Secrets from the Soil


ULAS have launched a  new book celebrating their 25th Anniversary and presenting the best archaeological discoveries in Leicestershire and Rutland from the last quarter century. 

Back in 1995 when the council-owned archaeology unit (‘LAU’) was closed, the head of the School of Archaeology at the time (Prof. Graeme Barker) was keen to expand the School to include a commercial unit at the University of Leicester. Combining with Paul Beavitt and Ron Hodgson at the University, along with help from Alan McWhirr, meetings in the snug at the Cradock Arms witnessed former LAU employees Patrick Clay and Richard Buckley putting together a business plan that would underpin the formation of University of Leicester Archaeological Services in July 1995. Since then ULAS have completed thousands of archaeological projects, often in advance of housing, commercial infrastructures, new roads and pipelines, and quarries within the East Midlands and beyond. ULAS currently employ around 50 archaeologists, each with a wealth of local knowledge and specialist expertise. Whilst ULAS work across the East Midlands, the majority of their projects are in Leicestershire and Rutland, hence the focus of the new book on the most exciting discoveries within these two counties.

“One of the strengths of ULAS is being part of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, fostering close connections with its research and teaching. Our work is supported by academics, and we contribute towards training students to professional standards. We have strong links to the wider community, participating in many ‘outreach’ events and regularly giving talks to local societies, schools, and other groups”.

Vicki Score, Director of ULAS

Vicki Score, Director of ULAS

“The School is extremely proud to have worked in partnership with ULAS for the last 25 years. As they have grown in stature as one of the UK’s major units, so the School has also grown along with them. ULAS’ commitment to our teaching programs and outreach activities improves and enhances the student experience and provides important links between the University and the wider community. Having the unit staff work alongside undergraduates and postgraduates provides important opportunities for students to gain professional skills, within CIfA accredited programmes, ahead of their future employment beyond the University of Leicester – or indeed within the University, as many graduates are now employees! All of us in the School recognise the value of having a commercial enterprise like ULAS working in partnership with the academic community in the School. We all look forward to future collaborations as researchers, educators, and sometimes, as with the wider public, as fans of the archaeological discoveries.”

Dr Huw Barton, Head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester

Dr Huw Barton, Head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester

Discoveries span across time, with the earliest from a quarry just north of Leicester at Brooksby, where – in 2006 – a Palaeolithic river, bones from a straight-tusked elephant, along with hunter-gather artefacts from 500,000 years ago were uncovered. Elsewhere, in the east of the county at Glaston, evidence for a Palaeolithic hunting ground (both human and hyaena) were discovered in 2000, along with further Palaeolithic hunting grounds at Bradgate Park in 2014 and Launde in 1996. Sites from the Mesolithic period (11,000-6,000 years ago) are usually very rare in this region, the exception is in 2008 at Asfordby where thousands of worked lithics were discovered close to hearths, radiocarbon dated to around 8,000 cal. BC.

Palaeolithic activity at Bradgate Park and Glaston

The Neolithic (4000-2500 BC) sees the beginnings of agriculture in Britain, and the emergence of more permanent settlements. These are rarely seen in our region, yet remarkably two sites from the same village – Rothley in 2005 and 2010 – revealed structures,  worked lithics, and an remarkable stone plaque with decorated lines and shapes that may represent a face. The period is also characterised by large ceremonial and burial monuments. In 1998 a huge circular monument – a causewayed enclosure, formed by two parallel ditches – the size of three football pitches was discovered at Husbands Bosworth, along with a smaller henge and burial.

Neolithic monument at Husbands Bosworth, and structure and plaque at Rothley

The transition from the Neolithic to Bronze Age (2500-800 BC) was gradual and was characterised by expansion into areas of previously unexploited land, from 1996-99 ULAS excavated at Watermead Country Park, exploring a river-edge site used seasonally by transient people for a variety of activities. The Bronze Age also saw the construction of numerous ceremonial and burial monuments, ULAS investigated two Bronze Age round barrows at nearby Cossington from 1999-2001, and a monumental complex consisting of opposed pairs of large ring ditches and D-shaped enclosures at Eye Kettleby in 1996-97.

Bronze Age burials and Cossington, and skull from Watermead.

At the time ULAS was founded, this region was viewed as rather a cultural backwater in the Iron Age (800 BC-AD 43), but the huge amount of information about the Iron Age landscape of Leicestershire gathered by ULAS over the past 25 years has revealed a rich variety of settlements and important ritual centres, and demonstrated trading links with other areas.

In 2013-14 a large agglomerated Iron Age settlement showed evidence for several large cauldrons and even a sword. Hillforts are one of the most recognisable features of the Iron Age landscape, dominating their surroundings. In 2010 a five-year programme incorporated the School of Archaeology & Ancient History’s field school for training undergraduates at Burrough Hill. This is one of the best preserved hillfort in the East Midlands, and the project revealed numerous small enclosures and other boundaries and a series of roundhouses nestled in the lee of the ramparts.

