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Judges have today released the shortlist for this year’s British Archaeological Awards showcasing the very latest discoveries and innovations in archaeology across the UK, with Reading University’s long-term Silchester excavation shortlisted for Best Archaeological Project 2016.

The results will be announced at the British Archaeological Awards ceremony at the British Museum in London on 11 July, compèred by ‘Meet the Ancestors’ archaeologist and TV presenter Julian Richards.

John Lewis, Chair of the British Archaeological Awards judging panel for the Best Archaeological Project Award commented on the Silchester project,

The aim of this long-running project is the publication of the total excavation of a large sample (25%) of one insula (block) to characterise the changing nature of the occupation of the Roman town at Silchester. The Judges were impressed with the way the project maximised environmental techniques and the development and use of a sophisticated database to aid analysis and make the findings accessible for future generations. The project has had a long-standing programme of public engagement, with many thousands of visitors each year.

Deborah Williams, Chair of the British Archaeological Awards added,

“The entries this year reflect the incredible wealth and range of archaeology that is going on across the United Kingdom, the quality and expertise of our world-leading archaeologists, and the ever increasing fascination of the public with the history and archaeology of their local area.

“Increasingly archaeologists are responding to this interest by developing new ways to help people to take part in research and excavations, start up their own projects, and share and understand new discoveries – and this shines through in our shortlisted entries. All the finalists have a common theme – involving and enthusing young people and the public in their archaeological heritage.

The British Archaeological Awards entries are judged by independent panels made up of leading experts from across the archaeology field in the UK, including both professional and voluntary sectors and aim to celebrate and share the best of British archaeology with the public.

 

See the shortlisted projects at www.archaeologicalawards.com and follow the Awards on twitter @BAAWARDSUK

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Professor Roger Matthews & Dr Wendy Matthews spent their Easter at the early Neolithic site of Bestansur, Iraqi Kurdistan. The excavations at Bestansur are significant as it is such an early settlement, dating to about 7700/7600 BC. At nearly 9000 years old, this provides us with some fantastic evidence for the very first steps of the transition from hunting to farming in the Neolithic period in this region.

The discoveries this season include the careful excavation of a very special building (Building 5) made of lumps of clay with plastered walls & floor, which had an unusual number of human remains interred beneath it. The team have identified a large number of human remains, mostly disarticulated, and often from very small children.

As seen in the video linked to below, one of the theories is that the building may be a special building for the burial of dead people – some of the remains seem to be coming from quite far distances, which is why the bones are disarticulated. With some of the bodies the team also found small offerings, such as beads of clay or stone, including a bead of carnelian which would have had to be imported from Iran or Afghanistan.

 

About the Excavation

Figure 1. Map to show location of Bestansur and other relevant Neolithic sites of the region.

Map to show location of Bestansur and other relevant Neolithic sites of the region.

A University of Reading and Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate team recently conducted a sixth season of excavations at the Early Neolithic settlement site of Bestansur, Sulaimaniyah Province, Iraqi Kurdistan, between 26 March and 15 April 2016. The team comprised Roger Matthews, Wendy Matthews and Kamal Rasheed Raheem (Co-Directors), Kamal Rauf Aziz and Sami Jamil Hama Rashid (Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate), Amy Richardson (University of Oxford), Sam Walsh (UCLAN), Adam Stone and Tom Moore (University of Reading) and local excavators.  We are very grateful to Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities for all their support, in particular to the Director, Kamal Rasheed Raheem, the Director of the Museum, Hashim Hama, and our government representatives, Kamal Rauf Aziz and Sami Jamil Hama Rashid, who helped us in many ways and contributed greatly to the success of the season. We are grateful to them all for their hard work all season.

The excavations were financially supported by generous grants from the Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund of the University of Oxford and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. We are very grateful to these bodies for their kind support.

 

Excavations at Bestansur, an Early Neolithic settlement

Dr Sam Walsh excavating human remains in Building 5.

Dr Sam Walsh excavating human remains in Building 5.

Excavations at Bestansur focused on expansion of Trench 10 to investigate a neighbourhood of Neolithic architecture on the lower eastern slopes of the mound, in an area of 18 x 14m.

