North Northumberland case study area visit

As we are rapidly approaching the second half of the second year of the project, data collection for the English Landscapes and Identities project has now practically reached its end. Whilst Chris Green spends his time pondering temporal fuzziness and creating nationwide trend surfaces (well, in between hanging out with surfer dudes on a beach in Western Australia…), Zena, Anwen, Laura and myself are starting to focus in earnest on our case study areas. Here is our most up-to-date map with the latest case study areas highlighted, now displaying a clear preference for random transects across various landscape zones:

Case study areas EngLaId, March 2013
Case study areas EngLaId, March 2013

Unlike the national survey, which will use data in an uncleaned format, we intend to work with ‘clean’ data-sets for our case study areas. We are still developing the cleaning methodology at the moment, which should hopefully be finalised by the time Chris Green is back from Down Under.

In the mean time, I decided to go on a little field trip to the North Northumberland case study area. The current area is depicted in more detail below, cutting across the upland zone of the Northumberland National Park as well as the more low-lying coastal zone:

Northumberland case study area: modern land use
Northumberland case study area: modern land use

Those that know the region will immediately see that this area includes a number of recent and ongoing projects that fall within the broad EngLaId period, such as recent work at Yeavering (http://www.gefrin.com/), Bamburgh (http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/), quite a few sites covered by the Historic Village Atlas (http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/understanding/historyarchaeology/historicvillageatlas) and the Discovering our Hillforts Heritage project (http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/understanding/historyarchaeology/hillfortheritageintroduction), but also, of course, the fantastic discoveries made by Archaeological Research Services at Lanton Quarries (http://www.archaeologicalresearchservices.com/lantonwebsite/index.htm).

The rationale behind the field trip was therefore two-fold. First, I wanted to familiarize myself with the landscape of this region of England – which, in terms of the coastal landscape at least, is not entirely dissimilar to my native country the Netherlands (note the particularly ‘prominent’ contours on the photo below…). (Once you turn around and go inland, though, the landscape looks totally different – too many hills!)

Holy Island, as seen from the tidal causeway
Holy Island, as seen from the tidal causeway

The second reason for my trip was to talk to as many people as possible about the archaeology of the region, trying to identify possible collaborations or at least shared interests. A big Thank You must therefore go to staff and students at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham, for organising a seminar where I could present the EngLaId project and discuss methodologies and ideas. In particular, I would like to express my gratitude to Rosemary Cramp, Sarah Semple, Tudor Skinner, Brian Buchanan and Sofia Turk for their feedback and suggestions.

The following day, I had a very informative discussion with Rob Collins, FLO for Northumberland, who showed me some really cool finds including a recently conserved ritually destroyed sword from a potentially new Anglo-Saxon cemetery site. Over the days that followed, I went out to visit two potential new Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites in the case study region, and looked at their wider landscape setting – for obvious reasons I won’t be able to show any photos here, but it was interesting to note some clear similarities between the two sites.

Following my meeting with Rob, I had a discussion with Sam Turner of Newcastle University about the use of Historic Landscape Characterisation. Although HLC is obviously first and foremost a planning tool, and therefore not optimally designed for academic research, we agreed that it’s use is nevertheless important, as the early medieval period remains frustratingly hard to detect in the archaeological record. To give an example, below is a pie chart detailing the relative quantities of entries relevant to the different EngLaId periods as detailed in the Northumberland HER, with the early medieval period representing only 6%:

Northumberland case study area: HER data by period
Northumberland case study area: HER data by period

And here is another one, this time comparing entries from the National Record of the Historic Environment:

Relative number of entries for each EngLaId period from the National Record of the Historic Environment for the Northumberland case study region
Relative number of entries for each EngLaId period from the National Record of the Historic Environment for the Northumberland case study region

As Rosemary Cramp stated after my presentation in Durham, the under-representation of the early medieval period is of course to a degree caused by the fact that the interest in the early medieval period in this part of the country is relatively recent, at least compared to antiquarian and earlier 20th-century archaeological interests, which focused largely on surviving prehistoric earthwork sites in the National Park. It will be interesting to compare this pattern to other parts of the country, especially those away from upland regions with good survival of earthworks.

