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Discovering Maritime Archaeology Along Scotland’s West Coast

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A three-year project designed to locate previously unknown maritime archaeological sites on Scotland’s west coast has just been completed by a team from Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine based in Edinburgh. Project SAMPHIRE, which was carried out in partnership with the Flinders University of South Australia and funded by The Crown Estate, has resulted in the discovery of over a hundred new maritime archaeological sites from Cape Wrath to the Solway Firth.
 
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The project worked by harnessing local knowledge about possible sites in the marine environment, with the archaeologists talking directly to harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and local residents all along the west coast of the Scottish mainland. After checking any reported locations against existing records, the most promising of the sites were visited by teams of volunteer and professional archaeological divers.
 
Over the three years of fieldwork (2013–2015) the project has led to the discovery of more than 100 maritime archaeological sites, including metal and wooden shipwrecks, flying boats and other aircraft, cannons, cannonballs, ancient anchors, prehistoric coastal sites, as well as more recent sites such as 20th-century fishing vessels. Among the highlights was the recording of a group of previously unreported World War II flying boats in the Firth of Lorn.
 
The project results include over 40 new shipwreck sites including a dozen wrecks on the seabed for which there are confirmed or probable identifications. These 18th, 19th and 20th-century wrecks reported by divers include the Yemassee (an American cargo ship lost in 1859), the schooner Medora (lost in 1860), the Falcon, a previously unlocated paddle steamer built in 1860 and lost in 1867 with great loss of life, the Lady Middleton (a schooner lost in 1868), the Iris (a brig lost in 1874), the Lord Bangor (a wooden ship lost in 1894), the Cathcartpark (a steamship lost in 1912 near Iona), the Hersilla (an armed iron naval yacht lost in 1916), the SS Viscount (lost in 1924), the Sheila (an early MacBrayne ferry built in 1904 and sunk in 1927), the Mafeking (a salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover the Sheila), the SS George A. West (a wooden steam trawler lost in 1927), the Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933) and the Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942).
 
Project SAMPHIRE stands for Scottish Atlantic Maritime Past: Heritage, Investigation, Research and Education.
 
 
 
Associated pages

Working with Archaeology Groups

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Finds Processing Training

Members of the team from the London & South East Office have recently carried out the second of three training sessions for the Cliffe at Hoo Historical Society, ahead of their excavation this summer. 
 
This month’s session focused on finds processing and participants had a go at marking some finds and some basic identification. Following on from the previous session, members were able to try their hand at constructing Harris Matrices from a series of section drawings of varying difficulty. 
 
Before our next training session the group will be undertaking their exploratory test pits to get a better idea of what is in store for them in the summer.
 
 
 
 

Veterans Visit Tidworth Saxon Cemetery Excavation

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A recent excavation in Tidworth, of a 1300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery, was visited by wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans from the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House. Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology showed them the work in progress and some of the finds from the site, as well as discussing their significance.
 
The cemetery, comprising around 55 burials and of late 7th- to early 8th-century date, was discovered ahead of building works associated with a £70 million housing development, to provide 322 new homes for Army families, by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) in partnership with Hill, an award-winning housebuilder.
 
Preliminary results suggest that the burials represent a cross-section of a local community, with men, women and children all present. Nearly all the burials included grave goods – personal effects or significant items interred with the dead. Most commonly these were small iron knives, although other finds included combs and pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins thought to form necklaces, several spearheads, a shield boss and a finely decorated bronze workbox. 
 
Many of the visitors from Tedworth House had previous experience of archaeology through Operation Nightingale, a ground-breaking military initiative which uses the technical and social aspects of field archaeology to aid the recovery and skill development of service personnel and veterans who have been injured in conflict. This has included the excavation of a 6th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Barrow Clump, Figheldean, in partnership with Wessex Archaeology.
 

