Saturday, June 13, 2015

Severn Valley Ware at Berkeley

Archaeologists really get excited about pottery, and here at Berkeley we've recently become excited about a piece of Severn Valley Ware that was found last week. This particular type of pottery was produced at kiln sites all along the valley of the river Severn, including at kilns located close to Berkeley. This particular sherd is a little unusual as it's the foot ring of a vessel fashioned to be re-used as a pot lid.
View of Severn Valley Ware
Severn Valley Ware was produced and distributed in Britain from the second to the fourth centuries A.D, and we found ours in a context underneath a Saxon building. However, the re-use of this vessel as a pot lid means that its life span has been extended and it may well have continued in use into the Anglo-Saxon period. It's a distinctive type of ware which is orange or red-brown, produced along the middle Severn Valley, and distributed across Western Britain. It's usually fine textured, burnished, wheel thrown, and the thicker examples might have grey colouring in the middle. It is also often decorated in linear or lattice decorated zones.
This piece of Severn Valley Ware was found at Berkeley Castle
The ware is unusual in that although the pottery adheres to a common tradition in form and fabric, it does not come from one industrial complex, but rather from 'a diversity of small producers'. The reason for this is related to why the wares emerged. P.V. Webster in his article Severn Valley Ware: A Preliminary Study, says 'the early Severn Valley potters were clearly catering for a mainly military market'. He attributes the emergence of this type to the pre-Roman ceramic tradition in the area being less developed than elsewhere, and so a demand being created when the second and twentieth legions moved in to fight the Silures. A mixture of potters with continental, native and Roman influences, some possibly following the legions they were working for from the South-East of England, began to cater for them. When the legions moved on, civilian demand from the increased prosperity of the area allowed the style to continue to flourish until the fourth century. After this the style disappears, albeit not all at once, and Webster notes the correlation with the troubled period AD 347, and that many of the kilns were in vulnerable rural areas.


Find out more about this type of pottery along with a distribution map here: http://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/SVW.html
Key source: P.V. Webster, 1976, "Severn Valley Ware: A Preliminary Study", Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Vol 94, p. 18-46

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Summary of Berkeley 2015 Excavation

The 2015 dig was seen off with the usual tradition of donuts for everybody who’s worked so hard over the past two weeks, which definitely went down well! There was still much work to do however, as the students were set to work clearing down to the natural geology adjacent to the ditches across the east end of Trench 8. This was to clear the area before it is back-filled by checking there are no more artefacts or archaeological features. As a gift to future archaeologists, a time capsule is being placed in the deepest ankle-breaker ditch, allowing the Berkeley Castle Project’s legacy live on!


Enjoying the donuts

The Time-Capsule


A last sweep of the metal detector over the whole site has also brought up some interesting discoveries. These included three Roman coins in fair condition and an Anglo-Saxon (8th / 9th century) strap-end which was almost a 'blank' having come out of a mould but not yet been cut or drilled. This has been a very exciting discovery which could potentially indicate production of such items within the Berkeley area, something which is very rare in the UK!

Dr. Stuart Prior's Summary of the Excavation:


The co-directors of the site, Professor Mark Horton and Dr Stuart Prior, and site supervisors, Sian Thomas and Emily Glass, would like to say thank you to all the students for their hard work during the excavation. The weather has been lovely, and it has been a really enjoyable four weeks working with everyone! Looking forward to next year!

Also a big thank you to the Berkeley family, everyone at the castle, and the residents of Berkeley town!

Winding Down at the End of the Dig

As we come to the end of the dig, work has begun to shift into the realm of logistics and tying up loose ends. The list of jobs to complete appears endless: shifting spoil heaps, numbering drawings, taking levels, checking context sheets, photographing sections, and metal-detecting the whole trench, to name a few! A special mention should be made of the deconstruction of a vital team-member: the car-port. It should be especially noted for its provision of shelter against sun and rain during the last two weeks of weather extremes!

Equipment sorting and cleaning starts
2015 has been a strong year for the Berkeley Castle Project. The ditches have been completely emptied, leading to the discovery of a large quantity of scrap lead waste in a deposit believed to be a backfilled bank. Overall, there has been a surprisingly minimal amount of finds. This could be due to more of a focus on the top end of the trench, which has been troweled back almost to natural.

As far as dating is concerned, there is a strong level of confidence as to the estimations so far. It is suspected that the smallest ditch is Early Saxon, the middle is a burr ditch, and the small recut ditch belongs to the Anarchy period.

