Category Archives: Archaeology

Interpreting Archaeological Finds.


The main reason for pursuing archaeology is to find out as much as possible about how remote societies lived.

The desire to discover can take many different forms, depending on of course on a persons knowledge. Archaeology can answer many of these questions especially in the case of good preservation, for instance when bodies are found such as those discovered in peat bogs, often gives a good idea of what people actually looked like in previous times. People buried in peat  bogs were exceptionally well preserved such as the case of Iron Age Tollund Man from Central Jutland.

The Tollund Man from Denmark The Tollund Man

The Tollund Man 2 as he appears todayThe Tollund Man as he appears today.

The ruins of houses and peoples possessions  when found give an idea of their lifestyle, also their tools can show what work they did. Archaeology is about digging it up and writing it down and there are many spin-offs to choose from to study. For instance some people prefer to study ancient flint implements, another may choose bones whereas another environmental studies. In my case I chose ancient pottery from the Iron Age and Roman to the Medieval periods. All these are classed as finds from any given archaeological site


The majority of finds consist of objects or more often fragments of objects that have been lost, thrown away or deliberately buried. However, these may not be human made objects since finds include items such as animal bones and insect remains. Rubbish from a household was often buried in pits and would have included worn out broken objects as well as food debris such as animal bones and oyster shells, oysters were a delicacy in Roman times.  Discarded fragment objects are the most common type of find on archaeological sites,therefor it is the rubbish from the past which provides most information about the site and the people who used it.


Excavated finds are given an identification code number to record the layers in which they were found. Most finds are sufficiently strong enough to withstand washing in clean cold water with brushes such as, tooth brushes, then left to dry. However other more fragile objects such as wood, leather or metal objects or fragments from garments require laboratory conservation to prevent further decay. Building material like floor and wall tiles, fragments of mosaic floors ,broken window glass etc., all provide information about the site, giving clues as to what a roof may have looked like on a Roman Villa.


An example of Archaeological Stratigraphy (layers)

Many aspects of an archaeological site, including dating are revealed by its finds with those discovered elsewhere and it is often the most common finds such as shards of pottery that prove the most useful for dating a site. Seeing as the pottery is my chosen study I will proceed by explaining more on this subject.


With shards of pottery, groups are made initially according to the colour of the pottery and any other indicators,  such as the way the surface of the pot is finished, any distinctive  lines  ,inclusions  in the clay such as quartz or rock fragments, as an example, small fragments of malvernian  rock would indicate the pot came from the Malvern region in England.

These fragments are then sub-divided by sorting shards into rims, from the top of the pot, base shards from the bottom of the pot and handles and body shards from other parts of the pot.

All this examination of the pottery is done mostly by eye but sometimes a hand lens or microscope is needed. Next a detailed examination and cataloguing of each fragment of the pottery is carried out and a record is made of details observed such as, where on the site a shard or shards were found, its colour and fabric type and decoration if any. Sometimes shards will be selected for illustration for a report ready for publication. Any joins would be looked for which may seem to go together as such joins will add significantly to the evidence. When the pot has been identified and dated the specialist points out the parallels which have been used.


A Roman Severn Valley Ware Tankard. possibly used by the Roman soldiers on Hadrians Wall.


Two Shards of Iron Age Pot. The close up show rock inclusions which are Malvernian Rock Indicating that this pottery came from the Malvern Hills area in England and was hand made.


Once the cataloguing is written the specialist calculates the quantaties of each type of pottery that has come from each archaeological layer.

All this detailing and cataloguing  of the pottery and a written report forms part of the archive for the excavation, after which the specialist produces a report for publication. The same basic approach of identification, sorting, grouping, quantification, comparison examples from elsewhere and conclusions from the evidence is used in the study of most finds and environmental samples.



Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Archaeology


Experimental Archaeology (Minoan Incense Burners)

Ritaroberts's Blog

It has been sometime since two of our dear friends Gracia and Pete came to spend a holiday with us, not only to visit but to track down and photograph the Rock Rose of Crete in its natural habitat.The Rock Rose produces Labdanum,an aromatic substance sometimes used in incense and perfume.

Gracia and Pete trade in incense resins sometimes travelling to far off countries to obtain many of these exotic items such as frank’ incense and gods smile. They took their wonderful aroma’s and sold them at the Re-enactors markets where we met them many years ago, We were then trading as Apicius Sauces made from original roman recipes.

