Kitty Foster's blog

Altared Images – Presenting a Roman Altar in York

3547 © The Friends of St. Mary’s Bishophill Jnr. York
On Saturday 5 August 2017 Wessex Archaeology was invited to address the Bishophill History Group about our recent investigations at the former Oliver House, 20 Bishophill, York. We were invited by Graeme Thomas who is also a church warden at St Mary’s Bishophill, which was the venue for the talk. St Mary’s boasts a Saxon tower and contains impressive fragments of early medieval carvings and is well worth a visit. Attendance was good with 69 people filling the pews, which is a credit to the strength of interest in the area and to the hard work of the Bishophill group.

3549 © The Friends of St. Mary’s Bishophill Jnr. York

The archaeological work on the site comprised a series of watching briefs and the excavation of three trial trenches. The most recent watching brief recorded the foundations and cellars of Victorian housing which had previously occupied the site. The trenches went deeper and passed through what was probably the garden soil from the medieval Holy Trinity Priory, down into Roman layers. A series of ‘robber’ trenches were recorded where Roman building materials had been removed for reuse. This removal probably occurred in Roman times. Several surfaces were also seen which probably represent a yard or possibly a road. Finds including glass and painted wall plaster were recovered which were exhibited on Saturday. The construction of new dwellings on the site is underway and the construction project has been designed not to impact the buried archaeology, which is preserved in situ on the site.


However, the star of the show was a Roman altar recovered from the backfill of a Victorian cellar where it was mixed with other rubble. The altar has already been featured on the Wessex Archaeology blog and the attendees were impressed to receive a demonstration of the specialist RTI photography which had revealed carvings of a jug and a libation dish known as a patera. The altar has had a deep bowl carved into the top which probably represents adaptation into a bird bath or planter, perhaps in Victorian times.
Wessex Archaeology is grateful to the Bishophill History Group for the chance to share our results with the public and also to the developer who commissioned the work via CgMs Consulting.
By Ashley Tuck

You Can’t Rain on our Festival of Archaeology!


On the 26 July, despite the traditional British summertime weather, Wessex Archaeology was thrilled to be part of an event held as part of the Festival of Archaeology at Pontefract Castle. Around 200 visitors joined us in our exploration of finds recovered during the works at the Royal Apartments, journeying through the mists of time to discover what people were eating, drinking from and surrounding themselves with hundreds of years ago. 


Visitors had the chance to get hands-on with history; washing animal bone and ceramics only a couple of hundred metres away from where they were used and discarded, to be recovered hundreds of years later during our excavations. Younger visitors were not left wanting with the opportunity to build coil pots and dress up in Anglo-Saxon costume.
Artefacts from the castle’s gory past during the civil war were on display, including musket balls found during works to open up the Sally Port and one of the cannon balls recovered from the walls of the keep during the conservation work. Pontefract’s more recent past also came to life in the form of 19th-century tea pots and a commemorative George VI mug. 
By Hannah Holbrook

Round-houses Found at Chisenbury Midden

3525 Image copyright

A second, very successful season has just been completed at this remarkable Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden site by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Landmarc.

3528 Image copyright Steve Thompson

In 2016 we focused on the substantial ditch and bank which enclosed the midden, this year we went in search of contemporary buildings. Opening up a 20 x 20 m area over a complex of postholes identified in 2016, we revealed at least 100 more, many of them substantial, associated with various timber structures. A number of phases are indicated, and amongst the plethora of postholes we identified the majority of two roundhouses, each with a diameter of approximately 11 m. Virtually all of the postholes produced pottery and animal bone, there were several bone spinning/weaving tools, as well as fragments of quern stones.
Recording was completed and the site backfilled shortly before a deluge late Friday afternoon. A huge amount was accomplished in two weeks, to a very high standard, shedding further light on what is an important, possibly unique site. As well as the excavations and sitting round the camp fire, there was the opportunity to do some clay modelling, engage in iron smithing and enjoy a feast of Iron Age food.

