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Archaeological site identification is not an exact science. Differences in opinion are common and often consensus can be elusive. As our understanding improves some earlier interpretations are seen as ridiculous whilst others are enhanced. The Ordnance Survey surveyors working on Dartmoor towards the end of the 19th century were well aware of the presence of stone rows and duly recorded and labelled them on their maps as stone rows or avenues. However when they reached the Erme Valley and encountered the 3.3km line of stones leading from SX 63512 64443 to SX 63662 67797 they concluded that it could not be a stone row – because, well it was a whole lot longer than any of the others they had seen. So despite the fact that it terminated in a fine kerbed cairn they chose instead to describe it as a “stone trackway”. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Cadw consider the great length of the Bancbryn stone alignment to be a major reason for doubting its prehistoric credentials. Perhaps one day they too will concede that a line of stones (no matter how long) leading from a cairn is very likely to be a prehistoric stone alignment. Time will tell.
Although originally considered to be a trackway by Victorian surveyors this line of stones in the Upper Erme Valley is now accepted as a stone alignment.
It’s that time of year again. With just 3 months to go before the Current Archaeology Live! conference in London, the nominations for the Current Archaeology Awards have been released.
The awards are designed to celebrate some of the stories and people featured in the magazine throughout the course of the year. There is no panel of judges, the only votes that count are those from the readership in the public vote via the website, so it really is just down to you (collectively) as to who the winners are.
As in previous years, there are four main categories to vote for:
- Research Project of the Year
- Archaeologist of the Year
- Rescue Dig of the Year
- Book of the Year
The nominees in each category are as follows:
Research Project of the Year
- How to build a dolmen: exploring Neolithic construction at Garn Turne
- Maryport’s mystery monuments: investigating gigantic timber structure from the imperial twilight
- Rethinking the Staffordshire Hoard
- Exploring Anglo-Saxon settlement: the origins of the English village
- The logboats in the lake: Bronze Age wrecks and Viking-style battle axes from Lough Corrib, Ireland
Archaeologist of the Year
- Michael Fulford
- Neil Holbrook
- Simon Thurley
Rescue Dig of the Year
- First impressions: discovering the earliest footprints in Europe (the Happisburgh Project)
- Neolithic houses: exploring a prehistoric landscape at Kingsmead Quarry
- The many faces of Silbury Hill: unravelling the evolution of Europe’s largest prehistoric mound
- The sacking of Auldhame: investigating a Viking burial in a monastic graveyard
- Buried Vikings: excavating Cumwhitton’s cemetery
- Bodyguards, corpses, and cults: everyday life in the Roman military community at Inveresk
Book of the Year
- Time’s Anvil: England, archaeology, and the imagination (Richard Morris)
- Religion in Medieval London: archaeology and belief (Bruno Barber, Christopher Thomas and Bruce Watson)
- The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain (Michael Bishop)
- The Great Archaeologists (Brian Fagan)
- The History of Archaeology (Paul Bahn)
- Home: a time traveller’s tales from Britain’s prehistory (Francis Pryor)
I’ve already made my choices and voted. Now it’s your turn. Just visit the website or pick up issue 298 of the Current Archaeology magazine (available from 5th December) to read more about each of the nominees, and place your votes for each category.
Every year, up and down the country, field schools provide the opportunity for students and volunteers to ‘get their hands dirty’ by becoming involved in real archaeological excavation work. It can be tough, rough, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to the rest of us in terms of the increase in knowledge of the past are innumerable.
Many of these exploratory or research digs are run by universities or local archaeology societies, and often include an Open Day near the end of the season, for interested memmbers of the public to see what’s been going on and why, what’s been found and how it’s been interpreted.
For those of us who are geographically separated, or maybe not quite so mobile or flexible as we once were, many of these digs provide regular updates via their site diaries, published in blogs online. This provides a degree of outreach, and allows inclusion of many people in the project who may not be able to physically take part or visit. To this end, here’s a very brief overview of some of the 2014 digs that have caught our eye this summer.