One of the final finds of 2015 was a Roman coin. It was found using a metal detector in the same layer as that of the Severn Valley Ware. Not much is known about it yet, as it has yet to be cleaned and processed, but it appears to be in a fair condition, and should be identified in the near future.

Roman coin, fresh out of the ground before cleaning
Having a strong, cohesive team is vital to a successful dig, and the students working this year have been exactly that. When it was time to completely remove the fill from the ditches, they showed strong teamwork, and have been particularly commended on their ability to work well stratigraphically, and carefully consider in an archaeological sense what it was they were digging. Consistently proactive, and willing to work, the 1st years in particular have left the supervisors with much to look forward to in the next couple of years to come!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Full Fulbright Experience

20 Things that Happen on Your First Dig - From a non-archaeologist

1. You are super excited for your first dig and firmly believe you are the new Indiana Jones.
2. You will find yourself with cuts and blisters all over your hands and not notice until much, much later. (We should have worn our gloves like they told us to.)
3. DIRT - it is everywhere
4. Even on the cloudiest, rainiest days you still manage to get just as sunburned as any other day.
5. You quickly learn that you will not become Indiana Jones overnight and that this is incredibly hard work.
6. There comes a point when you question why you are sweeping dirt from the earth.
7. Every mineral becomes a question of "Is this a rock OR IS IT A NEW DISCOVERY??!?"
8 . And no matter how hopeful you are, it is usually just a rock.
9. But there is still hope that you will magically find something that the other experienced diggers have not been able to find in 20 years.
10. When you do finally find something, you are the only one who gets excited because everyone else has already found the same thing multiple times.
11. And all the other archeologists seem to know everything about anything by just looking at the small piece of bone you have just found.
12. WHERE IS THE BATHROOM???
13. Lunch break is a gift from God.
14. So is the nap on the bus ride home.
15. Time goes by fairly quickly when you are digging with some great people and great friends.
16. When you shower that night, you will wonder if it is possible to ever be as clean as you once were before you went to a dig.
17.The Next Morning you will feel like you ran a marathon even though all day you were kneeling on a padded mat
18. Your knees and your back will be sore beyond belief
19. You will wonder why you signed up for this because you are not an archeologist and firmly believe that your body cannot handle it
20. But at the end of the day you will feel incredibly accomplished and have lots of fun

Interviews with the Fulbright Scholars


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Site Director

Here at the Berkeley Dig a few of us were wondering what exactly it is that our site director Stuart Prior does all day. He's always rushing about the site doing job after job and rarely gets a chance for a break or lunch, so what occupies his time? To find out I decided to be his shadow one Friday, and record what he got up to, whilst picking his brains on what it all meant and what else he did when I was not there. By the time I got home, I could confidently say that he was a very busy man, and I had also gained detailed knowledge of what being a site director involved.

Stuart's day began at six o'clock in the morning, when he woke up and the first thing he thought of was the Berkeley Dig. He did some research on the arrow head we had found the day before to check its date. He sometimes gets up even earlier to do research. By seven thirty he had taken his dog for a walk and left the house to ride for an hour on his motorcycle to get to site for eight thirty.

Over the next hour he checks the trench for health and safety issues and makes sure the structural integrity of the sections is sound, before meeting with Roland Brown, the estates manager at Berkeley Castle, to discuss some logistical issues. The students arrive on site at nine thirty, and need to be registered, and directed on their daily duties.

Stuart spending some of his down time in
the stocks (the only way we can get him to
stay in one place for any length of time)
For the next few hours, Stuart is needed everywhere. His schedule seems to me to be based around systematically talking to everyone on site, checking on how they are doing, whilst being available to receive any visitors as the face of the dig, solving problems that arise through the day, giving out information, and generally being the person who has in his head what we're all doing and why. His first task is to show the post-excavation team where all the finds from last year are kept in the castle, so that they can continue to inventory them. Naturally this involves a phone call to locate a missing box and a health and safety briefing on the use of ladders. By ten fifteen we are on our way back to the trench. As we walk he gives me a tip: on the run between places is a good time to quickly check your emails; his smart phone is definitely an organisational tool. We are sidetracked for ten minutes, because someone needs a tour of the site, but then he is in and checking on students.

He says it's important to make sure that everyone knows what they are excavating, and why they are excavating it, to keep morale strong, and because it's hard to work on excavating a feature if you're not sure what you're meant to be looking for. To this end he is always busy pointing, gesturing and talking as he explains the archaeology people are uncovering to them.

