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It’s been a while, but Sue Brooke has once again managed to get a response from one of the prinicpals on the Caerau dig. In a departure from our usual email response format, Sue actually managed to sit down with Niall Sharples for a chat at Caerau. Here’s her report…

Over the last 8 days I’ve been popping up to the CAER Heritage Project excavations. I’ve seen lots of exciting things in the ground, held some beautiful items, learned a lot and generally have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve met Professor Niall Sharples quite a few times before and he has always stopped to chat. I emailed him to ask him to do a little ‘Inside the Mind of…’ article but really had got nowhere fast. Fair enough though, he has been quite busy during the digging season. However, having seen him a few times up on the hill I decided to ask if he would sit and answer my list of 10 questions. ‘Yes, of course, tomorrow’, he would say. Tomorrow would come and I would bump into him just as he was leaving and I was arriving or, just as I was leaving and he was arriving. Still, undeterred I kept my list of questions tightly tucked into my bag. On day 8 I arrived on site and yes, he was there. Unfortunately so were the BBC, following him around with their television cameras. In the distance I could see him being filmed on the edge of a trench, arms waving as he did his press relations thing. Ah well, I thought, not today.

Since this is a community dig that involves lots of visitors there were a group of local young people attending. Some were digging, some were sieving and others were helping to clean the finds. Some young people were making pots out of clay, learning how these were made and the skill that it took. I wandered around the site to see how things had progressed in the trenches and eventually sat to watch some pot making, keeping well out of the way of the telly cameras.

After a while Professor Sharples appeared and asked if I wanted to ask my 10 questions. Oh yes, right! We found a couple of chairs quite near and sat in the sun. I’m not sure how I thought this would work. I had questions, I had paper and a pen (well 3 – just in case) so I just asked the questions and made notes about the answers. We chatted about some things that came up, discussed things I hadn’t thought of and generally made our way through the questions. It was all rather laid back but, for me, very interesting.


What sparked your interest in archaeology? was the first question on my little list of ten. Well, apparently it was women – ‘there was a better class of women involved in the archaeology course’. Although this was said, kind of tongue in cheek, I got an inkling that there may be just a little grain of truth in that comment! Niall did however go on to talk about how, when he was younger, he had an interest in what he described as the ‘weird mysteries’ to be found in books such as those written by Erich Von Daniken. Inside my head I could hear a nice little sigh of relief. Having spent quite a few days up at the dig I had chatted to the Cardiff University students who gave me the impression that Professor Sharples was ‘fierce’ and that he ‘knew everything.’ So here I am, sat with the fierce guy, in the corner of a Welsh hillfort, who ‘knows everything’. When he mentioned Von Daniken I was delighted as I had read him too. I knew what he was on about! That felt like a good start.

Niall described how he had initially started at Glasgow University studying archaeology, maths and Scottish history. He didn’t actually learn geography but had an interest in it. Niall described how archaeology was a really interesting subject and one that allowed him to combine history and the geography that he enjoyed. He dropped maths after a couple of months. Niall felt that history was something that ‘could actually be open to interpretation and although an academic subject is not actually based on anything scientific’. Archaeology, in his view however, “…has to have an evidential base. Links between research and the actual archaeological evidence is clearer and therefore provides a far better connection to the past”.

So, how did he get properly started as a ‘real’ archaeologist rather than just a class based student? It was after he had gained student experience on the Glasgow University digs led by Leslie Alcock. Niall worked and learned on digs such as that led by Alcock during the later part of the 1970’s at Dundurn in Perthshire. Niall described one of his own early but exciting finds. It became clear as we chatted that Leslie Alcock really stimulated Niall’s original interest in archaeology. We spoke briefly of the digs Alcock had directed locally to Caerau at Dinas Powys and of course, at Cadbury Castle. He also talked about working on digs alongside David Clarke, now of the National Museum of Scotland. Niall found David to be what he described as an ‘interesting guy’ and together they worked on such sites as that at the very well known Neolithic site at Skara Brae. Niall credited Leslie Alcock as ‘probably the person who has most influenced my career’.

