Out of Isolation: the Scythians are Back!

St John Simpson and Svetlana Pankova whet our appetites for the forthcoming proceedings volume, ‘Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia’

We are delighted and relieved in equal measure to now offer you this blog announcing the forthcoming publication of papers arising from the major international conference at the British Museum which was inspired by and connected to our blockbuster exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia!

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Some of the gathered conference delegates.

The packed programme ranged from broad sweeping overviews to the latest excavation discoveries, scientific analyses of gold and anthropological analyses of cemetery populations. We also had many other papers accepted but, owing to an unfortunate combination of visa problems and personal health issues, some had to be delivered in absentia and others were not presented at all. However, we decided to include them, and expand our proceedings into an even larger volume which captures some of the richness of the archaeology of the Eurasian nomads of antiquity.

This was a truly international gathering: here are some of the speakers from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Britain.

Nomads have an image problem but only amongst non-nomads. Today, people without fixed homes are viewed disparagingly in many societies, even though a tent or even the temporary shade of a tree may be considered a suitable home by those on the move or the so-called ‘homeless’. Herodotus gives a more nuanced world view: as an exiled Greek from western Anatolia staying in one or more northern Black Sea ports, he almost sympathises with the Scythians he describes as he attempts the first ethnographic description of where they came from, how they lived, what they ate and drank, believed and valued most.

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The conference accompanied the exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia.

The 45 papers by 51 contributors and co-authors in this volume capture some of the latest thinking and research on the early nomads of Eurasia, from present-day Romania, Ukraine and the northern Caucasus in the west to southern Siberia, Kazakhstan and China in the east. From them, we get a much richer, more varied and, occasionally darker, picture of life on the steppe. This was a hard but dynamic environment and these people understood how to exploit it. They took care of their appearance: women used scent and makeup, manicuring was surely not limited to the dead, and leather and fur preserved in the ‘frozen tombs’ of the Altai provide exceptional evidence for local and imported forms of dress. We also have papers on their horses, how they were cared for, saddled and dressed up for ceremonies. We have new scientific analyses looking at the sources and working of leather, including human skin, textile dyeing and weaving technology, bead production, the making of a ‘Scythian bow’, swords, and the various techniques used in working gold. There are papers on famous sites of different cultures, such as the Scythian kurgans of Alexandropol, Arzhan-2, Issyk, Kelermes and Taksai-1, the massive settlement at Bel’sk, an intriguing hoard from the fortress at Stâncești, and much later cemeteries at Noin Ula and Oglakhty. Surveys and GIS-based studies show how some of these were situated within their physical and socio-political landscape. Other papers discuss the development and possible reasons behind the development of ‘Animal Style’ art, as well as its many forms and applied media from metal and carved horn to rock art. And, of course, we have papers on kurgans: how and why they were built as monuments to the dead, and what forms of funerary feasting and even more macabre activities took place around them. Some papers re-examine the relationship of the Scythians with colonial Greek and forest-steppe communities around the Black Sea, another details changing directions of influence in the northern Caucasus, and yet others examine new evidence for interaction and mediation of motifs between nomads, Achaemenids and Greeks, and the penetration of new ideas into northern China. Close connections between peoples occupying the Minusinsk and Tarim Basins at a later date are the subject of one paper, and the dramatic effect the Huns had on the fortunes of the Sasanian and Gupta empires is the topic of another; yet others focus on the collections in the State Hermitage Museum and Royal Collection in London to retrace the original context of pieces which passed through private hands, the impact early discoveries had on ‘Scythian Revival’ decorative arts and Western scholarship.

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Visitors had an exceptional chance to see many objects from the State Hermitage Museum collection which were shown abroad for the first time (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The adaptation of the horse from a herd and pack animal to a means of rapid transport revolutionised society. Greater mobility accelerated the pace of introduction of ideas, fashions and technologies: whereas before it might have taken a cart two years to travel the 4,500 km from the Black Sea to Tuva, a horseman could now theoretically go and return within a few months. It also created a new predatory approach to acquiring and controlling vast new resources which is reflected in the new weaponry and dynamic early phases of ‘Animal Style’ art. These people understood their animals and the available natural resources, and were highly skilled horse breeders as well as excellent riders.

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Incorporating new research into displays are an important way of disseminating what we do to a much wider public (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The nomads moved camps seasonally and varied their activities accordingly. After shearing their sheep in the early summer there was plenty of wool for making felt items. This was also the ideal period to weave textiles although spinning must have been an all-year-round activity, and the same probably applies to whittling bone or carving small wooden objects. It was in the summer that many tribes sowed and harvested millet. Trapping and hunting were year-round activities. Some tribes also knew how to extract metal: some must have established base camps near the rivers where they knew placer deposits were present and spent part of their time patiently panning as well as probably fishing, whereas others returned year after year to camp near ore veins and extend their mine shafts deeper into the rock. The working of metals did not require large or complicated tool-kits and the variety of regional styles and quantity of metal in circulation prove they had ample access to metal, knew how to work it and supply it to the nearest settlements. The interaction between these different groups was much more complex than simply avoidance or conflict; there may have been regular tensions but each community relied to some extent on the other and carefully negotiated relationships must have been developed locally. Access to the different areas and types of resource on the steppe and in the valleys must have been jealously guarded by different tribes and sub-tribes. However, the weaponisation of Scythian society and level of inter-personal violence exhibited in the archaeological record illustrate how competition could easily lead to conflict with resolution through violence rather than tribal discourse. These were people with skills, traditions, beliefs and complex social structures. They developed a sustainable lifestyle which lasted for almost three millennia and one which continues to resonate strongly in the region today.

