Archaeology in East Oxford

Archive for the category “Finds”

Outreach and An Alternative View

A very busy day, last Sunday.

We were up nice and early, to get to Oxford Castle where they were holding an event to tie in with the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology . We had a stall there and we wanted to get there early as I was taking down an enlargement of the plan of the trench we dug around Bartlemas Chapel – it has proved to be a good starting point for conversations in the past.

When we arrived, there was, of course, no room on the table for it (it’s mounted on an A0 size sheet of card) so it got stuck on the front of the stall. We then spent the rest of the day frantically trying to stop everything blowing away; note to self – always bring industrial amounts of bluetack to all outdoor events!

Laying out all our stuff on the stall

Laying out all our stuff on the stall, Jo is mounting the plan we brought along on the right of stall.

The day went pretty well, though a lot of the passers-by were coachloads of tourists with seemingly no English, so little chance of meaningful outreach opportunities there. There were a couple of sessions of talks, the first with Peter talking about the work our Place Names group is doing, and Jo giving an overview of the project’s work this year. They were followed by David Radford, the City Archaeologist, describing burial practices in Oxford through the ages. Sounded like good stuff, but I drew the short straw and had to man the stall. A pity, but as the air-con was out, perhaps not much of a hardship!

Chatted with quite a few people, including most of the re-enactors present, it seemed, and Gill got some useful hints about where to go for more information about medieval Psalteries – they are a family of flat stringed instruments. Gill got interested when it turned out that one of the Small Finds at Minchery was a tuning peg from a psaltery, so she is doing some background research – watch this space. We stayed until just after 3 then made our way home to grab a bite to eat before the real highlight of the day.


Part of the brief given to the project from the outset was to involve as many different people as possible, to make it inclusive and bring different viewpoints to bear on the core job of archaeology. We have had several artists on board but Lucy Steggals, Filipe Sousa and Tara Franks decided on a slightly different tack to express what they thought about the project.

They had come along to a number of events, the last time – an inking workshop – they brought along a couple of tape recorders and did a series of interviews. What had stuck in their minds (and gave the show the title) was the idea of the matrix; both the Harris matrix, where one uses a matrix to sort out the temporal sequence of contexts in a trench, and the matrix of squares you get in a drawing grid.

A drawing grid, with one of the cubes.

A drawing grid, with one of the cubes.

They then went through the recordings, selecting their favourite 25 words each (the squares in the drawing grid) and used them as a basis for editing the recordings, which they had playing on loops on headphones in the garden.

Go on, they don't bite!

Go on, they don’t bite!

As you can see, the cubes had the selected words on their sides – there were a lot more in the barn itself.  One of our favourite words was ~ish (as in early~ish, Roman~ish).  It gets used particularly on big digs before any clear pattern emerges.

The pile of cubes in the barn. Refreshments were provided.

The pile of cubes in the barn. Refreshments were provided.

In the barn, there was a video being projected as a loop, with a recording playing and Tara accompanying on a cello – a bit I particularly liked, a rather ECM~ish (that word again) sound.

The inside of the barn, with the video being projected.

The inside of the barn, with the video being projected.

The cubes had various images which Lucy had edited out of the photos she had been taking when they had visited us, as well as the words they had extracted from the interviews. We could wander around and get different views of the projection.


Filipe, one of the creators.

Filipe, one of the creators.

We were invited to play around with the cubes, rearranging them as we saw fit, a task which some of us took to with enthusiasm.

Deconstructing the cubes!

Deconstructing the cubes!

I can’t really do justice to what was a visual, audio and (see above) tactile experience; as they say, you had to be there. It made for a great evening, and was fascinating to get an idea of how what we are doing can inspire other people to come up with a new insight.  A nice way to round off a long day.

Some of the rearranged cubes.

Some of the rearranged cubes.

Thanks to William’s parents for allowing us to use his image in the blog.

