Cooking up Chronology

Pottery is one of the most commonly recovered artefacts from archaeological sites, but accurate radiocarbon-dating of these objects has proven extremely challenging. A team of scientists at Bristol University, led by Prof Richard Evershed, and associated research colleagues from various organisations including CA, have developed a technique to accurately and directly radiocarbon-date pottery. This technique targets the fatty residues from food trapped within the porous fabrics of pottery vessels used to prepare, cook and consume food. The process involves using preparative gas chromatography to extract palmitic and stearic fatty acids from pottery. The residue is then radiocarbon-dated using accelerator mass spectrometry.

Focusing on pottery of Neolithic date and from sites of known age that have already been dated by scientific means, such as the Sweet Track (Somerset),  this new technique will allow the direct dating of individual vessels, the construction of refined typochronologies and the mapping of pottery distributions and direction of any geographical spread {trade/exchange}. In particular, the technique can be used where other organic material that is routinely used for scientific dating  simply has not survived. The new technique features in the online edition of Nature (Volume 580).

Illustration of a Neolithic pot from Cornwall
Illustration of an Early Neolithic pot from Cornwall


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Stonehenge – we are going to be involved!

Following the Government’s decision to approve the improvement of the A303 trunk road at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, Cotswold Archaeology is proud to announce that it is a member of the largest collaborative partnership of archaeological organisations ever put together in the UK. The consortium is led by Wessex Archaeology and it will work on behalf of Highways England to deliver archaeological fieldwork, post-excavation analysis and a programme of public archaeology and community engagement.  Read more here.

Stone henge

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Discovering Dannicus

Dannicus is the Cotswold Archaeology logo – but who is he?

Dannicus tombstone detail © Cotswold District Council, courtesy of Corinium Museum
Dannicus tombstone detail © Cotswold District Council, courtesy of Corinium Museum

When Cotswold Archaeological Trust was created in 1989, a logo was required for the new charity. One idea was a feline, to match our abbreviation CAT, but in the end we chose instead one of the iconic images of Roman Cirencester, our hometown. In the 1830s, workmen digging in Cirencester discovered two inscribed tombstones of Roman auxiliary cavalrymen – both are now in Corinium Museum. The tombstones are similar in that they both depict a mounted soldier riding over a fallen enemy, although they are not identical. The finer carved tombstone is a monument to a soldier named Genialis, which shows the soldier looking to the side. The other tombstone is a memorial to a soldier named Dannicus, this time depicting the man looking directly at the viewer, and for that reason Dannicus was chosen as our emblem (despite the depiction of his steed as something akin to a pantomime horse!).

Dannicus tombstone © Cotswold District Council, courtesy of Corinium Museum
Dannicus tombstone © Cotswold District Council, courtesy of Corinium Museum

So who was Dannicus? The inscription on the tombstone tells us that he was a trooper in the regiment called the ala Indiana, came from the area around Basel in Switzerland and served in the army for 16 years. Dannicus’ regiment has nothing to do with India; it was named after its first commander, Julius Indus, who raised his own regiment in Trier, Germany, to help suppress a revolt by local tribesmen. The unit then moved to southern Germany, and that is where the local boy Dannicus would have been recruited. Dannicus could have come to Britain in AD 43 with the invading Roman army, or else in the aftermath of the rebellion of queen Boudica (the Boadicea of modern legend) in AD 61 to replace units destroyed in the uprising.

Dannicus died sometime after AD 70 and in his will he instructed his two executors, Fulvius Natalis and Flavius Bitucus to erect a tombstone to his memory. That they did, and it lay in the ground for almost 1900 years before seeing the light of day once again. Dannicus lived an amazing life in the 1st century AD. What stories he must have recounted, and how extraordinary that after a boyhood in Switzerland he came to be an enduring symbol of a town in far off England, and the logo for all of us at CA.

