The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 102

Issue 102

Sept / Oct 2008



Windfarm dig finds boat in style of Sutton Hoo

Prehistoric village under Isle of Man runway

Rare house continues first farmers debate

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


Hadrian in London
The 'Hadrian: Empire and Conflict' exhibiton is impressive

Hadrian's Wall
Abandoned after three centuries, but still alive

New WHS, the Antonine Wall
David J Breeze tells how to make a successful bid to UNESCO

THE BIG DIG: Stonehenge
Mike Pitts sorts out the technical data

additional content
Reading about the Archaeology of Stonehenge

The Stonehenge Olympics
Plans for the stones to get the new facilities ready for 2012

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones explores the realms of archaeological fiction and a look at Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society's website


your views and responses


a piece about Bonekickers with no archaeological puns!


Seeking what is best for buried bones, Sebastian Payne looks at new leglislation

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Gill Chitty on the stones, the bill and beyond


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


News is written by Mike Pitts

Windfarm dig finds boat in style of Sutton Hoo

Sections of a medieval boat have been found in Suffolk that was built with the same technique used for the royal ships at the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burials. All that survived of the best preserved Sutton Hoo ship were sand casts and iron rivets. The new find has rows of rivets still firmly fixed to oak planks, with wool-like fibres or "luting" sealing the joints. The vessel had been clinker built, with the planks riveted together before being attached to the frame with wooden pegs.

In June, Suffolk county council's Archaeological Service excavated at Rosary Field, Sizewell, the site of the land components of what will become, say its builders, the world's largest offshore windfarm some 23km out to sea. The dig revealed the postholes and clay floors of timber buildings (including a 16m long aisled barn), small ditches (perhaps from animal enclosures) and the remains of three large outdoor ovens.

Closer to what would have been a freshwater lagoon were wood-lined water pits, possibly used for retting hemp for linen and rope. Artefacts, which include part of a wooden platter, buckles and clothing fasteners and fishing hooks and weights, indicate a 12th–14th century date. The site is interpreted as a farmstead or industrial complex outside the nearby medieval town of Sizewell, owned by Leiston Abbey.

The boat timbers had been used to line one of the water pits. They had probably been cut from an inshore fishing vessel, 5–7 metres long, and had been well preserved by the waterlogged conditions. Though the boat was much smaller than the 27m long Sutton Hoo ship, the find will throw unexpected light on its construction. It is hoped that dendrochronology will date the timbers; currently all that can be said is that they are probably older than the 12th–14th centuries. The Sutton Hoo ships were buried in the seventh century, 25km from Sizewell.

The dig was funded by Greater Gabbard Off Shore Winds Ltd and the South East Electricity Substation Alliance. They say that there are "no known marine archaeological sensitivities in the immediate vicinity" of the farm itself.

Prehistoric village under Isle of Man runway

Excavation on the Isle of Man has uncovered important evidence for a bronze age village dating back to 1500BC. Conducted in advance of runway extension and resurfacing at the island's main airport, the three-month dig ended as British Archaeology went to press. "We said there was very likely to be archaeology there", commented project manager Fraser Brown, "and we got a major result".

In the lead up to the second world war, hurried excavation took place at Ronaldsway airport ahead of runway extensions, revealing prehistoric houses and quantities of pottery. The Ronaldsway village site, as it became known, was poorly recorded, but a study published in 1999 by Jenny Woodcock of the University of Liverpool confirmed its bronze age date. The pots, which had been made locally, are of a distinctive island form.

The Isle of Man does not have an equivalent of PPG16, but cooperation between Oxford Archaeology North, Balfour Beatty, the Airports Division and Manx National Heritage meant that new excavation occurred without delaying construction. It has added substantially to the earlier work 300m away. The houses are of a type seen only on the island and perhaps in Cornwall. A circle was laid out and dug down to a depth of about 30cm. Boulders dragged 200–300m from the beach were then laid around the edge. Brown thinks timbers were butted against the stones to form a tepee-like roof, covering a central hearth. One of the houses may have had an internal partition.