While Gracia and Pete were holidaying with us in 2006 they visited the Agios Nikolaos museum in Crete where to their amazement they observed more incense burners than they had ever seen in a single exhibition.They were intrigued by the fact  there were some very unusual burners they had…

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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Archaeology


The Legend of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse (update)

Some time ago I posted The Legend of the Barkhamsted Lighthouse. It was about a young Molly Barber who married against her fathers wishes a Narragansette Native Indian named James Chaugham. That story is still on my blog.

Briefly James Chaugham was born c l7l0 in Block Island, R I, and died in c l790  in Riverton, CT. He married Molly Barber l740. They had eight children. Sally, Samuel, Soloman, Meribah ( Mary ), Hannah Sands, Mercy  Mary (Polly) and Elizabeth

It was some time later that I received a message from Coni Dubois explaining that she is a direct descendant of the Chaugham family line. Coni has spent many years of research after her father had requested her to trace the family tree.This has become her life’s mission to find her Native American Roots which up until now has taken more than 20 years.


Coni began by putting all the main pieces of the puzzle together, she knew that she had years of work ahead of her in order to connect all the true lineages. Most  research of l600’s about the main Chieftains of NY, CT,MA, & NJ  has been done but Coni’s main research has been of the New York and Long Island Native Americans

As a direct descendant Coni’s work is based on that of Tackapausha, Tasstasuk,, Soweag, Sassacus, Mechoswodt  tribes and many more..Her Chagaum line was involved with many land deals with the Dutch and the English- they were the Scouts / Interpreters, and on occasions the Peace Makers and Medicine Men / Women and direct descendants of those mentioned above.

Basically Coni has organized all geneaology of these Native Americans and  documented  them and sourced them with anything that has ever been written about them in their geneaology file, she believes that if it is written then it belongs to them – it is their legacy – it is their story.

Coni Dubois Coni Dubois

During her research Coni has copied and added each and every book, document, file, photo, any vital record or family keepsakes and so much more to these people and the section of their stories in order to make it as accurate as possible. One such item was that her family walked The Trail of Tears.

Coni Dubois hopes that she will add more to the story she has uncovered and honor them their stories through her research. Her quest, is still  to find her Native American bloodline. It has taken many people like her that care about their true American history to dig in and try to find the truth. Her wishes are to walk the lands of her people and pay her respects to her ancesters and their resting places. She is frequently updating her quest to find her roots and while doing so many remaining relatives of her blood line have contacted her thus helping to fit the pieces together.

Lighthouse tribe of Barkhamsted

Lighthouse Tribe of Barkhamsted

Although Coni’s family are not in any “tribe ” or ” registered ”  she has always followed the Native American ways. She grew up off the lands herself – all her people were mostly farmers, she has always been close to nature as much as possible. Our ancestors live thru us Coni says – we look like them and we share the same traits.

Coni  works with many tribes and is constantly visiting The Barkhamsted Lighthouse where her ancestors are buried , she just wants to record all she can now before its too late.

The Barkhamsted Lighthouse Cemetery 2

The  Barkhamsted Lighthouse Cemetery






Coni at the Barkhamsted Light House cemetery.

Coni at the  Barkhamsted Lighthouse Cemetery.


For more information go to

Coni also has a DNA Project at new





Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Archaeology


An Archaeological Mystery

A six month excavation in the heart of London has revealed thousands of artifacts illuminating the city’s Roman past-including an extremely interesting sheet of decorated leather as yet unidentified.


Working ahead of construction on the Bloomberg site, home to London’s Temple of Mithras( MOLA) Museum of London Archaeologists have recovered around l0,000 objects spanning the whole period of Roman occupation in Britain, from AD 40 to the early 5th century.

Archaeologists discovered the 1.2m long leather panel beneath a pile of amphora shards, buried in a pit dug beneath the floor of a building thought to be from the 2nd century.

Its stitched decorations show a warrior-possibly a gladiator or a heroic figure- with a mythical half- horse half- fish  creature called a hippocampus on either side, and palmettes at each end. We are very excited about this object as it seems to be completely unique in the Roman Empire, ‘ MOLA Roman finds specialist Michael Marshall said. ‘ As it is unparalleled, we are not quite sure what the panel is from. There have been a few guesses such as wall hangings, window surrounds, one suggestion was even part of a vehicle like a litter or chariot. Conservation is being carried out at present  and it wont be until afterwards when the leather object can be handled and the different layers disassembled that archaeologists will be able to tell how it was constructed,and what it was attached to.

