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Want to know more about studying with us? We’ve got a new video up starring some of our undergraduates (and staff!) – check it out!
Gdańsk (Monday 6th June 2016, Alex Miller)
After waking up far too early and sparing way too much time to get to the airport, we were finally in the air and flying over northern Europe. It was a beautiful day and the plane journey took us about 2 hours. As we neared the end and were clearly flying over northern Poland the things that struck me were the vast dark green forests that covered significant portions of the countryside, the many lakes and the small isolated farmsteads. On landing we took a bus through the outskirts of Gdańsk which were littered with Soviet era buildings to the old town where we were staying for the night. We spent the afternoon and evening wondering around the old town. It was surprising to learn (as I am shamefully quite ignorant of modern history) that the majority of the old town had been destroyed by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War and that much of what I was seeing was in fact far newer than I had thought, though it had been reconstructed in the old Hanseatic style. This was both sad, to learn of the destruction, and refreshing to see that it had been rebuilt so well in its original style. The buildings that we saw included warehouses, churches, shops and houses. The houses and shops were particularly beautiful, as they were all painted in different colours and often had friezes detailing particular events in the town’s history, certain merchants or goods that were being sold. Seeing the old town was important because not only did it get me thinking about medieval town layouts and life there in the medieval period, but perhaps more importantly it impressed on me how relevant medieval history still is in Gdańsk, and that they recognise it as part of their heritage, enough to rebuild it in the old style out of the rubble.
Malbork (7th June 2016, Jess Barnsley)
Our first full day in Poland started with a train journey. The train to Malbork took us through some beautiful stretches of rural Poland, and it was a pleasure to see the expanses of greenery and forests from the windows of northern Poland’s new “high speed” trains.
The town of Malbork was as expected, a “soviet style” town with rows of grey, characterless block flats and gridded streets- an unfortunate result of the devastation Poland (then Eastern Prussia) faced during WW2 and the years following.
The ‘bleakness’ of the town was a dramatic contrast to the sight we beheld as we rounded the corner to Malbork’s outer walls and moat. The castle is spectacular. Breathtaking in its sheer size and construction, with the statue of the Virgin Mary proudly reconstructed, the glass mosaic dazzling in the sun.
After quickly unpacking our belongings in the cosy apartments which would be home for the next two days, we met with Zbigniew Sawicki the head of the archaeology department based at Malbork castle. We had a chance to handle some of the castles artefacts; delicate locks and keys, largely intact pottery vessels all the way through to a huge swords found discarded in the moat of the castle.
The castle precinct is vast, and the walk is long, but the views of the castle from the river side were truly spectacular. We were blessed with clear skies and scorching sun, which allowed panoramic views from the tower (well worth the agonizing climb). I couldn’t help but wonder to myself how phenomenal an experience this tower would have been to the men who constructed and worked on it. To see the world from a perspective no other person they knew had reached, in a time before flight, in an area void of mountains, to stand atop this tower would surely have been a life changing experience.
The interior of the castle met with the exterior’s grandeur. The team at Malbork have met the difficult task of preserving and presenting the castle marvellously. There is no way to summarise all of the wonderful features of the castle in just a few words, it really is a sight to behold. The tiled floors, painted arches, vaulted ceilings and not forgetting galleries filled with more amber than one person could need to see in one lifetime are second to none!
Though the day was long and tiring, our time at Malbork castle was far too short. One could spend days roaming the halls and galleries of the building and examining the brickwork fabric of the walls (a habit we had all developed by the time we left Poland!). It is truly one of the greatest medieval sites in the world.
Kwidzyn and Gniew (8th June 2016, Rob Backhouse)
An early morning departure from Malbork saw us taking the train to Kwidzyn, about 25 miles to the south, following the eastern edge of the Forest of Sztum along the escarpment above the Vistula floodplain. We were here to see the unusual conjoined castle and cathedral of Marienwerder, which contained one of the burial sites of the Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order. Our animated local guide showed us a display of three recently discovered burials, taking particular pleasure in the fact that the corresponding crypt at Malbork had produced no extant remains. He was also keen that we see what he called “the largest brick toilet in the world”, which was in fact the latrine tower of the castle and is probably the most striking surviving example of this particular feature of Teutonic Order architecture. The interior of the castle contained an extremely eclectic museum covering everything from modern art to natural history, via a corridor that could have come straight from the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading.
