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The Boslow inscribed stone in West Penwith stands at a crossroads of very ancient trackways – the overgrown one stretching away into the distance in the photo below is the Tinners’ Way, or Old St Ives Road, which is at least 4,000 years old and links St Just to St Ives 14 miles away and across the top of the Penwith Moors. It’s also right on the boundary of St Just and Sancreed parishes.
First mentioned in the Corpus of Early Christian Inscribed Stones of South-west Britain  `the stone was found in the summer of 1877 by G.B. Millett on the moor ‘under Carn Kenidjack’, the Cornwall Heritage Environment Record describes the stone thus:
An inscribed stone is marked at the location on current OS maps. It is situated in ‘Water Lane’ above Boslow and is on the parish boundary between Sancreed and St Just. On the front of the granite stone is an inscription ‘TAET VERA’ in two lines reading downward, and a peculiar cross with a looped transom. On the rear face is an incised cross (described by Macalister as a “cross potent”). The stone measures 4ft (1.22m) high and 1ft 2in (0.36m) by 1ft 1in (0.33m) wide. A site visit by the OS revealed that Macalister’s description of the stone appears correct. It stands on the north-east side of a small (probably modern) mound. The monument is included in the Schedule.
A 3D rendered model has recently been produced by Tom Goskar, and is available to view on the SketchFab site. The stone is thought to be in its original position at the head of a stone-lined grave and bears a single name which can only be read at midday when the sun is exactly in the south: TAETVERA. This is Latinised 7th century Cornish: Taithuere, “exalter of the journey”. The grave and mound have never been excavated and therefore provide one of the oldest known intact graves with a named occupant. A ground plan can be seen in issue 30 of Meyn Mamvro magazine, issue 30.
There has been some recent discussion of the stone on Facebook, where Cornish historian Craig Weatherhill supplied the following information:
A contemporary incised cross on the southern face of the stone, and Alpha-Omega symbols under the inscription, indicate that this is the grave of an early Celtic priest, but which one? “Taithuere” could be a “name taken in religion”, e.g. Wynfrith became St Boniface; Magonus was the birth name of St Patrick; and every Pope in history has done it, too.
Was there a local priest of this era who was known for taking himself off on frequent journeys? There was: St Just himself, actually a man called Yestin, who also journeyed to his other churches at St Just in Roseland and Gorran Haven, while there are tales of his visits to St Achebran at St Keverne. Then there’s the name of this stone in 1613: Crowze East (crows Ust, “St Just’s cross”). Is this the gravestone of St Just?
Yestin (St Just) was a son of King Gerent I of Dumnonia. His other two sons were Selyf (St Selevan), and Cado who succeeded him as king. Gerent I is known to have flourished at the end of the 6th century, so the mid 7th century date for the inscription on this stone would fit a son of Gerent perfectly. Selyf had a son Kybi (St Cuby, Tregony; also the St Kybi of Llangybi, Anglesey). Celibacy was not required of ordinary priests until the 12th century.
Sadly, it seems that the stone (and grave) is now in danger from modern farm machinery as a recent picture shows that deep rutted tracks have been made very close to, and over the grave.
Discussions with the landowner and Cornwall Archaeology Service are under way, and we can only hope that there will be a successful conclusion to those negotiations that will secure the future of the stone and grave.
The modern archaeological industry is built upon the premise that sites selected for destruction should be recorded before they are destroyed. Following excavation the record is then deposited and the site is consequently “preserved by record”. At Mynydd y Betws the Bancbryn stone alignment was promised such treatment. Sadly whilst the first part was apparently completed the second was not. Carmarthenshire County Council have over the years been repeatedly asked for a copy of the excavation report and whilst most of these requests went unheeded recently a response was received.
“I have not had sight of any such report as part of my investigations, although I do not consider that it has undermined the fact that works have been carried out with due diligence within the development site, and that the condition imposed on the planning consent, and the reason for it, has been discharged in a way that is, on balance, proportionate and pragmatic”.