Sincerest thanks to Dr Simpson and Dr Pankova for providing this blog post.

The volume, Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia edited by Svetlana Pankova and St John Simpson is available to pre-order now. Pre-order and save 20% using this special offer form.

Print ISBN 9781789696479. RRP £80.00.

PDF eBook ISBN 9781789696486. RRP £16.00+VAT (for personal use); £80.00+VAT (library/institutional use)

The Antonine Wall. Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

David J. Breeze introduces an edited festschrift volume, new from Archaeopress, where nearly 40 archaeologists, historians and heritage managers present their researches on the Antonine Wall in recognition of the work of Lawrence Keppie, formerly Professor of Roman History and Archaeology at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University

Antonine Wall - Keppie
Lawrence at Westerwood. Photo by the late Margaret J. Robb.

Arranging a Festschrift can be a fraught task. The organiser wants to honour the recipient, but if s/he is a university lecturer it is likely that the potential contributors will come from a range of interests, creating a rather disparate book, which in turn might have an impact on sales. With Lawrence, a former museum curator, the decision for Bill Hanson and myself was simple; the obvious focus of the volume was the Antonine Wall. After all, Lawrence had excavated throughout its whole length and curated its most famous artefacts, the distance slabs. Within a week of inviting all the archaeologists currently working on the Wall we had a full volume. Moreover, the 39 contributors, writing 32 papers, easily covered the wide range of Lawrence’s interests.

Antonine Wall - map
Map of the Antonine Wall as completed, based on currently available information
(copyright D.J. Breeze).

We start with looking at the Antonine Wall in its landscape and its impact on the indigenous population. The core of the volume are papers on the frontier and its artefacts, examining its building and occupation. The final section embraces Lawrence’s historiographical interests as well as the presentation of the Wall today and its role as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. Colleagues rose to the challenge of writing on Roman women on the Wall and on veterans for both of which there is so little evidence. There are papers here which we knew would interest Lawrence and acknowledge his major contribution to understanding Rome’s North-West frontier, including one on the structure of the Wall itself which goes to the heart of the monument as well as to Lawrencce’s investigations along its line.

9781789694505The Antonine Wall: Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

Edited by David J. Breeze and William S. Hanson

206x255mm; 494 pages; 166 figures; 15 tables; ToC

Paperback: £30.00

PDF eBook: FREE to download in Open Access

Buy or Download Here

Cover image: The Distance Stone of the Twentieth Legion from Hutcheson Hill (RIB III 3507) found in 1969 lying face down in a shallow pit immediately to the south of the Wall (copyright Hunterian, University of Glasgow).

Bar Locks and Early Church Security in the British Isles

John F. Potter examines the evidence for the measures taken to make church buildings secure or defensible from their earliest times until the later medieval period. In particular he studies the phenomenon of ‘bar locks’.


Professor John F. Potter BSc, PhD, FGS, CBiol, FSB, FIEnvSc
6th July 1932 – 27th November 2019

A note from the Publisher:

We were greatly saddened to hear of the passing of our friend and colleague Professor John F. Potter in late 2019. John had been a regular collaborator with Archaeopress and we shall miss his visits to our office very much. We were very far into production for John’s latest title Bar Locks and Early Church Security in the British Isles when he died and, with the kind permission and co-operation of his family, were able to complete the project for final publication. The book is published in our Access Archaeology imprint where the PDF eBook can be downloaded free of charge. A printed paperback edition is also available, priced £40.00.

We are very pleased to present the introduction below, along with a link to continue reading via the free PDF download.

Bar Locks and Early Church Security in the British Isles

John F. Potter

Chapter One. Keys and Bar Locks

The evolution of this study

Forty plus years of detailed study of the fabrics and structures of early Christian ecclesiastical sites and buildings, throughout the British Isles have led the author to some unexpected discoveries.[1] One, in particular, has been that very little examination, discussion or observation has been made as to how the earlier of these buildings were made secure when they were first built. That castles should possess defensive features such as the moat, drawbridge, portcullis and thick walls, all constructed to provide defence and security, has never been questioned. In 2004, Harrison in a description of many of the larger, predominantly monastic, religious structures in the northern hemisphere described them as ‘Castles of God’ and that ‘architecturally, the ecclesiastical edifice is subservient to the military’.[2] Early churches, perhaps erected at much the same time and on occasions presumably in the possession of valuables, would often appear to remain lacking in any similar level of protection.

1.1. redrawn
Figure 1.1. Simple bar lock as figured by Dr R. Borg in his ‘Lexicon of locks and keys’. The bar locks in churches are typically held within holes in the wall. As illustrated here the principle of operation can be more easily observed.

