Saturday, December 27, 2008

So Long and Thanks for all the Cow Manure: Part One

It’s that time of year again, when the Archbishop of Canterbury appears on the telly every quarter of an hour or so complaining that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost (presumably by which he’s referring to the Mithraist mid-winter knees-up that the Christian festival supplanted), when the bulging duvet of the sky is kept aloft on stilts of smoke from huddled chimney stacks in the fashion of some Kafkaesque nightmare, and when the gas companies all raise their prices by several hundred per cent whilst simultaneously attempting to molly-coddle their customers with a couple of free energy-saving light bulbs. (It’ll take more than two 40-watt bulbs and one cardboard tube stuffed with broken glass to win me over!)
In other words, the inexorable crawl towards New Year is underway, so, as tradition requires, it’s time to reflect on Wyre Archaeology’s achievements of the previous twelve months. But first, a photograph courtesy of Frank (Wyre Archaeology Committee Member for Aerial Photography) that, hopefully, should enable the casual reader to pin down some of the sites mentioned in the following report.

Now there’s something that’s different about 2008, right away. We’ve always used aerial photographs at Wyre Archaeology, of course. After all, it’s a bit difficult to discover new sites without the occasional oblique view of some sun-scorched field or other. However, this year, because of Frank’s timely arrival, we’ve been able to take said photographs from the relative comfort of a proper Cessna, as opposed to hanging on for grim death to the wobbly seat of some flimsy microlite. As a result we can now obtain clear and concise pictures such as the one above, rather than the usual blurred, tearstained images in which it’s difficult to determine what’s sky and what’s ground.
So cheers for that Frank. It’s much appreciated.
At the outset of 2008 the committee was presented with a huge list of sites (potential, known and/or otherwise) to investigate, excavate and/or percolate over for the up-and-coming year.
So, how did we get on?
Well, to the best of my memory, we haven’t taken a look at a single one of ’em. However, there is a good reason. Other sites, places that by their accessibility and intrinsic novelty value are enough to get any red-blooded archaeologist’s imagination ticking, have been flinging themselves at us right, left and centre throughout the year in much the same way that the cow pats in various fields have been doing to us on windy afternoons.
Let’s start with High Gate Lane then and the following photograph of several members of the Wyre Archaeology Excavation Squad hard at work on the stubborn twinges and excess flab caused through years of neglect.

That’s Colin with his bottle of
whisky water there, and Gary holding what appears to be a pig’s ear or something; and that’s Michelle in the trench wearing my hat, presumably because she’d left hers at home.
High Gate Lane was a short but interesting dig in search of a Roman road. We’d speculated for years that there ought to be one in the vicinity, but it wasn’t until Chris realised that various humps and bumps in one of the local fields bore a remarkable resemblance to an ancient agger that we had anything substantial to go on. And if it hadn’t been for the rather worried questioning of the landowner’s daughter, who’d spotted us leering guiltily over the fence as though we were casing up the joint, then we’d never have had the opportunity to excavate at all.
So, what did we find? Well…a Roman road by all accounts. It wasn’t metalled (because the cobbles had been nicked at some point presumably) and we didn’t find any artefacts to positively date it, but it did have an agger and a ‘V’ shaped ditch, which was just what we wanted, so all in all it looked pretty convincing.
Hopefully we’ll dig up a bit more at some future date, possibly finding a few Roman coins or a buried centurion in the ditch or an amphora or something, when we do. For now, however, we’ll have to be satisfied with what we’ve accomplished, because the landowner’s using the field to exercise his horses and doesn’t want any of them falling down a ruddy big hole. I can’t say as I blame him, to be honest.
That was in May.
By June we were doing this.

On the left of the photograph, Barbara waits with a trowel in her hand to get ‘down and dirty’ in the trench whilst Laura (in the thick of it) scrapes the cow muck from an ancient Taiwanese kneeling pad. On the right of the photograph, Gary, Ed, Ken and Mick keep morale at a premium by cracking schoolboy jokes, complaining about the weather and discussing the problems of advancing dotage with regards to their kneecaps.
In the current vernacular, the platform at Grange Farm was ‘a ruddy great bugger of site’ to dig. We went in search of a mediaeval watermill and its (possibly) accompanying grain kiln. What we actually found was a big heap of rubble (admittedly most of it was mediaeval), a number of postholes that didn’t make much sense, and an awful lot of clay. We still reckon it’s the site of an ancient watermill though…but we’ve put it on the back boiler for now until we’ve got our strength back.
Then, one evening, this happened.

