Stokeleigh Camp, Leigh Woods, Bristol

Grid Reference: ST 5595 7328

Overview of Activities

The site selected for the survey was an Iron Age hillfort in Leigh Woods: Stokeleigh Camp (ST558733). Although the ramparts have mostly been cleared of tree cover, the site is still surrounded by trees, which made finding a suitable benchmark, to tie it to the national grid, tricky. Therefore a divorced survey was proposed and meant that we could concentrate on the surveying techniques within our own site grid without worrying about the exact location. The site grid was set in such a way that the origin was 1000, 1000 (to avoid the need for negative numbers).

We had already prepared the drawing boards with centimetre grid paper and a layer of Permatrace over the top.

We started by performing a reconnaissance of the site: walking the length of the ramparts to judge which parts would be suitable for the surveying exercise. We were slightly limited in our choice due to the equipment, as to record the rampart via offsetting techniques would have required us to be able to hold the tape level at the highest point of the bank, and that would not have been possible in some places due to the height of the bank.


Bank with ranging rods sticking out of it

Part of area selected for survey (a nice low bank). Copyright K Bragg 2011.

We therefore selected an area at the modern entrance to the site as having both interesting lumps and bumps to look at, and also a slightly lower bank that could be reached with a horizontal tape held at the top of a ranging pole.

The next step was to choose a point to act as the master control point for the survey. The criteria for the location for this were that it would afford visibility to all the points we wished to include. We selected a knoll in the centre of the study area as giving a good view of the earthworks and put up a ranging pole as point A. It should be noted that I used my own convention for recording points, which is simply to start at A and work through the alphabet. My first point is the master control point, by convention.

Point B was chosen at the base of the main (inner) rampart of the site and the distance from point A to point B was recorded by extending a fibreglass surveyors tape perpendicular (i.e. perfectly horizontally as we need a plan view and therefore need to ignore the contours of the ground) to the poles and measuring the horizontal distance between them. Point C was then added and then the distance from C–>B and A–>C recorded in the same way. These three points were then drawn onto the site grid at 1:500 using a scale ruler to work out how far each point was from the other point and therefore plot the intersection of the two distances to give the third point (which would have been easier with a pair of compasses). Further points were added, up to point H, and drawn onto the plan.

This framework of points formed the skeleton of the plan drawing of the site, and the lines between the points could then be used as a basis for offsetting. This involved setting out the tape exactly perpendicular to the pole at either end (sometimes involving holding the tape half-way up the pole when the ground surface was not flat) and then traversing down it at intervals, taking measurements at 90 degrees to the baseline tape to record slopes and other features as a distance from the baseline. Each time there was a break in slope, or something interesting to record, a distance reading was taken, and a note made of what the recording was of e.g. change from gentle slope to steeper slope. In this way we know at what distance from our baseline the slope changes, and therefore when constructing a hachure plan, we know at what point to change the weight of the hachures.

Armed with this information it is then possible to update our framework plan with the actual shape of the earthworks (in the horizontal dimension, we did not take levels to determine heights, so the heights indicated by the hachures will be approximate and based solely on a guess at relative slope angle). This work is yet to be completed.

Once we had understood the principles involved in setting out control points using tapes, the Total Station was set up and used to plot the locations of a set of new control points. This involved pointing the Total Station at a prism on a pole, and writing down the reading obtained by the device bouncing laser beams off the prism and measuring the response time. The Total Station had been configured with an arbitrary North point, to make plotting the points easier. This can be translated to magnetic North by calculating the difference in angle. The control points we set out with the Total Station were all designed to allow us to tackle the inner bank of the ramparts (we had previously concentrated on what looked to be a building just inside the ramparts). Using the same offsetting technique, we wrote down the distances at which the slope changed character in order to draw it at the next session.


total station

Paul setting up the Total Station. Copyright K Bragg 2011

Written on May 8th, 2011 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip, Fieldwork Tags:

Warmley Historic Gardens

Grid Reference: ST 6692 7283

Site Overview

You may consider that Warmley Historic Gardens is a perfectly normal gentleman’s residence and accompanying gardens, but the constructer, William Champion, was an industrialist and each part of his home and garden contains a clue to that industrial past.

The secret to Champion’s initial success was that he was the first in Europe to develop a technique for producing metallic zinc on a truly commercial scale (Bryant & Howes 1991). This was patented in 1738 (Dungworth & White 2007, 1).

Investigation History

Excavations in 1986 near the Clocktower building, as a result of construction work, exposed remains consistent with cementation furnaces (Dungworth & White 2007, 3).

Avon Archaeological Unit have also excavated and discovered industrial debris, but their findings are unpublished (Dungworth & White 2007, 4). The Pastscape listing records an 1987 excavation by Avon Industrial Building Trust (Pastscape Website 2010).

