy full-time job but I wouldn’t tell anyone I never have a few minutes to spare – and I’m not paid to provide archaeological outreach! Anyway, if you ever wonder why we aren’t featuring any of the 39 FLOs in our Inside the Mind features, you now know it’s not for lack of trying!

(By the way, our Erosion Counter recently passed the 11.5 million mark! It runs at a rate of one million per 3.4 years whereas the English Heritage/CBA survey suggested one million per 2.4 years would be more accurate. People can choose whichever they wish to believe so long as they then compare their preferred figure with how few finds get reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme – 56K records in the whole of last year. We’re not about to recant over our belief that something is very wrong about current policies and the public is entitled to be alerted to the fact.)

PS, Dr Bland:
For the avoidance of doubt: if we’d based our Erosion Counter on what the English Heritage/CBA survey say is happening it would now be showing 16.25 million and that for each one of your records from last year about 290 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily. But we did
n’t base it on that. We assumed the right figure was lower. Hence the Counter is suggesting that for each one of your records from last year a mere 205 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily.

So perhaps you could lay into English Heritage/CBA before you start demonising a group of concerned private citizens? You can praise PAS all you like and produce any number of Hidden Treasures programmes to that end but it won’t alter the fact that PAS is not providing adequate gain to balance out the massive knowledge loss and the longer it is represented as doing so the worse things get. If we weren’t dead right about that there would be PAS schemes all over the rest of the world by now instead of none.

So please just leave us alone to tell the public what we think as best we can and stop briefing against us and letting one of your staff use the coy phrase “vexatious blogging”.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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The Sustainable Trust are progressing with their initial work to excavate the GIANTS QUOIT at Carwynnen. A full scale archaeological dig is being undertaken by volunteers, overseen by Historic Environment, until 3rd October. This work will inform us of the best way to restore the Quoit, as well as providing us with valuable insight into the way our ancestors lived 5000 years ago.

© The Sustainable Trust

The public are invited to an open day at the Quoit on Sunday 30th September between 10am and 4pm There will be guided tours of the excavations and an exhibition of the history of the Cromlech. A digital photographic workshop will run between 10.30am and 3.30pm for amateur photographers wishing to improve their skills. If you have ever wanted to write poetry or prose, there will be the opportunity to seek advice at 2.30 from Gary, who is leading the Giants Quoit Writing Project.

On Saturday 29th at 2pm, local botanist, Phil Harris will lead a walk around the field identifying plants and mapping their positions.

Pip Richards, Director of the Trust, stated “This is one of the most interesting Neolithic sites in the area. We are privileged to have been able to facilitate this unique opportunity to excavate underneath this Cromlech, which has remained covered since 1966, and we look forward to restoring it in the future. The Trust is delighted with the response from the public. We look forward to hearing about and seeing more of its history throughout the project.”

The Sustainable Trust is a local charity caring for two large historic Groves on the Old Clowance Estate. It works to maintain our heritage for future generations.

For more details ring 01209 831718 or email pip.sustrust@gmail.com

www.giantsquoit.org

Note: parking is limited. Car sharing or a short walk over from Treslothan Church is to be recommended.

From Wikipedia:

Experimental archaeology employs a number of different methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches in order to generate and test hypotheses, based upon archaeological source material, like ancient structures or artifacts. It should not be confused with primitive technology which is not concerned with any archaeological or historical evidence. Living history and historical reenactment, which are generally undertaken as a hobby, are the layman’s version of this academic discipline.

One of the main forms of experimental archaeology is the creation of copies of historical structures using only historically accurate technologies. This is sometimes known as reconstruction archaeology; however, reconstruction implies an exact replica of the past, when it is in fact just a construction of one person’s idea of the past; the more archaeologically correct term is a working construction of the past.

A popular construct of experimental archaeology is one in which our ancestors spent a lot of their time: the Roundhouse. Various designs, from different time periods have been used, from the Bronze Age through to the post-Roman Saxon period. Comparing some of the efforts, it sometimes seems that the only common factor in the design is the ’round’ shape!

Many of these efforts can be visited by the public, others are ‘locked away’, only available for private hire, or no longer exist.

A comprehensive list of extant roundhouses would be almost impossible to create, but the Roundhouse
Project has made a good attempt at a list. Here are a few that we’re aware of:

Anglesey – Llynnon Mill

Completed in 2007 these two reproduction Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age Roundhouses now form part of a living museum on the Llynnon Mill site near the village of Llanddeusant on Anglesey. Open from Easter to late September, an admission charge applies.

Cambridgeshire – Flag Fen

Two roundhouses here, one Bronze Age, the other Iron Age within the Flag Fen Archaeology Centre grounds near Peterborough. Admission charges apply.

Cheshire, Mellor

In 2002, students from the Ridge Danyers Sixth Form College were involved in a European Community Culture Programme, The Mnesonyme Project, to reconstruct an Iron Age Roundhouse on the site, which remains in place, providing an evocative reminder of how the area might have looked during this period. Accessibility is currently unknown.