Basically they are saying that a report was not produced but this does not matter. What happens next time a developer says they will not fund the post-excavation. Carmarthenshire County Council have already set a dangerous precedent. For a site to be preserved by record there needs to be record otherwise the site has simply been destroyed and no amount of fine words will alter that fact.
To be clear a preliminary report was produced, but this included no photographs or drawings of the excavated areas. Instead photographs and drawings were limited to the areas beyond the excavation. How many modern excavation reports include only images of the areas beyond the area being investigated and none of the excavation itself?
In the first part of our look at the Greater Ridgeway, we examine the northern section of the route, known as Peddars Way, which runs from Holme-next-the-Sea on the coast, down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford.
The trail starts at Holme-next-the-Sea, but of course this small village has not always been situated on the coast, and may not have been the start or end of the trail as we know it today.
Holme-next-the-Sea is of course now famous as the home of ‘Seahenge‘ (Holme I) – an enigmatic timber structure exposed at low tide and controversially excavated/rescued by the Time Team in 1998. The preserved timbers can now be seen in a reconstruction of the monument in the museum at Kings Lynn, a few miles away. The timbers at Holme I came from a circle 21ft in diameter, comprising 55 closely-fitted oak posts, each originally up to 10ft in length. A second timber circle (Holme II) some 42ft in diameter was also identified 100 yards or so from the first. Timbers from both circles have been dated using dendrochronology, and were found to have been felled in 2049BC. Were these circles the focal point of the trail, or did it once extend even further in to what is now the North Sea?
From Holme, the trackway heads just east of south for approximately 20 miles. The modern track follows the course of a Roman Road, (does the Roman road follow the course of the original trackway?) though there is some debate as intermittent clues suggest a slightly different course for the earlier trackway to the west of the modern road. The village of Sedgeford is close to the line of the road, and is the site of a long running and on-going archaeological investigation which shows the area has been occupied since at least the Iron Age, if not longer. This is of course, Iceni country, and the village of Snettisham – where a fabulous gold torc (amongst other treasures) was discovered by metal detectorists – is also only a short distance further to the west.
Continuing southeast, we come to the barrow cemeteries at Bircham and Harpley Common, (where a strung-out line of barrows seems to suggest a slightly different route) and a couple of miles further to the east, Weasenham Lyngs – one of the largest barrow cemeteries in Norfolk, before arriving at Castle Acre. Castle Acre was the site of an important Norman Castle and Priory, both established after the Norman Conquest, which indicates the strategic importance of the route at that time.
The track continues south from here, passing to the east of Swaffham, roughly the half-way point of the Peddars Way. Until recently, there was a reconstructed Iceni Village tourist attraction at Cockley Cley to the west, but this has now been demolished, so ignore the signs if you see them! But the Bronze Age barrow cemeteries continue to pepper the line of the road at Little Cressingham, – where some gold torques were unearthed in a quarry in 1856 – Merton, and then Hockham Heath, passing a few miles to the east of the Grimes Graves flint mines before finally arriving at Knettishall Heath, where four modern long-distance footpaths meet: Angles Way, Icknield Way Path, Iceni Way and Peddars Way.
At this point, we’ll head west to pick up the Icknield Way, the subject of our next article. The Peddars Way shown on modern O.S. maps very much follows the modern long-distance path, but for a bit more authenticity, it’s possible to follow the ‘old’ path on the O.S. maps from the 1880s at the National Library of Scotland web site.
We continue our series looking at Dr Sandy Gerrard’s research into stone row monuments of the South West. This time the Yar Tor stone alignment on Dartmoor is examined.
