Karen Nichols's blog

Recording of the Netheravon Cremation Urn

Wessex Archaeology’s Graphics Team has created a video which records the drawing of the Netheravon Cremation Urn. The Urn is an unusually large Early Bronze Age vessel, which was found in Netheravon, Wiltshire on MOD land. It was discovered due to badgers digging in the area which had unearthed pieces of the vessel. Subsequently excavation was undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in conjunction with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Operation Nightingale, which recovered a number of other objects including a copper chisel with an intact decorated bone handle, an archer’s wrist guard and cremated human bone. The Urn was put back together at the Wiltshire County Conservation lab.
Drawing finds is important as the illustrations provide a record of the object for specialists to use. The video clearly shows that the drawing of finds requires great attention to detail and is a very thorough process. Another way the graphics team has recorded the urn is via a 3D reconstruction using photogrammetry software. The entire object was photographed many times so that there was a 360 degree photographic record. Photogrammetry software then aligned the photographs by distinguishing key points to creat a mesh model of the object. The software was then able to calculate the texture and surface of the Urn and attached the photographs to the mesh model, thereby creating a 3D reconstruction.
By placing your mouse (or finger if you are using a tablet) on the image below you are able to examine the 3D model of the Netheravon Cremation Urn, you can rotate it and zoom in and out.
Once Wessex Archaeology’s specialists have finished with the Urn it will be returned to the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
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On Site with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage

Over the last couple of weeks Wessex Archaeology has been working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage running an excavation close to East Chisenbury uncovering Late Bronze and early Iron Age archaeology, with a little bit of Roman thrown in. The site includes a large Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden, enclosure ditches and a possible roundhouse.
The archaeological purpose of the excavation has been to develop greater understanding of the site and recover midden material excavated by badgers. The excavation though has been about more than just the archaeology, it has been about utilising the technical and social aspects of field archaeology to aid the recovery and skill development of service personnel and veterans who have been injured in conflict. A number of service personnel, veterans and volunteers took part in the excavation and processing of the finds on site. To develop greater contextual understanding of the site specialists came and taught ancient skills to those participating in the excavation such as blacksmithing, Iron Age cookery as well as pottery making techniques used in the Bronze Age and Iron Age; the activities were great fun as well informative.
Working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage has been a great pleasure and we thank everyone who has been involved over the past few weeks.


To find out about the finds uncovered at the site look out for our next blog.

Sherford Open Day Success


On Saturday 24 September 2016 Wessex Archaeology held its second open day at Sherford, Plymouth, Devon. The rather poor weather forecast did not deter over 750 people from attending. 
Visitors were given the opportunity to see the remains of a Bronze Age round barrow which we are currently excavating. As well as meeting the archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology, visitors were able to read information about the excavations to date and see some of the best artefacts that have been found on the site. Budding young archaeologists were able to try their hand at excavating in our sand pit excavations, which proved a bit hit. As well as Wessex Archaeology, visitors were able to speak to staff from the Devon County Council Historic Environment Team, the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and the Plymouth District Archaeological Society. All provided displays and hands on activities for all ages. 
The benefit of such an event was clear to all who attended. Archaeology is clearly popular amongst the local residents, therefore there was great engagement with the event and the open day was a pleasure to run. Value came from people being able to see and better understand the work happening in their local community, which in turn enabled people to develop a greater sense of place and understanding of their local heritage.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves during the day and we would like to thank all those who made it such a success. 
Bronze Age round barrow under excavation.

Public Open Day at Kings Gate, Amesbury


Last Saturday the public had a rare opportunity to come and see the excavations happening at Kings Gate, Amesbury. The public open day offered people the chance to learn about the ever growing story of Boscombe Down; see the site during excavation, view finds from the current and previous sites at Boscombe Down, and speak to archaeologists who are working there.
Many of the residents of Boscombe, local societies and children who attend the Amesbury Archer Primary School came to see the site; it was great to hear how proud the children are of their local area and heritage. Over 100 people attended the open day to engage with the landscape and learn about its history. Thank you to all staff involved in the event and all who attended.

Open Day at Sherford


We are pleased to announce our second archaeological open day at Sherford, Plymouth, Devon.


