The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 113

Issue 113

July / Aug 2010


THE BIG DIG: Links of Noltland

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

MAIN FEATURE: Digging for (Invisible) People

Eroding sand dunes are revealing an ancient landscape on a windswept and remote Scottish island.

Dig for Shakespeare

Literary critics may wonder if Shakespeare wrote all those plays, but archaeologists know where to find him.

The Varmints Show

An occasional series specifically for the website, showcasing pop music inspired by archaeology or heritage. The first of the series features Air-Raid Shelter (Pillbox) by The Human Cabbages.

More online features to follow


All the latest archaeology news from around the country

on the web

Caroline Wickham-Jones investigates real and reconstructed worlds, and Andy Burnham highlights ancient sites viewable from the roadside, including extra content.


Your views and responses


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


The Stone Collector

A remarkable if enigmatic engraved stone is described in News. It was found in Cornwall by a self-taught fieldwalker. Matt Mossop introduces the extraordinary work of Graham Hill.

Despite reservations about metal-detecting amongst some salaried archaeologists, the knowledge, skills and historical interest so common amongst detectorists and other collectors have been successfully channelled by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). We all benefit. Accessible and well-documented finds in ever-growing numbers are adding to our understanding of the country's past, not least in Cornwall.

Yet professional archaeologists rarely advocate fieldwalking. Standard techniques involve gridded collection by a diverse and often relatively inexperienced team. In developer-funded archaeology, specialised and expensive excavation is often prioritised over the detailed study of finds from the ploughsoil.

By contrast, fieldwalking offers enthusiasts a rewarding, non-invasive and cheap alternative to excavation. Some remarkable artefact collections have been made in Cornwall, which are increasingly being augmented by detectorists' finds. Few, however, are as meticulously recorded as Graham Hill's.


In his home county of Kent, as a child Hill was fascinated with fossils, and experimented making flint tools. A keen interest in rocket motors led to work with fireworks. He moved to Paul, in West Penwith, Cornwall, with his young family in 2003. He found his first worked flints there when seeking a site for rocket launching.

From 2007, he has undertaken further lithic experiments, making beautiful polished stone axeheads and maces. In 2009 he pecked a substantial hole through a one tonne granite boulder over 56 hours, using flaked diorite beach pebbles, and erected a megalith at Clodgy Moor (visible from the B3315 Lands End road out of Sheffield in West Penwith). Surface collection suits his lifestyle. Two or three hours in beautiful fields are easier to plan than excavation. His substantial yet generally stable collection – mostly flint tools and occasional worked pieces of slate, granite and greenstone – is housed inexpensively at home.

In 2004, a chance conversation with the writer led to an inspection and confirmation of the significance of this collection. Hill was helped and encouraged by the local PAS Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), and since 2007 all his finds have been plotted on Ordnance Survey maps in a detailed catalogue that would put many professional archaeologists to shame. He has assisted on archaeological excavations as well as at the Royal Cornwall Museum, where his illustrations are highly valued, giving occasional presentations of his work.

Slug protection

Before he starts, Hill ensures he has the landowner's written permission to fieldwalk and to transfer any finds to the local museum: in two or three hours he may recover 30–60 artefacts. He likes to walk freshly-ploughed fields after rain, when finds show up well, though many fields are experimentally walked in different recorded conditions. He will typically systematically walk an entire field, furrow by furrow to ensure even coverage, before returning to key areas.

He uses a Lowrance iFinder GO2 handheld GPS, with +/-10m stated accuracy, giving every find a unique reference, with coordinates, date and point number. He writes this number with HB pencil directly on all stone finds, whilst pottery and other delicate or awkward objects are quickly drawn and described to enable later identification within the finds bag. He also plots field boundaries by GPS.

Back home, each index card and bag is dated and referenced with field number, whilst the contents are washed separately with a soft paintbrush, examined, and air-dried in a shoebox lid. The artefacts are then matched to the card index and marked with date and GPS number using a permanent marker pen. All diagnostic artefacts (including lithic tools, decorated, rim and base fragments of pottery and other interesting pieces) are drawn 1:1 and described; selected flint cores and debitage are also illustrated. A notable testament to his dedication and methodology is the retrieval and illustration of all flint from five transects within one field.

When dry, robust finds are bagged whilst pottery fragments and delicate items are packed into Tesco icecube sleeves. All are then packed with index cards in sealed and labelled two litre icecream boxes to protect them from the slugs in his outhouse.

Hill then tabulates all the data by hand, typically 100 artefacts to each page of the GPS log, and draws up artefact scatter patterns for each day's work on 1:1000 OS base maps. His chronological a4 catalogue, which runs from summer 2004 to the present in 600 pages, records field and wider location details, scatter patterns, illustrations, notes and bibliographic references. Key finds and sites are highlighted for the PAS and the Royal Cornwall Museum, who have also been given a photocopy of his catalogue.

Fabulous catalogue

Working closely with the PAS, to date Hill has recorded an estimated 10,000 finds, principally from 12 study areas and predominantly in Paul parish. These areas are typically 0.25–1ha, though the Paul Spring site, probably the most important landscape he has documented, is some 36ha.

Finds from this site are typical. Besides the inscribed slate described in News (this issue), they include a weathered chert piece with possible palaeolithic Levallois removals, late mesolithic backed bladelets and microliths, flint and greenstone ground axeheads, flint blades, scrapers and arrowheads, a Beaker wristguard, granite saddle querns and an area of around 300 cores and debitage of both beach pebble and imported white-and-black-speckled flint (similar to that at Beer Head). There is early neolithic Hembury Ware, Peterborough Warelike middle neolithic pottery, quantities of Grooved Ware, burnt daub, Cordoned Ware and medieval "grass-marked" ware.

FLO Anna Tyacke has identified many of his finds, along with specialists such as Henrietta Quinnell, Carl Thorpe and Charles Thomas to whom Hill is extremely grateful. Many discreet scatters appear to correspond to similarly-defined zones of archaeological activity. These include flintworking areas from the late mesolithic through to the neolithic, as well as possible neolithic and bronze age house platforms and prehistoric routeways.

Graham Hill's meticulous work has produced remarkable insights into prehistoric landscapes in rural Cornwall, which due to millennia of ploughing would not otherwise have been recognised. His fabulous catalogue is beautifully illustrated and on a generous scale. Ways of consolidating and disseminating these results are under discussion.

"Anyone can do it", he says humbly, "go out and give it a try". Whilst few archaeologists could come close to his achievement, he has set out a simple and cost-effective methodology that with modification could be followed by enthusiasts and professionals alike. As he says, "Who knows what the next 100 years will bring?"

Graham Hill's work will be presented at the CBA Cornwall weekend event Oct 15–17 2010. He would be delighted to receive comments or queries, or via the author. Matt Mossop is director of Archaeological Consultancy Ltd; he thanks Hill for his input and for allowing archaeologists to highlight his work.

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