Clues to the past

curved trench dug in the earth

Wall foundations of 4th century AD Romano-British roundhouse

Archaeologists use a wide range of techniques to find out about people in the past. Sometimes the evidence is very difficult to detect. Twenty years ago we knew almost nothing about the Iron Age and Roman population in this area. But through a painstaking programme of research we have finally begun to reveal the secrets of the past.

Local finds

You can find out more about Roman field archaeology projects at local sites undertaken by the museum’s archaeology and see recent local finds, including several from the Roman period, on the archaeology pages of this website.


Here are some of the techniques that our archaeologists have used to locate and investigate ancient sites in the region:

Aerial photography

We have found over 50 farmsteads in the North West through aerial photography. The sites show up as distinctive marks in dry periods as crops planted over buried ditches stay green longer than the rest of the field.


We have identified a number of sites through fieldwalking. Walking across ploughed fields we search for fragments of early pottery, burnt stones or other objects. Clusters of artefacts show where early settlements once stood.


We have investigated only a few sites in more detail as this can take many years. A team of archaeologists has been working on a site at Lathom each summer for seven years and we still haven’t finished!

Excavation can reveal a wide range of evidence, from the remains of buildings, pits used as toilets, the objects that people used and threw away, the animals they reared and the food they ate. Minute traces of charred seeds can tell about the crops that were grown, the weeds plagued the fields and the insects that infested the crops and people.

We can date the site from distinctive objects found in different layers of soil below ground. We use a variety of techniques on site during excavation such as trowelling, planning, photography and surveying.

Scientific techniques

By using different scientific techniques, we can investigate the artefacts and the sites they come from in more detail.

Grains of pollen trapped in the soil can tell us whether the landscape was wooded, grassland or agricultural land. Radiocarbon dating of burnt organic material enables us to date sites even when there are no objects. By studying human bones, like Leasowe Man, we can learn about the health, diet and physique of our ancestors.