After a quick lunch we made the short trip to the small town of Gniew, with its imposing castle and church dominating the view from the south along the Vistula. From the outside, Mewe Castle is a classic example of the conventual style followed by the Teutonic Order in the late-13th and 14th centuries. Inside, much of the space was given over to a series of displays catering for the large number of visiting school groups (including a dungeon full of the most fiendish torture implements the 19th century mind could imagine), while the sound of children cheering as a 16th century Polish Hussar obliterated watermelons in a variety of creative ways in the grounds outside provided a constant backdrop to our visit. We had seen the continuing resonance of this period of medieval history as we made our way through Gniew’s quaint Old Town earlier in the day, where a modern monument incorporates imagery from the defeat of the Teutonic Order by the Polish-Lithuanian alliance at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.
A sudden thunderstorm heralded the end of our visit and provided the only break in the otherwise glorious weather we enjoyed during the trip, and we were glad to be able to call a taxi to collect us as the roads back to Kwidzyn began to flood at an alarming rate.
Travelling home (9th June 2016, Alex Pope)
The last day in Poland was devoted to travelling. We caught the train west from Malbork to Gdańsk and, following the compulsory period of English tourist confusion over public transport in another language, we eventually made our way to Lech Wałęsa airport, where we had started our journey three days previously.
It was a wonderful fieldtrip, and we all really valued the opportunity to explore and examine the medieval sites of Poland. They brought our Baltic Crusades module to life, and immeasurably increased our understanding and learning.
We had an amazing, if occasionally bizarre, time. We visited some fascinating sites, interacted with some brilliant archaeologists, enjoyed beautiful weather and, as is obligatory for travelling archaeologists, sampled the local Polish culture.
Our Part 2 Archaeology student, Harry Richardson, recently applied for and was awarded a place on the competitive Sainsbury Institute Winter Programme, accompanying Japanese students to heritage sites around the UK. Read on for more details…
“The Winter Programme was run jointly by Dr Sam Nixon, a senior research associate of the Sainsbury Institute for Japanese Arts and Culture; and Akira Matsuda, who is doing his PhD in Public Archaeology at the University of Tokyo.
5 Tokyo students were each paired with 5 students from various European universities, including Tübingen, Zurich, York and UEA. Some had an archaeological background, although many were just interested in learning more about the UK. This was done with the intention of promoting an exchange of ideas, in the context of UK heritage which was introduced through a 14-day tour of English cities and archaeological sites. This included (but was not limited to) London, Bath and Norwich.
Each day, we were encouraged to reflect on our experiences and discuss major issues, such as the nature of archaeology and heritage, its relationship with the general public, and how this compares/contrasts with Japan and other countries. This was also done through daily questions, and also through group presentations to help consolidate our ideas. Other events of note included an exclusive tour of the Japan galleries at the British Museum by Nicole Rousmaniere (founder and former SISJAC director) and a final reception at UEA hosted by the Vice Chancellor and Simon Kaner (the current director) that also brought together Japanese students and staff on different programmes at UEA.
I applied to gain an insight into how people from international cultures felt about heritage in Britain, and also to gain knowledge about the issues affecting their countries. The programme largely achieved this, by not only consolidating my knowledge of heritage and the issues that currently affect it, but also through improving my ability to communicate my ideas coherently. Most of all, I enjoyed being received as part of a group who were all inclusive and friendly.
I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone interested in learning more about foreign cultures, improving their communication and language skills, or generally gaining experience for their next career move. UEA also run a Summer Programme, where students gain the opportunity to excavate at an archaeological site in Hokkaido with accommodation included.”
A small team of present and former students from the Archaeology Department at Reading University spent a week at the beginning of June 2015 recording an experimental earthwork, at the Science Museum Group facility at Wroughton in Swindon.
The octagonal earthwork was constructed in 1985 by the world renowned experimental archaeologist Dr Peter Reynolds. Reynolds died prematurely in 2001 and not much has been published on the results of this experiment. The excavation 30 years after the earthwork’s construction was prompted by the forthcoming removal of three-quarters of the earthwork in order to build a solar farm. It was clearly important to record the changes to the earthwork over the last 30 years, as a result of weathering, vegetation colonisation, faunal and other processes.
