Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Each year our UCLAN students have to write a field report about their summer excavation when they return to university, and each year we ask for extra elements to be included into this report to demonstrate how much they’ve learned.


Our MSCi students have had to wrap their heads around the complicated archaeology we’ve found on site. They had to produce a Harris Matrix to help them understand the stratigraphy. Stratigraphy was briefly explained in one of our earlier blog posts:



A Harris Matrix is a visual tool that archaeologists use to help them understand the succession of archaeological contexts, this allows us to see the sequence of depositions made over time. Here’s an example below:


harris matrix



Context number 1 was directly underneath the ground surface and is therefore the most modern. Context’s 3 and 4 were found at the same level so they are believed to be buried around the same time. Finally, context 6 is the furthest down so that means it contains older archaeology.


This example was a simple one, but our MSCi students have to piece together each context from this year’s excavations and produced a much larger matrix to cover the entire trench.


To help them do this they will be using the Context Index. Each time something is excavated it is given a unique context number, to distinguish that feature and any of its finds from other features on the site. The Index will tell us a bit about the context itself and where it is in the trench, as well as the date it was excavated. Additional information can be found on the Context Sheet for that number. An example Context Sheet is shown below:


context sheet



As you can see in the red box, each sheet has a smaller Harris Matrix, telling you which context was above and below it, and from these you can piece together the end product, covering the whole site.

That’s enough practical talk for one day. Here’s some pictures of our MSCi students trying to wrap their head around this year’s excavation.


harris matrix task

harris matrix task 2



Rather them than me!

Until next time,


And The Winner Is….

You may remember a couple of weeks ago we posted on Facebook to say that one of our volunteers, Cassie, had been nominated for Young Archaeologist of the Year. We are extremely proud to report that Cassie won the award!

Cassie hard at work on this years excavation!
Cassie hard at work on this years excavation!

On Monday 6th November Cassie was given her award at the Council for British Archaeology’s Day of Archaeology in London. Follow the link below to read Cassie’s interview;

YAC Interview Cassie


I’m sure you’ll join us in congratulating Cassie and all of the other nominees on their achievement!


Until the next time


I Would Walk 500 Miles… (The Fun of Geophysical Survey)

On the 12th October, we took a trip back to Ribchester to present this years’ work to the Friends of Ribchester Roman Museum. A big thank you to those who came to watch Jim’s presentation, and persevered with us despite a few technical difficulties!     IMG_5275

Can everybody see?
Can everybody see?



During the presentation, we aimed to give a roundup of the work we had carried out this year. I’ll bullet point some of the most exciting bits for you;

  • We excavated the two large ditches at the northern end of our trench, we believe these were used to define the grounds of the fort itself and were located outside of the fort wall.
  • We excavated a large proportion of the Guardhouse. After finding the threshold stone last year (some of you may remember it was under our barrow run!), the team were able to work their way down the layers of the guardhouse to try and understand the archaeology (no mean feat as this involves understand multiple layers of compact clay)
  • We were able to find out more about the road running through the centre of the fort
  • We have found evidence of possible structures in the form of post holes and post pads
  • We’ve identified evidence of a workshop; using scientific technology we have found traces of mercury, lead and gold. This suggests that they were using the process of gilding, which involves painting a very thin layer of gold onto the surface of an object.




Before our excavation season began this summer, we had the opportunity to carry out some geophysical surveys in other parts of Ribchester. The aim of this was to identity other possible archaeological features within the village, and it enabled us to try and identity the extent of the Roman activity. This work was carried out in conjunction with Historic England, and once they have finished with the results we will be able to release them on this website.

The technique we were using is called magnetrometry, which records the magnetic changes in the local magnetic field across the area of survey. For more information about magnetrometry and other geophysical techniques please follow the link to the Historic England website;

To avoid contaminating the readings the person carrying out the survey must be completely free of magnetic materials, this means that our clothing couldn’t have any zips! (I couldn’t even wear my fitbit to count my steps!)

