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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
 
 
 

HMS Caroline

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Members of the Edinburgh team visited HMS Caroline, the last survivor of the iconic Battle of Jutland (1916), at her mooring at Alexandra Dock, Belfast in early February, following her return from dry docking at Harland & Wolff. Caroline, part of the collection of historic ships held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has been undergoing a full restoration and advanced conservation to return the ship to as close a representation of her 1916 Jutland appearance as possible. The project also concentrated on developing interpretation to the public, educational facilities, improving access, safe-guarding historic fabric and enhancing the understanding of the ship, following her decommissioning as the floating base for Ulster Royal Naval Reserve in 2011.
 
Wessex Archaeology have been involved with the project since early 2014, where Dan Atkinson, Graham Scott and Rosemary Thornber conducted an extensive archaeological survey, the most comprehensive to date, and produced the first Conservation Management Plan for the ship and the associated Alexandra Dock. Since then the refit has been underway, with more recording work required on the exposed deck planking of the starboard waist, potentially dating to the WWI era. 
 
The most recent visit by Ben Saunders followed the return of Caroline after extensive hull repairs in dry dock and the repainting of the hull to bring her back to the Battleship Grey colour she would have worn at the Battle of Jutland, with a smart deep red below the waterline. The refit work is almost complete and Ben is currently updating the Conservation Management Plan to account for the fantastic work that has been completed during restoration; exposing original fabric throughout the ship and bringing her back to life. A particular highlight are the four 1914 Parsons steam turbines within the now accessible engine rooms, which have been carefully cleaned and conserved, exposing fascinating insights into their installation on the ship.
 
Dan and Ben will also be working on a Maintenance Plan for HMS Caroline, helping her keepers to ensure the ship continues to be in first class condition. Many thanks go to Victoria Millar, HMS Caroline’s Curator, and to Billy Hughes, the Ship’s Keeper for all of their help and support.
 
 
By Ben Saunders, Archaeologist

Churchdown Lane, Hucclecote

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An excavation by Wessex Archaeology West in Hucclecote, Gloucester sought to establish whether a site at the Hucclecote Centre, in Chuchdown Lane had some relationship with a known Roman villa to its north. The villa, excavated in the early 20th century, was dated to c. AD 150 but was probably still occupied in the early 5th century, and appeared to sit within a well-established Romano-British landscape.
 
Our excavation identified two phases of coaxial field system, one pre-dating the villa, the other, incorporating a metalled road or trackway apparently leading towards the villa, contemporary with it. Extensive remains of ridge and furrow cultivation were also identified, the alignment of which appeared to respect the earlier ditches, suggesting that vestiges of the Romano-British  landscape were still visible in the medieval period.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
 
 

Unique Prehistoric Find From Chisenbury?

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This tiny but enigmatic object was found in late September 2016 during excavations undertaken by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation. It came from the base of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden at East Chisenbury on the Salisbury Plain Training Area; a site remarkable for the quantity of late prehistoric ‘rubbish’. The surviving mound (approximately 3 m high) was apparently enclosed by a substantial ditch and had many postholes indicating associated structures.
 
Made of copper alloy and weighing just 3 g, the loop on the object may indicate it was worn as a pendant of some type, while its overall form is, perhaps, in some way reminiscent of a human figure. A 3D photogrammetric model has been created of the object in order to fully appreciate its delicate shape and form. Due to its size of only being just 24 mm high, a macro zoom lens was used to take the required photographs needed for the photogrammetry software.
 
 
The object is currently thought to be unique – it has not been claimed by Romanists, and prehistorians have, so far, failed to come up with any parallels. If anyone has seen anything similar we would love to know – a zipper pull has been suggested several times … it isn’t!
 
 

Water Fort, Bristol

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During the English Civil War new defences, comprising a bank and ditch interspersed with forts and bastions, were constructed around Bristol, running from the River Avon to Brandon Hill. At the western end of this defensive loop was a fortified promontory, now known as Water Fort, which guarded the seaward entrance to the Avon. Wessex Archaeology West has undertaken a topographic survey of Water Fort, and a desk-based assessment, for Bristol City Council. Although the fort is ascribed to the Civil War period, it does not actually appear on reliable historic maps until 1883.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
 
 

