Sites and Monuments Notebook

This notebook contains a write up of notes taken from class, photographs taken during practical sessions, notes from additional reading and a section on a number of archaeological sites in Scotland, which I visited during the Easter break.


PPG16 is a document produced by the government in 1990 that means the developer is responsibly for the archaeology. This has helped make archaeology into a proper job/profession, as the developers now have to have archaeologists on the scene.

Sources of Info for Desk Based Assessment (DBA)

• National Monuments Record (NMR)

• Sites and Monuments Record (SMR)/ Heritage Environment Record (HER)

• Local Museum

• Local Knoweldge

• Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM) (National Heritage)

• Ordinance survey maps

• Internet

• Historical documents

• Anglo Saxon Charters (descriptions of boundaries e.g. ‘walk from the old oak tree to the Avon bridge’)

• Public record office

• Parish records

• National and local libraries

• Estate maps

• Tithe map’s are the size of a room, they are cut into four pieces. Every field is recorded and given a number, land owner, land leaser, agricultural use and whether the field is ploughed or not is taken into account.

• Field names

• Field type (arable, ploughed or pasture etc)

• Ministry of defence hydrographic office

• Aerial photographs (Crop marks, shadow marks - found in local studies library)

• Google earth

• Geotechnical information (boreholes, testpits, site surveys)

Secondary sources:

• Previous archaeological studies

• Landscape studies

• Dissertations

• Local archaeology and historical societies

• Vertical APs and Stereoscope (3D map)

Maps Grids and Offsetting

• Early estate plans 17th ad 18th century

• Enclosure maps 1800s

• Ordnance survey drawings 1808

• Tithe maps (1840s)

• Ordnance survey maps (1st edition 1884, 2nd edition 1904, 3rd edition 1930s)

• Admiralty charts (1800s onwards)

• The national grid – Great Britain in split into smaller squares of 10kms².


Below: The Top of Ham Hill. The Standing Stones are Modern as is the war memorial in the distance.

On Thursday 11th February we went on a field trip to Ham Hill and the village of Montacute in Somerset.

Ham Hill:

Ham Hill has been a site of human occupation for well over c4000 years ( Evidence of Neolithic and Mesolithic occupation have been found in the form quern stones, flint tools, pottery and slingstones. In the Iron Age a huge 200-acre hill fort was constructed by the Durotriges tribe ( Most of the perimeter is a multivallate (double bank and ditch). Finds from the fort include chariot parts, iron currency bars, gold and silver coins as well as cremations and burials. Round houses were built inside the massive fort and the ramparts can easily be distinguished today.

Ham Hill commands a dominating view of the landscape. This, combined with the existence of the Hill Fort demonstrates that Ham Hill was an important place to be. The Romans, under the command of Vespasian finally invaded Ham Hill c45 AD.

The history of Ham Hill falls quiet again until in the 1800s there were 200 men operating quarries and masonry businesses, but by 1910 most of these had ceased operations. Now Ham Hill is a pleasant location for a walk, providing it isn’t freezing cold and blowing a gale!


Montacute is a small historic village in Summerset. Having arrived via minibus we proceeded to climb the ‘small but acute’ (hence ‘Montacute’ ) hill, known as St Michaels Hill. On the top of the hill is a folly tower, which we climbed. It was built in 1760 by Edward Phelips V. It is now a grade II listed building. (

The history of St Michaels Hill is complex. It is thought to have been a castle in pre-Norman times, but by 1102 all that remained was a chapel (dedicated to St Michael) that stood over a dungeon. The folly tower now stands on the location of where the chapel once stood.

Earthwork Survey and Leveling

• Horizontal (total station) and vertical (uses a level) axis taken into account

• Plain table used to do really simple surveying

• Total Station logs the distance of all points, computer raws plan

• EDM stands for Electronic Distance Measurer


• Used to find the height of things (vertical)

• ‘Dumpy level’ are seen on building sites

• Everything is measured from height above sea-level (different to Google Earth)

• Can use Google Earth results, but they must be converted to the OS map version using a translator from the OS site.

1. Tripod

2. Level is a telescope with a crisshair

3. Staff – numbers up it.

• Automatic level levels it for you

• Inexpensive, roughly £85

• Very basic horizontal distance readings can be taken too.

