Archaeology Field Trips
Field trip to Wroxeter Roman City & Wall - 14 October 2016
Twelve people, mostly members of the Archaeology and Ancient History Group, arrived for our visit to this ancient site near Shrewsbury. It is the site of the Roman city of Viroconium Cornoviorum, which was the 4th largest tribal capital in Roman Britain. It began as a legionary fortress and later developed into a thriving civilian city, populated by retired soldiers and traders. The most impressive features are the 2nd century municipal baths and the remains of the huge wall (the Old Work) dividing them from the exercise hall in the heart of the city.
After looking at the display in the museum we toured the site with the aid of audio guides, and also visited the reconstruction of a Roman town house. This had been built as part of a TV series following six modern builders as they constructed the villa using only traditional Roman methods.
In the nearby village of Wroxeter stands the parish chuch of St Andrew's, now redundant, of which the oldest parts have been built from stone which came from the Roman buildings.
After leaving Wroxeter, most of the group visited another Roman site at Wall near Lichfield. This was an important staging post on Watling Street, the Roman military road to north Wales. At Wall you can still see the remains of an inn for travellers and the public baths.
It had been another very interesting and informative visit, which everyone enjoyed.
Field trip to the Arbor Low & Gib Hill - 12 August 2016
Eight members of the group visited this unique archaeological site in Derbyshire.
At the entrance to the site, we examined the origins and likely purpose of Arbor Low, and how it fitted in to the regional distribution of similar sites. It is a Neolithic henge and stone circle dating back to 2500BC, the only such remaining monument in the limestone area of the Peak District.
We established that Arbor Low was built by the local peoples, settled farmers, representing significant regional cohesion. Its function is thought to have been for:
• Ritual & social bonding
• Religious and mortuary purposes
Situated at one of the highest points in the locality at around 1300 feet it would have been visible from a great distance.
As we continued into the monument we discussed the excavations which had been carried out at the site by such archaeologists as Harold St George Gray. The adjoining round barrow to the south-east, built from material forming part of the henge, may possibly date from around the same period based on finds of Neolithic Peterborough ware-style pottery within its cist. Previous suggestions were that it was a Bronze Age barrow.
Examination of the stones forming the stone circle suggested that they had come from a limestone pavement but their origin is unknown. All are now fallen and we discussed whether they would have been placed on plinths and the possible reasons for their current positioning.
In the centre of the circle was a cove with some previously standing stones and we looked at possible alignment with the entrances and activities which could have taken place there.
After finding a relatively sheltered spot in the ditch for lunch, away from the very blustery conditions, we moved to the nearby site of Gib Hill. This is a large burial mound comprising a mid-Neolithic oval barrow dating from the late 4th Millenium with a Bronze age round barrow constructed on top of it some 1500 years later. We discussed the relative features and excavations which had taken place.
It had been a very interesting and informative visit.
Field trip to the University of Nottingham Museum - 12 February 2016
Twelve members of the group visited the University of Nottingham Museum. The museum's Education Officer, Ellie Ball, began by giving us a brief history of the museum which was opened in 1933 to house the collection of Samian pottery and other artefacts excavated at the site of the Roman fort of Margidunum at Bingham in Nottinghamshire by Dr Felix Oswald. The museum now contains other donated collections with objects covering a wide time period and reflecting the everyday lives of people living in the area. It moved to its current location in the Lakeside Arts Centre in 2011.
Next we had a hands on look at various artefacts which ranged in age from the Palaeolithic to Medieval times, allowing close examination and interesting discussion about the possible uses of each piece:
• hand axe - made from flint and very ergonomically crafted to fit comfortably in the hand.
• hand axe - from Cumbria and probably made from the volcanic rock, rhyolite. This piece was double-ended, each having a very different shape and presumably different use. It may have been attached to a shaft by cord.
• hand axe - this was cast and much smaller, and with a very recognizable shape.
• spear head - made of iron and due to its small size, probably used for throwing. Probably made in two halves in a mould and then joined together.
• pennanular brooch - used like a clasp to fasten clothing. It had very refined scroll ends and pin.
Roman artefacts from Margidunum
• ligula (earwax scoop) - made of iron and usually fitted on to a ring as part of a cosmetic set.
• hairpin - made of animal bone and probably dating from the Flavian dynasty (69-96 AD). Dating could be achieved by examining fashions of the time as depicted on coins.
• pottery gaming counters - known as snobs and similar to jacks
• Samian ware (terra sigillata) - imported red-coloured clay pots in the form of jugs, bowls etc decorated with various patterns & images of humans/animals.
• glass beads forming part of a necklace, found at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Ancaster. Beautifully made in blue glass with white and yellow patterning.
