Object of the month – free gift inside

As keeper of the objects we discover on our excavations I probably keep more than I should! But I see stories and links to past lives in everything and  if more recent objects can help take people back in time and start the journey to prehistory then they are as valuable as a Roman statue with an inscription!

I was sorting my boxes of odd and miscellaneous finds and came across this collection of childhood related plastic objects. Some I can remember and still have in my own tin box of things I have saved from childhood!

Plastic toys

Plastic toys

A few of the objects are probably free gifts from cereal packets and some are pocket-money toys. There was always a fear in my home of one of  us choking on a free gift in our cereal, but they were usually too big to be a hazard. If the box said free gift on the outside it was a race to get to it first (the hope was there were two inside) as the youngest I had to wait until the others were too old for free gifts!

A mysterious cereal packet gift

A mysterious cereal packet gift

Part one of the magic

Part one of the magic

The finished magic!

The finished magic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not sure if there are these kinds of free gifts in cereal anymore, the little plastic toys and games have been taken over by chocolate eggs wrapped in orange and white and fast food chains. The main difference now is they will found in their millions, so archaeologists who save everything, like me, will have to find bigger boxes!

Gone Barrow Hardy’s Monument

Hardy’s Monument occupies the highest and central part of the South Dorset Ridgeway. The National Trust has looked after it since 1900. You might think that it was built as a memorial to Thomas Hardy and you would be right.. but not the writer. In 1844, the monument was built by public subscription to honour Vice-Admiral Thomas Masterman Hardy who attended Lord Nelson after he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Hardy Monument and the new acquisition looking east

Hardy Monument and the new acquisition looking east

The Monument was built on land owned by Admiral Hardy’s family. They valued him as part of their kinship group, a Dorset celebrity, a heroic leader. His stone tower monument was something they were proud to look up to as they worked and managed their estate. An apt continuation of a Ridgeway tradition stretching back thousands of years.

Until recently, the National Trust only looked after the Monument and a few metres of land around it. However, the density of barrows along the Ridgeway meant that even in this small parcel of ground the Trust cared for a burial mound and a half. We have the other half now.

The view south towards Weymouth with the Isle of Portland jutting out into the English Channel

The view south towards Weymouth with the Isle of Portland jutting out into the English Channel

Just a few weeks ago, the land around the monument was purchased, an area of heather and rough pasture with amazing panoramic views, particularly southwards towards the English Channel. From here Weymouth, the Isle of Portland, Chesil beach and the Fleet can be seen. NT has several more barrows now. However, it was too late to save one of them.

The gravel quarry marking the site of the lost bell barrow.

The gravel quarry marking the site of the lost bell barrow.

Just a few metres to the south of Hardy’s monument there was once a massive barrow, over 35m in diameter and 3m high. A key location chosen at the centre and highest point of the vast Neolithic and Bronze Age cemetery of the South Dorset Ridgeway. Here, there are the sites of over 600 burial mounds between the parishes of Poxwell and Abbotsbury.. but this one is gone now. After 4000 years it was bulldozed in 1955.

The National Trust was too late to save it but we are fortunate because in May 1955 two government archaeologists saw that it was under threat from quarrying and decided to preserve its memory by excavation.

In this area, the chalk ridge is covered by sand and gravel. After the archaeologists had cut a section across the mound and ditch, they considered that when first built it must have looked like Saturn when viewed from a distance. A circular ring ditch cut into the bright orange gravel, surrounding a raised platform or ‘berm’ and at its centre a high burial mound of cut turves. A ‘fancy’ barrow attributed to the ‘Wessex Culture’

The place had been a focus for activity ever since. They wrote in their report that the top of the mound had been dug into during WWII and a gun emplacement had been placed there and on the north side closest to Hardy’s Monument they found another cutting and a brick fireplace built against the barrow. They thought this had been a sheltered place for the 1840s workmen when they built their famous Admiral’s tower.

