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A Roman Altar from York

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Staff from the Sheffield office have been monitoring a development in central York for much of the year. The site lies within the medieval walled city, and due to the archaeological sensitivity of the area, the retirement home proposed for the site is being built on foundation piles, with minimal impact on lower levels. An archaeological watching brief was required for any ground disturbing works, and this passed off with little incident, until the last day when a Roman altar was found. The artefact was spotted amidst the upcast generated when a service trench was excavated through a backfilled Victorian cellar.

The workmanship of the artefact appears rather crude, and the sculptor was probably as native as the millstone grit from which it is carved. Although the altar lacks an inscription on its front, a design can be seen on one side (height of altar approximately 40 cm). RTI recording of the artefact (lower image) has enabled us to decode the carvings: a patera (libations bowl) and handled jug. A deep bowl has been carved into the top of the object, and it has been suggested that the artefact was re-purposed as a garden planter or bird bath in more recent times. Such a reuse might account for its presence within the cellar.
 
 
By Patrick Daniel
 
 
 

Week Two of Euan O’Neill's Work Experience

 

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The timetable for my second week was Monday to Thursday digging at Rossington and Friday back at the Wessex Archaeology Sheffield office. At the office, I needed to return my PPE, do some environmental sample processing and write this blog.
 
On the Monday, I had to finish filling out my context forms and registering a few pieces of information about a ditch I dug the previous week (at this point we had moved to a different site sub division). I had forgotten most of this information but because we had to cross reference everything, all of it was recorded in different ways making it easy for me to finish what I had already started. Once I had finished that I was asked to dig a ditch slot similar to the previous one, however, it was part of a different ditch. I was getting a good idea of a professional working environment while learning new things.
 
I had to finish digging the section and cleaning it for photographs. When this was complete, I moved onto preparing my slot for photographs. I had to clear out the crumbling material with a trowel so that the difference between the natural and archaeological material could be seen. I also had to clear out loose material within one metre of the feature for the same reason. Once that was finished I then set up the camera to take some photos. I noticed that I was remembering everything I had to do and that hopefully I was improving. The pictures were taken and a register kept of the photos. After all the necessary tasks had been completed, I started digging another slot for another ditch that I would finish the next day.
 
It had rained for most of Tuesday night and it had begun raining again before I had set off to work. I met the other fieldworkers at the usual point around seven but we were waiting in the pouring rain desperate to get going, however despite starting on our journey to site the rain was too bad and we came back to the office. Back at the office we found other jobs to do such as the processing and quantifying of finds.
 
On Thursday I headed out to the Rossington site for the last time. I had enjoyed going out on site for many reasons. I had learned new skills and terms as well as a good idea of how I would do this in the future. We arrived on site only to find that pretty much all of the features had been filled with muddy water and that the material was very delicate now. This made it difficult to excavate but not impossible. I began finishing my ditch slot after first break. It had just started to rain during our break meaning some tasks such as the clearing of loose material had to be repeated. I was done with the feature just before our lunch break leaving me the remaining afternoon to finish my written tasks. During our break, we had a good long chat about my time on site and whether I had enjoyed it. In the afternoon all I had to do was draw my feature, fill out my context forms and record any remaining information. The others helped me where I had made mistakes, but there were much fewer than when I had first started and I was very pleased to hear positive comments from other staff. I had completed my work and proceeded to help the others in simple ways. The day then ended and I shook the hands of everyone there back in Sheffield saying goodbye before going home.
 
