Leaving No Stone Unturned

Post-excavation work is long, varied, demanding, but ultimately rewarding. This is because the hours spent in the field are given shape and meaning by the identification and classificatation of finds  and organization of data.

One of our recent digs has presented us with a new challenge in the form of 2000+ stones collected on site. These need to be classified and recorded so that a sample of them can then be assessed by an expert.

This is a steep learning curve for some of us. Identifying material type can be difficult enough in itself, because we cannot carry out any of the normal tests that would damage the find and compromise the information we might glean from it. We then have to determine, shape, size (they’re the easy bits), and whether there are features such as facets, incisions or polishing that suggest human use.

Thankfully, it gets easier as we go on and learn what to look for. There is also a steadily growing sense of satisfaction in handling and recognizing objects that were used by people thousands of years ago; fitting a stone between your fingers in just the way it would have been held. In this way we are illuminating the work of the dig and making a tangible link with pre-history at the same time.

Probably not a stone-age sculpture, but it does look like a smiley face, doesn’t it? Or have we just been doing this for too long?

Each stone need to be identified for material type, so we have a sample table to help us.

Then there’s measuring and looking for features. We’re using someone’s garage for the purpose, hence the coats.

Maybe Chris has been overdoing it  today. Eat the cookie, Chris! It really did taste much nicer.

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TAS Outing to Clayton Hall


As the snow swirled around us on a cold Saturday in March, a group of us popped over to Clayton to take advantage of one of their open days.

The hall as we find it now is part Georgian/part Tudor and probably represents one side of a three or four sided structure built in the C15th on the site of an earlier building dating from the C12th. It stands on a moated mound that is Grade II Listed.

For over four hundred years it was in the possession of Lord Byron’s ancestors before they moved to Newstead Abbey, at which point it was bought by George and Humphrey Chetham – the latter the man who founded the school and library.

The volunteers who run the hall have done a magnificent job of renovating and dressing it so that the Georgian section is now a convincing reconstruction of a Victorian house, with plenty to see and to handle, while the older section has three exhibition and interest rooms upstairs and an excellent tea room downstairs.

The Victorian display was quite absorbing, but not surprisingly what appealed most to our group was the older section where we were able to feast on the sight of exposed beams and try to reconstruct the original building in our minds. Only a talk with slides from one of the volunteers and the prospect of tea and cake afterwards, managed to pull us away from our detective work.

We had a grand couple of hours which not only gave us new knowledge, but also a couple of good ideas for further activities. Keep an eye on the Clayton Hall website for news about future Open Days.

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Having seen off the Romans and the Vikings, the good people of York had to cope with a small but determined raiding party from Tameside in early November. Our doughty band of warriors managed to lay waste to the Abbey, the Yorkshire Museum and the Minster, before heading back over the hills in a chariot provided by First TransPennine. A good time was had by all.


Anyone volunteer to check out this place for historic graffiti?

Our best finds all year and we didn’t even have to dig!

Group pic of TAS members waiting for the train home? Or maybe fabulous life-size statues of saints and prophets from Saint Mary’s Abbey.


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Historic Graffiti Project

From images scratched in the catacombs of ancient Rome to aerosol-sprayed tags on modern railway bridges, graffiti has been with us for a long time.

Whatever form it has taken, graffiti has often told us something about the social, political and cultural context in which it was produced; and as an alternative form of expression it can give us a perspective that history books and high art usually do not.

In 2010 the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey was established to undertake a large scale survey of early graffiti inscriptions in the county. Since then the project has spread nationwide and consequently the North West Historic Graffiti Project was set up with the aim of studying such inscriptions on buildings ranging from medieval to C17th.

Members of TAS were inspired and encouraged to play their own part in this by Carolanne King and Ellen McInnes, who have been running workshops on how to search for and record examples of old graffiti. Accordingly, earlier this year we began our own project at St Michael and All Angels Church in Mottram-in-Longdendale. The present church dates from the C15th.

When you know where to look, how to look and what you are looking for, it is surprising what you can find. We discovered circles, meshes, birds and animals on pews, walls and around doors and windows. This was the hidden history of the church and of the community it served; not the history told by the monumental stones and alabaster tombs of the wealthy, but a record of ordinary people – in some cases the very masons who had built the church itself, or modified it over the years.

Marks like the circles were often made near to doorways and windows to frighten off or trap evil spirits. The spirits would go round and round the circles and not be able to escape. Similarly, the meshes were supposed to act like fishing nets to snare them. Other inscriptions might have been simply “signature” marks, or in the case of the birds and animals the significance might have been a link to biblical stories.

