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Volunteers peel back Pan’s past

For the past 9 weeks, enthusiastic amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists have gathered at Pan, Newport to join in the investigation of two large fields on either side of Pan Lane. Each Saturday groups of between 10 and 25 volunteers have lent a hand, searching the fields for clues to Pan’s past. And there were plenty! Hundreds of objects have been washed, marked and sorted to see what they can tell us about the area.

It is clear that people have lived here for thousands of years. On the very first session sharp-eyed volunteer Dawn Russell picked up a flint tool which is at least 400,000 years old! Jane Roberts of Wessex Archaeology said “It’s difficult to spot a small piece of worked flint in the mud, amongst lots of other stones. The volunteers were really keen and we had to persuade them to take a break!”

Members of ‘History Hunters’, ‘Vectis Searchers’ and the ‘Isle of Wight Metal Detectorists’ Club’ joined the search too, uncovering, amongst other things, musket balls from the time of the Civil War, a Tudor buckle and a Georgian coin.

But there’s been even more to Pan Archaeology than field-walking and metal detecting - Phil Harding, of Time Team and Wessex Archaeology came along to the Isobel Centre for an evening to demonstrate flint knapping and there was an afternoon of children’s activities during half-term.

Volunteer Dawn Russell said: “It’s been a great project, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about archaeology in this practical way. I have come to every session and as well as finding pieces of flint, I found a piece of a Roman brick. In fact I’ve become so keen that I’ve joined a local archaeology group!”

The project is not over yet: Some of the objects will be sent to Newport Museum, but before they go there will be an exhibition at the Isobel centre to celebrate both the history of Pan, and the work of the keen volunteers who helped find out more about it.

Saxon coin found in a cable trench

An eighth century Saxon sceatta was an exciting find for archaeologist Steve George while he was keeping an eye on the excavation of a new cable trench in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The 1,200 year old silver coin was minted in Hamwic (Saxon Southampton) and examples are very rarely found outside of Southampton. It was probably issued by Cynewulf, King of Wessex.

The origins of Malmesbury are even older than this, dating back to the middle of the sixth century. By the seventh century an imposing abbey stood in the centre of the town. Steve found traces of this early history nearby in Gloucester Street. Two stone-lined graves were uncovered in the base of the trench. Luckily they were deep enough to be safely left undisturbed. He also spotted the traces of footpaths nearby, probably used by the Saxon inhabitants of the town when visiting the Abbey.

The trench in Abbey Road uncovered a medieval road surface, made of cobbles laid on packed clay. This is the road that brought traffic into bustling Malmesbury through the West Gate on market days.

The cable trench is being dug for Scottish and Southern Electric to link a sub-station outside the city walls to the town. Wessex Archaeology was asked to keep a watching brief on the work because of the high possibility that it might uncover further clues to the history of this ancient town.

Archaeology on the Isle of Wight: the Pan Archaeology Project

Saturday 23rd September was bright and sunny - the perfect sort of day for the start of the second year of the Pan Archaeology project.

Eleven enthusiastic volunteers arrived at the Isobel Centre, Pan, Newport at 11.00am all ready to join staff from Wessex Archaeology searching the fields nearby for clues about Pan’s past. We were looking for bits of pottery, flint and bone which might tell us more about the people who lived here long ago. And we do mean long ago! There were people at Great Pan some 500,000 years ago!

The star find of the day’s field-walking was a flint blade which was probably made by one of these earliest inhabitants of the Isle of Wight.

The project continues on Saturdays until November 18th, so if you would like to be part of it, please contact Steve D’Giacoma on 01983 814 260 www.pan-iow.com

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Fifteen - Last day!

It was the last day on site for the Southampton University students and in fact the last day of the three week training excavation and the weather marked this important occasion by absolutely hammering it down with rain for much of the day. Undeterred, the students braved the precipitation and carried on excavating and recording. Fortunately the chalk drains fairly well and the site remained relatively dry, and it is amazing how well 6H pencils work on Permatrace even when it’s very wet.

