Archive for the ‘Samson’ Category

Geophysic Results

July 30, 2007

You can view the geophysic and other survey results at

At present they are just data with no interpretation, and I am darned if I can pick out the buried sailors, or any of my entrance graves – hmmmm.  As I have said a dark art this geofizz stuff.  Hopefully Tim will make these images into something…..




July 24, 2007

Having never been to the islands before, I didn’t know quite what to expect.  I’d heard that the Isles have their own sub-tropical climate, but the storm we came over in, on Friday 13th, didn’t do much to keep my optimism afloat!  The following day, though, brought gladly received heat and light.  I went off with the St. Agnes posse, who were doing the geo-physical survey of the cricket pitch, where reputedly, the bodies of the drowned sailors of the 1707 disaster were buried.  I conversed with several local people, including an 85 year-old, who has lived on St. Agnes all his life.  He told me of the day mark, built 5 years ago, and how it aligns with the lighthouse to inform seafarers of the deepest channel.  Other locals said that the lighthouse was built in the 1600’s (though no-one knew quite when).  It was fuelled with coal and most unreliable, the flame often going out.  I wondered if this was a contributing factor to the ships that went down in 1707(?) and made several sketches of it.  The geo-physics was not the most visually inspiring activity to observe, though the concepts involved may be useful in working things up during the summer. 

St. Agnes Lighthouse- mixed media drawing

Sunday 15th saw my first visit to Samson, what a place, 19 medieval house ruins and tons of history.  Charlie gave some of us a guided tour and I spent most of the day absorbing the atmosphere.  The next few days saw me working on drawings at Bryher and being involved in the workshops at St. Mary’s school.  Both days were productive and fulfilling, weather still good.  The children at St. Mary’s were eager to participate, polite and produced some great artwork.  Weds, Thurs and Friday saw me back at Samson, Ian offered to teach me archaeological drawing and I jumped at the chance to learn new ways of producing visual language.  I did elevation drawing for two days, which I thought might be tedious, but turned out to be quite enjoyable.  Although this took a lot of precious time from my other work, it was well worth the effort.  The drawing looked impressive, though not anything like my natural style.  I am working out ways to incorporate it into my drawings (and future paintings).
Friday and Sunday I spent on Samson.  I’ve been particularly drawn to the house ruins.  I’ve found that each day I spend there, I respond to a different building.  It’s not deliberate, it’s like a conversation that you can’t, or don’t want to, get out of.  The most prominent buildings are houses N, P and C.  House P sits on the horizon of South Hill and can be seen from everywhere (I viewed her from Bryher this morning).  House N is also a prominent feature on South Hill and to me is the most beautiful.  N has a romantic charm that can be captured from many viewpoints.  N and P, we have to look up to, both for their physical location and their impressive dominance within the landscape.  They are like eternal spirits, looking down upon us.  The reality is, of course, that they’re just as vulnerable to the erosion processes that age and weather all things, stone or flesh. 

Conversation with N

I realize now, how important the archaeological surveys and recordings are, not just to gather information but to generate the awareness that helps to maintain such structures/spirits of the past.  House C is a very different matter and is viewed from above, resting peacefully in the saddle at the bottom of South Hill.  My conversations with C have been briefer but equally as rewarding.  Of course the other house I’ve interacted with is house O, who taught me elevation drawing. 

Elevation O

 Yesterday saw the worst weather yet and a force 8 gale saw some very worried campers.  Jacqui organized us into rescue posses and we spent the morning helping folks resurrect or take down their tents.  We fared remarkably well with only the loss of 2 tents!  The rain was relentless and most of us spent the day in the pub. 

Today?  Great weather again, everyone dried out.  A large team went to Samson to continue work there.  Myself, Jacqui, Edwina, kitchen crew and kids at camp on Bryher, doing’ the things we do!

Aidan’s Blog- 21st July

July 22, 2007

Well, the boot is defiantly no more. Since I was last pressed ganged into web-logging we have not only failed to recover my footwear but also lost Sally from our dig team as she departed for normality, or as close as you get to it in York.  However we have gained small children and extra members of staff.  The small children attacked Rhys during the lunch break today, instantly proving their worth. We have also gained a foreign masters student. However, although tall, blonde and pretty, Rose was not Norwegian or Swedish as previously advertised but is in fact from Seattle, State of Washington, America-land. She is doing a masters in Celtic Studies and was roped into this in the most bizarre and horrible way; she volunteered. Today was her first day of archaeology ever. We all got up bright and early before 8am. We were then informed the boat would be delayed until 10am and we could have slept in late.   However we had better than average meteorological conditions; miserable and not so much overcast as hung-over with clouds in the morning fading to the precipitation in the French onion soup of the afternoon with the croutons of rain and weird grated cheese of sardonic technical failures.

