admin's blog

Helping out at Pompeii

As Britain moves into another tempestuous Autumn/Winter with our staff employed on numerous wet watching briefs and muddy evaluations we thought it would be a good opportunity to report on some of the research work conducted by our staff in more exotic (and sunnier) locations around the world this year.

309 The Forum at Pompeii

Daniel Jackson, one of our archaeologists based in Rochester, spent part of the summer working with the Via Consolare Project, a multinational team researching the ancient city of Pompeii, Italy. The VCP have been working in Pompeii since 2005 recording and analysing two important, and often overlooked, areas of the city. This year the focus of the research was Insula VII, 6, a city block close to the main forum of Pompeii which was heavily damaged during the Second World War.

310 Surveying the excavations in the front rooms of two shops in Insula VII.6

Using a combination of geophysical survey, historic building recording and targeted excavation the team have been able to reveal a large amount of information about the development of the area as well as providing an important permanent record of the current condition of the remains. The research has demonstrated that although the structural remains in the area were very badly affected by the bombing the subsurface stratigraphy appears to have remained well preserved. The investigations have produced important new information regarding not only the final phase of the city, prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, but also the development and evolution of this key central area.
Wessex Archaeology is fully supportive of staff continuing academic research as it is often through this interaction between the commercial and academic communities that new techniques and technologies are developed and improved. By taking advantage of these advances in archaeological computing and fieldwork we can work more efficiently and offer innovative high tech solutions to our clients.

WA Coastal & Marine team participate in underwater excavation of Neolithic settlement in Eastern Mediterranean

In September two WA Coastal & Marine staff set off for Israel to participate in a seven day course of underwater excavation and training. Dr Jonathan Benjamin and John McCarthy of our Edinburgh office joined a team of eight marine archaeologists with representatives from Ireland, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada. The training excavation was organised by SPLASHCOS, a European network. The programme was also supported by assistance from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, the Israel Prehistoric Society and the Ecoocean Society. The excavation was led by Dr. Ehud Galili, one of Israel's most respected archaeologists, who first discovered the village.

302 Prof. Galili takes a moment to instruct an Early Stage Researcher on underwater archaeological techniques.

The full schedule consisted of excavation and recording at the submerged Neolithic village at Atlit Yam combined with a series of lectures and field trips to museums and archaeological sites. Atlit Yam is one of the world's most important submerged prehistoric sites; a world class archaeological site, above or below the sea. The remains consist of the foundations of an extensive village dating to around 9,000 years ago that contain structures, burials, wells and a megalithic monument, all at a depth of around 10 metres below the sea. A published presentation of the site can be found in chapter 22 of Benjamin, J. (ed.) 2011 Submerged Prehistory, Oxbow Books.

303 Jonathan taking samples from the palaeosol around the well (photo:Karolyn Gauvin).

291 Professor Galili giving an evening lecture on management of maritime heritage in Israel (photo:Frederick Feulner)

Surveying in Shetland

Dr Stephanie Arnott and Genevieve Shaw recently returned from conducting geophysical surveys of several wrecks around Shetland, as part of a project for Historic Scotland. Steph tells us about their trip:
“Gen and I travelled to Shetland in late September to survey several wrecks.  Our brief was to survey a number of shipwrecks, covering sites from a variety of ages and types. The wrecks ranged from unidentified vessels with a rough location to well-known wrecks that have frequently been dived. Some were situated in deep water whilst others were located close to the shore in shallow waters.

299 On the boat: surveying the wreck of a 1745 gunship called Drottingen of Swenge (Queen of Sweden).

We surveyed eight wrecks in total, seven on the eastern side of Shetland and one just off the Out Skerries.

