arbor low

Welcome the return of the light: Solstice at Arbor Low

To celebrate the winter solstice and have a well-earned Christmas jolly, the Elmet crew journeyed up to Bakewell to see the sights and have some festivity!

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The stunning monument at Arbor Low is situated in Derbyshire, a short drive from the town of Bakewell. It comprises multiple features, including a henge and stone circle as well as a bowl barrow which cuts into the bank on the Eastern side. The henge itself is a huge bank with an internal quarry ditch which runs between 7 and 12 metres wide and originally thought to have been from 2 to 3 metres deep. The bank is roughly 2 meters tall, although thought to have been a further meter high originally, and the entire monument is roughly circular. There are entrances to the inner area of the monuments from both the North West and the South East, from which there are causeways built up over the ditch.


Various excavations have been carried out at the site, and those based at the terminals of the ditch at the North West entrance found bone and antler tools, flint flakes and both a leaf shaped and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. At the South Eastern entrance, antler tines have been recovered and are thought to have been used in the monument’s construction.


Within the henge is the stone circle itself, comprising of around 50 stones and fragments. Whether or not the stones at Arbor Low were originally stood vertically remains a point of contention in archaeology, although many people currently believe that they would have been laid down as they now appear. In the center of the circle, there is a large stone setting known as the cove, made from at least 6 stones set into a rectangle. An extended human burial has been recovered from the Eastern side of this setting, with another in a pit close by to the North East. A human cremation has also been recovered from the middle of the barrow at the monument, laid on the original land surface. Because of this, it is thought that the barrow post-dates the henge significantly. The burial and its associated finds of flint, bone, and some unusual pots place the cremation as either the same age as or even older than the henge monument.


A winter solstice is an astronomical event marking the shortest day and longest night of the whole year in the Northern Hemisphere. Lots of different cultures throughout the world mark the solstice with ceremonies, and at their root lies the same basic principle: an ancient fear that the dwindling light would not return. Many ancient cultures would aim to encourage the return of the light by way of vigils or celebrations. Monuments were often built in alignment with solstices and equinoxes and served as observatories to study these events.

The winter solstice was especially important, as the monitoring of the seasons could be achieved through the knowledge of when this event would happen. This midwinter festival would usually be the last big feast before the harshest weather would set in. Because the winter solstice was seen as the beginning of the return of the sun, the ideas of rebirth were intertwined with the celebrations. The year itself was seen as being reborn, or as a new beginning.

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Pagan people of Northern Europe traditionally celebrated a twelve-day midwinter holiday known as Yule, which incorporated the solstice, and from which we get a lot of our modern Christmas practises. Yule is the time of the most darkness and is strongly linked to the ideas of the rebirth of the sun. The celebration of the solstice was also seen to be the return of nature.

We hope you all had an enjoyable and satisfying festive season!



Burnham, A. 2012. Arbour Low 1 – Stone Circle in England in Derbyshire [online] Available from: [last accessed 05.01.2016]

Crystal, E. 2016. Winter Solstice – December 21/22 [online] Available from: [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

English Heritage. 2016. Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow [online] Available from: [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

Historic England. 2015. Arbor Low henge, large irregular stone circle, linear bank and bowl barrow [online] Available from: [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

The White Goddess Pagan Portal. 2016. Yule – Winter Solstice [online] Available from: [last accessed 05.01.2016]


Unearthing Our Past: A week with Swinton Fitzwilliam Primary School

Back in May we spent 5 days at Swinton Fitzwilliam Primary School, carrying out a geophysical survey on their school field, which runs adjacent to the garden of 63 Toll Bar Road as shown below. Some of you may remember this garden as the location for a week long excavation last October, and where Andrew Allen originally unearthed a hoard of Roman greyware and Samian ware. Evidence of a Roman ditch was also uncovered, and the geophysics work we carried out in May was intended to discover whether there were any other features or associated ditches in the immediate area.

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We completed the geophysical survey with the help of all of the juniors classes at the school, and some of the infants even came out to see what we were up to!


Classes were taught how to lay out a 20M by 20M square as part of a larger grid, and why we do this when we carry out a resistivity survey. These grids not only enable us to know where we are in the survey area, but can also give us our marker points for where we actually traverse the square to take readings.


Despite the inclement weather for the first three days, we were only forced to take shelter from the driving rain once; instead of completing the geophysical survey, the class that was with us learnt about life in the Roman world. The class already had extensive knowledge on the subject, and were able to tell us all about the kind of houses Romans might have lived in, and what life in the Roman army might have been like.

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We made sure everyone got a go at all the different jobs, even the teachers, parents and grandparents!

Even the press were interested in what we were up to! A reporter from the Dearne Valley Weekender came out to have a look at our work, and talk to the school about the possible history underneath their field.


Later on in the week, we even had time to teach some of the classes how to do levels up and down the field using an auto set level and staff to take readings, and how they fit into the Ordnance Survey mapping system.