The populace at large today, and most persons associated with churches, including those whose work or study embraces these churches, in response to comment or the question as to how the early protection of the buildings was accomplished, may well answer ‘with doors and keys, of course’.[3] A very limited number of persons have used, or are aware of instances of, a means of locking a church door without a key. Scrutiny of some older doorways does, however, certainly reveal evidence in the jambs of what might be termed ‘wooden sliding cross bar security systems’, or briefly, ‘bar locks’ (Figure 1.1). In the British Isles, as far as the present author originally believed, no attempt had been made to fully describe the function, distribution, or use and implications of this means of security.  In the earliest years of the second millennium the present author identified and recognised the importance of bar locks which he had observed in Wales for the first time. At that time, bar locks, had been recently reported in churches in Southern Sweden and described in the PhD thesis of Dr Raine Borg.[4] Possibly without intention, Dr Borg intimated, in correspondence, that this occurrence was the first to be recorded in Europe. More recently, the present author was to discover the large amount of study undertaken in recent years on the subject of the defence of churches and like buildings.[5] An earlier study in France also refers to the defensive aspects of large churches.[6]

Church Security

In past times, just as today, it has always been necessary for buildings to provide security. This has been sought in order to protect various possessions, and to offer personal refuge and safety within the building.  Before the invention of the locking devices with which we are familiar today, and in particular, the innovation of keys, the requirement must have created major and significant problems. For those with money and power, the ultimate protective structure in the past was provided by the sanctuary of the castle. At that time, in contrast to the castle, the early churches and the smaller monastic properties of the period were established to provide religious services and leadership, as well as the facility for personal private prayer. These were offered by invitation, and as today, they were dependent upon the buildings involved being open for attendance. Unless permanently supervised and controlled, the churches and their valuable contents could have, therefore, been subject to substantial damage and possible loss.

The historical records disclose that Viking, Norse and Danish marauding visitors found churches especially, relatively easy picking. Some of these raids have been documented by the current author and certain periods of Viking and Danish activity are referred to in Table 1.1 of the present work.[7] These particular accounts highlight the need for church security in fraught circumstances, but it is easy to imagine the routine need for church security in much less difficult ‘everyday’ circumstances, both in earlier and later periods. At the simplest level there would be a need to keep undesirables, animals and the weather out of churches. (The special circumstances of the churches in the Border country between England and Scotland in the early medieval period are examined below).

Table 1
Table 1.1. Itemising, for the period 800 to 1350, some of the more critical periods of unrest throughout the British Isles. These would no doubt require religious buildings to require maximum security. Brooke (2000) effectively describes the extent to which both the English and the Scottish actively pursued the destruction of both churches and other property in the Border country over the period 1290 to 1590.

The relatively recent recognition that some early churches, in the absence of keys, were kept secure from the inside of the church, by means of thick wooden bars (bar locks), confirms the requirement that often permanent occupation by a person or persons must have become a necessity. Only from within the church was the positioning of bar locks possible.

The capability to lock a strong church door from the inside would have been the first fundamental step in securing the building and possibly providing some sanctuary for temporary occupants who had fled from their more fragile dwellings. The shuttering and provision of bar locks for windows is analogous. Instances are evident where the original church may have needed supplementary structural protection beyond that provided by the installed door bar locks, and these measures could have major implications for structural change and design in the buildings. These supplementary protective requirements and methods for achieving them are many and various and are considered below. The recognition of the role of bar locks in securing churches led the present author to consider the further measures introduced to enhance church security, but the starting point of this study is an examination of the evidence for bar locks which takes up the first half of this work. The more varied measures taken to enhance more general church security provide the basis for the second half of this work.

What is a bar lock?

Typically constructed of metal such as iron or steel, a modern bar lock might be described as a long bolt which may be attached to the inside or outside of a door, so that the shaft of the bolt may be slid into a housing either built into, or attached to, the door jamb on the opposite side of the door to the door’s hinge. Commonly, in current modern systems, the bolt may be additionally secured, or prevented from further movement, by some form of locking system involving a key. An enormous range of modern bar locks exists and modified forms of this type of security range from the standard ‘push-bar’ emergency exit, to other instances of longer bars across a full door width, such as where a central key withdraws a catch from the housings on both door jambs.

If security is required only from one side, as in the home, it is more common to separate the mechanical functions of the bolt from those of the lock and key. Simple effective door bolts may be applied manually. Outside the scope of this discussion there are the many non-mechanical means of modern origin (such as electronic and electrical methods), which can provide safe-keeping.

The term ‘draw bar’ has been used by certain authors as an alternative term for bar lock, placing the emphasis on the unlocking rather than the locking process.[8]

Keys and locks

The security of buildings today may be optimised both inside and outside by using a locking system which typically involves one or more keys. For a single key to access both sides of a door locking system, a key-hole is necessary. The simplicity of this form of security poses the question as to how long locks and keys have been available, and in particular, for how long have they been used in churches? Both locks and keys vary enormously in their structure. Raine Borg has defined keys as being instruments that are programmed or coded through the shape of the bit, which matches the pins and wards of the lock (See Figure 1.2). The turning of the key typically closes or opens the lock. The bit is that part of the key which acts directly on the locking mechanism.

Fig. 1.2 Parts of a key
Figure 1.2. The essential parts of a key from Borg’s ‘Lexicon of locks and keys’.

It is possible that the earliest locks and keys were constructed five or six thousand years ago and wooden keys and locks are recorded from ancient Egypt. Such a wooden device was recorded in Assyria in the city of Nineveh at the palace of Khorsabad (in Iraqi, Kurdistan) and said to date from 704BC.[9] It is probable that originally gravity-controlled pins fell into position to control the movement of a security bolt. The bolt was then freed by inserting a large and cumbersome wooden key which was used to manually lift and free the pins. The ancient Greeks may have invented and certainly used the keyhole and metal (typically bronze or iron) locks and keys. Homer’s Odyssey (Book 21) recounts how Penelope, wife of Odysseus, ‘… quickly undid the thong attached to the hook, passed the key through the hole, and with an accurate thrust shot back the bolt.’ Elsewhere, Penelope is said to use a ‘well-made bronze key with an ivory handle’ and the ‘bolting and barring’ of the courtyard gate is requested. Metallic bronze and iron keys were widely used by the Romans. Raine Borg suggests that the Romans could manufacture sufficiently suitable iron to create springs to enable padlocks to be created. The craft indeed was so sophisticated to allow the creation of somewhat similar so-called small ‘puzzle padlocks’ bearing a face or ‘mask’ in Celtic style. The padlocks were designed to secure small bags or money pouches and their distribution extended across Europe.[10]

Fig. 1.3 Sketches of Celtic (Viking)keys from Sweden made of iron
Figure 1.3. Borg’s sketches of Celtic Viking long iron keys from the Vӓrnamo area of Sweden.