But who was the Bronze Age celebrity the barrow was constructed for? The mound had been built using acidic soil and therefore no bones survived, no grave goods either so perhaps the centre had been robbed out in later generations.

However, a few hundred years later, three other people’s cremated remains were put inside large crude barrel shaped urns. They were decorated with the makers’ finger tip and nail impressions and each was placed around the outer edge of the mound.

The inscription over the north facing doorway into Hardy's Monument.

The inscription over the north facing doorway into Hardy’s Monument.

The heathy soil preserved the ancient pollen and the report lists all the Bronze Age plants living in the area when the mound was first raised.

It is gone now..the site is just a gravel pit on the edge of a car park..

but thanks to archaeologists Paul Ashbee and M.W. Thompson we can still tell some of its stories. No doubt the mound helped shape many lives, things that we can only imagine.

For a moment pause:-
Just here it was;
And through the thin thorn hedge, by the rays of the moon
I can see the tree in the field, and beside it the mound-
Now sheeted with snow – whereon we sat that June
When it was green and round
And she crazed my mind by what she so coolly told-

Thomas Hardy (the other one)

National Trust HBSMR and Windush

A WWII access track leading to a building in the trees.

A WWII access track leading to a building in the trees.

The National Trust owns many 1000s of archaeological sites. Some were purchased specifically but most were acquired by accident… in the sense that either we didn’t know they were there or perhaps the mansion house, art collection, garden, nature conservation or landscape value of the place was thought to be the pre-eminent reason for protecting it.

Every bit of land it seems has some sort of archaeology. Sometimes it’s a nationally significant site like a Neolithic causewayed enclosure or a Roman villa or sometimes its not so special like a 20th century sand pit (sincere apologies to archaeological sand pit enthusiasts).

We need to know what we’ve got as far as possible so it can be looked after appropriately.. so each piece of land should have a historic landscape and archaeological survey which unwraps the story of the people who occupied it and how they used it back down through the generations.

Every site gets a unique number.. a description.. a condition statement.. and recommendation on how it should be looked after. The information is put in our database HBSMR (Historic Buildings Sites and Monuments Record). Every building has a number… every earthwork… every buried site (that we know about), each find spot and scatter of debris found in a ploughed field… and even every sand pit.

Two air vents still attached to the collapsed roof of an RAF structure.

Two air vents still attached to the collapsed roof of an RAF structure.

We bring together all existing information and build on it over time typing it into the record and adding reports and notes on monitoring and work carried out on the site.

Three WWII blister hangers now used as farm buildings.

Three WWII blister hangers now used as farm buildings.

The information is now available on-line. Not perfect yet but it will get better. Type into Google… Heritage Gateway and search on the National Trust place you want to look at. For example, type the name Windrush and you will see.. third down below the lilac non-statutory organisations band.. National Trust HBSMR. 78 results.

View towards the rampart of Windrush Iron Age hillfort from the weathered brickwork of a WWII building.

View towards the rampart of Windrush Iron Age hillfort from the weathered brickwork of a WWII building.

Windrush is a scheduled Iron Age hillfort but it stands amongst the most extensive WWII air base the NT owns. Used as a pilot training base from 1940-45. Now a private tenanted farm full of gently decaying brick and concrete structures within woodland and pasture. There is a WWII map that describes the use of each structure.

View of the Watch Office from the pill box which once guarded RAF Windrush.

View of the Watch Office from the pill box which once guarded RAF Windrush.

The concrete identification code UR can be seen in giant letters in front of the air control Watch Office tower guarded by an octagonal pill box. It was bombed in 1940.. and one of the unarmed Avro Anson trainer planes rammed a Heinkel and brought it down. The RAF pilot Bruce Hancock is commemorated for his bravery in the local church.

The Bottleknap Trio, Long Bredy: The Lost Dorset Generations

This is a good story. No photos this time. Just an update.

Bodies in Trenches was a blog from the end of 2013.