An emergency excavation carried out by English Heritage in 2006 recorded a number of exposed industrial features and artefacts, including slag bricks, clinker, refractory material and zinc-rich deposits, which have been analysed to attempt to learn more about Champion’s processes (Dungworth & White 2007,4). This analysis may reveal more about the industrial archaeology of the site than the documentary evidence, owing to the fact that Champion’s patent revealed very little of his actual technique, and there was an effort to hide the secrets from any visitors (Dungworth & White 2007, 14).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

William Champion built and owned the first multi-process integrated production plant of its kind, based in his gardens at Warmley. It was not his first site, he had a works in Bristol near Old Market Street, but in 1742 he started to move his operations to Warmley (Bryant & Howes 1991,6). All processes to do with the manufacture of brass were carried out on this new site: from the smelting to the actual manufacture of sheet and wire brass, to the forming into objects such as pins and kettles (Dungworth & White 2007, 1).

His garden was an integral part of the works: the water for the mills was managed by the damming of the Siston Brook to form a 13 acre lake (now the caravan park). The Summerhouse was actually a set of sluice gates disguised as a folly. The statue of Neptune in the middle of the lake was constructed from the industrial waste of copper production, and the grotto and chequered garden also incorporate this industrial material (Bryant & Howes 1991).

Chequered Garden Wall. Copyright K Bragg 2011

Even the grottos may have industrial secrets about them: when we were looking around, it seemed to us that they were a bit more than decorative, there seemed to be excessive water management arrangements.

Sadly, William Champion overextended himself, and his vast complex, which in 1761 included 22 copper furnaces, 15 brass furnaces, 5 zinc furnaces, one wire mill, three rolling mills and five battery mills had to be sold, due to the financial collapse of Champion’s company in 1767 (Dungworth & White 2007, 2).

Dyrham Park

Grid Reference: ST 745757

Site Overview

Dyrham Park today is a National Trust property and encompasses a 17th Century house with gardens surrounding it. Closer inspection of the house reveals that the front and rear facades are 17th Century but that the inner building is Tudor in date.

dyrham park house from neptune hill

Dyrham Park. Copyright K Bragg 2011

Within the grounds of the house is the church of St Peter, which is the village church for Dyrham.

The house is grade 1 listed by English Heritage, as is the church, whilst the park around the house is grade 2* (Smith et al. 2002, 2).

The site of the house is at the bottom of a re-entrant valley and is overlooked by hills on either side. There are natural springs in these hills, which may have made the area favourable for settlement as a reliable water source (Smith et al. 2002, 3).

One of our tasks on this field trip was to compare an engraving made of the formal gardens of the 17th Century, to the present state of the land and to establish how much of the image represented what had been there, and how much was flattery or tricks of perspective.

Investigation History

A geophysical survey of the West Garden revealed some of the features shown on an engraving made by Johannes Kip in 1712, which had been obscured and slighted by subsequent garden design and service trenches (Papworth 2001). This also revealed a rectangular building outline on a different alignment to the current house and garden.

Richard McDonnell compiled an archaeological assessment of the park in 2000, and AC Archaeology undertook archaeological monitoring in 2007 as the Serpentine pathway was being constructed (S Driscoll pers. comm.). Absolute Archaeology performed a watching brief at Dyrham House to observe the trench of a copper pipe as it was replaced. This showed evidence of a potential Romano-British settlement in the vicinity of Dyrham House (Martin 2011 (forthcoming)).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The area around Dyrham has produced archaeological artefacts dating from the Iron Age onwards, and the fields systems that can be seen near the Iron Age hillfort at Hinton may well be associated with that site (Smith et al. 2002, 4).

Evidence for Roman settlement is quite strong (S Driscoll pers. comm.) based on some unpublished excavations in the gardens, and there were Roman burials found less than a mile South of the park (Smith et al. 2002, 4).

The earliest written evidence for Dyrham comes from a 9th century document(Smith et al. 2002, 5) and a place called Deorham is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle as being the site of a famous battle in 577 (Prior 2006, 74), but as Deorham means ‘ an enclosed valley frequented by deer’(Garnett 2000, 3), there may possibly be more than one and my copy spells it Derham.

There is also evidence for medieval strip lynchets on the hill slopes within the park area, so it’s reasonable to say that the area around Dyrham has been used for settlement since at least the Iron Age, if not before.

The house as visible today dates from the time of William Blathwayt, who, between 1692-1704 transformed the existing Tudor house into a baroque mansion, influenced by the Dutch style and accompanied by formal gardens (Garnett 2000, 3).

Various documents attest to the existence of the formal gardens: bills, accounts, letters, and the Kip engraving (Smith et al. 2002, 4). The East garden seems to have been the earliest (Smith et al. 2002, 7) and contained a cascade of 225 steps down from the statue of Neptune and into a canal (Garnett 2000, 23). There does not seem to be any earthworks to show where this canal was and the statue of Neptune is now higher up the hill than originally placed but it might be that the edges of the cascade are visible as slight earthworks (Smith et al. 2002, 15).

Maintaining formal gardens is an expensive undertaking, and documentary sources record that by 1779 the gardens were neglected and decaying (Garnett 2000, 25). The gardens were re-landscaped in the romantic style, so as to appear as naturalistic as possible and erasing much of the formal landscape in the process.


