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Once again, the annual two-day archaeology-fest that is the CA Live! Conference organised by Current Archaeology magazine and sponsored by the Institute of Classical Studies is rapidly approaching. Held on February 27th and 28th in the stately setting of University of London’s Senate House, this year’s timetable looks as exciting as ever, and as in recent years, the Heritage Journal will be there again to live Tweet the proceedings.


This year’s conference kicks off with a session looking at Anglo-Saxon Settlements, with contributions from Neil Faulkner, Andrew Reynolds and Helena Hamerow.

The World Archaeology session, sponsored by sister magazine Current World Archaeology, features Brian Fagan talking on ‘Tutankhamun and Lord Carnarvon’, Richard Hodges on ‘Rome’s Great Treasures’ and Ian Hodder with ‘Neolithic Çatalhöyük‘.

There is then a session Rescuing the Past, with Neil Holbrook, Ann Crone and Roger Bland, before the keynote speaker, Martin Biddle. This is followed by the now traditional drinks reception and Current Archaeology Awards ceremony. All winners will be decided by a readers’ vote – nominations for the four categories can be viewed on the Current Archaeology web site and you can cast your vote in each category there too.

The conference continues on the Saturday with our favourite session In Search of the Prehistoric, chaired by Julian Richards. Talks include Chris Stringer describing the work at Happisburgh, David Jaques on Blick Mead, and Jim Leary – ‘Silbury Hill and massive monuments’

A session on Boats in Archaeology then follows, with Karl Brady on ‘The Lough Corrib logboats’, Robert Van de Noort ‘Building Morgawr’ and Mark Jones ‘Conserving the Mary Rose’ taking us to the lunch break.

Finally, a session on Roman Frontier Life follows, chaired by David Breeze. Lidsay Allason-Jones tells us about Housesteads and Matthew Symonds explains the Passage aAcross the Frontier.  Finally the conference concludes with a talk on ‘The Imperial War Museum and WW1′ by Paul Cornish.

There are some pretty enticing topics, and as usual, something for everyone no matter which particular period of the past piques your interest! And don’t forget the marketplace, with stalls selling publications, courses, tours and other items of interest

Tickets are going fast, so don’t forget to reserve yours as soon as possible! If you’re there, why not come up and say Hello!

A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review has been posted in several parts, of which this is the last for this year’s conference.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And so, suitably refreshed after lunch on the Saturday, the seventh and penultimate session of the conference, ‘Early Medieval England‘ kicked off the afternoon proceedings, introduced by Karly Hilts, Assitant Editor of Current Archaeology. The talks in this session were slightly shuffled from the published program, in order to better present them in chronological order, so first up was Dr Catherine Hills, talking about ‘Spong Hill and the Adventus Saxonum‘, the coming of the Anglo Saxons.

So, was there a violent invasion, a mass migration or a takeover by a ruling elite? We began by looking at weapons deposited in lakes in Denmark, such as Illerup which held a large number of sophisticated weapons, far too intricate for supposed ‘savage’ Angles, Jutes and Saxons to have produced. This suggests large groups of organised people, rather than small primitive bands. Looking at Spong Hill, over 2000 cremations have been found so far, many more than would have been expected for the size of settlement. Many artefacts found are typical of those found in northern Germany, the chronology of these is imprecise, but being refined. Pots and bone combs provide clues as to a possible sequencing – pots with similar designs and stamps are being grouped and plotted. Could these denote family groups? Many of the grave goods have been typologically dated to the early 5th Century. The conclusion (so far)? The invasion was not a single event. There is evidence of connections with N Germany and Jutland over a long period.

Next to take the podium was Prof Martin Carver, who gave us a glimpse of ‘Sutton Hoo: a slice of England‘. The famous Anglo Saxon features at Sutton Hoo overlie a Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age landscape, with many of the prehistoric finds sitting on the 300’ contour. These include Neolithic pit burials, a Beaker settlement, late Bronze Age enclosures and Iron Age field systems. Commonly, Anglo Saxon mounds are placed on earlier Iron Age banks, and that is the case at Sutton Hoo. There are three cemeteries there, and Martn ran through the chronologies. A 6th century family burial ground contained cremations and inhumations. The 7th Century ‘princely’ ship burial and a later cemetery of executions, dated to the 8th-10th Centuries. This latter contained 39 bodies, grouped around a gallows site. All had been decapitated or garotted, one still had the rope around it’s neck. Pictures of some of the now famous grave goods were shown, and it was explained that the chronology suggests a political sequence for the site. From family cemetery, to chiefdom, to a Christian kingdom where dissidents were punished.

Martin Carver in full flow!

Martin Carver in full flow!

Finally to round off the session, Prof Julian Richards, on ‘The Viking Great Army at Torksey‘. There has been very little hard archaeological evidence for Viking raids, but Torksey was mentioned in the AS Chronicles, in 872, as somewhere the raiding army camped over winter, but until recently the actual camp site had not been identified. Metal detectorists reported finding Viking artefacts near Torksey, which identified the site, and the project to investigate the site began. Its aims: to identify the nature and extent of the camp, and whether the camp contributed to Torksey’s subsequent industrial growth.

Seventy detectorists have been working on the 20 hectare site at Torksey for some years, not all have reported finds to the PAS, but over 1500 finds have been logged to date, mostly early Medieval.

Over 300 Anglo Saxoncoins included some Northumbrian small change – stycas – as well as some dirhams from as far as Arabia. This is the largest number of Aracbic dirhams found in Britain to date. Also, lots of bullion and scrap metal was being processed; hack silver, hack gold and some forgery (gold plated copper alloys). Evidence of metalworking whilst camped? Also some lead gaming pieces have been found. The landscape is constantly changing; deep ploughing and blown sand are bringing more finds to the surface. The Winter Camp is north of the current village, a later Burgh is near the current village, where some 15 kilns have been excavated – a sizable Burgh. The lack of pottery at the camp site indicates that it pre-dates the Burgh.

And all too soon it was time for a last tea break before the final session, entitled ‘Time Team and Geophysics‘. Dr John Gater regaled us with anecdotes from Time Team, ‘Geofizz, what have we learned after 20 years?

There’s no doubt he got off to a good start, with “In 1993, Archaeology became sexy overnight”, accompanied by some hilarious shots of the various team members. John then explained about the early use of ‘geofizz’, the creation of a new word to explain the use of science to understand archaeology, at the Athelney Abbey dig. Time Team was unusual in that geofizz usually was used on development sites anything up to a year before the excavations began. With Time Team, feedback was almost instantaneous, and exciting! Even Ribchester was exciting, although the early interpretation was completely incorrect. Roman road? field boundaries? No – modern football pitch markings!