Friday was my last day of work experience and so I was a bit sad because I had really loved my time at Wessex Archaeology. I did like having a different timetable, two weeks without school specifically. I got to the office at around 9:15 and returned my PPE which included the hard hat, high visibility jacket, gloves and steel toe cap boots. I then spoke to Lucy who took me to the compound where the samples were stored and where they were processed. I had been there on Wednesday when we were rained off site. I was shown the floatation tanks and how they separate and analyse material from the samples. I learned how the light material such as seeds and charcoal floats, and how the heavy material such as stones, bone fragments and even debitage sinks. It was really interesting that they could tell about the environment years ago from the samples. I stopped for lunch thinking about how I would write this blog and what exactly I would put in. When Lucy sat me down at a computer, I was typing it out almost immediately. Work experience gave me a lot of things to think about. How important is archaeology? Might I think about a potential future career in the subject? What does it mean to be a professional archaeologist? Two weeks allowed me to think about these things and I learnt a new skill set that I might call upon in the future. I learnt not just about archaeology, but the importance of being able to communicate with others and present myself in a positive way to my colleagues, as well as getting along with them. I really enjoyed my time at Wessex Archaeology and I think that it has had an impact on how I think about myself. In the future when I chose my occupation, I will be confident in my own work.
 
I would like to thank Lucy, Ivan, Tom, John, Jess, Lizzie, Ciaran, Nick, Chris, Liz, Mike, Phil, Jamal, Alvaro, Richard and Sam for helping me when I was at Wessex Archaeology and for a great work experience.
 
By Euan O’Neill.
 

WA Seeks New Chair

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Wessex Archaeology, one of the leading archaeological charities in the UK, is searching for a forward-thinking individual to take up the role of Chair of our Board of Directors to oversee the continued development of our vision of public benefit delivered through professional service.
 
For more information please download pdf here
 
 

Titanic Works - Open Day

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Stoking the furnace of Sheffield steel making 

As part of this year’s Festival of Archaeology, Wessex Archaeology offers a rare opportunity to visit the crucible cellars of the former Titanic Works, Malinda Street/Hoyle Street and the underground remains of cementation furnaces recently uncovered at Hollis Croft, Sheffield. This event will take place on Friday 21 July and will provide the chance to explore a once commonplace and important part of Sheffield’s industrial past.
 
The sites are located in an area of Sheffield established as a steel manufacturing centre prior to 1850, with the principal surviving buildings of the former Titanic Works dating to that period. The extant building includes a nationally rare crucible furnace with two end stacks. The former works is a Grade II listed building and during the redevelopment of the site in 2008, two previously unknown crucible cellars were unearthed, adding to the known cellar beneath the listed structure.
 
The works was occupied by a series of steel and file manufacturers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By 1876, the works was occupied by William Mickelthwaite and Co, steel manufacturers, and was listed as the ‘Titanic Works’.
 
The archaeological site at Hollis Croft, currently being excavated by Wessex Archaeology, is a fine example of remains of the highly significant cementation furnaces depicted on 19th century OS maps of Sheffield, as large Hollis Croft Steel Works with two circular structures.
 
Wessex Archaeology will be conducting four 1 hour tours of the crucible cellars at Hoyle Street each followed by a half an hour visit to our archaeological site at Hollis Croft, all free of charge, each tour accommodating up to six members of the public. The tours will include exploring all three cellars, and the archaeological site, with information about the steel-making process, the history and development of the sites and their significance within Sheffield.
 
Tours will need to be booked in advance due to limited space within the cellars. Please click here to book your tickets. Please be aware that the tours are not suitable for those with impaired mobility or children under the age of 8 years. Suitable footwear (walking boots) is recommended. Any other protective clothing required will be provided. Please note that there is a 15min between the two sites.
 
Come along and delve into Sheffield’s rich industrial past.
 
By Lucy Dawson and Milica Rajic
 
 

Thomas Passam’s Work Experience Diary

 

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Monday 19 June
I was met at Reception by Rachel Brown, the Senior Community and Education Officer. From there I was given a talk about Health and Safety and was shown the Fire Assembly Point outside. After that I went on a tour of the building. I was really surprised by how many different departments there were in the company.
 
Next I was taken to meet Roberta Marziani from the Geomatics Department. She spoke to me about 3D imaging and showed me examples of parts of buildings where 3D mapping had been done. I then took photographs of a Saxon pot from every angle using special software and then created it on the computer as a 3D object.
 
After that we went out outside to plot an area using GPS. This accurate method of measuring is used a great deal to map out the archaeological sites on a dig.
 
