Another glass bottle Amman

In our globe trotting tour to try and locate the source of the glass bottle fragment we found at Chedworth in 2017.


Here is one I found in the Capital Museum on a hill at the heart of Amman, Jordan.


Similar pattern but not quite right. It is thought to have been from a fish shaped bottle much like the one to the right of the fish-scale pattern decorated bottle.


The Roman ruins are rather more impressive in this eastern part of the Empire. Our piece of glass is very rare for Britain and travelled a long way west to become buried in Gloucestershire.



Killerton: The Fieldwalking Archive

One of the National Trust’s volunteer Heritage Rangers contacted me. He queried an entry on our public database….National Trust Heritage Records Online (try it!) .

‘Martin, what date are the flints found at Francis Court Farm’ ? I googled the site and there were no clues in the text so I contacted Isabel.

‘Oh dear you have reminded me of an unfinished piece of work’ she said ‘I have lots of bags of finds together with distribution maps of the Killerton Estate fields at home. The archaeology volunteers walked the arable fields in 1990 to 1992 and I have never found time to put everything together’


The view west of the memorial cross across the farmland of the Killerton Estate from Killerton Park

We arranged a meeting and she promised to sort the archive and bring the finds….

I had driven from Wiltshire to Killerton two days in a row. Unusual. Yesterday had been a Knightshayes meeting at the Regional Office but today I was seeing Isabel who had prepared the boxes of finds for me.

Yesterday, I had headed for the M5 junction at Taunton and ground myself into a massive tailback…today I would try a different approach. The plan was to cruise west along the mighty A303 until Honiton and then strike into the Devon heartlands.

But Devon’s a foreign country…it’s beyond Wessex.. and I was being over confident. A sign directed me to Collumpton and then the waymarkers abandoned me.

Lost on the outskirts of town, I tried various narrow roads. Half an hour later I retraced my steps and realised that I should have headed towards Sidmouth then jinked onto Honiton High Street.

I almost missed the side turning beside the traffic lights …but at last… I had ducked under the A303 and was heading for Killerton behind a very slow truck.

I passed under famous Hembury hill… Neolithic causewayed enclosure, Iron Age hillfort and Roman fort superimposed.

From Collumpton it was a short distance to the National Trust’s Killerton Estate.

I met Isabel in the car park and we carried the trays of finds into the meeting room. Bryn, Fi and Phil joined us and we immersed ourselves in Devon Archaeology.


Early Bronze Age barbed and tanged arrowhead from Yarde Farm, Killerton Estate

Archaeology is very regional. Pottery, particularly prehistoric, and to a lesser extent Roman pottery changes significantly as you head west. In fact, finds are more scarce it seems and this is not classic flint country.  I had no great expectations of Isabel’s flint.

Though… what would I know… Devon is a foreign land… Wessex archaeologists beware.

There was the bag of Francis Court Farm flint. A few good flakes and a scraper or two. Pretty average Neolithic, Bronze Age. Nothing to write home about. Any average Dorset chalkland field would have this sort of stuff..except flint is more difficult to come by in Devon so it had been traded over a distance.

Then we came to a collection from a field south of Newhall Farm. A huge amount of flint and long sinuous blades alongside spalls and microliths. This looked older… Neolithic and Mesolithic 6-10 thousand years old. What sort of site did this indicate beneath the ploughsoil?


A concentration of microliths and blades from a field just south Newhall Farm buildings

As we looked at what had been found 25 yrs described an arc of prehistoric sites in a vale lying south east of Killerton Park and south west of Ashclyst Forest.

Then Isabel showed us another bag of finds.

‘We collected these from wheel ruts on Dolbury Hillfort’.


The flint from Dolbury hillfort. The prepared core is the larger flint top left.

Dolbury has never been excavated and the earthworks occupy a high point.. which now overlook the park and Killerton House. The hill is an upward thrust of volcanic rock. A natural strategic location.

The flints told a new story about this place. Dolbury was thought to just date from the period 500 BC to AD 43 but these flints included a prepared core. This is something typical of the Mesolithic and the long blades and microliths were similar to those we had just seen from Newhall.

The time depth of Dolbury started to compare with the excavated Hembury hillfort which I had passed on the road that morning. No Roman fort on this hill-top though….