We have now completed analysing the results from the resistivity survey!

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As you can see, we have (rather unexpectedly) found the schools old football pitch! The brightness of the pitch outline may be a result of compressed lime or chalk being used to mark the pitch, giving us these odd results and possibly masking some other features. The large blue square in the South East corner is where one of the classrooms was located, and the two smaller blue squares are the path up the hill.

However, in addition to this, there are also a number of other features that could be archaeologically significant.

In the North West corner, there are several areas of high resistance. This is very similar to some of the results that we got from the geophysics carried out on Andrew’s garden which produced various artefacts and evidence of areas of burning as well as burnt stone, and so would be worth investigating further!

If you look just to the South West of the central circle of the football pitch, you can see a large area of low resistance, which may be similar to the area of pot dumping in Andrew’s garden, especially as the low resistance abuts against the boundary between his garden and the school field.

Directly to the South of this area, there is another area of high resistance. This may be a demolished building, and we would love to investigate!

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We are very pleased with the outcome of the work carried out at Swinton as part of Phase 2 of the Roman Swinton Project, and it really does highlight that extensive work is needed in the area to unveil the history of Swinton.

The school are already excited about the possibility off further work, and we would love to come back and do more!



Bake History: ‘100 wheaten loaves baked in honey’

Since the first discovery of bread within early Neolithic artefacts in Europe, it has been assumed that bread would have been an important staple of the prehistoric diet, as it has been throughout history. Neolithic farmers introduced a range of new crop plants, and they were the first people to really intensively cultivate the land around them.

The most widespread crop emmer wheat, although some small amounts of einkorn and barley was also grown at this time. In modern times, we now grow what which has better qualities for baking, these cereals still essentially form a major part of our modern diet too. Free threshing forms of bread wheat have been found dating from the end of the Bronze Age, which, when ground into flour, would have been baked into unleavened bread.

Until the discovery of a loaf of yeasted bread, which was made from barley and wheat flours, in the Neolithic level at Lake Bienne in Switzerland, it was generally assumed that the people of prehistoric times did not have yeasted bread. However, this was not the case. In ancient Egypt, the soaked loaves of half baked bread in a mixture of both water and date juice, then added it to flour to make fresh bread. This is similar to the modern tenchiques used in the production of sourdough bread.

Yeast has typically been linked to both beer and wine brewing throughout the past; the relationship between grain, yeast, bread and brewing can be observed extensively across different time periods. Some fruit, like grapes and elderberries, have natural yeasts on their skins. Because of this, fermenting beer or wine can be added in the bread making process resulting in leavened bread. Using fermenting grain to produce alcohol dates back to the first cultivation of grain, and may have been a result of the way that grain was stored in pits at this time.  The damp earth started germination in the grain on the edge of the pit, which in turn used up all of the oxygen in the storage pit. When all of the oxygen was gone, this killed the germinating grain, creating a seal around the outside of the pit. This seal meant that the remaining grain would keep for much longer, sometimes being used over several years. When the grain was used, and left behind would begin germinating again, and by baking these germinating grains, malt was created. This malt can then be used in the brewing process.

Although modern bread is very different to this prehistoric bread, the taste is very similar and recognisable as bread. In order to bake bread, prehistoric people had to grind grain up using saddle querns to get their flour. This recipe uses stone ground flour, but if you can find them, the recipe should also work with emmer, einkorn or spelt wheat flours.

Prehistoric sweet bread with hazelnuts and plums

500g honey

1.5kg stone ground flour

1 cup shelled chopped hazelnuts (I bashed mine with a rolling pin in a bag which worked fine)

5 plums, stoned and chopped into small chunks

1 tsp sea salt warm water to mix


  • Mix all of the ingredients together. Make sure to use a big bowl as there are a lot of ingredients! Mixing will take a while, and be sure to add your water slowly in small amounts at a time so that your mix does not end up too sticky! I found that kneading the dough once it had started to come together helped the mixing process.

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  • Leave covered in a warm place for three hours. I put mine in my conservatory in the sunshine, but it would also go in an airing cupboard, or an oven on a very low heat (less than 50⁰C).


  • Knead the dough on a well floured surface. I spent about half an hour doing this, until the dough became more elastic.

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  • Then shape into small rolls. I cut my dough using a dough scraper, and just kept halving the dough until I had the size rolls that I wanted.


  • Place your shaped rolls onto a baking tray lined with baking paper so they don’t stick, and then cover and  leave them for a further two hours.


  • Bake your prehistoric sweet breads in a moderate oven. Mine took about 50 minutes at 100⁰C in a fan oven, although this may vary between ovens and depends on the size of bread rolls you have made.


