Molluscs in archaeology – new book, special offer

Analysing marine shells, and oysters? Do you know the whys, how and whats of analysis and interpretation. Need a guide? See Molluscs in Archaeology available now at prepublication price of only £18.75 (448 pages, 109 figs, 37 in colour). The prepublication offer ends soon.


Includes a seminal chapter on oyster analysis by Jessica Winder, the doyen of oyster analysis whose research has defined analysis methods and the interpretation today. Much of her excellent work is scattered in obscure journals and monographs, but this seminal chapter brings all the ideas together in one easily accessible publication. She summarises her lifetimes work in a single well-illustrated chapter! It outlines methods and interpretation of models of oyster exploitation, summarising shape and statistical analyses, and outlines caution in interpretation.

Marine shells

What can marine shells tell you about?

How and where were they collected or harvested, how were they processed, consumed and discarded?

This book provides information on sampling strategies, recovery, and numbers of shells needed for analysis (Greg Campbell), on cleaning, identification and analytical approach (with handy information boxes of useful literature resources), as well as details of quantification, sizing/measuring and interpretation and provenancing (Somerville, Light etc).


Are your shells shaped? Really?

Jan Light shows how easy it can be to be fooled into thinking shells are modified and shaped, when she demonstrates that this can be natural wear in living colonies.


What is a midden, what does it represent? How do you excavate and sample middens, and what can they tell you is explained by Karen Hardy.

Ornaments and tools

Shells can be pierced (is this natural or deliberate?) and used for ornaments and as tools – Janet Ridout-Sharpe, and Kat Szabo guide you through some examples while Jan Light and Tom Walker look at dog whelks in archaeological contexts  and the evidence for purple dye.


Can your shells be radiocarbon dated? What shells do you need? How many? what are the problems? Two chapters by Douka, and Fernandes & Dreves detail this for you.


Oh yes the book also cover land snails, – sampling, processing, interpretation, land-use and landscapes.

Particular strengths of this volume are that it integrates studies of terrestrial and marine molluscs, each often pursued separately, and covers a wide range of themes ranging from palaeo-environmental and palaeoeconomic topics to the use of molluscs as sources of information about technology, symbolism, dating and diet. Prof. Geoff Bailey

Allen, M.J. (ed.), 2017 Molluscs in Archaeology; methods approaches and applications. Oxford: Oxbow Books

  1. 448 pages, 109 figures (37 in colour), 12 tables, 5 information boxes

Latest on Industrial History of Leeds day school

The day school planned for 5 August has had to be postponed. We’re hoping this will be the first of many collaborations with Armley Mills industrial museum, and more time is needed to plan it, to make sure all goes smoothly. As smoothly as a well-oiled machine…

So – Plan B – the idea is to run it on a Saturday early in 2018. The panel of speakers will be the same:

  • Sheila Bye on the Middleton Colliery Railway – the first commercially successful steam railway
  • John Pease talking about a Leeds engine builder – probably J & H McLaren
  • Helen Gomersall exploring tanning and the Leeds leather industry
  • Gill Cookson on the birth of mechanical engineering in Leeds

New date to be announced as soon as we have it.




(Image: Middleton Railway)

Visit to Houses of Parliament and the Parliamentary Archives

BALH has arranged a visit to the Houses of Parliament and Parliamentary Archives on 8 August 2017. Places limited, early booking advised.

The morning conducted tour, during the summer recess when Parliament will not be sitting, will include the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and Westminster Hall.


In the afternoon there will be a talk and conducted tour of the Parliamentary Archives located in the Victoria Tower which, although there is a lift, will involve having to climb the stairs up and down to the higher rooms and so visitors will require a suitable degree of mobility for this visit. Members will be shown some of the surviving records  which are stored at the top of the Tower together with the research facilities available. No children under the age of 16 years are allowed. There is a maximum of 16 visitors for this event. Attendees must carry photographic ID (e.g. passport, driving licence).

