The Joy of X (rays)

Unprepossessing lumps of rusty iron are very common finds from excavations. As part of the post-excavation process we x-ray these objects to see behind the corrosion.  Usually the x-rays reveal a nail or a fragmentary scrap item, and while all objects have the potential to add to our understanding of a site, individually these objects are not usually very compelling.  Just occasionally, however, x-rays reveal something far more interesting.

Very rusty object before conservationX-ray reveals a Roman dagger attachment

For instance, this very corroded D-shaped object was found on an excavation just outside Gloucester. The x-ray showed it to be an object of complex form, with areas of what appeared to be white-metal plating (tin or silver). A bit of research revealed it to be an attachment from a Roman legionary’s dagger or pugio, probably dating to the 1st-century AD.  Surviving examples of military daggers of this period indicate that these were often beautifully-made ‘status’ items, highly decorated with silver inlay. A find such as this may be of considerable value in helping interpret a site. But only if it is x-rayed!

Ed McSloy

Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context’
Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context

Remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast

Cotswold Archaeology assists with the remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast, into a high-quality Signature Living hotel.

The term to be ‘sent down’ has several connotations, but in Belfast it literally described what happened when a defendant was sentenced by a judge in the Crumlin Road courthouse, as they were taken beneath Courtroom No. 1, through a long brick-lined tunnel, to emerge inside Crumlin Road jail and begin their sentence. Built in 1850 to a neo-classical design, Crumlin Road courthouse witnessed some of the largest trials in UK history and was an iconic landmark during The Troubles, where, in 1983 alone, 22 IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4000 years. A number of ‘supergrass’ trials were also held in the courthouse during the early 1980s.

Surveying Crumlin Road Courthouse

Now ruinous, the courthouse closed in 1998 and has suffered from vandalism, several fires and general neglect. Several previous attempts to restore and re-use the former courthouse failed to develop, but Signature Living, based in Liverpool, have evolved a viable high-quality hotel scheme that has been welcomed in Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Crumlin Road Courthouse 3D model

Crumlin Road Courthouse ceiling


Cotswold Archaeology’s Historic Building Consultants and Geomatics Team are working closely with Signature Living to record the building during this exciting development. Courtroom No. 1 is to be reconstructed and we are providing expert advice on the courthouse’s historic fabric to aid in the remodelling. We are delighted to work with and support Signature Living in this significant and impressive re-use of one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings in this ongoing project.

Garry Campion  

In memory of Andrew Lyle – Boxford 2017

Over the weekend we heard the very sad news that Andrew Lyle, one of our long-standing volunteers on the Boxford project, passed away on Saturday morning. Matt Nichol, who worked with Andrew on the project, has these words to say about him.

Andrew Lyle was an incredibly hard working, funny and passionate local Boxford guy whose contribution to the Boxford dig over the years was immense. He was a great team member -always upbeat, always keen to muck in with the heavy excavation, and on quite a few occasions over years I was invited around to his house after a day’s digging for drinks and a meal with he and his wife Tina.

During the very first season in 2013, after the excavation had ended, I was invited around to Andrew’s house so I could complete all site paperwork with another volunteer who had kindly offered to help; he went on to study a degree in archaeology (and became a military officer in the TA). Both volunteers influenced that season of excavation, but Andrew would take this one step further – he was a great cook and entertainer. I will never forget that evening especially.

Ever since 2013, Andrew and I had a running joke together – that I would find him a mosaic. But none of us could ever have foreseen this year’s findings. Andrew’s health was not at all good during this season’s work. However, although in great pain and unable to walk properly, on at least four occasions Andrew managed to make it on to site and contribute for a few hours each time. He was one of the first people to reveal the beautiful colours of the mosaic. I am very proud to have been part of such an incredible season alongside all who took part, but to have given Andrew such a fantastic opportunity to reveal the first colours of the mosaic is a moment I can’t really put into words. We smiled, hugged, shook hands and joked together about the mosaic’s discovery…

Andrew will be greatly missed.