First the EDM control point we were setting up on sank. Then the tripod sank and then fell over. Then it sank and fell over and slipped.  Having got the EDM set up without it actually having spontaneously combusted in a sad and Pythonesque manner, it refused to cooperate when switched on and took until lunch to decide to work properly. So we had lunch in the last few moments before the rain started its relentless yet doomed attempt to retake the land by parradrop. Well fed…well, fed… we began the task of surveying the old gig-house.  The gigs would have been used to reach ships quickly to offer piloting services around the hazardous waters of the western coast of Brittan for a fee and competition between the islands for this cash lead to the tradition of gig racing that still endures and lives deep in the Scillonian memory.  The recent death of a gig rower has overshadowed the islands terribly of late and the legend of Samson always ends with the sad tale of the womenfolk of the island being evicted on humanitarian grounds when the men died in a gig accident and they were left unable to fend for themselves. However of the gig shed little remains archaeologically save two rows of stones parallel to the sea, some visible on the surface where the flanks of rock jut out like broken teeth, others lying hidden below the surface.

The gig shed

So we set up and began surveying. It was a long distance survey and so required the walkie-talkies to communicate and without these devices, both of which I had carefully charged the night before, we would be utterly up the via cloacae without a paddle.

Ten minutes in, my walkie-talkie died.

So the day ended thus; as the day’s last half dragged on like the 4th circle of hell or Enya’s last album, I would sight down the EDM lens to spot the staff and take a reading. As per normal I would record the results when the laser was done firing. Then I would, rather than say “ok, next point please” into the radio, run up the hill to a spot where I was more visible, jump up and down flailing my arms about like a passing lunatic stuck on an electric fence, and run back down to stare down the lens and see Helen staring back sisterly with binoculars, small children pointing and laughing in between squinting into their binoculars, Rhys yelling at Rose to move, Matt directing Rose where to move too and Rose soldiering on with the EDM staff at the arse end of the worlds least efficient communication system since Mad King Ludwig the Third of Bavaria said “I have seen the future! Forget those old fashioned pigeons, I have two words for you; carrier limpets!” 

And as I saw this, with her looking so forlorn in the stealth rain (light, but of a species that sneaks up on you, making you damp from precipitation and sticky from perspiration at the same time), a question came to me;

Why did she get such a better first day in archaeology than everybody else?


Captains Log Thursday 19th July 2007, 21:09:70

July 19, 2007

Today in the words of Rhys was ‘absolutely mental’.

Samson was the destination of choice for the crazy gang. Departing on the Firethorn vessel, the pride of Bryher and on equal pegging to the Death Star and a Robin Reliant combined, at a sharp 09:15 and arriving at Samson on the sands at 09:32. A long and arduous journey through the rough and unpredictable Scilly seas; many a good man has been swallowed up by its’ mighty wrath. Sally became one of those men today and she will be sadly missed (i.e. she went home on the Scillonian!).

At Samson, whilst Aidan was planning sections of the post medieval garden adjoining house H found in a trench last week, Millie and Ted planned the interior walls of house O, accompanied by Eleanor and Sarah, who planned the suspected prehistoric lynchet, also at the mega site that is house O. Owen and Edd whose undoubtedly royal credentials and work rates that have often made handy Andy look like Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen, were clearing the potential old Woodcock gig shed on the south of the island. This task, not possibly but definitely, the most colossal on the island was taken apart as they slashed vegetation mattocked earth and trowelled soil until their hands were blistered and cut, feet ached and ankles slashed, defeat never in question they fought on like Spartans (but they had three hundred and we just two). By 17:00 the gig shed was taking shape – as was Owen’s sock tan lines – the lines of the stones exposed seemed to show a larger than expected structure, however the old maps refer to the presence of the gig shed in this location.

The Boat Home

 At Tean was an open day for the public to come and see the archaeology of this Roman and medieval site, including a Chapel, Farmhouse, post Roman house on a midden and a series of trenches. Visitors were coming off the bench like the British at Normandy. A good time was to be had by all, with the exception of the poor souls back filling the trenches. All in all a great day, once again in the words of Rhys Davies ‘absolutely mental’.

The Tean Team

Eleanor’s Sunny Scilly Blog!

July 18, 2007

Another day in the Scilly Isles and today we were digging on Samson for our second day of National Archaeology Week.  We had a slightly earlier start than usual, and a different boat too, getting the Firethorn instead of one of the usual smaller boats we hire.  All would have gone swimmingly had it not been for a select few (i.e. Ed, Owen and Rhys!) who decided to nip to the shop first and make us 10 minutes late!  However, once we got there, all ran smoothly. 