300 Gen (left) and I prepare to deploy the
sidescan sonar towfish in Lerwick Harbour.

Collecting the data on the boat could be a challenge, particularly when we surveyed wrecks close to the coastline. For example we surveyed the Wrangels Palais, a sailing ship which ran aground in dense fog in 1687 on the Out Skerries. Its proximity to the cliffs meant that even though the sea was not rough there were still large waves breaking on the rocky cliffs alongside us. 
Inside the heart of Lerwick Harbour we surveyed two World War Two wrecks with a tragic story. In 1943, the decks of these two torpedo boats were loaded with extra fuel for a rescue mission to Norway.  Somehow, a gun accidentally fired, setting light to the fuel on one of the ships, and destroying both.  Sadly, eight crewmembers were lost in the blaze. Today, the engines of one remain above the seabed and there are numerous smaller items at both sites.
Gen has just started to process the data we collected and will be providing detailed interpretations of each of the wreck sites for Historic Scotland.”

Public urged to search the shore and share their stories in Western Isles

RCAHMS Logo Historic ScotlandCNE SIAR

Fishermen, beachcombers, divers and local people in the Western Isles are being urged to report anything unusual they’ve spotted at the shoreline or under the sea to a new archaeological project, launched this week.
The project – a partnership between RCAHMS, WA Coastal & Marine, Historic Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – is searching for the prehistoric and historic remains of the coastal and marine areas of the Outer Hebrides.
Rising sea levels and coastal erosion make the search for previously undiscovered archaeology in the Western Isles a priority, as there is always the real danger that it could be lost for good.
A key feature of the project is getting local people involved in sharing their knowledge of potential sites of archaeological remains and involving them in research work.
The team hopes to make some discoveries of previously unknown sites as a direct result of 'tip-offs' from the local community.
That’s why they’re inviting local people to a talk this week to find out more [Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre on North Uist at 7pm on 12 October 2011] and holding regular sessions in a local venue to encourage people to come forward with their stories.
By working with local people the project aims to explore the rich coastal and maritime history of the Outer Hebrides which spans thousands of years.
Evidence of the remains of ancient settlements, fish-traps , even tree stumps that may now lie submerged, and other finds and fragments from the inter-tidal zone, are all part of the puzzle that the project wants to hear about, in order to piece together stories of the past.
The sorts of things the team are looking for are often discovered by accident when landing a boat or walking along a shoreline when there’s a particularly low tide.
Speaking on behalf of the project partners, RCAHMS archaeological investigator Alex Hale said:
“The Outer Hebrides have been lived on for many thousands of years and they contain a rich prehistoric and historic legacy. Because of the islands’ importance to seafaring over the centuries, many of the remains of buildings and settlements are found around the coastal fringes - including under the sea and in lochs. Due to rising sea-levels and the power of the sea, these remains are now at risk of being lost.
We hope that local people who might live or work on the shore and the sea – and anyone with a good knowledge of the islands – will come forward with stories and information.”
Deborah Anderson from CNE-Siar’s Western Isles Archaeology Service said, “The archaeology of the Outer Hebrides is remarkable in the extent of its survival, however there is considerable pressure on sites from coastal erosion. Over the last 10,000 years a substantial area of land has been submerged by rising tides including areas of prehistoric land surfaces, which could hold early settlement remains.
Recent discoveries of prehistoric sites in the intertidal areas indicate that there are still pockets of preservation in some places. By integrating the land based coastal archaeological evidence and the information we acquire from locals through this project, we will better understand how people lived and worked on our islands over the last 9,000 years.
Dr Jonathan Benjamin of WA Coastal & Marine added “We have already received a warm welcome in Stornoway and we are looking forward to meeting people interested in the history and archaeology of Uist.
For more information about the project or to have a chat about getting involved, people can email  or visit the Outer Hebrides Coastal Community Marine Archaeology Pilot Project website.


Wessex Archaeology on the BBC's One Show

Work undertaken by Wessex Archaeology will feature in a documentary entitled “Mystery of the Women on the HMS London” on BBC1’s The One Show this Friday at 7.00pm.
The documentary, presented by Dan Snow, explores the 17th century English warship, the HMS London lost in the Medway in 1655 as it sailed out to battle against the Dutch.  It appears there was a disastrous accident, which led to several tons of gunpowder exploding, sinking the ship.   The recent discovery of the remains of several females on the ship is a strange occurrence – what were these women doing in this usually male environment?
Wessex Archaeology carries out diving fieldwork on the London for English Heritage as part of the Protection of Wrecks Act contract.  The film offers the opportunity for you to see this amazing wreck, as the cameras follow our divers under water.
The item is scheduled for the 2nd of September on BBC1’s One Show at 7pm.