They can be eaten once cooked, however they can also be served in warm honey. An ancient Irish text talks about the Feast of Bricrin, and notes that part of the menu consisted of ‘100 wheaten loaves baked in honey’. To try this, warm your honey in a small pan or a microwave, and pour it into a shallow dish or deep plate. Place your prehistoric sweet bread rolls into the warm honey whilst they are still warm, and spoon some of the honey over the top of them. This will result in a very sticky sweet treat! Be careful as the honey may be very hot and may need to cool before you eat your prehistoric sweet bread.


Now enjoy your prehistoric sweet bread and share it with all your friends, it was a hit at the Elmet office!


Black, M. 1993. A Taste of History: 10,000 years of food in Britain. The British Museum Press: London

Dilley, J. 2015. Ancient Craft: Stone Age Food [Online] Available from: [Last accessed 08.06.2015]

Wood, J. 2003. Prehistoric Cooking. Tempus Publishing: Stroud


DVAD 2015: Let the Conference Commence!

This year’s Dearne Valley Archaeology Day conference was a huge success, and we wanted to give you a quick look at how the day went.

We started off with a welcome and introduction to the conference from the conference chair, Dr Sue Warren. After introducing the conference, a brief overview of Elmet’s work was given.


We continue to focus on community driven projects, including an NHS award winning reminiscence group provided for people with vascular dementia, Alzheimers or social isolation. Other projects have included working with both schools and universities, as well as local communities in other work. A more in depth look at our work and how we achieve our goals will be available in our paper in the upcoming edition of the FORUM Yorkshire Journal, ‘Creative Communities: heritage, funding and thinking laterally’.

Our opening speaker for the day was Andrew Allen, who gave us a fantastic start to the day with his presentation ‘What have the Romans done for me?’.

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Andrew told us about how the discovery of Roman pottery (and a few misidentified cattle bones!) led to the Roman Swinton Project in his own back garden. He used social media to try and find out more about his discoveries, and that is how Elmet got involved.

A crowd funded excavation was held in October 2014 (South Yorkshire’s first!), which uncovered the remains of a Roman ditch, as well as more pottery sherds. The Roman Swinton Project was really focused on community engagement, getting people involved with their local heritage.

The project continues today in its second phase, with geophysics being carried out at the Swinton Fitzwilliam School. Their school field is adjacent to Andrew’s garden, and recently a week was spent carrying out a resistivity survey there, as well as excavating further test pits in the garden itself.

Next we had Helen Ullathorne, who gave us a presentation on ‘Redmires WWI Landscapes: The Great War Remembered’.

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She gave us a great introduction to the Redmires site, as well as the work that has been carried out there. She also gave us insights on how multiple survey methods were utilised together in order to create as complete a record as possible.

The area known as Hill 60 was originally thought to be Romano British in origin, but turned out to be very different! An enclosure wall was used to divide the two hills, and this seems t have changed the way that the landscape was used and interacted with.

Last year the site was scheduled, and was designated an interesting and rare WWI training camp, complete with remains of grenade ranges, kitchens and practice trenches. There is even a small stretch of the trenches which wasn’t back filled, and remains intact today. Although some damage was done to the site last year, this has now been restored to it’s original condition. It is hope that now the site is scheduled, it will be possible to have signs to deter further damage.

The site was home to the Sheffield city battalion, and is seen as a memorial to those men who were stationed there before being sent into the war.

Next we had Nigel Page with his talk ‘…a few old walls mantled in ivy’: recent work at Cardigan Castle by NPS Archaeology’.

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Although Cardigan Castles is a culturally important site in Wales, it is often forgotten or overlooked. The town actually developed around the footprint of the castle, which is located in a position which is both able to dominate and protect the river. The river and maintaining control over it was the key to the success of Cardigan Castle.

While the landscape surrounding the castle, which is home to 6 listed buildings, has changed extensively over time due to land reclamation, there are still lots of original features extant. Some original stairways and arches survive, along with the remnants of a medieval kitchen.

The later addition of the house was constructed around the plan of the original castle, and there is a wide array of evidince and information about medieval building techniques. These early building footprints heavily influenced later phases of building work too.

Excavations have shown evidence of the early castle, as well as it’s moat and curtain wall. A two phase curving stone structure was also excavated, and may be one of the earliest parts of the castle. Another small section of wall was found to have been constructed using lime mortar, and may be the remains of the most prominent part of the early castle, which was later repaired and improved.

Following this we had Dr Malcolm Lillie with his presentation ‘Farming: It can be a bit of a headache but it’s probably not worth losing your head over it!’.

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In the fertile crescent there were very complex hunter gatherer societies present. Large scale interaction between these societies resulted in the creation of socially bounded exchanging networks. When populations began to migrate out into South East Europe and the Mediterranean this led to the transmission of farming.

There was a diverse collection of societies, based on both farming and hunting simultaneously. There s evidence for over 1000 settlements in Trypillia. One of these settlements, Talyaki, has been surveyed and has shown evidence of a large settlement. Despite often being thought of as ‘true’ farmers, they too were still reliant on a system based on farming, hunting and fishing, which is representative of a long transitional farming economy.