Keys are collected widely but dating them and determining where, or for what purpose, they were used is difficult to ascertain. A useful ‘lexicon of locks and keys’ can be found on the web site http://www.historicallocks.com/en/site/h/historicallocks/dictionary/. This site gives details of the many varied locks and keys which may be found and their possible functions. Figure 1.3, again from a sketch by Raine Borg, illustrates several iron keys with claws, each long key, used to manually release different locking systems. They were probably of Viking (Celtic) age and were found in the Vӓrnamo area of Sweden. They were in all probability used in much the same manner as described by Homer.

Fig. 1.4 Historia_om_nycklar_3_liten
Figure 1.4. A bronze key with a clawed blade probably of Viking origin dated to about AD 300.

Figure 1.4 illustrates a bronze key identified as of Viking source with a clawed blade (Historia om nycklar 3 liten) which is believed to have been used about AD 300; while Figure 1.5, which is a similar clawed key, has been described as of Anglo-Viking origin and dated to about AD 900 (author J. F. Smith). Dr Raine Borg holds a large personal collection of keys, and he has produced a drawing of one of his keys from southern Sweden which is thought to date from the early 1100s. It is believed to have been operated as a metallic (iron) mechanism within a block of wood and, as the key is more than 150mm long, it is possible to presume that locking could be achieved from either side (of a door) by means of a keyhole. In many locking mechanisms little of the action can be readily viewed and the workings may be encased. The pull-ring lock from Sweden (shown in Figure 1.6) required two hands to operate, one for pulling the ring whilst the other turned the key. It is dated to 1312-13 and is photographed here by Raine Borg.

Fig. 1.5 Anglo_-_Viking_Key,_Circa_900AD
Figure 1.5. A further clawed key thought to be of Anglo-Viking origin and dated to about AD 900.
Fig. 1.6 Pull lock {1312-13) Sweden. The key possesses tooth-like claws
Figure 1.6. A pull-ring lock Swedish key (dated to 1312-1313) photographed by Dr R. Borg. The mechanism requires two hands operate – one to draw the bolt, the other to turn the key.

Early Bar Locks

Figure 1.1, taken from the above-mentioned web site, shows the very simplest of bar locking systems created in timber. It has no key. Critically, it would protect only those people or objects on the side of the door bar lock. Such a locking system has not been observed by the present author in an ecclesiastical site. However, on occasions somewhat modified examples exist. Typically they are strengthened with metal parts and padlocks, to be used on rarely-used doorways in small churches, in order to secure the building. Such an example may be observed at Stragglethorpe church (SK 913 524), in Lincolnshire (Figure 1.7). The door illustrated must be of relatively modern construction. In other churches, bar locks of no great age and without supportive padlocks may provide security to a minor entrance, where the church has keys with locks to control principal entrances to the building.

Fig. 1.7 Stragglethorpe NL280 N Door with Bar Lock in place
Figure 1.7. The north aisle door at Stragglethorpe, Lincolnshire  (SK 913 524) which is retained in position by a bar lock.

There is ample evidence that bar locking systems were used in many churches of much greater age. In the oldest examples it is possible to attribute their origin to the Anglo-Saxon period. Typically, thick wooden doors were barricaded by an interior bar locking system. This amounted to a long, bulky length of solid wood about 0.08 to 0.12m in cross section, which ran across the back of the door and was held in position by a hole in the wall on either side of the door. On occasions there were two bars of this nature, one towards the top of the door, the other towards the bottom. This (or these) left the door immovable between the door rebate and the bar. To open the door the bar was slid into a cavity in the wall which was deep enough to accommodate the full length of the bar. The cross bars were typically at least 1.5m long, more than sufficient to cover the full width of the doorway aperture. Full evidence of the door (or the cross bar) involved is observed only rarely in the British Isles, but it is possible that, for ease of use, the weight of the bar was supported by appropriate attachments on the back of the door.

In his studies in Southern Sweden, Borg discovered three instances where remains of the cross bar were still present (all in Gotland County), and in all, 16 instances of churches with cross bar holes or ‘grooves’.[11] Twelve of these were in Gotland County. In many examples in Southern Sweden, two, three or even four doorways (but generally all the doorways in an individual church) carried evidence of cross-bar locking. The churches involved, were given building dates mainly within the early 13th C., but in the range of 1086 (Lӓrbro, Gotland) to 1400 (Sjösås, Kronoberg County). Dr Borg has advised that the work is to be published in the http://www.historicallocks.com web site (of which he is the author).

In the British Isles, with the invention of simple, cheap and effective mechanical key locking systems, the bar locks tended to fall into disuse and the holes for the bars were often filled and forgotten. In many instances the presence of a bar lock hole is difficult to ascertain for it may have been infilled with stone or wood when it was no longer required. It must be accepted that if all entry points to a church possessed a bar locking system those persons involved in locking the church (or other building) would have to remain inside the premises.

