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Day 5 of the holiday and time for more heritage sites. I’d heard on the grapevine that discussions are under way concerning plans for a fairly major archaeological project in West Penwith. Chun Castle being the main focus of these plans, I decided to pay the site another visit. We parked on the north side of Chun Downs Nature Reserve and I made the ascent (a 150 feet climb over a third of a mile) in less than 10 minutes, despite my knees!
One thing that immediately strikes me about Chun Castle is that you don’t see it until you’re right on top of it. And the converse is true. Due to the shape and slope of the hill, it is unlikely that any attackers would be seen by lookouts on the ramparts until they were almost at the castle gates. So what was its function? The ditch and double banks with offset entrance suggest a fortification, and there is certainly enough granite in the walls to withstand an attack, but the location and siting seems all wrong to me. Discussion with Craig Wetherhill a few days later enlightened me: at their peak, the walls may have been at least 20′ high, affording good all-round visibility. The castle would have been intervisible with several other hillforts and rounds in the area: Caer Bran, Lesingy Round, Faughan Round, Castle an Dinas etc. Chun Castle itself may well have been used as a fortified ‘warehouse’ for the tin traders.
A few hundred yards away from the castle entrance, and barely inter-visible at ground level is the much older Neolithic site of Chun Quoit, a chambered tomb which we’ll be covering in more detail in future…
Returning to the car, we drove the short distance to the hamlet of Bosiliack, and I walked the old Tinner’s track up to Ding Dong mine. I have visited Men an Tol many times, but have frequently been foiled trying to get up to Boskednan Downs, by flooding. Starting from the old mine workings avoids the flooding in the valley below, and is an easy walk through the scrub.
The first site I reached was an old Kerbed ring cairn, which has been cleared (by CASPN?) since I was last here, and is therefore much easier to see.
The (restored) Nine Maidens stone circle is a short distance further on, and gives good views in all directions, with Carn Galver, Hannibal’s Carn and Little Galver dominating the views to the north and north-east. There is a Standing Stone marked nearby on the map, but I’d never previously identified it myself. This time, with the help of my trusty ViewRanger app, the GPS showed my exact location and I was surprised to find it’s just a short stump of a stone, directly on the main path!
I moved on to the last target of the day, another kerbed barrow a few hundred yards away. This has been extensively cleared by the CASPN stalwarts, and the central cist is plainly marked by a wonderful Quartz stone just to the west of the cist.
When I was last here, shortly after the stone was uncovered, it was difficult to make out the details of the barrow, but the further scrub clearance has now made the layout plain to see.
Whilst here, I met a couple of gentlemen who asked if I knew anything about the monuments. I imparted what little I knew, and pointed out that we were amidst a packed landscape of ancient features, with the remains of settlements at Chysauster, Bodrifty, Bosiliack, Bosullow and Chun surrounding us. They were continuing down the hill to the Four Parish stone, so I warned them of the possibility of boggy ground there, wished them well and retraced my steps back to the car to complete the day’s excursion.
Day 3 of our holiday was packed with ‘lumps and bumps’, and a major disappointment. Those who follow our Twitter feed may have noticed the picture below, taken during a mid-morning visit to the stone circle at Boscawen-Un, my favourite site in Cornwall.
I had seen the tent during my approach from the A30, but had assumed it was pitched in the adjoining field. Imagine my anger and surprise when I realised the tent was actually within touching distance of the stones! Some of the guy ropes were staked within the area of worn grass immediately outside the circle. The tent flap was completely open and the occupants were fast asleep. I’ll never understand the mentality of such people – the stones are there for us all, and to ruin the ambience in such a way is totally selfish behaviour.
I don’t know if they had, or even asked for, permission, but I made a call to the CASPN hotline to inform them of the proximity of the tent to the stones, and the site manager was subsequently informed – on my return the next day the tent was gone, with flattened grass the only evidence. But I wonder how many others had the ambiance of their visit spoiled by the thoughtlessness of that couple. I left the site reluctantly, and walked across the A30 to the Goldherring settlement which I last visited 2 years ago. I was pleased to see that the clearance has been maintained and extended – even the small tree which dominated the centre of the site previously has now been removed.