He advises the supervisors on the direction of the digging, suggesting that a group stop taking up a Roman road surface, and instead get some some pits recorded and ready to be photographed. By this time a problem has already arisen back with the post-excavation team. It's only minor, the finds bags keep breaking because they are old and brittle, but it's one of many small issues Stuart tackles throughout the day. Someone has cut their finger too, so he tells them where the first aid kit is. He's always checking safety, asking all the students he talks to if they have sun cream on, telling some that they need sun hats too, and some that they need hard hats, as they're in the deep part of the trench. He checks if a certain phone call has been made by Phil Rowe, the site's technician, and announces that nobody is to go into the churchyard between eleven thirty and twelve thirty that day, due to a memorial service happening there.

Stuart giving one of his many tours of the
trench to Esther, a post-graduate
Bristol University have been digging at Berkeley a long time, and Stuart is wanted, not for the last time today, to help students remember where a certain trench or feature used to be, this time the Roman trackway, before he sends away social media who have arrived, to come back in an hour to photograph the pits which aren't quite ready yet. Then he has a conversation with Mark Horton about the arrow head of the day before and it's dates, and a conversation with another colleague Phil who is GPS surveying the location of all the previous trenches, asking him if he thinks a guide could be ready for next year. He finds out that a finds box in post-excavation has mysteriously not been catalogued at all, introduces himself to a BBC film crew who have arrived on site, and directs students on their break off the Berkeley's drive and into the paddock.

At ten twenty he sits down for a quick ten minute break, which is just about long enough to have some food and a drink, which is good because being a site director, or rather following one, is feeling like hungry work to me. It's a day of constantly being on your feet and walking places to do things. Break is also a good time a reapply sun cream, and tell other people to reapply sun cream, as the June sun is warm and it's approaching midday.

A student has got grit in his eye, and Stuart advises him to go and bathe the eye and that the accident should be recorded. As site director he has a responsibility to make sure that everything is recorded which should be, but he doesn't want to unnecessarily record things, so it's his judgement call. He used the walkie talkie to tell the social media team that we need the cameras for longer, and begins photographing the many pits which are in the trench as well as a wall. This is a surprisingly lengthy process, and each time the cut and fill numbers of the features need to be chalked onto a board and the scales placed, and one time even a small team of people assembled to make a pit shaped shadow over the bright ground.

As we walked around, I tried to ask him twenty interview questions, but it was difficult to find time to squeeze a word in edge-ways, as he is always talking to somebody. The BBC crew have begun filming on site, and he has discussions with them about how much our metal finds have increased since we have had our own metal detectorist, (it is decided that tenfold would be an appropriate expression). He also talks to Mark about how exactly the arrowhead could be presented on the BBC, and has conversations about the timing of the press release, because it would be good to release the information at the same time as the arrow is displayed in the castle. He also has to locate a missing scale rule, and then we take the cameras back to social media.There is another person wanting a tour, but he doesn't have time to give one so he asks one of the student supervisors Rob to do it. By now it's time to do the rounds of the trench again, giving students guidance on how to proceed with the various features they are working on, and checking how the filming is going. At one fifteen we get a break for lunch, which he says he is very happy about because he doesn't always.

Stuart helping a student, Catalina, with her excavation of a
medieval pit

At two o'clock we begin again by checking on the post excavation team. We discover that there have been mistakes in the samples that they have taken, and Stuart reluctantly decides that this means all the boxes will need to be re-checked, as we can't have an inaccurate cataloguing system.We are called back to the trench over walkie talkie within twenty minutes though, because a local historian has arrived and with one supervisor fewer than normal that day, everyone is too busy to talk to him. It's time for the third trench tour of the day, which he gives as patiently and in as much detail as always.

After getting back to organising the finds processing, having one conversation and two phone calls, Stuart and I briefly split ways. We have two more visitors, this time from the local heritage centre, and I think I am able to take them round site myself to save him time after listening to the last three. After this, the day is beginning to draw to a close for the students and his help is needed a few more times in the trench before the digging finishes. This involves helping people filling in context sheets (explaining what inclination of access and truncated both mean), puzzling over a seemingly incongruous pit found in a tudor terrace, and showing a group how to spray the ground with water to identify the edge of a feature, as well as being asked if the spoil from the digging done on camera should be sieved. He even managed to spot a potential piece of Roman polished stone or painted plaster as he was walking around and investigated it. At this point he and I sat down, and he told me what he would be doing after I left.

