Urban Garden Archaeology

An exciting programme of test-pitting in private back gardens throughout Wallingford


The 'Urban Garden Archaeology' test-pitting programme is a distinctive urban-centred effort initiated by the Burh to Borough Research Project but headed by The Wallingford Historical and Archaeological Society. The aim is ultimately to dig garden archaeology in actionover a hundred test pits in back gardens throughout Wallingford both inside the historic core but also in the suburbs to try and help us explore spaces out of reach for larger scale study. Each test pit can give insights into land use, settlement history, rubbish disposal, material culture, and how much build up of soil there is! Walls, pots, bones, postholes await! 

And en route it is a great way for locals to see archaeology at work, to let society and team members flex their muscles and see how good their sieving techniques are! The target is 100 test pits - in December 2011 the fiftieth was made - see coverage here! - and currently (Oct 2016) the total is into the 80s!

In theory once all the test-pit results have been collated, these should enable us to build:

1) a model of the distribution of different kinds and dates of pottery,

2) an idea about disposal patterns and maybe even of diet and industry - as might be suggested from the animal bones (see here for a report on the animal bones from test pits 1-50 by Dr Matilda Holmes)

3) a deposit model (depth of made ground, depth of natural, etc)



The garden archaeology programme is a collaboration between the Wallingford Burh to Borough Research Project and Wallingford Museum and TWHAS, in consultation with other groups such as Oxfordshire County Council Archaeology Service. 

 digging and sieving

Digging and sieving of Test Pit 2 in progress

It is community archaeology at its best, with local workers, academics and professionals all working together to produce an archaeological database and record of great value and potential. This is one of the first times a test-pitting programme has been applied systematically to the study of a town.  Click here for a pdf summary of the programme and its work and targets.


A standard methodology is used for all the test pits, so that results can be compared and combined for later statistical analysis and deposit modelling. Here are the basic principles:

  • Each test-pit measures 1 x 1.5m. Turf is removed carefully and stacked nearby for replacement later.  
  • The test-pit is excavated and recorded in 20cm spits  After each spit has been excavated, the soil and any variations within it are  described on the recording form. A plan is drawn and a photo is taken. A series of plans is soon generated.
  • Spoil is sieved as it is dug and placed on a tarpaulin close to the test-pit.  Finds are kept and labelled by spit.

A tile from Wallingford Priory?

One of several decorated tiles from Test Pit 7 


A report of each test-pit is produced and posted on a server set up by Wallingford Museum. After each twenty test-pits a specialist will be called in to examine the pottery and animal bones from all the pits so far. All this means that data are processed and written up as we go along, and is made readily available for any participant to read. Click here for an example of a Test Pit Report

kit for digging test-pits

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