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Living in Cornwall, the sheer amount of prehistoric remains all around never fails to amaze me! Take, for example, the small hamlet of Dowran in the parish of St. Just in Penwith.

Dowran, such as it is, can be seen from the northeastern flightpath into Lands End Airport, and was first recorded in 1245 when it was spelt ‘Doueron’. It lies in the shadow of Bartinney Hill, atop which lies an enclosure containing eight round cairns known as Bartinney Castle.

Image © Google Earth.

The name Dowran is Cornish and is derived from the Cornish language ‘dowr-an’ meaning ‘watering place’.

Many of the fields around the hamlet and farm have their very own unique names, many of them in Cornish, Burrow Field, Hammon Moor, Henas, Croft Leskeys, Radannack, Park Skeber, The Spearn, Stalmac, Strakeshaw amongst others.

The hamlet is surrounded by ancient sites including traces of an Iron Age enclosure, an early Medieval enclosure, and evidence of a Bronze Age barrow and there have been a number of finds of Mesolithic flint tools.

On the image below, from the Cornwall Council Mapping website, the red dots indicate the Prehistoric entries on the Heritage Environment Record. As you can see, for what is relatively empty farmland, there was a lot of activity here in the past!

Image © Cornwall Council

Many fields in Cornwall are named particularly in Penwith and the late P.A.S. Pool wrote a small book on the subject called appropriately, ‘Field names of West Penwith’, published by Agan Tavas and available from their website.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

Road improvement works on the A4226 Five Mile Lane near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan have revealed what was later described as “surprising” and “significant” Roman and Medieval remains.

The Vale of Glamorgan Council contracted-in Rubicon Heritage Services, who conducted an archaeological excavation of three sites resulting in the finds of a Roman mercenary buried with his sword, Iron Age farming tools, ancient burial sites and the remnants of roundhouses.

Bronze Age Burial site at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

The site has been described as a “ceremonial and funerary landscape in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, through to farming in the Iron Age and being part of a wealthy Roman farmstead, to a Medieval burial ground which reused the earlier burial mound, and finally to the post-medieval agricultural landscape we see today”.

Roman Villa at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

Other agencies assisting in the excavation included the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff University, Cadw and the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.

Following proper analysis, all the artefacts will be placed into safekeeping with the National Museum of Wales.

Medieval Burial at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

Mark Collard from Rubicon Heritage Services, said: “We’re very pleased to be able now to share the results in such an accessible format with the communities of the area.”

Rubicon Heritage Services’ have produced a fascinating e-book detailing the excavation entitled ‘Guide to the excavations at FIVE MILE LANE – 6,000 Years of Life in the Vale of Glamorgan’. It is available as a free PDF download from the Rubicon Heritage Services website. There is also an explanatory ‘map story’ that can be accessed here.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren

Good news for all Time Team fans:

New Time Team Episodes Coming Soon!

The wait is nearly over… We’re delighted to reveal the release dates for Time Team’s first brand new episodes in a decade! Further details coming soon.

Each of the two digs will premiere on the Time Team Official YouTube channel in an extended three-part weekend extravaganza. Get ready and subscribe: https://www.youtube.com/c/TimeTeamOfficial

The two digs being shown were both carried out during the pandemic.

The first from Cornwall features the work of the Meneague Archaeology Group at Boden on the Lizard Peninsula, overseen by James Gossip of the Cornwall Archaeology Unit, where the site includes an Iron Age settlement and associated fogou.

The second dig investigates the site of what could be a huge, high-status Roman villa at Broughton in Oxfordshire.

Further details of both these digs can be found on the Time Team Digital website.

Welcome back!!

The race to record the historic archaeology of Seaford Head, East Sussex in the face of ongoing coastal erosion

The Iron Age hillfort at Seaford Head has stood watch over the English Channel from its clifftop location for two-and-a-half millennia.

Sadly, it is now doomed to collapse into the sea with parts of the site already lost and climate change accelerating its downfall.

Archaeologists are now in a race against time to unlock its secrets.

A team from University College London have spent recent weeks surveying the ancient monument with drones and producing 3D models of it in the hope of not only learning more about Seaford Head but producing a template for the hundreds of other historic monuments along the British coastline set to disappear beneath the waves.

