Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What is a Minster?

Berkeley’s Paddock trench has revealed more information suggesting the site was a part of an Anglo-Saxon minster. But what were minsters and why are they so important?

Visitors view a very wet Paddock trench in Week 4 of excavations

Minsters are the forefathers of common English parishes, they were the initial religious dwellings in early Anglo-Saxon Christianity. The first minsters were founded a century after Augustine of Canterbury’s religious mission to Anglo-Saxon England in 597AD, and they are found in the Royal charters in the seventh century.
Anglo-Saxon Kings made grants of land to named individuals, which then found a minster. They were commonly founded by king or royal thegn (or thane), with the primary purpose to support the king and the thegn in regular worship of the divine office.

Thegn seal made of walrus ivory showing religious iconography, c.11th century (Source: British Museum 1881,0404.1)

The word ‘minster’ actually derives from Old English ‘mynster’, meaning monastery, nunnery, mother church or cathedral. They were designated by a settlement of clergy living in a communal life, which was mostly endowed by charter and maintained a daily office of prayer.  

Both men and women lived could live in a minster but were separated by a wall or division due to religious celibacy. However unlike later monastic life they were a religious community that lived and worked among ordinary people.

Minsters were original catalysts for and defining marks of urban growth, they initiated a collection of people living together and producing items for living, such as food and clothing. This in turn attracted nonreligious people to live by them, in a way developing the towns we see today. However in the ninth century all English minsters suffered severely from Viking invaders, which helped lead Later Saxons to change to a monastery or collegiate church.

York Minster (Source / www.yorkminster.org) 

Minsters are now referred to as a large or important church, such as York Minster. This act of continuing the title of minster was perhaps to maintain the dignity of these religious buildings as they declined in the eleventh century.

There are very few records of early minsters left and most minsters are now parish churches.  Archaeological evidence is also scarce. Inside early compounds, the buildings were mainly of timber with thatched roofs, as early Anglo-Saxons rarely built with stone. This indicates why the find at Berkeley is so ground-breaking; it could be a definitive, rare example of an early Anglo-Saxon religious community building.

It is known from historical records that Medieval Berkeley was a large port and market town in Gloucestershire. This minster could show the initial building that housed the community, providing insights into the developments and change of this small town.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Archaeological Illustration & Imaging at Berkeley

Some of the students on the Berkeley Dig have escaped the orange clayey swamp and have engaged in creating site plans and other scientific illustrations using the art of archaeological drawing and digital reconstruction. A site plan is a measured scale drawing of an individual trench or feature. They are drawn from a bird's-eye view perspective which allows archaeologists to refer to them during analysis and interpretation as well as during the production of accurate reconstructions. The students have been using an EDM (Electronic Distance Measuring) device as well as other techniques such as offsetting with tape measures to calculate accurate distances between features. They then transfer the results onto a hard copy format using rulers, pencils and Permatrace (more robust, waterproof tracing paper). 

This year, 2nd and 3rd students have been using Trimble SketchUp to reconstruct a Norman house, using ground plans as the basis from trench 8, Nelme’s Paddock.
Trimble SketchUp is a 3D modeling programme, which works in line with drawing with paper and pen, but it’s actually quicker and easier to rub things out and edit.

Whilst the entire construction is theoretical, the reconstruction is a learning resource and may be helpful to younger visitors, who may not as readily envisage what was there. The project has allowed students to see how far they could take Trimble SketchUp as a 3D modeling tool. The reconstruction has allowed the illustration of different theories and ideas about the Norman House.
A student's hypothetical 3D drawing of the Norman House

Site supervisor Sian has suggested that a stairwell was on the outside of the house, as there is evidenced by the debris on the side of the house foundations and the door of the house being more to the eastern side.

Another reconstruction that is in line with Director Dr Stuart Prior’s theory, is that the door is where the hearth was in the previous reconstruction, and the stairwell on the side on the house protruding up to the upper floor.

Interviews with the Students:

What have you guys learnt from this experience?

“It keeps you dry!”

“It has taught me how to use stumble sketch up”.

“How quick sketch up is as a tool and it’s highlighted how long these things take, because people take for granted how long drawings take”.