Running a Traverse

N.B: BM = Bench Mark

1. Hold base of staff on benchmark line (height of BM is on OS map)

2. Set up level away from BM

3. Point level at BM. Transfer height of BM into instrument. You now know the height of the level above sea level.

4. Aim level at foresite

5. Move staff onto bump you wish to measure

6. Take height of foresight away from BM height. Done!

- Height of Collination

- Height of level/instrument

Geophysical Prospection and Survey

This works by the detection of features through their physical differences with the surrounding soil. Survey archaeology enables broader patterns of human occupation to be established, sometimes including cities, villages and individual farmsteads. New technology in the field and laboratory is used to analyize the interrelationships between the different survey results, namely, GIS, or Geographic Information Systems (Scarre 2009, 34).

However, surveying large areas of land creates large amounts of data and interpreting this can be difficult. To help make sense of the data, Geophysical prospection should be combined with aerial photograpy, laser scanning and high resolution satellite imagery (Campana et al., 2009).

Conducting an earthwork survey:

It is important to have the site set up in a grid before conducting an earthwork survey. This is because dividing up a site allows for accurate plotting of features and finds, as well as creating greater ease when tying the site into the OS National Grid.

Setting out a grid

It is necessary to establish ‘a point of origin’ which needs to be a permanent spot for the duration of the excavation (e.g. masonry). It is important that this is situated in a thoughtful place as it acts as the datum for all measurements taken on the site. Bench-marks and points tied into the OS National grid are ideal.

Constructing a baseline (Primary Axis)

This has to be as long as possible, for this ranging poles are used. A ranging rod is placed at the furthest end of the line with another fixed at the near end of the line. The line is ‘ranged in’ by standing 2 metres back from the nearest rod (at the point of origin) and looking towards the furthest rod; this rod can now be ranged in by eye by an assistant. This is the intermediate rod and as many can be added as needed.

Constructing a second baseline (Offsetting Secondary Axis)

A second baseline is now needed to come off at a right-angle from the first. This is done by ‘Offsetting’; there are two ways of doing this:

1. Using tapes. Achieved by selecting a peg on the baseline and then 2 others on either side, at equal distances apart. Two tape measures are then placed on the 2 pegs and walked away with until the tapes meet and have the same reading. This intersection is the line of the right-angle.

2. Pythagoras’s Theorem- The Square of the Hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides (b= a + c). The lengths of the side of a triangle are in a ratio of 3:4:5 with the angle opposite 5 being 90°. This formula can be used to work out the second baseline.


- Geophysical prospection is a non-destructive, non-intrusive economic survey technique

- Expand knowledge/increase understanding of archaeological site

- Modern methods. On face value expensive, however, when compared to open area excavation is reasonable


- Variable in their responses – geology, site conditions (e.g. brown field alluvium)

- Difficult to interpret results

- Constantly evolving hardware/sofrware

- Can’t be used in urban (too much metal) and waterlogged (conducts too well) sites.

Low-tech prospection methods

- Dowsing

- Probing (poking metal pole in ground to find walls etc)

- Auguring

- Coring (thicker core than auger)

- Bosing (hitting ground with hammer, different sounds if something is bumped) – primitive radar

High-tech prospection methods

- Resistivity. Wall = high resistance. Ditch = low resistance. This is because there are different amounts of moisture stored. Doesn’t work well in an arid environment.

- Magnetometry

- Ground Penetrating Radar GPR

Features that can be detected

High resistance - Stone wall footings

- Buried masonry/brickwork

- Buried megaliths

- Tracks

- Stone lined drains

- Campsites

Low resistance

- In filled pits (>=2m diameter)

- Sunken feature buildings (anglo saxon)

- Ditches

- Robber/bedding trenches (people re-used building’s stone, leaves ditches where the walls once were)

- Graves – very difficult, are made so fast.

- Fish ponds.

Magnetometer Survey:

The earths magnetic field is generally uniform in any one place, however, highly localized distortions can be caused by human activity in the past. Topsoil contains haematite (iron ore). In some forms this is magnetic. Therefore when a pit or ditch is dug and overtime in filled with topsoil, there will be a disturbance in the magnetic field. This can be measured by magnetometery. A second type of disturbance occurs with heating caused by hearths. A magnetometer survey can therefore be used to find the locations of hearths as well as pits and ditches (Grant et al,. 2002, 17).

Resistance Survey:

The electrical resistance of the ground is almost entirely dependent upon the amount and distribution of moisture within it. The more moisture there is the better the conductivity of the soil and the less moisture, the more resistance there will be. The electricity is conducted via mineral salts contained in the water (Grant et al,. 2002, 16).

