New archaeological online courses and talks at Sussex School of Archaeology


The Sussex School of Archaeology have a whole new range of online courses and events for the Autumn Term that will help you shake off those seasonal blues! Whether you fancy learning about the Aegean Bronze Age (occasionally) live from Crete, or discovering the fate of The Amsterdam, we’ve got something new for you to discover.

With an array of tutors and speakers on standby to meet you in the comfort of your own home, this autumn looks set to be a cosy and illuminating season.

What’s more, they have some Launch Promotions and online Open Days for you to take advantage of, to help you enjoy our upcoming events.

Of course, if you’d like to meet up with some people in person, you have the chance to meet like-minded archaeologists and historians of all abilities at the next annual Sussex Archaeology Symposium, which will be held in Lewes on Saturday the 9th of October 2021.

Day Courses
Romans in Sussex (10 weeks) ZOOM with Dr David Rudling (£90) Monday mornings 10am-12pm starts 20th September

Evening Courses
Vikings (5 weeks) ZOOM with Dr Judie English (£45)
Tuesday evenings 7-9pm starts 21st September
Victorians (10 weeks) ZOOM with Sarah Tobias (£90)
Wednesday evenings 7-9pm starts 22nd September
Aegean Bronze Age (8 weeks) ZOOM with Sarah Green (£72) Thursday evenings 7-9pm starts 30th September
Food and Feast (5 weeks) ZOOM with Dr Judie English (£45)
Tuesday evenings 7-9pm starts 2nd November

Landscapes of Sussex (One day) ZOOM with Geoffrey Mead (£22.50) Saturday 20th November (10am–4pm)

Launch Promotion!
From now until September the 17th, we are offering a one-off launch promotion on our Autumn Courses.

When you sign up for an online course, we will offer you a Meet the Expert talk for FREE!

Just make your booking on the website at and include the PROMO CODE: LAUNCH

Quick Recap:
Zoom Open Morning with David and Annalie Thursday 9th September 10-11am
Zoom Open Evening with David and Annalie Monday 13th September 7-8pm
Primitive Money and the Origins of Coinage, David Rudling Friday 17th September 7-8pm
Romans in Sussex, David Rudling – course begins Monday 20th September 10am-12pm
Vikings, Judie English – course begins Tuesday 21st September 7-9pm
The Victorian World, Sarah Tobias – course begins Wednesday 22nd September 7-9pm
Aegean Bronze Age, Sarah Green – course begins Thursday 30th September 7-9pm
Five Thousand Years on the Eastbourne Downs, Jo Seaman Monday 4th October 7-9pm
The Wreck of the Amsterdam, 1749, Peter Marsden Friday 15th October 7-9pm
A Shoe up your Chimney?, Janet Pennington Monday 1st November 7-9pm
Food and Feasting, Judie English – course begins Tuesday 2nd November 7-9pm
Prayer, Protection and Personality, Jo Seaman Monday 8th November 7-9pm
Dealing with Poverty in 19th C Sussex, Mary Rudling Monday 15th November 7-9pm
Landscapes of Sussex, Geoffrey Mead – Day School Saturday 20th November 7-9pm
Egyptian Influence on Art Deco, Sarah Tobias Friday 26th November 7-9pm
Maritime Archaeology and the Law, Peter Marsden Friday 3rd December 7-9pm

Part of Hadrian’s Wall discovered beneath Newcastle road

An undiscovered section of Hadrian’s Wall has been uncovered in a busy urban area after works on a water main were taking place.

The amazing 1,900-year-old discovery has been made after workers from Northumbrian Water were carrying out a mains replacement in the area of West Road, just outside the city centre of Newcastle.

west road 2.JPG

During the routine works, a team from the water company revealed a section of the famous Hadrian’s Wall about three metres long located under the ground surface level, just east of the Two Ball Lonnen roundabout.

It is believed that the newly-discovered section of the wall is from one of the earliest phases of the historical landmark, as it was constructed using such large blocks of stone, whereas later phases used much smaller pieces of stone.

Northumbrian Water were carrying out part of a £5m project in order to improve tap water quality to around half a million customers across Tyneside when the discovery was made.

Graeme Ridley, Project Manager from Northumbrian Water, said: “It is amazing that we have been able to make this brilliant discovery, and we are glad to be working with Archaeological Research Services to make sure that it is properly protected going forwards.

“This is an incredibly special part of North East heritage and we are honoured to be a part of it.

“We are still have completed work in the area and this vital work is being carried out in order to futureproof our water supplies and ensure that our customers continue to receive excellent and high-quality tap water.”

Philippa Hunter from Archaeological Research Services Ltd said: “Despite the route of Hadrian’s Wall being fairly well documented in this area of the city, it is always exciting when we encounter the wall’s remains and have the opportunity to learn more about this internationally significant site.

“This is particularly true in this instance where we believe that we uncovered part of the wall’s earliest phase. It is always a pleasure working closely with Northumbrian Water who take the preservation of archaeological remains such as these very seriously.”

Northumbrian Water, and their contractors Fastflow, confirmed that the pipe-route of the water main could be angled to leave a buffer around the excavated trench.

The water company’s pipe cleaning programme taking place in the area will involve cleaning nine kilometres of strategic water mains at 18 different locations in and around Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside.

This is part of a larger £66 million cleaning programme, which began in 2010 and has seen improvements to more than 221 kilometres of strategic mains cleaned to date.