This season’s excavations in Trench 10 aimed firstly to investigate and analyse of the human burials below the floors of Space 50 and the stratigraphic context of these, and secondly to define the extent of the building in which they were placed, Building 5, radiocarbon dated to c. 7700 BC.

We established that there are an exceptional number of human remains interred within Space 50. The excavations this season increased the number of individuals identified to more than 55 people, with more remains detected but left preserved in the ground for the next season. This number of individuals is higher than that found in many houses from other Neolithic sites of the Middle East, such as Tell Halula in Syria, for example, where 5-15 individuals were buried within single buildings. The high number within Building 5 at Bestansur is larger than expected for a single household and suggests that there were extensive and long-lived inter-relations between communities.

Four principal groups of human remains were investigated in the south and east of Space 50. All of these represent selective burial of particular skeletal parts,

Cluster of human skulls and other bones buried under room floor

Cluster of human skulls and other bones buried under room floor

predominantly of skulls, long bones and ribs. Two of these groups were of mixed age ranges. One group included red-pigmented material around clusters of bones and another group included traces of white mineral material on many bones and a skull as well as red pigment. A third group comprised predominantly juveniles and infants. The fourth assemblage was represented scattered remains of human bone and beads in the fill below the floors. One unusual bead of carnelian, imported from Iran or Afghanistan, was also found (Fig. 7).

As the walls of Space 50 slope inwards, c. 10 cm of deposits have been left against the base and lower sections of the walls. These microstratigraphic sequences were carefully cleaned with an artist’s palette knife, photographed and drawn at 1:5 and 1:10 to investigate the history of the construction and use of Building 5 and the complex burial sequence throughout the foundation, occupation and infill of the Building.

Carnelian bead from burial deposits under room floor

Carnelian bead from burial deposits under room floor

The north of Building 5, the western narrow rooms and the northwest corner of Space 50 and adjacent buildings were defined by extending trench 10 to the northwest.

We will continue excavation of this extraordinary deposit and building in spring 2017 and beyond.

Recording of human remains was conducted in the field and the laboratory by osteoarchaeologist Dr Sam Walsh (Fig. 4). We are very grateful to the Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate for permission to export human bones and teeth for analysis to study diet, health and mobility. We will be carrying out a full programme of analysis of this very special assemblage of human remains from the Early Neolithic period.

 

You can watch an interview with Roger on Rudaw TV here

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The School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science has been successful in receiving the Silver Athena SWAN award, given by the Equality Challenge Unit.

Athena SWAN was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education. It has traditionally covered science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines, but has been expanded to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law departments (AHSSBL) as well.

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

SAGES received the Bronze Athena SWAN Award in 2011 and has continued to be committed to creating an inclusive environment for all. Our School-specific objectives for Athena SWAN are:

1. To aspire to a culture of equality for our staff (academic, admin, research and technical) and students;

2. To enhance induction, communication and consultation processes within and between Archaeology, GES and SAGES;

3. To improve collegiality and achieve a more cohesive structure in SAGES;

4. To foster a supportive culture of mentoring, review (PDRs), training and promotion across SAGES (regardless of career stage).

Dr Nick Branch, current Head of School, says “The last three years has been a period of rapid and positive change for the School. Since our Bronze Award, we have extensively refurbished the School infrastructure, changed the School name and mission, and prioritised equality, diversity and wellbeing. Athena SWAN has been the key platform for transforming the culture and improving working lives within the School.”

Ellie Highwood, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said the silver award to SAGES reflected the impact of innovative actions, such as a year-long School-wide “Gender in Fieldwork” project, on everyone in the School.

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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…

 

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“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.

20160213_132807Each 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.”

 

Harry Richardson

 

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The new Reading Young Archaeologist Club has announced the programme for 2016! Make sure to mark these dates in your diary…


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Saturday 30th January 2016 2pm – 4pm

What is Archaeology?

An introduction to what archaeology involves and some fun activities to help you find out more about what it’s like to be an archaeologist!