A filled-in ditch or pit will generally retain moisture than perhaps a wall or road, which means they will display a lower resistivity than stone structures. Soils also hold a different amount of water depending on their texture; clay soils for example retain moisture excellently.

However this means that it is difficult to detect a ditch or pit amongst clay soils as they both have low resistance. This also applies to other soils that may become waterlogged depending on which season it is. The resistivity meter itself consists of two shallow electrodes that go into the ground measuring the varying degrees of subsurface resistance to a current passed between the electrodes.

Pros: - Economic geophysical prospection

- Simple to use

Cons: - Affected by seasonal variations (rainfall etc)

- Not a very quick method


Various applications are available to upload data into: - Geoplot (used by Bristol)

- Archaeosurveyor (used by Bristol)

- Snuffler (free to download)

Why Excavate?

Excavation is the most reliable evidence of human activities in the past.

Should we excavate?

- Excavation is costly

- Excavation is destructive

- Dig it properly – only one opportunity, can’t be repeated

- Publish results! ‘excavation without publication is vandalism’


- Context sheets

- Drawing (plan and section drawing) – can be cross referenced

- Photographs

When is it necessary to excavate?

- Development lead

- Erosion of site

- Research…

Definition of Excavation:

Excavation is a programme of controlled, intrusive fieldwork with defined research objectives which examines, records and interprets archaeological deposits, features, structures and as appropriate retrieve artefacts, ecofacts and other remains within a specified area or site on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater.

Approaches to Excavation:

- Depends on the type of site (e.g. complex urban settlement vs shallow prehistoric site).

- Decisions have to be made as to how each site will be approached.


- Rare to dig 100% of a site, even if it faces destruction.

- Certain proportion of site is excavated to give a representation of the archaeology, which is known as sampling. E.g., test pitting, map regression analysis, aerial photos, talking to locals, trial trenching, open area excavation, quadrant method, planum method. These are all sampling strategies.

Archaeological Watching Brief: Archaeologist watches diggers in case archaeology is found. He then stops them if it is or quickly records it.

Vertical or Horizontal?

- Open area excavation gives us a picture of activities across space. E.g. the spatial relationship between artefacts and features. It is especially good for shallow prehistoric site.

- Working narrow and deep reveals stratification sequence – good for complex urban settlement. The Box grid method is one such approach.

Harris Matrix

- Invented in February 1973 by Edward Harris at Winchester for “coping with complex deeply stratified rescue excavations,” (Greene, 2002).

- For the first time it provided archaeologists with a means by which the stratigraphic sequences of archaeological sites could be viewed in diagrammatic form.

- Can be stretched to show relative time in diagrammatic form.

- With dating evidence a Harris Matrix can be adusted to indicated absolute time with phasing decisions imposed on the sequences then added to the diagram.

- Each archaeological site is a unique time capsule and the Matrix is the only Universal way in which the unique calendar of each site can be displayed in relative order.

- A number representing each unit (context) is inserted into a consistent rectangular box and the whole works rather like a flow chart, showing which layers lie on to of which, which are equal to one another, and those which have no relationship and these are then joined up with lines to other boxes to show relationships.

- The method has been incorporated into a number of computerized recording systems and has been expanded for use in the analysers of standing buildings, rock art and many other diverse archaeological situations where stratigraphic principles come into play.

- As the years pass, the Matrix has proven its worth in many fields of archaeology and its value will be increasingly enhanced as computerisation of archaeological methods of recording and analysis become standard.

The stratigraphy of a site is the succession of layers and features (stratified deposits). If there has been no disturbance (such as ploughing), the upper layers of features are later in date than layers or features, the former is later in date. However, no site is completely undisturbed, since even the action of earth-worms can cause the downward movement of finds through the soil making them appear too early in date. Sections can provide visual evidence of stratified deposits. They are the vertical faces of baulks across the site or across features, and display any changes in soil colour and texture. Usually the different coloured and textured deposits from layers represents material laid down on the site by various means (i.e. a tip-line – dumped material, or occupation layer).

Example of a Harris Matrix:

Above is a hypothetical section ( These are the twelve contexts :

1. A horizontal layer

2. Wall remnant

3. Construction trench

4. A horizontal layer, probably the same as 1

5. Construction cut for wall 2

6. A clay floor abutting wall 2.

7. Fill of shallow cut 8

8. Shallow pit cut

9. A horizontal layer

10. A horizontal layer, probably the same as 9

11. Natural ground formed before human occupation of the site

12. Trample in the base of cut 5 formed by workmen's boots constructing the structure wall 2 and floor 6 is associated with.

