Karen Nichols's blog

A Super-size Roman Pot!

3028 Jen Whitby as a human scale

Pots come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is larger than most! This large Roman storage jar, which originally stood about 60 centimetres high, comes from a site at Frithend in Hampshire, and was one of four similar jars found in one part of the site, where they seem to have been deliberately placed (probably as complete pots) in purpose-dug pits. At least two of the jars had been buried with deposits of burnt material, one also contained two smaller pots, and an iron axe had been placed in another. The site had been used for pottery production in the Roman period, as part of the Alice Holt industry of the Hampshire/Surrey border, and these four large jars are typical of the late Roman phase of the industry, featuring horizontal bands of white slip and combed decoration. Two of them show fairly severe firing cracks on the inside, but would still have been functional. It is possible that they served some practical purpose, such as the storage of dry goods. Alternatively, they may have been intended as a ‘closing’ deposit, marking the end of pottery production on the site. Coins and radiocarbon dates suggest that activity on the site was confined to the later 4th century AD, right at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.
The pots will shortly be deposited, with the rest of the site archive, with Hampshire Cultural Trust’s archive store in Winchester.
For more information about the site and to read the full report click here.

Week 3 of the Perham Down WWI Practice Trenches Investigation

Two and a half weeks of non-stop digging draws to a successful close. Most trenches are completed and recorded by the weekend, but the arrival of Rob and Scotty, with help from Matt, means that we can have a final look at the communications trench that runs parallel to the front line. An interesting aspect of this trench is the collapsed timberwork that was found in its base.
The last recording is completed in the front line of the trenches, and here another surprise awaits us. Dickie and Richard spot a piece chalk sticking out of the bottom of the section, but it doesn’t look like a natural lump − and indeed isn’t! When it is removed by Kathy we can make out what looks like part of a cap badge carved in the surface and some very lightly inscribed lettering. Undoubtedly there is more to be revealed when this is deciphered.


The geophysics information gathered by Jen, Becky, Rok, Ali and Nick over the first two weeks has been processed, with excellent results, illustrating very clearly the layout of the ‘German’ practice trenches in the area we are working in. The white ‘halos’ indicate metal present, much of it probably corrugated iron, particularly in the shelters. The geophysics plot shows more detail than can be made out on the aerial photographs, and also highlights several differences between the 1915 plan of the trenches and the layout that was eventually dug.
On the last Sunday we hold a short ceremony to remember those who, a century ago, took part in exercises in these practice trenches, in particular those who were then sent to fight at the Somme – and never returned. As a result of Richard Broadhead’s research we now know the names and details, and have photographs, of more than 30 of the soldiers, from the Middlesex and Essex Regiments, most of whom were only in their late teens or early 20s.


Tuesday sees the excavations backfilled, and the hay field returned to almost how we found it when we started on July 11th. Every one of the seven areas excavated has turned out to have an interesting story to tell, and what has survived, and what we have learnt about this system of practice trenches, have far exceeded expectations. We have only looked at a tiny fraction of this extensive system, so it does indeed represent an important historical resource, particularly given the possibly unique contemporary documentary evidence that we have to go with it.


So, what next? First, the finds are being cleaned and recorded by our keen and ever-reliable volunteers – the screw pickets, spent blank rounds and food and drink tins from WWI, and a variety of exploded ordnance pieces from WWII. Also, the ordnance and related pieces have been identified by Mark, who is also undertaking research on the exercises that took place in these trenches. Finally, later this year, we will produce a report on the excavations.
However, perhaps we might also consider another season of fieldwork – there are other elements of the Perham Down system we could look at, including one of the redoubts, a kitchen and a Battalion Commander’s post. With Breaking Ground Heritage now up and running, such a project covers all bases in terms of archaeological research and training, and this has proved an all-round winner in terms of interest and enjoyment.

