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Unique First World War Battlefield Found Beneath Wiltshire

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Archaeologists working in Wiltshire have identified a unique network of First World War tunnels under Salisbury Plain.
 
The tunnels are part of a First World War battlefield used to train men to fight in and under the trenches of France and Belgium. The soldiers have left the mine galleries deep in the Wiltshire chalk but they have also left their names – over a hundred inscriptions written by soldiers training on Salisbury Plain between 1915 and 1918.
 
The trenches and the tunnels beneath them have been found during archaeological work in advance of new Army housing at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. Archaeologists have been working alongside specialist engineers and tunnel specialists to investigate the underground battlefield.
 
The First World War is famous for its miles of trenches. Trench systems also included dug-outs − underground chambers used as troop shelters, headquarters, medical posts and stores - that were relatively safe from the bombs and bullets on the surface but mining also had more malign purposes. Both sides dug tunnels under no-man’s-land between the opposing trench lines. Once under the enemy trenches they laid large explosive charges to blow holes in the lines of trenches. Both sides played cat and mouse, digging towards each other and trying to stop the enemy from placing their explosives.
 
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At Larkhill there are dug-outs and underground mines snaking under no-man’s-land with the defenders’ counter-mines seeking them out. There are listening posts, where soldiers used stethoscopes to hear the enemy miners’ pick axes at work. There is also evidence of soldiers learning how to lay small charges to blow the enemy tunnel and bury the enemy soldiers alive.
 
Martin Brown (WYG) Archaeological Consultant to the Army Basing Project said:
 
This is the first time anyone has found and excavated tunnels used to train the sappers and miners before they were deployed overseas. We have found them as part of the largest single investigation of First World War training trenches anywhere in the world. Our excavations have revealed this story for the first time. That we didn’t expect these underground tunnels shows that much remains left to discover, even from only a century ago.

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The trenches and mines are directly related to battles fought 100 years ago: The Somme in 1916 began with a number of mines blown, as did Arras, which began on Good Friday 1917, while the Battle of Messines was heralded on 7 June 1917 by the detonation of 19 mines under the German trenches. As one officer remarked before the Messines attack, the mines would ‘change the geography’.
 
Leaving their mark – 100 years on
Soldiers training in the trenches have left their names to be found by the archaeologists. Over one hundred pieces of graffiti have been found written on and carved into the chalk of trenches, dug-outs and tunnels. The names include men who died, others who survived, decorated heroes and one deserter. The names come from Wiltshire men in the Wiltshire Regiment, from West Yorkshire coal miners, drafted in to work underground for King and Country, from the two Halls brothers who signed their names and wrote ‘Semper Fidelis’ (Ever Faithful) beneath. A poignant ‘RIP 19 Manchester Scouts’ may recall friends from pre-war Scouting adventures killed in action. 

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Soldiers from all over Britain wrote on the chalk and there are lots of Australian names too, recording men from the Australian Third Division, who trained on Salisbury Plain in 1916.
 
Steve Thompson, Senior Archaeologist from Wessex Archaeology said: 
 
This project has been very important in bringing the names and faces of young men who volunteered to fight; without really knowing what they were letting themselves in for, back into the public eye. Many of these men paid the ultimate sacrifice after travelling half way around the world to train on Salisbury Plain before heading to the Western Front...
 
The fact it's the centenary this year of many of the bloodiest battles of the First World War and that we know men training here saw active service during these battles is all the more poignant. Each time a new piece of graffiti was uncovered or a new name revealed we would search for the individuals...
 
The First World War was a European and international conflict and our archaeological team comprises people from the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Poland and New Zealand. All these nations were greatly affected by the war and its aftermath. It is unlikely the archaeological team will ever get to take part in excavation such as this again – to excavate, almost in its entirety, an unknown WW1 training battlefield.
 
