Archaeology Services

1537

With over 200 employees, Wessex is one of the largest archaeological practices operating across the UK.
 
Our Fieldwork Services cover all market sectors as well as all periods and types of archaeology. We have an unrivalled track record in delivering projects to client programme and budget – from watching briefs to large scale evaluation and excavation. Our experienced project management team consistently deliver innovative, efficient and cost-effective archaeological solutions for clients.
 
Browse through the links on the right to see the Archaeological Services or to see the full range of services click here.
 

Trial trenching

1535

This technique involves the excavation of exploratory trenches to ascertain the presence, condition and date of any archaeological remains which may be present. The technique is a rapid method of investigation, used to evaluate the archaeological potential of a site. 
 
Trench locations are often pre-defined by previous investigations such as aerial photography, geophysical survey or desk-based assessments or are targeted on known features in the landscape. The number of trenches that will be dug is based on a small percentage (usually 2-5%) of the total area of the site, designed to provide as much information about past human activity on the site as possible in a very cost-effective manner. The trenches are also often excavated in the footprint of proposed structures and infrastructure.
 
Large mechanical excavators are predominantly used to excavate the trenches, although they are sometimes dug by hand. All work is undertaken under the close supervision of experienced field archaeologists. Any archaeological features found will then be surveyed and hand excavated, sufficient to find out what types of remains are present, for example ditches or burials, and their date. 
 
The results of the trial trenching will determine whether any further work is required. For many sites a trial trench evaluation is sufficient to demonstrate no archaeological remains are present, and development can proceed. In other cases, further trenching may be required, or full excavation of certain areas of the site, or even an archaeological watching brief during construction.
 
Developers may be required to commission a trial trench evaluation of their site as a condition of the development Planning Consent.
 
 

Field walking

1536

Field walking represents an initial phase of archaeological fieldwork. It is a non-intrusive, simple and rapid method which involves a team of archaeologists walking along lines (called transects) across open areas such as fields. The team will walk the transects scanning the ground for artefacts such as pottery or flint. Wessex Archaeology use modern measured survey technology such as GPS to aid the accuracy of our work, allowing clusters of artefacts to be recorded.
 
The ground conditions for field walking are vital, as it is important to be able to clearly see the ground surface for an accurate evaluation. Factors such as the weather are also very important. The material to be collected is found on the ground surface, usually following ploughing, and preferably after rain has fallen on the ploughed surface.
 
The artefacts found during the fieldwork are then analysed and dated and the information entered into databases and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in order to plot the data. Concentrations of artefacts, such as worked flint, pottery or tile, can identify the possible location of settlements and areas of human occupation from different periods. Such indicators could provide sufficient evidence to warrant being targeted in a phase of trial trenching or excavation.
 

Test pitting

1540

Test-pitting is a minimally intrusive early phase of investigation, often used to either test for the presence of sub-surface archaeological remains, or gain a record of the below ground stratigraphic sequence. The phase of work can often be used in conjunction with other evaluation techniques such as trial trenching.
 
The pits are often excavated by mechanical excavators under the close supervision of experienced field archaeologists, but smaller ones (generally 1m square) can be dug by hand. In areas of greater archaeological potential, the spoil excavated can be sieved to aid the recovery of artefacts.
 
Test-pitting can be an extremely informative evaluation technique. When excavated in layers or ‘spits’, the information can provide a great deal of information as to the geomorphological structure of the ground surface as well as identify archaeological features or artefacts. Using GIS, artefact densities across a site can also highlight areas of greater archaeological potential.
 
The results of the test-pitting may lead to further archaeological mitigation, such as watching brief, trial trenching, excavation or strip, map and sample.
 

Excavation

1541

Archaeological excavation involves the full investigation of sites of archaeological interest prior to development. Every excavation will incorporate a number of specialised techniques and methodologies including artefact recovery and environmental sampling. Wessex Archaeology specialises in pre-development excavations and provides a comprehensive record of the areas investigated.
 
