Karen Nichols's blog

Extracting the Past

868 Kingsmead Quarry

We are happy to announce a public exhibition to showcase the finds and story behind the excavations at CEMEX's Kingsmead Quarry, Horton. 

Extracting the Past 

Wraysbury Village Hall, Saturday 27th April 2013 10.30am to 3.30pm
For more information about this event click here
For more information on this site click here

Stop Press!

865 Nicki Whiteman interviewing Site Director Gareth Chaffey

Excavations at Kingsmead Quarry have attracted much publicity over the last week. With the press release on Wednesday 6th March detailing the unique and unprecedented finding of four early Neolithic houses, interest in the story was immediate, particularly within the archaeological community. The story spread to news websites such as Past Horizons and to social media -twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and has been followed through the blogs and videos on the Wessex Archaeology website. The 277 edition of Current Archaeology featured the discovery too. 
Further interest from the media continued - Maev Kennedy writing for The Guardian on Friday 8th March and from BBC Berkshire. On Monday the story made it onto the main BBC News website, and Site Director Gareth Chaffey was interviewed by Nicki Whiteman of BBC Radio Berkshire about the discoveries, including discussion of some of the artefacts recovered from the Neolithic houses. 
Further interviews with local newspapers such as The Windsor Express and Slough Observer will continue to bring the discoveries to local audiences. The story has been attracting interest from the aggregate industry too. 
Related links:

Early Ships and Boats


864 HMS Ramillies

Wessex Archaeology has recently completed a strategic desk-based assessment for English Heritage looking at Early Ships and Boats from Prehistory to 1840.
At present, very few boats and ships are offered statutory protection in England in comparison to the large numbers of known and dated wrecks and even greater numbers of recorded losses of boats and ships in English waters. One way of expanding this designation base is to take a thematic approach. The theme of early ships and boats, from Prehistory to 1840, was recommended because of the special technological, historical and human interest of these early vessels.
The aim of the desk-based assessment was to produce a dataset of all know and located pre-1840 craft in England and English Territorial Waters. The final dataset comprise 384 records including designated and undesignated wrecks, boat burials, logboats, historic vessels and findspots of craft or timber. 
Following assessment 88 of these (87 undesignated wrecks and 1 logboat) were identified as candidates for further assessment and potential statutory protection. The first of these have been selected by English Heritage for further investigation in 2013. Work will be carried out by Wessex Archaeology on behalf of English Heritage as part of the contract for the provision of services in relation to marine designation for 2013-15.  For more about this project click Early Ships and Boats.

Historic Scotland seminar


On Tuesday 5th March, Historic Scotland held a seminar in Perth on the transition from the Protection of Wrecks Act to Historic Marine Protected Areas. Presentations were divided into three themes, ‘Advancing knowledge and making information widely available’, ‘Improving stewardship of key marine heritage sites’ and ‘Developing wider understanding and enjoyment’
WA Coastal & Marine Scottish staff were present in force and gave three of the twelve talks of the day. 
Dr Dan Atkinson gave a talk on ‘Professional training needs’ in the marine sector. Following a consultation survey a broad cross-section of the marine sector responded from heritage and industry professionals. Key findings include greater awareness for training and Continuing Professional Development as well as the need for training to be more than one one-off events. A major area identified for development and understanding is the ‘marine-terrestrial’ interface in the context of recent changes to marine legislation.


