Tag Archives: magnetometry

Back to Durobrivae

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

Firstly, many apologies for the time it has taken to write this report.  The data were quite complex, and the day job comes first.  This is a monster blog post, so make a cup of tea and settle back somewhere comfy!

Last year CAGG teamed-up with local groups to undertake some survey at the Roman ‘small town’ of Durobrivae, near Peterborough. If you have ever driven on the A1(M) past Peterborough you would have passed by the site. Our aim was simply to determine which geophysical survey techniques would give good results at this site.  The answer was: all of them!  A short note on the results has just been published in the International Society for Archaeological Prospection‘s newsletter.

We decided to add to our original survey by undertaking another three days work from 4th to 6th November.  Unfortunately, it decided to rain in the morning of the first day and so we lost some time.  We had enough helpers to run the mag, two Earth Resistance meters (the Welwyn Archaeological Society‘s and UCL‘s) and the Malå GPR we had on loan from SEAHA.  A small group of us returned on 26th November to expand the magnetometry survey and undertake a topographic survey using the dGPS.   The first three figures just show how much we have done so far.

Fig. 1: the complete mag survey as of the end of November 2017.

Fig. 2: the complete GPR survey as of the end of November 2017.

Fig. 3: the complete Earth Resistance survey as of the end of November 2017.

In the following post I am going to firstly discuss the western block of data, and then the eastern block over “the tumulus”.

Last year we completed a 80m x 360m transect of mag data across the town.  We also completed two blocks of GPR data, one 80×80, and one 80x40m.  This year we wanted to fill in the gap between those two blocks so surveyed another 80x40m block giving us one contiguous 80x160m survey.  Unfortunately, matching GPR grids is quite difficult, especially when there is a year between when they were collected, and therefore quite different ground conditions.  I did, however, manage to produce some “OK” time slices by applying a zero-mean traverse to each line of GPR data.  Hopefully, I will be able to create better slices in future, but these will do for now.  I also noticed that Larry Conyers had produced a much clearer plot of the temple by using a much thicker time slice.  I usually aim for 3ns thick slices.  Larry, however, used 8ns slices.  Here I have compromised by using 5 1/4 ns slices with a 50% overlap.  Fig. 4 is a composite of 12 slices starting at the surface.

Fig. 4: twelve time slices of the western area. Each slice is 5.27ns in thickness.

Apart from Ermine Street cutting across the top right hand corner, the first three slices are not really showing anything much of interest. Let us now look at the individual slices in more detail.

Fig. 5: GPR time slices 4 and 5.

In Figure 5, left, we can see the temple (A) starting to show as an area of lower reflections.  Larry Conyers was able to demonstrate that the interior of the temple building was clear of rubble, and thus there is little to reflect the radar waves.  In slice 5 on the right, we can see a linear feature (B) to the west of the temple.  This lines up perfectly with a strongly magnetic feature and is therefore a narrow cut feature like a ditch or possibly a wall foundation.  There are faint hints of buildings with robbed-out walls at C and D, showing as light areas of low reflections.  Similarly, at E, we can see some of the buildings alongside Ermine Street.

Fig. 6: GPR time slices 6 and 7.

In Figure 6, left, at A, we can see one of the minor side roads off Ermine street starting to show.  The building at B is still visible (just), and we are can start to see a wall parallel to the linear feature we saw previously (Fig. 5, B).  This suggests to me that we are dealing with a cut feature rather than a robbed wall.  Slightly deeper, in Fig. 6, right, at D we can see more buildings alongside Ermine Street.  The square building at E is now showing more clearly.  The large building at G is beginning to show quite clearly at this depth.  I am puzzled, however, that the road coming from the east seems to end in a sharp angle at F, as though something has cut through it.

Fig. 7: GPR time slices 8 and 9.

In Fig. 7, left, at A we can now see the building to the north of the temple very well.  It would appear the walls have been robbed but some of the floors left intact.  At B, the large building to the east of the temple is showing very clearly now. The wall along the west side of the temenos of the temple (C) is showing clearly at this depth.  Starting to show, but more clearly in the next depth slice at D, is a long wall running across the site.  There seems to be an almost entrance-like feature in it at the western end.

Fig. 8: GPR time slices 11 and 12.

Skipping a slice and moving to No. 11 (Fig. 8, left), we can see the wall to the west of the emple at A very clearly.  The possible floor of the building to the north at B still shows.  In the deepest slice I have generated, we have a curious series of curved features at C.  I have no idea what these are.  Answers on a postcard, please, to…

Fig. 9: the Earth Resistance survey (lower half) overlain on the GPR data (faded out a little).

Figure 9 shows the Earth Resistance survey.  We added a single line of grids on the eastern edge of the block we did last year.  There is a strange speckly effect in the new strip.  This block of grids we did with WAS’s TRCIA meter.  The resistance values were very high, and the meter had to keep swapping range which, apart from slowing us down in the field, may be the cause of the rather odd looking results.  The main result in the new strip is the high-resistance line running WSW to ENE which is probably a road.

A comparison with Stephen Upex’s transcription from aerial photographs is quite informative (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Transcription of the aerial photographs for the temple complex by Stephen Upex.  The image has been rotated to match the geophysical surveys. © Stephen Upex, reproduced with permission.

Some of the details between the aerials and the geophysics agree quite well.  The temple itself, and the temenos are pretty good.  What about the circular shrine?  I reprocessed the GPR data from just that section using 6.5ns thick slices this time.  I have produced an image of slice 6 (16.04 to 22.49ns) in the variety of palettes offered by GPR Slice (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: GPR time slice of the area to the immediate north of the temple in a variety of palettes.

The building to the north of the temenos shows quite well.  There are hints of a circular structure just to the north of the main temple building lying underneath a robbed rectangular building.  The circular feature shows quite well in the last palette, and the antepenultimate one.  The rectangular building is clearer in the second slice where black is showing areas of low reflections.

