21 March 2019

Connecting archaeological associations in Europe

The annual session of the EAA ‘Professional Associations Community’ has tended to focus on the work of organisations such as DGUF and CIfA, and progress being made in similar vein elsewhere. Whilst this is excellent and necessary, it became clear at the 2018 EAA meeting that this approach risked ignoring a huge and valuable range of other organisations that – although they were not national or regional state heritage agencies, private companies or professional associations – nevertheless made an essential contribution to archaeological work.

These sorts of organisations may be very specific in their focus – a particular town or region, a specific period, or a certain specialist interest. Many of these organisations have a very wide range of individual members, and there is a degree of overlap in membership. In some cases these associations or organisations are open to non-archaeological members too.

However, there is considerable duplication of effort, and not all archaeological organisations are communicating effectively with each other. This is perhaps most apparent in the efforts by archaeologists to interact with, and to influence, a wider socio-political agenda. Archaeology does not exist in a vacuum, it is a public endeavour which exists in the public realm. It is governed and influenced by political decision-making but has not always been able to vocalise its concerns. Thus, it is not possible to send unified, consistent messages to wider society unless the sector knows who all of its constituent voices are. Therefore, the first step is to know who represents individual archaeologists and then open a discussion and dialogue between them.

Therefore a small group – including Frank Siegmund and Diane Scherzler of DGUF, Gerry Wait of Triskelion Heritage and myself partly as a representative of CIfA – have begun to try and overcome these issues by setting up a project for ‘connecting the archaeological associations of Europe’. 

The first stage of this project is to collect data by questionnaire, which can be found on this page:

More information about the thinking behind the project can be found in a paper by Gerry and I, which is linked from this page:

Further updates will appear from time to time as data comes in and the project develops.

14 November 2018

Blood, faith and iron

I am delighted to announce that my book on early industrialisation in the Ironbridge Gorge has been published by Archaeopress. It examines the development of the landscape before c.1650, looking at pre-Dissolution industrial activity but mainly focussing on the period after c.1540.

It is available from the Archaeopress website, and I think it will also be available at TAG. This is the blurb:

'The Ironbridge Gorge is an iconic industrial landscape, presented as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and so part of a national narrative of heroic Protestant individualism. However this is not the full story. In fact this industrial landscape was created by an entrepreneurial Catholic dynasty over 200 years before the Iron Bridge was built. This book tells that story for the first time. 

'Acquiring land at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Brooke family invested in coal mining and iron production – and introduced a radical new method of steelmaking which transformed that industry. Drawing together years of painstaking archaeological and historical research, this book looks in detail at the landscape, buildings and industrial installations created by the Brooke dynasty between the Dissolution and the English Civil War. It also explores the broader contexts – religious, economic and political – which shaped their mind-set and their actions. It considers medieval influences on these later developments, and looks at how the Brookes’ Catholicism was reflected in the way they created a new industrial landscape. In so doing it questions traditional narratives of English industrialisation, and calls for a more sophisticated understanding of this period by historical archaeologists.'


1 October 2018

Offa's Dyke seminar and excavations

Last month we ran a day school on behalf of the Offa's Dyke Collaboratory, an initiative which I wrote about earlier in the year. In contrast to previous events, this was very much an opportunity for local groups and individuals to come and present their work and to discuss their approaches to Offa's Dyke and the world of Mercian border studies more generally. The event, which took place in Oswestry, was followed by a visit to the ongoing CPAT excavations at Chirk Castle.

CPAT stalwart Ian Grant talking to day school delegates at Chirk Castle.

The event enabled a wide range of views to be presented. This is the programme for the day.

Highlights included Niall Heaton's presentation on the Dyke at Trefonen - a very engaging and confident contribution from a teenager's perspective which turned a few ideas on their heads in a very welcome way. Mel Roxby-Mackey explained the interesting ways in which the CoSMM project hopes to develop. Dick Finch and Ray Bailey (the latter accidentally without any slides) gave fresh and unconventional approaches to the Dyke at - or even beyond - its conventionally-established extremes.

All in all an excellent day, and we hope to be able to follow this up in 2019 with another communit-led event.