Then Isabel showed us an aerial photograph. It was of a field on a spur of land jutting south-east of Dolbury… just above Budlake Farm.


The playing card shape of a Roman fort? near Budlake Farm.

The photo clearly showed a playing card shaped triple ditched enclosure of about 4 hectares. The inner ditch thickest just like the Roman fort we had excavated at Shapwick… on the Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset.

‘Isabel, did you fieldwalk these fields?’

Bags full of red pottery were passed across the table. ‘They all look like fragments of flower pot’ Isabel said. We picked over it all and nothing obviously Roman presented itself.


The red flower pot pottery from the ‘fort’ field.

Phil said that one of the fields had just been ploughed and harrowed. He phoned the tenant farmer to check whether it would be OK to visit.

Inspired! We jumped into cars and headed out there. We parked in the yard at the NT rangers’ base, crossed the high bridge over the M5 and climbed up to the site. Clear views to the hillfort and out across the landscape. A typical broad sloping high point often chosen by Roman military commanders. I had seen this type of topographic location repeated over and over again while walking Hadrian’s Wall …and …the site of Knightshayes fort near Tiverton is much the same.

The fort site itself was in grass but the field to the east had been freshly cultivated and its red Devon soil was exposed. Heads down, the four of us walked in a row in the sunshine hoping to see something Roman. Every so often we bent to retrieve something from the ground.

Generally…just an interestingly shaped stone had caught our attention. Fi found a piece of Victorian willow pattern ware. Phil found a sherd with yellow glaze that could be 17th century. My find was a prehistoric? struck piece of chert. Nothing even vaguely Roman…. but Isabel’s aerial photo looked so good.

We parted …excited by the hidden archaeology of the Killerton Estate. Bryn will add the information to the Historic Landscape and Archaeology Survey he is writing for National Trust and I will return in August with the geophysics equipment. We needed to know what the air photograph is showing.


The view to the north east across the red Devon field we fieldwalked next to the Killerton ‘fort’ site.

Always dangerous to jump to conclusions without proper evidence…and my life is strewn with such mistakes…

…the Roman road at Dyrham which proved to be a 1970s gas pipeline is particularly embarrassing.


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.








Norden the Roman Corfe Castle

Sometimes when we were working at Chedworth Roman Villa… in Gloucestershire.
We were asked about mosaics…where do the bits…the tesserae come from?

Occasionally my mind returned to 1984… and a small trench in Dorset.

2 years and about 50m from the National Trust.

I am in a wood. There are three of us there. We are checking what remains of the Roman archaeology in an area… riddled with 18th century clay pits.

It is Spring. The dappled light filters through the trees. I have worked all morning and am deep down in my 1.2m square test trench. We will meet up at lunch-time but for now I have filtered out the sound of the occasional cars travelling from Wareham to Corfe. The unfolding leaves and flowers of late March are above me.

Down here I have a finds tray, a bucket, a hand shovel..and my trowel.

The soil is light, sandy… and black…enriched by the activity of ancient lives. I am crouched down, contained in a square world. There is not much room here but this is definitely a Roman place… unmolested by the old clay diggers.

The trowel blade skims the soft earth surface and catches… sending a familiar vibration through to the handle. A brown cube flicks out of the ground and I pick it up and put it in the finds tray.

It joins the others, typical of this Isle of Purbeck … This whole area was an industrial centre in the Roman period. So in my tray there are colours  that reflect the varied rock types across this landscape.. a mini geological world, A mosaicist’s dream.

My latest find is a purple-brown gritty Heathstone from the land bordering Poole Harbour…north of where I am crouching. Then there are white cubes dug out of the chalk ridge behind me……there’s an old quarry… just a short distance away. There are also brown mudstone tesserae and various Purbeck limestone ones… dug from the land out beyond the ridge to the south.

You can imagine the patterned floor makers coming to this place and picking up these coloured cubes in carts.. in their thousands.

Norden was the heartland town of Industrial Purbeck. Three lesser villas surround it. High above me are the picturesque ruins of medieval Corfe Castle guarding the gap through the chalk ridge (like a natural rampart dividing Purbeck). The church and Corfe town now lie to the south… but the Roman town lay here at Norden.

Here in my trench are baked clay fragments…briquetage….remains of containers for evaporating brine to make salt from the Poole Harbour shoreline.