Niall has been recently found working on Ham Hill in Somerset so, excluding that site I asked which other site had he thought of as his most interesting project. Niall talked about Bornish, in the Outer Hebrides, a Iron Age and Norse settlement. I was a little surprised at his very obvious enthusiasm for the Vikings but Niall explained that the site there ‘…integrated different categories of evidence. There were structures, ditches, stratification, all giving up lots of chronological evidence and providing a very complicated story’. It is this kind of complication that clearly holds Nialls attention. I got the impression that he would find absolutely no fun at all in going onto a site, digging it and finding archaeology that all fitted nicely into a neat story. A little bit like his ‘weird’ Von Daniken mysteries – there clearly has to be that little bit of an extra challenge, to stretch him just that little bit more.

We talked about what Niall felt was his favourite British site, at which point he threw up quite a few names. Maiden Castle, on which of course Niall famously worked, and Mousa an Iron Age coastal Broch in the Shetlands, which was a site not familiar to me at all. Finally, Avebury a placename recognizable to most. When I asked him to explain why he simply stated that they were ‘spectacular’.

My next question was about what Niall felt was his biggest archaeological or heritage regret. He described his feeling that archaeology had gone downhill. He spoke with passion about the lack of available resources, the way museums were no longer being valued and what he described as the ‘quality of the experts’ available. He accepted that everyone, with experience properly gained, can become an expert but stated that today’s archaeologists are valued more and more for their ‘ability as good administrators’. Archaeology had become privatized and ‘heritage is not now being looked after as it should be’. The opinion now tends to be more that private companies will pay. There is a real sense of over commercialism. Such emphasis was placed by Niall on this subject that I struggled to keep up with writing my notes.

Moving on I asked if you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation then what would it be. He answered quite simply that “Archaeology should be returned to the care of the government and they should be investing more in their heritage”. My next question was if you could address Parliament for 30 seconds what would you say – referring to his answer from the previous question he stated, and I can quote, “It would be that!”

Grateful that my next question changed the subject I then asked Niall if he hadn’t made it in his archaeology career then what did he think he would be doing now. He gave it a little bit of thought and said he quite fancied being a film producer or director. I commented along the line of this being rather different to what he did now but he disagreed. He made the comparison with the dig up at Caerau saying there were lots of people there to organize and that, at the end of the dig, they were hoping to be able to tell a story. Just like making a film. He quickly pointed out that he had no ambition to be a film star, which I could understand since we were chatting immediately after he had been filmed over and over for a news item.

The questions were almost done. My last question was, away from his day job what did he do to relax. He talked about how he likes to simply watch TV and films. He still likes his mystery books only now preferring crime novels and murder mysteries by authors such as Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. He pointed out though that he does read ‘literature’ too, particularly admiring the work of Gabriel Marquez on South America.

Once the questions were out of the way we chatted a little bit more about the finds up at Caerau and I thanked him for answering the questions for me. As we got up to leave a young person who had been washing some finds came up with a wet pebble. Niall took it from her and said, “Ah yes, that could be a games piece. Although it’s a pebble it’s water worn and shouldn’t be up here. Where did it come from? Was it the river? Was it used to play games with?” The young lady took back her discovery and just stood looking at it. I just loved it!

Many thanks to Niall (and to Sue). 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 willing subject, please contact us.

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.


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!


Too busy to follow the detail of the Government’s decimation of English Heritage? Want to take part in the public consultation on what happens next? Here’s a quick summary of the stage that has been reached so far (it’s to be split into two smaller elements, one on a financial shoestring and the other with a begging bowl) based on the words of those most closely involved:

Maria Miller, Culture Secretary said: “The new funding underlines the Government’s commitment to the heritage sector and will further protect the statutory functions of Historic England in these difficult economic times”
Translated as: “They’re on their own”!

Sir Laurie Magnus, Chairman of English Heritage said: “I am delighted that ….” and “I am also delighted that ….” and “I would like to thank the Secretary of State for taking these proposals forward”
Translated as: “We and much of what we do have been severely downgraded. Thanks!”

Simon Thurley, English Heritage Chief Executive, added: “I welcome the Government’s proposed New Model for English Heritage. It offers an opportunity for English Heritage to move forward with confidence”
Translated as: “Looking good!

and Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture has said:
The consultation outlines how Historic England will look to get the heritage protection system to work better [i.e. quicker!] for owners, developers and infrastructure providers, [i.e. for developers?], reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape [i.e. weaken the safeguards?] and support growth [i.e. make it easier to build in sensitive locations] without reducing protection for heritage” [i.e. it’s magic!]