13 September 2018

European Association of Archaeologists 2018

Well, another superb EAA conference - this time in Barcelona - which for me was characterised by two main strands of activity. The first, following on from last year, was developing the very exciting new 'Urban Archaeology Community' with my colleague from the Netherlands, Jeroen Bouwmeester. The second, in the wake of our exciting season at Beacon Ring, was to immerse myself in the world of European hillfort studies.

A bit of sightseeing before the conference.

First we reported progress in the Urban Archaeology Community (UAC) to the pre-conference meeting of all the Communities, which was hosted by the EAA President Felipe Criado-Boado. Felipe has been very keen to promote new communities which reflect the diversity of European archaeology, and it is very interesting to see the Association develop in this way.

Our session (on the Saturday) was intended to discuss the major issues facing urban archaeology in Europe. We had some great presentations, as you can see...

Christiane gave an excellent overview of the situation in Luxembourg, emphasising the ways in which political issues affected the ways in which archaeologists undertook urban archaeology. This was followed by a very different perspective from Malta by Smaranda, who discussed the interconnections between marine conservation and urban archaeology, and the relationships between urban places and marine pollution. She concluded by noting the important role for archaeologists on the interface between culture, society and the environment. Next, Alicia talked about the management of urban heritage from a World Heritage perspective, using the city of Toledo as a case study. She argued that archaeological voices were largely absent from touristic understandings of places, and suggested that this was an issue for archaeologists to resolve through dialogue and participation - communication was a big issue for archaeology.

This was followed by Valeria's analysis of the role of data, an Italian perspective on a universal issue. There is, she argued, too much inconsistency in the recording, storage and presentation of data - moreover most of it is inaccessible except to specialists. As a result, although there is a lot of data much of which is of high quality, it is not being used in urban design to best advantage. The final presentation was from Gugliemo, who talked eloquently about the many issues around using geophysics in urban places - with a series of case studies from the Mediterranean.

Discussion was, as ever, lively. We debated the role of the group and added some new recruits to its development and promotion. We also committed to develop the group outside the EAA meetings, and provisionally agreed to hold an interim meeting in the spring (hopefully in Rome).

Delegates at the UAC session posing outside the EAA venue.

Most of the rest of the conference was spent listening to several sessions on hillfort studies. I won't report those in detail, but suffice to say I learned a great deal about all sorts of things that I wouldn't otherwise have done. I was particularly impressed by ongoing projects in Lithuania, Germany, Spain and Ireland.

As ever it was great to meet new colleagues and catch up with existing friends and contacts. We also made a lot of progress on discussions around the role of existing groups in enabling a pan-European network of archaeologists at grass-roots levels - and I am hoping to work with DGUF to develop a project around this in the coming months.

Many thanks as ever to the organisers and the student volunteers who made this such an excellent conference. I am already looking forward to next year in Bern!

31 August 2018

Beacon Ring hillfort excavations

We have just finished a season of fieldwork at Beacon Ring, a hillfort which has been owned by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust since 2008. The hillfort is covered in trees, which were planted in 1953, and the purpose of our excavations - in part at least - was to try and see what (if any) damage the trees had caused to the underlying archaeology.

Trench 1. Overhead view, with Richard adding the final touches for the photograph. The dark layer at the base of the trench is the buried soil horizon.

We excavated six trenches looking at three areas: the rampart on the eastern side of the hillfort (Trench 1, shown above), the area in the unusually wide southern entrance (Trenches 2 and 3, shown below) and three trenches in the woods.

Excavations at Trench 1 began with a sense of anticipation, knowing that colleagues elsewhere had found structures (whether stone walls or timber revetments) in other hillfort ramparts. However the excavation revealed that the structure had been entirely built of material removed from the ditch, tipped in a series of layers and then consolidated. A buried soil layer beneath the rampart seems to represent the ground surface at the time the ditch was cut and the bank built. We have taken some samples from this, so hopefully these can be dated.

Trenches 2 and 3 in the southern entrance explored some features shown up in the geophysical survey, as well as trying to understand the relationship between the entrance and the later (medieval?) parish boundary bank that runs all the way through the hillfort. Apart from a small cut feature beneath the parish boundary these - admittedly very small - trenches were not very informative.

