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Living on the Edge – Excavations at Steart Point

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Our latest report on excavations at Steart Point peninsula, near Bridgwater is now available (Living on the Edge: Archaeological Investigations at Steart Point, Somerset by Lorrain Higbee and Lorraine Mepham). The results of the excavations, undertaken in some very poor weather conditions, have shown how local communities in this marginal environment exploited and battled the dynamic coastal landscape from the Iron Age to the 17th century. The peninsula is located in the coastal lowlands of the Somerset Levels, an area that has been exploited for its rich natural resources since prehistoric times, but one that has been prone to marine inundation and flooding for thousands of years.

Four area excavations were undertaken, as well as geoarchaeological assessment, a survey of the lidar data for the peninsula, and a documentary search. Evidence for occupation was recovered, probably temporary or seasonal during the Iron Age, and later in small, isolated farmsteads during the Romano-British and medieval/post-medieval periods. The inhabitants practised a mixed arable and pastoral economy and, despite their isolated location, demonstrated trading links with Devon and Dorset, later with the Bristol area and even the Continent, probably through local markets such as Bridgwater. The threat of flooding, however, remained constant, and probably caused the abandonment of the Romano-British settlement in around 350 AD, and the post-medieval settlements in the early 17th century, both events which reflected wider patterns of settlement retreat around the Severn Estuary. A study of the historic maps has shown just how dynamic the coastal landscape was, with islands in Bridgwater Bay appearing, changing shape and disappearing in rapid succession.
 
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The landscape is still evolving and the economy changing. After centuries of the construction of successive coastal defences, the current development by the Environment Agency (EA) in conjunction with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) has led to the reversion of a large part of the peninsula to managed saltmarsh and freshwater wetlands, providing an extensive wildlife habitat as well as vital flood defences.
 
Read more about the project here.
To purchase the book click here.
 
 
 
 

Geoservices Welcomes New Marine Geophysicists

Geoservices are pleased to welcome Alex Jacob and Sam Strutton to the Marine Geophysics team in our Salisbury office. Both will be working as marine geophysicists, processing and reporting on geophysical data to help investigate sites of potential archaeological interest below the waves.
 

3342 Alex (front) and Sam (back)

Alex graduated from the University of Southampton in 2014 with an Msci in Geophysics where she gained experience in both terrestrial and marine geophysical survey, completing fieldwork over Basing House and Portchester Castle sites. During her studies, Alex completed numerous summer placements processing and interpreting geophysical data for a range of projects for commercial companies. She completed her dissertation on the ‘Archaeological potential of WWI wrecks of the English Channel and Dover Strait: A geophysical perspective’ before working with the UKHO on updating their nautical charts and suite of admiralty products around the world. Alex is excited to return to geophysics, applying her knowledge from the UKHO in her new role!
 
Sam has been working in the marine survey sector for eight years with Fugro, previously EMU Limited. She worked regularly with Wessex Archaeology over the years, on many projects, comprising archaeological reviews of the data for baseline and monitoring purposes.
 
Sam gained experience at university in underwater archaeology, palaeoclimatology and seafloor surveying before deciding to undertake offshore survey commercially. After time working offshore acquiring data, Sam focused on processing, interpreting, and reporting for various projects. This lead on to project managing the surveys, data interpretation and reporting for renewables, oil and gas, and aggregate projects around the UK. Sam is excited to bring her experience of geophysical surveys and passion for data, and delve back in to archaeology and palaeoclimatology in her new role in the Marine Geophysics team.
 
The Marine Geophysics team are looking forward to working with them over what looks to be a busy and exciting year ahead! 
 
By Sam Strutton and Alex Jacob
 
 

Archaeology Visiting the Classroom

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On 27 February Wessex Archaeology’s Senior Community & Education Officer Rachel Brown travelled to Plympton, Devon to run some sessions in a local school based upon the archaeological findings from the nearby Sherford site, funded by the Sherford Consortium. We have previously run a number of outreach events to share the discoveries at the site with the local community on behalf of the developers and the school visit was a part of this on-going work.
 