24 September 2016

10.00am to 4.00pm

Our team has been working on the site all year excavating some truly amazing archaeology including two Bronze Age round barrows, a prehistoric cemetery and a Romano-British settlement. Come and see the excavation of one of the barrows and learn all about our findings. Last year over 850 people came and enjoyed the open day. This year we there will be a huge amount to see and do including:
  • Displays and activities
  • Meet the archaeologists
  • Activities for children
  • Learn about fascinating evidence from the site 

Archaeology at Kings Gate

You are invited to attend a Public Open DayCome and see the recent archaeological works, which have revealed Iron Age roundhouses, granary stores and evidence of early prehistoric activity at Kings Gate, Amesbury.


17 September 2016
10am to 4pm
At the former Bloors construction compound
Postcode SP4 7GE
Please note: There is no parking available within the compound, Public parking is available at the adjacent Cricket Pavilion and nearby shops and roads, but please respect the local residents' drives and properties.
Sponsored by Wessex Archaeology and the Trussell Trust.

New Evidence for ‘Lost’ Church


Recent renovation work at Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon, has led to the discovery of some of the town’s Anglo-Saxon inhabitants and the possible location of a lost church.
While monitoring a £2million renovation and refurbishment of Holy Trinity Church in Bradford on Avon we have been making some surprising discoveries. The 12th-century church, located on the northern bank of the River Avon close to the famous ‘Saxon Church’ of St Laurence, has had major flood-protection work carried out and is being transformed into a versatile community space. Our archaeologists have carefully recorded and excavated graves affected by the planned works. The burials, which have been predominately Georgian or Victorian in date, are to be reinterred elsewhere in the churchyard. Despite the land being substantially worked over by previous generations, there was always the possibility for medieval burials surviving, and when the floor of the old boiler house was removed it revealed a sequence of burials which appeared to date to the earliest phase of the medieval church. We were intrigued to find that the remains of one of the burials were cut by the foundations of the 12th-century nave.


Our team instantly knew that this individual pre-dated Holy Trinity and must be associated with an earlier church building on this site’, said Bruce Eaton, Project Manager.
 ‘The question was how much earlier the burial was? Might this be evidence for the site of Aldhelm’s minster church, around which the town developed? The Church agreed to send two samples for radiocarbon dating from two of the lowest burials to the SUERC laboratory in Scotland, but we knew we would have to wait over a month for the results.
St Aldhelm, a bishop, scholar and contemporary of Bede (who praised Aldhelm’s treatise on the correct observance of Easter), is credited with establishing a monasterium at Bradford on Avon in c. 705 AD on land granted to him by King Ine of Wessex. Known as mynsters in Old English, these were missionary churches on the frontline of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. The minster churches held sway over large jurisdictions and, as Christianity developed into the state religion, became wealthy institutions, receiving the tithe payments of all the surrounding parish churches. 


The location of Bradford’s minster has remained a mystery. The site of Holy Trinity has often been put forward as a likely candidate. In the 1860s a finely carved stone slab dating to the late 7th or early 8th century was discovered in the church grounds, hinting at a high status building in the immediate vicinity. The stonework has since been reused as part of an altar in the Saxon Church of St Laurence. The Saxon Church itself has often been cited as another possible candidate for the minster, but it was almost certainly constructed after 1001 AD, during the reign of King Ethelred II ‘the Unready’, to shelter the relics of his murdered half-brother Edward the Martyr.
Two radiocarbon samples taken from the lowest burials confirmed that the burials were indeed Anglo-Saxons, broadly 9th century and 10th century respectively. To put this in to context, Alfred the Great was on the throne of Wessex during the latter half of the 9th century and his grandson Athelstan ruled as the first ‘King of the English’ during the first half of the 10th century. The burials probably relate to an earlier church on this site from at least the 9th century and strongly suggest that Holy Trinity occupies the same space as the original Anglo-Saxon minster.
All remains from the excavation are being analysed before being reburied. Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy, the osteoarchaeologist for the project, said, ‘The earliest burial remains include those of men, women and children. Most appear to have been well-nourished, and led physically active and healthy lives. Though quite a few individuals were relatively tall for the period, one man would have stood out at around 6’3” – some seven inches taller than average - and one woman was almost 5’8” - five inches above average for the period.
3043 Volunteers helping with processing
Volunteers from the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and Bradford on Avon Museum have been assisting cleaning the remains prior to them being studied. We have been delighted to be able to offer this opportunity for volunteers to get involved with this project and I would like to thank them for all their hard work. Wessex Archaeology is committed to engaging with local communities and sharing our discoveries with the wider public.
Joanna Abecassis, Rector of Holy Trinity, commented, ‘These finds which the Wessex team have been uncovering have been the cause of great excitement at Holy Trinity – not only on our own behalf, but on behalf of the whole town! It fills you with a real sense of wonder – and also humility – to think that Christians may have been worshipping on this site for over 1300 years... and, what’s more, only 700 years after the life and death of Christ.  And it is quite extraordinary how we have come full circle, in that one of the major aims of our regeneration project is to be able to play our full part as a Parish Church at the heart of our community. The Wessex team have done a great and very professional job – thank you!’ 
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Shorelines Literature Festival


