Catcliffe (Rotherham)

Fieldwork Sessions

It had been a while since our last sessions. We had decided that summer field trips were preferable to winter ones.

Our first visit was to Wentworth Castle. Here we met with the group from Tinsley for a guided tour of the Northern College building with Steve Jones, resident historian. The impressive architecture a result partly of the family dispute with Wentworth Castle but also as a result of the political connections of Thomas Wentworth. Horace Walpole once described it as the finest house in Europe.




Our second visit, also joining with the Tinsley group was to Heeley City Farm. Here the group set to work restoring the roundhouse. In two teams one stripped away the damaged wattle with great skill and remove it while the others mixed and daubed. After lunch we were shown how Iron Age bellows and then roman bellows developed to enable the smelting of metal as demonstrated by volunteer Giovanna. We also had time to make a quick clay pot or two.

Re wattling the round house

Re wattling the round house

Making clay pots

Making clay pots

Our third visit was to Silkstone Training Camp. Alex Southan from Elmet Archaeology showed the the remaining archaeology of the huts and latrines of the Barnsley Pals. We then looked at the probable remains of the training trenches. Afterwards we visited Silkstone Church and were greeted to a very warm welcome by the local history society who gave us a detailed tour of the church.

Silverwood Training Camp

Silverwood Training Camp

For our 4th visit we met with the Friends of Wincobank who gave us a tour of the  earthworks of the Hillfort before taking us to see the Upper Wincobank Chapel. We then went to Tinsley to see the excavations there.

PAth up to Hillfort laid in WW1

Path up to Hillfort laid in WW1

Finally  today we have been to Staveley Hall with a Mike McCoy to excavate part of the old hall. After a detailed guided tour of the site the group excavated part if the midden and opened up a small new trench to the north of it. We found glass, bones and a horse tooth. One student found a very beautiful clay pipe stem.

Clay pipe found at Staveley

Clay pipe found at Staveley

We then went to Barrow Hill Roundhouse, an engine shed with turntable. Here we were lucky enough to see a locomotive and a new carriage being delivered. The range of engines and rolling stock is vast. We even got a ride on the turntable.


Barrow Hill Round House

Barrow Hill Round House

It has been a great privilege and pleasure to work with this group. They have enthusiastically engaged with everything we have done and made firm links with a number of other local societies and projects in the area ensuring their interests are sustained after Digability finishes.


To see more about our visits have a look in the student experience page where student David has submitted a weekly log.


300 objects

Wow, what a inspiring and exciting last session. This really was a cumulation of everything we had covered. The group had all brought objects to represent them including an arab doll, tools of their professions, books, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a commemorative penknife, tankards, Dinky toys, coins, a plug socket, screwdriver, medals, compact and even themselves!

The group discussed what archaeologists would make of the objects – how they represented some less well known skilled trades of the past such as a cast iron pattern maker, the interests of the owner, how people had travelled and how they could use the scientific skills we discussed in week three such as isotope analysis to check this. We also talked about how easy it is to come to the wrong conclusions, the islamic doll next to the Plymouth Brethren Bible the group thought could represent someone experimenting with religion, a collector or a traveller. The piece of the Berlin Wall belonged to someone who had never seen it, it was a gift. The student who brought ‘himself’ highlighted that we would only ever make a “best guess” about that person and we could never know truly all his memories for which there were no objects to represent them. For those that are cremated there would be even less evidence that for a burial where the bones as we discovered last week could reveal disease or wear on joints. For those what brought objects that would decay such as books and family tree or a photo we decided that there would be very little for the archaeologist to go on apart from the physical remains of the body and the context in which it was found.

We also talked about the prospect of a future project in the area linking into the Romans and the possible field trips that the group would like to cover next summer.

The group also made a group scrapbook reflecting their learning journey and were amazed by how much we had covered and what they had learnt. I am very proud of all of them for entering on this journey with me and teaching me as  much I as taught them.

300 Objects - What do they say about us?

300 Objects – What do they say about us?


Tools of the trade


A commemorative knife


Toys of childhood and coin collector




Special possessions


DIY expert?


