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It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.

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This is what the weekend will involve:

Saturday May 28th

Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.

Sunday May 29th

Mining in Cornwall
An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
In the footsteps of giants
A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
The geomantic network in West Penwith

To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.

Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.

Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.

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Once again, the first day of the Current Archaeology Live  conference this year was concluded with a short Awards ceremony. These awards are especially important as they are voted for by the readership of the magazine, and thus reflect their interests. The awards were sponsored by Historic England, Oxbow Books, Oxford University Press and Export and General Insurance Services Ltd.

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The first award, ‘Photo of the Year’ , was sponsored by Andante Travel, and judged by Adam Stanford, of Aerial-Cam. It was won by Shuo Huang, for a stunning photograph of the Easter Island statues.

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As in previous years, there were several categories to vote for:

  • Research Project of the Year
  • Rescue Dig of the Year
  • Book of the Year
  • Archaeologist of the Year

The nominations for each award were as follows, the winner of each is indicated in Bold Type:

Research Project of the Year

  • Digging Sedgeford: A people’s Archaeology
  • Burrough Hill: Signs of Life in a Midlands hillfort
  • Vindolanda: Revelations from the Roman frontier
  • Bannockburn: Scotland’s seminal battlefield rediscovered
  • Recapturing Berkeley Castle: One trench, 1,500 years of English history
  • Rewriting the origin of the broch builders: Exploring fortifications and farming at Old Scatness

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Rescue Dig of the Year

  • The Drumclay crannog-dwellers: revealing 1,000 years of lakeside living
  • Death on Ridgeway Hill: how science unlocked the secrets of a mass grave
  • Excavating Barrow Clump: soldier archaeologists and warrior graves
  • Coast to coast: recording England’s vanishing heritage
  • The London’s burning: a 17th century warship sunk in the Thames
  • The Fenwick Treasure: Colchester during the Boudiccan War of Independence

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Book of the Year

  • Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections
  • Thinking Big
  • The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland
  • Caithness Archaeology: aspects of prehistory
  • Hadrian’s Wall, a history of archaeological thought
  • Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces

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Archaeologist of the Year

  • Philip Crummy
  • Vincent Gaffney
  • Roberta Gilchrist

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Information and articles on all the above nominees can be found on the Current Archaeology  web site. Our hearty congratulations go out to all the winners!

Winners

With just five weeks to go, it’s time to book your ticket, if you haven’t already done so, for the best conference in town! Current Archaeology magazine’s annual ‘CA Live’ conference returns to Senate House in London at the end of February, and we’ll be there live Tweeting the event once again.

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Although the full lineup has yet to be finalised, the session schedule already looks very enticing:

Friday 26th February

  • 9:30-11:00 In Search of the Prehistoric, introduced by Julian Richards, speakers to be confirmed.
  • 11:30 – 13:00 Rescuing the Past:
    • Neil Holbrook – The Cirencester Roman Tombstone
    • Ben Ford – Excavating Westgate
    • Dan Atkinson – Chatham Dockyard
    • Ronan Toolis – Trusty’s Hill
  • 14:30-16:00 Around the Ancient World:
    • Barry Cunliffe – Birthing Eurasia
    • Ray Laurence – Roman Roads: movement migration and mobility
    • Andrew Robinson – The Indus civilisation: lost and found?
  • 4:30-5:50 Keynote: Professor Mike Fulford

…followed by the Reception, Awards Ceremony (have you voted yet?) and entertainment.

Saturday 27th February

  • 9:30-11:00 Osteology of Trauma:
    • Ray Baldry – Sedgeford’s Anglo-Saxon skeletons
    • Louise Low – the Ridgeway Hill Vikings
    • Martin Smith – Violence in the Neolithic
  • 11:30:1300 Warfare in Roman Britain:
    • Mike Bishop – Roman Military Warfare
    • John Reid – A Seige at Burnswark?
    • Philip Crummy – Boudicca and the Fenwick Treasure
  • 14:30-16:00 Experiments in Archaeology:
    • Ryan Watts – Butser Ancient Farm
    • Pieta Greaves and Eleanor Blakelock – The Staffordshire Hoard
    • Zena Kamash – Food for Thought
  • 16:30-17:00 David Breeze – 40 Years on the Frontier

Ticket details are available from the CA Live web site. I hope to see you there, please stop and say hello if you spot me!

