leighandgill

Archaeology in East Oxford

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Damerham

We had a great time earlier this week.  We went to the dig at Damerham in Hampshire county, just South-West(ish) of Salisbury – see the website at the Damerham Archaeology Project.  We stayed in a local pub, the Compasses, which was very comfortable and provided good pub grub and coped beautifully with my inability to eat milk products.

The project itself is a community project led by Helen, Chris, Martyn and Olaf; that’s the same Olaf who is the Project Officer with Archeox. Olaf had suggested that we go down with him and have a couple of days down there to see how he’s been spending his summers for that last few years. As it turned out he couldn’t make it: he wanted to leave going down until the fields had been cultivated and that date seemed rather indeterminate.

One of the main reasons behind the Project is to investigate some aerial photographs, which showed some interesting crop marks, and see how they relate to the geophysics and, ultimately, to invasive (excavation) and non-invasive (field walking) techniques. The field walking has to wait until the land has been cultivated (ploughed and harrowed), so that the ground has been churned up and stuff brought to the surface – hence Olaf’s delayed arrival.

Aerial photo of the site at Damerham. NMR 21271/05 © English Heritage.NMR. Photographer: Damian Grady.

Aerial photo of the site at Damerham.
NMR 21271/05 © English Heritage.NMR. Photographer: Damian Grady.

Four trenches had been opened when we arrived as Chris explained after we had introduced ourselves. From right to left, one trench was across the ditch of the larger circular feature to the right, though no one was actually working there at that time. Below that where there was a circular feature joined to an elongated feature, Jack (Helen’s student from Kingston U.) was supervising a small trench.

Jack's trench, down to the chalk, cleaned up but with a lot of sieving to do!

Jack’s trench, down to the chalk, cleaned up but with a lot of sieving to do!

The largest trench had been put going away from the road across the large feature in the middle of the picture and finally, a small trench across the strange double circular feature to the left of the ‘bite’ out of the field, completed the tour.

The longest trench, gently sloping down the hill. More than one ditch in it.

The longest trench, gently sloping down the hill. More than one ditch in it. Lovely weather, too!

The last feature was especially exciting as it is unique in the British Isles, the only other example being in France, in the Pas-de-Calais.

Explanations over, we set to work with Jack, sieving the spoil which had been removed by the opening of the trench. It was interesting to be excavating – well, sieving – in a completely different geology to the one we are used to. Here we were on the chalk, and only about 30-40 cm down we were down onto solid chalk, showing clearly the grooves cut by deep ploughing – though the farmer says they no longer deep plough, so the archaeology might last a bit longer.

The grooves cut by the deep ploughing can clearly be seen in Jack's trench.

The grooves cut by the deep ploughing can clearly be seen in Jack’s trench.

We sieved away all afternoon – found some flint flakes and some pottery; Medieval and earlier (well, really grotty, anyway). The flint was different – given its age and the environment, the surface changes and goes a milky-whitish colour; nothing like the flint we are accustomed to seeing. One has to look for the bulb of percussion (the little bulbous bit where the flint was struck to split it away from the original core) and the remains of the previous flakes on the dorsal side as the surface change tends to disguise the characteristic ripples that we normally see in flints in our neck of the woods. We had a lot of help as some of the volunteers from previous years had brought along their whole families.

Lots of help with the sieving - this was a quiet  moment - while Helen inspects the trench.

Lots of help with the sieving – this was a quiet moment – while Helen inspects the trench.

At the end of the day we repaired to the pub, the Compasses in Damerham, for a serious relax. We were a bit late in on the next day as we went into Fordingbridge, the nearest town of any size, to do a spot of shopping, but arrived on site at about 10. We had a look at the main trench, where it looked like they had found a couple of post holes at the top of the trench.

The two post holes (?) at the top of the main trench - quite busy by the look of it, a lot of tidying up going on.

The two post holes (?) at the top of the main trench – quite busy by the look of it, a lot of tidying up going on.

