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!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Berkeley for the Students

For 10 seasons, the excavations at Berkeley have revealed important archaeological finds from several periods in history, with interest being generated at an international level. However, alongside the ground breaking research, the excavations also act as training for archaeology students at the University of Bristol. There are 50 to 70 students working every day, from undergraduates to masters and PhD students. Initially all first years are required to partake for two weeks, while second and third years participate as part of a unit. Many students also choose to volunteer for longer periods of time or outside of their module choices, showing how valuable the training is to those studying, and with an interest in, archaeology.

Every year from May to June students put the theory learnt in the classroom into practice. The excavations provide the practical skills needed for a career in archaeology as well as beneficial life experience. By working in such a big group students can appreciate the value of team work and organisation. Students are also offered training in excavation as well as archaeological illustration, geophysics and post excavation techniques.
Students are given support by supervisors to hone their skills

‘It’s great training for a future in archaeological fieldwork as it provides step by step training. The supervisors are also really supportive’ – Isobel Bentley, 3rd year archaeology student.
‘Berkeley lets you get hands on with the archaeology you see in textbooks’ – Oscar Gilbert, 2nd year archaeology student.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bones of contention

Skeletal remains (both animal and human) are amongst the most common finds in archaeological excavations. These artefacts are useful in identifying economic and social aspects of the community associated with them, as well as assisting archaeologists in dating the site.

Animal bones can be used to identify the diet of the area; the presence of butchery marks and burnt bones can be interpreted as the preparation and consumption of animals which can give archaeologists an insight into how a community in a certain period ate and survived. Large amounts of animal bone also gives archaeologists the chance to use the oh so popular interpretation of ritual. Seriously, we love that.

The University of Bristol’s excavations at Berkeley have uncovered a large assemblage of red deer bones. Berkeley is home to a large red deer park where deer have been raised and hunted for hundreds of years. The deer at Berkeley have been so important that sources talk about Queen Elizabeth I staying at Berkeley castle and killing all of the Berkeley deer in a matter of hours!

Deer bones excavated by students at Berkeley Castle
The excavation of human remains in archaeological sites is also helpful in identifying the social and economic environment of the contemporary community. The age and gender of the individual can be identified from analysing bones. Specific questions can be answered, for instance, in women, analysis of the pelvic bone can determine they delivered any children. Illnesses such as arthritis and some cancers leave evidence on the bones of those it affected. Archaeologists can identify ailments that occurred during different time periods, and detect epidemics in communities such as the widespread contraction of tuberculosis.

By analysing certain elements of skeletal remains, such as the prominence of muscle markers on bones, the socioeconomic position of the individual can be determined; the remains of a manual labourer is more inclined to bear more prominent muscle markers due to higher level of activity compared to someone of a higher social status with a more relaxed lifestyle.

Archaeologists can also examine teeth to determine several factors about the individual. For example, by analysing the level of carbon in the teeth the mobility of an individual can be revealed. In turn this can be used to identify any social links between communities. Malnourishment can also be detected through the analysis of teeth, particularly that which occurred during childhood. This presents itself as a form of ribbing on the external section of the tooth, highlighting possible socioeconomic issues of the period, particularly when compared to examples of higher status individuals. Even if no teeth are recovered from the excavation jawbones can also be used as identifying dental health and the deterioration of teeth.


However, there are many ethical issues surrounding the excavation of human bones such as the existence of relatives, religious issues associated with exhumation and the circumstances in which the individual died, such as in a war. How the remains are handled after excavation can also cause dispute. It can be argued that if human remains are from the last few hundred years, recent relatives may still exist and not appreciate their ancestors being excavated and stored. 
  • Should archaeologists attempt to find relatives of the deceased? 
  • Is there a time period after which human remains should not be excavated?
Share your views on the excavation of bones and the associated moral issues on Facebook, Twitter, in the comment section below, or email us

Our community engagement and ethics project is supported by the University of Bristol's Green Apple Scheme.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A whole new trench.

Over the last ten seasons, we have opened various trenches around Berkeley in order to create a clear image of the archaeology in the environs. In recent years our main foci have been the paddock and Jenner garden with various other test pits and exploratory trenches set up in strategic locations to explore particular aspects of the Berkeley area. This year our primary trench is the paddock where various features are being uncovered and the excavation of the Norman house that we found last year continues.
Excavation on the new trench.
In the last few days we have opened a small trench running alongside the paddock. This was opened up as a result of past test excavations in previous seasons where evidence of a brick and rubble deposit  had been uncovered. One of our theories to explain this is that this may indicate the presence of a kiln, possibly Tudor, on site. This is particularly significant because Tudor bricks were made by hand and increased evidence of Tudor brick and any kiln like features would certainly infer that Tudor brick work in Berkeley was produced in the town itself. The only way to produce evidence about the area was to open up a new trench. So far finds have included a lead token and the imprint of a token, various buttons, a thimble and a ring brooch, as well as an enormous amount of brick work and evidence for burnt layers. This is all really exciting for us and we look forward to making all kinds of amazing discoveries.