Bone preservation, usually poor on the island because of the acidic soils, is good. A possible sheep had been buried in a terminal of an undated boundary ditch that underlay the houses. After two of the houses went out of use, people were buried at them. In the first, an adult was covered with large stones, and an infant placed over the stones. At the second an adult was buried beside a stone cairn. Bones were mostly articulated, but the mandible, hands and fingers were not, suggesting that the body was not fully fleshed and had been moved from elsewhere. This person had a poorly preserved copper alloy bangle around their upper arm and was also covered by stones.

Houses were abandoned and new ones built during the course of the middle to late bronze age (1500–800BC), so it is difficult to estimate the community's size. Taking into account the new discoveries and those from the 1930s, however, and other houses visible in geophysics surveys, Brown suggests there may have been 10–20 families at any one time.

Woodcock says the 1935 discoveries "were made under difficult and confusing circumstances. We now have a second chance to examine what must be the most extensive and important bronze age settlement on the Isle of Man". It is not only the archaeologists who are excited by the finds. "The dig got almost the whole of the front page of the local newspaper", says Brown. "It's caught people's imagination."

Rare house continues first farmers debate

A building has been found in Berkshire with an estimated age of 3800–3650BC. It was long believed that Britain's first farmers did not live in substantial houses, but the large scale of recent excavation has revealed a few early neolithic structures whose significance is hotly debated. The new find at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton, is particularly well preserved.

The 10m×5m building is represented by trenches thought to have held plank walls, with postholes at each corner and two in the centre associated with a partition. The fragmentary artefacts, yet to be studied, seem consistent with a date near the start of the neolithic.

Comparable buildings reported in British Archaeology, all around 20m×10m in size, include houses at Yarnton, Oxfordshire and White Horse Stone, Kent. In Scotland, three structures at Callander, Perthshire and Crathes and Balbridie, Aberdeen (feature, Apr 2002), were built with massive posts, and had all been burnt down. Alistair Barclay, neolithic specialist at Wessex Archaeology, says the large areas excavated (over nine hectares at Horton) indicate that these houses stood alone, and not in groups.

Though most are not yet fully published, the houses are at the centre of an important debate. Alison Sheridan, National Museums Scotland, argues that they were built soon after 4000BC by immigrants from continental Europe. As well as a new style of building, people brought the idea of farming and the crops and animals, and new technologies such as potting (with distinctive carinated bowls). The opposing view has been put by Julian Thomas, Manchester University, who says the structures are a mix of possible ritual halls and "amorphous combinations" of postholes, hearths and floors; for him, the cultural changes occurred within indigenous hunting communities.

Elsewhere at Horton, flint artefacts, a copper awl or punch and a whetstone had been buried together in a pit. Such caches are commoner in Ireland than in mainland Britain, and some of the arrowheads are of typical Irish or north-western British form. Another unusual find is a middle bronze age pin of Picardy type.

Investigations were commissioned by CEMEX, and began four years ago. The house was excavated by Elina Brook and Gareth Chaffey.

In the press

Irish Times

The Dublin congress intended to ignore Tara and the M3 – not surprising given that the National Roads Authority was one of its sponsors. On July 11th, the WAC said: "We do not question the validity of the planning process undertaken in Ireland." Many of us do. One thing is sure: embedding ourselves with destroyers of culture and communities, with its brown envelope culture, supports neither professions, nor communities, nor cultural heritage nor this island's future. It is time to speak out.
Maggie Ronayne, lecturer in archaeology at NUI Galway, from the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin. Jul 15

Maggie Ronayne displays a remarkably inaccurate, wildly biased, and completely unfounded perspective on the practice of archaeology in Ireland.
Margaret Gowen, chair of the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. Jul 22

Your Canterbury

Train guard Mark Staples was given a three-year conditional discharge for charges relating to theft and illegal excavations from sites protected under the Archaeological Area and Ancient Monuments Act 1979. Twenty sites with 10 in Kent were visited by Staples and police warned anyone thinking of raiding the county's rich historical sites that PC Andy Small was the first officer in the country specially trained to deal with heritage crimes. Jun 25

The Daily Telegraph

Archaeologist David Cemlyn, 66, bolted himself to a Victorian cast-iron lamp post in St Andrews, Bristol, in a determined bid to prevent the columns being replaced with modern steel ones. The old lamp posts are being replaced to "enhance the heritage" of upmarket conservation areas in the city. Jun 24