New competition over resources may have led to an increase in interpersonal violence, which can be seen in the archaeological record. Enamel hypoplasia was also unusually common, which could be an indicator of nutritional stress as a result of competition over resources and is only seen in farming societies. High numbers of skeletons have also been found with indicators of violence on the bones. This could be a part of a wider climate of interpersonal violence, but not a war as such. Warfare was very different in the past compared to warfare today, and violence can often be over interpreted or misrepresented because of this.

In the dreaded pre-lunch spot we had James Wright with his talk ‘The instruments of darkness tell us truths: recent discoveries of ritual protection marks at Knole, Kent’.

DSC00088 6.  Witchmarks or apotropaic marks at Knole (c) National Trust Martin Havens (1)

The kings tower at Knole was a remodelling of a medieval building, and is home to a variety of bedrooms and other high status chambers. Knole also has a total of five long galleries of varying statuses.

James VI of Scotland and I of England developed an extensive interest in witchcraft and how to prevent evil spells and hexes, writing two books on how to identify a witch and stop their magic. There was a widespread belief in witch craft at this time. The mortality rates in this period were very high, and the use of witchcraft as a scapegoat or explanation of this may be the route of just how quickly the witch trials escalated.

Apotropaic marks or symbols were meant to ward away evil spirits and keep out magic. Whereas pentagrams are now thought to be the mark of the devil and associated with evil, originally it was used as a protective symbol, and often used to trap demons. Mesh patterns, marian marks and burn marks are all evidence of further sympathetic or protective magic. Footwear was often hidden inside walls or other structures such as chimneys, and was meant to symbolically leave a part of the human soul behind to protect a building. Chimneys were considered weak points, where it was easiest for a witch to enter.

Large numbers of marks such as these were found in a single room at Knole, as well as a hidden shoe inside the chimney, all of which are thought to have been used to protect a sleeping person against possession. Practices such as these may be linked to a widespread suspicion of witchcraft and its power, especially after the gunpowder plot and it’s own links to both Satan and witchcraft.

Then it was time for the glorious buffet, provided by Jo Pettinger and better every year. This year we even had a few Medieval and Roman dishes to try as a bit of experimental archaeology!


After lunch it was time for ‘The mystery of the invisible women archaeologists: TrowelBlazers on the case’ with Dr Brenna Hasset.

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TrowelBlazers aims to create an archive about under celebrated women in archaeology, and Brenna gave us a fantastic introduction to many of these women!

Jane Dieulafoy travelled extensively with her husband in order to study artefacts, even when he went to war! She even had an official licence to cross dress. Gertrude Bell travelled with a full set of proper china, and published work which pushed archaeology into the public eye. Amelia Edwards founded the Egypt Exploration Society, and was also a cross dresser. Hilda Petrie did most of the fundraising for her husbands work. Margaret Murray was Flinders Petrie’s student, and was also UCLs main heiroglyph teacher, she was also very interested in ancient egytian magic and witchcraft. Gertrude Caton Thompson led an all female team to Zimbabwe, Kathleen Kenyon was their photographer and car mechanic. Dorothy Garrod was the first female proffessor of archaeology in England. Halet Cambel founded the Istanbul prehistory unit, and was a formidable woman.

Women have played an important role in the trowel wielding sciences since their inception, and it is time they were celebrated! TrowelBlazers welcome input from the public, so do take a look at their website!

Next we had Dr Kirsty Millican to tell us about ‘The Lochbrow Landscape Project: a hidden archaeology’.


Lochbrow is just North of Lockerbie, and is a prehistoric site visible from the air from its extensive cropmarks.

Timber cursus, timber circles and round barrows are all found at the site, and the timber circle is one of the largest in Scotland, and distinctive palisaded enclosures have also been discovered at the site.

The Lochbrow Landscape Project aims to investigate the relationship between layout and landscape, development of landscape and value of varied research techniques, and geophysical, topographical and experiental survey have all been utilised, as well as soil augering.

Geophysics show a concentration of features at end of the cursus, which can be seen at other sites, and resistivity shows a 2 round barrows at least, probably part of a larger cluster of more at the site. To the North is an enclosure, and the timber circle is also clearly visible.

Experiential analysis has added an extra layer of information to the prehistoric landscape. Some things are more obvious on the ground than from aerial photography!

Before our final break we had Dr Kevin Cootes with his talk ”Putting Rural Lowland Cheshire on the Archaeological Map: The Multi Period Excavation at Poulton’.

Poulton was found by accident, and work originally started looking for an ecclesiastical site. Instead of the lost abbey, a chapel was found, lying over the top of a Roman temple. Extensive human and animal remains have been recovered, along with a vast collection of medieval floor tiles.

