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

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  or take a look at our volunteer website page for more information.

A Bronze Age Cremation Cemetery and Other Prehistoric and Medieval Discoveries on the A477 Road Replacement Scheme, Carmarthenshire

Linear schemes such as road construction can transect large areas of land and so provide exciting opportunities for archaeological discoveries, and in this respect the archaeological investigations in advance of the A477 road improvements between Red Roses and St Clears in Carmarthenshire did not disappoint. Funded by the Welsh Government and facilitated by Ramboll, a programme of planning, survey, evaluation and excavation along the 9.5km length of the scheme identified numerous and varied evidence of past human activities dating from the Mesolithic through to the medieval period. The majority of this activity dated to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods and included a significant Early Bronze Age cremation cemetery.

Details about these discoveries have been published this month in our most recent book (Cotswold Archaeology monograph No. 12), The Prehistoric Archaeology of the A477 St Clears to Red Roses Road Improvement Scheme 2012, by Alistair Barber, Alan Hardy and Andrew Mudd (Cotswold Archaeology monograph No. 12).

The factors that affect the outcome of archaeological investigations on linear developments such as the A477 road scheme are well known. The area available for investigation is limited to the narrow width of the development, and projects such as this one often pass across undeveloped and sometimes remote tracts of land where little previous investigation has taken place, and it is harder under these circumstances to envisage how the activity encountered sits within the landscapes of the past.

Road corridor strip near Llandowror
Road corridor strip near Llandowror

Although these factors certainly applied to the A477 road scheme, a great deal has been gained from the analysis of our discoveries along the corridor of road development. Interpretation of the prehistoric evidence has considerably benefited from the recent archaeological investigations during the construction of the Milford Haven to Aberdulais gas pipeline replacement, a stretch of which bisects the A477. In 2006 these pipeline works uncovered evidence for a prehistoric landscape of some significance, including the Class II Neolithic Henge lying some 225m to the south of the A477 road redevelopment at Vaynor Farm (PDF 7.7 MB). The knowledge gained from investigation of this earthwork, which probably remained visible in the landscape throughout the later prehistoric period, has enriched our interpretation and understanding of the archaeological remains along this stretch of the A477 development corridor.

The archaeological sites along the route of the A477
The archaeological sites along the route of the A477

Three locations along the road scheme were notable for the evidence of Mesolithic activity they revealed (Sites 25, 26 and 35). At Site 25 north of the town of Llanddowror a large concentration of flints and a posthole dated by a radiocarbon sample to the late Mesolithic suggest substantial use of the location. The site was on the floodplain of the River Taf, and no doubt favoured by those who used it for its easy access to a range of habitats and their natural resources. Early Neolithic evidence is also present here and hints at continuity, charred seeds and charcoal found in pits suggests the local woodland had been partially cleared for settlement, arable cultivation and possibly pasture. Transient Mesolithic activity was also indicated along the A477 road scheme to the west of Llanddowror at Sites 26 and 35 where small scatters of Mesolithic flakes and microblades were retrieved from the interface between the ploughsoil and underlying natural substrate.

A substantial Neolithic presence was identified at Site 37, east of Rhosgoch, Llanddowror, where postholes, pits, hearths and pottery provide rare evidence for domestic use. The site is also notable for the nature of the fills of some of the pits which were rich in finds including worked flints, whole (but broken) pots and burnt grain suggesting the deliberate placement of material in the pits.

An interesting aspect of the prehistoric remains from the road scheme was an apparent lack of activity that can be ascribed to the middle or Late Neolithic periods. This may be explained by shifting patterns of settlement, but we may also consider the possibility that the Neolithic henge at Vaynor influenced patterns of activity in the area, creating a tradition for ceremony rather than settlement that persisted into later periods.

Excavation of Bronze Age cremations, Site 26
Excavation of Bronze Age cremations, Site 26

In the section of the road scheme that ran close to the henge, traces of a Bronze Age barrow were discovered, together with a swathe of cremation burials and the site of pyres (Sites 18, 19 and 26).

These remains have benefited from in-depth analysis, from which an interpretation of the funerary monuments has emerged. Bayesian modelling of the radiocarbon dates by Frances Healy has enabled events to be modelled with a greater precision than would otherwise have been possible, and has also allowed a subtle chronological modelling of the activity within the barrow area in relation to the adjacent pyre site and surrounding features. The dates indicate a period from approximately 2000 BC to 1650 BC during which the burials took place.

With 38 deposits of human bone found in their primary locations, and further deposits in residual contexts, there were opportunities here to study the varied and variable nature of burial practices at this time and to compare this evidence with contemporary published data. Analysis of the human remains revealed that even the most ‘complete’ of the cremations did not represent a complete individual, even where the deposit has survived intact. Some cremations were contained within pottery urns, inverted or upright, or associated with empty vessels (accessory vessels) within the same grave pit (see below).

Decorated Bronze Age urns and small accessory vessel from Site 26
Decorated Bronze Age urns and small accessory vessel from Site 26

Some cremations were buried alone in grave pits or stone-lined graves (cists), and many pottery vessels appeared to have been buried without accompanying cremated remains. A number of the excavated features can be understood as the physical remains of aspects of ritual performances taking place on the site that may not have always included the act of cremation.