In the majority of churches where bar locking systems of the type just described occur, it is evident that the buildings were secured, therefore, for the defence of both people and property. This involved both the clergy and, if necessary, local inhabitants.  According to the number of doors, each door would have been similarly protected in times of potential danger or need for security. It is clear that those involved in security by this means remained within the church until any imminent danger had disappeared. Occasionally these bars would have been of such a size and weight as to require more than one person to be able easily to fit them into position, rather than individuals.

What regrettably cannot be determined is the date from which each church acquired a key locking system to permit both exit and entry. That keys were readily available to the wealthy is clear from carvings on gravestones, typically those dated to about the 15th C. Keys were certainly known much earlier but they were uncommon. King Henry VIII is known to have been accompanied always by a door key locking system which was fitted for his privacy, wherever his geographical locality. The British Museum holds three keys, described as padlock keys, tentatively dated to the period 9th to 11th C. Although they might possibly have been used in a church, they have not been related to any specific church by locality: neither has their precise function been suggested.


Continue reading Bar Locks and Early Church Security in the British Isles – download the complete PDF eBook for free via this link.

To purchase a printed copy, please follow this link.


Bonde, S. 1994. Fortress-Churches of Languedoc. Architecture, religion and conflict in the High Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Borg, R. 2002.  Smålands medeltida dopfuntar. En inventering i komparativ belysning. (Medieval Baptismal Fonts in the Swedish province of Smolandica. An inventory in the light of comparison). Göteborg University: Gothenborg Studies in Art and Architecture, 11, 281 pp., Göteborg, Vols I-II.

Brooke, C.J. 2000. Safe Sanctuaries: security and defence in Anglo-Scottish Border Churches 1290 – 1690. John Donald, Edinburgh.

De Vries, M.J., Cross, N. and Grant, D.P. (eds), 1992. Design Methodology and Relationships with Science: introduction. Kluwer Academic, Eindhoven.

Harrison, P. 2004. Castles of God: fortified religious buildings of the World. Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Potter, J.F. 2005b. No stone unturned – a re-assessment of Anglo-Saxon long-and-short quoins and associated structures. Archaeological Journal, 162, 177-214.

Potter, J.F. 2005c. Field Meeting: Romney Marsh – its churches and geology, 22 May 2004. Proceedings of the Geologists’Association, 116, 161-175.

Potter, J.F. 2009c. Patterns in Stonework: The early church in Britain and Ireland; an introduction to ecclesiastical geology. British Archaeological Report, British Series 496, xxvi + 191pp., Archaeopress, Oxford.

Potter, J.F. 2013a. Searching for Early Welsh Churches: a study in ecclesiastical geology. British Archaeological Report, British Series 578, xxxvi + 457pp., Archaeopress, Oxford.

Potter, J.F. 2015. Patterns in Stonework: The Early Churches in Northern England: a further study in ecclesiastical geology. Part A. The Counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire and Lincolnshire. British Archaeological Report, British Series 617, xxxvii + 314pp, Archaeopress, Oxford.

Potter, J.F. 2016b. Patterns in Stonework: The Early Churches in Northern England: a further study in ecclesiastical geology. Part B. The Counties of Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Westmorland and Yorkshire. British Archaeological Report, British Series 624, xxxvi + 234pp.

Manning, C. 2010. Patterns in stonework: The early church in Britain and Ireland; an introduction to ecclesiastical geology. British Archaeological Report, British Series 496. Book Review, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Dublin. (And associated correspondence).

Slocum, J. and Sonneveld, D. 2017. Romano-Celtic Puzzle Padlocks: a study in their design, technology and security. Archaeopress, Oxford.

[1] Potter 2005b, 2009c, 2013a, 2015, 2016b

[2] Harrison 2004

[3] Manning 2010

[4] Borg 2002

[5] Brooke 2000

[6] Bonde 1994

[7] Potter 2009c

[8] Brooke 2000

[9] De Vries et al. 1992

[10] Slocum and Sonneveld 2017

[11] Borg 2002

The Discovery and Excavation of the Pioneer Burial: A case of Sheer Luck

Ian Meadow’s report on the Pioneer Burial is nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020. Here, Ian relives the discovery and reminds us how serendipitous archaeological finds can be…


The Pioneer Burial epitomises the serendipitous nature of archaeology and the reason archaeologists do what they do. We had been working in the quarries at Wollaston from 1993 and had recorded two sections of landscape totalling a length of over 2 kilometres and over 100 hectares which was dominated by the remains of Iron Age and Roman settlement: a series of land divisions and then numerous small farmsteads, including honey bees from an Iron Age ditch and the first proven Roman vineyard in Britain. The whole site was arranged along a droveway that had its origins in the Iron Age and became a Roman road (perhaps running between Irchester to the northeast and Towcester to the southwest.)

The scale of works by the quarry was reflected by the machinery that was used to open up the ground, D8 caterpillar tractor units pulling box scrapers each weighing many tonnes. The scale of works, and the intention to return the ground to agriculture once quarrying had finished, meant large stacks of soils were created to preserve the agricultural topsoil and subsoil. Guidance on soils advised that, whilst topsoil could be stacked directly upon topsoil, a subsoil stack would require the topsoil removing so that it was stacked only on subsoil, thereby avoiding contamination. Areas of the landscape were therefore cleared of topsoil to enable the storage of the subsoil ready for reinstatement.