“Using the programme has already improve on my drawings, but the limited time on the dig hasn’t really allowed me to go back and edit them. Also by doing this, it puts into perspective how large the trench actually is, because some people will look at the house in trench 8 and think its actually a tiny shed, but by reconstructing it, and putting life sized models next to the house you can actually see the true size of the Norman house”.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

We interview Henry Webber about Geophysics and its use in Archaeology

In week 3 of excavations, we were delighted to host Craig Piper from Solum SW Ltd – he was here to instruct postgraduate student Henry Webber on the intricacies of geophysics. The social media team chatted with Henry about his interest in geophysics and how it assists our knowledge of Berkeley.

What have you been doing at Berkeley?

For the last two weeks, we have been running a bit of the course on Geophysics to help teach the undergraduate students how to do the principle of magnetic prospection and also resistivity. We also trying out a new piece of kit called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) so we can get much better, clear images of what we have under the paddock here in Berkeley Castle.

What are you hoping to achieve? Have there been any difficulties so far?

The surveys have all been pretty good and most of it is has gone smoothly. It is important to get students used to using geophysics equipment and setting up grids. It means that they can go out for their master’s project or dissertation and be confident that they can actually put a survey together and complete one.
 We are doing a couple of surveys here in the paddock, one in the Jenner Garden and one in the Quarf Meadow. These add to the results that we did in 2006. The ones in the Quarf Meadow expanded the survey to help identify any Anglo-Saxon pottery and potential sites for future excavation.

The ‘Bristol Geophysics team’ with Craig Piper (far right) from Solum SW Ltd.

What is the importance of geophysics?

Geophysics is pretty important in the whole process of archaeology. Excavation is crucial but without geophysics we could potentially locate the trench in an archaeologically sterile area.

What inspired you to work in this area of the field?

Well, my master’s research is on the use of geophysics and archaeology, looking at how we can use it for agriculture. We can start using geophysics as a tool to integrate archaeologists and farmers. Most farmers think that archaeology is negative and doesn’t really give them anything useful, it is costly and only gives us a cultural reward rather than any direct financial reward. Using geophysics, we can provide a financial reward and knowledge about the soil for farmers, as well as looking at archaeological sites and helping heritage management. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interview with Ceramic specialist Paul Blinkhorn

Paul Blinkhorn has been developing his expertise in Anglo-Saxon & Medieval pottery since 1983. After completing his Archaeology degree at Bradford, he spent two years on the digging circuit before making the jump into the detailed study of ceramics. To date, he has looked at some two and a half million sherds. Paul visited the University of Bristol’s archaeology project at Berkeley this May and sat down to talk to us about his love of pots, archaeology and his work on Time Team.

Tell us about your experiences on Time Team?

I got onto that completely by accident. They were digging a Saxon monastic site in Norfolk. At the time I was doing a research project for English Heritage on Ipswich Ware (a standard type of Saxon pottery) when Andrew Rogerson, the county archaeologist, said "come on up on day three and have a look around". So I was wandering round the site with him when I got into one of the trenches where this huge tray of pottery was. I started picking the sherds up, talking a bit about them, when the film crew came thundering over the horizon and said "would you like to say all that again in two minutes forty-five seconds?" It was ten seconds before I was on when they said "you do know this is going out live to two and half million people...and three...two..." About three days later I got a phone call from Time Team who had come across my scene during the editing and said "who is that guy?" And that was the problem...nobody knew who I was! Luckily, Andrew told them and they managed to track me down and sign me up.

What is the relationship between Archaeology and the Media and how has it changed in recent decades?

Well certainly, it has changed a lot. You look back to the 1960's, with programmes like 'Chronicle' and things like that which were fantastic - sadly I'm old enough to remember things like that! In fact it's partly Mortimer Wheeler's fault that I became an archaeologist. In those days it was very much 'an archaeologist walking around talking about stuff or visiting digs'. Then Time Team came along with the television companies who were actually funding the digs - which was a completely new concept. And then there were various attempts to copy Time Team, for example Time Flyers etc. But it's become too expensive to continue broadcast excavations in a television format - not just because of the dig itself, but because of the layers of staff and TV crew required to make the episode. Now, it seems to have gone full circle, back to the days of Chronicle, etc. Most of the archaeological programming being made now comprises an archaeologist, or more often and slightly annoyingly, a historian, wandering about in front of things talking....or standing there dramatically with their hair blowing in the breeze. The plus point is that this format is much cheaper, with one film crew, a presenter and a bit of graphics.
Student drawing of historian, posed with flowing locks

What are your thoughts on the pottery discovered at Berkeley?