Festival of Archaeology in Salisbury


The Festival of Archaeology at Salisbury Museum was a huge success, with large numbers of people attending and taking part in fun-filled activities for all ages. 
Phil Harding and Lorraine Mepham played a key role in the event by demonstrating archaeology in action. They excavated a test pit in the Museum grounds, which provided the opportunity for people to see the archaeological process as it happened, and to discover what lies beneath their feet. 
Prior to the event a team from Wessex Archaeology had carried out a detailed gradiometer survey over three small areas at the Museum. Unfortunately, because the results were dominated by ferrous material, the survey was unable to identify any magnetic anomalies which would have suggested potential archaeology. Therefore, when Phil and Lorraine started excavating we were unsure what they would uncover. 
Despite the survey results, the test pit did provide some archaeological evidence, and a range of finds was excavated, including medieval pottery, ceramic roof tiles and clay tobacco pipes. The finds were identified by Lorraine on site, and provided a chronological sequence – from medieval to modern – which Phil then matched to the stratigraphy. He was also able to relate this information to the history of the site, and to the wider story of Salisbury and its cathedral. Phil and Lorraine presented their findings during the Sunday afternoon lectures.
People had the opportunity to follow in Phil’s and Lorraine’s footsteps by getting involved in excavating and identifying artefacts, as well as putting together pottery jigsaws, and learning about the work of Wessex Archaeology – as usual, we had an information stand at the event. 
All the Wessex Archaeology staff involved in the event had a fantastic time, and we were delighted to see so many people enjoying themselves and engaging so enthusiastically with archaeology. 

Oxfam Trailwalker 2016 Success


This year, Wessex Archaeology entered three teams for the Oxfam Trailwalker 2016 challenge – 100 km non-stop across the South Downs in under 30 hours – organised with the Queen’s Gurkha Signals to raise much-needed funds for both Oxfam and the Gurkha Welfare Trust. 
The teams were:
  • Wessex Primary (Matt Tooke, Chris Hirst, Lincoln Spencer and Jack Laverick);
  • Wessex Secondary (Alexandra Grassam, Gareth Chaffey, Si Cleggett and Phoebe Olsen); and
  • Wessex Tertiary (Dave Norcott, Andy Callen, Rachel Williams and Guillermo Santamaria).
The teams were supported by Chris Brayne, Garreth Davey, Vi Pieterson, Paul Baggaley, Phil Weston, Lisa McCaig, Jo Lathan and Andy Crockett.


It was a very hot weekend, which makes any sort of endurance test particularly difficult. Team Primary, first out at 7am, had to face some of the hardest stretches of the course in the hottest weather. As the gruelling conditions took their toll, Matt and then Lincoln had to withdraw through injury, but it is a testament to Chris and Jack that despite their own discomfort they then joined with, and supported Team Secondary up to Checkpoint 8. By that point both had gone so far through the pain barrier that they also had to withdraw; this was along with Alex who was walking on pure adrenaline, but who knew that to continue might prevent Team Secondary from finishing within the required 30 hours.
However, we are absolutely delighted to report that Dave Norcott, Andy Callen, Rachel Williams and Guillermo Santamaria (Team Tertiary) completed Trailwalker 2016 in an excellent time of 27 hours 11 minutes, and Gareth Chaffey, Si Cleggett and Phoebe Olsen (Team Secondary) completed in 29 hours 30 minutes.
We are so very proud of each and every one of our Trailwalkers, and they can all, likewise, take great pride in their achievements, their team spirit and their grit and determination – not least because, through their friends, family and colleagues, and our business partners, the sponsorship total stands at just under £5k.

Festival of Archaeology in Bristol

2974 Setting up at Blaise Castle Estate

Our enthusiastic Wessex West team, alongside our partners at the WEA (Workers’ Education Association), had a fantastic day at the Blaise Castle Estate Festival of Archaeology, organised by Bristol Museum. This was our Bristol office’s first foray into outreach events and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience – rumour has it they can’t wait for next year!
While the younger visitors got straight into being trainee archaeologists in our sandpit excavation, older children tried their hand at measured drawing and the tricky business of pottery reconstruction. There was plenty for the older generations too, with advice on spotting archaeology in aerial photos and understanding stratigraphy, as well as information provided by our displays and brochures. There were many other stalls and displays at the event, including living history from Wulfheodenas and the Ermine Street Guard


The event sparked a lot of interest from members of the public in learning more about archaeology, and broader heritage themes, and the WEA was on hand to gather feedback on the types of courses they could develop to deliver just that kind of learning. 
The weather couldn’t have been better and the organisation of the whole event ran very smoothly. We are extremely grateful to the Bristol Museum volunteers for providing much-needed refreshments and snacks throughout the day, and we can categorically say ……………We’ll Be Back!

