Welcome to the Urban Archaeology weblog, where you can read about some of my work as a freelance archaeologist, and see examples of my archaeological illustration work. Clicking on most images will open enlarged versions.

Urban Archaeology provides a wide range of on- and off-site services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work.
This weblog will carry news of upcoming projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.



How to make and use a pole-mounted camera

I've written a short article on making and using a pole-mounted camera for archaeological photography. The article can be viewed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/239637819/Tools-of-the-Trade-Pole-mounted-Cameras or HERE The article will be published in the Diggers' Forum newsletter

Components of a pole-cam mounting assembly

Overhead shot of 18th century brick drainage system taken from 3m above ground using a pole-mounted digital camera

More news from The Horse and Groom



Although we finished digging in December 2013 work is far from finished on our project at Horse and Groom Inn in the Cotswolds. Over the past few months a team of specialists have been looking in detail at all the artefacts, animal and human bone and environmental samples from the site, and writing detailed assessment reports on them. Over at Urban Archaeology we have also been busy checking and collating records, digitising site plans, briefing the specialists and creating a database and GIS of all the site data. We have also been writing a detailed account of what we found at the site, a framework into which the specialist data will be slotted later. This document, known as a post-excavation assessment (PXA) is an important milestone in the site's progress, a point where we stop and assess what we found on site, look at its potential and its significance, and decide what further work is required to analyse and publish the site findings.
The PXA is not a complete and final report: once it is approved by the local planning archaeologist work will start on the analysis phase and the preparation of the final publication text, which will be published in an academic journal. Meantime we have now received all the specialist reports and we thought we would give an update on some of our findings.
One of the finds on site that captured the most attention was the discovery of an adult human skeleton that probably dates from the Middle Iron Age. What we didn't say at the time was that there was a further burial alongside the adult skeleton, and that we had recovered other probable human remains from the site.
We have now received the detailed osteological report on the human remains, and it turns out that there were the remains of five individuals buried on the site: the adult crouched burial, a baby buried within the backfill of his burial, and three other fragmentary baby skeletons or parts of skeletons.
We identified the crouched burial as probably dating from the Middle Iron Age as the grave backfill contained large, conjoining, sherds of a Middle Iron Age jar that may have been deliberately thrown into the grave. It is possible that this pottery is residual and the burial is later than the Middle Iron Age -there are instances of similar Roman crouched burials from the area-  however there was no Roman pottery in the grave and no other Middle Iron Age features nearby that could have provided such large pieces of Middle Iron Age pottery. We will be using Carbon Dating to establish the date of the burial.
The first skeleton is also the most complete as he had been buried in a crouched position within a small pit cut down into the natural limestone bedrock. On site we identified the skeleton as being of an adult male (and luckily osteologist Gaynor Western agrees!) The skeleton is a of a male who probably died aged between 25 and 40 and who stood 1.76m tall (5 foot 9) (slightly taller than the known average for Iron Age males). Detailed inspection of the skeleton showed that he had slight congenital or developmental abnormalities on his spine and ribs, but nothing that would have affected him adversely during his life. There were no signs of any diseases, injuries or other trauma on his bones, and his teeth were in good condition.
The other skeletons were all fragmentary, and all were from new born or very young babies. Their bones were very fragile and we can tell less about these individuals. The dating of the other three babies is uncertain, they were all recovered from contexts dated to the medieval period, but all may be significantly older. It is not inconceivable that the burials may date from the Iron Age or Roman period given their proximity to the concentration of Iron Age and Roman activity on the site.