4K Digital Microscope examines deeper into the past

The Archaeology Department of the University of Liverpool has carried out two ground-breaking projects that have improved our understanding of how human culture developed in ancient times. Playing a key role in that research has been the KEYENCE VHX-7000 Series Digital Microscope, the world’s first 4K ultra-high accuracy microscope.

Elizabeth Thomas, an Archaeology PhD student at the university, had the opportunity to use the KEYENCE digital microscope when conducting research for her Masters and PhD. This work involved analysing Egyptian mirrors, many of them dating back to the Middle Kingdom era of the 12th Dynasty.

The VHX-7000 was used to gather information on the different kinds of corrosion found on the mirrors. Elizabeth felt it was important to see the different layers in the mirrors and how they were made, which was not possible using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) where image delivery was in grayscale.

Essential for Elizabeth’s work was the ability to create colour images and show extremely high levels of detail at high magnification settings. Having access to full-colour high magnification images was vital to ascertain how an artifact might have looked in its original state.

Elizabeth found that another benefit of using the KEYENCE digital microscope was that it could display textiles that had been preserved in corrosion. The VHX-7000 was able to capture images of these textiles for subsequent examination by an expert.

In addition, the digital microscope made stitching images a straightforward process, whereas an SEM would require image stitching to be carried out manually using separate software. The VHX-7000 also eliminated the need for preparing samples – an SEM requiring them to be secured on to a stand – while the measurement capabilities of the KEYENCE system saved Elizabeth a considerable amount of time.

“There are many advantages to using the VHX-7000,” says Elizabeth, “and it represents a massive jump in functionality from any previous digital microscopes I’ve used. For example, the flexibility of being able to move the unit’s fully-integrated head around a sample is invaluable. It means that just by tilting the head, it’s possible to create multiple views of the same sample.”

TS planes of Amygdalus charcoal fragments (photos by E Asouti)
TS planes of Amygdalus charcoal fragments (photos by E Asouti)

In a second project involving the University of Liverpool’s Archaeology Department, the VHX-7000 was used to carry out laboratory-based archaeobotanical analysis of delicate and highly valuable charred plant macrofossils. Some 966 non-wood items and 440 wood charcoals were retrieved from excavations at the Palegawra cave, a Zarzian occupation site in north-eastern Iraq.

This culture dates from the late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic eras and it has been possible to discover a great deal of new information about it by studying well-preserved botanical and faunal remains. This research was carried out by the Eastern Fertile Crescent (EFEC) project, a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and the Sulaymaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage.

For the Full-Length case study, click here: (registration required)

Email and mention BAJR to receive a virtual or on-site demo with a specialist, if organised this can include your own samples. All cost and obligation free of course.

Fight back for Archaeology

Cultural guardians, facilitators of development and regeneration, custodians of heritage and archaeology, and a much admired and loved profession ( a dream job even) so why is it that we are under such attack. 

In June 2017, Mary Shepperson, wrote in the Guardian that “British archaeology is in a fight for survival” – now, 4 years later this has become a bitter struggle.

She pointed out that student applications were falling, threatening university departments with cuts and as Manchester, Birmingham and Bangor all contracted, we see the same again now with Leicester, Chesters and now Sheffield.   We are also seeing yet again the push for “red tape” to be removed, and it does not take much thought to see a connection to less archaeologists being produced into a profession that needs more archaeologists being seen as a drag on development and economic recovery.   Add to this the terrifying concepts where the telling of a story must fit into a national narrative, where Britain must be promoted, and any “woke” left wing”  agendas such as examining colonial and BLM issues is seen as disloyal to the Nation.  We are at a point in time where we need to act, not hope that someone else will. 

(See bottom of piece to see how you can support each of these campaigns)

Currently we need to see a national response, a widespread anger at what is happening.  A coherent and focussed pushback.

But of course, we are in a vicious circle, Pay and conditions in commercial archaeology are not something to attract graduates, thus less students, thus less prospective archaeologists and so more excuses to close or shrink more departments.  Are we at the point where we wink out of existence because we can’t create the career profession that attracts new graduates, rather than ensure that out of the 15% graduates who join the profession, only 5% are left after 2years? 

So we are in backing ourselves into a trap.  We cant fix one section without looking at all the elements, to reclaim archaeology as a skilled and meaningful profession, with real benefits to science, economy and the public, and to ensure that those that join the sector, have a means to stay. 

Currently the University department at Sheffield is under threat of closure  and Chesters is fighting back against redundancies, add to these, the Medieval Literature course, at the University of Leicester is under threat.

For Sheffield:
The three options are first, to invest in the department with new posts and the development of new programmes and second, to close the department but to honour commitments to existing students. The third option is to retain Archaeology as a discipline but not as a department where key programmes will be retained but realigned to other departments in the university along with associated staff while commitments to existing students would still be honoured.

The decisions are made already perhaps?  Unless we oppose it with every fibre of our being

Once these departments are dismantled they are gone – to rebuild would take decades. 

Read –  Act – don’t sit back  

Letter template to the Sheffield University Executive Board regarding the Department of Archaeology

Ensuring the protection of archaeology for future generations within Planning for the Future

Save Archaeology & Heritage at the University of Chester!

Save Sheffield’s Archaeology Department


Response from the Prehistoric Society

Response from the Society of Antiquaries London

Response from the Scottish Strategic Archaeology Committee

CIfA response to threats to Chester & Sheffield archaeology departments

The Star has posted an article about the Department review

Disappointing response from Uni of Leicester VC to senior academics’ concerns


Cerne Giant – surprise date

Header : Cerne Abbas giant from the air. National Trust Images: Mike Calnan James Dobson

National Trust archaeologists are surprised and delighted by likely age of enigmatic Cerne Giant – but some mystery still remains

After 12 months of scientific analysis, the National Trust can for the first time reveal the likely age of the Cerne Giant, Britain’s largest and perhaps best-known chalk hill figure.