D8s working
D8 caterpillar tractors at work.

The discovery and excavation

Throughout the project a detailed metal detecting survey was carried out by Steve Critchley, the project’s detectorist, not just of the excavation areas but also on the footprint of these areas for subsoil stacks. As it was agricultural land the brief was not to bother with ferrous signals as they were generally nails, horse shoes or bits of tractor. One lunch time Steve came to the shed having recovered part of a bronze bowl and a decorative mount. From our previous experience we recognised these fragments as part of an Anglo-Saxon hanging bowl, an object-type of which there were around a hundred known at that time and which are often associated with rich Anglo-Saxon burials. Steve said that in the same area there were numerous ferrous signals. When we all went to investigate we saw that the bowl fragments were found about 1 metre from the edge of the latest area to have its topsoil removed, exposing the subsoil. If the area had been only slightly smaller it would never have been found. We carried out some initial excavation which exposed a long iron object, the sword.

We were very aware of the significance that a bowl and a sword indicated this was probably a rich burial but as it was Friday afternoon we would not be able to complete the excavation and recover the objects. I decided we should stop digging and conceal the grave location as best we could. We gathered an oil drum, various pallets and other bulky pieces of rubbish that we stacked on the grave, hiding its location to anyone that did not know it was there.

On the Monday morning we commenced the hand excavation of what we knew was likely to be a rich Anglo-Saxon grave. The digging was slow and careful with small tools so as not to miss anything and slowly but surely the remains of a bronze bowl, a long iron sword, a small knife, three buckles and a rough jumble of ferrous material was defined along with a couple of lengths of long bone, part of a cranial dome and bunter cobble. As these things were being exposed I tried to ensure the conservator was available to deal with the items. I duly phoned, only to be told he was out of the office. On the Tuesday, while the excavation continued, I tried again and got much the same response and on the Wednesday I was told he was on holiday until the following Monday. Knowing we could not leave the finds in the ground we carried on the excavation and recording of the grave.

Helmet in plaster bandage
The rough jumble of ferrous material or ‘possible bucket’, wrapped in cling film and bandages soaked in plaster of Paris, ready to be lifted.

Once everything was exposed and recorded we lifted the sword on a plank of wood (upcycled from a skip) and, to hold it together, we wrapped the rough jumble of ferrous material first in cling film and then in bandages soaked in plaster of Paris (the bandages came from the site first aid kit). This object was quite large, about the size of a big Christmas cake, but its shape was not clear. Whilst we wondered if it might have been a helmet we thought, given there were then only three other examples, it was unlikely; as a result the bags of stray pieces were marked ‘possible bucket’. Once all lifted the finds were taken back to the unit’s office in Northampton but no one else was told what we might have recovered. On the following Monday the finds were taken to Leicester and when we got the rough lump X-rayed and saw the distinct outline of a boar crest – it was obvious that what we had found was no bucket!

From that point on this burial dominated our lives. The quarry company (Pioneer Aggregates) funded the conservation and PR and the grave and finds were on the news around the world. As it was such a rare object, we had offers of help and support (much of it for free) from numerous specialists without which we would never have got all the information that features in the report. We also had ‘interesting’ offers including one from a member of the public who said he could trace his ancestry back to the God Odin and offered us a DNA sample to see if he was related to the body in our grave.

Fig 1.6 group shot
Ian (centre) discusses the restored helmet with colleagues.

Given what we knew about the landscape in the quarry, a rich Anglo-Saxon grave was not something we would have anticipated and the fact it lay only just within an area stripped of topsoil shows how serendipitous archaeology is. We really were very lucky finding this grave that occupied only a couple of square metres in the hundreds of hectares we recorded and, ironically, the area stripped was ultimately not all used for stacking.

Fig 5.1 helmet&sword
The restored helmet alongside the hanging bowl and pattern-welded sword.

CA_Vote_PioneerBurial_2020Sincerest thanks to Ian Meadows for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog.

Ian’s full report, The Pioneer Burial: A high status Anglian warrior burial from Wollaston Northamtonshire has been nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020.

You can vote for Ian’s book here.

The book is available in paperback (£25) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT) direct from Archaeopress.


East meets West at the British Museum

A conference on the Rise of Parthia taking place in April 2020

The Parthian empire is by far the least understood of the great empires of antiquity. Until recently our knowledge has been both hazy and Euro-centric. In recent decades, however, new approaches have been adopted and these, together with new archaeological discoveries, are changing our preconceptions. Recognising this, in April 2020 the British Musuem will host leading international scholars presenting their most recent research on the history, culture and archaeology of the early Parthian Empire. Set against the complex political scenario of Iran, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor in the 2nd-1st centuries BC, speakers will address a wide range of issues on the rise of the empire and the relationship of the early Arsacids with their neighbours. Contributions will include re-evaluations of historical sources, analyses of material datasets, numismatics and reports on new work in the field. Specific themes addressed will include diplomacy, religion, sculpture, painting, chronology, ideological motifs, warfare and trade. This will lead to the promulgation of new models and a new understanding of the social, economic and political systems leading to the emergence of the Empire.

The conference will run in conjunction with two British Museum exhibitions – Rivalling Rome: Parthian coins and culture (April – September 2020) in the Museum itself; and the touring exhibition Ancient Iraq: New Discoveries, travelling to Nottingham and Newcastle (March-November 2020).