Kidderminster isn’t Winchester when it comes to heritage. It can boast about the carpet industry and penny black inventor Rowland Hill and 17th Century churchman Richard Baxter and superstar Robert Plant and the biggest church in Worcestershire but the list isn’t endless. So when a building that may have been associated with the Saxon minster that gave the town its name has been located and is being investigated as a community project in the churchyard of that church (see the blog here) it’s a source of a lot more local pride than would arise in many other places. When I was there someone approached me brimming with it. It was the pride of someone who clearly felt he owned it. Which of course he does, it’s his heritage.

That’s why he took a dim view of this, holes dug all over the chuchyard the night before by someone that was stealing his heritage. (They were back 2 nights later, the chuchyard is peppered).


I don’t want to tar all detectorists with the same brush” says the archaeologist in charge “but this opportunistic looting of sites is damaging and very frustrating.” Agreed, but on the other hand I do feel that not tarring most detectorists with exactly the same brush is unjustly whitewashing them. By which I mean this: the ONLY distinction that can be drawn between most detectorists (who don’t report all their finds) and the people that attacked this site (and didn’t report their finds) is “lack of permission”. The damage they do is the same. Same action. Same effect. Same loss of knowledge for the rest of society.  The damage inflicted on Kidderminster is identical to the damage inflicted on communities up and down the country thousands of times every week. Legally. People – especially landowners – should know.


The people that sneaked past this notice with detectors were plain nasty….



but please, please let’s not allow people to get the idea that such unpleasant, antisocial neanderdunces and their few hundred fellows do more damage than those thousands of perfectly legal non-reporters who get permission. That’s a damaging falsehood the public has been fed for 15 years. They do vastly less.


More about what has just been revealed at this community dig shortly. (They have an Open Day next Saturday, all welcome). Will it be as exciting as the remarkably similar community dig currently going on at Polesworth, Warwickshire? Of course! Kidderminster has loads of heritage!


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



Let’s start with an archaeologist. Charles Mount took the opportunity of last week’s Day of Archaeology to provide an insight into the state of Irish Archaeology in a contribution titled “Picking up the pieces”. He says the end of the Celtic Tiger boom has meant that

Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication”. Data from many sites “may never see the light of day”.

And now the politician. Mr Mount’s account reminded us of our article in June 2009 about Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He was once the author of The Green Guide For Ireland but was also the man who presided over the building of the M3 at Tara and who refused to prevent the destruction of the newly discovered National Monument at Lismullin. When launching three Codes of Archaeological Practice he made this amazing false claim that seems to underly a lot of government posturing on both sides of the sea:

“development and conservation can go hand in hand”.

He never explained how, and no wonder. Anyway, he is out of politics now and archaeologists like Mr Mount have been left with the reality and to pick up the pieces.


Do visit the dig if in Avebury this week or next!

The first excavation on West Kennet Avenue for more than three quarters of a century! The ‘Between the Monuments’ project is a collaboration between the University of Southampton under Dr Joshua Pollard, the University of Leicester under Dr Mark Gillings, and the archaeology and curatorial National Trust staff at Avebury Dr Nick Snashall and Dr Ros Cleal. The excavation on the line of the West Kennet Avenue involves two, possibly three trenches at two Neolithic sites at the foot of Avebury Down where Alexander Keiller’s excavations in 1934 unearthed remains of some form of settlement.

See here for more details
and Phone 01672 539250 after 10a.m. for tour times.

As mentioned in our recent article catching up on events in Caerau since Time Team left, Sue Brooke recently took the opportunity to speak with Dr. Oliver (Olly) Davis, who kindly agreed to take part in our Inside the Mind series.

Brief Bio:

Olly’s credentials include a BA in Archaelogy, an MA in British Prehistory and a PhD for an investigation of Iron Age communities in central and western Hampshire, all gained at Cardiff University.

He has worked for CADW, Dyfed Archaeological Trust and RCAHMW, and is currently co-director, along with Dr Dave Waytt, of the CAER Heritage Project.