Leigh and Gill


Test Pit 52

This Thursday and Friday Gill and I have been organising a test pit in the back garden of one of the volunteer’s house – a big thank-you to David and Catriona for allowing us to dig up their lawn! I had been round a few days earlier to have a chat with David about where to site the pit – we only do a 1×1 metre pit, so it’s not too disruptive – but needs a bit of thought. We have to be away from trees, for instance, and not too near the house, though in this case the house was a 30’s build, so would have been hand-built – modern houses with the footings excavated by mechanical diggers have a large radius of disturbance – think of the reach of the digger’s arm.

Then I had the joy of answering all the emails -I had agreed to do all that side of it; my admiration for all the work Jane has put in in the past goes up day-by-day! I was amazed at how quickly people responded; I closed the book about an hour after Olaf sent out the initial email. Then all that needed doing was for me to go up to the shed to get all the stuff needed – it filled up the boot quite tidily. Then I thought it might be a good idea to have the kit with us to do some finds washing if the opportunity arose, so off to the shed again. Eventually Thursday rolled around and it was time to start.

On the first day we had Christopher, Phil, Leon and Sue; it was Sue’s first day with the Project, though Phil and Christopher are veterans of the Bartlemas dig, and Leon has done a couple of test pits in the past. After the usual Health & Safety talk and signing in I gave a bit of background – as I said above, these houses were built in the 30’s (’35 I think David mentioned), before that, at least in the 1st series OS map, it was fields. Before that, in both the 1853 Enclosure map and the 1777 Christ Church map, it is shown as being part of  “Cowley Marsh”, and Gill and I are especially interested in that; could we find any evidence as to what the Marsh actually was?

A familiar scene – one guy doing all the work, while the rest of us stand around and watch!

After laying out the outline and taking the turf off, we made a start. First topsoil (about 0.10m), which had been layed over a thin layer of pea gravel and general building detritus (about 0.03m), then lots and lots of clay. Throughout the day we found charcoal, in varying sizes – which means there was human activity going on somewhere around.When we got to about 0.22m down we decided to do a “sondage”; take a small part of the trench and dig deeper there, rather than taking the whole trench deeper. When you can’t see any differentiating features across the plan view of the trench (or pit) it’s OK to do – you can always widen the sondage if anything interesting warrants it.

There was another layer of what looked like builder’s rubble, mixed in with a slate-grey coloured clay (between 0.26 & 0.35 m) down in the sondage, but most of it was a dark yellow clay with the occasional lenses of blue clay. We found some copper wire, pieces of roofing slate and what looked like lime-mortar.

The sondage. showing the layer of builder’s rubble about two-thirds of the way down.

That concluded the first day – as the forecast looked a bit iffy, we covered up the test pit with some wood slats a weighted down plastic sheeting (I’m sure I took a photo of that, but the trench camera was playing up – I took my own one the following day).

The second started off a bit greyer than the first, though we had thankfully missed the rain. Christopher, Phil and Leon carried on from the day before, with Laura coming along for the day – it was her first day with the Project, though she had some excavating experience from the Bamburgh Project (in Northumberland). We carried on excavating, but as it was a bit awkward getting more than one person digging, with two people feeling their way through the clay spoil (you try sieving clay!), we started washing finds. Phil volunteered to do the washing, with Leon splitting his time between washing and digging – when we down deeper he was the only one of us who could fit in the sondage! I had popped back to the shed to get a mini-mattock, as nothing else would make an impression on the clay. Just before we got down to the natural (the undisturbed geology) we came across our major find of the dig (we think, it was identified by Jane with me describing it over the phone, not ideal) – a piece of Roman pottery. The natural was a bluey-grey clay, with pieces of degraded limestone interspersed in irregular clumps throughout it, topped by a concentration of pieces of Gryphaea (fossilised bivalves, like large oysters).

All that was left to do was to backfill the pit, which with the number of people to hand, was no trouble at all.

