Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thank you, and good night!

So this is it: the end of the 2014 Berkeley season and what a year we have had. This has been a year of discoveries, re-interpretations and, as per usual - fun! 

High Street end of Trench 8

The main trench in the Paddock - Trench 8 has seen enormous progress on all four corners. At the High Street end of the trench we appear to have uncovered the remains of a Tudor tavern out-building. This building, along with the tavern (that we believe is somewhere under the spoil heap), appear to have been destroyed during the civil war to defend the castle from attack by creating clear lines of sight. Pits that were dug inside the out-building contained, amongst other things, industrial waste which makes us wonder whether this may have been a light industrial area attached to the tavern? We look forward to further excavating this area next year to see where this takes us and are enormously thankful to our students who have, in this space alone, moved over a tonne and a half of mortar, brick and building material in order to uncover this structure.

Also at the High Street end is the ‘Norman House’ - which is no longer Norman after the discovery of Tudor pottery underneath one of the walls. This certainly threw the cat amongst the pigeons! The dating material from an adjacent building seems to indicate now that this is a Tudor or later extension to an earlier, possibly Saxo-Norman building. One wall of this earlier structure has evidence for a drain which may have belonged to a neighbouring house and the relatively thin walls may indicate that this is a half-timber house. Again, we look forward to coming back next year to continue our research in this corner of the trench.

Team 'Ditch-Squad' working away to get the ditches bottomed and the area clean

At the other end of Trench 8, we have a series of ditches and pits that have been excavated over the past few years - the complexity of this sequence we are only now beginning to comprehend. The pits appear to be Medieval, from the presence of 12th century pottery and a bronze Medieval strap end, and cut through a 3-ditch sequence. The central ditch of this sequence measures about 2m wide with a bit of an ankle-breaker base which makes us think that this one was constructed for defensive reasons, whereas the other two are much shallower and may have been for drainage or delineate a boundary? We think that these ditches range from Saxon to early Norman in date due to the presence of a Saxo-Norman rim sherd in the large, central ditch. Overall, there is a high density of truncation by intercutting features across this area, indicating the high level of human agency that occurred.

Issie and Alex digging a slot through the largest ditch in the sequence

In addition to the progress in the paddock, students from the University of Bristol, led by Jack Fuller, have produced exhibition pieces for the Jenner garden and Museum and for Berkeley Castle. These exhibition pieces display finds and interpretations from the university’s excavations over the last ten years. The Jenner exhibition opens to the public next week and the Castle’s exhibition will open during Berkeley’s Festival of Archaeology which runs from the 12th-16th of July.

University of Bristol post-graduate student Jim Pimpernell has continued his PhD research into the development and evolution of the tenancy of the Berkeley estate and works closely with the castle utilising their fantastic archival collections. 

Geo-fizz work on the freshly mown fields surrounding Berkeley Castle

We finish this year as we started with a geophysical survey. The weather was significantly better than it was in weeks one and two, so results were much improved with potential for research in future years.

And finally, all is not completely over for 2014! We have the Berkeley Summer Field School happening in August. So keep on coming back for our exciting updates. Thank you, and good night. 

Goodbye from beautiful Berkeley!

Friday, June 13, 2014


Professor James Cameron Monroe couldn't stay away from Berkeley castle excavations this season, and has returned after his first visit to check our progress and get into the trench for some excavating. It is a real pleasure having such an esteemed academic on site, and one that will gladly accept a second interview...

Guess who's back, back again. Professor Monroe in the trench 

SMT: When you were last here you talked about the write ups for your projects in Benin – how are they going?

JCM: Yes really well thank you, I am in the middle of my volume on Urbanism in West Africa. I have now written about 5 chapters out of 20 – although the lion’s share of the part that I have to write up is almost done.

SMT: How is it to be back in Berkeley again, since we last spoke to you?

JCM: Glorious! I came out on the first day of the year’s excavations nearly a month ago and it is amazing to see the progress that has been made. You have moved an incredible amount of earth, and uncovered such a volume of finds, from important small soapstone’s to whole buildings. It is great that the interpretations have changed, and that now we know the building you’ve been working on is an extension of a potential larger building that is where the road now is. One of the coolest things about it is that I was having a look at the smaller finds that came out of it and there is an abundance of small clay 17th Century tobacco pipes which is something that I know and care a great deal about – I did my undergraduate field school working on tobacco plantations in Virginia which has provided a nice link between my work back home and here.

