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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

Learning key archaeological skills at Old Sarum Castle

Published: 6 June 2014

Archaeology students have spent two weeks carrying out a survey of Old Sarum Castle, north of Salisbury. Over the last 3,000 years, the English Heritage site has been an Iron Age hill fort, as well as home to Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Much of archaeological interest still lies undiscovered beneath its grassy surface, despite several excavations in the last century.

Second year students surveyed the site using the latest technology (Total Stations and RTK GPS and available LiDAR data from aerial surveys), concentrating on the later medieval remains of the cathedral and castle, as well as the Iron Age defences; third year students used geophysical techniques, including magnetometry, earth resistance surveying and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to get a better picture of the buried structures.

"People assume everything of interest has been discovered at Old Sarum so we were surprised to learn no-one had carried out a complete survey," explains Kristian Strutt who co-supervised the project, with colleagues Timothy Sly and Dominic Barker. "It was a great opportunity for our students to master these important archaeological techniques, on an important site, while contributing to original research."

The survey has revealed traces of many previously unknown structures, including what appear to be major stone-built, high status buildings in the outer bailey (the Bishop's Palace and cloister were found in the 1912-15 excavations and reburied, so are not a new discovery).

Fiona Vernon was one of the students taking part. "We were pleased how much we achieved in the week, especially as it was the first time we had used the equipment for a real survey," she says. "If you are interested in a career in archaeology, you need to know these techniques so it is good to master them during your studies."

Southampton archaeology students will work at Old Sarum over the next two years, both at the site itself and in surrounding areas where a medieval village and Roman road and settlement can be found, to complete the geophysical surveying. In past years, students have tackled survey projects on various English Heritage and National Trust sites, in Hampshire and further afield, including: Portchester Castle, Netley Abbey, Bishop's Waltham Palace, Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishop's Palace), Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle.

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