Leon stamping down the soil as we backfilled the test pit.

The turfs came up a bit proud, as they tend to, but David said he would deal with that – a good couple of days – two new members welcomed – and a bit more evidence to fit into the broader picture which is slowly emerging.


Animal bones

We have now had two interesting workshops on animal bones, run by Julie Hamilton.  The first one (at Rewley House) was on bone identification and we were given lots of handouts to help and forms to fill in.  There were also a great many reference books, more of which more later.  We were divided into groups of three and asked to select a bag of bones from one context to look at.

The first session at Rewley House

The idea was to decide whether any of the pieces of bone were identifiable or just bits of generic stuff.  The identifiable bones were each given a finds bag and a form of their own  ALL LABELLED WITH THE CONTEXT NUMBER.  First we had to identify from which part of the animal the bone had come and what it might be (tibia? metacarpal?).  Then we had to decide what species it came from.  This is where we used the reference books.  They are designed for professionals who know all the taxonomy, not for amateurs who just riffle hopefully through the pages looking for something similar.  Even for professionals, I imagine they are pretty hard to use.  Leigh and I were working with Christopher and took it turns to examine the bones, look through the books and fill out  the forms.  Julie approved our oddments as oddments so we bagged them up, weighed them, and filled out the top part of the form.

Then we looked at the other bones in detail.  The form includes a section for site code, context number, type of bone and supposed species and a place to put the number of pieces of bone in the bag and the overall weight.

Bones from one context, sorted into groups

We worked on contexts which Leigh had dug and found cattle and horse teeth, cattle, pig and goat or sheep bone and some horse bone.  One of the most interesting things to come out of the afternoon was that there was quite a lot of horse bone compared with other sites which will need some thinking about.  We got through the bulk of the finds bags but there are still more to do.

The second workshop (at Ark-T) was partly a continuation of the first one for people who had not sorted bones before.  Again we worked in groups.  Some of us who had been on the first workshop filled out the next part of the form for the finds we sorted last time.

The second session, at the ArkT Center

This time, we were looking at the condition of all the bones (including the generic bits) to see if they were marked in any way, stained, chewed or burnt.  We found a number of pieces with butchery marks and some dark coloured ones which may have been burnt.  The last mentioned were quite shiny and polished.  We also found several bones which had probably been gnawed by carnivores.  There were places on the form to put all this information.  An interesting bone was a small piece of sacrum which had been neatly cut in half.  This suggests the whole animal was cut in half through the spine which is a butchery practice from medieval or later times.  Another set of three bones fitted together exactly to make a single complete bird bone from a domestic fowl, probably a chicken.   Julie, Jo and Jane were very patient with us and we all had a good time.

The third session, again at Rewley House, continued on from where the previous two session had left off; we consolidated all the info that we had worked out up to now. While before we had been separating out the bones into smaller groups of similar types, or even single examples of identifiable specimens, now we drew all the information together so that each context had just one form (as opposed to each group having one form) which summarised all our work up to that point. The last task, for which Jo volunteered (honest, no arm twisting!) was entering all the info into a spreadsheet, for Julie to mull over – she will produce an assessment report; not final conclusions, but a road map recommending how to go forward with the investigation. There is still quite a bit left to do, but we have made big inroads into the mass of finds, and learnt a lot on the way – mainly about how complicated animal skeletons are and what a maze of Latin terms are involved!


Sorting sieved residues

Last Saturday, we were at Rewley House to sort the remains of the environmental samples from the Bartlemas dig after sieving and flotation (see previous blog).  Rebecca Nicholson,  Oxford Archaeology‘s Environmental Archaeology Manager, was there to show us how to do it.  We each had to take four bags with residues of different sizes from the different sieves.  It was very firmly impressed on us that WE MUST MAKE SURE THE SAMPLE NUMBERS AND CONTEXT NUMBERS MATCHED on  all four bags.  We were given helpful handouts and some general background info and forms to describe anything of interest in the residue.  Tweezers and magnifying glasses were also provided as well as petri dishes to put interesting stuff in.