Neil Holbrook

You can see Dannicus’ tombstone for yourself, when it goes on display at the Corinium Museum in early December as part of a new gallery of 1st century military tombstones, illuminated in full colour. In the meantime, why not support the museum’s “Stone Age to Corinium” project – an exciting project to create new Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Early Roman Galleries, as well as an inspiring garden space and a dedicated “hands-on” Discovery Centre – by getting involved in one of their interactive initiatives:

Adopt an Object

Adopt an object from Corinium Museum to help them complete their project. Sponsorship ranges from £10 to £1,000 for some of the most significant objects in the museum’s collection.
Adopt an object here.

Buy a Corinium Creature

For a minimum donation you can buy a creature inspired by iconic objects from the collections and printed with a name of your choice that will be displayed for 1 year. You can buy a Corinium creature here.

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‘Long-lost’ medieval friary uncovered in Gloucester

Recent evaluation trenching by Cotswold Archaeology on the site of the former multi-storey car park on Bruton Way, Gloucester, has identified the remains of the city’s medieval Whitefriars Friary for the first time. The site was being investigated on behalf of Reef Group, which is working with Gloucester City Council to bring forward a £85m scheme to regenerate the King’s Quarter area of the city. This includes ‘The Forum’ – a new social and digital campus for the South West.

Archaeologists have long suspected that the Bruton Way bus station and car park was the site of Gloucester Whitefriars, a 13th-century friary founded by the Carmelites, one of the Roman Catholic Church’s four great mendicant (living by charity) orders. Andrew Armstrong, City Archaeologist at Gloucester City Council, said: “For around three hundred years, Whitefriars played an active part in Gloucester and produced some notable friars, including Nicholas Cantelow (or Cantilupe) in the 15th century. It’s very exciting to finally reveal the exact location of this ‘long-lost’ friary. Seeing and documenting this site will serve to underline, and recognise, the place of the friary in the city’s history.”

Remains of Whitefriars wall
Remains of Whitefriars wall

Whitefriars was one of several important religious houses in medieval Gloucester along with Llanthony Priory, the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars. Whitefriars’ place in the city’s history has tended to be overlooked because of the lack of identifiable remains. It owned most of the land between what is now Station Road and Bruton Way, which is shown in some historic maps as ‘Friars Ground’. Whilst a variety of sources suggest the friary was located at the western end of this land, next to Market Parade, it has not been possible to confirm the precise location of the friary until now.

The investigations suggest there were at least four large medieval buildings at the site. These buildings were either built of stone or had stone footings, with some of the walls measuring a metre wide. The team has also found the remains of tiled and mortared floors, and part of a medieval drain. Importantly, some of the larger walls are aligned east-west – a typical feature for a medieval ecclesiastical building.

Working on site at the Whitefriars dig
Working on site at the Whitefriars dig

The Carmelites in Gloucester

Historic records suggest that Whitefriars was founded in Gloucester around 1268 with grants from Queen Eleanor (the wife of Henry III), and members of the Giffard and Berkeley families. Henry III is known to have given eight oaks towards the building of the friary. His son Edward I also supported the friary, which during its heyday supported around 30 friars in the community. The Carmelites were so called because they traced their origins to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel. By the middle of the 13th century they were an established mendicant order popular in much of Western Europe. They were often referred to as ‘White Friars’ because of their white cloaks.

The Gloucester Whitefriars, like every other monastery in England, was supressed by 1538 on the orders of Henry VIII. By that time there were only three friars left, and the friary was in financial difficulty. By the late 16th century little was left of the friary building complex. One building, known as the friars’ barn, was used in the defence of the city during the English Civil War. Gloucester had sided with Parliament during the war and was famously besieged by Royalist forces in August 1643. The friars’ barn, being made of stone, was used as a fortification by the defenders of the city but was demolished some years later.