We were joined on site today by Tom Goskar and Doug Murphy, both from Wessex Archaeology. Tom is our Multimedia Developer and came out to record a Podcast, interviewing various team members as well as Martin Green.

Doug is our Survey Officer and he carried on mapping the site and training two of the students in GPS. We are hoping that all the various post-holes that have been mapped will finally make some sort of coherent structural pattern. There are so many on site (over 150) that they could be joined together in a plan to make roundhouses or rectangular houses as well! Hopefully the post-excavation work will be able to provide some further light on the number, shape and type of structures present.

We took a slightly early lunch in light of the rather inclement conditions and the rain got even heavier. All of the students donned their waterproof trousers and jackets and umbrellas and joined Martin for the long tour of the rich archaeological landscape around Down Farm.

Just as they began the walk the clouds parted and the sun started to shine, which made for a much more pleasant ramble across the countryside, as well as a more auspicious ending to the training excavation.

We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the excavations at Down Farm this year. All of the 35 students who have taken part, as well as all the Wessex and non-Wessex specialists who have given tutorials and workshops, have contributed to making this project a success. We hope that all the students have learnt valuable field skills and have gained confidence and enthusiasm to continue in archaeological excavations. Finally our special thanks to Martin Green without whom this project would not be possible.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Fourteen

It was a beautiful sunny day at Down Farm today – typical then that Thursday is the day the students spend the morning in the site hut learning about finds processing! Talla Hopper from Wessex Archaeology came out to train all the students in finds identification, processing and marking. We have found so many artefacts from the site in the last week that the students were kept busy washing and marking flint, bone and pottery until lunchtime. Alex and Sophie had already learnt about finds processing in their first week and so they carried on recording their features on site. One of the students from the excavation two years ago (Margaret) came to visit the site with her friend (also Margaret) to see work had progressed since then. They both came bearing the most delicious cakes - carrot and orange and chocolate and banana - which considerably improved morale!

The sun continued to shine in the afternoon and the students came back on site to carry on excavating and recording their various post-holes, pits and quarry hollows. Fortunately we were not visited by Hurricane Graham as this would probably have made conditions on this rather exposed site rather difficult!

Tomorrow is the last training day for 2006 and all of the students involved have achieved so much. Over the last three weeks they have excavated and recorded a total of 65 post-holes, 13 quarry hollows, seven pits, three tree-throws and two interventions through the enclosure ditch – quite a feat!!

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Thirteen

When we arrived at Down Farm this morning, we thought the weather men had got it wrong. It was overcast and drizzly when it was meant to be a lovely sunny day. However, by the time we all got on to site, the clouds had abated and the sun slowly made an appearance. This helped morale immensely until the wind started to get up and by the end of the day we were all rather windswept and interesting (or rather had rather red faces and haystack hair). Excavating almost on the top of the hill means that we are always quite exposed and I think most of the team were wondering why Late Bronze Age/ Early Iron Age people had decided to settle here and build roundhouses. Perhaps they enjoyed being buffeted by the wind, although I am sure the advantage of wonderful views and being able to see everything going on in the surrounding landscape may have outweighed the negative factor of always being bright red and sporting straw-like hairdos!!

Work continued on the excavation of quarry hollows, ditches, pits and postholes. Alex finished excavating the northern terminus of the enclosure ditch, but sadly found no evidence of placed deposits or other potentially interesting finds, although he did recover a nice flint flake. More pottery and burnt and struck flint came out of the quarry hollows. Two postholes were excavated which had been cut into the quarry hollows. This means that the quarry hollows were earlier than the roundhouses and it may be that they were extracting chalk marl from them to use for building the houses, rather like daub or marl plaster.

The rectangular feature we started excavating yesterday turned out to be another quarry hollow rather than a grave. This also contained a few finds including a sherd of pottery of Late Bronze Age/ Early Iron Age date. Work continued on the finds-rich pit in the roundhouse which is full of pottery, animal bone and struck and burnt flint, and may relate to a feast which took place within the house itself.