Four bags of sieved samples, all ready to be sorted in the tray – petri dishes and finds form at hand.

Starting with the largest size (>10mm), we tipped some of the bag into a finds tray and started to sort it.  It was immediately obvious that most of my sample was small pieces of limestone rubble which was instantly discarded.  However, there were some pieces of oyster shell and some small pieces of bone duly placed in small finds bags and CAREFULLY LABELLED.  The form has a column for each size and lists , for example, different types of bone, burnt or worked flint, iron (Fe) and we had to enter the amount of each item according to a code.  I had ‘abundant’ pieces of shell which was code 3 (25-100 items).

Heads down and sorting!

We plodded our way through the sorting, getting faster as we went along and got our eye in.  Microscopes were set up and were extremely useful in showing which pieces were bone and which were belemnite (fossil). We all found shells of carniverous snails.  (It was a burial ground.)

The residue from the smallest sieve, 2mm, in a petri dish ready to be looked at under the microscope.

When we got to the smallest samples, there was a queue for the microscopes as we put a sample in a petri dish (Leigh wasn’t listening when this was mentioned and sorted the whole of his bag by hand and magnifying glass before Rebecca put him right!) and looked at it magnified.  If there was nothing interesting in the samples, we discarded it.  None of us found anything.  ‘Nothing’ is good as it means anything of interest was captured in the flotation process.  Finding seeds or charcoal means the flotation should really be done again.

Rebecca (on the right) Jo and Jane debating by the microscope table.

Rebecca had some samples from the flotation which were fascinating and very complex.  We were not let loose on sorting those! In order to make sense of what you are looking at, you need to able to identify it – a task which requires much more knowledge than any of us possesses.

We got through most of the samples during the day but there are a couple of big ones left so another day will have to be organised.


Animal Bones and Archaeology

Last Wednesday, we were lucky enough to be given a talk on the above subject by Julie Hamilton of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology; Julie is a very experienced zooarchaeologist and was at the ArkT to give us an insight into this important aspect of archaeology.

She split the evening in two – an initial talk to set the scene and then, after the tea-break, a hands-on session where we were able to down and dirty (in a Health and Safety approved style) with the objects of all the talking.

So, to set the stage, Julie started by talking about the different ways in which animals and people interact:

As Predators – though people by-and-large ceased to be prey when we got the hang of managing fire

As Prey – people seem always to have preyed on animals; the evidence of stone tools goes back before the evolution of  modern humans

Commensal – some animals, House Mice for instance, have evolved to occupy niches which are wholly created by humans

Domestic – where animals can be milked, trained to pull carts or ploughs and carry humans for example

Pets – self-explanatory, really

and    Pests – either preying on food crops or domestic animals, or cutting out the middle-man, and preying directly on humans – diseases, parasites etc (thankfully rarely large enough to leave bones!).

Then she talked about the way in which these interactions show up as finds, which largely depends on human diet – this will determine both what is left over after meals and what animals are kept close by. Strangely, human diets have changed quite radically over time; before the introduction of agriculture in Western Europe, for instance, shell middens (large dumps of seafood shells, interspersed with fish-bones, etc) were very common, yet after agriculture arrived, the eating of shellfish seems to have gone out of fashion, only being revived by the Romans. The main component of food remains, though, are mammal bones from domesticated animals – though there are other bones left from other human activities involving animals, of course – animals kept as pets, used in transport or in hunting.