  • Bryant, A. & Howes, L., 1991. Warmley Historic Gardens, A. Bryant & L. Howes.
  • Dungworth, D. & White, H., 2007. Warmley Brassworks, Siston, Bristol Analysis of some Eighteenth-Century Brassworking Debris, English Heritage.
  • Garnett, O., 2000. Dyrham Park, Swindon: The National Trust.
  • Martin, P.W., 2011. The Results of a Watching Brief in the West Gardens of Dyrham Park
  • Papworth, M., 2001. Dyrham Park: Evaluation Trenches in the West Garden [Online]. National Trust Annual Archaeological Review, pp.63-64. Available at:
  • Pastscape Website, 2010. Warmley Brass Works [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 15, 2011].
  • Prior, S.J., 2006. A Few Well Positioned Castles: the Norman Art of War, Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.
  • Smith, N., Calder, M. & Field, D., 2002. Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire, English Heritage.

Dinas Powys

Grid Reference: ST 1483072245

Site Overview

The earthworks at Dinas Powys occupy what has been described as a ‘whale-backed hill’ just above the village of Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan. To be clear, as there are two sets of earthworks shown on the map, the site in question is the North-most set of earthworks, where the hill is narrowest and at its highest point (Alcock 1963, 5). The site is overlooked by hills to the West, with the valley of Cwm George separating the site from these higher hills (Alcock 1963, 3).

From the Royal Commission’s earthwork plan (reproduced in Alcock 1963), there are no visible defences to the North of the side, excepting the natural shape of the hill, but the South of the site has a series of four earth ramparts, with the Northernmost one forming a horseshoe shape curving around.

Investigation History

Dinas Powys was investigated as part of a training excavation run by the University of Cardiff in 1954, running between 1954-8 and published in 1963 by Leslie Alcock.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Alcock cites finds of Iron Age pottery and flints, discovered in the layer of clay directly overlying the limestone bedrock, as evidence for Iron Age activity on the site, predating the construction of the ramparts. He discusses and rejects the possibility that the fabric is post-Roman (Alcock 1963, 16). His overall impression of the site was that it was an early medieval fortification on top of an Iron Age settlement, with further fortifications added, but added so many caveats that this is open to reinterpretation (Wiles 2008).

Leaving aside the prehistoric use of the site, the hill had been fortified in the post-Roman period (5-7th Century AD), and then a further ditch and back added in the Norman period, which was revetted using stone. Postholes suggest that the rampart also had a platform and palisade and a possible timber tower (Kenyon 2005, 26).

No wall foundations were found but evidence for two buildings in the form of eaves-drip gullies was detected (Redknap 1991, 13). Around these building were found middens containing imported pottery and craftworking debris (Piggott & Thirsk 2011, 291).

There was evidence for industry in the form of stone-lined hearths and metalworking tools and crucibles, possibly for working with bronze and gold. The imported pottery and other high-status occupation debris suggest that the site was the defended settlement of someone of high status (Redknap 1991, 13).

Cosmeston Medieval Village Reconstruction

Grid Reference: ST 1775 6893

Site Overview

Cosmeston deserted medieval village is today a reconstruction of what the village may have been like in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The buildings have been rebuilt on the foundations of those found during excavation (Newman 1988, 17), and filled with facsimile medieval goods and tools. A guided tour is provided by a costumed enthusiast.

Investigation History

Cosmeston village was discovered in 1977 by the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust as they rushed to excavate before a threat to the known ‘Cosmeston Castle’ (as the manor house was known).

After the discovery of the village, Cardiff University started a long-term research project, based on the earlier findings but also including surveying the site and conducting further excavations.

A whole range of stone-built building foundations were discovered as well as the roadway through the village itself (Cosmeston Medieval Village 2011). Some of the more interesting finds from the excavation include imported pottery, and seabirds such as the (now-extinct) Great Auk and shells from shellfish (Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project 2011). This implies the village was fairly well connected and made use of marine resources as well as farming the lord’s lands.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The history of Cosmeston before the Norman Conquest is not known, so the earliest reference is when Robert Fitzhammon was granted the Lordship of Glamorgan at the end of the 11th Century and granted the manor containing Cosmeston to some of his followers, the de Costentins, who are the first known lords of the manor (Newman 1988, 1).

The manor had passed into the hands of the de Caversham family by 1317 and by 1550 the de Herberts held it. Cosmeston was a sub-manor of Sully, which in turn was subject to the lordship of Glamorgan but the manor house at Cosmeston (the ‘castle’) seems to have been abandoned by 1437 according to documentary evidence (Newman 1988 3). The castle need not have been heavily fortified to merit this description, but there is slight documentary evidence that there may have been a tower or corner bastion attached to the manor house (Newman 1988, 3).

One of the unusual aspects of Cosmeston is that it appears that animals and humans were housed separately, rather than the usual arrangement of medieval longhouses where the animals were kept at one end of the house (Newman 1988, 6).

It is not clear at what point the village became deserted, there are finds recorded of objects dating to modern times (Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project 2011), so it looks like more work still needs to be done to establish the reason and timing for the abandonment of the village. It’s easy to blame deserted medieval villages on the plague or change of economic situation, but hopefully some clues are still there waiting to be found!


