Friday, May 27, 2016

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.

Figure 1. Musket Ball from end of Trench 8
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!

Figure 2. Painting of Berkeley Castle
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).

Figure 3. Royalist Pike men verses Parliamentarian cavalry   
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 the country-side to protect their livelihood (Wroughton, 2000). Berkeley Castle’s Governor complained to Prince Rupert as the people would simple “Knock them [soldiers] down”, at one point they even killed six royalist cavalry men with a combined attack (Wroughton, 2000)!
It is these moments in archaeology, when both the artefacts and archival records are combined, when we can really gain a sense of living history.

Wroughton J. 2000, An Unhappy Civil War: The Experience of Ordinary People in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, 1642-1646, The Lansdown Press; Bath p. 130-140.
Berkeley Castle 2016, About Berkeley Castle, Brighterside, [Accessed: 27th May 2016].

-Alice Woods.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Roman Brooch found at Berkeley

The Roman Brooch found at Berkeley

Much to the delight of Sian

A stunningly sunny day here at Berkeley on Tuesday had only just started when a beautifully intact Roman brooch was discovered in context (8458) – which confirmed it as a Roman context. The layer of dark charcoal rich soil was thought to have dated to the Roman era, with the finding today confirming this. The small brooch is from the first to second century, and the way it lay intact and flat on the ground with the pin outstretched suggests it may have fallen off its owner by accident and was trampled into the soil. It is rare for these brooches to be found fully intact, so it is extremely surprising that the one found was, on the whole, undamaged. Brooches are generally one of the most common discoveries at Roman sites in Britain, although this is the first one we have found here at Berkeley.

The fully excavated Brooch

The Brooch positioned exactly how it was found


Roman fibula brooches are based on the safety pin principle, with a main body fastened to clothing using a pin attached by a spring. The rapid spread of the Roman Empire in the first century AD led to a growth in the number and designs of brooches. Many of these were established in Roman Britain, for example the Dolphin, Langton Down, T-Shaped and Colchester types, as well as the Polden Hill type, but brooches were also common in the Late Iron Age in Britain. The brooch in question is typical of the Polden Hill type and made using a copper alloy. It is of characteristic Polden Hill form, with pierced end plates on the wings to secure the axis bar of the spring, and a rearward-facing hook to retain the chord. This type was generally used to hold cloaks and other pieces of clothing, and may have been expensive in its day.  
Roman Brooches do generally have different decorative elements depending on the type. Some, like the Colchester type, are undecorated while disc brooches tend to be highly decorated often containing enamel. A similar brooch was discovered at Elmstone Hardwick, Gloucestershire in January 2016, as shown in the image below (PAS, 2016). This finding is similar to the one at Berkeley in terms of size and shape, however the decorative elements differ slightly. Once cleaned, the characteristics of today's finding will be much clearer, but there looks to be no boss in the centre, and a much less extravagant hook. There is, however, a moulded crest on the head similar to the brooch from Elmstone Hardwicke, although.the pin from the brooch from Elmstone has not survived.

Roman Polden Hill Brooch found at Elmstone Hardwicke in January 2016 - GLO-3CF916 (PAS, 2016)

Despite being extremely common, the brooch finding tells us there was indeed Roman occupation at Berkeley. We can now push the occupation of the site back to the first and second centuries AD. We can now also see that some of the population of Berkeley were dressing in a more Roman style and taking care over their appearance. We are hoping more such items will be found over the coming weeks and provide us with more of an insight into the Roman population of 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.

Andrew Lawler talking to students outside of Trench 8

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 research from Boston to Beijing. 
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Andrew and discover his career path and find out how he entered the media world. The team was surprised to hear that he did not study journalism at university, but rather studied Liberal Arts, including geography which is not too far away from archaeology!
According to Andrew, his Friday had so far consisted of delayed flights and getting lost in Bristol whilst looking for his hotel, but he had no regrets! This is part of the job and he highlighted how crucial it is for journalists to get out in the field to experience what it is you will be reporting on. 
The engagement team were keen to know what Andrew thought about our excavation and Berkeley Castle. Andrew said it was rare that he would go to a place and be surrounded by people in Tudor costumes, and that this was particularly apt as he is currently working on a story about ye olde Tudor expeditions over to America. He went on to say that what amazes him are how the layers of cross-Atlantic history connect Berkeley in the UK with his research and Berkeley in the USA. 
Cover of Smithsonian article written by Andrew Lawler, Picture by Tim O'Brien
Andrew also discussed his new book: “Why Did the Chicken Cross the World” which leads us through the unique relationship between man and chickens from the prehistoric to the modern era. It recounts the discovery of the chicken’s great ancestor, the ‘T-rex’, unearthed in Montana and is grown from his initial cover article, “How the Chicken Conquered the World”. Here’s a helpful link to the article: It’s full of great Historical knowledge!
Dig Berkeley have thoroughly enjoyed our opportunity to meet an award winning journalist and MK the photographer and thank them for dishing out their top tips for our budding reporters of the future.

