Welcome to the Urban Archaeology weblog, where you can read about some of my work as a freelance archaeologist, and see examples of my archaeological illustration work. Clicking on most images will open enlarged versions.

Urban Archaeology provides a wide range of on- and off-site services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work.
This weblog will carry news of upcoming projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

On-line course on 15th century England

William Caxton's printer's mark (styled initials in black)
William Caxton's printers mark © Public domain
The University of  Leicester has produced an online learning course on ' England in the time of Richard III'; the course is free and available on FutureLearn, an online learning portal. The course uses a variety of accessible articles, audio files, animations and videos to take you through the political, economic and social background to the late 15th century and the discovery of Richard III's body in a series of short modules. The course is suitable for anyone interested in later medieval England and assumes no previous knowledge of the subject. It's a great way of learning about a pivotal time in the evolution and history of England, and the modular structure means you can take it at your own speed as and when you want.
The course started a couple of weeks ago, but you can join in at any time and catch up, it takes about three hours a week over six weeks, although if you follow all the links and reading it could take far more! Professor Christopher Dyer, who has helped us with documentary records on our Horse and Groom medieval farm site, is one of the academics who has contributed to the course.

Day of Archaeology 2014

It was The Day of Archaeology yesterday, a day when archaeologists are encouraged to blog about what they are doing on the day. It is a fantastic project that gives a real insight into the huge variety of archaeological work going on around the world, and the huge variety of people doing that work, so please go and have a look at what archaeologists have been getting up to.

Unfortunately I can't talk about my current site -the client has asked us not to discuss the site or the findings at this time, so instead I've blogged about the issues of publicity and commercial archaeology.

Hopefully the blog will explain some possible reasons why it has been a bit quiet on here recently, but the good news is that the next project will involve a lot of public information -we are planning a project website and regular updates on what we are digging and finding out about the site. Can't wait!

Medieval cross-slab recording

Recent work has included a research project recording medieval cross-slabs in local Gloucestershire churches. Cross-slabs are a relatively overlooked class of medieval funerary monument compared to the better known and often more magnificent effigy slabs and tombs. Cross-slabs are essentially characterised by a central cross motif, although there is considerable variety in their style and decoration, and there is overlap with other types of monument.
Cross-slabs, and possible foot-stone, at St Mary Edgeworth. Top row, left to right: incised expanded arm or Maltese Cross in circle on tapered shaft, 12th century; incised simple Greek cross on stepped Calvary; incised composite Maltese and straight arm-cross with ring around shaft, stepped Calvary and Chalice, 14th or 15th century? Bottom row, left to right: incised straight-arm cross with ribbon work and shaft with ribbon work band; incised expanded arm cross with shaft, 12th century; possible foot-stone with crude incised round-leaf bracelet cross, 13th century?

And now for something completely different: Nubian Royal Cemetery excavations

I’m swapping medieval settlements for something a bit more exotic for the next few weeks, I’m off to North Sudan to work on the Nubian royal cemetery site of El Kurru. The site is on the banks of the Nile below the 4th cataract and is near to Karima. It contains several eroded pyramids which date from the 8th to the 4th century BCE during the early Kushite period, there are also four rows of horse burials and rock-cut tombs with wall paintings. The known monuments were excavated by Reisner in 1918/9 –all but one pyramid chamber which was deemed too unsafe to enter.  

The International Kurru Archaeological Project (IKAP) is a collaboration co-directed by Dr Geoff Emberling (Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan), Dr Rachael J. Dann (University of Copenhagen) and Professor Abbas Sidahmed Mohammed Ali (University of Dongola, Kareima). 

Abbas Sidahmed, a Sudanese prehistorian who grew up in El Kurru village is in charge of a project to prepare and present the site for visitors, screening and removing Reisner’s spoil heaps. Geoff Emberling will be continuing the excavation of a mortuary temple and an area of “town wall” that Reisner uncovered and which was relocated last year. Finally his team will be investigating the burial chamber of the one pyramid which Reisner did not excavate.

