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This year’s Day of Archaeology will take place next week, on 29th July, and judging by the comments on their sign-up page will include many new participants this year!
For those that aren’t aware, the Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on the website.
The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists, and taking part in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement!
The project has been running since 2011, and last year we documented some of our thoughts on the year’s events. It will be interesting to see if anything has changed for this year’s coverage.
Volunteers team up with English Heritage on hillfort maintenance
Local love for a Shropshire heritage site is being put to good use through a progressive new volunteering initiative.
Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, residents of Oswestry on the Shropshire/Wales border congregated on Old Oswestry hillfort in a symbolic hug of protection. Now they are turning their affection into hands-on support with the monument’s maintenance under the supervision of its national guardians, English Heritage.
Members of the HOOOH Community Group, which is promoting local engagement in Old Oswestry’s future, are recruiting volunteers to help English Heritage with landscape management and monitoring. Tasks will range from scrub clearance and pond maintenance, to taking fixed-point photos and supporting environmental initiatives to aid the hillfort’s preservation and upkeep.
English Heritage is also keen to work with other local organisations including colleges with expertise and interest in undertaking potential biodiversity and animal management initiatives on the fort.
The scheme is one of just a few in England involving local volunteers in landscape maintenance combined with environmental and wildlife initiatives at an English Heritage site. It is hoped that the success of the partnering at Old Oswestry will pave the way to more volunteering of this type, especially at unstaffed and more remote properties.
English Heritage is the charitable trust which cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites across the country – it became separate from Historic England, the government service championing and offering advice on heritage, in 2015. As part of its mission as a charity, English Heritage is committed to including the wider community in its work and expanding opportunities for volunteers. Currently, around 2,000 people are involved with volunteering at some 50 of its 400 sites.
HOOOH Community Group member, Neil Phillips, and heritage adviser, Tim Malim, recently met with English Heritage representatives to discuss the scope of volunteer involvement.
English Heritage has an established management plan in place for the hillfort, though recent wet summers have impacted on control of undergrowth, particularly around the ‘ponds’ or pits on the western side. New gates installed in 2015 have improved access for the landscape contractor. An additional log bench is due to be installed this year by the ‘floating’ path at the western entrance.
During a tour of the hillfort, plans were discussed for clearing overgrown areas, especially bracken, with minimal disturbance to wildlife. This would include an annual cutback of willow and woody growth in the winter, and control of bracken in the summer.
A newt and ecology survey was undertaken earlier this year to help assess what additional tasks can be tackled, and when, alongside regular grounds maintenance during the next 12 months. English Heritage will be updating its landscape maintenance plan to offer a range of opportunities for volunteers, including a programme of pond clearance this autumn.
Tim Malim said: “Managing the earthworks is a complex mission, with the need to balance several conflicting interests. Uncontrolled vegetation is a threat to the monument, and one of the best methods for managing this is through grazing the ramparts. But access to water and steep slopes make this difficult without unsightly fencing being introduced.
“Another balance has to be achieved between wildlife and the historic monument. There is a need to control the rabbit population and cut down scrub undergrowth and bracken, while maintaining habitats for newts and linnets at critical times in the year.”
English Heritage West is responsible for over 135 scheduled and listed sites across a substantial area stretching from the Scilly Isles to Cheshire. The Charity is keen to involve local groups and volunteers as “outreach caretakers” to undertake maintenance tasks and site monitoring.
As a first task, HOOOH volunteers have installed ‘No Bikes’ signs to deter bikers from scrambling over the 3000-year-old scheduled earthwork and causing severe erosion scars. Help is also being sought with a fixed-point photography project to document the impact of on-going maintenance work.
Before leaving, the English Heritage team visited the Artists Hugging the Hillfort exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry. With over 60 art pieces, including work by local school children, they were impressed by the local pride and strength of feeling shown for Old Oswestry.
Volunteer Neil Phillips said: “As one of many local people that have been inspired by Old Oswestry since childhood, this is a constructive and rewarding way to be more closely involved in its conservation. The HOOOH Community Group is proud to contribute through the volunteers’ initiative, following the example of the town’s archaeology and history groups, as well as the hillfort landscape improvement project, which have long championed the hillfort.”
Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact Mr Phillips in the first instance on 07751 160576.
