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…

Background

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.

9781789691191

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!

Acknowledgements

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.

20191031_150717
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.

Hadrian’s Wall. A study in archaeological exploration and interpretation

David J. Breeze shares some thoughts on his recent delivery of the 2019 Rhind Lectures and their simultaneous publication.

There are no doubt many reasons why people write books. For me, it is the end point of a piece of research. Some may be content to undertake research and file the results in a drawer; that is not for me. But publishing the Rhind lectures was different. I had been asked two years ago to deliver the six lectures to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, to be given over the weekend of 10-12 May 2019. As I started to prepare the lectures, I realised that the decennial Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall would be just 2 months after the Rhinds and there would be much to be said for having them published in time for that event. Archaeopress agreed that the lectures could be published in time for the Pilgrimage, indeed in time for the lectures themselves. As a result, I switched my mind to writing the book first and subsequently tweaking the text to fit more the style of lectures, though maintaining as much conformity as possible, as David Davison requested. The book was duly completed, submitted and published the weekend of the lectures. There was no problem in tweaking the lectures, but what I had not bargained for was the fact that the pursuit of knowledge continues, be it in one’s own head or through further reading. In the weeks between the submission of the text to Archaeopress and the lectures I came across Kyle Harper’s work on a plague in the 250s and 260s which affected the inhabitants of the Roman empire. Could this be the reason for the abandonment of civil settlements outside many forts on the northern fringes of the empire? Too late to include this thought in the book, but it was embraced by the lectures, and is now an interesting line of research to pursue.

MVIMG_20190511_110229
Dr David Caldwell, President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, introduces the 2019 Rhind lectures. Photo © Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
MVIMG_20190511_153327
Professor David J. Breeze delivers the 2019 Rhind Lectures. Photo © Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Header photo: Hadrian’s Wall at Castle Nick. Photo © Peter Savin.

9781789691672Excerpt: Hadrian’s Wall: A study in archaeological exploration and interpretation by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2019. Paperback, ISBN 9781789691672, £19.99; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781789691689, from £16 +VAT (if applicable).

Preface

This book stems from the invitation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to deliver the Rhind lectures in 2019, sponsored by AOC Archaeology Group. The lectures were endowed by Alexander Henry Rhind, the first being held in 1874, and with rare exceptions they have been held every year since. His legacy stipulates that six lectures have to be delivered. Until 1986 these were held over the course of one week from Wednesday to Wednesday, but in 1987 the pattern was changed and the lectures are now held over a weekend from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The first lecture of the series sets the scene and, as it is followed by a reception, is something of an occasion. The last lecture tends to be shorter than normal as it may be followed by questions. The subject of the lectures should relate to ‘some branch of archaeology, ethnology, ethnography, or allied topic, in order to assist in the general advancement of knowledge’. I was asked to speak on an aspect of my research on Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Limes and army, and ‘its wider international, practical and theoretical implications’.

The first two lectures – chapters in this book – provide the historiographical background to our present understanding of Hadrian’s Wall. They start with John Collingwood Bruce, the leading authority on the Wall, from 1848 until his death in 1892, who gave the Rhind lectures in 1883 and whose influence continues to this day. Research on the Wall in the field and in the study from 1892 to the present day are covered in the second lecture. The third and fourth lectures consider the purpose(s) and operation of Hadrian’s Wall from the first plan drawn up soon after Hadrian became emperor in 117 through to the final days of its existence as a frontier shortly after 400. Five distinct ‘plans’ for the Wall are promulgated. The fifth lecture examines the impact of the frontier on the people living in its shadow and beyond. The last lecture reviews the processes which have brought us to an understanding of Hadrian’s Wall and considers the value of research strategies, with some suggestions for the way forward. The chapters in this book reflect closely the lectures themselves with the main change being the addition of references. I am grateful to the Society for its agreement to publish this book to coincide with the lectures and for its support in its preparation.

In order to try to retain a relationship with the lectures I have restricted the number of references in the text. Quotations are always referenced. Detailed references to structures on the Wall may be found in the Handbook to the Roman Wall (Breeze 2006) while work during the last decade is reported in the handbook prepared for the 2019 Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall (Collins and Symonds 2019).

Hadrian’s Wall has acquired its own terminology. At every mile there was a small enclosure called a milecastle (MC), similar to a fortlet (a small fort), which contained a small barrack-block and protected a gate through the Wall. In between each pair of milecastles there were two towers known as turrets (T) after the Latin for a tower, turris. On the Cumbrian coast, the equivalent terminology is milefortlet (MF) and tower (T). These structures on the Wall are numbered westwards from Wallsend and on the Cumbria coast westwards from Bowness-on-Solway. Behind the Wall is an earthwork known as the Vallum. It consists of a central ditch with a mound set back equidistant on each side. As the essential feature is the ditch, it should be termed the Fossa, but it was named the Vallum over a thousand years ago and it is too late to change the name. One issue is to differentiate easily between the Wall, meaning the whole of the frontier complex, and the linear barrier, here called the curtain wall.