 

As the calendar year draws to a close, it’s time to cast your votes for the annual Current Archaeology Awards.

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This is especially important if you’re a regular reader of the magazine as the awards are designed to reflect the interests of the readership, but if you’ve not read the magazine, happily that doesn’t preclude you from casting a vote!

As in previous years, there are several categories to vote for:

  • Research Project of the Year
  • Rescue Dig of the Year
  • Book of the Year
  • Archaeologist of the Year

The nominations for each award are as follows:

Research Project of the Year

  • Digging Sedgeford: A people’s Archaeology
  • Burrough Hill: Signs of Life in a Midlands hillfort
  • Vindolanda: Revelations from the Roman frontier
  • Bannockburn: Scotland’s seminal battlefield rediscovered
  • Recapturing Berkeley Castle: One trench, 1,500 years of English history
  • Rewriting the origin of the broch builders: Exploring fortifications and farming at Old Scatness

Information and articles on the above nominees can be found here.

Rescue Dig of the Year

  • The Drumclay crannog-dwellers: revealing 1,000 years of lakeside living
  • Death on Ridgeway Hill: how science unlocked the secrets of a mass grave
  • Excavating Barrow Clump: soldier archaeologists and warrior graves
  • Coast to coast: recording England’s vanishing heritage
  • The London’s burning: a 17th century warship sunk in the Thames
  • The Fenwick Treasure: Colchester during the Boudiccan War of Independence

Information and articles on the above nominees can be found here.

Book of the Year

  • Celtic Art in Europe: Making Connections
  • Thinking Big
  • The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland
  • Caithness Archaeology: aspects of prehistory
  • Hadrian’s Wall, a history of archaeological thought
  • Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces

Information and articles on the above nominees can be found here.

Archaeologist of the Year

  • Philip Crummy
  • Vincent Gaffney
  • Roberta Gilchrist

Information and articles on the above nominees can be found here.

So, once you’ve read about all the nominees, pop along to the voting page and cast your votes for your favourites! Winners will be announced at the Current Archaeology Live 2016 Conference at the end of February next year. If you missed last year’s conference and want to know what it’s all about, see the video below.

Last weekend, I attended a one-day conference organised (and fully funded) by Wessex Archaeology at the Greenwich University Medway Campus on 12th September 2015. The theme of the conference was ‘Celebrating Prehistoric Kent’.

The programme was set out as follows and despite some minor overruns, all went very smoothly, ably m.c.’d by Wessex Archaeology’s Regional Team Leader for London and the South East, Mark Williams.

Programme
9.30: Welcome (coffee and selection of teas provided)
9.50: Introduction
10.00: Paul Garwood (University of Birmingham): Seas of change: the early Neolithic in the Medway valley and its European context
10.40: Sophie Adams (University of Bristol): We dig what you dig: exploring later prehistoric bronze working from the excavated evidence
11.20: Break with coffee and selection of teas provided
11.40: Phil Andrews (Wessex Archaeology): Digging at the Gateway: the archaeology of East Kent Access 2
12.20: Andy Bates (University of Kent): Investigation and Survey of the Oppida at Bigbury and Oldbury
1.00: Lunch (not provided) displays etc
2.00: Jacqueline McKinley (Wessex Archaeology): The Late Bronze Age-Middle Iron Age mortuary landscape at Cliffs End
2.40: Ges Moody (Trust For Thanet Archaeology): Prehistory in our place and our place in Prehistory; Thanet and the Trust for Thanet Archaeology
3.20: Andrew Mayfield (Kent County Council Heritage Team): Public perceptions of prehistory
4.00: Discussion & Close

I tried to take notes throughout the day, and I hope I haven’t misrepresented what was said by anyone in the following summary. Please comment if you were there and feel I’ve got anything wrong.

