Karen Nichols's blog

Canterbury Christ Church University Partnership

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Over the past year Wessex Archaeology has been working with Canterbury Christ Church University to develop a series of work placements and projects for their second-year students. These form part of their new module for 2016/2017 – Applied Humanities Employability in Practice – for students in the Humanities Department. The aim of the module is to complement the theoretical elements of their undergraduate studies with practical, work-based experience. This will give them the opportunity to develop a valuable understanding of a business and work environment.
 
Mark Williams, Regional Manager London & South East at Wessex Archaeology, said ‘This is an excellent opportunity for a professional organisation like Wessex Archaeology to work with a respected teaching establishment, to help students prepare themselves for the workplace. We have had a very positive response from the students and look forward to our continuing work with them’. 
 
Watch this space in the coming weeks for updates from the students themselves.  
 

European Award Win for Wessex Archaeology's SAMPHIRE Project

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Wessex Archaeology is delighted to announce that SAMPHIRE, our marine heritage project, which used a unique crowd-sourcing method to map archaeological sites along the west coast of Scotland, has won the prestigious European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards 2017. SAMPHIRE, which was funded by The Crown Estate, was devised and run by Wessex Archaeology, using the expertise of Dr Jonathan Benjamin, and former Wessex Archaeology Manager John McCarthy who is now based with Dr Benjamin at Flinders University in South Australia. 
 
Our award win comes in the Education, Training and Awareness-raising category, since the project team worked with local communities along Scotland’s west coast to help find previously unknown archaeological sites in the marine environment. This was done through face-to-face meetings with harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and others, as well as with local residents in the coastal towns and villages. Once the identified locations had been recorded, the most promising were visited by teams of professional and volunteer archaeological divers to verify the information received.
 

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The European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards was launched by the European Commission in 2002, and has since been run by Europa Nostra. It celebrates and promotes best practices related to heritage conservation, research, management, voluntarism, education and communication. In this way, it contributes to a stronger public recognition of cultural heritage as a strategic resource for Europe’s economy and society. The Prize is supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Independent expert juries examined a total of 202 applications from 39 countries across Europe, and chose just 29 winners in a number of different categories.
 
Chris Brayne, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, said:
 
"We are delighted to have been announced as a winner of this prestigious European prize which celebrates best practice in heritage conservation, research, management, education and communication. This was an innovative, collaborative, project which involved over 100 members of the local community along the coast of West Scotland. We were very fortunate in being able to partner with a great many local and national organisations including community dive clubs and scientific partners such as the Scottish Association of Marine Science"
 
Wreck sites recorded by the SAMPHIRE project include:
 
The Yemassee (an American cargo ship lost in 1859) 
The schooner Medora (lost in 1860)
The Falcon, a previously unlocated paddle steamer built in 1860 and lost in 1867 with great loss of life
The Lady Middleton (a schooner lost in 1868)
The Iris (a brig lost in 1874)
The Lord Bangor (a wooden ship lost in 1894)
The Cathcartpark (a steamship lost in 1912 near the island of Iona)
The Hersilla (an armed iron naval yacht lost in 1916)
The SS Viscount (lost in 1924)
The Sheila (an early MacBrayne ferry built in 1904 and sunk in 1927)
The Mafeking (a salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover the Sheila)
The SS George A. West (a wooden steam trawler lost in 1927)
The Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942)
The Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933).
 
Full details of the project’s discoveries are available online, and reports for each year contain detailed accounts of the discoveries made. These can be seen on the SAMPHIRE website here. Data gathered during the project will be archived with Historic Environment Scotland, and also be made available through their Canmore website, ensuring that the knowledge passed on is permanently stored and accessible for future generations. 
 
Chris and the SAMPHIRE team will be presented with their award by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Placido Domingo at an event in Finland on 15 May 2017.
 
 

Archaeology Visiting the Classroom

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On 27 February Wessex Archaeology’s Senior Community & Education Officer Rachel Brown travelled to Plympton, Devon to run some sessions in a local school based upon the archaeological findings from the nearby Sherford site, funded by the Sherford Consortium. We have previously run a number of outreach events to share the discoveries at the site with the local community on behalf of the developers and the school visit was a part of this on-going work.
 