At that time, we mentioned that some bones had been unearthed during a watching brief on a drainage trench beside Bottleknap Cottage in Long Bredy. This is a little piece of National Trust land, a 17th century cottage and a couple of fields all on its own in the parish of Long Bredy. It’s tucked away below the South Dorset Ridgeway.. towards the coast. There was no planning condition for a watching brief. The NT believed the place to be significant enough to keep an eye open while the ground was being disturbed.

Peter and Mike watched the digger and almost 1m down beneath some stones, at the point where it must surely have reached natural bedrock, the bucket came up full of bones. They stopped everything, dropped down into the trench and saw the parts of the skeletons in the deep narrow trench section. Including the severed ends of long bones and the line of a spine.

Claire looked through the bones and saw there were the hip bones of at least three young people, teenagers or early twenties. From what could be recorded from such a narrow slice, the bodies had been in a line, buried in a crouched position, with their heads pointing to the north.

Nothing to date them though. What were they doing there so deep beneath the Dorset countryside? Were they buried under a cairn of stones? Was this a crime? The parish church is just a few hundred metres away but crouched burials tend to be far older than the first churches in England.

Burials in round barrows tend to be on hill tops and the South Dorset Ridgeway, which overlooks Long Bredy, has hundreds of examples of these…

The bone fragments were very well preserved so we sent three samples away for radiocarbon dating and waited….not knowing what dates would come back. One date is just a date, two dates may conflict or be a coincidence.. three dates will give you good supporting evidence if they match.

This week the dates came back. If you have.. that time bug… then such moments are electric.

The dates of the three samples matched (C14 is not precise you understand) and fell between 800-600 BC. The graph suggested that the true date of burial was likely to be towards the earlier end of this range.

The thing to do now is to make comparisons with similar finds in Dorset.. but there are none. I checked with Peter who checked with Claire.. nope.

There are times in prehistory where there is much evidence for burial and others where there is none at all. (whatever did they do with their dead?) and our Bottleknap trio fall within the latter.

Bit of a dark age really.. when the very first fragments of revolutionary iron were being brought to our shores. These three are the very first Dorset people we can link to this period.

If we look to the wider world..this is the time of the Assyrians. For example, in the book of Isaiah in 701 BC King Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem…. but Dorset has no such history.. just these three young people found in a drainage trench beneath some stones.

Bread and butter

A lot of work during these winter months is the behind the scenes, or beyond the trench jobs :-) We can finish the last of finds washing and marking, gather the specialist reports from excavations, receive paperwork and finds archives from contractors and prepare for publishing. Also as it’s the end of the financial year some projects are coming to fruition including some involving archaeological archives.

We have spent many days lately putting up shelving and moving hundreds of boxes of finds into newly renovated buildings and rooms.

New archive room at Lanhydrock

New archive room at Lanhydrock

At the Lanhydrock office a room had been racked out to create a central area for archaeological archives. Now we had room to open an old, dusty, unmarked box and have a look at what it held.

Box of finds fro cross Cornwall, found by the public, Rangers and property staff

Box of finds from across Cornwall, found by the public, Rangers and property staff

Among the bags of pottery, bone, stone and plaster we found some strange brown stuff stuck to open weave cloth.

Brown stuff found to be old latex

Brown stuff on open weave cloth

Textured side of the strange brown stuff

Textured side of the strange brown stuff

It was all cracked but had a textured side, very strange……. but luck was with us and we found a small note that explained what we were looking at!

The odd brown stuff is old latex!

It’s old latex!

I would never have guessed that the mystery substance was latex! It had been used to take an impression of the surface of pottery, with the hope that it would help with identifying the grass seeds and the type of  weave showing on the pottery surface.

Some of the pottery with impressions of cloth or basket work

Some of the pottery with impressions of cloth or basket work

 

The next archive project involved building work on an important building so we could create a store and resource space for our finds from the Kingston Lacy Bankes estate. The WWII American Army hospital, 10 bed isolation ward, needed a new roof and its concrete cancer treating, it also needed a use and as we had already been using it to work on and store our archaeological collections it seemed logical to extend this use.