His main research interests lie in the understanding of later prehistoric settlement (particularly hillforts), farming and social patterns through a consideration of landscape relationships identified through remote sensing techniques. He has taken a lead role in the development of LiDAR as an archaeological prospection tool in Wales and has published widely on the use of this technique for identifying archaeology. He is also particularly interested in the later prehistoric, Roman and early medieval settlement of Glamorgan and has undertaken extensive aerial reconnaissance and air photo mapping in the area.

As mentioned, he is a co-director of the CAER Heritage Project. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Caerau And Ely Rediscovering (CAER) Heritage Project is a collaborative project between Cardiff University, Ely and Caerau Communities First, local schools and local residents. The project is based around one of Cardiff’s most important, but little-known, archaeological sites, Caerau Iron Age hillfort, and seeks to engage local people and school children in their shared history and help challenge marginalisation.

Please visit the CAER Heritage Project website  to find out more about the project.

Olly Davis

The Ten Questions.

What sparked your interest in Archaeology?

When I was about 12 years old I had a computer game called ‘Civilization’ – you got to play as Vikings, Celts etc and build up your tribe from the Stone Age to the modern world – I was hooked on learning about the past from then on!

How did you get started?

I came to Cardiff University to study archaeology – the lectures were really interesting, but it was the excavations we were involved in at the start of each summer that really got me fascinated.

Who has most influenced your career?

It has to be Niall Sharples, my PhD supervisor and the man who taught me how to dig.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Only one answer here – definitely the CAER Heritage Project and our work at Caerau Hillfort.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

There are a few hillforts that are bigger and more spectacular, but the site I’m most passionate about is Caerau Hillfort – it’s one of the most significant sites in the whole of the Cardiff area, yet it’s never been explored…until now!

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

Never getting to dig at Danebury.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

Having a single Historic Environment Record in Wales – it’s a nonsense having both the NMR and HERs as we do at the moment – it’s confusing for the public, researchers and developers alike.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Once it’s gone, it’s gone – archaeology doesn’t grow back.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’d have to have worked outside and been allowed to be as scruffy as I am now, so maybe a builder

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

My girlfriend would say I never relax…except perhaps after a cider or two

Many thanks to Olly (and to Sue). 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 willing subject, please contact us.

It was with  very heavy hearts that we heard the news yesterday of Mick Aston’s passing.

Mick Aston

No doubt there will be many worthy obituaries over the coming days, as befits a man who inspired so many. But mere words cannot do justice to his work. In reaching out to millions of viewers on Time Team, he has left a very tangible legacy for generations of landscape archaeologists. Rest well Professor, our thoughts are with your family and friends at this difficult time..

We recently included in our Diary Dates notice of a talk to be given by Roger Farnworth later this month, not knowing at the time that he had sadly passed away earlier in the year. We offer our apologies and condolences to his family and friends. The following short article appears in the latest Meyn Mamvro magazine, to whom we are indebted for permission to reproduce the article here. 

Roger Farnworth

Roger Farnworth sadly and unexpectedly died from lymphoma at the end of January this year. Roger was an original thinker and researcher of Cornwall’s ancient sites, and was a member of the Cornwall Archaeological Society, to whom he gave a talk in November 2012 on “Platform Cairns and the winter solstice alignments on Rough Tor”, a talk that he was planning to write up for Meyn Mamvro. He was a MM subscriber and contributor, and was particularly interested in alignments and other kinds of ‘alternative archaeology’. He wrote a two-part article on “Sightlines to the Tors and Stars” in MM63 & 64, in which he examined the relationship of the Hurlers stone circle on Bodmin Moor to the prehistoric pole star Thubon, and the ‘view frames’ that he believed were deliberately created amongst the tor rocks to highlight significant features in the Bodmin Moor landscape. As interesting as these ideas were for readers, his lively mind extended in many other directions, and he had completed two original articles for MM, one on an idea about the use of fogous, and a longer piece on the significance of cliff castles (that he was due to talk about at Pathways to the Past in May this year). MM will be publishing both of these articles, and in the current issue (no.81) are his ideas on a possible use of fogous.

More detailed obituaries, covering Roger’s wider interests can be found here and here.

