Kitty Foster's blog

Thanks to our friends at Bibby HydroMap…

...for helping our forthcoming investigation of the American Civil War blockade runner Lelia in Liverpool Bay.
 
Earlier this year Wessex Archaeology was asked by Historic England to undertake a survey of the wreck of this well-known vessel, lost on its maiden voyage in 1865 and subsequently found by diver Chris Michael in the 1990s. The Lelia, named after the wife of the Confederate officer on board who was to take over command when the ship arrived in Bermuda, Commander Arthur Sinclair, proved unequal to the weather it encountered as it sailed out of Liverpool, heavily laden with coal and stores for the voyage. Built and financed in Liverpool, the Lelia was part of a not so clandestine and highly risky trade between the supposedly neutral Britain and the southern states. They depended upon acquiring the latest British-built steamships to evade a Union Navy that was attempting to strangle the Confederate war machine by blockading its ports. Whilst small, fast ships such as the Lelia were ideal for the shallow approaches of the southern ports, taking them across the rough waters of the Atlantic and the Irish Sea wasn’t easy and a number were lost before they had even left British waters. 
 
The first stage in our investigation has involved working out what data is already available for the wreck. We have extensive contacts in the survey industry, so we were pleased to learn that Bibby HydroMap had recently trialled one of their latest bathymetry equipment and setups, which consisted of a Teledyne Reson SeaBat 7125 multibeam echo sounder in each hull (Dual head configuration with an 8 m separation), on the wreck and their Survey Manager, Gustav Pettersson, agreed to process this data for us. The result can be seen below – a highly detailed three dimensional representation of the current state of the wreck. Although much of the hull and superstructure of the partly buried wreck have disappeared, the outline of the four rectangular boilers can be seen in yellow and the flues that connected them to the funnels in red. Between each pair of boilers can be seen the engines, one of which is still connected to a paddle wheel. The other wheel is missing and the large dent that is visible in the part of the hull where it should be suggests that Chris Michael’s theory that the Lelia may have been hit by the anchor of one of the very large ships that use the anchorage that it lies in could be correct.
 
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The data that Bibby HydroMap has provided will now be used as a basic site plan of the wreck. This will enable our diving investigation to target key areas rather than having to survey the whole wreck site, saving time. Watch out for a future news report on what that investigation reveals.
 
 
 

Corrina’s Nuffield Placement

Over the past four weeks I have had the amazing opportunity to carry out a work placement with the Geoarchaeology & Environmental Archaeology department. Previously knowing little about this area of archaeology, I have learnt an incredible amount about the work that is carried out here and I hope to keep learning more now that my placement is over.
 
In my first week I had the chance to do some processing with Tony; samples from around the head area (of an inhumation) produced fragments from a human skull on my first day! It was really interesting to learn about how samples with charcoal, seeds, and molluscs, amongst other things, can help to unlock the past. 
 
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Before I started my main project I had a fantastic day down in the Finds department. I was able to get out a toothbrush and clean human bone, which was surprisingly relaxing! 
 

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For the rest of my placement I was involved with the Geoarchaeology department, with Holly, who was incredibly supportive and taught me a lot of cool stuff. My project involved producing deposit models for the Battersea Channel Project, which is a collaboration between Historic England, Wessex and other archaeological units working in the Nine Elms area. I also had the chance to interpret borehole cores; getting my hands muddy was really fun! We found some cool items within the cores, including a hazelnut shell. 
 
I used Rockworks to log boreholes from BGS, before I created the deposit models. Creating these and interpreting the data made the hard work of entering all the borehole data into Rockworks worthwhile.
 
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I have had the most amazing summer here; I feel as though I have contributed to important work, and I have learnt a lot of new information which I can’t stop sharing with my family and friends! Thank you to Wessex Archaeology, especially the Geoarchaeology and Environmental Archaeology department, for welcoming me, and to everybody who helped me throughout my project and provided support. I am going to miss being here.
 
By Corrina Begley
 
 

Aircraft Wing Discovered in Chichester Harbour

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In July, an aircraft wing was reported through Fishing Industry Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries (FIPAD) in the mud of Chichester Harbour. In order to identify it, permission was recently granted by the Ministry of Defence for a photographic and recording survey. 

 
Due to the hazardous nature of the harbour mud, Adrian Karn (Deputy Harbour Master) with the assistance of Lawrence Smaller (Patrol Assistant), took Maddy Fowler and myself out to the site on one of Chichester Harbour Conservancy’s boats. They kindly supplied and assisted with a small pressure washer and mud boards. We were met at the site by the finder, Chris Berners-Price, who provided us with much appreciated tea and biscuits from his boat whilst we worked.
 
Using the pressure washer and brushes, Adrian and I made short work of cleaning off the wing while Maddy recorded the details. Meanwhile, Lawrence photographed another possible aircraft related feature further out on the mud for us. The wing was then photographed and recorded with the tide fast turning and the site gradually getting wetter. 
 