Stuart helping students to see the change in colour in the
context which identifies the feature they are excavating

At four thirty the pack down with the students begins. All the tools need to be clean, and everything put tidy into the Church tower. He then debriefs everyone on the day, and thanks them for their efforts. After five o'clock, he stays on site, checking the cemetery and tower for mud, stray tools, lost property and lost students. He debriefs the castle staff on the events of the day, and checks the supervisors are happy, before doing a final check of the site and securing it all, locking all gates, and then leaving. At half past seven he arrives home and, in his own words, collapses exhausted. He also tells me that Saturday is his only day off, as on Sunday he has to spend time doing emailing and other work for the university that he hasn't done in the week, due to the dig.

I found my day in the life of a site director really interesting, because although we can all see Stuart going around looking as though he's being organised an director-like, the little details show what kind of things typically make up his day. The role is dynamic, as he might arrive with a set of things which need to be achieved, but the unpredictable nature of an archaeological site mean issues big and small are constantly arising requiring his attention, so he has to make decisions and find solutions on his feet. The day is long and tiring, but enjoyable, outside in the weather and getting to grips with the practical everyday logistics of archaeology, busy but not quite manic, relying on the co-operation of the supervisors and group as a whole to keep things running smoothly.

- our roving reporter from the field Caitlin Tilt reports!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sian Thomas: Archaeology and Excavation

Sian Thomas, site supervisor, gave a quick summary of the archaeology at the Berkeley excavations and some information about the goings on at the dig. The biggest job at the moment is clearing out the ditch, possibly from the Anarchy Period, for final photos and this is requiring lots of hard work from the team here.The final recording of the ditches is also taking place.



We have had lots of visitors down to site today and it has been very busy. Paul Driscoll, the South Gloucestershire County archaeologist, was given a tour around the site with Stuart Prior. We are looking forward to a visit from the Agincourt Society later on today because on of the flag bearer from the battle is being buried near Berkeley and the 600th anniversary of the battle occurring later on this year.

Monday, June 8, 2015

20 Questions Series

Our engagement team has interviewed the Site Supervisors, Emily Glass and Sian Thomas, Co-Directors, Stuart Prior and Mark Horton, and Site Field Technician Phil Rowe. Each member of the team was asked the same 20 questions and here are their answers.

1) What’s your favourite colour?
Phil – Blue
Stuart - Green

2) If you were a number what would you be?
Phil - 3
Stuart – 13 or 23

3) What’s your favourite animal?
Phil - Tiger
Stuart - Wolf

4) What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
Phil – Beef and horseradish
Stuart – Coronation chicken

5) Which superhero would make the best archaeologist?
Phil – Batman
Stuart – Superman because of his x-ray vision

6) What would your theme song be?
Phil – Always look on the bright side of life
Stuart – Spacelord by monster magnet

7) Cheese or chocolate?
Phil - Cheese
Stuart - Chocolate

8) Favourite takeaway?
Phil - Indian
Stuart - Indian

9) Famous person you’d like to meet dead or alive?
Phil – Douglas Hague
Stuart – William the Conqueror or Boudicca

10) If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Phil - Moon
Stuart – Ride route 66

11) Go to karaoke song?
Phil – My Delilah
Stuart - Freebird

12) What was the first thing you thought of this morning?
Phil – How much I love my wife
Stuart – Berkeley excavations

13) What would you take on a one way trip to Mars?
Phil – Photo album
Stuart – iPhone for music

14) Last movie you saw?
Phil – Woman in Black
Stuart - Footloose

15) Advice for wannabee archaeologists?
Phil – Follow your dreams
Stuart – Be determined

16) North or South?
Phil - South
Stuart - North

17) Cake or pizza?
Phil - Cake
Stuart - Cake

18) What’s your favourite season?
Phil – Spring
Stuart - Winter

19) Last book you read?
Phil – The unknown warrior
Stuart – The world of ice and fire

20) Worst subject at school?
Phil – Design Technology
Stuart - Maths

Mark Horton's 20 Questions




Emily Glass's 20 Questions




Sian Thomas's 20 Questions

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Five Female Archaeologists that we should be talking about

Chatting to a group of friends over a drink after a long day spent at the Berkeley excavations, the conversation turned, as it so often does when talking to final year students, to the future and what the heck we would find ourselves doing in the years to come. For many it was obvious, my medic friend would most probably be working in a hospital, the engineer of the group had already scored herself a training contract and the politics grad next to me was already excited for her masters degree. Then it was my turn. “What about you, Sarah? What are you going to do with ‘Archaeology’?” I ignored the scornful undertones, unfortunately used to my degree being undervalued by my unknowing peers, and accustomed to their unawareness of how awesome archaeology can be. “I dunno”, I replied. “I might carry on digging for a bit.” Cue raised eyebrows and incredulous looks. “What like the first FEMALE Indiana Jones?” Oh wow.