 

Saturday 27th February 2016 2pm – 4pm

Journey to the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife

Learn more about how the ancient Egyptians prepared for the afterlife!

 

Saturday 19th March 2016 2pm – 4pm

Hominids

Learn about the development of modern humans using the collection of hominid skull casts and stone axes from the department of archaeology collections. What did early humans look like and how did they live?

 

Saturday 16th April 2016 2pm – 4pm

Brilliant Brooches

Explore Iron Age and Roman brooches found in Britain and have a go at making your very own brooch inspired by the designs.

 

Saturday 21st May 2016 2pm – 4pm

Medieval Magic

People in medieval times believed in good and bad magic. In this session you will learn about the different types of magic in medieval times, and what archaeologists have found for the medieval practice of magic.

 

June/July – Dig at Pewsey (TBC)

A chance to experience life as an archaeologist by visiting the University of Reading’s Archaeology field school at Pewsey in Wiltshire.

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RobertaGilchrist_3283-e (1)Professor Roberta Gilchrist has been nominated for ‘Archaeologist of the Year’ in the 8th Annual Current Archaeology Awards.

Roberta’s nomination recognises her work as a pioneer of social approaches to medieval archaeology, a champion of equal opportunities, and her work with Norwich Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. The full nomination reads:

“Roberta Gilchrist is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading.  She has pioneered social approaches to medieval archaeology, opening up new questions on gender and age and publishing important studies on medieval nunneries, hospitals, castles, and burials. Roberta has been a champion for equal opportunities, promoting women in archaeology and leading initiatives to integrate disability into the teaching of archaeological fieldwork. She was archaeologist to Norwich Cathedral and published a major study of Norwich Cathedral Close. Her monograph on the excavations at Glastonbury Abbey (1904–79) has just been published, making the results of 36 seasons of antiquarian excavations available for the first time. She is currently working with the Abbey on digital reconstructions and educational resources to make this work accessible to visitors.”

 

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Dr Hella Eckardt’s book ‘Objects and Identities: Roman Britain and the North-Western Provinces’ has been nominated for ‘Book of the Year’!

“Every object, however humble, has a tale to tell, and in this fascinating book carefully-chosen case studies tease out the ways that artefacts reflect their owners’ values and aspirations. From utilitarian kit to imported luxury goods, the items examined paint a vivid picture of regional variation, and approaches to consumption and display.”

 

You can cast your vote for both nominees here.

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We are publishing an open letter in response to a Guardian Comment is Free blog by Simon Jenkins (former Chairman of The National Trust and Editor of The Times) – which critiques the research project Professor Roberta Gilchrist has been leading at Glastonbury Abbey, in Somerset.

Roberta has had widespread national press and broadcast coverage this week for the work – including The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail Online, Daily Telegraph Online, BBC News Online, BBC Radio 4, BBC 5Live – as well as international interest and regional and local outlets.

The project reassesses and reinterprets unpublished records from excavations at the Abbey between 1904 and 1979, which show that the site’s best known archaeological ‘facts’ are themselves myths – many of these perpetuated by excavators influenced by legends that the Abbey was the reputed burial place of the legendary King Arthur and earliest Church in Britain, thought to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea.

The project, conducted with partners Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, involved a team of 31 specialists.

 

“Dear Simon

We are responding to your opinion piece yesterday, which mentioned the four-year project on the archaeology of Glastonbury Abbey.

The news headlines this week have focused on how the monks spun the Glastonbury legends, something that historians have understood for many decades, but has clearly come as news to journalists.  The research project was actually focused on the archaeological excavations that have taken place at Glastonbury.  It challenged some of the archaeological ‘myths’ spun by 20th-century excavators, as the full story on our website highlights.

We understand that you used the research to make a broader point about religious ‘mythmaking’ in the Middle Ages right up to modern-day extremist beliefs; however, the tone in relation to the project was disappointing.

The research was a detailed, comprehensive analysis, assessment and interpretation of all known archaeological records from 36 separate excavations at the Abbey between 1904 and 1979, none of which have ever been published. We brought modern scientific approaches to bear on antiquarian excavations.  We revealed important new evidence – including ‘Dark Age’ occupation, Saxon churches and glass-working and the extensive rebuilding of the abbey in the middle ages.  Highlights can be found on the project website.