This lead on to a discussion about the domestication of wild animals – about why only a handful of animals were domesticated (mainly in the near-east) out of a much larger potential pool. This seems largely to be down to the psychology of the animal in question; an animal which responds to threats by running away or by attacking, as opposed to gathering into a herd, is almost impossible to domesticate. And there are different degrees of domestication as well – geese can be kept but will not tolerate being factory farmed, for instance. Some observations were made: – cave paintings in Spain and Southern France clearly show humans hunting with dogs about 16,000 years ago so we know they were domesticated by then, but there is indirect evidence that they were tamed much earlier (the Australian Dingo is actually descended from a domesticated dog, so it is likely that the earliest settlers (approx 50,000 years ago) brought tame dogs with them) and the same paintings show people hunting Aurochs, an extinct, large bovine, but modern genetic analysis shows that modern cattle were not interbred with them.

Having dealt with the background, Julie then went on to talk about what we need to observe: –

What? Recognition of what we are looking at, i.e. both elements (which bit of an animal we are looking at) and species (which animal it comes from)

Where? The location of the find.

When? When the find was deposited. These two (Where & When) can only be determined if the context is known – yet more proof of the essential part accurate recording plays in archaeology; a cry of “You see, it isn’t just me” was heard from one member of the audience at this point!

How Much? Quantifying the finds – weighing, measuring, counting, calculating.

What happened? The point of all the previous hard work. Both in a general sense; questions about Biogeography (where species originated), distribution of sizes, population structures, as well as site specific questions as in “what happened here?” – why did these particular bones end up here? what does this tell us about the local environment? what does this tell us about the life of the people living here at the time?

After a tea break, we commenced with the fun bit – hands-on experience. The first bit was a bit daunting – Julie handed out post-its with the names of various bones on and we hand to stick them on a picture of a skeleton; luckily there were some crib-sheets around or there would have been a lot of red faces around, I fear!

The picture (well, most of it) that we had to stick the Post-Its with the bone’s names on.

Then on to re-assembly – Julie had brought along the majority of a deer skeleton (a Red Deer) which a colleague had discovered on Dartmoor, she was very arthritic (the deer, that is, not the colleague) and had been trapped in a bog; we were then tasked with putting them back together. Much discussion and head-scratching ensued until someone noticed that all the bones had been catalogued! Not with a ‘this bit is attached to that bit’ direction, but at least L & R, and the vertebra were numbered in groups, so that simplified things a bit.We got the torso about right, but had a lot of difficulty with the legs – which were the front ones as opposed to the back, and how did the lower part of the legs fit together? When Julie showed us how, it all fitted together perfectly – but isn’t it always the case; an expert makes these things look so simple!

The skull in the foreground is that of a Pig, while the one in the background is a Horse.

We then had a look at various mammal skulls, with Julie pointing out the differences and similarities; how the teeth are such a give-away, herbivores, omnivores and carnivores all having not only different teeth but also different jaws – herbivores which eat grass have a large gap between their molars and their incisors to allow their tongues room to move the grass around to chew it up, for instance. I was particularly surprised to find out what a small brain a horse has – most of its head is taken up with the huge muscles required to power its jaws.

A Deer’s skull on the left with a Sheep’s one on the right.

A great evening which could have lasted much longer, but time was passing so Julie had to call a halt. We all had our appetites truly wetted and those of us lucky enough to have got on Julie’s upcoming workshops are really looking forward to learning more.

As a bit of an aside, we were rather surprised that not as many people as usual were there – as the workshops are over-subscribed we know people are interested in the subject – so why did so few turn up? Was it because of it being on a different day (Wednesday rather than Thursday – Jane had tried to move the days around a bit as people had said “why always Thursday?”), or was there something else on? If you’ve got any ideas, please do send them to Jo, Jane or Olaf @archeox.net.


Blackbird Leys Test Pits

Last weekend, 5th & 6th May, the Project had a test pit weekend at Greater Leys, where the local Women’s Institute had invited us to, which is the area in the southern part of Blackbird Leys : –

The highlighted area in the south part of Blackbird Leys where the test pits were located

Here is a close up of Greater Leys – it’s all the streets to the south of  the stream which you can see picked out by the trees running from east to west; it’s a relatively modern development; late 1980s onwards, we think.

