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Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Eight

Wednesday began for the team with an introduction to the Harris Matrix, a diagrammatic system used on site in order to demonstrate the order in which events have occurred. This helps us to understand the formation processes that have led to the creation of features found on site and will help when recording after excavation.

Today we also had a seminar on animal bones given by Jessica Grimm, a specialist from Wessex Archaeology. After telling us how she processes animal bone from a site, and the information she might expect to get from an assemblage, she gave us a large number of jawbones all found on the same archaeological site. To the surprise and delight of some of us we managed to sort them into species, work out their ages and finally come to conclusions about the use made of the different animals at that particular site – all in a one-hour workshop!

Then we settled in for nearly a full day of fieldwork on site. Several postholes were completed and the excavation of many others begun. Work also started on what we thought might be a quarry pit to the south of our excavation area. This feature proved to be quite shallow with a highly irregular base, prompting a currently unresolved on-site debate as to whether this truly is a quarry pit, whether it is formed due to natural processes, or whether it is something else entirely!

Excavation also began on two small pits to the north of the site. One of these, which we are excavating in quadrants, contained a sherd of pottery, which will hopefully give us a clearer date for this part of the area. From its dark fill and the large number of pieces of burnt flint it contains, the second pit appears to be a small hearth or burning pit. This pit also contains one of the nicest finds of the excavation so far – a fineware bowl, broken in-situ. It looks as if at least half of it remains.

The pot does not appear to be burnt and so it seems that it had been placed in the pit after it had ceased to be used for burning. Could this represent a ritual deposit commemorating the end of the use of the pit, or even the decommissioning of any surrounding associated structures? Or has this pot just been thrown away in a convenient hole after it was broken? These are the questions we will be trying to answer as we continue our excavations.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Seven

As we were packing up and leaving site last night, a large summer storm rolled over Down Farm and as we drove away the rain started to pour down. The deluge washed away a lot of chalk particles that had unavoidably settled onto the site after cleaning, and on our arrival at work this morning new features had emerged from the dust. These included several postholes and many small circular features, which appear to be stake holes. As Martin said yesterday, this is one of the most fruitful and archaeologically “busy” training excavations to date!

The morning was spent in the same way as last Tuesday, with John Winterbottom leading a seminar on prehistoric pottery and our team being shown how to make their own simple pots. The results were good and the pots have been left to dry out ready for firing on Friday. Last week we managed a successful firing, with 11 out of 13 pots surviving the bonfire kilns, and we hope to improve upon that this week.

After a short break we returned to site to inspect our newest features and continue the excavation of postholes begun yesterday. By the end of the day, two of our postholes were fully recorded and several others were nearing completion. This is very good progress and we hope to be able to keep up a similar pace in order to investigate all the features on site! Again we have postholes displaying original flint packing, as well as some that are nearing 60cm deep. This was clearly then a very important site in the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age landscape and our continuing work here will, we hope, reveal more information about the people who lived here.

Archaeology Podcast Success

The launch of today’s Archaeocast quietly marks a notable achievement for niche podcasting. As we launch the 6th edition of Archaeocast, our archaeology podcast, downloads of the first five have now passed the 20,000 mark. Archaeocast 6 is from the ongoing Practical Archaeology Course in Dorset.

In it you can listen to an experimental archaeologist talk about making prehistoric pottery, learn about the rich archaeology of Cranborne Chase, and get an insight into what it is like to dig for the first time with students doing the course.

Archaeocast began just a year ago, when podcasting was relatively unknown. Our goal was to achieve 250 downloads of each podcast.

Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology commented, “As podcasting was an emerging medium we were cautious in our estimates. Much too cautious as it has turned out. These figures show just how much interest there is in archaeology and how effective the web is in helping to satisfy that interest. This sets a new challenge for us.”