There is clearly a great deal which can be teased out of this data, but let us move on!

The second area we surveyed was over the so-called tumulus towards the western side of the town.  The mound showed quite nicely last year when the evening mist rolled in on the last day (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12: The mist shows the location of the “tumulus” beautifully.

Our aim was to survey the mound using all three techniques.  Unfortunately, the half day we lost to rain resulted in not covering quite as much ground as we hoped.  The mag results were especially interesting, hence our return to expand the survey area a few weeks later.

Fig. 13: the magnetometry survey of the eastern area over the “tumulus”.

Figure 13 shows the magnetometry results.  Ermine Street and the minor road running off it show well.  The town wall also shows clearly.  The zig-zag look to the wall is not “stagger” in the usual sense of the odometer being incorrect, but a result of the cart going up and down a steepish slope resulting in the sensors not being vertical.  There are indications of more long, thin buildings coming off Ermine Street at right angles, and plenty of other pits, ditches and other features.  The really curious aspect though, is the empty space in the middle, under the “tumulus”.  This seems to have a polygonal linear feature around it, showing as a magnetic positive and therefore either a cut feature, or a brick-built wall. To the east / south-east of the tumulus is a largely open area, somewhat fan shaped in appearance.  How very curious.

I wanted to check the relationship between the results and the topography so I undertook a topographic survey with the dGPS taking readings every six paces (just under 5m).  This differs from using the UAV.  The GPS survey will give us a digital terrain model (DTM) which is the actual surface, but at a cruder resolution.  The UAV will give us a digital surface model (DSM) which gives the surface and thus maps the tops of stinging nettle patches and so on, but at a much higher resolution.  We saw this at Darrowfield. Neither method is better than the other, it depends on ones aims, but using the UAV is certainly very much quicker in the field!

Fig. 14: dGPS topographic survey of the area around the tumulus.

As can be seen from Figure 14, the tumulus shows as an elongated feature running SW-NE.  My guess is that this shape is a result of plough damage.  How does this relate to the mag results?

Fig. 15: the topography with the mag data overlain on it and made partially transparent.

In Figure 15 I have overlain the mag data on the topography, and then made it partially transparent.  As can be seen, the mound is smack in the middle of the polygonal magnetic feature.

The Earth Resistance survey adds a little to the picture (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16: the Earth Resistance survey overlain on the mag data.

The resistance data shows little in the way of positive features apart from an area of high readings towards the south.  There does seem to be a oval of low resistance readings, normally indicative of a ditch-like feature.  There are faint hints of this in the mag data, but they are obscured by other magnetic features running up to the polygonal feature.  If the ultimate origin of the “tumulus” is a prehistoric burial mound, perhaps the res survey is showing us the outer ditch surviving, in part, below the Roman levels?  Fig. 17 shows the resistance survey with contours from the topo survey.

Fig. 17: contours overlain on the Earth Resistance data.

We managed three 40x40m blocks of GPR data.  Unfortunately, the GPR had a glitch in the second grid resulting in a single line of very high values.  This glitch caused some problems in the processing.  I have tried to get rid of them, but the line still shows, especially in the lower slices.  Fig. 18 shows the composite of 16 slices.

Fig. 18: all GPR slices from the eastern survey.

Surprisingly little shows in this survey.  The two main features are the rectangular building which shows from slice 5 onwards, and the general lack of anything much under the tumulus part from some general reflections suggesting some hard material (stones, rubble?) under the mound.  Let us look at slice 6 in more detail.

Fig. 19: GPR time slice 6.

The building towards the south of the image is fairly clear.  I wonder if it might be a bath house?  The area of higher reflections under the mound have faint hints of straight lines and rectangles, but this only shows in this one slice and my guess is that these are fortuitous rather than archaeology.  How does the GPR data relate to the topography?

Fig. 20: GPR time slice 6 with the contours superimposed.

As can be seen from Fig. 20, the higher reflections do not lie below the main part of the mound but slightly to one side.  The building lies outside the polygonal feature seen in the mag data.

A slightly deeper time slice (Fig. 21) shows the strip buildings along Ermine Street starting to show.  They appear to be missing their back walls which might be one impact of ploughing.

Fig. 21: GPR time slice 8 with topographic contours.

I made a crude interpretation map in Google Earth by marking the polygonal feature from the mag data, the building from the GPR data, and, with some guess work, the outer feature from the Earth Resistance data (Fig. 22).

Fig. 22: rough interpretation of the three data sets.

It is impossible from the data to tell if the outer feature from the res survey goes under or around the building, so I may have been a bit generous there.

So what is it?  One possible interpretation could be that we have a prehistoric feature with a mound and a ditch, presumably a round barrow.  The ditch silts up before the Roman occupation.  The mound is then fenced off and kept completely clear of structures or negative features like ditches and pits.  A building is constructed to the south of this mound, and a viewing area to the east.  Stephen Upex, solely on the basis of the aerial imagery, suggested that the feature was prehistoric, and re-used as either a amphitheatre in the Roman period or a small castle in the medieval period.  With the new data, I think we can rule out the castle (unless it was much more substantial at that date).  Although the phrase “ritual” is greatly over-used in archaeology, maybe in this case we are looking at an earlier mound which continued to be venerated into the Roman period?  Baths are often associated with religious sites.  At this stage, this is purely guesswork at the end of a long blog post.  This feature is, really fascinating and quite enigmatic.  Extending the earth Resistance and GPR surveys would, obviously, be very helpful.

The landscape around Durobrivae is fascinating from an archaeological point of view.  The nearby Roman fort is only known from aerial photographs, and just across the river and the Nene Valley Railway lies the site of Castor (Fig. 23) with its huge Roman building complex.

Fig. 23: Castor as seen from Durobrivae.