Abandoned Communities, 2011. Cosmeston [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 10, 2011].
Alcock, L., 1963. Dinas Powys, Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project, 2011. Archaeological finds from the Cosmeston archive [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 15, 2011].
Cosmeston Medieval Village, 2011. Excavation 2008 [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 15, 2011].
Kenyon, J.R., 2005. Medieval fortifications, London: Continuum.
Newman, R., 1988. Cosmeston Medieval Village, Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.
Piggott, S. & Thirsk, J., 2011. The Agrarian History of England and Wales: Volume 1, Prehistory to AD 1042, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Redknap, M., 1991. The Christian Celts: treasures of late Celtic Wales, National Museum of Wales.
Wiles, J., 2008. Dinas Powys Fort [online]. RCAHMW Website. Available at: [Accessed May 5, 2011].

Written on February 6th, 2011 , Certificate Year One Tags: , ,

Roman Cirencester

Roman Cirencester was known as Corinium Dubunnorum and was the civitas capital of the Dobunni tribe who lived in that area when the Romans invaded. Cirencester is likely to have started out as the vicus that grew around the fort placed near the Iron Age hillfort of Bagendon in the mid-40s AD. Bagendon continued to prosper and was still in occupation at around AD60, but the growth of the vicus presumably attracted the population away from the hillfort (Wacher 1975, 304).

The fort was evacuated in AD70 and the vicus expanded to fill the gap, with the ditches filled in and built over. This caused the basilica to suffer subsidence problems as it was built over a ditch (Wacher 1975, 306).

When Britain was divided into four Provinces in 312-4AD, the Province of Britannia Prima was probably governed from Corinium (de la Bedoyere 2010, 89).

Corinium Amphitheatre

Grid Reference: SP0201 0141

Site Overview

The site today is visible as grassed-over earthworks of a considerable height: it still looks very much like an amphitheatre and the two entrances are clearly discernable. Much of the land around the amphitheatre is also noticeably altered and this area has been used to quarry stone from the Roman period onwards (Wacher 1975, 305).


Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre. Copyright K Bragg 2011

The amphitheatre is oval, with the central arena area measuring 41m by 49m (Pastscape Website 2010) with the entrances at the centre of the points of the oval. The widths of the banks that were used for seating platforms were probably about 30m wide (Wacher 1975, 308).

Amphitheatres would have been paid for from the public purse, or a rich sponsor, but not by the Roman authorities (Wacher 1971, 6). It would have been a sign of great status to be able to sponsor entertainments and games, and would have been a way to show to your neighbours how successful you were and also, how Roman you were by subscribing to their ideas of civic benefaction (Cleary 1999, 161).

Investigation History

The amphitheatre was excavated in the 19th Century, and again in 1960 by J S Wacher (Pastscape Website 2010). He excavated the Northeastern entrance to the arena, and part of the seating bank.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The earliest phase of the amphitheatre was constructing with seating set on limestone rubble overlaid with turf. The entrances were partially revetted with stone and lined in timber. The amphitheatre was later reinforced, by the addition of masonry walls, during the early 2nd Century (Wacher 1975, 307).

Amphitheatres were used for displays of combat be it using gladiators or wild animals (Mattingly 2007, 282). Owing to the dangerous nature of these displays, the amphitheatre was usually located outside the town walls, to protect the citizens (Branigan 1980, 108).

When Christianity became the state religion, it may have been prohibited to have displays of gladiatorial combat, or wild animal hunting in the arena (Wacher 1971, 26). Whatever the reason, excavation shows that the amphitheatre at Corinium was altered in the 4th century, and was possibly no longer in use for its original purpose and may have become a venue for trade outside the town walls (Wacher 1971, 26).

Corinium Wall

Grid Reference: SP 02735 02200

Site Overview

Visible today is an earthwork bank faced with a wall made using both rubble and faced stone. The outline of a bastion can also be clearly seen. It is worth noting from the outset that the Department of the Environment were responsible for stabilising the masonry remains (Cullen 1970) and therefore this should be taken into account when viewing the remains today.

Cirencester Roman Wall

Extant wall remains, Cirencester. Copyright P Bragg 2011

Corinium grew up from the vicus surrounding a dismantled fort (de la Bedoyere 2010, 114), and it seems that it was laid out deliberately to form a grid. What this plan did not include is walled defences (Wacher 1971, 11), perhaps because the South of the province was relatively peaceful and the troubled frontiers were Wales and the North (Wacher 1971, 13). So the town wall was not an original part of the town and was put in place after the main public buildings were in place (de la Bedoyere 2010, 154).

Investigation History

The wall was excavated by Wacher in 1960, then by Mr P D C Brown in 1966, and then reconstructed by the Department for the Environment (Cullen 1970).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Wacher excavated the section of wall we visited and discovered that the first phase of the wall was a simple earthwork, easy to put up in a hurry and not requiring the services of skilled masons. He also notes that there is evidence for the Verulamium gate, grand and built in stone, having predated this earthwork bank and suggests that there was a plan to build in stone, but necessity to build quickly caused earthworks to be put up instead (Wacher 1971, 13).