The Forum

The Forum forms a key component of the plan to regenerate the Kings Quarter area of Gloucester. Esther Croft, Development Director at Reef, said: “Working in partnership with the City Council, our aim is to deliver The Forum with the least possible impact on these important archaeological remains. We expect, as the development moves forward, that further archaeological investigations will be needed, hopefully improving our understanding of this intriguing site. We look forward to sharing the full results of this dig, and any future archaeological work, with the people of Gloucester.”

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RAF Stoke Holy Cross Radar Station

In 2019, CA was commissioned to record part of a reasonably well-preserved ‘Chain Home’ early warning radar station, located just south of Norwich.

Chain Home was a pioneering network of radar stations constructed prior to, and during, the Second World War. An experiment in 1935 proved conclusively that it was possible to detect aircraft by radio. The experiment worked by ‘illuminating’ the sky with radio waves whereby sufficient energy would be reflected from an aircraft to permit detection on the ground via a receiver. After further research, funding was provided for the construction of a ‘chain’ of early warning stations along the east coast of Britain using the new radar technology. These stations became the first radar to be organised into a complete air defence system used in wartime operations.

A key component of each station was a pair of ‘buried reserves’, which comprised underground bunkers and associated surface features containing a set of duplicated backup equipment, intended for use if the principal transmitting or receiving sites were attacked and put out of action.

Reconstruction of Transmitting Buried Reserve, by Jon Bennett
Reconstruction of Transmitting Buried Reserve

Our task was to record the visible, above ground remains of the ‘transmitting’ buried reserve at Stoke Holy Cross Radar Station, which required the identification of many non-descript concrete features scattered amongst the encroaching vegetation. Luckily, Chain Home stations all follow a fairly standard form and further research allowed the identification of most of these features. These included ventilation shafts (see photo below left), a holdfort for a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, concrete plinths for the steel transmitting tower, and heavy concrete access hatches -(see photo below right) for the underground reserve itself, including their steel rollers and rails. Although the underground reserve is presently unsafe to enter, the positions of the above ground features were such that the layout of the reserve could be reliably determined by comparing the site with other, better preserved examples at stations around the country.

Ultimately, the Chain Home network was supplanted by superior technology, but the important role that these stations played during the Second World War, and the increasing scarcity of their most significant features, is being recognised through appropriate statutory protection.

Richard Hardy

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Prehistoric and Roman activity to the north of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset

During spring and summer 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an excavation on behalf of Bloor Homes in Somerton, Somerset. The excavation took place on land to the north of Bancombe Road, focusing on two areas in two fields (Areas 1 and 2), totalling 0.74ha. The Somerton area is known to be archaeologically rich, and investigations undertaken by a range of individuals and organisations over the past 50 years have revealed a wealth of evidence for settlement and burials dating from the prehistoric and Roman periods.

Areas 1 and 2 -drone photograph
Drone photograph of Areas 1 & 2

Areas 1 & 2

Areas 1 and 2 were selected to target groups of features identified in previous archaeological investigations at the site during 2018 and 2019, which included a desk-based assessment (ASE 2018), a geophysical survey (Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019) and an archaeological evaluation (Cotswold Archaeology 2019).

In Area 1, the geophysical survey revealed evidence for a number of rectangular ditched enclosures aligned with a possible east/west orientated ditched droveway. In Area 2, a ring-ditch measuring 12m in diameter was identified, along with ditched features which may have represented land boundaries or enclosure ditches.

The subsequent evaluation confirmed the presence of an extensive Roman settlement and associated landscape features dating from the 1st–4th century AD in Area 1. Identified features included a stone building, flagstone working surfaces/floors, pits, and the suspected east/west aligned droveway. In Area 2, the evaluation confirmed the presence of the ring-ditch and an associated field ditch; these were not dated but were considered likely to be of prehistoric date.

In light of the significant archaeology revealed by the above investigations, the excavation of Areas 1 and 2 were requested by Somerset County Council’s archaeological advisor.