St Edith’s Well

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Wessex Archaeology West monitored restoration work on St Edith’s Well, Castle Park, Bristol. The well is located in what was probably the late Saxon settlement of Brigstowe, which later became the centre of the medieval town of Bristol. The well was found to be stone-lined to a depth of 10 m, below which the shaft was cut directly through the bedrock. Evidence for the well having been fitted with a pump mechanism was also recorded during the works, which were funded by the Parks Projects Team of Bristol City Council.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
By Tracy Smith, Archaeologist
 

Badgers Field, Chipping Campden

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A recent excavation in Badgers Field on the south side of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, has provided the first archaeological evidence from the town for Saxon settlement. The excavation, undertaken by our Bristol Office in advance of a proposed residential development off George Lane, also provided evidence for prehistoric activity in the form of flint debitage, some of it Mesolithic, and pottery dating to the Early Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The main features on the site were a series of ditches defining more than one phase of field system, including a trackway. Although poorly dated, at least one of the phases of field system is likely to have been Romano-British on the basis of the recovered pottery, tile and animal bone.
 
Although only one Saxon feature – a small pit – was identified, it contained 35 sherds of 6th/7th-century AD (Early Saxon) pottery, one body sherd being stamp-decorated with quartered circles. There was also fired clay, animal bone (part of a cattle skull and several sheep bones including a complete horn core), and charred grains of barley and wheat and fragments of hazelnut shell. Together the evidence suggests the presence on the edge of the town of a small rural Early Saxon settlement practicing a mixed agricultural economy.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
By Andrew Powell, Technical Specialist
 

Bath Quays Lecture Success

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On Wednesday 25 January 2017, Cai Mason from our Bristol office gave a public lecture on our recent excavation at Bath Quays, at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. The talk was very well attended, with over 160 people crammed into the hall; many more were unable to get in due to the wide interest in the excavation.
 
The talk focused on Bath’s medieval defences, the development of its 18th-century quayside, and the city’s notorious Avon Street slum district, which by the late 19th century was known for its poverty, disease, crime and prostitution. Bath has a great collection of historic photographs and maps, and these have been of great use to us in interpreting parts of the site, as well as really helping to bring the archaeology to life for the audience.
 
There was a lively Q&A at the end of the talk, and people were particularly interested in hearing more about the quayside industries, and how living close to a flood-prone river would have affected the area's 18th- and 19th-century residents.
 
To find out more about this site read the project page here.
 
 
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Finds from Larkhill

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As a part of the preparations for the building of service family accommodation for the Army Basing Programme on Salisbury Plain, Wessex Archaeology has been carrying out archaeological investigations for over a year at Larkhill. During this work a large array of WWI practice trenches came to light. Under the guidance of our client (Martin Brown of WYG) we have recovered many finds from these trenches. There are many objects still to examine, but what we have looked at has already provided a fascinating insight into life on the base at that time.
 
The diet of the soldiers included tinned sardines and corned beef, jam, marmalade and golden syrup, condensed milk, Bovril and meat paste, with condiments such as HP Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce to make things more palatable.
 
Many examples of the standard-issue eating and drinking equipment have been found – plates, bowls and cups in enameled tin or plain white pottery, mess tins and drinking canteens, plus the occasional surprise item such as a nest of jelly moulds.
 
Life was not all about iron rations though, as we have found many whisky, beer and wine bottles, plus containers for soft drinks such as ginger beer, lemonade and mineral water. There are wine glasses, beer tankards and shot glasses and even a tray for carrying the above!
 
Besides the obvious activities of eating and drinking we have found plenty of evidence for smoking – pipes, cigarettes, tobacco and cigar tins. Some of these have survived in remarkably good condition enabling brand names to be distinguished. One of the clay pipes is of particular interest as it is Irish.
 
The most poignant finds have been the personal items and the little touches of luxury that found their way into the harsh reality of training for war.
 
It is well documented that there were Australian troops at the training camp and one recent discovery has been a tin of toffees from Melbourne, alongside the well-known British makes of Mackintosh and Pascall’s.
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Introducing Kirsty Nichol

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Wessex Archaeology West is delighted to welcome Kirsty Nichol to our Bristol Office as a Project Manager. Kirsty comes to us with over 20 years’ experience, with expertise in field archaeology and historic buildings. She has a broad commercial background that covers consultancy, fieldwork, heritage and post-excavation; her major projects have included urban-based sites and historic landscape management plans. Kirsty has a curious interest in all things concrete and is rarely happier than when she has spent the day in a bunker or two!
 
Kirsty also has a strong track record in Community Outreach and Education programmes, and has extensive experience of running community historical events and excavations, alongside managing developer-funded projects.
 
 
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