Showing posts from 2016

Medieval metal working at Berkeley

One focus of the current excavations in the trench is the uncovering of 15th century buildings at the west end of the trench. These buildings show little evidence of domestic use with their assemblages devoid of the usual cooking pots and other domestic items. They have instead been suggested as industrial buildings used for the working of metal, in other words a possible late medieval smith.
This appears to fit with a previous interpretation of the site being used for metal working. Back in 2009 a large rectilinear building (see figure 1) was uncovered that dated to the 16th century. After consideration it was suggested that due to the lack of domestic assemblages this building was a series of separate workshops. Previous students studying Archaeological Science, analysed the soil material surrounding a stone hearth found inside the building and found evidence of copper, lead and zinc among other metals.
Evidence of zinc found on the site along with copper resulted in the possible co…

Geophysical Survey: How Does It Work?

Over the last few weeks our students (see fig.1) have been undertaking geophysical surveys of the castle grounds under field technician Dr. Philip Rowe using Ground Penetrating Radar. GPR is a non-invasive technique which was selected to gain access to the areas of Berkeley Castle which cannot be excavated. High frequency radio waves are used by the GPR to detect subsurface features such as walls, buildings and ditches. The GPR system consists of an antenna with wheels, an interface display, a battery and a radar control unit (see fig. 2). The GPR detects buried features by emitting electromagnetic waves from the antenna. The transmitted waves bounce off buried objects, causing them to be reflected back to the GPR (see fig. 3), where the control unit transmits the data from the antenna to the user interface display where it can be viewed. It is commonly thought that GPR allows you to see through the ground like an X-ray. This is a common misconception – in reality GPR data can be di…

Buckles and Pins: Dress in the Medieval Period

Dress accessories, such as the wonderful Roman brooch (see fig. 1) which was recently excavated, are one of the most commonly found artefacts on sites such as Berkeley. While they are found throughout all periods of history (and late prehistory), they are particularly abundant in medieval contexts. During the eleventh century, a trend developed towards more closely fitting clothes due to new innovations in tailoring, especially within the upper classes. This led to an increase in the use of buttons, pins, belts and buckles in an attempt to fit clothing closer to the body. In the medieval period, belts were a common dress accessory throughout all levels of society, regardless of gender or status, and as a result are the most common decorated metalwork accessory found in medieval contexts (Cassels, 2013: p.3). Those found are almost always made from base metals such as iron, copper alloys or tin alloys. Although buckles made of precious metals would have existed, they were less common …

Archaeological interpretation, is it all just rubbish?

"And they always find in archaeology, a series of small walls. Every time, a series of small walls. 'We found a series of small walls, we're very excited. We think this proves that they had walls in olden days.' And then someone, very learned with glasses, says, 'The King and Queen entertained here. Courtiers and soldiers in this room. And elephants dancing hopscotch over there....' And you watch going, 'You're making this up, mate…. You don't know if it's true.'" (Izzard 1997).

The words of Eddie Izzard probably ring true for many people, how does “the learned person with glasses” know their interpretation that the series of small walls is in fact a building in which a King and Queen entertained their guests is correct? What evidence do archaeologists use to reach their conclusions? Here at Berkeley the western end of the trench consists of a large series of small walls (which is what brought Izzard’s words to mind) that we have the j…

Muskets, military and mayhem

As week two draws to a close, we look at some of the great finds uncovered so far this season. We’ve reached the Roman level, planned and levelled the site, and even found a beautiful Roman brooch. By extending the trench, we've uncovered part of a Georgian garden and a musket ball that probably fell through demolished houses during the civil war.

Along with this musket ball, there were at least fifty pistol shots, evidence of a shoot-out by the church and tower walls, tying the archaeology to the civil war battle that occurred at Berkeley, between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians!

Written accounts from Prince Rupert to Coronel Rainsborough on 23rd of September 1645 note the siege of the castle, taking it for the Parliamentarians (Wroughton, 2000).

The Berkeley’s were Royalists, but the garrison stationed at Berkeley were known to take their supplies from the locals, frequently killing live-stock (Wroughton, 2000). In response, townsfolk would conduct armed patrols around th…

A Roman Brooch found at Berkeley


National Geographic Journalist Andrew Lawler comes to Dig Berkeley.

