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Book Launch - Submerged Prehistory

151 Submerged Prehistory

The Wessex Archaeology Edinburgh office hosted a reception at the Royal Society of Edinburgh yesterday evening to celebrate the launch of the book Submerged Prehistory.

The book explores new developments in submerged prehistoric landscape research and its scope covers three continents. Jonathan Benjamin of Wessex's Edinburgh office is one the editors along with Professor Clive Bonsall and Catriona Pickard of Edinburgh University and Anders Fischer of the Heritage Agency of Denmark.

Speaking at the launch, which was attended by many of the Scottish heritage community and Wessex Archaeology's Scottish clients, Dr Benjamin said 'There is a growing awareness of the importance of submerged prehistory globally and right here in Scotland. As renewable energy is becoming even more important to the Scottish economy, more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of considering archaeology in the development planning.'

The book is available from Oxbow books and Wessex Archaeology's work on the important find of Palaeolithic hand axes from the North Sea is the subject of one of the papers.

155 The editors of "Submerged Prehistory" at the Royal Society, Edinburgh, May 2011

152 Submerged Prehistory book launch at the Royal Society of Edinburgh


Time Team Series 17: Rooting For The Romans (Bedford Purlieus Wood, Cambridgeshire)

Broadcast 17 April 2011

In the early 19th century the antiquarian Edmund Tyrell Artis came across the remains of a Roman site in the woods near Peterborough. He claimed to have found Roman statues, buildings and burials, surrounded by evidence for ironworking, but he only ever published drawings and a map, and over time his site was lost, until being rediscovered in 2005 by the Forestry Commission.

An earthwork survey and evaluation trenches by Northamptonshire Archaeology (NA) identified a range of buildings and a possible courtyard (interpreted as a courtyard villa), a series of large quarry pits, and an enclosure with evidence of ironworking.

Time Team aimed to follow up NA’s findings with further trenches. The range of buildings turned out to be fairly basic and utilitarian in nature – no sign here of painted wall plaster or other ‘high status’ elements. However, a raised platform in the south-east corner of the courtyard produced not just painted plaster but also box flue tiles from a possible hypocaust system; this may have been the site of the villa’s bath-house.

The enclosure to the west of the villa was confirmed as being industrial in nature, by the identification of an iron ore-roasting floor. A trench through one of the quarry pits found evidence of iron ore extraction, the disused quarry being subsequently used as a dump for domestic waste from the villa.


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Bedford PurlieusBedford PurlieusBedford Purlieus

Time Team Series 17: There's A Villa Here Somewhere (Litlington, Cambridgeshire)

Broadcast 31 October 2010

The ‘Litlington villa’ is an antiquarian puzzle which Time Team hoped to solve. In 1829 the Reverend W. Clack, a respected Cambridgeshire antiquarian, began his investigations in the village of Litlington. Twelve years later he presented the results of his labours to the local community – a huge, 30-roomed Roman villa, complete with elaborate mosaics and painted wall plaster. Then, unfortunately, he died, taking all the information about the site to his grave. His finds were lost, his paintings sold, and now nothing remains from his excavation, apart from one crudely drawn map, showing the location of the ‘villa’, as well as a walled Roman cemetery (‘Heaven’s Walls’), also excavated in the 19th century, producing over 200 cremation urns. Some of the detail can also be pieced together from contemporary newspaper reports.

The puzzle was partially solved. Trenches dug by Time Team confirmed the position of the ‘Litlington villa’, although it was not possible to determine its full extent or layout. Finds from the site included a large quantity of ceramic roof tiles and box flue tiles from a hypocaust heating system, stone and ceramic tesserae from mosaic floors (some areas of flooring were intact), as well as numerous fragments of painted wall plaster – all confirming the Reverend Clack’s original description of the site as a well-appointed residence.

The trenches also located the position of the ‘Heaven’s Walls’ cemetery to the south-east. One largely intact inhumation burial was revealed (although left undisturbed and not excavated), and a quantity of disarticulated bone was recovered from graves disturbed by 19th century quarrying. Around the villa, a number of test pits suggested that further Roman remains may have been destroyed by the housing estate which lay to the north-east of the villa site.