This was Eskham, of course. (Editor: What do you mean, ‘Of Course’?)
Pictured from left to right are Colin, Harry, George, Dave (I), Dave (II) (I’m not sure what happened to Daves 2 through to 10) and one corner of me.
The earthworks at Eskham have long been a cause of heated discussion amongst local archaeologists, some of us reckoning that they’re significant and prehistoric, others claiming that they’re relatively modern and of no archaeological consequence. Several fights broke out on the evening we visited, one of them resulting in George being thrown into a trough of pigswill and Harry being somersaulted through the air on the back of a sheep with one of the farm cats wrapped around his neck.
The more civilised amongst us, i.e. me and Michelle, met up for the first time with John Salisbury, a leading light in the Pilling Historic Society and the author of a rather excellent book about the earthworks at Nateby.
Okay…I’ve run out of space.
It’s a good job that we haven’t reached New Year yet, because we’ve still got quite a bit of this recap to go.
See you in a few days time then?


Anonymous said...

...the Archbishop of Canterbury appears on the telly every quarter of an hour or so complaining that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.

He should try looking in the freezer; I find most of my answers there.

I’m not sure what happened to Daves 2 through to 10

That reminds me of 'proper Dave' from 'Silence in the Library' - last season's Doctor Who.

Harry being somersaulted through the air on the back of a sheep with one of the farm cats wrapped around his neck.

That sounds like an average day for farmers in Queensland (who, as of yet, haven't quite worked out that Australia is largely desert and you can't grow rice in a desert).

Jayne said...

The Archbishop (or one of his mob) is claiming Adam's fall was worse than the stockmarket fall from His Grace's load of codswallop.
Stay away from freezers, Reuben, Reece Witherspoon's dad keeps roadkill in his...
If you squint hard enough you still can't see Dave Lister from Red Dwarf in that photo.
Here's a link to recap on medieval mills worth a whopping 5 shillings...
*Word verification "weard"...oh, so close...!

Brian Hughes said...


"That sounds like an average day for farmers in Queensland (who, as of yet, haven't quite worked out that Australia is largely desert and you can't grow rice in a desert)."

If the farmers in Queensland were as canny as the farmers in the Wyre they'd have a thriving export business in sand by now.


"The Archbishop (or one of his mob) is claiming Adam's fall was worse than the stockmarket fall."

That's because he twisted his ankle on the way down, and you know how painful that can be.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about 'thriving'. It sounds as though 'frying' is a better term (at least when applied to their braincells).

Brian Hughes said...


You don't need brains to make money, just a natural gift for being able to rip other people off.

JahTeh said...

Nothing to this ditch digging. By the way you're all standing around, the ditch digs itself.
Of course, I'm taking notes in case I have to sneak out and bury a mother in the middle of the night.

Brian Hughes said...


It's very easy. All you have to do is give one of the females a shovel, mutter something about equal rights, complain about your back, and then sit down with a flask of coffee and a steak and kidney pie.

Of course, you might end up with a black eye before the end of the day...but nothing's perfect.

John said...


Have you guys used metal detectors at High Gate lane? A good metal detector with a wide range might be of good use, not only for finding coins, but other stuffs of copper, tin, brass, lead, etc.

Also, don't forget to look next to the road, for stuffs thrown aside, or caskets of lead for roadside burials.

I know in my neighborhood folks chuck their lunch bags out the car as they drive by. Maybe have someone run down the road and throw something to the side, then metal detect along that line parallel to the road.

See? Long distance is the next best thing to being there! And I have a great excuse not to do any digging, being thousands of miles away. :0)

Happy New Year everyone!

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


"Have you guys used metal detectors at High Gate lane?"

Certainly have. We found an old baked bean tin.

Happy New Year.

Jayne said...

Ahh, you'd beaten yourself to the dig with your lunch in the previous Stone Age, Brian :P

Andrew said...

Confusion cleared up. There are two Bisphams in Lancashire.

Brian Hughes said...


Not me...I always eat butties and pies and never leave any evidence.


That depends on how much alcohol has been consumed.

Jayne said...

Bispham - is it pronounced Bis-ph(f)am or Bisp-ham?
And why are there so many murderers in Midsomer to keep Tom Barnaby from his wife's cooking?

Brian Hughes said...


It's pronounced "Bisp Ham" (originally Biscop-ham meaning 'Bishop's Hamlet') or in the dialect of a local Bispham teenager, "nghfgnm".

As for the number of murders in Midsomer, I blame Jim Nettles. Those murders just follow him around wherever he goes. They were even happening way beyond the expected amount when he lived in Jersey. One of these days the other coppers are going to realise that it's him who's doing them and then covering them all up.