The work is part of a 10-year partnership between Glastonbury Abbey and the University of Reading, involving colleagues from numerous universities, museums and archaeological units.   We are continuing to work together to bring our new findings to visitors to Glastonbury Abbey and to enrich their experience through digital reconstructions, a new guidebook and education packs.

We are happy to send you a copy of the 500 page monograph, which was published last month.

We would also be delighted to host you at the Abbey itself. Given your former role as Chair of The National Trust, we have a shared interest in understanding and enhancing the nation’s heritage.

 

Professor Roberta Gilchrist FBA, University of Reading

Janet Bell, Director of Glastonbury Abbey”

 

 

 

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This summer, the Silchester team(s) were back in the field again for both the Insula III project and the Environs Iron Age project. Amanda Clarke and Dr Cathie Barnett give their updates below…

Never say Never Again: further excavations at Silchester Roman Town

By Amanda Clarke

Professor Michael Fulford, CBE and Archaeologist of the Year, is as near as our profession will get to having Royal Navy Commander James Bond on its books. And, in true 007 style, and with reference to the 1983 Bond film of that name, we have learnt that The Commander will Never say Never Again.

Mike and I had left a hole in the ground (and in our hearts…..) at Insula IX in August 2014, and had walked away, olive trees in hand (our farewell presents from the participants), never thinking we would be back.

Groundhog Day

Now here I was, returning to Silchester in August of 2015, to set up and run a 4-week project to excavate a 15m by 20m trench in the north-east corner of Insula 111 in the heart of the Roman Town.

The Insula III team

The Insula III team

What could possibly lure us back? Insula III has been pivotal to our research excavations at Silchester for several years now. In 2013 and 2014 we opened an area 30m by 30m in the south-east of Insula III with the aim of re-excavating the Victorian trenches (dug in 1891) to reveal the structure the Victorians had thought – excitingly – to be a bath house. This methodology – of walking and digging in Victorian footsteps – proved to be an extremely successful one and allowed us, with the minimum of new excavation, to understand further the Victorian campaigns and methods of excavation, as well as determining at least 3 phases of Roman and post-Roman occupation of this part of the insula.

Palaces and Promises

We returned in 2015 to the north-east corner of Insula III as we hoped, by implementing our established methodology of Victorian shadowing, to uncover further evidence for the early Roman palatial structure (misidentified by the Victorians as a ‘bath house’) we had exposed in 2013 and 2014. This would lead our research in a new and exciting direction, promising an early Roman template of town planning, possibly under the auspices of the Emperor Nero.

Victorian mayhem

The first week of excavation in 2015 revealed several things fairly rapidly to our team of volunteers, Silchester ‘old-hands’ and aspiring 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students. For a start, the Victorians had been fairly brutal in their excavation techniques and had employed a methodology which resembled the path of a modern-day bulldozer. However, silver linings and all that, as the excavators of 1893 had avoided and outlined the extent of the spoil heap of the Basilica-Forum excavators of the 1860’s, who had placed an enormous and intimidating mound of soil from their forum excavations all along the western edge of the North-South Roman street, extending into the north-east area of Insula III. This meant that preserved intact beneath the outline of this spoil heap were undisturbed late Roman and potentially post Roman deposits – something of a holy grail for Silchester archaeologists who have been long intent on illuminating the final years of the Roman town.

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Sadly however there was no evidence for the continuation of the large palatial building located in the south-east of the insula – instead a packed stratigraphy visible in the sides of the Victorian trenches promised a different story.

Our second week on site proved an enormous challenge on many fronts; we had to re-employ our JCB to remove the huge depth of Victorian backfill we were confronted with, as we recognised that this Victorian-sorted soil would only enhance our muscles, and not our minds. As well as this, it rained – very hard. For days on end.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

By the start of the third week, the Victorian interventions had been emptied, mapped and plotted, and we now had time to look at what they had left behind. The Victorian plan was a red herring – nothing recorded on it was as we found it – but we did gain further insight into the Victorian psyche. For example, a feature recorded on their plan as ‘HYP’ (hypocaust) and left in situ, turned out to be an early Roman hearth, pedestalled and separated from its context – but still intact, beautiful, and able to be sampled and studied.