Back to the car, and passing through St Just, I parked and started on the long walk uphill to the remaining Tregeseal stone circle. There were originally three circles here, but two disappeared in antiquity. I always approach this site with trepidation now, as long horn cattle are used on the common, and have been witnessed causing damage to the stones, as well as being somewhat frightening in appearance, especially to a bovinophobe like myself! However, on this occasion I was in luck, with no cattle to be seen. But my visit was unfortunately timed to co-incide with a group of over two dozen walkers from the West Penwith Footpath Association who decided to stop at the stones for their lunch break. I therefore continued across the common to look at the the two major barrows, and the group of holed stones which sit within the shadow of Carn Kenidjack. There are five stones here in total, four in a rough E-W line with the fifth a short distance off to one side at the western end of the row. None of the holes are aligned with anything obvious in the surrounding landscape, and the single stone was recently damaged (and poorly repaired)
For those who are following Sandy Gerrard’s series on Stone Rows here on the journal, I tried to see if a sea triangle view was possible at the Western end of the row, looking toward St Just, but the sky was just too hazy on the day to make anything out.
The walkers having concluded their lunch stop, I returned to the circle just as they were leaving, and finally managed to take some more photos of the circle for my collection, just as the sun decided to put in an appearance. The clouds above Carn Kenidjack seemed to be mimicing the shape of the carn below. Grateful that I’d had some time alone in the circle, I thanked the spirits of place, picked up an empty food wrapper, and made my way back to the car.
2 stone circles, a stone row, barrows and a settlement. Not a bad day’s work!
The first day of a two week holiday, and (purely co-incidentally, honest guv!) the day of a guided walk organised by the Cornwall Archaeological Society.
We had been warned that if the weather was inclement there may be a last-minute cancellation, so it was with some trepidation that on a very cold, but importantly, dry day 7 souls plus our guide gathered in a small car park at Balwest, prepared for an attack on the heights of Tregonning Hill. A multi-period walk had been promised by our guide, Steve Hartgroves, covering Bronze Age barrows, an Iron Age hillfort and accompanying settlements, medieval field systems, right up to comparatively recent China Clay quarries and workings. All of this was delivered, and more!
Tregonning Hill stands some 6km West of Helston, and rises to the magnificent height of 194 metres, overlooking Mounts Bay to the SW. It is surmounted by Germoe War Memorial, and an OS trig point. The hill is a SSSI, and the major importance of the site is the occurrence of an extremely rare liverwort, Western Rustwort Marsupella profunda, which is found growing on bare outcrops of weathered granite within and around the old china clay workings. Tregonning Hill is the only known British location for Western Rustwort and internationally it is restricted to this site in Cornwall and a few locations in Portugal and Madeira. (source: Natural England)
Steve showed us several aerial photos and old maps of the area (which would be referenced throughout the day), pointing out the various barrows and features that we would be visiting, and then we were off! The main track from Balwest is metalled, and gave no difficulties other than the incline, and we soon came to a side track at which point we paused. An old (parish boundary?) wall was our first marker and an obvious kink in line of the wall, along with a couple of suspicious bumps, marked our first Bronze Age barrow. Continuing on, we soon found ourselves clambering down and up across a wide banked ditch – the fortifications of the Castle Pencaire hillfort at the summit. It’s difficult to actually make out the fortifications on the ground, as quarrying has impacted upon the defenses, much stone has been robbed out, (some of which was apparently used for the war memorial which stands within the fort) and what remains is hidden in the extensive undergrowth. We moved on up to the memorial, and sheltered from the biting wind in its lea. A short geology lesson ensued, Steve taking us back to the pre-Cambrian and explaining how the rocks below our feet were formed. Informative, but a little over my head, I’ll admit.