In the afternoon, I was in the Finds Department and I was cleaning the skeleton of a Saxon male. What was interesting was that he had broken his leg badly at some point during his life. The bones had never reset properly and stuck out at an odd angle; he must have carried on with his life in great discomfort. 
 
Tuesday 20 June
I was doing sample processing in the Environmental Department with Tony Scothern. When I first arrived, I was given an overall and gloves as I was going to be filtering through the soil samples that had been brought in. The soil was in large plastic tubs that were labelled with dates of collection, sample number and site number.
 
A small amount of peroxide plus water had been added to each of the buckets and these were left overnight to help the break-down of the soil so it could be analysed. I washed the soil through a large filter first then it flowed on through to be caught by another filter. Here any solid materials that had previously been missed, were caught in with the solution. Then what was left was put back into a sieve and put into a low-temperature kiln. After that we took out two sieves containing dried-out materials and recorded what was in the sieves and separated the different materials into different bags. There were several pieces of pottery and some burnt flint, as well as some charcoal.
 
After lunch I was working with Jacqueline McKinley, Principal Osteoarchaeologist, where I was taken through the entire skeletal structure of a Saxon male that I had been cleaning the previous day. She taught me about the bone structure, how the male and female skeleton differs and how to calculate the age of a person by looking at how the bones of their skeleton have fused.
 
Wednesday 21 June
On Wednesday I went out with Rachel and Andy Crockett to a site at Bulford. The site has lots of archaeology from different periods and previous excavations revealed many Saxon graves. The remains of about 150 people have been discovered, as well as different artefacts. I met Phil Harding and he gave me a tour of the site which was really interesting. Mechanical diggers and other modern machinery and equipment are used at the site to help to clear the area and remove soil and rubble more quickly.
 
This area was also used to test out anti-tank weapons during World War II to help the Allied Forces to defend themselves against the German tanks.  
 
In the afternoon, I went back to the Finds Department and washed some pieces of Roman pottery with some of the volunteers. 
 
Thursday 22 June
Morning: Marine & Coastal Department
I spoke to the Marine and Coastal Staff working in the offices upstairs and they showed me how the finds are tagged and identified as well as how they analyse their location. Afterwards, I was shown around the large warehouse where many of the large finds are stored. I was shown by diver Joaquin Callejo Gomez the different equipment that was used on a dive. This ranged from oxygen tanks all the way up to different photograph devices. I was shown how the large finds are recovered: a balloon is used to lift the weight of the object up to the surface of the sea. From there it can be lifted by a pulley or crane onto a boat and transported back to be analysed.
 
Afternoon: Heritage
The Heritage Department uses various techniques to see if any famous historic events took place and to identify landmarks and places of importance.I was working with Naomi Brennan using software that had been pre-programmed to allow me to see what historical activity had occurred in my home area over the last few centuries. I found out that several battles had taken place within a mile or two of my house, which was very exciting. I then did some work updating old maps to make sure that the data was correct.
 
Friday 23 June
Photogrammetry
This Department manages to create a clever image by using roughly 70 photos with different flash to enable you to see very fine detail. I collected all the necessary equipment from Bob Davis and then set up the tripod. I was photographing an ancient axe-head and I was also doing the same for a very good quality copy of the axe-head which had been made in recent years. I worked in a systematic manner photographing the pieces in an umbrella-shape. I took over 70 photos of each piece which took a long time. I had to make sure that every photo was precise.  
 
In the afternoon, I used software to make the final image. I was very impressed with the image and the way that the light could be altered in various ways to enable me to see different details. 
 
I really enjoyed my week with Wessex Archaeology and learnt a lot about archaeology and the history in this area, as well as about office life and working in a team. I would like to thank Rachel very much for organising and coordinating my work placement and to everyone at Wessex Archaeology for their help in making my week so interesting.  
 
