Thursday, 25 February 2010

Mighty FROGs from little tadpoles grow

Last Saturday saw a healthy turnout of DDA members at the first day of the latest Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) Foreshore Recording and Observation Group (FROG) training course at UCL in central London. A second, practical day will follow in late March.

TDP aims to utilise the FROG to observe and record archaeological remains on the Thames foreshore from Teddington to Bexley. The result will be a longitudinal study that it is hoped will survive the funded TDP (due to end in September 2011).

Saturday saw the eager attendees given a sound grounding in the work of the TDP and the practical aspects of FROG's activities.

After Nathalie Cohen gave an overview of the TDP and FROG, she explained the health and safety aspects of the work we were volunteering to be involved in. From rat-borne Weil's disease to blister inducing Giant Hog Weed to discarded syringes, the list felt endless. On a lighter note, the topic of debate suggested by Elliot Wragg was "Wellies or Boots?". Both having pros and cons when working on a muddy foreshore, it was easy to see why the considered opinion is evenly divided.

Lorna Richardson explained the role and importance of digital media in the project. From the usual social network suspects (Facebook, Twitter) through to imagery (Flickr, Vimeo) on to contributor based 'pedia (Riverpedia) and finally interactive spatial information database systems. All have a role to play. All the talk of citizen involvement in this session was of key interest to our technical guru, Roger. One of the results is this very blog entry!

In the final session of the morning, TDP Project Director Gus Milne gave an overview of the key zones and sites that will form the basis of 2010 season activity. Plenty of lively anecdotes and examples of the destruction caused by tidal wear and tear made this a fascinating session that many a lay person would have appreciated.

The afternoon saw attendees form four groups each of which attended three practical sessions:

1. timber analysis and recording (timber being defined as 'worked wood', I am now able to differentiate between work done by an axe and an adze - I even now know what an adze is!)

2. site recording (Chris, Roger and I - together with interloper Glenn Calderwood - cornered Guy in to being our leader for this session as we explored in fine detail the floor of the UCL south cloisters)

3. finds recognition (this helped attendees to make sense of all the priceless artefacts found when wandering the foreshore; a bonus was that the session's findings are equally applicable on dry land!)

A key point is that the aim of the FROG is to observe and record structures over time - certainly not to dig up and remove them so losing context and possible further discovery as the tide does its work. The finds recognition session explained how understanding what (and where) objects are found on the foreshore can help understand where structures may lie and what they may have been used for.

Aside from a full and informative TDP folder, we were each presented with a free, promotional TDP mug. A practical freebie that is different from the usual pen (although Chris would have appreciated the latter on Saturday!).

The session spawned (sorry!) a raft of educated and enthused tadpoles that after the practical day will become fully certified FROGs.

Richard, Theresa, Roger, Chris, Odette and I would like to thank Nathalie and her team (including our own Guy) for an extremely informative and interesting day.

More information of the activities of the TDP and FROG can be found at:

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

DDA Blog embraces web 2.0

Have you something to contribute?

Over the next few days and weeks this blog will take on a new shape, with contributions expanded to include other members of the team and interested folk who are working in related fields. If you have been involved in any of the activities of DDA, or are doing something that is in a similar field and would like to use this blog to publicise it, please let me know and I will invite yo to be a contributing author.

These are exciting times for the web and for the free, public dissemination of academic, research and historical material. Please do let me know if you would like to be involved.



Tuesday, 9 February 2010

9 February 2010 Canterbury Museums in Danger from Canterbury Council

A few days ago we blogged an example of how broad based community activism on the part of people who cared about their environment and the heritage of their community, saved the Steeton Pill Boxes.  Now there is another aspect of our Heritage which is in danger from what might be seen as cultural ignorance and political short termism which you might be able to help save.
In addition to its main site Canterbury City Council operates two unique small museums, The Roman Museum, a third century Roman Town House, complete with tessellated pavements, discovered as part of Sheppard Freere's pioneering campaign of urban archaeology in the late 1940's and the West Gate Towers, Canterbury's last remaining City Gate and containing a small museum of the defence of Canterbury and one of the earliest examples of ports for firearms in the UK dating to around 1380.  Both are much loved by the local people and the "Roman Pavement," in particular has operated as a terrific educational resource allowing children, including mine, hands on contact with genuine Roman artifacts and the sense of actually walking around a real Roman House and street.
Now Canterbury City Council, who are, lets remember, custodians of a UNESCO Listed World Heritage Site [WHS],
are showing how much respect they have for that privileged status by threatening to close both museums with no prospect or guarantee they will ever re-open; as well as making the Herne Bay Museum only available for Educational Groups [presumably because people only want to visit museums when they are taken along on organised trips, so tough on Mum and Dad when the kids want to show them what they did at school].