Run by the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, the Durotriges Project is an archaeological investigation studying the transition from the late Iron Age to the early Roman period in southern England.
Caerau (Cardiff University)
Now in it’s 18th (and final) year, the dig at Silchester has been directed by Prof. Martin Fulford. Visitors are always welcome – there’s even an iPhone app available!
Since 2009, an international team has been excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester and surveying its place in one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.
This year’s fourth season at Ipplepen in Devon, run by the University of Exeter, will return to the Roman road and associated burials revealed in 2011, and a complex series of enclosures and structures thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.
The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its foundation in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience so far.
The Lyminge Archaeological Project is an ambitious programme of village-core archaeology. It is directed by Dr Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading.
DigVentures run crowd-funded digs, this is their second year at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
Overseen by Dr. Neil Faulkner, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) is one of the largest independent archaeological projects in Britain, and firmly rooted in the local community.
by Katharine Range
A Google search among the interwebs won’t yield much on this site (trust me), and truth be told, there is barely anything to see at the site. You may wonder why I even bothered. Well. I think that even sites like these, that are difficult to access and difficult to discern, are still worth noting and acknowledging. Britain is chock full of archaeology and history that is unknown to most people and largely taken for granted. Under every garden shed and cookie-cutter home; under every Tesco and village pub, lies the prospect of evidence of millennia of history. It’s a tantalizing image.
Billingborough is a small village located just south of the A52 midway between Grantham and Boston in Lincolnshire. The first record of the village, so named, is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is recorded as Billingeburg. It had a mill and half a church. The name is taken from the Old English group name “Billingas” which means the family and followers of Billa, and “burh” which means the stronghold of the Billingas. But Billingborough has a much more lengthy history than the early Middle Ages.
Excavated in 1975-78 minimal evidence was found of activity at Billingborough Fen, which is just south of the town’s Cow Gate, from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. However, substantial remains of a Middle Bronze Age (2nd half of the 2nd millenium B.C.) ditch and bank enclosure were found dating to about 1500 BC. A number of postholes seem to indicate structures, though what type is difficult to determine due to extensive Medieval ploughing. Ditches and pottery were also found. The enclosure is the most extensively and completely excavated site of its type in the area. The settlement was later abandoned, most likely due to marine flooding.
After about 500 years, the site was again occupied in the late Bronze/Early Iron Age and was used extensively for salt-making. This site is one of the earliest known salt-making sites in the country and a number of features associated with this industry were identified.
“There were four pits containing ashy deposits and briquetage fragments as well as several hearths. These were some gullies which may have been surviving evidence from structures, perhaps temporary shelters or windbreaks. One of the pits appeared, during excavation, to contain an in situ clay structure which disintegrated on excavation. Several scatters of salt-making debris were found across the site. The pottery that was found was not distinctive in form or fabric and was present in only small amounts. It is of a style that dates it probably, to the Bronze Age to early Iron Age. The analysis of the small amount of animal bone (cow, sheep/goat and pig) showed that most of the animals present were exploited for their meat. The development of salt marsh to the east of the site at this period would have provided ideal grazing for sheep, in particular, and meat may have been salted and perhaps traded with settlements in the region”. ( Chowne, Peter; Cheal, Rosamund; and Fitzpatrick, A. P., 2001, Excavations at Billingborough, Lincolnshire, 1975-78: a Bronze-Iron Age settlement and saltern site).
Other sources also identify traces of iron-working and bronze smelting.
Occupation grew more intense toward the last centuries of the 1st millenium B.C. as evidenced by two other enclosures associated with the settlement. During the 1st century A.D., a Romano-British field system was superimposed over the old enclosures. Well-preserved artefacts, including large amounts of pottery, were found representing all phases of occupation. Because of sequence of occupation and the quantities of pottery found, Billingborough Fen has become essential as it generated a recognized pottery sequence for Bronze/Iron Age pottery types and has been used extensively by other conservation and archaeological entities in the area and further afield.