Back to the City



Back in 2012 Urban Archaeology worked on an evaluation for LP Archaeology at 100 Minories in the City of London. The site was immediately outside the Roman and medieval city wall, just north of the Tower of London and during the evaluation we found evidence for 17th century brick buildings, gardens and yards, and a very deep ditch: the 'City Ditch', which was first dug in the Roman period and ran around the City wall. You can read more about the evaluation here, here, here and here.
After a brief lull the archaeological project has restarted and we are gearing up for a major excavation later in the year. So far the existing building has been demolished and we have monitored geotechnical works to find out exactly where the District Line tunnel runs -it crosses the northern corner of our site. Now we are starting to go below slab level and get the site ready for the dig.
We know that on our site the Roman City Ditch has probably been truncated by subsequent medieval and post-medieval ditches, and the site may lie outside of the Roman East London Cemetery, Roman remains may therefore be limited to gravel quarries and agricultural features. By the 1580s mapping evidence shows the area around the site as small, enclosed fields east of the City Ditch, but by 1676 the area between the City Wall and Minories had been built up, with rows of houses and courtyards to the west of the Minories street frontage, and the ditch appears to have been largely infilled.
There was a major redevelopment of the site in the 1760s and a major Georgian development was built -The Circus, The Crescent, and America Square, all linked by Vine Street. Instead of digging deep cellars or basements the developers demolished the existing buildings and built on top of that level -then raising the road and back yard areas by up to 3m and effectively protecting the underlying archaeological remains under the new basements. Much of the Georgian development was destroyed by bombing in WW2, and our site was redeveloped in the 1960s by the Guildhall Polytechnic as a school of navigation.
When the 1960s buildings were constructed they filled some of the old  Georgian basements with mass fill concrete -up to 3.5m thick! We are now slowly breaking out that concrete so that we can expose the top of the archaeological deposits underneath. These deposits will be mapped and protected with geotextile and a layer of clean sand before the area is covered by a thick piling mat and the piling rig arrives. Once the pilers have built a pile wall around the excavation we will remove the mat and protection and have a proper excavation of the site -secure within our pile wall.
The site will be excavated in three areas, starting with the northern Area A. We dug one test pit here in 2012 and found evidence for probable gravel quarrying, and medieval or post-medieval yard surfaces -fitting nicely with the 1676 Ogilby and Morgan map which shows the test pit location within a yard. To the east and south of the testpit the map also shows a series of buildings around an alley and courtyard, and we are hoping that these may have survived the Georgian demolition. At the west of Area A we are expecting the ground to start sloping down to the City Ditch.

On-line course on 15th century England




William Caxton's printer's mark (styled initials in black)
William Caxton's printers mark © Public domain
The University of  Leicester has produced an online learning course on ' England in the time of Richard III'; the course is free and available on FutureLearn, an online learning portal. The course uses a variety of accessible articles, audio files, animations and videos to take you through the political, economic and social background to the late 15th century and the discovery of Richard III's body in a series of short modules. The course is suitable for anyone interested in later medieval England and assumes no previous knowledge of the subject. It's a great way of learning about a pivotal time in the evolution and history of England, and the modular structure means you can take it at your own speed as and when you want.
The course started a couple of weeks ago, but you can join in at any time and catch up, it takes about three hours a week over six weeks, although if you follow all the links and reading it could take far more! Professor Christopher Dyer, who has helped us with documentary records on our Horse and Groom medieval farm site, is one of the academics who has contributed to the course.

Day of Archaeology 2014

It was The Day of Archaeology yesterday, a day when archaeologists are encouraged to blog about what they are doing on the day. It is a fantastic project that gives a real insight into the huge variety of archaeological work going on around the world, and the huge variety of people doing that work, so please go and have a look at what archaeologists have been getting up to.

Unfortunately I can't talk about my current site -the client has asked us not to discuss the site or the findings at this time, so instead I've blogged about the issues of publicity and commercial archaeology.


Hopefully the blog will explain some possible reasons why it has been a bit quiet on here recently, but the good news is that the next project will involve a lot of public information -we are planning a project website and regular updates on what we are digging and finding out about the site. Can't wait!

Medieval cross-slab recording



Recent work has included a research project recording medieval cross-slabs in local Gloucestershire churches. Cross-slabs are a relatively overlooked class of medieval funerary monument compared to the better known and often more magnificent effigy slabs and tombs. Cross-slabs are essentially characterised by a central cross motif, although there is considerable variety in their style and decoration, and there is overlap with other types of monument.
Cross-slabs, and possible foot-stone, at St Mary Edgeworth. Top row, left to right: incised expanded arm or Maltese Cross in circle on tapered shaft, 12th century; incised simple Greek cross on stepped Calvary; incised composite Maltese and straight arm-cross with ring around shaft, stepped Calvary and Chalice, 14th or 15th century? Bottom row, left to right: incised straight-arm cross with ribbon work and shaft with ribbon work band; incised expanded arm cross with shaft, 12th century; possible foot-stone with crude incised round-leaf bracelet cross, 13th century?