This is the sixth earthwork to have been investigated using similar methods by the writer. The excavations have demonstrated that changes to buried soils, for instance, occur very rapidly after burial, such that a thirty year old buried soil has many characteristics of one buried for millennia. So experiments lasting as little as 30 years are a valuable guide as to how the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record has formed. The ditch sediments at Wroughton showed evidence for annual banding over the first 5 or 6 years of sedimentation in some but not all sections. This could be potentially interesting in identifying the seasonality of placed deposits in the primary fills of prehistoric ditches. We hope to do some follow up analysis on the buried soils if funding can be found.
By Professor Martin Bell
Read more about Martin at his staff profile.
By: Ben Camp, Nick Harper, Alex Pope, Debs Young (MA students, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading)
After a night at the British Institute at Ankara the first place we visited was the Anatolian Civilisations Museum in Ankara. It is housed in a fantastic Ottoman building dating to the 15th century AD. Called a Han, it housed shops and accommodation for travellers, located in the old citadel. The artefacts throughout the museum were astounding and we would throughly recommend it to anyone travelling to Ankara.
Next we travelled with our bus and driver Selim Bey to Gordion, a site that has hosted such historic figures as Midas and Alexander the Great. We were greeted with the traditional British archaeological weather – rain and strong winds. First we went to Tumulus MM, stupefying for the size of the mound itself (53m high) and the size of the juniper logs covering the burial chamber, dated to 740 BC. Then we went to the mound of Gordion. We saw the Early Phrygian citadel and the Middle Phrygian gate. It was amazing to see how much was still standing.
A long drive to Çatalhöyük, but it was worth every mile. Walking up the slope of the höyük (archaeological mound) in the sunshine towards the shelter only increased the sense of excitement and anticipation. Actually entering the shelter and standing in front of the 7000 BC village laid out before us was unbelievable. It is difficult to express in words quite what the site is like and know that this was a place that people chose to live in for generation after generation.
Following the track across the mound with the pottery broken and discarded beneath our feet, we then entered the South Shelter and were left stunned at the panoramic vista of the many levels which dropped in front of us. We highly recommend a visit to Çatalhöyük, and to one of our group especially it was a much dreamt of visit.
We then drove the short distance to Boncuklu, a site even earlier than Çatalhöyük and which could prove in the future to be just as important. After an informative tour of the site, the guard invited us all for chay (tea), but which actually turned out to be a three course lunch eaten cross-legged on the floor of his family home. Wonderful food in the company of very welcoming and friendly people just added to an already fabulous day.
Acemhöyük was the last stop of the day, and after another long drive in torrential rain, we arrived just before the sun set and climbed precariously up the slippery mud slope clad in waterproofs, much to the amusement of the local villagers, to whom we no doubt looked like the archetypical English archaeologists! The heavily burnt site was too muddy to explore in detail but we were able to determine the extent and rich colours of the walls, brought to life by the wet conditions, especially when the setting sun shone its rays on the burnt Middle Bronze Age palaces, dated to 1650 BC.
A late night arrival at the hotel was greeted with enthusiasm by all after a long but wonderful day.
The drive to Kültepe-Kaneš was not particularly long, and whilst the mound is visible from a distance, the karum, possibly the most important element of the site, is not. The site principally dates to the late third and early second millennia BC, including the Old Assyrian trading period, with the two most important levels of the lower town dating to this period. Recent excavations and survey have revealed that the well-preserved ruins extend even further into the beautiful countryside than previously expected. The lower town produced some 23,500 cuneiform texts of clay baked in the great conflagration that consumed the entire lower town in the middle of this period. The mound is also important, with recent discoveries of a massive administrative building dating to 2400 BC.
After Kültepe-Kaneš we then proceeded to Alişarhöyük, climbing the mound and inspecting the early twentieth century excavation trenches. Our final site for the third day was Alacahöyük, where both the museum and reconstructed tombs were amazing. The reliefs and sphinx gate were beautiful examples of Hittite art and after exploring the Hittite palace we had tea at a local café before proceeding to our lovely hotel at Hattusa, famous capital of the Hittites.
