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Walking into history

Archaeologists working on a 21st century highways project in Nottinghamshire have found evidence for Ice Age hunters dating back to the end of the last Ice Age, over 12 thousand years ago.

Work on the A46 Newark-Widmerpool has not just been about building for the future but exploring the past. Archaeological excavations have found Bronze Age burials and part of Roman town but the archaeologists are most excited about one square metre littered with tiny bits of broken flint. They are traces of an ancient campsite.

The location of scientific samples amongst the tiny flints is surveyed precisely.

Chris Ellis, one of the leaders of Cotswold Wessex Archaeology team responsible for the dig at Farndon Fields near Newark explained ‘We have found the remains of a campsite that was used during one of the warmer periods that punctuated the last Ice Age. In these warmer periods, or ‘Interstadials’, modern humans, were able to visit regions that had just been too cold to live in. These people came from the east and south but so much water was still locked up in the Ice Caps that the North Sea did not yet exist. They could just keep on walking.’
Experts think that these Ice Age hunters lived in close harmony with the wild animals that were their prey. They followed herds of reindeer and wild horses as they migrated through an environment that was like a polar desert summer. The hunters set up temporary camps and the site at Farndon Fields is close to where the River Devon flows into the River Trent, a place that would have provided a range of habitats and a rich menu of wild foods.
Trial works in advance of the new road identified traces of these ancient remains. As a result the design of the route was changed to avoid them but because the campsites were returned to year after year, their remains do not have a neat boundary. So the Highways Agency funded the painstaking excavation. This yielded a scatter of flints dating to the Interstadial. As they have been found in the open rather than in cave they represent exceptionally rare finds.

Archaeologists carefully record the remains.

Most traces from these times are from caves that provided natural shelters. And they have also protected the fragile remains from destruction by modern ploughing. Some of the most famous finds from Britain that date to this time have been found in Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves, 33 kilometres, or just two or three days walk from Farndon Fields. These caves have also produced the oldest cave art in Britain dating back to the same Late Glacial Interstadial as the flints from Farndon Field.
Critically, the flints found at Farndon Fields are very similar to those found in the caves at Creswell Crags and this dating is backed up by Optically Stimulated Luminescence a technique that shows when the soil was last exposed to sunlight. This demonstrates that the hunters did not only live in caves. Instead they followed herds of animals as they moved between the lower and higher ground.
Their stone tools reflect this nomadic lifestyle. Thin pieces of flint were carefully removed from larger nodules by hitting or ‘knapping’ the nodule. These flint flakes were carried on hunting trips, making sure the Ice Age people had the kit to make the exact tools they needed. Amongst the thin scatter of finds at Farndon Fields was a small concentration of tiny bits of flint. It is the waste left behind an Ice Age hunter.
Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology explained ‘It seems as if 12,000 years ago someone sat here knapping flints. While they worked, tiny splinters of flint landed between their legs. When they stood up, they took with them the pieces they wanted for tools. They just left the rubbish where it had fallen. Soon after that the River Devon flooded and when the waters fell they left behind a thin layer of silt that covered the flints, protecting them until today. But by then the Ice Age hunter had walked into history.’

The location of each tiny flint is recorded using a survey grid.

Listen to Phil Harding discuss this site on BBC Radio 4's Today show.
Further information

Balfour Beatty is building the new road for the Highways Agency. The archaeological works have been undertaken by a joint venture between Cotswold Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology working with Scott Wilson Consultants. Trent and Peak Archaeology did earlier stages of work at Farndon Fields


Littlecote - Another EPPIC Placement

Our Littlecote EPPIC placement started in May 2010, and will run until the end of April 2011. Darren Baker is the lucky post-holder, and he will be spending the year working on the finds and environmental samples from Littlecote Roman Villa near Hungerford. This is a large and complex site – there are also medieval and post-medieval elements to it – with a substantial finds assemblage. Darren will be learning the process of recording, analysis and reporting for various finds and environmental types, under the supervision of several of our in-house specialists. Funding for our specialist supervision has come from a grant from the Roman Research Trust (RRT), via Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.

EPPIC placements (English Heritage Professional Placements in Conservation), which are designed to provide work-place learning opportunities, have been running since 2003; they are funded by English Heritage and administered by the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA). WA has already hosted several successful placements in Coastal and Marine, but this is the first such placement working in Post-excavation.

The background

The site at Littlecote Park is located to the west of Littlecote House, just off the A4 to the west of Hungerford, and just within the border of Wiltshire. The presence of a Romano-British site in the park was first recorded in 1727, when a well-preserved mosaic floor was found, and this was later relocated in 1976. To the south of the house are the earthworks of the medieval village of Littlecote. Overlying the remains of the Romano-British buildings, a hunting lodge was built in the mid 17th century, and remained in use until being demolished in the later 18th century.