The opening of a new trench has been incredibly helpful for our students because it allows them to take part in the excavation process from the beginning. This has resulted in our students taking an active role in the excavation of this trench from the removal of top soil and the breaking through of new layers very early in their excavation career. It has also enabled our final year students to take on a supervisory role and gather valuable experience for the future job market. One of our dig supervisors, Sian Thomas, stressed the importance of the ‘heavier duty’ side of excavation. It’s not just troweling away layers of soil at a professional archaeological level. You can do wonders with a mattock and new trenches certainly provide the experience and expertise that will benefit our students in the future. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Unsung Heroes of the Job Site- Post-excavation Techniques

Everyone has an image of what an archaeological site looks like. To some Indiana Jones springs to mind, to others excavation brings about memories of Time Team episodes and there are some who will always think about Jurassic Park…A reminder: Archaeologists do NOT dig Dinosaurs. But one thing that people rarely think about is what happens after excavation. So we’re here to dispel the myths and welcome you to the world of POST EXCAVATION!

We all love the romantic image of archaeologists carefully scraping away layers of dirt to uncover exciting treasures or undiscovered societies but what actually happens to these objects once they’re out of the ground and how do we form our conclusions as to what they mean. During the Berkeley excavations, and throughout the year, staff and students are discovering just that through finds processing, cataloguing and archiving that is critical to our archaeological understanding of the significance of each site we work on. This week, students in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol have been conducting their own excavations in the wet and dry labs. One of the post-excavation supervisors, Dr Tamar Hodos, tells us that discoveries have included Mesolithic cores from Somerset, Classical Greek pottery from the Athenian Agora, ethnographic African archives, a partial plastic human skeleton and a host of other artefacts that record the Department’s activities from the 1970s until the present day. In addition, all finds from the Berkeley excavations are being catalogued and processed as they come in daily. This is so important because it allows us to draw conclusions from the mass of material that we uncover and has led to many rediscoveries and a re-examination of the past of Berkeley. In effect, post-excavation is allowing us to re-write history!
Finds processing in the department
 As the Berkeley Castle Project is interminably linked with students, we thought that we would get a few student opinions together about the work that they have been conducting over the last week.

‘Post-excavation is the only way that we can recognise stuff when it comes out of the ground. It is a vital learning technique.’

‘Without post-excavation, excavation is just destruction with no cause.’

Post-excavation is absolutely critical to the discipline of archaeology. Without the research side, and the discussion of finds, archaeology would just be treasure hunting with no sound interpretations. One student gave the example of the enormous amount of slag (industrial residue) that we have found at Berkeley. Through careful cataloguing and archiving at the post-excavation stage we can infer that a great deal of industrial metal working has taken place at Berkeley.

Happy final year students doing finds washing
Finally, post-excavation allows us to highlight really important finds and guides the ways that archaeologists will store and conserve the material once excavation has taken place. As so much of archaeology is our involvement with the public and defending the significance of cultural history, proper processing of the finds ultimately allows people to engage with their history, and that cannot be undervalued. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Interview with Cameron Monroe.

As we mentioned yesterday, we were happy to host Professor J. Cameron Monroe on the first day of excavation here at Berkeley. Professor Monroe has been working in Benin and is on research leave for the next few months so how could we possibly resist getting an interview to see what he thinks about the excavations here at Berkeley, his current research and (no agenda- we promise!) what his opinions are about the use of student social media in archaeological excavation.

Social Media Team (SMT): So, the first thing is, what are you doing in the UK at the moment?

J. Cameron Monroe (JCM): I’m a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and I’m on sabbatical for three months, I’ve been here for a month so far and I’ve got two more months to go. In addition to exploring the potential for some collaborative projects with the department of Archaeology and Anthropology here [Bristol] I’m writing up the results of 15 years of field work.

SMT: What have you thought so far about Berkeley, this is the first time you’ve been here?

JCM: It’s an amazing site, you walk up here and immediately you’re struck by all of the amazing work that’s being done here. It’s also clearly integrating students very well. I’m very impressed with the excavation going on over there. I haven’t seen a wide exposure excavation area like that in a long time. Working in Benin [West Africa], we haven’t had the resources to do that kind of stuff. But seeing all these young archaeologists out here getting excited by doing archaeology- it’s very cool.

Professor Monroe was excited to see all of the students on site.
SMT: How does this compare to, for example, student digs that you’ve seen before?

JCM: I think they’re very similar, I mean one of the things that this reminds me of is a lot of the archaeology I did in Virginia when I was in college. Very near, actually, things like Berkeley plantation which were named after Governor Berkeley who obviously has family connections to this property [Berkeley Castle]. But very similar, one of the things we do in the States is camping out by the site but that varies depending on where you are. But you’ve got like, forty odd students here, all working hard- clearing the site and getting ready to find some cool archaeology. It’s very exciting stuff. It’s really interesting that this trench that you’re cleaning right now covers so much of English History in what, 20 by 40 metres? All the way from the Romans to the civil war and beyond.

