Latest News


Roman Shropshire


Christopher Swales, from our Sheffield Office, was invited to Shrewsbury on Saturday 20 September 2014 to present the results of the Wessex Archaeology excavations on the Shelton Resilience Scheme to the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society. The talks were part of a one day event to review recent fieldwork and research that added to the understanding of Shropshire in the Roman period and were attended by more than 100 people from the local area.
The Shelton Resilience Scheme comprised a 4 km water mains pipeline just to the north of Roman Wroxeter, starting at Uckington and heading west to Atcham. The new pipeline was thought to be in the vicinity of several 1st century Roman marching camps that were associated with the foundation of the Roman Wroxeter. Roman burial grounds and pottery production sites were also thought to be located along the pipeline route.
Over the course of a six week excavation Wessex Archaeology stripped a 10 m wide corridor along the entire length of the pipeline route. Whilst nothing was found that could be conclusively linked to the early marching camps, evidence was found for a possible late Iron Age to Romano-British shrine to the west of Uckington. A cluster of cremation burials was also found in this area immediately to the west of the conjectured line of the north-south Roman road leading to Wroxeter. A possible pottery production site was also identified to the west of the Rivers Severn and Tern.
By Chris Swales

Find Out About Archaeology in Exeter


Join Wessex Archaeology at Exeter Quay this week where we will be carrying out a small excavation to investigate the early phases of quayside development. Visitors will have the chance to witness the excavation in action and see any finds that might be uncovered. You will also be able to handle a range of artefacts from different periods and take part in hands-on activities including sandpit digs and clay pot making! 
The archaeological work being carried out at Exeter Quay is designed to inform the Exeter Flood Defence project team (a partnership of the Environment Agency, Exeter City Council and Devon County Council) when they make decisions about flood defence alignments in this area. This will ensure that our cultural heritage is appropriately considered.
This FREE event will be taking place at:
Exeter Quay
on Tuesday 30th September 2014
and Wednesday 1st October 2014
Find out more about how to get to the Quay and where to park on the Exeter City Council website
For further information regarding the Exeter flood defence scheme please visit and search for ‘Exeter flood’.
You can also follow the project on Twitter @EnvAgencySW

Excavation Through a Scheduled Monument


Wessex Archaeology has recently completed an excavation through the Scheduled Monument of Car Dyke (Scheduled Monument number 1004923). Wessex was commissioned by Lincolnshire County Council, working with the Heritage Consultancy Team at Mouchel, on a flood alleviation scheme at Keeble Drive, Washingborough. The flood alleviation works will involve laying of new pipes to take surface water runoff away from nearby residential areas. 
The scheme presented an excellent opportunity to understand more about Car Dyke, which is thought to have been constructed around AD 125. The Dyke forms an artificial water channel running along the western fen edge from Peterborough to Lincoln; previous archaeological excavations have revealed that the water channel was approximately 15 metres wide at the top and between two to four metres deep, with sloping sides and a flat bottom. The dyke is thought to have been used to control and divert flood waters rather than a canal, with most of it now incorporated into modern drainage systems. 
The flood alleviation trenching did not impact on the water channel but did allow us to examine a section through the Dyke’s southern earthen bank. Car Dyke originally had mounds of earth on either side, which would have stood up to 5 m high and up to 20 m wide; remnants of these banks survive as earthworks in fields to the east.
Our work demonstrated that the southern bank was formed from dumps of redeposited alluvium capped with clay, and that over 1 m of deposits survive beneath the current ground surface. Most intriguingly the bank appears to be contemporary with a large peat-filled ditch or channel. The peat should provide material for radiocarbon dating and allow us to confirm the assumed date of the construction of Car Dyke.
By Andrew Norton

Drumbeg Wreck Site Survey


Our dive team has just returned from a large-scale photogrammetric survey of the Drumbeg 17th/18th century wreck site, part of a series of surveys which have been funded by Historic Scotland following designation of the wreck as a Historic Marine Protected Area. This will help us to understand the site in its context and will support the interpretation of data from our recent geophysical survey.
Our team was made up of three divers from Wessex as well as a volunteer, Edinburgh-based diver Bob Mackintosh, who has previously participated in the SAMPHIRE project. We were also joined by both of the local divers who first discovered the site, Ewen Mackay and Michael Errington and are very grateful to them for their help and input. Visibility on the site was excellent and we were fortunate to have great weather for our whole week of survey.
By John McCarthy

