Articles tagged with: archaeology

Did you know April 18th is World Heritage Day?

on Tuesday, 20 March 2018. Posted in Archaeology, Events

World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public's awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.

Endorsed by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation UNESCO the day is an opportunity to raise the profile of World Heritage Sites across the globe and to recognise and explore their unique and special features. Many of you will know the most famous Sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian Pyramids and the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil but did you know that we have 31 World Heritage Site in the United Kingdom and that the most recent of these is the Lake District which was added to the List last year? 

Here in Wiltshire we are incredibly fortunate to have the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site – to use its proper title. The globally iconic stone circles are instantly recognisable but do you know about all the other monuments and sites which form part of this 50 square kilometre landscape which makes up our World Heritage Site? The partners that look after all things World Heritage are planning to make sure that this year Wiltshire marks World Heritage Day with an array of fun activities and events all across Wiltshire to help you find out more about our World Heritage and how to get involved.

At Avebury you can join the National Trust for a guided walk and find out why this World Heritage Site is globally important as you explore the landscape visiting the Bronze Age 'hedgehog' barrows and stroll down to Neolithic West Kennet Avenue. You'll discover some of the most exciting parts of the prehistoric landscape at Avebury.

Or join the Human Henge group for a more sensory experience of Avebury's ancient landscape. Human Henge is a ground-breaking project about archaeology, mental health and creativity that is interesting, adventurous, safe and fun. Walk, sing and learn in the company of archaeologists and musicians, connecting with others who have walked here before us.

At Stonehenge, English Heritage invite you to meet their friendly volunteering team. See them make and decorate prehistoric style pottery, fashion rope out of water reed, and make cheese and bread over the open fire in the Neolithic Houses.  Learn about the plants foraged from the Stonehenge landscape and chat to the volunteers as they repair the chalk daub walls of the houses.  There will be a chance to sign up and join this amazing team and learn some essential Neolithic life skills! There are also free guided walks around the site, a trail for grown-ups, prize giveaways during the day, and a Stonehenge100 talk by Archaeologist Phil Harding in the evening.

What IS the HER?

on Thursday, 14 December 2017. Posted in Archaeology

After eight years working for the Museums Service at the History Centre, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to change direction slightly and join my colleagues in the Archaeology Service working directly with the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record (HER). This was a somewhat daunting prospect – moving from the sunny uplands of the first floor in the History Centre down to the darker, subterranean office with stellar views of the car park. However, my welcome was warm and friendly, regardless of my ignorance in the matters of tree throws, debitage and test pits….

In the august words of Historic England, ‘HERs are an important starting point for anyone interested in the archaeology, built heritage, and history of an area. They can provide information on a wide variety of buildings and sites, from finds of prehistoric flint tools to medieval castles and Second World War pillboxes.

HERs are a primary source of information for planning, development-control work, and land management.’

There are over 85 HERs held in England, maintained and managed by local authorities and often held by joint services such as district councils and national parks. Similar records are maintained by the National Trust.

The Wiltshire and Swindon HER is not only used to advise planning authorities and developers of the implications to the historic environment when a proposed development looms but is also consulted by a variety of different users. They include archaeologists, historians, community groups, students, schools and general members of the public.

One of my favourite queries was in June this year from the 12th Cambridge Scout Group, asking me for the dimensions of Stonehenge, as the troop were about to recreate the monument with cardboard boxes. You can check out some photos of their creation on their Facebook page

Most HERs contain three types of record, Monuments (the archaeology or buildings), Events (fieldwork such as excavations or building surveys) and Sources (the associated documentary source). The records include non-designated archaeological sites and buildings, designated Heritage Assets (e.g. listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens and registered battlefields) and other areas such as conservation areas.

