Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Freelance archaeologist Chiz Harward provides a range of on and offsite services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

Water supply in Roman London: new research

Urban archaeology has just been awarded a generous grant by the City of London Archaeological Trust (CoLAT). The grant is to cover research into water supply in Roman London, using the eastern hill as a pilot study area. The project will examine excavated evidence and attempt to map the evolving systems of water supply, distribution and disposal throughout the Roman period using a GIS system. The resultant models will be then used to examine aspects of control and growth within the settlement over time.

Cheapside hoard illustrations

A few illustrations of pieces from a Late Saxon metalworker's hoard of over 40 unfinished pewter brooches, beads and rings found in a sewer heading in Cheapside, City of London in the 19th century (click on images to enlarge). They probably date to the 10th/11th century. These pieces, normally on display in The Museum of London, are not to be confused with a hoard of 17th-century jewelry commonly known as The Cheapside Hoard, some items of which are also in the Museum of London.

The large brooch was cast in one piece, and is directly paralled by a find from Dublin, almost certainly from the same mould.

The smaller brooches were made of twisted pewter wire within a surrounding wire ring and a central glass bead setting. This was all fixed in place by dipping the reverse of the brooch into molten pewter. The clasps were attached to the reverse whilst this was still hot, fusing the clasps to the brooch.

Fine metalwork like this needs careful and accurate illustration to show how the object was made, as well as what it looks like. The pieces have to be drawn to a level of detail where they can be compared with other published examples. The detailed examination necessary to understand how to illustrate the pieces also informs the wider research into the artefacts: here it was possible to tell which objects shared common moulds, and the sequence and method used to make the brooches.

PAS finds illustrations

Recent work has involved illustrating selected finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Clockwise, from top left, a copper-alloy Roman branch, probably from a statuette; a fragment of a Bronze Age adzehead, probably broken up for scrap; a medieval copper-alloy strap end with incised decoration; and an 18th-century French clothseal from Calais (click on image to enlarge).

Metal finds from Finsbury Circus

Roman small finds from Finsbury Circus, in the collections of the Museum of London; clockwise from top left:

Copper alloy wire bracelet or armlet with terminals, probably from a burial; Roman copper alloy key; Roman cast lead weight with raised concentric circular lines; Roman copper alloy balance (click on image to enlarge).

Finsbury Circus: Roman small finds

Roman copper alloy finds from Finsbury Circus, City of London in the Museum of London Collection (click on image to enlarge).

These pins, spoon, ligulae and tweezers were found during the construction of Finsbury Circus in the early 20th century and probably derive from burials within the Roman Upper Walbrook cemetery. These finds complement examples excavated under controlled conditions by MoLAS.

Finsbury Circus: Roman tombstone

Roman oolitic limestone tombstone from the Upper Walbrook cemetery (click on image to enlarge). Found in 1837 it is in the collection of the Museum of London.

The Inscription reads:

'To the spirits of the departed and Grata the daughter of Dagobiti, forty years old. Solinus arranged for this to be made for his dearest wife'

Stove tile

Medieval stove tile in the collections of the Museum of London (click on image to enlarge).

Hadrian's Wall

September and October 2009 saw Chiz working as site supervisor for English Heritage's Archaeological Projects up at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. The site was part of a cremation cemetery which was fast disapearing over the edge of a 300 foot cliff into the River Irthing so the plan was to excavate a strip along the cliff edge to get ahead of the erosion. The team was led by EH Project Manager Tony Wilmott.

Recording on site was using a digital system from Sweden called Intrasis, which involves digital inputting of all data. This did cause some problems and issues, but given time and tweaking does have potential. The site also acted as a training excavation for a great bunch of archaeology students from Newcastle University under the direction of Professor Ian Haynes.