Rare example of Cheshire roundhouses were also uncovered having been remarkably well preserved. Evidence for antler working found in the roundhouse gulleys, and roundhouse III shows evidence for 9 roundhouses on the one spot. Saxon ridge and furrow is also visible across the whole site. Roundhouse III may be one of the very first meat processing buildings.

The work at Poulton depends on volunteers, and they always welcome enthusiastic workers. If you are interested, check out their website.

Following the final break we had Megan Clement with her presentation on ‘CITiZAN archaeology: recording our coastal heritage’.

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CITiZAN stands for coastal and intertidal zone archaeology network, and CITiZAN North is based in York. They aim to develop heritage related skills as part of a community project: a national solution to the lack of recording of our extensive coastlines.

They also want to establish a programme of both national and regional events. Key sites include Beadnell, Bridlington, Cleethorpes, Heysham Head, Jenny Browns Point and Cleveleys. Their website will launch in July, and will have a wide range of resources available. An app will also be launched in July along with the website, based on the SCHARP app, for easily accessible data. This aims to provide accessible online monitoring of coastal heritage sites.

Their conference Turn The Tide: Coastal Archaeology is on 10th Sept at The Spa, Bridlington.

Our final speaker of the day was Dr Naomi Sykes with her presentation ‘Beastly Questions: animal answers to archaeological issues’.


Time for a crash course in zooarchaeology!

Lots of different things can be learnt from animal bone assemblages, and evidence needs to be integrated to get a complete archaeological picture.

Everything is interconnected in elemental theory, which works in a similar way to the medieval ideas about ‘humours’. Is isotope analysis and focus on chemical imbalances a return to elemental philosophy?

Chickens were introduced to Britain in the Iron Age period, but by the Anglo Saxon period there is less representation of chickens and their pathology in Anglo Saxon period.

Animals can also be used to reconstruct what humans ate, but can tell us much more when studied on their own merit. Links between chickens and humans can show their ownership, status, gender and more.

Chickens can help answer big cultural questions and help us characterise late Anglo Saxon sites like Flixborough and Lyminge. At Flixbrough lots of male chickens were found, and indicate the practice of cock-fighting. At Lyminge, lots of female chickens were found, indicating that they were used to lay eggs. This reflects the sites ecclesiastical status.

Broad changes through time show the changing relationships between chickens and humans. Because genetic variation has become less and less, does this mean that current farming methods are now unsustainable? Does this mean we now need a return to elemental philosophy?

This year we also had an excellent selection of stalls for perusal during breaks and lunch.

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Our Elmet stall came complete with lovely Florence modelling our snazzy new t-shirts!


RM Frobisher was also at the conference with their exciting new resistivity equipment!


South Yorkshire also had a stall, with Zac Nellist showing people their new publicly available resources.

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Sam Stein brought the ever popular ON Books stall courtesy of Colin Merrony


CITiZAN also had a stall, giving more information on their project and how to get involved.

Last of all, we would like to take another chance to thank everyone involved with this years conference. It has been our most successful and well attended conference (so far!), and it would not have been possible without all of our volunteers, our wonderful speakers, and everyone who attended the event.

We are already looking forward to next year, and hope to see you at what will be our 6th annual conference!

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Dearne Valley Archaeolgy Day 2015 Final Update!

With preparations for DVAD 2015 having reached the final stages, we thought it would be a good time to introduce you to the rest of our speakers!

This year’s conference will be taking place on Saturday the 30th of May, from 10AM until 5PM, and if any of the following should pique your interest, you can learn more and book your place here!

Registration at a reduced price for the conference closes tomorrow (Thursday 28th May) at 12:00, after which we will only be selling tickets on the door at full price. As we cannot guarantee that tickets will be available on the day, we advise booking now to avoid disappointment!

Andrew Allen will be speaking this year, with his presentation ‘What have the Romans done for me?’

141821-06 Elmet Archaeological dig Toll Bar lane Swinton

‘This presentation charts the story of the discovery of Roman pottery in a local garden and the developments from these chance findings into a crowd funded excavation led by Elmet Archaeological from the perspective of the home owner.

Andrew is the Chair of the Dearne Valley Archaeology Group and lives in Swinton. He is a Teaching Assistant at one of the Swinton Primary schools. Andrew was excited by his discovery of a range of Roman pottery in his garden. From this a crowd funded excavation project develop and led by Elmet Archaeological Services Ltd.’

Nigel Page will also be presenting at this years conference, with a talk entitled ‘…a few old walls mantled in ivy’: recent work at Cardigan Castle by NPS Archaeology’.


‘Cardigan Castle has a long and rich history and is the recognised home of the first eisteddfod in 1176, however, it is not as prominent or as well known as many other castles in the region or throughout the rest of Wales. This is because for much of its recent history, certainly from the 18th century, it has been a private home with no public access, which, while lending it an intriguing air of mystery, has in its later years resulted in the house and gardens being abandoned and allowed to become virtually derelict. The lack of access to the site meant that until very recently the castle had seen little previous archaeological or historical study.

