Research

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roundmoundsDr Jim Leary has recently been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust to fund a project entitled ‘Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds’, which will run until the end of 2017.

The Round Mounds project seeks to unlock the history of monumental mounds in the English landscape. Neolithic round mounds, such as Silbury Hill – the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, are among the rarest and least well understood monuments in Britain. Recent work by Jim Leary at the medieval Marlborough Castle motte, Wiltshire, has shown it to be a Neolithic round mound which was reused in the medieval period, and raises the possibility that other castle mottes may have prehistoric origins. This research project therefore seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the later Neolithic and Norman periods.

The Leverhulme grant will fund a programme of archaeological investigation, the team (Jim Leary, Nick Branch, Elaine Jamieson, Phil Stastney and Quest) adopting an interdisciplinary approach to understanding large mounds. The work will involving a programme of coring, analytical earthwork survey, scientific dating and detailed environmental analysis, and will determine the date of construction, sequence of development and environmental context of 20 mounds from across England.

 

Click to read more about Jim Leary, Nick Branch, and QUEST.

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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. 

1This 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.

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Recently, Pascal Flohr from the Reading Archaeology Department visited the Rif Mountains in Morocco to attend a workshop on ‘traditional’ farming societies. Researchers based on Morocco and in the UK discussed ways to study farming in the past (in archaeology) and present. Early farming societies are an important focus of the research and teaching in Reading, like the first farmers in the Middle East.

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Image 1: While the workshop also consisted of lectures, an important part was learning in the field. Here, workshop attendants are collecting weeds from the edge of a crop field. Weed seeds are often found in archaeological excavations and can tell us about the way people were farming. For example, certain weeds are associated with manured crops, which means that the farmer was making an effort to improve his fields.

Image 2: Who needs powerpoint? Professor Hodgson (Sheffield) explains different weed categories and what they can tell us.

Image 3: The reason the workshop took place in the Rif Mountains in Morocco is that relatively traditional, small-scale ways of farming are still in use here.

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Dr Duncan Garrow has been successful in gaining a grant of £9842 from the Honor Frost Foundation to undertake underwater survey, geophysics and remote sensing work in several lochs in Lewis, Outer Hebrides, with his long-time collaborator and Principal Investigator on the project Fraser Sturt (Southampton).

Divers and local archaeologists from Lewis have found a number of complete Neolithic pots on the bottom of several lochs, suggesting they may have come from submerged settlements (dating to c. 4000-2500 BC) preserved under the water. Duncan and Fraser, in collaboration with various expert colleagues, are hoping to find out what these settlements looked like, how well preserved they are, and why they became submerged. Find out more about the sites here.

Congratulations, Duncan!

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HellaEckardt_1940_wCongratulations to Dr Hella Eckardt, who has won the Faculty of Science prize for Best Research Output for her single author volume: Objects and Identities – Roman Britain and the North-western Provinces.

Hella’s book won the prize against stiff competition from all the Schools in the Faculty of Science. Ben Cosh, Dean of Science, described the book as an outstanding example of Reading’s world leading research in Heritage, Creativity & Values.  He went on to say: ‘As far as it is possible for a non-specialist to draw such a conclusion, it seems clear to me that you have introduced an entirely novel theoretical approach and methodology in the use of artefacts and the integration of archaeological evidence during consideration of fundamental aspects of our culture and heritage. I fully concur with the expectation expressed in the supporting nomination that this work will bring about a step-change in how artefacts are used in archaeological investigation and that, as such, it will have a major influence on the manner in which a range of social and economic questions are addressed by researchers worldwide.’

 

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I’ve recently returned from Tübingen University in SW Germany: I had an invitation to visit from Professor Jörn Staecker, whom I’d last met when we were both giving lectures in Korkyt Ata Kyzylorda State University in Kazahkstan. Tübingen has a strong commitment to archaeology, with a research centre in medieval archaeology and I was also visiting because Reading has recently established a strategic partnership with the university to develop academic contacts. Last year Tübingen gained a prestigious government grant to run a multi-disciplinary research project on resources, their perception and exploitation. The project has many themes and some deal specifically with the medieval period: they involve the analysis of past landscapes in the area of the south Black Forest and the  impact of resource use and management by monasteries and castles in the area around the Bodensee (Lake Constance), on the border between Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Tübingen Castle, the home of the university’s archaeology department

Tübingen Castle, the home of the university’s archaeology department

It was only in the 1180s that there was a general intensification of resource use and this could be related to the development of specific identities for both the urban workers and the peasantry which gave both the towns and countryside a different character.