Si Cleggett, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology said: 
 
Larkhill has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for our Wessex Archaeology teams, it has been a humbling experience for archaeologists to stand and read the names of young soldiers in the very spaces they occupied before embarkation to the horrors of the trenches.
 
It may be a cliché but, having stood in their footprints a hundred years after their days of training at Larkhill, we really will remember them.
 
Australian Victoria Cross Winner Trained at Larkhill
Most exciting was the discovery of a chalk plaque inscribed with the names of Australian Bombers − soldiers specially trained to use hand grenades to attack and clear German trenches. One of the names is of Private Lawrence Carthage Weathers, who won the Victoria Cross in September 1918 for attacking a German machine gun post with grenades, capturing guns and taking 180 prisoners.
 
Martin Brown said ‘The chalk plaque and the large number of grenade fragments found show that Weathers learned his deadly skills here, on our site. He was one of thousands who learned soldiering at Larkhill.
 
Trenches
The tunnels are beneath a network of trenches that recreate the battlefields of France. The archaeologists have cleared 8 km of trenches, working alongside bomb disposal specialists Bactec, as some grenades used in training were still live! They have found relics of training from food tins to ammunition and even a tin that once held an Australian brand of toffees, while a bucket had been turned into an impromptu brazier to keep men warm and boil water for all-important mugs of tea!
 
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Hobbits and poets
JRR Tolkien was a young officer on the Somme. He lived in dug-outs and knew about the mines. The beginning of the Hobbit describes an idealised dug-out, while goblins, fight in the darkness and the fear of monsters living in the deeps (including fire-breathing dragons) have their origins in Tolkien’s war service.
 
War poet Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting talks of a dead soul wandering lost in the tunnels beneath the battlefields and reflects the poet’s fear of burial alive following his being trapped in a dug-out after an explosion.
 
By Martin Brown, Principal Archaeologist WYG
 
 

Miranda’s work experience

This is my blog of the week I spent doing work experience at Wessex Archaeology.  I've been interested in history and archaeology since primary school and I still go to the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) in Salisbury.  Every day was brilliant and it was absolutely wonderful to broaden my experience with archaeology. I would like to be an osteoarchaeologist in a few years.

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Day 1

In the morning, I had a tour and met most members of staff. In the afternoon, I was with the coastal & marine department (Peta and Tom). I then went over to unit 2, looked at different finds to start off with then we laid out part of a plane and recorded it by taking photos and measuring it. We then took some photos of a pot so a photogrammetry model could be made, which is still probably being completed. Next, I learnt how to do detailed scale drawings of artefacts, for this we used quite a large bit of timber from an old lifeboat. I then helped Peta with finding some information from ship plans. 
 

Day 2

In the morning, I headed over to environmental where I met: Mai, Emma, Orla and Dudley. First Mai taught me how to sort through wet samples taken from dig sites, then we placed the stones, gravel and small finds (if there are any!) into the oven where it will usually remain for two days. Obviously, we couldn’t use the samples that had just been put into the oven so Mai found some dry samples which we used to find any small finds and separate it from the dirt and gravel. Mai taught me the process of separating a tray. First we had to sieve the whole tray through a set of sieves, next, starting from the biggest sieve and working our way down, we needed to find some small finds and separate them into the different categories, eg, charcoal and bone, then we had to put the finds into small bags, weigh them and label them. After lunch I headed over to the finds department where I met Sue and Erica and spent the afternoon labelling finds. 
 

Day 3

This morning I went to the Graphics and Surveying office where I met Virva and Roberta. Virva took me outside so I would learn how to use the surveying equipment. Once back inside Virva showed me how to edit the area by changing the units and adding extra points to the site. In the afternoon, I was in the finds department washing finds with the volunteers. 
 

Day 4

For this day I spent the whole day in graphics working with Nancy, the first thing I did was drawing Roman pottery then we scanned my drawings and edited them on the computer such as filling in some areas and adding a scale to the drawings. After lunch I drew some other finds including an Iron Age bone comb. 
 