John McCarthy gave a talk summarising all of the various projects WA Coastal & Marine have undertaken in Scotland in support of the HMPA transition, including legal guidance for Historic Scotland, diver surveys of Sicar Rock and the Iona I  and a multibeam survey at Scapa Flow
Dr Andrew Bicket spoke about results of the two year OHCCMAP project in the Outer Hebrides. The results of recent work in the Outer Hebrides by WA C&M between 2011 and 2013 – the Outer Hebrides Marine Archaeology Pilot Project - were presented at the seminar highlighting three themes. Marine Resource Exploitation, Maritime History and Transport and the potential for Submerged Prehistory in the Islands. Modelling of prehistoric landscapes suggests a complex network of inundated seaways within the Sound of Harris from the Mesolithic onwards as well as a number of key locations for future fieldwork. The importance of local knowledge and oral history to the project has made the investigation of a number of remote field sites possible and we were able to examine the legacy of individual farmsteads and people and their use of the surrounding landscape; including marine resources and their use of the sea.
We also took the opportunity to announce the upcoming SAMPHIRE project which will build on the results of OHCCMAP. 
Dr Antony Firth of Fjordr took the opportunity to highlight the need for responses to his Wave and Tidal guidance document before the 15th March. Other speakers represented SCAPE, RCAHMS, HS, Rising Tide, Marine Scotland, the NAS and ALGAO. The seminar will be followed on the 6th by a related seminar focussing on Battlefields. 

The making of a Neolithic house

816 SketchUp model

Our interpretation of the house is based on several sources of information. At Horton all that was preserved is the ground plan, the below ground voids left from long decayed timbers. However, our floor plans are very similar to other buildings elsewhere in Southern England, the Midlands and Ireland. In Ireland houses of similar type to the one reconstructed, occasionally caught fire, which can leave the stumps of charred timbers preserved in the ground. We also know about woodworking and woodland management at this time from areas of wetland peat where timber trackways of early Neolithic date (3800-3300 BC) have been preserved. Some of these trackways are quite elaborate and give us a good idea of which wood was selected, how timber was split, worked and shaped and what woodworking joints (eg, mortices)  were in use. Tool marks on timbers also give us a signature of what type of cutting blades were used, and we know they had toolkits that included axes, adzes and other flint blades.  
Over the last forty years people have also attempted to build various replica prehistoric structures – a good test as to whether a dwelling will work in practice.  We have also taken notice of other visual reconstructions, for which there are many.
Armed with this knowledge and guided by what we had found below ground through careful excavation we set about the following visual reconstruction. We based the reconstructed house on the first of the four Neolithic houses discovered at Horton in 2008. The ground plan shows several deeper post-holes where the main upright timbers would have been. The doorway was set to the right on one of the building’s end walls. The end walls are not straight but bow slightly inwards, and one of the long walls has a slight kink at about half way. Towards the back of the building the post-holes and foundation trench is deeper indicating that this building was heavier at the back, so probably that half had a second storey. There is an internal division towards the back of the building which is possibly the central supporting wall. Just in front of this dividing wall are two smaller post-holes which might have held the uprights for a ladder or steps to reach the upper floor. During the Neolithic the farmers would only have had stone, wood and bone tools to build this construction. Mortice joints have been used in the model to attach a wall plate to the top of the main uprights, and a tie beam across the middle dividing the building into two rooms. We believe the foundation trench could have been dug to take the base of plank walls. The walls were probably made of solid oak. We know from experimental archaeology that oak timber can be split using just wooden wedges and hammers, often into very large planks. To see phases of construction watch the Construction Video. We do not know for certain if the roof was pitched or sloping but it was probably thatched or covered in turf.


The model was initially built using AutoCad and SketchUp. During construction various types of plank width and roof styles were tried, until we reached the model we felt best fitted the archaeological record and supporting archaeological evidence from other sites. To see the 3D model watch the Model Video

Once constructed the 3D model was moved into another package called Vue Infinite. It was here a clearing was constructed based on the archaeological evidence we have gathered for the local environment at that time. These people grew crops such as spelt wheat and lived in woodland clearings. The archaeological record includes pollen from soil samples which give us information about the type of trees and plants growing at the time. Horton was an excellent choice for house building in the Neolithic with good fertile soil for farming, ample supplies of timber in the woodland and a river nearby to provide clean water for the people and their animals. The final scene was used to create some still images, but just because we can, we output another small video clip. To see the finished model in Vue watch the Final Video.
For more about our work at Horton click

Southern England’s first housing development


Four early Neolithic houses (3700 BC) have been unearthed by archaeologists at CEMEX’s Kingsmead Quarry, Horton in Berkshire. The discovery is unprecedented on a single site in England and challenges our current understanding of how people lived more than 5,700 years ago.

