Operation Nightingale Exercise Shallow Grave

Exercise Shallow Grave
Excavating the Shallow Grave

Cotswold Archaeology, in collaboration with Operation Nightingale, Breaking Ground Heritage, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), undertook a unique excavation in the Cotswolds in May 2019. A few years previously, metal objects associated with an Anglo-Saxon burial had been found by a metal detectorist who reported his discovery promptly, leading to a small-scale investigation by GCC. That investigation was limited in scope and sought to contextualise the initial finds and advise the landowner on future land management; the remains were mostly left in situ.

However, it was recognised that the remains of the burial were vulnerable to deterioration or removal by illicit means, and earlier this year it was chosen the site of an Operation Nightingale project, and given the name ‘Exercise Shallow Grave’. As part of our programme of outreach and community work, Cotswold Archaeology supplied professional staff for free to assist participants in the project, which uses archaeology to aid in the recovery and mental wellbeing of wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans, to fully recover the burial.

Burial under excavation during Operation Nightingale project
One of the burials during excavation

Aided by a grant from the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, the project revealed not only the known burial, but two further burials and also evidence of Roman activity. The known burial was discovered to be lying at the top of a shallow ditch. No evidence for a burial mound survived and consequently it was covered by only 14cm of topsoil, a factor probably contributing to the poor preservation of artefacts and bone. The individual was found to have been aged between 7 and 11 years old at time of death, most probably between 9 and 10 years. For their relatively young age, it was surprising that they were buried with a sword, a shield, two glass vessels, a knife on a decorated belt and a silver drinking vessel, possibly similar to the Taplow Cup. The grave furnishings seem incongruous with such a young age and with a burial at the top of a ditch. Further investigations hope to understand the wider landscape; perhaps the individual was buried in an earlier structure, respected by the later community?

Anglo-Saxon glass bowl
Anglo-Saxon glass bowl recovered during Exercise Shallow Grave

In contrast to the shallowness of the known burial, the grave of an adult was found cut into the natural limestone to a depth of c. 30cm. The individual was accompanied by an antler prong, two amethyst beads at the head, a silver brooch, a knife and a stone spindlewhorl. Interestingly, despite the typically ‘female’ selection of grave goods, analysis of the bones suggest that the remains are those of a male aged over 30 years, and possibly over 40 years; a reminder to archaeologists not to make judgements based on artefactual evidence alone!

This work has proved incredibly interesting, both in terms of the fascinating archaeology and our first venture with Operation Nightingale. The site is already one of the most important Anglo-Saxon burials known from this part of Gloucestershire and we hope to secure further funding to explore more of this fascinating Anglo-Saxon landscape, whilst also promoting wellbeing for our participants, in 2020.

Katie Marsden

Operation Nightingale, Exercise Shallow Grave team
Exercise Shallow Grave team

 


Clare Castle Community Excavations

The three weeks digging at Clare Castle have flown by and on Friday we backfilled the five trenches we have been digging across the inner bailey. One of our aims were to try to determine the extent of the cemetery whose presence was first identified in 1951 and which is thought to have been associated with a small religious house founded in c.1045AD and recorded in 1090AD as lying within the castle grounds and moved out in 1124AD. The presence of W-E aligned, ordered burials in every one of our trenches has shown that it was extensive, upwards of 500 burials probably, but has not determined its limits in any but (probably) the western direction and raises questions about its period of use, clearly for longer than the c. 80 years that the religious community was here.

Excavation of the burials
Excavation of the burials

We were also hoping to find archaeological evidence of the sequence of buildings recorded in a wealth of documents to have been on the site in the 14th century. The evidence of falling ground levels to the nearby River Stour, however, suggests that only in the lowest-lying, southern part of the site does a sequence of stratified layers with the potential to provide this evidence survive. The large trench in this area contained layers of demolition debris and structural evidence as well as a large early palisade-type ditch. Across most of the remainder of the site the later medieval horizons have been truncated. Comparison of the levels of the burials in each trench should enable us to estimate the depth of what has been lost. Some building evidence was found near the entrance between the inner and outer bailey where a robbed-out wall, clay floor and the base of an oven was found – again the upper levels were truncated by leveling and these represented the earliest constructions in this area.

Jane with a pottery fragment
Jane with a pottery fragment

A single flint and mortar wall footing running roughly parallel to the southern baily bank did not have an identifiable ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and may therefore have formed part of an internal partition or garden wall within the bailey.

Finds washing has started on site in the finds tent, which proved very popular with visitors. Preliminary results show pottery mostly dating between the 11th and 13th centuries and consistent with the apparent loss of the 14th century and later ground levels. This will continue in the CA Needham Market office throughout the winter.

This has been an ambitious project but the enthusiasm, skill and dedication of the volunteers who donated 393 days in total as well as the commitment of the Cotswold Archaeology staff has greatly enhanced our understanding of this part of the Castle – the question now is what shall we do next year?

