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Major archaological find in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire: metal detectors’ Roman hoard gives up rare evidence about ancient plant life
Mick Rae, Rob Abbott and their friend Dave were detecting in a field in the Vale of Pewsey in October 2014 when they came across a hoard of eight metal vessels – including a cauldron and four small pans from weighing scales.The vessels were buried in a pit beneath about 350 millimetres of top-soil and, as one would expect, were in varying states of disrepair.
The find was quickly identified as Roman. The discovery was reported to Richard Henry who is Wiltshire’s Finds Liaison Officer. His role is to record archaeological finds made by members of the public – mostly metal detectorists, but also by people who are just walking in fields or digging in their back garden.
Most of the cauldron survives and a large copper-alloy vessel had been placed upside down into the cauldron – forming a sealed cavity. What was inside?
There were no gold necklaces or bronze coins in this hoard of Roman vessels. But what was found inside is worth its weight in gold to archaeologists – remains of plants preserved by the copper vessels’ own micro-environment.
Among the remains of the dried plants were heads of common knapweed and pieces of bracken. They also found seeds of cowslips or primrose, milkwort, lesser hawkbit, sedges, clovers, vetches and sweet violet, fat hen, knot grass, black bindweed, buttercup and corn spurrey. They may be what is left of some careful packing.
Remains of the flowers and bracken are now on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Organic matter never survives if buried unprotected in the Pewsey Vale’s greensand – so to find dried plants and pollen this old provided the scientists with many opportunities for research.
The find did not count as ‘treasure’ so remains the property of the finder and the landowner. The detectorists donated the organic material to Wiltshire Museum – the scientific processes used to test it with would ultimately destroy it.
Richard Henry led the quest to discover more about the find. He brought in a team to excavate the site of the discovery, led by David Roberts of Historic England with the Assistant County Archaeologist, members of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and the finders. They found shards of domestic and imported ceramics and ceramic building materials.
The project to analyse the plant remains has been led by the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and supported by Historic England, Southampton University, the Association for Roman Archaeology and Wiltshire Museum.
The scientists discovered that the plants were dated between AD380 and AD550. Theybelieve the hoard was hidden sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries – during the early Anglo-Saxon period. And interestingly, the find was within striking distance of the major Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Blacknall Field – finds from which can be seen in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
But if the age in years is a little speculative, the state of the plants reveals pretty accurately that they were picked and packed away in late summer soon after the harvest – late August to early October.
When their own kind of Brexit happened, the Romans obviously left much more behind them than roads, mosaics, villas and hoards of coins.
Wiltshire Museum’s Director, David Dawson, is thrilled they can display this important material: “Richard Henry has led this remarkable partnership project, drawing specialists from across the country to piece together the fascinating story of the burial of Roman bronze cauldrons that took place on a summer’s day 1,500 years ago.”
Richard Henry said “Such discoveries should be left in situ to allow full archaeological study of the find and its context. The finders did not clean or disturb the vessels which has allowed us to undertake detailed further research. If the vessels had been cleaned none of this research would have been possible.”
It is very tempting to imagine how this hoard came to be made so long after the vessels were first used. It is as though someone today decided to bury the Victorian kitchen pots Aunt Bertha inherited – and packed them with plants.
Why they were buried remains a matter for speculation. Does the careful packing of the metal vessels mean they were the antiques of their day? Were they, so long after the Roman era, still valued as useful cooking pots? Or was this some kind of votive offering?
Marlborough.News understands that metal detector Dave aims to have the vessels professionally conserved.
Ruth Pelling and Stacey Adams will be talking about their research on the flowers and other recent Wiltshire discoveries at the Archaeology in Wiltshire Conference on April 1 in Devizes. Their talk is titled “Bake Off and Brewing in Roman and Early Saxon Wiltshire: recent archaeobotanical finds.”
Article written by Written by Tony Millett and published on the Marlborough News Online Website
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The 9th annual Current Archaeology Awards celebrate the projects and publications that made the pages of CA this year, and the people judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology. Research Project of the Year category includes;
Rethinking Durrington Walls: a long-lost monument revealed
(CA 320 – Stonehenge Riverside Project / Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project / National Trust)
Ongoing research at Durrington Walls has revealed a massive and previously unknown palisaded enclosure beneath the banks of the famous Neolithic henge. It is a discovery that is set to rewrite the site’s history.
Voting closes 6 February 2017
Durrington Walls, two miles from Stonehenge, is named after the Neolithic henge that calls the location home. But with ongoing research revealing a massive and previously unknown monument hidden beneath its banks, the site’s history is set to be rewritten. Carly Hilts spoke to Vince Gaffney, Mike Parker Pearson, and Nick Snashall to find out more.
Around 4,500 years ago, hundreds of people gathered two miles from Stonehenge to build another massive monument, at a location known to us as Durrington Walls. The spot they had selected lay within sight of the celebrated stones, and had previously been home to a village that may have housed the community that erected them (CA 208). But now the short-lived settlement lay abandoned, and – perhaps motivated by a desire to commemorate its presence – the new group of builders punched through the living surfaces and midden material of their predecessors to complete their work.
Their efforts were not focused on raising the imposing earthworks of the henge that gives the site its modern name, however. Instead, their labour created a previously unknown earlier phase whose full extent is only now being revealed by ongoing research: as many as 300 huge wooden posts, evenly spaced 5m apart in a ring almost 450m across. It would have been an arresting sight, yet within a maximum of 50 years the monument had been decommissioned once more, its posts removed and their sockets filled in, before being covered over by the henge that we see today. All trace of the post circle would lie hidden beneath the banks of its successor for millennia – until it was brought to light once more by a series of excavations and the largest geophysical survey of its kind. Why did the site undergo such a sudden change in design, and what can we learn about the rise and fall of a long-lost monument? As analysis continues, intriguing clues are beginning to emerge.~
Full story here
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Anglo-Saxon cemetery teeming with ‘fascinating’ objects is unearthed near Stonehenge for the second time in a month.