We started the day by exploring the religious sanctuary of Yazılıkaya. The site is famous for its rock reliefs and it is easy to see why. The rock carvings were extremely impressive and the entire site had an atmosphere which indicated why the Hittite chose this place as a religious sanctuary.
We then travelled the short distance to the Hittite capital Hattusa. We spent the next six hours walking and exploring this massive site in the hot sun, looking at the many temples, royal buildings and gates which are scattered across the ancient city. Walking really gave us a great idea of what this ancient capital might have been like at the height of its power and it was a brilliant experience which we would thoroughly recommend. As we walked from one end of the city to the other we climbed 300m in height! After a lovely meal at Mehmet’s glorious Kale Otel we made the long drive back to Ankara in the dusk.
In Ankara airport again, and it is with great sadness that we call time on the adventure. It has been the trip of a lifetime and the memories will last forever. Thanks to our driver Selim Bey and the British Institute in Ankara for facilitating the trip (particularly Selim Bey, who drove a crazy number of miles!). But special thanks must go to Professor Roger Matthews, who was the best host and guide we could have had. He really made the trip come alive. Until next time…
Special thanks to SAGES PGT fund and Reading International Office for their financial contributions to enable this field trip to happen, and to all our friends at BIAA.
For more photos from the trip, check out the album here.
From November 21st -25th 2014 a small team from the University of Reading Archaeology Department took advantage of a low tide to investigate Mesolithic sites in the intertidal zone at Goldcliff, South Wales where many archaeological discoveries have been made over the last 24 years. We found human, bird and deer footprints, Mesolithic flints and charred hazel nuts. The fieldwork was in conjunction with a team from the BBC Horizon Science Series for a programme on the Mesolithic which will be screened in early 2015.
This was the start of a 3 year PhD project by Kirsten Barr who will be looking at Mesolithic, human, animal and bird footprints in the Severn Estuary and elsewhere in order to develop new techniques for the rapid and accurate recording and interpretation of this footprint evidence which is increasingly being found particularly in coastal locations.
Kirsten graduated with a First Class degree in Archaeology from the University of Reading. She started off with a mainly arts focus but discovered an aptitude for science during her undergraduate degree. After this she did a MSc in Forensic Archaeology at University College, London and her current PhD project has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Fieldwork with the BBC team provided an early opportunity in the second month of her project to get information about the project out to the public.
Severn Estuary Prehistoric research is led by Professor Martin Bell, who has published 3 monographs on the subject in the last 14 years. The most recent is The Bronze Age in the Severn Estuary published by the Council for British Archaeology in 2013. This monograph includes contributions by several Reading University students including Kirsten who did her undergraduate dissertation on the footprints of animals in Bronze Age sites.
The University of Reading Archaeology Field School has a new location from summer 2015 – the Vale of Pewsey! Dr Jim Leary will be directing the project over the next few years and below, he explains a little of his background and experience in this fantastic landscape…
“As a prehistorian I have always been drawn to Wiltshire. I excavated there as an undergraduate, looking at the Mesolithic site of Golden Ball Hill, and have been digging there on and off ever since. I once even found and excavated a very ancient site there indeed. It was fantastically well-preserved considering it was 250,000 years old, and packed full of the flint tools and hunting residue of one of one of our early hominin ancestors. But it is the ancient Neolithic monuments that are the main source of fascination for me – and a challenge too: there is so much more to discover.
In 2007 I took charge of the Silbury Hill project, working inside the enormous Neolithic mound with a team of miners and archaeologists. It was an amazing experience, to be able to spend so much time actually inside Silbury. There was real concern that a big portion of the mound might collapse as a result of various shafts and tunnels created by past archaeologists and antiquarians. We had to stabilise the structure and make it safe for the future, but this was also an opportunity to gather archaeological information.
In the summer of 2010 I directed an excavation at the huge Neolithic henge at Marden in the Vale of Pewsey. It is the one no-one has heard of, and yet it is the biggest henge of all – bigger than Avebury and about 10 times the size of Stonehenge. One objective was to find the position of the ‘Hatfield Barrow’ – another conical mound, half the size of Silbury. The mound was dug into in 1807 but it collapsed and the remains of it were later removed by the farmer. We assumed it had completely gone but below the soil we found that some of the mound still remained – it was just 15 centimetres high! That is quite a reduction from the original 15 metres, but it did contain dateable material, which showed it to be the same date as Silbury.