One glimmer of hope for the early medieval period is provided by Rob Collins’s work within the PAS, as here, the data-set for the case study area comprises no less than 42% early medieval records! However, with a grand total of 51 finds in total (compare to several thousands for the Humber case study area, for example), much more metal-detecting and reporting remains to be done here.

PAS finds for case study area by period
PAS finds for case study area by period

Over the weekend, I spent some time visiting the Cheviot hills to explore the landscape around the two aforementioned cemetery sites, as well as the better-known landscape around Yeavering, climbing the Iron Age hillfort of Yeavering Bell to obtain a better picture of the royal palace site Ad Gefrin.

The eastern end of Ad Gefrin (the yellow field in the centre of the image), as seen from the eastern end of Yeavering Bell
The eastern end of Ad Gefrin (the yellow field in the centre of the image), as seen from the eastern end of Yeavering Bell
Yeavering Bell, as seen from Ad Gefrin
Yeavering Bell, as seen from Ad Gefrin

It was interesting as well to see some relict field systems on the slopes in the Cheviots from Yeavering Bell.

Cheviot Hills as seen from Yeavering Bell looking south, with faint traces of relict field system visible
Cheviot Hills as seen from Yeavering Bell looking south, with faint traces of relict field system visible lower down the north-facing slope, just below the darker vegetation

On Monday morning, Graeme Young of the Bamburgh Research Project was kind enough to come meet me for a chat and a tour around the castle and the excavation trenches (now covered in tarmac). It was very informative and inspiring to hear him talk about the project, and many thanks must go to him for taking the time off to come down despite the weather getting noticeably worse!

Hope-Taylor's old trenches reopened
Hope-Taylor’s old trenches reopened
Site of an early medieval coastal cemetery, as seen from Bamburgh Castle
Site of an early medieval coastal cemetery, as seen from Bamburgh Castle

That evening the rain and sleet started coming down in earnest, so it was good timing to have a HER visit arranged afterwards, where I went through a pile of grey literature to get a general sense of what was going on and request copies of a selection of reports, focusing on those which reported on relatively large-scale investigations. Many thanks must go to Liz Williams and other HER staff for arranging a desk, answering my questions and providing endless cups of tea!

The course of the Roman road known as the Devil's Causeway
The course of the Roman road known as the Devil’s Causeway

All in all, a very fruitful visit that resulted in a lot to think about, the most important conclusion I could draw from it probably being the importance of talking to local archaeologists. No matter how much the digital era has revolutionized the archaeological practice, local in-depth knowledge remains vital to our understanding of the past.

EngLaId and art in Didcot on Valentine’s Day

On February 14, the official opening of the exhibition The Didcot Dogmile will take place in the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot (Oxfordshire). The exhibition grew out of a collaboration between EngLaId project artist Miranda Creswell, who spent time drawing the local Didcot landscape as it was being excavated in preparation for building development; archaeologists from both Oxford Archaeology (who were carrying out the excavations) and the EngLaId team; and local residents (and their dogs, including Miranda’s newly adopted pet Luna(tic)).

All welcome!

A3 posters %28Spring 2013%29 %28Miranda Cresswell%29%283%29

Happy Christmas and Thank You

Before we all sign off for Christmas, let us take this opportunity to thank the following HERs for kindly providing us with data over the last few months: Leicester City, Canterbury, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, Plymouth, Nottinghamshire and Portsmouth. Special thanks must also go to Keith Westcott of ExeGesIS for helping with running the query in a few instances. This makes our HER data for the entire country almost complete!

Thanks as well to Helen Saunders from Essex HER for providing us with NMP data, and to Simon Crutchley, Lindsay Jones and Poppy Starkie for completing our NMP / NRHE data supply, and to Simon Crutchley and Mandy Roberts for taking the effort to visit us in Oxford. Finally, many thanks to the organisers of the HLC conference in London earlier this month for inviting us.

