The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 108

Issue 108

Sept / Oct 2009



Major slipware kiln site found near Leeds

Roman graves rescued: but cemetery doomed?

Isle of Man house is one of Britain's first

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


THE BIG DIG: Fetternear
Penelope Dransart reports on the topical issue of MPs claims expenese, at Kettlethorpe Hall

London: the mud of ages
Lorna Richardson reports on the discoveries made by the Thames Discovery Programme community initiative and Nick Booth describes his Foreshore Group training

For the sake of the worms
As we celebrate Charles Darwin, Matthew Law considers one of his less well-known interests that led him to excavate at ancient sites

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones reviews How to get active with archaeology, and John Schofield looks at Flash methods to view the evolution of graffiti


your views and responses, with further Beneath the Sea coverage

book review

We review a new publication about the Vindolanda Roman Fort

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth welcomes new HLF money for training, and highlights the CBA's role


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Major slipware kiln site found near Leeds

Excavation by an amateur group near Leeds has found a major slipware centre – only the fifth such site examined – that predates the first known industrial pottery production in the area by some 30 years. Kathy Allday, who founded the Leeds Archaeological Fieldwork Society, describes the find as "of national historical and archaeological significance".

In September 2006 the LAFS unearthed the foundations of a medieval manor house in Lazencroft, 10km east of Leeds at Barwick in Elmet, that belonged to the local Gascoigne family. Also uncovered were kiln material (bricks, saggars, spacers and coal shale) with sherds suggesting a slipware production site nearby.

A lease was identified, dated 1739, in which Edward Gascoigne granted William Gough permission for a "dwelling house, together with all his pott ovens, workhouses [and] warehouses". Later documents prove that Gough set up a pottery business. Excavation designed to locate the workshop began in April 2008, when test pits were opened across a field. Four of these revealed an ash layer about 50cm below the turf with a substantial amount of pottery.

Larger scale excavation, which ended this March, located a kiln with enclosing hovel and huge quantities of pottery waste and kiln furniture. The marked differences in styles and skills, seen particularly in the slipware – which ranges from yellow cups, porringers and posset pots with simple slip trailing, to a plate with an ornate marbled pattern in two colours – suggest the presence of several potters.

Inscribed sherds were found at both sites. At the manor house was one labelled "Roman Eagle and Crown" (the search is on for a pub of this name), while at the kiln were some bearing "SM". This is likely to represent Samuel Malkin, an 18th century potter famed for moulding and unique, highly decorative slipware plates. Parish records list Samuel and Thomas Malkin as potters living one kilometre from Lazencroft in 1744 and 1745.

"The range of vessels being produced", says Allday, "is staggering". They include cups, pie-crust-edged plates, porringers, tankards or tiggs, chamber pots and two handled posset pots. A tiny medicine cup (2cm high) and a small bell-shaped candlestick holder seem to be unique pieces. Brown-glazed vessels (mottled wares), some highly lustred, were also made, including tankards, cups, porringers, jugs and large flat-sided cooking pots.

The owners of the kiln site may develop the land, potentially offering the opportunity for further funded excavation. LAFS is working with Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, and hopes to seek Heritage Lottery funding for detailed ceramics analysis. Research underway includes seeking extant pieces in museums in England and America that may come from the Lazencroft kilns.

Roman graves rescued: but cemetery doomed?

In June, a complete Roman jar with an upturned dish for a lid was saved at Beckfoot, Cumbria, by Graham Ryan and John Murray after heavy rain had washed it from the low coastal cliff. Like a smaller jar found nearby, it contained the intact remains of a human cremation. The finders, who regularly report material from the known cemetery at the site, informed Stuart Noon, Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer for Lancashire and Cumbria. The PAS offered £500 towards analysis, which will also include study of the human bone at Durham University by Rebecca Gowland. The jar appears to hold more than one individual, and had been buried with a flagon and an indented beaker.

The cemetery is 370m south of Beckfoot fort (Bibra) and associated with a scheduled milefortlet. These forts were part of the Hadrian's Wall defence line, which continued down the west coast between Bowness and Maryport. There was a probable vicus, or civilian settlement, attached to Bibra. The cemetery was first identified in 1908. Sporadic and limited excavation began in the 1940s. Most recently English Heritage, concerned with the erosion, conducted a geophysical survey and commissioned evaluation excavation in 2006 in partnership with the Solway AONB Unit and the Maryport and District Archaeological Society.