Paul Garwood kicked off the day, talking about the Medway Valley Megaliths, “discovered, forgotten, rediscovered etc. but not quite fitting in”. He postulated a two-phase Neolithic: The ‘Formative’ (4000-3750BC), which included the spread of farming to previously Mesolithic cultures, and the ‘Early Developed’ (3750-3400BC) which included the long barrow culture.

Evidence from each of the megaliths in the Medway Valley, which we’ve visited before, was examined in turn. As the size of the monuments increases (4000BC for White Horse Stone, Kits Coty etc) up to large enclosures such as that at Burham Causewayed Enclosure (3700-3500BC), this indicates a time of huge social change and activity, and suggests a new chronology for the British early Neolithic period.

Sophie Adams then ran through a wealth of evidence for Bronze Age and Iron Age metalworking in Kent, and provided several samples and reproductions to be passed around the audience. The evidence for metalworking usually consists of ingots, crucibles, moulds (often made of clay) or smithing tools.

There are many metalworking objects recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme from Kent relating to the Bronze Age, plus a lot of Iron Age coins.

Some 25 sites in the county provide evidence of metal working. This is a high number for such sites in a single county in Britain. Sophie examined the finds from several of these sites in detail, such as Holborough Quarry, Mill Hill in Deal, Highstead Chislet, and the Boughton Malherbe hoard.

After a short coffee break, Phil Andrews took us back to 2010 and the largest excavation in Britain, where over a period of 9 months some 48 hectares of land were stripped from a rich archaeological landscape for the East Kent Access route. The project was overwhelming but the road was completed on time. The site was divided into 25 ‘zones’ for ease of reference.

Among the earliest remains found were a palaeolithic flake from Telegraph Hill, along with Mesolithic axes. Zone 6 included a concentration of Neolithic Flint in pits, while zone 14 exposed pits with pottery. There are a large number of barrows in Thanet, almost all of which have been ploughed flat. There were at least 12 large barrows under the course of the road.

One ring ditch barrow produced up to a dozen burials at Cliffs End near to a possible henge – a 50 metre wide monument. A total of 8 late Bronze Age hoards were all found on the Ebbsfleet peninsula as part of the excavation.

Zone 6, over 300m long, also produced evidence of a very complex Iron Age site, with trackways, ditches, roundhouses etc. The settlement grew through to Roman times. The most significant discovery? A possible link to Julius Caesar in the form of a very substantial ditch, part of defences dating from around 100 bc or so. The ditch was recut in 100 AD, and investigation continues.

Andy Bates then described his work, surveying two under-researched hillforts in Kent, those at Bigbury and Oldbury.

Bigbury is an are dominated by gravels, much of the area has been quarried, some of the surrounding fields are being surveyed using metal detector, magnetometry and resistivity geophys, with some encouraging results including an intriguing rectilinear feature which bears some resemblance in form to a possible shrine found on Cadbury Castle in Somerset.

Oldbury, one of the largest hillforts in Europe, has been largely inaccessible to geophys due to being heavily wooded to the south with agricultural use (orchards) to the north, but an opportunity opened up for some survey work in a northern field. Not much showed on the geophys here, some features but all were very disturbed.

After a lunch break Jacqueline McKinley described some of the major findings from the Cliffs End farm site (see the article in Current Archaeology issue 306). This was a very busy mortuary site, with burials from the late Bronze Age, middle Iron Age and some Anglo-Saxon burials too. There were no bones in many of the graves, due to the acidity of the soil, but fortuitously in one area of redeposited soil, 14 articulated burials were preserved. This find increases by around 30% the number of articulated bodies found in Kent to date. Unusually, the majority of the bones were from teens.

The main find was the burial of a Bronze Age woman, found with two lambs on her lap, holding a piece of chalk to her face, and her other hand pointing to a central enclosure. Two youths were also buried with her, one with their head resting on a cow skull. The woman had died from four blows to her skull with a bladed instrument – a violent death, but possibly a sacrifice?