My Working Experience of Wessex Archaeology

I applied to Wessex Archaeology in early September 2016, getting my application in early to make sure I had a good opportunity of obtaining my chosen work experience. I was interviewed by Rachel Brown, who is in charge of all educational activities within WA. During the interview, I was told what to expect and given a tour of all the facilities. Rachel emailed me about a week before my placement to provide me with my timetable and reminders of what to wear for my field visit on the Wednesday. When this came through, it excited me about what I was going to do. It reminded me how much to the company there was, that there were many computer-based departments as well as the standard archaeology units.  

Monday 10 July – First Day

I arrived for 9:30, making sure I had everything I needed in my rucksack. I was told in the email that I would be met by Linda, who is using her leadership role to embed the quality approach in the heart of the business and make sure it aligns with its strategy and objectives. I met Linda in her office, where she took me to Rachel’s room to brief me on everything to watch out for and how to lift heavy items. She also showed me a PowerPoint to do with Health & Safety. She then gave me a tour around the main building, showing me everything including Heritage, Geophysics, Archives, Finds and where to meet in the case of a fire. 


The first department I was working with was Finds, and I was working with Sophie. This was a great place to start as it introduced me to some of the artefacts that they dealt with. We chose a box which had come back from a site. This contained many bags of flint, animal bone and a few other bits and pieces. I chose the animal bone as this looked interesting, which would take me through the morning quite nicely. I had small bones from the feet, to larger bones from the leg. Some of these animal bones contained small holes running down the middle of them. I had to get a stick and a toothbrush to get inside this to clean out all the mud and small pebbles. Overall, this was a great place to start with as the work was interesting and for me, it was an enjoyable place to start the week. Many of the other people working with me were very welcoming and easy to approach. 
In the afternoon, I worked with Roberta and Vi in Geomatics. Here, they use many different techniques to create 3d models and site plans. They use laser scanners, which tells you the distance between an object and the scanner, which will then build up a 3d model or point cloud. The other technique they use is photogrammetry. This is where a person takes approximately 50 photos, which is then used in a programme called ReMake. This creates a 3D image of the item you are photographing. This was fun as I used a serious camera to take the photos and saw these photos progress into an image I could see in a 3D model on the computer. Roberta and Vi carefully explained about what they did as I had never seen anything like that before. I must thank them for that or I may have never understood what they did!


Tuesday 11 July – Second Day

Again, I arrived for 9:30 at Wessex. I was greeted by the receptionist who took me to Rachel’s office. I had a brief talk with Rachel about what I did on the Monday and I expressed my interest in what I had seen already. After that I was taken to meet Sam, who I was joining for the morning. There we were doing some sample processing. She showed me the ropes and with a bit of assistance, I quickly got the hang of it. We had buckets full of artefacts (and mud) which we filtered through a large tank. Anything that did not float was left at the bottom whilst we scooped out part of the ‘sample’ and put into a sieve. We then put these sieves into a small oven to dry off, which took 2−3 days. I managed to do about five buckets during my morning with her. I thought this was about average until I saw the masses of buckets they have to do. They have a tiring job! However, she told me that not every bucket will be done, they just have to record that it has come to WA.
In the afternoon, I was working with Naomi in the Heritage Department. They use many applications such as Google Earth, as well as external sources such as archives and records offices to aid them in their analysis of the site. These guys are the ones to ‘scope’ the area and look for potential archaeology if a new housing estate wants to be built on a certain area. They have quite an important role because if a housing estate was to be built on an area with significant archeologically importance, it might damage the archaeology.
I want to thank Sam and Naomi for giving up their time and showing me what they do for the company. It was really eye-opening, so thank you. 


