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.
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.
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