About national trust archaeology sw

I work for the National Trust as an archaeologist across the south west region. I look after the archaeological collections and run events and assist the two lead archaeologists with excavations etc

Till we meet again

We are sorry dear friends that we will be a bit quiet for a while as we are furloughed to help our great charity weather the storm of Covid 19.

BUT we will be back with many more stories and the reveal of the age of the Giant at Cerne Abbas later in the year.

In the mean time please browse our older posts, we started in 2013 so lots to check out, the word cloud on the right will help you find stories that may interest you, just click on the subject and enjoy.

Till we meet again, keep well and stay safe

View of Brent Knoll from the west on the way back from Brean Down on the coast.

Smashing news about the Chedworth Villa roman glass

The glass when first found

At last we can tell the story of what the specialists found out about the little piece of glass Pete found in 2017 at Chedworth Villa. You may already know its story as it hit the press and social media yesterday, 22nd July.

Not long after excavation I had taken it to Professor Jenny Price, a roman glass expert. She was very intrigued by it and thought she had seen something resembling it in the past, but from the Middle East. Features of the glass indicated that the technique used to make it was also unusual, differing from that used to make glass with similar decoration. The glass had a distinctive profile showing that it came from a long bottle with an oval shape and a sharp taper at the end. So away it went with her, so she could study it and consult many experts around the world.

The glass fragment showing loops of yellow and white

Eighteen months later Jenny was able to report back to us that it probably came from an area around the Black Sea. She had found a reference to another similar glass flask that had been excavated from a burial in Chersonesus in Crimea. It turned out to be part of a fish-shaped flask with the fish’s open mouth forming the aperture of the vessel, and probably held perfume or an unguent of some kind. 

It was the first piece of this kind of glass ever to be found in Britain, a very rare find.

Jenny also found a very similar fish-shaped flask that had been restored from many pieces, at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. By comparing the two examples, she concluded the Chedworth piece came from near the ‘tail’ of the fish bottle

An archaeological drawing of the place were the piece of glass fits on the fish flask

Sadly, Jenny passed away a few months ago. Earlier, Pete, who found the glass, had a chance to go and see her and talk about the fish. He said he could see she was enchanted by it, and we are so pleased she had a chance to solve this puzzle and knew how excited we all were by it. It is a very special find.

To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa.

That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away seems to underline that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence and connections.

Illustration of what it may have looked like by archaeological illustrator Maggie Foottit

This little gem of glass and the illustrations can now be seen on display at Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire.











The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd-century burial in Crimea. 

The technique used to make the Chedworth bottle was unusual, with decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create ‘scales’ in loops of white and yellow. It was more common to incorporate different colours into the body of the vessel itself.  

at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa. 

Peter said: “When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special. Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not. 

“Recovering such a unique find is incredibly humbling, it will no doubt prove a talking point for years to come. I am delighted that it will be displayed at the villa, enabling visitors and future generations to marvel at its beauty.”

Nancy Grace concluded: “This find shows there is still more for Chedworth to tell us about Roman life in this corner of Gloucestershire.” 

The fragment is going on display at the villa as part of the Festival of Archaeology (until 28 July) and will remain on display throughout summer.


Throw back Thursday – Industrial beauty

We thought we would do a few ‘throw back Thursdays’ and re visit a few of our past posts from a few years ago for new followers, this one is from 2015 about one of our smaller properties, a hidden gem.

The forge

The forge

I started my digging life on an industrial site near Barnsley in Yorkshire, and my relatives worked in the mills and mines of West Yorkshire, so I have a soft spot for industrial sites from the past.

A while ago I visited one of our small industrial gems in Devon. I had some leather drive-belts to drop off for them to use from a large collection we acquired in order to get the  right sizes for some for our grist (corn and grain) mills.

leather drive belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

Leather drive-belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

The property was Finch Foundry near Okehampton, the last working water-powered forge in England. There are three water wheels powering hammers, shears and blade sharpening stones. This set up lead to the foundry becoming one of the South West’s most successful edge tool factories which, at its peak, produced around 400 edge tools a day, of many designs and types.

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

When you visit you are met by the smells and the noises of the machines, a taste of what it may have been like to work in this forge. But it is only part of the noise that would have been made, as not all the hammers, shears and grinders are in use during your visit!