Seaford Head courtesy of UCL

Seaford Head fort, which also contains a Bronze Age burial site and dates to around 600 to 400 BC, perches atop the Seven Sisters headland of the same name between Brighton and Eastbourne.

Despite being known to archaeologists for centuries, it has only had investigative work done on it twice, in the late 19th century by Augustus Pitt Rivers and again in the 1980s. These surveys have done little more than date the fort and barrow.

This latest survey is not designed to reveal those mysteries, so much as identify them and decide what further archaeological work should be done and can be justified with constrained resources.

A key plank of the survey work is drone photogrammetry, which involves taking multiple aerial photographs of the site, merging them using advanced software and georectifying them so that they are to scale and measurable. This allows archaeologists to create a 3D model of the site and identify sites of potential interest.

The drones are also used to survey the cliff face itself which, due to previous collapses, already provides a cross-section of the fort. Whatever the results, time and tide are working against his team. On average, the coast at Seaford is retreating by 20 inches a year.

That figure, however, masks a pattern of cliff falls followed by months or even years of stasis. The UCL team cannot predict when the chalk might next give way but it could take with it another large section of the fort. 

In March 2021, a large section of the Seaford Head cliff face collapsed following heavy rain, leaving behind an enormous mound of debris reaching into the seawater. Elsewhere on the clifftop, large cracks have appeared, portending further losses.

The site has now been placed on the Heritage at Risk register.

Climate change is likely to accelerate this process. Increasingly rough weather conditions and rising sea levels are all expected to eat away at Britain’s coastline and the ancient monuments dotted around it. 

Because of the precarious nature of coastal heritage, the study undertaken by Archaeology South-East at Seaford Head is designed to produce results quickly and cost-effectively.

The pilot project is also intended to spark a discussion among a general public perhaps unaware of how much of its heritage is about to plunge off a cliff face.

With sea defences potentially costing millions of pounds, as well as sometimes being disfiguring, few at-risk sites realistically can be saved from disappearing.

The project will produce a podcast series, bringing in institutions such as the National Trust, as well as films discussing the protection of heritage.

Links:

University College London Seaford Head website news:  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology-south-east/seaford-head

Phys Org website and Seaford Head article: https://phys.org/news/2021-12-drones-capture-coastal-heritage-lost.html

The British Museum has announced what it describes as the “most important” discovery of pre-historic art in Britain in a century

The Burton Agnes chalk drum, a 5,000 year-old chalk sculpture, was found on a country estate of the same name in East Yorkshire

The drum is covered in an elaborate design that was popular during the time when Stonehenge was built.

The 5,000-year-old sculpture was found in an East Yorkshire grave, along with a bone pin and a chalk ball thought to be a child’s toy credit The Trustees of the British Museum

It was found near the grave of three children of different ages. The three children’s bodies were buried in an embrace, with the eldest child holding the two youngest whose hands were touching.

The drum was buried just above the head of the eldest child.

Neil Wilkin, curator of ‘The World of Stonehenge’ at the British Museum, said it was the “most important” piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years.

“This is a truly remarkable discovery, and is the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years,”

He added that the scene discovered at the grave was “deeply moving”.

“The discovery of the Burton Agnes grave is highly moving. The emotions the new drum expresses are powerful and timeless, they transcend the time of Stonehenge and reflect a moment of tragedy and despair that remains undimmed after 5,000 years.”

It was unearthed by contractors from Allen Archaeology, and is now on display at the British Museum as part of its “The World of Stonehenge” exhibition.

Link to BBC report: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-60341377

Link to Art Net News: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/ancient-chalk-drum-discovery-2071538

Archaeologists excavating a site at Mile End, Oswestry, have uncovered evidence of a Prisoner of War (POW) camp used to house around 2,000 German prisoners during and after the Second World War. The finds uncovered shed light on the “comfortable” conditions at the camp and offer glimpses into the day-to-day lives of its inmates.

During the archaeological excavations, the team from Wessex Archaeology, working on behalf of Shropshire Council and WSP, uncovered a variety of structural evidence, which revealed a spacious camp made up of scattered barracks on a vast sports field surrounded by agricultural land. Dating of the associated artefacts and documentary evidence suggests that the camp was in use between 1940 until 1948 – several years after the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

John Winfer, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology who oversaw excavations, said: “The study of these remains helps us to understand what life would have been like for those imprisoned in and overseeing the camp, both during the war and in the immediate aftermath.