After the laughter died down, John explained the different types of survey; Resistance Survey, Magnetometry, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) etc. Although the 3 day format didn’t allow time for experimentation, GPR Was a great leap forward, useful on greenfield sites and allowing a not just a plan, but a 3D model with depth information to be created. The plan of Brancaster was compared to the early plan of Athelney. One a 2D plan, the other a full 3D model, showing the improvements made over time. John’s one regret, was making it all look too easy. A very entertaining and educational talk to finish the conference.

And that was it. Editor in Chief Andrew Selkirk provided the closing remarks, reminding us all of what we’d seen and heard over the last couple of days, and it all too soon it was time to pack up and head home.

Was it all worth it? Certainly! And with any luck and a prevaling wind, I’ll be back next year to report it all again..

A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.

The second day started out with a session sponsored by Current Archaeology’s sister magazine, Military History Monthly looking at ‘The Archaeology of World War One‘. The first talk in this session was a harrowing tale of a hidden war, as Matt Leonard told us about ‘Digging in the dark: modern conflict archaeology beneath the Western Front‘.

Although most people know of the trench warfare, not so well known is the hidden aspect of the battlefield, and Matt brought this to life be describing the ‘sense-scape’ that the troops would have encountered in the tunnels and caves below the ground – “Ordinary soldiers saw very little of the war, but tasted, smelled and felt all of it.”

Matt described three key areas of the battlefield: trenches, subways and fighting tunnels. Each had a different sensory environment. He graphically described breaking through into enemy tunnels and having to fight in the pitch black, by touch – German uniforms had epaulettes, Allied uniforms didn’t. So if you felt an epaulette, you stabbed! Within this hidden world, some tunnels were as much as 100m below ground, or as close as 1m to the surface. Troops could hear the enemy through the tunnel walls. This was all very powerful, emotional stuff!

Dr Stephen Miles then brought us to the present day, talking about ‘Seeing the Western Front: archaeology, history and battlefield tourism‘. With over 6 milllion dead, along 416 miles of the Western Front, ‘grief tourism’ is now big business. There are over 1000 military, and 200 civilian cemeteries spread along the Front. In the Westhoek area of Belgium some 326,000 people a year visit, 52% are British. People want to see where the big battles happened, and also to visit family members. This tourism started as soon as the war finished. In contrast to the previous talk, the point was made that most visitors are ‘sight-seers’, other senses are very secondary to the experience. The way that the military cemeteries are laid out is in stark contrast to the confusion of the trenches. There are many reconstructed trenches – an important aspect of Western Front heritage – very little of the original trench systems are extant today. There are many unexploded shells still in/on the ground, but fieldwalking tours damage context and provenance. This makes it difficult to interpret the landscape. This is important because this interpretation allows the memories to live on. The conclusion? Tourism is a cultural vehicle for reinscribing memory.

To wrap up the session before coffee, Dr Nick Saunders told us about the history of ‘The scarlet flower: the remembrance poppy from Flanders Fields to Afghanistan‘. He explained that the remembrance poppy (a hybrid of the opium and corn poppy) began in 1915, but associations of this flower with memory, death, and pain go back thousands of years, based upon use of the opium poppy to dull the senses. There are references in the Trojan Wars, Classical Greece, and after the American Civil War veterans homes were full of opium dependents. John McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ was one of the first literary images to really connect the poppy to WWI – the poppy no longer being associated with forgetting/dulling pain & grief, but rememberance. Moina Michael in New York was the first person to start handing out poppies for donations to help war veterans. Anna Guerin in France set up a factory to make silk poppies, extending the idea internationally. By 1922, the British set up their own factories, staffed by disabled veterans. The point was made that the poppy as material culture is now political and full of power and meaning. “The lightest of petals carries the heaviest of burdens.”

A welcome coffee break, and a chance to look once more at the stalls comprising the Archaeology Fair. Burdened with purchases, we took our seats for the next session, sponsored by another title from the Current Publishing stable – World Archaeology magazine, and introduced by Editor Caitlin McCall. The session was entitled ‘Back to the Beginning‘.

Prof Thomas Higham first told us about ‘Modern Humans, Neanderthals and Denisovians‘, looking at some of our earliest human ancestors. After talking through some of the anatomical differences between Neanderthals and modern humans, the science of radio carbon dating was discussed. With very old samples (30,000 years for neanderthals?) Decay and contamination is a problem. The best material for dating is bone collagen, but this only comprises 20% of the bone, and is relatively quick to decay. As reliable dates are important for understanding how and when humans and Neanderthals interacted, some cutting edge techniques are beng used – such as Ultrafiltration are being used to help remove contaminants and provide more accurate dates from samples. Using these techniques and revisiting previous samples suggests that Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, nevertheless there was an overlap between the them and us of around 2000 years. DNA analysis suggests that interbreeding did occur – modern human DNA overlaps anywhere between 1-3% with Neanderthal’s. A relatively newly discovered hominid, Denisovans has been identified via DNA from a molar and fingerbone of a 9 year old girl, in Russia. Although remains from this time are very small and scarce, preservation has allowed up to 70% survival of their DNA, and the genome has been sequenced. An exhibition about these species is currently on at the Natural History Museum.

Next, Prof Klaus Schmidt explained about ‘Göbekli Tepe: the first human holy site?‘. At 11,000 years old, this is considered to be one of the world’s oldest temples, situated in modern day Turkey. The project has been running for 20 years, but literally has only just ‘scratched the surface’ so far. A fascinating slideshow of the excavations was displayed, with wonderful carvings, depictions of figures and animals througout the complex, which is divided into a series of rooms or courtyards.


One of the carved pillars at Göbekli Tepe – Wikimedia Commons

The site rises to a height of 15m, across an aree 300x300m, and dates to the pre-pottery era Neolithic – so almost Hunter-Gatherer stage. The layout and extent of the statuary and carvings shows this is not a settlement – some of the pillars are anthropomorphic – the first deity figures? Quarries for the pillars have been identified less than 200 m from the main site. The number of animal depictions suggest a story is being told, but sadly there was no time for questions, but just time for one more talk in the session before we broke for lunch.

Prof Brian Fagan from California spoke eloquently and entertainingly about ‘The Intimate Bond: Animals and Humans over 15000 years‘, concentrating on the Donkey! Described as the ‘pickup truck of the world for 5000 years’, donkeys as we know them today were first domesticated in NE Africa some 5000 years ago. Donkey burials were found at Abydos, dating from 3000 BC. They were respected, working animals, noted for their ability to dehydrate slowly but rehydrate quickly, and to travel 15-20 miles a day, easily. Although respected, bone analysis shows that they were worked hard and often overloaded. We were told how they were used extensively in caravans across the Eastern Sahara. Some of these trade routes have been documented on cunieform tablets. Donkeys also appear on many murals in Pompeii, showing their ongoing use as beasts of burden. Fun fact: there are 40 million donkeys in the world today!

