Digging in Tameside

We shall be very pleased if you join us for our conference “Digging In Tameside” at St John’s Church, Dukinfield on Saturday 29th February 2020.

We have a splendid line-up of speakers to give a range of talks on some of the archaeology we have investigated locally in recent years. It should be a very interesting day and we look forward to welcoming friends old and new. Fuller details below.

To download and fill in a copy of the form in Word, please CLICK HERE 

If you have difficulty accessing the form, please contact us via the Interested/Training drop down menu.

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Heritage Open Weekend

This was a weekend on which the small village of Mottram in Longdendale was alive with excitement. Not only did it have the thrill of seeing the Tour of Britain cycle race pass through, but anyone visiting St Michael and All Angels would have had the additional delights of a lovely church and the presence of TAS members looking for and talking about historic graffiti.

We managed to collect a number of new images, which are now being catalogued, and we enjoyed meeting visitors to our display. Some were familiar faces and some were new, but all were welcome. We explained about some of the graffiti we had found at the church and how our findings could feed into regional and national projects.

As ever, we are grateful to the church for allowing us to join them on their open weekend.

Below we see pictured Carol and John in the process of collecting graffiti images. Honest. There is no truth in the rumour that John had just been discovered having a quiet kip in one of the rear pews!

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Festival Fun

Last weekend saw yet another Festival of Archaeology and as our contribution we continued our exploration of Cheetham Park in Stalybridge as we try to re-discover the structural features of Eastwood House.

The weather stayed fine and we welcomed a steady stream of visitors – some who simply wanted to ask what we were up to (there’s always someone who suspects we are laying foundations for a new housing estate!); some whose dogs bark at us indignantly because we’re digging where THEY wanted to dig; and a great many who are intrigued by the story of the house – quite a lot of whom find themselves rolling up their sleeves and getting down in the trench to do a bit for themselves.

Of course, the delight for us is in the young people who might be picking up a trowel for the very first time, and who come running to us with their shards of pottery and half bricks, excited to know what they’ve found.

Their absorption in the task and their wonder at their finds is often matched by surprising alertness and understanding. One little girl had an amazing grasp of the different qualities in the materials she was digging out.

Certainly our best find of the weekend was a glazed stoneware drainage pipe that would have been put in place when Eastwood House was built around 1830. It is a mottled dark brown colour with a creamy white clay matrix with minute black inclusions. It measures 0.2m in diameter and was located below the level of the front wall, but above the cellars. It connected to a small brick stack within the wall base, which had a vertical void within the bricks above, possibly there for the purpose of inspection. The drainage pipe connected via the brick stack to a smaller bore clay pipe of approximately 0.12m which lined up with the frontage of the house.

Obviously, we’d like to know more. For instance, who manufactured the pipe and is there a corresponding date of production? Were these pipes of a standard design being constructed within the building to hide the roof drains?

If anyone can answer those questions please do get in touch.

Meanwhile, we can look back on another successful event in the knowledge that there are enthusiastic and intelligent young diggers out there ready to take archaeology forward. The past has a future.

Exterior of the stoneware drain.

They banned little children going up chimneys, but nobody said anything about drains. (Just kidding – honest!)

A mum and her children enjoying a new activity together.

Really getting down to it.


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From Tombs to Towers

We get some interesting requests to carry out geophysical surveys and last week saw two good examples.

The first was in a local churchyard where someone had noticed a great disparity between the number of burials recorded and the number of graves evident. Of course, this is to be expected in any churchyard, where only a minority of parishioners could have afforded to erect a monument that would last (these graves dated from the early 1840s). In addition, we know that grave sites were re-used. Nevertheless, there were areas of this churchyard that appeared never to have been used at all and we were asked to investigate what lay beneath – maybe obvious signs of graves – maybe evidence of some earlier building structure. Unfortunately the results were inconclusive, with the large number of gravestone lying on the ground making it very difficult to get good readings.

The second took us much further afield – to Hoghton Tower, near Preston. This is a fortified manor house that originally dates from about the C12th, but the present building is C16th with a lot of renovation and addition carried out in the C19th. Before this the house had suffered some neglect. More interestingly, it had been subject to a siege by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War, as a result of which the old peel tower was destroyed.

A Castle Studies Trust grant is enabling an architectural survey in an attempt to better understand the Elizabethan structure of the building.

The University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology has been given the brief to carry out a dig, and we, in turn, have been asked to do some geophys in advance of that work. Here we had clear readings that should contribute to the ongoing project.

We just about got away with it weather-wise in what is turning out to be a pretty soggy summer for people working in the field!