Last, but not least, many thanks to all those who helped push the mag and the GPR, and who aerated the grass with the resistance frame, or flew UAVs to map the topography.  Although the site is a long way for all of CAGGs volunteers, the site is both stunning and intriguing and, I think, worth the effort.  We hope to return to collect some more data soon.

Fig. 24: collecting Earth Resistance data with WAS’s machine.


Tilting at windmills?

Anyone new to this blog or geophysics in archaeology is recommended to read the material on the “Geophysical survey in archaeology” page.

Firstly, apologies to anyone waiting on the Durobrivae report.  I am trying to resolve a small problem with the GPR data and will post something soon.  We did get some good results, if not quite so spectacular as the temple we found last year.  The “tumulus” is proving very intriguing.

Back in April 2014 we surveyed part of a site in Little Hadham.  We had always intended to go back, but never quite managed to get our act together.  Last weekend we finally managed to plan another three days at the site, working in the field to the west of the road.  We were mainly intending to undertake magnetometry (Fig. 1), but as we had enough people we also did some Earth Resistance survey (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1: Jim West (CVAHS) moves the string for Ruth Halliwell (WAS).

Fig. 2: Peter Alley (WAS) ably uses the Earth Resistance meter aided by Caroline and Peter Baigent (Braughing Archaeological Group).

The three days were about as different as you could get.  The first day was quite nice, the second day wet, drizzly and foul (we had to keep trowelling the wheels of the mag clear of mud) and the last day was absolutely glorious.

The results from the magnetometry survey were excellent (Fig. 3).  The features are relatively subtle, however.  The image below is clipped to +/- 1.5nT.  In others words, all readings above 1.5nT are plotted solid black, and all readings below -1.5nT are plotted white.  At Gorhambury, I clip the images at +/- 5nT.  The pottery kilns are Verulamium have very strong values of -15 to +150nT.

Fig. 3: the magnetometry results from 2014 (east of the road) and 2017 (west of the road).

As can be seen from Fig. 3 there are lots of mainly linear features, some very straight, and some quite sinuous.  We are clearly dealing with a multi-period site.  The faint striping running west-nor-west to east-sou-east are a result of the harrowing of the field, made more visible by the extreme clipping of the image.  To make the discussion easier, I have labelled up the figure.

Fig. 4: the mag results.

One of the first things to note is how different all the linear features are.  The one indicated by blue arrows is quite straight and for some of its length, at least, very magnetic (-6nT to +11nT).  The one labelled with red arrows is, however, very sinuous and only faintly more magnetic than the background (about +/- 1nT).  That ditch seems to continue as indicated by the green arrows, which in places seems to break up into a series of linked “blobs”, either patches of more magnetic material dumped in the ditch, or perhaps pits within the line of the ditch.

The strength of the magnetic values is dependent on two things: firstly, the source of the magnetism.  Soils may be strongly magnetically enhanced by burning or intense occupation, for example, or may only be weakly magnetically enhanced if they contain just slightly more rotted organics than the background.  Secondly, size can also be a factor.  A large feature can contain more magnetically enhanced soil than a very small, shallow feature.

Features C and D are very straight, and are unlikely to be pre-Roman but they could be Roman or later.  I wonder if E could be a drove-way leading up from the valley to the west?  We need to do some work in the archives and see how much the field systems in this area have changed.

We have two circular features: A and B.  My initial quick thought is that these are both round barrows.  The majority of barrows are Bronze Age, but we do get barrows in the Roman and Saxon periods too.  Their location on a ridge with excellent views would support their interpretation as barrows.  The fact that the two features looked so different worried me, and then I remembered a lecture I used to give on aerial photography.  Could this be a windmill?  A quick comparison with an image published by Wilson (2000, Fig. 58) strongly suggested this interpretation.  Of course windmills also want to be up high!  We’ll come back to the putative windmill below.

Fig. 5: Members of BAG running the Earth Resistance meter.

We initially decided to use the Earth Resistance meter over a patch of the field where the farmer had noted it was difficult to plough, and where there were a large number of flints on the surface.  Over the three days we completed 14 20x20m grids.

Fig. 6: The Earth Resistance results overlain on the mag data.

As can be seen from Figure 6, we have detected the ring ditches quite clearly, and some of the linear features.  The stripes are plough scars.  This makes it quite difficult to see what is happening in many places.  TerraSurveyor can apply a Two-dimensional Fast Fourier Transform (2D FFT) to the data to try and removing striping such as this.  Using a 2D FFT doesn’t always help, but in this case the results were excellent (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: The Earth Resistance results after applying a 2D FFT.

To aid discussion I have labelled-up the plot as before (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Resistance results, labelled.

The two circular features (A and B) show clearly in the res data.  Feature B appears to have taken a “bite” out of the high resistance area F.  This area is where the flints were on the surface, and rather than being a building, it seems more likely we are dealing with a pocket of flints in the periglacial drift geology. The ditch which runs ENE–WSW just above the letter F shows very clearly where it has cut through these flints.  The ditch shown with green arrows in both Figs, 4 and 8 is quite clear.  What is intriguing is that ditch C, which appears only faintly to the west of the road in Fig. 4, and then peters out, clearly continues as shown by the pink arrows in Fig. 8.  We must never forget that ditches show well in mag data because they act as “traps” for more organic, magnetically enhanced soils.  If the fill is not magnetically enhanced, as may happen when one moves away from occupation sites, we may not be able to detect them.

The res survey is particularly pleasing from a teaching point of view.  Not only has the 2D FFT worked very well, but this is the exception to my usual statement that “res is less good at picking-up ditches and pits…”.

Fig. 9: Kai makes sure I am putting the grid in correctly.