A closer-up view of Greater Leys, with the Clock House roughly in the centre

We have had a look at older maps, back to the first Ordnance Survey, to see what was there before Greater Leys was built, and it appears to be open farmland. I can’t include any of the early maps because of usage restrictions – the maps themselves, being over 120 years old, are safely out of copyright, but the people who have scanned them and made them available for academic use won’t allow display on the web. I feel a rant coming on, so I’ll just show a 1945 aerial photo from Google Earth – it’s the same scale as the map above, so you can get an idea of what the landscape was like before it was developed.

A 1945 aerial photograph of the same area as shown in the map above.

Looking at the Victoria County History for the area – it was in Sandford Parish – it appears to have been farmed for a long time, at least back to Domesday Book; Pembroke college owned a lot of the land prior to enclosure, but unfortunately there is no enclosure award. However, it does seem fairly certain that we are dealing with farmland.

We all met up at the Clock House, which is roughly in the centre of the above two maps, for an introductory talk by Jane, and to be divided up into teams to cover the 6 test pits which were to be dug over the weekend – Gill & I lead one of these teams – and then we collected our equipment (thanks to David and Louise for bringing it along from the Ark-T shed) and off we went. It’s policy not to divulge the exact addresses of where we dug, like we don’t publish photos showing the backs of peoples houses, or the way into their gardens (for obvious reasons) so all I can say is the rough area in which we were working. We keep the precise locations, but it will only be used in GIS systems for mapping distributions of finds where the data is anonymised; this is one of the main reasons for doing test pits – what you find in an individual test pit is interesting, but the more test pits you dig, the more data you collect, and you can put together a picture which is much greater than the sum of its parts. Olaf put it rather well at the post-dig meeting – imagine taking a sheet of paper with a small, square hole (1m in scale) cut in it and placing it over the plan of a large excavation of, say, a cathedral; you wouldn’t be able to work out what on earth was going on from such a tiny snapshot, you would have to move the paper around a lot to build up a coherent view of what was there.

So off to our designated back garden with Mark and Tricia, our two volunteers, where we made a start – the usual deciding where to put the pit, and measuring and aligning it before the hard work started; deturfing!

The test pit aligned north/south and squared-up – ready to go.

After the turf had been removed we started to dig down, initially just finding the sort of rubbish that you would expect on a building site; bits of plastic, binding cords, the metal straps that they bind palettes of bricks together with. The soil was very clayey – it was impossible to sieve so the two junior members of the household, Libby and Alice, set to work checking the spoil.

Everyone (apart from the Supervisor in the background!) hard at work.

This soon changed, though, when we noticed that there appeared to be a line of stones – a “linear feature” in the non-judgemental parlance – running straight across the middle of the pit, east to west. We tidied up where we had dug down to, and then proceeded to trowel off the soil carefully until we could see what we had got.

The “linear feature”, or wall as we tended to refer to it. North is to the left of the photo.

It isn’t too evident in the photo, but the soil to the north (left in the picture) was much darker than that to the south, which as we went down was chock-a-block with limestone cobbles. There were some pieces of wood to the north (the dark patches right up against the left-hand side of the wall in the photo ), right up against the wall which were sodden – you could press your finger into them. The wall itself was pretty sturdy, while the limestone cobbles came away fairly easily so we were inclined to think that they represented the “tumble”, the remnants of the wall which had been knocked off when it collapsed, or was demolished. We were quite confused at this point – as you can see from the aerial photo above , we were in the middle of a field – what was a wall doing here? Perhaps it was a pre-enclosure wall; when the enclosure happened, the new field boundaries were pretty arbitrary and quite often ignored the previous field boundaries – might this be an older field boundary or a wall of a barn (we had found virtually nothing in the way of pottery or other evidence of human habitation)? Only digging farther would give us any chance of resolving the problem.

The modern membrane which really confused us.

