Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Boulogne: Part 1

On Monday we went on another trip to the beautiful French town of Boulogne. We were heading over there to supervise the unloading of the Bronze Age British finds which are going into the exhibition, including gold torcs, a bronze hoard, and pottery of the period. Whilst we were there we managed to fit in a tour of the archaeological works happening in the crypt under the Cathedral (I think I wrote we were going under the castle, I got confused over which crypts they meant); so far they have found features stretching back through to the Roman period but more on that below.

Ok we got there amazingly early and managed to squeeze in a quick zip round the Cathedral where we happened upon this (sorry for the blurry photo)...
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...which is all about our A Town Unearthed project in Folkestone! The is talk of doing more future cross channel projects between Pas de Calais and Kent as we are very closely linked historically and archaeologically. More pictures of the Cathedral interior:

Boulogne-sur-mer is a coastal town and all around you will see a nautical theme throughout the town.
And then we were on to the crypt! There are archaeological works going on down there ahead of work to improve access for the public. In the 19th century the crypts got a re-model and they basically laid the floor straight on top of what was already there; namely the remains of a Roman barracks and a medieval chapel. There are fantastic 19th century wall paintings down there..

..and charnel pits from where the medieval chapel was cleared in the 19th century. A charnel pit is what archaeologists call a feature (such as a ditch or pit) which has been filled with skeletons which we not originally laid there; possibly moved due to later phases of grave clearance in graveyards or crypts. The bones in here would have been bones when they went in, there were no actual fresh burials put in these pits; it was just a way of disposing of the earlier burials. Here's a picture of some of the medieval bones in a 19th century pit..

...there are about 800 individuals here, the ratio of men:women is 14:5, there were no signs of malnutrition but there were signs of diabetes and obesity on the bones and they were mostly adults. These people are thought to be the priests and monks who were interred in the medieval chapel (demolished in the French Revolution in 1773).

I didn't take any pictures of the Roman floor layers but they have found the original earthen floor directly underneath the 19th century one. You can see in the top-middle of the above photo a corner of the 19th century floor and how it was laid directly over the archaeology; these days there would be something in between to protect the archaeology! The old city of Boluogne is built on top of a Roman fort and this fort was the head quarters of the naval fleet which controlled the English Channel; the Classis Britannica. Evidence for this naval fleet appears in Dover, in Folkestone at our Roman Villa site (some of the roof tiles have been stamped with their seal), and in other places along the Kent and French coast. The Cathedral partially on top of the soliders barracks so this excavation is a fantastic opportunity to learn some more about the Roman period in Boulogne.

The boat exhibition is looking fabulous. I have taken some photos but I'm not putting those up until the opening on Friday because I don't want to ruin the surprise. Below is a photo of the entrance to the Chateau Musee which you can see in my previous post, but this time when we went there was a big crab hanging over the top! There are a number of art events happening in Boulogne this summer so this is part of it, again with the nautical theme.

We're heading back over for the exhibition launch on Friday so I'll try and update you all on that over the weekend! be continued...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An update on the past week

This week has been a bit manic and I've been up to all sorts of things!

A Town Unearthed
Things have moved on a bit now and we are going to begin test pitting on 2nd July. More updates to follow.

Facebook Page
I've now set up a Facebook page for Canterbury Archaeological Trust's community archaeology side of things; here's a link (please note you can access the page without having a Facebook profile but you can't leave any comments). My aim for this page is to not just advertise projects being undertaken by the Trust, but to highlight other community projects happening around Kent. I'll be also posting happenings from local history groups, museums, and any else that takes my fancy!

Educational Day
I went to an education day to show secondary school teachers in the Folkestone area how they can use archaeology, oral history and local history to supplement their classroom teaching. I haven't had any teacher training so some of the terms and phrases were a little over my head but I learnt a lot and hope to get the opportunity to use what I learnt in the future.

This week I have another school-based day, this time introducing year 7's to some archaeological material. Later in the year I hope to undertake an excavation on a primary school playing field near to the Roman Villa site in Folkestone and hope to use the school children to excavate some test pits; but more on that at a later date.