Wednesday 12 July – Third day and Site day

On the Wednesday, we visited a site at Chisenbury, North of Salisbury. They had just started to excavate the site and I was lucky to get involved in the digging of it. The site was being run by Project Manager Phil Andrews, who showed me around and made me feel very welcome with the rest of the team. The site was part of Breaking Ground Heritage and Operation Nightingale. There was believed to be an Iron Age roundhouse in the trench. You could actually see this by the dark sports making up the shape of a roundhouse. I and the others were excavating these dark areas to look for anything that might help identify who lived here and what it was used for. I found many bits of pottery, all of which were pretty small. I also found some animal bone which was identified as pigs tooth. For me, this was great because I was doing what most people know archaeology to be. I was doing what most people know archaeology to be. A tooth might not be the most interesting, but I found it really exciting to be finding that for myself. I would like to thank Rachel and Phil for organising this for me. Phil allowed me to come on site so I would like to thank him and his assistant for showing me and making me feel welcome. (Also, the rain kept off which was good!).

Thursday 13 July – Fourth Day

Today I worked with Coastal & Marine in the morning and then Archives in the afternoon. In the morning, I was working with Alistair and then Joaquin. Alistair showed me a PowerPoint which explained what they find and what procedures they have to follow. He also told me what locations he and others had visited, including finding a whole WW1 aircraft, with all the pieces still together. After this Joaquin took me over the storage room. This was where they kept all their diving gear, including containers, weights, jackets, dry and wet suits, helmet gear and how the air you carry is supplied to you while diving. However, the most interesting part for me was looking at some of the artefacts in there as well, this included a gigantic wooden keel. It was nearly half as long as the room! 
Also in the room was old aircraft parts, including a propeller. Towards the end of my time with Joaquin in Costal & Marine, I was helping him prepare an upcoming dive. He had a three-page checklist in which he checked he had everything and I would tick it off the list. It was interesting to see how much they need to take with them.
Thanks Alistair and Joaquin for an insightful Thursday morning.
As I said earlier, I was with Archives in the afternoon for the last part of that day. I was working with Tom who deals with a lot of digital data. He was telling me, along with his colleague that before digitalisation there was a massive amount of paperwork involved. Today, they use computers for nearly everything which makes it a lot easier. They provide written schemes on how investigations are done and completed not just for WA, but for other companies too. They also archive how the job is coming along, so by the end of the site they are working on they will have a fact file on everything from start to finish. It was also at this point when I realised how everyone working at Wessex Archaeology uses number codes instead of place names. For example, the location I was taking a look at with Tom had the code 84441. This might seem quite simple. However, if you introduce 100 other sites with the same amount of numbers, it can get quite complicated. Thanks Tom, Archives was a good experience.

Friday 14 July – Last Day

On the last day, I was working with in environmental (sample processing) in the morning and doing osteoarchaeology (looking at human skeletons) in the afternoon. Even though I did sample processing on Tuesday, it wasn’t the same at all. We collected my now dry samples to work on. I, along with Sam, sieved through what seemed like endless rocks. I found a few small bits of pottery, some animal bone and a few pieces of flint, which we put in a tray to be put away until the environmental team was ready to inspect them. I had to correct a few of my mistakes with the context number, location number and what the artefact is (as Sam would know), but it was a fun. Once I had done about five or so trays, I moved next door to the environmental office. Here, I had a look at the samples I had processed 10 minutes before under a light microscope. I was collecting snails and bits of grain with tweezers. As explained by Ines and her colleagues, we can tell what the land was like and what crops were grown. For example, I found material that showed that my area of land had been a grassy, open field which had been used for growing wheat. It’s amazing what you can find from little samples. 
Sadly, I was not with Ines or Sam for very long as I was having an early lunch break to get ready for the osteoarchaeologist. Thank you both!


