Last week we looked at the recording side of archaeology and mentioned the quantities and detail of data produced on a site this scale. This week, as we bring the onsite investigations towards their conclusion, we thought it was time to provide some of our initial broad-brush findings.
This plan shows the archaeology revealed, and while in places ditches have been ploughed out, especially towards the south, we can still get a good understanding of how the landscape was used.
Here, archaeological features are shown green and natural features are orange.
As mentioned previously, the parallel ditches of the ‘drove way’ dominate the site from left to right. Enclosures and field systems fed off this at right angles, showing a well-managed and maintained landscape. The ditches were cleaned out repeatedly, sometimes ‘migrating’ in the process but showing a longevity in its use. The workload would have been too much for a single family and is suggestive of a group working together, either under the control of a governing body or as part of a collective.
Artefactual material recovered during the course of the work has shown the importance of grain crops, sheep/goat and cattle to the Prehistoric population of Cholsey and it is clear that the rich and productive soils astride the Thames gave them access as to fairly far reaching trade routes including pottery coming from mainland Europe. Put together with previous archaeological investigations in and around the village, we can begin to picture the first chapter in the history of Cholsey, 4,000 years in the making.
Now that we are beginning to understand how the population worked the landscape what can we tell about the individual people themselves? In our next and final update we will look at what we have been able to discover so far about the individuals that lived here.
Our MHFA team have witnessed first-hand what an impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health. Seeing the stress of lockdown and working during a pandemic has strengthened our resolve to keep a strong network of support going for any staff who are struggling and need someone to talk to. In order to strengthen that support network, we now have more trained MHFA members on the team, ready to listen and give support to staff whenever they need it.
We have given frequent updates throughout the pandemic about maintaining good mental health, and where to find some help if you are struggling. Even as the pandemic starts to draw to a possible close, it is still vital that everyone takes time to take care of themselves. Here are some links to useful resources for anyone who needs some help, or simply wishes to look up some tips on maintaining good mental health.
Our mental health first aid (MHFA) team is expanding, and we will have more new member details to publish soon. For now, if you need to talk to one of the team at work, impartially and with full confidentiality, please reach out to any of the following people:
As our investigations at Cholsey come to a close, we thought we’d take the opportunity this week, to focus on an aspect of archaeology often ignored, the site archive. While everyone enjoys the excitement of finding new things, we are also in the process of data collection with every feature, deposit and investigation given unique identification numbers. Documents are then produced to record their description, relationships and any interpretations. Photos are taken, scaled drawings and plans are made, and the whole is surveyed in reference to Ordnance datum. Any finds or soil samples we take are linked to these numbers through our records, and it’s this paperwork that provides the framework that allows us to understand the site. Years from now, it will also allow specialists and experts to reassess what we found in the same way that we use archaeological work from the past to help us in our investigations.
We undertook preliminary desk-based assessment and multiple phases of fieldwork from 2016 to 2020 ahead of this major road scheme. We are now in the final stages of work on the project, carrying out analysis and preparing a publication of the historic glassworks site excavated. Details of our investigations have just been uploaded onto the Sunderland City Council website.
Our DBA showed that the proposed road crossed the former sites of a brick and tile works, Deptford Chemical Works, Wear Bottle Works, various shipyards, Vulcan Iron Works, Lambton Railway, Sunderland Flint Glass Works, Trimdon Iron Works, Hetton Company Railway and a coal depot. Monitoring, watching brief and evaluation ascertained that almost all traces of these had been lost to early 20th century redevelopment.
There were, however, significant remains in other areas, including those of the Sunderland Flint Glass Works, where we found the surviving bases of two glass cones, the chimneys for which can be seen on this lithograph from 1860.
Analysis and further documentary research are currently being undertaken for a paper in Archaoelogia Aeliana which represents the final stage of our work on the project.
See the full article on the Sunderland City Council website here for more details.
The ongoing excavations at Cholsey have been nothing if not engaging. Even though it is clear that we are away from any areas of occupation, this managed landscape was obviously of importance with offerings being given to the Gods.
‘Normally I shy away from words like ‘ritual’, ritual in archaeology is often used to cover those things we do not know and yet in this instance it is difficult to use any other phrase’.