Excavation of Bronze Age urn (photo courtesy of Andy Buckley, AB Heritage)
Excavation of Bronze Age urn (photo courtesy of Andy Buckley, AB Heritage)
Inverted Bronze Age urn during excavation
Inverted Bronze Age urn during excavation
Accessory vessel during excavation
Accessory vessel during excavation

Another notable prehistoric site revealed by the road scheme investigation was the burnt mound located towards the western end of the road scheme at Site 32 near Red Roses. The mound, which was located adjacent to a watercourse, was composed of a mix of dark grey sandy silt, charcoal and burnt stone measuring approximately 15m long by 12.5m wide (see below). It was associated with two trough-shaped pits that may have held water. The purpose of these burnt mound sites remains obscure, but the most common theories are that these were used for cooking or were sauna sites.

Burnt mound, quarter-sectioned
Burnt mound, quarter-sectioned

Many of the undated features excavated along the length of the road scheme have been assigned to the prehistoric period based on similarities in fills and form, and the overall impression is of a landscape more heavily utilised in the prehistoric than later periods.

Archaeological evidence for activity along the road corridor of a date later than the Bronze Age was sporadic. Evidence for Roman activity was extremely sparse, but there was some dating from the medieval and post-medieval periods. Just to the south-east of St Clears lies the earthworks of Dolgarn Moated Site (Scheduled Monument CM 252), which was visible as a rectangular enclosure measuring 60m by 50m, defined by a ditch surrounding a slightly raised platform, and cut through by the old Turnpike road. The route of the new road crossed the south-eastern corner of the earthworks, providing an opportunity to excavate the ditch and a small part of the internal platform. Excavation showed the internal platform to be composed of horizontal deposits; these contained no dating evidence but were probably derived from the soil dug during the ditch’s construction.

Dolgarn Moated Site (Scheduled Monument CM 252). Excavation through the ditch
Dolgarn Moated Site (Scheduled Monument CM 252). Excavation through the ditch

The earthwork ditch proved to be 6.5m wide and 1.6m deep with a u-shaped profile. From one of the earliest of the ditch fills a carbonised seed was radiocarbon dated to cal. AD 1059–1263 (SUERC-50312). The fill above this produced 13 sherds of medieval pottery, 12 of these from a single vessel, almost certainly of locally made Llanstephan ware, dateable to the 13th to 14th centuries AD. All the pottery recovered from the later fills dates to the 13th to 15th centuries, and the absence of later material suggests that the monument was abandoned in the 15th century.

The analysis of a well-preserved assemblage of waterlogged insect, pollen and plant remains from the sequence of fills suggests that the ditch originally contained clear running water, although the levels of this had fluctuated, and that the immediate environs comprised a mixture of cultivated ground and pasture; the presence of dung beetles indicative of grazing animals nearby. As the ditch silted up the water within it had become murkier, and a decline in certain insect species indicates that there was less grazing nearby.

Dyfed Archaeological Trust Historic Environment Record (DATPRN 3884) suggested the Iron Age, Roman or medieval periods as possible dates for the monument, which had not been professionally excavated before.

Although earlier origins cannot be discounted, our investigations would suggest that the monument in its surviving form is a medieval construction.

Approximately 0.7km north of Red Roses, at Eglwyscumm, a cluster of ditches and robbed out foundation trenches indicate the location of a farmstead (Site 31), comprising at least two rectangular houses and one circular structure situated close to the buildings, with a network of associated paddock and field ditches extending to the south-east. The farm was only partially revealed within the road corridor, and clearly extended beyond the excavated area. Pottery from the features gave a date range of the 13th to the 14th centuries AD. An assemblage of charred plant remains from the ditch of the circular structure provided information on diet, crop-processing and the local environment of the farmstead.

No other sites of medieval occupation were identified although a number of pits and ‘ovens’ were found; the latter, distinguished by scorched bases and abundant charcoal deposits, are likely to have been used to dry cereals at the edges of the fields within which they were grown, prior to transportation for storage within farms or villages. Radiocarbon dates from carbonised organic remains dated most of these features to within the 11th to 13th centuries, with two earlier pits dated to the 4th to 6th and 9th to 11th centuries respectively.

A report on these medieval excavations, and a summary of the prehistoric discoveries will be published in the journal Archaeology in Wales (Hart and Alexander forthcoming).

This work has been made possible through funding from Welsh Government in collaboration with Principal contractor: SRB Civil Engineering UK Ltd (Sisk and Roadbridge Joint venture). Expert archaeological services provided by AB Heritage Limited with Cotswold Archaeology and with scheme design and engineering input from Arcadis and Ramboll.

Mary Alexander

Quern stone from Hinkley

In 2012/2014 Cotswold Archaeology excavated a late prehistoric and Romano-British settlement site at Hinkley Point, Somerset. One of the many artefacts discovered was a complete upper stone from a rotary quern, which is the subject of a recent online publication by Dr Ruth Shaffrey – The Movement of Ideas in Late Iron Age and Early Roman Britain: An Imported Rotary Quern Design in South-Western England.