SMT: What will you tell your American students about the work we do at Berkeley?

JCM: I’m going to tell them that it is incredibly exciting and rare to have a range of artefacts maintained and preserved with perfect stratigraphy from 2000 years ago up until the civil war and beyond. English history is long and complicated and you have a great deal of it in this small paddock trench. It is lucky and exceptional. A lot of the problems we face with modern development just don’t exist here and it is great. In fact the work you do has prompted us to begin trying to create an academic link between my university and yours, making Berkeley excavations an accredited summer school for our students. It is a no brainer – the work is exciting and informative, and can help provide a real link between two great institutions.

SMT: How do you plan to spend the last month of your sabbatical?

JCM: I am going to do a bit more writing, and then my family are flying over to visit me which should be really exciting because my kids have never been to England before. I will take them to all sorts of tourist spots like Cambridge, the York Minster, Stonehenge and Plymouth.

SMT: Are the kids budding Archaeologists/Anthropologists?

JCM: Well my son is 6 and wants to be Captain America and my daughter wants to be a doctor princess astronaut!

Cameron Monroe is a great figure to have on site and I am hopeful that we will see him again next year.. with a few of his students. Wishing him the best until then....!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Flat Out 3D Analysis

It was another glorious day of sunshine in Berkeley on Wednesday, the diggers were getting tanned (read burnt) but still ploughed on with their trowels. The American Fulbright scholars had their last day with us and were shocked that England manages to gleam the occasional touch of sunlight. They may have only been with us for three days as part of their month long visit to learn about the involvement of Bristol in the transatlantic slave trade but they seem to have thoroughly immersed themselves. We hope they have enjoyed their first taste of the sweet nectar that is Archaeology and wish them the very best in the rest of their stay in England.
The Fulbright scholars enjoying the sun

                Also leaving us on Wednesday was Paul Blinkhorn, our pottery specialist. It was both useful and exciting to be in the presence of such an expert and we thank him very much for his time on site with us. His enthusiasm and knowledge caught the attention of one of the Fulbright scholars who went on to say that if he “could be reincarnated as any artefact, it would be a sherd of pottery because of the amount of possibilities it would mean” for him (and because he knew that if he had any questions about himself he could go to Paul Blinkhorn for answers)!
                The social media team had a chat today with Alex Birkett who has undertaken a one man project to put together a 3D reconstruction of the house we are excavating. This project requires a rare combination of unbelievable patience and technological mastery. He has been using SketchUp Pro software (often used by architectural firms) to give two pictures: one of what the house that we are excavating looks like in its current state in 3D, and another of a full reconstruction of the house.
Alex Birkett's reconstruction viewed from the North-East

the reconstruction viewed from the north

                As if understanding the complicated software isn’t hard enough, the job is made all the harder by the fact that our interpretations are constantly changing. When talking with Alex it becomes clear that it’s not so much the exact date of the house that changes the picture, due to the fact that the architecture of that period was not very varied. Instead, it is more about looking at the walls that remain and trying to figure out which ones are contemporary and which were built later. This information combined with the finds data can help build a timeline phasing the construction of different rooms, which in turn shows how the house was constructed, extended and then demolished. This means that Alex is constantly having to redraw the house as new structural elements and finds are uncovered. Just yesterday there was a piece of “Saxo-Norman” pot discovered, which has further complicated the phasing of the house. The likely conclusion to be drawn is that the house that Alex has spent so long reconstructing was extended to form a larger building during the Tudor period. 
aerial view of a digital model of the north west corner of trench 8

Alex hard at work
 Work on this area is now winding down for this year and the remaining recording and planning is now underway. We will pick it up again in next year’s excavations. No doubt it will all be change again! *ding-ding*

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Friends on Tour! Views, news and reviews...

On site yesterday we had our dose of exciting discoveries and re-interpretations as well as visits from Current Archaeology and the annual Friends of Berkeley tour of the excavations run by site director, Stuart Prior.