Here is what Paul Bennett of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust has to say about the proposal...

"We are justifiably proud of the Canterbury World Heritage sites. The city and its archaeological assets, most specifically its museums, form part of the WHS ‘buffer’ zone and therefore the loss or erosion of such assets, close to the Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church, will reflect badly on Canterbury.
It is the very combination of museums in different locations that with greater engagement ought to provide added value to the Canterbury experience. We should be exploiting Canterbury’s heritage assets more fully at this difficult time, not considering closure of the best of them for potential re-use as a retail outlet. Canterbury is not just a provincial town, its name is known all over the World for its heritage and it is therefore irrational, even in difficult times, to chip away at what is the main basis upon which visitors come to the city in the numbers they do."
Paul Bennett
Director, Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Not surpisingly, there is a growing campaign to protest at this proposal.  An on line petition already has nearly 2500 e-signatures, but more support is needed to show the Council that this move will be both a huge PR Blunder and cost them votes. 

You can find information about the campaign at...

...and on the SAVE CANTERBURY'S MUSEUMS own campaign website...

The on line petition plan is at...

...and there is a public protest on Saturday 13 February meeting at Noon outside the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane, Canterbury.  If you are within striking distance of Canterbury do try to go.  Details here...

On a personal note I cannot believe I am having to write this.  I grew up just outside of Canterbury and I was bitten by the archaeology bug in Canterbury, in part because I was able to visit a real Roman House and hold a real musket in the West Gate Towers.  This is a City which sells itself on its 2000 years of Heritage and to threaten to wilfully toss aside two of what should be its prize assets and deny today's young people and visitors those experiences beggars belief.

Unfortunately, although most museums could be kept open for the price of a small percentage of Fred the Shred's pension, they are often seen as a soft target when Councils are under political or ideological pressure to make cuts, particularly as they do not form a statutory provision and most are under promoted.  This appears to be what is going on in Canterbury. 

In the end if these Museums are lost to visitors and more importantly the future generation of young archaeologists and historians, it will be that much easier for the next short sighted Council looking to save a few quid and the Museum to close might be yours. 

As for Canterbury there is much time left to try and turn this around.  The decision to close has already been made by the Council Executive and goes to a  Full Council Meeting on February 18th. 

Sunday, 7 February 2010


Seventy years ago the Phoney War was about to turn into what is probably the most momentous period in modern British history and Digging Dad's Army will be marking the anniversary with a programme of research work and events themed to commemorate the events of 1940, the people who lived through them and the archaeology it has left.   We hope to include more surveys and excavations in the Shooters Hill area as well as some exciting new sites in Woolwich and elsewhere.

In a new departure we also hope to be starting some work in the archives looking at the often forgotten but absolutely vital issue of Civil Defence during the Blitz.  In the Dad's Army TV Series Warden Hodges is an officious nuisance who often gets humiliated by Captain Mainwaring and the Platoon, but we must never forget that the real ARP Service, not to mention all the other uniformed support services not only risked their own lives just as much as members of the military, they also saved thousands of lives.  We will report on that in the near future.

In addition and as always, there will be opportunities to get involved in DDA's work on the excavations and surveys, as well as at open days and other events aimed to bring the archaeology to as wide an audience as possible.

As we say, "A People's Archaeology for a People's War."

More details on all of this soon so watch out on the blog and our Facebook Group...

Community Action Saves a Nationally Important Group of Pill Boxes

It is wonderful to be able to begin this year of research and commemoration by being able to say congratulations to Andy Wade and a group of local community based historians, archaeologists and living history reenactors in Steeton, near Keighley in West Yorkshire.

Just before Christmas they succeeded in getting three WW2 Pill Boxes, which had been threatened by a housing development, listed Grade 2 by English Heritage.  The Pill boxes form a group and were designed to defend Royal Ordnance Factory No 22 Steeton in West Yorkshire.


ROF STEETON Type 24 Variant Copyright Andy Wade

Steeton was a satellite site to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich and incidentally, was used as a location in John Schlesinger's 1979 film "Yanks."

During WW2 the factory made 20mm and .5 calibre brass cartridge cases and projectiles which would then be filled in specialised filling factories.  The output from Steeton mostly went to the Oerlikon Light Anti Aircraft Gun used by the Royal Navy and its close relative the Hispano Suiza Canon used by aircraft in the RAF including later Marks of both the Spitfire and Hurricane.

The factory also carried out research and development work, in particular metallurgical analysis and you can read a comprehensive and fascinating account of the life of a scientific worker at Steeton, including an account of the Factory Home Guard who manned the Pill Boxes, in Alec Lovell's reminiscences on the BBC People's War Website

I found out about the Steeton campaign thanks to our DDA colleague Tim Lynch and it is great to be able to report on what is a classic example of local people recognising the potential worth of some visible WW2 Heritage to themselves and their community and then campaigning constructively to ensure it is preserved in its proper context. 