Wessex Archaeology’s Graham Scott will be ‘in conversation’ with Jerwood Prize winning artist Adam Dant on the theme of Shipwrecks of the Estuary at the Shorelines Literature Festival at Tilbury on 17th September 2016, part of the Estuary 2016 Festival. Graham’s involvement arises out of the work undertaken by Wessex Archaeology for the new London Gateway Port

Bromham – Rowdefield Project

2016 will see the third season of the Wiltshire Museum Archaeological Field Group (AFG) excavations near Devizes, supported by Wessex Archaeology (WA) and Archaeological Surveys Limited (AS). Phil Andrews of WA co-directs the excavation with Jan Dando of the AFG, whilst David Sabin and Kerry Donaldson (AS) undertake geophysical investigation.
3033 Photo courtesy of Mike McQueen, Wiltshire Archaeological Field Group.
Five years of fieldwork are planned, with publication of the results in 2020. WA’s involvement follows the conclusion of the very successful Truckle Hill community excavation (2007−12) in NW Wiltshire, which saw investigation of the area around the North Wraxall Roman villa, including a well-preserved bath-house and two earlier shrines.
Further details of the Bromham – Rowdefield Project can be found by following this link to the AFG website, but our challenge here is to make sense of this complex site which has been subject to several cursory investigations and a variety of interpretations in the past. 
Already we have identified a pair of adjacent oval enclosures of probable Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date, a possible Middle Bronze Age D-shaped enclosure and two Early Iron Age oval enclosures. Overlying most of these prehistoric features is a sequence of Romano-British remains including a variety of enclosures, a very clearly defined trackway, a midden, possible structural remains and a pair of crop dryers.
So, thanks to the goodwill and very considerable support from the farmer, we are about to embark on a further 10 days of investigations at the beginning of September. Again, we would like to answer more questions than we ask, but there is plenty on this intriguing site to whet the appetite!

Investigating Yorkshire U-boats

A Wessex Archaeology diving team helped by local divers and historians, including John Adams of the local Filey Underwater Research Unit, are currently investigating First World War German U-boats off the Yorkshire coast for Historic England. Pictured here is the control room of the UC-70, whose wreck lies in about 25 m depth of water in the North Sea, close to Whitby. The photograph was taken by Tom Harrison, a Bournemouth University archaeology graduate and SCUBA instructor who recently joined the Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine team.
Project Officer Paolo Croce, a graduate of Southampton University’s maritime archaeology programme, explained how this photograph was taken:
Tom took this photograph whilst conducting a video survey of the submarine using a GoPro set to take both HD video and automatic stills. To overcome the lack of light and the silty water, the camera was mounted on an extremely powerful Seawolf Orca video light. Tom simply lowered the camera and light through holes in the pressure hull. The conning tower of the submarine is no longer in place, so Tom was able to gain access through the hatch that provided access to the crew between the control room and the tower. We did not go into the submarine ourselves, as this can be a very risky procedure and is likely to disturb the interior. We must remember that the UC-70 is a grave.
The submarine has been the subject of a ‘dive tour’ published in Diver magazine. Therefore, as well as producing a report on the condition of the submarine for Historic England, we hope to produce a more detailed plan for use by future diving visitors.
The investigation of this and other sites off Whitby and Bridlington will be completed on Friday 16 August 2016.
By Graham Scott, Senior Archaeologist and Dive Superintendent
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