Another truly outstanding discovery came in a field near Hallaton in 2000 where a local metal detectorist found over 200 mainly Iron Age silver coins. From 2001–3 ULAS and the local fieldwork group undertook an excavation revealing a sacred place. The spectacular finds included a superb Roman cavalry helmet along with thousands of silver and gold coins, transforming our understanding of pre-Roman societies in the East Midlands and throw new light on the Roman conquest.

In 2015 an excavation close to Fosse Park on the outskirts of Leicester revealed a unique 2,300-year-old bark shield, the only known example in Europe! The shield was made from a thin layer of bark, into which narrow split laths had been driven. The shield was edged with a rim of split hazel, and a handle of willow roundwood was attached with withy ties. The outside of the shield had been decorated with fine lines cut at right angles into the surface forming squares and rectangles. Red ochre paint had been used to infill some of the shapes, forming a chequerboard design. Shields are rare in British prehistory and one constructed from bark is unprecedented, making this finely crafted and carefully decorated artefact completely unique in Europe.

Iron Age hillfort (Burrough), bark shield in a pit (Enderby), iron cauldron (Glenfield), and vast coin hoard (Hallaton),

In the last quarter century, our understanding of Roman Leicester (AD 43-410) has been transformed, with a variety of public and private buildings, colourful mosaics, and burials uncovered. The most extensive phases of work, between 2003–9, saw major excavations in advance of building the Highcross Leicester retail quarter, as well as at De Montfort University and the Leicester Square development on Sanvey Gate. A second wave of redevelopment from 2016–19 led to excavations to the west of Highcross Street, and close to the River Soar in the Bath Lane and Waterside area. Over 15% of the historic walled area of Roman and medieval Leicester has now been investigated. The result is that Leicester is one of the most intensively excavated cities in the UK, greatly enhancing our in-depth understanding of Leicester’s ancient past.

Roman Leicester, burial, Stibbe mosaic, town wall.

Until recently the nature of settlement during the early Anglo-Saxon period (AD 410-650) has been poorly understood. Thanks to the large-scale excavations in the 2000s, we can now see that life within Leicester continued, but in a much-transformed way. We also now know more about nearby settlements, ULAS’ first big project in 1996 – an Anglo-Saxon Settlement at Eye Kettleby discovered over 50 structures along with pottery, brooches, and tools – it is still the largest Saxon settlement excavated in the county.

A life in Ruins – early Anglo-Saxon Leicester, pottery, and building at Eye Kettleby

Urban excavations have shed light on many aspects of medieval Leicester, with buildings, a brewery, burials and churches, and even an abbey investigated. In 2003 archaeological work ahead of the new BBC Radio Leicester building revealed extensive and well-preserved medieval domestic and industrial structures of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. As well as a number typical narrow urban tenement (building) plots, the excavations uncovered a stone undercroft built between 1150–1250, the first example from Leicester of a type of structure long recognised in other medieval towns. Further along Highcross Street, in 2005, an excavation revealed Saxo-Norman, medieval and post-medieval buildings set out in long narrow properties. The earliest structures were timber buildings dating to the later 9th or 10th century, the first Saxo-Norman buildings found in Leicester. By the 12th century they had been replaced with more substantial timber-framed buildings that rested on stone footings. By the 14th century, the yard behind one building contained stone ovens and kilns associated with brewing.

Three medieval parish churches – St Peter, St Clement and St Michael – existed until the 16th century, but after they were demolished their exact locations went unrecorded and were eventually forgotten. During excavations in the mid-2000s and again in 2018–19, the three ‘lost’ parish churches were rediscovered, along with their accompanying cemeteries. Over 2,000 skeletons were carefully exhumed from the three churchyards, combining to make one of the largest investigations of a medieval town’s population in the East Midlands, and providing a rare opportunity to examine the health and lifestyle of many of the inhabitants of medieval Leicester.

medieval undercroft under BBC Radio Leicester (2003), brewery activity at Freeschool Lane (2005), and medieval burials at Waterside (2018)

Since the late 1990s ULAS has been closely involved in the running of various undergraduate fieldwork training excavations. From 2000–09 the site of Leicester Abbey was investigated as part of a School of Archaeology and Ancient History field school for students. Whilst in 2003, the inhabitants of Great Easton, in south-east Leicestershire, together with ULAS and Channel 4’s Time Team, undertook a test-pit investigation across the gardens in the village to try to establish the origins of the village and to chart its subsequent development. The project complemented longer-term ‘community archaeology’ programmes, for which ULAS has been involved in throughout the last 25 years, notably most recently in 2016-18 at Oakham Castle. From 2015–19 a student training and research excavation was undertaken in the popular recreational park of Bradgate Park, a park best known as the location of an unfortified brick-built aristocratic house, the birthplace and childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, (uncrowned) Queen of England for 9 days in 1553. The central aim of the project was to enhance community involvement in the understanding and presentation of this important regional monument for the benefit of the wider public.

Student and community training projects at Great Easton (2003), Oakham Castle (2016-18), Abbey Park (2000-09), and Bradgate Park (2016-19).