The views from the summit are extensive, but unfortunately there was a haze to the day, and the distance views were not as clear as they could have been, though the field patterns all around, and particularly to the north could be easily made out. Our prehistoric geology lesson over, we retraced our steps back across the ditch to the track. We continued south for a short distance before bearing off to the right, to an area with an information sign, ‘The Preaching Pit’. Our lunchtime stop, the ‘pit’ is the site of an old quarry, which provided a much needed break from the wind, and commemorates John Wesley’s visits to nearby Kennegy Downs and Breage in the mid-1700s. The pit was used extensively for Sunday School meetings on Whit Sundays, and is still apparently used at Pentecost for multi-denominational services.
After a picnic lunch, we moved further south to look at the main quarry, site of a plane crash in the war. A commemorative plate is apparently in place, quite near to the edge of the quarry, but we didn’t look too hard for it! The quarry was an early China Clay site, having first been discovered here in 1746 by William Cookworthy. There was some discussion around the quarry, but I was personally more interested in the prehistoric aspects of the walk. We continued to the south-east, toward a lookout house which dates to the Napoleonic era, until we reached an area marked ‘cromlech’ on the old map. This was actually a rather nice kerbed cairn dating from the Bronze Age, which I would guess is around 40 metres across. Many of the surrounding kerb stones are still visible, and there is an obvious mound in the centre. This was an undoubted highlght of the walk for me. Retracing our steps a short distance, we turned to the north, where alongside the track was yet another BA barrow. No real distinguishing features, but an obvious ‘bump’ in the landscape.
Finally heading downhill, discussion turned to the landscape of fields below, and an obvious progression from Iron Age enclosed fields, to medieval strip farming, and finally the much larger fields of today was presented to us. We passed an (inaccessible) Iron Age settlement area, or ’round’ near the base of the hill, but attention then switched to the ground to our right, which was the site of an old brickworks, with one of the kilns still in place, but the rest left as faint traces on aerial photographs.
As we moved across the north base of the hill, a field boundary was examined – a double bank and ditch identifying it as a partial boundary of another Iron Age Round. All too soon, the path started to incline again, and we knew the end of the walk was not too far away now. I’ll admit to struggling on the final climb back up to the summit, and our small band split into two groups – one lagging to discuss the mine workings between Tregonning and Godolphin Hills, and the rest of us eager to finally get to the top once more for a final look at the views before returning to the cars to make our way home.
So what were my impressions of my first CAS walk? I was impressed with the extent of knowledge shown and imparted by Steve the group leader – from the Pre-Cambrian to Napoleonic times, he covered it all with good humour. The other participants were not slow in coming forward if they had something to add to the discussions, and there were questions aplenty at all stages of the walk. If others are like this, I’ll make sure to coincide my holiday dates again in future!
Archaeological site identification is not an exact science. Differences in opinion are common and often consensus can be elusive. As our understanding improves some earlier interpretations are seen as ridiculous whilst others are enhanced. The Ordnance Survey surveyors working on Dartmoor towards the end of the 19th century were well aware of the presence of stone rows and duly recorded and labelled them on their maps as stone rows or avenues. However when they reached the Erme Valley and encountered the 3.3km line of stones leading from SX 63512 64443 to SX 63662 67797 they concluded that it could not be a stone row – because, well it was a whole lot longer than any of the others they had seen. So despite the fact that it terminated in a fine kerbed cairn they chose instead to describe it as a “stone trackway”. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Cadw consider the great length of the Bancbryn stone alignment to be a major reason for doubting its prehistoric credentials. Perhaps one day they too will concede that a line of stones (no matter how long) leading from a cairn is very likely to be a prehistoric stone alignment. Time will tell.
Although originally considered to be a trackway by Victorian surveyors this line of stones in the Upper Erme Valley is now accepted as a stone alignment.
It’s that time of year again. With just 3 months to go before the Current Archaeology Live! conference in London, the nominations for the Current Archaeology Awards have been released.
The awards are designed to celebrate some of the stories and people featured in the magazine throughout the course of the year. There is no panel of judges, the only votes that count are those from the readership in the public vote via the website, so it really is just down to you (collectively) as to who the winners are.