Generations have speculated about the age and meaning of the club-brandishing giant hewn into a Dorset hillside. Was he a depiction of the legendary demi-god Hercules, an ancient fertility symbol, or even the soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell? Another theory holds that the figure was carved around the body of a giant who was slain by local people after he terrorised the countryside.

Now, after state-of-the art sediment analysis jointly funded by the National Trust, the University of Gloucestershire, Allen Environmental Archaeology and the Pratt Bequest, National Trust archaeologists have concluded the giant was probably first constructed in the late Saxon period.

Independent geoarchaeologist Mike Allen, whose research is helping the Trust understand more about the landscape in which the giant was created, said the result was surprising.

‘This is not what was expected. Many archaeologists and historians thought he was prehistoric or post-medieval, but not medieval. Everyone was wrong, and that makes these results even more exciting.’

Phillip Toms, Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Gloucestershire, studied the samples using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), which shows when individual grains of sand in the sediment were last exposed to sunlight. Material taken from the deepest layer (1m) yielded a date range of 700-1100AD which suggests the giant was first made by late Saxons.

Prof. Phillip Toms, Academic Subject Leader in Environmental Sciences at the University of Gloucestershire, labels samples. National Trust Images_Ben Thomas

National Trust senior archaeologist Martin Papworth said: “The archaeology on the hillside was surprisingly deep – people have been re-chalking the giant over a long period of time. The deepest sample from his elbows and feet tells us he could not have been made before 700AD, ruling out theories that he is of prehistoric or Roman origin.

‘This probable Saxon date places him in a dramatic part of Cerne history. Nearby Cerne Abbey was founded in 987AD and some sources think the abbey was set up to convert the locals from the worship of an early Anglo Saxon god known as ‘Heil’ or ‘Helith’. The early part of our date range does invite the question, was the giant originally a depiction of that god?’

But other samples – taken with permission from Historic England and the Secretary of State – gave later dates of up to 1560, which presented Martin and his team with a conundrum, because the earliest documented record of the giant is a church warden’s account of repairing him in 1694.

‘The science suggests he could be medieval, but intriguingly, surviving documents from Cerne Abbey don’t mention the giant. In the 16th century it’s as if the giant’s not there, and John Norden’s survey of 1617 makes no mention of him. And why would a rich and famous abbey – just a few yards away – commission, or sanction, a naked man carved in chalk on the hillside?’

Martin’s working theory is that the giant may have been a medieval creation but then – for reasons we may never know – was neglected for several hundred years, before being rediscovered.

‘I wonder whether he was created very early on, perhaps in the late Saxon period, but then became grassed over and was forgotten. But at some stage, in low sunlight, people saw that figure on the hill and decided to re-cut him again. That would explain why he doesn’t appear in the abbey records or in Tudor surveys.’

This is consistent with Mike Allen’s research, which found that microscopic snails in the sediment samples included species that were introduced into Britain in the medieval period. The archaeological fieldwork and scientific study, however, found no archaeological evidence that the giant was deliberately covered over.

 Environmental Archaeologist Mike Allen and archaeologist Julie Gardiner bag up soil samples
Environmental Archaeologist Mike Allen and archaeologist Julie Gardiner bag up soil samples. National Trust Images: Ben Thomas

Gordon Bishop, Chair of the Cerne Historical Society, said: ‘These results are intriguing as well as surprising. What I am personally pleased about is that the results appear to have put an end to the theory that he was created in the 17th century as an insult to Oliver Cromwell. I thought that rather demeaned the giant.

‘In fact it seems highly likely that he had a religious significance, albeit a pagan one. There’s obviously a lot of research for us to do over the next few years.’

Mike Allen added that the results had shed light more broadly on the phenomenon of chalk hill figures in Britain.

‘Archaeologists have wanted to pigeonhole chalk hill figures into the same period. But carving these figures was not a particular phase – they’re all individual figures, with local significance, each telling us something about that place and time.’

He said the Trust’s careful management of the figure, which was gifted by the Pitt-Rivers family in 1920, had enabled the giant’s true age to be revealed.

‘The dating of the giant was only possible because the National Trust has preserved and maintained the figure, which otherwise might have been lost to history.’

Senior archaeologist Martin Papworth makes site sketches during soil sampling. National Trust Images: Ben Thomas

Martin Papworth continued: ‘To narrow down a date for him is a great thing to achieve, and we’re closer now. Future research could tell us even more about how he changed over time, and whether our theory about his ‘lost’ years is true.

‘When we began the work, some people wanted the giant’s age to remain a mystery – but archaeologists want to use science to seek answers. We have nudged our understanding a little closer to the truth but he still retains many of his secrets. He still does have an air of mystery, so I think everyone’s happy.’

More information is available on

Wessex Archaeology leads the way with full time Fieldwork contracts for staff

From 1st May 2021 all Fieldwork staff at Wessex Archaeology have been offered permanent contracts. These contracts offer greater stability and reflect a belief that Wessex can now manage the business without such a high degree of workforce flexibility.  

As commercial archaeologists, we all play a critical role in facilitating key infrastructure projects and managing the historic environment across other areas of major economic activity, like renewables and housing. 