“What we have revealed is surprising evidence of some (relatively speaking) comfortable conditions for the inmates. We know from our documentary research that the Red Cross, which visited many POW camps across Europe during the Second World War, came to assess conditions at the Mile End camp. The visit report highlights the range of facilities and activities on offer to the prisoners, which is supported by the archaeological evidence we uncovered. Inmates benefited from sports pitches, musical performances, electricity to power lights and heating, enough toilets available for everyone at the camp, and several hot and cold showers and wash basins, with each prisoner taking two hot baths a week. Many of the prisoners would have been employed in carpentry workshops, with younger inmates given time off to study at the camp’s school. Those overseeing the camp enjoyed more spacious accommodation, and our work uncovered military issue ceramic tableware accompanied by beer glasses. This all paints a civilised and rather unexpected picture of a POW camp.”

Despite this, archaeological evidence and documentary research also points to some minor unrest – and possibly some violence – in the camp. It was said to have been subject to ‘frequent breakouts’, and boundary ditches and fragments of barbed wire hint at the increased security arrangements. A spent .303 cartridge reveals that a rifle was discharged at some point in the camp’s life. The presence of a loaded German pistol – thought to be a Sauer 38H pistol, a German Second World War pistol commonly issued within the Wehrmacht – found close to one of the buildings adds further intrigue.

Artefacts have also offered more personal insights into the lives and stories of those living at the camp: A lead alloy toy camel and a make-up tin reveal a glimpse of domestic life, while containers recovered such as Brylcreem and San Izal disinfectant evidence self-care and cleanliness in the camp. One item in particular – an aluminium metal identification tag from a German soldier – has excited archaeologists, who hope to use its serial number to trace the individual and their story.

“This is an intriguing find with so much potential,” continued John. “These were standard issue German army items, very similar to ones the Allies used. In the event of death during the war, the tag would have been snapped, with one half buried with the body for later identification and the other given to unit administrators for recording. In this case, it tells us that the German POW in question belonged to the 3rd Company, Landesschützen Battalion XI/I. We know that this unit, raised from older reservists, was redesignated Landesschützen-Battalion 211 in April 1940, marking the capture of this prisoner early in the war – likely September 1939 to 1940. We know his serial number too, so we’ll be doing further research to reveal the full story – it doesn’t end here!”

Debbie Taylor, Principal Heritage Consultant from WSP, said: “The excavation has revealed valuable insights into the experiences of Prisoners of War residing in rural Shropshire during the Second World War.  The archaeological work was completed on time and has now fulfilled our client’s planning requirements for the Mile End junction improvements.”

Councillor Cecilia Motley, Cabinet Member for Communities, Culture, Leisure and Tourism and Transport, said: “This is a truly fascinating find by the team working at Mile End. The artefacts uncovered by the team of archaeologists has painted a picture of life at the camp that we never knew existed. “It seems to have been a fascinating camp, with some relatively comfortable conditions and I want to thank everyone for all the work that has taken place at the camp. We look forward to continuing investigations uncovering further insights and perhaps some indications of where  the prisoners at the camp originated from.”

The first example of Roman crucifixion in Great Britain has been unearthed in Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire.

Working ahead of a housing development near the small village of Fenstanton a team from Bedford based ‘Albion Archaeology’, members of which have been on site since 2017, have uncovered a previously unknown Roman settlement.

Five small cemeteries have been identified and the skeletal remains of 40 adults and five children buried identified with evidence that some were from the same families. The cemeteries have been dated to the third to fourth centuries CE.

In one of the graves, the skeleton of a man with a nail through his right heel bone was discovered. Further examination suggested that the man had suffered before he died with his legs bearing signs of infection or inflammation caused by either a systemic disorder or by being bound or shackled.

Nail found embedded in ankle bone Credit ‘Albion Archaeology’

Archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec, speaking on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Historic Environment Team, said: “These cemeteries and the settlement that developed along the Roman road at Fenstanton are breaking ground in archaeological research.

“Burial practices are many and varied in the Roman period and evidence of ante- or post-mortem mutilation is occasionally seen, but never crucifixion.”