Finds include an unusual 60 Roman coins. There seems to have been little if any inhumation burial practised, with a wide range of cremation rites. One pyre site contained military equipment, suggesting the cremation of a soldier. In 2005 four complete Roman vessels collected on the beach some years earlier were brought to a PAS finds day held by Dot Boughton.

The cemetery, whose full extent is unknown and much of which is not a scheduled ancient monument (and so not part of the Hadrian's Wall world heritage site), is threatened both by the sea and unrecorded casual or organised collecting. The EH aerial survey team in York has plotted erosion since the second world war of around 0.3m a year, though in one year nearly a metre washed away. The milefortlet may now have completely gone.

Mike Collins, Hadrian's Wall historic environment advisor (archaeology) at English Heritage, says, "It is clearly a site of enormous significance for the archaeology of the Roman frontier – particularly as we know very little about the cemeteries associated with it. Its erosion", he adds, "is of huge concern to us, and we will continue to work with the interested parties".

"It would appear to be vitally important", says Noon, "that a systematic archaeological investigation is soon carried out".

Isle of Man house is one of Britain's first

A pit containing thousands of artefacts, nut shells and a hearth in the centre, is one of Britain's oldest and best-preserved houses. Excavated at Ronaldsway, it promises to throw much light on the way hunter-gatherers lived some 8–9,000 years ago.

The pit is about 7m across and 30cm deep, with a ring of postholes around the edge. Carbonised timbers up to 15cm thick – presumed to be from the building's superstructure – had collapsed into the hollow, and dumps of burnt hazelnut shells had been buried around its edge. Pits inside contained a few hammer and anvil stones, but the dominant finds were flint artefacts, including microliths characteristic of the island's earlier mesolithic: some 14,000 pieces have been plotted in three dimensions; and, says project manager Fraser Brown as the dig draws to a close, "we are still counting".

Mesolithic flints have been collected from nearby for a century. In 1982–3 excavation directed by Peter Woodman at Cass ny Hawin, 150m from the new dig, uncovered a partially-destroyed hollow that also contained microliths, hazelnut shells and a hearth. It was interpreted as a working rather than a residential place, and radiocarbon dated to c 6800–6000BC. Woodman visited the airport excavation, and said the new structure seemed to be of a similar era. Surface finds of flint artefacts between the two suggest the area was once a focus for substantial activity.

Though mesolithic houses are still extremely rare, this is the third such structure to have been found since 2000, after very similar pits at Howick, Northumberland (8000–7500BC, also on the coast) and at East Barns, East Lothian (8000BC).

The excavation by Oxford Archaeology North is part of a major project to improve the island's main airport, and was funded by the Manx Department of Transport and monitored by Manx National Heritage (see also news, Sep/Oct 2008).

In the press

Bedforshire on Sunday

Archaeologists working in Woburn for the former Bedfordshire county council found what they suspected to be human remains. Bedfordshire Police were immediately called and the area was cordoned off. Officers spent a night preserving the scene of a suspicious death, only to discover that a skull was in fact the remains of a pet tortoise. One of the labourers at the site said: "Albion Archaeology had got rid of a lot of people who knew what they were doing." 17 May

The Daily Telegraph

In a landmark ruling against commercial marine archaeologist firm Odyssey, a judge at the Federal Court in Tampa ordered the "Black Swan" treasure to be returned to Spain. Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, Spain's minister of culture, welcomed the decision. "It's a hugely important ruling and one that will set a precedent for future claims." It could have an impact on future finds by the company, which is in talks with the British government over salvaging HMS Sussex, believed to be carrying 10 tonnes of gold when it sank off Spain in 1694. Odyssey said it will appeal. 4 Jun


Wouldn't it be thrilling to see the [Parthenon] marbles together in Athens for a period of time? And wouldn't it be reasonable to return them afterward to the stewardship of the British Museum, where they can bask in a panorama of mankind's highest achievements? The ancient Hellenic culture that produced the marbles seeded all of Western civilization, not just the contemporary nation of Greece. The marbles, really, belong to everyone. Cathleen McGuigan, 6 Jun