Helen reckoned after all that sieving we deserved something a bit more interesting, so introduced us to Angela who was supervising the aptly named Angela’s Anomaly (I like the naming of the trenches – no Invisible Archaeologists here). We had a bit of tidying up to do – surprise, surprise – and then Helen suggested we split the ditch into six parts, so we could excavate three, and get a good number of sections.

The ditch with string already to start excavating - not very easy to see the string, but all will become clear.

The ditch with string already to start excavating – not very easy to see the string, but all will become clear.

While doing this we became aware of another difference from previous excavations; we had to ‘small find’ all finds! At least all we had to do was find Sam, Chris’ son, and he came over with a survey-grade GPS to get the location, so we didn’t have to faff around with tapes and a Dumpy level (though I do quite like doing it the old-fashioned way). We also took some soil samples as we went down, at least after we had got through the disturbed layer caused by ploughing. Another warm day so lunch came as a welcome break.

A bit more cloudy today, but still pretty warm.

A bit more cloudy today, but still pretty warm.

Angela had to leave at lunchtime, so I got promoted to (nominal) trench supervisor – I wondered what Olaf had being saying about us! We kept on going down, assisted by Anthony, a very experienced digger who was familiar with chalk environments. I certainly wouldn’t have recognised the lumps of fire-affected flint which he pounced upon; he says he finds piles of them in the the New Forest where they were used to heat water. When you wet the surface you can see the fracturing caused by the thermal shock as the heated stones are put if the cold water, but dry and out of the ground they just looked like little grey pebbles to me. Gill came across a much softer bit of surface, which turned out to be an animal burrow, which after Helen dug around a bit, seemed to have a bottom layer of much darker material, perhaps an organic-rich layer washed in?

The three sections we were digging, the animal burrow is in the top right.

The three sections we were digging, the animal burrow is in the top right.

We weren’t the only ones to find animal burrows – in the main trench, where it was thought there were a couple of post holes it turned out the ‘complications’ were in fact a badger’s set, so a lot more tidying-up to unpick that one.

The animal burrow, a badger's set by the look of the size, which the post holes morphed into.

The animal burrow, a badger’s set by the look of the size, which the post holes morphed into.

At this point we were being helped by a group of artists from the Isle of Wight who were gathering impressions for future work, as well as experiencing excavating. It made for a busy and entertaining trench, though I rather blew it when, getting up to answer two questions at the same time, twisted and did some serious damage to my knee. Just at the end of the day, so I didn’t miss out on too much, but felt a complete idiot as I limped off to the car. Thankfully I could still drive but was really disappointed to have to miss out on Wednesday – we just drove home so I could get my leg up with cold compresses on the knee in hope that I could recover enough for the journey to the Orkneys.

Apart from the disappointing denouement, it was  great couple of days, and a really big thank you to Chris, Helen, Jack and Martyn (in strict alphabetical order) for making us so welcome, and giving us such an insight into excavating a chalky prehistoric site – we hope to be back in the future.

Leigh & Gill

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.

Matrix

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.

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

Interesting test pits

At last the long winter is over and we’re digging test pits!  Unfortunately on Thursday and Friday, when we dug in the gardens of a convent in East Oxford, it rained most of the time and was bitterly cold and windy all the time.

The convent occupies Fairacres House, which was built in the late 18th/early 19th century. We are not absolutely sure about the previous use of the land as it isn’t in Cowley parish (which we have good maps for) but just, by 100 metres or so, in Iffley (which we don’t). To judge by the adjoining land in Cowley, though, it looks like it wasn’t part of the ridge and furrow field system, but was used as pasture. When we arrived and had a walk around it was clear that the site was on a small promontory, with the land sloping down on three sides.

One of the reasons we were here is that it is near one of the sites where the Bell Collection may have come from. This is a collection of stone tools from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The older part of the collection came from a quarry near Donnington Bridge Road, we think from a quarry which is shown on the 1st Edition OS map, but the newer part came from a quarry somewhere around the convent. Our main problem is that Bell’s original report was lent out and never returned; the only documentation we have are some notes taken at a lecture Bell gave in the early 20th Century. The collection is held at the Pitt-Rivers Museum, where Olaf has been leading groups of us in workshops to start a much closer look at the neolithic part of the collection. So we were keeping our eyes peeled for worked flints!