Most of the sherds have been bog standard medieval pieces, as was expected. Many of the types are exactly the sort of stuff you find in Bristol or Gloucester. Most of the pottery's come in from places like Ham Green, Redcliff, or Bristol itself.
 It's when you get into the Saxon period that things get really interesting. Obviously the Saxon phase at Berkeley is one of the most interesting aspects of the site, as well as being my particular period of interest too. We've found a couple of sherds of middle-Saxon Ipswich Ware which are 8th to 9th century AD. There are only two other find-spots of this Ware in Gloucestershire which are Winchcombe (a royal minster) and another which was a salt-mine exporting salt in these pots to places like Southampton. Ipswich Ware seems to be tied up with the salt trade. This pottery is travelling a long way and its presence at Berkeley is clearly an indicator of high status activity, even if the pottery itself is not high status. This is one of the key pieces of evidence in establishing Berkeley as the site of a high status Minster, rather than merely an expansive dwelling.

How valuable do you think this project is to the Bristol University students who are digging here?

They're incredibly lucky. They'll probably find it difficult to appreciate just how good a site this is purely because they're just not experienced enough in Archaeology yet. The first dig I ever did was with my dad when I was fourteen on holiday and we ended up scratching about as volunteers on top of this blasted bit of limestone pavement near Ingleborough. We were digging a stone house foundation and I was scratching away at where the door would have been. This site turned out to be the only excavated rural Viking farmstead in mainland Britain at the time! I was so obsessed with the digging side of things that I didn't quite realise the importance of the site itself. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I would love to dig one of those again. The compact clayey soil at Berkeley looks absolutely horrible to dig, but it is good practical experience for the students. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Duncan Brown (English Heritage) talks archives, the media and student careers [Interview Part 2]

We sat down with Duncan Brown (Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage) to talk about the importance of archaeological archives, how archaeology is portrayed in the media, and what type of careers opportunities exist within the archive sector. 
[Part 1 of our interview can be found here]

Duncan tells students about career opportunities with archives and archaeology

Why is necessary to reform archaeological archives?

The promotion of good practice, that’s the issue. Archaeological archives are an important resource and need to be understood to be an important part of any archaeology. If archaeologists want to be professional then they need to included archives and resolve archives properly and ensure the archaeological record is secure for future study, and that means it is properly audited and it’s comprehensible and accessible.

What changes to the archive process are currently taking place?

The main thing at the moment is the production of the European Standard for archive practice which is based on the archive guide that we have already in this country. We don’t have to change our practice too much. What we should be seeing is the recognition of what we produce has value beyond Britain and there is a European context, and the quality of information that we produce. There are changes in terms of the context of the archive work. The main discussion on the ground happening in archiving at the moment is that of selection. What people are talking about is reducing the amount of what we keep for archaeological projects; to be more selective about what we are telling the museum so that we can think more about what the aims of what we are doing are; so our projects are more clearly defined in terms of outcomes.

What career opportunities can archaeology students expect from the archive sector?

There is insufficient expertise in archaeological archiving. A lot of employers end up using people to do the archives who don’t have the experience, they are just getting used by the employers to do what many regard as boring tasks.
So the development of expertise is something that some parts of the archaeology discipline are keen to promote; opportunities of teaching archiving in universities or providing museums, especially where there is no archaeology curator with support to monitor the archives that are coming in, which creates a greater awareness of the importance of the archives.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between archaeology and the media?

The public media tend to use archaeology for their own aim. Archaeology presented in television programs can easily be filtered or distorted towards promoting the aim from the television producer rather the archaeologist. People are generating their own media like blogs and twitter.  That means there is a democractisation of media content which creates an opportunity for archaeologist to do good archaeology in a media content, so television and the press will have to follow that. Hopefully, archaeologists will be able to get more control over the archaeology that is portrayed in the media; that is the relationship which archaeologists should be developing and I think it is really good that there are a lot of archaeologists doing that now.  