A Harris Matrix can be used to order these events (

Section Drawing:

A useful method of recording is the drawing of sections, usually done by spirit levels. Section drawings can be converted into a Harris Matrix but they are very useful in themselves, often more so than photographs. They are frequently better than photographs for showing sequences of silted up ditches or rubbish pits. Even colour photographs rarely bring out sufficient detail and are expensive to publish (Greene, 2002, 96).

Sites and Monuments of Scotland – Burghead Case Study

During the Easter break I spent some time camping and visiting various archaeological sites. This is a write up of my notes taken on the visits.

Some very interesting artefacts have been discovered very recently in a field at Clarkley Hill, Burghead, in the north of Scotland and the finds are still coming in. I visited the ancient Burghead Well, saw the location of the Burning of the Clavie and attended a museum talk given by a local enthusiast who has taken it upon himself to record the archaeology.

Attached at the end of this document are photographs of the Burghead field finds, which I attained from David Addison for this project. More are being found every day by David Addison, the Elgin Museum curator with the help of a local metal detectorist. The finds include 66 Roman coins, Bronze Age ring money, a 12th century gold cabochon ring, and ornate 5th century gold ring, buckls, belt loops, pottery and Norse strap-ends.

I was concerned that the stratigraphic locations were not being recorded and that the standardized archaeological context sheet was not being used. To which Mr Addison and his metal detectorist friend replied that the finds, despite being so varied, were in fact from the same layer just beneath the surface and were also from the very same field! They see this as a ‘true archaeological mystery’ and are using this to good effect to encourage the local school children to become interested, however, I am not convinced that this mystery can be solved by less-than-standard recording techniques.

Burghead – Background information

Scotland was the land of the Picts before it became the land of the Scots. The tribes that the Romans fought during the first four centuries AD joined together and became known as the Picts (the painted ones). By the sixth century AD they had formed a kingdom with kings who’s names appear in early historical records. After the Romans they fought the Britons and the Angles on their southern borders and the Scots in the west, but by AD 843 the Pictish kingdom had been taken over by the Scots and Pictland became Scotland. The fat north and west had already fallen to the Norsemen since the first Viking raids began about AD 800.

At Burghead there was a massive Pictish fort, which also served as an important trading centre. It was built in the fourth or fifth centuries AD and it was three times larger than any others of the period. The Bull kings and their warriors, priests, craftsmen and servants lived for roughly 400 years until it was destroyed by fire by Norse invaders in the early ninth century.

Burghead has also been considered to have been a possible political centre or ‘Pictish capital’ for the royal seat of King Bridei (Ritchie et al., 1991).

Symbol Stones:

The most enduring legacy of the Picts are stone slabs decorated in a unique art-style. When the rest of Britain used the Roman alphabet for memorials, the Picts preferred these graphic symbols. The symbols were used and understood throughout Pictland. Roughly 200 symbol stones have been found, some complete and others fragmentary. The earliest stones were rough slabs with the designs cut into their surfaces; later the symbols were sculpted in relief on elaborate cross-slabs.

The stones are difficult to date but seem to span the three centuries between about c550 AD and c850 AD. Symbols were also carved on the walls of caves and on small objects including silver Jewellery.

There is a question of whether Pictish symbol stones are ‘rock art’. Technically by the simple meaning of rock art, they would seem to be so, however, in Britain ‘rock art’ is usually reserved for prehistory. On interpretation is that symbol stones, “straddle the nomenclatural divide between the Iron Age and the prehistoric period in Scotland,” (Mazel et al,. 2007).

The Symbols:

These intriguing designs were often carved with technical skill and artistic flair. Many are recognizable as animals, like the fine boar and Knocknagael or as horse-black hunters with their dogs as at Aberlemno. Some can be identified as objects, such as the blacksmith’s hammer and anvil at Abermethy and Dunfallandy, or the hand-mirror and comb on the Maiden Stone. But some of the most common symbols are abstract, like the double disc and z-rod at Picardy. It is impossible to know what these symbols meant to the Picts, because they have left no written records apart from a list of their kings. Many theories have been argued: the stones may have marked land boundaries or the graves of important people; the symbols may represent tribes or noble lineages and their messages record marriage alliances, or perhaps (as I suspect) they may have been set up for reasons that do no not make sense to us in modern society.