Another view from the 'pole cam', this time looking south-east over the southern entrance and towards Corndon and Stiperstones with Trenches 2 and 3 in the foreground. This time Neil is adjusting the scale.

Excavations in the woods (Trenches 4, 5 and 6) investigated the impact of two phases of forestry on the interior of the monument. The first plantation appears to have been in existence from the late-nineteenth century until the early 1930s. The second is the current one, planted in 1953 (and famously commemorating the coronation with the EIIR monogram picked out in redwoods). In all three trenches we were pleased to see that the roots were generally very shallow, running along the interface between the topsoil and the underlying clay.

The project was very generously funded by Cadw, and we had lots of help from a very merry band of volunteers. These included many 'regulars' and locals, but we were also pleased to have the support of Mark Spanjer and some of his students from Saxion University in the Netherlands.

Hopefully we will be able to secure funding to return next year and answer some of the questions that this year's project has inevitably raised.

More news as soon as we have finished the report!

16 May 2018

A piece of paper in Munich (not that one)

It was a delightful honour to be able to represent CIfA at the annual conference of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte (the German Society for Pre- and Protohistory, more commonly known by its initials as DGUF). This august learned body, founded in 1969, is the largest archaeological association in Germany with over 700 members. More recently it has been closely involved with CIfA in setting up a German group of the Chartered Institute.

Signing the MoU between CIfA and DGUF.

Gerry Wait and I went to Munich last week to take part in the inaugural AGM of the new group. This was an opportunity for us to help explain the role of CIfA and what it could (and could not) do to help archaeologists in Germany. The AGM was remarkable for its enthusiasm and orderliness. Both of these characteristics are sometimes conspicuously absent from CIfA meetings in the UK, which can be cynical and chaotic affairs. However the passion and commitment of our German colleagues to the cause of professionalism and professional standards in archaeology was commendable and very refreshing.

This was also an opportunity to sign a draft Memorandum of Understanding between DGUF and CIfA, which - when finalised - will establish closer co-operation between the two organisations. Here are the signatories to that piece of paper. I am looking forward to seeing how the CIfA Deutschland group develops, and I really hope that the 'mother' CIfA can learn some much-needed lessons in administrative efficiency amongst other things.

I enjoyed Munich very much, and found time to see some of the sights as well as discussing archaeology, professionalism and of course Brexit with German colleagues. The keynote paper was given in Grünwald Castle, and was followed by a delightful early evening drinking some of the various local beers.

Hopefully there will be an opportunity to attend next year's DGUF meeting in Bonn.

12 April 2018

Offa's Dyke: conservation conversations

The conservation of Offa's Dyke has been the focus of two events in recent weeks. Both were hosted by the Offa's Dyke Association (ODA) and took place at the delightful Offa's Dyke Centre in Knighton. The first event, on 23 March, was the third meeting of the Offa's Dyke Collaboratory; the second, on 12 April, was a formal consultation on a new Conservation Management Plan (CMP).

The Offa's Dyke Centre in Knighton, home of the Offa's Dyke Association.

Rather than providing a 'blow-by-blow' account of the events, this post summarises some of the main issues around the CMP which were articulated at both meetings.

First, some background. The Offa's Dyke Collaboratory was established after discussions in 2015 and 2016 around Keith Ray's monumental book on the Dyke. A number of us felt that some sort of loose collaboration was needed between people and organisations who had been most actively engaged in research, and were likely to be so in the future. The Collaboratory is a mechanism for engagement between academics, communities and professionals; so far three events have been held and fourth is being planned for later in 2018. The papers presented at the Collaboratory event in March can be found on the Offa's Dyke Collaboratory website - along with more information about the Collaboratory, and its events and activities.

Meanwhile, in 2017 and 2018, Historic England and Cadw jointly funded the production of a Conservation Management Plan for the Dyke. This work - which was overseen by the ODA and undertaken by Andre Berry - was the first re-appraisal of the conservation issues surrounding the Dyke since the original Conservation Statement was produced in 2000. The new plan has not yet been published, but is in the final stages of production. From what we have seen so far it looks a very thorough piece of work providing a comprehensive and detailed survey of the condition of the Dyke, and an analysis of the key threats to it. The meeting in April was split into two parts - archaeology in the morning, and access (including the relationship between the Dyke and the Offa's Dyke Path) in the afternoon.