Now the community in and around the site will have the chance to view a visible link with the past of WW2 and use the Pill Boxes as a resource for education and a focus for community events.

If you want to find out more the Pillboxes have been discussed in this thread on the Keighley and District Local History Society Forum:
There are pictures of them here, on Photobucket:
There are also three videos on YouTube which Andy took during the campaign:

You can read the English Heritage Inspectors Advice report here...

Now the Pill Boxes have been saved, why not go and see them if you are in the area?


Archaeology 2010 Conference- 26-28 February
Winter and Spring is the Season for Archaeological Conferences and one of the most wide ranging and inclusive is Archaeology 2010 promoted by CurrentPublishing, publishers of Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology and held this year at the British Museum

What makes Archaeology 2010 so compelling is that it is comprehensively multi period and draws its audience equally from Archaeological Professionals and the thousands of people who have a vocational interest in the subject.

This ability to talk to the widest of audiences means the conference can attract some of the most senior academic and field archaeologists working today and address some of the most interesting and contentious topics.

Sessions this year include, Clive Gamble and Chris Stringer on Human Origins, Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues from the Stonehenge Riverside Project and Mary Beard and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill on Pompeii and Herculanium

The conference does not shy away from controversy with sessions on Archaeology and Climate Change including Brian Fagan and doyen of tree rings Michael Baillie and, one I am particularly looking forward to, Commercial Salvage versus Marine Archaeology with the rare chance to hear Greg Stemm the CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Florida based company which the British Government has commissioned to salvage the probable wreck of HMS Sussex.  A project currently on hold because of legal objections from the Spanish Government.

Significant anniversaries also supply the theme of two of the sessions.  The meaning of AD410 will be explored by, among others, our own Neil Faulkner and Andrew Birley of the Vindolanda Trust.  Does AD410 represent the end of Roman Britain, the Fall of the Roman Empire and therefore the end of civilisation and a new dark age?  As part of the session one Terry Jones will suggest that, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more; there might be an alternative "Barbarian" view of the period. 

Truely a case of  "Romani ite domum!"...or perhaps not?

The other significant anniversary marked by a session is AD1940  The Battle of Britain, the Blitz and Operation Sealion, the invasion that never was, made the Summer of 1940 the most momentous period in recent British history and had things turned out differently the world we live in today would be unrecognisable to us.  I will be kicking off the session with an overview of the archaeology of 1940 and why we think it is so important to study and where possible preserve it.  Completing the picture Gabriel Moshenska of UCL will be describing the Archaeology of the Blitz and George Nash of Bristol University will describe an aspect of keeping the war effort going, at Royal Ordnance Factory Featherstone in Staffordshire.

You can see the session plan and book tickets here...

...but be quick as a number of the sessions are already sold out, or overflow room only.

Later on in March there is a chance to debate one of the most important and contentious issues in modern archaeological practice.

The Council for British Archaeology and Newcastle University are promoting a conference on the future of Metal Detecting in archaeology and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

'Portable Antiquities: Archaeology,
Collecting, Metal Detecting' conference on 13th and 14th March 2010.

This event is co-organised by the CBA and Newcastle University's
International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, and takes place
at Newcastle University and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

The papers at this conference offer perspectives from a range of
different interest groups, look at recent research, present case studies
from around the UK and beyond, and ultimately offer views about what the
future may hold for portable antiquities management. Much debate is
anticipated at this timely event.

All details, including the conference outline and booking information
are available via the

For further information please contact Suzie Thomas at the CBA
( or Catherine Todd at Newcastle University

Where ever you stand on the spectrum of views about Portable Antiquities and Metal Detecting, if you have a view do go along and make that view heard, because, as the conference notice says, this event is timely and necessary.  The cooperation of ethical metal detectorists on archaeological projects, particularly on Battlefield and Conflict sites, is increasingly important.  While the issue of Nighthawking, illegal detecting, often on scheduled sites, was highlighted by the recent controversial report compiled on behalf of English Heritage by Oxford Archaeology. 

Views among both archaeologists and detectorists are, to say the least, varied and contrasting so it is really important we try to talk to each other and understand the various positions before we come to any decisions about the future direction of our relationship...

You can download the Oxford Archaeology Report and a summary here...

You can see the Code of Conduct and Constitution of the National Council for Metal Detectorists as well as more of their views and guidence notes here...

The views of the Federation of Independent Detectorists are here...

Once again, make up your mind then make your voice heard.

...And if you read this Blog and are visiting any of the above events do come and say hello and tell us what you think about Digging Dad's Army.