• 12th century floor tile - from Keighton (now part of the university campus). Made in a mould from clay, and with inlaid pattern. Of ecclesiastical origins, probably made for Lenton Priory. Unusual diagonal groove was probably to enable tiles to be split for use in corners etc.
There was an opportunity afterwards to tour the museum's exhibits individually.
We all agreed it had been a very interesting and informative visit.
Stanton Moor Field Trip - August 2015
We started at the Cork Stone with an introduction to the geology of the Moor, an Ashover grit outlier of the main eastern moors probably surviving as a result of a local syncline compressing the rock at its base.
The surrounding valleys lie in the agriculturally favourable muds and sands that underlie this grit. Thus the moor is an island of relatively poor land encircled by good agricultural land which would have supported many Bronze Age families. The Moor itself seems to have been used primarily for funerary and ceremonial purposes by these many families, and our visit concentrated on those aspects, but there is also evidence of field systems and some patches of ground which may have been cleared to form sites for dwellings.
Armed with a map showing positions of about 70 Bronze Age monuments comprising mainly mounds used for urn burials of cremated remains, but including ring cairn and embanked stone circle ceremonial monuments, we visited a prime example of each of these three types which form part of an NNE-SSW line of 7 monuments that John Barnatt (Chief Geologist for the National Park) believes may form the principle focus of the Bronze Age perception of the Moor.
We discussed the role of the many antiquarians and geologists who have taken an interest in the moor mainly from the 18th century to the present day, but we concentrated mostly on Joseph and Percy Heathcote (father and son) who put in a large amount surveying and excavation effort in the first half of the 20th Century, and whose site labels are now the standard ones for the monuments. We considered what they achieved and how their work has been re-evaluated more recently.
We visited the large burial cairn T2, the first large-scale excavation the Heathcotes undertook. We had a copy of their plan and sections recording the positions of the stones forming the mound and of the various finds. Like many of the tumuli, it had previously been disturbed by others who left no detailed records of what they found and where, but Heathcotes were able to establish that the cremated remains of between 12 and 20 individuals had been inserted into the mound probably over a substantial period – with the first and primary internment being the cremated remains of an unusually large boy in a central cist. Other objects found with the cinerary urns were numerous flint tools that had clearly been burnt with the bodies, a few small bronze objects and some pot-boiling stones.
On our way to the two other monuments, we passed the remains of other large mounds that had been used for similar burials over time.
The two ceremonial monuments we examined in detail were the ringcairn T56 and the famous Nine-Ladies stone circle. In the absence of any literature from that society and with no obvious external relationships such as astronomical alignments, the use and purpose of these two monuments are hidden from us. Although both do have some burial associated with them it is unlikely that these were their primary purpose. At the Nine-Ladies we also looked at recent work showing the apparent absence of a buried stone in the obvious gap in the circle, and also at the rate of erosion of ground from the heavy visitor footfall. Finally we looked at controversies surrounding the outlying King Stone, and a possible 19th century scandal!
We concluded with a look at T13, interesting because it comprises two conjoined sites containing female burials which are segregated by status. This differs from all the other burials which are democratic.
Field trip to Cresswell Crags - 8 May 2015
This was the first field trip for the recently formed group and 15 members attended. Creswell Crags is a limestone gorge on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The cliffs in the ravine contain several caves that were occupied during the last ice age, between around 43,000 and 10,000 years ago. Its caves contain the northernmost cave art in Europe.
We headed to the gorge for our first guided tour on Rock Art, and having donned hard hats, we were taken into Church Hole Cave. This is where Britain's only known Ice Age Rock Art was discovered by archaeologists in 2003. These engravings of animals, birds and motifs are 14,000 years old. The guide pointed out an engraving of a Red Deer stag, a Bison, a Horse's head, a bass relief of a bird thought to be an Ibis, and some 'V' shaped motifs. In the depths of the cave, not accessible, we were shown by torch light the location of another engraving, the significance of which is uncertain, but may represent diving birds or a female figure.
After free time to explore the gorge, visit the very interesting exhibitions in the visitor centre and have lunch we assembled again for our second tour. This was the Ice Age Tour to the once inhabited Robin Hood Cave which was occupied periodically during warmer periods in the last Ice Age. This is the largest cave in the gorge, and we were guided through the two main chambers. Here we were thankful for the hard hats, this time with lamps attached, as we needed to negotiate a rather low-roofed tunnel into the largest chamber. The guide showed us replicas of various flint and quartzite tools which had been discovered in the cave. In the main chamber, complete skeletons of a cave bear, cave lion and hyenas had been found.
Everyone agreed that this had been a very informative and interesting visit to this amazing site.