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?’.

DSC00036 141821-06 Elmet Archaeological dig Toll Bar lane Swinton

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’.

DSC00078  Nigel

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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