Kitty Foster's blog

Living on the Edge – Excavations at Steart Point

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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.
 
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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.
 
 
 
 

ScARF Lithics Workshop

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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!

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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!

 
 
 

Wessex Recording Manual Goes Down Under!

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. 
 

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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
 
 
 

A Rare Iron ‘Pig’ from Steart Farm, Devon

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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.
 

3322 Cloam oven with re-used cast iron ingot

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.
 

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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.
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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. 
 
 
 
 

Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society

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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!
 
 
 

Littlehampton Talks on FIPAD

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.
 

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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.
 
 
 
 

Ambergate Covered Reservoir

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The Heritage Team from both Salisbury and Sheffield has recently carried out recording work at Ambergate Reservoir in Derbyshire. A Historic England Level 2 survey was undertaken as part of a planning condition required by the Amber Valley Borough Council, in advance of the redevelopment of the site which will include the decommissioning and replacement of the covered reservoir. 
 
Ambergate Reservoir was constructed in 1910, to an Edwardian design, as part of a wider scheme by the Derwent Valley Water Board. The whole scheme supplied drinking water to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield via a series of reservoirs along the upper reaches of the River Derwent in Derbyshire. Originally three such covered reservoirs were planned but, only Ambergate was built. The reservoir had a capacity of 28 million gallons or nearly 106 million litres.
 
The scale was enormous, with reinforced concrete side walls 15 m thick at the base and 436 brick piers supporting a network of steel beams onto which a reinforced cast concrete cover was poured. The maximum depth of water was approximately 7 m when full. Clean water entered the 10.8 m deep octagonal inlet well via a tunnel where it was stored. Water was then pumped down several pipes to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield from a 10.8 m deep hexagonal gauge well. In case of over filling, the reservoir was constructed with two giant overflow pipes.
 

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Defined as a confined space, the dark cavernous interior, measuring 190 m long and 112 m wide and 8.20 m deep, was photographed using ultra long exposures under challenging conditions and with strict health and safety guidelines. Measured plans and cross sections were also produced so that there is a full record of the reservoir.
 
 

'Capability' Brown's Last Great Work

It is Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s last great work, a sweeping landscape designed around an imposing stately home. At first glance it looks like many other Brownian sites, a haha surrounds the house, a long drive curves around to the entrance and there are beautiful views across wood pasture fields. But hidden in the corner is a rare and mysterious feature − a huge curved kitchen garden wall. Kitchen gardens are a common part of stately homes, and most of the surviving ones were built in the mid- to late 19th century and consist of a fairly standard quadrilateral design. However, an early Ordnance Survey map from 1815 shows the garden at Berrington as round (it looks a bit like an egg with the bottom cut off), but by the time the 1844 Tithe map was made most of it has disappeared and been replaced with a standard square design. Only the curved northern section remains.
 
3305 1815 Ordnance Survey map (left) and 1844 Tithe map (right). Images provided by the National Trust
 
The National Trust want to renovate the walled garden and need information to support their plans so they asked Wessex Archaeology to investigate. Did Brown really design a curved garden or is the early map just a bad drawing? If there was a curved garden who demolished it? When did they do it and why? We decided on a three pronged attack – examination of the structural remains, geophysics and of course, a few trenches!
 

3307 The old wall on the left, cut short by the new wall on the right

First the wall: straight away we could see that the curved part of the wall had been cut short and the rectangular wall built up against it; this implies that the curved wall is earlier. Also, the brickwork patterns in the curved wall and rectangular wall are different, which suggests they were built at different times. So it looks like the curved wall could be original Brown and the rectangular wall is a later. Next the geophysics: we picked up the remains of several old buildings and, more importantly, what looked like a continuation of the curved wall buried beneath the car park, so we put a trench right over it but found nothing! Perhaps all the old bricks had been removed and reused to build the new wall or perhaps the line visible in the geophysics was nothing to do with the wall at all? 
 