It’s always fascinating to see new entrants to the blogosphere, particularly those which focus upon heritage matters in geographical areas which interest me personally. The CornishBirdBlog appears to have been started earlier this year, and the About page tells us a little of the impetus behind the site:
After visiting 50 countries in 9 years I came home and realised that some of the best sunsets are found right on my doorstep. I want to share my walks around Cornwall and my thoughts with you. (And a little bit of local history too, the fun stuff I promise!) I should just add that I am not a professional historian, all the research is my own and I have formed my own opinions and stories from it – nothing should be taken as 100% fact.
In the few months since starting, there have been many interesting stories published on the site, from tales of shipwrecks, local folklore, treasure (the latest story tells of the Rillaton gold cup), lost Cornish kings, Roman roads and other ancient trackways, Cornish crosses, standing stones and other ancient sites, and some interesting historical Cornish characters. Yes, some of the stories are well known, but others are more obscure, and deserve a wider audience.
So if you’re interested in Cornwall’s history and heritage, why not pay the Cornish Bird Blog a visit, take a look around the archives, and leave a comment or two. Don’t forget to say we sent you!
Co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the Festival offers hundreds of events nationwide, organised by museums, heritage organisations, national and country parks, universities, local societies, and community archaeologists.
Now obviously we can’t listeverything that’s of interest to our readers here, but the random selection below gives a flavour of the range of prehistoric events (many aimed at families) available across the country – other time periods are available. If you’re looking for a great day out you could do much worse than search the list on the festival web site to see what’s happening in your area.
- Southampton Archeovillage Activities Day (Hampshire)
- Boden Fogou Open Day (Cornwall)
- Avebury Walk and Talk (Wiltshire)
- Marden Henge Open Days (Wiltshire)
- Sheffield’s Prehistoric Past (Sheffield)
- Archaeology summer school- what is archaeology? (Tyne and Wear)
- The archaeology of osidian and flint (Norfolk)
- Guided walk of Breedon Hill (Leicestershire)
- Archaeology without a trowel (Berkshire)
- Before the Romans showed up at Silchester : Life and landscape at the Iron Age Oppidum (Berkshire)
- Flint workshop at The Hive (Warwickshire)
- Scarborough Museums Trust Festival of Archaeology (N Yorkshire)
- In their footsteps: Guided tour of Prehistoric Penwith (Cornwall)
- Buried treasures: Megalithic monuments, Penzance (Cornwall)
- Iron Age roundhouse open day (Nottinghamshire)
- Bay Archaeology Festival: Rediscovering the Bay’s Old Ways, Morecambe (Cumbria)
- Hopesay Iron Age hillfort – the archaeological heritage of the south Shropshire hills (Shropshire)
Many of the events in the festival will incur a charge and/or require prior booking, but many are also free, so please check before setting out for an event.
Enjoy the Festival!!
On a spur on the western slopes of Tair Carn Isaf is a small cairn (SN 68063 16834) composed of “fresh” looking rubble. Examination of the surrounding heather indicates that it once extended a bit further, but compared to its neighbours it is rather inconspicuous and is probably overlooked by most visitors to the area. The neighbouring cairns are much larger and more prominently positioned on the nearby higher ground. What this cairn lacks in size is more than made up by its very special setting.
A very precise visual link to a neighbouring cairn together with another to a sea triangle are particularly noteworthy whilst the spectacular views of the Gower, Lundy, Caldey, St. Govan’s Head and Preseli further enhance the atmosphere and contribute to the feeling that views were important to the people who built this cairn.
The sea view and more distant views will be considered in the future. This time, the very precise visual links between this cairn and another, Tair Carn Uchaf III (SN 69249 17378) are presented. For those who are sceptical about the importance or even the existence of visual links in Neolithic/Bronze Age studies, this example may help overcome these doubts. This cairn was carefully positioned to benefit from a multitude of visual treats at the limit of visibility and it is hard to believe that this could not have been deliberate. The very particular view of Tair Carn Uchaf III and the manner in which it alters dramatically as you move around the cairn are similar to those encountered at stone alignments and further emphasises the importance of special, particular and evolving visual links. Logic tells us that given the care taken to create these treats that these must have played some part in the beliefs of these people. The photographs below attempt to illustrate the phenomenon, but sadly cannot replace the on-site experience.