But all too soon it was time for lunch and a chance to grab some fresh air. Come back tomorrow to read about the final sessions of the conference…

Part 1
Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Archaeology Live!, at Senate House in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review is being be posted in several parts.

During lunch in the Friday, there was a minor incursion when a small group of protestors gained access to the building, despite the best efforts of security. They walked up and down the corridors, yelling through a megaphone which was so distorted in that their message was somewhat lost. This disturbance delayed the afternoon session by 10-15 minutes when the protestors eventually dissipated.

And so the afternoon session, entitled ‘Rescuing the Past‘ began. Much to my delight, this session coninued the morning’s theme of covering the prehistoric and Roman periods, looking at some specific rescue archaeology projects and their results.

The first talk in the session returned to the early Mesolithic with Fraser Brown telling us about ‘Settling Man: an Early Mesolithic house and Bronze Age vilage, Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man‘. The planned expansion of the airport, as well as creating land where once was sea, involved the largest archaeological investigation on the island to date. The area around the airport was found to be archaeologically rich – “like building on Salisbury Plain” was how Fraser described it. Two of the major finds were a Bronze Age linear settlement almost 1km in extent, and a Neolithic house which produced many wonderful finds of stone axes, pottery etc. These sites were originally discovered in the 1940’s when the airport was originally constructed, but have now been revisited using today’s techniques. In addition, Mesolithic pits and scatter were found to the east, eroding out of the cliffs. Some 1700 ten-litre buckets of spoil were excavated to be processed, allowing for a full 3D reconstruction of the finds. Analysis of the finds has shown a Mesolithic structure to be 10000 years old, where carbon deposits suggest the house burned down. Returning to the Bronze Age settlement, ceramic distribution maps suggested a centralised midden between three houses. This has been interpreted as a possible foundry.

Next, Alistair Barclay told us about ‘Kingsmead Quarry, Horton: early Neolithic houses and other discoveries‘. I had previously attended an Open Day at Horton but this time round the focus was very much put on the four (possibly five, count ‘em!) Neolithic houses discovered at the site, rather than the gold bling. Four million pounds has been spent on Rescue Archaeology at Horton to date, and it’s quite rare to find one neolithic house, let alone multiple houses. The houses were of two types, gulley and post constructions. The earlier gulley houses had some finds, but no hearth material. However, they were much deeper at one end, suggesting that the structures were possibly load-bearing. Could they have had a second storey? Or at least an upstairs sleeping/storage area? Intruiging. The later post houses were much less interesting finds-wise, but the houses bear an uncanny resemblance to some found hundreds of miles away (at Lismore Field). Evidence of travel/contact between the two groups possibly? Radio Carbon dating has proved problematic, but a date of some 3700BC (Early Neolithic) has been put forward. Of course, it’s not possible to talk about Horton wihout mentioning the later Beaker burial – inhumation from this period is rare in the Thames Valley, inclusion of gold grave goods is rarer – and the Beaker lady managed a bit more time in the spotlight.

Finally in this session, Sadie Watson from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) told us about ‘The Walbrook: recent discoveries from the banks of Roman London’s river‘. Comparisons with Pompeii (see Current Archaeology issue 280) will naturally tend to dull the shine of any discoveries, but the excavations at the Bloomberg site on the banks of the Walbrook have produced a stunning amount of Roman finds. In fact, less than 1% of all the finds there to date are non-Roman! The river banks have provided a good state of presevation, whilst 50 yards away, the gravel offers no chance of preservation at all. the finds included a huge military assemblage: shoes and boots, armour, cavalry gear etc. along with large numbers of fist and phallus amulets. A slideshow showed the breadth of some of the finds to be analysed in full, including a curious decorated leather panel. But the star finds were some wooden writing tablets, including a rare inked tablet, which are very slowly being deciphered. The project has a web site at

All too soon it was time for a tea break, before the keynote speech, ‘Archaeology, a very dry field‘ given this year by Dr Francis Pryor, and dedicated to his colleague Mick Aston.

A brace of Time-Teamers, at Teatime

A brace of Time-Teamers, at Teatime

Francis’ talk featured his two favourite subjects; Farming and Flag Fen (and a lot more besides!) He firstly took us quickly through his sheep farming year, then applied what he knew about these farming techniques to interpretation of Bronze Age field systems at Flag Fen. There was a remarkable fit between the two, but he pointed out that you also have to take into account ancient belief systems in order to be able to interpret the site correctly. He believes that intensive farming (up 1000 sheep) went on at Flag Fen, and outlined the possible economic impact on trade this would have led to, with metalwork from very disparate areas having been found there. All in all, a very entertaining talk to round of the first day of the conference – and he even managed to get in a huge plug for his latest venture, an archaeological detective novel!

Following the Keynote speech we moved across the corridor once again for a drinks reception, entertainment by a brass quintet of HM Guards musicians playing a selection of pieces with a WW1 theme, and the awards ceremony. The Current Archaeology Awards are special in that all the winners are voted for by the readership, from a shortlist of possible candidates in each category.

This year’s winners (with hearty congratulations to them all) were announced by Julian Richards, as follows:

  • Book of the year: Julian Bowsher, Shakespeare’s London Theatreland
  • Research Project of the Year: Return to Star Carr
  • Rescue Dig of the Year: Sands of Time: Links of Notland
  • Archaeologist of the Year: Richard Buckley
The award winners, with Julian Richards

The award winners, with Julian Richards

And so ended the first day, though many stayed for more drinks, and I believe a restaurant meal was arranged for the more hardy souls. But I had a commute to face in order to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the following day.

More to come…

Part 1

Part 3

A couple of weeks ago, Current Archaeology magazine once again held their annual conference, Current Arcaheology Live!, at Senate House, in London. And once again, we were fortunate enough to be present to live tweet the event, bringing you all the news as it happened. Many of the talks could merit an article here in their own right, so this brief review will be posted in several parts.

Senate House - Wikimedia Commons

Senate House – Wikimedia Commons

The conference is an opportunity to both look back over the previous 12 months, and to look ahead. As editor Matt Symonds mentioned in his introductory piece for the conference program, interest in World War One is running high in advance of the centenary of its outbreak, and 75 years ago, as World War Two was on the horizon, the Sutton Hoo ship burial was excavated. Both these events were to be covered in the conference, as well as the annual Current Archaeology Awards, voted for by the magazine readership.

But first things first. As usual, the conference talks were split into themed sessions on a roughly chronological timescale, and so Friday morning’s session was entitled ‘In Search of the Prehistoric‘, overseen and introduced by Julian Richards (of Meet the Ancesteors fame, a label he’ll never be rid of!) The session comprised of three talks, the first, by Dr Chantal Conneller, telling us about ‘Star Carr: throwing new light on early mesolithic settlement‘.