Andrew Lyle

The photo has been provided courtesy of Lindsey Bedford

We are seeking new trustees

Cotswold Archaeology is a registered educational charity, and as such it is governed by a Board of Trustees who also serve as Non-Executive Company Directors. We now have up to three vacancies on our Board and would like to hear from people who are interested in being considered as a Trustee.

 We are particularly looking for people who have experience and expertise in the following areas:

  • Archaeology / heritage
  • Business development / marketing & promotion / business-to-business selling
  • Property development / construction / land use planning

Applications from women and early career professionals are particularly welcome, as they are currently under represented on our Board. We are also particularly interested in people who live or have worked in the areas served by our Andover, Exeter or Milton Keynes offices.

Trustees typically contribute 4-8 days annually to the affairs of the Trust and involve attendance on between two and five meeting days per annum. Most meetings take place in Kemble, near Cirencester, and occur during the working day. At least one meeting per year takes place at one of our other offices (Andover, Exeter or Milton Keynes). Outside of Board meetings liaison is conducted by email and telephone.

No remuneration is offered for performing the duties of a Trustee, although all reasonable expenses will be reimbursed.

You can find out more about Cotswold Archaeology on our About Us page.

 If you think you might be interested in this opportunity please contact us by email at or telephone Liam Coates on 01285 772610, and we will send you further information and details of how to register an expression of interest. The deadline for receipt of expressions of interest is 5pm on Friday 3 November 2017.


Stunning mosaic found in Roman Villa near Boxford

The project.

Since 2015 Cotswold Archaeology has been involved in a three year community archaeology project “Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage”. A joint project involving the BHP (Boxford History Project), the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group and CA, the project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved investigating three closely linked Roman sites near to the village of Boxford in West Berkshire.

Supported by our archaeologists, the local community groups and volunteers explored the function, status, chronology, extent and relationship of the three sites, which represented a significant focus of high-status Roman occupation in the Lambourn Valley. During the first year of the project such investigations uncovered a large villa and bath house, with a farmstead following in the second year. Following on from a successful two years, the final year of the project did not disappoint!

Roman Boxford Dig 2017.

Roman plunge pool
Roman plunge pool

This year kicked off to a great start, with finds recorded on the first day comprising a child’s bracelet and coins. Led by CA’s Matt Nichol, with the help of Agata, Alice, Keighley and Joe, the volunteers worked quickly to uncover the remains of the main villa, a probable barn, a gateway into the courtyard and other associated features. Finds also include Roman pottery and tile (one of which is complete and has an animal paw print), animal bone and much more. Although the villa was of modest size and of a common design, with a series of rooms adjoining a corridor running the full length of its front, it had evidently been subject to significant investment and upgrades over time. These included the addition of a bath suite with a small cold water plunge pool located in the corridor at the villa’s northern end. The most  spectacular addition, however, was a mosaic placed in a room at the southern end of the building.

Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.
Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.

The mosaic.

Our star find of the project was discovered during the initial stripping of the site, and measured over 6m in length. The mosaic comprised a highly decorated central panel surrounded by a plain border. Despite only one side of the mosaic being revealed within the trench, it is clear that the figurative mosaic is packed with mythical characters and beasts based on Greek legends.

Mosaic experts have visited the site and were explicit in their excitement and delight.  Anthony Beeson, one of the experts, said that:

 “This is without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years and must take a premier place amongst those Romano-British works of art that have come down to modern Britons.”

Our own Roman expert, Neil Holbrook noted that:

“The mosaic is a truly important find. Not only is it a fantastic new piece of Roman art from Britain, but it also tells us about the lifestyle and social pretensions of the owner of the villa at Boxford. That person wanted to project an image of themselves as a cultivated person of taste – someone familiar with classical mythology and high Roman culture, despite the fact that their villa was of relatively modest size in a remote part of the Roman empire. While this person was most probably of British origin, they wanted to be regarded by their friends, neighbours and subservients as a proper Roman.”

Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic


For those interested in the iconography, Anthony Beeson suggests that the sideways scene may be interpreted as Bellerophon, a hero of Greek mythology, at the court of either Iobates or Proteus.

Bellerophon was sent to kill the chimera, a fire breathing monster with the head of a lion, the torso of a goat and a serpent’s tail.

