We continue our review of this year’s Current Archaeology Live conference, held on March 1-2 at Senate House, in London.

After a pleasant lunch in the cafe in the park at Russell Square, I returned to the melee at the Archaeology Fair. The second-hand bookstall was proving popular, as were all the other stalls ranged around the room. But all too soon the bell summoned us back to the lecture room for the afternoon sessions.

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Session 3. Researching Roman Britain
Now, I’m far from being a Romanist – it’s all far too modern for me! – but I found much of interest in this session. Are those damn Romans assimilating me into their empire? Matt Symonds was certainly in raptures during this session!

First up was Keith Parfitt, from Canterbury Archaeology Trust, to tell us about a Rescue Dig at Folkestone Villa.  The villa was first excavated by Winbolt in the 1920’s and last dug in 1957 when it was backfilled. The site is now in danger from coastal erosion – where it was recorded as far as 200 feet from the cliff edge, parts are no more than 8 feet from the edge! As Keith said, “cliffs don’t crumble, they go in chunks”, so the next collapse will likely take some of the villa with it. It’s possible the villa may once have been a trading post, as much as half-a mile inland. There have been some fascinating finds, both at the site and at the bottom of the cliff on the shoreline below, including a beautiful Iron Age gold coin – a photo of which drew gasps from the audience, and a lovely signet ring gem, found trodden into the gravel in the yard of the villa.

Andrew Birley then attempted to summarise 5 years work at Vindolanda in 25 minutes… Vindolanda contains a long sequence of forts on a single site – as many as 11 – with other forts nearby too, so an impossible task to fit it all in, but he made a brave attempt. The last 5 years have concentrated on the 3rd century site, where two pieces of painted glass, excavated in different areas of the site were found to fit together perfectly. Amazing stuff. Many of the finds at Vindolanda are so well preserved because of its isolation – there were no medieval settlements here to rob out the stone, although some Saxon strap ends built into the fabric of the wall indicate the length of the occupation. One sombre find was the grave of a murdered Roman child, born in North Africa and buried under the garrison floor. Among other finds have been some pieces matching parts of the Crosby Garrett helmet – suggesting mass-production of components?

To finish the session, Ian Haynes told us about recent work at Maryport, Cumbria.  In particular looking at new ideas about the largest collection of Roman altars in Britain and a reappraisal of the 1870 pit discoveries. It is now felt that the altars were not ritually buried as originally thought, but may have been used to support the timber posts of later buildings.

Session 4. Keynote Speaker

After a tea break, Neil Faulkner introduced the Keynote Speaker, Martin Carver (who has previously featured in our Inside the Mind series). Martin’s talk, entitled ‘Around the World with a Pointed Trowel’ took us on a whirlwind tour of archaeological digs in different countries: Turkey, Senegal, Sweden, Iceland, Cambodia, Japan etc. showing that different terrains can’t be excavated by standard means and techniques. Each site has unique problems to overcome, such as the comparison of excavation techniques used for permafrost versus a jungle terrain or the use of ‘CSI archaeology’ to analyse chemical properties of soil to identify the usage of different parts of a site. Moving on to talk about the social context and problems of looting, local communities need to feel important to value their heritage and stop looting. Closing thoughts from Martin Carver: every site has its own personality. ‘Design, not dogma, is what makes archaeology happen,’ and ‘Local archaeological societies are local experts and must be included in archaeology design’.

After a short break, during which everyone decanted into the Fair hall, it was time for the awards. Firstly the World Archaeology Photo of the Year winner was announced: Sophie Hay was the worthy winner.

Then a special award, The Royal Archaeological Institute presented a special award for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for the best report on archaeological achievements in the last 60 years. The worthy winners were Cornwall Archaeological Society, for their work at Carn Brea.

The Current Archaeology Awards, voted for by the magazine readership were then presented. The winners were as follows:

  • Book of the Year: Roman Camps in Britain, by Rebecca Jones
  • Rescue Dig of the Year: Folkstone: Roman Villa or Iron Age oppidum?
  • Research Project of the year: Richard III: The search for the last Plantagenet king.
  • Archaeologist of the Year: Phil Harding

The awards were in the form of flint arrowheads, which particularly pleased that well known knapper, Phil Harding

Phil Harding, can't believe his luck!

Phil Harding, can’t believe his luck!

The worthy winners , from l: Phil Harding, Richard Buckley (King Richard III), Keith Parfitt (Folkstone), Rebecca Jones.

The worthy winners , from l: Phil Harding, Richard Buckley (King Richard III), Keith Parfitt (Folkstone), Rebecca Jones.

And that was that. Drinks and nibbles were accompanied by some wonderful medieval music by Duo Parva Antiqua as the first day of the conference came to a close. Back tomorrow for more!

To Be Continued.