Last but not least, the EngLaId team wishes everyone a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS, and a wonderful start of 2013!

Red wine at Xmas

Welcome to our new DPhil students :)

Hello all the EngLaID blog readers, new and old! Now that the project has entered its second year with the start of a new university term this October, we would like to welcome three new members to our team – our three new DPhil students on the English Landscapes and Identities project. Each DPhil student will be focusing on a different aspect of the overall project, using the incredible dataset that we have gathered so far to explore specific aspects of landscapes and identities. We are very lucky to have them – not only because they seem very nice people and the amount of pub visits in the name of team building has certainly seen an exponential increase, but also because we are confident that they will bring many important contributions to the project. As you can read below, each of them has had an interesting and varied archaeological career until now, and we can only hope that they will continue to enjoy their involvement with the EngLaId project (save, perhaps, during the final parts of the writing up stage, but that is nearly three years away…).

So, a warm welcome to our new students (from left to right, Victoria Donnelly, Dan Stansbie and Sarah Mallet), and the best of luck to them over the next three years! And over to them to introduce themselves and say a little bit about their individual research projects…

From left to right: Victoria Donnelly (who will be looking at grey literature for her DPhil thesis), Dan Stansbie (who will be looking at pottery production and food) and Sarah Mallet (whose research will focus on food consumption through analysis of stable isotopes).

Victoria: Hello, my name is Victoria Donnelly and I’m one of the new DPhil students on the EngLaID project.  I’m very excited about the opportunity to work on this project and be part of such a great team.  Please let me introduce myself by saying a little bit about my background and how I ended up on this project.  I was born in England but grew up in Canada which means that at some level questions about Englishness and identity have been part of my life for some time – such as do I call that a trash can or the bin?  I returned to the UK to study, getting my MPhil in later prehistoric archaeology from Cambridge.  After that I thought it would be a great idea to get into the field and get muddy!  I have since worked for a variety of field units over the years, including the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and the Museum of London Archaeology Service (now MoLA), and finally ended up spending several years as a consultant archaeologist for Arup (a large multi-national engineering firm for those of you who have never come across them).  I have been involved in a number of really fascinating projects over the years but I was definitely ready for another challenge when I read about the DPhil opportunities on the EngLaID project.  As someone who has worked in many different facets of commercial archaeology, as well as having an academic background, I find questions regarding the process of conducting archaeological work in both an academic and a commercial framework very interesting.  Much of the data for this project is being sourced from grey literature, a term for ‘unpublished’ site report material, which includes evaluation and excavation reports produced as part of developer-funded field work.  My DPhil topic is examining variations in the form and quality of grey literature and what influences these variations, such as changes in legislation and planning law at the local, regional and national levels.  I’ve got lots of ideas I’d like to explore on this topic and I’m very excited to get started.  Other than settling into life in Oxford, my October so far has been focused on meeting the team, learning more about the project and doing a lot of reading!  I’ve started with works on the topic of commercial archaeology, field work and the production of grey literature as well as reading related to the history and philosophy of science regarding the nature of data and data collection.  If anyone has any suggestions of something I might find useful to read, please let me know!  All three of us new students will be updating the blog on our progress on a regular basis and we’d greatly appreciate any feedback or input you readers may have.  Finally, hello to the EngLaID blog readers out there and it’s very nice to meet you all.  I’ll speak (or type) to you again soon!”  