Looking at all of the evidence, we still think its most likely that the curved wall is an original Brown design and the rectangular wall is later. Geophysics, old maps and even remains in the ground can sometimes be misleading and it’s up to us, the archaeologists, to make a decision. Perhaps you disagree… some old maps and photos are included here, what do you think?
 
 
 

Milepost on Boreham Road, Warminster

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Wessex Archaeology has recently been involved with the conservation and refurbishment of a Grade II listed milepost which was commissioned by HPH Ltd. The milepost was located on the south side of Boreham Road, Warminster, Wiltshire. Listed building consent was granted for the restoration and relocation of the milepost with the new location in a prominent position approximately 30m further to the east.

 

The cast iron milepost, which was erected circa 1840, reads:

SALISBURY 20, WARMINSTER 1
 
In addition, it has ‘WARMINSTER’ (the parish name) inscribed in smaller lettering across the plinth, although over time it appears that the ground surface had risen up so that the lower lettering and ‘1’ mile distance to Warminster had become buried.
 
The milepost was manufactured by Carson and Miller, who ran the Wiltshire Foundry based in East Street, Warminster. Over forty similar mileposts, many of them stamped ‘C & M W 1840’, can still be seen on roads radiating out from Warminster as well as other examples in Wiltshire, north Dorset and east Somerset. In addition to mileposts, Carson and Miller were well known for producing numerous agricultural implements, many of which were exported to places such as New Zealand, France and Germany.
 

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An unexpected discovery during the excavation and removal was that the cast iron milepost was set into an earlier, 18th/early 19th century milestone beneath it. This milestone is inscribed:
 
To Warminster Town Hall Half a Mile, Sarum 20 Miles
 
Due to the discrepancy in terms of its distance to the town hall, it seems likely that the earlier milestone has been relocated from its original position and simply used as a useful base for the later cast iron milepost. A milestone measuring approximately half a mile from the town hall is depicted on Andrews’ and Dury’s 1773 Map of Wiltshire and this appears to show the earlier stone’s original location. 
 
Throughout the project, Wessex Archaeology was closely involved with members of the Milestone Society who have labelled it a ‘possibly unique’ example due to the use of an earlier milestone as a later base. The excavation and reinstatement work was carefully carried out by local builders R Moulding & Co under close supervision by Wessex Archaeology staff.
 
Once in our Salisbury workshop, specialist conservation and refurbishment works were carried out by our ICON accredited conservator Lynn Wootten and her team. This involved cleaning, treating the rust and repainting the milestone. A 3D photo model, which involved taking hundreds of digital images of the joined milepost and milestone, was created so that future researchers can closely examine both items following its reinstatement.
 
The relocation and conservation of the milepost has ensured that it is preserved for many years to come with the full height of the milepost revealed and the added benefit that it is now more visible in its new location. In addition, the removal of the milestone has provided useful information for the Milestone Society perhaps indicating that several other earlier milestones may have been taken up and re-used as bases for later mileposts. 
 
 
 
 

My Week of Work Experience

Day 1

My work experience began with a tour of the building by Rachel and provided my first glimpse of Wessex as a company on a daily basis. 
 
In the late morning and rest of the afternoon I worked in the archives department with Thomas and Jennifer, the two new archivists. Jennifer showed me the new processes of archiving including digitising everything for easier access and availability as well as regulations and guidelines for both the company and the country. We worked on two cases and I was impressed to see the dedication and perseverance of both Jennifer and Thomas in a job which involved so much scanning!
 

Day 2

3296 On day two I did environmental sampling with Tony and Mai. I found out how environmental research is extremely important to discover past environmental conditions, old changes in landscapes like rivers and the progression of things like farming or cooking from charcoal fragments. The most surprising thing I learnt was the role of mollusc shells in establishing these facts! 

 
I helped Tony wash some samples which are collected in huge buckets and then sieved to collect flotsam like charcoal pieces. Not even a broken pump could diminish Tony's enthusiasm who then showed me a second method of sieving which was actually lots of fun! Afterwards I filtered off the charcoal pieces and washed clay off the rest of the sample. I was nervous as I found sieving a lot harder than expected and didn't want to wash away any of the samples but the whole team were very encouraging and helpful throughout. 
 