By Thomas Passam 
 
 
 

Taking on the Thames for the AHOY Centre

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During Wednesday evening a team from Wessex Archaeology which consisted of Mark Williams, Dave Norcott, Becky Hall, Paolo Croce and Will Santamaria completed the Meridian Pull Challenge. The Meridian Pull Challenge is a 8.5 mile rowing challenge set on the river Thames and organised by the Thames Estuary Partnership as a way to raise funds for the AHOY Centre.
 
The AHOY centre works with disadvantaged children and young people and those with disabilities; running courses and training programmes to help them gain qualifications and life skills needed for employment.
 
 
If you can’t see the video above please follow this link.
 
The challenge was no mean feat, 8.5 miles rowing along a choppy Thames is hard enough for experienced rowers but our team consisted of five people who had hardly any prior experience of rowing! However, they excelled as a team completing the challenge in an incredible 54 minutes 46 seconds and came second out of the five competing teams! 
 
We would like to thank everyone who has sponsored us and thank our corporate sponsors Thomson Ecology, Microserve Ltd, SUERC (the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre), and Ready Power for their generous donations. If you haven’t donated, you still can via
 
 
Also, thank you to the staff at the AHOY Centre for all the help and support given and a special mention to Kerry our cox who did a fantastic job of keeping the team in order. There was great support for all the rowing teams which created a wonderful atmosphere; we were particularly pleased to have our Trustee Parvis Jamieson turn up to congratulate our team as they ended the challenge.
 
 
 

The Meridian Pull Rowing Challenge

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Today is the day that Wessex Archaeology take part in the Meridian Pull rowing challenge, organised by the Thames Estuary Partnership, and raising funds for the AHOY Centre in Deptford. The AHOY Centre run courses and training programmes to help disadvantaged children, young vulnerable people and those with disabilities gain qualifications and essential life skills needed for employment.
 
Our team, comprising Dave Norcott, Mark Williams, Paul Baggaley, Becky Hall, Paolo Croce and Guillermo Santamaria, are heading off for London this afternoon, where they will be rowing along the Thames from Battersea to the AHOY Centre, a distance of about 8.5 miles. The challenge starts at 18:45, and our support team will be on hand to record progress throughout the race, so do stay tuned via our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
 
Thanks to many generous donations already received, including our corporate sponsors SUERC (the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre), Readypower Engineering Ltd, Thomson Ecology and Microserve Ltd, we are closing in on our target of £1800. However, every penny counts, so if you can please consider sponsoring us via the link below.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Work Experience

 

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My name is Euan O’Neill and I decided to do my work experience at Wessex Archaeology in Sheffield. I am 15 and I have had an interest in the study of Archaeology for some time now because both my parents were involved in the subject and my dad and brother work in archaeology.
 
I didn’t know quite what I would expect in a working environment for the first time so I was eager to try it out. I contacted the company and was put in touch with Lucy Dawson, a project manager. She told me what I would be doing and all the requirements. We went through all the Health and Safety measures and I was given a basic two-week calendar with my working times on it. I was going to be out on site at Rossington for much of my period of work. I was interested to see what I would find waiting for me.
 
On my first day, I was taught how to clean, process and sort finds in the basement floor of the building. These finds consisted mainly of different types of bone and pottery. It was a slow process at first but I soon got better at it over the course of the day. At lunch time, I was fitted with my PPE gear so that I would be ready to go out on site the next day.
 
My first day on site. I woke up and had to get to the office for 7 am to get on a bus taking us to the site. The drive took about an hour but when I got there I got a general introduction, I learnt about what a cut, fill, and feature is, what I would be doing and how to do it. The other people on site were very helpful, giving me tips and highlighting confusing information but I got the gist of it after a short amount of time. Rossington is a Romano-British site but we were unsure on what date it was from and when it was active/used. I was asked to dig a marked posthole before moving onto a terminal. The posthole was easy enough because it was filled with soft clay, but the area where the terminal was located had been hardened because it was baked by the sun and was very difficult to mattock considering I had just started. I was taught how to fill out context forms as well as sketch my feature and record drawings and photographs. On my second day out on site, I got to watch a drone survey the area for a small amount of time but it was still really cool. I enjoyed this work however, I found it interesting and fun in some ways. I went out onto site for a third day and I also dug a ditch filled with some bones and the most pottery I had seen yet! I had to spend Friday in the office because one of my school teachers was sent to see how I was doing (every school student doing work experience is visited by a teacher).
 
