u3a - Archaeology


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Coronavirus update

 In this possibly long period of not being able to meet in Groups, I would like to make two suggestions for your groups.

Firstly, this might be the opportunity to try out MOOCs or Future Learn courses. See, or, or Probably the quickest way to see what archaeology courses there are available is to go to These last between two and six weeks, asking you for about 3 hours per week. You can study Forensic archaeology, the archaeology of Star Carr – the most exciting Mesolithic site in the UK with the discovery of deer skulls with antlers being used as shamanic headdresses- , Hadrian’s Wall with the University of Newcastle led by Professor Ian Haynes. The free version of these courses gives you access for about 8 weeks – hopefully, this might take us to the end of lockdown? Do have a go and share your experiences of these with me.

Secondly, the Council for British Archaeology has postponed its annual Festival of British Archaeology until October. In the meantime, they have made available free downloads of many of their publications. Go to and you will see that their fifth response enables you to download many of their publications by clicking ‘here’. These include many of their Practical Handbooks, including Charlotte Roberts’ ‘Human Remains’. Harold Mytum’s ‘Recording Graveyards’  and my own  ‘Industrial Archaeology: a Handbook’.  Also free to download are two of their ‘Archaeology for All series, one on Stonehenge and one on Star Carr.  All their Research Reports are also available. Do take advantage of this unique opportunity, and make the most of all this time spent within four walls. .

I took over this role very recently and so am still learning the ropes. I have already answered quite a few queries from potential groups, but am working towards a more structured approach to queries. 

My first degree was in History from the University of Oxford and my PhD is in Education, so I gained my knowledge of archaeology from university extension courses at the University of Leicester.  I ended up as, surprisingly,  Head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, but continued for a long time to run evening classes in both archaeology and industrial archaeology, the latter being my own specialism. My love of teaching is what encouraged me to offer to run a Study Group in Archaeology for Charnwood U3A (Leicestershire) when I retired from full-time university teaching – I have always found adults very stimulating to teach and we did have many mature students at Leicester, as well as running Distance Learning courses in archaeology which were generally for adults. 

My own archaeology group started as one where we explored what people who travelled to archaeological sites might want to know in advance - sites such as Petra, the Pyramids, Machu Picchu etc. I have travelled a great deal since I retired and wanted to share what I had seen with others; it is difficult break the habit of looking at sites and thinking about how to explain them to others. I use PowerPoint presentation and, like my colleague Maria Chester, the Subject Adviser in American Archaeology, am willing to share these with other U3A Archaeology Groups and will soon produce a list of what I could make available.

I have been fortunate in having a lot of local contacts among professional archaeologists and have managed to get them to talk to my U3A Group – they do like to know more about their local area as well as distant parts. Knowing Richard Buckley, who was Site Directorfor the Richard III dig, was much welcomed by the Group!  I have also now taken various themes for presentations, for example an archaeological chronology, based on specific sites. Below is an example of a series of presentations:

  1. Out of Africa? The origins of man ( France, Spain, Africa)
  2. Palaeolithic rock art ( UK, France, Spain, Namibia)
  3. The Neolithic Revolution (Orkney, Turkey)
  4. Megalithic monuments ( Malta, Brittany, Stonehenge, Ireland)
  5. The use of metals ( Bulgaria, Turkey, Ireland, UK)
  6. The Bronze and Iron Ages – who were the Celts?

Several members of the group who were also widely travelled then joined in and did their own presentations on places I had not been to. We also now run one or two members’ sessions each year, where members send me three digital images which I put into a PowerPoint; people who don’t feel up to doing a whole presentation are often happy to speak for five or ten minutes.

I also work with other Study Groups in my U3A such as History or Parish Churches in organising visits, since we often have common interests. For example, I combined with one of the History Groups to go to the Lion Salt Works and Chester Roman Museum, and this year am combining with members of the Parish Churches Group to visit Flag Fen and the wonderful medieval paintings in the nearby Longthorpe Tower. I have also organised several visits to the various British Museum exhibitions – Byzantium, Pompeii, El Dorado, Celts: Art and Identity. This enables us to discuss the background to the exhibition beforehand and analyse it afterwards!

I would encourage all Archaeology Group Leaders to check on their local Council for British Archaeology Regional Group – see Most organise one or two day conferences a year, which can be very valuable in learning about what is happening in the region. The CBA Magazine, British Archaeology, is also good for this, as are the two magazines, Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology. The publishers of this hold an annual conference in the British Museum every Spring which has lectures by eminent archaeologists but is intedned for the general public – see  Both organisations are intended to bridge the gap between the amateur and professional.

Finally, in the ethos of the University of the Third Age, do get your Group to participate fully. The internet is a great source of information and can be used by members to prepare short talks as part of a theme being studied by the whole group. If possible, take them to local digs and try to get them some experience in handling pottery or flint. My own group have requested sessions on artefact dating and survey methods- the Time Team effect lives on!

I will do my best to produce an annual Newsletter assembling ideas, exhibitions, significant events and so on. I would also like to hear from existing groups about their own experiences in running their groups which may help others too.

Below are a couple of articles on my own specialism of industrial archaeology which may interest you.

Industrial Archaeology  Industrial Archaeology (1.49 MB)


JOIN US Training Day for budding u3a archaeologists  Saturday 20th August

9.30am to 5pm Old St. Barnabas Church (demolished) Mayland Hall, Mayland Hill, Althorne, Essex CM3 6EA  for more info *  Training Day Information



Industrialisation in Britain  Industrialisation in Britain (1.26 MB)