A second phase of defence construction appears in the 3rd Century and the earthwork bank was made more permanent by the construction of a stone wall. Two different thicknesses of wall have been found, in alternating sections of the wall, and it is not clear if the whole town wall would have been walled in this manner, or if the different thicknesses reflect a change in plan on the part of the builders (Wacher 1971, 13).

Cullen notes that five phases were recognisable and confirms that the wall had two distinct widths (Cullen 1970). The phases Cullen lists were:
1) Earthwork bank
2) A tower was added to the top of the bank with the footings cutting through it, which was then protected by an earthwork rampart around the tower
3) Removal of the front of this rampart and turret and facing with a four foot stone wall and increasing the height of the rampart behind the wall
4) This wall was removed and replaced with a wider wall and heightening the rampart
5) A bastion was added to the front of the wall

Wacher considers the bastions to be a 4th Century addition to the wall, stating the war with the Picts as a cause of increased tension and towns looking to their defences (Wacher 1971, 25). This tie-in with historical events to explain the phases of town evolution is contradicted by de la Bedoyere (de la Bedoyere 2010, 154).

Further work to the wall was performed and a flood gate added to stop the diverted River Churn from undermining the wall. It had been diverted away from the centre of the town, to flow around the outskirts (Wacher 1971, 25).


  • Branigan, K., 1980. Roman Britain: Life in an imperial province, Reader’s Digest.
  • Cleary, S.E., 1999. Roman Britain: Civil and Rural Society. In J. Hunter & I. Ralston, eds. The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution. Milton Park, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 157-175.
  • Cullen, P.R., 1970. Cirencester: The Restoration of the Roman Town Wall, 1967-68. Britannia, 1(1970), p.227. Available at:
  • de la Bedoyere, G., 2010. Roman Britain: A New History, Thames {&} Hudson.
  • Mattingly, D., 2007. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC – AD 409, Penguin.
  • Pastscape Website, 2010. Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 5, 2011].
  • Wacher, J., 1971. Corinium, London: Ginn and Company Ltd.
  • Wacher, J., 1975. The Towns of Roman Britain 2nd ed., London: Batsford Ltd.
Written on January 9th, 2011 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip Tags: ,

Windmill Hill

Grid Reference: SU08657145

Site Overview

Windmill Hill is the site of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure and a selection of later Bronze Age round barrows, one of which seems to have the indentation caused by the eponymous windmill in it. The site itself is currently surrounded by open grassland, and agriculture has erased some of the site on one side of the fenceline, as we observed. The site is part of the World Heritage Site of Avebury and part of the wider ritual landscape that includes the extant monuments at Avebury, West Kennet, Silbury Hill and sites such as The Santuary on Overton Hill.

The Causewayed Enclosure is formed of three oval circuits of interrupted ditches with causeways in between the ditches. The area covered by the site is approximately 20 acres and is on the lower and middle chalk (Wiltshire SMR 2011).

Environmental evidence points towards a wooded environment at the time of construction of the causewayed enclosure (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55), and the viewshed observable today would not have featured in the prehistoric use of the site. The site would still have been in a prominent position and therefore the woodland would not have entirely concealed its presence (Whittle et al. 1999, 347).

The site ‘faces’ North and Smith notes that it is common for causewayed enclosures to fall across contours of hill rather than following them (Smith 1971, 111).

Investigation History

William Stukeley was perhaps the first person to record the existence of the site, in the 1720s and excavations by HGO Kendal in the 1920s provided a Neolithic date for the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 28). This was a decade after Maud Cunnington had suggested a Neolithic date for the causewayed enclosure at Knap Hill, some miles to the South (Cunnington 1909).

Excavations of all three circuits was carried out by Alexander Keiller, after he purchased the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49), and published posthumously by Isobel Smith (Thomas 1999, 40). Evidence for various activities included pottery, worked stone and fragments of animal bone (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49).


Later excavations by Whittle et. al shed light on the chronology of the site, demonstrating that the three circuits were probably all of a similar date (as far as the resolution of the dating techniques can determine) and probably in use at the same time (Whittle et al. 1999).

The excavation also discovered a burial that predated the causewayed enclosure (Wiltshire SMR 2011), possibly evidence for the importance of the site even before the causewayed enclosure was constructed.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The causewayed enclosure provided radiocarbon dates from the Early Neolithic, about the middle of the 4th millennium BC.

It is difficult, however, to categorise what precisely the site was in use as, but perhaps this is not necessary, or appropriate. Excavation has revealed artefacts relating to all facets of daily life, perhaps indicating that the site could be used for any or all activities (Whittle 2003) and provides evidence for domesticated animals, non-local clay sources in the pottery fabric, treatment of the dead, farming and potentially exchange of goods (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

If we interpret the silting up of the ditches to mean that the site went out of use, then even after this point, the site was still an important place, and deposits still made (Bradley 2000, 106). But the site demonstrates that the area was still in use, at least occasionally, well into the third millennium (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

West Kennet Long Barrow

Grid Reference: SU10456774

Site Overview

West Kennet Long Barrow is a 100m-long mound of earth with a megalithic core at the Eastern end comprising five chambers used for interment of human remains during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. It is generally given as an outlier of the Cotswold-Severn style of megalithic chambered tomb, similar to Waylands Smithy in Berkshire (Piggott 1962, 58).