Ranscombe Nature Reserve
I only went up for the one day this week because it clashed with the education day, I'll only be able to go up one day next week too due to other clashes. The test pitting should be finished up there next week and I'll post the results when I have them. So far they've had hundreds of pieces of worked flint which is very exciting!

Young Archaeologists Club (
I lent a hand with the Canterbury branch of the club on Saturday. The Young Archaeologists Club - or YAC - is run by the Council of British Archaeology and is for young people up to the age of 17. The branches are run all over the country so if you think of someone who may want to join then take a look at the website. So on Saturday we went on a trail around the Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey looking for the kings and queens buried or depicted in these places. I'm hoping to get more involved with this branch over the next few months and I'll let you know what we get up too; next month is excavating at Randell Manor which should be fun!

Next week is looking just as manic too. I'm in Boulogne twice for the Dover Boat; tomorrow to help set up the finds at the exhibition and Friday for the big launch! I'm at Ranscombe for the last week and there's another education day. On top of that I've got to finalise my equipment and arrangements for my test pitting which starts a week tomorrow (!) Busy busy busy.... be continued....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rancombe Nature Reserve and a quick run through the prehistory of Britain

I've been mentioning Ranscombe Nature Reserve ( recently and that is because there is currently a community archaeology project occurring up there courtesy of Kent County Council. The aim of the project is to investigate the extent of a Mesolithic (10,000-5,000ish B.C.; so about 12, 000-7,000 years ago) flint scatter found in Birch Wood, a coppiced woodland, using test pits. I will quickly note that all the dates are for the British Prehistoric, the European prehistoric period tends to be a little earlier as revolutionary ideas moving up from the Middle East took a while to get to us.

The Mesolithic period is often termed the middle stone age as the 'Stone Age' is split into 3 parts; in the UK evidence for the Palaeolithic starts around 800,000 - 12,000 years ago, the Mesolithic 12,000-7,000, and the Neolithic 7,000-4,500 years ago. The Palaeolithic was when the first humans (including Neanderthals) came into Britain across the now submerged Doggerland that linked us to the continent. Britain was still mostly covered by an ice sheet that extended as far south as the Thames Estuary and the areas that weren't were not that much more habitable! The landscape at the beginning of this period was tundra, much like the Arctic Circle, and the people that lived at this time followed migrating herds of mammoth, elephants, rhinos and hippos now long extinct from these parts. By the end of this period the climate was considerably warmer and birch woodland was beginning to flourish. The ice sheets fluctuated backwards and forwards throughout this period until it finally retreated, sea levels rose and we were cut off from the rest of Europe; which in our British timescale generally heralds the beginning of the Mesolithic. By this point the climate was very similar to today and we were eating deer, hare, boar and aurochs, also this was the time where we first started domesticating dogs to help us hunt. The landscape was now wooded with pine, birch and alder forests which not only hindered the movement of the large herds seen in the previous period but also hindered our own movement and we tended to use water as route ways. We lived in skin tents, also seen in the Palaeolithic, and moved around the country exploiting seasonal resources. The Neolithic was the last phase in the stone age and is defined by the introduction of agriculture and a settled lifestyle which had been used in the Middle East for centuries before it arrived over here. It wasn't a sudden change and there is evidence of culture clashes between those who kept the traditional way of living and those who wanted to farm, but in the end farming prevailed. The forests began to be felled, the population steadily grew and we started building monuments out of stone (there were monuments built from wood in the Mesolithic). Life became something we would recognise today as normal.

So when we talk about Mesolithic sites we mostly talk about flint scatters as other finds tend to have decomposed by this point. The big important site which flaunts this is Star Carr ( in Yorkshire where antler and bone tools (mainly concerned with fishing and hunting) were found along with the skull caps of deer which have been modified and may have been worn on the head. There have been other examples, in wet areas, where evidence for wooden circular buildings have been found. Anyway, the flint scatters are made when a person knapps the flint; breaks off small bits to use as tools by striking two pieces of flint together. The scatters are the discarded debris which is left after knapping but if we are really lucky we might find an arrow head or axe. The people in the Mesolithic would have carried the flint nodules around with them and would create tools as and when they needed them. There has been and continues to be much research into how far people carried these nodules and how they got hold of them, were they traded or did they physically go to the source and in some cases that would have involved a very long walk indeed!