One of the most memorable discoveries of the last 25 years of ULAS occurred in August 2012, when an archaeological project at Grey Friars Street in Leicester rediscovered the lost grave of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle. The grave had lain lost but undisturbed beneath a city centre car park (previously a garden) for more than 500 years until a search, initiated by Philippa Langley and undertaken by the University of Leicester (in partnership with the Richard III Society and Leicester City Council), managed to relocate the remains of one of England’s more notorious medieval monarchs. It was a discovery earned in large part though the detailed knowledge and long-term commitment with development work in the city of Leicester. The award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2013, held jointly with the University of Leicester, recognised ULAS’ long record of exceptional research, commercial archaeology and public engagement in history and heritage of which the discovery of Richard III was an important highlight.

The discovery of King Richard III (2012)

Over the past 25 years, ULAS excavations around the Newarke – today the campus of De Montfort University – along Mill Lane, Bonners Lane, Grange Lane, Oxford Street and York Road, have revealed extensive evidence for the civil war defences (constructed during the First English Civil War, 1642–46). Leicester was besieged and ‘miserably plundered’ by the Royalists under Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert on 28–31 May 1645, before Parliamentarian forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax recaptured the town a fortnight later on June 16. These defences consisted of massive ditches and earth ramparts and included a horn work described as the ‘Southgate Sentry’, protecting the approach to the town along Oxford Street. Close to the Newarke Gateway, a 10m-wide earth rampart was fronted by a 6m-wide ditch that was over 2m deep. Here for the first time, clear evidence was found for the demolition of buildings before the ditch was dug.

More recent archaeology from the 19th and 20th centuries has been investigated over the years. Notable sites include a former pottery factory at Coleorton in north-west Leicestershire in 2012, where well-preserved brick kilns provided significant new information on the Coleorton pottery industry. Canal locks at Foxton have the largest flight of staircase locks on the English canal system, and ‘Inclined Plane’ on the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal. ULAS undertook work between 2006 and 2008, this resulted in making this notable piece of Victorian technology much more understandable. ULAS has also been involved in several building recording projects associated with civil defence. During the Second World War, in late 1939 and 1940 a number of Leicester schools constructed shelters for their pupils which could also be used by civilians during night-time bombing raids, the surveys revealed many fascinating details, including some Graffiti on the walls that included aircraft, cartoons, and even a Hitler caricature!

English Civil War defences in Leicester, and a Victorian kiln at Coleorton.

The new book describes these projects and more, along with many photographs and reconstruction illustrations. Entitled ‘Secrets from the Soil. University of Leicester Archaeological Services: A Quarter Century of discoveries from Palaeolithic to Modern Times’ is compiled by Dr Gavin Speed (Project Manager at ULAS) who says:

“This book acts as a ‘greatest hits’ of ULAS’ first 25 years. The outstanding discoveries showcased in this 25-year anniversary book, would not have been possible without the contribution of the many organisations who funded these projects over the years. The majority of the text was written by, or based on, the work of current and former ULAS staff: Steve Baker, Matthew Beamish, Richard Buckley, Jen Browning, Lynden Cooper, Nick Cooper, Patrick Clay, Jon Coward, Neil Finn, Anthony Gnanaratnam, James Harvey, Tim Higgins, Leon Hunt, Andy Hyam, Wayne Jarvis, Steve Jones, Roger Kipling, Mathew Morris, John Thomas, Susan Ripper, Vicki Score, and Gavin Speed. Thanks also to assistance from John Thomas and Pamela Lowther. Thanks are also due to the amazing people who work and have worked for ULAS over the last quarter century, too numerous to mention here, who often toiled through hard weather and difficult working conditions to reveal some of the Secrets from the Soil of Leicestershire and Rutland”.

The book is priced at £9.95 and available to buy at Shop@le:

Source: ULAS

Cooking up Chronology

Title Image: Illustration of an Early Neolithic pot from Cornwall. Credit Cotswold Archaeology

Pottery is one of the most commonly recovered artefacts from archaeological sites, but accurate radiocarbon-dating of these objects has proven extremely challenging. A team of scientists at Bristol University, led by Prof Richard Evershed, and associated research colleagues from various organisations including CA, have developed a technique to accurately and directly radiocarbon-date pottery.

This technique targets the fatty residues from food trapped within the porous fabrics of pottery vessels used to prepare, cook and consume food. The process involves using preparative gas chromatography to extract palmitic and stearic fatty acids from pottery. The residue is then radiocarbon-dated using accelerator mass spectrometry.

Focusing on pottery of Neolithic date and from sites of known age that have already been dated by scientific means, such as the Sweet Track (Somerset),  this new technique will allow the direct dating of individual vessels, the construction of refined typochronologies and the mapping of pottery distributions and direction of any geographical spread {trade/exchange}. In particular, the technique can be used where other organic material that is routinely used for scientific dating  simply has not survived.

The new technique features in the online edition of Nature (Volume 580).

The post Cooking up Chronology appeared first on Cotswold Archaeology.

Source: Cotswold Archaeology

Roman Bread ovens a key find in Lincolnshire

Main Image: Base of a Roman oven: Allen Archaeology

Thousands of artefacts were discovered along the route of the Spalding Western Relief Road, Lincolnshire with some of the oldest activity dating back to the Iron Age.

According to Ian Marshman, historic environment officer for the county council, one of the most interesting finds has been an unusual type of Roman oven. “Whilst archaeologists have previously found small parts of these Roman ovens before, this is thought to be one of the best preserved examples ever found in Britain.