Some of the workers and owners of the forge

Some of the workers and the owner of the forge

One of the water powered hammers

The water-powered hammers on the right and large shears on the left

There is also a carpenters’ shed at the forge. As the business grew Finch Bros expanded into providing carts, gates and even coffins. At the property you can see the  large variety of edge tools made at the foundry, along with a display of tools used by the wheelwrights and carpenters and learn about the Finch family. I recommend calling in if you have a spare hour, its not far from the A30, and there is a lovely garden and of course there is tea and cake 🙂

I hope this short video will give a flavour of the site, with all its squeaks, quacks, whooshes and clacks.








Sounds of the past

View Eastwards from Golden Cap, Portland in the distance

We have worked with a few art projects over the years, involving objects, processes and site specific projects. One I remember fondly was ’26 and 7 Bones’ in 2012  A contemporary arts project about hands and feet, people and place –  a mapping of connections across place and time – an action, a journey, a collection – and was commissioned as part of the Jurassic Coast Earth Festival 2012, with artists Sue Plamer and Sally Watkins  https://26and7bones.wordpress.com/

We had excavated quite a few sites along the West Dorset coast so Sally and Sue asked if they could work with us, to join the coastguard, blacksmith, herbalist and ornithologist already recruited. Part of the project involved walking up Golden Cap,  talking along the way about what we do as archaeologists and how we feel when working on a site. We had excavated the Bronze Age Barrows and Napoleonic signal station right on the top of the hill over a couple of seasons, with an amazing view as we worked. It was hard to remember that the Bronze Age people would not have had the same view, as the coastline would have been about a mile further out to sea.

As part of the project we were asked to choose a favourite word or place associated with what we did along the coast of Dorset. I chose the word prehistoric, as West Dorset, to me, feels prehistoric, with its hill forts, barrows and stone age objects eroding from the cliffs. It was then turned into music, by punching holes into card in the shape of the word and then fed through a musical box mechanism, a magic moment!



Day 19 – The end for now ….

The core team left to right Stephanie, Fay, Rob, Amy, Carol, Martin, Pete and Me

Well, we reached the last day and had a few last jobs to do as well as back-filling the trenches. Martin had recording, drawings and the odd extra bit of digging to do, to answer a few questions in the buttress trench. Fay and Amy had a little more digging in the bath house trench to find the wall, and the rest of us had finds and tools to pack up.

We have to record everything by scale drawing and photography, as once its dug out we cannot go back to check any details.

In the buttress trench Martin has been finding lots of painted plaster including different blues and greens. Then he found this large piece, amazing colours and design.

In the buttress trench Martin has found lots of lovely painted plaster, mainly blues, but then he found this stunning piece

A close-up of the plaster

One job we had to do was to put in a little extension to find out how big the water tank was, it turned out to be quite small, but perfectly formed. We also found the outlet hole!

The extent of the tank


The tank  had slipped forward, note the crack in the lower right

The outlet hole

The last trench to be filled in was the buttress trench, we protected the tank with geotextile, then left messages for future archaeologists to find, in an empty bottle of fizz we had for Amy’s 21st birthday.

For future archaeologists to find

Nearly there

Also on the last day we had another birthday to celebrate – Pete’s. So it was a double celebration and a big cake provided by lovely Sue, who had been doing all the finds washing for us, thank you Sue.

When you only have a grubby wooden knife a trowel has to do

As we put back the last turf we had our last visitor, a frog that had managed to survive the back filling and the heat!

Our last visitor

As they say ‘that’s all folks’ for daily up dates from the dig, but Martin will do a summing up of the dig and we will post updates of the finds when we have their stories back from the specialists. So keep checking in.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to all our volunteers who came to dig with us and especially those who helped with the mammoth back filling task. We hope you all enjoyed your experience. Thank you to all our blog followers, and its been lovely to meet many of you on-site, your kind words helped to keep us going through the hottest parts of the day.

Until next time………


Day Eighteen – Heelis Heroes

Well the day had come to start to back fill the site, in other words put back all the soil we had spent two and a half weeks digging out! Plus 6 tonnes of top soil!

Arriving on site the task look insurmountable, we were all exhausted after all the digging and the hot weather. Then from across the site came a large group of people with wheelbarrows and shovels, the volunteer team from our central office at Heelis had arrived.

We first put geotextile along the edges of the mosaics to support them and then covered them with more geotextile, we organized the teams and off they went.

The white expanse of geotextile covering

The bucket chain

Many buckets to fill!

we rotated the jobs  as it was so hot we needed to keep having water breaks

The white geotextile is disappearing

The large spoil heap is nearly gone!

The group was leaving us at 3.20pm and they were determined to finish moving the whole spoil heap and at 3.21pm they did it!

