Karen Nichols's blog

Excavations at Bulford


Prehistoric monuments, Saxon graves and military features from WW1 and WW2 have been uncovered during pre-development works on Ministry of Defence land in Bulford, Wiltshire, which is earmarked for 227 new Army family homes.  
Archaeological features were first discovered during pre-planning application trenching by Wessex Archaeology working for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and its consultants WYG. Further investigations revealed an Anglo-Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves, with grave goods including spears, knives, jewellery, bone combs and other personal items. One of the burials has been radiocarbon dated to between AD 660 and 780 which falls in the mid-Anglo-Saxon period in England.
The site’s development is part of wider plans to accommodate the 4000 additional Service personnel plus their families who will be based on and around Salisbury Plain by 2019 under the Army Basing Programme. In total, the MOD is planning to invest more than £1 billion in the area which will provide 1017 new homes for service families, 2500 new bed spaces for single soldiers and the construction, conversion or refurbishment of 250 other buildings within bases, such as offices, garages, workshops and Mess facilities.
DIO Project Manager Andy Corcoran said: “The discovery of this important Saxon cemetery was completely unexpected. Every care has been taken to ensure that all the archaeological remains on the site have been carefully excavated and recorded, as part of the MOD’s continuing stewardship of the archaeology of Salisbury Plain.
A further phase of excavation is planned to examine the two adjacent prehistoric monuments beside which the Saxon cemetery was established. These appear to consist of Early Bronze Age round barrows that may have earlier, Neolithic origins. They are to be granted scheduled monument protection by Historic England and will be preserved in situ in a part of the site thatwill remain undeveloped. Neolithic pits outside the monuments contained decorated ‘Grooved Ware’ pottery, stone and flint axes, a finely made disc-shaped flint knife, a chalk bowl, and the bones of red deer, roe deer and aurochs (wild cattle).
During WW1 the site was used as a practise trench training area and there is evidence to suggest that a field farrier may have re-shoed horses and mules there before they were sent off to war. The site was also home to WW2 anti-tank firing ranges.
To find out more about this site click on this link.

New archaeologist in Coastal & Marine Team


My name is Maddy Fowler and I’m an archaeologist that has just joined the Coastal & Marine team at Wessex Archaeology. I recently completed a PhD in Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University, South Australia, and I am a qualified PADI Divemaster.
Most of the work I’ve done in maritime archaeology has been on 19th-century shipwrecks in Australia and New Zealand and I hope to bring the technical skills I have gained to British maritime heritage (which is quite different!).
During my first week at Wessex Archaeology I have met most of the Coastal & Marine team, completed induction and started to plan the wide array of training I will need to undertake in the coming weeks, including courses in GIS, UXO identification, personal survival techniques (PST), and dry suit diving (something I haven’t had reason for in Australia!). Also, I spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the Protocols for Archaeological Discoveries, especially how to process finds reported through the Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol for the Reporting of Finds of Archaeological Interest. I have also been brought up to speed on the Marine Antiquities Scheme which has recently undergone consultation.
I look forward to the coming weeks and getting stuck into the nitty gritty of archaeology with the Coastal & Marine team. In particular, my training will continue next week when I join a wharf visit to promote awareness of the Protocol for the Marine Aggregate Industry. I hope that the community-based experience I gained during my PhD with the Narungga Aboriginal community, and a background in teaching archaeology, will help me in the forthcoming community engagement and outreach.

Coastal & Marine Intern – Month 2


So it’s about time that I posted an update on what I have been doing here at Wessex. For the past couple of weeks I have been given a full refresher in object recording. With large numbers of finds from the London Gateway dredging project due to be leaving for their respective museums, a variety of finds needed recording using various techniques. I was given the responsibility of selecting the best methods to record each find based on my own judgement. Some finds were drawn, measured, photographed and were recorded through photogrammetry, while others just needed a basic timber record and photograph. Finds drawing, measuring and photography is nothing new to me, but photogrammetry was something I’d not done before. It took me several attempts and a little bit of assistance from other staff within Wessex Archaeology to get it right, but I would now say I am confident to produce 3D records of objects. The sheer number of finds and the assortment of materials that I had to deal with made it a true hands on learning experience. Now the next stage begins – packing. All of the finds destined for museums now have to be properly packed and prepared for their journey with the advice of Lynn Wootten, our resident conservator.
Others tasks in recent weeks have involved the archaeological protocols, namely the Marine Aggregate Protocol for the Reporting Finds of Archaeological Interest. Finds are reported to us by the dredging companies and our task is to identify the object, report it to the Receiver of Wreck, plus write up a few paragraphs to report back to the workers on the wharfs and vessels. The details of the finds are also reporting to the National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) and the local Historic Environment Records (HER). I’ve now done several of these, ranging from cannonball, to mammoth tooth, to a CO2 temperature gauge from a ship’s fire extinguishing system. It’s still early in the year so many more are to be expected.
Other than the finds recording and protocols, for the last few weeks I have just been settling into my new job well, already slowly filling my desk with paper work. Loving the job so far, I am still learning so much, but also using the knowledge and skills that I gained from my Masters degree, and with the sun now trying to appear though the grey skies, bring on the summer diving season!