Ges Moody then gave us a brief history of Thanet, the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the background to many of the antiquarian (and more up to date!) archaeological investigations in the area.

The Trust recently completed their ‘VM-365’ project, with a blog post every day for a year looking at Thanet archaeology and many of the finds available in their ‘virtual museum’. An interesting site, well worth a visit.

The day finished (for me) with Andy Mayfield giving a lighthearted look at how the public view prehistory. he then went on to explain a little about his work as a Heritage Environment Records Officer in Kent (what a H.E.R.O.!), and a review of the enormous amount of prehistory available in the county.

After the meeting, an invite was extended to all to continue discussions in a nearby pub, but as we had a long trip home in front of us, we left as the organisers were packing up the display materials.

All in all a very entertaining, interesting and educational day, and Wessex Archaeology are to be applauded for covering the cost of the event. I’ll certainly be looking out for other events in the future. Maybe they could consider covering each county in turn? Personally I’d like to see a similar review of archaeology in my local counties of Hertfordshire and Essex (hint hint!)

By Alan S.

As mentioned in the writeup for this year’s Megameet, the very first megameet (and the origins of Heritage Action) occurred on the same date back in 2003, 12 years previously. Following that meeting, as was my custom then, I wrote up some fieldnotes of the day’s travels and the sites we’d seen. Reading them now, the notes show a level of naivety that I hope I’ve shrugged off in the intervening years, but I think it’s an interesting insight into the day as a whole, and a good indication of how thinly I used to spread myself back then.

Bear in mind that there was no such thing as ‘Heritage Action’ when I first wrote these notes, and I have had to update several of the links as the original links (and many of the pictures) are no longer available. And so I present my notes from:

TMA Picnic Day – 2003

July 26th, the day of the Modern Antiquarian (TMA) picnic.

M. had identified a craft shop in Calne that she wanted to visit first, so we made a relatively early start and joined the holiday traffic on the M4. It was difficult passing the turn offs, first for Uffington, then Marlborough and Avebury, before dropping south to Calne (why is there a statue of 2 pigs in Calne?)

Oh look, there’s the A4 – Avebury is just up the road! And so after a brief retail break, off we set.

As we passed Cherhill Down, I saw a sign advertising trial flights in a microlite. Now that would be a good way to see Avebury. I must enquire about prices one day… (ed. I never did.)

I’d hoped to take a look at the Beckhampton Longbarrow marked on the OS map (SU087691), but despite a trot down the Wessex Ridgeway, didn’t see it. Either I didn’t go far enough, or it was hidden beneath a copse. I got to check out the Longstone Cove again though, peeping above a quite high crop where last time I was here there was none. And so into the village, and some more retail therapy: John Michell’s ‘Sacred England’ (reduced as it was the shelf copy), ‘Discovering Hill Figures’ (Shire Books), and ‘Unusual Aspects of Avebury’ by Lamont & Hedderman. Some light reading there. M. purchased a Tree Ogham booklet.

We drove down West Kennet Avenue, and I would have stopped again, but there was a herd of dreaded COWS grazing in the field! So it was on to West Kennet Longbarrow. I recalled that I was last here some 7 or 8 years ago as I pulled myself up the hill. I was quite wary, as I’d barely been able to park in the layby and was anticipating a crowd, but by some miracle I managed to have the place to myself for at least 10 minutes after a small group left. I’ve been away from here too long, and must resolve to visit more often.

Back to the car, and the weather started to close in. I was already late for the arranged start time for the meet at Uffington, and the question now was: hill or pub?

I’d tentatively planned to stop on the way at Ogbourne St Andrew, but put that plan to one side, and diverted via Liddington Castle as we made our way up towards White Horse Hill. The weather still couldn’t decide whether to convert to a full-on downpour, so I decided the hill was the place to meet, on the basis that “it’s only a few spots of rain”.