The Windmill

When I first emailed the people helping on the survey and said I thought feature B was a windmill, Peter Alley immediately pointed out that the lane which runs through the site is “Millfield Lane.”  Well done Peter!  This is what Wilson (2000, p. 108) says:

Medieval post mills stood on crosstrees whose foundation-trenches formed a cross measuring about 10m wide overall.  The crosstrees were usually embedded in, or set in the top of, a low mound surrounded by a ditch.  The higher the mound, the broader its ditch, but the less likely that the timbers have penetrated the subsoil.  Crop-marks of windmill-mounds thus fall into two groups: those with proportionally broad ditches that usually display no central cross… and those with modest ditches (2 – 3m wide) and a cross within.  The ditch is ordinarily 25m in diameter; it may have two even three entrances.

Our feature is almost exactly 25m in diameter but the longest part of the surviving crosstree foundation is slightly less at about 8.5. The ditch is between 3 and 4m wide.  The “ditch”, however, does not look like a classic ditch feature in the mag data, and it may have other origins.

I checked the book by Howes (2016) but he only discusses the smock mill known from elsewhere in the parish which was burnt down in 1981 (pp. 132–4).

Jim West wrote:

I have been looking at windmill design to try to identify what would create the large circle (dia about 20m)  in the mag results.  Thoughts so far:

The windmill was probably a post mill, i.e., the whole of the upper structure rotated on a single post.  The post was often supported on a cruciform base rather than set in a hole. This design was in use for several hundred years until c.19 when the more powerful smock mills were introduced.

An example of a trestle base (this one is on brickwork which seems to be a modern improvement)
Post and trestle 18th May 1979from: http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/tottenhill-postmill.html

with the upper structure it looks like this (different mill)

from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_mill

These mills had to rotated to face the wind which was done by pushing on the long beam (threaded through the steps) on right in the image above.  This beam (or tailpole in miller speak) had to be long enough to get the leverage to move 15-35 tons of mill.  Most of the larger mills had a wheel on the end of the tailpole, usually with an iron rim.

Some later mills used wind power to rotate the mill.  The example below gives some idea of the length of the tailpole.

Fantail trolley June 1936
from: http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/tottenhill-postmill.html

My initial conclusion is that the large circle in the results is a record of the arc of the tailpole;  there may have been a surface laid to reduce rolling resistance because the width of the “path” is too great for a wheel rut and with a prevailing SW wind in the UK more wear would be expected in the NE sector.

The results also show what could be one of the beams of the trestle; the beam at right angles to it is less clear but I think supports the ides of a post mill on a trestle.

Having overlaid the res and mag data, the feature suggested by the res does seem a little larger than that suggested by the mag, although they do overlie to some extent.  The outer ring, therefore, may be a complex mix of the outer ditch (likely to be more irregular) and the sweep of the tail pole (which would be a perfect circle).

Ruth examined some of the historical evidence:

I have been looking at the old maps I have access to, to see if I could work out when the lane was named ‘Millfield Lane’, the house ‘Millfield Cottage’ and see if I could find any mills in the area. Working back from the modern OS maps, the house only became identified on the map as ‘Millfield Cottage’ between 1960–80. It was previously ‘Millfield Houses’. [NB: you can browse through old maps on the National Library of Scotland website]. I looked back through 20th century maps and back to 1870’s and the name of the lane was consistently Millfield Lane, but there was never a mention of a windmill at that site. On the 1880 Shire view map, there is a windmill (corn) just to the NW of Little Hadham.  It is beside Mill Common. The Bryant Map of 1822 has a windmill drawn at, what is probably, the same place as the 1880 map – but none in our field.

Dury and Andrews, 1766 [NB: available to view online here]  does record windmills as there is one at Hadham Lordship, but none in the area of Hadham Ford, Berry Green, Hadham on Ash and Green Street. Rowe and Williamson (2013, p. 261) mention that there was a mill in Little Hadham built 1786–7, which is likely to be the one in the Bryant Map and the 1880 OS map. The mill must post-date the map by Dury and Andrews (1766) [NB: available to view online here]. The construction of 1786–7 must have been a ‘new build’.

It may also be the one I found mentioned in Wikipedia entry – Hertfordshire Windmills, Little Hadham, which gets listing from Moore (1999). Only two are mentioned: the first a smock mill that was built in 1786 and burned down in 1981 that matches the location and description of the one at Mill Common mentioned by Rowe and Williamson.

The second entry is that listed by Moore (1999) and dates to before 1700.   Moore (p. 77) notes that ‘… just north of Bury Green there is a house today, which O.S. maps name Millfield Houses. Fields on both sides of the road in this position are names ‘Mill feelde’ on a map dated 1588 but it is possible that the field could have been names from a horse mill situated nearby in medieval times. There is no doubt that there was a windmill in medieval times and possibly two sites. The only miller’s name found was in the 1587 Muster Roll Richard Howell – myller.’  There are a couple of references to a 13th century mill, but Moore was unable to show that these refer to this site.

The Domesday Book does not list any sort of mill within Little Hadham.

There is clearly some more historical work to follow-up on.  It would be good to see the 1588 map mentioned by Moore which is at HALS, and I’d like to see the references in Holt’s 1988 book cited by Moore.

Hopefully, it won’t take us three-and-a-half years to return to this fascinating site.

Fig. 10: At the end of day 3.


Historic England (2011). Mills. Available online.

Holt, Richard (1988). The Mills of Medieval England.  Blackwell.

Howes, Hugh (2016). Wind, Water and Steam.  The story of Hertfordshire’s mills. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.

Moore, Cyril (1999). Hertfordshire Windmills and Windmillers. Bishops Stortford: Windsup Publishing.

Rowe, Anne and Tom Williamson (2013). Hertfordshire: a landscape history. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.

Wilson, D. R. (2000). Air photo Interpretation for Archaeologists, second edition.  Stroud: Tempus.