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In the afternoon I helped Erica and Sue in the finds department. They gave me a job of 'marking' which involved labelling pottery shards and CRM (ceramic building material) from Winchester. I had to use a fine nib pen and black Indian ink to write the location number on each piece which was tricky but got easier as you got into the rhythm of it. It was satisfying to know I was helping their finds process and helping contribute to the historical conservation process in a very small way. 
 

Day 3

I spent the morning of day three with Roberta. She taught me how to use GPS and how archaeologists rely heavily on technology nowadays to accurately pinpoint and locate finds. She helped me map out a ditch, posthole and an 'imaginary sword' in the car park which was fun although it was raining (although this did help set the scene of a real archaeological dig). 
 
When inside we uploaded my 'finds' and I could see the areas I had plotted using the equipment. She showed me various techniques used in surveying including the work of lasers which was fascinating. She showed me many examples of the department's work including various skeletons and a laser scan of a church. I even got to draw an electronic outline of a skeleton which was quite eerie since I was drawing what was once a living person. Roberta gave me a real insight into her job, and told me many stories of previous sites she had worked even including sites in Afghanistan!
 
The rest of the afternoon I spent in archiving helping Thomas with another case which now has a digital copy. In this particular case one of the only things found was the remains of a pig!
 

Day 4

I spent day four with Peta and Tom of the Coastal & Marine department of Wessex. The biggest department of its kind in the country it showed me the extraordinary circumstances archaeology can be found. First, I had an introduction to the services and work the team do with Peta showing me various maps, photos and books used to research and find artefacts. Peta also carefully explained the various maritime services and organisations such as ORPAD who help preserve and regulate the locating of historical finds. Next I helped Peta scan some maps for another of her colleagues to use, highlighting the enormous amount of work the department puts into their research of possible sites. Peta made me feel very welcome and impressed me with her stories of the Iona II which sank off Lundy Island.
 

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I then worked with Tom, who gave me the task of photographing, sketching and measuring the remains of a gun from the 18th/ 19th century. Once again, I was terrified I would drop and break this valuable object but Tom was very reassuring and helped me get the best possible angles for the photographs. I finally finished my sketch and measurements (which took a while as I’m a terrible artist) and Tom asked me what my favourite era of history was in the hope of being able to show me some finds from the time. I replied with the very specific era of Tudor but even so Tom was able to find some Tudor cannonballs to show me. I think working with Coastal & Marine was one of the best experiences of the week and has definitely made me consider other career options in archaeology.  
 
In the afternoon I was lucky enough to work again with the finds team cleaning Roman pottery, bones and pieces of lead. Using only lukewarm water and a toothbrush I cleaned the pottery and bone and let them dry in a paper-lined tray. It was quite humbling to be the first person to see these objects clean again after they had been underground for hundreds and hundreds of years. 
 

Day 5

My last day at Wessex was spent with the environmental department. The first half I spent sieving and dividing my previously found samples from Tuesday. Using different sized sieves, I separated my finds and bagged them up, picking out any unusual finds such as burnt rock, pottery or bone. Several times Tony had to tell me I had not picked up a lovely shard of pottery but actually a smooth rock but that did not dampen my spirits to find a ‘thing’. After labelling (and writing on the wrong side) several bags I started the process again with finds from a location with lots of chalk. It was a bad day to wear black jeans as I discovered but it was still lots of fun. Next, I went inside and using the charcoal and small flots I had collected on Tuesday I used a microscope to examine them. It was amazing to see all my work so close and be able to pick out snail shells, burnt grains and even a tiny piece of slag from my small glass dish. 
 
Thank you so much to the entire company for the wonderful opportunity to experience a field and sector of work I knew very little about! I’m extremely grateful.
 
By Tabitha Gulliver Lawrence
 
 
 
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