Showing posts from 2017

Archaeology and Poetry: The Lansdown Poetry Workshop

Last week, the excavation received a visit from the Lansdown poetry workshop, an informal network of Bristol-based poets who meet once a month in The Lansdown, Clifton. The tour was organised by recent Bristol graduate, Robert Beavis, to provide an educational and inspiring experience, in the hope of stimulating creative responses to the academic environment.

Although the processes of archaeology and poetry may seem worlds apart, they share many similarities. Archaeology makes the past present; poetry makes the past as experienced by somebody else present for the reader.
Poetry can be can be used to reflect on the past, much in the same way that archaeology provides us with a physical interpretation of history. There is also a romanticism to archaeology, in the ruins of buildings or holding an artefact for the first time in hundreds of years, that can be seen in many poetic styles. Robert wished to highlight this and inspire the visiting poets to create their own artistic interpretatio…

Humans of the Trench - Part III

Our visiting scholars shared their views of the archaeological dig! We really loved welcoming them on site and were impressed with their hard work and dedication.

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?
The variety of things that can be found has surprised me — yesterday we found animal bone fragments, joints and horse teeth!
2) Have you made any new friends?
Mia and Shauna! We’ll definitely stay in contact and we’re going to friend each other on Facebook.
3) Do you think about archaeology differently now?
Yeah I do - it’s way more tangible now (pun intended).
4) Describe your dig experience in 3 words
Intriguing, useful and teamwork — it’s all about working together.

1) How has the Berkeley dig surprised you?
I didn’t think I would find bones, so it surprised me that we found pre-Roman animal bones on our first day! And it’s a lot more work than I thought
2) Have you made any new friends?
Yeah I have - Julia and Dan! Hopefully on social media we’ll stay in contact.
3) Do you thin…

Humans of the Trench - Part II

After the success of the first Humans of the Trench, we thought you’d like to meet a few more of the many students we have here at the Berkeley dig and what they have enjoyed about their time with the project.


Abi is a first year student who enjoys mattocking and how effective it can be to get to the archaeology underneath. She loves how it can break through layers of the past.

Abi particularly likes the discovery that comes with working outside in the field. She has found a number of shiny animal teeth and has been impressed how something so old still looks so new. The best bit of archaeology and working at Berkeley has been applying that knowledge from lectures.


Mark is a first year student who found a nearly complete sheep jaw and the butchery evidence gave him a real feeling of connection with people of the past. Mark loves the whole process of archaeology. He loves being able to take part in everything from surveying and digging to processing finds.

The completion of the …

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 2.

Following on from our blog post yesterday, students Tatchiana and Hattie discussed conservation issues facing Mr Smith as an archivist and his other interests.
What do you personally consider to be the most interesting research that has been conducted using anything from the archives? Is there anything which stands out as particularly significant? There have been several pieces of research that I’ve been really impressed by. The doctoral theses really are the tops because people have the time to really get into the documents in depth, and also read around them and compare them with documents in other repositories. The study of the development of the estate in the eighteenth century based on the Manor of Ham is a brilliant piece of work. He hasn’t quite finished writing it, but it will be brilliant, and he’s made a couple of presentations at Berkeley on what he’s discovered. And the medieval studies have been marvellous. [Bridget Wells-Furby] wrote an economic study of the Berkeley estat…

Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 1.

David Smith is the archivist of Berkeley Castle, keeper of over 20,000 documents relating to the upkeep and lives of those connected to the Castle.
Mr. Smith began his career as a trainee archivist working in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, under Dr. Richard Hunt after which he spent 35 years as a local authority archivist in Ipswich, Coventry, Lancashire and Gloucestershire. While working as a county archivist in Gloucestershire Mr. Smith aided the current Mr Berkeley by cataloguing the vast archives of the Castle and has since taken a position exclusively working with the Berkeley Castle archives. The Castle archives house a collection of historic documents and books from the Berkeley estates spanning the entire history of the castle from the twelfth to the twentieth century. 

The Muniment room, which currently houses the archive, was established by the 8th Earl of Berkeley in 1925 and contains a number of historically significant documents. The earliest document in…

Humans of the Trench

At the heart of the dig here at Berkeley are the students; for 3 weeks, every Monday to Friday over 60 students gather outside Senate house at 8.45am to get on a coach in the name of archaeology. We arrive knowing the days finds are as unpredictable as the weather, and we arm ourselves with a bucket, trowel, shovel and gloves before descending into the trench. Each student has their own story of how they came to archaeology and here are just a few of Berkeley's students.


Amy is a second year student who was first drawn to archaeology because of the people she met in the field. She enjoys the open community archaeologists thrive in, and likes their (literal) down-to-earth nature. She appreciates that it is an active discipline, including lots of outside work but remains an academic discipline. Amy grew up watching Time Team and has always loved that archaeology can provide an honest narrative of history.

James is a first year student who has had an interest in early history f…

Why we wash mud: environmental sampling.

Archaeologists spend a huge amount of time unearthing and recording artefacts recovered during the excavation process. However some of the most important clues to past lives is not found in the stone and metal work of structures and material culture, but in the microscopic remains of organic material.

To understand the bigger picture of the past we use environmental analysis to uncover past landscapes of an archaeological site. Environmental sampling is an important aspect of archaeology as humans interact within their environments, which in turn have shaped human activity and behaviours (Dincauze 2008). Human life is heavily influenced by the presence of plants, animals and climates creating a relationship interdependent between all aspects of life.

As climates and activities continuously change they produce a record left behind in the micro organic remains of plants and animals. Usually these remains get missed during the process of excavation, which focuses on picking up macro bio…

A fine finial

On the first day of the second week at Berkeley, we uncovered a fragment of a decorative finial. Its decorative style and the location of the find suggest that it belonged to the period between the 13th and 14th century. It resembles the Perpendicular Gothic style seen in churches, where bold straight lines and elaborate designs were widely used.

Surviving finials with similar designs can also be found today, and quite nearby too! The arch of the Berkeley burial chapel in the neighbouring church of St Mary features a row of finials. This chapel was constructed by James I. Berkeley c.1450, which places it firmly in the period when the Perpendicular Gothic style was popular.

Another example with a similar style can be found in Gloucester Cathedral, decorating the tomb of King Edward II, who was also murdered at Berkeley Castle. This tomb dates to the early 14th century.

We have a few possible explanations for the presence of the finial in the pit. It may once have been a part of the dé…