Day 5

In the morning, I was back in environmental doing a different task this time I was looking at different soil samples from different sites underneath the microscope and working out the type of ground and area as well as looking at how much it had changed overtime and finding out the different species of plants that grew there. In the afternoon, I was talking to Kirsten and Jackie, the Osteoarchaeologists at the company, about their work and what they do and learning how it isn't just about identifying skeletons it's also about looking at the burial as a whole and working out why it was done in that way, and why was this person buried like this.  
I would like to thank everybody at Wessex Archaeology for such an enjoyable week!
 
By Miranda Roberts
 
 
 

New Team Member for Built Heritage

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My name is James Wright and I have recently joined Wessex Archaeology’s Sheffield Office as a Built Heritage Technician. Following my return to education as a ‘mature student’, I graduated from the University of York with a BA in Archaeology last year. Since then, I have been working as a Planning Intern for Calderdale Council, assisting with the preparation of their Local Plan (focusing on the Historic Environment Policies, which means I have some experience of built heritage from a slightly different perspective, which I hope will prove useful!) 

It was my passion for buildings archaeology and the historic environment that was the driving force for me returning to education − my aim was to secure a position in the field that I felt so enthusiastic about, and so I feel very excited to begin my career with Wessex Archaeology.
 
Since starting, I have begun undertaking my training, which will continue over the coming days, weeks and months −  next is my photographic and survey training, and then a trip to the archives!
 
 
 
 

Canterbury Christ Church University Partnership

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Over the past year Wessex Archaeology has been working with Canterbury Christ Church University to develop a series of work placements and projects for their second-year students. These form part of their new module for 2016/2017 – Applied Humanities Employability in Practice – for students in the Humanities Department. The aim of the module is to complement the theoretical elements of their undergraduate studies with practical, work-based experience. This will give them the opportunity to develop a valuable understanding of a business and work environment.
 
Mark Williams, Regional Manager London & South East at Wessex Archaeology, said ‘This is an excellent opportunity for a professional organisation like Wessex Archaeology to work with a respected teaching establishment, to help students prepare themselves for the workplace. We have had a very positive response from the students and look forward to our continuing work with them’. 
 
Watch this space in the coming weeks for updates from the students themselves.  
 

New Discoveries at Chisenbury Midden

In 2016, following earlier English Heritage investigations, additional excavation and a geophysical survey were undertaken at this remarkable Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden site by Wessex Archaeology working with Operation Nightingale and Breaking Ground Heritage, supported by Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Landmarc.

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A substantial ditch and bank which enclosed the midden were confirmed – a proto hillfort? – along with clear evidence for contemporary settlement represented by a complex of postholes associated with timber structures. Large numbers of finds were recovered including pottery, animal bone, some disarticulated human bone, spinning/weaving equipment and a possibly unique copper alloy ‘pendant’.

The report made available here presents the results of the two-week excavation, with further investigation proposed this year, specifically to open a larger area and identify roundhouses and other structures amongst the plethora of postholes recorded in a narrow trench in 2016.
 
 
 

European Award Win for Wessex Archaeology's SAMPHIRE Project

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Wessex Archaeology is delighted to announce that SAMPHIRE, our marine heritage project, which used a unique crowd-sourcing method to map archaeological sites along the west coast of Scotland, has won the prestigious European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards 2017. SAMPHIRE, which was funded by The Crown Estate, was devised and run by Wessex Archaeology, using the expertise of Dr Jonathan Benjamin, and former Wessex Archaeology Manager John McCarthy who is now based with Dr Benjamin at Flinders University in South Australia. 
 
Our award win comes in the Education, Training and Awareness-raising category, since the project team worked with local communities along Scotland’s west coast to help find previously unknown archaeological sites in the marine environment. This was done through face-to-face meetings with harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and others, as well as with local residents in the coastal towns and villages. Once the identified locations had been recorded, the most promising were visited by teams of professional and volunteer archaeological divers to verify the information received.
 