The machine can hold results for up to 20 grids, and then the results must be downloaded onto the computer so the data can be cleared from the machine. Using specialist software, we are able to plot the squares and the magnetic variation is shown by lighter or darker areas which can be interpreted archaeologically. On average we recording data for 30 grids a day, which each gride being 20 x 20m, so we walked about 12km a day! (Again, I couldn’t even wear my fitbit for bragging rights!)






That’s all for now,

Until the next time,


And so it continues…

Hi everyone,

My name is Viki Le Quelenec and I’m a PhD student here at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as the research assistant for the Ribchester Revisited project. I’ll be using our blog and social media channels to keep you up to date with what we get up to when our rabble packs up and leave the village.


The 2017 season of excavation came to an end in July, but our work is not yet done! A lot of our archaeology takes place back in the lab, and as we appreciate all the support we have received through social media we wanted to take you along for the ride.


Since the end of our excavation season we have been busy with post- excavation from the dig itself. A large part of this work has been washing the finds from the last few days of excavation. It is important that washed finds have enough time to dry before they are processed to avoid them becoming brittle. Some finds are brought back to university with us in the same condition they were taken out of the ground so that we can process them back at our lab. Below is an image of one of our UCLAN students Micheal washing some of the finds from the guardhouse. This may not seem like the most glamorous job but Micheal has been a real trooper dedicating his time to helping us get this done.


micheal washing finds “Washing finds may seem a simple job, but it lets you have a hands-on experience which can help you understand details of artefacts, which you don’t get to see when you’re excavating”

Micheal, Second year UCLAN student.




An archaeologist’s job revolves around paperwork, and keeping detailed records. Both before and after a feature is excavated scale plans are made. These plans play a crucial part in understanding the archaeology and forming our interpretations (though the students may not always like drawing them at the time!).

For these plans to be usable in publications and presentations they need to be illustrated. From this we can begin to layer the plans to see where each feature fits within the trench and the levels of stratigraphy we are working with. I like to think of stratigraphy like a rainbow cake, each colourful layer is crucial to producing the overall cake, but each layer is different. Stratigraphy in archaeology works the same way, each layer of soil can represent a different action in time, and if we want to understand how the buildings of the fort were constructed or changed over time, we need to understand each layer.

Illustrating plans can be quite time consuming as you must trace over every line and stone on the drawing, but it’s quite satisfying when one is complete. Here’s a video below to show the difference, just like magic!

Before and After

On that note, I better get back to it. 24 down, 169 to go. So many plans so little time!

Check back in two weeks’ time to find out more about what we’re up too,


More than a Dig: Side Courses at Ribchester Revisited

At Ribchester Revisited, we want to give our students the opportunity to get as much experience as possible. In the trench, they practice many aspects of archaeology: planning, trowelling, interpreting, recording, etc. But it’s not just about the digging; there are also optional side courses, where students can leave the trench for three days to help an expert with another facet of archaeology. These courses are Environmental Sampling/Archaeobotany, Finds Washing/Recording, and Outreach. Each of these courses gives students a chance to experience a different type of archaeology and let them explore some specific fields within the broad category of Archaeology.


First, we have Environmental Sampling. On this course, students work with Don O’Meara, science advisor to Historic England and professional archaeobotanist. First working through the wet sieve, students take environmental sample buckets from the trench and run them through several sieves and meshes. These will help sort out materials by size, in addition to letting organic materials float to the top. These can be tiny remains of charred wood or seeds, among other things. Once any organic materials have been collected, the sieves are sorted into trays to dry. Students on this course will then sort through the dried samples and collect any finds that have been missed before sorting the gravels left over. Through this process, we are able to take samples from all around the trench and closely inspect a representative amount of soil. These environmental samples can be hugely important for figuring out who is in the fort, as well as with dating; recently, a sample from the guardhouse yielded what may be some domesticated oat. Oats were not domesticated until the post-Roman period, so evidence like this can help us push back the date of occupation and help us understand how long people are using the fort after the end of Roman Britain.