Dan: “My name is Dan Stansbie and like Vicky I’ve spent time working in commercial archaeology before getting involved in the Englaid project. My undergraduate and Masters level education was at Cardiff University, where I was very lucky to be taught by Niall Sharples, Peter Guest and the late John Evans, who in different ways inspired my interests in prehistory, the Romans, material culture, landscape and archaeological theory. After leaving Cardiff I worked briefly in commercial archaeology in the Bristol area, before getting a training post with English Heritage, working on the stratigraphic analysis of the Stanwick project in Northamptonshire. Since then, until joining the EngLaId team I’ve worked in post-excavation for Oxford Archaeology, writing up large and small scale excavation reports, with a focus on the Iron Age and Roman periods and recording Iron Age and Roman pottery. The last month seems to have been packed with social events involving silly costumes (see photo…) and large amounts of free food and drink, along with reading on the themes of identity, food and material culture. But things seem to settling down into more of a routine now. I’m sensing food is going to be a major factor here……”

Sarah: “My name is Sarah Mallet. I completed both my M.A and M.Litt in Medieval History and Archaeology at the University of St Andrews, in bonnie Scotland, where I discovered a passion for early medieval Britain, archaeological theory and drinking whisky. Following what could be described as the worst career plan ever, I decided to put my knowledge of Gildas and post-Roman Britain to good use by going to work in… Peru: I spent six months as an intern in a national park in the Cordillera Blanca to help redesign their conservation project for archaeological remains. Despite the slightly unnerving lack of Anglo-Saxons in this new life, this experience opened up many new ways to think about the past and our relationship with it. For example, investigating how Andean communities related to their environments made me realise how, as an archaeologist and historian, I had often taken for granted that the landscape was just there rather than considering the dynamic relationship between a people and its surroundings. Furthermore, living with 5 biologists in the beautiful Parque Nacional Huascaran, I learnt more about biology than I ever envisioned learning and it got me thinking about the potential of bio-archaeology. I had been interested in archaeological science since finishing my undergraduate studies, as I felt the papers and reports I was reading were increasingly relying on scientific methods. I thus decided to do an MSc in Archaeological Science at Oxford University; it was a particularly intensive year, rediscovering the joy of chemistry and physics, and an invaluable learning experience. 

My DPhil project within EngLaId is to investigate food consumption through the studies of stable isotopes, meaning that I’ll be using bone chemistry to understand past diets. I also hope to get samples from animal and plant remains to look at food production and resources management, but at the moment, I am mostly reading about landscape theory and British prehistory!”

Landscape and Scale symposium, Oxford (Keble College), 13 June 2012

On 13 June, the EngLaId project hosted a one-day workshop to explore the relationship between landscape and scale at Keble College in Oxford, a perfect venue for such a lovely and sunny day!

Participants relaxing in the sunshine during lunch break

A range of papers was presented on a number of different topics – see below for the programme – and we are currently exploring various options to publish proceedings. Most importantly, however, the symposium laid the foundations for a loose network of British scholars and professionals engaging with landscape-based issues.

Dr Tom Brindle presenting his completed PhD research on data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

It is hoped that these events will become annual affairs. For 2013, a number of themes were suggested, with the majority of attendees preferring a more explicitly theoretical angle for next year’s event. If you would like to get involved, contact the organisers (laura.morley@arch.ox.ac.uk, anwen.cooper@arch.ox.ac.uk or letty.tenharkel@arch.ox.ac.uk) and we can keep you posted about our plans for next year!

Chris Gosden and Chris Evans debating ‘against narrative’…


Last but not least, a special thank you must go to the Royal Historical Society, who kindly granted us £200 to assist with reimbursing travel costs for early career researchers.

Programme ‘Landscape and Scale’

Session 1:                 

‘Issues of Scale and the English Landscape and Identities Project’ (Chris Gosden, University of Oxford).

‘The Fields of Britannia: continuity and discontinuity in the pays, regions and province of Roman Britain’ (Stephen Rippon, Christopher Smart and Fiona Fleming).

‘Recalibrating through ‘landscape’’ (Graham Fairclough, University of Newcastle). 

Session 2:

‘Making the most of PAS data: macro and micro-level studies of Romano-British settlement’ (Tom Brindle, PAS Finds Liaison Officer, Staffordshire and West Midlands).

‘Identifying amateur collection bias at different scales of analysis, using the data collected by the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ (Katie Robbins, British Museum).

‘Local, regional and beyond: inter-tidal zone archaeology in the Greater London Area’ (Elliot Wragg and Nathalie Cohen, Thames Discovery Programme).