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The European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards was launched by the European Commission in 2002, and has since been run by Europa Nostra. It celebrates and promotes best practices related to heritage conservation, research, management, voluntarism, education and communication. In this way, it contributes to a stronger public recognition of cultural heritage as a strategic resource for Europe’s economy and society. The Prize is supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Independent expert juries examined a total of 202 applications from 39 countries across Europe, and chose just 29 winners in a number of different categories.
 
Chris Brayne, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, said:
 
"We are delighted to have been announced as a winner of this prestigious European prize which celebrates best practice in heritage conservation, research, management, education and communication. This was an innovative, collaborative, project which involved over 100 members of the local community along the coast of West Scotland. We were very fortunate in being able to partner with a great many local and national organisations including community dive clubs and scientific partners such as the Scottish Association of Marine Science"
 
Wreck sites recorded by the SAMPHIRE project 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 the island of 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 Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942)
The Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933).
 
Full details of the project’s discoveries are available online, and reports for each year contain detailed accounts of the discoveries made. These can be seen on the SAMPHIRE website here. Data gathered during the project will be archived with Historic Environment Scotland, and also be made available through their Canmore website, ensuring that the knowledge passed on is permanently stored and accessible for future generations. 
 
Chris and the SAMPHIRE team will be presented with their award by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Placido Domingo at an event in Finland on 15 May 2017.
 
 

Working for Wessex

 
Well what can I say, my first few months at Wessex Archaeology have passed by in a blissful blur filled with mud, ditches, cremations and great colleagues!
 

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My Name is Martha Page; I am a field technician at the Wessex Archaeology Maidstone office. Before starting my Wessex adventure, I studied BA Archaeology at Cardiff specifically looking at public engagement, social media outreach, British prehistory and my obsession-experimental archaeology and the working of lithics (aka flint knapping!).  I caught the archaeology bug early − as a seven year old − not difficult when you live in Wiltshire and spend your days exploring long barrows and causewayed enclosures.
 
Since graduating I worked for a year with another commercial company, here in the south-east doing largely urban archaeology and environmental processing. But when the time came to move on Wessex was the place to be and I definitely don’t regret it.
 
I have received not only a warm welcome to the team but have also received a variety of training from survey and artefact identification, as well as driving company vehicles and taking on watching briefs. In comparison to my previous experience, my work with Wessex has been largely rural meaning ditches, ditches and (you guessed it) yet more ditches with a few cremation burials, pits and roundhouses thrown in for good measure. I love it, never have I looked forward to getting up and going to work as I do here, and it’s wonderful to fall into bed at the end of the day very tired but very satisfied by a productive day’s digging.
 
Being one of the regional offices, Maidstone has a great team dynamic which I have had the opportunity to be part of and enjoy, especially with all the recent away work we have been doing. Definitely something I would recommend a new archaeologist to try when you are starting your career. 
 
So what next? For me the current goal is to keep working, improving and learning − developing my career and being part of this fantastic company, hope to be able to keep you all up dated again soon! 
 
Martha Page, Field Technician
 
 

Organic Residue Analysis and Pottery Production Sites Training Session in York

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On Thursday 23 March Ashley Tuck and Jess Tibber from the Sheffield Office attended a Historic England Heritage Practice programme addressing Organic Residue Analysis (ORA) and Pottery Production Sites. It was a full day of talks and interactive sessions, chaired by the local Science Advisor Andy Hammon.

Introducing the principles and potential applications of organic residue analysis, it was very exciting to hear how the field has been developing, and the possibilities, including the prospect for radiocarbon dating pottery in the near future. Absorbed residues were shown by Evershed in ‘Organic residue analysis in archaeology: the archaeological biomarker revolution’ (2008) to survive in >80% of domestic cooking pottery assemblages worldwide. Although this can vary, it shows just how much potential additional information is waiting to be discovered! Dairy fats, carcass fats, plant waxes, beeswax and resins can all be separately identified and help us to better characterise pottery uses across sites and regions. The training session also covered the importance of targeted questions when considering the use of this technique, and the best practice for onsite retrieval, and post-excavation treatment of pottery samples.
 