Rachel worked with Year 6 and Year 3 students at Goosewell Academy. The Year 6 students investigated artefacts that had been found at Sherford, to discover what can be learnt from the finds about the people who had inhabited the land over the last c. 8000 years. They also looked into the Bronze Age round barrows discovered on site, which deepened their understanding of prehistoric activity at Sherford. The lesson allowed the students to learn about their local environment, how landscapes change over time, and also supported the National Curriculum work they will be doing in the summer term based around prehistory. The Year 3 students also learnt about finds from the site and discovered how the archaeologists at Sherford conducted the excavation, this linked to earlier work the Years 3 students had been doing on archaeology.
 
The visit provided an excellent opportunity for students to engage with their local history and environment.
 
 
 

Kirkthorpe Weir and Hydropower Station

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In 2015 Yorkshire Hydropower Limited and Barn Energy, began the construction of a new low head hydropower station adjacent to the Grade II listed Kirkthorpe Weir and Sluice Gates, on the River Calder, Wakefield. The hydropower scheme will use the flow of the river to power a single 500kW axial turbine to generate approximately 2.3 million units of electricity per year. 
 
During November 2016 Wessex Archaeology carried out a photographic survey of the Grade II listed weir and sluice gates as part of the works, when the opportunity to record the structure arose during a time when an unprecedented amount of the structure was visible. 
 
The extant weir and its sluices were constructed in 1827, replacing an earlier original weir dating to the early 18th century, and was granted Grade II listed status in 1986. The weir was constructed at Kirkthorpe as part of the Aire and Calder Navigation, when in 1699 an Act was passed in Parliament to improve the navigability of the River Calder from Castleford to Wakefield, essential for trade and the development of the area. 
 
The weir and its sluices have remained largely intact for the last 200 years almost and are the property of the Canal and Rivers Trust. The construction of the new hydropower station symbolises a new era for the site.
 
The new hydropower station was officially opened on 13 March 2017 by Sir John Armitt, Deputy Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, in a ceremony at the site which Wessex Archaeology were kindly invited to. We are privileged to have been part of such a fantastic project.
 
Further information on the prestigious project can be found at:
 
By Lucy Dawson, Project Manager
 
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Sheffield Witch Flies to New Home

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One of the more unusual artefacts that Wessex North inherited from ARCUS was a large wooden sign from a building on Corporation Street in Sheffield, removed during the demolition phase of sites along the ring road. Affectionately known as ‘The Witch’ the sign comprises a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick with the word MAGIC underneath. Discussions on local forums suggest that the sign was erected as part of a Halloween promotion advertising mattresses at ‘magic prices’. Since it was not directly relevant to the building it came from, Sheffield Museum didn’t want to add it to their social history collection. After some quick research, I found a museum in Cornwall called ‘The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’ and I thought they might be interested in having the sign. It turns out they are! So after a long stay in the basement in the Sheffield office, she is finally flying down south to her new home in Boscastle. 
 
Here is a link to the museum should anyone be in the vicinity, one of the more unusual repositories Wessex has sent finds to!
 
Assiciated Links
 
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Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) have moved!

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After nearly seven years we have left our old premises at North St David Street and moved to 21-23 Slaters Steps, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, near to the Scottish Parliament! The new building boasts a large open-plan office space over two levels, a laboratory space, storage unit, and conference room. With the addition of some plants and decorations depicting some of our key projects, the team have started feeling at home.
 
Following our recent recruitment drive we will be increasing the size of our team, in our shiny new office!
 
 
 

Iron Age Flax

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This huge quantity of flax capsules and stem debris has been recovered from an Iron Age ring gully near Doncaster, and are thought to be the by-products of flax retting.
 
Flax – Linum usitatissimum –  is a plant first brought into cultivation during the Neolithic in Europe and south-west Asia, and for which two main uses have been recorded in archaeological, historical and ethnographical sources.
 
First came the use of linseed and linseed oil for cooking, of which we have abundant evidence since the Neolithic in many sites across Britain and the rest of Europe. Later came the use of fibres for textile production. 
 