Specialist knowledge


Hobby reflections


Interesting memorabilia


Working out where the bones go.

Working out where the bones go.

Ph.D students from University of Sheffield once again came out to a Digability class to explain how archaeologists use bones to interpret life in the past. This workshop focused on animal bones and was led by Lizzie, Ged and Mik. The group were split into two, one half focusing on reconstructing the skeleton of a sheep and the other, looking at bone assemblages and linking them to past trades. How can you tell a butcher from a tanner, a horn worker from household waste?

Examining an assemblage of bone and matching it to a trade

Examining an assemblage of bone and matching it to a trade.

The group really enjoyed looking in more detail at the bones, looking for signs of disease and looking at the similarities and differences to Human bones. We discovered that sheep don’t have clavicles.

The assemblage exercise was alas really interesting and got the group thinking again about why assemblages are important. I was really proud of them using the knowledge from previous sessions to question what the bones and horns told us and start to look for the techniques in how the bones and horns had been worked, Linking the theoretical archaeology session with the one on Industrial Archaeology.




Sheffield Archives

Looking at map

Looking at map

We had an amazing visit to the archives in Sheffield. As part of our link with the Tinsley project we went on search of documents relating to the Tinsley Canal.

We looked at maps which showed the route of the canal, some surveys showing the planned route drawn up by Fairbank and his team of surveyors and letters relating to valuing the wharf.

The valuation referred to lime kilns at the wharf, in the afternoon we found a map which showed these.

Another reader was looking at a map of the Fitzwilliam estate. This beautiful hand drawn map, dated 1750 showed Wentworth Woodhouse in minature, medieval deer parks, the suspected routes of roman roads as other significant buildings. The map was so large and of such beauty it caused quite a stir in the reading room.

Another fascinating set of documents were the work diaries of the surveyors we looked at. They were hand drawn and recorded all the jobs they had done for the firm of Fairbank about 1812-1817. “Took day off as poorly” was one if the students favourite comments. Another recorded being paid a £1 a day.

A huge thank you to all the staff who helped with getting all the documents.

Tinsley Project finds

As part of our build up to developing a project around Brinsworth Sally Rodgers from the Tinsley project brought in all her finds for us to help catalogue. It was a real eye opener as to the amount of finds produced and the work that goes into making sure they are properly recorded. In our 2 hours we only did a very small proportion of the pottery found which included clay pipes, blue and white wares, and bone china.

Roman Doncaster

We had a very informative morning at Doncaster museum with education officer Alan Hall. Alan has an extensive knowledge of roman activity in the area and of the Roman Empire and was able to answer the questions the group had about the Brigantians and Cartamunda. He also told us about roman concrete and how the Romans ‘magpie’ mentality meant they collected and developed technologies from around their empire which enabled them to gain dominance for over 400 years.

We were then able to examine local finds, including silver coins that had been found at Doncaster Racecourse and some of the pottery that had been made locally. As usual the roman armour was very popular and the group were surprised at the weight of it. This led to a discussion about fitness of soldiers.

A Roman soldier from Catcliffe!

A Roman soldier from Catcliffe!

Romans In SouthYorkshire

Plotting Roman find sites from Doncaster

Plotting Roman find sites from Doncaster

The group wanted to know how much Roman activity there had been in South Yorkshire. They knew about the fort at Templeborough and that Doncaster was also a significant fort but were surprised that there had also been potteries at Cantley and Rossington and that hoards had been found at Darfield.  I suggested that the group should try and get to the  brilliant roman exhibition currently on at Experience Barnsley which displays a lot of the local finds. We talked about farming and the evidence for corn drying ovens being found at Thurnscoe and Goldthorpe. The group also had wanted to find out where the Romans in this area came from, the evidence suggesting that the soldiers at Templeborough were from Gaul where as in Roman they came from North Africa and in Doncaster they came from Hungary.