File:Al-Kurru,main pyramid.jpg
View of pyramid and entrance to burial chamber of Pharaoh Piye (Creative Commons, Bertramz)
I will be working for Rachael Dann, and we will be investigating the outlying royal cemetery –following up on magnetometry survey which revealed some interesting anomalies that may be tombs that were not found by Reisner. They will almost certainly have been robbed in the past, but may still contain wall paintings and fragmentary evidence of the original contents.
File:Grabkammer des Tanotamun.jpg
Burial Chamber of the tomb of Tanutamani (Creative Commons, TrackHD)

I’m not sure how good the internet will be out there, so its unlikely that I’ll be posting any progress reports and pictures before I get back to civilisation in Khartoum, but who knows!

Evening lectures on the excavations at Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton-on-the-Hill

Over the next few months Chiz Harward will be giving a series of evening lectures on the results of the excavations at Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton-on-the-Hill. The talks will cover the background to the site, the excavation, and the initial findings and thoughts on the site and its importance in understanding the medieval landscape of the north Cotswlds. There will be time for questions and discussion after each talk.

Urban Archaeology excavation factsheets

For a few years Urban Archaeology has been producing factsheets on various subjects from artefacts to excavation techniques. These are now being updated and expanded and over the next few months we will be making the new sheets available online for free dowload.

Urban Archaeology factsheet: excavating robber cuts


Our site at Horse and Groom is now over, but we still have plenty of work to do. One job is to create elevations of all the walls of the medieval buildings. These will be used to illustrate the final report, but most importantly they form a key part of our record of the site. We are using a technique called photo-rectification as it is a quick and effective method that takes less time on site, but still allows for accurate results.

Cold weather working: a survival guide

So far the winter here in Gloucestershire has been mostly mild and wet and very windy rather than cold and snowy, but I thought it worthwhile to repost this piece I wrote for the Diggers' Forum a few years ago. Winter is always a challenging time for those working on site, and with the current gales and wet weather this year is no different and its not likely to get a lot better for a fair while yet. We've put together a few tips for both diggers and supervisors to help you survive the winter –after all, it may keep coming til April!

Cold weather working: a survival guide

Pretty skies, but can you see what you are digging?

In the news...

The excavations at Horse and Groom Inn have been in the news recently -we were featured in The Sun as well as in local papers and news websites. There'll also be a longer piece on the site in the next issue of Current Archaeology -out on 2nd January.

Artefact factsheets update

One of Urban Archaeology’s wider aims is to develop training materials for use on archaeological sites. For several years we produced an occasional and ad hoc series of hand-outs and reference sheets for use in identifying finds and aiding in the recording and interpretation of archaeological features and site formation processes.
A couple of years ago Urban Archaeology applied for grant funding to develop a series of factsheets based on common classes of artefacts; unfortunately we weren’t successful however we did prepare a pilot version of a Roman Ceramic Building Material (CBM) Factsheet containing information on types of CBM found in London. The concept was for a free downloadable A2 poster that could be displayed in site huts and tea rooms, with smaller A4 versions available as handouts, or potentially viewed on smart-phones. There's a downloadable version of the pilot factsheet below -the fonts don't view very well on the Scribd website, so its best to download it and it will open as a pdf.
We’d be very interested in any feedback on the format and the level of content, especially if anyone is interested in sponsoring or helping develop what we feel would be a great resource for archaeologists!

Iron Age burial and medieval farming

Since August Urban Archaeology has been working for LP Archaeology excavating the remains of a medieval farm in a pasture field next to The Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton on the Hill in the Cotswolds. The pub is building a new car park which needs to be terraced into the hillside and which would remove all the archaeological remains, so we are excavating these before the ground reduction.
Aerial view of the site looking north showing some of the medieval farm buildings

Trial trenches in 2011 showed that there was a varied range of remains on the site: a large Iron Age ditch, a Roman pit containing building rubble and grain-processing waste, medieval pits and postholes, and the remains of at least one stone-built medieval building. However when we stripped the site we hadn’t really expected to find an almost complete ground plan of a medieval farm, with nine rooms -each measuring approximately 5m by 5m- and with some walls surviving to 1.2m in height.