Opening up the middle test pit, on the edge of the orchard.

Starting up the middle test pit, on the edge of the orchard. Jane appears to be demonstrating the art of standing with one foot off the ground.

We dug three one metre square pits at different locations.  The pit nearest to the house produced 18th and 19th century pottery and then appeared to reach sandy natural soil.  Jo and her team went on down and found the sand had been laid over soil which contained 17th and 18th century pottery and clay pipes, etc.

The middle pit near the vegetable garden contained nice top soil and then a layer of debris, bits of building material, pottery, bone and clay pipe, etc.  Under this we were very excited to find a deposit of several types of Roman pottery which had obviously not moved very far as the breaks were clean and there were no signs of long-term abrasion.  There has been no previous evidence of Roman activity in this part of Oxford – it was believed that they mostly inhabited the hills around the current city.

The end of the first day of excavating.

The end of the first day of excavating. Of course, when we were about to leave, the sun came out.

The third pit was towards the bottom of the garden closest to the river.  Olaf hoped to find evidence of prehistoric activity and found a great many flints but none particularly diagnostic for a particular period.

We found lots of small round lumps of burned charcoal, some obliviously quite modern, and were puzzled until we mentioned it to one of the sisters.  She told us they use it in the censer for incense during services and put it on the bonfire as it is considered blessed and cannot just be thrown away.  Obviously at some time it was buried in the garden.

Field walking among the spuds, a surprisingly productive exercise.

Field walking among the spuds, a surprisingly productive exercise. This gives a better feel for what the weather was like.

On the second day we got permission from the convent’s gardener, Mark, to trample over his magnificent vegetable plot, for a bit of field walking. We drew up a plan, got Olaf to reassemble the GPS to accurately plot the blocks we had marked out, then I asked for volunteers to do the actual walking – as we had come to the back-filling by then there were no shortages on that front! . They had to walk up and then back in the furrows between the banked-up spuds, taking great care not damage Mark’s valuable crop, looking for anything of interest which had been brought to the surface by rotavating. We then ended up with one bag of finds for every square – 12 squares in all – a big thanks to Alison from the Ashmolean for her help during the whole process; it’s the first time I had done this. A quick glimpse at the contents of the bags showed, rather gratifyingly, a concentration of Roman pottery near the second test pit, seemingly tailing away with distance.

Jane explaining what had been found in Jo's test pit - the one nearest the original building. I'm not sure why Jane is doing this rather than Jo  - she could just be hidden behind someone.

Jane explaining what had been found in Jo’s test pit – the one nearest the original building. I’m not sure why Jane is doing this rather than Jo – she could just be hidden behind someone.

At the end of the day, after all the kit had been loaded into various cars and vans for ferrying back to our shed (along with my toolbox, packed up with the rest while I was concentrating on sorting out the field-walking finds) and everyone else had departed, we had a bit of a discussion about what we had found – obviously the Roman pottery was the high point. Not just a few isolated sherds, but a definite localised concentration. Apart from the Roman we did find a small, but significant, amount of Medieval pottery, so it would appear that this little promontory has looked like prime real estate for at least two thousand years!

We had planned on doing the washing on site, but the biting wind and generally horrid weather made us think again, and postpone it until we were indoors with a supply of warm water.

The sisters were very hospitable and took a great interest in everything we did.  We were particularly grateful for the hot tea!

Gill & Leigh

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.

Gill

Finds Sorting

On Thursday, we had a get-together to do the final sorting of the finds from Bartlemas. As these had all been washed so we didn’t need to do any wet and messy stuff, Hazel (who runs the ArkT Centre) let us use the church itself. It meant we had a bit farther to lug the tables and chairs, but that was no real problem.

We started off by sorting all the bags into Trench order – and Sector order in the case of Trench 1; one of the problems with having different people digging the same contexts is that one ends up not knowing how many bags of finds that that particular context has generated. Hence the sorting process – also why we needed a fairly large space to lay it all out in, let alone needing quite a bit of elbow room for the ensuing work.