I was working on House O, right at the top of the “Hill from Hell” as we have now dubbed it, due to it’s long, steep climb.  Whoever used to live there must have been extremely fit!  I carried on digging the trench alongside the house with Kim and Owen and we managed to get down to the next context.  Further excavation continued on the houses there, as well as the other archaeological surveying methods such as using the EDM.  On the whole it was a day spent tidying the area up for the sake of recording, using a variety of media, and showing around the tourists who flocked to the sites.  The only bad event of the day was Kayleigh being the first victim to the hogweed, making me grateful to be wearing long trousers!

 Later on, due to it being Sally’s last day here, she asked everyone if they wanted to jump off the pontoon into the sea to mark the occasion and we were all more than happy to oblige!  We took it in turns to run up and jump in (some keener than others!) and it was freezing!  Most were eager to get out almost immediately, only to find that the pontoon was almost impossible to get back on!  There was some diving for the less sane and i chose to have a short swim once i’d gotten used to the icy water!  The mad shenanigans continued later on with rounders and overall, i’d say it was a good day for Cardiff Uni’s archaeologists! 😀

The Samson team

Skimming stones on Samson

Dave’s Blog 16th July

July 16, 2007

When dawn broke, neither fresh nor rosy fingered, I found I had gotten lucky last eve. The offending earwig, to whom I am referring, did not appear to share my sentiments and demonstrated this by writhing between my cheek and the groundsheet – clearly she found my advances too amorous. The misery of this morning did not last long and as the oppressive damp greyness retreated, so to did my hangover.

Today the whole team, with the exception of Edd and myself had their shackles cast off and were permitted to roam the islands as they pleased; swimming, shopping and eating dainty treats while we attempted to create presentations for tomorrow’s open day on St Martins. We did have a slight issue involving loosing a whole mornings work but I wont bore you with the details. Lets just say ALWAYS REMEMBER TO SAVE YOUR WORK!! Due to the evident lack of archaeological activity today, it seems an appropriate time for a recap on the progress thus far…


The Geo-physics equipment

Objective 1 – Tean

Work on Tean is now complete for this year. The excavation of the Romano-British midden has yielded countless fragments of bones belonging to large livestock (sheep, cattle and pigs) as well as rabbits, birds, rodents, fish and of course endless blessed limpet shells. The highlight of the finds from this ancient rubbish pit would be tiny, but definite, fragment of whale bone. These many finds have and will continue to provide invaluable information as to the diet of the inhabitants of Tean during the late Roman period (AD200-500). Excavation on the post-medieval farmhouse has revealed cobbling and a tiled path leading from the door. Geophysical and electronic surveying have been performed to discover any unknown underground features and record the existing buildings.

Objective 2 – St Martins 

Work on Knackyboy cairn is now also complete for the year, and a great number of core samples have been taken to provide an accurate electronic map of the prehistoric land surface upon which Knackyboy was built. The hazardous void into which we nearly lost several students for all posterity has now been filled and no longer presents a threat to student and public life. Within said void we found a linear formation of granite which could be, well, just about anything. I also feel compelled to mention that I found the only 3 pieces of flint fragments on the site, one of which was a carefully crafted, but broken, flint blade. 

Objective 3 – St Agnes

Our quest to find the bodies of the crew of the HMS Association and other Ships of the Line, which were shipwrecked in 1707, have so far been fairly unfruitful. Further analysis of the data gathered by magnetometry and resistivity survey may yet reveal something or provide scope for further investigation. Rather humorously, the site in question lies directly underneath the St Agnes cricket pitch and the semi-naked archaeologists prancing up and down the wicket provided endless amusement in the pavilion.

 Owen hard at work

Objective 4 – Samson

Despite plenty of unsuccessful previous attempts to rediscover the two gig sheds on the saddle of Samson. we have managed to discover one. Much to the joy of the sodden men hacking their way through the undergrowth, who actually found them by falling over them! Black and white photography of the buildings is complete and the excavation of two new trenches are well under way. One has revealed an excessive quantity and the other an excessive quantity of mud.

From my self and the goat of Bryher farewell and adieu…Dave Fung

Sarah’s blog 15/07/07

July 15, 2007

The second day of digging at Samson was approached with some trepidation as the weather forecast was torrential rain and thunderstorms. Luckily for us all, these did not materialise; the (not torrential) rain eased off at 10.30 and we had a successful day.