Students hard at work in the Paddock
SMT: What do you think about using social media for excavations and student excavations in particular?

JCM: I’ve never done it but I think it’s a great idea. Anything that gets information about a site and how important cultural heritage is, is a fantastic idea. And also, people like the students’ parents get to check in a little bit ‘cause if these kids are anything like American kids they’re probably not calling home all that often- they’re too busy having fun! So Mom and Dad get to check in and see pictures of their kids at work. It’s a great idea.

We were so glad that Professor Monroe enjoyed his time in Berkeley and look forward to welcoming other academics over the next few weeks. Remember to keep following our progress through all of our social media sites and check back tomorrow for more of our antics! Until then, from all the students at the Berkeley Excavation press office, happy digging!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Welcome to the tenth season at Berkeley Castle!

Well, here we are. Back at Berkeley for the 2014 excavation season and what an amazing start we have had to our 10th year here! The press interest in the excavation has been absolutely amazing and so far today one of our directors, Professor Mark Horton, was interviewed by BBC RadioGloucestershire for Chris Baxter’s show. We have been pleased to host Professor J. Cameron Monroe who is on sabbatical from the University of California Santa Cruz and were glad to have been given an interview that will be coming your way shortly. Doctor Stuart Prior, our other dig director, gave his exciting annual tour of the excavation and castle to all of our new first years and was deemed a Viking by one of the touring schoolchildren in Berkeley today.

Professor J.Cameron Monroe visits Berkeley Castle 
As all of the archaeology students at the University of Bristol will know, Berkeley is not only an incredibly well respected professional research project but is also our training dig. As such, the social media team has been keen to get interviews with our first year excavators to see what they’re looking forward to during their time at Berkeley, what they hope to find and what their first impressions have been. It’ll be interesting to see how those impressions develop over the coming weeks! The castle has been an absolute hive of activity today with students and JCBs and film crews that has helped to produce an awesome atmosphere for the start of the 2014 excavations. It’s been really exciting to see how the castle can be transformed for the (many) period dramas that get to shoot here and our eagle eyed readers will have seen the castle in an episode of Father Brown earlier this year. We can’t wait to see what this future production will be like.

Talking about the social media team, we’ve moved home! We’re no longer in the office space of the Jenner Museum but have been offered a space by the Berkeley Castle Estate Office who have been amazingly supportive of both the excavation projects and our social media interests. We have lots of exciting plans and projects to be getting on with so remember to follow us on twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with all our antics.

Social Media is back!
And last, but certainly not least, we at Berkeley have been absolutely gobsmacked by the finds we have been seeing so early on in this year’s excavations. All will be revealed and more is certainly to come so we hope that you’ll keep coming back for more over the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

First press release of the new season

Thanks to the team at Berkeley Castle for putting together this rather wonderful press release, highlighting some of the exciting goodies in store for our students and the public! And today saw us reach a big milestone - 500 Facebook likes!

Handle the Past
Berkeley Excavations – 19 May – 13 June 2014
The University of Bristol’s archaeological students return to the dig at Berkeley.
Join guided tours of the excavations from Berkeley Castle
– amazing finds, incredible history…

Tweetable: Handle fascinating artefacts found at Berkeley, discover how they were uncovered and why they were there @BerkeleyCastle.   Visitor info at

The University of Bristol will be returning to Berkeley for the tenth year in succession to continue with their excavations at the Berkeley Dig.  Each year as their trenches go deeper and they explore different areas of the paddock, they uncover further spectacular finds.
Dr. Stuart Prior, Senior Teaching Fellow in Archaeological Practice, Director of the Berkeley Castle Project, said;
“This year we want to excavate the rest of the Norman House in the dig site.  We were excited to see the remains of a Roman trackway with cart runs within the paddock area too – you can actually see the wheel marks!  There is also a mystery building, which may be evidence of a Tudor cabin that is recorded in the documentary records held by the Castle.”

The project has been awarded funding from the University’s Green Apple Scheme, this gives the students the resources to promote their activities and liaise with the local community.  
Come to Berkeley Castle on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 19th May and 13th June, from 10am until 4pm and handle real archaeological artefacts which have been discovered at the Berkeley site.  For the first time the staff and students from the University of Bristol are setting up a press office at Berkeley Castle and will be on hand to share their in-depth knowledge with you.  This added attraction is included within the normal Castle admission price.   Tours of the Dig depart from Berkeley Castle, these will be conducted on Tuesdays -20th, 27th May and 3rd, 10th June at 2pm.
Follow this year’s progress on Facebook /DigBerkeley and Twitter @DigBerkeley
Berkeley Castle can be found at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, GL13 9BQ Tel: 01453 810303
Visitor information