The fact is  that the interpretation of the markings will become better informed and more reliable as more and more data can be collected. This is why it is important to carefully record, archive and ultimately share our finds. The finds from the Norfolk project, for instance, have begun to reveal trends such as the relative absence of  farm animals in pictures, in favour of the birds and animals of the forest; or the tendency not to overwrite earlier inscriptions, suggesting that the practice and significance of graffiti inscription was acknowledged and respected. A bigger picture is being formed that suggests the interior of a medieval church might have looked quite different to how we have imagined it in the past.

There is still work to be done at St Michael and All Angels and it is possible that new discoveries will be made at the Heritage Open Days on 8th, 9th and 10th September.

Circles intended to trap evil spirits.

An example of very carefully inscribed lettering.

This bird and the animal in the next picture might be linked to Christian stories,….. or perhaps someone simply liked to draw birds and animals.

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Young Archaeologists at Work

As part of the Festival of Archaeology 2017 we carried out a public dig over one weekend in Cheetham Park, Stalybridge. It was a chance for the general public to see archaeology in progress and even to have a go if they wished, as many did.

The site of Eastwood House, the home of the Cheethams, has been the subject of digs in the past, but this time we opened up a new trench where we expected to find part of the front of the building. One of the more interesting structural features uncovered was a rather deep drain that seemed to have run along the front of the house and quite a lot of its iron grill ended up in the finds tray, along with pottery, the ubiquitous clay pipe stems and a fascinating piece of slate that seemed to have had some designs drawn upon it. That one’s still got us scratching our heads!

The dig was very well attended, especially on the Sunday when we enjoyed better weather. Lots of youngsters joined us and one lad made our first find – a piece of tile with the word “death” written on it! He was thrilled to bits, as you might imagine.

Alison, one of our vistors, subsequently submitted an excellent write-up of the event to the Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine. You can read it here


Mother and daughter discovering archaeology together.

Part of the drain that seemed to be turning an unexpected corner.

Different parts of the trench were revealing different features.

This eager crew seemed to be especially lucky with finds!

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Great social day out at Bolton Abbey/Priory for TAS members

The weather was sublime, and everyone enjoyed the day including an excellent meal with a suberb view over the Abbey from the Tea Cottage.

Blind arcading and nature in one

Warmly welcome to TAS members on the last of three social visits this year.

The Chancel ( East end of the Church) overlooking the river

Remains of South Transept, which had connections witht he old and then the replacement chapter house. The cloisters, the Dormitory for those early morning services, the Reredorter and the priors lodging.

The ruins still provide an interesting view into the past of the Augustinian Priory. The present use of the site with the Priory Church keeps the site alive. Great day out highly recommeded for all the family.


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TAS return to Cheetham park for the festival of Archaeology 2017

15th and 16th July 2017 at cheetham park, Stalybridge, 10am to 4pm each day. Public excavations will recommence on part of the original Hall. Event is free and equipment will be provided. Have a go at geophysics or digging.


For links to other archaeology events in the North west check out the following link http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/

Archaeology for all

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TAS Visit to the anglo saxon England

Superb quality workmanship

A short trip to Stoke brought us to an exhibtion of part of the Staffordshire Hoard.  This was Kevin’s last trip before stepping down as Chairman of TAS.

Kevin dressing up on regal seating at museum

Then a visit to ST Giles, Cheadle near Stoke to have a look the gothic revial stlye of Architect ‘Pugin’.

West Porch St Giles, Keith, Greta and Chris

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Legacy project assessmemt of WW1 rifles range and practice trenches in Tameside

This TAS project for Tameside is being lead by TAS member Mike lloyd. In February an assessment of a former miltary zone indicates extensive use of a site near Mossley during  WW1.  A field survey has indicated that earlier than WW1 munitions were uitilsed which agrees with mapping of the area suggesting its use in preparing the soldier for action abroad in the late nineteenth century. Including the boar war.

Protection from the weathers for a guard overlooking the rifle range, appears to be a re-utilsed water tank possibly of an engine


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Day vist to Norton Priory

TAS members visited the Augstininian priory (1134) remains and museum complex in Runcorn. The remains were excavated from 1971. A newly updated museum complex is well worth visiting and a new viewing gallery of the site. Following the Visit a fleeting visit to the Castle pub and then Halton castle in freezing conditions.


View from New gallery

Two major phases of construction, grafitti adorns the earlier stone windows

close up of wall outline of the main church walling and edge of the cloister

Illuminated late 14th century statue of St Christopher and TAS members

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