The well-preserved mosaics at Littlecote. Photo: Przemys?aw Jahr, Wikimedia Commons

Excavation on the site, under the direction of Bryn Walters and Bernard Phillips, ran from 1978 to 1991, and eventually covered more than one hectare. The excavations were funded first by the landowners, and subsequently the RRT. Since 1991, a certain amount of post-excavation work has taken place, and interim reports have been published, but the site has not yet been brought to full publication.

In 2001 WA undertook a rapid assessment of most of the finds and environmental material for the RRT. The assessment confirmed the finds assemblages as being generally of regional importance, and for certain categories of material of national importance.

Darren’s task

At the time of the assessment in 2001, the finds archive comprised around 1000 boxes, but this has now been reduced somewhat by the ‘weeding’ of the ceramic and stone building materials, and oyster shell. However, the remaining finds assemblage is still substantial – about 115,000 sherds of pottery, over 300 coins, about 3000 other metal objects, about 2000 fragments of vessel glass, and about 3700 pieces of wall plaster.

Savernake-type Vessel: The vessel is a locally produced storage jar in a grog tempered fabric

The main part of Darren’s work will be to provide basic catalogues of most of these categories. A certain amount of information already exists, but as yet we have only been able to access this in hard copy – Darren is entering all information into a database. The placement is also designed to help Darren understand both how and why we analyse finds and environmental material, and to give him an opportunity to use his new-found knowledge to prepare publication reports.

Ancient Past inspires Modern Art

Staff arriving at Wessex Archaeology's Salisbury office from the west have been startled to see what looks like a huge Bronze Age axe on a roundabout.

Well, it is a huge Bronze Age axe rising from a barrow. And it is part of the public art associated with the adjacent housing development by Persimmon Homes.

Bronze Age Axe sculpture, looking north east

Before building work started Wessex excavated the site of the housing. One of the finds was a barrow and this provided the inspiration for the artists Angela Cockayne and Robert Fearns of Forge Projects.

Bronze Age Axe sculpture, looking south west

When viewed from the east, the Iron Age and Norman monuments at Old Sarum provide the backdrop. From this side you can also see on the shaft of the axe the coordinates of the roundabout. This is a reference to landscape, monument, and mapping. Near to the site an iron cannon was sunk into the ground as a survey baseline for the 18th century trigonometric survey of Britain. Wessex provided the GPS data to the artists.
Other plans for the public art include planting flower bulbs over the site of the Bronze Age barrow.

Bronze Age Axe sculpture, showing coordinates and looking towards Old Sarum and the Ordnance Survey cannon

Bronze Age Axe sculpture, showing coordinates. Photo by Angela Cockayne.

The coordinates on the Bronze Age axe sculpture, read: E414814.5, N133332.3, H77.538MOD.

Shipwreck dive videos online

Four videos, each exploring a historic shipwreck or protected submarine subject to designation under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973), have been made available online. The videos are available on YouTube, and explore the sites of the Wheel Wreck, HMS/m Holland V submarine, HMS/m A1 submarine and HMS Drake which lies in Irish waters.

These videos were made by Jenny Austin and Alex Pope who joined Wessex Archaeology in October 2009 to gain work experience with the Coastal and Marine team.

They took video footage recorded by our divers during routine surveys in support of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and edited them into video clips exploring each of the wrecks. Background information is given by an informative voice over explaining the history of each site.

Find out more about the work and discoveries of our Coastal and Marine Archaeology section.

View more videos on the Wessex Archaeology YouTube Channel.

Dive Videos Online

HMS DrakeFour videos exploring shipwrecks dived by Wessex Archaeology in support of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 are now online. The videos, available on YouTube, explore the sites of the Wheel Wreck, HMS/m Holland V submarine, HMS/m A1 submarine and HMS Drake which lies in Irish waters.
They were made by Jenny Austin and Alex Pope who joined Wessex Archaeology in October 2009 to gain work experience with the Coastal and Marine team.

The Festival of British Archaeology 2010

The Festival of British Archaeology is your unique chance to discover and explore the archaeological heritage of the United Kingdom. For the two weeks of the festival, which will run from Saturday 17th July to Sunday 1st August, you can take part in excavation open days, hands-on activities, family fun days, guided tours, exhibitions, lectures, ancient art and craft workshops and much, much more.