The old hospital building with its new roof

The old hospital building with its new roof

After emptying out everything into large ocean-going containers the work was done over the autumn and winter. Finally after a lick of paint it was time to put everything back so with help from two house removal experts we moved 350 boxes and many other oddments back into the fresh bright well racked room. This now allows good access for researchers to study the finds from all ages of sites from across the estate.
The finds boxes back on the shelving all sorted and assecable The last big move was the Crickley Hill collection from excavations that ran from 1969 until 1993. The contract for re boxing and creating an archive  copy of the Crickley photographic collection was under taken by  Cotswold Archaeology, and the store at our Sherborne Estate office was to be its final destination.

Sherborne store ready for the Crickley finds

Sherborne store ready for the Crickley finds

after the delivery of the finds

 

 

 

The environmental sample tubs

Last week the day came to move it all back into the store, a total of 244 finds boxes and 90 environmental sample tubs.

 

 

 

 

The guys from Cotswold Archaeology turned up in their white vans and we spent a few hours off loading everything onto the new shiny racking.

Tom, Fran, Emily and Claire from Cotswold Archaeology

Phew! three down two to go! the next archive stores waiting for an update are Purbeck and Lacock but they can wait until my back has had a good rest and a few chiropractic sessions :-)

The Rose Garden at Lacock Abbey

7th May 1832
Monday
My Dear Henry
The Urn is up in my garden! Oh! how pretty! Persian lilacs in blow! Horse chesnuts coming in flower!

Long ago, if the day was dragging, we’d engage in conversation over afternoon tea, a nonsense exchange featuring National Trust places with all the wrong facts (yes I know.. we are far older, more sensible and open plan now). It ended with the words.. “of course that’s where photography was invented”. According to the rules that was never Lacock.

Last October, Sue showed me the Rose Garden. It is a 12.5m diameter circular iron trellis work punctuated by four arched entrances to north, south, east and west, and in between – four curving rose beds. To the north is an alcove seat set in a wall under a gothic arch. When sitting here you can see through the north arch of the Rose Garden and appreciate the classic stone Urn on its pedestal.. which forms its centre piece.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

The Rose Garden looking east in October.

That was Lady Elizabeth’s alcove Sue said and this is her Rose Garden. Lady Elizabeth Fox-Strangeways was the mother of William Henry Fox Talbot (the inventor of photography). The garden was becoming tired. Sue needed to repair the trellis work and replace the soil in the rose beds.

I looked at the metal edging on concrete and she said: “This Rose Garden was only put up in 1992, the old one, so I’ve been told was taken down in the 1960s but they kept the trellis and stored it in a barn. I don’t think it’s in the right place though. We keep tripping up over bits of metal when we cut the grass.”

We agreed to meet again when the turf was up and the trellis down and that was last Tuesday.

The early 19th century was a massive time of discovery. Researchers did not limit themselves to particular subjects.. they grazed across the broad sweep of science and art. They were often clever wealthy land owners with money and time on their hands and sharp inquiring minds. NT SW has Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court (West Somerset) who engaged in electrical experiments. The locals thought he was acting as God and bringing things to life through harnessing lightning via wires draped in trees around his mansion. Mary Shelley heard him lecture in London.
William Bankes travelled in Egypt brought back the Philae obelisk to Kingston Lacy (Dorset) and helped decipher the hieroglyphs.

In 1832, W.Henry Fox Talbot married his wife Constance and took her to Lake Como in Italy. His frustration at not being able to draw the beauty of the scene led him to experiment and find a way to capture an image. The first photos anywhere. Science to enable art.

I returned to the Rose Garden last week. The metal spikes sticking out of the ground were clear. Sue, Reg and the garden volunteers cleared off the topsoil and they found that each fixing was set in lead within a chunk of dressed stone. The stones were all different shapes and sizes and were probably reused pieces of Henry’s home.. medieval Lacock Abbey.

