Day 3 – Thursday 29th June

The team in trench seven get ready to start cleaning the trench.

Another overcast sky greeted us as we prepared for day three. By the time we got to site a little after 8.30 a.m. the clouds were drifting through the trees that skirt the edge of the field. Still, it was better than rain.

That said, it had rained again during the night which meant that the ground had become rather sticky underfoot. Despite this the team in trench seven got to work on cleaning of some of the clay which was still covering the surface we were looking for. The clay layer we were removing was still giving us the occasional surprise. We continued to find small pieces od Neolithic pottery, and one patch looked really promising for next week as there were several pieces of flint and pottery coming to the surface.

Sariya, one of the University of Manchester students helps identify grid pegs.

Elsewhere on the site, members of the team were continuing to lay out the grid around both of the trenches. This is a great opportunity for students to learn about some of the technology that archaeologists use everyday.  The students were in the capable hands of Dr Irene Garcia Rovira, who amongst many roles she has, is an associate director of the project. She takes them through each of the steps involved in using what is know as a total station. This machine helps us to measure distance, heights and angles that allow us to create accurate plans of the site and the trenches. Once we begin finding more artefacts we will use it to make a 3D model of where they were all found.

Just look how muddy it gets!

It was a long, hard day in the field, and as you can see here by the state of a wheelbarrow wheel. While they are on the excavation the students are gaining valuable work experience. This can range from helping prepare the food for the whole team (something all the students do) to learning about Health & Safety. In the case of the wheelbarrow, they learn it is important to keep it clean and relatively free of mud to reduce the risk of slipping when it is full.

One of our supervisors, Ann, is showing and explaining how to use a trowel to Zoe, Emilia and Kat.

For most of the students it is their first time on an excavation and so they have a lot to learn, particularly about how to excavate and use tools.  All of the supervisors take the time to introduce the students to how to excavate. This includes how to use a trowel and other hand tools, as well as paying attention to what you are excavating. Not an easy thing to do when you are new to it.

This piece of tarpaulin is covering an area with artefacts in it until we can inspect it more closely.

There were some bright spots for us. In the image here you can see that we have covered a small area which has some artefacts in it. There were some great artefacts found too, including two Neolithic arrowheads. How do we know thy are Neolithic? Well we can tell by their size and shape. They are what archaeologists call leaf-shaped arrowheads, because, well they are shaped like leaves! Once they have been processed by the team, well have pictures for you in our next blog.

 

 

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Day 2 – Wednesday 28th June

What a difference a day makes. During the early hours of Wednesday morning I was woken by rain bouncing off the tent, and on getting out of it later I saw a lot of low level cloud and felt the odd spot of drizzle. It didn’t look too promising at 6 a.m.. However, the rain held off for the most part and we were able to press on with work.

The overnight rain had done it’s work and the hard clay had softened. Too much some thought, as it was sticky in places, making it difficult to shovel once the mattock had done it’s job. Despite this, the team was able to get plenty done and more interesting things were beginning to appear in both trenches.

Over in the small trench – aka Trench 6 – the tarpaulins which had been put down last year to cover the archaeology that had been found, began to emerge and the trench supervisor, Dr Nick Overton – was able to establish the limits of last year’s work and extend the trench a little further east to find more features. They also had time to erect an electric fence. Why Ian electric fence on an excavation? Well, the field still has sheep grazing on it, and if they get in the trench after we have left for the day, they can walk over the archaeology and possibly damage it. They can also leave us little presents which have to be cleared up the next morning!

Over in the big trench – aka Trench 7 – we were not so worried about sheep as we had yet to reach the level where we expected to find the ditch, pits and post holes shown on the geophysical survey. Here we had another hard day taking out the layer of clay which covers most of the trench. Despite having a JCB take out much of the upper layers of turf, top and subsoil, the depth of material to be taken out ranged between 5cm and 20cm. So some of theteam had a very hard day of it.

On the positive side, we are beginning to find some very interesting things. There have been some flint flakes popping up across the trench. These are pieces of flint which have been struck off a larger piece, possibly when someone was making a stone tool. In one corner of the trench quite a few pieces of quartz have been found, and this is interesting as quartz doesn’t occur naturally in the area. This means that it has arrived there by human action. Why? Well we don’t know yet, and it is very early in the exacation to speculate too much on this.

The star finds of the day however were to two arrowheads found. One in each of the trenches, and they were different types. Again, it is too early to speculate too much about these, but it suggest that we will be finding more soon!

We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more finds  as we continue to clean back the trenches. There’ll be another update later today.

Day 1 Tuesday 27th June

Hello everyone and welcome to the daily update from this year’s excavations on Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire. Each evening we’ll be giving you all the news from the excavation, campsite and village. So let’s dive on in!