The final session of my week I was working with human remains with Kirsten. Rachel introduced me to her and then we started straight away. We started off by looking at the remains of a middle-aged man who had lived in the mid-19th century. It was pretty much a complete skeleton. This was fascinating as she showed me how bones worked together in the body and how we could tell how old he was from simple markings on the bones. I found it astonishing how she could tell straight away what bone it was and where it was from in the body. We also had a close look at the pelvis, as this was one of the main areas you can get your information from. We managed to tell his age, how tall he would have been and whether he had suffered from any infections. We started to lay it out on the table so I could get a full perspective of what I was looking at.  
After we had finished looking at this particular person, we moved on to what were the remains of at least three individuals. I was told someone was doing some building in their garden when they discovered them. Sadly, these remains were not found as a complete skeleton, but we did have most parts. We managed to identify from part of the pelvis roughly what age she had been. We managed to do this by looking at the surface of the bone and by how young-looking or rough the bone texture was. Finally, I asked the cliché question of: What has been your most interesting find? 
She took me to her office where she showed me pictures of the early Bronze Age burials from Cliff’s End Farm, Kent . There were four skeletons in a big pit, two of which were children. However, what was interesting was that the older woman was buried holding a piece of chalk to her mouth. No-one knows exactly why this was and that’s what I love about archaeology; the mysteries. Kirsten also described how the bone from a nearby Saxon cemetery was less well preserved than the much earlier burials because the soil was different in that part of the site.
I would like to thank all of Wessex Archaeology, especially those who let me interrupt their busy routines, for letting me see what it is like as an archaeologist. I would especially like to thank Rachel for organising my whole week, making sure I was in the right place at the right time. It worked perfectly. I would definitely recommend others to apply for a work experience week here as the interest and enjoyment is endless. It was also a lot of fun! I hope to visit some time again soon.
Will Roe

Replica Anglo-Saxon Work Box Presentation


Wessex Archaeology has a long and proud history of working with the Ministry of Defence on projects within the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA), and around the UK. Most recently, this work has included supporting the Army Basing Programme at sites throughout the SPTA and particularly at Bulford, Larkhill and Tidworth. The sites have revealed some quite astonishing archaeology, ranging in date from the early Neolithic (before even Stonehenge) to a system of WWI practice trenches. Our work has been financed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and managed by their consultants, WYG.


Wessex Archaeology’s Regional Director, Andy Crockett said, 
The challenges of complicated projects such as these really test the strength of a team. In this case, we have had the pleasure of working with some first-rate people and today we decided it was time to say thank you.
Andy Corcoran of DIO, Martin Brown of WYG, and Emma Robertson from the WA field team were presented with replicas of the Anglo-Saxon decorated work box discovered by Emma during investigation of a burial at Bulford. The replicas were cast in bronze by Shapeways using the traditional lost-wax method, the wax template itself 3D printed from a digital model created by our illustrator Will Foster.
Wessex Archaeology CEO, Chris Brayne said,
Our guests today each made a very significant personal contribution to the success of the ABP project and we wanted to thank them for that. They also helped to maintain a collaborative atmosphere throughout the teams they represent which has helped deliver benefits beyond the regulatory requirements of the project. We would like to extend our thanks and congratulations to all those involved.’

Taking on the Thames for the AHOY Centre

During Wednesday evening a team from Wessex Archaeology which consisted of Mark Williams, Dave Norcott, Becky Hall, Paolo Croce and Will Santamaria completed the Meridian Pull Challenge. The Meridian Pull Challenge is a 8.5 mile rowing challenge set on the river Thames and organised by the Thames Estuary Partnership as a way to raise funds for the AHOY Centre.
The AHOY centre works with disadvantaged children and young people and those with disabilities; running courses and training programmes to help them gain qualifications and life skills needed for employment.
If you can’t see the video above please follow this link.
The challenge was no mean feat, 8.5 miles rowing along a choppy Thames is hard enough for experienced rowers but our team consisted of five people who had hardly any prior experience of rowing! However, they excelled as a team completing the challenge in an incredible 54 minutes 46 seconds and came second out of the five competing teams! 
We would like to thank everyone who has sponsored us and thank our corporate sponsors Thomson Ecology, Microserve Ltd, SUERC (the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre), and Ready Power for their generous donations. If you haven’t donated, you still can via
Also, thank you to the staff at the AHOY Centre for all the help and support given and a special mention to Kerry our cox who did a fantastic job of keeping the team in order. There was great support for all the rowing teams which created a wonderful atmosphere; we were particularly pleased to have our Trustee Parvis Jamieson turn up to congratulate our team as they ended the challenge.