 

View of the excavation site


Clare Castle Community Excavations

We are now a week into the community dig at Clare Castle in Suffolk, which is being carried out by local volunteers under the direction of archaeologists from CA’s Suffolk Office. The work is part of a large Heritage Lottery Grant awarded to the Clare Castle Country Park Trust in 2018 to improve understanding of the history of the site and the visitor experience.

A silver cut halfpenny of William I
A silver cut halfpenny of William I

Following on from last year’s successful dig in the Outer Bailey, this year’s work is focussed in the Inner Bailey, where excavation in 2013 had identified the possible site of a College of Secular Canons, founded c. 1045. As well as evidence for this pre-conquest activity, we hope to identify buildings associated with the occupation of the castle. Clare Castle is one of the earliest motte and bailey castles in Suffolk, constructed by Richard Fitzgilbert (who was awarded the lands of the Saxon lord Aelfric in 1075 following a revolt against William I) before AD 1090. One of the first finds made this year is a cut silver halfpenny of William I (the Conqueror), contemporary with the castle’s construction.

Despite a wet start on Monday, we managed to open enough trenches to start digging in the afternoon. Machining has removed the overlying railway deposits, revealing a buried soil containing medieval pottery. As we have started to remove this layer, flint and mortar walls and rubble spreads/surfaces are being revealed, so it all looks very promising. Considerable quantities of medieval pottery have been recovered, some of it large and very fresh-looking, so it is probably being recovered close to the site of its original deposition.

Digging on Day 1 with the castle in the background
Digging on Day 1 with the castle in the background

We have also inserted a single trench to confirm the presence of an infilled stretch of moat around the motte and to determine whether there may have been an outer bank, which perhaps preserves pre-Conquest buried soils beneath it. We have found the moat and can see where part of the motte had slipped into the inner edge and have immediately backfilled this length. A thick deposit of chalk at the outer edge needs further investigation in order to determine if it represents bank material that slipped into the moat.

We were delighted to host our CEO, Neil and three of our trustees during a visit on Tuesday afternoon and I could see they were itching to get involved!

The trustees visit
The trustees visit
Volunteers cleaning one of the walls
Volunteers cleaning one of the walls

We have a great HQ in the newly refurbished Old Goods Shed of the former railway line, where we are able to present displays and updates. Our volunteer team is consistently large and are proving capable and dedicated – and good humoured as they battle the soil layers compacted by a hundred years of train traffic. We are posting updates via social media and have an Open Day next Sunday between 12 and 4pm, where there will be displays, finds handling and guided tours. So if you’re in the area on Sunday, why not come and see the site for yourself?!


Boxford Open Day 2019

Cotswold Archaeology are pleased to have been working with the Boxford History Project on further excavations at the Mud Hole Roman Villa site. Following the discovery in 2017 of the a very rare mosaic featuring scenes from Greek Mythology, the community group raised enough funds to allow another season of excavation, which has just come to an end.

crowd of people looking at the boxford mosaic

On Saturday 31 August we supported an open day at the site and were astounded by the numbers of visitors and the very real enthusiasm and interest in the site. Around 3,000 people turned out on the day to see the site, listen to the site team explain what had been found and have a look at some of the artefacts recovered.

an archaeologist showing the excavation site to a crowd of people

While the focus of the excavations this year has been on revealing and recording the full mosaic floor, there were a number of other research questions that we were keen to resolve. The investigations have explored the origins of the structure, sought to determine whether further mosaics might have been present and tried to understand the later history of the building and its use.

The results have been astounding. Further elements of the imagery on the mosaic have been revealed, showing a greater array of tales from Greek Mythology. We also now have a much better understanding of the building’s construction, evidence to suggest that no other mosaic floors were present and evidence of alterations and repair late in the building’s life. There is a wide range of material that now needs further detailed investigation and analysis before we can tell the full story. We look forward to sharing this with you when the work is complete!

Overhead photo of the mosaic during cleaning
©Copyright: David Shepherd

Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology at Blaise Castle

On Saturday 3rd August, staff from our Cirencester office returned to Blaise Castle Museum to take part in the fifth Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology Day, celebrating the Festival of Archaeology and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Council for British Archaeology in 1944.

We think it’s fair to say that this year’s event was the biggest and best yet, with more archaeological groups, societies and companies than ever before. Thankfully the rain stayed away while the droves of visitors descended.

CA stall at Bristol's Brilliant Archaeology

Visitors to the Cotswold Archaeology stand were able to learn about 6000 years of Bristol and South Gloucestershire history! We showcased a variety of finds, dating from the Neolithic era through the Iron Age, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods. Our ‘Bristol Finds Timeline’ went right up to 1944 to mark the special anniversary.

Children learnt about the important part Bristol played in the Second World War and how our historic buildings specialists investigate and record wartime defences. They were also able to design and keep their own aeroplanes, which proved very popular.

Children designed their own aeroplanes

We think some of them could have given the engineers of the Bristol Aeroplane Company a run for their money.