Historically, fieldwork appointments have been on a fixed term contract basis due to the very variable nature of the work supply. Although the profession has matured and the ability to predict workflows has improved, fixed term contracts have persisted throughout the sector. Wessex now believe that they can manage the business without such a high degree of fixed term workforce. 

As a leading archaeology organisation in the UK, Wessex believe it is important to make continuous efforts to improve the working environment and conditions for staff. Archaeology should be a viable and enjoyable career option, which supports and enhances the wellbeing of the professionals within it – this is a major step forward.  

Wessex Archaeology hope that this change will provide greater stability in the lives of our fieldwork teams, better access to mortgages/finance, a greater sense of belonging to the Wessex team and the confidence to put down roots. 

Heritage Hero Awards

The Heritage Hero project was initially an archaeology education project run by Archaeology Scotland between 2012 and 2015. It soon became clear that no achievement awards existed which were specific in offering a reward for archaeology and heritage projects and the Heritage Hero Award was born.

What are they? 

At the time there were, and indeed still are, many other youth awards encouraging genuine and meaningful youth engagement in other subject areas, with archaeology projects often being left unrecognised or shoehorned into pre-exsting awards in the arts, natural heritage or similar volunteer based activity. In 2016 the Archaeology Scotland learning team piloted the Heritage Hero Award, designed to specifically recognise youth engagement in archaeology and heritage and position it as an important part of youth work and education.  The sense of achievement felt by those completing a heritage project and gaining a national award strengthens the engagement. 

The 6 pilot projects, expanded to 23 completed projects and 765 awardees by the end of the first year.  and following this successful pilot, the Heritage Hero Awards was officially launched in January 2017, to coincide with Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.  Since then, over 13,000 young people have gained awards, with 40 projects currently underway. The team worked hard over the last few years to increase award partnerships and reach areas which previously had little uptake.  Projects have now been completed in 31 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.  Fingers crossed for a full house soon! 

Due to demand from project partners the award is now open to adults too. With awardees currently ranging from ages 4 to 84.  Community and other adult groups have used the awards as a means of recognising the achievements of their volunteers. Adult projects have ranged from restoring scheduled monuments to improving access to, and installing interpretation at historic sites. 

Flodden YACs research, create and animate

Why we love them 

Something we have been exceptionally proud of is the role of the Awards in championing accessibility in heritage and archaeology.  The awards are deliberately designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability, age or background.  They encourage a breakdown of barriers to participation, through the flexibility of the award scheme, the fact written work is not a requirement, and they are not an academic assessed award.   The Awards have been popular with groups with additional support needs and one such group in Edinburgh recently completed a Bronze level Award, despite the complex needs of individuals.  The project focussed on the Iron Age in Scotland and was entirely sensory based, with the group exploring foods, clothing and homes in the Iron Age. The project partner was impressed with the accessibility of the Awards and has since used them with a further two groups. 

Despite the schemes expansion to include adults, young people remain the key focus for the awards. With the recent axing of the Archaeology GSCE, as well as the absence of archaeology in the Scottish curriculum, opportunities for young people to engage with archaeology and heritage are increasingly restricted.  To this end the Heritage Hero Awards play an important role in keeping archaeology and heritage in the educational mainstream. Young people offer different viewpoints, opinions, attitudes and abilities that can shape the interpretation of our archaeology and heritage in a profound way.   Engagement also helps foster a lifelong interest in the past, important for safeguarding our heritage for the future and helping encourage the next generation of heritage professionals. 

Current challenges 

The global pandemic presented a new challenge for awards groups, groups projects had to be quickly adapted to work for individuals and families working from home.  A combination of the flexibility of the Awards, the support of the Archaeology Scotland Learning team and new guidance created to support safe lockdown projects meant the Heritage Hero Awards continued to thrive during this difficult period.  Teachers have repeatedly praised how they have helped their pupils engage from home, providing structure where it might otherwise have been lacking.  Lockdown Awards have included projects with young people exploring the heritage on their doorsteps. Inspiring others with their findings using digital means. Including PowerPoints for classmates and stop motion videos.  

Stobs Camp – Fist and second world war prisoner of war camps

What next? 

Despite the challenges of lockdown, Covid-19 has highlighted future opportunities for digital engagement, making Awards more accessible for individuals struggling to work in groups for geographical, or other reasons.  We intend to continue supporting these projects going forward.  

We’re always looking to increase our audience, and over the next few years hope to see projects across all local authorities in Scotland, and support some pilot projects elsewhere in the UK. We also hope to support more projects from groups of people who are new to heritage, creating new audiences for the sector. 

Want to know more? 

Celebrating Five Years of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy

Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy publishes a five-year review of ground-breaking work

Scottish archaeology is marking a significant milestone today (Thursday 4th March) as the Five-Year Review of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy is published.

You can download Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy Five Year Review by clicking here or, for a version optimised for use on mobile here


The Strategy – which was the first national Archaeology Strategy in Europe when it launched in 2015 – aims to make archaeology matter for everyone in Scotland. Key areas are; delivering archaeology, enhancing understanding, caring and protecting, encouraging greater engagement and championing innovation and skills.

Scotland’s Strategic Archaeology Committee (SSAC), which is made up from professionals and interested people from across the heritage sector to lead the Strategy, is celebrating five years of world-leading archaeology from Scotland. The main leads for the Strategy are Historic Environment Scotland, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, National Museums Scotland, Archaeology Scotland and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.