There are pieces of a black, greasy, wood-like stone. I find fragments and circles with chuck-holes in (‘coal money’). These are the waste from Kimmeridge shale, turned on a lathe. It outcrops on the north-east coast of the Island. A cottage industry across Purbeck … making bangles, vessels and furniture from this easily worked …unusual material.

The best thing…. I concentrate on making the sides of my trench vertical… is the Black Burnished pottery.

So much of this distinctive pottery was made here that the army took out a contract and used it to supply the troops on Hadrian’s Wall.

My trowel sweeps and defines a curve where the black soil stops and black ceramic begins. In my tray are many small fragments. Some are remains of jars, straight sided bowls, jugs and lids but this find is almost complete… a dish with oval base and a curved handle at each end.

It still has the wavy decoration inscribed by the potter…. 1700 years ago…it resembles a simple spirograph design.

I dust it down and place it on the floor of my trench as though setting a table….

A few years later… I was in the neighbouring field …part of the National Trust’s Corfe Castle Estate. A water pump was leaking and I watched the trench. Here was Roman Norden again two chalk and gravel yard surfaces… one above the other.. laden with Black Burnished pottery fragments and oyster shells.

And later still.. across the road above the NT Castle View visitor centre we geophysed the field and found a Roman temple site.

This whole area is covered in traces of Roman activity…though now only farmers’ fields and modern Corfe has retreated …to the south side of the gap.. towards one of the villas.

Overlooking Norden and Corfe… we found that the high ruins of the Castle were built on another Roman site…at the deepest level against the chalk…we found pottery in the West Bailey but can only guess what type of site it relates to.

Perhaps there was once a Roman watch tower here, its guards gazing out across the activities of the craftsmen of Norden town towards Poole Harbour.

Silbury, Waden,West Kennet & 1976

Yesterday,  the four of us sat at a table outside the Red Lion. George and Erica had just shown us an extraordinary walk. I felt  a little embarrassed… but to be fair I don’t know Avebury very well. Nick and Briony are the NT archaeologists here.


Amazingly, you just cross the road from the NT car park and a path leads you beside a little stream with fantastic views of Silbury Hill,


then turn left, walk up and over the southern curve of Waden Hill and you arrive at the megalithic West Kennet Avenue


which guides you northwards into great Avebury Henge. ..Wow!


We climbed the bank and walked the south-east quadrant (a place of buried megaliths) until the road into the enclosure… which we followed to its centre …where lies the Red Lion Inn.

We drank tea in the weak sunshine, sheltered from the wind, watching the people in this busy place. George asked what motivates us to write. I thought… not necessarily for others….because you want to…because you have to… to capture a moment. You must understand… that for most of the time I write scientific reports…..reference evidence to past papers…filter the strands of the past to move understanding on.. a little..

I remembered my first visit here…

15th May 1976

‘Went to Avebury Stone Ring and Donnington Castle and Stonehenge. We got lots of booklets.


The weather was windy with intermittent rain but it was great walking along the top of the huge earth banks of Avebury, the steep drops to the ditch on one side and the countryside stretching for miles on the other.

The sun shone through the clouds showing moving patterns of shadows flowing across the green wheat fields. The wind blew hard and you could almost lean on it and not fall over.

Walking along a double row of stones that lead from Avebury through the fields of sheep and rough grass.

It started to rain. It was almost horizontal so we sat behind one of the big stones and watched the cars go by, as dry as you like. We waved at the cars and they waved back.

On arriving at West Kennet, we were intent on finding the long barrow. At last, we ran across a huge field of wheat and came to it in the middle of nowhere. I entered first and walked past the side chambers to the back of the tomb and sat down to read the guide book and wait for the others.

Shocked a stranger as they entered to see me there.

Stonehenge was commercialised and festooned with tourists. We sat by the concrete kiosk and ate hot dogs in the biting wind.’

So, Avebury won pretty convincingly over Stonehenge..reduced to two lines in my page a day diary. No consideration at all for the freedom we then had to walk amongst the trilithons …

during that first visit ….but you never know what you’ve got till its gone.

Along the King Barrow Ridge

We needed to go to a meeting and I hate having to dodge the traffic on the A303.

‘Ever walked the King Barrow Ridge?’

Paul said ‘no’ so we risked it.