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Richard Bennett, formerly of 40 Commando, who spent 17 years with the Marines serving four tours of Afghanistan, and also served in Iraq and Northern Ireland, said,
 
 “I naturally jumped at the chance to take part [in the visit] and it was a good opportunity to compare and contrast some of the graves at this site to some of the graves that we had been excavating over several years at Barrow Clump, which is not too far away and dates to a similar period."
 
“This visit gave me personally the opportunity to reflect on just how far I had come over the 5 years since my first experience of archaeology at Barrow Clump. Since then I have progressed from an occasional volunteer with Operation Nightingale, to getting a Degree in Archaeology and have now taken over responsibility for enhancing the veterans experience not just in archaeology but in heritage in general through Breaking Ground Heritage. This is a project set up and run by veterans, for veterans, in order to help those who are wounded, injured and sick through some of the challenges that they face. They do it alongside people of a similar nature and outlook on life. I know through personal experience how taking part in heritage can help your recovery pathway.
 
Ryan Harris, Project Director at Hill, commented, 
 
“The area has a fantastically rich history and the recent archaeological excavation really brings this to life. As with any development, we are working hard to protect and record these important findings for posterity. Tidworth is quickly becoming one of our most fascinating projects, and it is great to be creating homes for Service personnel – something the whole team is very proud to be working on.”
 
To find out more about this site click here
 

Successful integration of Bartington Geophysics Cart and Leica Geosystems

At the end of 2015, Wessex Archaeology decided to upgrade their geophysics capabilities by acquiring some really interesting new devices.
 
The initial push to get this new equipment came from the need to solve a series of issues that the Geophysics team have to face in the field every day, it also needed to be something that would improve productivity and the quality of data collected, while overcoming some of the problems encountered on site such as harsh weather conditions, complex land features and GPS signal failures, all of which can very often influence the successful conclusion of a project. 
 

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Paul Baggaley, Head of the Geo-Services Department at Wessex Archaeology, paid a visit to Bartington Instruments upon which decided to purchase their new Non-Magnetic Geophysics Cart.
 
The carbon fibre cart is designed to host up to 12 Grad-13 or Grad 01 Gradiometers together with their data loggers. This particular cart is 3 metres long, only weighs 20 kg and can be pushed by one-person or alternatively towed by a small vehicle. The cart can be easily transported in the back of a small van and it is really light to push and can mount up to 12 sensors which considerably improves the number of sensors that can be operated by one person. (Normal gradiometer surveys are done with two sensors mounted on a bar and operated by one person at a time).
 
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The cart works in conjunction with a GPS and a laptop and is designed to have a constant stream of GPS data so that all the data coming from the gradiometers is spatially referenced; the laptop is used to gather data from the different sensors. 
 
The GPS antenna is placed in the middle where there is space allocated and the laptop is located in the front near the operator. However, there are a few flaws in this system. Firstly, the cart needs a constant stream of positioning data from a GPS, but the system can experience several data dropouts and signal failures during the day which does not provide the constant data flow required. Another issue is the presence of the laptop to collect the data coming from the sensors; this idea seemed a bit impractical even with a fully rugged device. It became clear that the cart needed a different data logging and positioning system. 
 
During consultations between Damien Campbell-Bell, Geomatics Officer at Wessex Archaeology, and Doug Murphy Account Manager and GPS specialist at Opti-cal Survey Equipment, they came up with an idea. Doug suggested trying the GS14 RTK Base and Rover Kits with GS08+ NetRovers and the CS35 Panasonic Field Controller from Leica Geosystems. 
 
The CS35 Tablet Controller has been specifically modified by Panasonic to work with Leica equipment and features the new Leica Captivate software. The controller can receive data from both the Rover and the Sensors, and can be mounted in front of the cart and is easily controllable by the technician operating the cart. The Rover Antenna is mounted in the middle behind and close to the Sensors, which records the position of the gradiometer data as it is being collected and sends signals to the base, which would be set up in a static position in the field. 
 