For details about the conference, including how to register, please visit the page on the British Museum website:


For any queries, contact the Organising Committee on parthia@britishmuseum.org

Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement

Professor Howard Williams, University of Chester, introduces his co-edited volume stemming from the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, April 2017.

How should communities be engaged with archaeological research and how are new projects targeting distinctive groups and deploying innovative methods and media? In particular, how are art/archaeological interactions key to public archaeology today?

9781789693737We proudly present the brand-new book: Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement, appearing in the fabulous Archaeopress Access Archaeology series.

There remain surprisingly few edited collections in the field of public archaeology. Building on recent work, including the edited collection from 2015 Archaeology for All:  Community Archaeology in the Early 21st Century edited by Mike Nevell and Norman Redhead, and Gabriel Moshenska’s edited collection: Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, this new book helps to extend and expand critical discussions. It provides an outlet for an original and distinctive mix of fresh perspectives and approaches, specifically addressing art/archaeological intersections in public archaeology’s theory and practice. Our book focuses on UK perspectives and practices in public archaeology, although we feel many of the themes addressed are of global significance.

How did it come about?

poster2Following the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, 5 April 2017, Dr Caroline Pudney and I teamed up with former student Afnan Ezzedin to take the research presented forward to publication. We have crafted a proceedings which combines distinctive and select contributions from (undergraduate and Masters) archaeology students together with a range of original investigations and evaluations from academics and heritage practitioners.

For me, this has taken a huge amount of time, energy and personal sacrifices to get this done over the last 31 months or so. I’d also like to point out that this is part of a series of edited collections stemming from the Grosvenor Museum student conferences. I’ve now produced 2 of the 5 student conference volumes I’ve committed myself to. The first – The Public Archaeology of Death was out in January 2019. The third – Digging into the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Public Archaeologies – will be out in early 2020. The fourth is in production: The Public Archaeology of Frontiers and Borderlands.

What’s inside?

There are 22 contributions all told by 26 authors; many chapters are supported by colour illustrations.

Sara Perry writes an insightful and personal Foreword, using her own experiences as a means on reflecting about how we write critical public archaeologies which take our practices in new directions. Following this, there are two chapters by me. The first is an introduction which surveys pertinent themes and issues in public archaeology and art/archaeology interactions in particular, and the second, written to showcase the student presentations incorporated into the book as well as those that were not, reviews the conference and the development of the book.

The main body of the book is split into 3 sections. ‘The Art of Engagement: Strategies and Debates in Public Archaeology’ contains 8 chapters exploring different ways in which strategies are being deployed in public engagement and how we evaluate our practices. For example, I have co-authored a chapter in here which draws on the conference paper and essay by Rachel Alexander; we evaluate the much-lauded Operation Nightingale’s dialogues with early medieval warriors.

The second section – ‘Arts in Public Archaeology: Digital and Visual Media’, incorporates 6 chapters, each exploring different means of public engagement and evaluating their potential and challenges. My chapter in this section, for example, critically reviews my Archaeodeath blog from its inception in 2013 to the end of 2018.

The third and final section – ‘Art as Public Archaeology’ – has 4 chapters, considering different visual media as subject and strategy for public and community projects.

The Afterword by Dr Seren Griffiths identifies that all archaeology should have a ‘public’ dimension, and that creativity and playfulness must be key ingredients of good public archaeology.

Tell your friends, colleagues and libraries…

Afnan, Caroline and I hope you enjoy the book and appreciate its availability via open access as well as to acquire in print. The book is available now via the Archaeopress website, available to buy as a hard copy or download as a pdf free of charge.

Click here for a flyer offering 20% off a printed copy.

Libraries at least should definitely have physical copies to complement the online ones I think! Also, in case you weren’t sure, archaeology books as Christmas presents are definitely a thing!


educate-north-awards-2019-winner-badgeI duly acknowledge the hard work of the students and colleagues in facilitating the conference. I also recognise the help and camaraderie of my co-editors Caroline and Afnan, the enthusiasm and contributions of the authors, the generous guidance of so many of my fellow archaeologists, the critical insights of the peer-reviewers, and the steadfast support of Archaeopress. Together this team has shown commitment in creating a high-quality peer-reviewed academic publication with no funding and sparse other support. I’m therefore very proud that these conferences and their publications are recognised as a positive thing: it was great to receive the 2019 Educate North Teaching Excellence Award as a result.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Dr Peter Boughton FSA, Keeper of Art for West Cheshire Museums who had worked hard to facilitate the conferences taking place at Grosvenor Museum as public free day conferences in the heart of the city of Chester.

Header photo: The Heritage Graffiti Project during creation. Photograph: Ryan Eddleston.

Sincerest thanks to Howard for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog. Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement is available now in print (£58) or as a free pdf download.

A selection of Access Archaeology titles published since 2015.

Learn more about Archaeopress Access Archaeology in our recent article celebrating 100 titles in the range.

Access Archaeology: A New Approach to Archaeological Publishing

November will see the 100th title released in the Archaeopress Access Archaeology imprint where all titles are available as free-to-download pdf eBooks or in printed paperback.

Here at Archaeopress we are fond of what we call a ‘bath idea’. In 2014 it was a bath idea that led to our first experiments with Open Access publishing, and in 2015 we began to conceive of a new publication model – a side-line to our more regular publishing endeavours – designed to function outside the parameters of the accepted wisdom of academic publishing.

Archaeopress is owned and run by archaeologists, and this has always influenced our perspective on what constitutes a useful publication. We receive many proposals that, following traditional publishing models, would not be commercially viable. But that is not to say they are not academically valuable, containing unique data, rare catalogues, intriguing synthetic analysis etc.