Don O’Meara instructs some IFR students on the wet siving process


Those who choose to work on finds with Justine Biddle also help us to look at what comes out of the trench. While our experts will be doing the interpreting of what some of the small finds are, students can help with the cleaning and recording. As far as bulk finds – things like bone, pottery, slag, and nails – students will take finds trays from completed contexts and clean off all the finds. This is important so that one can see any identifying marks on the bulk finds that would make them become a special find, like graffiti on a bit of pottery. The finds also have to be free of dirt, so that when they are counted, weighed, and bagged, the extra weight of the dirt does not affect records. Besides washing finds, students also record them; for the bulk finds, that involves weighing and counting each type of find per context and entering those data into the database. For special finds, called small finds, such as coins and jewellery, students will take photographs and carefully record the dimensions, as well as any identifications that have been made, in the database. These detailed records of bulk finds and small finds help us to identify what each context in the trench is, and what was going on at that layer of archaeology. In post-excavation analyses, some of these finds will be sent off to experts; bone specialists can identify which animal bones are from, as well as any significant marking such as cut marks that would indicate the animal was butchered; metalwork specialists can x-ray metal objects to help see past corrosion and tell the original shape of the metal object; pottery experts can say during what period certain types of pots were made, or if there’s a maker’s mark, even who made it and a very specific range of dates in which it could have been produced.

Justine Biddle shows students how to bag and record finds on day 2 of the minicourse


Lastly, students can go on Outreach for a few days. Here, we focus on the interactive part of archaeology. There’s no point of digging if nobody is sharing what happens, so students on outreach will conduct tours for people who visit the trench, make informative videos to post on our YouTube page, and help manage the social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and even this blog! The outreach part of the archaeological process is essential to keeping our dig relevant, so we are happy to welcome visitors to our trench for a tour where we can explain how the dig is being conducted, what is going on in front of you, as well as our current theories and interpretations about what was going on in our Roman fort at this time. Video diaries give everyone with internet connection a chance to see the trench and hear our students speak about the work that they’re doing. Lastly, students will help to manage the social media outlets of Ribchester Revisited, so that we can reach more people and keep those interested up-to-date on the dealings of our dig.

All the tools for Ribchester Revisited’s social media presence, except the camera used to take this picture!





Muddy Starts and Young Archaeologists

ANU students, American volunteers and UCLan students make up the bulk of our archaeologists.

Here at Ribchester Revisited, we love people from all walks of life to truly experience coming here what it is like to be an archaeologist at its core. Whether it is students from UCLan (University of Central Lancashire), ANU (Australian National University), or volunteers from the United States through the Institute of Field Research, Ribchester Revisited has been fortunate enough to have all these fantastic people contributing to our project with their own unique skills and personalities. 

But it’s not only grown men & women and young adults we aim to bring here, as this project has a strong history of hosting pre-university age student who gain invaluable experience and memories by taking part in an archaeological project with others with similar ages and interests. This includes the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC), an organisation which seeks to get children with a passion for archaeology involved in projects and events that can fan the flame of their interest in archaeology. Former Young Archaeologist, Cassie Bradshaw, was the fortunate winner of a YAC competition in 2015 that enabled her to go to Ribchester for the day in order to take part in what we do here. Cassie so greatly enjoyed her time here that she entered the competition again next year and won again!


Cassie (R) and ANU student Claire excavating their context.


Our elite workforce comprised of the Young Archaeologists and their fathers!