This post, far from being a rant about the potential undervaluing of arts subjects including archaeology, is actually a celebration of a couple “FEMALE Indiana Joneses” that have already KICKED ASS in their exploration of the past through material remains.

Margaret Murray. (1863-1963)

Margaret Murray (Source: Wiki)
Maybe an obvious place to start, but I just think she is the coolest. Murray is famous for being the first Female Archaeology Lecturer in the UK, placed at UCL in 1899 (apparently she was paid £40 a year). She was awarded an honorary doctorate from UCL in 1931 and made an honorary fellow in 1932, before becoming the Chair of Egyptology in 1933 – impressive for an archaeologist, let alone a female one at this time!

A feminist, she was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (led by Emmeline Pankhurst) and took part in the first procession of protest to the Houses of Parliament in 1907. She partook in excavations in Malta, Menorca, Palestine and Egypt – and during the excavation at Abydos, Egypt (1902-1903) she overcame initial trouble asserting herself as a 4’10” woman and quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with. In 1908 she spent over an hour and a half unwrapping a mummy to an audience of over 500 in the first public mummy unwrapping. She also spent a lot of time cataloguing collections in museums in Edinburgh, Dublin, Oxford and Malta to name just a few. Murray’s work has paved the way for archaeologists – male and female alike – and she is definitely worth chatting about.

Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976) 

Agatha Christie (Source: British Museum)

I know. I know. A bit of a wild card. But Agatha Christie is actually a big deal not just for her writing skills, but also her archaeological experience. Who knew?!

Christie accompanied her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, on digs throughout the Middle East throughout the 1930s, aiding him at first as a junior assistant by cleaning and repairing objects, sorting pottery fragments and cataloguing finds. She expresses her enthusiasm for archaeology in her autobiography, explaining that her time spent on excavations at Nineven (the capital of the Late Assyrian Empire) were “endlessly interesting” because “Although it was so old – it was new!”.

Over time her involvement in the archaeology became more intense and demanding – including work as a photographic technician, taking and developing photographs, as well as restoring pottery and supervising workmen. Most days she would begin work at 6am to avoid the worst of the desert heat. She joined excavations at Chagar Bazar in North Eastern Syria, where the Mother Goddess figures (dating to 5500-4500BC) were found, the enormous site of Tell Brak and also at Nimrud, the prominent Assyrian city in Northern Iraq. Christie’s contributions were also invaluable.  The Numrud ivories, for example, are widely recognized as one of the finest collections of carved ivories that have ever been found, and because of Christie’s ingenuity in conserving and cleaning them (using cosmetic face cream and a knitting needle) they are still in good condition now.
Nimrud Ivories (Source: UCL)
Her archaeological experiences can be seen to have influenced her writing! In ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’ for example, the culprit turns out to be an archaeologist and the tale draws on Christie’s experiences in Ur and Chagar Bazar. ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, too, clearly includes details from Christie’s journeys through the Middle East.

Theresa Singleton 

Dr. Theresa Singleton (Source: Society of Black Archaeologists)

In 1980 Singleton became one of the first African American women to receive a Ph.D. With a focus on historical archaeology and African American history and culture, she has worked to fill in the blanks and reveal the missing details about elements of everyday life in slavery in plantations in America and the Caribbean.

For her lifetime of scholarly contribution to Archaeology, the Society of Historical Archaeology awarded Dr Singleton with the J.C. Harrington Award in 2014, making her the first African American recipient. Her ground-breaking research continues to inform us about conditions of slavery, providing archaeological evidence about food, clothing, housing and religion and is addressing areas that have for too long been overlooked.

Georgina Herrmann. 

Georgina Herrmann (Source: Rolex Awards)
This lady is a pretty big deal. After getting her doctoral degree from Oxford University and then going on to lecture at UCL (funnily enough specializing in the Nimrud ivories mentioned above!), Herrmann found herself directing an excavation at Merv (a Silk Road city in the Kara Kum desert, Turkmenistan). This was great because it revealed the significance of this site as the oldest and best preserved Silk Road city, with archaeological sites encompassing 4,000 years and over 60 existing monuments. Herrmann’s work was intense: They had only an eight week time frame in which it was possible to excavate because of the environmental conditions in Merv. These environmental conditions were also problematic in the survival of the site with the earthern monuments being undercut by rising ground water and damaged further by falling rain or snow.

