We conclude our look at Current Archaeology magazine’s recent annual ‘CALive!’ conference at Senate House in London, with a review of the final sessions on Saturday.


After lunch, there were just two sessions left of this year’s conference, and it had gone all too quickly. The next session was entitled ‘Experiments in Archaeology’ and was presented by Karly Hilts, Deputy Editor of Current Archaeology magazine.

Ryan Watts from Butser Ancient Farm was first up, talking about ‘Past, Present, Future: 40 Years of Experimental Archaeology’, and gave us a quick run down of Butser’s 42 year history. Initially set up by Peter Reynolds to aid research in archaeological interpretation of earthworks and other constructions, the first Open Day was held in 1974, and was so successful that the entire site had to move to a new, larger location. As funding for experimental projects can be scarce, Butser worked to become self sustaining, largely through an education program which now sees around 30,000 schoolchildren pass through its gates each year. Visiting groups from schools, universities, U3A, WI etc all help to fund the research, which is as much about destruction as it is construction. The way in which buildings deteriorate and collapse over time can be extremely informative. The original prehistoric scope of the project has now extended to include construction of a Roman villa, and a new Saxon Hall was completed just the day before the conference. This joins the existing Neolithic houses, based upon excavated building footprints from Durrington and elsewhere. Education and Research remain the main principles behind the site, and public visitors are welcome during the summer months.

Pieta Greaves and Eleanor Blakelock then gave an update on their latest findings in ‘Secrets of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith: Conservation and Scientific Research of the Staffordshire Hoard’. Pieta showed us some stunning pictures of some of the more than 4000 pieces representing a few hundred objects. The use of many of the fragments remains a mystery. “Reconstructing a helmet from its foils is like reconstructing a house when you only have its wallpaper”. Eleanor then gave an in-depth insight into the scientific analysis of the gold in the objects. Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths added copper and silver to their gold to create alloys – to change its working properties and colour, and these alloys corrode at different rates. Copper in particular will be lost in the ground, but surface analysis showed that much silver was lost too – up to 40% in some cases, where 1% is more usual in a burial environment. Looking below this surface loss, the core composition of some pieces showed a similar depletion, so obviously not something that happened in the ground. Investigation into the ways that silver can be removed from gold alloys in this way led to just 4 possible techiniques for enrichment and depletion. It seems that the A-S goldsmiths were more highly skilled that previously thought, using the different alloy combinations not for the cost factor, but to produce contrast in an artistic manner.

Zena Kamash was next on the agenda, with a talk entitled ‘Digesting the Romans’. no, this wasn’t about Roman menus, but about 3D printing and a project to help people experience museum exhibitions in different ways – through poetry and through 3D models!  The 3D process involves first laser-scanning an object to build up a digital model which can then be ‘printed’ using a variety of materials. This prompted a question of whether 3D models belong in museum display cases at all – there are several famous replica objects in museums already, but the team recently 3D printed the Roman cockerel found in a child grave at Cirencester – the ‘Corinium Cockerel‘  with mixed results – the final model is quite ‘sticky’ and malleable in places, and brittle in others. 3D printing is not yet a perfect process – dirt on a laser scan resulted in several imperfect models being produced., and several of these aborted attempts were available during the following teabreak for people to handle for themselves. To go along with the images of the cockerel and the models, a poem composed by poet Dan Simpson was played to the audience, and the talk finished with another of Dan’s poems, ‘The Museum of Replicas‘, which caused some amusement, and took us into the final tea break and a last chance to spend money on books in the Archaeology Fair.


Following the teabreak, Julian Richards, Neil Faulkner and Ray Baldry briefly took to the stage to announce that the impromptu collection for the Sedgeford project, to allow for isotope analysis of some of the remains to determine if they were local, settlers or invaders had raised (including Gift Aid) a sum approaching £1000, which was duly presented to Ray Baldy who expressed his extreme gratitude to everyone who had contributed. A very successful crowdfunding effort, and we look forward to reading about the results of the analysis in a future issue of Current Archaeology magazine!


The last session of the day finally arrived, and David Breeze told us about ‘Hadrian’s Wall – 40 years of research on the Roman frontier’. David began with a quick rundown of early research of Hadrian’s Wall, through the 1800s and early 1900’s. The first chronology for the wall was proposed in 1909, and refined twenty years later.  These early chronologies suggested that the wall was rebuilt in it’s entirety several times during its active life. Showing several illustrations of the wall, David questioned why it was so ‘tidy’, and why was there a walkway on top when other frontiers walls didn’t have this feature? Looking at modern frontiers and barriers, the Berlin Wall, the West Bank etc., these are all much simpler in construction and designed to control people, not soldiers. Documented evidence suggests people could only move within the  Roman frontier zones with permits. Identification of obstacle pits between the wall and ditch (also seen at the Antonine Wall) brings into question whether a wall walk was needed at all, and looking at the wall’s place in the landscape, it’s not always best placed for visibility or defence. Looking at the forts along the wall, many are earlier than the wall itself which was then built in front of the older forts, with new forts incorporated into it. Discovery of large civil settlements on either side of the wall also suggest that the wall was not a definitive barrier, leaving – as always – many questions still to investigate and answer.

Ending the conference, Andrew Selkirk, Editor in Chief regaled us with a brief summary of the previous two days in his own inimitable style. Then it was all over, for another year. However, for the Romanists there will be another 3-day conference in September at Durham University, following up on David’s talk and focusing upon ‘Hadrian’s Wall: 40 Years of Frontier Research’.

But I’ll hope to be back again at Senate House next year, for another enthralling conference, CALive! 2017

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