We have started our fieldwork at Dinkling Green Mine Cave with many of the old favourites. There was a reprise of the ever-popular cattle/fence failure on Monday night. This year’s trench is inside an, admittedly quite venerable, barbed wire fence which we hoped would be enough to keep livestock and archaeology in two seperate places. As we left site on Monday night after a productive first day we were treated to the sight of frisky bullocks leaping over it in a ‘cow jumped over the moon’ style. This meant I spent the middle of Tuesday driving back to Preston to collect all the bits of the electric fence while everyone else cleaned up the mess in the rain.


Chris admiring the neatly laid out grid squares on Monday afternoon before the bullocks got at them.

We’d had a bit of a slow start on Monday anyway. Normally I come out to site before a project starts with a couple of volunteers and we spend a day surveying and laying out the trenches so that the whole team doesn’t have to stand around watching two people arguing about who has done the maths wrong when the survey does go right first time. However, this year I decided that by doing that I was depriving everyone of a valuable learning experience by not letting them argue about who has done the maths wrong. This meant we all spent a happy morning setting and re-setting the total station before we got the trench in the right place about lunchtime. But hopefully everyone now has a much clearer idea about how you get from survey points in the GIS mapping to a trench in the right place on the ground.


This was the trench this afternoon, taken from the top of the limestone outcrop that the cave sits in. As you can see we are well on with digging off the upper layers of the rubble and scree left by the mining. I am hoping that this will include evidence for what was in the cave mouth before it was mined away.


The sun came out this afternoon too, reminding me to take some photos which show what an excellent view the cave would have had.

Tony and Carol from the caving club were also on site on Monday and we had an explore of the many current entrances to the cave system. Most of these are vertical shafts of varying degrees of scariness. Tony was involved in the original mapping of the cave and they are going to come back later on in the project with a team and explore these further.

Hares continue to be the wildlife we see most of. There were a pair of males boxing in the pasture below us on Monday afternoon. However, wildlife of the day on Tuesday was a mole, swimming along in the long grass on New Laund Hill when we went for a tour of the previous excavations. I didn’t realise that they moved above ground like this.


It is getting very close to the start of the fieldwork at Dinkling Green Mine Cave. The other Uclan projects on Anglesey, Ribchester and out in California are already going full tilt and now it is our turn. I have spent most of this week sorting out all the equipment we need, and, in some cases, buying more. Hard hats, it turns out, go out of date. Who knew? Well me, if I thought about it. Also if I thought about it I would have realised that helmets I bought in 2005 to work at Goldsland might be approaching the end of their working life. Anyway, I digress. With a lot of help from Eleanor, I have turned out the stores and packed up all the kit we needed.


Today we drove up to Whitewell to load a lot of it into the farm buildings we are going to be using as a toolshed. We are working in a different part of the landscape so we have moved from the old shed on New Laund Farm. It looks like we are going to be disputing the tenency of this new one with the hens. I had meant to ring John this morning to check that today was a good day to bring all the gear out. However, I had a minor computer glich this morning which meant that I ended up spending a lot of the early morning on the phone to Leica customer support. This meant I missed the time when I can normally be sure of contacting someone at the farm, while they are having their mid-morning break and the rest of us are just about thinking about starting work. We headed up there anyway and caught Daniel in the middle of shearing many sheep, so we went round the back way and tried to keep out of the way.


Once the tools were safely stored we headed up to site to see how overgrown it had become since my last visit in May. Generally not too bad, although there are a few more nettles than there were. Just as we were walking up to site a big male hare sprinted across the track in front of us and headed off up the hill to be the wildlife of the day.



The other exciting thing that happened last week was that actual physical copies of my cave burials book, which was officially published on Easter Monday, turned up in the office. Manchester University Press have done a really good job with it and I’m very pleased with how it looks. Even more importantly, despite the fact that it took me a long time to write, I am really happy with how it reads. Normally, once I’ve written and published something, I start to see glaring holes in the arguments I made. This time, so far so good. To celebrate the publication I did a guest post for the MUP blog, which I’ve re-posted here.


I was back out to Whitewell on Tuesday afternoon this week to meet up with John and plot and scheme. This summer, for the first time since 2015, we are going to do a full four week excavation season on the project. The plan this year is to spend our time looking for evidence of prehistoric activity on Whitmore Knott and Long Knott. These two hills form a similar limestone ridge to New Laund Hill, which we worked on between 2011 and 2015, but are about one kilometre further west.


We are going to start by looking in and around two cave sites. This is the first of them, Dinkling Green Mine Cave. As the name suggests, it was heavily mined in the early modern period. the whole of the front of the limestone escarpment here was removed by miners looking for zinc ores. What I am hoping is that we will be able to pick up evidence of any prehsitoric activity in this cave by sampling the extensive spoil tip which you can see in front of the current cave entrances in this photo.