The afternoon session was about anticipating and locating pottery production sites, and understanding the available methods and strategies for examining and recording these types of site. Local ceramic specialist Chris Cumberpatch gave a talk about the existing production sites which we are currently aware of in South Yorkshire, and the crucial importance of how we deal with any future sites in the area. 
 
The day was very thought-provoking, and it also provided a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow heritage professionals and discuss the potential for applying these techniques to past and future Wessex projects.
 
For further information please see: 
 
 

New translator for the Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol for the Reporting of Finds of Archaeological Interest

 
Français

3351 Je m’appelle Yohann Paci et j’ai traduit la Procédure de déclaration des découvertes pour Wessex Archaeology. Je suis engagé dans la compagnie depuis septembre 2015 en tant que technicien de fouille sur les fouilles terrestres. 

Etant français, c’est avec plaisir que j’ai accepté cette mission de traduction anglais-français que m’a proposé Andrea Hamel pour le département d’archéologie sous-marine. 
 
Cela permettra d’aider les équipages francophone à mieux comprendre le processus de déclaration et les enjeux des découvertes archéologiques sous-marine réalisées lors des opérations de dragage.  
 
English
 
My name is Yohann Paci and I translated the various documents and video for Wessex Archaeology’s Marine Aggregate Industry Protocol for the Reporting of Finds of Archaeological Interest. I have worked in the company since September 2015 as a field technician on the land excavations. 
 
As a French citizen, it’s with a great pleasure that I accepted this mission given to me by Andrea Hamel to translate from English to French for the Coastal & Marine department. 
 
This will help French-speaking crews and wharf staff to better understand the Protocol and the issues of reporting underwater archaeological discoveries made during dredging operations.
 
 
Yohann Paci, Field Technician
 
 
 

Forensic Archaeology Workshop at Sheffield General Cemetery

This week Wessex Archaeology’s Alix Sperr made a visit to the newly renovated Nonconformist chapel in Sheffield General Cemetery, for a workshop with pupils from Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School.
 
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The Nonconformist Chapel exists in the heart of the Sheffield General Cemetery in the district of Sharrow, Sheffield. Commissioned by the General Cemetery Company and designed by Samuel Worth in the 1830s, the Chapel served as a place for friends and family to remember their loved ones before burial. Dormant since the 1950s, the Chapel has been recently renovated to provide a unique venue for public events.
 
Wessex Archaeology was very excited to be one of the first organisations to be invited to use the space to present a workshop as part of Sheffield Festival of Science & Engineering 2017. 
 
After an introduction to how science is used in archaeology, the pupils were tasked with analysing the clues given from archaeological remains discovered during excavations of a burial by Wessex Archaeology. Working in teams they had to decide which pieces of evidence may give clues about the identity of the individual buried. Some clues offered more information that they bargained for, and some were just red herrings. 
 
As well as evidence cards, grave plan and burial photographs, the pupils were shown a reconstruction of the burial using beautifully handcrafted replica artefacts and a life-size plastic skeleton. Seeing the skeleton laid out surrounded by some of belongings offered a new insight into the practice of burying the dead and got the pupils thinking about how the individual was laid to rest and why they were buried with so many belongings. 
 
After a great discussion on who the burial belonged to, the pupils were given a guided tour around the cemetery by local historian and heritage interpreter Janet Ridler from Sheffield General Cemetery Trust. 
 
For more information about Wessex Archaeology's Community, Education and Outreach projects and the services we can offer, please click here or email education@wessexarch.co.uk
 
(photos courtesy of Janet Ridler from Sheffield General Cemetery)
 
 
 
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