Archaeology

From a block of soil...

on Tuesday, 05 July 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

The conservation team are celebrating this week as we have completed work on a beautiful and exciting project. Conservation of the stunning finds excavated from Bognor Regis by Thames Valley Archaeological Services in 2008 has come to fruition. The items form part of an unusual burial assemblage along with an iron ‘bed’ frame and sword and are thought to originate from the late Bronze Age/ early Iron Age.

Taking block of soil for x-ray

The finds first came to us in the unassuming form of a large soil block, this was too large to x-ray at our labs so was transported to a local hospital where x-rays revealed a large amount of intricate metal latticework and a helmet.

X-ray of soil block from hospital

The soil block was carefully excavated, layer by layer, revealing the spectacular nature of the copper alloy items held within. The helmet and latticework were extremely fragmented and fragile, the helmet was split in half and part of the lattice was adhered to the helmet with corrosion products.

Archaeologists 'Floored' by New Discovery

on Wednesday, 04 May 2016. Posted in Archaeology

In the archaeology service most new archaeological discoveries tend to be through our advice on planning applications.  If a proposed development has the potential to impact heritage assets and in particular those with archaeological interest (as referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework), then we advise planning officers that a programme of archaeological investigation needs to be carried out in order to determine the significance of heritage assets affected by the proposals.  Since I joined the archaeology service in August 2012 there have been some really exciting discoveries through development management, an overwhelming amount dating to the Romano British period.  To name some of the top sites over the last few years that date to this period, we've had a Roman villa in Devizes, a roadside settlement near Beanacre, a high status farmstead outside Chippenham, two farmsteads on the outskirts of Trowbridge...the list goes on.  In fact I have been surprised at just the amount of activity going on during this period in our county. Maybe it's not surprising considering we have some major Roman roads running through (see map below) including the main routes from London to Bath; from Silchester to Dorchester (Port Way); from Lincoln to Exeter (Fosse Way) and from Winchester to Charterhouse (Mendips). The two towns of Cunetio (Mildenhall) and Sorviodunum (Salisbury) lay at important junctions of the strategic road network and other towns of Durocornovium (Wanborough) and Verlucio (Calne) are also known to lie along the road network.

Taken from 'The History of Ancient Wiltshire' Vol 2 by Richard Colt Hoare

Many of you no doubt have read recently in the newspapers or heard on the radio that there has been a major new Roman discovery in the Deverills.  We got a call from Luke Irwin who explained that whilst constructing an electricity cable to one of his outbuildings his workmen stumbled upon some kind of tiled floor surface and the tiles appeared to be quite small and colourful.  He ordered the workmen to stop digging and that is when he contacted us. Of course my initial reaction was that of incredible excitement tempered by the realism, "what are the chances", people often tend to over exaggerate the significance of archaeological discoveries in their gardens. Despite my cynicism I quickly arranged to visit the site the following day with the County Archaeologist, Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger. Upon our arrival Luke explained that one of his workmen was interested in archaeology so had meticulously cleaned the floor.  When we peered down the cable trench both our mouths must have dropped open and I think we both said at the same time "I don't believe it, you have got a Roman mosaic!!!”  There was no arguing with the clearly distinctive Roman mosaic pattern, a common geometric border pattern known as guilloche.

Conservation of finds unearthed by a badger

on Saturday, 16 April 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

You may remember the image of a group of ceramic sherds from one of our previous blog posts. Following reconstruction of the vessel we now have true understanding of the magnificence of the objects found. Watch a time-lapse video showing elements of the reconstruction of the vessel.

 

Conservation treatment involved a task like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The size, shape and colours of the sherds were used to determine their original location within the urn. Due to the uneven firing of the vessel and areas of burning caused by hot ashes being placed inside the vessel some areas were easier to piece together than others.

When the collared urn was originally manufactured ceramic technology was in its infancy with the kilns used never reaching the temperature required to permanently set the clay in position. During the time the vessel was in the ground, moisture from the surrounding earth also weakened the under-fired structure. This effect, on top of the unconventional excavation method, has meant that the overall shape of the vessel has become distorted.

Before reconstruction the edges of each fragment were strengthened by allowing a weak adhesive to be drawn into the rough surface to hold the loose and sometimes crumbling structure together. The adhesive is well used in conservation and has been developed and tested to ensure that it is long-term stable meaning it will not degrade causing damage to the original fragments of the vessel.

A stronger concentration of the same adhesive was used to adhere the fragments in position, small strips weak masking tape were used to hold the fragments in position as they dried. As the vessel was so large the reconstruction had to be undertaken in stages to ensure each level of fragments were securely in position and ready to support those placed on top.

The English Civil War at Longhedge, near Old Sarum

on Monday, 15 February 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Military

I’ve written before about the military on this site, in that case the WW2 remains. This is a feature from a slightly different period.

This roughly square feature, with further squares on the corners, was first seen in the geophysical results when this housing site was first considered for development. At that point, no-one was quite sure what it was. Although a Civil War date was considered, it was also possible that this feature was associated with the WW2 features that surrounded it.

Greyscale of sconce

We had a look at it in the trenched evaluation, but didn’t get much more information, and so an excavation was required as part of the planning permission. This took place in 2015 and the initial post-excavation works are well under way. The excavation demonstrated that the  structure was indeed large and square with square ‘turrets’ on the corner. Its outline was made up of a ditch cut into the chalk.

View of site

There were also the remains of a small building with flint footings, which can be seen in the photo above in the centre of the group of archaeologists.

Remarkable finds from an unusual source

on Friday, 22 January 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

A large box, filled with Bronze Age finds recovered in Netheravon, was brought to the conservation lab here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The objects were covered in moss and smelling rather musty, this however was explained when we were told that the finder of these objects wasn’t an archaeologist but a badger. Deciding to make its home in a convenient mound, the badger inadvertently unearthed finds of a similar style and importance to those found with the nearby Amesbury Archer.

Selection of ceramic sherds

The group of finds include sherds from a large ceramic urn, various bone and antler tools, 2 metal objects (one a serrated blade and the other is still a complete mystery) and most significantly a copper chisel with the decorated bone handle still attached.

Copper chisel with bone handle

The owner of these objects was probably an archer as the finds included a wrist guard used for protection when shooting a bow and stone tools used for straightening arrow shafts.

Wrist guard and shaft straighteners

As the objects were damp when they were unearthed we needed to let them slowly dry out before conservation could begin. This is particularly necessary for the bone and antler finds, as with all organic material, bone and antler swell and contract depending on the moisture content of the object and surrounding air. If the objects were to dry out too quickly then cracks and other damage may be caused.

Former RAF Lyneham gives up its ancient secrets

on Saturday, 21 November 2015. Posted in Archaeology

Earlier this year archaeologists discovered an extensive Roman settlement in the northern part of the airfield of the former RAF base. This all happened because a few months earlier, planning permission had been granted for the development of this area into a solar farm. Following an archaeological evaluation in which 60 machines dug trenches in January where about the third of them had evidence of Roman features, full scale excavation was undertaken in February and March.  

Two large areas, totalling just over a hectare, were opened up for excavation and because of the tight timescale for the building of the solar farm, two teams were employed British Solar Renewables to excavate: Wessex Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology. Between them the teams excavated hundreds of features indicating extensive occupation through the Roman period and a hint at earlier Iron Age occupation too.

The most exciting features were two round house dwellings. They were both around 12 metres in diameter and had well preserved internal features. The earlier one was Late Iron Age and was superseded and partially overlapped by a slightly larger Roman one. This hints at continuous occupation on this site for a few hundred years.

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