Remembering the War at Sea - Part 2

Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue 

The Consequences
The losses sent reverberations throughout Europe. Prior to the action of 22 September, many senior officers had criticised the use of aging cruisers that they deemed too vulnerable to undertake patrol duties and the triple sinking confirmed their fears. Despite being ordered to steam at 13 knots and to maintain a zig-zagging course to protect themselves against attack, the vessels were too old to maintain the speed and the order to zig-zag was widely ignored prior to the event as an over precaution.
The day before the losses, Churchill had delivered a divisive speech in which he claimed that the enemy would be dug out by British naval forces. The Admiralty had seemingly underestimated the German threat and the events of 22 September demonstrated this oversight. 

1944 sm U9 submarine

The true scale of the submarine threat had also not been anticipated and the loss of the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, all three of which were 19th century vessels, by the unseen 20th century threat would have been anathema to the Captains of the vessels, and to the British public. Warfare, and the maritime danger, had changed irreversibly. The decision of the Cressy and the Hogue to standby the Aboukir was also later described by Churchill as ‘chivalrous stupidity’, a phrase much maligned by commentators after the incident.

1942 Sketch of the Cressy sinking, by Henry Reuterdahl

On this day then, it is appropriate that we remember the sailors that lost their lives but also reflect on the naval arms race that occurred between Germany and Great Britain before the war. The perceived thwarting of Germany’s Imperial ambitions by the Royal Navy when Germany felt itself hemmed in by enemies on the European mainland in the form of France and Russia had been an ongoing source of tension. Whilst the war was sparked in the Balkans, and Britain entered it to support Belgian independence, the causes of conflict between Britain and Germany also relate to imperial and dynastic jealousies expressed in the number of Dreadnoughts owned. This came to naught for the German Imperial Navy, however, due to the strategic failure to break out into open sea following a tactical victory at Jutland; the failure of unrestricted U-boat warfare to bring Britain to its knees (although it came close); and in fact the effects of the campaign in the hastening of the US entry into the war; and vitally, the destruction of the German economy by blockade all contributed to their ultimate defeat. Whilst the sacrifices on the Western Front and elsewhere are highly visible to this day and provide a focus for remembrance and public perception of the conflict, let us not forget the naval conflict and its role in the final outcome of the war and those who have no resting place but the sea.
By Euan McNeill and Gemma Ingason
All images in public domain, source

Remembering the War at Sea - Part 1

Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue 

The Background

1939 Aboukir

One hundred years ago today, on the morning of 22 September 1914, three rather aged cruisers patrolled the waters of the southern North Sea. The British vessels – the HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue – were part of the Royal Navy’s 7th Cruiser Squadron and were on the lookout for enemy vessels that might be attempting to gain passage into the Channel. One gun on the side of each ship was manned and the crew, which comprised of men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve many drawn from the ranks of the coastguard, were on guard for approaching threats. 

1940 Hogue

At 6.20 am an explosion ripped through the bow of the Aboukir, flooding the hull and disabling the steam pumps making it necessary to lower the lifeboats. The sudden attack and complete absence of visible threat, combined with his knowledge of naval warfare, led the ship’s Captain John Drummond to the conclusion that the vessel had struck a mine. Perceiving no further threat he signalled to the Cressy and the Hogue to close and rescue men from the rapidly sinking ship. The crew of the Hogue threw anything buoyant over the side of their vessel to provide refuge for men falling into the water when they spotted the real cause of the Aboukir’s fate. German submarine U-9 had surfaced on the water nearby. The Hogue opened fire though it was already too late. The U-9 had fired two further torpedoes at the Hogue, and it was the loss of their weight that had caused the submarine to surface briefly before adjusting its buoyancy to return once more beneath the waves. 