The early Roman Hearth

The early Roman Hearth

Targeted excavation

The Victorian excavators had not reached the natural ground surface but had instead stopped at an extensive spread of gravel of early Roman date. So, our methodology was to extend downwards from some areas of the Victorian intervention to see if we could stratigraphically uncover the earliest occupation on this part of the insula. This we did, revealing a number of Iron Age features at the base of the sequence.

It’s all in the section

The strategy for the fourth week on site was simple: to record and sample the sides of the Victorian trenches – which contained the story of Insula III from earliest to latest – and to begin stratigraphic excavation of the late Roman tabernae, or small shops which fronted onto the north-south and east-west streets, and lay beneath the dark soils. The remains of these buildings had eluded the Victorians but we were able to recognise them as flint and gravel founded buildings with clay floors, and backyards consisting of gravelled areas delineated by post pads.

 

Final Thoughts

After 4 weeks on site we ended with a very successful Open Day and were able to present our many visitors with a coherent story about the development of the north-east corner of Insula III. Our work has revealed a complexity of occupation on this central insula, and has provided a tantalising glimpse of the richness of the archaeological record here. Now follows a winter of post excavation to establish the chronology of the area, and the chance to assess the many finds left behind by the Victorians – which included more than 66 coins. See you next year!

 

Pond Farm

By Dr Catherine Barnett

A team of 15 hardy professional, student and volunteer archaeologists, led by project officer Nick Pankhurst, ignored the August-September monsoon season to tackle the site of Pond Farm. The site was suspected to be an Iron Age univallate hillfort and had been chosen as the first in a series of sites to investigate under the new Silchester Environs project led by Prof Michael Fulford.

Four 20x20m trenches were opened up across the site, positioned according to the results of geophysical and coring surveys undertaken earlier this year. Key aims were to date the site and to gauge whether it had a chronological relationship with the nearby Iron Age oppidum that underlies Silchester Roman Town. We also wanted to find out what the site was used for and for how long. Artefacts proved sparse but appeared in just the right places, including a piece of Late Iron Age pedestal beaker recovered from a palisade trench at the end of the defensive encircling bank. The lack of internal structures yet evidence of several phases of earthwork and ditch recutting leads us to suspect that this was not a permanently settled site but one periodically visited over a long time, perhaps as part of a stock management system, with the huge defensive earthworks there to protect valuable livestock.

Much of our understanding  will however come from the post-excavation analysis and radiocarbon dating of samples collected during the dig. These are currently being processed, and we’ll let you know what we find in a future post.

For further information on the Environs project please see the Silchester website or email Dr Catherine Barnett at c.m.barnett@reading.ac.uk.  

 

You can also follow Silchester on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates!

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By Dr Gabor Thomas

1.View over 2014 excavations with the Blob in the foreground trench and the Coach and Horses pub in the background overlooked by Lyminge church

View over 2014 excavations with the Blob in the foreground trench and the Coach and Horses pub in the background overlooked by Lyminge church

In September of this year the curtain closed on one of the department’s flagship fieldwork projects: a seven-year programme of excavation targeting an Anglo-Saxon settlement preserved under the village of Lyminge in south-east Kent.  Fieldwork projects of this scale and complexity nearly always run out of time and Lyminge is no exception.  2014 was supposed to be the final season of a three-year campaign funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council designed to investigate a large open space in the middle of the village called Tayne Field.  In the event, the new discoveries made that year were so unprecedented that it was impossible to examine the evidence satisfactorily in the six weeks available.  With the realisation that more work was needed, plans for a return season soon began to be hatched; by the following spring funds for a pared-down excavation had been secured from several sources, including a generous donation from a member of the Sutton Hoo Society who visited us in 2014.  Game on!

The cause of our extended season was first identified in a geophysical survey completed by Dave Thornley in 2012.

Aerial view of the Blob and adjacent ring-ditch after initial cleaning in 2014.