What this will also do is give us a rapid idea of whether it is worth exploring further into the cave. As you can see from this photo, the passages shoot off steeply into the hill, so this is not something we will undertake lightly. In any case, Neolithic and Bronze Age activty in caves tended to be most concentrated in the areas around the cave mouth so if there is nothing in the spoil heap it is a good bet there is nothing in the cave at all. There are other 18th and 19th century lime and lead mining remains all over the two hills, so we won’t be short of archaeology to record, but the main aim of this season is to map where any prehistoric activity was.


The second cave site we are going to look at it this one, Whitemore Pot, which is only about 200 metres to the north-east of Dinkling Green Mine. The cave entrance, which is another vertical shaft, is at the bottom of this wild garlic covered hollow. As I was gingerly edging my way down the slope to explore the entrance (and it seemd a lot steeper in real life than it looks in this picture) I disturbed a barn owl. This was presumably roosting somewhere in the crevice which leads to the cave mouth or amongst the trees. It sped away huffily, looking exactly like an offended cat (assuming cats could fly), as I slipped about beneath it. I was much too slow to get a photo of it, as I always am in these situations, but I am still going to count it as the wildlife of the day.

We will be starting work at Dinkling Green from 24th June and will be on site until the 19th of July. As we get nearer the fieldwork season I will, hopefully, be posting more regularly.


Finally, after many delays, I have found enough time to turn my notes on the  brilliant Haunt this Place session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in December into a, reasonably coherent, post. The session was organised by Katy Soar and Penelope Foreman to examine the way that haunted landscapes are presented in fiction, archaeology and/or both. This was right up my street, a lot of the speakers drew heavily on the children’s authors of the late 70s and early 80s. I’ve written before about how writers like this helped make me into an archaeologist and the session showed that I am not the only one. Penelope spoke about how Alan Garner’s retellings of ancient myth were rooted in experiences of very specific parts of the landscape.  Krystyna Truscoe looked at how haunted places and things in the work of Penelope Lively and Robert Westall throw the protagonists into the past.

Image result for penelope lively ghost of thomas kempe

Proper Jackanory era cover for my personal favourite Penelope Lively

There was also an interesting, probably generational, thing going on about haunted fiction and nostalgia. The children’s fiction of the late 70s and early 80s  was admittedly a sort of golden age for this kind of ‘around the corner and into the olden days’ stuff but was also, I suspect, the point when most of the speakers were children. You could argue that popular fiction today is equally rich in this kind of imagery: Jonathan Stroud and Ben Aaronovitch come to my mind straight away. Aaronovitch in particular clearly has an archaeological advisor for his magical landscapes, a fairly important sub-plot in his latest, Lies Sleeping, turns on the theft of Roman bricks from the MOLA stores.

Stroud and Aaronovitch would both recognise the urban gothic mythos that has grown up around the Crossbones burial ground and which was the subject of Lucy Talbot’s contribution. Crossbones is the former site of a post-medieval burial ground in south London. Following a vision in 1996, the playwright and poet John Constable wrote the Southwark Mysteries, suggesting that Crossbones was the medieval burial site for sex workers from Southwark – the so-called Winchester Geese. Lucy showed how Constable’s original encounter with ‘The Goose’, the spirit of one of these women, has become the catalyst for a whole range of other spirits to be commemorated at the site. A similarly ethnographic approach was taken by Juliette Harrison to modern oral traditions about ghosts. Using six ghost stories which appear in Pausanias’ Description of Greece as archetypes, she looked at internet accounts of ‘true hauntings’ at various locations in Britain and the US. There were some striking similarities: for example, on haunted battlefields, in both the ancient and modern world, the ghosts are heard but never seen.

Martyn Barber gave a characteristically thoughtful analysis of M.R. James’ ghost stories and their connections to the developing professional discipline of archaeology. He showed how the occult binoculars used to see into the past in the story A View from a Hill can be understood as metaphors for the new technologies of scientific archaeology in the 1920s. In another interesting, but probably entirely co-incidental, connection, the ‘bone glass’ which features as a major plot device in Jonathan Stroud’s The Whispering Skull is assembled in a similar way. Both the binoculars and the bone glass are objects of supernatural power which are manufactured from bits of dead people.