The Meridian Pull Rowing Challenge


Today is the day that Wessex Archaeology take part in the Meridian Pull rowing challenge, organised by the Thames Estuary Partnership, and raising funds for the AHOY Centre in Deptford. The AHOY Centre run courses and training programmes to help disadvantaged children, young vulnerable people and those with disabilities gain qualifications and essential life skills needed for employment.
Our team, comprising Dave Norcott, Mark Williams, Paul Baggaley, Becky Hall, Paolo Croce and Guillermo Santamaria, are heading off for London this afternoon, where they will be rowing along the Thames from Battersea to the AHOY Centre, a distance of about 8.5 miles. The challenge starts at 18:45, and our support team will be on hand to record progress throughout the race, so do stay tuned via our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Thanks to many generous donations already received, including our corporate sponsors SUERC (the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre), Readypower Engineering Ltd, Thomson Ecology and Microserve Ltd, we are closing in on our target of £1800. However, every penny counts, so if you can please consider sponsoring us via the link below.

Out on Site again with Jon Egging Trusts’ Blue Skies Students and Breaking Ground Heritage

On Friday 26th May 2017 Wessex Archaeology (WA) hosted our third and final Jon Egging Trust (JET) Blue Skies inspiration day for this year. The participants are enrolled in the Level 2 (second year) of the programme, which offers inspirational activities and experiences to encourage the 13–15-year-old students to reach their full potential. Once again the day, held at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain, was based on archaeology and history, but this time with an underlying theme of ‘leadership’. 
The students were divided into three groups and asked to choose a leader. Two of the groups kept the same leader throughout the day, while one decided to take turns. The three exercises on offer, which were devised to emphasise good leadership, allowed the participants to take on the responsibility of directing a team, and showed the importance of recognising people’s skills and of strategic delegation. Team members also assessed how well their leader managed their role. 
Overseen by Nick Crabb (WA), each group was tasked with conducting a geophysical survey of a defined area of the landscape, in order to detect buried archaeological features. They used Ground Penetrating Radar equipment mounted on a cart. They soon found that wheeling the cart could be very tiring, but group leaders solved this problem by rotating the task between the team members. 
After some instruction, Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy and Mai Walker (WA) asked the team leaders to direct the setting-out and excavation of a test pit as safely and as accurately as possible. A Safety Officer was assigned to take responsibility for team welfare, including ensuring everyone drank plenty of water on such a hot day! A few of the students were delighted to find a few interesting artefacts associated with the military use of the site. 
The Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH) team, led by Dickie Bennett, and Richard Osgood of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) were very successful in promoting leadership skills and encouraged all the groups to work as effective units. Their military-based activities enabled some of the shyer students to feel confident enough to contribute to, and even direct the teams.
The students clearly enjoyed working outdoors and engaging with the various activities, and it was a pleasure to see them growing in confidence and using skills they have been working so hard to develop. 


Wessex Archaeology is very grateful to Richard Osgood of DIO for arranging access to Perham Down and for again being on-hand to help host the session, together with Dickie Bennett and his team (Matt Smith and Chris Boyd) from BGH – an archaeology-based recovery pathway for injured military personnel. Mark Khan (DIO) was kind enough to offer his time to assist, particularly with identifying various objects found during the day. We also extend our thanks to the staff of Ferndown Upper School and Kaye Jackson (JET Youth Liaison Officer) for co-ordinating and supporting the visit. It is always a pleasure to contribute towards the JET Blue Skies Programme. 