1941 Cressy

The Hogue was lost, sinking at 7.15, just thirty minutes after the Aboukir. The Cressy, the only vessel still afloat, was now acutely aware of the danger that presented itself. Whilst attempting to assist those men in the water who had not yet perished, the Cressy opened fire on the submarine and attempted to ram it, though both endeavours failed. 
At 7.15 the first torpedo struck the Cressy, at 7.30 a second hit target, and by 7.45 the Cressy lay upside down, capsized in the water.
The attack took little over an hour but led to the deaths of nearly 1500 men, many of whom were cadets or reservists. 
The future
The vessels lay in an area of the Southern North Sea called the Broad Fourteens, closer to the Netherlands than to the UK. They were sold by the Ministry of Defence during a period of economic austerity in the 1950s to a German firm and in 2011 it was reported that Dutch salvage crews had moved in to recover the submerged remains, not with archaeological rigour, but with claws and cutters, removing valuable metals and leaving the rest to rot. One hundred years after their sinking, the vessels still remain in the public eye as the recovery of material from them constitutes the disturbance of the resting place of not only the three vessels, but also the 1500 men who perished with them. This has been met with international outcry amongst the archaeological and military communities. Today a commemoration service is taking place at Chatham Historic Dockyard. Let us hope that this raises public consciousness as to the fate of these vessels so that they and their crews can be treated appropriately in the future.
By Euan McNeill and Gemma Ingason
All images in public domain, source

Sharing Maritime Experiences Across the Globe

Wessex Archaeology was pleased to host a visit from colleagues from Japan this week.


Prof. Yoshio KIKUCHI (Professor in Archaeology, Fukushima University); Mr. KATAGIRI Chiaki (Senior Curator in Archaeology, Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum); Mr. OKAMURA Katsuyuki (Senior Archaeologist, Osaka City Cultural Properties Association); and Ms. NAKANISHI Yumiko (Archaeologist, Osaka Prefectural Board of Education) were over on a fact finding mission. Euan McNeill, Director Coastal and Marine and Andy Manning, Senior Manager in the terrestrial archaeology team gave them a tour and a series of presentations on what we do and how we do it in the UK. Thank-you to Yumiko Nakanishi for providing translation where needed. Thanks very much for the gifts guys, the tea has gone down very well. Have a great rest of your trip.
By Euan McNeill

CPD the Wessex Way

Infrastructure and construction engineers from Laing O’Rourke gathered together at the Wessex Archaeology South office today to learn about all things archaeological.
The one-day CPD seminar focused on the role of archaeology within the planning process and featured presentations from WA specialists on a range of topics including geophysical surveys and historic building recording as well as a concise dash through time, from the Palaeolithic to modern day! A highlight was the session on community engagement for construction schemes delivered by our Chief Executive Chris Brayne, which used our Longforth Farm outreach project as a case study.
The day was rounded off by an interesting presentation on identifying and managing ecological constraints from Phil Lomax, Principal Ecologist with our partner organisation Thomson Ecology
This course was specifically designed to suit the CPD needs of the Laing O’Rourke team. To discuss the ways in which we can support your organisation please contact us
By Laura Joyner

Kingsmead Quarry – Roman Burial Discovered with Bronze Rings


One of the discoveries from this year’s excavation at the CEMEX Kingsmead Quarry is a human burial with bronze ear or hair rings. As with other skeletons at the Quarry, the bone is poorly preserved. In this case some of the bone, including the skull was block lifted for excavation in the lab by WA staff  – osteoarchaeologist Kirsten Dinwiddy and conservator Lynn Wootten. X-rays of the soil block discovered objects of bronze on either side of what remained of the skull including a set of three fine bronze rings and a single ring made from a twisted strip of probable bronze.
The soil blocks will now be carefully excavated to record the position of the rings relative to the remains of the skull to try and determine whether they are hair or ear rings. Provisional examination of the form and style of the rings suggest that the burial could be of Late Iron Age or Roman date and may well be an inhabitant of the nearby settlement that was found during previous work.     
By Alistair Barclay
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Submerged Seascapes at our Salisbury HQ

On 11 September English Heritage’s Dave Hooley came to visit our Coastal & Marine team to talk about the historic seascapes around our coast and how we should describe various seabed uses when considering offshore archaeology.
The waters around the UK represent vast seascapes. Just like a landscape, these have been shaped by human activity and understanding them can be key to unlocking our submerged past.
The meeting is an important step for understanding the most current research into historic seascapes. Equipped with Dave’s advice, our staff will continue to use Historic Seascape Characterisation (HSC) to understand submerged archaeology in context and as a tool for assessing the historical impacts of offshore development.
Read about one of our earliest HSC projects here
1935 An example of Historic Seascape Characterisation copyright English Heritage
By Gemma Ingason
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