Rachel worked with Year 6 and Year 3 students at Goosewell Academy. The Year 6 students investigated artefacts that had been found at Sherford, to discover what can be learnt from the finds about the people who had inhabited the land over the last c. 8000 years. They also looked into the Bronze Age round barrows discovered on site, which deepened their understanding of prehistoric activity at Sherford. The lesson allowed the students to learn about their local environment, how landscapes change over time, and also supported the National Curriculum work they will be doing in the summer term based around prehistory. The Year 3 students also learnt about finds from the site and discovered how the archaeologists at Sherford conducted the excavation, this linked to earlier work the Years 3 students had been doing on archaeology.
 
The visit provided an excellent opportunity for students to engage with their local history and environment.
 
 
 

ScARF Lithics Workshop

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On Monday 13 March Wessex Archaeology Scotland attended the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) Skills Workshop ‘Learn about Lithics!’ organised by the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It was hosted at the National Museum of Scotland allowing a closer look behind the scenes of the famous Museum!

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The workshop started off by introducing our team into the practical aspects of identifying lithics especially in a Scottish context, led by lithics expert Torben Ballin. Following the introduction, we discussed the commercial archaeological approaches to lithics together with Julie Lochrie from Headland Archaeology. To complete the session Anna MacQuarrie described how the lithics recovered from archaeological sites are displayed in museums and what process they have to go through. Wessex Archaeology was very grateful to be invited to such a great workshop and would like to thank the organisers and all other participants!

 
 
 

Wessex Recording Manual Goes Down Under!

Mid-brown with an orange hue, silty sand with moderate sub-angular small pebbles’ as I look down at my context sheet beneath the blazing Australian sun I am eternally grateful that soil is soil the world over. Since starting work in Australia I have discovered a lot of things are very different: coins stamped in 1838 are venerated with awe, light rain means ‘stop working’ and the term ‘Post-medieval’ suddenly makes very little sense. But soil is, thankfully, still soil. 
 

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Another thing that does not change is the necessity of creating consistent detailed records of archaeology as it is excavated. Which ideally requires a company standard recording manual to provide guidance to field staff.  Accordingly, TerraCulture Heritage Consultants (one of the most established archaeology companies in Victoria) has decided to create their own recording manual as part of a drive to improve company standards. The first stage in this process was to find an existing recording guide to base their guide on. After consultation, it was decided that the best available guide is the Wessex Archaeology Field Guide which was kindly provided by Wessex. 
 
The next stage will be to adapt the guide in line with Australian standards and TerraCulture’s existing recording system, with the existing Wessex Field Guide standing in as a temporary manual for new recruits until the Australian version can be circulated. But until such a time, in a corner of a foreign field there will be a site that shall forever be recorded like Wessex! 
 
by Joe Page, Archaeologist, TerraCulture Heritage Consultants
 
 
 

A Rare Iron ‘Pig’ from Steart Farm, Devon

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The built heritage team has recently recorded a group of 18th–19th-century farm buildings, including a Grade II listed farmhouse, at Steart Farm, Buck’s Cross, near Bideford on the north Devon coast. The Level 4 record was carried out for RPS Planning and Development in advance of construction of the new Route 39 academy on the site.
 
The work included detailed digital 3D measured survey, photography, fabric analysis and documentary research. Analysis of the plan form and fabric of the farmhouse suggests the earliest part may date from the 17th–early 18th century, which is older than that suggested in the listing description. This early house had a simple rectangular plan, with walls constructed of cob and timber ‘A’ framed roof trusses. At one end was a large inglenook fireplace, the focal point of the house, providing heat and where all the cooking was done. The farmhouse was extended to the south-west with a service range added during the mid-18th century.
 

3322 Cloam oven with re-used cast iron ingot

On one side of the inglenook fireplace was a ‘cloam’ oven, a feature characteristic of traditional north Devon houses. Cloam ovens were built of clay and made locally in the Bideford and Barnstaple area, a centre of clay oven construction and distribution from the 17th–19th centuries. The surveyors were surprised to discover a re-used cast iron ingot with visible maker’s stamp that had been used as a lintel over the oven opening, albeit inserted upside down. On close inspection, the stamp reads ‘PRINCIPO * 1727’.
 
The significance of this feature was not at first apparent, however research has indicated that the iron ingot or ‘pig’ is a rare survivor of the Principio Iron Works in Perryville, Maryland, USA. The works was established in 1719 and operated from 1723 being the earliest in the county and one of the first in the American colonies. It has been estimated that approximately 50,000 tons of pig and bar iron were exported from Maryland to Britain between 1718 and 1755, perhaps half from the furnaces of the Principio Company. Most of this went to London, but some consignments were sent to other ports, amongst which may have been nearby Bideford.
 