And now for something completely different: Nubian Royal Cemetery excavations



I’m swapping medieval settlements for something a bit more exotic for the next few weeks, I’m off to North Sudan to work on the Nubian royal cemetery site of El Kurru. The site is on the banks of the Nile below the 4th cataract and is near to Karima. It contains several eroded pyramids which date from the 8th to the 4th century BCE during the early Kushite period, there are also four rows of horse burials and rock-cut tombs with wall paintings. The known monuments were excavated by Reisner in 1918/9 –all but one pyramid chamber which was deemed too unsafe to enter.  

The International Kurru Archaeological Project (IKAP) is a collaboration co-directed by Dr Geoff Emberling (Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan), Dr Rachael J. Dann (University of Copenhagen) and Professor Abbas Sidahmed Mohammed Ali (University of Dongola, Kareima). 

Abbas Sidahmed, a Sudanese prehistorian who grew up in El Kurru village is in charge of a project to prepare and present the site for visitors, screening and removing Reisner’s spoil heaps. Geoff Emberling will be continuing the excavation of a mortuary temple and an area of “town wall” that Reisner uncovered and which was relocated last year. Finally his team will be investigating the burial chamber of the one pyramid which Reisner did not excavate.


File:Al-Kurru,main pyramid.jpg
View of pyramid and entrance to burial chamber of Pharaoh Piye (Creative Commons, Bertramz)
I will be working for Rachael Dann, and we will be investigating the outlying royal cemetery –following up on magnetometry survey which revealed some interesting anomalies that may be tombs that were not found by Reisner. They will almost certainly have been robbed in the past, but may still contain wall paintings and fragmentary evidence of the original contents.
File:Grabkammer des Tanotamun.jpg
Burial Chamber of the tomb of Tanutamani (Creative Commons, TrackHD)

I’m not sure how good the internet will be out there, so its unlikely that I’ll be posting any progress reports and pictures before I get back to civilisation in Khartoum, but who knows!



Evening lectures on the excavations at Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton-on-the-Hill

Over the next few months Chiz Harward will be giving a series of evening lectures on the results of the excavations at Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton-on-the-Hill. The talks will cover the background to the site, the excavation, and the initial findings and thoughts on the site and its importance in understanding the medieval landscape of the north Cotswlds. There will be time for questions and discussion after each talk.

Urban Archaeology excavation factsheets

For a few years Urban Archaeology has been producing factsheets on various subjects from artefacts to excavation techniques. These are now being updated and expanded and over the next few months we will be making the new sheets available online for free dowload.

Urban Archaeology factsheet: excavating robber cuts

Photo-rectification


Our site at Horse and Groom is now over, but we still have plenty of work to do. One job is to create elevations of all the walls of the medieval buildings. These will be used to illustrate the final report, but most importantly they form a key part of our record of the site. We are using a technique called photo-rectification as it is a quick and effective method that takes less time on site, but still allows for accurate results.

Cold weather working: a survival guide


So far the winter here in Gloucestershire has been mostly mild and wet and very windy rather than cold and snowy, but I thought it worthwhile to repost this piece I wrote for the Diggers' Forum a few years ago. Winter is always a challenging time for those working on site, and with the current gales and wet weather this year is no different and its not likely to get a lot better for a fair while yet. We've put together a few tips for both diggers and supervisors to help you survive the winter –after all, it may keep coming til April!

Cold weather working: a survival guide

Pretty skies, but can you see what you are digging?

In the news...

The excavations at Horse and Groom Inn have been in the news recently -we were featured in The Sun as well as in local papers and news websites. There'll also be a longer piece on the site in the next issue of Current Archaeology -out on 2nd January.

Artefact factsheets update



One of Urban Archaeology’s wider aims is to develop training materials for use on archaeological sites. For several years we produced an occasional and ad hoc series of hand-outs and reference sheets for use in identifying finds and aiding in the recording and interpretation of archaeological features and site formation processes.
A couple of years ago Urban Archaeology applied for grant funding to develop a series of factsheets based on common classes of artefacts; unfortunately we weren’t successful however we did prepare a pilot version of a Roman Ceramic Building Material (CBM) Factsheet containing information on types of CBM found in London. The concept was for a free downloadable A2 poster that could be displayed in site huts and tea rooms, with smaller A4 versions available as handouts, or potentially viewed on smart-phones. There's a downloadable version of the pilot factsheet below -the fonts don't view very well on the Scribd website, so its best to download it and it will open as a pdf.
We’d be very interested in any feedback on the format and the level of content, especially if anyone is interested in sponsoring or helping develop what we feel would be a great resource for archaeologists!