In 1996, Herrmann was announced as the Rolex Award Laureate of Cultural Heritage. The funding and publicity provided by this led to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) designating Merv as a World Heritage Site (recognizing its value to humanity’s common heritage), and so led to the Ancient Merv Project focusing on its conservation and management. This forged a path for the Silk Roads Thematic Study Project, aiming to help identify and conserve other potential Silk Road sites! Amazing right?!

Sarah Collins

Sarah Collins (Source: The Age, photo by Roger Cummins)
Now this lady is as kick-ass as Lara Croft, but in real life. She’s a curator at the British Museum, responsible for Early Mesopotamian collections (from prehistory to c.1500BC) including a touring exhibition ‘The Wonder of Ancient Mesopotamia’. She’s excavated in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But the reason I’m making such a fuss about this lady, is because of her work protecting archaeology in Iraq after the war broke out in 2003.

In the April, the National Museum, Library and Archives in Baghdad were looted and damaged, with thousands of pieces taken (and still unaccounted for) and many destroyed or vandalized. Just two months later Sarah was seconded to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and spent three months working with the Ministry of Culture, liaising between the US state department and officials in the Iraq museum to ensure that Iraqi cultural heritage was protected and preserved. She then worked with the British Museum to organize urgent training for Babylon Museum staff and archaeologists, focusing on site assessment, management and the care and conservation of collections. For her services to Museums, Collins was awarded an OBE in 2007. Too cool.

Final Comment

This list is a short one but I am eager to see which other female archaeologists you readers would like to recognise. If you’re keen to learn more, our friends over at Trowel Blazers (run by some other impressive and kick-ass archaeologists and paleontologists – including the ex-president of the University of Bristol’s Archaeology and Anthropology society!) have a whole blog dedicated to the recognition of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been on the scene for ages and doing awesome work.

Note: Our Engagement Coordinator would like to thank Sarah Humphrys for all her enjoyable blog posts over the last few weeks. Sadly, this is her last post for the Berkeley project as she sets off on her own adventures post graduation, follow her story here: https://adventuresplease.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Video catch up

Here are some of our videos from the first two weeks on site: Prof. Mark Horton covers 2,000 years of history in one trench; Dr. Nick Corcos recaps on his experiences of archaeology; and some fun bits and pieces!




Interview with Carly Hilts

Wednesday was an exciting day for the social media team as we got the chance to have a conversation with Current Archaeology’s assistant editor Carly Hilts.

For those of you who have not been lucky enough to meet her, let me assure you, Carly is pretty darn cool. With a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, she’s worked on Time Team, Horrible Histories and even helped develop an Egyptian themed computer game. But while such an impressive career might initially seem intimidating, we all thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Carly after lunch, and were reassured, if not a little star-struck, by her openness and generosity.

Site supervisors Stuart Prior and Mark Horton gave Carly a tour of the trench and of the castle and Carly provided only positive feedback about the site! Apparently our paddock trench looked “tremendous” and she compared the rich time span visible in the archaeological record there to a “3D text book”. Indeed, with finds unearthed ranging from Anglo-Saxon buildings to Civil War musket balls, the work we’re doing at Berkeley Castle definitely has a lot it can teach us!
Dr. Stuart Prior, Mr. Denis Burn, Prof. Mark Horton & Carly Hilts
We in the social media and public engagement team were able to gain some advice from Carly based on her experiences. She agreed that outreach is important, and empathised with us in the challenges presented in showing “hard archaeological information in a fun and accessible way”. According to Carly, silly games, archaeo-poetry and fun hashtags were her favourite ways to get engaged in what could otherwise seem to be quite a dry subject. This might be the reason why she enjoyed her time spend researching on Time Team so much. She described the experience as “SUCH fun!”, comparing the team to a close knit family. (And in case you were wondering, no, Carly reassured us that the characters we see on screen were not put on!)

It was reassuring to hear from Carly who, like the current writer, felt herself to be “more of a scribbly girl than a spade girl.” She explained that through university she loved the history and archaeology, but always wanted to combine these interests with writing, outreach and story telling. Perhaps this inspired her in her research for the Quest History educational video game set in Ancient Egypt. She explained that while school kids are playing the game, engaging with it and enjoying themselves, it was important that everything in the background was realistic and telling an accurate story – so all the food, clothing and buildings that they encountered in the game were authentic. Talk about combining story telling with archaeology!