The two large post-pits that may be a porch structure into the roundhouse were fully excavated and one of the most interesting finds came from the base of the western post at the end of the day. As Sadie cleaned up the base of this large hole, she unearthed a yellow-bellied newt, who didn’t seem too pleased to be disturbed as he was clearly in the process of hibernating! We showed this rare animal to Martin Green who suggested we re-home him by his pond where he is far less likely to be rudely disturbed again!

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Twelve

It was a beautiful sunny day today at Down Farm - which was fortunate as the whole day was devoted to excavation with no seminars or workshops planned inside. All of the students were in the middle of excavating or recording features that they had started yesterday. Some of the post-holes that were being dug were quite substantial, over 40cm deep and two of them certainly formed parts of structures, possibly a south-facing porch to a roundhouse. Another post-hole contained a rather large fragment of animal bone which was probably placed in the hole after the wooden post had been removed.

Sophie carried on excavating a circular pit which had been started by Rosemary last week and this seems to contain deliberately placed deposits, which may relate to feasting. Sophie uncovered yet more evidence for this, including large fragments of animal bones, some of which seem to be articulated, and big rim sherds of a smashed pot sitting on a platform of chalk. This pit seems to be located within the actual roundhouse itself.

The two post-holes that appear to form part of the porch structure of the roundhouse both contained evidence of post-pipes – which clearly indicate that the wooden posts they contained had rotted in situ, and were not removed. Both of these posts are rather substantial and they were sampled by Martin Green and Sadie. The charcoal they contain will help us to find out what kind of wood was used to construct the house as well as perhaps providing a radiocarbon determination to give us a more precise date about the chronology of this phase of occupation on the site.

Two of the other students (David and Lee) were excavating quarry hollows, and one of these contains some nice finds including pot sherds and burnt bone. Alex continued to work on the full excavation of the northern terminus of the enclosure ditch. This lies adjacent to a pit (excavated in 2004) which contained an articulated cow burial and we are hoping to find some more interesting deposits in the terminal.

We were most privileged to have Martin Green helping us on site all day. He fully excavated a post-hole as well as cleaning up areas between our new site and the old excavation areas, where he found more features for us to excavate - as if we didn’t have enough! One of these was a rectangular feature which is aligned east-west and looks suspiciously like a grave. Excavation has just begun on this feature so watch this space for an update!!

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Eleven

Today was the start of week three which heralded the arrival of a new group of students – this time from Southampton University. Two people from the first week also came back for some more training because they had enjoyed it so much before (or else were gluttons for punishment!).

As always the day began with an informal introduction to the site of Down Farm and its surrounding landscape. This was followed by a quick summary of the background to field archaeology, and the principles of excavation and recording. Dr. Martin Green then gave everyone a pleasant break from complex methodology with a most interesting and thought-provoking tour around his farm. He gave a whistle-stop tour from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age and Roman period. The students visited a deep pit he excavated in the 1980s which contained evidence from over three millennia within its deposits and viewed the Dorset cursus from a vantage point in one of his fields. Martin brought the past to life with his talk about the longest and most monumental Neolithic monument in Britain and how its alignment relates to the winter solstice and possible processions along its banks.

After a coffee-break Martin showed us all around about his wonderful museum which is replete with all the archaeological finds (particularly flint!) from three decades of fieldwalking and excavation. Almost every artefact in Martin’s museum has a really interesting story attached to it and the students learnt a great deal about the prehistoric past of Cranborne Chase.

Since a very large number of features were exposed last week when hoeing and brushing back, there were still more than enough post-holes left to excavate this week without the new students having to clear a new area! Possibly the students were secretly relieved by this and after lunch they were glad to be able to start excavating these post-holes and quarry hollows straight away. Again some of the holes have finds in them including animal bone and struck and burnt flint, while the quarry hollows have small sherds of pottery. Hopefully excavating these posts will help us characterise the nature of these structures in this part of the site more clearly!

