Friday, 26 October 2012

Fieldwork to start post-ex!

Hi all, well we finished up on site in the last week and are really pleased with the preliminary results. Thanks to all the staff, volunteers, land owners and visitors who made the excavation so successful and fun! Hope all the little budding archaeologists will remember their time on site and that their experience will help bring history to life!

On one of our last days we were luckily given a loan of a fork lift and gage by the farmer which enabled us to take some great elevated photos!

Final day - view of Cutting Five!

Elevated view showing all the cuttings at Servants Hill.
So now we have to start work on the post-excavation analyses which will help with interpreting the site. We hope to keep you updated on any important findings along the way and will present a final interpretation of the features recorded during the past month! Any comments or queries please contact us at

Site archive ready for post-ex work!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Open Day!

The Open Day was held on Saturday the 13th and the volunteers, local schools, archaeological societies, Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) groups, visitors to the North Down Museum, friends and neighbours were invited to come along and see what was going on. Fortunately weather was perfect which was great a relief to all. 

There were site tours with all the latest site interpretations being discussed, a display of the finds, including the lovely (possibly incomplete) flint arrowhead and a chance for the Downpatrick YAC to get digging. 

Members of the Downpatrick YAC group getting stuck in!
Nick and a few of the YAC members

A member of Claíomh (a military 'living history' group based in Ireland which re-creates 'live' images of Ireland's past) called William was a huge hit with his armour, swords and clothing from the 17th century.  Claíomh have their own blog at

William from Claíomh showing a sword

Living history is not just for kids!

Experimental archaeology was also taking place with the construction of a willow and turf shelter by Bruce Crawford. He normally makes corracles but was persuaded to turn the technique upside down and try to build a small creat or creel house. He pushed upright willows into the ground and wove other willows round them to form a 'basket'. We experimented with the turves from the excavation, using them to form the walls. We did not quite manage to finish the walls but it really gave us an idea of how quickly a shelter could be built and what the best shape of turves would be.  

Some children had other ideas!

Heather James
Community Archaeologist (Northlight Heritage)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Site update - Very productive week!

Cutting 5 has been by far the most productive archaeological area at the site. It looks like we might have at least one circular post-built structure here. 

Line of post-holes show the line of a wall/ enclosing feature
There is also a very nice foundation trench at the south-west corner with in situ burnt posts. This is great as we will be able to identify the charcoal and determine what type of wood was used to construct these buildings.

Foundation trench in Cutting Five

Looks like we have a possible ditch in Cutting Four. Lots of burnt stone and charcoal in the primary fill. Hopefully this is domestic waste from the 17th century buildings. There should be charred seeds and charcoal in this that could tell us about the environment and what people were eating on site – very interesting. 

Cutting Four - hopefully will provide some Plantation  period features!

Also a possible cobbled surface is showing in Cutting Two. This is obviously what was picked up in the geophysical survey as an area of resistance. There is a small gully to the side of this at the south-east end of cutting 2 – possibly part of the foundation for a building!

Cobbled surface identified in the geophysical survey!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week Three - busy busy busy!

We have 8 school visits this week so we are very busy showing the children around the site. Christina shows all the school children some finds from her reference collection including some animal skulls which really get the attention – all the children think that they are dinosaur bones!!!

The highlight of the school visits is the digging and sieving and the children have been pilling into trench 3 digging away and finding lots of pottery (that has been strategically placed there by Stephen!). Its all a bit of fun really!

Meanwhile digging continues on site and one of our volunteers Ken is getting stuck in!

Ken is sieving hard to try and find some dateable finds! 
Some people are very enthusiastic and have dug themselves substantial features on site!

Stephen digs himself into a hole.
But the digging was worth it as some pottery turned up in Cutting Three!
Cutting Five continues and looks very well at this stage

Recording of Cutting Five is going well!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Preparing for more young archaeologists!

We have two school visits this week and getting ready involves a bit of farm work – laying straw over the muddy ground and arranging the display cabin for the little archaeologists!

Towerview Primary school visited today and had great fun. They had a full site tour and after that they did a bit if digging in Cutting Four, some survey work and finds washing…….

Spreading straw for a safer path to site
Cabin containing display boards, site info and finds trays
Work area  set up for our little archaeologists

New twist from Cutting Five

Well Wednesday brought some sunshine and a bit of a twist in Cutting Five. Rowan discovered a small fragment of early pottery! Further analysis by a specialist will reveal a more accurate date. This may mean that the features in Cutting Five are much older than we originally thought!

A very proud Rowan showing his find!
Fragment of early pottery found in Cutting Five

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Progress is slow but steady

Week Three starts with a cold snap in the air and a spring in our step! Cutting Five continues to look promising. Some post holes and spreads may be the only remaining pieces of a structure that possibly once stood here! Further excavation will hopefully tell us more.

Cutting Five may contain the remains of a structure!
Several volunteers have given up their time to help us excavate at Bangor. Hopefully the experience will be a rewarding one for them. 

Some of the volunteers on site get stuck into Cutting Two

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Possible arctic scene on pottery!

Nick Brannon has looked at the pottery sherd found in Cutting Five and suggests that the image represents a piece of chinoiserie (Chinese style), a costumed figure. It seems to come from a small hollow-ware (cup/bowl/egg-cup) with external-only black+white transfer print.