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This system overcomes the usual GPS signal failures as the Rover sends the positions to the base via a radio signal while the base, set-up on a known point, calculates the positions of the Rover according to its own or it can also be connected to an RTK Network to establish the coordinates of its own location at the beginning of the survey. 
 
This way a constant flow of satellite data is not required but the positions are given continuously to the cart via the Rover. Opti-cal arranged some trials on the field with Wessex Archaeology’s geophysicists to test the system together and immediately it become clear that the solution was spot on! The team realised that the set-up was quick and easy, taking only 30 minutes.
 
So far, the Bartington Geophysics Cart coupled with the Leica Base and Rover as well as the CS35 Panasonic Tablet Controller has been able to achieve the completion of geophysicical surveys very quickly, as it takes less time on large areas for the possibility of hosting a bigger number of sensors. 
 
The presence of the Leica Base and Rover has solved the usual problem of signal dropouts when using GPS, making the system more stable and reliable during surveys.
 
The choice of the CS35 Panasonic Tablet Controller from Leica Geosystems over a rugged laptop has been a way better solution, the Tablet Controller can operate under harsh weather conditions and is more manageable than a laptop; also the system once put together looks very neat as the quantity of flying cables is diminished. 
 

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Moreover, something that was not considered initially is that rather than downloading the data from the laptop and the GPS separately, now the data can be downloaded all together from the Tablet Controller (geophysics and geospatial data from the Base and Rover), cutting down the number of operations required for processing. 
 
On the Tablet, the Leica Captivate software used for topographical surveys can be turned off and the user can access a desktop featured Tablet which works just like a normal Tablet so the data can also be sent via email etc. In addition, wherever the ground conditions are really complex, the Cart can now perform topographical and geophysicical surveys at the same time also improving the grade of detail and quality of data collected. 
 
The integration of the Bartington Cart and Leica Base and Rover provided by Opti-cal has proven to be a success in combining different products on the market to develop an efficient geophysics and survey system which answers the needs of the Geophysics team, raises the productivity and overcomes the daily difficulties encountered in the field every day. 
 
 
 
 

Coastal & Marine - Month 3

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Over recent weeks much of my work has revolved around the upcoming dive season and finds reported to us through the dredging protocols. As a recreational dive instructor I have had very little dealings with surface supply equipment or even full-face masks. So being able to shadow Dive Superintendent Graham Scott while checking, maintaining and testing the dive equipment was an excellent chance to gain knowledge about the equipment itself. After checking over the voice communications, video feed and obviously air supply, we serviced the Kirby Morgan switching blocks with nice clean, new O rings. After this we had an external test of the dive kit, and once again I was given the chance to shadow while this was taking place. So while I still have very limited dives in a full-face mask, and none in surface supply kit, I now have a far improved knowledge of the equipment, that others will be using over the upcoming dive season, and hopefully get a few dives in full-face masks myself over the season. 
 
As mentioned previously, other work that I have been undertaking includes the latest discoveries reported through the Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol for the Reporting of Finds of Archaeological Interest. I have completed the reports for quite a lot of these now (so go and read them!), and I have noticed an improvement in my own abilities in artefact identification, report writing and organisational skills. All of the current finds reported through the Protocol are uploaded to the RSS feed as soon as possible, and then single page wharf reports are distributed among the wharf and vessel staff, as well as the Receiver of Wreck, Historic England, local HERs and The Crown Estate. 
 
I have also completed my first two solo field trips since my last blog. The first was delivering archaeological timbers to a student at Bournemouth University to aid in their research for their Master’s thesis. And the second being a trip to Portsmouth, where the channel is being deepened. The aim of the visit was to undertake Quay Side Archaeological Monitoring. 
 
