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Visualising the past in 3D: The River Arun

Archaeologists at Wessex Archaeology have completed a 3D animation that reveals a prehistoric landscape, now submerged under the English Channel, as it might have appeared 8000 years ago.
At the end of the last ice age the River Arun in West Sussex flowed a further 8 miles out. Archaeological survey has revealed the lay of the land, and what plants and trees grew there.
The complex evidence has been turned into a compelling animated tour showing how the landscape might have looked and how families made a living from the land and the sea. The tour is set in late summer. Archaeologists call this period the Mesolithic.

Seabed Prehistory

Thousands of years ago sea levels were much lower than they are today. Britain’s coastline would have been very different. People lived in areas that are now under the sea.
The Seabed Prehistory project was established to research ways of identifying evidence of prehistoric landscapes in and around aggregate dredging areas. This dredging provides many of the raw materials, such as gravel, needed for the buildings industry.
The project was designed to see if equipment that is commonly used by the offshore industry could also identify archaeological remains. It was an opportunity for archaeologists and the aggregate industry to work together to gain a better understanding of the archaeology under the seabed.
The results of this project will inform future proposals for new aggregate dredging licences.

Landscape and Plants

Everything that you see in the visualisation is based upon archaeological evidence. The picture is built up with data collected as part of the project, or inferred from other research. Geophysical survey identified the different geological layers in the study area, revealing the shape of the land.
Vibrocores were used to gather evidence from the buried landscape. Vibrocores are tubes that are pushed into the seabed. The column of sediment that is caught within the tube contains layers of ancient soils.
We were able to identify a layer of sediment dating to the Mesolithic period. This deposit corresponds with a geological layer found in the geophysical survey. This helped us check our model of the landscape.
Trapped with those layers were seeds and pollen from the trees and plants that grew at the time. Microscopic animals that live in shells were also found. Particular species are only found in certain habitats. By mapping where individual species are found, we can plot particular habitats and so build up a detailed picture of the landscape.

People and Animals

Although no human or animal remains have been found here, we know from other research that people often hunted and gathered in such landscapes. The objects used by the family are based on finds from elsewhere. All of the animals are also known to have lived in Britain at this time.
We had long debates about the people’s clothes. None survive from this long ago. Eventually we opted for garments made from animal skin and furs.

See the video on YouTube or



The Seabed Prehistory project was funded by the Minerals Industry Research Organisation (MIRO) through the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).
The project was managed by Stuart Leather, with environmental analysis by Mike Allen, Rob Scaife and Chris Stevens, geophysics by Paul Baggaley, core sampling by Jesse Ransley, and turned into 3D by Tom Goskar, Karen Nichols and Chris Stevens.

Volunteers peel back Pan’s past

For the past 9 weeks, enthusiastic amateur archaeologists and metal detectorists have gathered at Pan, Newport to join in the investigation of two large fields on either side of Pan Lane. Each Saturday groups of between 10 and 25 volunteers have lent a hand, searching the fields for clues to Pan’s past. And there were plenty! Hundreds of objects have been washed, marked and sorted to see what they can tell us about the area.

It is clear that people have lived here for thousands of years. On the very first session sharp-eyed volunteer Dawn Russell picked up a flint tool which is at least 400,000 years old! Jane Roberts of Wessex Archaeology said “It’s difficult to spot a small piece of worked flint in the mud, amongst lots of other stones. The volunteers were really keen and we had to persuade them to take a break!”

Members of ‘History Hunters’, ‘Vectis Searchers’ and the ‘Isle of Wight Metal Detectorists’ Club’ joined the search too, uncovering, amongst other things, musket balls from the time of the Civil War, a Tudor buckle and a Georgian coin.

But there’s been even more to Pan Archaeology than field-walking and metal detecting - Phil Harding, of Time Team and Wessex Archaeology came along to the Isobel Centre for an evening to demonstrate flint knapping and there was an afternoon of children’s activities during half-term.

Volunteer Dawn Russell said: “It’s been a great project, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about archaeology in this practical way. I have come to every session and as well as finding pieces of flint, I found a piece of a Roman brick. In fact I’ve become so keen that I’ve joined a local archaeology group!”

The project is not over yet: Some of the objects will be sent to Newport Museum, but before they go there will be an exhibition at the Isobel centre to celebrate both the history of Pan, and the work of the keen volunteers who helped find out more about it.

Archaeocast 8: Death and burial in the Bronze Age

A series of Bronze Age burial mounds (barrows) have been discovered by archaeologists on a site north of Salisbury, UK. Listen to an audio tour of the excavations with Tom Goskar and Catriona Gibson, and learn about life and death in Bronze Age Wiltshire.
You can contact Archaeocast by email ( or leave a comment here by clicking the title of this post and using the comments form underneath.

29:51 minutes (27.36 MB)

Saxon coin found in a cable trench

An eighth century Saxon sceatta was an exciting find for archaeologist Steve George while he was keeping an eye on the excavation of a new cable trench in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The 1,200 year old silver coin was minted in Hamwic (Saxon Southampton) and examples are very rarely found outside of Southampton. It was probably issued by Cynewulf, King of Wessex.

