new light on old sites

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Day 3 ~ a little bit late…

Well, due to technical difficulties with our wifi access we weren’t able to keep our blog as updated as we had hoped. So, over the next few days I’m going to be compiling what had happened over the week of fieldwork.

Our Day 3 blog:

A slightly breezy day, matching the personalities on the site. So a day of steady progress, but what do we actually do?

A typical day for us at Swallowcliffe Down

We’re usually on site by 9am, all bright and raring to go, powered by coffee and Sugar Puffs. Our first job is to set up the kit that we use. We are using some geophysical (or ‘Geophys’ for those who are fluent in Time Team speak!) equipment called a Fluxgate Gradiometer. We were asked if this is ‘science fiction’ equipment – it is science, but not fiction and allows us to see what is beneath the ground!

Each day we need to set the equipment up to make it suitable for the field that we are working in. Once the necessary set up procedures have been followed we can walk along a grid pattern, and as we walk the gradiometer takes readings, which it stores, allowing us to then download it to a PC and interpret.

Today was a really productive day, resulting in some clear data that we will investigate more thoroughly with data collected throughout the week to build a picture of what is on Swallowcliffe Down – at the moment we have a series of blobs, which have the potential to reveal something rather interesting. We were excited to move into the third field in our research (Field C) and will continue with that as well as Field B tomorrow.


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Day 1 and 2

We’ve had an exciting and busy first few days on site! On Saturday, we were hit by some very lively thunderstorms, but we managed to get our grid points out. This involves making marking corners for 30 meter squares in our fields. We had hoped that we would have been able to do this with a GPS, but we encountered some technical difficulties and had to do it by hand using some very long tape measures. By the afternoon we were sweltering in the humidity, but we got enough grid points laid out that we could get started with our survey today.

On Sunday, we had sunshine all day…and the sunburns to prove it (despite repeated applications of sun block)! One of our teams worked in Field A, while the other worked in Field B. We had hoped to work in Field C, but due to a local marathon and the farmers moving hay bails (not connected activities), we are going to delay it until Monday or Tuesday. The area surveyed in Field A contained a visible earthwork in a human-made(?) valley, and we were hoping to find out more about it. Field B contained the edges of the excavations from the 1920s, including part of a ditch and three known pits. There are two Bronze Age barrows, but one had a much later Anglo-Saxon bed burial dug into it. We are eagerly waiting to find out the results of our survey!

we will post pictures and maps soon!

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Meet the Team!

As our fieldwork draws closer, we thought you might like to meet our team:


Dr Elizabeth Foulds

photoHi, I’m Elizabeth. After completing undergraduate degrees from Portland State University in History and Anthropology, I completed an MA and PhD  in Archaeology at Durham University. I wrote my thesis on Iron Age glass beads from Britain and I’m planning to continue to research the significance of glass in Iron Age Europe. My research interests include the history of archaeology and Iron Age studies, dress and bodily adornment, social practice, and experimental archaeology. I’m also interested in how re-evaluating sites can alter our perceptions of the past!



Jo Zalea Matias

Matias_Jozalea1Hello, my name is Jo! I received a BA in Anthropology with a minor in French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an MA in Archaeology at Durham University specializing in the Iron Age and Roman periods, and am currently completing my PhD at Durham University. My research interests include gender and feminist archaeology, social identities in Iron Age Britain and France, and the reception/dissemination of archaeological research to the general public through all media, especially social media. I’m always open for a chat, so drop me a line at



Dr Ophelie Lebrasseur

lebrasseurHi, I’m Ophélie and I’m the zooarchaeological consultant of the project.

I graduated from Durham University with a BSc in Archaeology where I investigated faunal remains of the French Medieval site of Harfleur. I then pursued my interest in past human-animal relationships through the means of genetics as part of my MSc and later PhD. Although my main research investigates dog and chicken domestication and past dispersals, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of other animals including goats, pigs, cattle, Java deer and ghost ants. Other research interests include the portrayal of archaeological information to members of the public, ancient technical theatre and phylogenetic analysis of culture.

I currently work as an archaeogeneticist in the Durham Evolution and Ancient DNA (DEAD) lab at Durham. I am delighted to be part of this project and I cannot wait to see where it takes us.


Jennifer Peacock

peacockI undertook my BA and MA at Durham University (2006-2010), specialising in Iron Age Britain, before moving to the University of Worcester (2011) to start my doctoral research. My PhD, titled ‘Beyond native and invader: a re-evaluation of the Romano-British period in North West England’, is primarily concerned with clarifying the mechanics of interaction between Iron Age and Roman populations in the region. I have worked on the Durham University research project ‘Understanding the birth of a capital: Bagendon ‘oppidum’ and the Late Iron Age-Roman transition’ since 2009 and, since 2013, have occupied a supervisory role in its programme of geophysical survey.