The Yar Tor triple stone alignment includes three roughly parallel lines of stones leading for at least 250m, aligned NNW to SSE up a saddle between Yar Tor and Corndon Tor. Although the row now apparently stops about 70m short of the Money Pit Cairn (SX 6816 7385) there is broad consensus that it once extended as far as this cairn. The stones forming the row are generally relatively small and Jeremy Butler notes that the average height is 0.16m high. This row has something to tell us about the attitude of the Middle Bronze Age farmers who lived here in later years. Destruction and desecration is certainly not a modern phenomenon. Over 2,500 years ago a new generation of farmers set about enclosing substantial areas of Dartmoor with fields. Many of these still survive and illustrate land development on a colossal scale. The field system laid out over the Yar Tor stone row was truly massive with over 3,000 hectares surviving to this day. The builders of this field system had no use for the Yar Tor alignment and built three lengths of field boundary over it. We can therefore be certain that by the Middle Bronze Age stone alignments were no longer being revered and even by this time their purpose had probably been forgotten. This indicates a significant shift in belief and is likely to reflect radical changes in cultural and ritual practises. Areas previously set aside for ritual activity were now being incorporated into the business of living. Whatever was originally special about these places had been forgotten or perhaps the needs of the present had rendered them obsolete. They were built by communities, used by the same communities and abandoned when they were no longer required. One need not look any further than the modern church for an analogy. Long after the Bronze Age fields had been abandoned farmers returned to the area and built new enclosures again incorporating the earlier row in their fields. The later use of the area has undoubtedly damaged the row but despite its relatively delicate form consisting as it did of mainly small stones it thankfully survived.
The topographical position of this row has much to offer our current research and the manner in which the row relates to the surrounding landscape is remarkable. The row sits within a valley between Yar Tor on the west and Corndon Tor on the east and leads upslope from the north to the saddle between the tors. The effect of the disposition of the tors relative to the row is to restrict views to the east and west as you walk along it. It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that the northern end of the row marks the precise point from which restricted views start. The view westward at this point may also be of significance. An eye catching view of Longaford Tor framed by Laughter Tor is visible and should certainly be described as a visual treat.
This eye-catching view of Longaford Tor is available only from the northern end of the stone alignment. Longaford Tor is framed perfectly by the nearer Laughter Tor. It seems very unlikely that the myriad of distinctive visual relationships like this can all be coincidences. Furthermore it is possible at the summer solstice sun may set behind the tor. Certainly something worth checking out.
As you reach the cairn Sharp Tor looks as if it is sitting on top of the cairn. This visual trick and treat may of course have had considerable significance for the row builders. We have seen several reveals like this already but this one is particularly special enhanced as it is by the appearance of the sea on the distant horizon further to the east. Most artificial structures both past and present are built where they are for particular reasons and it would therefore be most surprising if stone alignments were not sited to take cognisance of their surroundings. Here the visual treats are very obvious but the chances are that all the rows were built to acknowledge their surroundings. Their linear form suggests that special routes were being denoted. It was clearly important that a particular path was followed and that the reveal was an important part of the ritual. The repeating pattern of links between the landscape and alignments provides a powerful indication that the rows played some part in connecting these people with their world.
Views from the alignment
Four images derived from Google Earth are presented below to illustrate the character of the reveal. As you walk up the hill towards the saddle views to the west and east are restricted by the neighbouring tors and the view to the south by the saddle itself. This is the case for much of the length of the row which of course emphasises the reveal when it happens.
Map showing the arc of visibility from the upper (southern) end of the alignment. It might be significant that the rising sun at the mid-winter solstice appears out of the sea triangle. Either end of the row appears to be closely related to celestial events – the top in the winter and the bottom in the summer. A convincing body of evidence is developing that there is a correlation between the rows and celestial events although not in a manner that had been envisaged when this research began. The links with the sea are undoubtedly important but they are clearly only part of the picture and it is the complex visual relationships between the sky, water and land that seem to be being celebrated, acknowledged and sign-posted by the rows. Each site is unique in form and location but the common thread that is developing is that they were each built to provide a special route between places with extra-ordinary visual relationships with the landscape. The stone alignment at Yar Tor is particularly informative and I would like to thank the Dartmoor Preservation Association for their recent clearance work which has revealed this extraordinary alignment.