Access Archaeology evolved as a model to support many types of archaeological publication including PhD dissertations, smaller conferences and symposia, research projects, and commercial archaeology from parts of the world where funding is limited. It also supports publications that fall between conventional models: too long perhaps for a journal article, but too short for a traditional monograph.

All Access Archaeology titles are available as free-to-download pdf eBooks and in print format. The free pdf download model supports dissemination in areas of the world where budgets are more severely limited, and also allows individual academics to access the material privately, rather than relying on a university or public library. Print copies, nevertheless, remain available to individuals and institutions who need or prefer them.

9781789692587Dr Boyd Dixon, Senior Archaeologist for the Cardno GS office in Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (retired), explains how the model afforded greater outreach in the local area:

‘Our recent volumes about Yellow Beach 2 and Afetna Point have found a receptive audience in the public, and in secondary school and community college on Saipan.

I feel it is the caliber of Archaeopress publications and photographs and maps, with their open access to a broader public that makes [the] volumes of particular interest.’

Boyd Dixon (fourth from right) was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the CNMI Humanities Council in October 2019, citing his two Access Archaeology publications among other endeavours of similar archaeological and historical interest.

9781789693737By asking authors and editors to take a greater role in the production process and by making use of the huge improvements seen in recent years in print-on-demand technology, the books are typically made available in print and online formats, including the free download option, at no cost to the author/editor. Howard Williams, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester and co-editor of two forthcoming Access Archaeology titles, Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement (due November 2019) and Digging into the Dark Ages, explains:

‘I’m a relatively experienced academic editor (having edited the Royal Archaeological Institute’s Archaeological Journal for 6 volumes over 5 years, and edited/co-edited special issues of the journals Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, Early Medieval Europe, Mortality and European Journal of Archaeology.) In this context, I was happy I could maintain high academic standards and take on editing and typesetting supported by the friendly and helpful Archaeopress team. Access Archaeology allows the latest research to be published as both print-on-demand and open-access online without a cost to the contributors. This was especially important for me given the books develop from student conferences and include a mix of student pieces with those by more established heritage professionals and academics.’

9781789691726Gina L. Barnes, Professor Emeritus at Durham University and co-editor of the 2019 publication TephroArchaeology in the North Pacific, notes the free download and on-demand model offers considerable flexibility regarding colour content and page count:

‘The format allowed for considerable freedom in presenting the material, without word limits or restrictions on illustrations; colour pictures were possible for both the digital and print versions… I have been very pleased with the process throughout, through encouragement by David Davison in commissioning the work, communication with the team about formatting problems, assistance in the peer review process, and getting the document out in a timely manner…’

9781789691924Dr Mark McKerracher, postdoctoral researcher on the FeedSax project at Oxford University, explains that the range provides an ideal home for manuscripts originating from data-heavy PhD dissertations such as his 2019 publication, Anglo-Saxon Crops and Weeds: A Case Study in Quantitative Archaeobotany:

‘I found Access Archaeology to be the ideal publisher for the specialist, data-heavy manuscript I had prepared from my doctoral thesis. The editorial staff were very helpful and enthusiastic, and the production process was impressively fast once I had submitted my text according to the formatting instructions. Within two or three months, an open-access PDF and a high-quality paperback, including colour illustrations, were both available. I’d recommend Access Archaeology to anyone looking for an efficient way to publish specialist, data-driven monographs.’

9781789693751Dr Loretta Kilroe, Project Curator: Sudan and Nubia at the British Museum, organised the conference Invisible Archaeologies: Hidden aspects of daily life in ancient Egypt and Nubia held in Oxford, 2017. Dr Kilroe considers how the Access Archaeology model affected the decision to publish the proceedings:

‘So many people encouraged us to publish a Proceedings volume after our Invisible Archaeologies conference, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about it. Archaeopress were super helpful and their Access Archaeology range meant that it wasn’t out of reach, even for an impoverished student conference. Traditional publishing is often so slow and restrictive, and it is fantastic that our authors will have digital access to their own work immediately!’

Early career academics at the Invisible Archaeologies: Hidden aspects of daily life in ancient Egypt and Nubia held in Oxford, 2017.

With the imminent arrival of both Prof. Williams and Dr Kilroe’s edited volumes, we will soon have published 100 titles in the range since 2015 with subjects as diverse as metallurgy in Bronze Age Eurasia, Etruscan domestic architecture, digital imaging of artefacts, public engagement with heritage, volcanic archaeology, symposia for early career Egyptologists, and far more.

Long-running series that have found a happy home within the range include Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology, Paris Monographs in American Archaeology, and the South American Archaeology Series.

We are very proud of how the Access Archaeology imprint has developed from a bath idea to a thriving publishing model. We hope it offers a unique path to publication within the academic publishing landscape for research that might otherwise struggle to find a wider audience. The range may well continue to evolve over time, but its ambition will always remain to publish archaeological material that would prove commercially unviable in traditional publishing models, without passing the expense on to academics, be they author or reader.

Publish in Access Archaeology

If you have a proposal you think fits within the scope of the range we would be very pleased to hear from you; simply complete our brief submission form and send by email to Archaeopress editor Dr David Davison: info@archaeopress.com.

Download / Buy Access Archaeology Publications

See the full list of Access Archaeology publications on our website, all available as free PDF downloads or to purchase in paperback editions.

Patrick Harris

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