We talked about the past week’s work and how later that afternoon I would be doing some environmental processing. At this point, I was happy with everything I had done so far and I couldn’t wait for my second week. I think that the best part of my first week was just being out on site; it was different than a usual day.
 
 By Euan O’Neill
 
 

Hollis Croft, Sheffield – the Cock Public House and the Mystery of a Medieval Coin

 
On 20 April 2017, an Edward I long cross silver penny was found during the excavation of the former site of the Cock, a 19th-century public house, just off Hollis Croft, Sheffield. The penny is remarkable, not just with regards to its age and relative scarcity but also to the context in which it was found. 
 
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Wessex Archaeology Sheffield has been carrying out excavations at the Hollis Croft site ahead of a major urban residential development. This work has targeted several potentially interesting areas; these include examples of back-to-back housing typical of 18th-century urban development in Sheffield and two public houses, the Cock and the Orange Branch, which can both be seen clearly on several 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps. Sheffield has been inhabited since at least the mid-11th century, and is recorded in Domesday in 1086. The Hollis Croft area was, for much of the medieval period, left open and known as Town Field and by the early modern period had been enclosed and subsequently comprised several closes and crofts. It is from these enclosures that many of the current streets, first laid out in the early 18th century, take their names. Over the course of the following two centuries ‘The Crofts’, as the area would come to be known, was to become a centre for manufacture and trade, particularly that of the metal trades such as cutlery. The scale of this industry would continue to increase until the widespread decline of manufacturing in Sheffield during the late 20th century. The Hollis Croft area came to be largely the property of one company, Footprint Works, which was established in 1944.
 
During the 1960s the site was developed, with the construction of a Footprint Tools building. It was considered likely that this development would have destroyed any archaeological remains, however the excavations carried out by Wessex have demonstrated that this was not the case. The site has so far produced a variety of finds, although the lack of any obvious residential occupation of Town Field during the medieval period means that medieval artefacts have proved few and far between; the majority of the archaeological material identified dates from the site’s industrial occupation. Amongst this material there were a large number of leather shoes and a substantial deposit of decorated but unfinished bone handles, reflecting the high density of craftsmen and manufacturers listed as having been resident in Hollis Croft in the late 19th-century Trade Directories.
 
The first reference to the Cock Public House, where the coin was discovered, is in the Henry & Thomas Rodgers Sheffield & Rotherham Directory from 1841. The pub is also shown on an 1853 Ordnance Survey map and its name – the Cock – probably comes from the stop-cock used on contemporary beer casks. 
The aim of the archaeological investigation was to enhance the understanding of the early phases of the construction of this part of the city to compliment the extensive late 18th- and 19th-century archival evidence. An awareness of earlier phases is central to Wessex’s methodology so the coin clearly holds significance. But why was a medieval coin found in such a late context? The rarity of the find and the location raised immediate questions of authenticity and some of us thought the coin was a fake. Visualisations of cheeky Yorkshire pub locals with tricks up their sleeves and fakes in their pockets are enticing for a born and bred Sheffielder such as myself. However, when inspected by experts, the authenticity of the coin was confirmed. To further determine the coin was the real thing, its composition was tested. It was found to be 93% percent silver with small traces of iron, gold and magnesium. It has therefore been identified as a silver penny from the reign of Edward I, with a bold long cross embossed on its reverse and the face of the king on the obverse.
 
The obverse face of the penny showed a more realistic portrait of the monarch than had be previously been usual and also depicted him facing forward as opposed to in profile. The reverse showed a long cross, equal armed and stretching from one edge to the other. We know that any silver penny with these attributes must have been minted within the 39-year reign of Edward I, more than five centuries prior to the establishment of the Cock Public House. 
 