Butler, J., 1991, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Volume One, 126-7.
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is extremely active all year round, monitoring and looking out for many of the prehistoric sites on the West Penwith peninsular. Once a month they organise a clearup session, staffed entirely by volunteers, to cut back growth on designated sites and ensure they are not entirely lost to nature.
October’s scheduled clearup coincided with my visit to the area, so I decided to once again go along and lend a hand. The designated site this month was the courtyard settlement at Bosullow Trehyllys, in the shadow of Chun Castle. The site lies on private land, so this was a chance to see a site that is not usually accessible to the public. I have been here once before, at a previous clearup session a couple of years ago, and it’s a wonderful site.
When I arrived, the clearup was well under way with half a dozen people dotted around the site, clearing bracken and brambles away from the stones to more easily discern the layout of the buildings. As usual, Luna, organiser Dave Munday’s dog was keeping a guarding eye out. Although she’s a softie at heart, she has a ferocious bark and growl when any strangers approach, and I got the full treatment!
After saying hello, I took some time to look around the site, orient myself and take a few photos. It’s quite a difficult site to photograph, especially when so overgrown. There’s no real viewpoint to get an overall picture of the layout of the settlement – I’ll have to invest in a drone one day…
Bosullow Trehyllys comprises of four identifiable courtyard house structures, with additional circular structures which may predate the courtyard structures. I was told that the settlement was much larger, but historical field clearance destroyed at least half of the original settlement. A large mound of stones in the adjoining field may attest to this.
Having had a look around, I was then put to work with a pair of shears, helping to cut back a section of one of the houses. I didn’t go too mad, being a novice and not wanting to cause any unintended damage. All too soon it was time to pack up for the day, and the piles of cuttings were evidence of the work that had been put in during the day. A nice tradition was the goblet of mead passed between the participants at the end of the day, with a small libation for the site itself too.
If you find yourself in the area, check out the CASPN web site or Facebook page to see if a clearup is scheduled – there’s one every month in Penwith, with additional clearups on The Lizard run by a separate team. It’s worthwhile work, helping to preserve some of our largely forgotten heritage for future generations.
It’s fair to say that every area has it’s fair share of ‘Hollywood’ or tourist archaeology sites – those must see monuments that aficionados such as us hunt down and visit on a fairly frequent basis. But it’s equally fair to say that those same sites are only the tip of the iceberg as far as sites worth a visit are concerned. And again, there are probably as many more sites again where there is nothing to be seen at all – all the archaeology is buried, or covered in dense undergrowth.
Once again, I’m visiting West Penwith in Cornwall, an area many would argue is one big Hollywood site. It’s difficult to travel down any of the lanes there without being within view of at least one prehistoric monument. And yet, after 15 years of visiting the area several times a year, I am continually surprised to find yet ‘one more site’ I’ve not previously visited. In the early days I relied upon the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic Portal web sites to find my way around – both excellent resources in their own right. And the Defra Magic web site allows access to information on many Scheduled Monuments (and numerous other data layers). But more recently I have come to rely on the Cornwall Council Interactive Map for my jaunts to the southwest.
The site works in a similar way to the Defra Magic application, whereby different layers of data can be activated or deactivated as required. I usually start with a standard set of layers activated; Leisure: Rights of Way and Right to Roam land, and Historical: Sites and Monuments Records and Scheduled Monuments.
There are many more layers of possible interest to choose from, but even with this subset, when zoomed in the map gets very busy! Sadly, there’s no way to filter based upon era, but the prehistoric sites are designated by red markers which are easy to see. Clicking on the map on a specific point (or area) will pop up a key panel with links to additional information – for the sites we’re interested in these links usually point to the Heritage Environment Records (HER), held on the Heritage Gateway web site. If clicking on an area which may be covered by more than one item, e.g. a settlement site within a Right to Roam area crossed by a Right of Way, the Key panel will show the first item it finds, but other items will be indicated in the header bar (“1 of 3”). The items can then be scrolled through using the supplied back/forward buttons.