The role of fictional archaeologists within classic sci-fi is also interesting. Philip Boyes showed how haunted and abandoned worlds allowed hard sci-fi authors of the 60s and 70s to bring darkness and mystery to their otherwise utilitarian visions of the future. For example, the Captain Picard-like commander of the exploratory ship in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is an amateur archaeologist. His point was that archaeological investigation has been adopted many times in sci-fi as a metaphor for the process of attempting to understand an alien civilisation. He also pointed out that, as in the work of M.R. James, the archaeologist’s stereotypical combination of bumbling unworldliness and unhealthy curiosity makes them the member of the away team most likely to have their face eaten off by inter-dimensional monsters. This year’s Dr Who New Year’s Day special was a case in point. As soon as it was revealed that the two people investigating the mysterious object associated with the medieval skeleton were archaeologists you knew they were Dalek fodder for sure.


I have been meaning to post a further update on the Haunt this Place session at TAG for a while because it was so fab and got me thinking about so many different things. I will still do that some time soon but just now I am only posting to ask a favour. At the top of the page you will see a new link to the Inspiring Communities project survey. This is a project that I am co-ordinating looking at the impact of UCLan archaeological fieldwork on the local communities where we work. This doesn’t just include my work in the Forest of Bowland, but also the work that Jim and Duncan are doing at Ribchester and that Seren is doing on Anglesey. If you click on the link at the top of the page you will get access to the survey and more information about what we aim to do on the project. Please read this and complete the survey

thanks very much


Along with about four hundred colleagues, I was at the Theoretical Archeology Group conference in Chester towards the end of last month. This is a yearly happening, Chester was the 40th, which I have blogged about before. The conference functions as both a leading forum for intense academic debate and as the discipline’s Christmas do. Given the timing at the start of the Christmas break, I normally tend to treat TAG as primarily a social occasion (a bit like my son’s attitude to school, can’t think where he gets it from). This year, however, I had a book to plug. Neolithic Cave Burials: agency, structure and environment is due out early in 2019 with Manchester University Press and so I felt I should make more of an effort in the academic sessions.


When the call for papers came out in September I thought it would be a really great idea to do two papers in two different sessions based on different chapters of the book. I did not feel so enthusiastic about doing this at the beginning of December, when the actual papers had to be written, Still, it’s all sorted out now.


Here am I on the first afternoon of the conference, talking about what cave burials can tell us about how and why the Neolithic began (photo by Caradoc Peters). This was part of the excellent Rethinking Transitions session organised by two UCLan PhD students, Nate and Rob, looking at how we identify transitions between periods and how we deal with the archaeology that crosses these boundaries. Rob and Nate had put together an excellent mix of speakers covering everything from the African Midde Stone Age to post-Roman Spain, including UCLan and Sheltering Memory alumnus Mike, now a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, talking about the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age transition in Northumberland.

Tuesday, the second day of the conference, was the only day when I wasn’t giving a paper, so I was free to go along and listen to the brilliant Haunt this Place session, which I’m going to blog about next week because it set of whole chains of ideas in my head. After all that excitement I’m afraid I have nothing to report about Tuesday afternoon because at that point my old bad habits kicked in and I went to explore the Christmas market on Northgate Street instead of doing any work.


On Tuesday night it was the obligatory TAG party. For many years the resident DJ at these things was the late great Sara Champion. When I was a PhD student in Southampton, Sara was a leading light in the regular Friday night alchotherapy sessions (a semi official staff/student pub-crawl/bonding session). These always seemed to end in intense musical discussions, often involving supercilious incredulity from us gobshite students that her son’s band of Radiohead impersonators would ever get themselves a record deal. In this, as with much else, Sara had the last laugh. After Sara’s death the TAG party seemed to lose its way musically for a while, a sequence of ill-advised live bands was only relieved by Will Champion bringing his mum’s old record boxes out of retirement at Southampton TAG. However, since last year’s event in Cardiff, the mantle has been brilliantly taken up by John Schofield – archaeology professor, also York based DJ and John Peel looky-likey. The person doing frankly inappropriate Morrissey-with-a-bunch-of-gladioli style dancing to Another Girl, Another Planet may have been me.

In recognition of the fact that Tuesday night was party night, sessions on Wednesday morning started at 9.30. I missed this fact in the programme and so was sitting in the venue for my second session at 9.00 vaguely wondering where everyone else was. Paper number two was part of a session organised by Andy Gardner, Manuel Fernández-Götz and Guillermo Díaz de Liaño on ‘Flat Ontologies’. A flat ontology, just in case you aren’t completely up to speed with this sort of thing, is any description of the world which treats people, objects and the environment as equally capable of doing stuff. This is something of an enthusiasm of mine. I’ve blogged before (here, here and oh look, here too) about how it is not just the people carrying out the burials which create cave rituals but also the decomposition of the bodies and the geochemical processes in the caves. I’ve also devoted a lot of the new book to this argument so it was good to have such a ready-made forum to try out a very condensed (12 minutes plus questions!) version of it.