The precision and character of the visual link between the two cairns was identified by Simon Charlesworth who generously shared his discovery with me taking the time to show me what he had found. I am very grateful for his help and trust I have not misrepresented his ideas.
Another Bank Holiday weekend, and another Pathways to the Past celebration with CASPN. And so it was that we set out from London at an ungodly hour for the drive to West Penwith. A few hours later, and we hit the infamous roadworks on the A30, the traffic giving every indication that the road into Cornwall was actually full and that no more visitors could be accommodated. But thankfully, after an hour or so’s delay, we were on the move again, and arrived at our destination just outside Penzance.
Sadly, we were too late for the first walk of the day, and so had some time to get unpacked and gather some provisions for the next few days before heading out for the afternoon walk, entitled ‘Round and about Little Lookout Tor’. The meeting point at Bosiliack was already quite busy when I arrived, with a good crowd already gathered. After renewing my FOCAS membership and getting reacquainted with old friends, around 45 people set off up the track to Greenburrow engine house, led by our guide for the day, David Giddings.
The industrial archaeology and traces of the connection between Greenburrow and the wider ‘Ding Dong’ mining area were discussed briefly, then we were off once again. The next stop was a kerbed cairn near to the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle, the first stop on a suggested processional route towards Carn Galver.
We continued on to the stone circle, where a quantity of material on the ground caused some confusion. Consensus was reached that it was probably dog hair, from someone grooming their pet – there was a lot of hair there. A brief explanatory note from David about the circle, it’s setting and known history then we moved on, having the much truncated outlier menhir and denuded barrows and cairns pointed out – more evidence of an important track/processional way? – before reaching the larger cairn which has been much cleared by the CASPN team. It now looks quite open, and the quartz stone which I’d previously visited last year takes pride of place.
We could now see Little Galver, our next destination and David set off across the moor, leaving the main path which we’d been following until now behind us. A parish boundary stone was pointed out as we passed a field boundary, with ‘Z’ for Zennor on one side and ‘G’ for Gulval on the other.
We then spent some time at Little Galver as there were two major points of interest here. A ‘propped stone’, which many geologists agree must have been man-made, with a small stone wedged underneath two very much larger stones, and a lookout point created by two stones leaning to make a triangle, through which the highest point of nearby Carn Galver could be seen by an observer kneeling down. Many people took turns to look through the gap and discussed the possible uses and meanings of such a feature. I’ll have to return here at some future point for a proper look around.
It was then time to descend off the moor, into the Bosporthennis valley, criss-crossed with many post medieval and Victorian field boundaries. As we descended, David pointed out that many of the boulders around us were actually the remains of a Bronze Age field system which had survived the reclamation of the moors evidenced before us. Here also was a ‘proto-courtyard house’, an early example of a possible roundhouse with a courtyard tacked on.
Again, locations of cairns, barrows, roundhouses and courtyard dwellings were pointed out, in one case the cairn having been intersected by a field boundary and outbuilding, but still visible for all that!
Our next target was the enigmatic ‘Beehive Hut’, a strange structure with corbeling and a small adjacent room, all built into a later field boundary. Was this the beginning construction of a fogou, or something else? Comparison was made with the side chamber at Carn Euny being of similar construction.
The clock was against us at this point, and it was time to make our way back to the meeting point, passing by another courtyard house (with a ruined later medieval outbuilding in it’s centre) before ascending onto the moor once more to retrace our steps, where a different approach view of the Nine Maidens was seen, the three large (recently re-erected) stones standing out, highlighted against the horizon.
All in all, a very enjoyable (if tiring after my long drive) afternoon, which opened my eyes further as to just how much heritage is all around us in this area. David is a knowledgable and entertaining guide and I’d recommend attending one of his walks if you get the chance!
Some four years ago now, we asked “What next for London Stone?” It appears that at long last that question will been answered, as from this Friday 13th London Stone will be on display in its new temporary home at the Museum of London whilst redevelopment of the site at 111 Cannon Street goes ahead.
The stone will be displayed in the Museum of London’s War, Plague & Fire gallery, and will remain at the museum while work is carried out to rebuild its previous home on Cannon Street.