Now, in 2017, she’s back as a participant of UCLan’s Muddy Starter program. This initiative brings 16-17 year olds planning to study Archaeology to Ribchester not only to show them what UCLan has to offer, but to help them gain valuable experience and a unique insight into their interests, as a result building to a whole new generation of archaeologists! Cassie has enjoyed her time so much that she’s asked to stay for an extra week, and spent the whole of yesterday spending time with this year’s YAC competition winners to pass on her knowledge and enthusiasm. So, for this blog we interviewed Cassie to ask her about herself and her time here:


Q: Tell us about yourself

A: My name is Cassie Bradshaw. I’m 17 and I’m a student at Formby High Sixth Form. I’m studying Ancient History, Chemistry, Geography.

Q: Why are you here?

A: I’m here because I have always had a great interest in archaeology and history since I was 5. This is how I was able to win the Young Archaeologist competition in 2015, when I first came to Ribchester. I enjoyed it so much, I’m here now as a Muddy Starter to take part in the archaeological process and to improve my skills in the field.

Q: How are you enjoying Ribchester Revisited?

Cassie (R) with the 3 Young Archaeologists taking part in this year’s Ribchester Revisited.

A: I think it’s an amazing experience for anyone interested in archaeology or the Romans. Since being here I’ve learned a number of techniques and skills that are vital for archaeologists, such as planning, coordination with others, and paying attention to important details within tasks. I’ve also greatly enjoyed the social experience here at Ribchester Revisited, as I’ve met so many amazing people with similar interests as me.

Q: Do you think being here is beneficial to your future career prospects?

A: Absolutely. Because it gives me a massive insight into how studying archaeology at university is also about fieldwork, not just lectures. Not every university provides its students with an opportunity to take part in fieldwork that will be incredibly important for any future career in archaeology. This is why I’ve chosen University of Central Lancashire as my first choice for university.

Q: To conclude, what would you say to other young people who are interested in archaeology or in taking part in Ribchester Revisited?

image (1)
Cassie enjoyed being apart of this fantastic project with dozens of other like-minded enthusiastic students.

A: I would say to go for it. It’s such a fantastic opportunity for people like us as it gives a massive amount of insight and experience into the archaeological process not just through fieldwork, but also through the social side and meeting other students. All three times, I was nervous before coming here but every time I was easily able to get along with others who shared my passion for everything that was happening here.


Cassie used her experience as a Young Archaeologist to help the newest generation of YAC members to become capable members of our trench. We can only hope they’ll follow in Cassie’s footsteps and be with us again very soon!

For further details about UCLan Archaeology, see

Every year we are looking for people to dig with us (sadly this year we’re already fully booked!). However, look out for details next year on our Facebook page:



A Fork in the Road: A reflection on the Roman road surface within Ribchester.

At the end of excavation last year, the road surface was left with some cobbles and just the slight hint of its sandy foundation showing. The sand may have gone completely unnoticed until this year if it hadn’t appeared in the edges of a previous trench that ran diagonally through it. With new revelations coming to light and a stronger focus on the road this year, more information is allowing us to rebuild the story of the road as it would have once been.

The road as it was at the end of the last excavation
The road as it was at the end of the last excavation.

Last year the discovery of hairpins and dress pins on the road had the archaeology team excited. What seems like simple pieces of metal common in our daily lives come with strong implications archaeologically. The evidence points to female activity within the walls of the Roman fort, which would have been highly unorthodox. Currently it is believed to be one of two explanations. The first of these being that the evidence is simply from females passing through the fort from the vicus, a nearby civilian settlement that would have provided for and traded with the fort. Alternatively, it could potentially be that in the later days of the Roman reign discipline became lax. This could have possibly resulted in the Roman soldiers situated there to have wives living near the fort. Since we are looking at Ribchester in its later days, the lack of discipline could indeed be possible.

The sand layer that once lay beneath the road running across our trench
The sand layer that once lay beneath the road running across our trench.

