A long view on the trench
Over the last three weeks a joint UK-Polish team have been excavating the Prussian stronghold of Swieta Gora (sacred hill) in Masuria, north-east Poland, within the framework of the Ecology of Crusading project.
The main focus of the excavation, now in its third season, has been the embankment at the northern end of the site, which was always assumed to be be early medieval.
It turns out the embankment is 17th century, but underneath there are preserved occupation layers and features from the last phase of Prussian tribal settlement at the site, just before the region was overwhelmed by the Teutonic Order’s crusades in the 13th century.
We’ve recovered a tonne of cultural and environmental data, with evidence for the exploitation of species such as bison and auroch. Last week photographer Magnus Elander was documenting the excavation and surrounding landscape as part of our outreach programme.
Keep up-to-date with the excavations on the team’s Facebook page
Read about Dr Aleks Pluskowski
Dominik Fleitmann on location
The modern vast desert belts of Northern Africa and Arabia are very hostile environments and thus a natural barrier for humans and mammals. A successful dispersal was only possible at times when the desert turned into a savannah-type landscape with abundant lakes.
To date, our knowledge of past climate variability in Arabia is very limited due to a distinct lack of suitable climate archives. Fortunately stalagmites collected from various caves on the Arabian Peninsula can now provide detailed and precisely-dated information on Quaternary climate variability back to several million years ago.
Cross section of a stalagmite from southern Yemen showing growth intervals
Based on previous investigations on stalagmites from Yemen and Oman, we know that stalagmite deposition is only possible during wet periods with rainfall above at least 300 mm per year (present-day average rainfall in the desert is generally less than 100 mm year). However, the current limit of the dating method (Uranium-Thorium dating) is 500,000 years, whereas dispersal of hominids took place between approx. 2-1 million years before present.
For this study, funded by NERC, Dominik Fleitmann and Stuart Black will use a fairly new method (Uranium-Lead dating) for dating very old stalagmites covering this crucial time interval in human history. By dating periods of stalagmite deposition precisely we can identify these periods and establish links between dispersals of hominids and mammals.
Read about Dominik Fleitmann
Read about Stuart Black
Read an article on speleothems (stalagmites and stalactites) in Science Magazine
Two of our current PhD students have been appointed to prestigious positions at the British Museum.
Rosie Weetch is just about to complete her PhD on Late Saxon brooches (supervised by Dr Gabor Thomas & Hella Eckardt) and has been working as a project curator at the British Museum since 2012, helping to design the new early medieval gallery and in particular researching and displaying the famous Sutton Hoo treasure.
Helen McGauran will submit her thesis on the circulation of Bronze Age soft-stone artefacts in Bahrain and Cyprus (supervised by Dr Wendy Matthews & Stuart Black) this June, before starting as Project Curator on the Zayed National Museum Project.
Her role is to carry out targeted research into topics and key sites to support the Interpretation team in presenting information on the archaeology of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates from early prehistory up until the end of the pre-Islamic period, within the new Museum in Abu Dhabi. She will also be involved in some aspects of artefact and other object selection.
Read about postgraduate research in Archaeology
Harness mount uncovered in the 2012 excavations
We’re pleased to announce that the interim report for the excavations that took place in the summer of 2012 on Tayne Field is now available for all to download on the Lyminge Archaeological project website: Lyminge 2012 – Interim report (PDF 3.43MB.
The report provides a detailed summary of the archaeology excavated last summer and summarises the major Anglo-Saxon discoveries, including the royal feasting hall, as well as the important Mesolithic and Norman-period archaeology. It is illustrated with detailed site plans and a wide selection of colour photos of finds and features and the site under excavation.
Work continues at the site over this summer and in 2014 in order to expand understanding of the development and extent of the archaeology under Tayne field. Work will be reported on the Lyminge blog: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/lyminge/
Further published reports and previous interim reports from the project are available on the website (www.lymingearchaeology.org).
The CZAP team on location
Staff and students from the University of Reading, as part of the Central Zagros Archaeological Project (CZAP), have returned from a successful six-week field season at Bestansur, in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The site lies close to a perennial spring and comprises extensive Early Neolithic occupation and later Neo-Assyrian and Sasanian levels, which form much of the 7.5m high central mound.