Construction, demolition and recycling in the Cotswolds

We can tell a lot about the medieval buildings on our site at Horse and Groom Inn from the physical remains that survive, but there are also other clues to the appearance of the buildings, some of which can be inferred from what is not there, rather than what is.

Bourton on the Hill medieval building: Room F fly-through

We've been using photogrammetry to record parts of our medieval farm site at Bourton on the Hill. This computer-generated animation of the small room featured in our last blog post was produced using photogrammeric techniques.
Photogrammetry is an established archaeological recording technique and uses photographs to create reconstructions of buildings, structures and sites. In traditional photogrammetry fixed 'targets' are used as reference points to 'stitch' the photographs together and 'rectify' them to the correct scale and viewpoint. Increases in computing power have led to computer-based photogrammetric programs that can combine many digital photographs to create 3-D models of the subject without the need for targets. The models can be rectified (scaled and located spatially) so that we can then produce scale 2-D drawings from the 3-D model, these drawings are then used in the post-excavation work and as illustrations in the final published report.

A series of small walls....in the Cotswolds

The weather has definitely turned since our Open Day at the medieval building complex at Horse and Groom Inn Bourton-on-the-Hill, but work has carried on. We’ve been concentrating on removing the last of the rubble infill of the rooms and we’re nearly there.

Bourton on the Hill Open Day

Today Urban Archaeology and LP Archaeology held an open day at our excavations at Bourton on the Hill in the Cotswolds. Despite the weather early on being rather dreich we had a steady flow of visitors who viewed the medieval buildings and a selection of our finds, and could ask questions of the site team. And by the afternoon it was a beautiful autumnal day.

Medieval building excavation in the Cotswolds

We are still working on the LP Archaeology site at Bourton on the Hill, next to the Horse and Groom Inn. The site contains extensive remains of a series of medieval buildings, well preserved beneath layers of rubble. Gradually we are removing those thick layers of rubble collapse from within and around the medieval buildings. Scorch marks on some walls suggest a possibly catastrophic cause of abandonment, but this may be just from localised burning -it is early days yet and we need to unpick more of the site sequence. It does however seem that the rubble from the abandoned walls may have been sorted through and the best of the stone taken for reuse elsewhere in the village. 

Urban meets rural in the Cotswolds

For the last few weeks Urban Archaeology has been running a site for L - P : Archaeology ‘somewhere in Gloucestershire’. The site is quintessentially rural –commanding views across the Cotswolds, sheep grazing the spoil heap, church bells counting the hours, but archaeologically it has a decidedly urban feel.

Evaluation in 2011 showed that the site has Late Iron Age and Roman occupation, however sealing all this is a medieval building sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in an urban environment. For the past fortnight we have been removing the layers of soil and limestone rubble that had developed after the buildings went out of use, we have now defined most of the walls and are now removing rubble and silt infilling above the floor levels. So far we have over ten rooms of up to 6m by 6m which are terraced into the hillside and arranged on two sides of a courtyard. The walls are of local Cotswold Stone and are nearly a metre thick and they survive up to 1.2m high in places. Burning on some walls suggest that some of the buildings may have burnt down although we’ll need to get down to the floors to find out for certain.

After the fieldwork, the hard work: post-excavation

Originally posted at The Day of Archaeology 2013

When I signed up to Day of Archaeology I thought I would be out on site, I didn’t know where–originally it looked like a big site in London, but that has been delayed, and then it seemed I’d be up the road on a site I evaluated a couple of years ago. As the recent heat wave began I became a bit apprehensive at the idea of digging 3m wide rubble-filled ditches in the baking heat, but that site slipped too…
jarkot temple nauli general