And I proved to be right. We parked above the Manger, hoping that M. would be able to make it rest of the way on foot, but to save her energy, I did a scouting trip first. Some scout! I’d completely lost my bearings, and instead of aiming for the head of the white horse, I ended up in Uffington Fort! Correcting myself, I found the head, but no other TMAers were to be seen. Or was that Treaclechops? Unsure of approaching a possible stranger myself, someone approached the two women on the groundsheet, obviously having just returned from Dragon Hill. I heard the magical incantation “TMA” spoken, and dove in. Yes, it was Treaclechops with Miriam, I just hadn’t recognised her from behind at first, and the absence of Jane had confused me. Moth was introduced, being the one having just returned, then Jimit, Baza and Jane also returned from their wanderings, introductions were made and the group for the day was complete.

The Horse's Head

I returned to the car, but M. felt it was a hill too far for her to manage, and she decided to wait there while I returned to socialise with the group.

A couple of young tourists (for want of a better phrase) had decided to walk the horse, until Treaclechops raced down the hill, screaming in her best RSM voice “Hey! Get off, that’s a scheduled ancient monument you’re walking on!!” Boy, did they get off quick!

An hour later, we made a collective decision to move over to Wayland’s Smithy, where hopefully M. would be able to walk on the flat to join us. And so, a convoy of five cars made their way up to the Ridgeway and Wayland’s.

The last time I was here, the fields were cropless, and I’d gotten very angry upon finding the remnants of a rave party were packing up and leaving. Throbbing music and (to me), a total desecration of the site, right next to the sign that says ‘No Camping, No Fires’.

I’m pleased to report that today’s visit was the total opposite, bar the evidence of a camp fire right in front of the monument. The crops were high, and we had the site pretty much to ourselves for most of the afternoon. Jane started sketching whilst photos were taken, and the ‘entasis phenomenon’ of the mound was investigated. I’d had to have this explained to me, but the visual effect is quite outstanding once you know what you’re looking at!

© Jane Tomlinson "Sitting in the shade of the Wayland's beech trees after a hot, dusty walk from Uffington Castle, I stopped to admire the sketch I'd made of the Wayland's site from further up the hill..."

© Jane Tomlinson
“Sitting in the shade of the Wayland’s beech trees after a hot, dusty walk from Uffington Castle, I stopped to admire the sketch I’d made of the Wayland’s site from further up the hill…”

The rain started. We’d sheltered under the trees, so avoided the worst of it, but the afternoon was getting on and a call for beer went up. So, after a couple of silly group photos, we decamped and made our way back to the cars.

Jane (the local) led the procession, twice getting lost and turning us all round, before TC leapt out of the car, running towards me (that RSM voice again) “Give me your bloody map!” Needless to say, I complied, and we duly arrived at the designated hostelry in question. Which was shut. Twenty minutes standing in the rain, and the doors finally opened, whereupon we were suitably refreshed whilst browsing through Moth’s copious photograph albums. He has some quite stunning shots there.

An hour later, M. and I decided to head home, but I couldn’t resist one last stop for the day at the Blowing Stone where, in the teeming rain, my camera jammed and refused to recognise the memory card with the day’s photo’s on it. Thankfully, all were ok once I got home (nearly 10pm), but I’ll have to return for a shot of the stone another day.

Afterword

A truly memorable day. Sadly, Treaclechops is no longer with us, but on a happier note, after meeting for the first time on that day, Jane and Moth were happily married the following year, as were myself and M. Back then, M. still had a degree of mobility although she tired very easily. She now has to use a wheelchair and I currently can’t envisage undertaking such a busy day as that again with her.

If you have your own fieldnotes from a truly memorable day, why not share them with us here? Just tell us why the day was particularly memorable for you, which sites were visited, and maybe share a photo or two too?

 

 

 

It was wet, it was cold, it was windy. But that didn’t stop a loyal band of Heritage Action members from congregating at Avebury, twelve years to the very day since a group of megaraks met at the Uffington White Horse to plan what they could do to help combat damage to prehistoric sites. Many of the same people and a whole bunch of others came together at the weekend for the umpteenth (we’ve lost track) ‘Megameet’.