“The archaeology team hopes to reconstruct the oven’s shape and analyse its ash to better understand how it was used and what might have been cooked in it – giving us a fascinating insight into Roman industry and trade. “Ovens like this seem to have been used where there was a need to cook lots of bread quickly, like at the amphitheatre in Chester. So our current theory is that the ovens were used to bake bread for people making salt out in the fens.”

Other interesting finds unearthed include:

  • Roman quern stone – would have been used to grind grain to make flour, perhaps for bread baked in the ovens. It was found in the bottom of a large Roman ditch, and might have been re-used as an anchor for a small Roman fen boat.
  • Medieval thimble – made of copper alloy it looks just like the kind of thimbles still used to protect your finger when sewing today.
  • Medieval knife handle – a humble everyday object made from bone, which had been polished smooth from years of use.

Dr Marshman added: “In the late Roman period, the site was inundated by rising water levels in the fens, caused by a climate change event that meant wetter colder weather.

“The team found evidence for activity again in the medieval period, once the area was no longer under water. Some pottery from the Saxon period was also found, which could mean that people returned to the site even earlier.”

Mick McDaid, Project Manager for Allen Archaeology – the firm contracted to research the site’s archaeology – said: “The first step in the investigation was to pull together and review all of the available resources related to this area of Spalding, including old maps, historical documents and previous nearby archaeological investigations.

“From there, trial holes were excavated to develope a better understanding of what might be found buried underground along the route. We then started to excavate the area.

“First, we carefully removed the topsoil from each area using a 14-tonne excavator. We then used shovels, spades, picks and barrows to expose features and artefacts before using lighter hand tools, like trowels and hand brushes, to excavate and clean what we’d uncovered.

“A full written record of each feature or layer was then produced, describing all its defining characteristics, including its relationship with other features we unearthed. Each discovery was also photographed, and GPS equipment was used document the specific location of each one on a map.

“Now that the excavation is finished, we will analyse the artefacts, animal bones and shells to help piece together more about the site’s long history. Archaeological scientists will also study samples of soil and charcoal to create a picture of the local environment, and how this was affected by climate change events in the past.”

Cllr Richard Davies, executive member for highways, said: “When building a new road, it’s not just about constructing bridges and laying tarmac. First and foremost, it’s really important to understand and protect the area’s heritage so future generations can learn from and understand its rich history.

“It’s truly amazing when you stop and think about what’s underneath the ground below your feet.”

With the archaeology now complete, further works on-site in the next few weeks will be the construction of a haul road and the main site compound, along with final preparatory gas protection works and borehole testing. Main construction works are expected to start in the spring (taking place off of local roads until summer – more details about traffic management to be shared once finalised and confirmed).

For the latest news on the Spalding Western Relief Road, visit

Lincolnshire County Council

Excavation at Jesus College, Cambridge

Main Image: An aerial view of the site, taken from the roof of the college. The modern topsoil and garden paths have been removed using a machine, to reveal the remains of Alfred Waterhouse’s 19th century building, visible in the top-left corner, the cellars and walls of a 17th century building visible in the bottom-right corner, and dark post-medieval soil layers in between.   - Cotswold Archaeology

Cotswold Archaeology, with assistance from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, is currently excavating a site at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, ahead of work by Northmores Associates to extend and modernise the faculty’s kitchen block.

Jesus College began life in the 12th century as a Benedictine nunnery, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Radegund. The nunnery was dissolved in 1496 and repurposed as a college for the university. The core of Jesus College still retains the basic layout of the medieval nunnery, including the cloister court and the conventual church, which now functions as the college chapel.

The current excavation is being undertaken within the Pump Court, a large courtyard on the north side of the college’s Great Hall. This area would have lain just outside the nunnery cloister during the medieval period, of which the Great Hall was originally a part. Early plans and drawings of the college from the 17th century depict this area as a series of gardens containing several small buildings. Many of these small structures and gardens appear to have been swept away by the 19th century, when new buildings were added around the edges of what became known as the Pump Court. Several of these 19th century additions were built by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect who designed the Natural History Museum in London. The new structures included an additional hall building, constructed by Waterhouse in the southwest corner of the Pump Court, but subsequently demolished in the 1960s. The origin of the Pump Court’s name is currently uncertain but probably came about because at some point there was a well and water pump within the courtyard.

The unique history of the site means that the excavation has the potential to uncover an array of important and interesting archaeological information. For example, we hope that it will provide us with a rare opportunity to study the remains of two successive self-contained, single-gender communities (the all-female medieval nunnery followed by the originally all-male college) which occupied the same location. The site’s position, adjacent to the cloister, also raises the possibility that we may encounter previously unknown medieval remains belonging to the nunnery.

Watch out for updates as excavation progresses! Here:

Highways England Master’s Studentships on the archaeology of the A14 via MOLA Headland JV

Main Image: Circular Henge Monument: courtesy-of-MOLA-Headland-Infrastructure

From July 2021 we will be welcoming two Archaeology Master’s Students to MOLA Headland Infrastructure as part of an exciting MA Studentship opportunity, funded by Highways England and delivered in conjunction with the University of Reading.

