Showing posts from June, 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…