WA Coastal & Marine at the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS) 2011 Meeting

WA Coastal & Marine, through our Edinburgh office, presented a poster (displayed below) at the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS) first annual science meeting held in Edinburgh, August 22-24.
Although MASTS originated with an emphasis on fisheries and marine biological sciences, it includes physical oceanography, coastal geomorphology and marine archaeology.
WA Coastal & Marine staff were in attendance to highlight the potential for interdisciplinary research and management in Scotland’s seas, and the use of marine data for archaeological purposes as well as WA's role in helping sustainable development in the marine environment. In addition to presenting a poster, WA also took part in the Marine Protected Areas workshop where discussions were held between curators from Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, as well as scientists and developers alike.

Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals event at Barbury Castle a big success

Despite threatening skies, the rain held off for the HLF-funded Celts and Romans project "Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals" event at Barbury Castle hillfort near Swindon.

233 Celtic storytelling

Hundreds of visitors took the chance to hear more about the community project. Volunteers who have taken part in activities at Truckle Hill and Chiseldon joined Wessex staff to greet visitors and the conservators from the British Museum who are working on the Chiseldon Cauldrons also paid a visit.


Activities included Celtic story walks around the ramparts of the hillfort, meeting Vindex and Huctia, a Romano-British couple, talks, making Roman mosaics and Iron Age torques, and a Scavenger Hunt quiz.


WA Coastal & Marine featured on BBC Alba

Dr. Jonathan Benjamin and Dr. Andrew Bicket from WA Coastal & Marine (Edinburgh Office) appeared on BBC Alba's news programme, An Là on 20 July 2011.

In the interview, Jonathan explained how preliminary research suggests that submerged areas of the Western Isles may hold clues about the islands' earliest inhabitants in addition to later maritime heritage. Jonathan and Andy were on Lewis at the invitation of the council, and held a public lecture in the council chambers on Monday 18th July 2011.

Wessex Archaeology is a registered charity, with outreach and educational objectives and offices throughout England and Scotland.

The piece which is in both Gaelic and English, is used here with permission.

240 Jonathan Benjamin and Andy Bicket


Wessex Archaeology and the Festival of British Archaeology

Wessex Archaeology is very pleased to be involved in the Festival of British Archaeology again this year. The festival is an annual two week event organised by the Council for British Archaeology and this year it runs from Sat 16th - Sun 31st July.

We will be setting up the Time Travelling by Water workshop with a hands on display of artefacts from the sea floor at the Hampshire Water Festival at Staunton Country Park in Havant on the 16th and 17th July and at the Family Discovery Day at Salisbury Museum on Tuesday 26th July.

Wessex staff involved in the Heritage Lottery funded Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire project will be hosting Celtic Feasts and Roman Rituals - a day of family fun at Barbury Castle Country Park in Wroughton, Swindon on the 23rd of July. This will celebrate the success of the project and the fascinating archaeology from Truckle Hill Roman Bath-House and the Chiseldon Iron Age Cauldrons site.

Seabed may hold clues to first inhabitants of Outer Hebrides

Experts from Wessex Archaeology's Coastal and Marine department will give a presentation on Lewis on how submerged areas of the Western Isles may hold clues about the first islanders to live there more than 9,000 years ago.

Archaeologists believe up to six miles of land may have been lost off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides in the past 10,000 years, potentially leaving excellent underwater archaeology sites, which can offer preservation conditions rarely seen on land.

In sheltered areas of the seabed there may be evidence of the first people to colonise the islands some 9,000 years ago.

Marine archaeology specialists Dr Jonathan Benjamin and Dr Andrew Bicket will give a public presentation on the subject in the Council Chamber, Western Isles Council headquarters in Stornoway, at 7pm on Monday 18th July.
Syndicate content