Five highlights which champion the values of the Strategy are:

  • Significant discoveries of national and international importance, such as the rediscovery of a lost medieval bridge at Ancrum which would have been crossed by Mary Queen of Scots and James V, and the unearthing of Scotland’s largest ever collection of medieval burials in Leith, Edinburgh
  • The reconstruction using ancient DNA of a Neolithic dog from a skull discovered at Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn in Orkney – the first such attempt of its kind
  • Increased community participation in archaeology as part of the Strategy’s commitment to encourage and enable people of all backgrounds and ages to engage with Scotland’s past – on average 100,000people have participated in over 400 events annually across Scotland as part of Scottish Archaeology Month
  • Archaeology contributing to addressing long-term issues such as climate change, with the Climate Change Vulnerability Index assessment for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. This pioneering technique for understanding the impact of climate change on historic sites is now being rolled out in World Heritage Sites across the globe
  • Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, from finding new ways of working safely to help support the construction industry deliver projects, to responding to the needs of parents and teachers by making over one hundred free learning resources available online.
Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy in Numbers.

Dr Andy Heald, Chair of the SSAC and Managing Director of AOC Archaeology said:

“It has been fantastic to be involved in this sector-wide partnership, with representatives from the commercial, public and third sectors. We are half-way through this journey now and there will be lots more exciting work happening in the coming five years.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This review highlights some of the inspiring activities that have happened as a result of the Strategy in the past five years – activities that are already delivering dividends on our vision to make archaeology for everyone.

“There have been seismic changes over the past five years, particularly in 2020, and the Strategy has been evolving at pace to reflect the impacts from these current events.

“I am proud to see how we are increasing the visibility of Scotland’s archaeology on the global stage and showcasing our unique history to international colleagues and friends. The fact that Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy has helped inspire other countries to adopt a similar strategic approach is testament to its strength.

“I look forward to seeing the further achievements we will reach together over the next five years in its continuing delivery.”

As one of the delivery partners in the Strategy, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), has invested over £6 million in grant funding to archaeology projects over the five-year period.

Dr Rebecca Jones, Head of Archaeology & World Heritage at HES, said: “This five-year review is a great opportunity to reflect on the pioneering and world-class archaeology that has been achieved since the launch of Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy.

“HES has been proud to play our part in supporting and enabling the different groups and organisations that make up Scotland’s diverse archaeology sector, whether through our programme of grant funding or through staff expertise and resource.

“Collaboration has been essential to delivering the Strategy, and we look forward to continuing to develop new partnerships to empower local communities to get involved and take ownership of their heritage.”

Click here to view the most recent annual magazine – Celebrating Archaeology in Scotland 2020, and to find links to previous issues.

Searching for the Knights Hospitaller Self-Guided Walk – Leicester

  • Location: Castle Hill Country Park, Astill Lodge Road, Beaumont Leys, Leicester LE4 1ED
  • Walk length: 1 mile / 1.5 km
  • Gradient: Moderate to steep with a few steps, grass paths, can be wet underfoot
  • Parking: Car park at community centre on Astill Lodge Road 100m east of park entrance

Download a printable version of the walk here (pdf, 1.69mb).

Map of walk
Map of walk. Image: Google Earth

Welcome to Castle Hill Country Park. This walk will guide you around Castle Hill, the main archaeological site in the park, and tell you what is known so far about its history and archaeology.

Enter the park at the entrance on the corner of Astill Lodge Road and Kingsbridge Crescent

1. Castle Hill Country Park

The park was created in 1984 to protect the enigmatic earthwork at Castle Hill from the encroaching development of Beaumont Leys. Today, the park covers some 250 acres of grassland, plantation and broad-leaved woodland to either side of the A46, between the settlements of Beaumont Leys and Anstey. You can find out more about the park here.

Castle Hill has been the source of much speculation since attention was first drawn to it in the late 19th century. It was shown as a ‘supposed encampment’ on early Ordnance Survey maps of Leicestershire and in 1891, one local historian, F.T. Mott, suggested that it might be an Iron Age hillfort. Better understanding of the site was hindered through much of the late 19th and 20th century, however, by its incorporation within the Beaumont Leys Sewage Farm. Today it is generally recognised as a medieval estate centre associated with the Knights Hospitaller.

A plan of the earthworks at Castle Hill, made by F.T. Mott in 1891.
F.T. Mott’s ‘Plan of Encampment on Beaumont Leys Farm, near Leicester’ (1891).

To find answers, in 2016-18 University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) partnered with Leicester City Council to run a community excavation at Castle Hill. This was the first investigation of the monument and gave volunteers a hands-on opportunity to learn more about the history of their local area. The excavation was part of the City Council’s Story of Parks project, a two-year Heritage Lottery-funded venture to collect and celebrate the history of Leicester’s parks through the stories and memories of the people using them.

Follow the path down the hill keeping the hedge to the right.

2. The Community Orchard

On your left as you walk down the hill is the park’s community orchard. This was planted in 2005 and aims to re-establish a traditional orchard with a wide variety of native fruit trees including many traditional Leicestershire varieties.

An orchard was first mentioned in the possession of the Knights Hospitaller in 1338 and in 1686 an estate map of the Beaumont Leys estate still labelled the field to the north as ‘The Orchard’.

Detail from James Fish’s 1686 map of the Beaumont Leys estate showing the Castle Hill field labelled ‘The Orchard’.
Detail from James Fish’s 1686 map of the Beaumont Leys estate showing the Castle Hill field labelled ‘The Orchard’. Image: Leicestershire Record Office.

Pass through the trees and across the bridge into the grassy glade beyond.