Isger Vico Sommer - Working in Scotland


Isger joined the Coastal & Marine team in Edinburgh in October last year as a project officer, having previously worked with the Maidstone and Bristol offices on terrestrial fieldwork projects. He lived and studied in Denmark for his Masters in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southern Denmark where similarities in climate have allowed him to adapt quickly to the Scottish weather; although adapting to the Scottish customs is proving more challenging.  
Previous to joining Wessex Archaeology Isger worked on underwater archaeological projects in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria and Spain where he has done extensive underwater archaeological excavations, digital recording, surveying, monitoring, outreach and research. He specialises in naval architecture of the post medieval period, but has a fascination with vessels from all periods. 
Since joining Wessex Coastal & Marine he has worked on a range of different topics, ranging from desk-based assessment, written scheme of investigation, investigations into First and Second World War losses, conservation management plans, archive work, and timber recording. As part of the dive team, Isger has also helped co-ordinate the planning of wreck investigations and snorkel surveys. With many more exciting projects coming his way he is ready to dive into the archaeology of Scotland, like the evolution of the Scottish shipbuilding techniques and when the first Irn-bru was drunk at sea.

Alyssa Bissonnette - My First Month


My name is Alyssa Bissonnette and I have recently finished my first month of employment with Wessex Archaeology, which flew by, might I add. I have been working out of the newly relocated Maidstone office, with days both in the field and back at the office. I am a recent MA graduate in archaeology from the University of Bristol, but completed my BA in archaeology and anthropology in my native country, Canada, at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario. 
Through my studies I have been fortunate enough to dig on a variety of sites including a World War II trench site in England, an 1812 battlefield site in Fort Erie Canada, a Huron Wendat long house site in Tay Point Canada, and a historic plantation site in Bermuda, where I dug slave burials. My main focus through school has been Historic Archaeology, due to its abundance in Canada. That said, I have a constant desire to expand my knowledge and skills when it comes to archaeology, and working with Wessex Archaeology has given me the much anticipated range and experience in excavation which I could not have acquired back in Canada. 
This first month working with the Maidstone team has already given me a taste of the diversity English archaeological sites have to offer. I’ve worked on a trial trench evaluation, been given training in site surveying, and acquired the ever so important CSCS card (Construction Skills Certification Scheme card). I have also had the chance to work with our Salisbury office on some geophysical and GPR surveys. In addition to field work I have also had the chance to work on post-excavation tasks such as processing finds, which on extremely rainy days, does not make me miss the field. Furthermore, I have done data entry and work associated with a public archaeology event. Working with Wessex Archaeology, even in this short time, has already given me great excavation and post-excavation experience which was only grazed during my archaeological career so far.
I look forward to my future endeavours with Wessex Archaeology as I hear there are many projects coming up soon. My colleagues have recently been excavating cremation burials and I hope dig something similar in the near future. I have to say that everyone I have worked with and talked to at Wessex Archaeology has been not only knowledgeable and hardworking, but kind, friendly and supportive. I have very much enjoyed my first month surrounded by people who truly care about archaeology, doing the job right, and most importantly enjoying every minute of it as I do. 
By Alyssa Bissonnette, Archaeologist (London & SE)

HMS Namur

2729 Painting by Richard Perret (1806)

The amazing discovery of the remains of a ship beneath the floor of the Wheelwright’s Shop at Chatham Historic Dockyard has been identified as HMS Namur, which was launched this month 260 years ago
The Namur was a Second Rate ship-of-the-line (90 guns) launched in 1756. Namur had a distinguished service career and fought in several significant naval actions during the Seven Years’ War and Napoleonic Wars. The ship also has a range of significant associations: Charles Austen, the brother of the famous author Jane Austen, was Captain of the Namur in 1811 and James Alexander Gordon who was Superintendent at Chatham Dockyard between 1832 and 1837 served as an officer on Namur during the Napoleonic War. Further, Olaudah Equiano one of the earliest authors of an African slave memoir served on Namur during the Seven Years’ War! 