I was working in a trench just outside Building O, carrying on from yesterday’s work, trying to find out whether the bank which the house was built into was a lynchet, and also trying to get evidence to date it, as Charlie is hoping that it is prehistoric. At the end of the day we had not found the answers to these questions, but the trench was a lot deeper! We dug down to the second context, and on the way found some post-medieval pottery and thankfully no limpets. Kim and Dave were also digging in that trench, so Dave had to suffer a day of ‘girl talk’ which he said wasn’t too bad… Kim’s highlight apparently was chucking mud all over me.

  The other group on Samson was digging in/near House H, and discovered a possible end wall to the building, and also a ‘spaceship landing site’ according to Rhiannon and Milly, and to all the others an ornamental garden. 

The team at St Agnes were doing both  geophysical and topographical surveys; they were rushed as they had to survey the cricket pitch before the match at 2.30!

The match approaches, 8 minutes to go and 1 grid to complete

Samson with Aidan

July 10, 2007

Site blog, 10th July 2007.

Today was a day of four important yet separate archaeological expeditions from our base in St Martins.

On St Martins the excavation team continued to auger down to try and discover the ancient Bronze Age land surface, the discovery of which could help in bettering our understanding of the approach to the Knackyboy monument and the impact it may have had in the past looming over the land, visible from the other tombs and from which the other tombs could also be spotted, with the now flooded lowlands of Scilly, possibly the source of the mythical Lyonesse, lying behind.

On Samson the survey team and I checked the position of the EDM total station base stations from last year and tied them into the national grid by backsighting to a bolt of known coordinates left on the island by the ordinance survey. By doing this we can check that the wooden pegs left from last year have not moved and we can use them as points of known coordinates to set up the EDM during the work yet to commence on Samson and so accurately record the position of walls, features and finds. We also set up two new surveying base stations to help record the possible gig house on the neck of the island and the as yet poorly documented buildings beyond the crest of south hill. I also took the opportunity to test the ability of the EDM’s 5 times magnification to get a close up look at bishops rock lighthouse, spy on passing boats, and generally get all the voyeurism out of my system before national archaeology week.

On Teän the geophysics team set out to try and locate the buried walls of the early-modern farmhouse and search for other buried features. As yet the results are being processed and are in flux to some degree, but as opening the box can determine is the cat is dead or alive I am sure some event will occur to collapse this academic wavespace and ensure we no longer have both useful results and no useful results, as is the current situation. The use of the GPS was however far more decisive and with the GPS base station set up we can now take the position of the GPS rovers to within a few cm as the base station will continually check the position of it’s stationery mass and by comparing this to the satellites and other base stations tell the rovers where they are in relation to objects on the ground as well to orbiting multimillion dollar patriotic shrapnel, creating a far more accurate signal (legend has it the GPS is more accurate when the USAF is operating as air force top brass in the pentagon makes the GPS system deliberately unreliable except when it is needed by American fighter-bombers. This is probably an archaeological urban myth, but it is still worthwhile doing surveying when there’s a war on the news, just in case). Militarily ambitions aside (all your base station belong to us), with the Base station working well on Teän we should find surveying the island much simpler. The continued excavation of the roman midden and post roman hut also vomited forth a ridiculous amount of animal finds, making me quite envious as I was working there yesterday and didn’t find as much preserved animal bone as the others.

And the fourth mission of such importance it overshadows these?


Yesterday when the planning boards blew away on Teän I, bravely and nobly in the spirit of self sacrifice, leapt up gazelle like (but in a totally masculine way) and grabbed the board before it went in the briny, saving us all from fishing it out of the drink and the evil smell of wet permatrace. However I was in the act of changing into my sandals so I could navigate the rocks to get on the boat back without wetting my boots at the time, and so rather than remain unwetted my boots remained unremembered. As a result rather than get soggy hoping through the surf to the transport they endured a violent undersea odyssey (Das Boot?). So Ian was despatched to track down the errant stealies and recovered one of the pair. And so the prodigal footwear, righty, came home. Alas his sinister brother is still M.I.A, and if the magnetometer dos not pick him up tomorrow (waste of Uni resources? Misuse of equipment? What misuse of equipment?) then perhaps realisation of his loss will dawn. But as yet the other shoe has yet to drop.

Yrs, Aidan


June 26, 2007

The now uninhabited island of Samson has a wealth of information on recent Scillonian history. Abandoned in 1855, the islands have a fabulously well preserved post-medieval (late 17th to the mid-19th century) landscape and settlement of 19 buildings, however the ravages of time have taken their toll and something needed to be done to secure the remains for the future. A previous excavation undertaken by Cardiff University in 1977 has already revealed much about the island’s life in the declining years of Samson’s occupation.

Started in 2006, archaeological investigation, recording and consolidation will continue in the 2007 season.