Thursday, 30 May 2013

Fun facts about Durham City

I thought it would be a good idea to give a quick list of interesting facts about Durham city:

1. The statue in the market place with the man on top of horse? That is the Third Marquis Londonderry (1778-1854). He owned and set up many of the mines in County Durham, including Seaham harbour, but in 1844, during a miners strike at Seaham, he evicted the strikers, used Irish strike-breakers to continue mining, and warned shopkeepers against supplying food to those who had been evicted!*

Statue of 3rd marquis of Londonderry (wikipedia)

2. The rock used to build Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle is local red sandstone, which when weathered, produces a "honeycombing effect" (the large holes in the rock) that you can see all around the buildings. Both of these buildings also display structural features that were ahead of their time in terms of size and innovation.

3. Famous people who grew up in Durham City include Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister.

4. The trees along the river Wear were as a result of 18th century "landscaping", to give the city a more "medieval" feel.

5. The Durham Gala, which has been going since 1871, is the annual gathering of the mining lodges, which contains a mix of parading banners, marching bands, funfairs, speeches and later on a service at Durham cathedral. It was actually started because because miners wanted to change the contracts with their employers, which were based on a "yearly bond". It was the first time that miners had marched into a major population centre peacefully and shown that they were responsible protesters (lots of tension between Anglican and nonconformist groups at the time made it a big thing back then (basically Durham v. Miners))*^. Students rarely see this sight because it happens in July!

Durham Miner's Gala- some 50,000 people attended last year! (

Please leave any comments and I will endeavour to respond!

*Information supplied by Emery, N., 1992,"The Coalminers of Durham",pp.7, 111-115
^Information supplied by

Monday, 27 May 2013

Other photographs of my activities this year

Durham University Society's Summer Ball, 2012. Behind us is one of the many buildings that make up Durham Cathedral. What a night!

The Old Coventrian at work in Durham Castle, giving tours.

Cross Country in a very cold Cardiff!

Dissertation fieldwork photos from September-October 2012

As promised here are some of the photos of the fieldwork of Stanwick Oppidum. The survey was done on an area known as the "Tofts", a central area within the earthworks. Most of the excavations have focused here, so I decided to cover an area to the east and North of the Tofts. The east was where some of the possible roundhouses were found, although they have left no trace of their existence above ground! If you think this device can hunt treasure, its rather expensive, and you are unlikely to see a return in your investment. Geophysical equipment can pick up walls, metal, burnt objects and some other things, so it can be really useful. But it couldn't find King Richard III (although they did use geophysics); that required excavation! This particular piece of equipment is a magnetometer; other geophysical methods exist that look at radar, electricity and light. Perhaps I will cover these in another blog? I need to thank Archaeological Services, Durham University for the equipment, and my mum for the photos.

Setting up the geophysical equipment. The magnetometer measures the magnetic field in the immediate area; in theory it will pick up archaeological traces under the ground as human activity will leave a relatively stronger or weaker magnetic field than the natural deposits. One of my volunteers is on the left.

 An Old Coventrian in action! You hold the equipment a few centimeters off the ground for the best results.

Crossing the ford... geophysics doesn't compute with water! The yellow lines you can see are my "markers"; you walk with the machine in grids, often in a zig-zag line for maximum coverage. If you encounter an obstacle, you can modify the route to take this into account. Water tends to disrupt the readings in the magnetometer.

****... dropped it! Seriously though, if you drop this equipment, it costs about £7,000 to replace it.

First blog!

So, the first blog post that isn't to do with me trying to get a job in archaeology (see earlier blogs for more details)...

I have just finished my last exam of my degree, so I am free to write about what has happened in the last year or so, and to keep everyone informed about my future. I have only had about 1/2 of my final year marks back, so I am not aware of my full marks until next month, which is when I also graduate.

So, what have I been doing for this year? Mainly my dissertation! I have been geophysically surveying Stanwick Oppidum in North Yorkshire and writing up the results. In academic terms, it is strictly speaking "A Late Iron Age Fortifications". So what does this mean? Well the term is rather misleading. Stanwick is today nothing more than a set of massive earthworks that cover an area of a small town, which has been described as the capital of the "Brigantes" in Northern England. Despite numerous excavations, we have found a grand total of 3 roundhouses, a skull with a sword puncture wound and other bits. That is all. To give a comparison, the Roman town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire is about half the size, yet it has been almost completely excavated or has remains on the ground that can be visited, and there is a lovely museum with all of its finds displayed in rooms.

So imagine my surprise when I found what could be 3 new round houses on the site! This was after a week or so of intensive surveying of waterlogged ground. Further to this, I have noted that this could be a rare example of a "shifting settlement", or in other words, a series of houses that are built one after another when their use life has been finished. No such sites exist in the area, and I think that these are much more common than we think, but we haven't found many across the country. In addition, my landscape survey of North East England (using lots of databses, none of which are complete!) has shown that Stanwick actually may only be one of many similar sites in North Yorkshire and County Durham, although these don't have earthworks surrounding them. As I say, I don't know how well the dissertation has done until next month.

I was also President of Durham University Archaeology Society (ArchSoc) for 2012-2013. A big responsibility, and while I underestimated how expensive it is to hire out Durham Cathedral, but it has been a reasonably successful year for ArchSoc. I set up a joint project with the North of England Civic Trust, known as Heritage Skills in Education; this has given teams of students the chance to survey historic buildings and how to conserve them, all for free! In addition the teams of students have made professional reports for Darlington Borough Council and Durham Cathedral, so in a few years time, our work will be used to assess the risks to the buildings, and what should be done to conserve them properly. On the social side, there have been bar crawls and Indiana Jones Nights, and a free tour of Durham Castle. In addition, I have also helped to set up the position of Public Relations Coordinator, Durham University for the Post Hole Journal, run by and for students. Have a read, it is well worth a look (!

My other activties this year have mainly included cross country running, with some notable successes for Durham University Athletics and Cross Country, as well as Durham City Harriers. The countryside around County Durham and Northumbria is simply beautiful and well worth a stroll. I have competed in 3 national University Cross Country championships during my time in Durham (BUCS Cross Country Birmingham, Cardiff and Leeds, for those in the know).

I also have a part time job as a tour guide for Durham Castle (until I graduate), which has been a excellent source of income, as well as giving an insight into the world of tourism. This I will deal with the relationship between tourism and heritage on another day.

So that sums it up! The next few blogs will include my free trip to Italy for an Etruscan Excavation, what the public really wants to/should learn from heritage, and perhaps the one I look forward to most, the north-south divide in the UK. Photos will be uploaded of the activities I have mentioned!

Alistair "nighthawk" Galt

Archaeoserve- my "company", if you will (not actually registered as a company!)

I am a final year Durham University Archaeology student, who has experience in excavation (commercial and research), non-destructive survey methods, finds processing, presentation and computer software for archaeology. I am seeking employment in the archaeological consultancy sector, by attempting to sell my services to the general public and contractors. Please leave your comments if interested! I can offer my C.V. to anyone who would like to know about my previous experience.