She described the work being done at Lake Fixton (location of Starr Carr), where the ‘lake’ is filled with peat, giving excellent preservation conditions. We heard how a hewn aspen log platform was uncovered in the 80’s and how the current excavations are hoping to answer some of the many outstanding questions before the site is lost as the peat dries out. Although Flixton is known as a mesolithic centre, it’s only the site at Star Carr itself that has so far produced such unique finds – the antler frontlets possibly being the best known. It’s now thought that these were possibly deposited in the lake, as a sign of respect or thanks to their prey. Feildwalking and test pitting has significantly extended the Starr Carr site, with evidence of occupation appearing well beyond the bounds of the original excavations. More antler frontlets have been found, along with a concentration of bone and lithic fragments, thought to be within a post built hut – possibly the earliest ‘house’ known in Britain! This leads to the idea that the site was used for much longer than first thought, possibly for (that word!) ritual use – a place people returned to again and again. Open days will be held throughout August this year at Flixton island, as Star Carr is on private land, and not accessible to the public at any time. It sounds like the Open Days will be well worth a visit. More information can be found on the project web site at and the excavation was covered in issue 282 of Current Archaeology magazine.

Professor Julian Thomas then told us about the ‘Halls and barrows on Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire‘, where early Neolithic enclosures and sites were identified from aerial photography. Excavations in the 90’s found a possible enclosure, but this latest dig showed burnt clay sealed under the turf, surrounded by a collapsed stone bank. On investigation, the bank had been revetted by a timber palisade. The mound was not defensive in nature, and the burnt clay (now found to be daub), suggested a a building burnt in situ. Further structural elements such as post holes flanking a central aisle were then found, suggesting a long hall. What seems to have been found was a hall, deliberately burnt, transforming a house of the living into a house of the dead. The resulting mound was then capped with turves, pined into place with stakes, the fabric of the previous building thus being incorporated into the long mound. A series of later stone cists were found on the north side suggesting later use of the earlier monument. Various stone tools; a stone arrowhead with impact damage, a stone axe head and flint tools have been found at various points on the site. It was evident that the site had been used, from the early Neolithic through to at least the early Bronze Age. More details of the excavation can be found in issue 285 of Current Archaeology magaine. Digging recommences in July, Open Days will be announced nearer the time.

To close off the prehistoric session, Dr Vicki Cummings then gave a fascinating talk about a personal favourite subject of mine: ‘Building the great dolmens of Britain and Ireland‘. Vicki’s talk focussed upon Portal Dolmens, very few of which have been excavated. Those which have have been dated to 4000-3000 BC, some of the first British monuments. Garn Turne was the focus of a case study, looking at how the dolmens would have been constructed, as this example is though to be incomplete, having collapsed during construction. See Current Archaeology issue 286 for details of the Garn Turne dig. The presentation included an impressive photo collection of portal dolmens. Many are found in Cornwall and Wales but by far the majority are in Ireland. The point was made that excavations of such monuments usually focus upon the chamber, and not so much on the portal entrance. Common points from all the examples: the capstones are important, in general, the smaller the capstone, the greater the angle. The capstones (anything up to 160 tons) are usually finely balanced upon no more than 3 uprights, the point of contact often being as small as 1 square cm. The question was asked about functionality. Are dolmens more about ‘ostentatious displays of large stones’ rather than creating chambers that can be used? Garn Turne suggested a quick guide to building a dolmen:

  1. Find an outcrop.
  2. Dig a pit around it. That’s the capstone!
  3. Shape the capstone (flatten the underside by tilting it to work the stone)
  4. Lift the capstone, using chocks.
  5. Replace supports with uprights.

Vicki takes questions (via Julian)

Apart from a short announcement from Julian Richards about the upcoming Wessex Archaeological Field Academy (see the website coming soon), that was it for the first session of the day, a lot to take in, and time for a cup of tea.

The tea break was used to take a first look at this year’s ‘Archaeology Fair’, a selection of stalls from various archaeolgical suppliers. The bookstalls in particular proved very popular during all the breaks, and I spent far more than I had budgeted for across the two days.

The morning continued with the second session entitled ‘Researching Roman Britain‘, introduced by Matt Symonds. Neil Holbrook kicked off the session, with ‘Developer archaeology and the Romano-British countryside: a revolution in understanding‘. This talk looked at the breadth of Romano-British sites across the UK, pointing out that life c=should not be judged just by some 2000 Roman villas excavated so far – mainly concentrated in the south of the country. There were also over 100,000 farms across the length and breadth of the country populated by the other 98% of the population. The point was made that excavating a Roman site isn’t always a case of ‘remove the turf, find a mosaic’. Everyday life was much harsher than villa life. In the last 20 years there have been around 9000 rescue digs which have turned up something Roman, but there is often no time/resource to analyse these finds. The Roman Rural Settlement Project is now looking at the data from these rescue digs, with over 2100 sites recorded by the project to date. The project aim is to remap Roman Britain, showing the success of the Empire’s ‘British Project’, and making all information available on the Internet. LINK (Google ‘Roman Rural Settlement Project’)

Dr Miles Russell then took the stand to update us all about ‘The Durotriges Project: tribe and prejudice in later Iron Age Britain‘. The Durotriges were an archaeologically distinctive tribe, good for study with their unique coins, pottery and the fact that on the whole they buried their dead, rather than cremate. Mortimer Wheeler’s “war cemetery” with evidence of hasty interments got a mention, along with quotes from his archaeological report which read more like something from an adventure novel with their picturesque accounts of Roman attacks against Maiden Castle. With Niall Sharples suggesting (1991) that Maiden Castle may not have been a viable settlement when the Romans arrived, the project aims to re-evaluate and reassess the transition from a Durotrigan to Roman lifestyle, and was featured in Current Archaeology issue 281

Finally, before breaking for lunch, Operation Nightingale discussed their work at Caerwent, ‘Romans, Rifles and recovery: Operation Nightingale excavations at Caerwent military training area‘. As with their previous presentations here, the talk was split, with Sgt Dairmaid Walshe outlining the Operation Nightingale’s importance as a recovery process for injured soldiers. The major project is based at Caerwent, and Phil Abramson told us a little about the site (which includes a scheduled monument) and how during the work the Process is as important as the Finds. The Process includes all aspects of the project, from planning through excavation to finds processing and post-ex documentation. Soldiers and civilian volunteers can be involved at all stages, which raised the thorny question: Community Archaeology, or cheap labour? There is no single answer to this, unfortunately, but the pendulum is swinging toward the former rather than the latter. Dave Hart, a former Lt Corporal then told us how he was wounded in Afghanistan, but also came to love archaeology in Kabul, and has been involved in 10 Operation Nightingale projects to date. You can read more about the project in Current Archaeology issue 282

And so then we broke for lunch. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Part 2
Part 3

There are now less than two weeks to go before the Current Archaeology Live conference, to be held at Senate House in London in league with the UCL Institute of Classical Studies, on February 28th and 1st March. Once again, the Heritage Journal will be present and live-tweeting the event (#CALive) across the two days. This will be our third year covering the event in detail.


