- About Us
Industrial archaeology in Sheffield and Mexborough, and investigations at Wincobank Hall, Sheffield
Wessex Archaeology has now completed analysis of fieldwork on four sites in South Yorkshire. Three of the four sites are industrial – a glassworks at Mexborough which included finds of bottles, jars and Codd-bottle marbles; the Butcher Wheel, a fomer cutlery works on Arundel Street, Sheffield; and the remains of the former Kelham Rolling Mills in Sheffield – whilst the fourth, the 18th-century Wincobank Hall, Sheffield, revealed evidence for five phases of development of the buildings and significant assemblages of window glass, lead cames (some with makers’ marks), bottle glass and pottery were recovered.
We hope in due course the reports will be published in the journals for which they were prepared. In the meantime, we are pleased to be able to provide the reports here although some images have not been reproduced due to copyright restrictions.
Over the past few weeks Wessex Archaeology, in collaboration with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, has been carrying out a geophysical survey and then excavating WWI practice trenches on Perham Down, Hampshire.
The trenches, known as the ‘Bedlam Trenches’, replicated German trench systems in the Somme region, enabling soldiers to learn trench warfare tactics by practicing attacking the enemy lines, as well as learning how to construct trenches.
Battalions that used the Bedlam Trenches included the Kings Royal Rifle Corps – now The Rifles (incidentally, significantly involved in Operation Nightingale), the 13th Essex Regiment, and the 16th and 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment – the renowned ‘Footballers’ Battalion.
The work was commissioned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), and the team has consisted of volunteers, veterans and some professional archaeologists. So far they have uncovered:
- part of a trench with a step that would have been used for firing at the enemy (fire step), and with evidence of a possible sap – a trench used to advance into land to gain a military advantage.
- a First Aid post, with seating dug out of the chalk;
- Officers’ latrines, the relatively shallow depth of which indicates that these were probably not long-drop toilets;
- a dugout (shelter) within which the surface which has clearly been trampled down by many pairs of boots, with some corrugated tin and lots of postholes which probably would have supported the revetting which secured the sides of the trench;
- a communications trench;
- other support trenches.
A number of finds have also been recovered, including blank ammunition, and screw pickets – used (instead of wooden stakes) to create barbed wire obstacles on No Man’s Land. We are looking forward to discovering more as the week progresses.
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
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.
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.
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!
I haven’t written one of these in ages. Times are busy as the diving season is getting well underway. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to.
I have spent the past few weeks recording, identifying and reporting on finds that have been reported through the Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol. The finds range from leather to wood, ceramics and various metalwork such as forks and ordnance. This variety has been a huge help to extending my ability to record and report on finds and understanding what conservation different finds need; but mostly it has vastly improved my object identification.
Other than this, I am still working on preparing several museum transfers for later in the year. This has involved liaising with the museum staff and those within the Wessex office. Being given the responsibility to arrange all of this myself, with no one looking over my shoulder has been a greatly appreciated responsibility.
Also on a related note, the display case in the reception of our Salisbury office needed updating, so I spent a day putting together my first display cabine t showing off finds from the Coastal & Marine department. Using materials received from the Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol, the display was designed around showing the variety of objects and material types that we work with in the marine sector. The cabinet now contains: munitions (decommissioned!), past and present; objects of war; aircraft wreckage; prehistoric remains and a whole host of ships’ fixtures and fittings from throughout the ages. Creating this exhibition was an excellent insight into the mental process of piecing a display together, not only for visual effect but to make the display make sense to those who are viewing it.
I have also now added ‘surface supply tender’ to my list of skills. This required me to look after the umbilical providing air to the diver below, making sure they didn’t have too much so the umbilical got tangled or not enough and they couldn’t move along the seabed. It took a few goes to get the coiling of the umbilical right and I was the butt of a few jokes about pulling divers around, but all went well and the additional experience will no doubt help when it comes to hopefully completing the course myself.
Another task keeping me busy is working on the preliminary research for a wreck that we are diving later in the summer. Using books and the internet for research is nothing new, but being in contact with the Receiver of Wreck and historic environment agencies is a new one for me. I’ve also had to learn to write reports in the style expected by Wessex Archaeology and its clients and I have found that this has had a big effect on my writing abilities.
One final thing, since I am here on an internship (although hoping for more!). It’s great to see the numbers of volunteers around the building, mostly helping out in the finds room. But there are also school students that come and spend some time at Wessex. The latest work experience student, Ethan, is just about to start his final year of school. It is great that these guys and myself are given such an opportunity to learn about all the different departments and experience the work going on within the company. Wessex Archaeology should be commended for its role in supporting the younger generations in the industry. Plus, it’s always a bonus when you find out how much they enjoyed what we are doing.
As you can see, it’s getting busy and I am lucky enough to be involved in this line of work and experiencing the diverse roles of a maritime archaeologist.
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.
I have done a lot during my work experience: I have found pottery and bone in environmental samples; learnt how geomatics helps to map out an area; learnt about marine finds and what coastal & marine archaeology is; have cleaned finds from sites to find out what they are. My favourite activity was doing observational drawings, I enjoyed everything about it. The most difficult part of the work experience was using the microscope to look at environmental samples.
I went to Larkhill on Friday morning for a commemoration of the Somme. Seeing the soldiers and hearing the words of the readings I found really moving.
I have also been lucky enough to meet Phil Harding, which was something I was hoping would happen.
I would definitely think about working here in the future, as it is a really nice place to work and it is really interesting to research the history about a place and the finds found there.
By Ethan Bowden
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 recently completed a characterisation of a sample of those trenches. Martin is one of the UK’s leading WWI specialists and his knowledge of the period has been invaluable. The practice trenches were used to train soldiers (including named divisions from Australia) in advance of their mobilisation to the theatre of war. For the field archaeology team this has been a profound and humbling experience.
Images captured by Rob Rawcliffe of FIDES Flare Media Ltd.
As the first Centenary of the beginning of the Somme Offensive fell shortly after our excavations had been completed, we were extremely keen to mark the date in a meaningful way. After due consultation with Lt Col Grace of the Royal School of Artillery, Wessex Archaeology and WYG were honoured to take part in an extremely moving commemorative event centred on surviving WWI practice trenches. It was an extremely profound event that remembered the sacrifices of WWI Commonwealth soldiers and families and, the continuing service of the Larkhill Garrison.
For my part, standing next to WWI trenches on the day and at the very moment that men went over the top on the first day of the Somme will remain with me forever.
To see more images on our Flickr site follow this link.