Fieldwork June 2014

Posted by ac527 at Dec 22, 2014 05:20 PM |
Fieldwork June 2014

What fieldwork is the project undertaking?

As part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding, provision was made for high-resolution geophysical survey of a limited number (10-12) of hoard sites; either recent finds where no geophysical has been possible, or on historic hoard find spots, perhaps examples found many decades previously before the development of archaeological geophysical survey techniques. The aim is to see if the buried hoards relate to any underlying archaeological features such as pits or ditches, perhaps associated with Iron Age or Romano-British settlements.

A short-list of possible Iron Age and Romano-British hoard find spots was selected, with only a little gentle bickering amongst the members of the project team! Examples of particularly interesting Iron Age hoards, mixed Iron Age and early Roman hoards, early Roman hoards, third century Roman hoards and late Roman hoards all made it to the short-list, and have been further narrowed down using criteria such as accessibility. Another important consideration with hoards further away, when staying away in rented accommodation would be necessary, was to ensure that clusters of hoards could be investigated at the same time.  

The June fieldwork

This was not a good time to be contemplating fieldwork, as many hoard finds have been made on arable cultivated land, which with winter sowing is already under growing crops by April in most areas. With modern agricultural practices there is now only a window of a few weeks when fieldwork on arable fields is possible. The existing commitments of project staff also affected the decision. Happily, a week-long window was available in June when I (Adrian Chadwick) was able to contemplate fieldwork, and two sites in Dorset and Somerset were available. I had not carried out geophysical survey myself for many years, but fortunately I had the extremely able assistance of Doug Mitcham, a PhD student here at the University of Leicester, whose research involves geophysical survey of archaeological features on Exmoor. He is conversant with the latest survey kit and software here at the university, so was an ideal companion and instructor.

For me personally it was great to get out of the office for a week, as I have spent much of the winter and spring gathering data on known hoard finds, especially collating data on excavated hoards. We had warm sunny weather, and were staying in a charming little self-catering cabin in rural Dorset, with a nice pub up the road that did great food and beer. Archaeology can sometimes be a grim old business if you are surveying or excavating in the middle of winter or in summer storms, but this was a far more pleasant experience.

Tools of the trade... Gary Smith, his metal detector, and our Bartington Fluxgate Gradiometer.The landowners were all very co-operative and informative. On one site in Dorset we were also working closely with the local Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Office Ciorstaidh Hayward-Trevarthen, along with the original hoard finder who had reported and plotted all of his finds. It is very important that the project build relationships with local contacts, and make use of their considerable local knowledge.   



Doug and I carried out magnetometry survey using a Bartington twin array Fluxgate Gradiometer device, worn in a lightweight and relatively comfortable harness; and a more limited amount of resistivity survey. Once we had set out a grid, we then had the unenviable task of trudging up and down along two metre transects. Magnetometry survey requires the operator to have no clothing with magnetic attachments such as zips or eyelets (and no ‘below the belt’ piercings either!), so tramping around in the hot sun in rubber wellies all day was surprisingly tiring.      

Doug Mitcham looking at the spring, awaiting a god to emerge perhaps...At neither find spot did we find any features that could be directly related to the hoard finds, and the Somerset site was largely devoid of any features except those of probable natural origin, and modern land drains. It may be, however, that a nearby spring was one reason why the coin hoard was deposited in that location.

In Dorset, however, the magnetometry survey identified several linear features. Some of these were ditches, probably associated with older medieval or post-medieval woodland boundaries, and clearly related to the progressive clearance (or ‘assarting’) of areas of woodland that still survived as smaller copses. The survey also found faint traces of possible ploughed-out lynchets (or slight banks) that might have once formed part of a later prehistoric or Romano-British field system. The cultivated field was largely devoid of any pottery, but we did observe lots of worked flint lying in the ploughsoil. This hoard location may have been chosen as it was relatively out of the way of contemporary Romano-British occupation, and would have been most unlikely to have been deposited within fields that were under plough at the time.

Although these results were perhaps a little disappointing, we nevertheless found previously unknown archaeological features, and it was a good basis with which to plan the logistics for future, lengthier periods of fieldwork, likely to take place in September.   


The June 2014 geophysical survey was undertaken by Douglas Mitcham and Dr Adrian Chadwick of the University of Leicester.  

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