Wiltshire is obviously rich in all of these monuments (apart from the protected wrecks!) and our HER can be used as a signpost to discover further information about them. Something as splendidly evocative as the Amesbury Archer, whose grave was discovered in 2002, a Central European man suffering from an abscess and missing left kneecap who was buried with an unusually large number and variety of objects including pots, arrowheads, two bracers (archers’ wrist guards), flint tools, three copper knives, a pair of gold hair ornaments and a cushion stone (used as a small anvil during metalworking). The gold ornaments are the oldest gold objects yet to be found in Britain.

As the most recent member of the Archaeology team, I found this information fascinating and used the HER database to search for other sites and monuments in the near vicinity of the discovered burial, using the GIS layers on which the data is linked.

Having worked with the National Buildings Record many years ago, I’m also passionate about architecture, quite often post-medieval and dare I say it, 20th century, much to many archaeologists’ bemusement. The HER can also signpost the user to the built heritage and in Wiltshire we have an interesting supply of military building types with evidence at Larkhill of a First World War training battlefield and trench system (including finds of associated bottles!).

(For more information about this fascinating site see first world war tunnels, a blog by my colleague Clare King, Assistant County Archaeologist).

Our HER is constantly being added to and enhanced, with various projects also included into the database including a farmsteads project, an Extensive Urban Survey and the Historic Landscape Characterisation project, which is an overview of the modern and historic processes that have influenced the character of the landscape.

How to Make a Churchyard Plan

on Wednesday, 18 October 2017. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire Places

One of our most frequent enquiries at the History Centre is along the lines of ‘I’m trying to find out where my great aunt is buried; her death was registered in Salisbury in 1923…..’ We can usually help them track down the place of burial, but what they really want is to find the plot to visit. People assume that all churches have a plan of their burial ground, when the reality is that most don’t.

My interest in this subject began as a small child when I accompanied my father, who mowed the grass in our village churchyard. While he was busy mowing I was busy wandering around looking at all the grave stones. Who were these people, where did they live, what did they do? Horningsham also has a number of listed tombs which are bigger and grander than a headstone and often commemorate whole families. I was fascinated by all these people and wanted to find out more about them.

Many years later I found two friends who were happy to help me survey the churchyard and this was the beginning of my project. Horningsham is a challenge geographically, as the church is on a hill and the burial ground is divided into three sections, all on different levels. I soon realised that this was not going to be straight forward! However, with the help of my friends (I couldn’t possibly have done it on my own), and countless visits to check my drawing, I have at last finished. It has taken me years and five attempts at drawing a map I am happy with, but it is a huge sense of achievement to have finished at last. Along with the map I have also transcribed the inscriptions and photographed all the stones.

Is this something that might interest you? There are countless parishes still to be done and the staff here are always happy to help you. The archaeology team will be able to provide you with a large copy of the ordnance survey map, to give you an accurate ground plan to work from. The first thing I did was to draw an outline of the church, as I used the row of pillars on the south wall as fixed points from which to measure the stones. The scale I used was 1:100. The graph paper was marked in millimetres.

Copy of the 1844 outline


From here I began plotting each stone from two fixed points.

Plotting a stone

On a 1:100 scale, 145cm and 130cm reduce to 14mm and 13mm. You then draw two arcs (using a compass), and where the two arcs meet is the centre of your headstone. A cross will probably suffice to mark a headstone, but a tomb will need a square.

Examples on your plan of a tomb & crosses

Fortunately, I had the church on one side of the square and a wall on a second side which gave me a straight line of graves that were easy to plot. Together, these gave me two sides of fixed points that helped me plot the remaining graves.

Barbury Castle: Fine Views and Fortifications

on Monday, 31 July 2017. Posted in Archaeology, Wiltshire Places

Iron Age hillforts must be one of the most visited types of archaeological sites in the country.  Recently I have been up to Barbury Castle a couple of times and have been reminded how impressive and commanding this site is, not just because of its massive ramparts, but also its good state of preservation and all of the other archaeological features you can see from here.  It is one of the most impressive of the 35 hillforts we have in the Wiltshire and Swindon area, with panoramic views that take in the Marlborough Downs and the Vale of Pewsey.