It is false-cresting the end of a North-facing spur of land, above Swallowhead Springs, and so appears on the skyline to people at the foot of the hill. It is aligned East-West and facing East, that is to say that the facade and entrance are at the Eastern end.

The facade of the site as visible today is a reconstruction and not representative of the original state of the barrow before excavation in 1955 (Paul Tubb pers. comm.).

Investigation History

There is evidence to indicate that a 17th Century doctor Dr Toope had potentially raided the West Kennet long barrow looking for human skeletal material for a ‘medicine’. Certainly Piggott records disturbance to the Eastern end of the monument, and the introduction of later material into the disturbed areas (Piggott 1962, 4).

The next recorded investigator of the barrow, was Dr Thurnam, in 1859, who tunnelled into the Western chamber and cleared it. Thankfully, Dr Thurnam did not realise the full extent of the megalithic structure and concluded that this Western chamber was the only one and so left the rest of the chambers for later excavation and recording (Piggott 1962, 5). He did, however, discover human remains, of which four skeletons appeared articulated (Piggott 1962, 6). Also discovered was late Neolithic and Beaker pottery, adding greatly to the confusion that the misleading diagrams and plans of the excavation caused (Piggott 1962, 5).

The most recent investigation was performed by Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson in 1955, undertaken to try and explain Dr Thurnam’s findings and establish the true extent of the megalithic structure (Piggott 1962, 7). The findings from this excavation were that there were more than 40 individuals represented within the barrow, with 30 adults or adolescents (Piggott 1962, 24). Not all skeletons were complete, with evidence for sorting of skeletal material into long bones and skulls after the bodies had decayed being the fact that the small bones are present, which may be assumed shows the body was intact when deposited (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 66). This implies that the chambers were open or at least accessible during the period that this use continued. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the earliest burials introduced into the monument are those still in an articulated state, which contradicts this theory somewhat (Pollard & Reynolds 2002,66), but it may be there was a reason that some bodies were not required to be sorted into components.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

From the radiocarbon dates obtained from the primary interments, a date of 3670-3635 cal. BC is obtained, with the last deposit dated to 3640-3610 cal. BC giving a surprising short period of primary deposition (Bayliss et al. 2007).

Whilst the period of primary interment may be short, the duration suggested for the use of the site for secondary interment (for introducing and removing of skeletal material) (Pollard 2005, 109) was much longer.

Thomas suggested that the role of the long barrow in the treatment of the dead may be one of transformation: articulated (fleshed) corpses introduced to the monument and allowed to decay before being ‘sorted’ and distributed appropriately within the monument. He argues that the secondary deposits that include broken pottery were also subject to this process and broken and separated much as the skeletons had been (Thomas 1999, 206).

Thomas also suggested the idea of the circulation of skeletal material being a kind of economy in which ancestral remains could be transferred and gifted between communities (Thomas 2000).

It is clear that burial practice in the Neolithic was about much more than simply disposing of the dead, and the mortuary rituals were complex and extended.


Bayliss, A., Whittle, A. & Wysocki, M., 2007. Talking About My Generation: the Date of the West Kennet Long Barrow. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 17(S1), p.85. Available at: [Accessed February 11, 2011].
Bradley, R., 2000. An Archaeology of Natural Places 1st ed., Routledge.
Cunnington, M., 1909. 28. On a Remarkable Feature in the Entrenchments of Knap Hill Camp, Wiltshire. Man, 9(1909), p.49–52. Available at: [Accessed January 11, 2011].
Piggott, S., 1962. The West Kennet Long Barrow excavations, 1955-56, H.M.S.O.
Pollard, J., 2005. Memory, Monuments and Middens in the Neolithic Landscape. In G. Brown, D. Field, & D. McOmish, eds. The Avebury Landscape: Aspects of the Field Archaeology of the Marlborough Downs. Oxford: Oxbow Books Limited.
Pollard, J. & Reynolds, A., 2002. Avebury: Biography of a Landscape illustrate., The History Press Ltd.
Smith, I.F., 1971. Causewayed Enclosures. In D. D. A. Simpson, ed. Economy and settlement in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain and Europe. Leicester University Press, pp. 89-112.
Thomas, J., 2000. Death, identity and the body in neolithic Britain. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 6(4), pp.653-668. Available at:
Thomas, J., 1999. Understanding the Neolithic 2nd ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., 2003. The Archaeology of People: Dimensions of Neolithic Life 1st ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., Grigson, C. & Pollard, J., 1999. The harmony of symbols: the Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure, Wiltshire, Oxbow Books.
Wiltshire SMR, 2011. Windmill Hill, Avebury [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 11, 2011].