The system is very easy to use, though the amount of information presented can be a bit daunting at times! Of course, it would be equally simple to use the Heritage Gateway to perform a more precise search, but using the map enables you to see where the selected site sits in relation to other HER records in the immediate area (and those all-important rights of way!)
Using the Cornwall Interactive Map and the Heritage Gateway I now have a plan of sorts and a list of targets to visit for my upcoming trip, some of which will no doubt feature in forthcoming articles.
The Heritage Gateway is an excellent resource covering the whole country, and I’m sure other counties will have similar facilities to Cornwall to explore their own areas via mapping – if you know of any good examples, please let us know in the comments.
If I have one small criticism of the Heritage Gateway, it’s that despite the initiatives for Open Access Archaeology, it’s just not possible to link through to the source documentation and reports. Sometimes (especially for us non-academics), a citation is not enough.
Many thanks to all those who responded to our recent survey. The results were interesting, but not in the way we expected.
Firstly, by far the largest group to respond were the metal detectorists at 30% of the overall votes. However as a very large proportion of these were cast in just a 45-minute period on the Sunday evening, with no further votes after that, we’re minded to completely eliminate those votes as a deliberate attempt to subvert the results.
So discounting those votes entirely, and in round numbers: approximately 38% of respondents are involved in heritage matters in a professional capacity – either as an archaeologist (16%), historian (3%) or other heritage professional (19%). A further 19% voted as ‘antiquarian hobbyists’, which to be honest we could have done with defining a bit better. 11% considered themselves amateur historians and only 5% voted as amateur archaeologists. This leaves 8% tourists and 2% students. The remainder (17%) selected ‘None of the above’, which strongly suggests that there are other groupings of our audience that we hadn’t considered.
But what this shows is that our audience is fairly well balanced between the professional and ‘lay’ sectors, and that in turn, our balance of comment and opinion pieces alongside the factual ‘site focus’ type articles is again roughly correct. It’s encouraging that so many (often very busy) professionals consider us worth reading on a regular basis, and for that we thank you all.
Our readership numbers have remained relatively stable over the last 18 months or so, despite reducing the number of articles. We can only interpret this as a period of underlying growth in overall readership – all of which is very encouraging for the future.
So what of that future? From these results it looks very much as if it’ll be business as usual on the Heritage Journal, our mix of pointing out problems in the heritage protection world and raising awareness of the wonderful sites to be visited throughout Britain – “Pricking the Conscience of the Protectors” – continuing as at present.
But we’ll also be working to identify just who those ‘None of the above‘ voters are, and looking to reach out to them too. So if you voted ‘None of the above‘, please let us know who you are, and what you’re looking for from the Journal. And thanks once again to everyone who took part in the survey – your input is very much appreciated by us all here!
A campaign group has accused authorities of staggering double standards over development affecting Shropshire’s historic landscape.
The backlash comes as Shropshire Council’s conservation department and Historic England rally to object to development skirting Caer Caradoc hillfort near Church Stretton in the south of the County.
Meanwhile, the two bodies have signed an outline agreement in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan for 117 houses across the landscape of Old Oswestry hillfort in the north, despite fresh acknowledgement from leading academics of its national importance.
Shropshire Council conservation officer, Berwyn Murray, has argued that an application for 85 homes at Caer Caradoc will impact the hillfort and valley as well as a nearby grade II listed 18th century farmhouse. He cites concerns that the proposed development will “urbanise the currently open and agricultural wider setting.” John Yates, an inspector for Historic England, has also objected, saying that the hillfort would be “closer to the suburbs, and less rural” if the housing goes ahead.
Maggie Rowlands of campaign group, HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort), said: “We are encouraged that strong objections are being made in defence of these wonderful historic assets and rural landscape in Church Stretton. But the same arguments can and should be applied in the case of Old Oswestry given its widely-accepted national if not international significance.”