The award-holders will spend the first 12 weeks of their programme (July-September 2021) on a placement with our specialists and will then enrol on the University of Reading full-time MA Archaeology.

Each award focuses on a different topic, but both will focus on material excavated during our archaeological excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Road Improvement Scheme:

New light on old iron: long-term and landscape approaches to craft, architecture and economics using the structural ironwork found during excavations for the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme

An examination into the morphology of Iron Age and Romano-British livestock using selected faunal data found during excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme

The results from the Master’s dissertations will form part of the larger A14 analysis programme currently being undertaken.

Each award covers:

  • Tuition fees for new UK/Republic of Ireland students (£7,735 per year)
  • £5,000 during 12-week placement
  • £11,500 stipend over the duration of the master’s course (paid in three instalments)

Not covered:

  • Any additional expenses required (living expenses, travel expenses)

The deadline for applications is 1 May 2021; to be considered you first need to submit an application for the full-time MA Archaeology programme and receive an offer.

See the studentship full terms and conditions here.

You can read more about last years MA Studentships here, with stories from Lanah and Jemma in this blog.


MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Anglo-Saxon cemetery and settlement found in Northamptonshire


A team of archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology have uncovered the largest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire while working on a Barratt and David Wilson Homes development at Overstone Gate.  Over the course of 12 months, the team undertook detailed excavation and recording across a 15 hectare site, uncovering a spectacular array of archaeology that spanned some 4000 years. 

  • Saxon decorated brooch
  • Collection of beads and brooches from Burial 1
  • Preserved textile on Saxon brooch

Rich Anglo Saxon burials

In total, 154 Anglo-Saxon burials were located and excavated, containing a beautiful array of grave goods amounting to over 3000 individual artefacts. These included jewellery (roughly 150 brooches, 15 rings, 2000 beads, 75 wrist clasps and 15 chatelaines), weapons (25 spears, 40 knives and 15 shield bosses), and other more everyday objects such as cosmetic kits and bone combs.

Pieces of textile, which rarely survive in the archaeological record, were found preserved next to metal objects which had caused them to mineralise. All of the finds have now been removed from site for analysis by specialists.

Anglo Saxon Settlement and Bronze Age Barrows

A previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement of 22 structures was also identified, with 20 more Anglo-Saxon buildings found scattered around the site. Prehistoric evidence included three Bronze Age round barrows, 46 prehistoric burials, and four Bronze Age buildings.

Simon Markus, Project Manager at MOLA, said:

“The Overstone Leys site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire. It is rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation. The excavations will help us understand the way people lived in both the Anglo-Saxon period, around 1,500 years ago as well as the Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago. The human remains will tell us about diet, health and even the origins of the people themselves whilst their buildings can teach us what their day-to-day lives were like and how they utilised the local landscape in these two different periods.”

John Dillion, Managing Director at Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Midlands, said:

“We’re blown away by the findings at our site in Overstone and have enjoyed learning more about what the land was previously used for. It is amazing to think that people have been building homes on this site for around 4,000 years, and we hope to continue this long-standing tradition with our new and already flourishing community.”

Simon Mortimer, Archaeological Consultant at RPS Group, said:

“The true impact of developer funding for archaeological work is never more apparent than on sites like these. These are ‘once a lifetime discoveries’ for the archaeologists on site and none of this was known about before we started on site. This is huge advance in our understanding of two key periods in the history of Northamptonshire – the Bronze Age and the Saxon periods and there is a unique story to tell which links populations across 3000 years.”

Excavations at Overstone Gate were fully funded by Barratt and David Wilson Homes. MOLA was appointed and supported in its work by the scheme’s heritage consultants, RPS Group.

Archaeology Ex Machina – the VALT application and LIDAR landscape data


Virtual Reality and its use in archaeology is nothing new, but it has almost exclusively been relegated to applications for public engagement or presentation of sites to the general public. By comparison, there has been little use of this technology in the study and analysis of archaeological data and sites.

Stepping into this void is the VALT application: Virtualised Archaeological Landscapes Toolset.

VALT is a proof-of-concept application, created to explore the abilities of modern games engines to provide archaeological tools for landscape investigation.

The general premise of the software is to provide the means to convert LIDAR landscape data into a virtual landscape that can be explored and analysed using a VR interface. The conversion and import of the landscape data should be as automated as possible to allow users of most technical abilities to utilise the software. It should allow notes, records and other outputs from use within the virtual environment to be outputted to mediums outside the application, and should also allow multiple users to engage within the same landscape simultaneously. While of course, this is no substitute for actually being physically present in the field, it does allow for some measure of control that is not possible in the real world, such as control of the sun, weather and even sounds and modern developments. It would also be possible to accentuate the height of the LIDAR data making certain features more prominent.


An application in search of a host

The VALT application was born out of a PhD project that sadly never saw submission. The project lives on, and I am currently seeking funding or hosting at an organisation to take this software beyond its initial development up to a full release.