Part of the building as it exists today.

John carrying out the resistivity survey.

A member of staff from Hoghton Tower tries her hand at some geophys.


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A Lucky Find

We were out at our neolithic site digging a test pit to explore a feature found in our original dig. As is the case with these things, the failure to find what you’re looking for is not altogether a negative result.  It is information that contributes to the bigger picture. Sure enough, we failed to find the feature we were looking for.

However, in the process a lovely little find came to hand, the gorgeous flint thumbnail scraper pictured below.  One of the thrills of this kind of find is knowing that the last person to hold it could have lost or discarded it  5000 years ago or more.

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Still Waters Run Deep

Actually, the waters that have covered Lunt Meadows at various times in the last seven and a half  millennia have not always been still; nor have they been particularly deep. But, crucially, they have been there; and they have preserved beneath them secrets that have only been revealed in the last few years.

An excavation led by Ron Cowell, Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, has discovered evidence of a mesolithic settlement dating from at least 8000 years ago. In fact, a number of features seem to suggest that this was a well-organised dwelling site that had been used over a considerable period of time, although probably seasonally, rather than continuously.

We went over to the museum recently where Ron showed us how a special app that had been created for the project was able to bring the site “to life”, and better help us to appreciate some of the finds.

In addition to what the site tells us about mesolithic settlements, there were a number of instances where stones had been placed deliberately in what may have been some expression of belief. Interpretation can only be tentative at present, but these finds could, in time, prove to be a significant contribution to our understanding of mesolithic culture.

Later, Ron took us out to Lunt Meadows where he explained more about the context and showed us how the layers of fresh water clay and then marine clay had built up, effectively sealing the site until they began to uncover it in 2012.  Not only had the water helped to preserve the site from later use and deterioration, but those additional layers of clay acted as a shield against the ploughs that would have cut through the subsequently formed topsoil.

A fascinating day, made all the better by an expert guide, excellent company and a rather nice walk.

A plan of the site

This shows the fairly deep accumulation of topsoil and then the grey layer of marine clay, from the salt water marsh, beneath it. Below that there is a layer of fresh water clay before the mesolithic “floor”. On the top, you can see a selection of prehistoric finds in the form of TAS members.

Ron explaining the layering.

The use of photogrammetry and a QR code enables visitors to the museum to spin 3D images of the finds for better inspection.

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Sometimes the strain of recording finds can get to the best of us.

Photographing the stones from our neolithic site affected one of the team so badly that he had to seek help (see pictures below).

But at least it shows that we have an active youth recruitment policy!

Come on now, Tommy! No sitting down on the job!

Do Health and Safety know about this?

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Hard Evidence

Last autumn Ann Clark took away for analysis 200 stones from our recently dug site in the upper areas of Tameside.  Carbon dating had already been carried out on samples from this site, putting it at late mesolithic/early neolithic.

These stones have now been returned with the news that 40 of them provide evidence of occupation around the neolithic period.

This is very exciting, of course, because it makes our site the only known, permanently occupied, neolithic site in the north west.

A full report is being drawn up and is presently being illustrated.

Below, an anvil stone – obviously aware of its sudden rise to the surface and to fame – poses for the camera. The second picture shows more clearly the pecking that provides evidence of working by an early Tamesider about 5000 years ago.

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Who Would Have Thought?

Our last post asked for thoughts on this small but beautiful find:

We had a number of responses and the consensus seems to be that it is a piece of slag from the process of smelting iron. Iron slag has a high silica content, but has different appearances dependent upon the properties of the ore and of the flux used in the smelting process. Accordingly, different colours can be produced.

Slag doesn’t usually look so attractive, but this piece benefits from being a small fragment which helps to show off its translucent quality.

Most slag from blast furnaces is ground down and used in building materials, particularly concrete. However, it has also been used in glass making. It was used from the C19th especially in the manufacture of pressed glass, or “slag glass”, as it lowered production costs and contributed interesting qualities such as colour and swirling patterns.

Someone raised the point that there had been Huguenots involved in glass production in the Haughton Green area in the C17th. That is not where this was found, but it opens up another interesting avenue for exploration.

For the record, someone also mentioned opal, which would have sounded so much nicer, but if it’s slag, then slag it is.

If anyone has anything further to contribute, please do so, either here or on our Facebook page.

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Small But Beautiful

This is a recent find from a multiphase site.

It is 6 x 9 x 5 mm, blue glass, an inverted pyramid covered partially with a form of cortex.

But what is it?

Answers on a postcard, by carrier pigeon or electronic thingummy! We’d just love to know.

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