Glastonbury Abbey Excavations

1929 Saxon church excavationGlastonbury Abbey is crucial to understanding British monasticism, and through its links with the Arthurian legends, it holds a special place in English popular culture. The site was purchased by the Church of England in 1907, and thirty-four seasons of excavation took place in the years 1908 to 1979 - but the results have remained unpublished. A project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2009-2012) is analysing the archive of excavations that were undertaken by iconic figures in the history of medieval archaeology: St John Hope (1904), Bligh Bond (1908 - 1921), Peers and Clapham (1928 - 1939) and Ralegh Radford (1951 - 1964).

The project is a joint venture between the department of Archaeology at the University of Reading and the Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey. The research is being undertaken by Professor Roberta Gilchrist and Dr Cheryl Allum (Reading), working closely with Janet Bell (Curator of the Glastonbury Abbey Museum) and Dr John Allan (Archaeologist to Glastonbury Abbey). The results of the study will also inform a strategy of revised site interpretation and display, which is the subject of a doctoral research project currently being undertaken by Rhi Smith (funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship, in association with the Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey). arch-glastonbury-revealedA film featuring this research and funded by the AHRC was launched at the end of February 2014.This film examines the new evidence unearthed by the project and how researchers have worked with the Abbey Museum, conservators and the public to explore the history of this rich and extraordinary site. To watch the film please click on the image.

Glastonbury's central importance to archaeological scholarship stems from the interim report published by Radford in 1981, purporting a series of churches, a vallum enclosure, potentially the earliest cloister in Britain, and craft-working activities including unique glass furnaces. The detailed evidence for these features has not been published, but Glastonbury has nevertheless become a 'type' site against which the evidence of all early monasteries is appraised. The current research project was facilitated by a one-year pilot project that was funded by the British Academy (2007-2008). The pilot assessed the quantity and quality of archive records and focused on the evaluation of one season of Radford's excavations. Post-excavation analysis was undertaken on the chapter house, and a new geophysical survey of the area was undertaken by the University of Reading (directed by Dr Tim Astin). An interim report on the chapter house was published as a Fieldwork Highlight in 'Medieval Britain and Ireland 2007', Medieval Archaeology 52.
Glastonbury site location 
Glastonbury geophysics results

To date, the project has catalogued and assessed archive records held at the NMR Swindon, the Society of Antiquaries of London, Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset Record Office and Somerset County Museum, making digital safety copies where necessary. The full stratigraphic analysis of the excavation records is underway. The archive records are being entered into an Integrated Archaeological Database (IADB), which has been specifically modified for the project by Mike Rains of the York Archaeological Trust to facilitate digitisation of the section drawings. Geophysical survey (GSB Prospection Ltd.) of accessible areas of the Abbey precinct and cloister is nearing completion using a combination of resistivity, magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

Specialist analyses of the finds assemblages were completed in Year 2 of the project. (Read summaries of papers given at the Glastonbury Abbey Symposium, June 2011). The final year will involve the integration of the finds analysis with stratigraphy and phasing, culminating in the publication of a jointly authored monograph to be published by the Society of Antiquaries. A generous subvention for the publication has been donated by Linda Witherill, one of the volunteers who participated in excavations at the Abbey in the 1950s. In addition, the IADB will be archived with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) as an interactive online database, along with specialist reports. Two one-day symposiums will also be held, one at the Abbey and one in London, at key stages in the project in 2011 and 2012.

Glastonbury Abbey Excavation Archive Full Project Team


Professor Roberta Gilchrist

Post-Doctoral Research Assistant

Dr Cheryl Allum

Project Illustrator

Elizabeth Gardner

Curator, Glastonbury Abbey Museum

Janet Bell

Archaeologist, Glastonbury Abbey

Dr John Allan

Collaborative Doctoral Studentship

Rhi Smith

Geophysical survey

Dr John Gater (GSB Prospection Ltd.)

Finds specialists

Medieval and later pottery; medieval roof tile

Dr John Allan, David Dawson and Oliver Kent with specialist reports from Dr Alejandra Gutierrez (Spanish and Portuguese imports), Dr Hugo Blake/Marco Milanese (Italian wares), Dr Roger Taylor (petrological work) and Dr Roger Taylor (chemical analysis).

Small finds and glass vessels

Dr Geoff Egan

Medieval tile

Jane Harcourt

Architectural mouldings, Early English capitals and geological identifications

Jerry Sampson

Romanesque sculpture and figurines

Dr Ron Baxter

Saxon glass and kilns

Dr Hugh Wilmott and Dr Kate Welham

Window cames and glass; painted plaster

Dr Pamela Graves

Roman tile

Jenny Wheeler

Roman pottery

Jane Timby

Environmental (charcoal, wood)

Dana Challinor

Clay pipes

Dr David Higgins

Faunal remains

Lorraine Higbee

Wax seal impressions

Dr John Cherry

Roman bone tool and coins

Dr Hella Eckardt and Professor Mike Fulford

Flint tools

Dr Tim Phillips

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