The stone’s origins are bathed in myth, and it is said to hold the fate of London in its hands should it ever be removed or destroyed. Let’s wait and see…
It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.
This is what the weekend will involve:
Saturday May 28th
- Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
- A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
- Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
- An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
- The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
- An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.
Sunday May 29th
- Mining in Cornwall
- An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
- In the footsteps of giants
- A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
- The geomantic network in West Penwith
To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.
Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.
Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.
Neil gained a first class degree in archaeology from Newcastle University in 1984 before starting work in professional archaeology. He went straight from University to direct excavations on Hadrian’s Wall for English Heritage for a number of years beforemoving on to Exeter Museum where he worked on Roman finds. He was appointed Archaeological Manager at Cotswold Archaeology in 1991, and is is now head of the salaried staff as Chief Executive, responsible for ensuring that Cotswold Archaeology remains a successful and innovative company delivering high quality work. He sits on a number of Committees, including the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (formally SCAUM); the Archaeology Committee of the Roman Society and the Publications Committee of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Reading University.
The Ten Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?
I became interested in the Romans as a kid, and remember that walking along a stretch of Roman road near Cambridge with my father made quite an impression on me. It was pretty much just the Romans then, although my interests have broadened considerably since. I thought Hadrian’s Wall was incredibly evocative as a child, and still do today.
How did you get started?
I decided to study archaeology at Newcastle University (because it was near Hadrian’s Wall) , but as I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like as a subject. I hedged my bets and opted for a really strange mixed degree in my first year: ancient history; archaeology and chemistry. I was told that no-one had ever done such a combination before (and probably hasn’t since!). At the end of my first year I was sure that archaeology was what I wanted to do, but I thought I would benefit from learning some more about digging. So I took a year out and went on excavations over the winter in St Albans (really cold), and then Germany and then Israel (really hot). It was great fun. I went back to Newcastle, finished my degree, and then by a couple of lucky breaks quickly ended up running digs on Hadrian’s Wall. After a spell in Exeter I ended up in Cirencester, and for the last 25 years I’ve run Cotswold Archaeology. From very small beginnings we now have a staff of over 180 archaeologists working out of offices in Andover; Cirencester; Exeter and Milton Keynes. I am very proud of what my colleagues have achieved.
Who has most influenced your career?
I owe a lot to a number of people who helped me along when I was young, and indulged some of the arrogance of youth. Charles Daniels fired my interest in archaeology at University with his infectious enthusiasm. Paul Bidwell gave me first big break, and working with him taught me an incredible amount about not only how to excavate, but equally how to interpret the findings. His approach has influenced me ever since. When I came to the Cotswolds I was lucky that Alan McWhirr, who had worked for over 30 years in Cirencester, was so welcoming and encouraged me to collaborate with him on bringing his work to publication.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
It is very hard to pick one – but the recent discovery in Cirencester of a Roman tombstone dedicated to a lady called Bodicacia is a moment I’ll never forget. I’ve also really enjoyed leading the Roman Rural Settlement Project over the last 10 years – a great opportunity to gather together all that has been found in commercial archaeological investigations since 1990 and ask the simple question: what does this tell us about Roman Britain that we didn’t know before?
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
Hadrian’s Wall. It is where my serious interest in the Past begun – and somewhere that I’d like to renew my interest in some day.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
That so many really well conducted archaeological digs on the 1960s, 70s and 80s are unpublished. All the blood, sweat and tears expended on projects that no one now knows next to nothing about. This is particularly true of many major historic towns and cities – places like Bristol and Winchester, for example. The knowledge loss is huge. It is for that reason that I am really pleased to be starting out on a project with Professor Stephen Rippon at Exeter University called Exeter: A Place in Time. This project combines delving back in to unpublished archives of digs done in the 1970s and 80s, along with with the application of cutting edge science. We are hoping that we will be able to use the information gathered to write a new archaeology of Roman and medieval Exeter. I’m excited by the prospect.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I’d like to raise the standard of field archaeology in the UK. There are some excellent organisations which produce consistently high quality work – but some fall below this standard. Even now too many reports are unpublished within a reasonable period of time. The current system of managing archaeology within the planning process works reasonably well, but it is fragile. To be successful it requires people to not only do the work, but also to stipulate it within local authorities. And the latter are under real pressure at the moment from Government cuts. What I would really like to see is some incentives for investigating organisations to turn out really top quality work rather than just a base minimum standard – and that doesn’t have to mean simply more money – sometimes better value could be obtained by thinking more flexibly and trying new approaches.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Don’t underestimate how much interest there is local history and archaeology – it is crucial to a sense of community cohesion and shared experience. And we only get one go at it – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
I guess I would be a manager somewhere dull, but with archaeology as my hobby (which it still is now).