Jo Shoebridge

Hello!  I’m vJo Shoebridgeery excited to be working on the Swallowcliffe Down Project, and look forward to seeing what we can discover (or rediscover?) about the area.  As an archaeologist I’ve worked in a variety of sites including Roman sites in England, Bronze Age sites in Slovakia and Thailand and Early Historic sites in Sri Lanka.  I was attracted to this project by the thought of  windswept hills and the email from Elizabeth mentioning that the cow pats ‘may’ be removed, but more seriously I’m interested in what we may learn by the re-evaluation of previous archaeological investigation of the site and look forward to being able to share this information in the not so distant future.  When I’m not digging I can often be found working at the UNESCO world Heritage site in Durham in a variety of roles or working on my PhD at Durham University which involves the analysis of ceramics and Indian Ocean trade.


Dr Frederick Foulds

freddieI am an early career researcher with Durham University and have been part of several excavation and survey projects looking at a variety of archaeological periods, ranging from the Bronze Age through to the Medieval. However, my specialism is in lithic analysis, with a focus on the Palaeolithic and I am currently a postdoctoral research assistant with the AHRC funded “Songs of the Caves” project. I don’t really know why I’ve been brought in to look at an Iron Age site (must be my good looks and charm!), but I will be able to bring my knowledge of Stone Age Wiltshire to help provide some context to human use of the area around Swallowcliffe in the past.


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Brief Introduction to the Project

Hi there!

Our first post contained an excerpt from our funding application, but I thought I would provide a better explanation of our project and why it is significant.

The site at Swallowcliffe Down in Wiltshire was excavated in the 1920s. An interesting array of material was recovered, including pottery, spindle whorls, weaving combs, glass beads, and brooches. This material came from a series of pits that Clay excavated. In the 1920s, they though that people in the Iron Age lived in the pits and that they represent the domestic structure of time time. Now we know that this wasn’t the case and that the pits were most likely used for grain storage. However, because of Clay’s excavation methodology (which is very different from today’s), he did not look for other structures, such as roundhouses.

Our project aims to re-explore the site at Swallowcliffe in an effort to better understand the nature of the site. We are using geophysical survey to locate the original excavations, but we are also hoping that we will be able to discover new previously unknown features. The nature of the site remains very unclear, since we cannot definitively say whether it was a settlement or not, without evidence for roundhouses. There is also quite a lot of evidence for other periods of activity at the site, so it will be interesting to see how the Iron Age site relates to earlier features and how later activity relates to the Iron Age site.

We hope that this provides a useful overview. We will be updating the blog and twitter account throughout the fieldwork from the 19th-24th of July.


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Swallowcliffe Down Project

Hello, and welcome to the ‘New light on old sites’ blog where we will chronicle our fieldwork adventures. The name of our project reflects our interest in re-evaluating sites that were excavated/explored early in the history of archaeology that became intrinsic for defining the Iron Age period in Britain (c. 800 BC – AD 43). We are currently looking at Swallowcliffe Down in Wiltshire where many Early Iron Age period artefacts were recovered. The following is an excerpt from our project proposal:

The Early Iron Age settlement at Swallowcliffe Down, Wiltshire, was excavated in the 1920s by Dr RCC Clay1,2. He uncovered a rich assemblage of artefacts including pottery, glass beads, and an assortment of other domestic material. Clay’s technique for finding archaeological features relied on striking the ground and listening for changes in the vibrations, which located a total of 93 pits. Today, we would recognise the pits as only one type of feature that is often present at settlements and we would interpret the finds within them as acts of structured deposition3. However, as the study of the British Iron Age was still in its infancy, Clay recognised that only some of the pits were used for storage, while he interpreted most of them erroneously as Iron Age domestic structures. As a consequence of the ambiguity of the deposits, the material found was considered to be solely the result of domestic life. Due to his excavation methodology and the state of knowledge at the time of these excavations, other, smaller features, such as post-holes for roundhouses or 4-post structures, may well be present on the site, but remain unidentified.

The lack of structural evidence at this site renders discussions of settlement impossible; as a consequence the artefactual evidence has been the focus of subsequent study. This has led to some interesting results. Amongst the material found in pits was evidence for iron smelting, bronze working, and pottery manufacture. Interestingly, the artefactual evidence suggests that there was an exceptional level of continental connectivity. For example, although much of the pottery falls within the Early Iron Age types (i.e. bucket with slightly everted rims) that bear similarity to the All Cannings Cross type, two unusual forms have been suggested to be local copies of continental La Tène types4. In addition, the five glass beads have continental parallels. As settlements within Wiltshire have traditionally been seen within the Wessex hillfort-dominated approach, the range of artefacts and the continental affiliations found at Swallowcliffe Down (a non-hillfort site) suggests that the situation is much more complex, which has wider implications for our understanding of social organisation during this period5.


More about our project in the next blog post!



1. R. C. C. Clay, An Inhabited Site of La Tene I date, on Swallowcliffe Down. Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society 43, 59 (1925).

2. R. C. C. Clay, Supplementary Report on the Early Iron Age Village on Swallowcliffe Down. Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society 43, 540 (1927).

3. J. D. Hill, Ritual and rubbish in the Iron Age of Wessex: a study of the formation of a specific archaeological record.  (BAR British Series no. 242, Oxford, 1995).

4. B. Cunliffe, Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest, Fourth Edition.  (Routledge, London, 2005).

5. J. D. Hill, in The Iron Age in Britain and Ireland: Recent Trends, T. C. Champion, J. R. Collis, Eds. (J.R. Collis Publications, Sheffield, 1996),  pp. 95-116.