The line-up for this years event, as previously, covers a range of time periods. The Friday morning session starts with the prehistoric period, covering the sites at Starr Carr in Yorkshire, Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire and Garn Turne in Pembrokeshire. The Roman session will take us up to lunch, looking at the Roman countryside (Neil Holbrook), the Durtriges Project digs by Bournemouth University and the work at Caerwent carried out by Operation Nightingale.

The Friday afternoon session looks at ‘Rescuing the Past’ with Mesolithic Ronaldsway, Kingsmead Quarry, Horton and London’s Pompeii all covered before the keynote speech by Francis Pryor, which leads into the Current Archaeology Awards ceremony in the evening (voting is now closed!)

The conference continues on Saturday with a session on the Archaeology of the First World War (sponsored by sister magazine Military History Monthly), a Current World Archaeology session entitled ‘Back to the Beginning’ which includes a look at Early Hominins (topical with the current exhibition on Neanderthals at the Natural History Museum in London), Gobekli Tepe and Early Domestication.

After lunch, Early Medieval England gets a look in, with Martin Carver talking about Sutton Hoo and talks about Spong Hill and Torksey thrown in for good measure!

Finally to wrap up, John Gater will be telling us all about Time Team and Geophysics.

All in all, an interesting two days of talks lined up, with hopefully something for everyone, not forgetting the Archaeology Fair held during the conference, where there will be a dozen stalls packed with books, equipment, and much more for everyone to browse between sessions. It’s not too late to book your tickets! We’ll see you there…

Every year, the Current Archaeology Awards celebrate the projects and publications that have made the pages of Current Archaeology magazine over the 12 months, and the people judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology.


The nominations have been public for a while now, and there are only a few days left to register your vote,  as voting closes on the 7th February!

There are four categories to vote in, and winners are decided purely on the number of public votes received. Click the following links to see the nominees in each category:

Winners will be announced at the Current Archaeology Live! 2014 conference, to be held on the 28th Feb – 1st March at Senate House, London. The Heritage Journal intends being at this event once again (our third attendance), to tweet, report on the talks, mingle, and attend the awards. So say hello if you see our ‘blue dolmen’ logo. See you there!

Compiled by Sue Brooke.


Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery

‘In September 1992, archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust working alongside contractors on a new road link between Dover and Folkestone discovered the remains of a large wooden prehistoric boat thought to be some 3,000 years old, belonging to a period known to archaeologists as the Bronze Age. It was a find of both national and international significance which will shed new light on early seafaring and woodworking skills in Northern Europe. The boat is now displayed in a glass case as the centrepiece of a whole floor in the museum devoted to archaeology.’

Public lectures are being held as part of the ‘Beyond the Horizon’ exhibition in the museum. They are free, open to all, and there is no need to book.

VENUE: all will be held at 7pm in the Theatre, Dover Discovery Centre, Dover, Kent, CT16 1PB except the lecture on 1st November, which will be held in Canterbury.


DATE: 1st November 2013

TITLE: Throwaway bronze? The curious practice of Bronze Age ‘hoards’

Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury (exact venue to be confirmed)

Anne Lehoerff, University of Lille 3, France

 DATE: 12th December 2013

TITLE: Transmanche prehistory from the air

Paul Bennett

Please note: the museum will be closed on Sundays from 1st. October 2013.


Plymouth and District Archaeological Society


DATE: 4th November 2013

TITLE: Maritime archaeology and the application of dendrochronology – Professor Nigel Nayling

‘Nigel Nayling is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Wales, Lampeter, where he teaches nautical archaeology and archaeological science. He has worked on numerous wreck sites around the UK and abroad. In his talk he will explain how the use of dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) has become common in nautical archaeology. The date and place of construction can often be established by sampling wooden hull remains. Using a range of case studies, including submerged forests, fish weirs and revetments, Professor Nayling will demonstrate the wide range of application and the future potential of the technique.’

Winter lectures are held on Monday evenings at 7:00 pm in the Devonport Lecture Theatre of the Portland Square Building, Plymouth University. Non-members are welcome to attend all lectures but are asked to contribute £4 towards expenses. No need to book, just turn up.


Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network

‘A charitable partnership formed to look after the ancient sites and monuments of Cornwall. Currently working closely with local communities and official organisations to protect and promote our ancient heritage landscape through research, education and outreach activities’.

Volunteers are always very welcome at the monthly clear-ups. These events are always a really good opportunity to get a bit more hands-on, whilst helping to clear an ancient site in the landscape. This not only allows for physical preservation of the site itself but helps it to be kept safe for others to enjoy in the future


DATE: Tuesday November 12th 2013

TIME: 11am

VENUE: Croft Pascoe barrow (SW727 194) – Participants please meet at Traboe Cross lay-by (SW737 206)

*Please note that suitable footwear and clothing is needed although tools or any necessary equipment will be provided*


Royal Archaeological Institution:

The Royal Archaeological Institute (RAI) is a leading national archaeology society, with a history dating back to 1844. Its interests span all aspects of the archaeological, architectural and landscape history of the British Isles. Monthly Lectures take place from October to May and are held at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. These are given by visiting speakers on recent research, current archaeological projects and new discoveries.

DATE: 13th November 2013

TIME: 15:00

LECTURE: Rethinking material culture.

Presentations by three postgraduates and post-doctoral fellows from the Department of Archaeology, University of Reading

DATE: 13th November 2013

TIME: 17:00

LECTURE: The monuments of the Khmer Empire from the 6th to the 13th centuries AD.

Dr Michael O’Brien

‘This lecture traces the development of the monuments of the Khmer Empire from small Indianised states in the 6th century to the establishment of their capital in the Angkor region in 802, and on to its demise after the middle of the 13th century. There are hundreds of temples and other structures at Angkor, three of the most significant will be discussed in detail: Banteay Srei (967), Angkor Wat (early 12th century) and The Bayon (early 13th century) with mention of some others for their sculptural or architectural interest’

The Institute of Archaeology

The UCL Institute of Archaeology is the largest and one of the most highly regarded centres for archaeology, cultural heritage and museum studies in Britain. It is one of the very few places in the world actively pursuing research on a truly global scale. The Institute hosts events on many different aspects of archaeology and is linked to heritage organisations, museums and archaeological societies, providing an outstanding research environment for staff, students and visitors.

DATE:  25th November 2013

TIME: 4pm

LECTURE: Community archaeology, geophysics and the Roman settlements of Hertfordshire

DATE:  5th December 2013

TIME: 1:15pm

LUNCHTIME LECTURE: Unravelling the mysteries of Stonehenge with Mike Parker Pearson.