At Ranscombe one such scatter has been thrown into the light of day after thousands of years by modern machinery churning up a path through the coppiced wood. One local volunteer archaeologist spotted the flints on a walk and now we are trying to establish how large the site is. We've had some fab flints already; an axe, an arrowhead, and countless pieces of knapping debris. We are our second week so far and things are looking great.

1m test pit in the woods with my trusty red toolbox. Didn't get much out of it I'm afraid as I was on the edge of the test pitting area.

This is all that remains of a mouse nest, probably used during the winter for hibernation. It was full of dead leaves and looked very cozy. Trouble is there were lots of mouse holes as you can see in the left of the picture; mice don't appreciate archaeology much.

There are images of the more interesting flints at

If I find something myself I'll put it up. I'm not very good at identifying worked flint but I am learning! I'm going back next week so fingers crossed... be continued....

Community Archaeolgy (part 2): Waste Of Time?

Disclaimer: This, again, does not reflect the opinions or views held by any company or person that I work for or I am associated with. These are my opinions drawn from my observations and experiences as they stand up to now and are not to be taken as anything other than that. Please do not take offence.

This last week has been a bit slow for me with my blisters and skin peeling trauma. I did make it to Ranscombe Nature Reserve for the Kent County Council excavation, pictures to follow. It's shaping up to be a very interesting place so watch this space.

I was going to dedicate this next post to the benefits of community archaeology to the community and to archaeology but I think that will become more apparent as the year and the blog continues so will leave it for a later date. Instead I'm going to address some of the negative perceptions of this branch of archaeology which, strangely enough, I don't have much hold with. I'm not denying there are no negative aspects to community archaeology, I'm not that naive, but some of the points I've noticed being raised over the last few months have made me wonder what it is that some people think we're doing. I've had these concerns raised by professional archaeologists, by volunteer archaeologists, and by members of the public so they are not limited any one group and don't think that it's limited to people from Canterbury/Kent either, these points have been raised multiple times wherever I've been. The list is not exhaustive but the themes are generally the same.

So here we go. I'll try not to rant too much.

Money shouldn't be spent on community projects, it should go into academic research projects and keeping professionals employed.

I think this is the big one, well at least it's the one I get harassed about the most which is odd because this is one of the only points I can't do anything about. Firstly I'm going to deal with diverting the money to keep professionals employed. I'm sure most of you are aware of the economic downturn of the past few years, well this has resulted in less money being pumped into developments and therefore less need for large-scale commercial excavations ahead of these developments. Work is slow and many of us, me included, have faced and weathered long spells of unemployment in between projects. For those who don't know much about being an archaeologist, life is not easy for most involving moving around to where the work is, sometimes on a weekly basis, and always with the threat of redundancy. I think the point I'm trying to make here is that archaeology as a career, in my mind, has always been unstable and even if the money was diverted to keep us all employed, there isn't nearly enough to go around everyone. And for how long? What would we all do? In any case it'll never happen, at least from the Heritage Lottery Fund. That money was raised by the people who brought lottery tickets and has to be used for community based projects to give back to them what they put in; as it should be.

As for academic projects, well I don't really know a lot about securing funding for those sorts of projects. I will say though why don't you involve the local community into your research and get your funding that way? You'll get some valuable insights into your area of research, some different perspectives and you'll be giving something back to people how are genuinely interested. Just a thought.  

The volunteers who work on these projects don't know anything about archaeology, they don't know what they are doing, they don't work hard enough and they are destroying the archaeological record by over digging features and not recording properly.