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What we found was the badly damaged and truncated outer 3 m of a wing, with an aileron (French for ‘little wing’) and trim tab (these are the hinged flaps on the back edge of the wing, used to change direction) attached, and an Airborne-Surface-Vessel (ASV) radar aerial. These were identified as coming from a Lockheed Hudson, which possibly had been previously salvaged for an engine in the early 1970s. Research is ongoing into the identity of the plane as there are four or possibly five Hudsons reported as crashed in the area. What we do know from the wing remains, is that this Hudson was probably part of a Coastal Command squadron whose aircraft had been fitted with ASV for detecting surface vessels, in particular submarines; no other military service having ASV equipped Hudsons. The submarines would have been detected while running on the surface charging their batteries, or attempting to transit the narrow coastal waters of the Channel and North Sea, in the shortest possible time, under cover of darkness.
 
 
 

Wessex Archaeology Work Experience Week

Monday 15 August
In the morning I was given a tour around Wessex Archaeology where I discovered all the various departments to the place, I was surprised by the size of the company. It was interesting to learn about how the modern technology is used to help the people working here. For example, in the afternoon I spent time learning how images were made using GPR, photogrammetry and laser technology to 5 cm accuracy.  Roberta and I went around the Wessex car park mapping the place via its coordinates which later showed up on the computer in a professional format. Furthermore, I was made aware of 3D photography being used here in order to depict a realistic 3D image of what objects are seen as they would by the human eye. I really enjoyed learning about this in particular. 
 

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Tuesday 16 August
I started work on Tuesday in the Heritage department. I typed my post code into maps of different historical periods (in chronological order since the 18th century) to see how my area had changed over time in terms of its land use, which was very interesting as I hadn’t known it before. Using a programme I was able to see the historical structures or whereabouts of any area – each had a grade (1, 2 or 3) depending on their age or of their archaeological importance. Furthermore, I was taught that you could use satellites to help detect changes to the surface of the landscape, which could tell you if there was a possibility that something was lying underneath the ground. In the afternoon, I spent time in the Coastal & Marine department. Peta showed me around Unit 2, a place where all the diving equipment and finds are kept. I used 3D photography to recreate a mine detonator on a software programme, which came out really well! I learnt how the marine archaeologists do their work to help conserve the finds underwater, and do not actually bring up many of their finds because of disturbance or purposes of respect. Many of the finds they were studying were very interesting – including sunken U-boats from WW1.
 
Wednesday 17 August
First of all, on Wednesday morning, Andy gave me a quick debrief of the prehistoric history on all of the sites around Boscombe Down, where I was to be later visiting. When I got there, I was fascinated to see the team of archaeologists digging and cleaning various parts of the land which had been used by Iron Age peoples. Susan helped me to pick a place to dig.  It was a tree-throw hole which turned out to be a natural feature. Nevertheless, it was great to get out on site to see what an archaeological dig was really like up close. Later in the afternoon, I was back at Wessex, listening to a talk given to the volunteers by Lynn. It was very interesting! The section on the Bronze Age Capri Shield was particularly intriguing. 
 

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Thursday 18 August
On Thursday morning, I went to the Graphics department where Kitty showed me how to construct a drawing of some pieces of Roman pottery. Although I am not great at art, I was very surprised to see how well my drawings had come out after a long process that led it to be scanned onto the computer. I had to take measurements and do lots of drawings, to make sure it was to scale and that it looked professional. Later on, I was doing finds processing. I cleaned bits of pottery and bone that had come in from a site in Winchester. I was later shown some fossilised poo! How it had been preserved so well I do not know!
 
Friday 19 August
On my last day I spent the morning in the finds department again. Yet this time I was labelling the cleaned finds so that they could be referred to in future purposes. In addition, I was also taught how to store finds in boxes or cases so that they were protected; so that they didn’t decay or deteriorate in any way. Silica gel was put in there as well as the artefact so that no or very little moisture was trapped inside the container. Just before I was to leave, I got a chance to meet Phil Harding! Growing up watching Time Team, you can understand that he is a role model for me. To meet him was great, and he offered lots of useful advice on how to make a successful career, particularly on how to become an archaeologist.
 
By Edward Timperley
 
 

Off to Skye – offshore and off-grid

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Two weeks ago Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) ventured out to the Isle of Skye for a two-day training session on deploying GPS survey in remote locations. Many of the places we work in are remote, coastal or offshore, and resources like mobile signals and especially mobile internet cannot be relied upon. Modern survey-grade GPS systems require a mobile internet signal to produce high-precision positions in real-time. 
 

