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Kitty Foster's blog
This is my blog of the week I spent doing work experience at Wessex Archaeology. I've been interested in history and archaeology since primary school and I still go to the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) in Salisbury. Every day was brilliant and it was absolutely wonderful to broaden my experience with archaeology. I would like to be an osteoarchaeologist in a few years.
In the morning, I had a tour and met most members of staff. In the afternoon, I was with the coastal & marine department (Peta and Tom). I then went over to unit 2, looked at different finds to start off with then we laid out part of a plane and recorded it by taking photos and measuring it. We then took some photos of a pot so a photogrammetry model could be made, which is still probably being completed. Next, I learnt how to do detailed scale drawings of artefacts, for this we used quite a large bit of timber from an old lifeboat. I then helped Peta with finding some information from ship plans.
In the morning, I headed over to environmental where I met: Mai, Emma, Orla and Dudley. First Mai taught me how to sort through wet samples taken from dig sites, then we placed the stones, gravel and small finds (if there are any!) into the oven where it will usually remain for two days. Obviously, we couldn’t use the samples that had just been put into the oven so Mai found some dry samples which we used to find any small finds and separate it from the dirt and gravel. Mai taught me the process of separating a tray. First we had to sieve the whole tray through a set of sieves, next, starting from the biggest sieve and working our way down, we needed to find some small finds and separate them into the different categories, eg, charcoal and bone, then we had to put the finds into small bags, weigh them and label them. After lunch I headed over to the finds department where I met Sue and Erica and spent the afternoon labelling finds.
This morning I went to the Graphics and Surveying office where I met Virva and Roberta. Virva took me outside so I would learn how to use the surveying equipment. Once back inside Virva showed me how to edit the area by changing the units and adding extra points to the site. In the afternoon, I was in the finds department washing finds with the volunteers.
For this day I spent the whole day in graphics working with Nancy, the first thing I did was drawing Roman pottery then we scanned my drawings and edited them on the computer such as filling in some areas and adding a scale to the drawings. After lunch I drew some other finds including an Iron Age bone comb.
In the morning, I was back in environmental doing a different task this time I was looking at different soil samples from different sites underneath the microscope and working out the type of ground and area as well as looking at how much it had changed overtime and finding out the different species of plants that grew there. In the afternoon, I was talking to Kirsten and Jackie, the Osteoarchaeologists at the company, about their work and what they do and learning how it isn't just about identifying skeletons it's also about looking at the burial as a whole and working out why it was done in that way, and why was this person buried like this.
I would like to thank everybody at Wessex Archaeology for such an enjoyable week!
By Miranda Roberts
My name is James Wright and I have recently joined Wessex Archaeology’s Sheffield Office as a Built Heritage Technician. Following my return to education as a ‘mature student’, I graduated from the University of York with a BA in Archaeology last year. Since then, I have been working as a Planning Intern for Calderdale Council, assisting with the preparation of their Local Plan (focusing on the Historic Environment Policies, which means I have some experience of built heritage from a slightly different perspective, which I hope will prove useful!)
It was my passion for buildings archaeology and the historic environment that was the driving force for me returning to education − my aim was to secure a position in the field that I felt so enthusiastic about, and so I feel very excited to begin my career with Wessex Archaeology.
Since starting, I have begun undertaking my training, which will continue over the coming days, weeks and months − next is my photographic and survey training, and then a trip to the archives!
In 2016, following earlier English Heritage investigations, additional excavation and a geophysical survey were undertaken at this remarkable Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden site by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Landmarc.
A substantial ditch and bank which enclosed the midden were confirmed – a proto hillfort? – along with clear evidence for contemporary settlement represented by a complex of postholes associated with timber structures. Large numbers of finds were recovered including pottery, animal bone, some disarticulated human bone, spinning/weaving equipment and a possibly unique copper alloy ‘pendant’.
The report made available here presents the results of the two-week excavation, with further investigation proposed this year, specifically to open a larger area and identify roundhouses and other structures amongst the plethora of postholes recorded in a narrow trench in 2016.
On Thursday 23 March Ashley Tuck and Jess Tibber from the Sheffield Office attended a Historic England Heritage Practice programme addressing Organic Residue Analysis (ORA) and Pottery Production Sites. It was a full day of talks and interactive sessions, chaired by the local Science Advisor Andy Hammon.