Filling in the gaps

Thanks to Stuart Gray of Strutt and Parker, I was able to contact Pete and Fiona Letanka and obtain permission for us to survey the paddock of Darrowfield House which lies immediately behind Verulamium Museum. It is the last large-ish area of Verulamium left that has not been totally surveyed using magnetometry. Members of CAGG are, therefore, spending this week filling in the gap.  Our mag was away being repaired, but Pat Johnson of Foerster kindly agreed to bring it down to us today.  We started, therefore, with Earth Resistance and GPR, but after lunch the poor old res meter was left abandoned on the grass while the team got started with the mag survey.

The paddock ought to be exciting.  It lies just behind the line of the Roman wall, and there is a road shown in publications running SW-NE across it.  The first mag results are shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1: the mag survey.

They are surprisingly unexciting.  The diagonal lines running SW-NE look like cultivation marks of some sort.  There is a quiet area behind the supposed line of the wall, running NW-SE, and then one high-magnetic curved feature which may match a bank we can see in the field.  No real sign of the wall, or of the road,

The GPR survey has been processed in 3ns thick slices.  As usual, I’ll work my way down from the top.

Fig. 2: GPR survey, time slice 3, from 10.5ns to 13.5ns.

Fig. 3: GPR survey, time slice 4, from 13.5ns to 16.5ns.

The third slice shown in Fig. 3 really shows surprisingly little. I’m guessing we are only looking into the topsoil here.  The fourth slice (Fig. 3) starts to show some diagonal striping similar to what we can see in the mag data.  Again, this is probably agricultural.

Fig. 4: GPR survey, time slice 5, from 16.5ns to 19.5ns.

Fig. 5: GPR survey, time slice 6, from 19.5ns to 22.5ns.

The fifth slice (Fig. 4) shows the striping very strongly, with two alignments at right angles.  I think these must be land drainage.  They look too straight for “ridge and furrow” and do not have a headland. What is also interesting — or is that worrying? — is that the wheel-ruts which show so clearly on the Google Earth image in the background, also show in the GPR data at this depth.

The sixth slice (Fig 5) faintly shows echoes of the drainage.  To the north are some black squiggly features.  Yes, folks, we have mapped the badger setts!  Nothing very archaeological, so far.

Fig. 6: GPR survey, time slice 7, from 22.5ns to 25.5ns.

In the final slice (Fig. 6), we still have the setts in the north, but we have a very strong linear feature to the south running SW-NE.  Comparing this to the proposed line of the road in Fig. 7, we can see that this would appear to be one edge of it.

Fig. 7: GPR survey, time slice 7, from 22.5ns to 25.5ns, with overlain map of Verulamium.

Right at the edge of the GPR’s signal depth where the returns are very attenuated, we are starting to see the archaeology. Unfortunately, I cannot yet easily convert the time (22.5ns–25.5ns) into physical depth.  It would seem, however, that the archaeology in the lower area may well be at the limit of what we can pick up.  If we look at the radargrams, however, we can see a big feature running across our vertical slices and I would guess this is the road surface.

Fig. 8: an example radargram showing the possible road.

Many thanks to everyone who turned out today and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine.  Also, big thanks to Pat for bringing the mag back for us, and Pete and Fiona for arranging for us to be able to survey the Paddock.

There probably won’t be a posting tomorrow, but I hope on Weds to catch-up.

February fun

Partly as a training exercise for UCL students, and partly just to extend our surveys at Verulamium, members of CAGG were out in Verulamium Park and Abbey Orchard last Thursday and Friday.

The magnetometer was out in Abbey Orchard on Thursday in the hopes of completing that small area.  Unfortunately, I think it is jinxed.  On Thursday we had battery problems, and on Friday the odometer refused to work properly.  The sum total of a day and a half’s work?  Two partial grid squares…  Oh well, just chalk that one up to experience.  Here is the image of the slightly extended area, such as it is.

The Abbey Orchard survey.

The Abbey Orchard survey.

Having given-up in the mag, Jim West, Pauline Hey and I decided to use the Earth Resistance meter on Friday afternoon.  I had singled out an area where there is a clear building in the mag data, but some ferrous noise masked the western end of the building.  The weather was glorious for a mid-February day.

The Earth Resistance survey underway.

The Earth Resistance survey underway.

We managed four grid squares at the usual 0.5m spacing, not too bad for one afternoon’s work. As you can see in the next image, the mag survey shows a lovely building as white lines representing low magnetism.

The mag results in the area of the Earth Resistance survey.

The mag results in the area of the Earth Resistance survey.

The wide dark line coming from the SW corner is the ‘1955 ditch’, the first century boundary of the town first excavated by Frere in 1955.  The two parallel lighter lines which run just to the north of the building are part of a road.

Unfortunately, the Earth Resistance survey showed nothing of the building at all.

The Earth Resistance survey results.

The Earth Resistance survey results.

It shows the edge of the road beautifully, and a high-resistance feature parallel to the 1955 ditch.  Even the ditch itself shows as a wide band of low resistance.  Of the building, however, nothing!  It may be simply that the soil is so wet at the moment there is no contrast between the building and the surrounding soil matrix.  Alternatively, the building may have been robbed out.  We will have to run the GPR over it one day.

Unlike last November, the GPR suffered no glitches, and Mike Smith, John Dent and Graeme Spurway completed an area 160m by 40.  Added to the same sized area completed in November, we now have a nice block of GPR data 160m by 80m to look at.

The data were sliced using Larry Conyer’s system in 3ns slices.  I’ll go through these from the top down.  There are three areas of GPR survey shown.  The top half of the large block is the latest survey, the bottom half that undertaken last November.  The detached block to the west was undertaken by Ralph Potter in 2014.  Remember that this is a rather crude “mash-up” in Google Earth so the edges do not match very well.  As always the GPR data are deserving of a much more detailed analysis.

