Karen Nichols's blog

University of Southern Denmark

969 Dr Paul Baggaley

Paul Baggaley has just returned from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he spent the week giving a practical course in marine geophysics to staff of the National Maritime Museum of Germany and students from the MA in Maritime Archaeology course from the University of Southern Denmark.

The course used equipment owned by the German National Shipping Museum to demonstrate the application of sidescan sonar and magnetometer surveys to investigating wreck sites. Following a couple of days fieldwork, the course was completed by a day of lectures and practical sessions discussing the interpretation and processing of geophysical data.
970 Sidescan sonar image of Bremerhaven wreck

Extracting the Past

963 Phil Harding flint knapping

Have you been reading about rare Neolithic houses and a Beaker burial containing a ‘prehistoric princess’ recently? These discoveries were made during our excavations at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton. 
Saturday 27th April 2013, we are holding a FREE open day to showcase some of the amazing finds from these excavations. The event will be held in Wraysbury Village Hall, Berkshire (TW19 5NA) 10.30 am to 3.30 pm
The exhibition is open to all and explores the discoveries from the site as we present the hidden past beneath Horton’s landscape and uncover the imprints left by farming and ritual activity.
Learn about the interesting and unique evidence
Meet the archaeologists
View the artefacts
Examine a skeleton
There will also be a number of activities for children including pot making and example excavations. 
Practical demonstrations will be given by two of Time Team’s regular presenters – Phil Harding will be flint knapping and Jackie McKinley will be examining the human skeleton. 
To explore the Kingsmead Quarry excavations further click here.
966 Wraysbury Village Hall - TW19 5NA

Visualising the Beaker Burial

961 Beaker reconstructions by Karen Nichols

The two artist’s reconstructions are an impression of how the person may have looked during their life, and when placed in the grave. We know that the skeleton was that of an adult aged 35 or over and that they were placed in a crouched position, resting on their right side, facing east with their head towards the south – a rite that tends to be reserved for females at this time. Although the skull could be lifted in a soil block the bone was too degraded to attempt any form of accurate facial reconstruction – the face is that of the female artist! 

We have made the decision that the beads, along with an absence of more typical male grave goods, indicate a probable female burial. However, this assumption could be wrong as a number of beads have been found with men. This issue is further complicated as such items could represent gender and/or could be gifts from female mourners.  

962 Karen working on the reconstructions

Beads of gold and lignite found near the neck possibly belong to a single necklace. The Beaker pot was near the hips and, although we cannot be certain, it could have been placed in or near the hands. Other lignite beads were found in this area and could, as we have suggested, come from a bracelet. The large amber beads have a different distribution to the lignite and gold, and here we have made the suggestion that they could have been used as buttons or fasteners for a garment such as a cloak. Beads and buttons have interchangeable functions as both can be sown on to clothing. Unfortunately, organic textile rarely survives and out artist’s impression serves to remind us what could be missing from the archaeological record. We know that they had textile at this time from impressions left in pottery found on other archaeological sites. Archaeologists have speculated that the geometric motifs impressed into Beaker pottery with bone combs and twisted cord could be inspired by patterns used in textile. On this basis we have repeated the pot’s herringbone motif within the weave of the fabric.  
For more information about our work at Kingsmead Horton click here.

Beaker Bones, Brickearth and Beads

Why there are no images of the skeleton

958 A better preserved Neolithic burial from the same site

The acid nature of the clay-rich brickearth, frequent flooding from the adjacent Colne Brook and the high water table at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton are not ideal conditions for the preservation of bone and collagen. Such conditions result in excessive physical breakdown of bone , and human bone recovered from graves - cut through and backfilled with the same material - is often found in various states of decay and is extremely fragile when exposed during excavation. In the case of the Beaker period skeleton some bones were so degraded that they survived as little more than a stain and others, such as the skull and the long bones, comprised degraded bone fragments and comminuted splinters rendering it almost impossible to lift them. Due to the poor bone preservation, the burial remains were recorded during excavation by osteoarchaeologist Jacqueline McKinley. The surviving fragments of the skull and other parts of the skeleton were lifted within soil blocks so that they could be more carefully excavated under laboratory conditions. All of the lower grave fill, ie, the soil that surrounded the burial remains, was collected and carefully processed to ensure full recovery of bone/tooth fragments and small objects such as beads. 
Unfortunately, when the feature was first found it did not look like a grave and, consequently, some information and very small objects from one part of the grave (not that containing the skeletal remains themselves) could have been lost. The heavy, clayey, redeposited brickearth fill of such features is difficult to excavate by hand and is generally a challenge even for experienced excavators. Despite their small size, the gold beads were easily visible against the darker brown colour of the brickearth. Similarly, the larger amber beads, even with their oxidised and decayed surfaces, could be recognised by their shape. However, the smaller amber bead fragments and all of the black lignite beads were near invisible to the human eye during excavation. Here, our decision to lift parts of the skeletal remains in soil blocks was rewarded as we discovered many tiny black lignite beads adjacent to the neck area and from the torso region close to both the Beaker pot and close to where it appears the hands had rested.