Cambridge University osteologist (bone specialist) of the university’s Wolfson College, Corinne Duhig said it was an “almost unique” find at what was a previously unknown Roman settlement.

She continued, “The lucky combination of good preservation and the nail being left in the bone has allowed me to examine this unique example when so many thousands have been lost. This shows that the inhabitants of even this small settlement at the edge of empire could not avoid Rome’s most barbaric punishment.”

Cambridgeshire Council said Corinne Duhig’s research into evidence of crucifixion from this period around the world revealed only three other possible examples, one from La Larda in Gavello, Italy, one from Mendes in Egypt and one from a burial found at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in north Jerusalem found during building work in 1968.

She found only the Jerusalem example to be a likely crucifixion because the right heel bone retained a nail which was in exactly the same position as the Fenstanton burial.

The county council said it was usual to remove any nails after crucifixion for re-use or disposal but in the Fenstanton case the nail had bent and become fixed in the bone.

During the excavation, a number of other items were unearthed including enamelled brooches, coins, decorated pottery and animal bones. Amongst the finds was an enamelled copper-alloy horse and rider brooch.

A large building and a formal yard or road surfaces indicated the presence of an organised Roman settlement with signs of trade and wealth, the council said. It said it hoped to be able to display the finds eventually.

Fenstanton’s High Street follows the route of the Via Devana, a road that linked the Roman towns of Cambridge and Godmanchester.

Links:

Cambridge University article dated 8th December 2021: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/romancrucifixion

Cambridgeshire County Council article dated 8th December 2021: https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/news/the-first-example-of-a-roman-crucifixion-in-the-uk-has-been-found-in-a-cambridgeshire-village

Albion Archaeology: https://www.albionarchaeology.co.uk

I recently watched a shockingly atrocious, but never-the-less entertaining, American pseudo-archaeology program called What On Earth. The description for the latest series reads as follows:

“Thousands of advanced satellites and drones orbit Earth, invisible to us yet scanning every inch of our planet. They capture our world in unprecedented detail, revealing areas that until now have remained a mystery. In an all new season of WHAT ON EARTH, experts look to this state-of-the-art imaging technology to discover bizarre phenomena and strange mysteries including an inaccessible cave of bones on an island off the coast of Africa, a bizarre concrete structure sitting off the coast of the Baltic sea, and a crater in Mexico with extra-terrestrial connections.”

One of the subjects of this particular episode (S09E01) was the – strangely never named in the program – Chun Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Penwith, Cornwall. 

Built during the Iron Age, in the third century BC, it is over 2000 years later than the nearby neolithic quoit. Although it is in a ruined state, its size is still impressive.  The fort is 85m in diameter, and consists of a central area, surrounded by two concentric granite walls with external ditches. The outer ditch was 6.1m wide, and the outer wall is now 2.1m high, but may originally have been 3.0m high. The inner wall (now mostly destroyed) was some 4.6m to 6.7m thick, and could originally have been some 6.1m high. There were originally some Iron Age huts in the inner area, though no trace of these now remain. 

Possible reconstruction of Chun Castle by Craig Weatherhill

Claims made in the program included the fact that it was built in ancient times to protect the cliff-top tin mines and engine houses (built in the 18th century!) nearby, on behalf of, yes, you guessed it – King Arthur!! An American archaeologist ‘investigated’ the site, and stumbled across what “the Germans (what do they have to do with Cornwall?) call a Hunebed – a burial tomb”. Why not call it a quoit, the local name for such dolmens? More nonsense was spouted about pagan ceremonies for the dead taking part at the quoit, with ceremonies for the living possibly being held in the nearby henge (the castle site). The late local historian Craig Weatherhill who dearly loved this site must be spinning in his grave at this piffle!

Whilst this is all patently nonsense, and Professor Mark Horton should be ashamed of being associated with the program, I must admit to wondering if there could indeed be any credence in the idea of Chun Castle being built on an earlier henge site. I know that a few years ago Sir Barry Cunliffe was involved in negotiations to investigate the monument with an archaeological excavation. Sadly, funding could not be obtained for the dig at that time and so we must wait until a future time for such questions to be definitively answered.