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Ten

The weather was against us again and the team arrived for work in steady rain which looked as if it had set in for the morning. Because of this we delayed the firing of the pots we made on Tuesday, due to take place this morning, and continued working on site. Despite the continuing rain and cold wind, the team progressed well with the excavation and recording of features, and even managed to stay cheerful - special mention must go to our motorcyclist, whose boots filled with water on the way to site… and yet still managed to put in a good morning’s work!

The weather lifted at around 11am and by noon John, our potter, was happy that firing could take place. We are pleased to report that this week’s pot firing was a complete success with 100% of our pots surviving the bonfire kilns. The team, under John’s supervision, built three kilns using smouldering coals and dry twigs, then waited for them to burn and fire the pots.

John kept a note of how long it took each kiln to reach different stages of the process (the results are shown below) and even though each kiln worked at a different rate, all produced successfully fired pottery.

 

Kiln one

Kiln two

Kiln three

Fires laid at

12.40

12.40

12.40

Flames appeared at

12.53

12.57

1.03

Top of fuel burnt at

1.00

1.07

1.20

All fuel burnt at

1.16

1.23

1.26

Pots removed at

1.45

1.45

1.45

As the team left site for the last time we reflected on how much has been achieved over the past two weeks. Around eighty postholes have been cleaned and half of these have been dug. Work has started on two highly amorphous (‘blobby’!) features that we now believe to be quarry pits (current thinking, supported by Martin Green, is that the chalk was quarried and made into cob that was then daubed onto the walls of structures). Work was finished last week on what was probably a refuse pit, and work has started this week on two other similar features, one of which contains a collection of animal bone, burnt flint and pottery which may have been deliberately placed there. Good progress has also been made with a hearth pit that contained half of a bowl, broken in situ. The bowl has now been lifted and will be sent back to the Wessex Archaeology Finds Department for processing and analysis, while the material within it will be sent to our Environmental Department.

Most of the site has now been surveyed and we hope to be able to put a site map on-line soon (any suggestions as to how our postholes relate to one another or form structures will then be gratefully received!) The site has progressed brilliantly and our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of Down Farm is increasing.

The week ended with an extended tour of the farm, led by Martin, which helped our team to place the site they have worked on into its surrounding context. We would like to thank everyone who has worked on the site so far for their hard work and enthusiasm, they have all been a pleasure to work with, and we will continue to report on the progress of the site.

Practical Archaeology Course 2006: Day Nine

Today dawned damp and drizzly as our trainees braved another day of excavation at Down Farm. This morning we split into two groups. Half the team stayed in the site hut with Talla Hopper from Wessex Archaeology to learn how to process finds, and half returned to site to continue excavation. Talla showed the team how to wash finds using a toothbrush and also how to mark the site code and context number on them with indelible ink. This is very important as it means we can always identify where a find has come from in the future. After a coffee break the teams swapped round so that everyone could learn the finds process and by the end of the morning all of the finds retrieved so far from this year’s training excavation had been washed.

On site, progress is being made with the excavation and recording of our postholes, pits and possible quarry hollows. Today we also used a GPS system and Ellie Brook, a training supervisor for the project, has mapped the features on site so that we can produce a digital plan of the area. This should help us to make sense of any structures formed by our features.

At lunchtime we were joined by Phil Harding from Time Team (who is also a Project Officer for Wessex Archaeology) and he gave an impromptu demonstration of flint knapping techniques. Within a short space of time he had knapped a large piece of flint and had begun to shape a handaxe. It was good for us to learn how some of the flints we have found on site had been created, though it was generally agreed that Phil made knapping look a lot easier than we think it is! Following this we returned to excavate for the last part of the day. Despite the consistent drizzle spirits were high as we left site on the penultimate day of this team’s training week.

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