Time Team Series 17: Priory Engagement (Burford, Oxfordshire)

Broadcast 17 October 2010 | Report available

The town name of Burford in Oxfordshireis of Anglo-Saxon origin and means ‘ford by or leading to the burh’, a burh being an enclosed site ranging from a fortified town to an estate centre. No sign of a burh has ever been found in Burford, but it is thought that one did exist there, probably built in the 10th century. Elsewhere in Burford, the existing grand house at Burford Priory hides the remains of the medieval hospital of St John the Evangelist, which was certainly in existence by the early 13th century, and may have been founded in the 12th century. Time Team aimed to find out how much of the original medieval buildings survived, and to see whether there was any evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity here.

No firm evidence for any Anglo-Saxon features was found on the site, although a number of pottery sherds of this date were found in the Kitchen Garden.

The foundations of a medieval building were revealed on the lawn in front of the present house. This building was aligned on a medieval arcade, part of which was revealed during restoration work on the Priory in 1908, and has been identified, by its position, as part of the infirmary chapel. Pottery sherds from an old ground surface through which the foundation trenches for the chapel were cut were dated to the 12th or 13th century, which broadly corresponds with the historical evidence for the probable foundation of the Hospital in the 12th century. Other medieval finds include decorated floor tiles, glazed roof tiles, and an iron padlock key.

The rest of the medieval Hospital is thought to lie beneath the present building.


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Burford Priory, OxfordshireBurford Priory, Oxfordshire

Time Team Series 17: Governor's Green (Governor's Green, Portsmouth)

Broadcast 24 October 2010 | Report available

The Royal Garrison Church is all that now remains of the Domus Dei (‘House of God’), the medieval pilgrim hospital that once stood on the site of Governor’s Green in Portsmouth. Probably built in 1212, it accommodated poor pilgrims en route to pilgrimage sites overseas, and also those arriving on these shores to visit popular shrines in England. The hospital survived until the Reformation; in the time of Elizabeth I it was transformed into a home for the Governor of Portsmouth. Time Team’s aim was to investigate the origins of the medieval hospital.

The initial geophysical survey confirmed the cartographic evidence by identifying various buildings within the hospital complex as depicted on maps and drawings of the 16th century and later.

The trenches subsequently dug demonstrated that the 13th century buildings of the Domus Dei hospital had been heavily truncated and reused during the remodelling of the hospital complex into the Governor’s House. The remains of a medieval floor had been reused within the 16th century rebuild, as had much of the useable stonework from the medieval buildings. The main enclosure wall of the medieval hospital complex did survive to some extent, but it had also been replaced in the 16th century.

Medieval finds included pottery and a very worn silver coin. One intriguing hint of the medieval hospital came in the form of one pottery sherd that could have come from a vessel used in the distilling process - the hospital would have used distilled alcoholic liquors in the treatment of the sick.


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Governor’s Green, PortsmouthGovernor’s Green, Portsmouth

Time Team Series 17: Something For The Weekend (Tregruk Castle, Llangybi, Monmouthshire)

Broadcast 10 October 2010

Tregruk Castle in south Wales is today largely forgotten. An enormous ruined structure, it sits on a hilltop amongst dense woodland; nothing survives within the enclosing walls, but there is a massive keep gatehouse at the south-west corner, and a large residential tower at the north-west corner. In the medieval period, however, the castle formed part of the enormous estates of the de Clares, a powerful Welsh Marcher family, and this was an exceptionally large and well appointed residence, which survived in a habitable condition well into the 17th century; the defences were re-used during the Civil War.

No archaeological work had previously been undertaken on the castle, and Time Team aimed to test some of the theories recently advanced, based on surveys and documentary research, as to its date and development. It was thought that the existing stone castle replaced an earlier (12th century) motte and bailey ringwork in the early 14th century by Earl Gilbert de Clare.

Trenches were dug, mainly on the western side of the castle, within the Great Gatehouse and West Gate, and inside the residential tower, but also within the interior of the castle.