Full details here. The cost is £22.00 members, £24.00 non-members.

Themes at BALH: housing and migration

If your ambition is to publish an article in The Local Historian, maybe write about the history of housing! Dr Alan Crosby, the journal’s editor, showed how underrepresented the topic has been. Considering how significant housing is to everyone, very little appears that is not architectural, or “quaint”, or about grand houses. The sources are good for 20th-century council housing, so that does enjoy some coverage. But as for the highly important topic of 1930s middle-class suburban estates, Alan memorably points out that there’s far more attention paid to the tramways that ran through them.

The 2017 BALH lecture was delivered by Prof. Chris Dyer, author of one of my very favourite books, the fascinating and accessible Making a Living in the Middle Ages. He spoke about medieval migration and social mobility, shooting a metaphorical arrow through the outmoded view that people were immobile and rigidly stratified. Chris analysed taxpayers’ surnames for placenames. As family names became fixed around the end of the 13th century, he was able to show just how much people moved around., and that this happened even before the Black Death, which has often been thought of as a turning point in working prospects for the poorer classes.

Next year’s BALH Local History Day will be on 2 June in York.

BAHL Local History Day

Miles behind with the blog – the election turned out to be too interesting… So back to reality and catching up about my trip to the British Association for Local History event last weekend. The main point of attending was a fringe discussion exploring how feasible it is to launch a forum for County Societies. The idea would be to share experiences, good practice, and maybe a common front on external issues that affect us all. The attraction: it could save us all time, and avoid re-inventing wheels. The bad news: someone, very likely the person who foolishly suggested this, will end up with yet another burden, even if most of the interchange is online. And I don’t have much spare capacity.

Debate to be continued. Also I’ll be reporting on a following post about some of the BALH proceedings. It was a very good day, though even then I didn’t escape the election. The leaders’ debate had been in York the previous evening, and who should be sitting next to me on his way back to London but Faisal Islam of Sky News.

…and visiting Ampleforth Abbey

After lunch at the abbey tea room, we joined one of the regular tours of Ampleforth Abbey, guided by Father Christopher. The 19th-c. chapel by the famed Catholic architect (and cab designer) Hansom – for more of whom, see Penelope Harris’s article in YAJ 85 (2013) – was demolished to make way for an abbey church, started between the wars and finally completed in the 1950s. This serves the needs of both school and monastic community.

The choir was furnished by Robert ‘mouseman’ Thompson of Kilburn.

Thanks to Jane Ellis for arranging a really good day, with what turned out to be immaculate timing. Thanks to everyone else involved for not mentioning the general election.

Visiting Helmsley Archaeology Store

Thursday’s YAHS excursion proved a perfect diversion from that troubling matter of a general election. First, a visit to English Heritage’s northern archaeological store on the outskirts of Helmsley, and a masterclass in conservation, by curator Susan Harrison.

It’s possible to pre-book the tour, which is free (donation invited). See here.

Claremont re-development

I’ve been asked for news about Claremont. There is a Facebook page which includes a video of work in progress. Another video is being shot – I know this as I was cornered for an interview when I called to check the mailbox.

Leeds CC conservation planners are clearly keeping a close eye on developments. Latest I heard is that the builders are expected to hand over the premises 31 July for fitting out and furnishing.

Treasured possessions: your views needed

An interdisciplinary project based in the Archaeology Dept at the University of York is investigating the emotional significance of objects. They’ve created an online survey to collect stories from the public about personal objects that are important to them, and are asking YAHS members to engage in this:
Why do we often find treasured possessions comforting? Is this feeling shared between all humans? How might our connection to objects have evolved?
A research group at the University of York is looking into emotional significance of treasured possessions, both today and in the past. They’d like your help! Tell them about how objects have (or haven’t) had an impact on your life, by taking their survey.
For more information, check out the website or contact Taryn Bell at

There’s also an event at the York Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 14 June – tickets here. And look out for podcasts, very soon.