Nevertheless, Shropshire Council is refusing to acknowledge that Old Oswestry’s historic farmland setting faces similar degradation from development sweeping ever closer to the monument. It has stated it “does not accept that proposed development (OSW004) would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hillfort.” And it claims that “the sensitivity of the Old Oswestry hillfort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire Council throughout the local plan-making process.”
HOOOH points out that the Council’s opinion has not been supported by any evidence and is in stark contrast to the assessment by a group of 12 eminent British archaeologists that housing would cause “irreparable harm to the hillfort’s setting”. They include Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe and Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, while RESCUE (British Archaeological Trust), the Council for British Archaeology and The Prehistoric Society have all made similar objections. Testifying to the hillfort’s significance, representatives among them have described it as the “Stonehenge of the Iron Age” and in the “Premier League of British archaeological sites”.
“We ask why so little support to protect this significant hinterland landscape has come from Shropshire’s historic environment team,” said Mrs Rowlands. “It appears that OSW004 is being forced on us by the political will of the Council to fulfil their housing quota in SAMDev at any cost.”
Tim Malim, heritage planning adviser to HOOOH, said: “There is an inexplicable lack of appreciation for one of Shropshire’s and the UK’s most important heritage assets. There is also a serious lack of understanding for planning policy and the heritage significance of the hillfort’s setting in believing that development at OSW004 is sound. The LPA is leaving itself wide open to legal challenges while there is such glaring inconsistency in the interpretation of planning guidance in relation to the County’s heritage.”
Campaigners are also extremely disappointed with Historic England’s capitulation over OSW004. Having objected during the early stages of SAMDev, the national body has since agreed principles for housing, subject to design approval, in a statement of common ground. This is despite its stated concerns over the loss of the hillfort’s rural setting to urban development and the disruption of views to and from the hillfort that contribute to the aesthetic value.
HOOOH says that Historic England’s contradictory approach is further highlighted by its objection to the allocation of land in SAMDev to extend an industrial park adjacent to Shrewsbury’s historic Battlefield. The heritage body is concerned about the impact of development on key views to and from the site, and potential harm to the registered battlefield’s wider designation. This is a directly parallel situation with OSW004 at Old Oswestry, say campaigners.
Mr Malim added: “We have submitted evidence to the LPA showing that there would be substantial impacts on the heritage significance of Old Oswestry from the urban encroachment of 117 houses. These include assessments using industry standard methods and Historic England’s own criteria on the setting of heritage assets.”
However, HOOOH says it is encouraged that rulings elsewhere are providing some clarity on the interpretation of harm to heritage setting under national planning guidelines (NPPF).
In 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned plans for four wind turbines on land at the 17th century Barnwell Manor near Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire. The judge ruled there had been a failure by a public inquiry inspector “properly to interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites, which meant that the balancing exercise was flawed”.
The ruling has had notable repercussions for planning applications affecting heritage sites.
Andrew Batterton, legal director for global law firm, DLA Piper LLP, wrote in The Planner magazine earlier this year: “Even less than substantial harm impacts that fail to preserve setting and that contribute to significance of a heritage asset are now expected to be afforded considerable weight, creating a strong presumption against the grant of planning permission.”
HOOOH says if proper weight is given to Old Oswestry’s significance, the scale of harm from development in its setting, and to its community value as a heritage asset, then any unbiased balancing exercise regarding harm versus the need for housing must clearly rule OSW004 as unsound.
The SAMDev plan has been undergoing examination by Inspector Claire Sherratt for over a year. She is expected to submit her final plan to Shropshire Council in the next few weeks.
A major network of trackways, in use since Neolithic times runs from the Norfolk Coast near Kings Lynn, all the way across country to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a total of some 363 miles.
Much of this trackway, known today as the Greater Ridgeway is still in evidence, and is incorporated into a series of modern long distance trails known by several names for its different sections:
- The Peddars Way – runs from Holme-next-the-Sea down to Knettishall Heath near Thetford in Norfolk.