There were very few finds from any of the trenches, and so it has proved very difficult to prove or disprove the existing theories about the castle. However, a few sherds of 12th or 13th century pottery from a trench dug at the West Gate may hint at a pre-14th century foundation for the castle. Within the gatehouse and residential tower, two phases of building were identified, of which the earliest could relate to Earl Gilbert de Clare’s construction of the castle in the early 14th century.


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Tregruk CastleTregruk CastleTregruk Castle

Time Team Series 17: Death and Dominoes - The First POW Camp (Norman Cross, Cambridgeshire)

Broadcast 3 October 2010

Between 1792 and 1818 over 200,000 prisoners of war were brought to Britain, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars with France. The existing prisons were soon overflowing, so in 1797 a large prison camp was built at Norman Cross in Cambridgeshire – ‘The Norman Cross Depot for Prisoners of War’. This was the first of its kind in the country, specially designed with health and hygiene in mind, and housing up to 7000 inmates. We know a fair amount about the Norman Cross camp from documentary records, plans and contemporary drawings, but little is known about the surviving archaeological remains, a situation that Time Team hoped to address.

Nine trenches across the site confirmed the basic layout of the camp and provided some detail of its construction and use. The outer perimeter appears to have been a double ditch, separated by a walkway, all contained within a single brick wall. There was also evidence of an earlier timber palisade, which had been mentioned in documentary sources.

Conditions were better at Norman Cross camp than in other prisons, but even so, at least one epidemic, probably typhoid, wiped out a proportion of the prison population. Time Team found a number of graves to the north and north-east of the camp, just outside the walls. Several of these contained more than one individual, although these may have been interred in several phases. However, the ‘plague’ cemetery, reported (by local tradition) to lie to the west of the camp, was not located.

Boredom was also a problem, and to counteract widespread gambling the inmates were encouraged to make and sell craft items from bone, wood and other materials. Many of these survive in Peterborough Museum. Time Team found further evidence of this in the form of a large collection of bone-working debris, and some finished objects (combs, needles, buttons, dominoes). Personal items including metal buttons show the range of military affiliations represented amongst the occupants of the camp (British, French and Dutch).

The camp was closed in 1814 following the Treaty of Paris, and subsequently dismantled. Robber cuts found within a number of the Time Team trenches confirm this systematically dismantling. Most of the brickwork appears to have been removed and reclaimed.


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Bone handlesNorman Cross, CambridgeshireNorman Cross, CambridgeshireNorman Cross, CambridgeshireBone dominoes and diceBone buttons and discsBone bobbins and pegsBone-working debris and finished objectsBone-working debrisBone-working debrisBone objectsBone needlesSmall bone handle - FishBone-working debris

Time Team Series 17: Potted History (Cunetio, Mildenhall, Wiltshire)

Broadcast 23 May 2010

Beyond the ground plan, very little is known of the Roman town of Cunetio, near Marlborough in Wiltshire; only very limited excavations have taken place here in the past. These excavations, together with aerial photographs and an early geophysical survey, showed a street system with stone buildings enclosed by two phases of defences (originally earth, later stone) as well as other buildings outside the walls. In the mid 1970s, the largest coin hoard known from Roman Britain – the ‘Mildenhall Hoard’, comprising over 55,000 coins of the later 3rd century AD - was found immediately south of the town.

Time Team were determined to find out a little more about the nature and development of the town, and opened seven trenches, five within the town, one across the south gate, and one immediately outside the defences. In the north-west corner of the town, part of a substantial, high quality building was uncovered. This building is likely to have consisted of more than a single storey, with a stylish, fully Romanised interior. The remains of a possible mansio (the equivalent of a guest house) in the centre of the town survived less well, although it too had a Romanised interior, and was probably roofed in stone.

A ditch, located to the south of the later Roman stone defences of the town, probably relates to the earlier, earth defensive circuit.  Part of the monumental south gate – part of the stone defences - was exposed. Although largely consisting of mortared flint rubble, the south side at least was faced with limestone and Greensand blocks.