3. Prehistoric and Roman activity

Fieldwalking in fields around the park has recovered a scatter of worked flint of Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age date, as well as Iron Age pottery, showing that people have used this landscape for more than 10,000 years.

A sizeable well-defined scatter of Roman pottery and tile has also been found in this glade, possibly identifying the site of a Roman farmstead surrounded by fields. A substantial quantity of iron slag also suggests that the working of iron was taking place nearby.

Bear right, then turn right through the gate, down the steps and across the bridge into the next field.

4. The medieval manor

You have now entered the Scheduled Monument, given statutory protection in 1980. The hill in front of you is a spur of high ground projecting from a broad ridge running south-west to north-east between the River Soar and the Rothley Brook.

This is a digital terrain model of Castle Hill generated using LiDAR, an airborne survey method which uses a laser to map the ground surface. The image has been processed to remove buildings and vegetation and reveal the shape of the ground beneath. The resulting model clearly shows the many earthworks in the park, including earth banks, ditches and mounds, ridge and furrow, old stream courses, sewage channels and erosion from modern paths. Image: ULAS / Environment Agency / Ordnance Survey.

By the medieval period, this ridge was covered by a mosaic of oakwood, pasture and heath (much like the park’s appearance today), which was exploited for timber, for grazing and for hunting and recreation. After 1066, Leicester Forest was under the control of Leicester’s new Norman overlord, Hugh de Grandmesnil and his successors, the earls of Leicester. Sometime around 1240, the 6th earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, granted land around Castle Hill to the Catholic militant Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller.

The Knights Hospitaller was founded in the early 12th century, following the First Crusade, to provide care for sick, poor and injured pilgrims and to defend the Holy Land. To support its activities, the Order relied heavily on income from its estates and churches in western Europe. In Britain, the Order’s possessions were divided into bailiwicks, each administered from a preceptory. As well as generating revenue, each preceptory would have provided hospitality for travellers and served as a religious house so that its brethren could lead a life in accordance with the rules and statutes of the Order. By the 14th century there were 37 preceptories in England.

An artistic reconstruction of Castle Hill as it may have looked in the early 14th century.
Reconstruction of Castle Hill as it may have looked in the early 14th century. Image: Leicester City Council.

In Leicestershire, the baulk of the Hospitaller possessions, including Castle Hill, were administered from their preceptory at (Old) Dalby, 11 miles away. Our best insight into their land here comes from a 1338 survey. Beaumont was listed as a dependant manor of Dalby with a house, 220 acres of arable land, meadows, pasture and an apple orchard (about 960 acres altogether), managed by a bailiff and a wood keeper (indicating that there was still enough woodland to need management). It was probably established as a sheep farm and in 1306 the brother of the ‘Master of Beaumont’ got into trouble with the burgesses of Leicester for the illegal sale of wool fleece from Beaumont. Little else is known about the manor. A fishpond was mentioned in the 15th century but in 1482 the Hospitallers gave the site to King Edward IV in exchange for the more profitable rectory of St Botolph at Boston in Lincolnshire.

Turn left, bear left as the path forks and follow it around the foot of the hill until you reach the large earth bank at the north end of the field.

5. The fishpond

The low-lying ground you have just walked across is the remains of a large fishpond. In the medieval period, the 100m long, 3m high earth bank in front of you dammed the stream flowing down the valley creating a pond which was at least 100m long and 75m wide. The old stream can still be seen as a dip crossing the path and a nearby circular mound may have been an island in the pond.

Fish was an important part of the medieval diet, especially in religious communities where eating meat was prohibited on certain days of the year, and in the winter when other fresh meat was scarce. Freshwater fish was also valued for the status its costly production brought. Once a year, probably in the spring, the pond would have been drained and cleared. This meant that it needed to be managed by a system of sluices, channels and dams which could control fluctuations in water flow and prevent flooding – an expensive endeavour to properly maintain. The main species of fish kept were probably eel, tench, pickerel, bream, perch, and roach.

A photograph showing the view towards Castle Hill from the fishpond dam.
The view towards Castle Hill from the fishpond dam. The low area to the right is the remains of the fishpond. Image: ULAS.

Most fishponds fell out of use during the post-medieval period, although some were re-used as ornamental features in 19th and early 20th century landscape parks or gardens. Here, probably after 1686 as it is shown on an estate map of that date, the dam was deliberately cut through to drain the pond.

Turn right and follow the path up the hill into the field (NOT the path which continues to follow the hedge).

6. The ridge and furrow

As you climb the hill, above the fishpond, the hillside is covered with long parallel lines of shallow earthworks. These are not usually visible, especially when covered with long vegetation, but can be easily identified using LiDAR. These are the remains of ridge and furrow, created by a system of single-sided ploughing used in Europe in the medieval period. Repeated ploughing would pile earth up into a series of ridges separated by shallow furrows. They show where there was arable field around the manor enclosure.

7. The outer earthwork

As you reach the top of the hill you will notice that you have walked over a bank and ditch. This is the outer earthwork of the medieval manor, a large sub-rectangular enclosure measuring 200m by 150m. The enclosure is formed by a bank measuring up to 1.5m high in places and an outer ditch measuring 5m wide and about 0.5m deep today but originally over 2m deep.

A photograph showing archaeologists excavating the enclosure ditch.
Archaeologists excavating the enclosure ditch. Image: ULAS.

Excavations have found that the bank was carefully built up with earth and stone, presumably dug out of the ditch, but there was no defensive wall. Instead, the bank probably supported a wooden fence or hedge which would have stopped livestock and casual intruders wandering into the enclosure (it was not a castle, despite its name which is a bit of a red herring). So far, there is no indication that the bank and ditch predate the 13th century and it is unlikely that the enclosure was an Iron Age hillfort.