Pottery fragment from Cutting Five
A possible match for the image is that of an ‘arctic scene’ (especially the 'heavy' sleeve and possible back-pack straps, wherein the figure may be of an explorer/Eskimo/Inuit- type figure)! These gained popularity from images published in the 1820s, relating to explorations by Sir William Parry in search of the North-West Passage. One source says that these wares were not that common in Britain and it is possible that they were produced primarily for export to Canada. Lots of echoes of export of so-called sponge-wares, much produced in Scotland and exported world-wide.

Staffordshire platter showing arctic scene (Image:
While this sherd has no link with the Plantation period activity it provides an interesting insight into 19th century Bangor. It probably entered the ground through agricultural practice.

Nick Brannon (Project Leader)

Cutting Five looking good

Cutting Five is all cleaned up and ready to go. The three pits that were shown in the geophysical survey are very clear in the ground. We'll keep you updated with any results as excavation continues!

Cutting Five being cleaned back with a trowel

Geophysical image showing pits in Cutting Five

Little Diggers and a little sunshine

The storm has passed and Tuesday dawned blustery but dry.  Yesterday we were visited by the film crew and were interviewed on camera, which is a new experience for most of us. In the afternoon we were visited by the Little Diggers, a group of young archaeologists which is organised by Heather and Lianne at the North Down Museum in Bangor. 

Little Diggers visit our site (Image: Heather James)

They all put on vis-vests and were issued with a trowel, hand shovel and bucket and shown how to dig carefully. They were very excited to find fragments of pottery and some flints. Some Little Diggers washed and photographed their favorite find and Nick was on hand to tell them about the pottery and share some surveying skills. We have not yet found any buildings but, it is early days yet and there are some very large pits in one trench which we very much hope will contain midden thrown away by the people who lived here in the 17th century. 
I wonder how many of these Little Diggers will be the archaeologists of the future?
Heather James (Community Archaeologist, Northlight Heritage)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

One person's rubbish,....

A small piece of pottery/ tile was found in Cutting Five today. The fragment shows part of a person wearing a long sleeved tunic holding something in their right hand. Perhaps it represents a monk or a religious figure? What do you think?

Pottery fragment showing person holding something - intriguing!
Three large pits have been identified so far in Cutting Five which match up to the images of the geophysical survey. Lets hope they represent rubbish pits as you know what they say.....One person's an archaeologist's treasure!

The rest of the site is coming along nicely,....if a bit damp!

Happy diggers!.....

Monday, 24 September 2012

Week Two - Singing and Digging in the rain

Well Week Two has gotten off to a very wet start.....fingers crossed we won't have to come to site in paddle boats in the morning...

Just as well the excavation crew love the rain!?

Met Eireann - technical term is Very very very wet weather!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Week One - De-sodding turf and TV interviews!

By the end of Day 2 on site, with the site huts installed and a pedestrian corridor being fenced for H&S reasons, turf and topsoil had been stripped to clear the way for excavations to begin in earnest.

De-sodding - it's an art form!

Wednesday afternoon was taken up with a film crew from Televisionary, who are making an 'Ulster Unearthed' TV series for Ulster Television. The presenter, Rita Fitzgerald, interviewed archaeologist Nick Brannon (project leader) and Fintan Walsh (Excavation Director), to a background din of seagulls, police sirens and nearby machinery, but the filming seemed to go well. It's all in the editing!

Filming on site, all you need are two buckets and a patient camera crew!

Geophysical results and excavation proposal

Joanna Leigh, our geophysics expert, identified several areas with strong archaeological potential (possibly one of the houses, several rubbish pits, garden boundaries) and Fintan Walsh, our excavation director, had laid out five trenches to intersect them.

Geophysical Interpretation showing location of excavation cuttings 1-5 (Image: Joanna Leigh)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Year One - Servants' Hill, Bangor

Our first excavation site is targeting an area known as Servants’ Hill in Bangor, Co. Down. Thomas Ravens map of 1625 shows houses at this location on the Hamilton Estate which likely represent the servants’ accommodation. Three of the houses appear to be 'Irish' in appearance - single-storey, without gables (and therefore, perhaps oval or sub-rectangular), perhaps built of timber and wattle with mud daub, and thatched roofs. But they have chimneys, generally recognised by architectural historians as being a colonial introduction.

Ravens Map of Bangor, 1625 (Image: Nick Brannon)

One house (the second from the top) in the Raven illustration of Servants' Hill appears to have a gable, and may be of 'English' architectural style. Excavation will hopefully shed light on these structures which may explain the settlement process on this estate.

While such houses are regularly illustrated by Raven on his Hamilton estate maps (and on his 1622 picture-maps of the London Companies' settlements in Co. Londonderry) only one has ever been found through excavation in Ulster. Professor Audrey Horning, of Queen's University, Belfast, excavated one at Movangher, near Kilrea, at the Mercers' Company village. The scant remains suggested an oval structure built using earth-fast posts.

Example of house identified at Movangher (Image: Audrey Horning)

Project background

Over the duration of the project three key sites will be selected for detailed survey and archaeological excavation. It is hoped that the community and local schools will be involved throughout the project. The project will aim to raise awareness of Ulster-Scots history, heritage and culture; educate young people, students, locals and visitors in Ulster-Scots history and the impact of the Plantation period, and promote cross-community sharing, tolerance and social inclusion. The results will ultimately be shared through a combination of publications and community outreach. This project is being funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.