Aveline’s Hole

Grid Reference: ST476586

Site Overview

Aveline’s Hole is a cave in Burrington Coombe, Somerset and was named after William Aveline, a member of the Geological Survey and senior geologist for Somerset (Schulting 2005).The site today presents as an open cave mouth facing onto the road, but according to the story of its discovery in the 18th century, an entrance had to be made via a pickaxe in order to access the cave. The story, as published in contemporary newspapers, goes that it was the chasing of a rabbit, that occasioned the discovery of the cave, and that 30 (the number varies with the reports) bodies were found in a state of disarray, as if thrown into the cave (Boycott & Wilson 2010). How accurate this account is, seems to be in doubt, but the current entrance chamber has been remodelled using dynamite to remove a dangerous vertical drop in the inner part of the outer chamber (Donovan 2005), and would not have been the same cave as experienced by the original users of the site.

Artefacts recovered from Aveline’s Hole during the excavations in 1914 and 1919-31, were stored in the museum of the Bristol Spelaeological Society and this was destroyed in an air raid in 1940, along with many of the artefacts (Jacobi 2005).

Investigation History

After the discovery of the site, there was a flurry of antiquarian activity, both documented and undocumented, with bones apparently removed from the site (Schulting 2005).

Excavations conducted by the Bristol Spelaeological Research Society in 1914 were fairly brief and produced fragments of human skull (Schulting 2005), but resume in 1919 (as UBSS) and carried on until 1930/31 (Donovan 2005). This resulted in a complete excavation of the cave deposits, down to the bare rock floor visible today (Schulting 2005). The death of J.A. Davies, the leader of the investigation, in 1931, and the bombing of the museum and destruction of documents and artefacts, means that the report of the excavation was never published (Mullan & Wilson 2004, 76).

Evidence for red deer and horse was noted, with lengthwise splits consistent with marrow extraction providing evidence for diet.

There was evidence for the ‘stalagmite shelf’ that was sealing the layer of human remains and it seems that the cave itself may have been sealed in Palaeolithic times as no later deposits were found above this layer (Donovan 2005).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Human remains from Aveline’s Hole have been dated to between 8460 and 8140 cal BC (Schulting 2005), a surprisingly short period but not a single event, meaning the burials date from the Early Mesolithic, but the presence of Cheddar Points may indicate earlier use of the cave, in the Late Upper Palaeolithic – its use as a shelter predates the use as an Early Mesolithic burial site (Jacobi 2005).

Human remains from Aveline’s Hole have been subjected to isotopic analysis, which revealed a diet high in protein, but low in marine protein. Although this is perhaps to be expected in a site far from the sea (Schulting 2005, 222), it suggests that marine resources were not being exploited by this group, and when you consider the finds of periwinkle shells associated with the burials and consider as ‘grave goods’ (Gardiner 2003), the range or contacts of these people must have reached the shores. Perhaps there was enough land-based food resource that fishing was not required.

There is also a suggestion that rock art was engraved inside the cave, in the area now fenced off. This takes the form of engraved crossed lines on a wall, apparently covered by a layer of calcite and showing signs of weathering and age. As the evidence indicates that the cave was sealed in prehistory, it seems likely that the marks are contemporary with the use of the cave as a Mesolithic burial site (Mullan & Wilson 2004).

Totty Pot Swallet Hole

Grid Reference: ST48255357

Site Overview

Totty Pot is a cave in the Mendip Hills, to the East of Cheddar. The modern access to the cave is via a vertical shaft but this is not likely to be the original entrance used in prehistory to access the cave with a less precipitous entrance lower down the hill (Schulting et al. 2010).

Investigation History

Initial discovery and excavation of the site in 1960, by the Wessex Caving Club (Murray 2010), was intended for caving purposes and did not anticipate the discovery of human remains (Schulting et al. 2010). Initially the remains were considered modern and handed to the police, who subsequently destroyed them as being of no interest (Somerset HER 2003). There is no published report of these excavations but a summary was given by Paula Gardiner in her PhD thesis in 2001. Gardiner investigated the mouth of the swallet hole (as the cave now presents as) but with few archaeological remains discovered (Murray 2010).

The remaining fragments of human remains found in the cave have been subjected to AMS dating and returned a Mesolithic date for one individual, but the other five presented as Middle and Late Neolithic (Murray 2010). The Mesolithic date places it contemporary with the latest burial found in Aveline’s Hole (Gardiner 2003, 104).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The main interpretation of this site is as a later Mesolithic burial site, suggested as providing a comparison to the burial sites of Gough’s Cave and Aveline’s Hole by having a hilltop position as opposed to a cave (P Driscoll pers. comm.). I’m not sure how this comparison bears out if the hilltop opening of the cave was not the prehistoric entrance. I haven’t been able to establish exactly where the suggested prehistoric access was made.

Gardiner considers burial of the dead to be indicative of increasing social complexity, and the findings from Totty Pot (as well as Aveline’s Hole and Gough’s Cave) take this back to the early Mesolithic in time (P. Gardiner 2003). But the continuation of use into the Middle and Late Neolithic indicate that the ‘revolution’ of the Neolithic was not necessarily acceptable in all its facets to all people, and that burial in natural places was still part of life for some people of the Mendips.