Our next willing subject is someone who’s been in the news quite a bit just recently, talking about plans and progress for the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre – it’s Sue Greaney, Senior Properties Historian with English Heritage. 

Brief Bio:

Sue studied archaeology and prehistory at Sheffield University, worked very briefly for ARCUS and then took an MSc in Professional Archaeology at Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. Placements with Oxford Archaeology, the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford and the archaeological survey team at English Heritage led to her securing a temporary job with English Heritage’s Properties Research team in 2005. This work was focused on researching and writing interpretation for the free and unstaffed sites, ranging from industrial buildings to Neolithic long barrows, and including sites from the Isles of Scilly to Hadrian’s Wall. Since 2009, Sue has been working on the exhibition and interpretation planned for the forthcoming new Stonehenge visitor centre.


The Ten Questions:

What sparked your interest in Archaeology?

It must have been studying ‘the Vikings’ and ‘the Romans’ at primary school, because I remember announcing aged 7 that I wanted to be an archaeologist. And I never changed my mind. Pretty soon I was a member of the local of the Young Archaeologist’s Club and a few years later Time Team started – after that at least friends at school stopped thinking I wanted to be an architect!

How did you get started?

My first excavation was two weeks work experience aged 14 with Northamptonshire Archaeology, on a DMV site near Rugby. I enjoyed it so much I asked to come back and volunteer in my summer holidays. After that I excavated at community projects including Piddington Roman Villa and Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project in Norfolk, spending a summer supervising there in 2001. By then I was in my first year at Sheffield University, studying archaeology and prehistory.

Who has most inspired your career?

Credit has to go to my university tutors, particularly Mike Parker Pearson and Mark Edmonds, who told me to question everything and how to interpret landscapes – they both made prehistory so exciting and accessible. Mark Bowden at English Heritage, who led one of my masters placements, taught me a lot about landscape survey and archaeology, and my first manager at English Heritage, John Goodall managed to instill in me a love of medieval abbeys and castles too. And all my archaeological friends from many conversations in the pub!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

It has to be the one that I work on now, the new Stonehenge visitor centre. I’m the archaeologist/historian working on the new exhibition galleries, all the new interpretation from the website to the audio tour, the temporary gallery, the permanent gallery, the films and interactives. Now is an incredibly busy time as we open later in 2013. Within the larger project there are lots of exciting pure research things – getting new radiocarbon dates on a burial from Winterbourne Stoke long barrow, interpreting the new laser scan of Stonehenge, building our replica experimental Neolithic houses… I have to pinch myself sometimes!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. It’s a spectacular site, in a beautiful location. And it’s one of those crucial sites for understanding the late Neolithic. It’s also where I got engaged in 2008! The whole of Orkney is just packed with such great archaeology.

What is your biggest archaeological regret?

Personally, I’d have liked to have spent more time digging! Although I worked in commercial archaeology for a while, and did lots research and community excavations, sometimes I don’t quite feel that I’ve earned my digging ‘stripes’ as it were. For the sector as a whole, I regret that there remains so much unpublished archaeology out there. There’s a huge backlog of important research excavations which have never seen the light of day – Lydford, Devon; Wolvesey Castle in Winchester; barrow excavations in the Stonehenge landscape…

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

Funding for post-excavation and publication (ideally open-access) should be made integral to current systems. I’d also want to see all the scheduling descriptions, but particularly those sites still with old county numbers, to be updated and revised based on current knowledge.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

I’d like to stress how vitally important archaeology, history and heritage is for the well-being of our communities and for our understanding of where we are today. It’s not just heritage tourism that is important, but the way that archaeology contributes to a sense of place for everyone. Please, please don’t make further cuts to funding for English Heritage – the damage done by the last spending round cuts may not be particularly visible to people outside, but we have lost so much expertise – our budgets are tiny compared to other spending, and yet the work we do is so important.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’m not sure – possibly graphic design or maybe running a book shop!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

Swimming, going for country walks, real ale in the pub with friends, reading, visiting museums… Once the Stonehenge project is over I’ll hopefully have time to take up kayaking again.

We’d like to express our thanks to Sue for her responses, particularly at what is a very busy time for her.

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 willing subject, please contact us.


March 2015
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