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Shorelines Literature Festival

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Wessex Archaeology’s Graham Scott will be ‘in conversation’ with Jerwood Prize winning artist Adam Dant on the theme of Shipwrecks of the Estuary at the Shorelines Literature Festival at Tilbury on 17th September 2016, part of the Estuary 2016 Festival. Graham’s involvement arises out of the work undertaken by Wessex Archaeology for the new London Gateway Port
 
 
 

Bromham – Rowdefield Project

2016 will see the third season of the Wiltshire Museum Archaeological Field Group (AFG) excavations near Devizes, supported by Wessex Archaeology (WA) and Archaeological Surveys Limited (AS). Phil Andrews of WA co-directs the excavation with Jan Dando of the AFG, whilst David Sabin and Kerry Donaldson (AS) undertake geophysical investigation.
 
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Five years of fieldwork are planned, with publication of the results in 2020. WA’s involvement follows the conclusion of the very successful Truckle Hill community excavation (2007−12) in NW Wiltshire, which saw investigation of the area around the North Wraxall Roman villa, including a well-preserved bath-house and two earlier shrines.
 
 
Further details of the Bromham – Rowdefield Project can be found by following this link to the AFG website, but our challenge here is to make sense of this complex site which has been subject to several cursory investigations and a variety of interpretations in the past. 
 
Already we have identified a pair of adjacent oval enclosures of probable Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date, a possible Middle Bronze Age D-shaped enclosure and two Early Iron Age oval enclosures. Overlying most of these prehistoric features is a sequence of Romano-British remains including a variety of enclosures, a very clearly defined trackway, a midden, possible structural remains and a pair of crop dryers.
 
So, thanks to the goodwill and very considerable support from the farmer, we are about to embark on a further 10 days of investigations at the beginning of September. Again, we would like to answer more questions than we ask, but there is plenty on this intriguing site to whet the appetite!
 

Investigating Yorkshire U-boats

A Wessex Archaeology diving team helped by local divers and historians, including John Adams of the local Filey Underwater Research Unit, are currently investigating First World War German U-boats off the Yorkshire coast for Historic England. Pictured here is the control room of the UC-70, whose wreck lies in about 25 m depth of water in the North Sea, close to Whitby. The photograph was taken by Tom Harrison, a Bournemouth University archaeology graduate and SCUBA instructor who recently joined the Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine team.
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Project Officer Paolo Croce, a graduate of Southampton University’s maritime archaeology programme, explained how this photograph was taken:
 
Tom took this photograph whilst conducting a video survey of the submarine using a GoPro set to take both HD video and automatic stills. To overcome the lack of light and the silty water, the camera was mounted on an extremely powerful Seawolf Orca video light. Tom simply lowered the camera and light through holes in the pressure hull. The conning tower of the submarine is no longer in place, so Tom was able to gain access through the hatch that provided access to the crew between the control room and the tower. We did not go into the submarine ourselves, as this can be a very risky procedure and is likely to disturb the interior. We must remember that the UC-70 is a grave.
 
The submarine has been the subject of a ‘dive tour’ published in Diver magazine. Therefore, as well as producing a report on the condition of the submarine for Historic England, we hope to produce a more detailed plan for use by future diving visitors.
 
The investigation of this and other sites off Whitby and Bridlington will be completed on Friday 16 August 2016.
 
By Graham Scott, Senior Archaeologist and Dive Superintendent
 

A Super-size Roman Pot!

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Pots come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is larger than most! This large Roman storage jar, which originally stood about 60 centimetres high, comes from a site at Frithend in Hampshire, and was one of four similar jars found in one part of the site, where they seem to have been deliberately placed (probably as complete pots) in purpose-dug pits. At least two of the jars had been buried with deposits of burnt material, one also contained two smaller pots, and an iron axe had been placed in another. The site had been used for pottery production in the Roman period, as part of the Alice Holt industry of the Hampshire/Surrey border, and these four large jars are typical of the late Roman phase of the industry, featuring horizontal bands of white slip and combed decoration. Two of them show fairly severe firing cracks on the inside, but would still have been functional. It is possible that they served some practical purpose, such as the storage of dry goods. Alternatively, they may have been intended as a ‘closing’ deposit, marking the end of pottery production on the site. Coins and radiocarbon dates suggest that activity on the site was confined to the later 4th century AD, right at the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.
 
The pots will shortly be deposited, with the rest of the site archive, with Hampshire Cultural Trust’s archive store in Winchester.
 
For more information about the site and to read the full report click here.
 
 
 

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!
 
 
 

Week 3 of the Perham Down WWI Practice Trenches Investigation

Two and a half weeks of non-stop digging draws to a successful close. Most trenches are completed and recorded by the weekend, but the arrival of Rob and Scotty, with help from Matt, means that we can have a final look at the communications trench that runs parallel to the front line. An interesting aspect of this trench is the collapsed timberwork that was found in its base.
 
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The last recording is completed in the front line of the trenches, and here another surprise awaits us. Dickie and Richard spot a piece chalk sticking out of the bottom of the section, but it doesn’t look like a natural lump − and indeed isn’t! When it is removed by Kathy we can make out what looks like part of a cap badge carved in the surface and some very lightly inscribed lettering. Undoubtedly there is more to be revealed when this is deciphered.
 

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The geophysics information gathered by Jen, Becky, Rok, Ali and Nick over the first two weeks has been processed, with excellent results, illustrating very clearly the layout of the ‘German’ practice trenches in the area we are working in. The white ‘halos’ indicate metal present, much of it probably corrugated iron, particularly in the shelters. The geophysics plot shows more detail than can be made out on the aerial photographs, and also highlights several differences between the 1915 plan of the trenches and the layout that was eventually dug.
 
On the last Sunday we hold a short ceremony to remember those who, a century ago, took part in exercises in these practice trenches, in particular those who were then sent to fight at the Somme – and never returned. As a result of Richard Broadhead’s research we now know the names and details, and have photographs, of more than 30 of the soldiers, from the Middlesex and Essex Regiments, most of whom were only in their late teens or early 20s.
 

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Tuesday sees the excavations backfilled, and the hay field returned to almost how we found it when we started on July 11th. Every one of the seven areas excavated has turned out to have an interesting story to tell, and what has survived, and what we have learnt about this system of practice trenches, have far exceeded expectations. We have only looked at a tiny fraction of this extensive system, so it does indeed represent an important historical resource, particularly given the possibly unique contemporary documentary evidence that we have to go with it.
 

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So, what next? First, the finds are being cleaned and recorded by our keen and ever-reliable volunteers – the screw pickets, spent blank rounds and food and drink tins from WWI, and a variety of exploded ordnance pieces from WWII. Also, the ordnance and related pieces have been identified by Mark, who is also undertaking research on the exercises that took place in these trenches. Finally, later this year, we will produce a report on the excavations.
 
However, perhaps we might also consider another season of fieldwork – there are other elements of the Perham Down system we could look at, including one of the redoubts, a kitchen and a Battalion Commander’s post. With Breaking Ground Heritage now up and running, such a project covers all bases in terms of archaeological research and training, and this has proved an all-round winner in terms of interest and enjoyment.
 
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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!
 
 
 
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