As a special Friday treat Andrew Lawler, a writer for National Geographic and an award winning independent journalist visited the site. We were given the rare opportunity for some Q&A as well as finding out about the world of global media.

It was a good chance for members of the engagement team to meet such a relaxed man, who was more than willing to answer questions surrounding journalism and its application to archaeology. 
Andrew and photographer MK were given a tour of a freshly cleaned Trench 8 by Professor Mark Horton and site supervisors Sian Thomas and Emily Glass, while MK took photographs of our students being taught fieldwork, trowelling and digging their features.  Andrew and MK were particularly interested in a good quantity of animal bone, including cow horn, which was retrieved from a late Roman/early Anglo-Saxon layer. Andrew has spent the last 25 years investigating various subject areas from politics in Washington to archaeology in the Near East and doing lab researc…

Slow and steady wins the race!

Day four in to the Berkeley dig, and we’re getting into the good stuff! As we begin to remove the last of the Tudor walls, and the remnants of the Roman road, we’re starting to discover the really bright orange level of the Romans.
This is being meticulously drawn and recorded under tutelage, with excavation pits popping up as we get to see the varying colour changes from cleaning. All these will have their levels taken so that we can understand the stratigraphy in relation to other features.

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the cut of the gully has now been planned which means that all the documentation of the stabling block has been finished!

The west side of the section has been pushed further back showing more evidence of the medieval buildings in the far corner has appeared. A drainage system stretching further towards the modern road, and a wall running between these buildings and the stables, is also visible.
By the stables, mortar has been excavated, which is great evidence …

Excavating the local pub

In June 2014, Bristol archaeologists uncovered the remains of a Tudor building, and after consulting Berkeley Castle historical records, we now know that this tavern was called “The Crown Inn”. It was thought that this tavern was flattened in the civil war, to protect the castle and this guess was supported when a lead powder cap and a musket ball both were uncovered in 2015.

Excavations in this area have uncovered bones, metal objects, and even coins. To the side of the Crown Inn, there appears to be an outbuilding where several pieces of metal slag were found, indicating that some industrial activities were carried out in this area during the Tudor era. The reason we are writing this brief history of this Tudor pub is because this will be its last year in existence! This week we are removing the stones that form the boundaries of the tavern to uncover what lie beneath. While this may be a farewell, it is also an exciting opportunity to uncover what came before.  After we removed the…

Plans and Progress: Extending the Trench and Roman Pottery

There's lots in store for the Berkeley crew this year! The team has been going at break neck speed; cleaning the surface of the trench. Section edges are being polished off, photographed, and drawn meticulously. This is all in preparation for an exciting new extension to the western side of the trench.

We hope to uncover some pre-14th century (possibly Norman) buildings. These have been hinted at through the discovery of what might be drains and walls. This would further enrich this already dense site, so fingers crossed!

The extension might even uncover the old path of the Berkeley high street. The theory is that during the building of the wall that currently forms the boundary between Nelme's Paddock and High Street, the Berkeley Estate may have encroached on to High Street, effectively making the area of the paddock larger than it should have been. This would explain why the wall curves and does not match the alignment of buildings further up the road.

This would not be the…

2016 season kicks off

It’s finally come around! The Berkeley Castle excavations are back for another year and we have just started our first official day. We are beginning to get back up to speed, our 1st years have been given their obligatory tour of Berkley Castle and are now back in Nelme’s Paddock de-weeding Trench 8. During the clean, our Archaeo-metal detectorist Pete Twinn found a weighty lead spindle whorl dating to the Medieval period. This came from the building complex that fronted onto the High Street, however until the full clean-up has finished we are unclear which phase this find belongs to.  A spindle whorl is a disc of spherical object that is used in the spinning of cloth. It fits into the spindle and acts as a weight to increase the speed and constancy of the spin.

Nelme’s Paddock
The logistics of running a project of this scale are of course significant, but experienced hands make easy work. Sian and Emily are back for another year and the show is back on the road. There are some new ch…