955 Beaker burial during excavation

Preliminary examination of the skeletal remains indicates that they are those of an adult of over 35 years of age. There is less confidence regarding the sex of the individual, with insufficient osteological evidence to say whether they were male or female. Sexing the remains has been based on contextual evidence and prior archaeological knowledge regarding such burials: the position of the body with the head towards the south, the presence of so many beads, and an absence of ‘male’ objects associated with hunting and warfare.
For more information about our work at Kingsmead Horton click here.

Pottery & Animal Bone Identification Workshop

953 Lorraine Mepham

On Saturday 20 April, 13 members of the Damerham Archaeology project took part in a pottery and animal bone identification workshop at the Wessex Archaeology offices in Salisbury. The Damerham Project, led by Martyn Barber of English Heritage and Helen Wickstead of Kingston University, is looking at cropmark sites mapped from aerial photographs around the village of Damerham on the Hampshire/Dorset border. Last year’s fieldwork, on a long barrow, dug through a post-medieval quarry, as well as part of the barrow ditch. 

The pottery and bone workshop was aimed at volunteers working on the project, who would like to be able to develop their recognition skills to use on site. The volunteers were able to handle examples of pottery spanning six millennia, and a wide range of animal bones. Each session included a short ‘test’ at the end to see how much the participants had learned during the day! Feedback was enthusiastic, and we hope that the workshop will enhance the participants’ enjoyment of their next fieldwork exercise.

Beaker burial

934 A woman of importance

Archaeological excavations at CEMEX’s Kingsmead Quarry in Berkshire not far from Windsor have revealed a rare 'Beaker' burial of 'Copper Age' date (2500-2200 BC). Found within the grave were some of Britain’s earliest gold ornaments (five tubular beads), along with 29 bead fragments of amber and 30 beads of black lignite.

The burial contained the possible remains of a woman who was at least 35 years old. At the time of her burial, she wore a necklace containing small tubular sheet gold beads and black disc beads of lignite - a material similar to jet. A number of larger perforated amber buttons/fasteners were also found in a row along her body, which may indicate that she was wearing clothing, perhaps of patterned woven wool, at the time of her burial. Further lignite beads from near her hands suggest that she wore a bracelet. 

The woman’s burial represents an unusual and important find as only a small number of Beaker burials from Britain contain gold ornaments, and most are associated with male skeletons. It would appear that their religious beliefs dictate that most men were buried in a crouched position with the head resting to the north and facing east. With women the body position is often reversed with the head to the south.
The woman was found with a large drinking vessel, unusually placed on her hip rather than by her feet or shoulder. The fine pottery vessel had been decorated with a comb-like stamp.


Beaker using communities lived across Europe around 2,500 BC around about the time of Stonehenge. In more Western regions, such as Britain, they were the first people to use copper and gold (giving rise to the term Copper Age or Chalcolithic). They buried their people in special ways, characteristically with a distinctive type of pot, known to archaeologist as a Beaker. They were also buried with other fine objects such as metal, stone and bone.

Site Director Gareth Chaffey, of Wessex Archaeology, who has been excavating the site for the last seven years, said: “It is interesting to think who this woman was within her community. She was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family - perhaps a princess or queen.
Osteologist Jacqueline McKinley (Wessex Archaeology) has examined the skeletal remains, which appear to be those of an adult aged 35 or over, possibly a female. Unfortunately the acid nature of the 'brickearth' soil is far from ideal for the preservation of bone and a lack of surviving collagen limits the possibility of scientific research, such as radiocarbon dating and DNA.  
Dr Stuart Needham (an expert in Copper Age metalwork) who is presently studying the gold beads said: “Beaker graves of this date are almost unknown in South East England and only a small number of them, and indeed continental Europe, contain gold ornaments. The tubular beads that were found at Kingsmead Quarry are certainly rare in Britain, and this gives the grave tremendous research importance”. 
It is possible that the beads have been fashioned by cutting up other objects made from sheet gold.
The gold beads have been examined by scientists at the University of Bristol and at the University of Reading.  


Dr Chris Standish (University of Bristol) who is currently investigating the sources of gold exploited during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, has used lead isotope analysis to characterise a number of British and Irish gold deposits. This technique has been performed on the five gold beads from the Horton burial.
Dr Standish concludes that “their isotopic signatures are consistent with natural gold deposits located in south-east Ireland and southern Britain”. 
Further compositional analyses will shed light on where this gold originated from, and will provide important information relating to the patterns of gold procurement and the extent of trading networks that were in existence prior to the interment of the Kingsmead Quarry burial.
Dr Stuart Black, an archaeological scientist at the University of Reading, has examined the beads using the cutting edge technology at the University’s Centre for Advanced Microscopy (CfAM) to reveal signs of decoration and details of how the beads were made and attached. This includes fine stitching holes on at least three of the beads and scored lines.
The ornaments found within the grave are all the more interesting when you consider where they came from. The gold may have originated from Southern England or Ireland, the lignite beads from Eastern England and the amber buttons/fasteners from as far away as the Baltic or made from amber collected from the east coast of England. 