Excavation is by nature a destructive process, but its controlled and scientific manner allows us to gain as much information as possible when considering the date and function of the archaeology. The aim of any excavation is to identify and understand human activity and occupation in the past, and to preserve the evidence in record for future generations.
 
The excavation of sites involves the recovery of material from a place where there is evidence for past human activity, such as artefacts, settlement ditches, pits or postholes, environmental evidence and, most importantly, the contexts in which the site was formed over a period of time.
 
Excavation often follows previous phases of evaluation such as geophysics, trial trenching or test-pitting. Sites where archaeological potential is already well-known and well-recorded may require excavation without any previous investigative work.  
 

Strip, map & sample

1538

The method of strip, map & sample is a mitigation strategy used by Wessex Archaeology on large areas of land that are needed to be investigated. Ostensibly similar in approach to full excavation, the method differs in nature by the scale of the process. Large areas which are under threat of development such as quarries, road schemes or areas intended for housing developments often require this strategy. The method is one of the most effective ways to clarify the archaeological potential of any given site.
 
Initially large areas are ‘stripped’ of the current ground surface to expose any archaeological remains, using large mechanical excavators.  All work is undertaken under the close supervision of experienced field archaeologists.  Any archaeological features are then surveyed, or ‘mapped’, using modern measured survey technology such as GPS or Total Stations to create an accurate plan. The features are often seen as dark marks in the ground. These marks represent voids that have been dug into the natural geology over the past few thousand years, slowly infilling with material such as topsoil, windblown and waterborne material and dumped waste from human settlement. It is these fills that we see in ditches, postholes and pits and which, when put together, reveal the traces of farmsteads and field systems, and the wider landscape.
 
A ‘sample’ of the archaeological features are then hand-excavated, enough to allow the clear identification of phases of human occupation on the site. The sampling level is usually agreed in consultation with the local County Archaeologist, and is usually a lower sampling level than that achieved during full excavation. All features are drawn and photographed and a permanent record made. Further analysis of the finds and features is then undertaken in post-excavation to better understand the full picture of the human interaction with the site.
 
The strip, map & sample method is required when areas of in situ preservation cannot be achieved.
 

Watching brief

1539

An archaeological Watching Brief is generally reserved for sites where the archaeological potential is considered relatively low, but where the discovery of remains is nevertheless anticipated. As the name of the technique suggests, a Watching Brief is conducted by a qualified archaeologist whilst construction work is underway – usually during the excavation of foundation trenches, service trenches and other such groundwork.
 
The archaeologist is responsible for the identification, excavation and recording of remains during the groundwork, without causing any undue delay to the construction programme. On occasion, remains can be exposed that require more detailed investigation, and the developer is required to allow sufficient time for the archaeologist to accurately record any archaeological finds and features.
 
Wessex Archaeology regularly undertakes watching briefs for a variety of construction projects across the country. These include housing developments, pipelines and wind turbines. The work is a particularly cost-effective mitigation strategy for areas of lower archaeological potential. Should significant archaeological remains be uncovered during the course of the ground-works, a higher level of archaeological investigation may be required, such as excavation or strip, map and sample.
 

Metal detector

1534

Wessex Archaeology considers metal detectors an extremely valuable prospection technique, particularly when used as part of a wider suite of survey techniques (such as geophysical survey, field walking or test-pitting). Detectors are used to locate and collect metal objects from either unstripped topsoil, archaeological layers and deposits, or even excavated spoil heaps. 
 
The survey technique can provide excellent dating evidence to compliment artefacts found during the normal course of archaeological excavation. For the best results, a consistent and systematic approach is required for an effective survey. All finds are then 3D located using measured survey technology such as GPS or Total Stations.
 
We have considerable experience when incorporating the use of metal detectors in our mitigation strategies. The use of the equipment has vastly improved our knowledge and understanding of several sites such as Kingsmead Quarry, Horton and Springhead