Introducing the principles and potential applications of organic residue analysis, it was very exciting to hear how the field has been developing, and the possibilities, including the prospect for radiocarbon dating pottery in the near future. Absorbed residues were shown by Evershed in ‘Organic residue analysis in archaeology: the archaeological biomarker revolution’ (2008) to survive in >80% of domestic cooking pottery assemblages worldwide. Although this can vary, it shows just how much potential additional information is waiting to be discovered! Dairy fats, carcass fats, plant waxes, beeswax and resins can all be separately identified and help us to better characterise pottery uses across sites and regions. The training session also covered the importance of targeted questions when considering the use of this technique, and the best practice for onsite retrieval, and post-excavation treatment of pottery samples.
The afternoon session was about anticipating and locating pottery production sites, and understanding the available methods and strategies for examining and recording these types of site. Local ceramic specialist Chris Cumberpatch gave a talk about the existing production sites which we are currently aware of in South Yorkshire, and the crucial importance of how we deal with any future sites in the area.
The day was very thought-provoking, and it also provided a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow heritage professionals and discuss the potential for applying these techniques to past and future Wessex projects.
For further information please see:
Our latest report on excavations at Steart Point peninsula, near Bridgwater is now available (Living on the Edge: Archaeological Investigations at Steart Point, Somerset by Lorrain Higbee and Lorraine Mepham). The results of the excavations, undertaken in some very poor weather conditions, have shown how local communities in this marginal environment exploited and battled the dynamic coastal landscape from the Iron Age to the 17th century. The peninsula is located in the coastal lowlands of the Somerset Levels, an area that has been exploited for its rich natural resources since prehistoric times, but one that has been prone to marine inundation and flooding for thousands of years.
Four area excavations were undertaken, as well as geoarchaeological assessment, a survey of the lidar data for the peninsula, and a documentary search. Evidence for occupation was recovered, probably temporary or seasonal during the Iron Age, and later in small, isolated farmsteads during the Romano-British and medieval/post-medieval periods. The inhabitants practised a mixed arable and pastoral economy and, despite their isolated location, demonstrated trading links with Devon and Dorset, later with the Bristol area and even the Continent, probably through local markets such as Bridgwater. The threat of flooding, however, remained constant, and probably caused the abandonment of the Romano-British settlement in around 350 AD, and the post-medieval settlements in the early 17th century, both events which reflected wider patterns of settlement retreat around the Severn Estuary. A study of the historic maps has shown just how dynamic the coastal landscape was, with islands in Bridgwater Bay appearing, changing shape and disappearing in rapid succession.
The landscape is still evolving and the economy changing. After centuries of the construction of successive coastal defences, the current development by the Environment Agency (EA) in conjunction with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) has led to the reversion of a large part of the peninsula to managed saltmarsh and freshwater wetlands, providing an extensive wildlife habitat as well as vital flood defences.
Read more about the project here.
To purchase the book click here.
On Monday 13 March Wessex Archaeology Scotland attended the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) Skills Workshop ‘Learn about Lithics!’ organised by the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It was hosted at the National Museum of Scotland allowing a closer look behind the scenes of the famous Museum!
The workshop started off by introducing our team into the practical aspects of identifying lithics especially in a Scottish context, led by lithics expert Torben Ballin. Following the introduction, we discussed the commercial archaeological approaches to lithics together with Julie Lochrie from Headland Archaeology. To complete the session Anna MacQuarrie described how the lithics recovered from archaeological sites are displayed in museums and what process they have to go through. Wessex Archaeology was very grateful to be invited to such a great workshop and would like to thank the organisers and all other participants!
‘Mid-brown with an orange hue, silty sand with moderate sub-angular small pebbles’ as I look down at my context sheet beneath the blazing Australian sun I am eternally grateful that soil is soil the world over. Since starting work in Australia I have discovered a lot of things are very different: coins stamped in 1838 are venerated with awe, light rain means ‘stop working’ and the term ‘Post-medieval’ suddenly makes very little sense. But soil is, thankfully, still soil.
Another thing that does not change is the necessity of creating consistent detailed records of archaeology as it is excavated. Which ideally requires a company standard recording manual to provide guidance to field staff. Accordingly, TerraCulture Heritage Consultants (one of the most established archaeology companies in Victoria) has decided to create their own recording manual as part of a drive to improve company standards. The first stage in this process was to find an existing recording guide to base their guide on. After consultation, it was decided that the best available guide is the Wessex Archaeology Field Guide which was kindly provided by Wessex.