Quern stone under excavationThe quern stone has a projecting socket for a vertical handle and thin-section analysis has revealed that it was made locally, in Somerset.

The object is remarkable for being the earliest dated example of a quern of this form so far found in England. It is also the first example ever found in southern England; querns with horizontal handles were more typically used in this region during the late Iron Age and early Roman period. As the quern stone was produced locally, the design appears to have imitated styles more popular elsewhere. This type of quern was common in Germany during the late Iron Age and early Roman period, although broadly similar styles of rotary querns are also found in north-eastern Ireland and south-western Scotland.

Ruth’s fascinating online First View publication is available on Cambridge Core.

Quern stone from hinkley

New Trustees

We have recently added two new trustees to our Board.

chris gerrard photoProfessor Christopher Gerrard has held a Chair in Archaeology at Durham University since 2009. He gained a PhD at the University of Bristol in 1987 and joined the newly-formed Cotswold Archaeological Trust (as we were called then) in 1989, going on to become the Senior Archaeological Consultant at Countryside Planning and Management. He left commercial archaeology in 1992 to become a lecturer at the University of Winchester, joining the Archaeology department in Durham in 2000. Chris specialises in later medieval archaeology and has conducted fieldwork in many different parts of Britain and Europe, most notably at Shapwick in Somerset and Clarendon in Wiltshire.

keith wade photoKeith Wade gained a degree in Archaeology from Southampton University in 1973 and joined the Suffolk Archaeological Unit in 1974 to take up the post of Urban Archaeologist. Between 1974 and 1990 he directed 35 excavations in Saxon and medieval Ipswich. In 1991 he became County Archaeologist at Suffolk County Council, a post he held until retirement in 2012. Keith has served as a Trustee with many organisations in Suffolk including the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village Trust and the Sutton Hoo Research Trust. He founded Ipswich Archaeological Trust in 1982 and is still a Trustee and Honorary Secretary.

Neil Holbrook

Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans

CA is pleased to present you with a fantastic animation produced for The Seaside Museum Herne Bay exhibition ‘The Mystery of the Roman Pudding Pans’.

The Kentish mystery, which is now the subject of an ongoing exhibition and animation, concerns the story of the contents of a Roman ship that sank or jettisoned its cargo off the Kent coast, c. AD 180 –200. Pottery from the wreck has been recovered by fishermen since at least the 18th century and was used to cook a Kentish pudding, hence the site being known as ‘pudding pan’.

The animation was written, produced and directed by Phil Gomm, and CA’s very own Senior Marine Consultant Dr Michael Walsh acted as archaeological consultant, due to his ongoing research into the site. Michael’s research was published in 2017 by the British Museum Press, and is available from their online bookshop.

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the animation is the result of a partnership between staff and graduates of the Computer Animation Arts at the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) Rochester, professional voice actors, The Seaside Museum and pupils from Herne Bay Junior School, where Michael led a whole school assembly on Friday 26 April. We have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this wonderful project.

You can visit The Seaside Museum Herne Bay exhibition and see the pottery on display until the 2nd June 2019.

Copyright: © Phil Gomm

Iron Age settlement at Childrey Warren, Oxfordshire

bone comb
Bone comb

A multi-million pound Thames Water project to protect the future of a rare Oxfordshire chalk stream has revealed some fascinating and gruesome discoveries dating back almost 3,000 years. The excavation, led by CA’s Project Officer Paolo Guarino revealed an ancient settlement containing an array of historic artefacts. Among the important finds were 26 human skeletons believed to be from the Iron Age and Roman periods, and some likely to have been involved in ritual burials, along with evidence of dwellings, animal carcasses and household items including pottery, cutting implements and a decorative comb.

Unusual Iron Age burial
Unusual Iron Age burial

Our CEO Neil Holbrook, said: “The new Thames Water pipeline provided us with an opportunity to examine a number of previously unknown archaeological sites. The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest. Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice. The discovery challenges our perceptions about the past, and invites us to try to understand the beliefs of people who lived and died more than 2,000 years ago. We’ve had a tremendous reaction to this discovery on social media with people wondering just what was going on here – see what people have been saying at our Facebook post.”

Project Officer Paolo added: “These findings open a unique window into the lives and deaths of communities we often know only for their monumental buildings, such as hillforts or the Uffington White Horse. The results from the analysis of the artefacts, animal bones, the human skeletons and the soil samples will help us add some important information to the history of the communities that occupied these lands so many years ago.”

Excavation of an Iron Age pottery vessel

Cotswold Archaeology has now carefully removed the items for examination, allowing Thames Water to start laying the six kilometre pipe which, following consultation with residents, will supply nearby villages with water taken from groundwater boreholes near the River Thames and not Letcombe Brook. The archaeological findings have already been shared with residents at events in Letcombe Bassett and Letcombe Regis village halls.

Related events:

9 July 2019 Childrey Warren exavation results. Talk at Letcombe Regis village hall