Elsewhere, the trenches clearly demonstrated the survival of substantial, stratified archaeological remains, closely corresponding with the evidence from aerial photographs and geophysical survey. Considerable robbing of the main structural stone was evident in all areas of the town, with recent plough damage apparent in some areas.

No further coin hoards were revealed, but just under a hundred individual coins were found, mostly dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Other finds include pottery, animal bone, building material (both stone and ceramic) and metalwork, but beyond the evidence for Romanised buildings there was little evidence for lifestyle (personal items and vessel glass).


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Roman town of Cunetio, near Marlborough, WiltshireRoman town of Cunetio, near Marlborough, WiltshireRoman town of Cunetio, near Marlborough, Wiltshire

Time Team Series 17: The Massacre In The Cellar (Hopton Castle, Shropshire)

Broadcast 16 May 2010 | Report available

In 1644, during the Civil War, the Parliamentary garrison of Hopton Castle in Shropshire was besieged and outnumbered by Royalist forces. After weeks of bombardment the garrison surrendered, and the commander was taken prisoner. He was marched out of the castle and lived to fight another day, but his men were not so lucky - all of them were executed and thrown into a pit on the site. Hopton Castle was later slighted by the Royalists, and was never used as a military base again.

The commander of the Hopton garrison, Samuel More, left an eyewitness account of the siege, and this provided an opportunity for Time Team to compare a contemporary account of the Civil War with the archaeological remains, as well as investigating the medieval origins of the castle, of which only the Keep, or tower house, survives today.

Part of the medieval moat and curtain wall were located, as well as a large cellared building and a stone-built tower, which may have been of medieval origin, but which was still standing during the Civil War siege.

More’s account mentions various buildings within the Castle, including the ‘out walls’, the ‘brick tower’, and ‘the new brick dwelling’. The ‘out walls’ appear to have been the medieval curtain wall, by this time discontinuous but in some places shored up by the defenders. Large amounts of brick rubble found in two of the trenches to the north-west of the tower house may be the remains of the ‘new brick dwelling’, while the most favoured site for the ‘brick tower’ seems to have been a mound to the south-west of the tower house. Part of the defensive ditch dug by the defenders was also found.

Lead musket shot found on the site, some of them clearly impacted through use, provided a grim reminder of the Civil War bloodshed. The most exciting find, however, was a gold coin of James I, dated 1623-4, found in a demolition deposit within the cellared building.


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Hopton Castle, ShropshireGold coin of James I, dated 1623-4, Hopton Castle, ShropshireHopton Castle, Shropshire

Time Team Series 17: In The Halls Of A Saxon King (Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire)

Broadcast 9 May 2010

The site at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire lies within an area rich in the traces of prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon activity. Extensive prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon remains are known from the near vicinity. Part of the Drayton Cursus (Neolithic) runs through the site, and there are a number of Bronze Age ring ditches and enclosures in the area. Previous archaeological work has revealed Anglo-Saxon settlement remains, including both sunken feature buildings (SFBs) and timber-built halls. Sutton Courtenay may have been a vill (royal administrative centre) at this time.

Time Team aimed to investigate both prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon features, and the relationship between the two. Were the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Sutton Courtenay aware of the prehistoric remains, and had they sited their dwellings here deliberately? Aerial photographs and geophysical data confirmed a picture of a densely occupied landscape, although it was not always clear which features belonged to which period.

Four trenches located part of a prehistoric ring ditch and three Anglo-Saxon buildings, two rectangular timber-built halls and one SFB. The foundations of the larger of the two timber halls had been cut through the fill of the prehistoric ring ditch, perhaps deliberately sited to do so, while those of the smaller hall cut through the SFB. In other words, there had been more than one phase of Anglo-Saxon occupation on the site.

Perhaps disappointingly, finds from the site, either of prehistoric or Anglo-Saxon date, were not plentiful, and the precise dating of these features remains slightly uncertain. The ring ditch is presumed to be of Middle Bronze Age date, while the SFB dates to the early Anglo-Saxon period (5th to 7th century), and the halls slightly later.


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Sutton Courtenay, OxfordshireSutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

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