2000 events later…

27 06 2014

Research Worcestershire

This week, the Worcester City Historic Environment Record hit a significant milestone. A chance discovery by volunteer Peter Walker, while trawling the local newspaper archives at The Hive, led to the addition of the 2000th ‘archaeological event’ to the HER database.

The Worcester City Historic Environment Record (HER) contains digital and paper-based records relating to the archaeological and built heritage of the city. It has two principal points of origin – the Worcestershire/ Hereford and Worcester County Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) and the Worcester City SMR. Worcestershire was relatively early in developing an SMR (from 1972/3), while Worcester City began compiling its own record from the late 1970s onwards, initially based on a card index but later on a computerised index. Today, the Worcester City HER shares an integrated database and Geographic Information System (GIS) with the wider county HER on a software platform called HBSMR, which enables archaeologists…

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Flax processing on the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists allotment

7 11 2013

With thanks to Liz Pearson, Environmental Archaeologist and author of today’s guest blog.

Worcestershire Young Archaeologists have been growing flax on their allotment. It was sown in April, and then harvested in early September when the stems were starting to turn yellow and the seeds pods ripening.

Flax at WYAC allotment

Flax at WYAC allotment in early September 2013

Why grow this on our allotment? Because flax cultivation has been an important part of the farming landscape for thousands of years. It was grown for its fibres which were used to produce linen cloth and flax rope and only dwindled in importance when cotton cloth was mass produced and synthetic fibres replaced flax and hemp in rope making It has been an important crop until relatively recently, even as late as the World War II when production was increased so that we could be self-sufficient in this trusty resource Flax seeds, capsules fibres and pollen are sometimes found on archaeological sites (see below) giving us some idea of how widespread flax cultivation was in the past.

A ripening crop

A ripening crop

Timing the harvesting of the crop is important: harvest too early and the fibres will be too weak, harvest too late and the fibres will have become too coarse. With any luck our timing will have been ok. The seed capsules were at various stages of ripeness on each plant from green to fully ripe, so perhaps the crop was slightly over-mature, but not drastically. It’s all a learning process this year.

As by October the programme for WYAC (Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club) was fairly full for months ahead I’ve decided to process a small batch this autumn as a test-run, and store the rest for processing later in 2014 as an activity with the group.

Retting is one of the first processes, where the stems are partially rotted so that the fibres in the stem are exposed. We are dew retting our crop, which means that it is left in bundles on the ground letting the moisture and microbes in the soil get to work on the stems.

Retting a small batch first is a good idea as it can take some experience to recognise whether the retting process is going well (whether it needs watering during dry spells, when to turn it and when it is fully retted).

First I have combed and stripped off the seed capsules from the stems.

Saved flax capsules

Saved flax capsules

Seed capsules can be saved and used to sow the nest year’s crop. Several years ago when I processed an archaeological sample taken from a medieval peat deposit below a building in Leominster, I found hundreds of these little seed capsules – presumably the waste from flax retting, a process which was usually carried out on the edge of towns and normally in ponds or small streams. See our report on the Leominster Hop Pole Inn in the Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology on-line library.

Dew retting flax

Dew retting flax

A few small bundles of stems are now lain on the ground in between the wheat stubble left over from harvesting our long-straw wheat. Over the next few weeks I will be checking on its progress and maybe even taking a leaf out of Prince Charles’s book…….talking it into submission!


Liz Pearson October 2013

My Day of Archaeology

2 07 2012

My Day of Archaeology

I decided to share a day in the life of this particular HER Officer via this year’s Day of Archaeology.  Looks like I was in good company judging by the many hundreds of participants this year, blogging about a diverse range of archaeological pursuits.  Something for everyone!

4 05 2012

Worth highlighting this blog about our much-loved Young Archaeologists’ Club and the need to support in any we all can. Dig deep for YAC!

The Heritage Journal

Most people know about the Scouts and the Guides organisations, but did you know there’s another organisation that provides activities for youths up to seventeen years old, and is available nationally? Ok, it may not be quite as local as the two aforementioned, but the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) has some 70 branches around the country which provide hands-on weekend activities for children and young adults who are interested in all facets of archaeology.

The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future. YAC was started in 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty, and celebrates its’ 40th anniversary this coming August. Its’ name back then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it…

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Archaeology on Allotments

12 04 2012

Following on from last night’s post, I promised a report on a dull-looking bit of ground surrounded by brambles with a couple of small trenches marked out ready for excavation.  This is the site of the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club’s very own allotment in the heart of Worcester City.  It was, until recently, completely covered over with brambles, but cleared thanks to the Worcester City Parks Department, in advance of the slow worm season.  This site will form the basis of a project for the older club members and young leaders, looking at the archaeological potential of this and other allotment sites around Worcestershire, as well as being a fantastic resource for experimenting with ancient crop growth and techniques.  They will be looking at ways people have used the land over the centuries and comparing this with the way we live today.

This site in particular was chosen for its known archaeological potential, based largely on fieldname evidence in the immediate area.  The mid-18th-century Doharty map of the Manor of Claines has an accompanying terrier book, a fantastic leather-bound volume into which were entered the names of owners, tenants, land-use, acreage and most importantly for us, names of fields.  While our site sits just to the southwest of the former Roman road to Droitwich, the field names are also very suggestive of activity of that date; Street Hill, Old Camp Hill and Black Lands could all point to a Roman settlement with a fourth field named as ‘The Fort’.  All very interesting, especially when this evidence is combined with a number of stray finds from the area (coins and pottery. including a whole vase in antiquity), recorded on the Worcester City Historic Environment Record.

Our first piece of Roman pottery - a sherd of greyware

Over the Easter break a group of young archaeologists have begun excavating some small test pits to get a feel for the archaeological make-up of the site.  This has taken place under the guidance of professional archaeologists, so that the work is done to the highest possible standards, whilst enabling the young people to gain valuable excavation experience.  Initial findings could be promising – a significant quantity of iron slag has been found in the top few inches of soil on site, perhaps more than the usual background ‘noise’ that would be expected from a site outside of the known area of Roman ironworking in Worcester.  A single sherd of Roman greyware has also been found in the topsoil.  Ongoing reporting on this site is taking place via Twitter using the hashtag #WYACallotment.

In other news, the very worthwhile Worcester Greencycle site has come up trumps for the club with a number of concrete slabs acquired in order to set up a base for a shed on site.  Greencycle/ Freecycle is a great sustainable way of  getting hold of items that others may otherwise send to landfill, and likewise a means of getting rid of unwanted, but still perfectly usable items.