The Sunday Times “Doors” technology supplement, has listed us in their “20 Intriguing Podcasts“:

“Enthusiastic ’cast for archaeology fans, featuring dig reports and chats with archaeologists such as Time Team’s Phil Harding, who discusses flint-knapping. A good example of a podcast that supplements a wide-ranging website.”

Archaeocast is listed in most podcast directories, as well as Apple’s iTunes podcast directory. Find out how to subscribe (it’s free!).

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Six

The second week of the 2006 training excavation at Down Farm began with the arrival of fifteen new trainee archaeologists, all from different backgrounds and with varying levels of archaeological experience. The day was structured similarly to last Monday, with introductions to the team and to the site, and a tour of the museum.

After lunch everyone made their way to the site. This week’s team will be working in part of the area opened at the end of last week, adjacent to our previous excavations. On what turned out to be a very warm September afternoon, we cleaned the area using hoes, brooms and shovels. This revealed a large number of postholes spread across our excavation area, as well as several larger features which are likely to be pits. The number of features in this part of the site exceeds anything we have seen before on training excavations at Down Farm, meaning that our team have a lot of work to do this week!

Excavation began in the afternoon and already we have found burnt and worked flint, pottery and some fragments of animal bone within the postholes. The features, and the material within them, clearly suggest that there was a lot of prehistoric activity in this area, and hopefully our excavations this week will reveal more about some of the earliest inhabitants of Down Farm.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Five

The fifth day of this year’s training excavation, and the last day for this week’s volunteers, began with the arrival of several visitors. The first was John Winterbottom, our prehistoric potter, who had come to teach us how to fire pottery in a bonfire kiln. Three fires were lit by stacking wood on hot coals, placing the pottery on top and then building a ‘wigwam’ of sticks around this. The hot coals ignited the wood and within fifteen minutes the fires had burnt themselves down to embers leaving our pottery fired in the ashes.

During this workshop, Wessex Archaeology’s photographer Elaine Wakefield arrived and began taking some professional photographs of the demonstration, and later some of the team hard at work. Surveyor Doug Murphy, also of WA, came in the morning too, in order to map the site using a GPS system and to train three volunteers in GPS survey. This will produce a computerised map of the site and should help us to see any patterns made by our postholes, and thus to understand them better. Finally Tom Goskar, from Wessex Archaeology’s IT department, came to the site to record a podcast with the team which will be accessible on this site soon.

Following the firing of the pottery our team returned to the site. Work continued on postholes begun yesterday and at the final count 20 were either fully recorded or were excavated ready for recording next week. Other team members worked on the ditch in the west of the site. Slots excavated in previous years were re-opened and excavation continued in them. One large slot in the centre of the ditch, which was fully excavated last year, was re-opened in order for us to take a column of snail samples through the north facing section. This should help us to understand the environment around the ditch when it was filled in. This slot also revealed antler-pick marks in the chalk at the base of the ditch that we are interested in fully recording.

Finally in the afternoon Martin led an extended tour of Down Farm and its archaeology which was enjoyed by most of the team. However, a few of our excavators were so taken by fieldwork that they decided to stay on site to continue excavation.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Four

Another sunny morning at Down Farm saw the team out on site continuing excavation and by the end of the day most of the postholes dug on Tuesday had been fully recorded. Some of the bigger postholes, which had previously been half-sectioned, have now been 100% excavated revealing their full form and depth. Two members of the team spent the day excavating an oval-shaped pit in the centre of our excavation area and found animal bone, burnt and worked flint, pottery fragments and charcoal.

Throughout the day Kayt Brown, a finds specialist from Wessex Archaeology, ran finds processing workshops, where our team were shown how to wash and mark finds ready for study and storage. We showed Kayt the pottery that was found within the pit and she believes it dates from the Iron Age, around 2,500 years ago! Also during the day Catriona ran survey training talks on site, teaching everyone how to use a theodolite to record the height above sea level of their features. This is the final stage of the recording process.