We concluded our chat by asking Carly which archaeological site she would teleport to right that second if she had the chance. Laughing that she felt like a bit of a “traitor to [her] medieval training” she said that her “little dream” would be to hop over to Vindolanda. She explained that while many excavations today are relatively short rescue digs, it is really exciting to follow the findings of a long-running project like Vindolanda. Plus, she reminded us, the writing tablets found preserved by the waterlogged conditions of the site, were the oldest handwritten documents to be found in Britain!

Thanks again to Carly!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pit Perfect

We mentioned last week that we discovered a new pit at the top end of our trench and we can now report more because of the collective genius of Site Supervisors Sian and Emily.
The newly discovered pit in all of its glory 
The story unfolded when students were doing some routine trowelling and discovered a change in soil colour, very unlike the typically reddish-pink clay expected at Berkeley. This soil was a dark grey-brown. Memories were cast back a couple of years to when another pit, situated above this, was excavated. It was thought that this change in soil may be the very bottom fill of the pit that had been excavated a couple of years prior.  
 Mark, Emily, and Sian pondering the pit
Emily and Sian, being the meticulous people that they are, decided to confirm their theory. Their investigation involved double-checking the records and plans that have been carefully stored for eleven seasons. They quickly came to the conclusion that this was not feasible and that this was in fact the fill of a new pit, not previously seen.

Last week we reported that we discovered a piece of Ham Green ware pottery (interestingly, not always green). This discovery nearly complicated our understanding of the trench as this pottery dates from the 12th Century to the 14th Century, which is firmly medieval. However, these pits cut through a ditch that is thought to be Late Saxon to early Norman in date and for a while the pottery was thought to have been recovered from the upper fill of the ditch. The collective genius of Emily and Sian worked out that this pottery came from this new pit rather than the previously excavated pit or the Saxo-Norman ditch below.
Ham Green Ware pottery
This dates the pit and means that it is Medieval. With that in mind, the next stage of the puzzle was function. What on earth was this pit used for?

The gaze of Sian and Emily turned back to the soil. It is very dark soil, which means it’s full of organic materials. They began to theorise in conjunction with an examination of the High Street as a whole. Since our pits are Medieval they had a look at some of the houses on the road and the way that they were laid out, as the modern houses are built on the foundations of their Medieval predecessors. This pit would have been located at the very back of the croft plots (Medieval houses were built at the front of long strips of land to allow them to keep animals and grow vegetables at the back of their houses). In the image below, we have taken one of the houses and associated croft plot (now the gardens of the house) on High Street and flipped it over to the other side of the street. The star marks the location of the pit that we discovered and it fits perfectly with the bottom end of a Medieval croft plot.
High Street in Berkeley
The current theory is now that this is a rubbish pit that would have been at the bottom of a Medieval garden. This pit would have been away from the domestic activities of the house and far enough away to act as, essentially, a rubbish bin. 

Now we've found the rubbish bin, all we need to find are the Norman houses that go with it!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Midway through the season

The second week of Berkeley is drawing to a close and we have accomplished a lot in a short period of time!

Our sections are nice and clean and thanks to all the hard work of our undergrads they are ready for photography. Site Supervisor Emily and her crew were hard at work this morning taking photos of all of the ditches so we can finish the recording of these features. Our students are continuing to empty the slot that was discovered at the back of the trench last week and our new pit is being cleaned ready for recording.

In more exciting news, we have made a couple of discoveries! In our Tudor tavern corner of the trench we have discovered a lead powder cap and a musket ball. A powder cap is a nifty device that would have served two purposes. Firstly, it would have capped a vessel containing gunpowder and secondly it would have been a way of measuring the perfect amount of gunpowder required for one shot.

Left: musket ball, Right: lead gunpowder cap

One of our Site Supervisor, Emily, has a theory about which period these items belong. The layer above where these artefacts were found was a tavern that had been destroyed during the civil war. The rubble was spread out around and pieces of debris fell in between the cobbles in the layer underneath, which is cobbled. Our finds were discovered sandwiched between these two layers, which Emily thinks means that these artefacts were highly likely to have derived from the civil war.


The location of our amazing finds

Drawings of the features of the trench have continued today, and our more artistically inclined students have been tasked with this job. Check out this photo that amazing Anna drew today!

Anna's drawing

In other news, we had a visit from departmental family and friends. Teachers of archaeology and anthropology alike have come to visit the post-ex and excavation sites. 