As of the end of the Archaeology Ex Machina PhD project, the VALT application is deemed to be in Beta version 0.1. By this, the application is in a working state with the basic functionality working and the proof of concept defined and proven by its use. It is unoptimized and hard-coded to one particular VR system (specifically the Windows Mixed Reality system) and does not feature any scalability and so is unlikely to run very well on less powerful computer systems than the one it was developed on. A tech demo of the application can be downloaded from the current VALT website ( ) and requires SteamVR compatible VR hardware as well as a gaming specification computer to run properly. The current software allows the user to experience two case study sites with various resolutions of LIDAR data, complete with the addition of reconstructed buildings for use as focal points.

Further development of the software is categorised into the following areas:

  1. User Interface
  2. LIDAR data import, modification and conversion to heightmap and auto-material. a. Library of reconstruction static meshes with the ability to import new ones.
  3. Output system for recording of notes and in simulation information
  4. “Multiplayer” (multi-user) support over TCP/IP
  5. Patching and update system

The multi-user aspect of this software is proving to be the most highly anticipated, as it would allow multiple users to experience the same landscape data while potentially being physically anywhere on the planet with a decent internet connection. It should be mentioned that this application has so far been the work of only one developer.

This method of investigating landscape data well received in its alpha testing phase and has the potential to become a very powerful tool for the collaborative exploration of archaeological landscapes, especially in a post-pandemic world. Further funded development and/or inclusion within a presiding organisation can only add to its functionality and allow archaeologists to make analytical use of this technology.

Period packs to be provided by FAME

Archaeology trade body FAME is to provide all its members with period packs.

The trade association for archaeology in the UK and Ireland, FAME – the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers, has teamed up with the Seeing Red project to provide all FAME member organisations with period packs – the size of first aid kits and just as important. These kits contain essential supplies to deal with menstruation for archaeologists out in the field or in the office, from packs of tissues to waste bags to various types of tampons and pads. These packs help employers and individuals to deal with issues of menstrual health and hygiene on sites, as well as contributing to tackling period poverty. This is the first time an archaeological representative body has taken the step of providing such packs to its members. 

Seeing Red is a menstruation revolution for archaeology, fieldwork and heritage industries.

Run by archaeologist Amy Talbot, the initiative is promoting better menstrual health and hygiene on sites, equipping staff with the confidence to talk to site management about periods, and enabling management to deal appropriately with menstruation on sites. Seeing Red recognises that it is not only cis women that menstruate and is open to support all who could be affected by menstruation.

Kenneth Aitchison, CEO of FAME, had this to say about the project, ‘It is amazing to see what Seeing Red has achieved since it was launched a year ago. FAME champions health, safety and hygiene in archaeology and the FAME Board of Directors was pleased to unanimously agree to fund the provision of period packs to all our members’.

Amy Talbot, ‘Until now I have been creating the packs using my own funds and a small anonymous £50 donation, so it was great that FAME stepped forward to help fund the provision of packs to their members who make up so much of the development-led, commercial archaeology sector. I hope even more archaeological organisations will now come forward to provide their staff, students and volunteers with the packs.’

In addition to the period packs, Seeing Red has also produced, a guide, costings and a set of answers to common questions. All of these can be found on the Seeing Red page of the Mentoring for Womxn in Archaeology and Heritage website

If you would like to discuss the Seeing Red initiative or to donate to support their work, please contact Amy at

Reporting Bullying and Sexual Harassment: a workplace survey by BAJR Respect

(Header Image: Image by John Hain from Pixabay)

Kayt Hawkins & Cat Rees, December 2020

In many ways, as a profession, archaeology is no more or less prone to instances of sexual harassment and bullying than any other. In 2019 the BAJR Respect campaign ran a short survey to explore attitudes towards the reporting of sexual harassment and bullying; the emphasis on sexual rather than other forms of harassment deriving from the campaign’s origins in the publication of BAJR Guide 44 [External LINK] and on bullying as it lacks the legal clarification that harassment (under the 9 protected characteristics) is afforded by the Equalities Act 2010 [External LINK]. Often harassment and bullying as terms are discussed together yet they are quite distinct forms of behaviour and dealt with differently under employment law. All too often bullying is dismissed as a personality clash by employers and the situation with whistleblowing is also unclear, (Although a good case study for archaeologists by Protect can be found here [External LINK ].

The BAJR Respect guide was published in 2017, fortuitously around the same time as the global #MeToo phenomenon. As in most industries #MeToo appeared to have an impact on the archaeological sector and certainly opened up conversations relating to sexual harassment as can be seen by a search on this topic via the archaeological ethics database []. Yet with the lack of any baseline data for comparison, we were interested in establishing how, if at all, this may have affected individual archaeologists confidence in reporting witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace.

A short survey of 10 questions was devised and circulated via social media over the space of two weeks during February 2020. In total 281 responses were received, a similar number to that reported by the archaeology branch of a recent Prospect trade union survey (Andrew, Bryan & Watson 2019). In terms of demographics 63% of respondents to the BAJR Respect survey identified as female, 32% as male (5% responded either as another gender or preferred not to respond).  The majority of responses were from those in the 25-34 years bracket, followed by 35-44 years of age at 36% and 29% respectively.  

