The Flotation Station and Floaty McFloat Face have arrived at the Trust!

Environmental Archaeologist Bronagh Quinn is thrilled to have a purpose-built area to ‘float’ in and tells us the story behind arrival of The Flotation Station and Floaty MacFloat Face.

“In May 2015 the Colchester Archaeological Trust reported that we had created our own set of flotation tanks for environmental sample processing. After a long four years and lots of use these tanks started looking a little worse for wear, so with the help of Trust renovation volunteer Neil Staff, we got to work creating a more permanent work space.

The new set-up has been an ongoing task for the past six months, initially with the erection of a gazebo to protect those using the flotation tanks from the blistering sun. As the winter months approached, however, it became evident that the gazebo would not protect us from the chilling winds, pouring rain and rapidly decreasing temperatures. Neil got to work creating plans for a fix to this issue – a large shed, complete with heating, electricity and lighting, named ‘The Flotation Station’.


As well as a shed, Neil created some new flotation tanks. These have been made using a large metal drums rather than the previously-used plastic ones. I provided a design based on my previous work set-up at a different archaeology unit as well as several pictures. With this information Neil did some further research and produced our new tank – ‘Floaty McFloat Face’. Floaty will now live (mostly) dry and warm in the comfort of the new shed.

Similar to before, samples of soil are taken from interesting features on site and brought back to the Trust. I will then go through them, noting how many buckets there are of each sample. Typically 50% of the sample taken will be floated – if there is anything particularly interesting then the other 50% will be processed. From this processing we are left with a flot and a larger residue. The flot typically consists of organic materials such as charcoal, seeds, grains or even occasionally small snail shells! The larger residue is what is left from the sample once the soil has been removed and the floating remains have been removed. This typically consists of stones, but also contains finds such as pottery, animal bone or small fragments of building material. We’ve even had amazing finds like coins, brooches and tiny beads come out of this larger residue. Once the flot is dry, I will be scanned under a microscope to determine if there is anything interesting in it, at which point it will be sent to Val Fryer for expert analysis.

So, here’s to an exciting future filled with environmental sampling!”

This project could not have been done without the help of Trust volunteers, especially Richard Todd and Gary Staff – many thanks from the now warm and dry team.

Volunteers are now flocking in to help…meet Huey and Louie.