This is the second most-brought-up grievance against community archaeology and is the one that most gets on my wick. Firstly, as mentioned in a previous post, some of these volunteers have been volunteering on archaeological projects for more years than I've been alive. There are archaeological groups, such as the Dover Archaeological Group, who run self-funded excavations every weekend throughout the year and have been running since the 1970s. They aren't paid, so aren't considered professional, yet they have more experience and knowledge than many of the professional archaeologists that I know. Secondly, with the right supervision over digging and poor recording is not a problem. The level of competence displayed by some professional archaeologists who have been in the job for years can leave a lot to be desired so before judgement is passed on those just starting out in archaeology, take a look at them. And if any professional archaeologist ever says they have never made mistakes while recording or excavating when they were first starting out then they are either lying or are unaware they have made mistakes and are still making them now; refer to my previous point. I'm sorry if it all sounds harsh but some professional archaeologists are too quick to judge my lovely volunteers when they themselves are lacking. As for the volunteers not working hard enough then I'm sorry to say but I'm going to have to disagree with you again. I'll spare you the details but suffice to say I'm yet to go onto a community run site and think that the volunteers are slacking, in fact it's usually the case where you have to work hard to curb the enthusiasm!

With the proper supervision new volunteers will not destroy the archaeological record, at least no more than on any other archaeological site. If there is insufficient or poor supervision then mistakes may happen but that is not the fault of the volunteers, that is squarely on those who are supervising them (ie. me!). Leave the volunteers alone, they work damn hard and everyone has to start somewhere.

Community Archaeology takes jobs away from the professionals.

This is the third most-brought-up-grievance and is linked quite closely to point number 1. In my experience this is not the case. I am not aware of any community dig that has actively usurped the commercial side of archaeology. Community projects do not happen on building sites, they do not happen on developer-led timescales, they do not include watching briefs or evaluations, and they do not involve planning laws. They happen on endangered or forgotten sites where there is little chance of getting alternative funding to investigate them, they employ specialists and supervisors to guide and train the community, they research history which may not be important nationally but is important locally (and after all, who knows what you might find out!), and work at a slower pace which means more time is available for careful excavation and interpretation. More developers are now building communities into their briefs, either through direct involvement or by providing resources for education, but there is a long way to go yet before all archaeology is done by unpaid workers. It's not just the archaeologists working on sites which feel that they are losing their jobs to volunteers; other specialists, such as conservators, are felling usurped by them. The issue here again is funding. When working on the post-excavation side of things the money does sometimes run out and work has to either stop or be funded from an alternative source. It means that, occasionally not all the time, artefact's and samples don't get analysed and have to be put to one side until the money is available. Projects, such as CSI: Sittingbourne, are using volunteers and the Heritage Lottery Fund to work on these artefact's and if they were not doing so now could have resulted in the loss of important information concerning the site. I suppose in a way this is taking the work away from the professionals, but who knows how long it would have taken to raise enough money to continue this work, it could have been months or even years and during that time the artefact's would have continued to degrade. I personally think that work like this should continue; others will disagree.

There will always need to be the commercial archaeologists and other specialists working in the field and there is plenty of room in archaeology for everyone to get involved. 

Community Archaeology is dominated by young middle-class white women. There isn't enough representation from minority groups, men or older generations.   

This is true but again one of the points that I don't have any control over (yet). The CBA placements have been predominantly young women but this years intake has included some chaps too. I don't know if the trend is due to the people who applied for the post, the location of the host archaeological units, the way in which these units take on staff, or is part of a bigger picture of employment in archaeology. Whatever it is I agree there is room for improvement, communities are made up of lots of different people and it is only fair they have a chance to be represented. The CBA have announced funding for more placements and have extended the bursaries for at least another two years so maybe this will be the opportunity needed for more people to apply for these posts.

Community Archaeologists and community projects don't contribute anything to furthering the our knowledge or understanding of the past. It is all just a public face and doesn't engage in any real archaeology. 

Twaddle. I'll be picking up on this in a later post so I'll save it until then.

I think that covers the more prevalent themes for now. On a lighter note here's a picture of my Aunt and I at the Jubilee Pageant. The boat behind us is the very last one and housed London Symphony Orchestra. be continued...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Community Archaeology (part 1): What Is It?

(DISCLAIMER: All opinions and observations are strictly my own and do not reflect those of any of the organisations or people I work for or am associated with)

I thought it was about time I explained what Community Archaeology is and why I chose to apply for this training placement. I'm going to do a series of posts on Community Archaeology as a section of archaeology (such as the benefits, how it's viewed by other archaeologists and what issues are currently surrounding it) but the topic is large so I'm breaking it down into sections which I will post when I'm ready.