A dodgy place to be at the end of January. I’ve done it in thunder and lightning… which is not recommended.

This time the weather was gentle, sun and high cloud.. and the light.. low and revealing, teasing out the earthworks.

We parked by the generator and walked from MoD land into the National Trust Estate.


The view west along the 2.8km of the Cursus. The trees have been cut back to reclaim the view. The fence line follows the south line of the bank and ditch of the Early Neolithic monument. In the far distance can just be seen the gap in the Fargo Plantation at the west end.

Just past the gate, I pointed out the Cursus… From this vantage point you can seen the entire length of it. The ends picked out by gaps cut through the trees. Fargo Plantation 2.8km to the west had been cut back in the 1980s and at the east end, where we were now standing…the 100m width of the cursus has been opened up in the last decade.

‘Now we are walking over the Cursus long barrow which marks its east end’

Paul couldn’t see it.

‘the barrow was undamaged until WWI but then the military set up bases here and the barrow was almost levelled for a trackway’


The 1877 Ordnance Survey maps shows the east end of the Cursus and the long barrow before it was damaged for a trackway in the  early 20th century.

We looked back along the track and could just make out the vague swelling of the ground which is nearly all that can be seen of it. On the OS 1877 map it is shown over 100m long. I pointed over the fence ‘the side ditch is still visible. The Early Neolithic people quarried the chalk to heap up the mound from here’

I remembered 1999 when the National Trust first acquired this land. Simon the ranger and I took the Landrover out towing a trailer full of fencing stakes and we enclosed out the burial mounds to protect them from further ploughing.

‘The Stonehenge Riverside Project dug a trench here in 2008, they were lucky and found a piece of antler pick at the bottom of the long barrow ditch, dated it to about 3,500 BC…matched the date of bones found in the Cursus ditch itself’


The excavation of the east side ditch of the Cursus long barrow in 2008 . The line of the trackway follows the trees on the right hand edge of the picture.

Paul asked me what a ‘Cursus’ was

‘Don’t know, William Stukely named it in the early 18th century because he thought it looked like a Roman race track. Processional way some people say but who knows. This one’s a tiddler compared to the Dorset Cursus on the Cranborne Chase which is three times the length’

We walked on past Early Bronze Age round barrows under clumps of beech trees, part of the designed landscape planted for the Marquess of Queensbury.

It is said that the clumps of trees commemorate the positions of ships that fought in the Battle of the Nile in 1798. This may be true but the trees prevented Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington digging here in the early 19th century and so these tombs remain. Some were disturbed by the storm of 1990 when falling trees tore up Bronze Age cremation burials in their roots.


One of the round barrows which still has its c.1800 beech tree planting.

We turned the corner and could see little Stonehenge far below us.. etched sharply in winter sunlight. Stopping by a sign and pedestrian gate I told Paul that this was the true way to the Stones.

Why?…because this is the route of the Avenue.. its route was deliberately set out to dramatic effect. The way leads down into the valley bottom where the monument is hidden and then turns and leads you up.. and the trilithons rise from the ground in front of you as you are drawn towards midwinter. The days can only get longer once the high trilithon has caught the sun.


The line of the Avenue pointing towards Stonehenge with ditches on either side as revealed during excavation, part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008. 

Now, we were almost there… and we walked beside the line of high King Barrows..alive and etched by low light filtering through the army strands of long grass…amber pink flicking in the wind.

WP_20190130_011On a mound top, a black silhouette appeared, stood still, gazed out and fell away.



The Wessex Hillforts & Habitats Project

Early morning last week…a drone took off over Hambledon after light snow. Perfect conditions, the snowflakes had settled into the valleys of the great encircling hillfort ditches… and streets of round house platforms became visible as rows of hollows outlined in white.

Hambledon Hill light snow shows the dimples where Iron Age round houses once stood.

These photos help illustrate the majesty and awe of this vast archaeological site and has helped us launch the National Trust’s Wessex Hillforts and Habitats project. With the help of Marie, our project officer, the People’s Postcode Lottery have granted over 100,000 pounds to get the project started.