‘Stonehenge up close’

*Members’ Exclusive Event*

Date: Monday 4th November 2013 – Time: 8am – 12.30pm

And: Thursday 6th. November 2013 – Time: 8am – 12.30pm

Gain a rare and fascinating insight into the famous World Heritage Site with an exclusive tour around the site led by two English Heritage experts. The accompanied tour will begin with exclusive access to the stone circle at Stonehenge. Following on from this will be visits to key archaeology sites, including Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus, with an opportunity to learn more about the archaeological landscape and investigative work that has taken place in recent years.

This event has been graded as moderate access but please note there are many uneven paths and some slopes along the route. This event is not suitable for anyone under 16 years of age.

Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Wiltshire Heritage Museum has outstanding collections that trace the fascinating history of Wiltshire, its environment and its people over the last 6,000 years. A one-day conference exploring the recent archaeological work in Wiltshire, including developer-funded work is planned. A range of talks and sessions will take place throughout the day with speakers from Wessex Archaeology and English Heritage amongst others of note, organised by the Archaeology Field Group of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.

SATURDAY LECTURE: Anglo-Saxon Art: Tradition and Transformation – Mrs Leslie Webster.

TIME: 14:30 pm, Saturday, 02 November, 2013 – Booking is essential

‘This lecture will reflect some of the ideas explored in Leslie Webster’s recent book ‘Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History’. It will discuss some of the recurrent themes visible in over 600 years of artistic creativity, from the earliest settlers of the fifth century to the Norman Conquest and beyond. Among these enduring characteristics are a fascination with visual riddles, complex animal-based ornament reflecting cosmological ideas and a delight in surface texture and dynamic patterning. This art has its origins in a pre-literate pagan culture, but many elements continue to resonate within it long after the Christian missions of the 7th century introduced a wholly new artistic vocabulary. The genius of Anglo-Saxon art lies in the way that new ideas – whether from Byzantium, from the Celtic west, or from Rome itself – are subtly adapted and assimilated to older traditions.’

FAMILY FUN DAY: Celebrating the opening of Prehistoric Wiltshire Galleries

DATE: Sunday, 3rd November 2013

TIME: 11:00 to 16:00

A fun activity day to celebrate the opening of the new prehistory galleries

Come and experience the new family friendly galleries and take part in lots of fun activities, including:

  • Try the new gallery activities.
  • Hear tales from the story teller
  • Puppet making
  • Flint Knapping
  • Make a ‘gold’ lozenge pendant

 Booking: No booking required – just come along and join in.

Cost: Normal Museum admission charges apply – children free.

14:30 pm, Saturday, 30th November 2013

SATURDAY LECTURE: Ancient Landscapes of the Bradford Hundred: A Heritage Lottery Funded Project employing LIDAR by Roy Canham.

Using modern survey techniques this project set out to discover more about the prehistoric and Romano-British landscape in the Bradford Hundred. The Heritage Lottery Fund have provided a grant to fund a project to study and record traces of the prehistoric and Romano-British landscape in the Bradford hundred (an administrative division of land, similar to today’s parish or electoral ward). The woodland zone overlooking the river Avon will be explored by LIDAR, an aerial survey technique that is able to map archaeology normally masked by tree cover. Historic aerial photographs will be used to supplement the survey, and the results plotted using GIS and Museum volunteers working on the ground. The digital results will be published on the Museum’s website.

Booking: Essential.

If you have an event, preferably with relevance to Britain’s pre-Roman heritage, that you’d like included in our Diary Listing, please contact us with full details. 

Compiled by Sue Brooke

The following events will be taking place next month, why not add one or two to your diary and join in the fun?


Cornwall Archaeological Society

Regular walks and talks of interest:

The Society was formed in 1961 – it grew out of the West Cornwall Field Club, itself founded in 1935 by a group of enthusiasts who were studying the archaeology of West Cornwall.

WALKS – Every month there is an archaeological walk somewhere in Cornwall led by members or an invited expert.

TALKS – During winter months talks are given at centres in Truro and Liskeard by speakers, national and local (and including members) who are specialists in their field of interest.

ACTIVITIES – The Society gives opportunities for those interested in practical archaeology to participate in fieldwork and learn archaeological techniques. Members often take part in excavations run by the Cornwall County Council’s Historic Environment Service (HES).

Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network

‘A charitable partnership formed to look after the ancient sites and monuments of Cornwall. Currently working closely with local communities and official organisations to protect and promote our ancient heritage landscape through research, education and outreach activities’

CASPN Pathways to the Past, Cornwall are holding a whole weekend of walks and talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith:

Saturday May 25th 2013 10.00-12.30pm – ‘Curiouser and Curiouser! ‘   Cheryl Straffon and Lana Jarvis visit enigmatic sites on a guided walk. Meeting at Gurnards Head [SW436 375] and finishing there for lunch if wished.

Saturday May 25th 2013 2.004.30pm  – ‘A stank around the Gump’   A guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings around Portheras Common & Chûn Downs. Meet at North Road layby (near Pendeen) [SW394 334]

Saturday May 25th 2013 8.00 – 10.00pm  – ‘Art of the Ancestors’    An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington about Palaeolithic cave art.     At the Count House at Botallack.

Sunday May 26th 2013 2.00 – 4.30pm  – ‘Sanctuaries: a lan and a circle’  A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda, exploring the church at St Buryan, followed by a walk to the Bronze Age circle at Boscawen-ûn.     Meeting  at St.Buryan church (parking  available nearby).

Sunday May 26th 2013  8.00 – 9.00pm  ‘ Place names of West Penwith’  – To round off the weekend, local researcher and historian Craig Weatherhill will be chatting about his new research into the original meanings of some of Penwith’s intriguing place names.   At the North Inn, Pendeen

NOTE: Each individual event costs £3 but is free to members of FOCAS (Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites). You can join FOCAS at the beginning of an individual event.

For further information see the CASPN web site.

hut circle

Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network/ Lizard Ancient Sites Network 

Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network has a sister Group covering sites in the Lizard peninsula called LAN [Lizard Ancient Sites Network]. With initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage, a group was set up, consisting of representatives from CASPN, Historic Environment Service, Cornwall Archaeological Society, Meneage Archaeological Group, Natural England and the National Trust. Work continues at these sites and some new ones, and volunteers are always very welcome at the monthly clear-ups These events are a really good opportunity to get a bit more hands-on whilst helping to clear an ancient site in the landscape. This not only allows for physical preservation of the site itself but helps it to be kept safe for others to enjoy in the future.  Please note that suitable footwear and clothing is needed although tools or any necessary equipment will be provided.

Tuesday May 14th 2013 -  12.00 noon – Poldowrian Hut Circle [SW 7550 1690]

Meeting at Poldowrian  [off the minor road near Ponsongath off B3293]

See website for more details.