After ten seasons of hard work, we at the Berkeley Castle Project are thrilled to be the focus of a spot of media attention from the archaeological magazine: Current Archaeology. Their assistant editor, Carly Hilts, spoke with Stuart Prior and our site Supervisor Sian Thomas about the possibility of an upcoming article about the Berkeley excavations and the significance of so many layers of English history being uncovered from one trench. After talking to our supervisors and students and taking photos of the trench, Carly got hands-on with some of our recent finds before joining Stuart's tour of the excavations.
Every year, members of the Friends of Berkeley Castle are taken on a tour of our site to see how we are progressing. They also get to meet the students and engage with the artefacts that we have uncovered. Yesterday's tour followed the same path as the student-led tours of the dig that have been taking place every Tuesday during our excavation season and is available to any member of the public who has purchased a ticket to view the castle.

The onlookers - Stuart explains our work to the Friends of Berkeley

As per usual, Stuart began the tour in the butterfly garden of the castle where our first trench was placed and indicated the location of the archaeological features of the Anglo-Saxon minster that first brought the University of Bristol to Berkeley Castle. From this point it is easy to see why we have excavated in particular locations around Berkeley, from the garden of Dr. Edward Jenner to the beer garden of the Berkeley Arms Hotel and why so much of our efforts have been placed in Nelme's Paddock.
The Friends of Berkeley tour continued to the castle itself where the University of Bristol and the Castle Studies group have been re-interpreting the chronological order in which the castle was erected. This is brand new information and is really exciting news for us as it may even see us setting up an excavation inside the castle courtyard in future seasons! A table displaying our recent finds was laid out for guests to look at, ask questions about and handle, which went down like a storm and many of the Friends of Berkeley dropped in to the social media office to take part in our artefact handling station.
At the paddock, Stuart explained the current interpretations of all of the features we've uncovered and talked about the extension of the trench and the opening of Trench 14 this year. As many of the guests have been on this tour every year it was exciting for them to see how things have changed over the time that we've been at Berkeley and one guest remarked how breathless archaeology can be - just when you've found out one thing the interpretation changes thanks to uncovering some pottery. But surely, this is part of what makes it fun! Some people might think that archaeology and history are static but they are in fact dynamic studies that are constantly being updated as we gather more information.
Stuart Prior in his element 

Everyone at the Berkeley Castle Project would like to thank the Friends of Berkeley for their constant support of our aims and for their unyielding enthusiasm for the archaeology that we are uncovering. Until next year!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tantalizing teamwork in the Trenches... and farewell to Trench 14

Our mean keen bucketing team of Archaeologists began the day today by draining the puddles left over the weekend in the paddock. #FeelingDrained should be trending internationally on twitter any moment now as the picture below was uploaded onto twitter and Instagram.

#FeelingDrained. A great team effort to start the day by bucketing the water from the upper part of Trench 8

On a slightly more academic and reflective note, the Social Media team had a chat with Supervisor Emily Glass about the results of trench 14, because today is the last day of the 2014 excavation season that we will be working on that particular trench. Trench 14 (measuring 4 x 4 metres) was first opened in 2010 following a series of geophysical surveys that indicated a distinct anomaly in that area – it was a very dark patch when compared to the rest of the field... 

Following excavations, this anomaly was found to be comprised of dense brick fragments, and deposits of burnt clay mixed with black silt and charcoal. This has been interpreted as the result of a significant ‘burning event’ which may have been associated with the demolition and burning of one of the three main buildings that were left in the paddock by the time of the Civil War.

Further cleaning down revealed that we had just clipped the edge of a structure that the burnt area was laid up against. This may be the edge of a house and garden owned by St Augustine’s College of Bristol which was noted as being in this part of Nelme’s Paddock in Tax Survey documents of 1541 and 1544.

Trench 14 has yielded a plethora of exciting finds so far, including pottery, a range of buttons, a whole thimble, a lead spindle whorl, a fragment of an iron blade, a whetstone (used for sharpening the knives), a lead cap from the civil war, a fragment of a cauldron, part of a brooch and a bone awl for leather working. In such a small trench it is really exciting to find such a vast range of items.  Just some of them are shown below.

A mere microcosm of some of the finds from Trench 14

Following this season of work we will reanalyse the geophysical surveys to try and see if we can work out the size of this building. This will enable us to make our excavation plans for next year which will hopefully provide us with concrete dates and more artefacts to give us a much clearer picture of what was happening in the Paddock during the Civil War and earlier periods. The students have done a wonderful job on the trench; Alex Copsey is a 3rd year student who boldly volunteered to lead as trench supervisor and has been described as doing a ‘sterling job’. His ability to organise the students in doing physical excavation to contents sheets, final planning and section drawing has allowed us to have a really successful few weeks of excavation, and we look forward to seeing what Trench 14 holds for us next year…!  