A photograph showing archaeologists excavating the manor house.
Archaeologists excavating the manor house. Image: ULAS

8. The manor house

As you move into the enclosure, on your left, excavations have found a large medieval building, probably the manor house itself. Surviving stone footings show that it measured 8m wide by 15-20m in length. It was timber framed with a slate roof capped with expensive decorative green-glazed ridge tiles. The wall timbers rested on a shallow stone plinth and inside was a central hearth which suggests that part of the building was a hall which was open to the roof. The Guildhall in Leicester, built in the late 14th century, gives us a good idea of what this building might have looked like.

Photographs of a broken ceramic ridge tile with a decorative ‘horn’ finial and broken roof slates left piled against the wall of the manor house.
Left: A broken ridge tile with a decorative ‘horn’ finial. Right: broken roof slates left piled against the wall of the manor house.
A photograph showing inside Leicester’s late 14th-century guildhall.
Inside Leicester’s late 14th-century guildhall. Image: Leicester City Council.

Pottery from the site dates to between the 13th and mid-15th century, consistent with the period the Knights Hospitaller held the manor (1240-1482). So far, excavations have found no evidence of earlier or later occupation, and the site appears to have been abandoned as early as 1450, several decades before the Hospitallers gave the manor to the king.

Photographs of broken 13th/14th-century ceramic jugs.
Parts of two 13th/14th-century jugs.

The floor inside the hall was earth but was at some point was replaced with rough stone paving. Outside were paved and cobbled yards. A stone-lined well was immediately east of the hall and further buildings may have surrounded a yard to the west.

A large quantity of iron slag and hammerscale (the sparks from hitting molten metal) was found covering the hearth. This indicates that a blacksmith was working inside the hall shortly before it was demolished. If this was once the manor house, this shows that the building’s role changed towards the end of its life, moving from high-status residence to a lower status service role.

A photograph of iron slag.
Iron hearth slag, smithing waste left behind by a blacksmith.

During the clearance of the site in the late 15th century, the well was filled in with rubble from the hall, including a well-preserved group of building timbers which had lodged in the well shaft and had survived because of the waterlogged conditions.

A photograph of an archaeologist excavating waterlogged medieval building timbers from a well.
An archaeologist excavates waterlogged medieval building timbers from a well next to the manor house. Image: ULAS.

Follow the path until you reach a crossroads.

9. The central mound

To your right is a small circular mound, often only visible when the grass is cut. It is 12m in diameter and 1m high. Presently, it is unclear what the mound may have been or when it dates too. It could be a prehistoric burial mound. However, there are other interpretations including the mound for a medieval post-mill or even a prospect mound in the post-medieval deer park. Further investigation is needed to learn more.

Turn left and follow the path until you reach another crossroads.

10. The second mound

To your right, this second mound and the hollow to the south have been excavated. Geophysical survey suggested that the hollow might contain a rectangular structure, perhaps a building, but excavation found it to be a pond with the mound formed from the earth dug out of it. The ‘structure’ was stones lining the pond edge, probably to stop it becoming churned up by livestock. An exact date has not been established but it had silted up before the 18th century. The remaining boggy hollow was later adapted as an evaporation pool for the 19th-century sewage farm.

Following Edward IV’s acquisition of Beaumont in 1482, the king cleared the buildings from the site and enclosed part of the manor with a pale as a deer park. A commission of Henry VIII in 1524 found the park to be well-stocked with at least 800 deer but two years later it was disparked and most of the grazing given over to the people of Leicester for their domestic stock.

This pond was most likely a watering hole for deer or livestock during this period of the site’s history although it cannot be ruled out that it was much older, perhaps contemporary with the medieval manor.

Turn right and follow the path across the enclosure, cross the bank and ditch and follow the path downhill.

11. The entrance

As you reach the south-east corner of the site, to your left, the eastern bank of the enclosure flattens. Here the bank is 12m wide but less than half a meter high, twice the width and half the height of the bank elsewhere. Excavation of the ditch outside the bank found a 6m wide break in its line creating a causeway into the site from the high ground to the east. A spread of stones in the entrance may have been the remains of a paved roadway across the causeway. So far, this is the only known entrance to the enclosure but there were probably entrances on the other sides which would have allowed better access to the fishpond and the valley meadows to the north. This entrance was likely used to reach the upland farmland, pasture and woodland to the east and south.

A photograph showing the flattened earth and stone bank near the entrance to the site.
The flattened earth and stone bank near the entrance to the site. Image: ULAS.

The ditch started to silt up during the medieval period and there was no evidence that it was repeatedly dug out and kept clean. Eventually it filled with clay and stone which had eroded from the adjacent bank. In the 19th century, a ceramic drain was inserted down the length of the trench, possibly to improve drainage of the adjacent farmland or as part of the sewage farm.

Follow the path through the hedge and you will reach the park entrance where the walk started.

12. The sewage farm

As you walk around Castle Hill, you may come across several brick and concrete structures. These are the remains of the Beaumont Leys Sewage Farm. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I granted the manor, by then called Beaumont Leys, to Sir Henry Skipworth and it was divided into several arable and pastural farms with a few remnant areas of woodland. Finally, over the period 1885-1901, the entire estate was sold to the Leicester Corporation for use as a sewage disposal works linked to an agricultural scheme known as the City Farms.

