What are archaeologists up to in the autumn?

Now that the summer is just a distant memory many people think that archaeologists move indoors and do other things. Well, in part they do. The project we have been involved in – Peeling Back The Layers – has reached the stage where we are analysing finds, writing reports and working on producing new workshops for local schools to update them on the project. The pottery that we found had been examined by Jon Goodwin over in Stoke-on-Trent where he is Senior Planning Officer responsible for the Historic Environment Record/Archaeology. The Historic Environment Record (HER) is the ‘official’ record of all archaeology, finds, sites, listed buildings, protected landscapes and more which councils keep. Jon is something of an expert on pottery of the area and he’s proved invaluable in putting together a catalogue of all the ceramics we’ve found. We now have a report that we will integrate into the story of Under Whitle. More on this later as they say!

However, there are a large number who stay out there doing fieldwork, not only in the autumn but also all the way through the winter. I recently visited a site in Marple on the edge of Manchester where a project between the Mellor Archaeological Trust and the Canal & Rivers Trust is exploring more of the area’s industrial heritage. Revealing Oldknow is delving into both the history and the archaeology of one of the big ‘movers and shakers’ of commerce in Victorian Britain. There’s a wealth of historical sources and records on the legacy of Samuel Oldknow, but the project is also finding concrete, well bricks and mortar/ tiles etc, evidence of the tramlines, warehouses and canals he had built. The gallery below shows some of the work that has been undertaken and how some of the site lies under as much as 2m of earth! If you look carefully at the picture of the team hard at work you’ll see a nice modern building in the background. Don’t be fooled – this is actually one of the stables built to keep the horses that pulled the trams and canal barges back in the 19th century!

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The team have now finished this phase and are moving on to analyse their finds, both in terms of the artefacts recovered and the information from the excavation. The archaeologists from the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford are hoping they can present some of their findings at the Greater Manchester Archaeology Day later this month. I have already been detailed to attend!

How do we find archaeological sites? This is one of those frequently asked questions that has lots of answers! Well, one of them is by chance. For example, just last month over in Suffolk whilst a small housing development was starting a number of archaeological features were found, which of course required the attention of archaeologists to excavate and record the site. The site is what we call multi-phased, that is there is evidence from more than one period;in this case there are Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman phases. The archaeologists were excited to find a prehistoric roundhouse that was surrounded by Roman post holes which seemed to respect the roundhouse. In the middle of a dated Roman layer was a deposit of Bronze Age pot (see image). The paintbrush gives a sense of scale, and they are still trying to figure out how it got there!

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Another way of finding sites is through research of historical records. In the east of England a friend of ours, Marcus Brittain, of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, has been leading an excavation in Cambridgeshire that has been uncovering the remains of a 19th century social experiment. The small village of Manea was the site of a what became known as the Manea Colony in which saw an early attempt to create a community based on an almost ‘socialist’ philosophy. It grew to be a small township, used no ‘money’ but did produce its own newspaper – The Working Bee! Sadly, the venture lasted just a short time and the community dwindled away. Now a team from Cambridge Archaeology Unit has been uncovering the remains of the township where up to 150 lived and worked. The team led by Marcus found that the houses were somewhat contradictorily ‘substantial yet flimsy’. This may be a result of funding the experiment drying up. The ‘rubbish’ left behind by the colonists includes a considerable amount of personal items in the form of decorative dress items, and this was something unexpected by the team as the philosophy underpinning the colony was that the ‘promotion of individuality led to greed and disharmony in the industrial world’.

So there you have it, chance and hard work can lead to finding an archaeological site from prehistory to the recent past. What are the chances of an archaeological site waiting to be discovered near you?

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