The survey

Rates of occurrence and types of sexual harassment that archaeologists experience have previously been documented, most recently by Andrew et al 2019) which, to summarise showed:

 30% of women reported suggestive ‘jokes’ and 27% unwanted comments on appearance.

Anecdotally we know that 3rd party sector harassment is a particular concern for archaeologists and the Andrew et al survey provided the long needed figures that confirm this  with a reported rate of 19%  as opposed to the national figure of 7% as reported by a TUC survey (TUC 2016).

With this in mind we asked:

  •  ‘If you were to experience bullying would you report it?’
  • ‘If you were to experience sexual harassment would you report it?’

Although 60% of respondents said they would report bullying if they experienced it, 75% responded that they would report experiences of sexual harassment (Figure 1).  This difference may in part be due to the different legal situation regarding harassment and bullying, although it may also reflect a general increase in awareness and unacceptance of sexual harassment in the workplace following #MeToo, particularly within in the younger workforce members, and young men in particular [External LINK]

Figure 1: If you experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace would you report it, by number of responses received (total 281)
Figure 1: If you experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace would you report it, by number of responses received (total 281)

Many employees, not just within our own sector, fear the risk of reprisal if they report bullying or harassment (of any type) to their employer. In a  relatively small profession such as archaeology where there are high levels of job insecurity there is a very real fear of being ‘marked’ as a trouble maker and of long lasting consequences such as being frozen out of future employment. Combined with the reported gender imbalances across organisations (Cobb & Croucher 2020) and personal grievances not being covered by UK whistleblowing law (unless in the public interest) it is particularly daunting for early career professionals to risk reporting. As a profession we have yet to adequately address these fears, as shown by the response to the next two questions which asked:

  • ‘If you reported bullying in a work environment are you confident action would be taken?’
  • ‘If you reported sexual harassment in a work environment are you confident action would be taken?’

Bullying showed a higher rate of dissatisfaction with just 24% of respondents confident that their employer would take action if they made a complaint of bullying (Figure 2). Confidence levels for those reporting sexual harassment were higher with 44% of respondents confident that action would be taken but again this is perhaps surprising given the desire to report recorded in the earlier question.

Figure 2: If you reported bullying or sexual harassment are you coifdent action would be taken, by number of responses received (total 281)
Figure 2: If you reported bullying or sexual harassment are you coifdent action would be taken, by number of responses received (total 281)

These results should alert employers to the number of implications, not least the immediate safety of their employees, yet also the wider reaching consequences on staff morale and workplace cultures.  There are many steps employers can take to protect staff and engender a positive, inclusive workplace environment – which has time and again been shown to have not just financial benefits for an organisation but also aligns with the professional ethics to which we should surely all be adhering, both at an organisation and individual level [External LINK].

As anecdotally and through conversations in private support groups, we were hearing that time and again individuals were wanting to address incidents of sexual harassment and bullying we asked:

‘if you witnessed bullying or sexual harassment occurring would you intervene in any of the following ways’

  • Intervene on the spot: 59.4%
  • Tell the harasser that their behaviour is/was inappropriate: 55.5%
  • Offer the harassed or bullied person your support in private: 70%
  • Report it within your organisation: 59.7%
  • Report it to a trade union representative: 19.9%
  • Signpost the bullied or harassed person to support organisations: 33.5%
  • All of the above: 18.5%
  • None of the above: 1%

Bystander intervention [External LINK] can play a fundamental part in eradicating workplace harassment so it is hugely reassuring that 99% of respondents would have acted in at least one of the ways listed, with just 2 respondents ticking ‘none of the above’ (Figure 3). This is a clear message to employers; empower your workforce to have the confidence, the awareness and the appropriate skills to support their colleagues when incidents occur, whether between work colleagues or with third parties. If individuals are to intervene it is vitally important that they are able to do so safely and with the knowledge that they have their employers support.

Figure 3: Responses (as a percentage) of actions respondents would be prepared to take if witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace
Figure 3: Responses (as a percentage) of actions respondents would be prepared to take if witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace

Lastly we wanted to know, in addition to #MeToo conversations, have initiatives within our sector also played a part in altering approaches to confronting sexual harassment and bullying. The survey asked:

 ‘Have recent initiatives by BAJR Respect and other organisations increased awareness of bullying and sexual harassment issues within the sector’ to which 50% of respondents replied ‘yes’,  12% ‘no’ and the remainder ‘I don’t know. This was followed up by the question

If awareness has increased, has this led to more positive action by employers? To which just 15% replied that it had led to more positive action. Overall there was a strong sense from respondents that it is all too easy for employers to be seen to be taking measures but not actually then backing this up with committed actions. The situation is even difficult for freelance archaeologists.