 

Wessex Week Work Experience - Day 5

The Last Day: 8.4.16

AM: Labelling

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My small handwriting came in useful, for once, this morning as I was back in the finds lab to label artefacts. With an ink pen I was labelling very small numbers on pieces of pottery and animal bones, although I was very nervous about getting the numbers wrong Erica reassured me that they can always be taken off with acetone. I labelled four bags of pottery and then the two trays that I had washed yesterday. This was another monotonous task that was very enjoyable, although the white ink was a bit of a pain. Because I had finished all the artefacts to be labelled, I was back to washing and brushing a sheep’s teeth. After having seen the human bones yesterday I was very much enjoying washing the sheep bones having a much better knowledge of bone structures in general.

 

PM: Conservation of artefacts

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In the afternoon I met with Lynn, the conservator, whilst initially the idea of the high levels of chemistry involved scared me as I haven’t touched the subject in two years, conservation actually sounds far more interesting that previously perceived. The different types of adhesive and solvent used were quite mind-boggling as these different chemicals can have an overwhelming effect on the preservation of artefacts. After spending the afternoon with Lynn I have a new found appreciation for how complex conservation is. Lynn also showed me several examples of artefacts she has ‘stuck back together’ and artefacts that the on-site teams had to ask her for advice to remove and conserve them straight away as they looked especially important or fragile. Unfortunately, while Lynn’s work was fascinating and wonderfully intricate, I think my chemistry and eye sight is a bit too poor to pursue this path of archaeology.
 

The Overview

There were three decisions that I wanted to be sure on after this week – Was archaeology and anthropology the right degree choice? Should I go to Southampton or Bournemouth? What area of archaeology do I want to focus on when I’m further on into my degree? The answer to those three questions – Yes, yes, yes archaeology was a very good decision. To be honest, if anything I am more confused about what uni I want to go to having been given glowing reviews of both. Osteology, at the moment, is a clear favourite of mine and whilst that may change between now and my latter years of uni, I highly doubt it. So in conclusion I’m overwhelming grateful for this opportunity and am still trying to process everything that I’ve absorbed during my week work experience. Also I’d like to put out that I’m available 24/7 for washing, marking or standing in excavations in an oversized high-vis jacket (if you need that). 
 
I’d like to thank everyone that I worked directly with for being so lovely and patient with me, and for introducing me to many new sections of archaeology that I had previously no idea about; and I’d like to thank everyone around the office for creating such a friendly working environment. Rachel has also been absolutely wonderful and made me feel very safe and welcome, as I’ve stepped hugely out of my comfort zone this week, Rachel made the week very easy and fun. Thank you for giving me this incredible opportunity- I could not be more grateful.
 
By Laura Slow
 
 

Harworth Colliery

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During March 2015, the built heritage team carried out a programme of historic building recording of the 1920s Power House and 1989 Number 1 Winding Tower at the former Harworth Colliery, Nottinghamshire. The colliery at Harworth had been established in the early 20th century, but was mothballed in 2006, and it was announced in 2014 that the site would not reopen. The majority of the former buildings and ancillary structures on the colliery site had been demolished in recent years, but the Number 1 Winding Tower and Power House remained. Planning consent was granted for the demolition of the remaining buildings and for the redevelopment of the site by Harworth Estates with the construction of 996 residential properties.
 

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Both the Power House and Number 1 Winding Tower were recorded by the built heritage team prior to their demolition. The Winding Tower, constructed in 1989, was a huge and important landmark in the area, visible from miles around, dominating the landscape. The Tower demonstrated ingenuity of design whereby it had to be constructed around and over the original headgear without interrupting the continuous coal winding operations, allowing the removal of the redundant gear and commissioning of the new tower, all during a three week holiday period. Its great structural advantage was its cellular design which provided walls of considerable strength to withstand suction from ventilation fans in upcast shafts, with the economy of materials. The Tower in fact received a commendation in the 1990 Civic Trust awards.
 