Admittedly, several Founder members couldn’t make it this year but they were replaced by a number of new attendees, some very young, which bodes well for the future. But considering we’re in July, I’ve never seen the circle so devoid of people generally on a summer weekend!

Red Lion

Those who did turn up met with old friends, had an enjoyable lunch in the Red Lion and discussed all things megalithic until the weather cleared enough for some to attempt a brief circumambulation of the henge, including the obligatory ‘selfie’, courtesy of artist and founder member, Jane Tomlinson.

Megameet2015

But we weren’t the only people to brave the weather. At the far end of the West Kennet Avenue, an archaeological excavation is taking place over three weeks. The Between the Monuments Project – a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall) – is attempting to answer the tricky question ‘Where and how did the people who built these monuments live?’.

Avenue Trench

The main Avenue trench. Faulkner’s Circle is by the dark tree in the middle background, top centre.

Two trenches have been opened up, one immediately between the stones of the Avenue, and another off to the side. Despite the weather, some of the principals and volunteers were busy mattocking the side trench, part of which has already been excavated down to the natural layer, exposing some ‘periglacial striations’ in the underlying chalk.

Periglacial Striations

The side trench, showing the ‘periglacial striations’.

Sadly, I had no time to stop and chat (and I think they wanted to get on with the dig while the weather allowed it!) as I stupidly had no coat, and a long drive home in the rain ahead of me. But it was good to see everyone again, and I’m sure we’ll do it all again next year, if not sooner!

Another year, and another highly successful Day of Archaeology, which this time round occurred on 24th July (and new posts are still appearing). I imagine the organisers must be feeling very pleased with themselves, and quite exhausted at the moment! Hearty congratulations to everyone involved, and many thanks to the organisers, behind the scenes techies, and all the contributors for telling us exactly what it is they get up to.

doa-noyear

As usual, I was watching the Twitter feed (#DayOfArch) and had the web site added to my RSS feed throughout the day, but was simply overwhelmed with the number of posts from very early in the morning, and which continued unabated throughout the day. And what posts! Every aspect of archaeology was covered, from sites around the world, in multiple languages. Many of the posts were lengthy and so detailed that I’m afraid I didn’t get much of my own work done, just trying to keep up! This is a web site of treasures that I’ll return to again and again over the coming weeks and months to see what I can unearth.

And therein lies the problem. In just 5 years, the sheer scale of the project has mushroomed to an extent where, to find an item of specific interest increases in difficulty. Yes, there is a Search facility, but this can seemingly only deal with simple searches. There is also an excellent map facility on the site, showing those posts which have been geo-referenced, but sadly many are not and the map is currently restricted to only show posts from 2011-2013.

DayOfArch2015Map

The moderators work extremely hard every year categorising each post before it appears so that related posts can be found, and it’s this work that makes the finding of a specific interest a bit easier, although the system isn’t yet perfect. By lunchtime on the day, probably 150-200 posts had appeared on my RSS feed – if not more. Yet searching for the category ‘Day of Archaeology 2015’ showed only 33 posts, of which only 5 were tagged as relating to prehistory! So a bit more work to be done for next year, by which time I may have caught up on reading the posts of interest!

I can’t help but wonder if any other professions would be able to emulate the Day of Archaeology project, let alone garner the obvious depth of public interest. Hopefully the organisers will release some stats in due course showing just how many posts have been created, how many hits the site receives, and which were the most popular posts, year by year.

Here’s to next year!!

As reported on several heritage and archaeology mailing lists recently, West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village (which we visited last year) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this coming weekend, on 25 and 26 July.

To mark the occasion, members of the public are invited to visit the site throughout the weekend free of charge – giving them the opportunity to re-engage with the unique site or to experience the site for the first time and visit the reconstructed buildings.

