How did ancient people make things out of metal? Have you found any archeological clues?
We have lots of evidence of metal work by ancient people in Great Britain. We use a type of calendar to identify technology in archaeology which separates Bronze and Iron ages.
I want to tell you about Bronze, which is mainly made up of a mineral found in the ground called Copper and probably started to be used about 3,300 years ago. Evidence can be found all over the UK, in Scotland on the Isle of Harris and there is also quite a bit in the South West near Dartmoor for example. Our evidence comes from burials usually where small hills or mounds are built up over a burial. Each burial often contains lots of metalwork which has been given to the person who has died. We have axes, jewellry, daggers, usually unused (probably only used for best), it shows how special they were, or perhaps how high up in the community they were, both men and women have these pieces of metal. Here is a link to a BBC website which shows how bronze is made. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH_uowNBJno
We also have evidence from the places where the copper was mined from, It was then heated over a fire where it melts and then put into a mould (a bit like a small cake tin!), there is one in Wales , here is the link which shows you pictures of the mine http://www.greatormemines.info/
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When you dig an artefact up, how do you know how old it is?
Alice (8), Matty (10), Seth (8) and Isaac
Sometimes there are artefacts that are typical of their period so you can tell fairly easily – coins, pottery and some jewellery are the most obvious examples. These can be things that no matter where or how they’re found you know what and how old they are. Other things such as wood, bone, glass, stone, metalwork etc could be from any date. If you find them on an archaeological dig you will know which ‘context’ they were found in. Context, to an archaeologist, means where an artefact is found. Not just the place, but the soil, the site type, the layer the artefact came from, and what else was in that layer. If you know the date of the context, you can date what was found within it.
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If you just found a valuable item and it starts snowing or hailing and the item gets destroyed. What would you do?
Well, if that happened I think anyone would panic! If a dig is organised correctly any valuable items would be safely stored to protect them from damage. But I can’t think of many items that would get destroyed that easily by snow or hail.
Have you ever had any Roman artefacts brought in, if so what were they?
Rafi (10), Avi (8) and Joel (10)
Oh yes I’ve had quite a few Roman coins reported to me; mostly copper, but some silver one as well. Roman brooches are brought in occasionally, or fragments of brooches I should say, as they’re rarely completely intact.
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What is the oldest artefact you have had to identify?
Erin (10), Seth (8), Isaac (7), Aya (8), Charlie (10), Itamar (10), Blake (10) and Gila
Most of the artefacts brought in for recording and identification are metal, but we do get flint tools occasionally. The oldest were some Mesolithic microliths, tiny little worked flints that can be quite tricky to identify.
What has been your greatest discovery so far?
Many of our YAC members have asked this question!
Just over 15 years ago I carried out a farm survey in North Wales which included looking at the old buildings. When I arrived the farmer said “oh you want to have a look in the cow shed
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I want to know if there is a formula that tells you how old something is relative to how deep it is in the ground? I have heard of something called stratigraphy, but I am not certain that is really what I am looking for.
Corey, age 17
The simple answer to your excellent question is no, there is no formula that tells you how old something is relative to how deep it is in the ground – life would be a lot easier for archaeologists if there were. There are lots of factors that affect how deep a particular archaeological deposit is, many of them being natural. The underlying geology (rocks) and topography (how lumpy and bumpy the ground is) affects how soil is deposited on the bedrock, how and what plants grow on that soil and what happens when those plants die. Climate also plays a huge role in this. So in some locations, the bedrock might be just a few inches below the surface of the soil, which contains archaeological deposits thousands of years old. In other locations you might have to dig several feet down before you hit relatively recent archaeology. This is one thing that makes being an archaeologist so interesting – there are no easy answers!
Stratigraphy is the study of the layers of soil deposition over time, and is absolutely fundamental to understanding archaeology. The word stratum is a Latin one simply meaning ‘layer’ and is used in other contexts, not just archaeology. Layers of soil or other materials are deposited in the past in chronological order, with the oldest layer at the bottom. The fun really begins when human activity cuts through older layers – a medieval pit cut into a Roman road, for example. Understanding how the features relate to the stratigraphy and each other is the key to understanding what an archaeological site is telling you.
How many types of fossils exist and which is rarest fossil you have found so far?
Gohar, age 8
Thanks for your question. I’m disappointed to tell you that as far as I know I’ve never found a rare fossil! When I was at primary school I went on a school trip to Dorset and we found lots of ammonites and belemnites. These are both very common fossils but it was still exciting to find them. More recently I found a fern fossil (like the one in the picture) when I was in some woodland in north Wales. It was in an area that had been a coal mine in Victorian times. Coal itself is a sort of fossil and it’s quite common to find plant fossils in coal seams.
Regarding the number of different types of fossil, you’d really need to ask a palaeontologist rather than an archaeologist. I’ve had a quick look on the internet and found that there are about 250,000 species identified in the fossil record – imagine trying to collect one of each species!
What's your favourite Roman artefact you have ever found?
Mackenzie Catlin (age 8)
Hi Mackenzie, thanks for your question!
Not being a digger, I have to be satisfied with looking at the artefacts my colleagues have found, and there have been some wonderful things over the years. Roman Samian ware pottery is very beautiful and cleverly made, and I have a real fondness for Roman glass, especially beads. As the Portable Antiquities Scheme liaison officer, I have had not one but two Roman bells reported to me recently!
But I have to say that my favourite Roman artefact, is this floor tile (below) with paw prints on it! This was found by my colleague Ian at a quarry site near Wrexham in north Wales. Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust have been digging there on and off since 2008 when a Neolithic settlement was found. As the quarry, and so the area of archaeological excavation has expanded, we have also found Roman archaeology including this tile. It’s not as pretty or as clever as other artefacts but I love it because it represents a brief snippet in time and it was (presumably!) a complete accident. Things like this tile are what bring the past to life for me. Close your eyes and imagine dozens of freshly-made and still wet clay tiles lying out in the sun to dry before firing. Then imagine a small dog trotting across the tiles, not caring about the hours of work that the now-very-angry tile-maker has spent making them! I wonder what the Latin for ‘get off my tiles!’ is.