Volunteer Conservation Training


During March, Wessex Archaeology Conservator Lynn Wootten provided a series of training workshops for Wessex Archaeology volunteers. The training gave volunteers the opportunity to learn about archaeological conservation through the topics of preservation and burial environments, the use of X-rays and the packing and handling of artefacts.
The workshops were run in the daytime and the evening so that the majority of our volunteers could attend if they wished to. All of the workshops were met with great enthusiasm from the participants − Lynn’s passion for her role paired with the chance to see, handle and understand a wide range of artefacts provided a winning combination.  


The training taught the volunteers about factors affecting the survival of bone, metal, textile and organic remains as well as glass and stone. The training then used case studies to highlight how to best protect and preserve artefacts based on their material and condition. The knowledge gained during the workshops will come in handy for our volunteers who work with the finds team processing a variety of material.


The workshops illuminated the science behind the processes we use and were enjoyed by all.

Ben Saunders - Working in Scotland


Ben joined the Wessex team in Scotland last November. He is fortunately at home with conflicting identities so being part of the Wessex team furthest from our head office in Salisbury, as well as being a terrestrial fieldwork archaeologist within the Coastal & Marine section, is not a problem.
Despite much of his archaeological experience being on, or more precisely just underneath, land he has spent much of his spare time working on sailing vessels, primarily in the mud-flats of North Kent. His research background is in maritime trade across the Indian Ocean, looking at diaspora communities and the mechanics of trade during the medieval period. The varied work at Wessex has allowed him to expand his understanding of trade networks throughout history, including researching Merchant Navy wrecks from World War II, and looking at the medieval Hanseatic League.
The move to Wessex has also given him an opportunity to improve his understanding of archaeology within the planning process, writing several desk-based assessments (DBAs), heritage statements and written scheme of investigation (WSIs) for projects across the UK. However, as the weather improves he is looking forward to getting out into the field again and wearing the rust off the shovel blade, with a number of interesting projects around southern Scotland lined up for the next few months. 

Working with Archaeology Groups in the South East


Site Recording Training

On Saturday the 19 March members of the London & South East Team ran a workshop for the Cliffe at Hoo Historical Society on fieldwork recording in preparation for the society’s research excavation this summer. 
The session combined the experience of the staff at Wessex Archaeology and the enthusiasm and local expertise of the historical society. We began with an opening presentation on the importance of the site recording and an introduction to the methods and equipment that we use as professional archaeologists. This was followed by a series of work sheets with exercises to get the members thinking about how they would excavate and record certain features, for their own excavation. Practical demonstrations and exercises in composing photographs and site surveying using a dumpy level were also set up for the participants to try their hand at. 
We are looking forward to two more sessions working with the Cliffe at Hoo Society in April and May, continuing the programme in preparation for fieldwork later in the year!

Mametz Wood


Wessex Archaeology was privileged to be involved in honouring fallen soldiers of WWI through processing finds from Mametz Wood. Richard Osgood, Senior Archaeologist for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation led an excavation at the site of Mametz Wood on the Somme, in the summer of 2015. Mametz Wood was the objective of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First Battle of the Somme; the attack occurred between 7 July and 12 July 1916. The battle is remembered for the loss of Welsh lives and the words of those who served, which included the poets Robert Graves, David Jones and Siegfried Sassoon. Those who accompanied Richard on the excavation included veterans, serving soldiers, bomb disposal personnel, professional archaeologists and individuals who had a connection to the battle; all went to pay their respects to those who served on both the Welsh and German side of the battle.


Richard offered volunteers from Wessex Archaeology the opportunity to process finds from the excavation. The majority of finds bought in for cleaning and packing came from the German trenches and were associated with a fallen German soldier. There were items which were particularly poignant, such as his pipe and one of his boots; these focused thought onto the life of the individual and the lives of all those other men who fell alongside him. Human bone was not bought back; the remains that were recovered during the excavation were laid to rest in Fricourt German war cemetery. The finds included uniform, gas mask, entrenching tool, water bottle and food tins as well as ammunition and shrapnel, all of which were carefully processed. All the finds were fragile, however considering they had survived heavy weaponry attack and nearly 100 years under the earth they are in surprisingly good condition.
Richard Osgood will be using the finds from Mametz Wood to commemorate the centenary of the Somme, including having them on display at the Chalke Valley Festival.
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