Offa's Dyke at Llanfair Hill, Shropshire.

Discussion topics ranged from the minutiae of data management to the possibility of Offa-branded food and tourism products. Three areas stood out for me.

What about the data? The CMP has produced an enormous quantity of data. Of course there is already a great deal of information on the Dyke already held by the Historic Environment Records (HERs) of the three English counties through which the Dyke passes (Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire), and by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust (CPAT) in Wales. There was some discussion about how the data gathered by the CMP process is integrated into the HERs. The creation of a separate database would create all sorts of issues around adding new data to it, or accessing the data already in it. It is also not yet completely clear who owns the data and who may use it. It was agreed that more thought could perhaps have been given to this at the outset of the CMP project. Fortunately the four HER Officers are working closely to resolve some of the (minor) technical issues, and there was clear agreement that this will be a priority for the CMP. Indeed further cross-border co-operation in this area would be a positive outcome more generally for the longer term.

Informed conservation? The management of the trail needs careful co-ordination with historic environment needs: the CMP has clearly highlighted the need for better co-ordination between the creation of path infrastructure and monument conservation. However it was clear that resources to manage the National Trail were already stretched and likely to be more so in the future. The CMP has also prepared draft archaeological guidance. This is welcome in principle, but the emphasis of the draft proposals sat uncomfortably with many people. Some questioned whether the proposed priorities represented the best use of resources. Many of those present felt that potential opportunities to learn more about the Dyke were not being fully considered. In many places the monument is poorly understood, or even not known at all, and excavation would enable conservation to be fully informed by better understanding. A more ambitious, imaginative and creative approach would be welcome.

Whose Dyke is it anyway? The increasing divergence between England and Wales in historic environment legislation and resourcing (for which see my recent paper on politics and heritage in Wales), together with the different approaches in the various local authority areas, means that 'ownership' - of research and conservation, and the data that can be derived from projects - is potentially fragmented. Moreover, archaeologists and 'heritage bureaucrats' aren't the only stakeholders. There is a long tradition of non-professional engagement with the Dyke. Sometimes this has been under the umbrella of community-focussed heritage projects by professional bodies such as CPAT and Herefordshire Archaeology. Elsewhere individual groups have developed more independent approaches, such as the recent development of the CoSSM project. The ODA itself has been instrumental in developing a much wider understanding of the Dyke's historical role, and has also generated a great deal of enthusiasm for the landscape through which it passes. Much of this enthusiasm is driven by aspects that are not directly related to cultural heritage.

CPAT excavations of the Whitford Dyke (Flintshire) in 2012. Photo copyright CPAT (3551-0033). 

The CMP is an excellent piece of work, and a sound basis from which to start. Everyone agreed that there must be more archaeological research, better integration of data, improvements to access, and greater community and landowner awareness. However substantial funding for any large-scale project - whether for conservation, access or research - seems unlikely to materialise in the current climate. Replicating the CMP walkover survey at regular intervals would seem to be the most cost-effective way of monitoring the condition of the monument. Conservation needs to be informed by understanding, and - as many said at the meeting - our understanding is somewhat limited (I articulated three areas of particular concern in a previous post).

The best approach will be to embed the CMP findings into the HERs so that they can inform more localised research frameworks and investigation projects. These in turn can be delivered under the umbrella of the Offa's Dyke Collaboratory, to ensure synergy between research, conservation and public benefit.

It will be interesting to see to what extent the discussions at both meetings - but particularly the formal consultation - will have on the final form of the CMP.

These are some initial thoughts, and they may cohere more gracefully in time for my presentation on the conservation of Offa's Dyke at the forthcoming CIfA Conference in a couple of weeks.

29 March 2018

Politics and heritage: recent developments in Wales

There have been a lot of changes to the Welsh system of protecting and managing archaeology and cultural heritage recently, mainly arising from the gestation and implementation of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016. This has taken place in a politicised atmosphere in which devolution, austerity and Brexit are important factors. I have written an overview of these recent events - in the context of the longer timescale of Welsh devolution, and the evolution of historic environment services in Wales over the last 100 years.