Barbury Castle from north west. Aerial photo from 1991. Wiltshire Council

Barbury is located between Wroughton and Swindon and the County boundary, as well as parish boundaries, run through the middle of the hillfort.  The hillfort was built in the Iron Age, probably around 700 BC and is likely to have been continuously used until the Roman invasion in the mid 1st century AD.  It was one of a string of hillforts built close to the line of the Ridgeway, considered to be an ancient long distance routeway.  Three other hillforts, Liddington, Uffington and Martinsell are all intervisible with Barbury.  It is the most developed and most impressive of the Ridgeway hillforts, having double ramparts on the south side and triple on the north side (possibly an unfinished circuit).  In places the banks or ramparts stand over 3 metres in height even now and in the Iron Age would have been topped with wooden palisades and defensive towers.  Located at 262 metres above sea level Barbury was built on the highest point of the local area, a beneficial defensive position with commanding views of the landscapes below.

The ramparts at Barbury enclose an area of about 5 hectares and there were two original entrances that survive today at the east and west sides.  Unfortunately there has been little modern archaeological investigation to tell us details of the lives lived at Barbury.  However, the results of a geophysical survey carried out by English Heritage in 1998 indicate that the interior is littered with hundreds of pits (probably for grain storage) and other features, some of which are the remains of huts or roundhouses.

The interior of the hillfort as well as the ramparts have suffered some damage in the 1940s from the activities of American troops and the Home Guard who were based at the nearby Wroughton Airfield during the war and used Barbury as a training ground.  The original hillfort entrances were unfortunately widened by American troops in order to get their trucks into the interior.  Fortunately, we have a measured survey drawn in 1884 by General Augustus Pitt Rivers, the first ever Inspector of Ancient Monuments, to show how they would have been.

Wiltshire Sarsen Stones - a Comic

on Saturday, 01 July 2017. Posted in Archaeology, Wiltshire Places

We are delighted to share this comic by Katy Whitaker, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Reading about where Wiltshire's Sarsen stones come from (some of the theories are pretty outlandish!):

I am researching the past and present use of sarsen stone, those great grey boulders we are familiar with at Stonehenge and Avebury.  Sarsens are a special part of the Marlborough Downs landscape.  They are best known in prehistoric monuments.   During the Neolithic in the period c3,900 - 2,500 BC sarsens were used in other ways, too.  This includes as quern stones for grinding grains into flour; in burials; as tools such as hammers; as boundary markers and laying out the first fields.  Archaeologists haven't researched the stone in its own right before, so my project does just that. I am based at the University of Reading, with support from the University of Southampton, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).   The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is a partner in the AHRC scheme, and my project will be using archaeological data and archive material from the Centre.

Katy Whitaker

Doctoral Researcher, University of Reading

Conservation of a rare Visigoth Brooch

on Thursday, 23 March 2017. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

Conservation has been undertaken on a rare Visigoth Brooch here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. We were honoured with a visit by the finder of the artefact Matt Smith, who came for a tour of our facilities and to view the work being undertaken.

Matt Smith holding the brooch

Thought to be only the second of its kind found in the country the iron and copper alloy brooch has been identified as a late 5th, early 6th-century AD type, predominantly found in southern France and central Spain. The brooch was uncovered during excavations undertaken by Operation Nightingale and Wessex Archaeology at Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain.

The brooch formed part of the grave goods associated with one of the female burials on the site, and Matt’s first solo grave excavation. Significantly, well preserved organics remain on the surface of the object with the weave of the fabric visible through the microscope.

Image of the brooch after conservation
Microscope view of the fabric weave

The brooch arrived at the conservation labs after x-radiography revealed the decorative copper alloy inlay. Still covered in corrosion products and soil from the burial environment, clues to the presence of preserved organics were just showing through the soil covering. Cleaning started slowly with scalpels and pins under the microscope to remove the soft chalky soil and reveal the extent of the organics.

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