- The 1,300-year-old cemetery was found on land marked for development
- Cemetery of 55 graves dates to the late 7th and early 8th century AD
- The majority of the items found in graves were small iron knives
- Combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins were also found
Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau has revealed other, more hidden secrets over the past month.
In April an Anglo Saxon cemetery of around 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods was unearthed in Bulford, Wiltshire.
And now, another cemetery has been discovered with 55 graves, just 7 miles (11km) down the road in the village of Tidworth.
The 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on land marked for a £70 ($102) million housing development for army families.
The cemetery of 55 graves dates back to the late 7th and early 8th century AD.
Most of the the burials contained personal effects or significant items.
The majority of the items were small iron knives, although other finds included combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins thought to form necklaces. There were also several spearheads.
The land, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, is part of a new housing development to build 322 new homes for Army families.
Read the full story in the Daily Mail
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An “elaborate” Roman villa has been unearthed by chance by a home owner laying electric cables in his garden in Wiltshire.
It was discovered by rug designer Luke Irwin as he was carrying out some work at his farmhouse so that his children could play table tennis in an old barn.
He uncovered an untouched mosaic, and excavations revealed a villa described as “extraordinarily well-preserved”.
Historic England said it was “unparalleled in recent years”.
Thought to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, the villa was uncovered near the village of Tisbury during an eight-day dig. It is being compared in terms of its size and its owners’ wealth to a similar, famous site at Chedworth in Gloucestershire.
Finds including hundreds of oysters, which were artificially cultivated and carried live from the coast in barrels of salt water, suggest that the villa was owned by a wealthy family.
The dig also turned up “extremely high status pottery”, coins, brooches and the bones of animals including a suckling pig and wild animals which had been hunted.
“We’ve found a whole range of artefacts demonstrating just how luxurious a life that was led by the elite family that would have lived at the villa,” said Dr David Roberts, of Historic England. “It’s clearly not your run-of-the-mill domestic settlement.”
‘Not been touched’
Dr Roberts said the villa, built sometime between AD 175 and 220, had “not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago”, which made it “of enormous importance”.
“Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential,” he said. “It’s one of the best sites I have ever had the chance to work on.”
FULL STORY ON THE BBC WEBSITE
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Archaeologists have discovered the oldest prehistoric building ever found in the Stonehenge landscape – but fear a new road tunnel could severely damage the site.
Dating from around 6,300 years ago – at least 1,300 years before Stonehenge – it was built immediately adjacent to a sacred Stone Age spring.
Academics have dubbed it an “eco” house because the base of a fallen tree was used as one of the walls.
The building is important as it appears to have been constructed by indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers at the time when the very first semi-agricultural European-originating Neolithic settlers were arriving in the area.
The tools found in the building are Mesolithic (ie, pre-Neolithic) – but the period they date from is the dawn of the early Neolithic. Archaeological discoveries are revealing that, within just a few generations, the population at the site had adopted Neolithic tool-making traditions – or alternatively had been physically displaced by Neolithic settlers.
The potentially semi-permanent nature of the newly discovered house is suggested by the deep post-holes used to construct it and by a large cobbled area (covering at least 90 square metres – and including a pathway), immediately adjacent to it.
The cobbled path led down to a spring which Mesolithic people used as a place for making ritual offerings.
So far, archaeologists at the site, just over a mile east of Stonehenge, have found tens of thousands of objects placed by these Stone Age people in the spring – including more than 20,000 flint tools, a large sandstone animal skin smoother, a slate arrow head from Cornwall or Wales, pieces of burnt flint and more than 2,400 animal bones .
Archaeologists are now worried that the Government’s plan to improve the Stonehenge landscape by putting the A303 in a cutting and tunnel, will change the local water level and thus destroy or severely damage the spring and any important and potentially unique water-logged archaeological remains.
“I am very concerned that any reduction in the groundwater level at the spring site and elsewhere in the Avon valley might potentially be a threat to archaeologically important waterlogged organic artefacts and ancient environmental evidence,” said University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques, directing the excavation.
The newly discovered Stone Age dwelling is believed to have measured around five by three metres and included a sunken area measuring five square metres where animal skins were scraped and cleaned and clothes were made.
The residents also developed an innovative way of keeping warm in winter. They used hot stones, pre-heated in a hearth, as a form of central heating.
In a joint statement, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust said: “Our understanding of the site will no doubt be enhanced by the work recently undertaken by the University of Buckingham and we are confident that its importance will be taken into consideration as the various options for the Government’s road scheme are developed. We look forward to hearing more about this important Mesolithic site and seeing the full academic results when available.”
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The 4,000-year-old skeleton of an adolescent has been uncovered by a team from the University of Reading at Wilsford Henge in the Vale of Pewsey, an area located between Stonehenge and Avebury. The child had been buried in the fetal position, and had been wearing an amber necklace. “The skeleton is a wonderful discovery which will help tell us what life was like for those who lived under the shadow of Stonehenge at a time of frenzied activity. Scientific analysis will provide information on the gender of the child, diet, pathologies and date of burial. It may also shed light on where this young individual had lived,” Jim Leary of the University of Reading told BT News. The excavation has also recovered flint blades, decorated pottery, shale and copper bracelets, and a Roman brooch. To read more, go to “Under Stonehenge.”
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Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.
This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.
Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.
“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”
The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.
Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”
Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”
The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
Provided by University of Reading
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