806 Reconstruction of one of the Neolithic buildings

This rare find will give us a unique opportunity to learn more about the earliest permanent settlements in prehistoric Britain and how such sites developed. At this time new practices were being adopted with people switching lifestyle from hunter-gather to settled farmer.

810 Recording an Early Neolithic house

Few houses of this date have been found in England and rarely has more than one been found on a single site. These discoveries by excavators from Wessex Archaeology are key to enhancing the knowledge and understanding of this period nationally, and at a local level tell us more about the history of the area around the Rivers Colne and Thames near Windsor.
“Unfortunately only the ground plans have survived as any timber would have rotted away long ago”. “However, we have a good idea of what these structures may have looked like from the many house finds in Ireland, from experimental work reconstructing prehistoric buildings, and (for wood working techniques) from timber-built walkways of the same date, such as the Sweet Track, that were found preserved in the peat deposits of the Somerset Levels”. 
“These finds add to our knowledge of life in Neolithic times and how buildings at that date were constructed,” comments Dr Alistair Barclay, Wessex Archaeology.
The houses were probably built by pioneer farmers that had moved into the area bringing with them the knowledge and woodworking skills necessary to construct substantial buildings. The area was ideal for a settlement – it was close to the River Colne and there would have been ample woodland nearby.

811 Three of the Early Neolithic houses discovered at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton

All the houses were rectangular in shape with the largest being 15 x 7 metres. Two were constructed out of upright oak planks set into foundation trenches, whilst the others were built using wooden posts. 
Pottery, flint tools, arrowheads, rubbing stones for grinding corn and charred food remains were recovered from the buildings confirming the lifestyle of the inhabitants and the approximate age of the houses. 
Radiocarbon dating has been used to confirm the age of one of the houses (3800–3640 BC) and further dates will be obtained for the other buildings later in 2013, on the charred remains of cereal and hazelnut shell. 


The excavations are part of CEMEX’s £4 million archaeological programme on the site, which has been in operation since 2003. Andy Spencer Sustainability Director, CEMEX UK said “As well as getting valuable building materials from the land that go into construction projects, quarrying has given us some wonderful archaeological finds that tell us more about our ancestors and how they lived. At Kingsmead, the scope of the finds covers thousands of years and has provoked some probing questions about the people who lived there.” 
For more information about our work at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton click

Berkshire Day School

805 Kingsmead Quarry, Horton

Latest discoveries from Kingsmead Quarry, Horton presented at the Berkshire Day School
Last Saturday (March 2nd) Gareth Chaffey presented the latest discoveries made at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton to the Berkshire Archaeological Society at their annual day school held at The Cornerstone, Wokingham. The excavations, funded by CEMEX UK, have been running since 2003 and each year the Day School provides an opportunity to tell more of the story of Horton’s archaeological past. Last year’s excavation revealed an in situ early Mesolithic flint scatter, part of a new Middle Bronze Age farmstead, and other exciting discoveries. Those that attended the talk were the first to view two short animations that have been created by Karen Nichols of Wessex Archaeology that show how a prehistoric houses was constructed and a ‘meet the ancestors’ view inside.  