Thank you so much we couldn’t have done it without you, we love you all

Thank you all so much,  you were our hero’s you did so much we now have a manageable (hopefully) day tomorrow with the corridor to cover, the buttress trench and Fays small wall trench to back fill. Thank you Ros and Jane and your volunteers as well, we became one big team. We then will pack up all our kit and the finds and head south. But stay tuned as there will be news from the buttress trench tomorrow 🙂



Day Seventeen – 21 today, 21 today…….

The whole site from the bath house

You will get a bumper two days today as we all went out for dinner to dear friends nearby to celebrate our time with them and our years working at the villa. The scanning and photo survey guys were due at 8am and we still had a little tickling to do, so an early start. We also needed to spray the mosaics with water to bring out the colours.

SW National Trust Archaeologists with the sprayers

Bill and Robin taking the photographs as part of the recording

In the Buttress trench we carried on to find the depth of the basin and found more painted plaster and other lovely finds.

Jane who works as the education person at the villa, finally, after six years managed to have time to have a go at excavating. She worked with me in the buttress trench and soon found so lovely things.

Jane with one of her finds some blue painted plaster

Another of Jane’s lovely finds, part of a pottery bottle

We also had a birthday to celebrate with one of our core team, Amy, who joined us last year as a student on placement. She was so brilliant we asked her to join us again this year and she has also just graduated.

Amy celebrated her 21st birthday on site, we all sang

As it was a significant birthday we all had a toast with a drop of fizz


Day sixteen – Still something to find

Well its the end of a long day, very hot on site but the brushing and sponging continued apace, and there are still new discoveries!

From left to right Carol, Jess and Beth cleaning the main mosaic

Nick, Fay and Pete set too to move the wooden steps from the bath house so we could dig under them to see how much of the mosaic survived, Pete took on the task to clean of the last area of soil. We expected the red border to carry on straight as it did at the corridor end. But no! it turned towards the bath house wall! Yet again the last days of a dig throws up more questions!

The red border turning towards the wall in the bottom left

Antony Beeson a classical iconographer and an expert on Roman and Greek art and architecture  came to visit us again to have a closer look at the mosaics. He was there at the finding of the border change, and came prepared to walk on the mosaics, no holes in his socks 🙂

who’s feet are these?

We sprayed a few areas to see how bright they would appear for photographs, here are a few examples of the different panels and sections from the reception room and corridor.

Reception room

Reception room




Up early to do last dusting and then spraying of the mosaics before the laser scan and photographs, so to bed goodnight 🙂

Day Fourteen – short and sweet

As it is late due to my heading home after the dig for a day off, this will be a very short but exciting post.

I promised to let you all know about the stone find from the buttress trench, well here it is in the picture below. A spout coming out of the wall and a water tank below! Hopefully Martin will have a spare digger tomorrow to work on this area to reveal more, watch this space .

Part of the stone tank with the water spout above, filled with roman building rubble

We also had some brilliant mosaic cleaners on site today, special mention for Freddie who stuck to his task all day and did a brilliant job, hope your sore finger isn’t too bad.

Freddie and his mum Ros working hard to make the mosaics shine ready for the laser scanners

Fay’s small trench put in to find a wall 🙂

Fay’s small trench, with a layer of clay tiles under the roman opus signinum floor

Martin will update proceedings tomorrow as I take a day off to recharge the batteries, ready for the mad day cleaning on Tuesday before the scanning people arrive. Good night dear readers.

Day Thirteen – Feathered friends

The end is near and we still have a bit of excavation to do, luckily the mosaics are cropping up again just when we thought  they had ended.

Amy uncovering the new section of mosaic

We finally removed the last of Sir Ian Richmond’s representation of the earlier villa walls, his pink concrete! Behind this was the real roman wall and a line of mosaic still in place balanced on the edge.

The burnt, earlier villa wall with a line of tesserae still in place

Max, Steve, and  Stephanie carried on the big clean up in the relenting heat. Jill and Amy each had an area of mosaic to uncover and Fay was banished to a small trench up next to the bathhouse. Guy and William took on the challenge to keep going down through the roman rubble layer in the buttress trench near the museum, where they found lots of painted wall plaster and some intriguing stonework (more about it tomorrow)

Steve and Max cleaning the corridor mosaic


William and Guy in the buttress trench

Now to our feathered friends, during this dry spell we have been providing a small buffet for the birds, here are our clever friends who have taken advantage of the insects and worms we have disturbed. The star is Bob the Pheasant 🙂

Lovely pair of Pied wagtails foraging on the spoil heap

The scruffy Robin is very brave finding food right next to us as we dig

Bob with Amy at lunch time, sharing a biscuit

A portrait of Bob