As in previous years, there are four main categories to vote for:
- Research Project of the Year
- Archaeologist of the Year
- Rescue Dig of the Year
- Book of the Year
The nominees in each category are as follows:
Research Project of the Year
- How to build a dolmen: exploring Neolithic construction at Garn Turne
- Maryport’s mystery monuments: investigating gigantic timber structure from the imperial twilight
- Rethinking the Staffordshire Hoard
- Exploring Anglo-Saxon settlement: the origins of the English village
- The logboats in the lake: Bronze Age wrecks and Viking-style battle axes from Lough Corrib, Ireland
Archaeologist of the Year
- Michael Fulford
- Neil Holbrook
- Simon Thurley
Rescue Dig of the Year
- First impressions: discovering the earliest footprints in Europe (the Happisburgh Project)
- Neolithic houses: exploring a prehistoric landscape at Kingsmead Quarry
- The many faces of Silbury Hill: unravelling the evolution of Europe’s largest prehistoric mound
- The sacking of Auldhame: investigating a Viking burial in a monastic graveyard
- Buried Vikings: excavating Cumwhitton’s cemetery
- Bodyguards, corpses, and cults: everyday life in the Roman military community at Inveresk
Book of the Year
- Time’s Anvil: England, archaeology, and the imagination (Richard Morris)
- Religion in Medieval London: archaeology and belief (Bruno Barber, Christopher Thomas and Bruce Watson)
- The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain (Michael Bishop)
- The Great Archaeologists (Brian Fagan)
- The History of Archaeology (Paul Bahn)
- Home: a time traveller’s tales from Britain’s prehistory (Francis Pryor)
I’ve already made my choices and voted. Now it’s your turn. Just visit the website or pick up issue 298 of the Current Archaeology magazine (available from 5th December) to read more about each of the nominees, and place your votes for each category.
Every year, up and down the country, field schools provide the opportunity for students and volunteers to ‘get their hands dirty’ by becoming involved in real archaeological excavation work. It can be tough, rough, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to the rest of us in terms of the increase in knowledge of the past are innumerable.
Many of these exploratory or research digs are run by universities or local archaeology societies, and often include an Open Day near the end of the season, for interested memmbers of the public to see what’s been going on and why, what’s been found and how it’s been interpreted.
For those of us who are geographically separated, or maybe not quite so mobile or flexible as we once were, many of these digs provide regular updates via their site diaries, published in blogs online. This provides a degree of outreach, and allows inclusion of many people in the project who may not be able to physically take part or visit. To this end, here’s a very brief overview of some of the 2014 digs that have caught our eye this summer.
Run by the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, the Durotriges Project is an archaeological investigation studying the transition from the late Iron Age to the early Roman period in southern England.
Caerau (Cardiff University)
Now in it’s 18th (and final) year, the dig at Silchester has been directed by Prof. Martin Fulford. Visitors are always welcome – there’s even an iPhone app available!
Since 2009, an international team has been excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester and surveying its place in one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.
This year’s fourth season at Ipplepen in Devon, run by the University of Exeter, will return to the Roman road and associated burials revealed in 2011, and a complex series of enclosures and structures thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.
The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its foundation in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience so far.
The Lyminge Archaeological Project is an ambitious programme of village-core archaeology. It is directed by Dr Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading.
DigVentures run crowd-funded digs, this is their second year at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
Overseen by Dr. Neil Faulkner, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) is one of the largest independent archaeological projects in Britain, and firmly rooted in the local community.
by Katharine Range
A Google search among the interwebs won’t yield much on this site (trust me), and truth be told, there is barely anything to see at the site. You may wonder why I even bothered. Well. I think that even sites like these, that are difficult to access and difficult to discern, are still worth noting and acknowledging. Britain is chock full of archaeology and history that is unknown to most people and largely taken for granted. Under every garden shed and cookie-cutter home; under every Tesco and village pub, lies the prospect of evidence of millennia of history. It’s a tantalizing image.