Barnstaple – North Devon Archaeological Society was established in 1959, and for many years concentrated on providing lectures and visits for members. The society merged with North Devon Rescue, a campaigning organisation which had been instrumental in ensuring proper recording and excavation in the area,

Little Potheridge Excavation 11th – 26th May 2013

Starting on 11th May and running until the 26th, there will be a unique opportunity to take part in the excavation of an area known to have been used for clay pipe production. As this is an NDAS project, first priority will be given to NDAS members but we do need people to sign up as there is already outside interest. NDAS don’t need a commitment for both weeks – one week, week-ends or odd days will be fine. If current members could let them know roughly their availability by the end of March at the latest, it will give them time to recruit reinforcements, if necessary.



West Essex Archaeology Group, Woodford Green

WEAG’s aim is ‘to promote the advancement of knowledge and education by a study of archaeology, history and kindred subjects ‘.

13th May 2013 at 7:45pm RUDGE LECTURE:’ The Archaeology of the Thames ‘   Jon Cotton, Consultant Archaeologist

Further information:

Essex Historical Congress

‘Essex Historical Congress was founded in 1964 to bring together all the organisations in the country interested in Archaeology, local history and civic life. Today Essex Congress has over 100 member groups and actively promotes awareness and study of the rich heritage of the County’  

The Annual General Meeting will be held on 25th May 2013 at Saffron Walden Museum at 10.00 am.

Further details on the work of the group can be found on their web site.


For something just a little bit different – The next Megalithomania will take place in Glastonbury on 18th – 19th May 2013, plus 5 days of tours. Keep your calendar free for seven days of pure Megalithomania this May.

Early-Bird Tickets and further information on the Megalithomania web site.


Council for Kentish Archaeology

The Society was founded in 1857 and is now a registered charity with the following objects: To promote the study and publication of archaeology and history in all their branches, especially within the ancient county of Kent. Much of the County has been lost to London since 1857 so the “ancient county” is treated as including the London Boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham, as well as Medway and the administrative county. The Society’s interests are not confined to fieldwork. Its objects cover archaeology and local history in the widest sense.

For 6 weeks running from 22 April  2013 ‘Kent and the River. ’ The River Thames has played a vital part in the history of Kent, in peace and war, in work and leisure. This class will look at aspects of the history of the river and its shipping, and the riverside communities.

Lectures in the Library – Morning: 10.15am – 12.15. Afternoon: 2.00pm – 4.00pm


Mortimer History Society

‘The Aim of the Mortimer History Society is to provide a forum for all those who are interested in the medieval Mortimer dynasty, both to study, enjoy and to publicise its eventful history’.

An academic and a practical appreciation of the local and national history associated with the Mortimer family. The activities of the Society are aimed at a wide and diverse audience with a special emphasis on Herefordshire, Shropshire, Powys, and in particular young people.

11 May 2013 – Mortimer History Society May Meeting

18 May 2013 – Blanche Mortimer Dress Display




MBArchaeology specialises in Community Archaeology, Education & Research. Based in Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire and offering educational talks, walks, workshops and courses on a whole variety of archaeological topics.

Derbyshire – full-day field visits that run throughout the summer to sites of historical and archaeological interest.

Sunday 12th May 2013 – ‘Archaeology in the Landscape: Langwith-Elmton’

Friday 17th May 2013 – ‘Archaeology of the Hardwick Estate’

Saturday 18th May 2013 – ‘ Hidden Heritage in the Peak’

Costs vary. For further details see the MBArchaeology web site.


Flag Fen Archaeology Park. The Droveway, Northey Road, Peterborough, PE6 7QJ

Flag Fen is open daily from 10am-5pm (last entry at 4pm) from April to October and is a marvellous opportunity to see the work undertaken.


Wiltshire Heritage Museum runs a large number of events, exhibitions and activities both for the general public and members of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.

29th March to 1st. September 2013– ‘The Splendour of Stonehenge’ – an exhibition from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum’s extensive collection of paintings, drawings, engravings, prints and photographs of Stonehenge.  These date from the 18th century to the present day.


National Museum of Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3NP

Static exhibition in The Archaeology gallery – Origins: In Search of Early Wales. This traces life in Wales from the earliest humans 230,000 years ago. Who were our ancestors, and how different were they from us? What has changed and what has caused these changes?

Visit the Origins – In Search of Early Wales webpages for more details.


8 May 2013 1.05pm. Archaeology Lunchtime Talk

‘Technology or Design?  Decorating metalwork in the 1st century AD’   Mary Davis, Senior Conservator, Department of Archaeology.

Why and how was metalwork decorated within regions of Britain in direct conflict with Rome? Studying such objects can tell us anything about the varied indigenous societies that produced them, as they adapted to massive social, political and economic changes, accelerated by influences from the continent. This talk will concentrate on analysis of the Seven Sisters Hoard to illustrate some points about style, technology and Late Iron Age practices in Wales.


22 May 2013 1.05pm. Archaeology Lunchtime Talk

‘Archaeological excavation of experimental roundhouses’. With Professor Martin Bell, Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Reading.


25 May–2 Jun 2013 11am – 4pm. Activity.  ‘Pots from the Past’. Make a piece of art inspired by the pots and beakers used to prepare food in ancient times.


St. Fagans: National History Museum. St. Fagans, Cardiff.

25 – 26 May 2013 ‘There’s Something Useful in the Woodland’ an opportunity to find out more about how Iron Age people uses plants to make food, clothing, medicines and beer.

St Fagans is one of Europe’s leading open-air museums and Wales’s most popular heritage attraction. It stands in the grounds of the magnificent St Fagans Castle, a late 16th-century manor house donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth. Please check the website for more details in relation to the timings of talks as these sessions are held both in English and Welsh.

Please note: Redevelopment Project – St Fagans: National History Museum has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Welsh Government to completely transform the visitor experience.  Indoor galleries are currently closed as new exhibition spaces are built. The Celtic Village is also closed to prepare the site for a new eco-friendly exhibition space.

There is still plenty to see and visit.

St Fagans: National History Museum is located 4 miles west of Cardiff City Centre, just off the A4232. For satellite navigation purposes use the post code CF5 6XB.

FREE ENTRY but there is a small car parking fee.

For more information, see the Museum of Wales web site.

National Roman Legion Museum

Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire dominated the civilised world. Wales was its furthest outpost and, in AD 75, a fortress was founded at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. The National Roman Legion Museum displays a remarkable collection of finds from Roman Caerleon, the base of the second Augustan Legion.


Location: Town Centre, Caerleon, Gwent. Follow the ‘brown helmet’ signs from the M4 (westbound junction 25, eastbound junction 26). For satellite navigation purposes use the post code NP18 1AE (recorded as ‘High Street’).