Session 3:

‘Bridging the gap? Scale and development-led archaeology in England today’ (Roger Thomas, EH).

‘Something fishy about scales? Tensions between macro and micro levels of analysis and interpretation in the study of later prehistoric and Romano-British field systems’ (Adrian Chadwick, affiliation?)

‘Against Narrative – A Comparative Macro-scale Agenda’ (Christopher Evans, Cambridge Archaeological Unit).

 

All in all, a productive and enjoyable day – and of course many thanks must go to the speakers and other participants to make it so!

Chris Green and Simon Crutchley


Devon field trip and Project Advisory Board meeting

It has been a busy week for the EngLaId project team. Over the Bank Holiday weekend, Letty and Miranda went to Dartmoor to explore this case study area and do some drawing. They were joined by the poet Alice Oswald (author of Dart) and her husband Peter Oswald, whose local knowledge of the area provided an immensely valuable contribution to the trip. Even the weather decided to hold out, which was wonderful, if unexpected!

Multi-period field systems near Scorriton, as seen from the moor.

Sites visited included Lydford, an Anglo-Saxon burh on the western edge of Dartmoor overlooking the moor. Lydford, now a small village, was a royal burh with spectacular natural defences on three sides, whilst the bank that defended the only easy access to the settlement is still visible as earthworks in the landscape today as well. During the medieval period, the parish of Lydford also included the entire area of Dartmoor’s upper moor.

The earthworks at Lydford with their current occupants.

Miranda spent an afternoon drawing from the earthworks; keep an eye out for the visual blog to see the results of that!

Miranda drawing the landscape from the inside of the defensive bank at Lydford.

The following day, we explored the moor near Scorriton, walking part of the Two Moors Way and the Abbot’s way, which originally would have connected the abbey of Buckfast with those of Tavistock and Buckland on the other side.

The Two Moors Way, as it winds down into the valley where it intersects with the Abbot’s Way and the river Avon.

Miranda found a wonderful spot inside a Bronze Age settlement enclosure from where she spent a few hours drawing the landscape surrounding the Avon valle, whilst Letty followed the Abbot’s Way a bit further, retracing the steps of countless travellers who must have walked here since at least the early medieval period.

The Bronze Age settlement enclosure from where Miranda was drawing, as seen from the opposite hill.
A pregnant horse along the Abbot’s Way.

After this truly wonderful weekend, it was time to go back to reality and prepare for the annual project Advisory Board meeting, where the team presented progress to a committee consisting of Prof. Sir Barry Cunliffe, Prof. Richard Bradley, Prof. Mark Pollard, Prof. Helena Hamerow, Dr Jeremy Taylor and Dr Roger Thomas. After an introduction by Chris Gosden, Laura Morley presented progress on data collection, followed by a joint presentation by Anwen Cooper and Chris Green on the potential and problems of the data from Somerset, one of the first regions for which we had collated a complete dataset (many thanks must go once more to the HERO from Somerset!).

Laura Morley presents progress with data collection.

The Advisory Board provided much helpful feedback, and after a short tea break the presentations continued, first with Letty ten Harkel presenting preliminary work on the Devon case study area, followed by Miranda Creswell who presented her work on recording the team’s working methods, her landscape drawings and other art and, finally, the public engagement side of things in relation to a pilot project she is developing … again, watch the visual blog for more details!

Members of the Advisory Board providing feedback (from left to right: Dr Jeremy Taylor, Prof. Helena Hamerow, Prof. Richard Bradley and Prof. Sir Barry Cunliffe)

The day ended with a very useful and constructive discussion. The EngLaId team would therefore like to thank the Advisory Board for their time and effort, and looks forward to the next meeting in a year’s time!

Regional HER Meetings

The EngLaId team would like to thank all those present at the regional HER meetings for Yorkshire, the North East and Humber (7 March), the South East (8 March) and the East Midlands (15 March) for their feedback and stimulating discussion!

HER Regional Meeting 7 March 2012
HER Regional Meeting 7 March 2012