In Pictures: An Archaeological Biopsy!

OBC Oldbury Camp Test Pit Trio Maiya Juan Barry

If geophysics is like an x-ray, then here’s why digging test pits is the archaeological equivalent of a biopsy.

Out in the West Country, right on the banks of the River Severn, lies Oldbury Camp – a rare lowland hillfort. Known locally as The Toot, its huge earthen banks are visible from the air. Over the years, bits of Roman pottery and coins have turned up, but archaeologically, it is yet to be investigated. How old is it? What was it used for? And why, unlike most other hillforts, isn’t it built on top of a hill?!

Finding out will require a full-blown excavation, but in order to do that, we’d need to dig 10 test pits across the hillfort. From each one, we’d extract a small, precise sample of the archaeology to diagnose what survives, and where, before deciding where to put full-size trenches… like the archaeological equivalent of a biopsy! We invited 20 Dirty Weekenders along to help us carry out the operation. Here’s how we did it.

First, we checked out the hillfort on Google maps


Then, we had a look at the geophysics map


And decided on the best places to dig each of our 10 ‘test pits’


Each one measured 1x1m and, with the turf stripped, we were ready to go!

OBC Oldbury Camp Johanna Justin Geoffrey

Iain and Sean dug theirs right on top of the hillfort’s huge earthen ramparts

OBC Oldbury Camp Iain and Sean

Wendy and Keith dug theirs at the bottom

OBC Oldbury Camp Wendy Paul

Johanna and Geoffrey dug theirs in a field full of ridge and furrow marks

OBC Oldbury Camp Johanna Geoffrey

Mary and Sue dug theirs over a long geophysical anomaly


Juan and Barry dug theirs very quickly – already up to your arm pits? Oh my!

OBC Oldbury Camp Test Pit Juan Barry

Janet and Kieron dug theirs very, very tidily

OBC Oldbury Camp Janet Test Pit

And George dug his wearing a woolly beard-hat (bet you want one too!)

OBC Oldbury Camp Test Pit George Beard

At the end of the day, some winter lambs came to see what we were up to


Yes, this is Old-baaaaaaaaaary Camp!


Then it was time for Adam to photograph each of the test pits

OBC Oldbury Camp Adam Photo

So what did we actually find?

OBC Oldbury Camp Adam Janet Finds

Thanks to Iain and Sean, we know how the ramparts were constructed…

OBC Oldbury Camp Sean Iain Clay Ramparts

And where we’re most likely to find prehistoric pottery

OBC Oldbury Camp Janet Pottery

Justin found some too…

OBC Oldbury Camp Justin pottery

And so did John…

OBC Oldbury Camp John Pottery

Kieron was the first to find flint


We also learned where we’re most likely to find nothing at all… Sorry Barry!

OBC Oldbury Camp Barry

All in all it was thumbs up from Johanna

OBC Oldbury Camp Johanna Thumbs Up

And thumbs up from Juan

OBC Oldbury Camp Juan Test Pit Thumbs Up

And a huge big grin from Amanda, our Finds Manager!


Because now we know the best (and worst) places to put our trenches when we come back to carry out a full-scale operation (I mean excavation!) next year

OBC Oldbury Camp Test Pit Trio Maiya Juan Barry

We hope you’ll join us! But if you can’t wait until then, you CAN check out the 3D photogrammetry model that Adam made. You can even click on each of the test pits to take a look inside!

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

Read more from Maiya Pina-Dacier +

Get Dig Mail

Keep up with the latest fun, facts & features from the world of archaeology.

Easy opt-out at any time - Privacy Policy

Archaeology / In Your Hands

Courses for anyone who wants to learn more about archaeology, and have fun while they're doing it!

Archaeology Courses

Our fab archaeology merch: dig team tee-shirts, Tatty Devine jewellery range, tote bags, and more!

Archaeology Shop