- The Icknield Way – runs from Knettishall Heath, SE of Thetford across country to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
- The Ridgeway – runs from Ivinghoe Beacon to West Overton, west of Marlborough in Wiltshire.
- The Wessex Ridgeway – runs from West Overton, via Stonehenge, to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
It’s no coincidence that this set of trackways follows a geological band of chalk which runs diagonally across Southern England. Some of these trails overlap, as explained by the Friends of the Ridgeway website:
The Ridgeway, like other pre-historic routes, was never a single, designated road, but rather a complex of braided tracks, with subsidiary ways diverging and coming together. Successive ages made use of the route for their own purposes, and left the marks of their passage. Pre-historic barrows and burial mounds line the route and excavations have found implements and ornaments from many sources.
As the land lower down the slopes was cleared, a lower route became feasible in summer, closer to the spring line where water was accessible to travellers and their mounts. While The Ridgeway followed the top of the downs the Lower, or Icknield Way, runs parallel to it just above the foot of the slope, as far south as Wanborough near Swindon. To the north of the Chilterns, where the chalk is flatter, the routes come together. The Icknield Way was used and upgraded by the Romans for much of its length for both trade and military purposes.
In a series of forthcoming articles, we’ll be looking at each of these modern sections, noting some of the archaeological sites that sit on or near the trackways as we go.
(And no, I haven’t walked the whole route. Yet…)
Last weekend, I attended a one-day conference organised (and fully funded) by Wessex Archaeology at the Greenwich University Medway Campus on 12th September 2015. The theme of the conference was ‘Celebrating Prehistoric Kent’.
The programme was set out as follows and despite some minor overruns, all went very smoothly, ably m.c.’d by Wessex Archaeology’s Regional Team Leader for London and the South East, Mark Williams.
9.30: Welcome (coffee and selection of teas provided)
10.00: Paul Garwood (University of Birmingham): Seas of change: the early Neolithic in the Medway valley and its European context
10.40: Sophie Adams (University of Bristol): We dig what you dig: exploring later prehistoric bronze working from the excavated evidence
11.20: Break with coffee and selection of teas provided
11.40: Phil Andrews (Wessex Archaeology): Digging at the Gateway: the archaeology of East Kent Access 2
12.20: Andy Bates (University of Kent): Investigation and Survey of the Oppida at Bigbury and Oldbury
1.00: Lunch (not provided) displays etc
2.00: Jacqueline McKinley (Wessex Archaeology): The Late Bronze Age-Middle Iron Age mortuary landscape at Cliffs End
2.40: Ges Moody (Trust For Thanet Archaeology): Prehistory in our place and our place in Prehistory; Thanet and the Trust for Thanet Archaeology
3.20: Andrew Mayfield (Kent County Council Heritage Team): Public perceptions of prehistory
4.00: Discussion & Close
I tried to take notes throughout the day, and I hope I haven’t misrepresented what was said by anyone in the following summary. Please comment if you were there and feel I’ve got anything wrong.
Paul Garwood kicked off the day, talking about the Medway Valley Megaliths, “discovered, forgotten, rediscovered etc. but not quite fitting in”. He postulated a two-phase Neolithic: The ‘Formative’ (4000-3750BC), which included the spread of farming to previously Mesolithic cultures, and the ‘Early Developed’ (3750-3400BC) which included the long barrow culture.
Evidence from each of the megaliths in the Medway Valley, which we’ve visited before, was examined in turn. As the size of the monuments increases (4000BC for White Horse Stone, Kits Coty etc) up to large enclosures such as that at Burham Causewayed Enclosure (3700-3500BC), this indicates a time of huge social change and activity, and suggests a new chronology for the British early Neolithic period.
Sophie Adams then ran through a wealth of evidence for Bronze Age and Iron Age metalworking in Kent, and provided several samples and reproductions to be passed around the audience. The evidence for metalworking usually consists of ingots, crucibles, moulds (often made of clay) or smithing tools.
There are many metalworking objects recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme from Kent relating to the Bronze Age, plus a lot of Iron Age coins.