Read Duncan's publication on Archaeological Archives to find out more about best practice: http://www.archaeologyuk.org/archives/Archives_Best_Practice.pdf

Friday, May 24, 2013

We interview the Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage [Part 1]

This week we were pleased to welcome Duncan Brown, Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage, for our lunch time lecture. Duncan talked about the process and importance of archaeological archives as well as outlining procedures for good practice. It was good for the students to understand what happens beyond digging in the trenches and how and where their context sheets, drawings and finds will ultimately be used and stored.
Duncan Brown of English Heritage talks to University of Bristol students about archaeological archives

The social media team’s interview with Duncan Brown is in two parts: part one covers Duncan’s views of the archaeology at Berkeley; part two (published on Saturday) details his reflections on archaeology and archives, the media, and student careers.

What were your initial reactions to the site?

When you visit the trenches, it doesn’t look much different to other archaeological excavations, but actually when the sequence of archaeology is explained, the context of the site in relation to the minster and the river, and the quality of some of the small finds shows that it is a very important project.

How does this change our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period?

Well, it is not going to change anything yet but there’s potential to change the understanding of the mid-Saxon period. There are certain mid-Saxon finds at Berkeley that have been found in a very high number for a rural location, and those are typical of trading sites especially in coastal trading areas. It is very interesting to find such a high number here, given the location close to the waterway presumably related to the minster foundation.
From your experience in the field, have you noticed any parallels with this site?

In Lincolnshire, there is a domestic foundation close to the coast that has high evidence of trading activities. From my own experience working in Southampton at this period there’s a mid-Saxon port. In the late-Saxon period, Southampton is also a port. I supposed the difference between most of those sites is the presence of imported middle Saxon pottery that we don’t seem to have here at Berkeley. I think what is missing here is the imported commodity but you’re not necessarily expecting to find them in the trenches that we are looking at now, so maybe those should be around the minster area. I think there are parallels but they need to be explored in more detail.

How significant are these discoveries?

As the Head of Archaeological Archives at English Heritage, everything is significant. The main trenches are fantastic and the marvellous sequence of material in this site that I can see it has potential to be very significant. The relationship between Berkeley and other production centres needs to be explored before English Heritage can really understand the significance of it. I think we know already that Berkeley is an important site and we need to understand how it fits into the landscape, the economics and the social structure of this region in order to understand its true significance but there is potential here for sure. 

Check back tomorrow to read the rest of Duncan's interview!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Grave Discovery ...

Under the watchful eyes of our own PhD researcher Lindsay Keniston-Udall, selected students from the dig are undergoing some original research into the intriguing field of necrogeography and thanatology. Following the research of celebrated antiquarian and genealogist Ralph Bigland (1712 - 1784), our intrepid researchers are conducting a survey of monument and grave distribution in St. Mary's churchyard. Leah Powell and Alicia Or, members of the Berkeley project's Social Media team managed to steal an interview with Lindsay herself. 

Lindsay Keniston-Udall sporting a rather fetching high-vis jacket

 Q: What are you hoping to achieve by this research?

A: There has been so many different surveys, but nobody has ever done a study of Bigland's survey in this churchyard (or to our knowledge the others that he surveyed in Gloucestershire) and done a historical comparison of his original recordings and what remains of the cemetery now. Many people use Bigland's survey for genealogical research but not much attention has been paid to the archaeological record of then and now. We are hoping to not only understand a bit more about the evolution of the churchyard since Bigland's survey, but also raise awareness and get people interested in his work and in the archaeological importance of the churchyard itself which has a high proportion of listed tombs and some have recently undergone a restoration programme. Such a survey was really unusual in Bigland's time, which makes it even more important to archaeology as it is such a useful resource. We are also looking for any distribution patterns in the graveyard, for example, family groups and where people may have preferred to be buried.

Q: Have there been any difficulties so far?

A: We have some potential difficulties as we need to consider the fact that Bigland's survey is not chronological and was actually completed by his son, so there are some errors and mistakes in the record. Understanding why Bigland chose Gloucestershire as the base for his surveys is also a mystery considering he is a cheese-maker from London. He exported his cheese to France and beyond so it is very strange for him to take such an interest in Gloucester.