The paper has been published online in the journal The Historic Environment: Policy and Practice. You can read 'Politics and Heritage: Developments in Historic Environment Policy and Practice in Wales' on the journal's website.

Here is the abstract:

'The process of devolution in the U.K. since 1999 has created differences in policy and practice between the different parts of the U.K. This paper considers the historic environment sector in Wales. In practice the Welsh system has always been slightly different from other parts of the U.K, not least because of the role of the four independent Welsh Archaeological Trusts in performing duties that elsewhere are undertaken by public-sector bodies. The passing of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act in 2016 has made that divergence apparent in policy terms as well. The new legislation has also brought into being policy changes and new guidance across the planning system. This is broadly welcomed as a positive step for Wales. However, it has occurred at a difficult time for cultural heritage in the U.K. in general, and in Wales in particular, with economic and political issues close to the surface of policy and practice in the sector. This paper explores the interface between politics and heritage, both over the long term and in the context of implementing the new legislation, and discusses some of the implications for the future of the historic environment sector in Wales.'


I hope you enjoy it, and I would welcome any comments. If you can't access the Taylor and Francis website for the full article, then let me know and I can email a copy. A hard copy of the journal will be posted to subscribers (which include a large number of CIfA members) in June.

11 December 2017

Adding value - professional archaeology

This week the German journal Archäologische Informationen published a paper by Gerry Wait and I on the value of independent professional accreditation for archaeologists and cultural heritage practitioners. The journal is read by members of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (DGUF), who are interested in the ways in which CIfA has evolved to enhance the professional status of archaeologists.

This is the abstract:

There are many approaches to archaeology and cultural heritage across the world. These tend to be situated on a spectrum between total state control (the ‘national patrimony’ model) and the regulation of private actors (the ‘social licence’ model). Whichever model – or combination of models – is used, the success of any archaeological or cultural heritage programme depends on adequate resources, community and stakeholder engagement, and strong regulation and oversight. It is also essential that the archaeologists or other heritage practitioners have the necessary skills and operate in a professional framework which is independent of political or financial structures. What should such a professional framework look like, and how should it be managed? How can an independent professional framework achieve recognition from government and private-sector archaeology and cultural heritage practitioners at all levels? How can such a framework retain the respect of politicians, developers and other professions whose work impacts on archaeology and cultural heritage? What value does an independent system of accreditation add for the public?

You can read the full text here.

It is worth having a look too at the DGUF website, as well as the homepage of the Archäologische Informationen journal.

This is one of a number of international initiatives that Gerry and I are pursuing on behalf of CIfA, and hopefully there will be more news to report on these soon.

24 October 2017

Offa's Dyke: a line in the landscape

It was very nice to receive my copy of 'Fortress Salopia' in the post this morning. This book, edited by Tim Jenkins and Rachael Abbiss, explores the long military history of Shropshire - from the Iron Age to the twentieth century. My contribution was chronologically somewhere in the middle, in the form of a chapter on Offa's Dyke.

The Offa's Dyke chapter contrasts the Cyril Fox and Keith Ray schools of thought, and comes up with some conclusions of its own. Although in broad agreement with much of what Keith Ray is saying about the construction and form of the Dyke on the Shropshire stretches, there are some areas where more work needs to be done. For example:
  • The attribution to Offa is still not certain: we only know that the Dyke is post-Roman (Fox) and pre-Norman (Everson) but more dating is required;
  • The question of entrances and controlled access still needs further work: I examine this in the context of the unusual form of the earthwork at Hergan;
  • There needs to be more consideration of the relationship between the Dyke and fortified (or at least defensible) enclosures and positions behind (ie. to the east) of it.
The volume resulted from a conference at the University Centre Shrewsbury last year, which saw some interesting papers and as usual much debate. Sadly Hugh Hannaford's excellent overview of motte-and-bailey castles in the borderlands was not able to be included in the book, but as well as Offa's Dyke, there is much of interest:
  • Andy Wigley on the origins and social context of Iron Age hillforts
  • Roger White on the impact and legacy of Roman occupation
  • Rachael Abbiss on the Georgian military landscape
  • Tim Jenkins on the logistical legacy of the first and second world wars
  • Ruth Brown and Kay Smith on surviving collections of arms and armour
  • James Pardoe on the interpretation of military heritage
It was a very enjoyable meeting and the resulting publication is a useful and timely contribution. It would be nice to see some more thematic studies of Shropshire and the surrounding areas which are similarly well-balanced between academic and popular audiences.