Within the road last year multiple pre-existing trenches left by our predecessors were discovered in the road layers. Starting up again this year we were left with one long diagonal cut that crossed the entire road surface, and a short trench adjacent to it. We believe these to have been left by Thomas May in 1907, when he first excavated Ribchester

The pit discovered south of the road, half excavated and ready for a section
The pit discovered south of the road, half excavated and ready for a section.

searching for Roman architecture. Up until recently it seems that the road surface was barely touched in comparison to the northern extent of our trench, but recent excavation has unveiled another trench and a pit just south of the road surface. However, these could simply be robber ditches left behind when someone excavated with the intent of stealing the stones from the road.

From one of these newly discovered trenches we made the exciting discovery of the first silver coin found during this year’s excavation. The likelihood is that the coin was lost roadside and managed to find its way into the backfill of a trench. In relation to the rest of the coins found down in the southern area, it can be assumed that this one was lost by someone travelling as opposed to being discarded during a clean of the workshop.

Roman coins for comparison excavated from last year
Roman coins for comparison excavated from last year.

One of the repeat instances within the road this year is the discovery of lots of hobnails (nails that were used in Roman shoes). These have either been discovered on the roadside in what would have been a drainage ditch or within the layers of the road itself. Impressively two clusters were discovered with a high concentration of these nails together, one on the south-eastern side of the sand layer, and another to the north-west containing approximately forty hobnails. However, there was no leather to be seen despite finding such a high number of hobnails. This could potentially mean that the hobnails were accumulated over time washing down the side of the road. Alternatively, if it was a whole shoe it is possible that over time the leather would have degraded to a point where it was no longer salvageable. Together with the coin, this evidence could be indicative of the road being used often and not just acting as an intermediary path between the workshop in the South and a Northern building.

This about summarises what has been developing in the road thus far during excavation this year. But with more of our plans being signed off every day and ongoing excavations still underway, more and more shall be discovered. By the end of the month we will probably have a completely different image built up compared to what we currently have!

More plans of the road, not too long until the entire thing changes.
More plans of the road, not too long until a complete excavation is underway.
A section plan being worked on for the pit discoverred.
A section plan being worked on for the pit discovered.


Under the South, Ribchester Revisited Week 2

Blog Pic 1

Digging in Roman Ribchester has unveiled a mass of new information on how the Roman fort not only formed, but thrived. After 2 years of excavations in the Vicarage of Ribchester, we have finally come upon evidence for the decline of the fort (around the 3rd-4th century). This year’s excavation, though complex, is showing signs of Roman life! Last week we focused our post on the north end of the trench, stretching our explanation to the road found in the centre. This week we will talk you through the south of the trench, giving you an in-depth tour through the eyes of the archaeologist.


When excavating, archaeologists use a grid system to divide and organise their trenches. These grid squares all have their own letter to help differentiate them. For our trench, our grid squares are 5x5m. You can see how our trench is divided in the picture below.

Grid square systems in the south of the trench, Grids A to F.
Grid square systems in the south of the trench, Grids A to F.

Grid A and C:

Grid A
Grid A

Mainly covered by our access ramp, Grid A shows the first signs of the elusive Northern road through the fort. We have also discovered the foundations for a building layer, showing a possible structure. Currently we are removing the demolition layer, formed after the building was abandoned. Further work on this area will happen in the coming week, with section supervisor Jess hoping to unearth the true extent of the structure within this grid.

Grid C
Grid C

Grid C continues the building shown in Grid A, with the appearance of a black central layer which indicates that burning occurred within the area. This, combined with the recent discovery of an orange coloured hearth, suggests that the building was used as a workshop. This could be significant as it is placed next to the Northern road, suggesting commercial activity within the fort.


Grid B and D:

Grid B
Grid B

In the southeast section of the trench (Grid B & D) we have uncovered a large yellow-orange clay floor surface with evidence of burning. Supporting this, is a deep flue feature (discovered last year) which would have been used for the manufacture of artefacts. This is an exciting find, because it shows that this space within the military fort has morphed from an area that we assume was purely used for ‘defence’, to a manufacturing workshop. A soil analysis completed at the end of last year’s excavation has indicated levels of silver, gold and mercury in the soil. This suggests that perhaps those living and using the fort in the 3rd-4th century were making coins or objects for trade.