The panel survived because of the site’s location along the  Walbrook  river, where  waterlogged conditions have created a perfect environment for the preservation of organic materials such as wood and leather, MOLA discovered the timber building platforms, fences, and drains, as well as over 100 fragments of writing tablets, some of which still show traces of lettering, and hundreds of well preserved shoes.

Amber gladiator amulet. from the Walbrook Area

This Amber Gladiator Amulet was also found in the Walbrook area. It was thought to have magical powers. The Roman author Pliny describes how amber amulets could protect children from illness and the symbolism of the gladiator may also be protective.

Image  Amber amulet MOLA.

Roman Writing tablets London Excavation

More than 100 fragments of wooden tablet have been preserved. This tablet is a letter to a friend.These wooden tablets were used for everyday correspondence and even shopping lists or party invitations.

Image. Roman wooden tablet MOLA


Image leather shoe MOLA

Many Roman well preserved leather shoes such as these were found.

Original source Museum of London Archaeology.


Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Archaeology


Archaeology of Masada


Masada pronounced Metzada in Hebrew is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert,overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 3l BCE.

THE ROMAN SIEGE OF MASADA  AD  63- 73  ( The Jewish Revolt )

Geological investigation in the early 1990s confirmed earlier observations that the 375-foot ( l l 4m) high assault ramp consisted mostly of a natural spur of bedrock. The ramp was complete by the spring of 73,after probably two or three months of siege,allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. Romans took the X Legion and a number of auxiliary units and Jewish prisoner of war,totalling some 15,000 troops in order to crush Jewish resistance at Masada. A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved up the completed ramp. The walls of the fortress were breached in 73 CE. According to ancient historian Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress,they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings except for the food storerooms ablaze and commited mass suicide/ killed each other.Only two women and five children were found alive. This was the final act of the Jewish revolt of A.D. 63-73 .These revolutionaries the original Zealots,preferred death by their own hands to slaughter,rape or enslavement at the hands of their enemies


The site of Masada was identified in 1842 and extensively excavated between 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin. The Roman ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains,as have the wall-paintings of Herod’s two main palaces, and the Roman style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored. The metre- high  circumvallation wall that the Romans built around Masada can be seen together with eleven barracks for the Roman soldiers just outside the wall. Water cisterns two-thirds of the way up the cliff drain the nearby wadis by an elaborate system of channels, which explain how the rebels managed to conserve enough water for such a long time.


Masada the Great Fortress built by Herod The Great

The skeletal remains of 28 people were unearthed at Masada. The remains of a male 20 – 22 years of age, a female about 17- 18 and a child approximately 12 years old were found in the palace. The remains of two men and a full head of hair with braids belonging to a woman were also found in the bathhouse. Forensic analysis showed the hair had been cut from the womans head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive ( a Jewish practice for captured women) while the braids indicated that she was married. Based on the evidence, anthropologist Joe Zias believes the remains may have been Romans whom the rebels captured when they seized the garrison. The remains of 25 people were found in a cave at the base of the cliff. Carbon dating of textiles found with the remains in the cave suggest they are contemporaneous with the period of the Revolt and it is believed that as they were buried with pig bones ( a Roman practice);this indicates that the remains may belong to Romans who garrisoned Masada after its recapture. Others,however still maintain that the remains are those of the Jewish Zealots who comitted suicide during the siege of Masada,and all were buried at Masada with full military honours on July 7th 1969.


The excavators fully revealed virtually all of the structures built by Herod the Great in the second half of the lst century BC.These included massive storerooms, a large bathhouse, an administrative building, an apartment building. Many of the rooms were decorated with collonnades, stucco- work, fine mosaics, and brightly coloured frescoes.  Yet more important,however was the abundant evidence for the Zealot occupation during the revolution of AD 66-73. Excavators found improvised living quarters in and adjacent to the casement walls around the top of the plateau. Much of the debris – pottery, coins,bone utensils,soft stone vessels, basketwork, leather sandals, even plaits of human hair- bore testimony of the simple life of the peasant-revolutionaries represented.