Excavations in 2012 established that Early Neolithic deposits were preserved across a 100-by-50 metre area, including pisé walls, areas of food preparation, flint-knapping, and a double-burial of a man and woman buried head-to-toe.
The 15m section cut into the north of the mound.
This season, CZAP excavated five trenches, including cutting a 15-metre section into the north of the mound. This work has yielded the first glimpses into the core of the Neolithic settlement with fine plaster surfaces, layers of dung and ochre, comparable with Neolithic sites across the region, such as Çatalhöyük.
Extensive post-excavation analysis is now under way examining issues of plant and animal domestication, resource usage and cultural networks across the Fertile Crescent.
Further details can be found on:
Read about the project leaders
Read a report from the Archaeology 3D project on their collaboration with CZAP
A day conference, aimed at academics, professional practitioners and others with an interest in all aspects of Romano-British urbanism, will focus on the contribution of commercial archaeology to the study of the major Romano-British towns (coloniae and civitas capitals) will take place at the University of Reading on 30 November 2013.
Discussion will look at historic towns of England which have seen significant commercial work, as opposed to the largely greenfield where this is not the case.
The papers will be published in a volume edited by Michael Fulford and Neil Holbrook in 2014.
The conference is organised in collaboration with English Heritage, Cotswold Archaeology and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
Find out more about the conference
The new web site dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon Lyminge Archaeological Project
Archaeologists from the University of Reading, along with local volunteers, archaeological societies and university students are working at Lyminge, Kent each summer until 2014 to uncover the area’s Anglo-Saxon past. The work is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The new website contains links to the Integrated Archaeological Database (IADB) where our records are being uploaded and archived digitally. The site also contains information about the history of Lyminge and past excavations, as well as photos from 2008-2012. Information on taking part in the excavations will be provided, as well as details of talks and events about the project.
Visit the site: www.lymingearchaeology.org
Read about the project leader: Dr Gabor Thomas
National Geographic photographers with tree stumps of a 8000 year old drowned forest on the foreshore at Goldcliff, Severn Estuary
The December 2012 edition of the National Geographic includes an article on Reading University’s Mesolithic research in the Severn Estuary, South Wales. In preparation for the article the National Geographic sent two photographers from New York and a journalist from Switzerland to work with the Reading University team. The article concerns the effects of the sea level rise as ice melted following the last glaciation. Sea level rise drowned Doggerland, which once connected Britain to continental Europe, and also drowned many coastal areas around Britain leading to the formation of the Severn Estuary. Work here takes place at extreme spring tide in a narrow tidal window when sites are exposed for about 90 minutes and recording has to be rapid. Ten minutes before the tide came in a well-preserved Mesolithic footprint was discovered; the National Geographic photographers were on hand to record the discovery which features in the article and the Reading team moved in to cast the footprint for eventual museum display with the tide rising around them. The footprints are 7500 years old and are of great interest in telling the team about patterns of past human movement, relating both to settlements which have been excavated and trails converging on other campsites now lost by erosion.
Many of the footprints were those of children, some as young as four, showing that in the hunter-gatherer communities of the Mesolithic children played an active role in the day to day foraging activities of the community.
Casts being made of Mesolithic crane prints at Goldcliff during a student field trip in 2012
The iPad version of the National Geographic shows a time lapse sequence with the tide retreating and then returning as the Reading team rush around like ants to record footprints and artefacts exposed by the low tide. The title page image for the National Geographic article shows a fine reconstruction painting which they commissioned showing one of the four successive areas of Mesolithic settlement which the Reading team have excavated at Goldcliff. Returning to the site in summer 2012 the Reading team found a new area of Mesolithic activity, a discovery which was filmed for a Channel 4 Time Team special programme to be broadcast in Spring 2013 on a similar Doggerland theme to the National Geographic article. The National Geographic claims a worldwide readership of 40 million in 34 languages, the inclusion of Reading University work in this article and the Time Team programme takes our research to audiences which are not reached by standard academic publications. Wide public awareness is particularly important at a time when the House of Commons Select Committee on Climate Change is once again considering a Severn Tidal Barrage. Such a scheme would have a major impact on the rich archaeological resource of the Severn Estuary which Reading University has played a key role in identifying.
Read the National Geographic article on-line
See the University of Reading’s Press Release