Saturday, 14 September 2013

Leaf is great

Working on a site over the border in Somerset this week and this came up under the digging machines bucket:

Probably Late Neolithic. Which just goes to show that one must always keep ones eyes peeled!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Is life boring? Ditch it!

I've been working on a site the last couple of weeks, an evaluation, and we have come to the conclusion that it is a Roman-British fortified settlement; quite rare in Somerset.

We have cut through two large parallel defensive ditches, 4m wide by just under 2m deep:

We had RB pottery from the covering material and ditch fills, as well as some slingshot:
The Durotriges were famous for their skill with the slingshot and so were recruited into the Roman army. Unfortunately they ended up in hot countries in the middle east!

With careful excavation one digger found marks in the bottom of his trench:
This was made by a dolobra, an entrenching tool very much like our own mattock:

Another nice find was a flint scraper or knife with evidence of wear on the edge:

It fits nicely in the hand and is Late Neolithic:

We are hoping that the site will go to full excavation and we can uncover the full extent of the defensive settlement and earlier features.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

House & Home

Not a lot came out of the site I was digging during July, as regards finds that is. But we did have an opportunity to do some reconstruction work on the Bronze Age house and this is the result:
View looking north
We stuck some metal pegs into the postholes and tied some wooden posts to them. My rather crude drawing shows that the posts formed a rather interesting pattern:
North is downward
I thought at first that the entrance was NE, but it is possible that it is facing south and that the triangular shapes are there to hold up a raised platform inside the building. 

All-in-all it was worth the effort. The rest of the site was ditch digging with little reward, apart from a B/A loomweight and some rather cruddy pot, one with finger marks on it, which was nice.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Dig Tired

I have been digging for the past few weeks and the heat and flies have got to me. More posts soon - promise.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

PAS day

I have been volunteering for the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the last few weeks. This scheme was set up in the UK so that people could take artefacts to a professional Finds Liaison Officer based at local town councils. FLOs work mainly with metal detecting clubs recording finds from their meetings, but also individuals. I wanted to fill gaps in my knowledge regarding metal finds and coins, the sort of things that come up rarely on archaeological sites.

Today I was working on Roman coins, such as this 4th century numus example of Valentinian (364-378 AD):

Then it was forward in time to this silver half groat:
The obverse has the shield of St George within a palm and laurel and the reverse is co-joined shields, St George with that of Ireland.

But it is not all coins. This example of a little dress fastener is very similar to the one I was working on (1550-1650):
Sadly I will have to miss out for a couple of months at least to work in the field, but I will look forward to helping the PAS once more in the autumn. 


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Digging again

Going to a new job. Will post all the news, views and finds from the site here.

Just to say, farewell Mick Aston, returning to the earth from which so much knowledge is found.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Grave Concerns: Iron Age

The Grave Concerns session looked at Iron Age burial customs in Europe and Britain. Generally not a lot to go on. Howver, the Arras culture, with its links to Gaul, gave us an excuse to look at some nice chariot burials, especially Wetwang:
The Arras culture is loosely associated with the Parisi of pre-Roman Britain with similarities with the La Tene in Europe. The burials are of chariots under mounds surrounded by a square enclosure ditch. The bodies are crouched (extended in Europe) and the chariots disassembled. The burial goods are British in style, not continental, so indicates that we do not have an incoming population but locals using continental style burial. 

We also looked at the chariot burials of Sintashta-Petrova in Russia from c.2000 BC:
 and the later chariot burials of China, 1200 BC, at Hougang, Henan province:

In the north of China, in the Tarim Basin in present day Xinjiang, we took the example of the dessicated bodies called The Mummies of Urumchi. The earliest are from 1800 BC and are of Europoid physical type, which can be seen in this picture of the 'Charchan Man':
 The 'Hami Mummy' had red hair:

Of course, we couldn't not look at the example of a body from this period preserved by being in anerobic conditions - Tolland Man:

Generally, burial in the Iron Age is lacking, with most parts of Britain perhaps treating the dead by not burying them in a grave, with some examples that are found being in pits, postholes or ditches. In Cornwall they buried some people in cist graves. With their emphasis on the head as the seat of the soul, did Iron Age people not care about the body?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Grave Concerns: Bronze Age

The last Grave Concerns dealt with burial during the Bronze Age. All these subjects are huge, of course, so we can only scratch the surface.