Numerous cremations were excavated, dating from the Hadrianic period onwards, with two possible 5th-century inhumation graves possibly relating to sub-Roman occupation of the fort. The cremation cemetery was contained by a small marker-ditch, parallel to a cobbled roadway, which had eroded into a hollow-way as it led downhill. The cremations were of various types, with possible bustum burials, as well as stone cysts and cobble lined cremation pits. Some cremations appear to have been marked by small ring ditches. No pyre sites were located, but areas of cobbled surface may indicate heavy use of some parts of the cemetery, possibly adjacent to pyres. Finds were fairly limited, although some pots were removed to Fort Cumberland for excavation in the lab, and initial x-rays suggest the presence of metal artefacts, including possibly fragments of chain mail. Tony Wilmott's weekly site roundups can be read here.

Site accomodation was next to the Augustinian Priory at Lanercost, a fantastic site and well worth a visit (photo above). The Cricket club is also worth a visit.

Site handouts

Urban Archaeology has developed a series of handouts covering excavation and post-excavation processes, and basic finds information (click on examples to enlarge). These are similar to 'crib sheets' used by some archaeological units but are not confined to basic archaeological techniques.

The handouts can be posted in site huts, handed out to staff, or used in training or seminar sessions or as the focus for weekly archaeological 'toolbox talks'. They have proved to be very useful on sites as both training tools and as an aide memoire and complement the basic technical information in the site manual.

Medieval floor tiles

Medieval floor tiles in the collections of the Museum of London (click on image to enlarge).

Roman lathe-turned porringer and ash bowl

Both pieces are in the Museum of London (MoLA), and were found within the Roman Upper Walbrook cemetery that lies beneath the Finsbury Circus area of the City of London.

The porringer was lathe turned from timber from a pollarded oak, which gives the beautiful effect from the myriad of small knots; it had warped badly since deposition and was illustrated as it would have appeared before warping (click on image to enlarge).

A sherd of this lathe turned ash bowl was found during excavations in 1987 by the then Department of Urban Archaeology of the MoL, a predecessor of MoLA (Museum of London Archaeology). It had been preserved by waterlogging beneath the early 20th century buildings.

The Upper Walbrook cemetery has been archaeologically investigated since the 19th century. Chiz Harward was Project Officer on recent major excavations by MoLA. A publication programme is now underway at MoLA which will incorporate some antiquarian findings as well as MoL excavations in a MoLA monograph.

The drawings were initially made in pencil, then scanned and finished in CorelDraw.

St Mary Spital, London: reconstruction of canons' infirmary

This is a draft reconstruction drawing based on the excavated evidence for the range of buildings which developed from the original late 13th/early 14th century two-room canons' infirmary (click on image to enlarge).

By Dissolution the area had developed into a complex of timber framed buildings around a
semi-enclosed courtyard and may have ceased to function as an infirmary.

The excavations at Spitalfields between 1998 and 2009 were just one part of a long campaign of excavations in the area by the Museum of London. The main MoLA excavations, led by Chris Thomas, uncovered a Roman burial ground, this was covered by the remains of the Augustinian priory hospital of St Mary Spital. The east end of the Priory church was excavated, as was the Canons' Infirmary, fishponds, gardens and much of the Outer Precinct which contained numerous tenement buildings. The main cemetery was also excavated, with over 10,000 individual skeletons excavated, possibly the largest archaeologically excavated cemetery in the world. Up to 100 archaeologists worked on the site for over a year.

Chiz Harward was one of the principal supervisors of the main excavations, and is co-author of the forthcoming medieval and post-medieval monographs.

Reconnaissance survey in west Nepal

In 1998 and 2000 Chiz Harward carried out a reconnaissance survey of medieval monuments in west Nepal for the Central Himalaya Project. This remote area of the Himalayas was once home to the medieval Khasa Malla kingdom, who established a winter palace in the foothills at Dullu, and a summer palace site in the mountains at Sinja. The two sites were joined by a royal road, part of a network of trading trails that criss-cross the Himalaya.

The survey involved trekking from Dailekh in the foothills along the royal road to Sinja (see maps), a journey that took nearly a month. A basic survey was made of monuments discovered en route, which included many temples (upper figure), waterpoints (lower figure), dharamsala (guesthouses) and standing stele or pillarstones.