The development of the site as a private house and gardens in the 18th and 19th century resulted in the large-scale removal of many of the original castle structures, so few of the medieval buildings were thought to survive. However, the recent works by NPS Archaeology, Norwich, have shown that more of the castle survived than was suspected and it is a tantalising possibility that some of the structures revealed may have been standing at the time of the first eisteddfod.’

Our next speaker is Dr Malcolm Lillie, who will be presenting his talk ‘Farming: It can be a bit of a headache but it’s probably not worth losing your head over it!’


‘This talk will outline the results of the recent palaeopathological analysis of human skeletal remains from the Trypillia farming culture burial cave of Verteba, near Bilche Zolote in western Ukraine. The analyses undertaken to date appear to indicate that, not only was the adoption of farming as a subsistence strategy stressful in terms of the overall health of the population, but that period inter-personal/inter-group violence is also occurring at a time when there may be external impacts (such as climate variability) on the viability of farming as a lifeway in Neolithic Ukraine. Evidence for violence and the post-mortem treatment of the dead is discussed along with a general overview of the transition to farming in this region.’

Finally, we have the CITiZAN north team, with Megan Clement and Andy Sherman. They will be telling us about ‘Recording our coastal heritage’.


‘The wealth of archaeology located on our coast ranges from Mesolithic footprints and Bronze Age submerged forests to modern military defense’s.  These sites are battered by winds, waves and tidal scour.  An alarming rate of loss and lack of a systematic standardized system to record these vulnerable sites are a significant problem in British archaeology.

This is being addressed in Scotland with the SCAPE project and in Wales with the Arfodir scheme. The CITiZAN initiative (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) aims to mitigate the problem in England with a community based recording scheme.

CITiZAN has recently been awarded significant funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from the National Trust and The Crown Estate’s Marine Stewardship Fund.  The three-year project will monitor and survey archaeological sites that are at risk from erosion along our coastline and tidal estuaries.’


And that is everything for now! If anything has grabbed your interest, do have a look at our website for more information on the conference, and maybe even book a place!




Bake History: ‘To make Knotts’

‘To make Knotts or Gumballs: Take 12 Yolkes of Eggs, & 5 Whites, a pound of searced Sugar, half a pound of Butter washed in Rose Water, 3 quarters of an ounce of Mace fineley beaten, a little Sale dissolved in Rose Water, half an ounce of Caroway-seeds, Mingle all theise together with as much Flower as will worke it up in paste, & soe make in Knotts or Rings or What fashion you please. Bake them as Bisket-bread, put upon Pye-plates.’

In the 16th century, knotted biscuits, or ‘jumbles’, were originally biscuits made in the shape of a gimmell ring. Gimmell rings were often used as wedding rings, with intersecting bands that could be disconnected from one another to be worn during engagement, and would then be rejoined at the wedding ceremony. Early recipes from the 1500s use far less spices than their later counterparts, and also cook them in boiling water before baking them in an oven, rather like modern day pretzels. However, by the 17th century, the biscuits have become much more aromatic, with some recipes calling for both musk and ambergris to be used. The cooking method had also evolved, with the biscuits now being cooked only in the oven. Even without musk or ambergris, these biscuits would have been expensive to produce, with their high sugar content and varied spices, and would only have been seen on the tables of higher status households.

abraham bosse

The original recipe (in italics above) comes from Arcana Fairfaxiana by Henry Fairfax, which you can find here. The recipe that I actually used is from an English Heritage publication by Peter Brears about food and cooking in the 17th century.


1 ½ oz (40g) butter

1 tbsp (15ml) rosewater

4 oz (100g) sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp (5ml) blade mace

1 tsp (5ml) aniseed (I left this out)

1 tsp (5ml) caraway seed

8 oz (225g) plain flour

First pre-heat your oven to 180⁰C (350⁰F or gas mark 4).

Next, you need to mix the butter with the rosewater, and if you use an electric mixer like I did, it will look like it has     curdled, but if you mash it together with a fork it works much better. Be sure to use a big enough bowl to fit the rest of the ingredients too!


Cream the sugar with the butter and rosewater, at first it will look a little like breadcrumbs but keep going! Eventually it should all bind together, and become paler and creamier in colour. I used my electric mixer again, but it will work just as well mixing it by hand.


Next, whisk your eggs and add them to your mix. At this point, I was still successfully using my electric mixer.

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Before you add the blade mace, it will need grinding into a powder. You can use a pestle and mortar or, if you have one, a spice or coffee grinder. If you are using a pestle and mortar, it could take about ten minutes, but it is worth it to get a fine powder so you don’t end up with big pieces of mace in your finished biscuits! Add your ground mace and whole caraway seeds to your mix.

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 The mixture should start to get little air bubbles in it after mixing, and will look a bit like pancake batter.