Human bones were also unearthed, comprising one nearly complete female skeleton and one partially complete. One more interesting tidbit. There were also a number of skull fragments. Some had been cut and polished into bowl shapes and are all associated with the Iron Age phase of occupation. They come from several different people and would seem to indicate some type of ritual use. There are comparable examples of this phenomena at All Cannings Cross in Wiltshire and, closer to home, from the Iron Age site at nearby Helpringham. (1st Annual Report of the Trust for Lincolshire Archaeology – October 1985)
This last is quite tantalizing, but in fact all of the wealth of information and artefacts found at this site show the importance of conserving and recording even the most visually insignificant site. Under this flat, unassuming fen, lay layer upon layer of occupation covering about 3500 years, the artefacts of which were used to set a pottery sequence standard used by other archaeologists. Obvious and enigmatic sites are dramatic and visually pleasing, but sometimes I find these unassuming places more intriguing because they are shrouded in so much more mystery and so plentiful while yet unknown. quietly waiting to yield up their story.
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!
Here is our contribution to Doug Rocks-Macqueen’s blogging carnival – Blogging Archaeology.
The carnival is aimed at Archaeology bloggers (is that us?) and starts with two questions, part of which we’ve covered before in a post which outlines our history.
Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group – the group, start a blog?
As a group of disparate and geographically separated individuals with an interest in Britain’s prehistoric places of interest – “Ordinary people caring for Extraordinary places” – we wanted a united voice that could reach out to other ordinary people – members of the general public – and make them aware of the heritage wonders to be found hiding in the fields, moors and woods of Britain, in the vain hope of providing such wonderful places a modicum of protection from the vagaries and self-interests of the planners, developers and others. It seemed to us that the more people were aware of what we have to lose, the more they would be prepared to defend it when threatened.
As our audience grew, it became clear that the ‘ordinary people’ we had hoped for weren’t actually our primary readers. Along the way we have picked up many readers from academia and professional archaeology outfits, heritage organisations and more. As time has gone on, with over ten thousand hits per month, five thousand Twitter followers and hundreds more subscribers to the blog, our viewpoint has widened to include some of the more professional and political aspects of the archaeology world, although remaining within our original prehistoric Britain field of interest.
Why are you still blogging?
It’s our humble opinion that the audience we now have includes some of the top ‘movers and shakers’ – people who are in a position to make a REAL difference to the UK’s protection of its heritage. If we can persuade them of the need for change, by highlighting sites under threat, then there’s a chance that things eventually WILL change.
It’s that chance, however small, that convinces us that what we’re doing is the right thing to do. So far, no-one has demonstrated that what we say and do is wrong or harming our heritage (e.g. the Artefact Erosion Counter, for which no-one has yet suggested more accurate figures). Until they can, we’ll continue the fight to save our extraordinary places.
To read other blogs participating in the carnival, search Twitter for the hashtag #blogarch.
English Heritage is to mobilise a volunteer Heritage Army – “the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk”. The idea is to get volunteers to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II buildings “to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.”
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England’s listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we’ll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.”
It certainly fits with something we’ve been suggesting for years regarding prehistoric monuments – there is already a passionate, knowledgeable army of enthusiasts out there who regularly visit those, even ones in inaccessible places. Many of them keep EH informed of their condition but a more formalised system including phone apps would certainly improve protection at minimal cost.
However Rescue News made an important point (on Twitter) :
“Involving the volunteer public in assessing Heritage at Risk is a great idea. But they should NEVER replace qualified professionals!” And of course, doing that may well be in the Government’s mind. They also made a sharp retort to Planning Minister Nick Boles:
“not making it easier to demolish those beautiful places and heritage assets we all value would be a help too”!