The origins of Malmesbury are even older than this, dating back to the middle of the sixth century. By the seventh century an imposing abbey stood in the centre of the town. Steve found traces of this early history nearby in Gloucester Street. Two stone-lined graves were uncovered in the base of the trench. Luckily they were deep enough to be safely left undisturbed. He also spotted the traces of footpaths nearby, probably used by the Saxon inhabitants of the town when visiting the Abbey.

The trench in Abbey Road uncovered a medieval road surface, made of cobbles laid on packed clay. This is the road that brought traffic into bustling Malmesbury through the West Gate on market days.

The cable trench is being dug for Scottish and Southern Electric to link a sub-station outside the city walls to the town. Wessex Archaeology was asked to keep a watching brief on the work because of the high possibility that it might uncover further clues to the history of this ancient town.

Archaeocast 7: Excavation, Rain and Postholes

This edition of Archaeocast comes from the last day of our Practical Archaeology Course at Down Farm on Cranborne Chase, Dorset, UK. Find out what we have learned about the prehistoric settlement which we have been excavating, hear from some of the students, and learn why rain isn’t always a bad thing for archaeologists!

11:27 minutes (10.52 MB)

Archaeology Podcast Success

The launch of today’s Archaeocast quietly marks a notable achievement for niche podcasting. As we launch the 6th edition of Archaeocast, our archaeology podcast, downloads of the first five have now passed the 20,000 mark. Archaeocast 6 is from the ongoing Practical Archaeology Course in Dorset.

In it you can listen to an experimental archaeologist talk about making prehistoric pottery, learn about the rich archaeology of Cranborne Chase, and get an insight into what it is like to dig for the first time with students doing the course.

Archaeocast began just a year ago, when podcasting was relatively unknown. Our goal was to achieve 250 downloads of each podcast.

Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology commented, “As podcasting was an emerging medium we were cautious in our estimates. Much too cautious as it has turned out. These figures show just how much interest there is in archaeology and how effective the web is in helping to satisfy that interest. This sets a new challenge for us.”

The Sunday Times “Doors” technology supplement, has listed us in their “20 Intriguing Podcasts“:

“Enthusiastic ’cast for archaeology fans, featuring dig reports and chats with archaeologists such as Time Team’s Phil Harding, who discusses flint-knapping. A good example of a podcast that supplements a wide-ranging website.”

Archaeocast is listed in most podcast directories, as well as Apple’s iTunes podcast directory. Find out how to subscribe (it’s free!).

Archaeocast 6: Practical Archaeology Course Week 1

Listen to how prehistoric pots were made, the rich prehistory of Cranborne Chase, and hear the experiences of students on their first ever dig. The annual Practical Archaeology Course run by Wessex Archaeology returns to Down Farm on Cranborne Chase in Dorset UK.
This edition of Archaeocast marks 20,000 downloads to date!

17:14 minutes (15.78 MB)

Archaeology Course Blog

This year’s Practical Archaeology Course will run for three weeks, and we’re aiming to blog the event each day over on our Events Blog.

Be amongst the first to find out what the students on the course learn, and follow their discoveries.

Hop over to our Events Blog to follow the excavation.

In addition, a new Archaeocast (our archaeology podcast) will be recorded during the course, and if all goes well, will be released on the following Monday.

Surveying with SmartNet

We have been enthusiastic GPS users for a couple of years now but our latest acquisition of several Leica SmartNet enabled devices has changed the way we use the technology.

In the past when we needed to obtain accurate fixes for our survey work we have needed to log raw GPS data for several hours over one of our survey control points to process against the Ordnance Survey’s Active Station RINEX data. This sometimes meant that we had to be on site a whole day in advance of excavation teams. Smartnet uses the GSM/GPRS network to provide our rover units with real time correctional signals.

To begin with we upgraded our existing Leica1200 series GPS unit with a Smart Net GPRS unit. This allowed us to test the technology and check that we were getting the results we needed. A big concern was that we would have problems with GSM/GPRS cover - we tend to work in more remote locations than most land surveyors - so far though, Vodafone seem to have served us quite well.

In June we invested in a handful of Smartrovers - which were designed from the ground up to use the SmartNet technology and connect to standard mobile phones over Bluetooth. Again we were a little nervous - Bluetooth can be a temperamental technology - again we were very pleasantly surprised. The only time we have had serious problems with Bluetooth was when working near high tension cables.

We have now upgraded our old GPS500 rover unit to work with SmartNet. This is a very cost effective upgrade which gives the older equipment a very productive new lease of life.

…and the winner is..!

A big thank you to everyone who took part in our online survey. The names of all who did were entered in a prize draw to win a replica handaxe made by Phil Harding. Phil is one of our senior archaeologists, famous for his role in ‘Time Team’, but also an expert flint knapper.

The winning name was pulled from Phil’s famous hat - and the winner is W Lewis. Congratulations! Thanks again to all of you who took part in the survey, and to Phil for making the handaxe! We already know over 26,000 of you visit the site each month, and the information from the survey will tell us what you think of it and help us develop and improve it in the future.

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