The Archaeologists

The archaeologist in day-to-day charge of the work, Chris Ellis, talks about finding the oldest bridge, and other work at Testwood:
Archaeologist, Chris EllisArchaeologist, Chris Ellis"We were carrying out a watching brief at Testwood Lake in 1998. Southern Water were a good client – when their staff came across something that they thought might interest us, they would let us know immediately.
So when one of them noticed the top of the stakes, they told us straight away and we were able to clean up the area to reveal two rows of wooden stakes. By then we knew that there might be remains from the Middle Bronze Age because of the bridges that had been found at Meadow Lake two years before.
We excavated very gingerly around each of the stakes. It was fascinating to see the craftsmanship that went into making them. They would have used a bronze adze (a type of early axe) to trim the wood to make the timbers, and we could see the characteristic scallop marks of the adze upon the wood.
The most exciting moment of the work at Testwood for me was two years before at Meadow Lake in 1996 when we recovered the bronze rapier, which was an unbelievable find.
One of the staff found it and brought it over to me, and said:“Chris is this important?” and I looked at it and almost swore because it was such a fantastic find.
The rapier was dead straight, with a point that you could cut yourself on, and with no tarnishing – unlike most metalwork from this time, it hadn’t turned green but was still a lovely browny-yellow colour. We were all so excited – it’s one of the best bits of metalwork I’ve ever seen.
Working on the wetland at Testwood was fantastic because so much more has been preserved by waterlogging – not just the stakes but pollen and seeds which can tell us so much about the environment.
It’s hard work though, and everything takes three times as long because you are working in alluvial clays and peats, and the ground is so stodgy. You also face the problem that once something organic like the stakes are opened up to the air, they degrade very quickly, within hours.
We had to spray the stakes three times a day with water using an industrial pump. Then we covered them with polythene sheeting to try and keep the moisture in. But the effort was all worth it to see such well-preserved remains.”