West Stow house 'The Workshop'

The West Stow Anglo-Saxon Trust would love to welcome anyone involved with the archaeological site during the past 50 years to join in the celebrations – original archaeological diggers, reconstructors and anyone else who helped bring the village to life. However, the Trust doesn’t have contact details for everyone involved, so please spread the word through your networks. The main event will be on Saturday 25 July, from 11am until 4pm. BBC Radio Suffolk will be broadcasting live from the site between 1 and 3pm and interviewing some of those involved. In the education room, there will be a slideshow of archive images of the village and a display of the results from the Festival of Archaeology and Breaking New Grounds test pitting project.

This will be a very informal gathering (no speeches!) and a relaxed day in a wonderful setting.

Following on from her extended series of posts in 2013, and a visit last year, once again Sue Brooke has revisited Caerau hillfort in Cardiff, to report upon this year’s activities there with a much more personal view. 

Since 2007 I have been researching the local area around Caerau. You may recall that I discovered what was to be later confirmed as at least an Iron Age hillfort, right over my garden fence. Much to the amusement of family and friends I waxed lyrical about this field full of lumps and bumps, cow poo and bitey insects. Although not exactly ‘preserved in public record’ as they say, this was well hidden and completely forgotten about so I was desperately trying to keep it secret and therefore protected. Of course Time Team later came and showed it in all its wall mounted, 48 inch, HD screen beauty, then went away again.

CAER Heritage Project and Cardiff University have however been periodically running community digs and generally involving the local community in the work they have been carrying out over the last three years or so and local interest has been increased. Their website shows the work that has gone on, not only in the field but in local centres and schools. Now and then local press picks up the story and it even pops up on local news. The really lovely thing about this work is that it involves everyone who is interested. Groups of primary school children through to older people have all taken a real interest in the site and become involved at various levels.

Me? Well, I moved away from the area recently. It was really sad to leave my garden fence behind and I do miss the trees as well as the mystery of what they would tell me if they could speak. But, I’m not that far away so I am still involved in keeping a close eye on what is going on. I go to the community events up at the site and still spend time wandering around with my camera.  I still research the local history there and am still turning up really interesting information about the people who lived in the area and how it links to other sites nearby as well as a little bit further away.

On the 4th of July the project held a Big Picnic. The original idea of this was to replicate the old Christian tradition of the Whitsun Treat which used to be held in the field at Pentecost.  This is still fondly remembered by locals. I’m not sure if this is a Welsh thing but it involved local children being transported to various sites, clutching a spoon with their name taped to the handle and a bag of something that their mum or Nan (very important people are Welsh Nan’s!) had made that they would share.  It was about coming together and having fun.

As well as the Big Picnic there would be a parade today with stalls, face painting, information on finds and tours of the ongoing excavations. Now, my grandson is really ‘into’ history. He has recently visited Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire and has, I am very proud to say, developed a really impressive (for an 11 year old) knowledge of Welsh early history.  He asks questions, reads real books and takes it all in. He came with us with promises that I’d show him all the ditches and ramparts that had set my own imagination off and started this whole thing going for me in the first place. So, off we went.

A new brown heritage site arrow has appeared – pointing the way to the hill from the main road that runs through Caerau. Just in case you miss it there is another a little further on. This secret triangular shaped field of ‘mine’ is most certainly not such a secret any more.

Caerau Sign

There were quite a few cars parked at the entrance to the site and we were met by two lovely students who welcomed us on our way up. That walk up is getting steeper, I’m sure. I was a little surprised at the cars that were allowed up the lane, meaning I had to ensure we were safely out of the way – I tutted at one point, I admit – but at least it gave me a minute to stand and get my breath back.  The view as you round the final bend never fails to impress me and I’ve been up there many, many times.

Caerau event

The entrance to the field was set up with the promised stalls and it was all very busy with a real sense of community.   CAER’s Olly Davies (beautifully face painted by Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust artists) and Dave Wyatt were in the middle of it all so it was nice to catch up. We were able to see some of the more recent finds. What is particularly nice is that it’s possible to actually hold these in your hand, rather than peer at them through the glass of a museum case, although that’s probably where they will find a home eventually. At least I hope so, rather than end up in a box on a shelf somewhere.  The extremely knowledgeable and really friendly young women in charge there are able to tell you not just what you are holding but also where they were found, what the significance is and how they have made them look presentable. It was also good in that, for me, the star find from last year (the Neolithic flint arrow head) was also brought back home for the day.