Students excavating trench extension

- Bethany Holland & Alice Woods.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

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.
Clearing away the Roman road
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.
Happy faces of those who have entered the Roman level
By the stables, mortar has been excavated, which is great evidence for buildings and even more exciting is some copper ore, discovered in one of our centre pits (actual evidence of metal-working). The material in the pit, so far, has been dated between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

One of the major features is our amazing bread oven! This will be levelled and recorded before we go deeper in to the earth to find out what’s below.
Clearing up the bread oven
As we dig into the Roman period we can look back at earlier finds including the Severn Valley Ware from Berkeley.

It certainly ties in nicely for what is in store for Berkeley this year.

- Alice Woods.

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.
Uncovering "The Crown Inn"
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. 
Emily Glass's sketches explaining the archaeology
After we removed the stone gully in the stabling building to the rear of the pub, we found a bedding deposit with a greenish tinge to it which may be the result of horse waste! Not the most pleasant thing to find, but for archaeologists this can be a gold mine of information. This cessy soil has been shovelled into bags and labelled up with its unique sample and context numbers. It has been sent to the post-ex team back in Bristol to be processed through a method known as floatation. This involves the bags of soil being ‘washed’ in a floatation tank, where a steady stream of water is used to agitate the soil and release the organic matter. This may be pieces of charcoal, burnt seeds and other eco-facts which float to the top of the water and flow out through a spout and are collected in a fine mesh. This is called the ‘flot’ and, once dried, is analysed through a microscope to see what evidence has been collected.
Bagging flotation samples from "The Crown Inn"
The heavier part of the soil sample sinks through at least two sieves of varying sizes that sorts artefacts, stones and particulates. The bottom of the tank is where the sludge collects and is a very messy job to clean out!

While removing the gully stones we recovered a seventeenth century farthing (1/4 penny) wedged between the stones. This seems to have been dropped while the pub was in use, possibly someone’s lost beer money – a tragedy! Who knows what other items we’ll find as we dig deeper.
A view of the pub.
Finally, we are getting even closer to our Roman presence! We are starting to remove the last Anglo-Saxon layers from below the (now-gone) building foundations. Last year the evidence of Roman presence started to appear with our Roman pebbled surface and fragments of a wall seen below the pub structure and the floor of our Medieval building.
Work continues!
This will be a new chapter for the Paddock, for which we are very excited!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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!

Excavators working on the western end of the trench
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 first time the paddock extended its boundaries. A few years ago a row of skeletons was uncovered on the eastern side of the paddock, overlain by the wall. This wall separates the paddock from the graveyard surrounding the church. The fact that the wall was constructed over the top of graves indicates that land owned by the church had been incorporated into the Berkeley estate. Perhaps something similar has happened on the western boundary?

The wall of a Roman building (outlined in red)
We also have our first Roman find of the season! This took the form of a Grey ware sherd, possibly from a beaker (pictured below). This might support the current interpretation that a row of stones, running north-west to south-east through the trench may represent a Roman building. We look forward to more exciting finds!
Berkeley Grey Ware

~ Joseph Sprecher

Monday, May 16, 2016

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.
Spindle Whorl

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 challenges to be overcome, most notably the lack of our department’s iconic Land Rovers and the explosion in the local nettle and thistle population of the Paddock!
Ruben with nettles
More excitingly we are sharing our Social Media HQ with an unnamed BBC production (it may feature Henry VIII, #nospoilers #notWolfHall). Despite the sad absence of Dr Stuart Prior from the dig (get well Stuart) the excavation will soldier on. This will be our 12th season working on archaeology in the town of Berkeley (the excavations started in 2005) and we have been digging our current trench since 2009.

(Cleaning Trench)

The story so far! Previously we have uncovered some hints of a Roman presence in the Paddock in the form of a thin pebble surface, which has now been removed, and Roman masonry reused as foundations for an Anglo-Saxon building. As we will now be excavating the layers below the Saxon building, we hope to update you with more definite evidence soon!
Stay tuned for further updates and another productive dig season.

“Coffee is the key to success” Sian, #BerkeleyWisdom2016