8 September 2017

European Association of Archaeologists 2017

This year's EAA conference took place in Maastricht last week. The old town of Maastricht is a delightfully tangled arrangement of narrow streets and little squares. However the conference was held in the MECC, a concrete convention centre about five minutes by train from the old town.

Vrijthof Square, Maastricht

Nevertheless this was a good venue in that everything was under one roof. As usual the Netherlands impressed with its efficiency and friendliness. For personal reasons I was in Antwerp for part of the week, so spent some time on various trains shuttling between the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium and the Netherlands, passing through the French-speaking part of Belgium on the way. This reminded me in a very happy way of our massive pan-European road trip earlier this summer, which I should post about sometime.

Anyway, the conference was held in the shadow the 25th anniversary of two important international agreements. First of course the eponymous treaty which led to the creation of the modern EU, including the notions of 'European citizenship' and 'ever closer union'. Sadly a handful of xenophobic bigots in the Tory party have rudely pulled the UK away from these ideals which have brought peace, prosperity, freedom of movement and cultural exchange. This annoys me immensely: I really don't understand why so many old people in the UK think peace, prosperity etc. are bad, and have decided to destroy their children's futures in such a horrific and incompetent manner.

Perhaps more relevantly, the second treaty is of course the catchily-named 'European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)', more commonly known as the Valetta (or Malta) Convention.

A gratuitous photograph of Antwerp, to make a point about freedom of movement.

There were two principal activities for me at the conference - aside from catching up with people, which I was not able to do as much as I would have liked.

Firstly I was there to help Jeroen Bouwmeester - a friend and colleague from the Netherlands - run a session on urban archaeology. We had of course done our first session together on this subject in the Hague (2010) and this was followed the following year by another one in Oslo. Despite further discussion in Helsinki, other things had intervened in both our lives and so it took until now to return to the subject.

Previous sessions had focussed very much on the act of urban archaeology and in the results that emerged. So there had been lots of discussion of exciting forms of medieval town plan, cesspits and so-on. This time however our focus was on the management of urban archaeology in 'highly dynamic' urban centres. The session was very much about the difficulties of extracting information under extremely pressured and difficult circumstances. We had a great range of papers from the Netherlands, Lithuania, Norway, Switzerland and Italy, and a superb discussion with wide-ranging contributions from as far away as the US and Jerusalem. As is often the case, there is much in common.

It was clear that Valetta had made some difference to the situation (in a good way) although there were still some alarming tales of the way in which archaeology had been dealt with in the past.

This was a hugely enjoyable session - and with 50 or so people in a small room it seemed very well-attended. All the credit for pulling everything together must go to Jeroen, who also provided a very interesting theoretical and methodological overview. This time we are determined to produce a publication - so we shall see how that goes!

My second main purpose at the EAA was to support my colleagues from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) in developing links with the EAA itself and with archaeologists in particular countries (notably Germany and the Netherlands) who are trying to find ways of developing professional accreditation systems of their own. As well as two discussion sessions, the meeting also saw the signing of a formal Memorandum of Understanding between CIfA and the EAA. This means that the two organisations can mutually support and assist each other, and is a good step forward.

Signing of the MoU by Pete Hinton (left) of CIfA and Felipe Criado Boado of the EAA.

As ever the EAA was a wonderful event. There was much that I missed. Some of that was my own fault but some of it was also the very nature of such a large and complex event with 2,000 delegates and lots of overlapping and clashing sessions. Nevertheless I did find time to learn about medieval earthworks in Denmark and Iron Age fortifications in eastern Europe.

I am looking forward to the 2018 conference already!