Some 25 sites in the county provide evidence of metal working. This is a high number for such sites in a single county in Britain. Sophie examined the finds from several of these sites in detail, such as Holborough Quarry, Mill Hill in Deal, Highstead Chislet, and the Boughton Malherbe hoard.
After a short coffee break, Phil Andrews took us back to 2010 and the largest excavation in Britain, where over a period of 9 months some 48 hectares of land were stripped from a rich archaeological landscape for the East Kent Access route. The project was overwhelming but the road was completed on time. The site was divided into 25 ‘zones’ for ease of reference.
Among the earliest remains found were a palaeolithic flake from Telegraph Hill, along with Mesolithic axes. Zone 6 included a concentration of Neolithic Flint in pits, while zone 14 exposed pits with pottery. There are a large number of barrows in Thanet, almost all of which have been ploughed flat. There were at least 12 large barrows under the course of the road.
One ring ditch barrow produced up to a dozen burials at Cliffs End near to a possible henge – a 50 metre wide monument. A total of 8 late Bronze Age hoards were all found on the Ebbsfleet peninsula as part of the excavation.
Zone 6, over 300m long, also produced evidence of a very complex Iron Age site, with trackways, ditches, roundhouses etc. The settlement grew through to Roman times. The most significant discovery? A possible link to Julius Caesar in the form of a very substantial ditch, part of defences dating from around 100 bc or so. The ditch was recut in 100 AD, and investigation continues.
Andy Bates then described his work, surveying two under-researched hillforts in Kent, those at Bigbury and Oldbury.
Bigbury is an are dominated by gravels, much of the area has been quarried, some of the surrounding fields are being surveyed using metal detector, magnetometry and resistivity geophys, with some encouraging results including an intriguing rectilinear feature which bears some resemblance in form to a possible shrine found on Cadbury Castle in Somerset.
Oldbury, one of the largest hillforts in Europe, has been largely inaccessible to geophys due to being heavily wooded to the south with agricultural use (orchards) to the north, but an opportunity opened up for some survey work in a northern field. Not much showed on the geophys here, some features but all were very disturbed.
After a lunch break Jacqueline McKinley described some of the major findings from the Cliffs End farm site (see the article in Current Archaeology issue 306). This was a very busy mortuary site, with burials from the late Bronze Age, middle Iron Age and some Anglo-Saxon burials too. There were no bones in many of the graves, due to the acidity of the soil, but fortuitously in one area of redeposited soil, 14 articulated burials were preserved. This find increases by around 30% the number of articulated bodies found in Kent to date. Unusually, the majority of the bones were from teens.
The main find was the burial of a Bronze Age woman, found with two lambs on her lap, holding a piece of chalk to her face, and her other hand pointing to a central enclosure. Two youths were also buried with her, one with their head resting on a cow skull. The woman had died from four blows to her skull with a bladed instrument – a violent death, but possibly a sacrifice?
Ges Moody then gave us a brief history of Thanet, the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the background to many of the antiquarian (and more up to date!) archaeological investigations in the area.
The Trust recently completed their ‘VM-365’ project, with a blog post every day for a year looking at Thanet archaeology and many of the finds available in their ‘virtual museum’. An interesting site, well worth a visit.
The day finished (for me) with Andy Mayfield giving a lighthearted look at how the public view prehistory. he then went on to explain a little about his work as a Heritage Environment Records Officer in Kent (what a H.E.R.O.!), and a review of the enormous amount of prehistory available in the county.
After the meeting, an invite was extended to all to continue discussions in a nearby pub, but as we had a long trip home in front of us, we left as the organisers were packing up the display materials.
All in all a very entertaining, interesting and educational day, and Wessex Archaeology are to be applauded for covering the cost of the event. I’ll certainly be looking out for other events in the future. Maybe they could consider covering each county in turn? Personally I’d like to see a similar review of archaeology in my local counties of Hertfordshire and Essex (hint hint!)