Coins from The Jewish Revolt MasadaCoins from the Jewish Revolt

Dyed fabric found at Masada Dyed fabric found at Masada

Found in the Cave of Letters

The remains of a shoe found in The Cave of Letters Masada

Mosaic from Herods Palace Masada

Mosaic from Herods Palace

View of Herods Library

A view of the remains of Herods library.

The remnents of a leather woven bag found in caves Masada

The Remnents of a leather bag found at Masada

Among the discoveries were some fragments of scroll, including one bearing part of a passage of text otherwise unknown except in the corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls.This was highly significant as it provided a direct link between the religious radicolism of the scrolls and the political action of the Jewish revolutionaries, allowing us to treat the former as a reliable guide to the mindset of at least some of the latter. The scrolls can now be used with confidence to shine a beam of light on the motives of the Zealots and other groups engaged in the struggle against Roman imperialism.

Two of the pots which held the Scrolls Two of the jars which held scrolls

Walls of a Christain Church on top of Masada

Walls of a Christian Church Masada

Cosmetic Accessories found at Masada

Cosmetic Accessories found at Masada

As for the Herodian remains,the expense,luxury, and Classical taste revealed, simply confirm the huge golf both social – and cultural- which separated the Jewish elite from the Jewish masses, a gulf that surely made revolution far more likely.

Source Wikipedia


Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Archaeology


Pottery in Archaeology

In a previous post of mine I promised to talk about my favourite subject, that of archaeology and ancient pottery found on some historical sites. It is intended for the beginner who is interested in learning about the subject of pottery in archaeology.


Looking back to my childhood days I remember my mother always telling me to hold my head up or I would look like a bent up old lady before I was much older. I think this must have been the first indication of my becoming an archaeologist because I was always looking down on the ground searching for anything I could find. On the days we visited my Grandma’s I was anxious to go out to the back of her house as there was a huge open area where I spent happy hours searching for anything I could find, bits of pot or tile that I thought looked interesting, there was the occasional glass marbles and old glass bottles which had a marble in the top,does anyone remember these bottles were called “Cadswallup” bottles? I did once find a watch, and a nice brooch in the shape of a butterfly.

Some of the things I found I kept hidden in a box and put them in my small wardrobe,they were my little treasures until my mother found them and threw them all away saying that they were rubbish. But now, that so called rubbish may have been of archaeological or antique interest. When out walking I still keep my now trained eye open for anything which seems of interest such as, unusually shaped stone or flint objects that maybe tools of the past.

After being married and my children were at school I decided that I wanted to go on an archaeological excavation. I contacted the Hereford and Worcs Sites and Monuments Archaeology Dept and was finaly allowed to go as a volunteer to the site where a dig was about to begin at The Droitwich Saltworks. in Worcestershire.I have already written a previous post about this called  “Evidence of the Past ” It was here that my interest in pottery began.So I will now proceed to explain a bit more about the identification first of pottery from the Neolithic period and will continue through to the Medieval period in future posts.

It is the durability of pottery which makes it so important to archaeologists.Pottery was made in Britain from the time of the first farmers in the early fourth millenium bc and was used for religious and domestic purposes. The earliest pots seem to be the simplest and undecorated pots, cups and bowls originally labelled “Windmill Hill Ware”  see Piggott 193l but have subsequently been divided into regional forms.


Pottery,or ceramic,consists of clay that has been chemically changed and hardened using heat to drive out the water present in the molecules. If the clay has been properly fired,it will hold water and will not soften. If however imperfectly fired the clay will revert back to its liquid state on contact with water or anything wet. Clay sources of varying quility are found commonly in Britain and whereas a course clay may need to be fined before use a very fine clay may need to have course material added. These are non clay bodies found in the fabric of the pottery and are either naturally occuring or added.

The former group may be small sand grains,quartz or organic remains,for example,which occur naturally in the clay itself and are derived from the local geology or ecology. The latter have been deliberatly added to the clay to reduce the plasticity and to open the fabric so that during the firing process water can easily escape and will not blow out rapidly and cause the pot to explode. Almost any material is suitable for this and small pieces of crushed pottery(grog) sand, grass crushed flint and shell are all commonly found  in prehistoric pottery

Once the clay has been prepared and the pot fashioned usually from a series of coils as the potters wheel was unknown in Britain at this time,the vessels could be burnished or decorated in a variety of ways. Impressed techniques, where a material such as string or bone was pushed into the damp clay are very common in the neolithic and bronze age, as are incised decoration and applied or raised cordons and lugs. Once the pot had dried it is then ready for firing Like the potters wheel, kilns are unknown in the British neolithic and bronze age so the pottery would have been fired in a bonfire.