More information see the Museum of Wales web site.:

6 May 2013 National Roman Legion Museum.  ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry!’

Celebrate a Roman festival – just like the Roman festival, Floralia, in Roman times, there will be eating, drinking, games to play, fighting to watch and contests to take part in.

18 and 19 May 2013 National Roman Legion Museum. ‘Do something different’. Learning new things isn’t just for kids and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be fun as well! Join in and try a new skill.

Saturday 18th May 2013 – Gladiator training. Unleash your inner warrior! Footwork, guard positions and hitting things included.

Sunday 19th May 2013 – Roman cooking. Use Roman recipes and ingredients to create a simple meal

*Adults only*

Saturday 18 May 2013 Archery  – Jonathan Thomas is an experienced traditional archer. His talk will cover methods and manufacture of bows and the history of bows through archaeology and literature. Illustrated throughout with hands on examples of bow parts, and finishing with an outdoor demonstration of different types of bows and shooting.



Caldicot Castle Country Park

May 5th and 6th 2013  From 10am – 5pm. Fortress Wales 2013 – Multi-period living history re-enactment and military vehicle show.  Really good fun with lots happening.

For updates please check the Living History web site.

And so we come to the last part of our review of the Current Archaeology Live  conference, held earlier this month in London’s Senate House.

The after-lunch session is usually regarded as a bit of a ‘graveyard shift’ (a wrong choice of words possibly, given the subject matter of many of this year’s talks), but everyone was attentive on return from lunch on the second day for what was possibly the most keenly anticipated talk by many of the whole conference.

Session 7. From Medieval to Early Modern

Richard Buckley, fresh from having been presented the award for Research Project of the Year the previous evening, took a spellbound audience through “Leicester’s Greyfriars and the Search for Richard III“,  a subject that by now doubtless needs little introduction or review, having been the subject of several TV and radio programs, and multitudinous magazine and web articles. Richard’s now famous quote at the start of the dig, “I’ll eat my hat if we find Richard III” symbolised the fact that the actual hope of finding him was a very long shot. The initial appeal of the opportunity to dig at Greyfriars was the chance to survey the lost friary. To set context, Richard gave a timeline of Richard III’s movements, leading up to the Battle of Bosworth and discussed the sources of detail about his grisly end. Looking at maps of the Greyfriars area, only 14% of the site was undeveloped and potentially available for excavation, and two overlapping trenches were decided upon. Bones were uncovered within the first 5m of trench 1, but covered over again until the location and orientation of the church could be identified. A third trench identified the choir, and the bones were further investigated. Curvature of the spine was a strong clue, and RC14 dating was close to the required date. Skeletal details showed a slight build, of immediately indeterminate gender, but wounds (fatal and non-fatal) which matched the historical sources. Due process was followed, and DNA matching with two identified descendants took identification to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ level. Cue hat-eating activities!

You had to feel a little sorry for Heather Knight, up next to tell us about the Curtain Playhouse  in London, having to follow such a stunning tale. But she started by comparing today’s Shoreditch, a hotbed of art and creativity, with the same area in Shakespeare’s time. All performance was banned in the City of London in the 16th century, and as ever, space was at a premium within the walls hence the theatres on the outskirts: “the original ‘fringe theatres'”. Heather gave some background to the style of Elizabethan theatres and their construction and usage. It’s possible that the Curtain, sister/overflow venue for the nearby The Theatre, saw the first performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599 – the “wooden ‘O'” mentioned in the Prologue. Whilst the rough location of the Curtain was known – even today the road is called Curtain Road – all physical traces were thought to have vanished. But when the area was marked for development, the archaeologists moved in. The first discovery was 19C cobbles – a good sign as this meant no 19C basements! They then found asymmetric load bearing walls, indicating a round building some 22m across – typical Playhouse style. Also uncovered within the narrow trench was a floor made of sheep bones. Apparently common and hard-wearing. Much of the archaeology is 2.5m below current ground level, so it is hoped more is preserved in situ below the Horse and Groom pub for future archaeologists to investigate further.

Sheepbone flooring, © MOLA

Sheepbone flooring, © MOLA

To close off this session, Pieta Greaves told us a little about her role as a Conservator on the Staffordshire Hoard, with some stunning closeup photographs of the intricate designs. Sadly, as the hoard was discovered by a Metal Detectorist, there were absolutely no clues as to it’s context, just some 205 bags of gold, silver and glass pieces. Many of the pieces were so brittle that thorns were used to clean them, rather than the more usual cocktail sticks or scalpels, to avoid damaging the fragile surfaces of the gold. It is hoped that chemical analysis of the alloys and adhesives may help identify a workshop for some of the pieces, and thus provide some context but there are too many outstanding questions, and of course, pieces are still being illegally removed up from the original site, (as we highlighted recently)  which police are aware of and are investigating.

After a short question time for the session, a tea break was more than welcome before the final session of the conference.

Session 8. Operation Nightingale: Injured soldiers on the road to recovery.

Surgeon Commodore Peter Buxton introduced a short film about Operation Nightingale (ON) excavations at Caerwent and explained that the project uses archaeological fieldwork to help the recovery of wounded servicemen returning from Afghanistan. Phil Harding (CA Archaeologist of the Year) is Honorary President but Peter explained with a smile that “rumours I told the soldiers to vote for him are untrue!” He went on to explain that many MOD sites (10 World heritage Sites, 800 listed buildings, 734 Scheduled Ancient Monuments in their care) are so well protected that they contain some amazing archaeology. Many of the soldiers involved in ON have moved on to study archaeology on a full-time basis as a result of the project. The first dig for the project was Chissenbury Midden, a 3m deep Bronze Age deposit threatened by badgers. Examining the throw resulted in up to 25kg of pottery sherds, without any excavation (“the post-ex costs would have bankrupted us!”). The success of the project was summed up in the example of a soldier, mute for 4 months following injury, who started speaking whilst sorting pottery on the project. It was explained that many soldiers’ injuries, mental or physical, may not necessarily be ‘visible’ injuries but all must be rehabilitated in their own ways. Whilst the focus is on the healing process, some good archaeological work is also being done by the unit; Caerwent Roman villa and Barrow Clump Saxon cemetery (featured in a Time Team Special)  were honorable mentions here. One questioner asked “are results published, or is it a military secret?” The reply was that work will be published as it’s all part of the archaeology.

But all too soon, it was time for closing comments from both Matthew Symonds, CA editor and Andrew Selkirk, editor in chief and founder of the magazine. And that was it for another year.

There were some trips organised to visit the St Mary Spital Charnel House and also the Billingsgate Bathhouse on the Sunday, but I didn’t attend these, so cannot report on them here.

Was the conference a success? Judging from the increase in attendance figures from last year, and the reactions on Twitter and Facebook I’d have to say positively yes, and I personally am already looking forward to next year’s event, although whether the Senate House will be large enough is open to debate. Book early to avoid disappointment, as they say…


March 2015
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