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Historic pottery found in River at Barnstaple

Marine archaeologists are used to working on sandbanks, but usually on their own. At Barnstaple in north Devon they were joined by local enthusiasts to track down buried evidence from the town’s historic pottery industry.

A new road bridge is being built over the River Taw at Barnstaple. The building works have caused changes in the flow of the river which caused part of a sandbank being scoured away. This revealed a large quantity of 17th pottery that had lain buried beneath the sand.

Barnstaple was an important centre for pottery manufacture from the medieval period until recent times. Large quantities of the attractive, decorated, pottery were exported to North America in colonial times. The sandbank in the Taw lies not far from one of the main potteries in Barnstaple and it seems likely that much of the material came from there.

Devon County Council asked Wessex Archaeology to undertake the survey, co-ordinating the work of the local enthusiasts who made the discovery. Volunteers and professionals worked together to make a careful record of the finds.

Some of the pots are shapes that have not been seen before. They were either new styles that did not catch on, or were difficult to make. Other finds are what are called wasters; damaged during firing and thrown away.

It seems that the potters threw the wasters into the River Taw where they were washed downstream before coming to rest in the sandbank.

As well as the 17th century pottery there was also pottery of medieval date, some 300-400 years older, which was also made in Barnstaple.

Local enthusiast Mike Palmer had been combing the sandbank for months, and his local knowledge and experience was a great help. Margaret Bunyard of Wessex Archaeology said ‘we are used to working in conditions like these, and often work with the public, but we haven’t done both at the same time before!’

The volunteers spent three days combing the site for pottery, then washed and marked their finds. John Allan of Exeter Archaeology, who is an expert on pottery from North Devon is writing a report on the pottery before it goes on display at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

Kew Bridge House, London

Before work starts on a new building, archaeological excavations are revealing that it has a rich - and royal - heritage. Trial work at Kew Bridge House found the remains of several buildings dating from the 17th century onwards as well as finds from the Middle Ages. Now, following the demolition of a modern office block, excavations are exploring these buildings and exploring what went on at the site in the Middle Ages.
In 1747 the famous map maker John Rocque illustrated an ‘L’ shaped building on the eastern edge of the site. This building was extended in the late 18th and 19th centuries and eventually used as a malthouse, which has royal connections.
The excavations have found the remains of this building to which a wing was later added. The foundations from an earlier, late 17th or early 18th century, building, were found underneath.
The earliest activity on the site is not, though, recorded by history. The excavations have confirmed the hints of medieval activity. Pits and ditches have been found and it is thought that most of these will be medieval in date. The ditches may be from field systems lying to the east of the medieval town of Brentford and next to the River Thames.
Malt was used in making beer. The malthouse seems to have belonged to the Royal Brewery based in Brentford High Street. Many bottles and bottle tops with the Brewery’s crest have been found. At first the brewery, which dates back to the 18th century, was called the Red Lion Brewery. Its royal connection and its new name - the Royal Brewery - came about in 1828 after King William IV visited it and asked for its name to be changed.
The malthouse went out of use in the early 20th century, when the main buildings were demolished and their cellars filled in with rubbish. After that, a modern office block was built. The new development opens another chapter in the long and varied history of Kew Bridge House.



St George West London Limited commissioned CgMs Consulting and Wessex Archaeology to do the archaeological work for them. The excavations are being monitored by the Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service of English Heritage on behalf of the Council.

The Wreck Of The Troopship ss Mendi

Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by English Heritage in December 2006 to undertake an initial desk-based appraisal of the wreck of the troopship ss Mendi. The Mendi was a British troopship carrying non-combatant black labourers from South Africa to France when it sank with huge loss of life after a collision with another vessel in the English Channel, south of the Isle of Wight in February 1917.

Photograph of the ss Mendi, courtesy of the South African Navy.Photograph of the ss Mendi, courtesy of the South African Navy.

The wreck of the Mendi is more than just a tragic maritime accident. It is also a monument to a rare tangible link, both in the UK and in South Africa, with the now obscure and generally forgotten system of ‘native’ labour contingents used by the British Army, during World War I.

The aim of the current project is to investigate the issues and areas of potential historical, archaeological, social and political interest associated with this wreck. It will then look beyond the wreck and the event, to consider the wider social and political context of the loss of the Mendi, and consider why this particular wreck is of special international importance.

The project will identify a range of areas for potential future research, and serve as the basis for a possible non-intrusive survey of the wreck itself in the near future.

Visit the ss Mendi project website for further information.

Practical Archaeology Course 2007

Practical Archaeology Training Course at Down Farm, Sixpenny Handley

September 3rd-7th and 10th-14th 2007

Following the success of the last three years, these five day courses will take place at Martin Green’s farm on Cranborne Chase “one of the most carefully studied areas in western Europe”. The Down Farm landscape includes parts of the Dorset Cursus and Ackling Dyke, Bronze Age barrows and Roman and Iron Age buildings. It is a rich, multi-period site in a wonderful setting.

The course will include instruction and practice in site surveying, excavation, recording (the production of both written records and scale drawings) and finds processing.

Find out more about the course, and details about how to sign up.

Bronze Age burials found at Tidworth

Builders working on the new Tank Regiment base at Tidworth have discovered Bronze Age burials. Dating back to the time of Stonehenge, the four graves are 3,500 years old making them the oldest finds from Tidworth.
Wessex Archaeology was called in and they found that the bodies had been cremated. The ashes in three of the graves were covered by pots that had been placed upside down. The fourth burial was not covered by a pot and instead it may have been wrapped in a cloth that has long since rotted away.
The bones will be studied by experts to establish the age and sex of the dead. It is hoped that radiocarbon dating on tiny fragments of charcoal from the funeral pyre found with the bones will allow a close dating of the finds. 
Nick Truckle, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology said ‘Bronze Age burial mounds are a familiar site even today. But not everyone was buried under a barrow at this time. As the four graves lay in a line, we imagine that the sites of the graves were marked by some sort of memorial. As the graves are so close together this small cemetery may be a family one.’

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)
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