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National Archaeology Week

National Archaeology Week 2007


Survey work at Guilsfield

Work of national importance

What are these people doing? They’re out and about for National Archaeology Week. Between the 14th and 22nd July the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust gave a group of three local school students, and a mystery volunteer, a unique opportunity to try some genuine archaeological techniques on a genuine prehistoric site, as part of a work experience programme. Close to Guilsfield, in north Powys, there is an Iron Age enclosure that, until now, has never been surveyed by archaeologists. We felt that this week was the perfect time to carry out some survey work, ably assisted by young local people interested in a career in archaeology. The students tried their hands at topographical and geophysical survey, as well as basic but essential skills like map reading, site photography and archaeological drawing. The work was funded by Cadw as part of CPAT's Heritage Management and Defended Enclosures projects. At the end of the week all those involved helped to produce this new web page about their work.

Reconstruction of Iron Age farmstead Reconstruction drawing (based on excavations by CPAT) of Collfryn enclosure, Llansantffraid Deuddwr, Montgomeryshire. Perhaps similar to that near Guilsfield surveyed during National Archaeology Week.


Site Introduction

Jeff Spencer, Historic Environment Record Archaeologist at CPAT gives us the background on the site.

The Guilsfield site was first brought to our attention in 2003 when it was photographed from the air by colleagues from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. The presence of surviving earthworks, traces of banks and ditches, was then confirmed by a site visit. The site was identified as an Iron Age or Romano-British enclosure from its similarity in appearance to others in the region. It is quite possible that it was a farmstead, which was home to an extended family. The banks and ditches would have protected the inhabitants, their livestock, and their stored crops. Other activities such as weaving, pottery making or metalworking may also have gone on here.

The Team on site!- Photo by Rod Trevaskus

Monday 16th July

Sian Spears, on work experience from Welshpool High School shares her thoughts about the first day of National Archaeology Week 2007. Over to you Sian...!

"When we arrived at CPAT on Monday morning we where all very nervous about what we had to wear and where we had to go. During the first part of the day Jeff, our supervisor showed us around CPAT's offices, introducing us to all of the people that worked there. Whilst doing this Jeff gave us a talk about health and safety, explaining to us where all of the fire exits and first aid boxes were.

Next, we saw a power point presentation about 'our' Iron Age enclosure in Guilsfield. He explained to us that it was a farmstead where, years ago a family may have lived with their animals. He showed us maps and aerial photographs of the site explaining to us that we had to walk down three fields to get to our site destination. (What a kerfuffle!)

Later on in the day Jeff and Charlotte took us all up to the Long Mountain to see the Beacon Ring hillfort and two Bronze Age barrows. This is where important people were buried, perhaps as long as 4000 years ago. From the barrows you could see down into the valley. It was a wonderful view of the surrounding area, perhaps where the person who was buried roamed during their life. The hillfort was very good because the banks and ditches of this site were very visible and allowed you to come to terms with what a hillfort would have looked like. This was the first, but not the last time we met THE COWS."

Tuesday 17th July

Tuesday's work is described for us by Adelaide Edwards who joins us at CPAT this week from Llanfyllin High School.

"It was our first visit to the site today. As we walked down the hills to the site we could see that the field we were going to be working in was very boggy, it was going to be a challenge to work there! We set out a grid over the site to relate it to the Ordnance Survey map and to help us carry out our geophysical survey in due course. Then it started to rain, not a couple of drops but heavy continuous rain, soaking all of us. But as archaeologists we had to carry on whatever the weather!

In the afternoon we used the Electronic Distance Measurer (EDM) to survey the enclosure. The EDM is a computer that with the help of a prism or reflector mounted on a staff calculates the positions of the banks and ditches on the site and allows us to work out the size and shape of the remains of the farmstead surviving on the surface.

Once we had gone over the various lumps and bumps in the field we loaded our results onto another computer and studied them. We could see that sections of the banks were missing, they must have been eroded away by the stream and hundreds of years of agriculture. We were all very muddy by the time we got back to the office at the end of the day."

EDM and hachure plan of Iron Age enclosure

The results of our EDM survey of the Iron Age enclosure near Guilsfield. Hachures (black arrows) show the slopes of the banks and ditches, (see Thursday's entry for more information on hachures, please note that data is presented in an unprocessed state).

Wednesday 18th July

Last but not least Elizabeth Richardson of Caereinion High School tells us all about a busy days work on Wednesday, but at least we saw the sun!

"Wednesday was the best day on site because it stayed sunny all day! What a relief! Unfortunately the field was as muddy as before and the cows had knocked over a lot of the poles we had set out on Tuesday, making the job harder for us. We started off the day by finishing surveying the earthworks with the EDM, until we got a picture of all the visible earthworks on the computer.

