Britannia Award inaugural nominations in 2023
The Britannia Award for extraordinary voluntary contributions to Roman archaeology in Britain was launched by the Roman Society in 2023. The Society’s Roman Archaeology Committee intended for the new award to be biannual, but there was such an impressive group of dedicated volunteers nominated that the Committee agreed unanimously to make the award annual. Prodding from colleagues made clear that an additional group award was necessary, to properly recognize the contributions of all volunteers. From 2024, two Britannia Awards will be available each year, one for individuals and one for groups.
With the kind permission of the nominees, highlights of the contributions described in nomination letters are summarized below. Many of the nominated volunteers have strong links to local and regional archaeology where they live, becoming avocational experts in their areas of interest of Surrey, Kent, Vindolanda, Sussex, Anglesey, and beyond. Their service to local archaeological societies is invaluable and makes a huge difference to the activities these societies are able to support. While this short note cannot fully describe the contributions of all the nominees, we hope it serves as another way to celebrate the extraordinary service of volunteers to Roman archaeology in Britain and encourages the nomination of other generous volunteers for future Britannia Award rounds.
Application of Professional Skills
Applying professional skills gained in other fields to Roman archaeology in Britain has produced exciting resources from some of the 2023 nominees. Chris Blair-Myers (Britannia Award recipient 2023), a professional cartographer and GIS specialist, has interpreted and digitised archaeological features in vertical aerial photographs, satellite imagery, LiDAR, and results of excavations and geophysical surveys in Kent, covering hundreds of square kilometres. Chris actively shares these results, furthering research and planning in Kent. Scott Vanderbilt (Britannia Award recipient 2023), an IT professional, created the database and website of Roman Inscriptions of Britain online, setting up servers, constructing the organization, search, and mapping functions, and inputting data, bringing RIB I to a world-wide audience for the first time. David Staveley, a professional computer programmer, created Snuffler software, for processing and analysing geophysical survey data, which he has freely shared online. David’s software is a vital research tool that furthers the efforts of community projects.
Discoveries and Fieldwork
Discoveries of sites by some of the nominated volunteers indicate the value of local knowledge and sustained efforts to research their areas. Chris Blair-Myers has found hundreds of new archaeological features, which he’s included in his GIS of Kent, leading to new Historic Environment Record entries, research excavations, and geophysical surveys. Chris has also been supervising excavations at Otford Roman villa, producing plans and research which are revealing important information about this vast site. David Calow has directed volunteers from the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Roman Studies Group to undertake metal-detecting and excavation of a site in Flexford, Surrey, resulting in, inter alia, the recording of nearly 1,000 objects on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Andrew ‘Archie’ Gillespie has spent decades metal-detecting, reporting his finds for recording, and supporting community excavations, research digs, and Albion Archaeology in their work. Archie has trained students and members of the public, always with a scrupulously professional ethic of reporting and recording finds. His discoveries over the last two decades have significantly contributed to our understanding of Roman sites across England and Wales. He has volunteered on several university research excavations, including those at iconic sites such as Caerleon, Hinton St Marys and Water Newton, as well as numerous developer-funded projects across the East Midlands. David Staveley has used geophysical survey to trace Roman roads in Sussex. Working with local groups, David has mapped the road between Hardham and Pevensey, finding, among other discoveries, the settlement at Bridge Farm, along the way. Alyson Tanner designed and directed an excavation of a hilltop enclosure on Coombe Bissett Down with the Wiltshire Field Group, leading to co-directing a major research excavation of a significant grain-processing site there.
Projects that have been led and supported by the nominated volunteers represent a wide array of data recording, analysis, and research. Chris Blair-Myers has transformed the Kent Archaeology Society website, applying his software knowledge, making publications and archives available, and creating an archaeological research resource for Kent. Chris is also creating a teaching and research collection of Roman ceramics in Kent, while Ann Hetherington has been collecting data and supporting the creation of the Arch-I-Scan application that can be used to identify Samian pottery. Ann also co-curated the Vindolanda ‘Digging up Memories’ online exhibition with a local group of vulnerable adults and now works with a team in the Vindolanda museum stores to make a huge database of finds available to the public online. Scott Vanderbilt’s work on Roman Inscriptions of Britain Online went beyond the application of his IT skills to manually updating entries, cross-referencing, and putting in the hours to digitise the contents of RIB I. Roly Cobbett’s longstanding interest in gaming boards resulted in not only a temporary ‘Games through the Ages’ display at Richborough, but also his own Britannia research publication, for which he produced a fascinating reconstruction of a dice tower from Richborough, as well as substantial support for the work of other researchers. Roly’s work on Richborough includes digitising records, creating reports, maps, and plans, and undertaking invaluable efforts to support the exhibitions and interpretations for the opening of the new Richborough Museum. Roly also is creating a digital catalogue of Roman coins from Reculver. Alyson Tanner has recorded an extraordinary 3,290 objects from Wiltshire for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, transforming the database with her efforts.
Outreach activities of the nominated volunteers have disseminated knowledge of Roman archaeology in Britain. In addition to creating his gaming display, Roly Cobbett has given public talks on the Richborough collection, Chris Blair-Myers has shared his research and fieldwork results with site visitors and in presentations to local groups, Scott Vanderbilt has worked on the RIB Schools Project website, and Alyson Tanner gives talks, trains volunteers and students, and supports community archaeology projects with small finds assessments. Ann Hetherington has a huge knowledge of Vindolanda and leads guided tours and activities there. Recently, Ann mentored 93 young people on placements at the site. David Calow shares his vast knowledge through talks to societies, school, and the public in Surrey. Archie Gillespie gives generously of his time to talk to visitors and students on sites where he works, sharing his decades of experience.