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In preparation for this, Damien, our Geomatics Officer from Salisbury, introduced the team – in a local park in Edinburgh – to the functionality and use of the Leica GNSS/GPS system for post-processed kinematic surveying. When the team felt up to the task at hand, they headed off to the south of Skye to put their training into action! Apart from GPS points, they encountered some very beautiful coastal scenery, lots of midges and some very inquisitive Shetland ponies! 
 
Back at the office the GPS the points were processed and mapped out. Despite the challenges of working off-grid, the mixture of topographic, geomorphological and archaeological survey produced very high-precision results. Overall a very successful training session!
 
 
 

Weymouth Wrecks

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From 22 to 30 July 2016, Wessex Archaeology’s Coastal & Marine staff were based in Weymouth undertaking fieldwork for our client, Historic England. In the safe hands of skipper Richard Bright-Paul, Chairman of The Shipwreck Project, on-board their vessel Wey Chieftain IV, Wessex divers sought to document the remains of two wreck sites.
 
The first of these, tentatively identified as the Alexander, is located in roughly 22 m of water off Chesil Beach, about a 1-hour steam west of Weymouth around the Portland Bill. The Alexander was built in 1803 in India and, while on route from India to London in March 1815, became stranded on Chesil Beach during a harsh gale. The Shipwreck Project had previously recorded mortar balls and a tusk from the vicinity of the site and knew of the location of four cannon and an anchor.
 

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Divers breathing Nitrox (EAN32) used a diver tracking system to position each cannon using GIS. They also took measurements of key features of the cannon, such as the diameter of the muzzle and breech, length from muzzle to breech, details of the cascabel and any evidence of trunnions and reinforcing rings. These measurements are the best way to identify the size of the cannon and possibly the vessel to which they belonged. Due to the short slack time between tides, a drop-down camera was also deployed to gain more ‘dive’ time on site.
 
The second wreck site, dubbed the ‘Fog Wreck’ by The Shipwreck Project, at approximately 28 m depth, is located an hour east of Weymouth past the spectacular coast featuring Durdle Door. This wreck site includes two large cannon and two smaller signal cannon, as well as a possibly associated anchor. The recording methods for these cannon were the same – although tides in this location only allowed for a 20-minute window of diving during slack water.
 

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While working on this site we were visited by Historic England’s Data Team Maritime Officer, Hefin Meara, who provided topside support, and also Jane Maddocks, the Underwater Heritage Advisor for BSAC, who joined Wessex Archaeology’s divers in recording a cannon. On the final day of work – The Shipwreck Project divers Richard and Sue were also able to join Wessex Archaeology divers on the site while The Shipwreck Project founder, Grahame Knott, took over skippering.
 
Between 5am sunrise starts to catch the slack water and motoring out of harbour through the middle of the film set for Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Dunkirk’, Weymouth proved to be putting on its best summer holiday season weather. Luckily the dive team could escape underwater to avoid the crowds!
 
 
 

Seeing the Light of Day

ACE Funding Award for SW Regional Archaeological Archives Project

For some years archaeological contractors and museums have been facing the problem of the lack of storage space for archaeological archives, and in many parts of the country the situation has reached a crisis point. Wessex Archaeology, as a leading contractor, is keen to find a way forward and is looking for solutions to the problem. 

So in January 2016, we hosted a meeting in our Bristol office which brought together other archaeological contractors, museum curators and development control officers from across the South-West, to discuss the issues surrounding archive deposition. The meeting led to the submission of a bid, to Arts Council England, for funding for a project to develop a sustainable solution to the management, accessibility and long-term preservation of archives in the South-West.

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We are delighted to report that this week we received confirmation that the bid has been successful, and the project will start imminently. It will be led by the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, and Wessex Archaeology will continue to contribute.
 
 
 

Week 2 of the Perham Down WWI Practice Trenches Investigation

Week 2 of the Wessex Archaeology/Breaking Ground Heritage/Defence Infrastructure Organisation investigation of the Perham Down WWI practice trenches was completed with some significant new discoveries. In particular, the excavations showed just how well-preserved this extensive trench system is, and the time and effort that had gone into its construction.
 
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Excavation on the front line of the ‘German’ defences, by Dickie and Richard, revealed an unexpectedly complex sequence of use, including a sap (trench used to advance into land to gain a military advantage) dug towards the British lines that would have provided ‘eyes and ears to the ground’ in no-man’s land. 

In an adjacent part of the front line the trenches had been left open and later used to dispose of military material after WWII – to which the farmer had then added unwanted agricultural debris. Despite this, Dave was able to define part of the fire-step, as well as the remains of probable WWI sand bags (filled with chalk) that survived around part of the trench.
 
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Back from the front line, excavations were completed on a pair of shelters, an aid post and an officers’ latrine. The trample layers (areas where people stood) indicated heavy use. The locations and functions of these features were conveniently indicated on a rare and detailed contemporary map of the system, and in all cases it was clear that these elements had been properly constructed. 
 