The earliest dated pottery in Britain is Grimston-Lyles Hill ware and it is also one of the longest lasting styles. Carbon dates suggest that this style began around 3500 bc and may have remained in use for well over a millenium. The tradition is also distributed widely over Great Britain from Caithness to East Anglia. The pottery is almost invariably undecorated except for vessels with slight fluting,and the majority of the vessels are either carinated or  ‘S’  profiled.  Grimston Ware is usually good,fine and frequently burnished but occasionally inclusions will either have burnt or dissolved out of the surfaces to give a corky texture.

Vessels produced were round- based bowls ,simple hemispherical cups .Rim forms are rarely elaborate and are usually either thickened, simple or rolled.  Applied lugs may be found on the carinations of bowls or the exteriors of cups but they are rare.

Regional variations are found  in a series as geographically widespread as Grimston ware. There are for example, three sub-titles in Yorkshire Grimston ware itself, Heslerton ware, and Towthorpe. 

Neolithic Potteryclick to enlarge picture.

 Grimston ware 1-2, Thirlings Northumberland after Hurrel 3,

Hanging Grimston North Yorkshire,after Piggott 4 , Heslerton Ware North Yorkshire after Piggott 

Towthorpe Bowl Humberside after Piggott. 5

There is a slight difference between Heslerton and Grimston ware in that the ‘ S ‘ profile is slacker with no sharpe carination and with a more open appearence.


Round based bowls in the South West of England can also be divided into local styles. The best known style is probably the Hembury style which dates from about 3300 bc to around the middle of the 3rd millenium and possibly made in Cornwall by proffesional potters and traded in large quantities as far as Wessex and beyond. Course wares of this style are usually locally made imitations of the finer vessels.

Hembury ware from Carn Brae,Cornwall (After Mercer) also characterized by horizontally perforated lugs often have expanded ends which are known as ‘trumpet lugs’  The rim forms are often simple or slightly rolled. The vessel forms are either simple open bowls,or more rarely, carinated bowls and have an upright neck.

The Windmill Hill pottery so named after the neolithic causeway enclosure in Wiltshire England, dates from the early to the middle of the 3rd millennium and is characterized by its baggy profiles, with simple rounded rims which are occasionally thickened and small oval or circular applied lugs can be found on the exterior of the vessel.Decoration is rarely found on Windmill Hill ware.However if found it is simple and consists of small dots or short incisions which are usualy below the rim either internally or externally.

Windmill Hillclick to enlarge picture

Windmill Hill Pottery baggy profiles 2 and 3 with simple rounded rims.


There are several named decorated wares such as the Whitehawk style from the causewayed enclosure East Sussex,The Abingdon style from the causewayed enclosure on the Thames gravels and The Milldenhall style after a settlement site in the fens of East Anglia

Decorated potteryAbingdon and Mildenhall Pottery

1 and 2 Abingdon style pottery.

3 and 5 Mildenhall style pottery.

 Abingdon style characterized by bipartite bowls and sometimes having applied lugs and handles.Rims are thickened and often rolled also decorated with oblique incisions or twisted cord impressions. Deep pots and simple bowls are also present.

The Mildenhall style is a little more elaborately decorated ‘ S ‘ profiled bowls predominate the style,the pots often deep with rolled and thickened rims. Rims,necks,shoulders and bodies may have decoration with oblique incisions or impressions sometimes extending to the body of the pot.

Decorated pot 2 

                                                  Whitehawk style once again ‘ S ‘ profiled,closed and simple bowls with everted,thickened and simple rims. Simple oval lugs are common and maybe perforated. Stabs and incisions are the two most decorations evident.Comb cord and fingernail impressions are also found.

Neolithic Burnished Pottery Sherd  Neolithic burnished pottery sherd.

Sherds Early neolithic bowlSherds from an Early Neolithic pot.

Early Neolithic Pot 4,000 BC Early Neolithic Pot 4,000 BC

Decorated bowlEarly Neolithic Decorated Bowl.


Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Archaeology, Archaeology and Pottery

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