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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!
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.
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?’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Once again, the Day of Archaeology is being held next month. This year, it falls on the 24th July.
If you’ve ever wondered what archaeologists around the world get up to on a ‘normal’ working day, then the Day of Archaeology was designed just for you! All around the world on the designated day, people working, studying or volunteering in archaeology are invited to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. The various submissions are then added to the Day of Archaeology web site, producing a varied record of the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology.
The project was founded by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson in March 2011, and has been held every year since, although the specific date varies from year to year. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free and past entries have encompassed the full gamut of archaeological activities. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement, and contributions, no matter how large or small are always welcomed. The idea behind the project is to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.
If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want.
If you’re not involved in archaeology, think it’s just about the digging, but are intrigued to know what else goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not expand your horizons by keeping an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!
A recent press release from the University of Reading:
Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.
This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.
Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.
“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”
The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.
Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”
Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”
The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at two exciting Open Days on Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.
Ok, so this one has snuck up on us as it passed under our radar, but this coming weekend 13th June, the Institute of Archaeology are holding their ‘World Festival of Archaeology: Passport to the Past’ event as a precursor to the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of British Archaeology to be held in July (of which more later).
The festival will involve lots of activities taking place in Gordon Square, London and in the Institute of Archaeology building for families and all members of the public, on Saturday 13 June from 12pm-5pm.
Tours of the Institute’s world-renowned collections and object handling-sessions will be available while archaeologically-related activities for adults and children alike will also be on offer as well as displays of experimental archaeological techniques.
All activities are drop-in, there is no need to book (but see below re tours) and all are welcome!
Activities in Gordon Square Gardens should include:
- Sandpit Archaeology: Learn how to excavate and unearth the past
- From Skin to Leather: See how animal hides are transformed into leather
- Meat: the Ancestors: see how our ancestors processed meat
- Make it in Stone: See how to work flint into tools (flint knapping)
- Conservator for a day: Be a conservator for the day: take part in aspects of conservation
- Pace Yourself: Learn some basic archaeological surveying techniques
- Tinder and Steel: Making fire in the Middle Ages
- Fragmented Frescoes: Create a wall painting and help create a story from the past
- Lighting up the Past: make a lamp: Make a working Roman/Greek lamp just like they did 2,000 years ago
- Lets do the Time Warp: Learn an ancient weaving technique
- Cave creations: Try making paints and see what kind of cave art you can create. Help make an art work for the Institute
- Connect four stratigraphy: Connect the layers of time and race the other team
- Meet the Alchemist: Turn your copper into gold
- Fish mummification: Make your own mummified fish just like the Egyptians did
- Underwater Archaeology-DSI-Deep Sea Investigation: Dive into the world of ancient shipwrecks
- Whose Poo: Find out what people in the past had to eat by dissecting their poo
Indoor activities will include:
- Conservation Laboratory – piecing together the past: See what’s involved in conserving objects for display in museums. Find out what we discover during conservation
- When Bad Things Happen to Good Books: Come and see how damage and decay affect our books. Learn book mending and basic conservation techniques
- Egyptian Rituals: Make your own servant to work for you in the Egyptian afterlife. Wax modelling and painting of Shabtis
- Maya you have a Happy Birthday: Discover the Maya calendar and your birthday secrets
- Scenes from the Past: Be inspired by archaeologists’ travels. Make your own greetings cards inspired by your archaeological expedition at the Institute
- Sherds through Time: Create a timeline using Ancient Egyptian material from the Institute’s collections
- What’s my Stuff: Use the Institute’s X-ray flourescent equipment to find out what your jewellery is made of
- Petrie Museum: Try making your own pot inspired by the Petrie Museum’s collections
- Film screening: View archival films from the archaeological record
In addition there will be tours and children’s trails throughout the afternoon – some booking may be required as tour spaces are limited.
For full details, see the Institute’s web page.
The annual Heritage Journal Megameet – for members, friends and supporters of the journal – will return once again this year to the Avebury WHS.
As in previous years, the rendezvous point will be located near to the Cove in the NE quadrant (or the Red Lion if inclement) but attendees will be encouraged to perambulate among the various components of the WHS and tell of their discoveries on their return to the main group. There should be plenty of experienced people present to provide some guidance and advice for those new to the area.
So mark Sunday July 26th in your diary – we’ll be congregating for the usual chat and banter from midday onwards – and don’t forget to bring a book or two along for the bookswap!
We look forward to meeting lots of new friends on the day.
Now here’s a great idea! You’ve all heard of book clubs, where members all agree to read a particular book by a given date, and then meet to discuss the merits of said book? Well extend that idea to archaeological papers, throw in some technology to negate the need to physically meet but still allow real-time discussion and what you end up with is the Archaeology Reading Group, a new group set up to accomplish exactly that.
It’s early days at the moment – the first meeting is set for June 16th – and due to the technological constraints of Skype, each meeting is limited a maximum of 25 attendees, but there’s no reason that the group shouldn’t be a success despite that.
There are many different interests within the group, from Neolithic to Bronze Age, Viking to Medieval. Each month they intend to look at a different topic and/or period, so you can be sure there will be something of interest for just about everyone.
It’s a small group at the moment and consists mainly of archaeology students and enthusiasts. But regardless of background, everyone is more than welcome to join and share some thoughts. The only commitment is to read the selected paper before the meeting so that you can participate fully.
The first two monthly meetings are already scheduled. Even if you can’t make the meeting, the papers look to be of sufficient interest for anyone with an interest in the past, but it’s a shame that the paper selected for the first discussion is not freely available, requiring a £25 fee for those not blessed with academic (Shibboleth/OpenAthens) library accounts. But that aside, we wish the group every success for the future.
The Council for British Archaeology’s Local Heritage Engagement Network are holding an event in London on 20th June, entitled ‘Activism, Advocacy and Supporting your Heritage’. The event is designed to help attendees gain skills and confidence to begin to engage in local advocacy and activism to support their local historic environment, or to increase the impact of their present advocacy work.
Speakers will provide up to date background information to threats facing local authority archaeology and heritage services. They will discuss what can be done to protect and advocate for these services, as well as present examples of best practice from community groups currently engaged in campaigns. The programme also includes workshops which will allow for discussion of attendee’s present work and how it could be adapted or used for advocacy impact and will provide information on how to get in the media, and get your message across to members of the public and decision makers.
Anyone is welcome to attend this event – you do not need any previous experience of heritage advocacy. There is a small cost to attendees (£5), to cover refreshments during the break and speakers travel expenses.
Bookings can be made via the Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/local-heritage-network-training-activism-advocacy-and-supporting-your-heritage-tickets-16747136135 web site, but be quick! Tickets are going fast!