Sophie Feilder's Work Experience


When I arrived at Wessex Archaeology on the Monday morning, I was given a tour and was struck by how big the building was. Having had lunch and having been familiarised with my timetable, I was shown how the Survey department works by a lady called Roberta. She explained how GPS can be used to record the positions of sites and the features found in them, with 5 cm accuracy. She also showed me how to record the coordinates of different features of the carpark, using GPS. After this, I was shown how the information is processed and used to make maps of the site. This was interesting as the diagrams focused more on the positions and shapes of the features, and less on what they looked like.
On Tuesday, I spent the day with the Finds team. Here I was given a bowl of water and a toothbrush with which to wash pottery and animal bones from a site in Winchester. I enjoyed this as it was interesting to see patterns on the pottery emerging from the dirt. I was also shown how to mark the items I had washed with their site and context numbers using a quill and ink. I now know that this is important because it tells those analysing the finds exactly where on the site they were found. 
On Wednesday morning I visited the Coastal & Marine department. A lady named Peta told me that the department was responsible for dealing with archaeology underwater, such as shipwrecks, and preserving artefacts that had been accidentally brought to the surface. During this session, I was also told about photogrammetry and was given a camera with which to photograph a 19th-century relish pot. These photos were then downloaded into a computer program that was able to construct what it thought would be the 3D model. Although only half the pot could be seen, the program had been able to picture that half in surprising detail. 
On Wednesday afternoon, I visited the Heritage department where I was shown how to investigate the history of an area by Naomi. She explained how to match old maps to new maps, and showed me many websites that can display the protected sites in any area. This was interesting as I was able to see the protected parts of the village in which I live, and find out what it was that made them historically valuable.
On Thursday, I visited an archaeological site with an osteoarchaeologist named Kirsten. She explained why it was they were excavating and showed me around the site. I then worked with a team of other volunteers to bag and clean the various skeletons needed for analysis. I was surprised by how good a condition some of the skeletons were in and how much of them could be recovered as they had been buried hundreds of years ago. Kirsten explained how the ages of some skeletons could be determined by the circumference of the skulls, arthritic joints and which bits of cartilage had turned to bone. I was also shocked to see the terrible condition some of the teeth of the skeletons were in. 
On Friday, I visited the environmental department. Nicki explained to me how much of their work is geoarchaeology, and consists of looking at how the ground has changed over time. I was also shown several boreholes, which are long tubes of plastic that contain layers of soil from various time periods. By inserting these tubes up to 18 m into the ground, they could see the structure of the ground in as long ago as the Ice Age and how that structure has changed to form what it is today. After this, I was given a microscope and was shown how to identify different seeds, as these can also show what the ground was like and what took place upon it.
Overall, I learnt many things during my time at Wessex Archaeology. I saw lots of fascinating things and was taught by many friendly people. Archaeology has certainly become a more likely career path and should I choose to study it in the future, I now know which departments to investigate.
By Sophie Feilder, Work Experience

Saxon Bradford on Avon


On Friday 8 June 2016 I presented a talk to the Friends of Holy Trinity discussing the Anglo-Saxon origins of their church. Wessex Archaeology’s Bristol Office are currently engaged in monitoring the refurbishment works at Holy Trinity, and this has led to some exciting discoveries.
It has long been hypothesised that that the original minster church, reputedly founded by St Aldhelm in the early 8th century, stood on the site now occupied by the rather grand 12th-century church. Up until now, the supporting archaeological evidence for this theory mainly consisted of a finely carved piece of stonework dated to the late 7th or early 8th century, which was discovered in the 1860s and now repurposed as an alter in the famous ‘Saxon’ church of St Laurence, across the road from Holy Trinity. St Laurence itself almost certainly dates to the early 11th century, built during the reign of King Ethelred II ‘the Unready’.
WA recorded a sequence of burials discovered below the floor of the old boiler house at Holy Trinity. Initially these were thought to be medieval, but as the graves were cleaned it was apparent that one burial was truncated by the 12th-century nave. Permission was sought to take radiocarbon samples from two of the individuals in this location. The dates have come back as broadly 9th century (770–980 AD) and 10th century (890–1030 AD), and are almost certainly associated with an earlier church building on this site.
Volunteers from Bradford on Avon Museum and Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group have been assisting with cleaning finds recovered during the project and they have also had the opportunity to observe Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy, from our osteoarchaeology team, analysing the skeletal remains. All the remains will eventually be reinterred elsewhere within the cemetery.

Fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon


Although not Wessex-related fieldwork, last week I took part in fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon as part of the ‘Voices of Venice’ project, directed by Diego Calaon from the Universities of Stanford (USA) and Ca’Foscari (Venice, Italy), and in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Reading (UK). My participation builds on my existing research interest on the ecological impact of conquest and colonisation in the frontier landscapes of Medieval Europe, which has involved research across the Baltic, Hungary and Spain. 
Included in my trip was a presentation to the Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali at the University of Ca’Foscari. This highlighted the potential of environmental archaeology within the lagoon using the example of my research in the Baltic as part of the Ecology of Crusading Project. This was followed by coring of potential locations around the island of Torcello, and the nearby Roman town of Altinum, to retrieve material for palaeoenvironmental analysis. Located at the northern end of the lagoon, Torcello was one of the first islands to be occupied after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and includes the impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in the early 7th century. Torcello became an important population and trading centre by the 10th century before the rise of Venice as a major trading power in the Mediterranean. Much of the Roman town of Altinum was dismantled and used as building material in sites across the lagoon, including Torcello and Venice – the famous bell tower in the Piazza San Marco is largely made of Roman bricks although completely restored after collapsing in the early 20th century. The lagoon, and settlement of the various islands, have a complex and inter-related history and uncertain future, and it is hoped that palaeoenvironmental analysis will help to contribute towards our understanding of the historical, cultural and environmental development of the lagoon during the medieval period. 

New Geophysics Team Member


Our Geoservices department are delighted to welcome the newest member of our Terrestrial Geophysics team, Rok Plesničar, who joins us all the way from Kanal in Slovenia. Rok studied at the University of Ljubljana, obtaining a Master’s degree in archaeology in 2011. He first experienced geophysics while undertaking fieldwork in Greece as a student, and has since undertaken surveys throughout Europe. 
Following graduation, Rok became a member of the ‘Radio-Past: Radiography of the Past’ project, involving him with geophysical projects across Germany, Portugal and Greece. He has also worked at a researcher in the University of Ljubljana archaeology department, and as a freelance archaeologist on a wide variety of different projects. As you might imagine, Rok has acquired an enviable range of skills from his experiences! He is looking forward to this new challenge, and hopes to develop his existing knowledge as well as learning new skills. 
During his first fortnight, Rok has been getting to grips with our procedures and software in anticipation of several large fieldworks projects on the horizon, as well as getting to know the Salisbury team. We’re crossing our fingers for good weather next week for his first survey with us.
Welcome to the team, Rok!

Wessex Walkers on the Clarendon Way


On what started as a bright clear Saturday morning at the weekend, Gareth Chaffey, Andy Callen, Rachel Williams and Phoebe Olsen, four of our 12 Wessex Walkers entering Trailwalker 2016, set off at 08:45 on a team training walk. Their goal, to follow the Clarendon Way from Salisbury Cathedral to Winchester Cathedral as one last big training session before the main event on 23–24 July 2016. To make this an even more useful exercise, Andy Crockett went along too, to recreate 10 km checkpoints for the team, providing sustenance, cups of tea and coffee, and if needed gentle encouragement. It turned out none (gentle encouragement that is) was needed at all, and the team went along at a very comfortable pace for the full distance. The weather for the most part helped, though a truly torrential downpour at about the midway point was a nuisance. The team eventually covered 40.74 km in just 7 hours 37 minutes of walking, not bad at all considering the challenge for Trailwalker 2016 is 100 km in 30 hours, and arrived weary but satisfied at Winchester Cathedral at just after 7 pm – and everyone blister-free! Organised with the Queens Gurkha Signals, Trailwalker raises funds to support the excellent work of both Oxfam and The Gurkha Welfare Trust.
For more information and to consider sponsoring the team, please click on the link below.


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