‘There is some commitment to change, but little action has been taken’

‘Many units pay lip service but core attitudes don’t change’

‘The positive action is coming from colleagues’

‘It depends on the organisation and doesn’t necessarily encompass freelance archaeologists’

Reporting Bullying and Sexual Harassment: a workplace survey

If employers are making steps to reduce their staff experiencing sexual harassment then it may be that these messages are not being adequately communicated to staff, particularly in light of the answers received to the following multiple choice question:

‘If you are employed, do you know if your employer has any of the following in place:’

  • A policy on sexual harassment: 58%
  • A clear process for reporting sexual harassment: 21%
  • Training for those in HR roles to handle reports of sexual harassment: 15%
  • Tool box talks that cover sexual harassment: 11%
  • Training for all employees on sexual harassment: 9%
  • A no retaliation policy: 4%
  • None of the above: 22%

Sexual harassment is covered under the definition of harassment within the Equalities Act 2010 [External LINK], It is therefore worrying that only 58% of respondents were aware of their employer having a workplace policy regarding sexual harassment (Figure 4).  If an employer is committed to tackling these unwanted workplace behaviours then they need to do more than just refer to their organisations anti-harassment policy as in doing so they do indeed run the risk of merely ‘ticking boxes’ or actively participating in an archaeological form of ‘green-washing’ (disinformation designed to present a particular public image).

Figure 4: Responses (as a percentage) of employer actions (multiple choice question)
Figure 4: Responses (as a percentage) of employer actions (multiple choice question)

There needs to be more consistent, positive action so that all across the sector…know the appropriate processes to report

There is a need for accessible, clear polices relating to harassment and bullying which include examples of inappropriate behaviours, in conjunction with a robust, confidential reporting system. Many UK commercial archaeology organisations are small-scale and may not have a dedicated, suitably trained person in post to deal with complaints of this nature. There may be ethical dilemmas to consider here in terms of interpersonal relationships within an organisation and any conflict of interest should be declared if an investigation is to be unbiased. Specific training aimed at preventing sexual harassment can run the risk of re-enforcing gender stereotypes (Tinkler 2013; Kearney et al 2004) and if an employer is going to invest in such training then it should be compulsory for all staff within an organisation. Unconscious bias training and bystander training are also now available for organisations either as ‘off the peg’ or bespoke and there are many resources available online for employers to share with staff.

The creation of a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment and bullying within the organisation is essential, not just because of the legal implications of an harassment case being brought and the financial benefits of a positive, welcoming and inclusive work environment but because it is the morally and ethically right thing to do.  As the Andrew et al survey showed, bullying and sexual harassment is particularly prevalent within the archaeological sector so there is a need to ensure third parties are clear that such behaviour is not acceptable.

In conclusion

One of the key elements to effecting change is the need to diversify our workforce and by doing so remove existing power imbalances. The lack of diversity within the archaeological sector is well known and the recent publication by Cobb & Croucher presents the existing data for this in detail (Cobb & Croucher 2020; 94-116); sexual harassment has been shown to be less prevalent where you have a more balanced gender representation within the workforce (Dobin & Kalev 2019). In terms of gender diversity our professional demographic, as in many other sectors,  is heavily skewed with a significantly higher proportion of young women employed in early career roles compared to male dominated senior management roles (it is worth noting here that until recently only the binary option of male/female has been given in such surveys).  More widespread surveys, such as the latest profiling the profession survey(aimed for the first time at both organisations and individuals) [External LINK] should provide more detail on these workplace demographics within the UK. Individuals and organisations, such as British Women Archaeologists (BWA) have been campaigning for decades to raise awareness of these issues and the tide does finally seem to be turning; to paraphrase one respondent:

  it is not awareness that has changed, but a change from acceptance to non-acceptance.

Sector wide statements on bullying and harassment published April 2019 have been made by the Industry Working Group -comprising the Charted Institute for Archaeologists, Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers and The Archaeology Branch of the Prospect Trade Union [External LINK]

However what we need to see now are published programmes of work in line with these commitments, designed to improve the working environment for all archaeologists. We need to see organisations with accessible, appropriate policies, effective reporting systems, a commitment to staff training and open conversations about industry demographics. If these can be co-ordinated through relevant structures, such as the existing Industry Working Party then perhaps we may stand a chance of achieving sector wide approaches that will actually make steps to achieving the zero acceptance of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace that we all deserve.


Life in the hinterland of Roman Alchester


A great deal of archaeological work has taken place in recent years around Bicester, Oxfordshire, in connection with the expansion of the town. In the summer of 2019, Cotswold Archaeology undertook excavations on the western outskirts of the town on a 9.45ha site at Howes Lane.

The area has a predominantly rural character and lies just 2.5km north of the Roman town of Alchester, which is considered to have been the principal Roman settlement in Oxfordshire, lying on Akeman Street at the mid-point between the tribal capitals at St Albans (Verulamium) to the east and Cirencester (Corinium) to the west. It was also at the crossroads with a road heading northwards to Towcester, on Watling Street, and southwards to Dorchester-on-Thames and on to Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum). Tree-ring dates of AD 44–45 from the military fort annexe excavated at Alchester show that it was a military focus immediately after the Claudian invasion, and therefore of major importance, the fort possibly sited at the boundary of the tribal territories of the Catuvellauni and Dobunni.

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One of two Roman burials at Howes Lane found around the enclosure edges. The graves were shallow and others may have been lost to the plough.  Image: Cotswold Archaeology
One of two Roman burials at Howes Lane found around the enclosure edges. The graves were shallow and others may have been lost to the plough. Image: Cotswold Archaeology

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Source: Cotswold Archaeology