Caerau Flint

A handout was provided to enable understanding of the objectives for this year, entitled ‘Digging Caerau’ – not exactly my most favourite phrase. Nonetheless, five areas of the field are being examined this year – four of which have been previously examined and re-opened for further investigation. One new area is being examined to ‘explore what appears on the geophysics to be a boundary probably dating to the Roman period.’ Guided tours were being given to small groups but we wandered off on our own to see what was going on. Well, it is my field, after all!

My biggest concern prior to the Time Team investigations was that my hillfort would be dug up. Mr Cadw Inspector reassured me that this would not happen. I’ve seen the finds that have come out of the ground, so to speak, and found them fascinating. From my grandsons perspective he was thrilled to wander around and to see postholes within the trench, confirming that this was an area that people had actually lived in. As you may know, for local historians like me the people are as important as the place.  But, the site itself, for me, is losing its special character. It is changing, losing its ‘feel’ underfoot and the magic of the lumps and bumps is fading along with the brown scarring of the excavated trench areas.

Since Welsh Nan’s are very important I had wandered off with the lad to show him how to interpret the various aspects of the site that had really grabbed my attention way back in 2007. But now, whilst the ramparts are still clearly visible one inner rampart now has a ditch cut through it. Please don’t misunderstand; it’s a really painstakingly created section from which the archaeologists are intending to gain dating evidence and environmental samples. But to me it’s a whacking great chunk out of the rampart that really won’t be the same once it’s refilled.

Caerau section

This is really evident in the beautiful ditch that once swept across part of the site. You couldn’t fail to see it and it was really easy to photograph. It looked like something special to me. Trouble is it looked like something special to Time Team and the other diggers too, so now it’s gone. I’ve since looked back over some of my early writing and the phrase ‘it’s quite possible to see ditches and ramparts untouched’ really jumps out. I wanted my grandson to experience that sense of standing in or on something special. Something that made a person curious and excited about what may have been there, who may have built it, why and when.  To me that sense of excitement has gone now as not all of those lumps and bumps are there any more – I feel that is really quite sad.

I completely understand that archaeology is a science. Indeed, my own first degree is a Bachelor of Science (with honours, obviously!) but my science is more social, of ordinary people and of ordinary places.  So whilst the archaeologists are looking  down into mucky holes getting dirt under their fingernails I can be found looking through dusty old books, looking up and out and, quite often across.  Both, whilst different perspectives, should complement each other in being able to tell the story of a place and understand the people who lived within it.  But, and this is a big but, I don’t think digging things up, taking them away and, as a result of this changing the really special characteristics of the site will benefit anyone in the end. Perhaps I just have an emotional attachment to this hillfort but to me it all feels really selfish.

Moving on…

All in all my grandson enjoyed his day. He was able to get an idea of the hillfort from the Lidar images and the visual representations on show, ask questions about how a roof was put on the roundhouses, look into trenches and to see the burial mounds clearly visible on the mountain opposite. He took photos and met with ‘real’ archaeologists. He was (reasonably) impressed with his Nan’s knowledge and perhaps gained a different perspective of the site from that. I just have this nagging feeling that he would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if he could have felt what I did when I first went into that field. It was only eight years ago.

As we left Olly came to chat and asked what I was doing now – I explained I had moved house recently but that I had a found a new site of interest that I felt linked in to the Caerau site. His eyes lit up and he asked where, I told him to b*gger off, there is no way he is digging this one up…

Many thanks to Sue for this report of her day out to revisit an old favourite. Have you recently revisited a favourite site? Or are you planning to do so during this year’s Festival of Archaeology? If so, why not submit a short article and share your visit with others on the Heritage Journal?

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