Linda, one of our hosts, was digging on the south side of the wall and suddenly called for a second opinion – “What’s this?” – pointing to what looked suspiciously like modern weed-suppressing membrane. This really put the cat among pigeons – what was this doing a third of metre down? Linda set-to chasing the membrane both towards the wall and also “backwards”, towards the side of the pit – to find how far it went. Mark kept on going down on the north side – he hadn’t got as far down as Linda – to see if it carried over and went all the way under the wall, while I started to take a section out of the wall, to see how far down it actually went.

The result was as you see above – it could be clearer, but the membrane extends just to the left of the end of the red line, well under what we had assumed to be the wall! So no pre-enclosure wall, then! We carried on tidying up, and if anything, it got more confusing. Under the membrane, the soil was a yellowish, sandy clay while to the north (left in the pictures) it was much darker, in places almost black, clay; the sort of deposit you get from standing or brackish water where vegetation is slowly decomposing. When I got to bottom of the wall (which was level with the membrane) it was sitting on the same clay as to the south, but darkened almost immediately at the edge of the wall. All that was left to do was fold back a bit of the membrane and use a spade to do a small sondage (a “mini pit”) to see what was underneath.

The sondage, you can just see what appears from the other pits to be the grey clay natural in the right-hand side of the bottom.

So, what to make of it all? The one thing we can be certain of is that we can’t be certain of anything. We had very few finds – more of that later – and they were in the disturbed layer above the membrane, so would have been useless for dating anyway. It seems almost inconceivable that the wall was built on top of the membrane (why on earth build a dry-stone wall just to bury it?) – so was the membrane laid up against an existing wall which slid over after being buried when all the heavy plant involved in the building work drove over it or was it piece of existing wall which had been dug up in one piece and just lifted over and dumped here (I’m not convinced by the latter; the difference in the soil type either side of the wall seems too convincing for that explanation). This is one of the frustrating aspects of doing test pits – the tiny-snap-shot side of it; to have a chance of explaining this we would have to extend the test pit into a real trench. Time, and our hosts desire for a garden to enjoy, precluded that!

So what can we say? We had some finds – two, perhaps three, pieces of pottery, one of which could be medieval – and the best piece – a worked flint, which Olaf, whos speciality is Prehistory, reckons to be a broken pointed tool, dating from between the Bronze Age to Late Neolithic (about 3,500 to 6,000 bce). There was a fair amount of broken flint (1.9kg), we think for building purposes, which Jane said was unique among the rest of the test pits and interesting in its own right as there is no flint locally, so it must have been transported here. Oddly there was no sign of a “ploughing horizon” – we know it was all fields round here, which usually leaves a clear boundary as you dig down, so we wondered if the area had been levelled down when they built the houses so the “horizon” got lost in rubble layer ensuing.

We then backfilled the pit, unfortunately leaving a bit of a bulge in the lawn; sadly inevitable when there was so many cobbles in the backfill – it will take time and rain to settle it. Then we all went back to the Clock House were we held a post-mortem. It was fascinating to hear what had been going on in the five other test pits – no other “features” but a lot more finds! To find out more about our pit, and all the others, keep an eye on the Archeox website, were we will publish all the reports in due course.

A good weekend, then. The weather stayed clement all weekend, our hosts, Linda and Andy and their two daughters, Alice and Libby, really did us proud – many thanks to them for all their kindness (and tea and coffee!). A pity we couldn’t give them something more definite, but that’s the way it pans out sometimes. We hope to return, if the WI will have us, and also want to do some field walking this autumn (the estate backs up onto open fields) which could tell us more.

Leigh & Gill

Bartlemas Finds Washing – Part 2

There was not much really interesting stuff turning up during the finds washing on Friday apart from a piece of nice Tudor green pot and two human finger bones though, as usual, it was an enjoyable day – plenty of chatter,  exchanging of views and opinions (polite description!). We put some of the finds from the previous washing session near the radiators in the ArkT hall as the shed is pretty damp at this time of year; both Paula and Leigh & I had been up and replaced the paper and turned the finds but some were still damp. There was a good turn out of helpers (a big Get Well to Steve who slipped on the icy surface in his drive and couldn’t make it) who made big inroads into the remaining Bartlemas finds. There is only one smallish box left to do now.