So what is Community Archaeology? Well to me it's any archaeological undertaking that involves or is put together for the public participation, such as museum exhibitions, open days, excavations, or guided walks to name but a few. Some view this involvement of the general public as a new branch of archaeology, but from it's beginnings archaeology was a very public affair with interested individuals being able to take part. Many older generation 'amateur' archaeologists started on excavations when they were kids and have been regularly volunteering since; for some of them it equates to 30 or more years of fieldwork experience, and that is more than the years I've been alive! (More on this a a different post). It is only recently, the last 20 or so years, that commercial development and 'the need for speed', plus stringent health and safety rules when undertaking excavations, has excluded general public from their heritage. Many archaeological units do, however, use volunteers to assist in post-excavation work, mostly finds processing (washing and marking the finds coming up from sites) or sieving and analysing the soil samples, but there have been few opportunities for them to be involved in the other parts of archaeology. Luckily things are turning around for widespread public involvement and funding is now available through the Heritage Lottery Fund ( for local communities to set up their own projects to investigate the archaeology on their doorstep.

This is where I come in. I'm (in training) to be the point of contact between the archaeological professionals and the general public. However, it isn't that simple. It is not just a case of filling out a form to get lots of money then plonking a hole in a field and getting members of the public to come a dig for free. The Heritage Lottery Fund is a finite resource and competition for the funds is high so the project has to be one that a) benefits the community and b) increases our existing knowledge of the history/archaeology of an area, with a big focus on community engagement. I will, hopefully, be learning about the whole process from setting up a project, filling out the bid applications, entering the different stages of acceptance, undertaking the project (and all the things that entails), and finally evaluating it when it's completed and writing the reports. As I'm only here for a year it won't be on one project (some can be 5 years long!) but I'll be picking bits out of existing projects to build up a picture of the whole process. I've talked about the HLF but there are other ways community projects can happen, some archaeological companies fund their own, some development companies build it into their contracts (more on that in a different post), and some communities pool together and fund their own, resources can be raised from local businesses, archaeological societies or charitable trusts, but the HLF is the big provider of funds that I am aware of at the moment.

Community Archaeology isn't just about organising large excavation projects spanning many years, it can also be done on a much smaller scale. Quite frequently archaeologists are called on to give public talks or lectures, or set up an exhibition using local finds, or take part in local events with an historical slant; and to me this is all Community Archaeology. Education plays a large part too, and CAT has a fantastic Educational Officer (Marion Green) who has assembled a variety of teaching aids for schools to borrow, most notably the CATKITs and CATBOXes ( The CATKITs are made up of archaeological material which is of no further use to us (mostly unstratified finds) and are designed so children can touch these objects and think about where, and when, they came from. The CATBOXes are slightly different and contain full scale replicas and models of material from the prehistoric to the modern age. These aren't just used in schools but are also taken out to public events and shows so everybody can have the opportunity to 'touch some real archaeology', unlike visiting museums where the artefacts are untouchable. As mentioned above, community archaeology is not tied to excavation either, projects like CSI: Sittingbourne are concerned with the conservation of artefacts which are in dire need to looking after.

There are other aspects to Community Archaeology which will become apparent as this blog continues. I'm just stating my position on what it means to me, other people may have a completely different interpretation of it. I'll do a 'What Community Archaeology means to me now' post at the end of my placement to see if my opinions have changed.

In other news I'm off excavating a potential new Mesolithic (roughly 10,000-5,000 years ago but it depends where you are and who you talk too!) site with Kent County Council so I'm looking forward to that. The dig starts today but I'm having to bow out of at least today because I have severe sunburn from helping deconstruct the marque the Dover Boat was in on Saturday. I'm usually so careful but it caught me out and it's blistered in a horrific manner and I don't want them to burst and get infected. Yuk.

Our Finds Room have been celebrating the Jubilee with a small party and here's a picture of our staff and some of our volunteer finds team enjoying the festivities.

And I went up to London to watch the Royal Pageant go down the River Thames (no pictures sorry, there were too many heads in front of me). But I saw The Queen so I'm happy. be continued....