After lunch we moved on to do the geophysical survey using the magnetometer. It works by detecting variations in the amount of magnetic iron in the soil. This can then show us whether there were any roundhouses or fires in the enclosure, which can then tell us a bit about the people who may have lived there in the past. We helped Richard take regular readings with the magnetometer by sub-dividing the existing site grid from Tuesday into one metre intervals, using long ropes called "washing lines". It was great fun running about with the ropes, trying to avoid the mud so we could set up the next grid in time for Richard to take the next set of readings. However despite our best efforts we all got very muddy, especially Adelaide!

Geophysical survey underway!

Richard carries out the geophysical survey, the rest of us move the "washing lines" (visible in the foreground) from the area already surveyed to sub-divide the next grid square ready for surveying. Photo by Rod Trevaskus.

Rich downloads the results.

The data collected by the magnetometer is downloaded to the laptop for display and interpretation. Photo by Rod Trevaskus.

Unfortunately the initial results of the geophysical survey were disappointing. We were searching for archaeological features such as internal ditches and hearths within the enclosure, features normally picked up by the magnetometer, but none were present. A small section of the inner defensive ditch was the only archaeological feature picked up. The soils may not have been receptive to this type of geophysical survey, or if features were present they were of a type (such as post holes) that do not give good responses. The large magnetic anomaly in the centre of the image is a modern tree protector, and while the scattered anomalies in the southern section of the study area are likely to be buried iron objects it is not possible to say anything more about them at this time."

Magnetometer survey of interior of Iron Age enclosure

The results of our geophysical survey of the Iron Age enclosure near Guilsfield (please note that data is presented in an unprocessed state, further work will be done on processing the results in the weeks to come).

Thursday 19th July

Sketching the defences of
Gaer Fawr hillfort, Guilsfield.

Having 'dazzled' the work experience students with the modern technology at our disposal during the two previous days Thursday morning would demonstrate the good work that can be done with just a humble drawing board, paper and pencil! We visited the wonderful Gaer Fawr Iron Age hillfort near Guilsfield owned and made accessible to the public by the Woodland Trust and there tried our hands at interpreting the various lumps and bumps visible. Hillforts were protected by a series of walls or banks and ditches topped with timber pallisades, and while at Gaer Fawr the timber defences are long gone and the banks and ditches may have eroded and become overgrown, sufficient earthworks survive to demonstrate how impressive it must have been when in use. With careful, patient study and 'a good eye' a sketch plan can be drawn of part or all of a site such as this, and an impression of the shape and steepness of slope of the archaeological remains gained.

To do this we drew what are called ‘hachures’. These are a way of illustrating on a flat drawing the parts of an archaeological site that aren’t flat! They can be drawn in a range of styles, but essentially the length of each hachure shows the length of the slope, the ‘head’ end indicating the top. The number of hachures used indicates the angle of the slope, the more used, the steeper it is.

Friday 20th July

Contemplating a defensive rampart
at Gaer Fawr.

Friday dawned wet and miserable so we weren’t too upset at working indoors at the CPAT offices in Welshpool. Our priority for the day was to create a webpage to share the results of our weeks work with the world! We gathered around a computer and taking it in turns we assembled the various components that go to making the page you are reading now! We had the basic structure of the page (background texture, colours etc) ‘ready prepared’ so first we wrote the text which was copied into the relevant places in the ‘source code’. This code tells the computer how to create the webpage. Stage two was choosing which images to use and preparing them for use, we used a graphics programme to edit the site photos and a Geographical Information System (GIS or computer mapping) to prepare the images of our survey results.

Code must be written to tell the machine how to arrange the headings, photos and text, and the size that everything appears at, much easier said than done! There are also many fiddly bits of code writing that need to be remembered, such as adding links back to the CPAT Homepage. Once that was all finally achieved, and everything was working properly, we used another computer programme to ‘upload’ our completed page to the web. By the end of the day (and without any tantrums!) we had our very own, new webpage online for all to see, so we hope you like it and find it interesting!

This is the first time that we have taken the opportunity to give students on work-experience placement the chance to participate in a fieldwork project, and from the perspective of CPAT it has been a great success. We would like to thank Siân, Elizabeth and Adelaide for their hard work and enthusiasm during the week and are looking forward to offering a similar opportunity to students next year. The work undertaken on the enclosure near Guilsfield has contributed to the pan-Wales project on Defended Enclosures funded by Cadw, and has also fulfilled an important role in getting more people involved in archaeology and making information about the archaeology of the region available to the public.

But don’t just take my word for it, here are some quotes from the students themselves!

  • “It was really good fun.”
  • “It was quite fun working in the rain actually!”
  • “I wasn’t expecting to have so much time to have a go at surveying.”
  • “The week has flown by.”

A panoramic view - photo by Rod Trevaskus

Information gathered, prepared and presented by Adelaide Edwards, Richard Hankinson, Elizabeth Richardson, Siân Spears, Jeff Spencer and Rod Trevaskus, with support from Charlotte Baxter, Nigel Jones, Abi McCullough, Chris Martin and Bob Silvester, July 2007.

National Archaeology Week is aimed at families throughout the UK, and is organised by the Council for British Archaeology and the Young Archaeologists’ Club.


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