Grid D
Grid D

Currently, our hypothesis is that the area was consistently used and reused for a number of activities throughout its occupation including, metalworking, glass working and possibly even tanning! This year, we are taking ICPMS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) samples from each grid square in order to better understand how this space was used throughout Roman occupation.


So, in the south of the trench we have many exciting things happening! Of main importance, is the continued use and reuse of the same area for different purposes. We are excited to see how this story continues to unfold over the course of the next three weeks.

Stay tuned for more updates, and visit us on site!

Blog Pic 6

The team consisting of University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Australian National University (ANU) and a selection of students from the USA, as well as local volunteers. The site is open to the public for tours Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5:30 pm.





Return to Ribchester

Blog Post 24/06

Over the last 5 days we have been hard at work in the trench. A lot has changed and progressed since our previous blog in 2016. So to bring everyone up to speed we are going to tell you some of the exciting discoveries we have made during the first week of the 2017 excavation.



Our current 2017 trench can be simplified using four distinct sections:

We have the far north section extending outside of the main trench edge, constrained by the fence of the vicarage.  It is here that we are hunting for the boundary ditches of the fort.

The inner north section of the trench contains the fascinating outline of the guardhouse and a foundation of the wall-support to the right, the guard house has lots of layers (known archaeologically as contexts) and is going to be really exciting to excavate over the coming weeks.

The guardhouse under excavation
The guardhouse under excavation.

A distinctive bright orange band of sand, that is the foundation of  a road, dissects the main north road to supply an inner road (intervallum) for the following buildings. Here, we have found a large amount of coins and other exciting finds.


the roman road visible in the trench
The roman road visible in the trench.

Last but not least, the South end of the trench contains indications of a flue, a small passage for air made to feed more oxygen to a fire. This, followed by our geophysics results which show trace elements of mercury, gold and silver, is indicative of a possible workshop space.


the southern part of the trench including the clay floor and flue
The southern part of the trench including the clay floor and flue.

Plan of Action for 2017:

The core aims of Ribchester Revisited 2017 are to gain more insight into the ‘guard house’.  We are hoping to find out exactly what activities were carried out in the building, as there is evidence of frequent activity in this building from observing the external stratigraphy. Additionally, we will be looking into the use of the workshop and hopefully making some more in depth interpretations about what was produced there. This should give us further clues into the community that inhabited this ancient town. So we hope to uncover some exciting information about these two features.


Recent discoveries:

In more recent news the dig team , comprising of students from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), the Australian National University (ANU) as well as a contingent of students from various American universities have been working over the last 5 days to great effect. We have uncovered part of the northern road.

The northern road emerging from the side of the trench.
The northern road emerging from the side of the trench.

this would have been one of the main thoroughfares of the fort as it extends to the far north section of the trench. Following the road to the south-end of the trench, discoveries have been made regarding what was once thought to be wooden wall. Trowelling back has now been shown to indicate the existence of a stone wall.

A beginning

There comes a time in every project’s life when it gets its own website, Ribchester Revisited has now reached such a moment. This website will grow and change as the project does. Although in development for a number of years, Ribchester Revisited really started in 2015, with the first summer of month long excavations.

The first UCLan students and staff to dig at Ribchester in 2013
The first UCLan students and staff to dig at Ribchester in 2013

Previously UCLan students had been undertaking small scale digs and projects preparing the ground. This started in September 2013 when first year archaeology students excavated a small test trench. Further test trenches in 2014 led to the opening of our main trench in 2015. Those test trenches no longer exist, our excavations now cover the areas they once occupied, but they served a vital function, allowing us to gain an understanding of the depth and survival of the archaeology.

We will now use this website to update everyone on how the project progresses. Expect periods of activity, especially in the summer when students will be blogging about the excavations, with periods of calm as we return to teaching and the slow task of post-excavation and research.