GPR slice 3, 10.5 to 13.5ns.

GPR slice 3, 10.5 to 13.5ns.

Slice 3 (above) mainly shows modern features surviving in the topsoil, especially broad cultivation marks running NNW–SSE across this field.  There are some hints of the archaeology just starting to show through.

GPR slice 4, 13.5 to 16.5ns.

GPR slice 4, 13.5 to 16.5ns.

Slice 4 clearly shows the upper levels of the archaeology.  Watling Street, which is running roughly north-south in the eastern half of the main area, has a big hole in it.  It has been severely robbed for building stone.  There is a minor road running SW-NE with a square building alongside it to the north with a small room on the western wall and what looks like a courtyard on the eastern side.

GPR slice 5, 16.5 to 19.5ns.

GPR slice 5, 16.5 to 19.5ns.

The main addition in slice 5 is the complex of buildings in the NW corner of the main area. These are probably associated with the pottery kiln which we have just clipped (the feature that looks like Mickey Mouse’s ears in the underlying mag data).

GPR slice 6, 19.5 to 22.5ns.

GPR slice 6, 19.5 to 22.5ns.

In slice 6, the spur road is clearer, especially near to Watling Street.  It looks as though there is a shallow valley running parallel to Watling Street which is now filled with a greater depth of topsoil which means that the archaeology does not show until the deeper slices.  It is also noticeable that the centre of Watling Street has fewer reflections than in the upper slices.  I guess that we are getting below the surface of the road, and the reflections either side of the road may be the ditches that Wheeler found filled with rubble.  The building complex just to the north of the spur road has hints of two more small buildings.

GPR slice 7, 22.5 to 25.5ns.

GPR slice 7, 22.5 to 25.5ns.

In this final slice we can see the two small buildings north of the spur road in more detail. There is also a long linear feature running N-S between Watling Street and the modern path.  It looks like a modern utility to me, but there isn’t one indicated on the map I have been given.

The GPR results are excellent, and it will be worth continuing to expand this area.

I’ve had a busy time speaking to various groups about CAGG’s work recently.  One of the lectures was as part of the Society of Antiquaries public engagement lecture series held on a Tuesday lunchtime once a month.  They video the talks and put them online, so if you would like to hear me talking about Verulamium once more, here is the link.

As always, many thanks to Ruth Halliwell, Peter Alley, Jim West, Mike Smith, Pauline Hey, John Dent,  and Graeme Spurway, as well as my students from UCL, for turning out in mid-February, although we were extremely lucky with the weather,


Infamy, infamy (they’ve all got it in for me)?

Those of you who know Bloomsbury probably imagine I have a lovely view across one of the squares from my office window. Until recently, you would be right!  UCL are building a new student hub (everything is a ‘hub’ these days) and had to have somewhere to house the workers.  The solution? … a two storey stack of portacabins in a tunnel over the pavement.

The Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

The Institute of Archaeology, UCL.

Just to add to my joy, the staircase between levels is just by my window, so they have covered it in plastic…

The view from my office.

The view from my office.

It is scheduled to be like this until December 2018.  No wonder I prefer being out surveying. Jarrod Burks, who many of you will remember from the course, was out surveying the other day.

Jarrod surveying, December 2016.

Jarrod surveying, December 2016.

Seems a bit too extreme for my liking!

You may wonder what this tale of woe has to do with geophysics and CAGG?  UCL have put up a nice set of panels on the hoardings to advertise what the Institute does and to make the place slightly more inviting.  I was really pleased to see…

The Verulamium survey on the hoardings.

The Verulamium survey on the hoardings.

Yay, fame at last!  Sadly, the only caption near the image of our survey doesn’t mention CAGG, Verulamium or geophysics.

The caption.

The caption.

Oh well, never mind.  Perhaps I should find a plastic holder for our CAGG postcards and leave a few there for the curious.

Local Hertfordians maybe interested to see the article on Batford in this week’s Herts Advertiser and compare that to my posting about the survey.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Four days in the Park (part 1)

A combination of members of CAGG and students from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, undertook four days of survey in Verulamium Park a couple of weeks ago.  It was supposed to be five days, but the Saturday was called off because of rain.  We aimed to:

  • extend the magnetometry survey into Abbey Orchard, the field between the Park and the Cathedral;
  • undertake some more GPR survey in the Park;
  • try the six-probe six-depth method of Earth Resistance survey over one of the buildings we have previously surveyed;
  • try a resistivity psuedo-section across the line of the town wall near St Germain’s Block.

It was definitely one of “those” survey periods.  Every single technique had some problem or other of varying degrees of seriousness.  We managed to sort most of them out in the end, but that and the Archaeology in Hertfordshire: Recent Research conference which was held on Saturday 26th have delayed this posting.

I am going to post the results in two parts, starting with the mag and GPR data.

The mag survey

The area being surveyed is not very large, but is quite awkward.  It lies on a steep slope, has many trees and a great number of people walking by.  It should, however, have evidence of the abbey, and possibly a late Roman cemetery.  It also may have an Iron Age enclosure which was seen on an aerial photograph, and maybe the early Saxon town.

Fig. 1: The survey team in Abbey Orchard.

Fig. 1: The survey team in Abbey Orchard.

Between teaching, equipment issues and rain, we didn’t get as much done as we hoped, but we have at least started on this, our first extramural area at Verulamium.

Fig. 2: the mag survey results.

Fig. 2: the mag survey results.

Very little can be seen in this plot.  It is very “noisy”.  There is one potential thin feature, and the vague hint of a larger, wider feature (marked with red arrows in Fig. 2).  Given where we are working, this is all very disappointing so far.  We do need to complete this area if we can, however, so we’ll be back at some point.

The GPR survey

We did have some problems with the GPR as well, but eventually we managed to resolve those and completed an area 160m by 40m on the southern side of the town near the London Gate.  The weather and obstacles could prove challenging (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: GPR survey in the Park, November 2016.