On Sunday 10 April 2016, the Tower was set for demolition, and with crowds of local people gathered to watch the iconic tower fall, the explosives weren’t enough to topple the tower. It wasn’t until the following day that the tower finally fell. Videos of the failed demolition can be viewed here
 
Our report and site archive will be deposited with Nottinghamshire Archives. 
 
 

Wessex Week Work Experience - Days 3-4

Day Three: 6.4.16

ALL DAY: Site meeting

A very early start and an hour and half long drive did originally put me off the idea, however the unique opportunity I was given to go to a site meeting with Sue was too enticing to pass up. Site meetings are something I had never considered before this week, the thought that contractors and construction workers and so on would have to meet together on a site to discuss what is happening never occurred to me before. There were so many different aspects to be considered that I wouldn’t think could impact a dig or construction. For example, the problem of where to place the spoil pile, which to me did not seem a huge problem at first, took up a lot of the negotiations. Whilst this trip tired me out, I felt it was important to see the business side of archaeology that not many people get to experience before having to do it for real. Luckily the meeting did not last all day, otherwise I may have needed a nap half way through, so when I got back from the office I did the mundane but important desk tasks that needed to be doing ie, uploading pictures and starting this blog. 
 

Day Four: 7.4.16

AM: Finds washing

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In the morning Erica set me the task of washing miscellaneous bags of artefacts, the task was actually very therapeutic and relaxing. Seeing the lump of mud being transformed through several strokes of a toothbrush into a piece of animal bone or pottery was actually quite rewarding. The frequent trips to the sink were a bit of a nuisance but on the whole getting to handle artefacts made the heavy bowl of dirty water and the plastic gloves worth it. There something about doing monotonous tasks that allows you to relax and be in your own little world. When I told my parents about being able to handle the artefacts and prepare them for analysis they are now keen to volunteer and have even joked about to coming to uni with me, I’d like to stress that they will definitely not be allowed to follow me to uni – without losing a daughter.
 

PM: OSTEOARCHAEOLOGY

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The reason that osteoarchaeology is in capitals is because this is my favourite specialist field in archaeology, especially human osteology, and I was so excited to have the afternoon with Kristen. After I’d had my well-deserved lunch after washing all morning, Kirsten took me into the reception to explain the human bones display (the display which I’ve been eyeing every time I sign in). She showed me how to identify male and female skeletons (through skull shape, hip shape and some diseases that have affected the bone) and how to roughly determine the age of the person when they died (bone fusing, teeth wear and some diseases that affected the bone). We can also tell the conditions the person lived in through their diseases and what they ate/malnutrition from their teeth and bones. The diseased evidence on the bones was rather gruesome but incredibly interesting, Kirsten told me how the diseases affected the bone and what assumptions we can make about the individual. Evidence of diseases/trauma on the bone include: TB, scurvy, rickets, bone cancer, fractured bones, wound heals, abbesses, DISH, and spinal diseases/wear. We then went to the finds lab and looked at an individual to see what we could tell about their (probably his) lifestyle. From the skull we decided that the skeleton was probably male, as there wasn’t much left of his pelvis we couldn’t use that as an indicator. He had: abscesses, muscle fusions, arthritis, and an oddly shaped bone that wasn’t clear where it belonged. I was then also briefly shown the colouring and computer system used for recording the skeletons, and also was showed some of the published works containing osteology – and I may be looking to purchase the Cliffs End Farm publication. Talking to Kirsten definitely helped me to see that osteology is the specialist field I am most interested in and I will hopefully pursue osteology later on despite it being highly competitive.
 
By Laura Slow
 
 

New Article on BIM

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Wessex Archaeology’s latest Buildings Information Modelling (BIM) article is about to be published in May’s edition of BIM Today, but you can read it now here.
 
This article concludes a series by Chris Breeden and Damien Campbell-Bell from our Geomatics Team on the application of BIM in archaeological projects. In these articles we have looked at the opportunities for using BIM and the difficulties currently facing those who wish to implement it in a heritage context. 
 