Now you need to work the flour into the mix to make a stiff dough. Whilst I started off using my electric mixer again, I soon found I had to resort to a spoon, as the mix became too sticky. I also found that I had to add a lot more flour than is stated in the recipe, and from my research into historic recipes, this seems to be a relatively common fault, possibly because exact measurements, especially for adding flour, are rarely found. In this recipe, it simply says to add ‘as much Flower as will worke it up in paste’ which can easily be misinterpreted. Below, the photo on the left shows the mixture with the suggested amount of flour, and on the right is what I ended up with after adding about 4 more tablespoons of flour. This resulted in a workable dough that I could use to make the knots.

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Next comes the fun (and most photogenic) bit! Using well-floured hands (the mixture will stick to anything and everything it can), roll teaspoons of the mixture out on a floured surface into lengths. The recipe says about ¾ inch (5mm) thick, but I made some of mine a bit bigger with no problems.


Then you can knot, plait or make any other design you can think of out of your dough. Below are some examples, but you really can do whatever you want if you can make it without it falling apart!


Once your knots are made, place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper to stop them from sticking. You can place them fairly close together, as they hold their shape well whilst cooking and won’t spread out in the oven. I ended up with a mountainous three trays of biscuits!


They should take about 15 – 20 minutes to cook, each of my batches took 15 minutes, but different ovens will vary. When cooked, your biscuits should be golden in colour, and your kitchen will smell like a 17th century rose garden. Leave the biscuits to cool a little on the trays, and when possible, transfer them onto a cooling rack or plate.

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Now you can devour your 17th century knot biscuits, and will have plenty to show off your successful historical baking skills to all your friends!


Bosse, A. 1638. Pastry Shop [engraving] Available from: [last accessed 10.05.2015]

Brears, P. 1985a. Food & Cooking in 16th Century Britain: History & Recipes. English Heritage: London

Brears, P. 1985b. Food & Cooking in 17th Century Britain: History & Recipes. English Heritage: London

Turnspit & Table, 2015. All Jumbled Up [online] Available from: [last accessed 10.05.2015]

Weddel, G & Fairfax. 1890. Arcana Fairfaxiana Manuscripta: A manuscript volume of apothecaries’ lore and housewifery nearly three centuries old, used, and partly written by the Fairfax family. Mason, Swan & Morgan: Newcastle Uopon Tyne.


‘The venerable and interesting Abbey of Roche’

This weekend one of our archaeologists took a trip to Roche Abbey, and we thought you might be interested to see some of the site!


Roche Abbey was founded in 1147 by Richard de Bully, Lord of Tickhill, and Richard FitzTurgis, with the mother house of Newminster Abbey in Northumberland. The abbey sits in the bottom of a valley which forms a boundary between Maltby and Hotun (Hooton Livett). Roche, like all Cistercian abbeys, was dedicated to St Mary, with its title being derived from the rocky site the abbey was constructed on, in particular a rock formation which resembled a cross which later became a pilgrimage site. Other Cistercian abbeys were also named after landmarks in this way.


Roche was in many ways similar to other Cistercian abbeys of the time, described as a ‘very fair builded house, all of freestone; and every house vaulted with freestone and covered with lead’. Within the valley there are steep limestone cliffs, housing caves which are part of the magnesian limestone belt which runs below Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottingham, and joins the same cave system which runs underneath Nottingham castle. Vital for the abbey, a tributary stream runs through the valley, which was dammed into a lake above the monastery, and eventually reaches the river Trent.


The Cistercian order followed the teachings of St Benedict of Nursia, and demanded a strict adherence to his rules. From 1120 in just 40 years the order expanded from 10 abbeys to over 300, based all across Europe. Each of these houses were self-sufficient, and this was key to their success. Lay brothers carried out much of the manual work. Choir monks would have been more educated and included a number of priests. Life at Roche centred on church duties and biblical reading.

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The abbey itself was constructed using stone from the local area, and very closely resembles a smaller version of Fountains Abbey. Both the church and cloister are on the North bank of the stream, with the infirmary and other buildings are placed further West. To gain access to the site, you would first have had to pass through the gatehouse situated at the North West corner of the site, and although it has now lost its roof, the vaulting from a 14th century rebuilding still remains today. There are no remains of the almonry, where visitors to the abbey would be fed and sheltered, or of a smaller chapel that would have been used by those not able to use the abbey church. The granaries, brew house, bake house and other guest houses are also no longer present.


The abbey church at Roche was the most heavily used building in the monastery, and follows the familiar plan of other Cistercian sites, with a square ended chancel, both North and South transept arms with chapels in each and an aisled nave. Unusually the chapels in each transept form aisles rather than being separated by thick walls. This indicates that the church’s construction was completed before 1170. The altar would have been on a platform, raised by a step, at the east end, however this has now been destroyed and exists as a stone lined depression instead. The monks cemetery was located behind the outer wall of the North transept.


