News

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?!


CA’s New Trustee

new trustee, Karen Ann Jospehides

We are delighted to welcome Karen Ann Josephides, People Director at Arsenal Football Club, as a new trustee and non-executive company director of Cotswold Archaeology. Karen Ann says

“The Trustee role at CA is a great opportunity and privilege.  I have experience of both working in business and for a Charity.  This role provides an ideal avenue for me to contribute to the valuable archaeological and heritage services work, and another way for me to integrate fully into the Cotswolds Community, having purchased a property in Gloucestershire last year.

Despite my lack of recent practice, I have never lost my passion for archaeology.  I developed my interest at a very young age.  The three years I spent studying archaeology at Durham, were some of the best of my life.  I majored on Roman Britain and thoroughly enjoyed my digs at Shiptonthorpe.  I analysed a huge amount of wood and drew many artefacts in my spare time for Professor Martin Millett which were published in one of the Shiptonthorpe volumes. Happy days!

I’ve worked in business since leaving university.  I’ve always had a strong performance focused work ethic.  I am the People Director for Arsenal Football Club and have been with the Premier League Club since 2010.  I lead a team of Equality, HR and Safeguarding professionals.  The football world within which I operate on a daily basis is extremely demanding and fast paced and it is now the time for me to engage in my personal interests again, which have been very much neglected over recent years. I’m relishing the opportunity to get more involved and help support the fantastic work CA does in supplying heritage services and increasing awareness of the past.

I am also a Trustee for Nordoff Robbins, the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, an organisation that through the power of music therapy enriches lives.  I have an MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management.  I am also a Fellow of the Institute of Personnel & Development and a member of the Governments Disability Confident Business Leaders Group which engages with the business community on disability employment”.


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

 


The fall and rise of a medieval farm in the Severn vale

Fieldwork discoveries

Recent excavation by Cotswold Archaeology’s fieldwork team revealed the remains of a medieval farm on the flat clayland of the Severn vale.

view of the site during excavation

Post-excavation analysis

Now that fieldwork has finished, the project has passed to our post-excavation team who are preparing an assessment report. The report will map a route leading to full analysis and publication of the findings, and the deposition of the archive at an appropriate museum, where it will be available for future research.

Dispersed medieval settlement

By the 11th century, the familiar English nucleated village landscape had already evolved across much of the country, but other areas, including the Severn vale, were still characterised by a dispersed settlement pattern of individual farms and small hamlets. These settlements occupied a landscape of woodland, which had regenerated since the end of the Roman administration, interspersed with clearings for grazing and small farms, including the current example. Although the differences were not absolute, such wood-pasture areas would have stood in contrast to the more open sheep-corn landscapes with their nucleated villages in areas such as the Cotswold uplands, and it has often been commented that the occupants of these different pays would have held differing mentalities.

Medieval bones, modern research

The farm was probably family-sized, although it should be remembered that slavery was still practiced, albeit at a reduced level, into the 12th century and villeinage (the English legal term for serfdom) into the 17th century, and so over its lifetime the farm may have been occupied by an extended family as well as slaves and villeins. Although such farms were probably very common, few have been excavated, making this an exciting discovery and one to which modern forms of analysis can be applied, including isotope analysis of the animal bone assemblage, which can examine chemical traces in bones and teeth in order to estimate whether, for example, the animals were grazed locally on floodplains.

pottery in a featureLocal pottery

Most of the finds from the site comprised sherds of locally produced pottery known as Gloucester TF41B, dateable to the mid 11th to mid 13th centuries. A dump of this material was found within a ditch belonging to the medieval farm and analysis will aim to determine whether this represents ‘wasters’ from a local kiln thought to have operated nearby but yet to be discovered.

Agrarian crisis, plague and abandonment

The farm seems to have been abandoned around the 13th/14th century. An obvious hypothesis to test during our analysis is whether the site was a victim of the early 14th-century agrarian crisis which was responsible for many of the shrunken and deserted villages whose remains can be detected from surviving earthworks in the landscape. Intriguingly, the site also contained the remains of a single individual laid in a grave. The remains of this person were very poorly preserved and we do not yet know their date. Radiocarbon dating may indicate whether this was someone associated with an as-yet unidentified Roman or early post-Roman farm, or someone from the medieval farm itself, conceivably even a victim of the 1348–9 Black Death.

New money

One of the questions we will seek to address is how long the site remained abandoned for (if indeed it ever was fully abandoned). It was certainly reclaimed, since a large ring-ditch was built over some of the earlier medieval enclosures. No structural remains were found, and one possibility is that this was a mound for a windmill, but another is that t this may have been a moat surrounding the house of a wealthy peasant with aspirations to grandeur. Although the crises of the 14th century had brought misery to many, for those who survived there were opportunities to make money; the economy was increasingly market orientated, whilst with a reduced population, labour was in higher demand. Did the moat surround the residence of a peasant on the up? To the modern mind, moats are conceptually associated with castles, but in fact the majority surrounded far more modest dwellings, including those of the lesser gentry and wealthier peasants, both of whom could be regarded in modern terms as ‘new money’. As well as providing an obvious status symbol and security, recent research suggests that moats were amongst a suite of features used in medieval architecture to restrict access to certain areas to individuals thought to be of appropriate status, itself an expression of power and a reflection of the structure of later medieval society.

The moat may have fallen out of use by the 16th century and does not appear on any of the historic mapping so far examined, but investigation will examine whether its decline was associated with the enclosure of the site for sheep pasture as part of the rise of the Gloucestershire woollen industry.

moat under excavation


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.