Also by or featuring David J. Breeze:

Maryport: A Roman For and Its Community by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2018. Paperback, ISBN 9781784918019, £14.99; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784918026, from £10 +VAT (if applicable).

Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort by David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2018. Paperback, ISBN 9781784914905, £20.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784914912, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

Roman Frontier Studies 2009 Proceedings of the XXI International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) held at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 2009 edited by Nick Hodgson, Paul Bidwell and Judith Schachtmann. Archaeopress Roman Archaeology Series #25, 2017. Paperback, ISBN 9781784915902, £90.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784915919, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

Latrinae: Roman Toilets in the Northwestern Provinces of the Roman Empire edited by Stefanie Hoss. Archaeopress Roman Archaeology Series #31, 2017. Paperback, ISBN 9781784917258, £35.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784917265, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).

Maryport. A Roman Fort and Its Community

David J. Breeze introduces his latest book on the Roman fort at Maryport, Cumbria, where the collection of Roman inscribed stones and sculpture, together with other Roman objects, remains the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands

On the west coast of Cumbria lies the 18th century planned town of Maryport. On its northern edge, sitting on the seaward side of a whaleback ridge rests a Roman fort, its earthworks still visible. To its north, but not visible, is an extensive extra-mural settlement, larger than the fort. Here probably lived the families of soldiers, merchants, priests, innkeepers, prostitutes and other people eager to relieve the soldiers of their pay. In the 16th century the owners of the estate, the Senhouse family, started collecting the inscriptions and sculpture found on their land. Today, their collection is on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum located just beside the fort.

 

A corner in the museum where some of the altars are displayed
Altars on display at the Senhouse Museum, Maryport

 

This altar erected by M Censorius Cornelianus records both his transfer to the Tenth Legion Fretensis based in Judaea and that his home was Nemausus, modern Nîmes
This altar erected by M. Censorius Cornelianus records both his transfer to the Tenth Legion Fretensis based in Judaea and that his home was Nemausus, modern Nîmes

It is unique in that it is the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands, though it has been placed in the care of the Senhouse Museum Trust. It is also of international importance. The museum contains many altars dedicated by the commanding officers at the fort. These were probably dedicated annually, on the day that all soldiers swore allegiance to the emperor and the Roman state, or on the birthday of the emperor. Many date to the reign of Hadrian and it would appear that we have one for each year of his reign. From this we can determine that each commander served about 3 years. The altars dedicated by the commanding officers of 3 regiments stationed at Maryport in the second century had interesting careers. Although many originally came from the western provinces of the Empire, including North Africa, their military service took them on to the Danubian provinces and to Judaea. Several rose many grades up the hierarchy, one becoming the chief financial officer of the province of Britain – and played host to the Emperor Hadrian, probably at his home in Italy.

The altars dedicated by the commanding officers and their families were to the gods of Rome, Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and so on. Local gods are represented, including Belatucadrus, the deity of the local tribe. There are also many items of sculpture which provide insights into religious life on the northern frontier. These include depictures of the horned god found elsewhere in northern Britain as well as the unique Serpent Stone, a large phallic stone standing 1.3m high. There is also information on burial practices at the site within the 5 cemeteries which have been identified.

The cemetery north of the 1870 altar find spot excavated by Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott
The cemetery north of the 1870 altar find spot excavated by Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott

 

9781784918019
Maryport: A Roman Fort and Its Community by David J. Breeze (Archaeopress, Oxford 2018)

The new book brings together all the known evidence from the fort, its extra-mural settlement, older and more recent excavations and the artefacts, as well as using evidence by analogy, to provide a view of life at a fort on the very edge of the Roman Empire.

Maryport: A Roman Fort and Its Community is available now in paperback (£14.99) and PDF eBook (£10+VAT) editions.

For visitor information please see the Senhouse Museum website:
http://www.senhousemuseum.co.uk/

Sincerest thanks to David J. Breeze for taking the time to write this article about his latest publication with Archaeopress. You can read his earlier blog post, Bearsden: the rediscovery and excavation of a Roman fort.

Recent Archaeopress publications that might be of interest:

Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fort by David J. Breeze (Paperback, £20; PDF £16+VAT)

Roman Frontier Studies 2009 Proceedings of the XXI International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) held at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 2009 edited by Nick Hodgson et al. (Hardback, £120; Paperback, £90; PDF, £16+VAT)

Latrinae: Roman Toilets in the Northwestern Provinces of the Roman Empire edited by Stefanie Hoss (Paperback, £30; PDF, £16+VAT)