 Mhairi Gibson and her family

We've had an amazing two weeks so far, check back next week for more updates!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exciting visitors and great finds

Today has been hectic for us here at Berkeley Castle!


Trays of artefacts and information posters were distributed to the ‘Town Museum Curators’. If you happen to find yourselves in Berkeley over the next two weeks, don’t feel strange about peering into the windows of the houses down the High Street and make sure to keep an eye out on the shop windows on Market Street. An array of artefacts including building materials, glass, shells, clay pipes and animal bones are now proudly on display!

Artefacts sitting proudly on display next to the bread at Berkeley Bakery! 

Student Catalina putting up the display of artefacts and posters at La Lune Art Studio. Photo credit: Graham and Julie Harris. 

An update for the day from the trenches: the ditches are being cleaned, drawn, planned and photographed. Excavation continues in order to gain a better understanding of the relationships between the ditches. Truncated postholes and pits (referred to as ‘truncated’ because they have had their tops skimmed off by later activity) are also being planned and photographed. The Anglo-Saxon building is being drawn in the hope that the stones will soon be able to be lifted and we can continue excavating, hopefully to find Roman remains underneath.

Sam, Wil and Mattie working on their section drawing of the trench

In the Saxo-Norman ditch, a piece of pottery known as ‘Ham Green ware’ was found. This was dramatic because Ham Green ware is medieval, dating to the 12th and 13th Century and so should not be appearing in this Saxon or Norman context. Thankfully though (for our dating and sanity) Emily worked out that it was found in a pit cutting through the Saxo-Norman ditch-fill rather than in the same stratigraphy as the Saxo-Norman material. This means that our ditch dating is still accurate along with our understanding of the site as a whole.

The Ham Green pottery handle with spotted design which momentarily complicated our dating. 

The finding of the Ham Green ware is also interesting generally, and we have found a LOT of the stuff here on site. The name ‘Ham Green ware’ refers to the site of the Kiln, in a field next to Ham Green hospital, rather than the colour of the glaze. Confusingly though, some vessels do have a very rich olive green glaze all over them. Ham Green pottery shards from archaeological contexts at Dundas Wharf in Bristol were dated using tree ring analysis of associated timbers and provide us with a date range of this type of pottery of 1120-1275. Pottery items found of this type include jugs, cooking pots and other vessels, often glazed and decorated with a variety of designs. The handle we found today, for example, has an interesting dotted design. Ham Green is also worth knowing about because it is close to where we are in Bristol – only 3 miles from Ashton Court (on the Somerset side of the Suspension Bridge) and only about 20 miles south from Berkeley Castle.


An example of a complete Ham Green ware jug! Click through for source on Cotswold Archaeology. 

Also joining us on site was Denis Burn, Chair of the Council of Bristol University Council from 2006, representative of the Merchant Ventures and past Master of the Merchant Ventures, along with Carly Hilts from Current Archaeology Magazine – Stay tuned for an interview with Carly, which should be on the blog soon!

Site directors Stuart Prior and Mark Horton giving a tour to Carly Hilt and Denis Burn. 

Town Museum project map

It’s officially here! The engagement team is proud to present the Town Museum Project for our 11th season at Berkeley. We have turned the town of Berkeley into a pop up museum for two weeks. Twenty trays have been placed around the High Street, Salter Street, and Market Place showcasing some of the amazing artefacts that we have found in our eleven seasons.
Undergraduate students meet with local businesses to place the Town Museum artefact displays

Due to popular demand we have produced a map with the twenty locations of our trays.


Our 20 trays are located as follows:
  1. 58 High Street
  2. 34 High Street
  3. 13 High Street
  4. 9 High Street
  5. Madelyn hairdressers, 6 High Street
  6. Berkeley Tea Rooms, The Old White Harte
  7. Tomatojack Arts, The Old White Harte
  8. Memorandum, 4 High Street
  9. Jones and Co hairdressers, 3a High Street
  10. La Lune, 1 High Street
  11. Perfect Blend
  12. Opticians, The Old House, Market Place
  13. The Old Shop, Market Place
  14. 7 Market Place
  15. 6 Market Place
  16. J Caldridge, 10 Market Place
  17. Berkeley Bakery, 2 Market Place
  18. Berkeley Flowers, 7 Salter Street
  19. Longfield Hospice Care
  20. 1 Canonbury Street
Local community resident Chris stands proudly by his window display.

Good luck finding and reading all of the displays!