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.



100 Minories: new article on a 17th century timber structure

At 100 Minories the sheer depth and relatively recent date of the archaeological deposits has meant that some organic remains have survived on the site despite the upper levels not being waterlogged or fully anaerobic. Typically these are leather offcuts and parts of shoes, but we also recover fragments of cloth and wood.
We recently excavated a large rectangular pit dating from the early-mid 17th century containing over forty oak and pine timbers......
Read more on LP Archaeology's project website at http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/a-17th-century-timber-structure/

New article on 100 Minories and the City Ditch

I've written a short article describing the infilling of the London City Ditch. We are currently digging down through the ditch at 100 Minories and have been finding some beautiful artefacts, as well as timber structures and buildings dating from after the ditch was infilled.
17th century Lion mask glass stem, probably dating 1620-1642
Read more at http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/levelling-the-land-the-infilling-of-the-city-ditch-1600-1760/

Clay pipe training at 100 Minories

As part of the #100Symposium, we have been trying out different ways of training staff, developing skills, and increasing awareness of the various facets of the archaeology of London. At the start of site we ran a series of short handling sessions using an assemblage of unstratified clay tobacco pipes we had recovered during the watching brief phase. The collection of about 40 pipe bowls dated from the early 17th century to late 18th century and represented a good cross-section of undecorated pipe forms.

Read more at http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/clay-tobacco-pipe-training/

100 Minories website

The excavation at 100 Minories in the City of London is well under way, and there is now a project website where you can read more about the site background and what we are up to: http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/

The excavation is being carried out by LP Archaeology, with Chiz Harward of Urban Archaeology acting as Project Officer in charge of the excavation.

Gloucestershire cross-slab survey blog up and running...

Just got the basic framework together for the Gloucestershire cross-slab survey blog: http://gloscross-slabs.blogspot.co.uk/  It will fill out a bit more over the next few months as time allows.
Active fieldwork is on hold at present whilst we get the 100 Minories site finished, but once that is done we hope to get out and about systematically recording cross-slabs across the county and building up a gazetteer and database of the surviving cross-slabs. There is also a lot of work to be done transcribing antiquarian notes on cross-slabs, and building a database and GIS for the project.
Eventually we hope to cover the whole county, from the Cotswolds to the Forest of Dean, and publish a fully illustrated corpus of the surviving medieval cross-slabs in Gloucestershire as well as any records of slabs which have been destroyed.
We'll be posting photos, images and updates on the Cross-slabs blog, and on Facebook  as the project runs.
Please get in touch if you have any information on cross-slabs in the county, or are interested in helping with the project.

100 Minories, John Stow and the City Ditch




'But now of later time the same ditch is inclosed, and the banks thereof let out for garden-plots, carpenter's yards, bowling alleys, and divers houses thereon built, whereby the city wall is hidden, the ditch filled up, a small channel left, and that very shallow.'

At 100 Minories we will be excavating the City ditch which surrounded the City of London. A wall and ditch was built around the landward sides of the Roman settlement of Londinium around 200 AD, and along the Thames from c 280 AD. Following the re-occupation of London by King Alfred in 886 AD the walls and ditch resumed their defensive function and there is evidence for the continued repair, rebuilding and strengthening of the City wall and bastions throughout the medieval period. In addition archaeological excavations have shown that the City ditch was repeatedly cleaned out and recut.

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!