Edwardian coins are important when studying the economic history of later medieval England. Monetary denominations had changed very little in the five hundred years prior to the coronation of Edward I in 1272AD but he would soon make some sizable reforms. The long cross was originally introduced as a device to make more difficult the clipping and splitting which had previously been used to divide the penny into the literal half penny or farthing.  Edward I also introduced other new coins, the groat, halfpenny and farthing, further reducing the need to physically divide larger denomination coinage. The new coins strengthened England’s foreign trade power and the penny proved especially successful because of its high silver content and uniform weight.
 
The coin found at Hollis croft has a chip on the lower side slightly to the left when examining the obverse. The face of Edward I is badly worn, however the reverse long cross and accompanying pattern is clear. The only link the site has with the medieval period is that this area of Sheffield followed the old field boundaries laid out following the enclosure of Town Field. Hollis Croft’s layout is the only clue to the continuity of the inhabited area from the reign of Edward I and the minting of the penny, to the establishment of the Cock public house in the 19th-century.
 
It remains unlikely that the coin’s context will be further illuminated by the planned excavation. The coin could have been dropped by an absent mind in the medieval period, churned up by ploughing, finding its way into material which was reused when the pub was erected. However, firmer conclusions remain out of reach. Although the coin confirms to a degree that the site was being used in some form during the medieval period, the nature of this link is unknown and any more definitive historiography would be speculation.
 
By Oisin Mercer Archaeological Technician
 
 
 
 

Out on Site again with Jon Egging Trusts’ Blue Skies Students and Breaking Ground Heritage

On Friday 26th May 2017 Wessex Archaeology (WA) hosted our third and final Jon Egging Trust (JET) Blue Skies inspiration day for this year. The participants are enrolled in the Level 2 (second year) of the programme, which offers inspirational activities and experiences to encourage the 13–15-year-old students to reach their full potential. Once again the day, held at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain, was based on archaeology and history, but this time with an underlying theme of ‘leadership’. 
 
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The students were divided into three groups and asked to choose a leader. Two of the groups kept the same leader throughout the day, while one decided to take turns. The three exercises on offer, which were devised to emphasise good leadership, allowed the participants to take on the responsibility of directing a team, and showed the importance of recognising people’s skills and of strategic delegation. Team members also assessed how well their leader managed their role. 
 
Overseen by Nick Crabb (WA), each group was tasked with conducting a geophysical survey of a defined area of the landscape, in order to detect buried archaeological features. They used Ground Penetrating Radar equipment mounted on a cart. They soon found that wheeling the cart could be very tiring, but group leaders solved this problem by rotating the task between the team members. 
 
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After some instruction, Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy and Mai Walker (WA) asked the team leaders to direct the setting-out and excavation of a test pit as safely and as accurately as possible. A Safety Officer was assigned to take responsibility for team welfare, including ensuring everyone drank plenty of water on such a hot day! A few of the students were delighted to find a few interesting artefacts associated with the military use of the site. 
 
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The Breaking Ground Heritage (BGH) team, led by Dickie Bennett, and Richard Osgood of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) were very successful in promoting leadership skills and encouraged all the groups to work as effective units. Their military-based activities enabled some of the shyer students to feel confident enough to contribute to, and even direct the teams.
 
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The students clearly enjoyed working outdoors and engaging with the various activities, and it was a pleasure to see them growing in confidence and using skills they have been working so hard to develop. 
 

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Wessex Archaeology is very grateful to Richard Osgood of DIO for arranging access to Perham Down and for again being on-hand to help host the session, together with Dickie Bennett and his team (Matt Smith and Chris Boyd) from BGH – an archaeology-based recovery pathway for injured military personnel. Mark Khan (DIO) was kind enough to offer his time to assist, particularly with identifying various objects found during the day. We also extend our thanks to the staff of Ferndown Upper School and Kaye Jackson (JET Youth Liaison Officer) for co-ordinating and supporting the visit. It is always a pleasure to contribute towards the JET Blue Skies Programme. 
 
 
 
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