Years of pestilence
The medieval fleet
Editor Simon Denison
Ice Age hunting camp found in Hampshire
An exceptionally well-preserved Upper Palaeolithic toolmaking site dating to the end of the last Ice Age has been found in a gravel quarry at Nea Farm near Ringwood in Hampshire.
Archaeologists from Thames Valley Archaeological Services have so far only sampled the site but have already found a dense scatter of over 400 flints. They consist of a large number of carefully made large blades and flakes and an unusually high proportion of finished tools including backed knives, scrapers and borers. The inclusion of fewer flint cores and nodules than expected suggests that the scatter is one of several, forming part of a much larger campsite which still awaits full discovery as excavations continue. A few burnt artefacts point to the presence of fireplaces which may have been used by the toolmakers to heat up natural glues of pine or birch resin for fixing the flint tools in wooden or bone handles. The location of the site seems to have been well chosen as it lies on flat ground above the floodplain of the River Avon close to a small stream.
Open-air Upper Palaeolithic sites are extremely rare in Britain - numbering fewer than half a dozen - although one, at Hengistbury Head, lies just 10 miles from the new site near the mouth of the Avon near Bournemouth. Besides its rarity value, what gives Nea Farm its unique significance is the in situ nature of the finds, which appear to have been rapidly buried by a blanket of sand and silt soon after they were abandoned, and show no sign of disturbance. According to Nick Barton, a specialist in the period at Oxford Brookes University, the fresh condition of the artefacts should allow researchers to confirm what tasks were performed at the camp, such as butchery, woodworking, leather working or hide preparation. The excellent preservation conditions at the site make it likely that hearths and even the outlines of tent structures will be preserved in adjacent areas. Materials such as red ochre and simple engraved artwork of the type found at Hengistbury could also survive.
The site has been provisionally dated by the style of the artefacts, but scientific methods (such as optically stimulated luminescence to date sediments, and thermoluminescence to date burnt flint) will be used to confirm its age, which is expected to match the 12,500-year-old site at Hengistbury. Blades and tools were made in very similar ways at both sites, and the two sites may have been used by the same group of mobile hunter-gatherers.
Medieval hospital found under modern hospital in Stoke-on-Trent
Part of a medieval hospital, including about 20 skeletons, has been excavated on the site of a modern hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Archaeologists from Birmingham University's Field Archaeology Unit uncovered the foundations of three sides of a building, thought to be the hospital chapel, with burials both inside and out, on the site of a new lecture theatre at the City General Hospital. The remains were associated with 12th or 13th century utilitarian pottery.
A medieval hospital on the site was closed down after the Dissolution of 1536-40, and as late as the mid-19th century a number of fields here were named 'Spittle Field'. Originally associated with the main town of the region, Newcastle-under-Lyme, the hospital existed by the 13th century, and by the 15th was dedicated to St Loye, the patron saint of metalworkers. Newcastle supplied thousands of nails for the castles built by Edward I in North Wales, and recent excavations in the town's 'Ironmarket' have discovered evidence of medieval metalworking - giving a likely reason for the hospital's dedication. Analysis of the skeletons is likely to reveal details about their age at death, aspects of their diet and the diseases they may have suffered from. Soil samples should provide clues to plants and the local environment.
According to Bill Klemperer, Stoke's City Archaeologist, the Hospital of St Loye was not a hospital in the modern sense of the word. Like other medieval hospitals it provided shelter for the poor, homeless and elderly, as well as for the sick. It also offered temporary shelter to travellers and pilgrims. 'Medieval hospitals were run in a religious way rather than a medical way with the emphasis on the soul rather the body. The sick could only be cared for rather than cured, so death was ever present,' he said.
Early leadmill uncovered in Sheffield
The remains of an 18th and 19th century leadmill have been excavated in the centre of Sheffield. No lead works of this date survive above the ground in Britain.
The Sheffield Leadmill was built in 1759 and produced pigments for paint and pottery glazes. By 1865 the mill had expanded to carry out lead refining, 'white' and 'red' lead production, paint grinding and cooperage. It was originally powered by water, but was later converted to steam.
The leadmill remains were badly damaged by building work in the 20th century. A tram depot was constructed from 1910, and in the 1930s large oil and diesel tanks were constructed underground. Even so, archaeologists from Sheffield University's Archaeological Research Consultancy, working in protective clothing, have uncovered part of a long, twisting flue, choked with soot, which was probably part of the lead refining process. Flues in lead works were made immensely long - often up to two miles - in order to condense waste gases and recover elements such as silver.
A stone-lined pit was found, possibly part of a bypass system for the waterwheel. Notches in the stonework indicate the likely position of a wooden 'shuttle', used to regulate the flow of water. The pit was later modified to take a large machine, probably a steam engine. Finds include large ceramic jars, glazed on the inside, which were probably used to manufacture white lead by the chemical reaction of vinegar, lead and a fermenting agent. A white residue has been found, but not yet analysed, on the inside of the jars. Picture: Sheffield Leadmill in 1893.
Mystery of 'old soldier's homestead' in East Yorkshire
An intriguing early Romano-British roundhouse settlement next to an unfinished stone building with a grand military-style entrance has been excavated at Seamer, near Scarborough.
The enclosed settlement of three roundhouses was very poor in finds, containing just two coins of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD with four simple brooches and two fragments of bangle. However, just 40 metres away in an adjacent enclosure stood a contemporary stone building, dated by a few pieces of pottery in its ditch.