An aerial photograph of the Castle Hill monument from the north-east during is use as a sewage farm in the 1960s.
Aerial photograph of the Castle Hill monument from the north-east during is use as a sewage farm in the 1960s. Image: Leicestershire Record Office. A survey of the site in 1913 reported “The work stands on a sewage farm, and channels are cut all about the work and the adjoining land for the filth to run over the same, hence it is not pleasant or very safe to walk about…”

Leicester’s rapidly expanding urban population in the latter half of the 19th century necessitated improved sewage systems. The Leicester Corporation pumped sewage to Beaumont Leys via pipes and culverts from the Abbey Pumping Station on Corporation Road and used the earthwork at Castle Hill and the surrounding fields to hold and dry sewage. Photographs of the site during this period give the impression that extensive damage was done by the digging of sewage channels and evaporation pools. However, excavation has shown that many of these were superficial or reused existing features and had caused very little damage to the underlying archaeology. The sewage farm closed in 1964.

We hope you have enjoyed your walk. Castle Hill is an exceptionally well preserved rural medieval site which has escaped significant damage from modern ploughing because of its later use as a deer park, pasture then sewage farm. Archaeological work here is important. There have been few excavations of Hospitaller sites in Britain and the work at Castle Hill has added valuable new insights into how the Hospitallers lived and operated in England. Work has also established how vulnerable the monument is and has aided Leicester City Council’s efforts to preserve it for the future.

Find out more about the archaeological work in the park here.

This walk was created for the CBA Festival of Archaeology’s Online and Active programme by University of Leicester Archaeological Services and Blaby District Council.

Source: ULAS

Continuing aDNA Analysis of Neolithic and Bronze Age people in the British Isles

Building a Farmhouse.  CC BY-SA 4.0 Hans Splinter (Flikr)

Scientists from the Natural History Museum, the Francis Crick Institute and University College Dublin have looked in detail at the genetics of people who inhabited Britain during the Neolithic (4000-2500 BC) and the Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age (2500-1600 BC), highlighting groups of close genetic relatives buried in separate cemeteries in the landscape surrounding Stonehenge.

The new research uses data from a 2018 study, which is still the largest analysis of ancient DNA from Britain ever conducted, that identified a >90% replacement of the genetic ancestry of people living in Britain between 2500-2100 BC. This coincided with the introduction of ‘Beaker’ material culture and burial practices, and was interpreted to indicate that there were substantial movements of people into Britain from continental Europe during this period.

At the time it was published, popular coverage of the original study speculated that this was a rapid event, potentially involving ‘invasion’ by male warriors, but the new study has found from detailed analysis that it was more likely a long-term process, taking place over maybe 10-16 generations, with both men and women moving for a variety of reasons that might have included exchange, pilgrimage, and the pasturing of animals. Incoming populations and their descendants tended to bury their dead, but local groups probably continued to cremate their dead, which destroys the DNA, or treat them in ways which leave no record. The archaeologically ‘invisible’ local population are only seen when they have children with groups who buried their dead. This may be partly responsible for why this change in ancestry appeared so rapid at first.

Farmhouse in snow. CC BY-SA 4.0 Hans Splinter (Flikr)

Dr Tom Booth, archaeologist at The Francis Crick Institute has said: ‘Initially it looks like groups of ‘locals’ and ‘incomers’ and their descendants lived in parallel with one another to some extent – occupying the same landscapes, slowly integrating and only having children with each other infrequently. After around 300 years they start having children together more liberally – it’s at this point, the older population then have a much lower genetic legacy overall. Why they have such a small overall genetic legacy is still a mystery. It could be that there just weren’t so many people living in Britain at the time these Beaker groups move in from continental Europe.’

Prof Ian Barnes, Researcher and Division Lead at the Natural History Museum has said: ‘An issue we face is that we also don’t know how many people there were from either group, although population size may be declining in the local population of Britain at the end of Neolithic. It may be that the reason why we seem to pick up so many genetic relatives in the Bronze Age is because only small groups of people were moving into Britain.’

The new study also highlights how genetic ties were referenced variably in death among burials in the Stonehenge landscape. A man and his juvenile son were buried next to one another in a cemetery on Amesbury Down. By contrast, a man, his nephew and his nephew’s daughter were buried across three different cemeteries separated by several kilometres. A young man was buried on Boscombe Down with the skull of his paternal cousin or half-brother at his feet. 

Prof. Joanna Brück, archaeologist at University College Dublin, said: ‘Existing interpretations of the genetic evidence paint a picture of a patriarchal society, in which male immigrants married local women. Our research shows that although links with paternal relatives were important, kinship organization was variable, and other relationships, including with maternal kin, were also significant. Sometimes, people who were not genetically related to each other could also be viewed as kin’.

The study found that it is likely there was cultural exchange between existing local groups and incomers. Dr Booth continues ‘Even though they have no ancestry from the older population, they incorporate their monuments into their belief systems very quickly. They are burying people in these areas to reference these monuments as prestigious areas to bury their dead even though it wasn’t their genetic ancestors who built them. Stonehenge and its surrounding landscape are emblematic to a certain extent because it’s important to all groups in this period and when they integrate, it maintains its importance.’

Stonehenge © CC BY-SA 4.0 Diego Delso

Here is the (open access) article Tom Booth wrote with Jo Brück, Selina Brace and Ian Barnes on ancient DNA, genetic change in the Bronze Age, ‘Beaker people’ and genetic relatives buried in the Stonehenge landscape. published in Cambridge Archaeological Journal on 11 February 2021