Just some of the finds bags laid out

Once we had sorted all the bags, then the real work started: – the contents of all the bags for one context had to be sorted into types of content; pottery, metal, bones etc. These then had to be described, measured (not every item, thankfully, just the biggest and smallest to establish a range), and weighed in the case of stuff which was going to be discarded – mainly CBM (Ceramic Building Material), fossils and pebbles.

The pottery from my trench in Sector D of trench 1, by the strange "arch"

All the details were entered onto a ‘Bulk Finds’ sheet, and everything was photographed – even the stuff which would be discarded.

Most of us hard at work!

We got the whole lot sorted by the end of the day, so many thanks to – in alphabetical order – Christopher, Leslie, Louise, Pam, Roelie & Steve; the ‘officials’ were Jane & Jo.

Leigh & Gill

Missing Slides

I thought I might as well put the missing slides on here, with a brief explanation, after Friday’s mishap.

Sector A
Footings in Sector A

Pam’s sector, the only one apart from mine, where there were no human remains. Interesting how there seem to be three distinct layers of footings, and they do seem to be at a slightly different angle to the existing wall.

Sector B

Footings in Sector B

Two distinct layers this time, though it will take aligning the plans to see how they relate to the footings in Sector A. At the far end of the photo, just by the buttress, were found some human remains and, oddly, a dog’s skull, which after Sarah had cleaned it up, looked like this: –

Sector B - Charnel Pit

Human Bones in Sector B

This view is looking away from the chapel wall, with the buttress on the left. A disturbed burial where the bones have been collected together and been re-buried.

Moving round the corner to Sector C, we found a mortar surface, probably a floor, in the North half of the sector; then some disarticulated human remains (a fragment of skull, etc) then Graham came down on this: –

Sector C, Skeleton

Human Skeleton in Sector C

Graham commented “I wish I had teeth that good!”. He thinks that whoever it was must have been high status, as this is as close to the altar as you can get without being buried in the chapel. Also the skeleton does not show the usual signs of hard physical work.

As the digger was back to put in a drain going from Sector B to a soakaway –

Soakaway Sketch

Sketch of the drain to the Soakaway

we had the extra little trench put in to expose the lower torso and legs of the skeleton, which gave us this rather surprising result: –

Sector C - Legs +

Lower torso and Legs of Graham's skeleton

No feet but an extra skull!

Round the next corner to Sector D, where I joined Pam in the ‘No Human Remains’ Club, which at Bartlemas was pretty exclusive! When a large stone slab was found, Jane decided to put an exploratory trench in and after a lot of digging through rubble, an arch was discovered.

Sector D Arch

The Arch in Sector D

There was a lot of fevered speculation – a door to a crypt, a culvert for a stream – but what you can see at the bottom of the trench is the natural, so something much more prosaic. However, when Christopher was tidying up the wall to the right of this photo prior to drawing the section, we found that what we had assumed were footings were actually just rubble, and that the arch continued on: –

Sector D - Whole Arch

The continuation of the arch

As is usual (I’m finding) we did not have enough time to investigate further, as by this time recording and drawing were our first priority.

Past the middle buttress to Sector E, where I just showed the footings: –

Sector E Footings

The footings in Sector E

as Leslie followed on with a more detailed description of the charnel pit that was discovered here. The footings themselves here a really ropy, looking more like rubble, but as the charnel pit took priority, we are not all that sure about it.

The last sector, E, where the main entrance to the Chapel was , was dug by Christopher and revealed this: –

Sector F

Section in Sector F

Apart from joining Pam & me as ‘Skeleton Virgins’, there was not much to show here – floor tiles, etc. The main interesting thing was that the footings went straight down, unlike all the other sectors.

The last bit was not, strictly speaking, part of Trench 1, but was discovered when digging the soakaway. When the digger started to go deeper, human bones were noticed – we asked the digger to pull back a bit, and the same thing happened! Back again, and another skeleton came to light.

Skeletons in soakaway

The 3 skeletons in the soakaway

The wind was blowing so much that every time Paula cleared the leaves out, by the time she got out to photograph it, this amount of leaves had blown back in! But we think we have found the cemetery at last – we look forward to the dating.