A return visit in 2000 concentrated on monuments in the vicinity of the summer palace at Sinja, with more detailed recording of standing stele and pillarstones unfortunately cut short by the Maoist insurgency.

The survey discovered many new monuments and complexes, as well as re-recording monuments first discovered by Professor Guiseppe Tucci in the 1950s. The survey was a part of wider ongoing research work by Tim Harward (Central Himalaya Project) with Cambridge Archaeology Unit of Cambridge University, and the Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

St Vedast elevation

Elevation of the south wall of St Vedast Church, Foster Lane, City of London, showing coursing by contexts identified during recording of the wall (click on image to enlarge).

Recording work at St Vedast was undertaken by the London Archaeological Research Facility in 1993, and published in London Archaeologist.

This is a recent electronic reworking in CorelDraw of the published pen and ink illustration.

Post-excavation training seminars

In 2008 Urban Archaeology provided training seminars in post-excavation processes to staff at LP Archaeology, a leading archaeological unit in London.

The seminars covered the use of the Bonn archaeological matrix program, subgrouping, spot-dating, grouping, landuse and periodisation using one of their sites as a working example. The theoretical background to the 'Landuse' approach was discussed, and each stage of the post-excavation process was described and demonstrated using site data. The methodological processes, potential problems and workarounds and the implications of using this system for programming post-excavation projects were all discussed.

The seminars were backed up by our own training handouts and wider reading material. This training allowed LP Archaeology to fine tune their database structure and post-excavation methodologies.

Guy Hunt of LP Archaeology said:
"We were very pleased to offer this excellent training in post excavation techniques to our project managers. This is part of our commitment to CPD and training for our staff. The seminars were very well executed and have subsequently proved extremely valuable to us both in project work and on a more general level as we have revised our companywide post excavation practices.

In particular, we wanted our project managers to gain a greater in depth knowledge of the systems that can be used to handle sites with deep and complex stratigraphy. The presentation style was informative and enjoyable. I would heartily recommend this service to any other unit looking to raise awareness and skill levels in post excavation techniques."

Urban Archaeology has developed a series of training resources for excavation and post-excavation processes; these can be used as handouts for one-to-one or group training seminars, as prompts for 'toolbox talks' on technical archaeological subjects, or as general handouts to staff (click on example to enlarge).

Flexibility and knowledge on site

Urban Archaeology demonstrated its fast responses, flexibility and value with its very first sub-contract in August 2008 on a site just outside of the City of London in Hackney.

Following a phone call from Archaeology South-East (ASE), a major south-eastern archaeology unit, Chiz Harward was on site at 8am the next day assisting with an evaluation, and then maintaining an intermittent watching brief on site works: Chiz was able to meet the demands of an evolving site programme and methodology, liaise with ASE, the archaeological consultant and the main contractor, and maintain a watching brief on underpinning, demolition works and site clearance.

Despite the presence of significantly more archaeological remains than had been originally expected, Chiz's detailed knowledge of the local archaeology and years of experience working with construction companies meant that the site works and archaeology could proceed hand-in-hand with the minimum disruption to programme. After the initial evaluation the watching brief evolved seamlessly into a further evaluation for a crane base, and then full excavation of the crane base with a small team of archaeologists from the parent unit.

The site archive for the first package of works was checked and completed on site, and text sections written to ASE's house style for the works supervised by Chiz Harward. This was all delivered to ASE for integration into the final report.

The site had been partially basemented in the Victorian period, but because the street level had been raised by over 1 metre in the 17th-century, archaeological strata survived beneath the basements as well as to their rear. The site was an open area in the Roman period, with a possible road-side ditch and large quarry pits containing waterlogged material. This was sealed by a medieval back-garden soil through which refuse pits had been dug. A masonry boundary wall may be originally medieval in date. The masonry wall was rebuilt with Tudor bricks, associated with a Tudor garden soil and further pitting. The boundary wall continued in use after the 17th-century groundraising, with a large culvert, cesspit and soakaway associated with one of the 17th-century brick houses built on the site.