This final article looks at the application of BIM to built heritage, which whilst more closely related to the common uses of BIM, still raises a number of challenges due to the unique requirements of heritage buildings.
 
You can find the previous articles in the August 2015, November 2015 and February 2016 issues of BIM Today here.
 
 
 
 

Wessex Week Work Experience - Days 1-2

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For September 2016 I have applied to study Anthropology and Archaeology and struggling to decide between Southampton and Bournemouth was one of my main reasons for applying to Wessex Archaeology for a week’s work experience. As I’ve never had any chance to study either subject, I wanted to ensure that I had made the right decision. So here is my quite detailed diary of the week:

 

Day One: 4.4.16

AM: Office tour

I was greeted in the morning with my very own desk, which is the perfect start to any new working week, and was the shown around the office by Rachel Brown. Whilst being introduced to the building I was also able to vaguely be introduced to many staff members and their job roles. I was genuinely very surprised at the diversity of jobs here and the routes that allowed people to get there, to me the diversity and the sheer friendliness of everyone created a very welcoming environment. The idea that here there were jobs ranging from research to animation (and almost everything in-between), proved to me that with my degree I will not be limited to one type of job, this was comforting as I can now keep my options open before finally deciding what I want to do for the rest of my life.
 

PM: Seeing the sites

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In the afternoon I was told that I had the opportunity to visit two local sites that are being excavated with Simon Cleggett. Whilst I can’t divulge anything about the sites, I can say that that afternoon cemented the idea that field work is definitely something to look forward to in my uni years. Whilst having a small moral panic I was corrected by Simon that archaeology is the best way to preserve the past and the only way to guard it from future damage. On the less philosophical side, at one site I visited I saw the way finds are recorded by the archaeologists before they are removed. I saw some rather acrobatic archaeologists trying to draw the artefacts without moving them but still seeing them from all angles, and I also saw GPS mapping equipment being used. This may have also been the most excited I’ve ever been to walk around a few muddy sites, and I feel super privileged to have been given this opportunity and I’m still trying to take in all the knowledge and excitement.

 

Day Two: 5.4.16

AM: Survey Skills

I had a very relaxed morning looking at mapping techniques with Roberta and I even got to play with some of the equipment I saw at the site yesterday afternoon (the GPS equipment specifically).  We looked at two programmes used by archaeologists to map the trenches dug by the archaeologists and looked at examples of laser scanning and aerial photography (whilst struggling with the filing system).  The key idea of using all of these techniques is to be able to place the sketches done by archaeologists at the sites, to then overlay them onto correct map placement using information from the GPS. The GPS was heavier than I imagined and was reasonably difficult to place right, I imagine if I was doing this for the first time with an actual delicate artefact then the morning may not have gone so well. 
 

PM: Marine Archaeology 

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Even though I am terrified by the sea, my afternoon with the Marine archaeologists did make me feel more inclined to do some underwater archaeology.  To start off my afternoon I had to lace up my steel toe cap boots and go over to the storage unit and package up two marine artefacts ready to be sent off to a museum, under the watchful eye of Maddy Fowler. After we finished attempting to pack the rather large and heavy artefacts I was then given a very important and challenging task – laminating. Before I was left to do my laminating I thought that this would be a reasonably boring 15 or so minutes, it was actually surprisingly relaxing and made me feel oddly grown up. I was then taken back over to the storage unit with Peta to look at the diving equipment, and try on a few bits of equipment. Both the diving helmets were very uncomfortable, one felt very constricting and the other felt like I was in a fish bowl. The helmets originally terrified me but after Peta’s explanation of how the dives work, I actually found myself wishing to be able to go on a dive. We then trailed back and I was given a mini quiz on what the artefact was, I failed abysmally but I did enjoy inspecting the items, like a mammoth tooth and war artefacts. Whilst I am now more sold to the idea of deep sea diving for archaeology I think I’ll still stick to land digging.

By Laura Slow
 
 
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