Like I said before, I will never, ever go to give a talk without making sure I have the correct version of the presentation on my USB stick – ah, well, a learning experience!

End-of-Year Meeting, or Oops!

Had the End-of-Year meeting last night – a series of presentations, mainly about the dig at Bartlemas, along with nibbles and soft drinks and chat – before heading off to the ‘Rusty Bicycle‘ for a well-earned (or in my case, desperately-needed – more of that later) drink.

We had decided to give Jane a break this time, so Paul took over as MC for the evening, kicking off with a few words by way of an introduction, before handing over to David Griffiths for the first presentation.

David talked about the work the Project had done over the year, covering not only the test pits but also the less high-profile work such as geophysics and place-names research, culminating in the dig at Bartlemas. He concluded by commenting on how far we had all come since this time last year and wondering where, at this rate, we would be next year!

Graham then picked up with background information about leper hospitals/chapels in general and their place in the landscape, especially in relation to their ‘parent’ towns. He also explored the link between the chapels and water; always important with respect to leprosy, as the only realistic ‘treatment’ – more a palliative – was hygiene, lots of washing.

I then carried on with a description of Trench 1, which turned out to be more of a learning experience than I had planned! What I mainly learnt was always check the presentation on the USB stick you take to the talk is the latest and complete one. This will save on ‘brown-trouser’ moments for the speaker and general incomprehension for the audience.

I had just introduced the way the trench was layed out and what went on in the digger watch when I ran out of slides in PowerPoint. Luckily (for me , if not the audience) I had rehearsed enough to carry on, trying to paint a picture in words but I think I was only saved by the fact that the majority of the audience had been to Bartlemas and had a pretty good idea of what I was talking about. At last got through to the end and staggered to my seat, thoughts firmly focused on a pint!

Leslei followed on from me with a description of lifting the bones from the charnal pit in Sector E; the techniques involved and the complexities of actually doing it. It was a difficult task as the bones were all jumbled up with the rubble from the repair work on the chapel.

Paul then talked about his experiences of Trench 2, from the de-turfing (sodding-off!) to the end of his involvement, via Open Days et al. He was followed by Roelie who concentrated on the finds which turned up in Trench 2, especially the skeletons: the complete adult lying East-West, the two juveniles lying North-South and one discovered on the last day. As she said, there has been a lot of speculation about the two juveniles; why buried that way in a church-yard, and so close to the main door?

We were then presented with a double act, courtesy of Nathalie and Ruth entitled ‘Clay and Apples’, recalling the two dominant factors in Trench 3 – it was surrounded by apple and quince trees and the soil seemed to be mainly clay, varying from compact to mattock-bounces-off-it-and-just -makes-it-even-harder! Interesting, if enigmatic, finds and structures.

Following this was a montage of images and music put together by Chris Turley; just the light break we needed after quite a bit of information. We decided against a break at this point so went on to Gill’s presentation on Small Finds. She took a small set of representative finds, did some research about them to flesh out the bare bones – for instance showing what a complete Bellarmine jug looked like, as opposed to just the fragment we had recovered.

Then Paula gave a talk about the human remains, this was as much about what we could expect from the research being done on the bones, as what she could garner from what she had seen so far – there are a couple of days of bone-washing due later this month which should clarify matters.  Swii continued saying ‘the bad thing is, I haven’t got a PowerPoint presentation; the good thing is, I haven’t got a PowerPoint presentation!’. She gave us some thoughts and observations on the perceived divide between academic and communal archaeology – a lot less than some would like to believe, in certain respects.

Paul then wound up with a request for a logo for the project; so we all have to put our design hats on and come up with something arresting! We then descended upon the nosh and chatted away, though we could not ignore the Bartlemas dig as Pam was doing the rounds and handing out photocopies of the context sheets so that we can start the writing-up process, until the call came to tidy up (not our loose!) and repair to the pub – as I mentioned above, this was something I was pretty well focussed on after my experience!