Yorkshire Post

A house buyer in York will acquire one historic feature which may test the nerve of future occupants – a Roman burial chamber complete with its own skeleton. The chamber forms part of the basement of a Georgian property in the city centre. If consent was obtained to get the remains removed, it would probably mean extensive archaeology costs. Aside from the skeleton, the property has many other impressive features. May 24

In brief

Free Wales

Then Welsh heritage minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas announced in June that certain visits to heritage sites that are presently charged for will become free. From 1 September, the Caerleon Roman baths will be entirely free, as is already the rest of the military camp, and all sites managed by Cadw, the National Assembly for Wales's historic environment service, will be free to "children and pensioners". Free admission was introduced to the Blaenafon iron works, at the industrial world heritage site, in March.

Museum help

The Headley Trust's scheme to help regional museums buy objects classified as treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, has been extended to non-treasure archaeological artefacts from the UK over 300 years old. The trust is aware, it says, "of the proliferation of finds as a consequence of the success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme". Since 2004, the Headley scheme has offered over 80 grants worth almost £160,000. The former Headley Museums Treasure Acquisition Scheme will be known as the Headley Museums Archaeological Acquisition Fund, with a new website at

Geofizz analysis

Promised for two years ago, English Heritage's updated guidelines for geophysical survey are now available. Archaeological remote sensing is an international profession, and the technologies have come a long way since the first guidelines issued in 1995. With nearly a quarter of commercial evaluations using geophysics, mostly provided by independent companies, the study aims to help archaeologists understand what is going on. The printed report can be obtained from EH, or as a PDF for download.

Mosaic mysetery

St Albans district council archaeologists invited the public to watch them re-excavate a Roman mosaic during National Archaeology Week, but then discovered it had disappeared. The mosaic was recorded by Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s. Suggestions as to its fate include being sold to visitors in pieces, used to restore other mosaics, or removed for conservation and lost.

Peak honour

The Peak District National Park Authority has received the first Heritage at Risk prize, presented after the launch of the first annual Heritage at Risk register. English Heritage said one in five of England's listed monuments, battlefields and wreck sites were all at high risk of neglect, decay or change. In the Peak park, by contrast, the 17 scheduled monuments at risk in 2001 has fallen to two. Amongst initiatives were the purchase of the Eastern Moors estate, near Sheffield, and of Roystone Grange, Ballidon, to protect bronze age, Roman and medieval archaeology.

Phase 2

BA 101 cover

The Natural History Museum's Chris Stringer won the 2008 Walter P Kistler award for Homo Britannicus (Books, Jan/Feb 2007), and promptly gave the $10,000 prize to the World Land Trust for purchase and protection of tropical forests in Ecuador. The award recognises authors of science-based books that "significantly increase the knowledge and understanding of the public regarding subjects that will shape the future of our species".

Shortly after last issue's Spoilheap accused Manchester Museum of confused thinking in the exhibition of the 2,000-year-old bog body from Lindow Moss (open till Apr 19 2009), it covered three unwrapped mummies in its Egypt gallery. This was to ensure that "human remains be treated with respect and to keep the bodies on display" in line with the museum's human remains policy. Immediate reaction to the cover-up, to continue during a consultation period, was mostly incomprehension.

The Stonehenge art project (feature Jul/Aug) is represented on the Artists in Archaeology website, with details of contributors and illustrations of their work (see Mark Anstee has expanded his Curse of the Cursus,with book covers, film posters, artefacts, photos and a lecture.

Mark Redknap realised that two carved ivory panels, displayed in Cardiff and Liverpool, were once parts of a Gothic diptych (feature, Jul/Aug 2007). They were reunited, after perhaps centuries apart, in a display at National Museum Cardiff during National Archaeology Week.

The photos in Mick's travels in Glamorgan (Jul/Aug) were not credited: all five are by Mick Aston

You put your heart and soul into this kind of work, and I'd had such high hopes for the project—but it had turned into a treasure hunt. Frank Pope excavating a wreck off Mozambique when gold was found, C Hunt-Grubbe, Sunday Times Jun 8

[an error occurred while processing this directive]