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
One of the disadvantages of moving in to management is that you become a desk jockey, so I relish any opportunity at the weekend to get outside – in the garden or a tramp across the Gloucestershire countryside with my wife. I also like cricket and follow Gloucestershire – a sunny day at the Cheltenham cricket festival with a drink in hand is a great thing to look forward to every summer.
As always, we’d like to express our thanks to Neil for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable and willing subject, please contact us.
By Alan S and Sandy Gerrard
In the first part of this series, we briefly examined the pre-excavation activities of a typical archaeology project. We now continue our overview of the different types of archaeological practice, and their predilection to cause damage to the archaeological record, by examining various aspects of excavation technique.
But first, what do we actually mean by the term ‘damage’? The archaeological resource is a limited and dwindling asset. Excavation is always destructive and it is therefore crucial that it is carried out as carefully and efficiently as possible. Any deposits removed during the course of an excavation are destroyed together with the information they held. It is therefore the duty of the archaeologist to ensure that as much accurate information as possible is collected. If an excavation is not recorded correctly, any information from that excavation is lost forever. Therefore it is of prime importance that accurate records are kept of what has been excavated, and where. That includes any and all finds, features and samples, from all contexts. If records are not kept, knowledge is lost, and the damage to the archaeological record is total.
This is where the most damage is done! Let’s start by saying yes, all excavation is damaging. However the difference between a good excavation and a bad excavation is simple. A good excavation enhances our knowledge and appreciation of the past whilst a bad one adds nothing or at best very little and at worst may provide fallacious results which might seriously impair and even distort our understanding.
‘Excavation’ undertaken by metal detectorists can be without doubt one of the most damaging activities. Although there may have been some desk-based research prior to hitting the site, there will rarely be a formal methodology to the excavation other than ‘ping’/dig! Some detectorists may advise the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) of any significant (read metallic) finds but often the valuable context of the finds will have been trashed together with associated items (pottery, flints, fibres, animal bone etc) which are often discarded as irrelevant by the detectorist. Recording may comprise at best of a photo (or video) or two of the finds, and a GPS reference which may point to no more than a particular field, or parish. The loss of knowledge in these situations will be immense and of course in the long run means that many of the questions of future generations will go unanswered as a result.
An Open Area Excavation can be the most informative and destructive in equal measures. The technique involves stripping away all of the layers in reverse to how they were formed. So off comes the turf and topsoil first and then each layer, feature and structure until nothing but subsoil or bedrock remains. Carried out properly by competent archaeologists this technique can provide more information than any other but the price can be the total destruction of the site being examined. Sometimes structures encountered are left in place but sometimes these too are removed in order to look for information below them.
Test pitting, Sampling and Trenching techniques are used by many projects as a way of mitigating the limits of any damage. Using these methods, the extent of excavation is reduced to the bare minimum needed to meet the project’s objectives. Test pits are usually 1m square excavations, whilst trenches can be any length or width and dependent upon the documented project objectives, both may be taken down as far as the ‘natural’ or bedrock level, in separate layers or ‘contexts’ to ensure nothing is missed. Section drawings and photographs are taken of the stratigraphy and any features uncovered. With larger excavations, and particularly in Rescue Archaeology situations, test pits may be extended, or repeated across an area to provide an agreed sampled percentage coverage of the site. In all cases, careful recording of each context is undertaken, and where necessary soil samples may be taken for laboratory analysis of pollen grains, snail shells, bone and insect remains etc. before the pit is backfilled at the end of the excavation. This strategy of course has the huge advantage of allowing some or even most of the archaeology to survive for future ‘better informed’ excavations in the future, but the limited nature of the work means that the results themselves will be incomplete and therefore possibly misleading.
Next time, we’ll finish off by looking at the post excavation activities.