Lions, and tigers and bears

802 Wessex Archaeology's Salisbury Office

On Saturday 2nd March 2013, Wessex Archaeology hosted the 15th meeting of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group. The group was set up in 2005 to facilitate the exchange of ideas between animal bone specialists and to establish a mutually-beneficial support network providing continued professional development to its members. Meetings are held twice yearly at venues throughout the UK, the theme of the most recent meeting was mammalian carnivores in the archaeological record: methodological and interpretive aspects. The morning seminar session included talks on everything from cave bears to wolves, and polecats to ferrets, while the afternoon session was taken up with the practicalities of trying to differentiate between closely relate species. 
803 Animal skulls. A: Dog B: Bear C: Grey seal D: Lion and Tiger E: Pekingese

Marmalade for the students?


Recent excavations at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, produced a number of cylindrical marmalade jars, recovered with other debris from a feature interpreted as a store-room. Three jars were kept as a sample. All bear the mark of the Keiller marmalade company of Dundee. 
The origins of Keiller’s marmalade are supposed to lie, possibly apocryphally, in a shipment of over-ripe Seville oranges bought by James Keiller and used by his wife, Janet, to make marmalade. The brand was founded in 1797, as the first commercial marmalade brand, and its defining characteristic from the beginning was the characteristic scraps of rind in the preserve. By the late 19th century it was being exported around the world.


Each of the three jars from the College store-room carries a different transfer-printed label, which date the jars to different points in the company’s history. The earliest bears the legend ‘James Keillers [sic] Marmalade, Dundee’. The company became James Keiller & Son in 1828, so this jar must date between 1797 and 1828. The second jar has a more ornate label, which boasts the ‘Only Prize Medal for Marmalade, London, International Exhibition, 1862’, while the third carries a similar label, but also including the ‘Grand Medal of Merit Vienna 1873’. The design of the latter continued in use until the end of the 19th century, but the addition of a date letter ‘H’ below the wreath on the label dates this jar to 1880.

Wortley Tin Mill, Barnsley


Staff from the Sheffield office have recently undertaken a community archaeology project at Wortley Tin Mill, Barnsley in collaboration with Hunshelf Parish Council, the East Peak Innovation Partnership and the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society. The project involved the production of a desk-based assessment, landscape survey and on-site and off-site training. 
The site formed the southernmost works of a group in the Penistone and Tankersley parish area known as Wortley Forges, which were significant in their early adoption and pioneering of iron working techniques. It is commonly held that in 1743 a tin mill was constructed on the site, one of the earliest such operations outside of Wales. Its subsequent reuse as a rolling mill in the 19th century appears to have not significantly altered the works despite its subsequent demolition. 

784 Wortley Tin Mill

An important contemporary description of the tin mill is provided by R. R. Angerstein in his Illustrated Travel Diary 1753–55: Industry in England and Wales from a Swedish perspective (Berg 2001, 219). He describes the tin mill as comprising a rolling mill with reheating furnaces, a workshop for annealing and the removal of scale, a workshop for pickling and scouring and another one with three pots for tinning, polishing and the removal of the thick tin on the lower edge. Around the turn of the 19th century the mill ceased tin plating, concentrating on the production of rolled bars and plate. Correspondence from the last quarter of 1887 relates how the Earl of Wharncliffe was looking to sell off the machinery at the tin mill, with a suggestion that the machinery had been ‘blown up’ in December of that year destroying the rolls. Historic map evidence shows that the site was in decline by the end of the 19th century; this decline appears complete by the beginning of the 20th century. 
Archaeological surveys were conducted at the Site during the 1980s and 2000s. The recent survey, involving members of the local community, largely confirmed previous work, indicating little had changed at the site. The positions of possibly three water wheels were identified. The first had an associated curving head race located within a terrace created from two stone walls. A southern building separated into two cells by an internal division was also identified next to the wheel. 


The second wheel related to the main building complex shown on the 1855 OS map and almost certainly post-dated the third wheel. The third wheel was located well away from the buildings identified on the 1855 map and may relate to an earlier structure. Other features identified at the site included a tail race for two of the wheels and workers cottages.
The desk based research and site survey has helped establish the significance of the site, the current condition of the extant structures and has outlined a number of further research questions for the site. 
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