The excavation of Area 2 confirmed the results of the previous investigations at this part of the site. The ring-ditch (see photo above) was identified as a probable drainage gully for a roundhouse measuring around 12m in diameter, while the nearby ditch was possibly associated. Neither feature has yet been dated, although both are believed likely to be of Middle to Late Iron Age in date (c. 400 BC–AD 43); the ring-ditch is very similar  to eight other roundhouse ring-ditches excavated at the local authority school development site 100m to the north (Wessex Archaeology 2020), which have all tentatively been dated to the Middle to Late Iron Age.

The excavation in Area 1 revealed the presence of a pre-Roman phase of activity, probably during the Late Iron Age. Features associated with this phase included a small number of postholes, a hearth, a group of rectangular enclosures and an oval enclosure. This may be part of a wider pattern witnessed in many parts of Britain, where Late Iron Age settlement and landscape features often continued into the early Roman period (up to around AD 100), sometimes then developing extensively.

Roman stockade enclosures
Roman stockade enclosures

During the Roman period Area 1 became the focus for several rectangular ditched enclosures (see photo above), separated by a wide, east/west aligned, ditched droveway. The droveway lay immediately to the south of a group of stone buildings located in the north-east of the area, suggesting a direct association with them.

Stone blacksmiths workshop and lambing shed buildings

Stone blacksmiths workshop and 3 phases of the later lambing shed buildings

The building complex included multiple stone-built buildings and flagstone floor surfaces, and metalworking waste recovered from the buildings suggests that the complex may have functioned as a blacksmith’s workshop. Several finds appear to confirm this, including an iron blacksmith’s hammer (see photo below), an iron cleaver, an iron punch or engraving tool, lumps of iron slag, iron hammerscale and vitrified fired clay (possible furnace lining).

Roman iron blacksmith's hammer from workshop
Roman iron blacksmith’s hammer from the workshop

A wealth of other finds recovered from the buildings include large quantities of pottery, animal bone, copper-alloy objects including tweezers (see photo below left), brooches, coins, stone mortar fragments (see photo below right), stone gaming pieces, Kimmeridge shale bracelet fragments, a bone pin, and a large number of iron nails and hobnails.

Features associated with the workshop included smithing furnaces and stokeholes (where the furnace fires were tended), and at least three phases of use were identified. The structure may ultimately have changed function and been used as a lambing shed , a suggestion supported by the construction of small, separate, internal bays within the building, demarcated by tabular rock slabs laid on edge in narrow construction gullies. A stone cobbled yard surface to the immediate east of the building was probably related in some way, and a stone-lined cist or basin (see photo below) perhaps held water, possibly having been associated with the smithing activity or for watering livestock.

Excavation of stone-lined cist or basin
Excavation of stone-lined cist or basin

Several human and animal burials were recorded within the buildings in their latest phase, before this part of the site fell into disuse, other than for the dumping of settlement waste and the robbing of suitable building stone from the now ruined buildings. The human burials included two neonate (baby) burials and eight possible lamb burials, just on the inside edge of the walls. These may represent ‘closure’ deposits associated with the disuse of the Roman structures, a widely recorded ritual practice known from Roman Britain, thought to mark the final ‘closing off’ or abandonment of a specific structure.

While the full extent of the site is uncertain, it evidently continued to the north, as traces of the settlement complex have been found in recent investigations by Wessex Archaeology (2019; 2020), extending across the local authority school development site. The excavations undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology have shed light on some fascinating aspects of life (and death) in what was evidently an extensive Roman rural settlement occupied between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.

Chris Ellis


Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019 Land North of Bancombe Road, Somerton: Magnetometer Survey Report

ASE (Archaeology South East) 2018 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment (Heritage Statement).Report Ref: 2018198

Cotswold Archaeology 2019 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Evaluation. Report Ref: EX0075_01

Wessex Archaeology 2019 Somerton Primary School, Northfield, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Evaluation. Ref: 205157.05

Wessex Archaeology 2020 Somerton Primary School, Northfield, Somerton, Somerset. Archaeological Excavation: Interim Statement of Results. Ref: 205158.03

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