Cornwall – Bodrifty

The Roundhouse is an “authentic and atmospheric replica, based on the largest (‘Hut A”) in the scheduled Bodrifty Iron Age Settlement just three fields away. The construct is available for let as a holiday home with a difference!

Dorset – Ancient Technology Centre, Cranborne

The Iron Age roundhouse here had stood for 26 years, but last year (2011) the decision was made to
rebuild it. Thatching was due to be completed earlier this summer and the new building should now be
available for use once again. Also on site are 5 other ancient building reconstructions, including a
Viking Longhouse and Neolithic Log Cabin.

Essex – Hadleigh Country Park

Since 2000, the Country Park at Hadleigh has run a ‘living education’ programme based on the Saxons –
Hadleigh is of Saxon origin meaning “clearing in the heath”. Site staff wanted to expand this work to cover other periods in history and at the same time provide a much-needed building to give school groups a sheltered working environment. Many options were considered, but the wish to build something dramatic and unique to the county led to the proposal to build a replica Iron Age roundhouse.

Hadleigh’s roundhouse is based on a floor plan from an archaeological excavation at Little Waltham,
near Chelmsford.

Hampshire – Butser Farm

Ever since Butser Ancient Farm has been running, there has always been a ‘great’ round house, based on  an archaeological excavation. The first one was on Butser Spur, set up in 1972, based on a house named  ‘The Balksbury House’ from Balksbury Camp, an Iron Age plateau enclosure situated on the outskirts of  Andover. In 1976 a second site, known as ‘The Pimperne House’ and based on an excavation on  Pimperne Down, Dorset was started in the valley bottom nearby, at Hillhampton Down. This was dismantled in 1990.  In 1991 the project moved to the Bascomb Down Site, where it still continues. The Longbridge Deverel House’, built in 1992 was based on an excavation at Cowdown, in Wiltshire. The house was dismantled in 2006. In 2007 work started on ‘The Little Woodbury House’ (House1) from Britford, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Oswestry – Park Hall

In 2009 a reproduction of an Iron Age roundhouse was built at Park Hall to complement the development of the nearby Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort. Visitors can view the Roundhouse and its interior at any time (Admission fee to the park applies). Interpretation boards and artefacts offer an insight to the life of Iron Age people.

Pembrokeshire – Castell Henllys

Castell Henllys (Welsh, “castle of the old court”) is an important archaeological site in north Pembrokeshire, Wales, between Newport and Cardigan. This Iron Age hillfort has been the subject of an ongoing excavation for more than twenty years, accompanied by an exercise in reconstruction archaeology whereby experiments in prehistoric farming have been practised. Four roundhouses and a granary have been reconstructed on their original Iron Age foundations.

If you have a favourite replica roundhouse, why not leave a comment and tell us about it? And if you’re visiting one of the sites above, or anything similar this month, please fill in our brief survey.

September is here, and there are plenty of excuses to get out and about this month to grab yourself some heritage experiences.

Scottish Archaeology Month

September is Scottish Archaeology Month (SAM) and there are a host of exciting events taking place all over the country.

From Orkney to Galloway and Shetland to the Scottish Borders, there are free talks, tours, exhibitions, workshops and hands-on events to help you discover some of the amazing archaeology on your doorstep.

Wiki Loves Monuments

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo contest around cultural heritage monuments in September. Starting from the Netherlands in 2010 and organized on a European level in 2011, we go global in 2012!

Everybody can participate and improve Wikipedia in their local and regional neigbourhood. Cultural heritage is everywhere around you, you just need to look and learn!

In every participating country you can win awards, and the best photos in each country continues to the international jury – which will select the best monument photos in 2012.

There are even smartphone apps for Android and iOS which will help you track down and photograph the monuments in your area.

September Site Survey

..and then there’s our very own September Site Survey. Whether you participate in the events above, or just pop out for a day trip locally, please let us know where you went, and your thoughts on the place(s) you visit this month. We’ll collate the responses and report back next month.

Enjoy September!

Update:

For those who prefer the built heritage, how could we miss mentioning the Heritage Open Days project ?

Heritage Open Days celebrates England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to places that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission.

 Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors. It is a once-a-year chance to discover architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring local history and culture to life.

Summer seems to be running a little late this year, so with that in mind, we’d like to try something a little different next month, and Dear Reader, we’d like your help to do it!

As regular readers will know, we’re advocates of getting out and seeing our (pre-Roman) archaeological sites as often as possible, and we’ve previously written on how to prepare for and enjoy such visits.

Picnic at Saint-Alban du Rhône photographed by Gabriel Veyre (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons. Note: We do not condone clambering over monuments. This photo was taken in another age, in another country and does not represent current best practice.

Now, if we can, we’d like to get an idea of how many people are actually visiting the monuments and where they’re going. So if you’re planning a day out (or longer) in September; be it a hike across the moors to see some rock art, a day out with the family to a curated ‘attraction’ such as Stonehenge, a stroll across the local common which has some barrows still visible, or even if you’re working on an archaeological dig somewhere, please let us know.