Both Aveline’s Hole and Totty Pot share the same liminality of place – between the open air and the inside of the earth. This may have been an important consideration for the site of burial of dead, although if the nomadic lifestyle of the Mesolithic caused a wide range of locations to be used by a particular group, I cannot help wondering how the practicalities worked out: whether other places were acceptable to receive the dead, if someone happened to die away from the cave site, or whether remains were transported back to the cave. The disturbance of both sites by unsystematic investigations may prevent answers to that question being knowable.


Boycott, A. & Wilson, L.J., 2010. Contemporary Accounts Of The Discovery Of Aveline’s Hole, Burrington Combe, North Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 25(1), pp.11-25.
Donovan, D.T., 2005. Aveline’s Hole , Burrington Combe , North Somerset : Stratigraphy And Problems. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 23(3), pp.159-170.
Gardiner, P., 2003. Caught in the act – where is the transition. In L. Bevan & J. Moore, eds. Peopling the Mesolithic in a Northern Environment. Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 103-112.
Jacobi, R.M., 2005. Some Observations On The Lithic Artefacts From Aveline’s Hole ,. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 23(3), pp.267-295.
Mullan, G.J. & Wilson, L.J., 2004. A Possible Mesolithic Engraving In Aveline’s Hole, Burrington Combe, North Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 23(2), pp.75-85.
Murray, E., 2010. Totty Pot, Cheddar, Somerset The Faunal Remains. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 25(1), pp.97-104.
Schulting, R.J., 2005. Pursuing a rabbit in Burrington Combe: New research on the early mesolithic burial cave of Aveline’s Hole. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 23(3), pp.171-265.
Schulting, R.J. et al., 2010. The Mesolithic And Neolithic Human Bone Assemblage From Totty Pot, Cheddar, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 25(1), pp.75-95.
Somerset HER, 2003. Totty Pot, Cheddar. Available at: [Accessed May 15, 2011].

Written on November 7th, 2010 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip Tags: , , , , ,

Today’s mission was to discover a sample of the urban archaeology of Bristol.

Bristol Cathedral

Location: ST 583 726

The tour began outside the cathedral, originally founded as an Augustinian Abbey by Robert Fitzhardinge in 1140.

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral (copyright Author)

Saxon stone from Bristol Cathedral

Saxon stone from Bristol Cathedral (copyright Author)

This was found under the Norman chapterhouse in 1831 and is said to represent the harrowing of hell. It may have been a gravemarker. It is dated to the first half of the 11th Century (from information on Pastscape).

When King Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey, it became a Cathedral, and with it, Bristol became a city and a diocese in its own right (it had previously come under the diocese of Worcester).

Across the way from the Western end of the Cathedral, is the Abbey Gatehouse with its Norman Arch and 15th Century upper storey.

Abbey Gatehouse (copyright Author)

Further reading about Bristol Cathedral

Bristol’s Maritime History

The City of Bristol is at the meeting point of two important rivers: the Bristol Avon and the Frome. The name Bristol is supposedly from the Saxon ‘Brygc Stow’ – the place by the bridge. The way that the two rivers provided an encirclement of land gave great defensive potential to the site. Rivers also meant trade and Bristol soon became a busy port. In face, Bristol became so successful that an enlargement of the port was necessary, and in 1248 work was finished on a diversion of the River Frome through the marshland owned by the Abbey, to form St Augustine’s Reach where the Frome now met the Avon.


Bristol Castle in the time of John Earl of Mortain

Bristol Castle in the time of John Earl of Mortain (scanned from JF Nicholls and John Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1882) Public Domain)

The above image, from Wikimedia Commons, shows the original path of the Frome and how the original city was bounded by its path. The current St Stephen’s Street is where the Frome flowed South to the Avon.


Selection from Map of Bristol in 1480

Selection from Map of Bristol in 1480 (scanned from JF Nicholls and John Taylor, Bristol Past and Present (Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1882) Public Domain)

Much later, in the 19th Century, further work was needed on the port facilities as the tidal river caused ships to ground. Up to this point, not much investment had happened to improve the port facilities and trade was gradually drifting to other, better-equipped ports such as Liverpool. Bristol’s solution to the tidal river was a floating harbour.

Mediaeval Bristol

The mediaeval city was bounded by walls, with gates and four churches within gates. Only one of these churches survives today: St John the Baptist (ST58644 73206).

St John the Baptist Church

St John the Baptist Church (copyright Author)

Temple Church

Location: ST 59343 72735

The present, ruined, church known as Temple Church is on the site of a church built by the Knights Templar on land granted by Robert of Gloucester. There is no trace of the original ground plan but it was of the circular form peculiar to churches of the Knights Templar. The image below shows the Temple Church at the Inns of Court in London, which is what the original church may have looked like. The designs are based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Temple in London

Temple Church in London (Copyright Author)

The current Temple Church was bombed during World War 2 and is now just a shell, but what remains dates back to the 14th Century with some renovations in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The leaning tower has leaned since it was first begun in 1441, and the third (actually vertical) section of the tower was completed in around 1460.

Temple Church, Bristol

Temple Church, Bristol (copyright Author)

Further Reading

Written on October 3rd, 2010 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip Tags: ,

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