The shelters, with a communications trench running through them and a supply trench joining them from the west, contained chalk-cut benches providing seating on each side – as demonstrated here by Briony, Matt, Owen and Jayne. There were also the remains of timber posts that would have supported the roof and held the side revetting in place. In the bottom were two biscuit tins and a condensed milk tin – all empty!
 
The aid post had wider benches than the shelters, probably to hold stretchers, while in the corner there was evidence for a brazier (revealed Carlos and Janine), essential to keep the injured warm. The timber revetting didn’t survive, but postholes remained (as well as the voids left by the posts and stakes), along with part of the wire windlassing which held it all together.
 
The officers’ latrine turned out to be substantial, with a deep pit for urine at the end that was partly filled with small blocks of chalk, butchered animal bone and sand, which together would have provided appropriate material to form the soakaway. Congratulations to Kathy, Phil, Vicki and Nicola for getting to the bottom of this!
 
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Moving further back, the supply trench was designed to be a two-way ‘corridor’ to avoid collisions between soldiers moving to and from the front line. It had been dug to its full depth on the south side, but was relatively shallow to the north – perhaps one of the rare examples where for pragmatic reasons the system was not fully dug; it was also made straighter than indicated on the contemporary plan. Neil provides a good indication of its scale below.

Finally, the second line of ‘German’ defences was represented by a ‘crenelated’ trench and string of associated redoubts, both clearly visible on aerial photographs and by geophysical survey. Interestingly, Jason and Rog revealed evidence that recruit training involved this trench being converted from a defensive position to an attacking one, with a shallow trench being dug in the base along the east side, leaving a new fire-step to the west. 
 
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So, Friday saw the end of a warm, busy and exciting week – more geophysics, visits from Carenza Lewis and Phil Harding, Richard Broadhead demonstrating replica Vickers and Maxim machine-guns, the Iris drone team, Sean and his ‘cherrypicker’, and the appearance of several familiar and welcome faces – including a guest appearance from our Winno (Steve Winterton). 
 
Next week: Rob, Scotty and Matt – three men in a communications trench; a look at the finds; and some final thoughts – for the moment.
 
 
 
 

The YAC at Dudmaston Hall

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On Sunday 24th July, Matt from our Wessex Cymru office dusted off his trowel and headed off to help out two Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC) groups as they investigated the garden at the National Trust property at Dudmaston Hall, Shropshire. The National Trust wants to reinstate one of the old landscaped paths around the lake but had no idea of its alignment or how it was made, so they asked YAC to come and help out! 
 

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With just a faded early 19th-century photograph to go on, the Marches and Ironbridge YAC groups chose two areas to dig and set about removing the turf. They soon found a compacted gravel surface littered with pieces of 19th and early 20th century pottery. It looked like the path had gradually been swallowed up by the surrounding grassland, probably around the time of WWI when the family fortunes fell and they could no longer afford to maintain the extensive landscaped gardens.
 
The trenches were in the open grounds of the house, and lots of interested visitors came over to see what we were doing – including a few potential new YAC members! As well as the dig, there were loads of Festival of Archaeology activities going on at the house, including making pots on a wheel, medieval food tasting, and medieval calligraphy with real quills and oak gall ink.
 
We all had great fun and the National Trust were very pleased with our results. Thanks to all the YAC members and helpers who came along, and special thanks to the National Trust for inviting YAC to help uncover the secrets of Dudmaston!
 
 
 

Launch of the Marine Antiquities Scheme

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After months of hard work, the Marine Antiquities Scheme (MAS) has been officially launched amongst the grandeur of the British Museum. The MAS encourages the voluntary recording of archaeological objects and sites found by marine users in England and Wales. Divers, fishermen, and other marine users who make a find can report their discovery through an app or an online record form. The find is then researched by Wessex Archaeology who sends the historical information back to the finder and also makes sure that relevant organisations, such as the Receiver of Wreck and national heritage bodies, are informed where necessary.
 
On Thursday 21st July, a whole range of marine users gathered at the Stevenson Lecture Theatre, at the British Museum to attend the launch of MAS. There were representatives from recreational dive clubs, museums, government, heritage organisations, fishing groups and archaeological associations, all keen to show their support for this scheme. The event was hosted by The Crown Estate who commissioned this initiative, and Wessex Archaeology brought along some examples of what marine users might find and report in the future. MAS is based on the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and both schemes will work together to help increase our knowledge of the UK’s rich and varied heritage.
 
British Museum Director, Hartwig Fischer, welcomed all the attendees to the event, while Phil Harding gave an inspirational talk about his past underwater discoveries. The afternoon’s official proceedings were concluded with a live demonstration of the MAS app by Matt Clear of The Crown Estate. For the rest of the afternoon there were excited discussions, over tea and cake, about the possibilities of this new scheme!
 
 
 
 
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