The chart below demonstrates the commanding position Burghead has over the Moray Firth. On a clear day the other side of the firth can be seen (photo taken by author 25.03.10)

The Burning of the Clavie:

The Burning of the Clavie is a fire festival unique to Burghead that takes place every year on the 11th January. It is festival to ‘greet the new year’ and was first recorded in records of the Presbytery of Elgin in 1665. It was banned by the church in the 17th-18th centuries as idolatrous. The ceremony may have pagan origins. Before Christianity there were Druids, who were held in superstitious regard and their chief instrument of ceremony was fire.

The significance of the 11th of January dates to the 1750s, when the Julian calendar was reformed in Britain. The new Gregorian calendar was introduced. People rioted, demanding back their 11 days – but not in Burghead. ‘Brochers’ (what the local people are called) decided to have the best of both worlds, by celebrating New Year twice.

Therefore, every 11th January the flaming Clavie (a barrel full of staves) is carried around Burghead by the ‘Clavie Crew’, followed by a large crowd. Certain favoured residents along the route have a lucky burning ember delivered to their door. The final destination of the Clavie is on the Doorie Hill on the ramparts of the ancient fort, where it is firmly wedged. After refuelling several times, it is allowed to burn out and fall down the hill when still smouldering embers are eagerly gathered. Possession of a piece of the Clavie is said to bring good luck for the coming year and pieces are sent around the world to exiled Brochers.

Unfortunately I missed the actual burning, but I was able to visit the Doore Hill. Below is a photograph of where the Clavie is wedged (25.03.10). Over two months after the actual burning you can smell the burnt tar up close.

The Burghead Well

It is unknown whether the Burghead well was a pagan pool, Christian baptistery or simply a water source for the inhabitants of the fort. It was discovered roughly 200 years ago when rubble from the defensive wall was cleared away. The pool is 1.3m deep and is fed by a spring.

Associations with water were very important to early religions but often these traditional holy places were rededicated for new purposes.

Below: Photograph showing the rock cut steps leading down to the well (25.03.10).

Inside the well there is a narrow shaft allowing light inside.

The spring still feeds the well today:

Urquhart Castle

I was fortunate to be able to visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of the Loch Ness when the sun was shining.

Urquhart castle is one of Scotland’s largest castles and it was the scene of many battles, most of which took place during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. However, the castle’s history is much longer than that. Urquhart castle started life as a Pictish fort in c500 AD. It grew into a medieval stronghold and was finally blown up in 1692 by the leaving soldiers to prevent it falling into enemy hands.

Photographs (27.03.10)

Below: The mighty trebuchet

Below: A rotary quern stone and stone guttering

Below: A well, now filled with coins for good luck.

After listening to a talk on medieval weaponry at Urquhart I tested out some of the modern replicas.

Beloz: A claymore sword. These require two hands and are wielded in a figure of eight motion. They are surprisingly heavy. The sheath has slightly oiled wool inside providing a snug fit for the sword as well as a quick auto-clean.

The chain mail protects from weaker slashes but provides no protection against stabbing or arrows. However, the wearer feels well protected, giving them courage in battle. It is heavy to hold, but when worn the weight is spread out.

Below: The battleaxe and shield combination. Again, the axe is surprisingly heavy. The shield is designed to block blows in close combat rather than to protect from arrows.


Campana, S. and Piro, S. (2009) Seeing the Unseen: Geophysics and Landscape Archaeology (London: Taylor and Francis Group)

Grant, J. and Gorin, S. and Fleming, N. (2002) The Archaeology Coursebook: an introduction to study skills, topics and methods (London: Routeledge)

Greene, K. (2002) Archaeology: An Introduction (United Kingdom: Routeledge) Ham Hill Country Park. Visit South Summerset consulted 03.05.10 <>

Ham Hill. Flickr consulted 04.05.10 <>

Ham Hill Somerset. Wikipedia consulted 04.05.2010 <,_Somerset>

Harris Matrix. Statemaster Encyclopaedia consulted 03.05.10 <>

Mazel, A. and Nash, G. and Waddington, C. (2007) Art as Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock-Art of Britain (England: Caric Press) Motte and bailey castle, Montacute. Somerset Historic Environment Record consulted 04.05.10 <> Ritchie, A. and Ritche, G. (1991) Scotland: Archaeology and Early History (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) Scarre, C. (2009) The Human Past (London: Thames and Hudson)

The Phelips Folly. Flickr consulted 04.05.10 <>

Tower on Saint Michaels Hill. Images of England consulted 05.05.10 <>


QR Code
QR Code sites_and_monuments (generated for current page)

Advertise with Anonymous Ads