Jess Cook

 


Volunteers’ week

Its volunteers’ week!!!! The 1st – 7th June is a week dedicated to celebrating the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. Here at Cotswold Archaeology we thought this would be the perfect opportunity for us to shout out about the wonderful work our amazing volunteers do by looking back at some of the various projects they’ve helped out with recently. 

Helping out in the field

In April a team of archaeologists from our Milton Keynes office were on site at Great Linford Manor Park conducting a community dig alongside The Parks Trust. We were joined by volunteers from across Milton Keynes and beyond, including the Young Park Rangers, who were all very passionate and enthusiastic about the archaeology being unveiled.

Great Linford Manor Park community dig
Great Linford Manor Park community excavations
Volunteers assisting with the excavation
Volunteers excavating a feature at Great Linford Manor

The volunteers assisted with the excavation, recording and photography of features such as the Doric structure, a long-lost sundial and the HaHa wall (a sunken wall that provided a boundary to livestock without interrupting views). Feedback from volunteers was resoundingly positive with the site staff seeing many familiar faces at the site open day, keen to see how the trenches they’d worked on had progressed.

Volunteers from the North Devon Archaeological Society and other interested locals recently joined staff from our Exeter office to assist with the North Devon Hillforts Survey. The project included a geophysical survey of Bucks Mills hillfort hosted by North Devon Coast AONB and supported by Historic England and North Devon National Trust. Working alongside Substrata Limited and our staff, the volunteers assisted with the setting out of the grids and used survey instrumentation to plot the earthworks. We’re keeping our fingers crossed the project will help determine the date of the hillfort, which is currently a mystery!

Geophysical survey of Bucks Mills hillfort.
Geophysical survey of Bucks Mills hillfort. Photo credit: North Devon Coast AONB

The volunteers also helped our staff record the hillforts of Windbury Head, Embury Beacon and Hillsborough and Senior Heritage Consultant Zoe was “grateful for the assistance of the volunteers” especially as they worked “through all weather and dense vegetation”.

Recording the hillforts of Windbury Head, Embury Beacon. Photo credit: North Devon Coast AONB
Recording the hillforts of Windbury Head, Embury Beacon. Photo credit: North Devon Coast AONB

Post-excavation processing

volunteer Sarah
Volunteer Sarah working on the site archive

Our  volunteers help us out on a real variety of projects and tasks and many of these are carried out not only on site, but back in our offices when the hard work of analysing and interpreting everything uncovered begins. In our Andover office several dedicated volunteers have been ordering and preparing the recording sheets completed by the excavators at a large multi-period site in Kent.  This ensures that everything necessary for understanding the features, and the eventual creation of the detailed report, is all present and correct. They have also been assisting with the quantification of a large assemblage of samian pottery from a recent local excavation. Volunteer Victoria has “enjoyed learning new skills such as differentiating between parts of pottery vessels” and was pleased that she “was able to assist with the paper archive for large sites”.

A team of volunteers have also proved invaluable to the post-excavation staff in our Cirencester office by helping out with the washing of over 40 skeletons from a recently excavated Roman cemetery site. Their hard work means the assemblage is now ready to be analysed by our Osteoarchaeologist and the volunteers are all eagerly awaiting hearing about the results. Several of these volunteers have also carried out the very different but no less important job of auditing all 2,500 books and journals in the Cirencester office library. Volunteer Sue says “the task was thoroughly enjoyable” as it allowed them to set aside some more interesting volumes for reading at a later date. One of Sue’s particular favourites was ‘Hanged at Gloucester’ (not that we think she’s morbid or anything!!).

Sue washing human remains from a recently excavated Roman cemetery site
Sue washing human remains from a recently excavated Roman cemetery site

Our new Suffolk office has an impressive history of volunteer engagement both on site and within the post-excavation department. One such project involved volunteers assisting with the excavation of over 100 Iron Age storage pits. The volunteers then carried out finds and soil sample processing and were trained in finds identification so they could aid with the identifying and quantifying of the finds recovered from the pits. Project Manager Joanna said the work of the volunteers “provided an important link between a large new greenfield development on the edge of town with the community affected by it”.

Suffolk office volunteers assisting with processing of the finds and soil samples
Suffolk office volunteers assisting with processing of the finds and soil samples

The Suffolk post-excavation team have also been regularly joined by a small number of volunteers who’ve turned their hands to most tasks, with notable projects including the sieving of cremations and the reconstruction of pots from two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries.

We’ve also been lucky enough to work alongside the volunteers on community projects such as the recent Operation Nightingale Exercise Shallow Grave dig together with Breaking Ground Heritage and The Portable Antiquities Scheme.  We’ll be participating in several community projects this summer which we’re really excited about, including returning to Boxford, where we will be working with the Boxford History Project again on the mosaic first revealed in 2017. Watch this space for updates!

You can learn more about volunteer’s week here volunteersweek.org.

If you’re interested in being added to our mailing list so we can keep you updated about any volunteering opportunities in our various post-excavation departments, then please contact our volunteer co-ordinator jessica.cook@cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk  or take a look at our volunteer website page for more information.