Finds, Bones & Talks

A busy day today, starting off with meeting Paula at our finds shed, to start sorting out the finds prior to a number of days when we are starting to wash and sort them. Gill started to go through the finds which had come back from Bartlemas – they were a bit jumbled up (though properly labelled!) so needed some preliminary sorting – while Paula & I went through the human bones.

We found quite a few skeletons at Bartlemas – some articulated (joined up, as it were) – while some came from charnel pits (where disturbed burials have been redeposited, but the bones are all jumbled up). The ‘faculty’ that we have from the diocese allows us to lift disarticulated human bones, but we leave any intact burials as they were buried. Even working within these rules we ended up with a surprising amount of remains, which Paula & I went through – well I went through some stuff and handed anything I was unsure about to her (which meant most of it!) – she can glance at a bone and decide ‘Human’ or ‘Animal’ while I can just about work out ‘Bone’! However, after cleaning off the obvious mud and stuff, we still ended up with 3 boxes of remains to be washed and properly sorted at Rewley House next month. We all did some counting up of materiel (finds trays, tooth brushes, bowls) that we will need for the finds cleaning in future, and packed away the finds that Gill will be cleaning at ArkT next month, while Paula took away the human bones to Rewley House.

Later this evening we went to the ArkT centre for a meeting about the ‘End of Year’ get together that we are having for all the volunteers, well not the party so much as the talk we want to give to present ‘What Went On at Bartlemas’. Who is saying what about what, how long we have to rabbit on, etc. Found out to our horror that Jane has accumulated over 11Gb of photos during the dig, inevitably no one had brought along a USB stick that large, so lots of negotiating about how to get the photos (of course we need them all, what if we miss the critical one for our talk!). Eventually got a rough idea of who is doing what and decided to go down to the pub and continue the conversation over a well earned pint or two!

Site Visit – The Bricklayer’s Arms

Off to see a commercial dig at Old Marston – it’s at ‘The Bricklayer’s Arms” a newly taken-over pub which suffered a fire after which the owners decided to cut their losses and sold up to developers.

Thames Valley Archaeological Services took on the job of doing the necessary excavation & Archeox have wangled us an invite to be shown over the site.

Jamie from TVAS gave us the tour and started off with a bit of history: Marston wasn’t mentioned in Domesday but the church was first mentioned in 1122 when in was assigned to the Augustinian Canons of St Frideswide. The village appears to have grown until the 14th century when it suddenly contracted. This was most probably due to the Plague, the “Great Death”, then not much activity until the 17th century.

    He showed us some of the finds, mainly Medieval pottery, with an iron sickle. Some of the pottery had been imported from the continent, so he reckoned the site was fairly high status.

He then showed us around the trenches. They were all dug in the car park of the pub, so they had to first go through the tarmac of the car park, then through a layer of ploughed soil before coming down onto the archaeology.

Jamie in the trench.

The first trench had a cobbled surface (which you can see just to Jamie’s right in the picture above); it looked a bit uneven to be usable in itself, but going down through it might give some ideas; just to right of the picture there was a modern(ish) chimney going through the cobbles so taking that out might give a nice section.

The second trench had some linear features, ditches probably. There were three post-holes – where a four could have been, had been excavated to investigate the ditch. However this could be the remains of a house with the enclosing ditches – it looked to be about the right size.

We then had a general chat about things which lead to metal detecting – Jamie sometimes works in Ireland where it is illegal as all archaeological finds belong to the state. Personally I get hacked-off when people refer to unauthorised metal-detectorists as “Nighthawks” – it seems to me to be romanticizing stealing our heritage from all of us – “Thieving Toe Rags” would be more appropriate.

However, an interesting insight into how most archaeology is done – with few (really dedicated) people, and working to tight deadline; and boy did that clay look horrid! A big thanks to Jamie for taking the time to give us such an informative talk, and just before he went on holiday too.

First Blog

Hello there!

Our first blog on our new site. I think this is going to take a while to sort out, so bear with us if the look of the site suddenly changes or bits get added (or deleted!). I’m currently working on a write-up of a site visit Gill & I did to a commercial dig in Old Marston – that’ll get posted as soon as I finish it and work out how to post photos.

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