Jon Webster (Project manager)
This week Richard from our London office found yet another specifically buried animal, placed in a manner that suggests more than simply removal of unwanted or diseased remains. We know this must have been one of the earliest actions on the site so far seen, as one of the Bronze Age ‘droveway’ ditches overlies, and is therefore later than it. Is this an offering to bless the landscape which would soon be used for animal husbandry? Or is it a coincidence that it underlies the main foci in the landscape? Hopefully we’ll be able to find out more as we proceed. Who knows what next week will bring?
“We excavate hundreds of sites every year, and are constantly reminded how little we still really know about our country’s past,” Mark Hinman, regional manager at PCA, told British Archaeology. “But even with that background, this one is special.”
Our nationally significant site at Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk, features in a fascinating article by Mike Pitts in the latest (May/June) edition of British Archaeology. The site lay in an area of extensive cropmarks, previously studied as part of the National Mapping Program (NMP) of the Norfolk Coastal Zone. Our findings brought details of this study into sharper focus, revealing a ceremonial landscape in use for at least two or three millennia.
The geographic and topographic position of the site are striking and particularly relevant to the results of our excavations. The site lies on the former ‘Isle of Lothingland’, with the River Yare to the north and the River Waveney to the west and south, on a south facing slope overlooking a former spring. Such locations are known to have been favoured places for settlement since the Neolithic period.
One of the most striking features of the site was a 30m diameter Neolithic ring ditch, dated using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) to 3225BC +/- 320 years, with a larger 80m diameter outer ring added in the Late Bronze Age. Various finds, including a jet stud and beaker pottery, hint at funerary activity in the earlier history of the monument and cremations demonstrate this tradition continued through the Middle to Late Bronze Age.
There was a hiatus in activity until the mid-1st Century AD, when the landscaped was redefined by a series of Roman field systems, trackways and rural farmsteads, which may initially have been laid out by the army on a surveyed grid, traces of which survive as cropmarks. These cropmarks had previously been discussed as part of the NMP, who considered the possibility they represented both prehistoric and Roman farming, but excavations have shown them to be exclusively Early Roman in date.
A rare gladius handguard plate from a military issue sword, thought to have been used in the invasion of Britain, suggests the founders of the settlement had links with the army. This rare find was recovered with an unusual pottery assemblage from one of the wells on the farm. The farmsteads went out of use by the mid 2nd Century AD, but the wider agricultural use of the landscape appears to have continued into the 3rd Century. This follows a local pattern previously recognised in North Norfolk.
We’ve excavated large areas of land ahead of redevelopment by Cripps Developments. The latest phase of work has shown that a presumed Bronze Age barrow is actually Roman, dating to the same period as the settlement. It may prove to be a temple, echoing the circular, ceremonial Bronze Age monument that dominated the landscape for so long.
The Study Group for Roman Pottery are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a FREE two-day conference, open to members and non-members. It will be the very first virtual SGRP conference via Zoom hosted by Newcastle University on the 2nd -3rd July 2021. The conference has been organised by our Roman pottery specialist Eniko Hudak and Dr James Gerrard and there’s a fantastic line-up … see the full programme and book your tickets here!
This week at Cholsey our team have continued to be fascinated and surprised by the artefactual material revealed during our investigations. Following on from those beautiful worked flints and the dog burial, this week we have uncovered this rather stunning Bronze Age food storage jar which had been deliberately buried in the centre of the main droveway that dominates the area. Once off-site we can begin to excavate its contents in our labs to see what it was filled with. This will hopefully give further insight into this apparent votive offering, but for now you will just have to content yourselves with how beautiful an object the jar and its decoration is in its own right!
As we mentioned in our first update, a cache of worked flints was discovered in one of the small pits that dot the excavation site in Cholsey, Oxfordshire. This was excavated by Sean Rice from our Warwick office. In amongst the more general cache were four lovely scrapers, two of which you can see here, but by far the star of the show is this lovely leaf shaped arrowhead. These delicate tools are frequently found broken but it is rare to find one in such lovely condition, so well done Sean.
Obviously, as with much of what we have found so far, we are left with as many questions as answers. Is this flint cache a one-off or can we expect more? Why were such tools buried rather than used? Are we looking at the waste material from knapping where a few of the finished items became mixed and discarded or were these deliberately deposited? We hope to answer these and many more questions in the coming weeks and months. We will have more news and updates for you next week so we hope to see you back with us then!