Beaker burials of this type are rare in this region of England and, it was an unexpected find. However, as Dr Alistair Barclay of Wessex Archaeology notes “we know from recent research that an extensive prehistoric landscape is buried beneath the edge of West London and East Berkshire. The Kingsmead Quarry project is currently adding much new and significant information to this unfolding story and challenging our perception and understanding of prehistory.” 
The beads will go on display at the end of April at a special two day event organised by CEMEX UK and Wessex Archaeology. And later in the year it is hoped to display the grave finds at a local museum. 


The excavations are part of CEMEX’s £4 million archaeological programme on the site, which has been in operation since 2003. Andy Spencer Sustainability Director, CEMEX UK, said : “Kingsmead Quarry has given us some wonderful finds, rare and interesting ones like this Beaker burial and the Neolithic houses. Today, as well as an insight into the lives of our ancestors, the site is providing valuable building materials for construction.”
For more information about our work at Kingsmead Horton click here.

UK Archaeological Science 2013


Wessex Archaeology were invited to the United Kingdom Archaeological Science 2013 held at Cardiff University. The event was well attended with presentations ranging from the investigation of the DNA of extinct lesser Antillean rice rats to the problems in radiocarbon dating sabre tooth cats from the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles.
Several posters were presented including:
David Norcott presented a poster entitled Kingsmead Quarry, Horton: an approach to understanding persistent use of place, habitation and landscape dynamics.
Jack Russell gave a presentation:  Geoarchaeological Investigations on the Dogger Bank summarising some of the work that Wessex Archaeology have been undertaking in advance of one of the world’s largest proposed offshore windfarms. After giving a summary of the historical research in the area, Jack presented some of the new methodological solutions to undertaking marine geoarchaeology in offshore areas and some of geoarchaeological highlights including the oldest and youngest radiocarbon dated peat deposits in the area.

Offshore Engineering Society lecture


Following a well-received presentation on “The role of archaeology for Offshore Developments” at the Society of Underwater Technology conference in 2012, Paul Baggaley (Head of Geoservices) has been invited by the Offshore Engineering Society to give a lecture on May 1st 2013. 
Paul will be presenting a longer overview on the work which Wessex Archaeology has undertaken for the Offshore Windfarm sector over the last ten years. By working on a wide range of over 100 offshore development projects, Wessex Archaeology has had a unique opportunity to interpret data and identify sites which would have otherwise remained inaccessible.
For more about this event please visit the OES website.


In 2012 Historic Scotland commissioned WA Coastal & Marine to survey a historic shipwreck near Drumbeg in the north-west Scottish Highlands. The wreck was found by local divers Ewen Mackay and Michael Errington while scallop diving close to the village of Drumbeg. 

WA Coastal & Marine were commissioned to survey the site and found that it consisted of three heavily encrusted cannons with evidence of a preserved wooden hull beneath them. A number of artefacts have also been recovered from the site including cannonballs, galley bricks, a wooden rigging block and a delft tile decorated with an image of a sailing ship. The exact date and origin of the ship is still unknown but the evidence points to a 17th / 18th century date. 


874 Surveying the Drumbeg wreck site

On the 18th March 2013 Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs announced that the wreck has been designated as the first of Scotland's Historic Marine Protected Areas. This designation recognises that the wreck is a historic asset of national importance. The designation of the wreck at Drumbeg lasts only for a period of two years, during which time a consultation will invite views on proposals to make the designation permanent.

Pottery from the Drumbeg wreck siteSurveying the Drumbeg wreck siteSurveying the Drumbeg wreck siteSurveying in a cannonballCannonball - Drumbeg wreck siteDead-eye - Drumbeg wreck siteBrick - Drumbeg wreck siteDiver sketch plan - Drumbeg wreck siteHull remains - Drumbeg wreck sitePreserved hull - Drumbeg wreck siteCannons - Drumbeg wreck siteAnchor - Drumbeg wreck siteMeasuring Cannons - DrumbegMeasuring cannons - DrumbegRecording the hull thickness - DrumbegDrumbeg Shipwreck Sonar SurveyDrumbeg Shipwreck Sonar SurveyDrumbeg Shipwreck Sonar Survey


Britain from the Air

The outdoor exhibit ‘Britain from the Air’ has set up beside in St. Andrew’s Square, right around the corner from our Edinburgh office and will be here until May 20! 

870 Britain from the Air
Archaeological sites feature in many of the stunning aerial photos, including Stonehenge and the construction site of Olympic Park (the excavations of which we have recently published as a booklet and a full publication). The exhibit also features a great aerial view of St. Andrews Square itself including our own office.
For more about this event click here
For more about the archaeology of the Olympics Park click here


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