Wessex Archaeology will be supporting the Pilgrims and Pageants event at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in Salisbury. Our Explore the Seafloor team will be on site at English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology at Fort Cumberland, Hampshire,  to help visitors learn about the geology, archaeology and ecology of the seafloor with a range of interesting boards and hands-on activities. We will also be at the Kent County Show at Detling, Friday 16th - Sunday 18th July. Oxford Wessex Archaeology we will be giving the latest news about the discoveries made in this year’s biggest dig, the East Kent Access Road.

Find out about events near you on the Festival of British Archaeology website.

‘The Festival of British Archaeology is the Council for British Archaeology’s flagship event, a national archaeological extravaganza with hundreds of events which showcase the best of British archaeology and allow everyone to see archaeology in action. This year CBA is celebrating its 20th anniversary of coordinating this major event’.

Wessex sponsor major Wind Farm Conference

Wessex Archaeology is sponsoring a major conference on Wind Farms and the Historic Environment.

The event is being organised by Northumberland County Council and is being hosted by Newcastle University.

The one day conference will take place on 6th September 2010 at Newcastle University.

The conference will include contributions from national and local government representatives and heritage advisors, representatives of the renewable energy industry, cultural heritage professionals, barristers specialising in renewable energy casework and other professionals working in the sector. It will include a paper given by Dr Antony Firth, head of our Coastal and Marine archaeology section.

View the Wind Farms and the Historic Environment conference website to secure your booking.

Further Expansion in the Maidstone Office of Wessex Archaeology

Due to the success of our office in Maidstone, in December 2010 we moved to much larger premises offering our full range of archaeological services in Rochester, Kent.
Original article (June 2010):
Helen Glass has recently joined Wessex Archaeology to lead our team at Maidstone as Regional Manager. Helen comes to us from ARUP and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Her background is complimented by Brendon Wilkins (Senior Project Manager), another new addition to the company, who has returned to the UK after spending a number of years managing infrastructure archaeology projects in Ireland for Headland Archaeology.
Helen and Brendon have set up a new blog to cover business news and events from the south-east region and plan to update it frequently.
Wessex Archaeology Maidstone offers a full range of archaeological services, so feel free to get in touch to discuss your requirements.
Please contact our Rochester Office for further information.

Celtic feasts and Roman luxury

The Heritage Lottery Fund is awarding a grant of £36,600 to an exciting new project which aims to put people in north Wiltshire in touch with their prehistoric past. ‘Celts and Romans in North Wiltshire’ will investigate the rich archaeological heritage of north Wiltshire and involve teams of volunteers in exploring the Iron Age and Roman legacy of their area.

Excavating at Truckle Hill

The project focuses on two sites, Chiseldon near Swindon and Truckle Hill near Chippenham. Until a few years ago both sites were unknown and then within a couple of years of each other, a unique hoard of Celtic cauldrons was unearthed at one and completely new Roman buildings were found at the other.

Commenting on the award, Margaret Bunyard, Education Manager for Wessex Archaeology said "The grant will mean that we can help volunteers really take part in the exciting business of archaeology. We’ll be able to support them as they do the research, field-walking and excavation for themselves. A number of partners are helping us with this project, and together we’ll make sure as many people as possible know what’s going on. We’ll be sharing the results through open days, guided walks, and a big celebratory event next summer."
Explaining the importance of the award, the Heritage Lottery Fund's Head of Region for the South West, Nerys Watts, said: ‘We are particularly pleased to be able to help this project which brings two important and exciting archaeological sites to the attention of a wide range of people, particularly the young and disadvantaged. One of our key aims is to help people become actively involved with their heritage so we were keen to support this project that will involve volunteers at every stage.’
You will be able to follow their progress through regular blog posts and podcasts on our website.


European Maritime Day 2010

Wessex Archaeology is contributing to events marking European Maritime Day by holding a workshop in Paris on the archaeology of the Eastern English Channel. The workshop is taking place on 25 May and provides an opportunity for archaeologists and other marine researchers to share knowledge about a key area of sea lying between the UK and France. The workshop is taking place as part of the Marine ALSF project 'Use Many Times' that is re-examining high resolution data acquired for the Eastern English Channel Marine Habitat Map project in 2005-2006. At the time, the data were interpreted for geology, species and habitats; we are re-using this valuable data in 2010 to address archaeological concerns, including wrecks of ships and aircraft and evidence for prehistoric landsurfaces and deposits. Marine archaeology is intrinsically international in character. The Paris workshop provides an opportunity to share our inital results with colleagues and to gain insights from research from France. In turn, improved understanding will provide greater certainty in assessing the effects of marine aggregate dredging on the archaeological heritage in the Eastern English Channel. A further workshop will take place in the UK later this year.
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