We then started to plot the 800+ find sites listed on Pastscape for South Yorkshire, using different colours to represent pottery, buildings, enclosures, coins, jewellery etc. We needed much more time but it was interesting to see the clusters of objects. Some of the group have taken this exercise away to continue further and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

Plotting the data from Sheffield and Barnsley

Plotting the data from Sheffield and Barnsley

Roman Roads

Today’s session was about communication routes in the Roman Empire. We looked at why roads were important, not only for moving armies around but also for trade. We also looked at water transport and how underwater archaeology tells us about trade routes and movement of goods.

We also looked at how roman roads were constructed using many layers to ensure good foundations and how each section of the road were maintained by different people to ensure they were well maintained.

Finally we tried to link up major roman cities on a map and learnt some names of some of the major routes such as Ermine Street, The Fosse Way, Watling Street as well as the local Icknield/Ryknield Way.

Next time we will be looking at Romans in South Yorkshire.

Science in Archaeology

Another session requested by the the students we examined how scientific analysis is helping archaeologists interpret sites.

We began by looking at Dendrochronology before moving onto radio carbon dating. This we explored using chocolate buttons. Using a timer to represent the passing of 5730 years for each half life, the students slowly ate their way through the 50 sweets in each pack, eating half the chocolates each time the clock stopped. This was a great way to embed maths skills.

Chocolate buttons help to demonstrate half life of Carbon 14 in a fun and tasty way!

Chocolate buttons help to demonstrate the half life of Carbon 14 in a fun and tasty way!

We then looked at isotopes and how they can tell us about diet, environment and how much people move around by analysing oxygen isotopes found in teeth enamel.

The practical part of the session involved counting  tree rings from a lime tree felled in Sheffield in 2008. We then compared this with environmental data from Sheffield. This led to many more questions about how limes react to rain and drought which we agreed we would all try to find out about for next week.

Archaeological Theory

Archaeeology since the 1960s has been far more than just finding and describing objects and sites. The ‘New Archaeology’ encouraged archaeologists to ask questions about how objects came to be where they were found, who had made them, how they were made and what they represented. We explored procession ism, post-processionism, feminism and looked at how we use our experiences in interpret evidence. The group also debated some if the ethical questions in archaeology such as who should interpret remains, local people or foreign archaeologists researching in a country other than their own? What should be considered when excavating human remains?

This group really started to apply what we had learnt about arcaheological theory. They began to develop questions they would ask of the assemblage such as was the pottery made locally, who made it and who would have owned it.

This group really started to apply what we had learnt about arcaheological theory. They began to develop questions they would ask of the assemblage such as was the pottery made locally, who made it and who would have owned it.

In the second part of the session we looked at assemblages of artefacts (mainly roman pottery from Lincolnshire). It was great to hear the students talking about the characteristics of the pottery but then begin to develop research questions – where did the clay come from, was it traded, was it mass produced, what did the different qualities pottery say about the society that used it.

Trying to work out how big the pot was that the rim fragment came from.

Trying to work out how big the pot was that the rim fragment came from.

What was the pot used for and how was it made?

Industrial Archaeology

Today we looked at the history of industrial archaeology before concentrating on the cutlery industry in Sheffield. This session was chosen by the students.

Typical windows of a Cutlery Workshop in Sheffield

Typical windows of a Cutlery Workshop in Sheffield

We discussed how can archaeologists look for features in the buildings to identify specific trades as well as how the organisation of the building can suggest working practice.  We also talked about how architectural features of housing can suggest the phasing or development of a street.

In the second part of the session we looked at the local coal-mining industry. We discovered that the coal around here is mainly bituminous coal and that the Barnsley seam stretches as far as the east coast. The mining village was Treeton was the first village in England to have Electric lights.

The new group began with a Taster session at the MS centre in Catcliffe. We have 10 students so far all keen to learn about the archaeology of the area. The course will involve other the students in other local projects and give them the skills to share information with other local people.

Glass Kiln, Catcliffe

Glass Kiln, Catcliffe

The first session last week looked at Industrial Archaeology ( a subject chosen by the students themselves). We looked at the history of the subject and then specifically at the cutlery industry of Sheffield and local coal mining. The students themselves are are extremely knowledgeable about their local heritage and this led to discussions and memories about local sites.


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