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Steart Farm was part of the large Rolle Devon estate during the 18th–19th centuries. During the late 19th century the estate was run by the prolific philanthropist and builder Mark Rolle (1865–1907) who was responsible for many improvements to farm buildings across his estates in south and north Devon. Rolle’s work can be seen at Steart Farm in the characteristic red brick dressings and features on some of the buildings (see left and below). Rolle constructed a new cow shed or shippon (later converted into a bungalow) attached to the existing barn and, as part of this general improvement, a horse engine house was built so that fodder could be processed for the cows kept nearby.
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Following the death of Mark Rolle in 1907, Steart Farm was sold to meet inheritance taxes. It continued for some time as a small independent farm for most of the remaining years of the 20th century, but was eventually sold and ended up as a camping and caravanning park until this closed in 2014. Despite the new development, this is not the end of the farm, as the farmhouse, and some of the historic outbuildings will be incorporated into the academy complex. 
 
 
 
 

Kirkthorpe Weir and Hydropower Station

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In 2015 Yorkshire Hydropower Limited and Barn Energy, began the construction of a new low head hydropower station adjacent to the Grade II listed Kirkthorpe Weir and Sluice Gates, on the River Calder, Wakefield. The hydropower scheme will use the flow of the river to power a single 500kW axial turbine to generate approximately 2.3 million units of electricity per year. 
 
During November 2016 Wessex Archaeology carried out a photographic survey of the Grade II listed weir and sluice gates as part of the works, when the opportunity to record the structure arose during a time when an unprecedented amount of the structure was visible. 
 
The extant weir and its sluices were constructed in 1827, replacing an earlier original weir dating to the early 18th century, and was granted Grade II listed status in 1986. The weir was constructed at Kirkthorpe as part of the Aire and Calder Navigation, when in 1699 an Act was passed in Parliament to improve the navigability of the River Calder from Castleford to Wakefield, essential for trade and the development of the area. 
 
The weir and its sluices have remained largely intact for the last 200 years almost and are the property of the Canal and Rivers Trust. The construction of the new hydropower station symbolises a new era for the site.
 
The new hydropower station was officially opened on 13 March 2017 by Sir John Armitt, Deputy Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, in a ceremony at the site which Wessex Archaeology were kindly invited to. We are privileged to have been part of such a fantastic project.
 
Further information on the prestigious project can be found at:
 
By Lucy Dawson, Project Manager
 
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Sheffield Witch Flies to New Home

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One of the more unusual artefacts that Wessex North inherited from ARCUS was a large wooden sign from a building on Corporation Street in Sheffield, removed during the demolition phase of sites along the ring road. Affectionately known as ‘The Witch’ the sign comprises a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick with the word MAGIC underneath. Discussions on local forums suggest that the sign was erected as part of a Halloween promotion advertising mattresses at ‘magic prices’. Since it was not directly relevant to the building it came from, Sheffield Museum didn’t want to add it to their social history collection. After some quick research, I found a museum in Cornwall called ‘The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’ and I thought they might be interested in having the sign. It turns out they are! So after a long stay in the basement in the Sheffield office, she is finally flying down south to her new home in Boscastle. 
 
Here is a link to the museum should anyone be in the vicinity, one of the more unusual repositories Wessex has sent finds to!
 
Assiciated Links
 
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Wessex Archaeology (Scotland) have moved!

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After nearly seven years we have left our old premises at North St David Street and moved to 21-23 Slaters Steps, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, near to the Scottish Parliament! The new building boasts a large open-plan office space over two levels, a laboratory space, storage unit, and conference room. With the addition of some plants and decorations depicting some of our key projects, the team have started feeling at home.
 
Following our recent recruitment drive we will be increasing the size of our team, in our shiny new office!
 
 
 

Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society

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Wessex Archaeology was invited by the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeology Society to give a talk on the SAMPHIRE project. After arriving in Falkirk Isger Vico Sommer gave an hour-long presentation about three years of SAMPHIRE and the legacy it created. Highlights were the Ardno and Galmisdale wrecks. The members of the Society were very enthusiastic about the SAMPHIRE project and rewarded our speaker with tea and biscuits!
 
 
 
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