Ok, in these days of lockdown where ‘normal’ life has changed for us all, it’s time for a bit of speculation. Imagine you’ve hit the big one, a seven figure sum from the lottery, and decide to donate a percentage of your win to benefit archaeology. How much would you donate, and what would you spend it on?

There are several archaeological areas of investigation that could benefit from your new-found altruism. But which would you choose? Here are some of the available options:

Pre-excavation investigations

Is there a site crying out for archaeological investigation local to you? Has your area’s archaeological society already begun desk-based assessment on the site? Would the site benefit from a non-invasive on-the-ground assessment – e.g. geofizz or other survey work?

Excavation

Would you consider funding, or part-funding an excavation in your area? Many digs are funded by volunteers paying to learn excavation techniques from the professionals, or by using unpaid/student labour. But project plans must be paid for, as must hire of essential equipment and qualified personnel.

Post Excavation Activities

Conservation

Two aspects of conservation to consider are that of the site itself, and that of any finds associated with the site. Both of these options are potentially very expensive. Consider that if the site is a heritage building, costs may well run into the millions. And finds? Even a small dig can unearth large quantities of pottery, flint etc. If you’re lucky enough to unearth Roman mosaic, or even early medieval ‘treasure’ then the costs can rise dramatically.

Documentation

Often the poor relation in terms of PR, but an essential part of any excavation, that is all too commonly overlooked. Yet the compilation of results and subsequent publication of the report is often the true treasure of any dig and often the only lasting legacy – remembering that all excavation is ultimately destructive.

Other areas of opportunity

Restoration

This can be a contentious area, depending upon the subject of the restoration. Arguments can arise as to the authenticity of materials used, and even the original form (Crosby Garrett helmet, anyone?) Done poorly, restoration can ruin the ambience and appearance of a site. Done well, huge benefits can accrue in terms of longevity, tourism etc.

Security

Heritage crime in all its forms is on the rise. The Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) now has a special unit to deal with such issues. Areas of particular concern include:

  • Architectural theft – in particular, metal and stone
  • Criminal damage – in particular, damage caused by fire (‘arson’)
  • Unlawful metal detecting (‘nighthawking’)
  • Unlawful disturbance and salvage of maritime sites
  • Anti-social behaviour – in particular, fly-tipping and off-road driving
  • Unauthorised works to heritage assets
  • Illicit trade in cultural objects

Could your contribution be used to pay for some form of security measure for your favourite or local heritage site? Maybe a CCTV installation, alarm system or on-site guardian?

Are there any areas we’ve missed? We’d be very interested to know your thoughts as to the amount you’d potentially be willing to contribute, and how (and where) you’d consider spending the money. Also, what benefits would accrue from your financial assistance? Please let us know in the comments below, or maybe you’d like to contribute a short article about your pet project that could be funded in this way. You never know, a lucky winner could be reading!

Note: No-one connected with the Heritage Journal has had a win of this nature yet (as far as I know!)

By Dr. Sandy Gerrard.

Following the discovery of the Bancbryn stone row in 2012 the Welsh archaeological establishment set about characterising it and after much deliberation concluded that it was not a prehistoric stone row for six main reasons:

  1. Rows are less than 200m long (Consultant reporting to Dyfed Archaeological Trust 14th February 2012).
  2. The overall alignment of the Mynydd y Betws alignment is sinuous in a form which is not typical for prehistoric ceremonial/ritual stone alignments which are….. predominantly straight’ (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  3. The variable size and shape of the stones (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  4. The stone density varies along the row, from stones every metre or so through to 10-15m gaps. (Cadw 24/01/2012).
  5. “Inconsistencies in the physical appearance of the stone alignment when compared with currently accepted Welsh prehistoric examples (Cadw response 15/08/13).
  6. The stones were not in sockets (Cotswold Archaeology Report).

Bancbryn stone row

Following the completion of a long term project looking at all the extant stone rows in Great Britain, it is now possible to access all the single rows using the same Welsh style criteria used at Bancbryn to find out how their unorthodox approach to interpretation affects our understanding of British stone rows.

A total of 174 accepted single rows most of which are scheduled as ancient monuments were put through the Welsh style interpretative mill and unsurprisingly only 32 were found to meet their strict criteria. The remaining 142 failed to clear at least one hurdle and many were rejected for several reasons. It is worth having a quick look at some of the fallers. Read the rest of this entry »

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