We looked at crouched burials which had gradually replaced the communal tombs of the Neolithic. Dorset has many examples of round burial mounds dotted around the landscape and some of the early ones may be Beaker burials, after the distinctive pottery of the period:
Some mounds are standing alone, with others part of cemeteries

One of the most famous recent burials was the Amesbury Archer, found not far from Stonehenge, with several beakers, wrist guards, arrowheads and gold hair ornaments:

Two of the most famous barrows in the south west are the Clandon and Bush barrows, both of which had gold lozenge artefacts in them:
Bush Barrow

Clandon Barrow
Burial in the Bronze Age suggests a continuing change in emphasis toward the individual, with burial of wealthy individuals and children, some with apparently hereditary status. There may be a move toward concern with family and personal history rather than the power of the collective tribal ancestors, as previously.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Monuments & Memory

West Kennet long barrow, Wiltshire
For the Grave Concerns course we looked at burial practises in the Neolithic and how the new monuments correspond to the old centres of Mesolithic activity; a permanent link between the emerging new way of life more based on agriculture and the ancestral dead.

There is a suggestion that the shapes of monuments relate to the type of houses favoured in an area, with a link between the houses of the living and the dead. On the southern chalklands of the UK long mounds are constructed over wooden and then megalithic structures, as at West Kennet and Nutbane. They tend to be linked to causewayed enclosures.

The internal structure is generally of a tomb (at the wide end or sides) with chambers for the bones, initially of wood and then succeeded by stone, with a segmented construction running through the covering mound (after the tombs are abandoned):
Hazleton North barrow
The final mound construction is revetted with stone with a forecourt at the wider end. Is the segmented internal construction symptomatic of gang labour or to stop soil creep, or part of the ritual shape of the tomb? Bones tend not to be articulated, which could point to excarnation practises. The shape of the megalithic tombs are curious, with marked similarities to the much earlier Malta temples:
West Kennet

Huge stones are set in place when the sites are abandoned:

In Ireland, North Wales and northern and western Scotland we have Newgrange:
Bryn Celli Ddu:
and Maes Howe:
In these round tomb mounds are passages leading to chambers, some with carved stone basins holding cremations:
Knowth basin
Astronomical features include the box above the entrance of Newgrange, constructed for the the light of the sun to enter at mid-winter sunrise:

These tombs may have been brightly painted, with effects of drums, smoke, booming horns and dancers adding to the drama. Drugs may have played a part in communing with the ancestors.  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Deb & Dom: The Diggers 2

Grave Concerns-Palaeolithic

The first 'Graves Concerns' session went well, looking at the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. The first site we looked at was at Shanidar Cave, dug in the 1950s and finding some rare Neanderthal burials:
One skeleton showed that Neanderthals looked after injured people, with one individual having injuries to the face, and the loss of the lower right arm, all healed.

At Sungir we looked at one of the oldest Homo Sapien Sapien burials to be found so far:
Grave goods included thousands of ivory beads, bracelets and pendants, as well as delicate sculptures of a horse and mammoth.

Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic, is famous for its graves including abundant artefacts from 27-20,000 BC. This included the Venus of Dolini Vestonice:
One skeleton of a woman had a disfigurement of the left side of the skull. In the grave was a carving with the same disfigurement:
Is this the earliest portrait ever found? Also found here is the 'Three People Grave':
The grown male is prone and the adolescent seems to be pointing the womb. Deliberate of accidental? Why is the male prone and the other two supine? Questions we will never answer with certainty.

What we can say is that pre- and post-ice age people had a sense of the after-life and ways of expressing their faith in it through ritual and burial of individuals from their communities.   

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Carry on Kids!

I did a day working at a school in Dorchester, where the Ancient Technology Centre based at Cranbourne had already built several structures, such as this I/A roundhouse. In this the kids were being taught about how past people made art:

Here they can also look at food processing:

The present project is the construction of a 'henge' with central 'dolmen' (a stone room in which the dead were placed), which the kids are actively engaged in making themselves. This is a mix of the two monument types, but one has to make compromises. They even moved the large stone themselves using wooden rollers! They are digging the surrounding ditch and making the bank, then digging the central holes for the stones, which are being set one a year, the last to be set on top of the others in 2015:

The ditch and one central hole being dug. 
The kids are great workers and set about their tasks with gusto. In fact, it is difficult to get them to stop. Which is a marked difference from some of the professional diggers I have worked with! One kid said "I don't know what I'm doing, but I'll carry on anyway!" What a trooper.