Aerial view of the Blob and adjacent ring-ditch after initial cleaning in 2014.

The ‘Blob’, as it soon became known amongst the excavation team, appeared as a large (18m by 12m) ovoid anomaly straddling the ring-ditch of a Bronze Age barrow.  Both features lay at the northern margins of a dense array of Anglo-Saxon settlement remains which had formed the principal target of excavations in 2012-13.  When uncovered for the first time in 2014, the feature stood out like a sore thumb: an expanse of charcoal-rich sediment crammed with animal bone and artefacts immediately recognisable as Anglo-Saxon.  Gold dust – we were staring at a huge, and as we would later find out, very deep, Anglo-Saxon midden!  Because all of the material removed from the Blob was dry sieved, progress was slow going and it soon became apparent that we could only investigate a small sample in the time available.  We therefore limited our window to a pair of 1m-wide perpendicular transects positioned across the maximum girth of the Blob.  Each of these slices produced a vivid layer-cake of dumped deposits punctuated by burnt horizons and, in one particular locale, an in situ hearth.  By the beginning of the final week both transects had been excavated to a depth of 1.80m, but with no sign of a bottom.  Then, in the final few days, we broke through the earliest of the Anglo-Saxon dumps to reveal a horizontal layer of flint nodules.  Time was up and we were left to ponder the hard-won evidence: what was the origin of the large crater used as a dumping ground by the Anglo-Saxons? And what was the function and age of the enigmatic flint layer?

These questions were foremost as a skeleton team reassembled to take on the Blob with renewed vigour in 2015.  Our strategy involved re-opening 2014’s transects to investigate the lower levels of the Blob (where possible) with further hand excavation, leaving the deepest portions for coring.  In addition, we planned to excavate a new 2m-wide transect across the unexplored northern sector of the Blob with the aim of exposing the full extent of the layer of flint nodules.  So what did we find?  The upper horizons of the midden sampled by the new transect proved to be as productive in Anglo-Saxon cultural material as in 2014, yielding a further 200 sherds of vessel glass, an array of brooches and other diagnostic metalwork and prodigious volumes of pottery and animal bone.  The new transect also revealed the full extent of the flint layer demonstrating that it formed a sloping ramp extending from the northern rim of the Blob down into its murky depths where it was first exposed in 2014 at depth of nearly 2m. Further excavation and coring in the previous season’s transects produced equally rewarding results.  We now know that the original cut of the Blob has a strongly asymmetrical profile and that its lower stratigraphy comprises clay-rich sediments deposited during later prehistory under natural processes.

Kevin Williams from QUEST assisted by Simon Maslin get stuck into some coring.

Kevin Williams from QUEST assisted by Simon Maslin get stuck into some coring.

So what does all this evidence add up to?  I would be lying if I said we had a definitive answer so soon after the excavation, but a compelling story is starting to emerge.  It goes something like this.  The Blob started life as a natural feature – a solution hollow, or to give it its correct label, a doline, produced by the erosion of soluble bedrock.  This particular example may have opened up early in prehistory and, as a significant landscape feature, could have acted as a focus for the construction for the adjacent Bronze Age barrow (such associations have been documented in other prehistoric chalklands, including the Dorset ridgeway).  When an Anglo-Saxon settlement was established in Lyminge in the 5th century A.D., the doline was reappropriated, commencing with the construction of the flint ramp to provide access into the deepest portion of the feature.  This may have been to facilitate the extraction of clay for the making of pottery and daub for buildings and furnaces, but alternative, potentially ritualistic, uses cannot be discounted.  Subsequently, as the Anglo-Saxon population expanded and economic activity intensified, midden material collected from various domestic and industrial contexts was systematically dumped into the cavity.  This process of infilling extended into the second half of the 6th century, but was punctuated by episodes of stabilisation when the hollow was used for industrial processes such as iron smelting reflected archaeologically in hearths and associated dumps of slag and furnace lining.

