- About Us
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!
The Festival of Archaeology at Salisbury Museum was a huge success, with large numbers of people attending and taking part in fun-filled activities for all ages.
Phil Harding and Lorraine Mepham played a key role in the event by demonstrating archaeology in action. They excavated a test pit in the Museum grounds, which provided the opportunity for people to see the archaeological process as it happened, and to discover what lies beneath their feet.
Prior to the event a team from Wessex Archaeology had carried out a detailed gradiometer survey over three small areas at the Museum. Unfortunately, because the results were dominated by ferrous material, the survey was unable to identify any magnetic anomalies which would have suggested potential archaeology. Therefore, when Phil and Lorraine started excavating we were unsure what they would uncover.
Despite the survey results, the test pit did provide some archaeological evidence, and a range of finds was excavated, including medieval pottery, ceramic roof tiles and clay tobacco pipes. The finds were identified by Lorraine on site, and provided a chronological sequence – from medieval to modern – which Phil then matched to the stratigraphy. He was also able to relate this information to the history of the site, and to the wider story of Salisbury and its cathedral. Phil and Lorraine presented their findings during the Sunday afternoon lectures.
People had the opportunity to follow in Phil’s and Lorraine’s footsteps by getting involved in excavating and identifying artefacts, as well as putting together pottery jigsaws, and learning about the work of Wessex Archaeology – as usual, we had an information stand at the event.
All the Wessex Archaeology staff involved in the event had a fantastic time, and we were delighted to see so many people enjoying themselves and engaging so enthusiastically with archaeology.
This year, Wessex Archaeology entered three teams for the Oxfam Trailwalker 2016 challenge – 100 km non-stop across the South Downs in under 30 hours – organised with the Queen’s Gurkha Signals to raise much-needed funds for both Oxfam and the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
The teams were:
- Wessex Primary (Matt Tooke, Chris Hirst, Lincoln Spencer and Jack Laverick);
- Wessex Secondary (Alexandra Grassam, Gareth Chaffey, Si Cleggett and Phoebe Olsen); and
- Wessex Tertiary (Dave Norcott, Andy Callen, Rachel Williams and Guillermo Santamaria).
The teams were supported by Chris Brayne, Garreth Davey, Vi Pieterson, Paul Baggaley, Phil Weston, Lisa McCaig, Jo Lathan and Andy Crockett.
It was a very hot weekend, which makes any sort of endurance test particularly difficult. Team Primary, first out at 7am, had to face some of the hardest stretches of the course in the hottest weather. As the gruelling conditions took their toll, Matt and then Lincoln had to withdraw through injury, but it is a testament to Chris and Jack that despite their own discomfort they then joined with, and supported Team Secondary up to Checkpoint 8. By that point both had gone so far through the pain barrier that they also had to withdraw; this was along with Alex who was walking on pure adrenaline, but who knew that to continue might prevent Team Secondary from finishing within the required 30 hours.
However, we are absolutely delighted to report that Dave Norcott, Andy Callen, Rachel Williams and Guillermo Santamaria (Team Tertiary) completed Trailwalker 2016 in an excellent time of 27 hours 11 minutes, and Gareth Chaffey, Si Cleggett and Phoebe Olsen (Team Secondary) completed in 29 hours 30 minutes.
We are so very proud of each and every one of our Trailwalkers, and they can all, likewise, take great pride in their achievements, their team spirit and their grit and determination – not least because, through their friends, family and colleagues, and our business partners, the sponsorship total stands at just under £5k.
Our enthusiastic Wessex West team, alongside our partners at the WEA (Workers’ Education Association), had a fantastic day at the Blaise Castle Estate Festival of Archaeology, organised by Bristol Museum. This was our Bristol office’s first foray into outreach events and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience – rumour has it they can’t wait for next year!
While the younger visitors got straight into being trainee archaeologists in our sandpit excavation, older children tried their hand at measured drawing and the tricky business of pottery reconstruction. There was plenty for the older generations too, with advice on spotting archaeology in aerial photos and understanding stratigraphy, as well as information provided by our displays and brochures. There were many other stalls and displays at the event, including living history from Wulfheodenas and the Ermine Street Guard.
The event sparked a lot of interest from members of the public in learning more about archaeology, and broader heritage themes, and the WEA was on hand to gather feedback on the types of courses they could develop to deliver just that kind of learning.
The weather couldn’t have been better and the organisation of the whole event ran very smoothly. We are extremely grateful to the Bristol Museum volunteers for providing much-needed refreshments and snacks throughout the day, and we can categorically say ……………We’ll Be Back!
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!