Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future
Interesting rubbish We could think of the things archaeologists find as old rubbish. But the bits of animal bones, broken pottery and chunks of buildings are useful and interesting rubbish!
Look at the wheelie bin. The first rubbish was put in on Monday, the last rubbish on Friday. So we could say that the oldest rubbish in the bin is Monday’s. The most recent rubbish in the bin is Friday’s.
We find the same thing on an archaeological dig. The oldest things are usually at the bottom. The most recent things are at the top. An excavation can have hundreds or thousands of years of people’s rubbish between the top and the bottom.
Stratigraphy This shows the layers (for example a floor) and features (for example a wall) you could see if you sliced down through an archaeological dig. We call the layers stratigraphy.
If people have lived in a place for centuries, the buildings they make, the roads they lay and the things they throw away all make the ground build up. An archaeologist will carefully remove all these things starting at the top and working down, down.
In the picture each colour represents a different period of time from the past.
Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Buckland Archaeologists look for shapes and colours in the soil. Where they find a shape or different colour in the soil it means something has happened there in the past. The picture shows some graves at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Buckland, near Dover. There were about 500 graves. The brown soil of the rectangular graves showed up in the white chalky ground around them.
Andy and Jess Andy and Jess are using trowels to scrape away the soil. A trowel is a useful tool for an archaeologist. They have Hi-Viz waist coats so they can be easily seen on site and they wear hard hats to protect their heads.
Roman oven Ian is using a paint brush to carefully clean the soil from a Roman oven. It was found before they built the Whitefriars Shopping Centre in Canterbury. Now there is a café where the oven was found.
Heavy work Archaeologists have to do heavy work as well as delicate work. They sometimes use a pic axe and shovel to dig through thick, solid layers.
Archaeologist in the rain Archaeologists work in all types of weather! The red squares beside Jess are Roman tiles from a hypocaust. This was a kind of under-floor heating used to warm a room or bath.
Rosalind Winbolt This is Rosalind Winbolt whose dad was in charge of the excavation of Folkestone’s Roman villa in 1924. She is sieving the soil to try and find small objects. Rosalind is wearing a skirt but these days, female archaeologists wear trousers on an excavation.
Recording the evidence It is important to record the evidence archaeologists find. It helps them to tell the story of what happened in the past and to show other people. There are several ways they make a record. Here Andy is taking a photograph.
Recording the evidence It is important to record the evidence archaeologists find. It helps them to tell the story of what happened in the past and to show other people. There are several ways they make a record. Here Dave is measuring and drawing an Anglo-Saxon skeleton in its grave at Buckland, near Dover. A complete skeleton may have evidence of gender, age at death, diet and general health and lifestyle. It is not usually possible to say how a person died by looking at their bones.
Bones contain mineral (calcium) and organic (collagen) material. In some soils the calcium will survive well and this is what we see in a skeleton. But what we call soft tissue (for example skin, lungs) will decompose.
A Home Office license is needed to deal with human remains.
Recording the evidence It is important to record the evidence archaeologists find. It helps them to tell the story of what happened in the past and to show other people. There are several ways they make a record. Here James is writing some notes about a Roman mosaic he has found. A big mosaic was found at Folkestone’s Roman villa in 1924.
Archaeological finds All the objects archaeologists discover are called ‘finds’. A lot of the finds can be washed to get them clean. These jugs were found at the bottom of a cess pit. See if you can find out what a cess pit was used for!
Leather finds The medieval shoe soles and twentieth century postman’s bag are made of leather. Things made of natural materials like leather, wool and wood usually rot in the ground. They are eaten by bacteria. But bacteria can’t live in waterlogged places. These things have survived because they had become buried at the bottom of a river.
Sorting through soil Dave is carefully sorting through the soil from a damp cess pit. He found plum stones, apple pips, fish bones and lots of small pieces of many other types of food. All this evidence tells us about what people ate in medieval times. See if you can find out what a cess pit was used for!
East Wear Bay This is the beach at East Wear Bay. Sometimes old things end up on the beach and you find them by walking along the shore and looking carefully. Folkestone’s Roman villa is buried on the cliff top above the bay. When it has rained heavily pieces from the cliff face and the villa tumble down onto the beach.

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