I also had individual meetings with post-doctoral fellows and PhD students researching aspects of medieval landscapes and also workshops with other postgrad students working on the medieval aspects  of the resources project.

I also visited and discussed sites which I had long wanted to see, such as the great Cistercian monastery of Bebenhausen, where I was shown around by Christina Vossler who had written up the recent excavations for her PhD. We also visited the Benedictine monastery of Hirsau, famous for its pioneering  role in the spreading of the Cluniac reform in southern Germany. The monastery was founded in the early eleventh century and parts of that monastic church survive. However, by the end of the same century Hirsau had become such an important pilgrimage centre that a new monastery was built less than a kilometre away, a very unusual development. I was also shown Lichtenstein, the site of a medieval castle (surviving as a set of earthworks and some standing masonry) in a stunning and defensive position overlooking a steep-sided river valley. Close by there is a Gothick castle built in the 1840s by the Dukes of Würtemberg.

Bebenhausen: the abbey church

Bebenhausen: the abbey church

Archaeology (Palaeolithic, late prehistory, classical and medieval) is located in the castle of Tübingen , which probably originated in the eleventh century but was converted into a palace in the seventeenth century. It overlooks the historic town of Tübingen, which has a medieval market and collegiate church at its core and its streets are lined with large timber-framed town houses of the sixteenth century: in all, a remarkable survival of a late medieval town.

The nineteenth-century castle of Lichtenstein

The nineteenth-century castle of Lichtenstein

There will be further exchanges between the departments: Aleks Pluskowski and Alex Brown for example will go to Tübingen in January to talk about the Baltic Crusades project and Jörn Staecker will come to Reading for the first Medieval Social Archaeology Research Group workshop on religious transformations. Future exchanges for postgraduates were discussed as well as combined  undergraduate fieldtrips.

 

 

About today’s blogger

GrenvilleAstil_w Professor Grenville Astill specialises in monasticism, industry, urban and rural settlement in medieval North Western Europe. He leads one of the longest running and most extensive research projects on a medieval monastery at Bordesley Abbey (http://www.reading.ac.uk/bordesley/) alongside a reconsideration of the process of medieval urbanisation. He has also conducted a research project in Brittany which tracks change in the countryside from the later Bronze Age to the 1920s using a combination of archaeological, documentary and building evidence.

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Congratulations to Aroa Garcia-Suarez (PhD student in Archaeology) and Izabela Stacewicz (PhD student in GES), who have made successful applications to the first annual Rob Potter Memorial Overseas Travel Award.  Both Aroa and Izabela have each been awarded £500 towards overseas fieldwork in 2014/2015.

Izabela Stacewicz

Izabela Stacewicz

“I am delighted to have received the Rob Potter Memorial Travel Award for Overseas Fieldwork, and I am most grateful to the Committee for supporting my work.  My PhD project explores the politics and effectiveness of Social Impact Assessment in addressing land and labour rights in the context of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.  The Award will contribute to fieldwork in Malaysia and Indonesia in Spring 2015, during which I will conduct research with palm oil plantation workers, and communities affected by palm oil production.”

Izabela Stacewicz

“This award represents a great aid to carry out fieldwork related to my doctoral project and will be used to cover travel costs to and from Turkey in order to finalise the excavation and sampling of an archaeologically significant Neolithic building at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Çatalhöyük.”

Aroa Garcia-Suarez

This is the first year of this award made in honour of the former Head of School, Professor Emeritus Rob Potter (1950 – 2014).  For more information about Rob’s academic achievements, and details on the application process for the Overseas Travel Award, please visit the webpage.

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The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published the results of its Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 on 18 December 2014. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the method for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) held approximately every six years.

Reading has achieved the top score in Archaeology (UoA17A) for world-leading (4*) and internationally-excellent (3*) research.  Expert peer review has confirmed 81% of our research as scoring in these two categories, above Oxford, Durham, UCL, York and Cambridge in a competitive field of over twenty submissions. Our grade point average was 3.08, well above the sector mean, with outstanding scores in outputs (31.9% at 4*) and environment (62.5% at 4*).

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