Fig. 3: GPR survey in the Park, November 2016.

As usual, I used Larry Conyers and Jeff Lucius’ free software to “time slice” the GPR data.  I created 3ns thick slices which seem to work well at Verulamium.  The third slice (10.5–13.5ns; Fig. 4) shows features close to the ground surface.  The dark smear running NS is the topmost layers of Watling Street.  The diagonal lines, which also show in the magnetometry data, must be some sort of drainage.

GPR time slice 3 (10.5--13.5ns).

Fig 4: GPR time slice 3 (10.5–13.5ns).

The next slice (13.5–16.5ns, Fig. 5) shows the archaeology much more clearly.  Watling Street is the black north-south feature to the east of the plot.  There is, however, a hole in it!  I guess this is another example of the extensive robbing of the town for building materials.  Slightly to the west, a narrower minor road is running SW–NE across the plot.  This road lines up with the light linear feature in the mag data.  On the north side of this smaller road is a building with at least two rooms and what appears to be a paved area to the NE.

GPR time slice 4 (13.5--16.5ns).

Fig 5: GPR time slice 4 (13.5–16.5ns).

Slice 5 (16.5–19.5ns; Fig 6) still shows Watling Street and the building.  There is a hint of some linear features that are on the same alignment as the rectangular enclosure which shows in the mag data to the south, and a wall in the SE corner.

GPR time slice 5 (16.5--19.5ns).

Fig 6: GPR time slice 5 (16.5–19.5ns).

The next slice (Fig. 7; 19.5–22.5ns) as there are hints of robbed walls showing in the south side of the plot next to Watling Street.  These are showing as white lines of reflection free data and do seem to form structures of some sort.  These align with the strange enclosure seen in the mag data.

GPR time slice 6 (19.5--22.5ns).

Fig. 7: GPR time slice 6 (19.5–22.5ns).

The last slice (Fig. 8, 22.5–25.5ns) is interesting in that the main line of Watling Street is still visible, but does not have such strong reflections as before.  There are, however, two bands of strong reflections either side of the road.  Perhaps these are the roadside ditches known from excavation filled with rubble from the road surfaces and construction?  The signal at this depth has started to attenuate and I will not show the deeper slices.

GPR time slice 7 (22.5--25.5ns).

Fig. 8: GPR time slice 7 (22.5–25.5ns).

In Part 2 I will show the results of the two electrical techniques.

Ellen has designed a logo for CAGG.  What do you all think?


T-shirts anyone?


Just to the west of Peterborough lies the Roman town of Durobrivae. This town is one of the so-called ‘small towns’, i.e., not one of the public towns with an administrative function.  It is, however, somewhat larger than some of the public towns such as Caistor-by-Norwich, the civitas-capital of the Iceni.  Duriobrivae had a town wall, parch marks from which can be seen on the Google Earth image along with Ermine Street (the straight line through the town from SE to NW) and the irregular street plan (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Google Earth image of Durobrivae.

Fig. 1: Google Earth image of Durobrivae.

Oblique aerial photography over the years has revealed much about the interior of the town, as well as extensive suburbs, prehistoric features, villas and so on.  Fig. 2 shows an oblique image of the town.

Oblique aerial photograph of the town. Reproduced courtesy of Stephen Upex.

Fig 2: Oblique aerial photograph of the town. Reproduced courtesy of Stephen Upex.

I was particularly fascinated to see a large group of circular features to the south of the town, some of which appear to be the ditches around round-barrows, but others are far too large and are tentatively suggested to be some form of henge (Figs. 3 and 4).

Fig. 3: Google Earth image of the field to the south of the town showing circular prehistoric features.

Fig. 3: Google Earth image of the field to the south of the town showing circular prehistoric features.

Fig. 4: Oblique aerial photograph of the field to the south of the town showing the Roman suburbs and earlier prehistoric circular features. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Upex.

Fig. 4: Oblique aerial photograph of the field to the south of the town showing the Roman suburbs and earlier prehistoric circular features. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Upex.

Ruth Halliwell (WAS), who has worked with CAGG regularly, is working on the town for her dissertation and we arranged to go and team-up with local archaeologists to undertake some survey.  It was very much a “proof of concept” trip: which techniques would work best there? Would the surveys add to what could be seen from the air?  We undertook three days survey running all three main machines (magnetometry, resistance and GPR), and Peter Alley also used his UAV to take high-level photographs, partly with a view to creating topographic maps.

Despite early problems with the mag, we managed to survey an 80m wide, 360m long strip NS across the town.  The overall results can be seen in Fig. 5.

Fig. 5: the magnetometry survey.

Fig. 5: the magnetometry survey.

There is a great deal going on in the results.  Ermine Street shows clearly running across the NE corner of the survey transect and matches the parch mark beautifully.  Either side of Ermine Street are a series of buildings with their gable ends onto the road in the approved Romano-British manner.  Other streets can be seen, again matching the parch marks.  Not all the buildings are so clear, but there are clearly other walls that can be seen in the data.  Towards the south, the pattern is more complex.  The results could be cleaned-up a little more.  In places we were suffering from some stagger, partly as a result of the fine reddy-brown dust that settled over all the machines and their operators  (Fig. 6) which, combined with the lubricant we use on the cogs, turned to a sticky slurry.

Fig. 6: the red dust all over the GPR. Image courtesy of Mike Smith.

Fig. 6: the red dust all over the GPR. Image courtesy of Mike Smith.

We undertook a radar survey using the Mala GPR we have on loan from SEAHA.  Pushing the GPR was quite hard work in the long grass, especially as one goes over the agger on which Ermine Street appears to have been constructed (Fig. 7).  The team did, however, manage to complete an excellent six blocks of data.

Fig. 7: Pushing the GPR over Ermine Street.