Finds washing

Finds washing last Friday – 27/01/2011

Since the radiators are very warm (we had the doors open at the front so people could come & go but it was still shirt-sleeves in the hall) the finds dry quickly and we were able to bag up most of the finds washed in the morning as well as the ones from the previous session.

Leigh helped me sort out the CBM (Ceramic Building Material; bits of brick & tile) from the rest of the stuff and bag it up as only the potentially interesting pieces need washing, such as pottery and tiles which show some glaze or patterning. We also screened out the material that should not be washed – rusted iron, patinated glass (glass which has been in the earth for some time gets a ‘patina’ – a shiny surface covering), lead & plaster. Yet more bags as, of course, everything has to be labelled!

The next session will be washing the test pit finds. Before that I will be writing up the bulk finds; I measure and weigh everything & record the proportions of each type of material in each context. We are working towards producing an interim report on Bartlemas in May.


Bartlemas Chapel small finds

On the same evening when Leigh gave his talk on Bartlemas Chapeltrench 1, I did a short presentation on some of our small finds. I started with some of the Civil War items as the chapel was a parliamentarian camp at that time. We found many pipes of the period and several unused musket balls – probably made from the lead they tore fom the chapel roof.

We also found a piece of a ‘Bellarmine’ jug (centre in the above picture) which probably came from Bartlemas Farmhouse which was an inn then. That fact probably saved it from the damage suffered by the other buildings on site. The sherd shows the stamped side of the jug. There would have been a caricature of a face on the neck.

The pictures below show a sixteenth or seventeenth century Nuremberg jetton as used for arithmetic on a chequerboard in goverment offices(hence Chancellor of the Exchequer). Our jetton is probably one of the cheaper sort used as gaming counters (like poker chips).

We also found a piece of what one of the visiting experts said was Anglo-Saxon pottery towards the bottom of trench 2. It was associated with floors on quite a different alignment to the chapel and probably predates it.

The whetstone pictured is pierced so it can bw worn round the neck. They are very difficult to date as they did not change much but they would have been high status objects. Roelie covered it in her talk on trench 2 as it was associated with one of the skeletons she was involved in digging. We hope that when we come to look at all the evidence together, we will get some idea of its date.


Finds Washing

It was fun on Tuesday.  We had a day washing finds from Bartlemas Chapel up at the Ark-T Centre.  It is always fun to see what emerges from the coating of soil.  There were bits of medieval pot, some lovely ‘Tudor Green Ware’ which was associated with one of the child skeletons we found, more clay pipes of an early (17th century) design and some glazed floor tile.

Hard at work in the Hall at Ark-T

Apart from the human skeletons, there were lots of animal bones – cattle, pigs, sheep or goats and rabbits.  As you start sorting these, you can’t help wonder who bred or bought these beasts, who looked after them or slaughtered them and who cooked them.  There are obvious cut and saw marks on some of them and some are carefully split in two so the marrow could be used.  Then some of the bones were carefully worked, sawn and smoothed to be made into what?  Handles for tools or knives perhaps, or gaming pieces.  We also probably  have pieces of the pots that were used to cook them.


Preparing the Presentaion for Bartlemas

I’ve started preparing a short Powerpoint presentation on ‘Small Finds’ from Bartlemas for the end of dig ‘do’ in December. I selected various items, pot sherds of different periods, 17th century bits and bobs and then started researching online to see what I could find out.
There are some good images available of, for example, how the complete pot might have looked. Leigh and I photographed our finds so I can show them and what their original might have been on one slide.
We only get five minutes each so the hard part was deciding what to leave out!


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