So I am in my office finishing off the report for some recent fieldwork I did in west Nepal for the Central Himalaya Project. The project intended (amongst other aims) to record a sample of medieval stone monuments belonging to the Malla dynasty, evaluate the suitability of recording techniques including photogrammetry, and try and develop a database for future assessment and analysis. In total we recorded 58 sites, with 32 temples, assorted other sites and monuments, and over 80 architectural fragments. The fieldwork was hard work –up by 6am, lug all the gear to site, work through the day with a short break and back at 7pm for data entry and downloading. But the team was good, the weather was hot, the beer was ice cold and the scenery and locals were fantastic. It didn’t exactly feel like a ‘jolly’ as all my mates called it, but it was quite nice to be sipping single malt looking at the stars and glad there wasn’t a CSCS card for thousands of miles.
waterpoint blacked
The downside of any expedition is coming home, and with archaeology that doesn’t just mean returning to work, but writing up your results. Fieldwork somehow always seems more ‘fun’ than the grind of office-based Post-Ex, and there has been plenty of checking and cross-referencing of records, data-entry, and form-filling to do. The monument gazetteer seemed endless, the temple terminology impenetrable, and there were seemingly hundreds of drawings to check, ‘ink up’ in Corel-Draw and work out exactly what each stone fragment might represent.


In amongst the grind there are moments when it all comes together, managing to reconstruct a ‘lost’ temple from fragments of stone, the satisfaction of finding that your thoughts on temple architecture were echoed by published works, the realisation that common motifs and styles were being used across hundreds of miles and on a wide variety of monuments of both Hindu and Buddhist origin.Temples at Bhurti Mandir, Dailekh
The draft report is now complete, its 160 pages, 42,000 words, and nearly 100 illustrations. At times when writing it I wished I hadn’t recorded so many monuments, but now, having completed the work I just want to go back and record more!

The Day of Archaeology 2013: In limbo: site slippage and juggling jobs

Posted as part of The Day of Archaeology 2013

I was meant to be working on site today; at less than an hour’s drive up the road it would have made a pleasant change from working several hours’ drive away, but the site start date has slipped. It’s a fairly common occurrence and can happen for any number of reasons, sometimes down to delays in planning permission or due to other construction work, the client’s cash flow, or sometimes just the weather. Sometimes sites go into apparent hibernation and only resurface months or even years down the line, when suddenly you get a call or an email saying that 'the footings are being pulled next week, where are you'!

On this occasion it is due to planning control and not yet having the Written Scheme of Investigation signed off –this is the document that says what we will do on site (and afterwards), and how we will dig and record it, and it has to be approved by the local Planning Archaeologist within the relevant local authority. Ours is still in limbo, so the site can’t start.

Managing the flow of work is never easy, and is part of the reason why site staff contracts are often short, and not extended until the last minute –no-one knows if the work will be there on Monday. When you are a sole trader it gets harder –you either need to be able to clone yourself to deal with a glut of work, or find something to fill the hours when a job slides. It is almost always outside your control, and sometimes there seems to be little that can be done to mitigate the problem.
My freelance work is luckily not restricted to site work –I’m also an illustrator, create training materials, do grant-funded research and I carry out post-excavation and publication work on various archaeological projects. All this work often has slightly less demanding deadlines than the fieldwork -it has to be done, but the deadline is usually 'tomorrow', rather than 'yesterday'. So having a mix of different types of projects gives me the flexibility to be able to deal with last minute delays to sites. Picking up and putting down projects every few days isn’t the most efficient way of working, but  sometimes you have to do it: its a juggling act.

Day to day the juggling of current jobs is usually ok, and you do get the occasional day off to counterbalance the runs of 18 hour days required to meet deadlines. The bigger impact of slippage is in tendering for future work as it may take a month or longer for sites or PX programmes to go live, and all the time all your jobs are slipping, being brought forward, and morphing from one day watching briefs into three week excavations. The Year Planner starts to look like 4-D Tetris, and its often only at the last moment that it all comes together.

So today, instead of digging a late prehistoric/Roman and medieval site next to a pub in the Cotswolds, I am finalising the report on a project I did in Nepal earlier in the year…