Billingborough is a small village located just south of the A52 midway between Grantham and Boston in Lincolnshire. The first record of the village, so named, is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is recorded as Billingeburg. It had a mill and half a church. The name is taken from the Old English group name “Billingas” which means the family and followers of Billa, and “burh” which means the stronghold of the Billingas. But Billingborough has a much more lengthy history than the early Middle Ages.
Excavated in 1975-78 minimal evidence was found of activity at Billingborough Fen, which is just south of the town’s Cow Gate, from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. However, substantial remains of a Middle Bronze Age (2nd half of the 2nd millenium B.C.) ditch and bank enclosure were found dating to about 1500 BC. A number of postholes seem to indicate structures, though what type is difficult to determine due to extensive Medieval ploughing. Ditches and pottery were also found. The enclosure is the most extensively and completely excavated site of its type in the area. The settlement was later abandoned, most likely due to marine flooding.
After about 500 years, the site was again occupied in the late Bronze/Early Iron Age and was used extensively for salt-making. This site is one of the earliest known salt-making sites in the country and a number of features associated with this industry were identified.
“There were four pits containing ashy deposits and briquetage fragments as well as several hearths. These were some gullies which may have been surviving evidence from structures, perhaps temporary shelters or windbreaks. One of the pits appeared, during excavation, to contain an in situ clay structure which disintegrated on excavation. Several scatters of salt-making debris were found across the site. The pottery that was found was not distinctive in form or fabric and was present in only small amounts. It is of a style that dates it probably, to the Bronze Age to early Iron Age. The analysis of the small amount of animal bone (cow, sheep/goat and pig) showed that most of the animals present were exploited for their meat. The development of salt marsh to the east of the site at this period would have provided ideal grazing for sheep, in particular, and meat may have been salted and perhaps traded with settlements in the region”. ( Chowne, Peter; Cheal, Rosamund; and Fitzpatrick, A. P., 2001, Excavations at Billingborough, Lincolnshire, 1975-78: a Bronze-Iron Age settlement and saltern site).
Other sources also identify traces of iron-working and bronze smelting.
Occupation grew more intense toward the last centuries of the 1st millenium B.C. as evidenced by two other enclosures associated with the settlement. During the 1st century A.D., a Romano-British field system was superimposed over the old enclosures. Well-preserved artefacts, including large amounts of pottery, were found representing all phases of occupation. Because of sequence of occupation and the quantities of pottery found, Billingborough Fen has become essential as it generated a recognized pottery sequence for Bronze/Iron Age pottery types and has been used extensively by other conservation and archaeological entities in the area and further afield.
Human bones were also unearthed, comprising one nearly complete female skeleton and one partially complete. One more interesting tidbit. There were also a number of skull fragments. Some had been cut and polished into bowl shapes and are all associated with the Iron Age phase of occupation. They come from several different people and would seem to indicate some type of ritual use. There are comparable examples of this phenomena at All Cannings Cross in Wiltshire and, closer to home, from the Iron Age site at nearby Helpringham. (1st Annual Report of the Trust for Lincolshire Archaeology – October 1985)
This last is quite tantalizing, but in fact all of the wealth of information and artefacts found at this site show the importance of conserving and recording even the most visually insignificant site. Under this flat, unassuming fen, lay layer upon layer of occupation covering about 3500 years, the artefacts of which were used to set a pottery sequence standard used by other archaeologists. Obvious and enigmatic sites are dramatic and visually pleasing, but sometimes I find these unassuming places more intriguing because they are shrouded in so much more mystery and so plentiful while yet unknown. quietly waiting to yield up their story.
There are just two months to go before this year’s Day of Archaeology, which this year falls on July 11th.
The idea behind the Day is for those working, studying or volunteering in archaeology to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. In this way, a picture can be produced, showing the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology – it’s not just about the digging, after all! In this way, those behind the project hope to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.
Now in it’s third year, the Day was first mooted by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson whilst attending a Day of Digital Humanities conference in March 2011. Others were brought on board, and the first Day was held on July 29th, 2011. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement.
So. If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want. Here at the Heritage Journal we certainly look forward to reading the posts from this year’s event!
And. If you’re not involved in archaeology, but are intrigued to know what goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not keep an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!