Although compelling, there are parts of this story which will remain speculative until the evidence has been carefully evaluated by professional geologists.  However, if the hypothesised sequence turns out to be correct in its essentials, then this will be the first example of an archaeologically-attested doline in the UK with evidence for Anglo-Saxon exploitation.  Irrespective of the final attribution, the investigation of this remarkable feature has transformed our understanding of Lyminge’s formative development as an Anglo-Saxon settlement.  Should you be fortunate enough to encounter a Blob on your own excavation, be sure to go back for a second season!

Diagnostic Anglo-Saxon jewellery recovered in 2015.  The gilding and decorative detail on these artefacts will show up beautifully when professionally conserved.

Diagnostic Anglo-Saxon jewellery recovered in 2015. The gilding and decorative detail on these artefacts will show up beautifully when professionally conserved.

With thanks to my Co-Director, Alex Knox, Lyminge Project PhD and Data Manager, Simon Maslin, Finds Supervisors, Helen Harrington, Emily Harwood, Alex Miller and Jessica Barnsley, QUEST technician, Kevin Williams, not forgetting a clutch of dedicated students from Reading and UCL and our regular local volunteers.  The 2015 excavation could not have happened without the generous support of Sue Banyard, the ‘Up on Downs’ Landscape Partnership Scheme and our principal funders, the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

For more information please visit the project website: www.lymingearchaeology.org

Gabor Thomas, Director of the Lyminge Project

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By Dr Jim Leary

This summer the University of Reading Field School excavated within the landscape between the famous prehistoric monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge in the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire. Our excavations focused on two prehistoric henge monuments (Marden and Wilsford) and, with Historic England, a Roman settlement. We also surveyed part of medieval Marden village.

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Marden henge is a truly huge monument, enclosing an area of 15.7 hectares, making it the largest Neolithic henge in Britain. Our excavations focused to the south end of the monument and we uncovered an extraordinarily well-preserved Neolithic building surface. The complete surface was rectangular with a central sunken area, which was dominated by a large hearth. On the floor were flint flakes still lying untouched in the same position they had been left in, and this is one of the best preserved Neolithic buildings in England. Close to the building were spreads of Neolithic rubbish, which incorporated elegant bone needles, as well as flint flakes and decorated ‘Grooved Ware’ pottery. In one area was an assemblage of bones from numerous pigs, clearly representing the remains of a feast. Analysis of the building is ongoing and we do not yet know what it was used for, although we have suggested that it may have been a sweat lodge type building.

We also excavated the Wilsford henge on the other side of the river. This is a much smaller monument and completely flattened by ploughing over the centuries. We excavated through the end of the ditch, next to the entrance of the henge, and discovered that the ditch was amazingly deep – over three metres! Near the bottom was a very well preserved early Bronze Age burial of a teenager wearing an amber spacer necklace.

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The striking feature about these monuments is their relationship with the River Avon, which runs between them. Both monuments face the river, as if access or good views of this part of the river were important, and Marden henge in particular sits within a large sweeping meander of the river. The relationship between these monuments and water was evidently a close one and likely to be key to understanding them. To this end and in order to better understand the hydrology of the river in the past, we undertook a geoarchaeological project along the river valley. This work has produced some very exciting results, including thick layers of peat, and will no doubt add significantly to our knowledge.

Under the guidance of staff from Historic England we also undertook a detailed topographic survey of an earthwork site located within Marden village. The grass-covered site comprises a series of enclosures of varying size, within which a number of building platforms and a network of tracks or hollow-ways have been identified. The enclosures clearly represent multiple phases of activity, with some of the enclosure banks overlying or reusing earlier features. At the eastern end of the site, two small terraced building platforms were recorded associated with a number of small compounds; these earthworks probably represent the remains of a small deserted medieval farmstead. This site is clearly complex and multifaceted, and interpretation work is ongoing.

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The area around Marden henge has seen very little archaeological work, particularly compared to the famous sites of Avebury and Stonehenge to the north and south. However, we now know that there are many other monuments preserved in the Vale of Pewsey, particularly along the upper reaches of the River Avon. These monuments will all be investigated over the coming seasons. There is clearly much more work to be done in the Vale of Pewsey and as we work through the post-excavation over the winter, we look forward to going back next summer.

 

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