The primary purpose of the project is to enhance the conservation of 13 NT Iron Age hillforts scattered across Dorset and South Wiltshire …but it will also inspire people to get involved and to carry out monitoring and research. It will also create new interpretation to bring these grassy hill top earthworks to life as places to be appreciated, valued and better understood. Alongside this.. to highlight nature, particularly the plant and insect life. Each hillfort’s unique topography nurtures precious habitat undisturbed by agriculture for over 2000 years.

Purple spotted orchids growing on the sheltered slopes of a hillfort ditch

So.. where are these places. I’ll list them out for you…. and as some have featured in previous blog posts I’ll reference these while we have a quick tour.

We’ll start in Wiltshire and from there head south and west and eventually end at the Devon border.

Figsbury Ring, north-east of Salisbury. A circular rampart and ditch with a view back to the great cathedral spire. Strangely, Figsbury has a wide deep ditch within the hillfort ..potentially Neolithic but there is no rampart.. where did all the chalk go?

Figsbury Ring from its rampart top showing the wide deep ditch inside the hillfort.

South of Salisbury, Wick Ball Camp above Philipps House, Dinton.. NT only owns the outer rampart.

Then there is the icon of Warminster, Cley Hill (blog posts “Upon Cley Hill’; Upon Cley Hill 2”), a flying saucer shaped chalk outlier with two round barrows on the summit..a strange hillfort.

To the south west, at the source of the mighty River Stour, is the Stourhead Estate with its two hillforts. These are Park Hill Camp, its views hidden by conifer plantation and Whitesheet Hill  (blog Whitesheet Hill Open at the Close) with wide prospects across the Blackmore Vale towards Hambledon and Hod. We’ll follow the Stour to reach them.

Hod is the largest true hillfort in Dorset, the geophysics has shown it full of round houses…a proto town… and there are the clear earthworks of the Roman 1st century fort in Hod’s north-west corner (blog post Hod Hill Camp Bastion)

Hambledon is close by, just across a dry valley, perched high on a ridge, surrounded by the Neolithic, you feel like you’re flying when standing there. (blog post Archaeology SW day 2014, Hambledon Sunset)

Follow the Stour further south and you reach the triple ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings on the Kingston Lacy Estate. From here you can see the chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight (blog post Badbury and the Devil’s footprint)

Now from Badbury take the Roman road west to Dorchester and keep going beyond the county town, glancing at Maiden Castle as you pass(Duchy of Cornwall, English Heritage).

The Roman road continues straight towards Bridport but branches from the A35 road before you reach the village of Winterbourne Abbas.

It has now become a minor road.. a couple of miles on… it branches again..still straight but this once arterial Roman route to Exeter has dwindled to a narrow trackway with grass sprouting from the tarmac.

Don’t lose heart…keep going…and you will break out onto the chalkland edge and the multiple ramparts of Eggardon Hill.

From Eggardon, the other hillforts emerge as sentinals ringing the high ground overlooking the Marshwood Vale, and, to the south, the cliffs of Golden Cap.. and beyond, the sweep of Lyme Bay and the English Channel.

Winter woods at Coney’s Castle

Next to the west is Lewesdon Hill, a small fort but occupying the highest land in Dorset, nearby is the second highest, the flat top of Pilsdon Pen, surrounded by double ramparts and enclosing Iron Age round houses, Bronze Age round barrows and the pillow mounds of  the medieval rabbit warren.

The last two in the Project guard a gap through the Upper Greensand ridge at the Devon border. Coney’s Castle has a minor road running through it and on its south side are wonderful twisted moss covered oaks… and beneath them the deep blue of bluebells in the Spring. Lambert’s Castle was used as a fair up to the mid 20th century, remains of the fair house and animal pens can be seen there ….but once again the views are spectacular, particularly in early morning after frost with the mist rising from the lowland.

Lambert’ s Castle after frost.

A baker’s dozen of hillforts of the 59 the NT looks after in the South West.

One might imagine that these huge works of humanity look after themselves… but they need to be cared for.. we must have farmers willing to graze the right number and type of stock on them….at the right times;  NT rangers and volunteers to cut regenerating scrub and fix fencing and gates…

If not, these nationally important scheduled monuments and SSSIs will deteriorate. The earthworks will become overgrown and grassland habitat will be lost, archaeological knowledge locked in the layers beneath the soil will become disrupted… and the views into the landscape and across and within the hillforts will become hidden.

The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project promises to be an exciting time of conservation and discovery. The work has now begun!