Also today the team begun to explore a large ditch to the west of the site, the excavation of which was begun during the 2004 and 2005 excavations. Currently this is very much a work in progress but we will report on this over the following two weeks.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Three

The weather continued to be hot and sunny as the team embarked on the third day of the excavation. The morning was spent on site continuing the work begun yesterday and by lunchtime fourteen postholes had been excavated and were in the process of being recorded. Some of the features excavated were very shallow, no deeper than 10cm, whilst others proved to be more impressive at around 40cm deep. Some had large flint stones pushed in around the edge of the cut, placed there in order to support the posts that would originally have filled the holes. Currently no structures have been identified but further work and excavation should help us understand the purpose of these postholes.

In the afternoon pottery specialist Matt Leivers from Wessex Archaeology gave a seminar on prehistoric pottery, illustrated with real examples from the archaeological record. This will help the team to recognise and gain information from any pottery found on site. After this, Martin Green gave a demonstration of flint knapping techniques. He produced two handaxes, a scraper, a borer and a leaf arrowhead all within the space of an hour!

During the afternoon the site was extended by machine, in order to give us a wider area to work in over the next two and a half weeks. We will not know for sure what archaeology has been found until the area has been cleaned and excavated, however several promising looking patches have begun to appear.

Archaeology Course Blog

This year’s Practical Archaeology Course will run for three weeks, and we’re aiming to blog the event each day over on our Events Blog.

Be amongst the first to find out what the students on the course learn, and follow their discoveries.

Hop over to our Events Blog to follow the excavation.

In addition, a new Archaeocast (our archaeology podcast) will be recorded during the course, and if all goes well, will be released on the following Monday.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Two

Our day started with a short talk by John Winterbottom, a local potter with a particular interest in prehistoric pottery. He showed us samples of different inclusions (materials mixed with clay to avoid breakage during firing) - crushed burnt flint, local heath-stone, shell and grog (crushed pottery).

His beautiful replicas of Bronze Age and Iron Age pots inspired us to have a go and we were all keen to get started. Everyone made a pinch-pot, adding coils to increase the size. We decorated our efforts with a variety of stick and bone implements and the finished pots were put carefully to dry, ready for firing at the end of the week.

After coffee it was back to the site to investigate some of the postholes revealed by yesterday’s hard work with hoe and shovel. The holes varied considerably in depth – some quite shallow and others deeper and more structural. Flint nodules had been used as packing in some and in one, traces of a timber post could be seen as lighter coloured soil. A snapped blade or flint flake was found in one of the holes.

We are hoping more work will show some pattern in the postholes and pits and give us a clearer picture of what structures were built on this part of the site.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day One

Today was the first day of the first of three week long practical archaeology courses running this year at Down Farm, Sixpenny Handley, on Cranborne Chase in Dorset. This week the team is made up of people who are considering archaeology as a degree subject or career and want to gain some practical experience first.

The day began for our fourteen-strong team with introductions from Margaret Bunyard (Education Manager) and Dr Catriona Gibson (Site Senior Project Officer) and a site tour and introduction to Down Farm from Dr Martin Green.

Martin’s family have owned the farm for three generations and he has spent much of his life exploring and excavating the archaeology of the farm. He is a highly respected archaeologist and an excellent on-site resource! Introductions over, we had a guided tour of the archaeological features on the farm, and the finds from them which are now in his wonderful museum – plenty of inspiration here for the week to come.

In the afternoon we started work on site. This year we will be excavating an area between the 2004 and 2005 excavation areas to try and gain a fuller understanding of prehistoric activity in this part of the farm. Our first viewing of the site revealed a few indistinct “blobs”, but after the 20 x 20 metre site was cleaned with hoes, brooms and shovels the site was transformed to reveal a pattern of postholes and possible pits spread right across the area. Based on previous work here it is thought that these features date from the late Bronze Age, however this will need to be confirmed by excavation, which will take place over the next three weeks.

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