Finishing up. Thor and Sophie finalise measurements of Trench 14 this morning

Saturday, June 7, 2014

When the weather gets tough, the tough keep digging!!

Due to adverse weather conditions in Berkeley this past week the excavation had to be abandoned for a day on Wednesday. On returning to glorious sunshine for the final two days of the week, the social media team spoke with site Supervisor Emily Glass to discuss recent developments in the trench and what plans are afoot for next week's final week of excavation for 2014.
Site Director Prof. Mark Horton assists with the draining of the main trench
As a result of Wednesday’s torrential rainfall, the east and west ends of the trench unfortunately became heavily waterlogged, particularly in the area of intercutting ditches. The plan to expose the possible Tudor building by removing a layer of building rubble from demolition was temporarily halted due to this area being underwater and excavation was delayed while it was pumped out (thank you Prof. Horton!).
This meant that on Thursday the students were concentrated on working across the mid-section of the trench and, as Emily explained, this was “to take advantage of the damp conditions and give the central area of Trench 8 a really good trowel-up to clean and expose the existing features after the rainfall”; these features being a Roman surface, the remains of an Anglo-Saxon building, pits and other surrounding features that have yet to be fully defined.

Students continue cleaning the central area of Trench 8
The BIG news of the week was the discovery that the building we have been calling the Norman house for the past three years is not actually of Norman date! This area had fared reasonably well considering the extremely high level of rainfall on Wednesday and the excavation and recording work was able to continue on the interior, including the excavation of a pit which contained post-Norman pottery. The wall of the former 'Norman' house was constructed over this pit, therefore the building is now thought to date to around the 14th century. However, all things Norman are not lost. It was also revealed that this 14th century structure was an extension to an earlier phase of building, closer to the line of the road, and which may turn out to be our new Norman house!
It has been great to get stuck back into some decent digging following the disappointing weather and unsafe conditions that the rain brought with it. Now that the site has been drained off, the fantastic work in the east and west ends of the trench can continue and bring us new challenges and discoveries. We look forward to to next week when we will be hosting our pottery specialist Paul Blinkhorn, Current Archaeology Magazine's Assistant Editor Carly Hilts and an additional group of students from America for the final week of digging on the Berkeley Castle Project!

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Landings at Normandy

Our social media team reflect on D-Day

On June the 6th at 00:16 hours, Operation Deadstick, a mission to capture Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal, triggered a series of well thought out and complex operations; thus beginning the omnipotent tale of D-Day. Under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a total of 160,000 troops descended upon the beaches of Normandy as part of the largest sea borne invasion in human history. 

As part of the largest seafaring invasion, 5,000 landing and assault craft were deployed, 289 escort vessels sent out and a total of 277 minesweepers were put into action.

This allied invasion of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord led to the restoration and independence of the French Republic and in turn led to the victory of the allies. Out of the 160,000 troops it is known that 61,715 of these men were British soldiers; the first day on the beaches of Normandy resulted in the loss of 12,000 British Casualties and a total for the Germans of only 1,000.

As I sit among the castle walls at Berkeley, it is dreadful to imagine growing up in a society where our brothers, fathers, sons, fiancées and friends were torn from our arms and sent to fight battles that we could not. As a country we owe a great deal to each and every one of those brave men, and it lies within our capabilities to ensure that their legacy is not forgotten, nor underappreciated. It may be hard to imagine these horrors but lest we forget that our grandparents fought these battles and suffered immeasurable losses; from infantry to medical doctors, pilots to marines and officers to cooks, these men sought to protect their country and their loved ones from a common enemy with the help and manpower of their closest allies, and for that we thank them, and know that they will always have a place in our memory, and in our hearts.
Reflections from Berkeley Castle

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Archaeology and the community

Over the last two weeks of the dig a brick-built Tudor building was discovered in the south west corner of Trench 8, which was demolished pre-1645 during Civil War action. Examination of the historical records in Berkeley castle has led to the identification of this building as a Tudor tavern which was called ‘The Crown Inn’. There are references to this Inn in the 17th Century and the building dates back as far as 1544 where it is noted in a survey. Over the last two days work has been done to remove the remains of this building to access the layers underneath, work being led by second year student Sophie Rose, and in the last few minutes a floor has been uncovered.