Fig. 7: Pushing the GPR over Ermine Street.

The images on the screen of the GPR shows that we were getting reasonable depth penetration. I created amplitude maps in 3ns thick slices.  The third slice map (Fig. 8) clearly shows the surface of Ermine street, but for most of the area surveyed the radar signal is still in the ploughsoil.

Fig. 8: time slice 3, 10.5-13.5ns.

Fig. 8: time slice 3, 10.5-13.5ns.

In the fourth time slice (13.5–16.5ns, Fig. 9)  some of the other roads are starting to show, and odd bits of wall.  One very curious feature is the lighter coloured band across the middle of the southern area.  Although it would appear to be related to our grid, our survey was conducted NS across that band.  The aerial photograph (Fig. 2) does show a band across the field so perhaps this is related to some sort of cultivation pattern?

Fig. 9: time slice 4, 13.5-16.5ns.

Fig. 9: time slice 4, 13.5-16.5ns.

The fifth slice (16.5–19.5ns) shows more details in the buildings (Fig. 10).  In the centre of the lower block is a square feature.  This is the Romano-Celtic temple known from aerial photographs.  This type of temple, well-known from many sites across the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire and consists of two concentric squares, usually reconstructed as an inner sanctum and an outer ambulatory.  The two roads the the north and south of the temple appear to mark the edges of the temenos or sacred precinct.  There is a hint of a possibly paved area to the west of the temple, and a solid feature between the internal and external walls to the east.  In the northern block there are hints of the walls on either side of the road as seen in the magnetometry data.

Fig. 10: time slice 5, 16.5-19.5ns.

Fig. 10: time slice 5, 16.5-19.5ns.

In the sixth time slice (19.5–22.5ns) we can start to see some of the buildings along Ermine Street not, as I had expected, as black ‘high amplitude’ features shown in black i.e., stone walls, but as low amplitude features, i.e., areas which have fewer items that would reflect radar waves (Fig. 11).  At Verulamium, I have interpreted these as where the stone foundations have been robbed, but here we know less about the construction techniques used.  Part of the difficulty is that Ermine Street is on a quite marked bank which means the radar has a greater depth of deposits to penetrate.  I undertook a topographic survey of just the northern block area (Fig. 12) and in the future will be able to process the GPR data taking into account the topography.

Fig. 11: time slice 6, 19.5-22.5ns.

Fig. 11: time slice 6, 19.5-22.5ns.

Fig. 12: topographic survey of the northern block.

Fig. 12: topographic survey of the northern block.

In the seventh and eighth time slices (22.5–25.5ns, 25.5–28.5ns), the GPR radar waves are starting to attenuate and we are getting quite faint reflections, but some of the deeper foundations show in these lower time slices (Figs. 13–14),  For example, some of the buildings along Ermine Street start to show very well in Fig. 13, and the outer wall of the Romano-Celtic temple shows very well in Fig. 14.

Fig. 13: time slice 6, 22.5-25.5ns.

Fig. 13: time slice 6, 22.5-25.5ns.

Fig. 14: time slice 6, 25.5-28.5ns.

Fig. 14: time slice 6, 25.5-28.5ns.

There is a great deal more which can be extracted from the GPR data, especially by looking at the radargrams (the vertical slices) and comparing them to the time slices.  The results are less “black and white” than at Verulamium and quite complex, but there is a great deal going on in this data which will take a bit of work to tease out all the details.

As well as the magnetometry and radar surveys, we undertook a resistance survey using UCL’s new RM85 meter (Fig. 15).  We took readings every 50cm.  We managed to survey an area 60x by 80m which had also been surveyed using the GPR and the magnetometer.

Fig. 15: Richard Cushing and Stephen Upex working on the resistance survey.

Fig. 15: Richard Cushing and Stephen Upex working on the resistance survey.

The result of this survey was quite surprising (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16: the earth resistance survey.

Fig. 16: the earth resistance survey.

The square within a square plan of the Romano-Celtic temple could not have been more obvious.  The small room on the eastern side, partially seen in the GPR survey, shows clearly.  The temenos is also quite clear.  A spectacular result, but one that raises a question. Why is the inside of the temple such low resistance?  Normally, low resistance like this is related to water retention.  Is the outer wall of the temple causing water to pool within the wall?  It is useful to compare the three surveys (Fig. 17).

Fig. 17: comparing the three survey techniques and the parch marks in the area of the temple.

Fig. 17: comparing the three survey techniques and the parch marks in the area of the temple.

It will take a bit of work to draw-up a composite interpretation plan.

Peter Alley also undertook some surveys with his UAV (Fig. 18).

Fig. 18: Peter Alley using his UAV to map the site.

Fig. 18: Peter Alley using his UAV to map the site.

As well as taking high-level images of sites, the UAVs pictures can be used to create topographic models using a technique called “Structure from motion”.  Fig. 19 shows a topo plan of part of the site derived from the photographs.  The actual heights vary from my plan because the UAV’s plan needs to be corrected against some control points, but the relative heights are great.  This technique is going to prove very useful in future.

Fig. 19: Topo map in QGIS derived from the UAV's aerial imagery.

Fig. 19: Topo map in QGIS derived from the UAV’s aerial imagery.

The aim of this three days of fieldwork was simply to see which survey techniques would provide useful information at this site.  The answer is: all of them!  We already have a huge amount of data to examine in more detail, and a great deal of thinking to do.  It certainly seems that a more extensive programme of geophysical survey would add to our knowledge of the town greatly, as well as other archaeological features such as the “henges” to the south.

As always, many thanks indeed to everyone who came to help, especially Mike Smith for transporting and running the GPR, and Jim West for helping to run the mag.  This was a great team effort between local group members and CAGG, and exactly what our group exists to do.

Fig. 20: the end of day.

Fig. 20: the end of day.