It would help us immensely if you could fill out our short survey form about your visit, it  would be very much appreciated. All personal details will be held in confidence and not shared with any third parties.

  • Date of visit
  • Site(s) visited
  • Number of people in your party
  • Reason for selecting this site
  • General impressions of the site and your visit

Or feel free to Tweet us or drop us a line via our Facebook Page. We’ll collate statistics for the returns we receive, and will provide summaries of the sites visited. If you’d be happy to write a full blog post about your trip, we’d love to see that too!

We look forward to hearing about your trips throughout next month!

As the end of their 2012 dig season came to a close, so the Norton Community Archaeology Group  (NCAG) held an Open Day at their Stapleton’s Field dig on what was the hottest day of the year so far. This is the third season of an ongoing project design (PDF links) begun in 2010 to investigate crop marks on aerial photographs which suggested a possible henge structure. Although most participants in the dig are amateurs, the summer excavation work is directed by North Hertfordshire District Council’s Archaeology Officer, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, and advised by local archaeologist Paul Palmer.

Stapleton’s Field from the air, 1976 © G R Burleigh

I headed up the A1 to Letchworth in good time for the start of the open session and decided to take a slight detour to look at the museum in Letchworth. It is housed in an elegant Edwardian building facing Broadway Gardens, in the centre of Letchworth, beside the Library. The ground floor contains a wildlife exhibition – lots of stuffed animals and birds. The ‘Before the Garden City’ exhibition is on the first floor, sadly inaccessible for the disabled except via two flights of stairs via a small mezzanine floor. The exhibition itself is quite extensive, though some renovation work is being carried out: some display cases were empty or partly so, information boards referred to missing exhibits etc. but despite that, it gives a good flavour of the depth of archaeology in the area. NCAG have a display there too, outlining their excavations and findings.

I had heard that the museum also had a roundhouse, but when I enquired at the desk was told this is in the museum garden, only viewable on ‘open archaeology days’, but that I might be able to see it from the children’s section of the library next door. I declined this offer, and set off for the dig site.

I parked on a grass verge on Norton Road just west of the bridge over the A1, and set off around the footpath to the site. Across the field I could see a good crowd, obviously being told about the site. Was I too late?

The first tour in progress.

I found my way eventually, having taken a turn onto the wrong footpath and being stymied by barbed wire fencing frustratingly separating me from the site and causing me to walk the length of the field twice to gain access, just as the tour was ending. I would estimate between 80-100 people on that first tour, a good turn-out!

There were gazebos set up with some information boards, both on general archaeology techniques (geofizz etc) and the site dig in particular, and as I was perusing these, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews was announcing that a second tour was about to start. Again, a good 70-80 people were gathered, having missed the first tour.

We started by the south corner of the 40m square excavation, where Keith explained a brief history of the dig site and the mystery of a ‘square enclosure’ around the suspected henge. The enclosure turned out to be a Roman ditch, with lots of roof tile, and some evidence of iron smelting and manufacture in the area, although no forge was found. Keith postulated that the area was a site for manufacture, and possibly sale of iron goods, the ditch being a defensive mechanism to keep out burgulars. Any buildings may have been timber-framed structures, built on (rather than in) the chalk base. The lack of a forge could be explained if the forge were to have been built into the bank of the henge which was slightly uphill, and subsequently ploughed out and scattered, leaving no trace. This would make economic sense at the time, as building a forge was a large undertaking, and why not use what’s already there?

Keith explaining the Roman ditch

The ditch in section

We then moved uphill to the west of the excavation, where barely visible remains of a chalk ring could be made out on the ground. This was the remains of the henge, which was composed of not one, but two banks; a large outer bank some 55 metres or so in diameter, and a smaller inner bank and ditch. This has been interpreted as a possible ‘missing link’ between the earlier formative-henge monument type, and the later classic henge form. If this is the case, then this makes the site very important indeed.

The smaller bank had an entrance due East, and a central, flat chalk platform which may have been used to view the equinoxal sunrise – important dates in the neolithic farming calendar. A cremation burial was also found within this inner bank, along with a large post hole – for  a ‘totem’ pole possibly? The cremation was of an adolescent, some 8-9 years old, as evidenced by a milk tooth found within the remains.

The excavation from the west

The bank and ditches have been dated via various pottery finds of known types. The cremation mentioned above having been in what may have been a collared urn style pot, but one of much better quality than usually associated with the type.

There was some discussion of the wider landscape, the ‘Baldock Bowl’ as Keith has called it – the subject of his recent talk at the Welwyn Archaeological Society Conference“it’s like someone dumped a lump of Salisbury Plain in Hertfordshire!”

All too soon the tour of the site was over, and Keith was answering questions from the couple of dozen people who had remained. As I left, I overheard plans being discussed for next season’s excavation in 2013.

An interesting day of outreach to the local community, who were obviously (from the numbers present) very interested in the early story of their local area. Well done to all involved!

Note: Apologies to all involved for any inaccuracies in my account above, I was working from memory rather than notes.

All pictures above © Alan S. unless stated.

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