Third year student Isobel Bentley has been overseeing work in the east end of Trench 8 on a series of boundary ditches of possible Saxon date. The main aim for this group of eleven students currently is to discover some pottery or other easily datable pieces so that the phase to which the ditches belong can be securely established. So far there have been no discoveries; however work on the central ditch to reach the natural layer is appearing promising to help us understand more about this area.

The North West corner of the Trench has seen multiple phases of building.  The one currently under excavation is suspected to be of Norman origin, contemporary with the construction of the castle in stone (1160-70).  Close to overlaying this there was a medieval building of the late 13th to 15th century which was excavated away in the earlier years of the dig.  Adjacent to the Norman building, Paddy, a first year student, discovered what appears to be either a well or water tank alongside the north wall. Owing to the location of this feature it is hard to determine whether it was built alongside the Norman structure or whether it predates it and, until this feature has been further investigated we will be unable to date it effectively , however this again provides us with something to look forward to across the next two weeks!

Community archaeology has been on the rise over the last couple of years, with communities taking far more interest in in finding out about their family heritage and that of their local area. This interest has led to the University making an effort to welcome the members of the town into their work by providing information around the town on the work that is going on both around the town, on the site of the castle and through various social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, links to all of which can be found at the bottom of this post. Furthermore the community has been welcomed into the work with artefact handling opportunities available onsite, a temporary exhibition being set up in the town and student tours being offered, the next of which is happening on the 4th of June.
Students asking questions at our recent community event

The benefits of getting the local community involved in the site has not only helped us to get them engaged with their heritage but it has also benefited us greatly in that the people from Berkeley look after the site while work is not being currently done, as they check that there are no night hawkers breaking in, which is an issue which has occurred multiple times in the past.

If you have any ideas for how to improve our relationship with the local community, please contact us either via our email address, or via another of the social media sites listed below.

The last two days of digging have been exceptionally productive and provided much information about various areas of the site and, more importantly, provided us with many more points to excavate over the next two weeks!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back!

Although the weather conditions for week two at Berkeley have been less than ideal, the students have made impressive progress in the trenches and we want to update you all on our exciting new discoveries and theories.
Trench 14-
In this trench the students have excavated down to discover a burnt platform of clay and charcoal with burnt iron nails and degraded bricks. The current thinking suggests that this is a potential burning site of buildings during the Civil War period (1641-1651), these theories will be explored further next week. We can be sure, however, that solid burnt platforms are the remains of a significant burning event.

Trench 8-
In the paddock, significant progress has been made on a series of three intercutting ditches, located at the top end of the trench. These were discovered below multiple medieval rubbish pits, which date from  the 13th Century through to the 16th Century suggesting that the ditches below the pits are late Saxon/ Norman in date, however very little pottery has been found in the uppermost fills to support this theory. We are hoping for more evidence next week!
A copper alloy strap end uncovered in the Medieval pits

In the north-west corner of Trench 8 we have identified two phases of occupation in a building, the earliest of which may be Norman. The later phase dates to the 14th Century and we have found evidence that the building ended its use by catching fire and collapsing in the 15th Century. We can determine the date of this final event through the exciting discovery of a coin dating to Henry V’s reign (1413-1422).  There are no firm dates yet for the earlier phases of occupation in the house but it is thought to be of Norman construction.

A copper alloy finger ring found in the Norman building (Trench 8)

A photograph of Trench 8 (South East corner) at the end of week two
Excavation this week in the south-west corner of the trench has uncovered a potential new building! Below the Georgian flowerbed we encountered rubble of a Tudor building formed of hand-made red bricks. We excavated through this and encountered the remains of a possible stone building. At the moment a partial wall has been unearthed and a thick layer of patchy mortar suggests a possible floor, below which is an under floor drain. We have also discovered a number of small finds that have aided in the dating of this possible stone building. In particular, a rose farthing dating from 1642-1649 was uncovered in the Tudor rubble. For the coin to be present in the rubble the Tudor building must have been knocked down and therefore the potential stone building predates 1642.

We are really hoping that the weather will improve next week so we can explore all these projects further and we thank everyone for their hard work this week through the terrible weather!