Jon Egging Trust Brought the Blue Skies to Site

In late May 2017, following on from their visit to the Wessex Archaeology (WA) Salisbury office, the students on the first year of the Jon Egging Trusts’ Blue Skies Programme, joined us in the field at Perham Down (on the Salisbury Plain Training Area) for a day of teamwork exercises with themes relating to archaeology, the military and the First World War. The event was co-hosted by Richard Osgood, Senior Archaeologist for the
Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO). The Defence Infrastructure Organisation is part of the Ministry of Defence and manages the defence estate which includes the responsibility to assess and maintain both historical and archaeological features, and Dickie Bennett, Project Director for Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH), an archaeology-based recovery pathway for injured military personnel.
The students were welcomed onto site with glorious sunshine and were eager to get out of their minibus and into the fresh air. Split into three groups for the day, they participated in various sessions aimed at developing their historical and archaeological understanding, and enhancing their observational and team-working skills.
Nick Crabb, WA Senior Geophysicist , directed an activity using Ground Penetrating Radar to search for archaeological remains without disturbing the ground. He explained how and why this method of investigation is used in archaeological projects. This was a popular session despite the results not being immediately observable. 


Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy and Mai Walker (WA) helped the students accurately set out and excavate a 1 m square test pit, using the correct equipment, in order to investigate the soil safely and collect any artefacts. One lucky participant found evidence for military activity on the site. The test-pitting was thoroughly enjoyed by all, despite the warm digging conditions. Sharing the work emphasised the benefits of working as a team.



Each group also took part in an observational activity organised by BGH, based on genuine military training techniques. It was a real test for both the students and the supervisors, highlighting the importance of clear communication and the value of working together. 
Particularly popular was the First World War session, led by Dickie and Richard and his colleagues, in which the students were allowed to handle a selection of artefacts. Photographs of the original owners of some of the objects provided a real sense of connection with the past. A number of the students got to try on genuine First World War army uniforms, which had a similar effect, although all agreed that the summer kit was much too warm, even for an English summer. The activity leaders talked about military training on the site, past and present, and used their own experiences to illustrate examples of teamwork in the military.  


One of the highlights of the day was when the BGH team gave the students a real taste of army life by serving up a delicious lunch of army rations – luckily the modern, rather than the First World War, variety!
It was great to see the students away from the classroom, enjoying the outdoors and working together so successfully. Thank you to all involved in making it happen – particularly Kaye Jackson of the Jon Egging Trust, Richard Osgood of the DIO who generously granted access to the venue at Perham Down and provided welfare facilities, Dickie Bennett of BGH and his colleagues Matt Smith and Chris Boyd, Mark Khan, military historian who kindly provided his expertise, Rachel Brown (Senior Community and Outreach Officer, WA) who ensured that the aims of the exercises were met, and Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy (WA). 

Volunteer Trip to Avebury


On Monday Avebury welcomed a group of about 40 volunteers from the local area. The volunteers were given a fascinating tour of Avebury Stone Circle by four of the volunteer guides and then visited the
Alexander Keiller Museum where they had the chance to explore the archaeological collection. All the volunteer guides from Avebury were extremely knowledgeable and clearly had a great passion for the site, we all greatly appreciated having them guide us through the landscape. The visit also included tea, cake and a chance for people to catch up with old friends and make new ones.


The visit was arranged by the Stonehenge and Avebury Learning and Outreach Group (SALOG) which is made up of staff from English Heritage, National Trust, Wessex Archaeology, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. The group arranged the visit to say thank you for all the work the volunteers do to protect, record, share and maintain heritage.
It was a great day and we would like to say a big thank you to the National Trust Avebury for hosting us all and Bridget Telfer from The Salisbury Museum for all the extra work she put in organising the visit. And once again thank you to all the volunteers who work across the heritage sector in and around the Stonehenge and Avebury landscape, we are all very grateful for the dedication and skills you provide.
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