Tuesday might seem an odd day to start work on a project, but Monday was taken up with getting everybody to the lovely village of Dorstone, nestling in the Golden Valley in Herefordshire. By tea time on Monday most of the students, volunteers and staff had arrived, unpacked and settled in. There was an official meeting where staff were introduced and we had a health and safety briefing from the campsite manager. Of course, no excavation is complete without a trip to the pub, so we had one!

Tuesday dawned with an overcast sky, but everyone was ready to get to work on the hill. As you might remember, there are two trenches in this year’s excavation and Prof Julian Thomas and I were down on the site last week supervising the opening of the trenches. On arrival on site all the students and volunteers were given an orienting tour by Prof. Thomas (he says I can call him Julian now) while the staff began getting the site ready.

In the big trench we had a quick look over to see if anything had emerged since we were last on site. Once the soil has begun to be removed, the ground begins to dry out and features such as post holes or pits can appear as dark marks in the soil. This is because the material that has filled the hole in retains moisture better than the undisturbed ground. Sadly for us there was little to see as there was a lot of reddish-brown clay across the trench. Still, we had expected this, but we always live in hope.

The beginning of any excavation is always hard work with not much  reward. In our case the whole of both trenches needed cleaning with a mattock. This is tool that is a cross between a pickaxe and a trowel (pictures will follow!). So for most of us it was a hard day’s work, as in addition to using mattocks to clean the trench, we need to move all the soil using shovels and wheelbarrows. Once out of the trench we put all the soil in what we call a spoil-heap. Not just a simple pile of soil, but one that must be kept in some form of shape or it spreads far and wide!

By the end of the day we had achieved most of what we thought we could. Despite not be used to the conditions the students worked really hard and can be pleased with the results. It isn’t the most glamorous part of archaeology but without it there wouldn’t be much to see. All the staff would like to thank everyone for their efforts on a very hard day!

Don’t forget, if you have a question for any member of the team, use the comment box below and we’ll get it in the next blog!

The countdown continues!

So, today is Saturday. That’s just a couple of days away from the arrival of most of the staff and students in Dorstone. What’s going on you ask, if you aren’t all there yet? Well, as with any event, there’s always some last minute things to do. Right now there is someone out shopping for some of those ‘must have’ items for any archaeological excavation and one on our shopping list is string. Lots of string . . . more on that later!

Liam of Herefordshire Archives & Record Centre using the latest GPS technology to locate the first of this seasons trenches.

One of the things we’ll be doing on the first morning is marking out the trenches we have opened. This year there are two trenches. The northerly one is 10m x 5m and overlaps one of last year’s trenches, allowing the team to continue excavating one of the mounds. The second trench is a short distance away and will be exploring features revealed by a geophysical survey – more on that in a later blog. This trench is a little larger at 40m x 20m.

Each excavation is laid out on a grid, and over the previous seven seasons of work the team has used the same grid. This is done to enable an accurate plan to be made of all the features and finds made during the lifetime of the project. The way the grid is laid out is fairly simple. There are known points in the field the excavation is taking place in and these have been recorded digitally. Last week as part of our preparations, Liam – a member of the Herefordshire Archaeology team – used some of the latest GPS equipment to locate this year’s trenches to within 3mm on the grid. That’s pretty accurate by anyone’s standards.

The next thing we need to do is to make the grid visible to everyone, and we do this using brightly coloured wooden stakes placed around the edge of each trench, and these will be 5m apart. These are again located used the same GPS system, and are then identified by marking their co-ordinates on them. The co-ordinates tell us how far east and north of our ‘point zero’ each stake is. If you are familiar with reading maps, we’ll be creating our own ‘eastings’ and ‘northings’ These grid points will help us make accurate plans of the trenches before we excavate (known as a ‘pre-ex plan’), and to plan all the features we find.

What about the string? Well, when we get to make detailed drawings of the sections, or trench sides, we’ll need some string. At least 120m of it for the larger of the trenches alone, so it’s never to early to get some!

Dorstone digs!

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Welcome to the first of this season’s blogs from the excavations on Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire. The excavations will be running from 26th June- 26th July and during this time we’ll introduce to the project, team members and try to keep you up-to-date with everything you’ll need to know about another busy season on the hill!

This year sees a team made up of staff and students from the Universities of Manchester and Cardiff, Herefordshire Archaeology and volunteers continuing their exploration of a Neolithic site site on Dorstone Hill on the edge of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire.

The first stage of the work, laying out the trenches, removing topsoil and preparing the campsite has been undertaken by a small team of experienced archaeologists, including the project co-director Prof Julian Thomas of University of Manchester, Tim Hoverd of Herefordshire Archaeology (pictured above as the first trench was being opened) and Simon Wilde.

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If you would like to catch-up on previous seasons on the hill, there more detail and images here