Before they can be used for textile production, flax fibres need to be extracted through a process called ‘retting’, which consists of soaking the flax stems until they partially break down and the fibres can be extracted. This is known to have been done in features such as pits, ditches and even river channels. There is archaeological evidence for that process in Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age sites in Denmark but little evidence exists in Britain until the Saxon and medieval periods. Most archaeobotanical evidence in Europe is preserved in a carbonised state, because organic matter does not usually survive in archaeological sites unless there are special conditions such as waterlogging, freezing, desiccation or mineral replacement (as in latrines). For that reason, only in very few occasions we can recover evidence from activities unrelated to the use of fire, such as the extraction of fibres for textile production.
 
This is a really exceptional piece of evidence and we are thrilled about having the opportunity to study these lovely waterlogged samples.
 
 

HMS Caroline

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Members of the Edinburgh team visited HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the iconic Battle of Jutland (1916), at her mooring at Alexandra Dock, Belfast in early February, following her return from dry docking at Harland & Wolff. Caroline, part of the collection of historic ships held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has been undergoing a full restoration and advanced conservation to return the ship to as close a representation of her 1916 Jutland appearance as possible. The project also concentrated on developing interpretation to the public, educational facilities, improving access, safe-guarding historic fabric and enhancing the understanding of the ship, following her decommissioning as the floating base for Ulster Royal Naval Reserve in 2011.
 
Wessex Archaeology have been involved with the project since early 2014, where Dan Atkinson, Graham Scott and Rosemary Thornber conducted an extensive archaeological survey, the most comprehensive to date, and produced the first Conservation Management Plan for the ship and the associated Alexandra Dock. Since then the refit has been underway, with more recording work required on the exposed deck planking of the starboard waist, potentially dating to the WWI era. 
 
The most recent visit by Ben Saunders followed the return of Caroline after extensive hull repairs in dry dock and the repainting of the hull to bring her back to the Battleship Grey colour she would have worn at the Battle of Jutland, with a smart deep red below the waterline. The refit work is almost complete and Ben is currently updating the Conservation Management Plan to account for the fantastic work that has been completed during restoration; exposing original fabric throughout the ship and bringing her back to life. A particular highlight are the four 1914 Parsons steam turbines within the now accessible engine rooms, which have been carefully cleaned and conserved, exposing fascinating insights into their installation on the ship.
 
Dan and Ben will also be working on a Maintenance Plan for HMS Caroline, helping her keepers to ensure the ship continues to be in first class condition. Many thanks go to Victoria Millar, HMS Caroline’s Curator, and to Billy Hughes, the Ship’s Keeper for all of their help and support.
 
 
By Ben Saunders, Archaeologist

Churchdown Lane, Hucclecote

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An excavation by Wessex Archaeology West in Hucclecote, Gloucester sought to establish whether a site at the Hucclecote Centre, in Chuchdown Lane had some relationship with a known Roman villa to its north. The villa, excavated in the early 20th century, was dated to c. AD 150 but was probably still occupied in the early 5th century, and appeared to sit within a well-established Romano-British landscape.
 
Our excavation identified two phases of coaxial field system, one pre-dating the villa, the other, incorporating a metalled road or trackway apparently leading towards the villa, contemporary with it. Extensive remains of ridge and furrow cultivation were also identified, the alignment of which appeared to respect the earlier ditches, suggesting that vestiges of the Romano-British  landscape were still visible in the medieval period.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
 
 

Unique Prehistoric Find From Chisenbury?

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This tiny but enigmatic object was found in late September 2016 during excavations undertaken by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation. It came from the base of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden at East Chisenbury on the Salisbury Plain Training Area; a site remarkable for the quantity of late prehistoric ‘rubbish’. The surviving mound (approximately 3 m high) was apparently enclosed by a substantial ditch and had many postholes indicating associated structures.
 
Made of copper alloy and weighing just 3 g, the loop on the object may indicate it was worn as a pendant of some type, while its overall form is, perhaps, in some way reminiscent of a human figure. A 3D photogrammetric model has been created of the object in order to fully appreciate its delicate shape and form. Due to its size of only being just 24 mm high, a macro zoom lens was used to take the required photographs needed for the photogrammetry software.
 
 
The object is currently thought to be unique – it has not been claimed by Romanists, and prehistorians have, so far, failed to come up with any parallels. If anyone has seen anything similar we would love to know – a zipper pull has been suggested several times … it isn’t!
 
 
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