Daily Bournemouth Echo

Seven archaeologists and geographers at Bournemouth University are being invited to take voluntary redundancy with the threat of compulsory redundancies if there are insufficient volunteers. John Gale said, "This is about unrealistic and inappropriate financial targets." Bournemouth Echo, 11 Jun

Lyveden Diggers

Diggers reunite

Our understanding of rural medieval industry owes a great deal to excavations at Lyveden, Northamptonshire, where in the 13th century an already long-standing community began to make and trade pottery; by 1285 Lyveden was known as Potters Lyveden. Finds included clay puddling pits, a variety of kilns, potters' tools and a workshop. The excavations were directed by Geoff Bryant and John Steane between 1967 and 1973, with students from Kettering Grammar School and various universities (photo shows some of the diggers at the end of the final season). A diggers reunion picnic (less hair, more wisdom?) is to be held at Lyveden New Bield, near Oundle.

Toasting inspectors

On June 20 1884 – two years after parliament passed John Lubbock's Ancient Monuments Act, and a mere 12 days after General Augustus Pitt Rivers visited the site to assess its suitability – the great exposed neolithic burial chamber at Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire, became Wales's first scheduled ancient monument. On June 20 two centuries later, a party of archaeologists gathered under the capstone to celebrate the general's decision and the present system of protection that evolved from Lubbock's act.

In brief

New archaeology centre

The last issue of British Archaeology reported that Mike Nevell, along with his archaeological unit, had been dropped by the University of Manchester. Manchester's loss is Salford's gain, as in late September the younger university is launching a new Centre for Applied Archaeology within the School of the Built Environment, under Nevell's leadership. The centre will open with postgraduate teaching and thesis supervision for the construction industry and heritage professionals, with an extra-mural programme, but Nevell hopes "to widen it out to include NVQs and a dedicated industrial archaeology MA". The focus will be on community and industrial archaeology, in both research and commercial work, and the centre will be housed in what styles itself "the UK's premier school for the built environment", offering "greater career prospects including management opportunities".

Researching the sea

The Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton is developing a research framework for England's maritime, marine and coastal archaeology for English Heritage. The project is aimed at shaping long-term planning by government and funding bodies, and to help researchers plan, and seek funding for, future projects. Eleven period and thematic working groups are assessing the current resource. For further information or to participate, contact Jesse Ransley via email.

What value heritage?

Despite assurances from the government of its significance, the heritage protection bill for England and Wales – along with ratification of the Hague Convention, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict – has again been dropped from parliamentary business (see feature, Mar/Apr 2009). CBA director Mike Heyworth described the lack of government support for "these uncontroversial and widely supported reforms" as "deplorable", adding that the historic environment must be "at the heart of new policies for the way places are designed and planned, not sidelined as a low priority".

Phase 2

BA 107 cover

The story of the unopened 18th century witch bottle from Greenwich (news, Jul/Aug: and see Letters, this issue) went round the world, almost certainly obtaining the widest publicity yet achieved for a BA report (and for BA), with European magazines taking a particular interest. However, as Duncan Wilson told us (and as he also wrote in a letter to The Times), the owner of the bottle is not as was stated in the printed magazine, but the Greenwich Foundation, of which he is chief executive. Many apologies. We are pleased to report that the bottle will be a centrepiece in the new Discover Greenwich exhibition, opening early in 2010 at the Old Royal Naval College.

"Scotland's most ancient home" (The Scotsman), identified by 14,000-year-old flint tools from Howburn Farm, South Lanarkshire (news, May/Jun), caused particular excitement in Scotland. Aileen Campbell, SNP MSP for South of Scotland, was on site on the first day of Tam Ward's excavation this year, and lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the Biggar Archaeology Group on its success. Alan Saville says that further upper palaeolithic artefacts have been recovered, including tanged points, end of blade scrapers, and ("an absolute clincher") a combined end scraper/Zinken-type piercer – but as yet no hearths or other features.

In his review of the England's Past for Everyone series (Books, Jul/Aug) Paul Stamper expressed justifiable concerns about the future of the Victoria County History project: but, he points out, the Heritage Lottery Fund did once support academic research, as well as the new popular books.

I think the Parthenon marbles should stay in the British Museum. I'm more scared of Neil MacGregor than I am of the Greek government.
Ed Vaizey MP in conversation with the editor. See'My Archaeology' in the printed magazine (p66).

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