The chimera illustrated on the mosaic at Boxford is one of only two known from Britain which turns back to attack in the traditional manner. The others all flee.

Other figures on the mosaic possibly include Hercules fighting a centaur, Cupid holding a wreath, and depictions of telamons in the corners, who appear to hold up the central panel.

Other examples of Romano-British Bellerophon mosaics are known from Frampton and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, Lullingstone in Kent and Croughton, near Brackley in Northamptonshire.

Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand
Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand

What now?

A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)
A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)

The Open Day last Saturday was attended by over 250 people who were able to view finds from the excavation, as well as the villa and mosaic. While the site has now been backfilled, it is hoped that future investigations will allow us to further our understanding of some of the features discovered, including the bath suite, and will reveal the mosaic in its entirety.

We have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in this project, and agree with the Chairman of the Boxford History Project who said: “Thanks to everyone who has contributed in any way to this amazing success. What a fantastic way to end this three-year project!

Steve Clark from the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group also commented “We’re very grateful for all the support provided by Neil Holbrook and Duncan Coe over the course of project and for the professionalism and patience of CA’s field staff in guiding us through the excavations. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have been led by somebody like Matt who has gone the extra mile to get the most out of our limited time on site each year”.

Our own Duncan Coe, who has been involved with the Boxford project for the last 6 years, stated that “this is one of the best examples of a project where a local community, local volunteer archaeologists and professional archaeologists have worked together to produce some truly inspiring results. We hope that the local community take away a greater understanding of the world around them and the time depth within the place they call home”.

For more information about the mosaic and dig go to:
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope

Vinegar Hill battlefield, Co. Wexford

In August 2017 a small team from CA’s Andover office travelled to County Wexford in Ireland to undertake a licenced metal detector survey on the Irish Rebellion battlefield of Vinegar Hill (1798). The project was an international collaboration, funded by Wexford County Council and working with archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage, Earthsound Geophysics and IT Sligo to research this important and iconic Irish site. The research project is the largest and most comprehensive ever undertaken on an Irish battlefield, and a great privilege for CA to be a part of.

Surveying underway

The survey methodology involved the application of systematic metal detecting techniques that have been utilised to great success on many British and European battlefields. This enabled a consistent and comparable recovery of unstratified scatters of metal objects that had been fired, used or dropped during the battle across different parts of the site. As objects were recovered they were allocated unique finds numbers and plotted with a sub-cm GPS, enabling a complete digital plot of the artefacts to be built and the identification of trends and patterns within the assemblage.

Within five minutes on day one the first musket ball appeared! By the end of the week a large number had been found, some dropped during reloading in the middle of the battle and some heavily impacted from striking something solid after firing. Other recovered finds included a number of pieces of ‘weapon furniture’ – broken fittings from muskets and pistols perhaps suggestive of close combat, shrapnel from shells used to bombard the hill, and numerous buttons and coins which may have originated from the Irish camp on the hill in the weeks leading up to the battle.

A small selection of the recovered musket balls
A small selection of the recovered musket balls

By the end of the week, the team had covered a large part of the battlefield and by examining the relative concentrations of material across the surveyed area, it is tentatively possible to identify the location where one of the main British assaults advanced up the hill. A great deal of additional research is still to be done on the finds assemblage, in order to identify and isolate different calibre weapons and understand the scatter of material in greater detail. However, it is already clear how important the results are for Irish battlefield archaeology. By participating in the project, it has been possible to demonstrate the huge benefit of applying a systematic archaeological approach to the study of these sites in Ireland and the new information battlefield archaeology can reveal for even a well-studied site. As the first major project of its kind, it represents a huge leap forward for Irish battlefield archaeology, and is a site we hope to return to in the future.

Sam Wilson

A piece of anti-personnel grape shot
A piece of anti-personnel grape shot
A recovered musket 'hammer' compared to a modern display musket
A recovered musket ‘hammer’ compared to a modern display musket
Ramrod guide, probably from a British brown bess musket
Ramrod guide, probably from a British brown bess musket
Mortar bomb fragment with fuse hole
Mortar bomb fragment with fuse hole