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Archaeology without digging

When most people think of archaeology they have visions of digging large trenches on your hands and knees using a trowel. Well, that certainly is a part of it although not all the digging is done with a trowel.

A considerable amount of work is done with Non-Invasive Methods or Landscape Archaeology. This means investigating the area by any and every effective means at our disposal, and there are quite a few, without digging holes or destroying any of the remaining evidence.

Teaching magnetometry

Traditionally landscape historians used written records and maps. We can add many more techniques which have been developed in the modern world such as aerial photography and geophysical surveying. We are fortunate (some would say) to have the Internet since this gives us online access to huge amounts of data that previously could only been seen by visiting distant libraries. Computers and the Internet also gives us a wonderful new set of tools like Google Earth which we can exploit.

Looking west across Sedgeford parish towards Heacham

An intriguing side of Landscape History is that most of the evidence we use was gathered for some particular purpose which was often quite different from our needs. The Domesday Book was a tax survey, but we try to use it to get population data, ideas about farming methods and settlement patterns. Interpretation of data is at the root of the work and a bit of lateral thinking is often needed.

So how is the course taught? It is a mixture of classroom and practical sessions. It looks at the physical landscape of Sedgeford (and North West Norfolk), and how it was formed, as well as the human influences that have resulted in the settlement we see today.

The classroom sessions will cover geology, discussions on what influences people to settle where they do, manipulation and interpretation of maps, historic records, online resources, LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), aerial photos and much more.

Resistivity survey

The outdoor sessions will take us to the deserted medieval hamlet of Eaton (why was it deserted?), and we will also spend time walking other parts of the Parish to tell the story of settlement changes in Sedgeford over thousands of years – this is likely to lead to much discussion and debate!

On the Peddar's Way

The practical sessions will give all participants the opportunity to use our geophysical equipment (magnetometry and resistivity), you will be taught how to lay out the necessary grids, record the grid, process and present the results of the survey. These non-intrusive archaeological survey techniques are vital in being able to assist the ‘digger’ in deciding the locations of future excavations. It takes a lot of effort to dig even a small archaeological trench, so anything we can do to minimise the size and locations of the trenches is essential.

Magnetometry at work

The practical sessions are not just a set of practice exercises either. You will be conducting surveys which will contribute to the overall research of the SHARP project and will be planned to fit into the current needs of the project.

There's a lot going on below the topsoil

No previous experience in archaeology is required, and this is an ideal course if you wish to become involved in archaeology but do not wish to spend your time on your hands and knees digging – one of the landscape team took 5 years before learning how to use a trowel! The course does involve walking over uneven terrain, as well as at a continued pace rate when using the magnetometer, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

This year’s course will run from 5-10th August 2018. To find out more and book a place, follow the link here.

Melinda Barham, David Crease and David Wood


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