The next stage will be to adapt the guide in line with Australian standards and TerraCulture’s existing recording system, with the existing Wessex Field Guide standing in as a temporary manual for new recruits until the Australian version can be circulated. But until such a time, in a corner of a foreign field there will be a site that shall forever be recorded like Wessex!
by Joe Page, Archaeologist, TerraCulture Heritage Consultants
The built heritage team has recently recorded a group of 18th–19th-century farm buildings, including a Grade II listed farmhouse, at Steart Farm, Buck’s Cross, near Bideford on the north Devon coast. The Level 4 record was carried out for RPS Planning and Development in advance of construction of the new Route 39 academy on the site.
The work included detailed digital 3D measured survey, photography, fabric analysis and documentary research. Analysis of the plan form and fabric of the farmhouse suggests the earliest part may date from the 17th–early 18th century, which is older than that suggested in the listing description. This early house had a simple rectangular plan, with walls constructed of cob and timber ‘A’ framed roof trusses. At one end was a large inglenook fireplace, the focal point of the house, providing heat and where all the cooking was done. The farmhouse was extended to the south-west with a service range added during the mid-18th century.
On one side of the inglenook fireplace was a ‘cloam’ oven, a feature characteristic of traditional north Devon houses. Cloam ovens were built of clay and made locally in the Bideford and Barnstaple area, a centre of clay oven construction and distribution from the 17th–19th centuries. The surveyors were surprised to discover a re-used cast iron ingot with visible maker’s stamp that had been used as a lintel over the oven opening, albeit inserted upside down. On close inspection, the stamp reads ‘PRINCIPO * 1727’.
The significance of this feature was not at first apparent, however research has indicated that the iron ingot or ‘pig’ is a rare survivor of the Principio Iron Works in Perryville, Maryland, USA. The works was established in 1719 and operated from 1723 being the earliest in the county and one of the first in the American colonies. It has been estimated that approximately 50,000 tons of pig and bar iron were exported from Maryland to Britain between 1718 and 1755, perhaps half from the furnaces of the Principio Company. Most of this went to London, but some consignments were sent to other ports, amongst which may have been nearby Bideford.
Steart Farm was part of the large Rolle Devon estate during the 18th–19th centuries. During the late 19th century the estate was run by the prolific philanthropist and builder Mark Rolle (1865–1907) who was responsible for many improvements to farm buildings across his estates in south and north Devon. Rolle’s work can be seen at Steart Farm in the characteristic red brick dressings and features on some of the buildings (see left and below). Rolle constructed a new cow shed or shippon (later converted into a bungalow) attached to the existing barn and, as part of this general improvement, a horse engine house was built so that fodder could be processed for the cows kept nearby.
Following the death of Mark Rolle in 1907, Steart Farm was sold to meet inheritance taxes. It continued for some time as a small independent farm for most of the remaining years of the 20th century, but was eventually sold and ended up as a camping and caravanning park until this closed in 2014. Despite the new development, this is not the end of the farm, as the farmhouse, and some of the historic outbuildings will be incorporated into the academy complex.
Wessex Archaeology was invited by the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society to give a talk on the SAMPHIRE project. After arriving in Falkirk Isger Vico Sommer gave an hour-long presentation about three years of SAMPHIRE and the legacy it created. Highlights were the Ardno and Galmisdale wrecks. The members of the Society were very enthusiastic about the SAMPHIRE project and rewarded our speaker with tea and biscuits!
On Friday 3 March the Littlehampton Civic Society hosted my talk on ‘Nets, Wrecks & Artefacts’, discussing the Fishing Industry Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries. I reprised the talk at Littlehampton’s
Look & Sea Visitors Centre on the following Monday and continued to share the contribution that the Sussex fishing fleet are making to the understanding of our shared maritime heritage.
The talks were well attended, with over 40 people at the first, and around 30 at the second. The Look & Sea presentation was followed by a fantastic lunch with the audience who had just been enlightened as to how the project operates, the ease in which finders can report material either through myself, via the website or MAS app, and a selection of the more recent finds was on display. These include: an early 15th-century cast iron cannon, an 18th-century lead ingot or ‘pig’, an early 19th-century rigging block, aircraft fragments and remains, anchors and mystery objects, along with a wide range of bottles and other items. This allows us to trace our maritime heritage from the medieval through to the 20th century using finds reported and shared by the fishing community of Sussex in the last 12 months. Both talks ended with lots of audience questions: from the survival of bone in the marine environment to the long term preservation and display of artefacts via ownership, salvage, the Merchant Shipping and Treasure Acts.
There was also a lot of interest in the finds I had brought along to show people illustrating the sort of material found off the Sussex coast and how hard some of it is to see or identify whilst working in a wet and hazardous environment whilst on the moving deck of a fishing boat.