Also inside Marden henge, we found the best-preserved Neolithic building in England. It wasn’t a house that was lived in, but probably had some other function – perhaps a sweat lodge. The people that used this building will have seen Stonehenge in use – perhaps even worshipped there. There may be more buildings at Marden, and this is one of the questions we need to answer when we go back. The Marden excavations produced other unique finds, including some of the most finely worked flint arrowheads I’ve ever seen. The pottery too, was highly unusual: one clay pot had been coated in bone ash – my guess is that it is human bone, but we’ll never know for sure.
Continuing with the mounds theme I’ve also made the news through my work at Marlborough Castle Mound – or ‘Merlin’s Mound’ as it is known locally. Now in the grounds of Marlborough College, this 19m high mound was once the motte on which Marlborough Castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest. In the 17th century it became part of an elaborate garden; a spiral path was cut into it and shrubs planted. With the help of colleagues I drilled boreholes deep into the mound from the top. We were able to date some charcoal from the cores which told us that its origins go back to the same time as Silbury Hill; it was a Neolithic mound that had been re-used later on. It was one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments that are so rare in archaeology.
I am now gearing up to go back to Wiltshire. We will be undertaking further excavations in the amazing Marden henge. But more than this – we’ll be looking at a whole plethora or weird and wonderful sites all around it. I can’t wait!”
James Billson, currently studying for his MA in the Archaeology of Medieval Europe, spent time this summer working at the excavations at Montfort. Read on for his report!
“During 2014 I was a part of the excavations conducted at the Teutonic castle of Montfort, in Northern Galilee. Montfort is a Mountain spur castle which takes advantage of the local topography; it is flanked by Nahal Kziv to the north and Khalet Khzam to the south.
This castle was occupied from roughly 1220 to 1271; it saw two Muslim sieges, one in 1266 which it survived, and another in 1271, falling to Baybars. Chronical tell us that this spur castle served as the headquarters for the order in the holy land, occasionally being used as the residence of the Hochmeister (the grand master of the order).
Figure 1: Sole standing wall of the ‘hall’. Note the staircase leading to the doorway, formerly a window which is thought to have been converted by the knights for this use. Also note the central pillar, as an indicator of the scale of this room, for more of an indicator see figure 2.
Previous excavations were conducted at this site in 1877 by Horatio H. Kitchener and in 1926 by Bashford Dean (the curator for the arms and armour department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), he was hoping to recover a suit of armour. In 1994 limited excavations were conducted in the hall prior to restoration work commencing; the castle is in a state of ruin, much as it was left by Baybars following its fall.
Figure 2. (See figure 1 description)
Excavation work commenced in 2011 following five years of surveying. I was fortunate enough to get a place on this excavation, which for the 2014 season focused on the area immediately behind the ‘gatehouse’ to the castle, on the slopes of the mountain. This area was thought to have been the stables for the garrisons mounts, and certainly finds including a horseshoe suggest this.
I was a part of this excavation for two weeks during which time I was able to see the transformation of the site from tree stumps and slumping, to the revealing of the paved medieval floor surface, and it being reduced to its original high.
Figure 3: Half removed level, when I arrived.
Figure 4: Nearly fully reduced level, with ashlar blocks, parts of the collapsed archways. (Note: not in original positions, moved during excavations for ease of access).
This was a fantastic opportunity for me to expand my experience within field archaeology; not only that but to increase the variety of experience that I possess, and increasing my adaptability. It is rare to find a site in England where you need to trek across low mountains in high heat! I was also able to apply lessons taught during my time at the Silchester field school with regards to taking levels!
I would like to thank the SAGES bursary for providing me with a bursary for this trip which in many ways made it possible for me to go. I would also like to thank Dr Alexs Pluskowski for putting me in touch with Dr Adrian Boas who ran the excavation (a thank you to him as well!) and finally to all those who took part in the excavation alongside me – without them I doubt it would have been so much fun!”
– James Billson
Announcing the launch of our new videos, depicting life inside and outside of our Archaeology department!
Huge thanks go to the enthusiastic and professional presentations by the students and recent graduates who star in the videos, and in particular to 2013 graduate James Archer, who did most of the filming and Storyboarding. Do we have some future TV presenters in our midst?