The architectural style of the church demonstrates the simplicity of the Cistercian order at this time. In some areas, the destruction of the church has resulted in a chance to see Medieval construction techniques in greater detail. Where walls have fallen away, it is easy to identify the outer layers of well dressed, faced stone that would have been very expensive, and then the rubble which was used to infill the cavity created. In other areas, the vaulted ceilings have been left with only half the materials, and it becomes clear that the vaulted ceilings were corbelled, then filled with rubble before constructing a roof above.

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Next to the church there was a typical arrangement of other abbey buildings, including the cloister, chapter house, refectory and lay brothers refectory, both infirmaries, the dormitories kitchens, as well as the abbots lodgings and separate kitchen and bake house. It is these buildings that have been damaged most severely, with the remaining walls rarely reaching a height above a single story. The kitchens were one of the few areas permitted to house fireplaces, and there are remnants or several extensive hearths as well as bread ovens. These were later replaced by a large central hearth. In the North East corner is the opening into the refectory where a turn table would have been used to serve food. In the warming room fires were burnt constantly between All Saints Day to Good Friday. Above this was the muniment room, where all the abbeys legal documents would be kept. The refectory itself was used by monks to eat their meals, even if they only had one meal a day for much of the year. They were mostly vegetarian, only consuming fish on feast days, which they would catch from Laughton Pond, but they would often drink beer.

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There are also the remnants of the library, a chapter house and a day room. The library (also called the sacristy) was originally two rooms, and housed the abbeys book collection, aside from those kept in the church or refectory. This building would probably have had large windows to make the best use of the natural light. The chapter house was the administrative centre of any abbey, and the monks would meet here daily to discuss the business of the abbey and their religious life. Some of the bays in the chapter house are uneven, suggesting that alteration was carried out in the 12th or 13th century. The day room at Roche is unusual as it is quite large; at other abbeys it is typically no more than a passageway. The dormitory was above.


On the South side of the river are the infirmary and the Abbots lodgings. The infirmary was altered in the 14th century, with passages being added and new buildings constructed to the south to extend the capacity of the infirmary. Next to the infirmary hall was an infirmary chapel, which was used by monks who were too sick to attend services in the abbey church. Above the chapel was the infirmarers lodging. Although none of this remains. Behind the infirmary were the Abbots rooms. Although little of the standing structure remains, there are still remnants of hearths, as the abbot was allowed to have fireplaces as well as the kitchens, and the presence of staircases show that there would have been at least a first floor. The Abbot also had his own private kitchens and offices, however they did also serve the infirmary.


At the dissolution of the monasteries under the rule of Henry VIII, Roche Abbey was valued at just £224 2s. 5d. and the abbey was surrendered to the crown on 23 June 1538, when only 14 monks and 4 novices remained at the site. Following the expulsion of the abbot and monks, the deconstruction of the abbey began; the roof was dismantled, all furniture and fittings were removed, apart from choir stalls which were set on fire to melt the lead from the roof. There is extensive evidence of the destruction of any religious imagery and artwork, or iconoclasm, and evidence of this can still be seen today. Iconoclasm was a common occurrence during the dissolution of the monasteries, as such imagery was seen to represent the old ways that were a part of Catholicism. Any carvings, statues or paintings were ‘either spoiled, carped away or defaced to the uttermost…’ The site passed through private hands following this, and in 1921 care of the ruins was passed to the Office of Works. Roche Abbey is now managed by English Heritage.


Roche Abbey is a stunning site, with the trademarks of landscaping by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The ruins had been neglected, and this was very fashionable in the romantic period. Roche was the first landscape devised by Capability Brown that was based on the presence of a ruin, and the remains of the abbey were set off by extensive terracing, waterfalls, a lake and new trees. Unfortunately, some of their methods led to further damage to the abbey, with walls being quarried to build others elsewhere on the site, and extensive levelling of the site was carried out to create terraces.


In the 1870s, antiquarians worked on the site, exposing previously covered walls and graves, although this was slow work. Some of the workers carved their names into the windows; this was quite fashionable at the time. Today in the window of the gift shop you can still see Mortimer Wheeler’s name! In 1921 a programme of consolidation was established, and now the site is both a beautiful landscape and a record of abbey life at Roche.


This site is well worth a visit, and more information about the site and how to visit can be found on the English Heritage website here.



Ellis, H, Sir. 1825. Original Letters, 3d. ser. III. Harding, Triphook & Leonard: London.

English Heritage. 2015. Roche Abbey [online] Available from: [last accessed 03.05.2015]

Ferguson, P. 1996. Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire. English Heritage: London

Hamilton Thompson, A. 1954. Roche Abbey, Yorkshire. Her Majesty’s Stationary Office: London

The Heritage Trail. 2015. Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire [online] Available from: [last accessed 03.05.2015]

Hobson Aveling, J. 1870. The history of Roche Abbey, from its foundation to its dissolution. Robert White: Worksop