Tag Archives: Pottery

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 11

It was business as usual today… plus doughnuts were brought to site and there was no rain!

Excavation continued on two of the bigger features – one in Trench 1 and the other in Trench 2. Both of these are probably tree throws, and there are a lot of interesting things coming out of the top of both.

Tree Throw – Trench 1


Tree throw excavation in Trench 1 ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

This feature is being excavated by Jess and Phoebe in quadrants, two of which were dug today. There are only a few flint flakes from the top of this tree throw, but the interesting part is there’s lots of burnt flint which appears in chunks that are very brittle… word is travelling round site that this is an area of Mesolithic activity! We’ve already had evidence of the Mesolithic on site in the form of a blade and a blade core tablet. We’ll let you know if anything else comes to light when the feature is fully excavated.

Tree Throw – Trench 2


Excavating the tree throw in Trench 2 in segments ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

Chris, Jake and India are excavating this feature which looks like a tree throw in plan, and they have discovered that it has been burrowed into by rabbits (so there are a few rabbit bones coming out), but they are getting loads of worked flint and a few bits of Peterborough Ware (Middle Neolithic pottery), along with pig and cattle bones; so this looks to be a tree throw that was utilised by humans in some way, filled in and then later burrowed into.


Flint end scraper and Peterborough ware pottery, beautifully hand-modelled by Chris and Jake ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

It’s our day off tomorrow, but we’ll be back on site on Sunday to continue excavating the features and stripping back Trench 9.

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 5

We’ve finished our chequerboard excavation of Trench 1! Now it needs a clean back to really bring out the features we’ve identified. We’ve had a Middle Bronze Age day today, with a pottery sherd in the top fill of a feature, found by two delighted students, and it looks like a few post holes have been revealed! More on this to follow…


Trench 1, almost finished! ©National Trust/Briony Clifton


We started our excavation of Trench 2 in the late morning, using the same method as Trench 1. Tomorrow is the team’s day off so they will be unwinding tonight, ready for the start of the second week on site on Sunday.


The first excavators of Trench 2 ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

Experimental Archaeology with Breaking Ground Heritage & Operation Nightingale

For the last 2 weeks of September 2016 we supported an inspiring archaeological project at East Chisenbury in Wiltshire, which has a remarkable Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden (rubbish) site, an enclosure ditch and evidence of settlement.


A section of ditch in Trench 1 at East Chisenbury.  Photograph ©National Trust/ J. Tomlin

The project was organised and run by Breaking Ground Heritage and Operation Nightingale, who use archaeology and heritage as a route to recovery for injured service personnel. I was there to promote the experimental side of archaeology, reconstructing the ceramics coming out of the ground and going through the pottery-making processes with an eye to the prehistoric.

The exercise of pottery reconstruction allowed the retired servicemen and women to really get a feel for building a pot, for looking at where to add the next coil, how to smooth and blend, what hand movement or tool causes what pattern in the clay, and then to look again at the archaeology and see it in a different light.


One of the team working on a furrowed bowl (she ended up making 4 pots).  Photograph ©National Trust/B. Clifton

Pottery-making on site at Chisenbury was not only about experimental archaeology, however. Along with being a valuable social experience, it is also significantly about the individual’s responsiveness to the clay and about the focus and deliberation that naturally occurs when building a pot (…or sculpting a tortoise/whale/badger/giraffe – we had all four). For many people, pottery-making has hugely therapeutic qualities where the mind can rest and be totally absorbed in an activity – something I hope can at least help support the recovery of serving and ex-service personnel.


All of the pots together before some were carefully placed into the firing pit.  Photograph ©National Trust/B. Clifton

On the final day we fired some, but not all, of the pots in a pit firing (bonfire). The two preceding weeks had been quite cold and damp for the clay (which we were trying to dry out!), so I had given a frank warning to all the potters that the likelihood of their pot’s survival in a bonfire would be minimal. In other words ‘if you’re attached to your pot, don’t put it in the fire’.

The firing day was warm, but there was a strong wind which was blowing straight across the firing area. This would result in two things: 1 – the fire would burn quickly (not what we wanted) and 2 – there would be quite a bit of thermal shock from the cold wind and the hot fire, both of which can cause pots to crack. When firing in a bonfire (as oppose to an electric kiln) a certain amount of control is lost over the rise and fall of heat; add damp pots on top of this and I’m surprised we had any pots which survived – but we did!


Some of the survivors after the pit firing. Most came out completely black, some with black and brown patternation.  Photograph ©National Trust/B. Clifton

The Blackening Techniques in a Nutshell
Many prehistoric pots appear black. This is due to certain conditions in the fire: reduction and carbon blackening or ‘smudging’.
Reduction is a complex chemical reaction involving the movement of electrons (Ceramic Arts Daily), but is usually generally described as starving the fire of oxygen so that it draws it from the iron oxide in the clay and turns the pots black. The opposite of this is oxidation, where the pots may be red, grey, white etc. depending on the clay used. Pots can be a mixture of reduction and oxidation, which is why one pot could be, for example, full of reds, browns and blacks.
Carbon blackening occurs when pots are surrounded by combustible materials (such as sawdust) which are set alight and burn slowly until the fuel runs out, leaving black carbon coatings or smudges on the fired ceramics.
A combination of these and other conditions and variables can amount to really beautiful colourings of ceramics.



Many thanks to all the first-time potters who took part in this, and to Breaking Ground Heritage, Operation Nightingale and Wessex Archaeology for such a fantastic and stimulating fortnight. Thanks to Tom for supplying the majority of the wood for the fire, and Dave for the straw.

Lastly, rest in peace to Scott who was so brilliant last year at Chisenbury. I know he valued the pottery-making sessions and found them hugely therapeutic both physically and mentally. I was glad to have known him, if for a short while.



Breaking Ground Heritage:
Website: http://www.breakinggroundheritage.org.uk/
Twitter: @BreakingGroundH
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Breaking-Ground-Heritage-920531761375803/

Operation Nightingale:

For a summary of the site see Wessex Archaeology’s blog post here: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2016/09/30/site-operation-nightingale-and-breaking-ground-heritage