Apart from an infant burial under a stone slab, the site of the stone building was virtually clean of finds, and contained no roof tile or flooring, suggesting that the building was unfinished and had never been inhabited by the time it, and the neighbouring roundhouse settlement, were abandoned around 180 AD.
Without hypocaust, mosaics or wall plaster, the stone building seems to have been a relatively low-status dwelling. However, it contained a grand stone entrance flanked by stone pillars in a quasi-military style, suggesting that its owner - perhaps the owner of the roundhouses - was an army veteran keen to incorporate some mementos of his military lifestyle in his new home.
The roundhouse settlement has mysteries of its own. Near the entrance was a single posthole, possibly the location of a totem pole, which contained a ritual deposition of human body parts (arms, legs and ribs) along with the bones of a horse and a sheep. Reassuringly, the enclosure also contained evidence of normal daily life in a possible stack base for crops.
The settlement contains the earliest known securely-dated pottery kiln in Britain, dated by archaeomagnetic methods to between 20 BC and 40 AD. The clay-lined kiln, dug into the ground, contained a pedestal stone and stacking plate - on which pots were placed for firing - and fragments of the collapsed clay dome. According to Anne Finney of MAP Archaeological Consultancy, kilns of this type were insubstantial structures, being used only a handful of times before being abandoned. They produced a basic, dark grey domestic pottery, of which several large fragments were found.
Within one of the roundhouses, but almost certainly unknown to its Iron Age inhabitants, was the burial of a late Neolithic or early Bronze Age child. Placed under his head were two flint flakes. Elsewhere on the site, two identical Neolithic arrowheads were found of a type used to kill birds, lying 50m apart. Made by the same maker, they had never been used and seem to have been lost from a quiver.
Lakenheath cemetery focused on Broze Age mound
Excavations at one of Britain's largest Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, where spectacular horse-and-warrior burials were discovered in 1997 and 1999 (BA December 1999), have revealed that the cemetery was focused around a Bronze Age burial mound - a phenomenon also found elsewhere. Unusually, traces of the small farming settlement which the cemetery served were found nearby.
The 5th-7th century cemetery at Lakenheath in Suffolk contained, in all, 437 burials (420 inhumations and 17 cremations), including 65 found this year. One of the new male graves contained a sword, with traces of its decorated leather scabbard. A number of other male graves contained shield bosses and spear heads, although all traces of the wooden shields and spears had long disappeared. Female graves contained cruciform brooches and beads of glass and amber.
In the midst of the Anglo-Saxon burials were two crouched Bronze Age burials, both adults, associated with sherds of Beaker pottery and a small bronze awl probably dating from about 2000 BC. The pattern of surrounding burials indicates that a mound survived over the prehistoric graves in the Anglo-Saxon period, and was respected by the later burials.
The placing of late Roman and early medieval cemeteries - both pagan and Christian - near prehistoric burial monuments has now been attested at a number of sites, including Yeavering in Northumbria, Holyhead and Capel Eithin on Anglesey and Tan Dderwen in South-West Wales (BA November 1997, September 1999). These sites strongly suggest that prehistoric tombs were regarded as having some 'sacred power' by many communities in Britain in the first few centuries AD.
This final year's excavations at Lakenheath by Suffolk County Council's Archaeological Service, directed by Joanna Caruth, also produced evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement some 500 metres from the cemetery, and almost certainly associated with it.
The settlement, which has not been fully excavated, contained sunken-floored buildings and timber halls, 5th-7th century pottery, and animal bones typical of a small farming community including cattle, sheep and goat.
New research on the Neolithic 'Iceman' found in an Alpine glacier in 1991 has shown that he was probably murdered by being shot with an arrow in the back, rather than simply losing his way or dying from a fall as previously suspected.
X-rays and computer imaging by Paul Gostner, a radiologist working at Bolzano Museum in northern Italy where the body is held, found an arrowhead deep under the Iceman's left shoulder blade. A 1-inch hole was found in the skin of his back, through which the arrow might have passed. The angle of entry of the arrow indicates that the assailant was standing below his victim when he attacked.
Iron Age boats
Two Iron Age log boats have been found in peat beside the River Witham at Fiskerton near Lincoln. They were rammed up against rows of oak posts - first found during earlier excavations in 1981 - which once formed either a jetty, or a causeway to a sandbank in the middle of the river. The boats, one of which is well-preserved and 23ft long, are likely to date from the same period as the posts, which were dated by dendrochronology to 457-317 BC.
The site was used during the Iron Age and Romano-British period for ritual deposition, and finds from this season's work include a spear head, a currency bar, an axe hammer, a bronze escutcheon (an attachment for a shield or hanging bowl), and a decorated bronze strip that was broken and folded. According to Colin Palmer-Brown of excavators Preconstruct Archaeology, all the gift offerings in the river seem to have been deliberately broken in an act of ritual destruction before being thrown into the river.
A mid-4th century Roman mosaic floor has been found in the grounds of the former Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester. The mosaic, originally perhaps the dining-room floor of a rich man's town house in Roman Durnovaria, measures about 21ft by 13ft, and its geometric design includes rope and diamond patterns made of red, white, black, grey, blue and yellow tesserae. The well-preserved mosaic will be displayed in the entrance of an old people's home which is being built on the site.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005