Sue was right though, it was in the wrong place.. in 1992 it had been built 5m west of its old location. The view from the alcove should not be blocked by the Rose Garden.

There were six stones to each of the four entrances and two intermediary stones to carry the trellis between them. The outer ring was to carry swags of trailing roses. The inner stones carried the arched trellises for each of the entrances. The view to the west between the stone settings framed the spire of Lacock’s medieval St Cyriac’s church.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

The view east towards the church through the 1832 east Rose Garden entrance. The site of the old urn pedestal lies in the centre of the photo in front of the 1992 urn.

We measured to the centre and dug down. There was the plinth for Lady Elizabeth’s Urn. Her son Henry (he preferred his second name) took a picture of it for her in ..1840. Sue had relocated the scene of one of the earliest photographs anywhere.

W.H. Fox Talbot's photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

W.H. Fox Talbot’s photograph of the Rose Garden taken in June 1840. One of a group of photographs he sent to the Italian botanist Antoino Bertoloni. He wrote back to say that this was the image he liked the best.

Reg brought the garden ladder and I photographed it again.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

The Rose Garden from the garden ladder. The turf cut from the 1992 garden but the stones from the 1830s garden and central pedestal 5m left of it.

Shapwick’s Roman Fort, Kingston Lacy

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

This is the view along the Shapwick Road across our field towards Badbury Rings.

Let’s walk across a Dorset field. It’s a good one.. and although we’ll stay in the same space we will be hopping about in time a bit. Well- we’re archaeologists after all.

For the moment it’s late summer, the corn’s been cut and as we leave the far hedge and walk diagonally towards the road our boots crunch on the stubble. Keep your eyes down, there are all sorts of things beneath our feet.

Yes. There. See it ? Sticking out of that tractor rut a black chunk of pottery. Pick it up.

On the upper edge it’s polished but on the rougher zone below you have that typical cross-hatch pattern. Iron Age? Roman?

I call this the ‘Long Field’. Not its old name.. but definitely very large and long. You’d notice that if you divided it up and surveyed it. There’s Geoff, laying out the grid, walking up and down with the magnetometer. He was the first man to map the archaeology here. I walked with him some days fixing the pegs, positioning the lines. We walked miles.. but the results were spectacular. Thanks Geoff.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff's magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

The field is bottom left. This is Geoff’s magnetometer survey showing the fort in detail and the underlying Iron Age settlement. If you look carefully you can see the parallel side ditches of the Badbury to Dorchester Roman road. Our walk is from fort entrance to fort entrance. From middle right to bottom left.

You almost missed that. An orange samian base fragment. It has that silk sheen to it. Unlucky, the potter’s stamp is fractured at the edge and we can’t quite read who made it. Came all the way from Gaul though.

We’re approaching a large’L’-shaped trench. Ian’s in a ‘bee-hive pit, narrow at the neck and twice the width at the bottom. It’s cool down there. He hands up something like samian except it’s ruby-coloured. An earlier pottery.. dates this grain storage pit to the Late Iron Age- 2000 years ago.

At the other end of the trench is Martin..he’s in a large pit. No, he’s gone,
someone’s placing a dog in the pit on top of a piglet. The field’s disappeared.. there are circular houses all around us, a hub-bub of people livestock and wooden fences within a settlement stockade.

Gone again.. the place is blacksmith’s workshop, furnaces and hearths. These guys look Roman.. at least the pots are 3rd century style.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the  trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

From scaffold tower to scaffold tower. Looking towards the trench to locate the SW entrance of the fort.

We’re in the field heading to another larger longer trench with a scaffold tower beside it. This is the main highway, the Roman road from Badbury to Dorchester but we are also in the middle of a large Roman fort.

It was first seen on aerial photos in 1976, three concentric ditches with rounded corners. The first idea was that it was 1st century.. built on top of the Iron Age settlement right after the Roman Conquest of AD 43-44. Very different to the Roman fort at Hod Hill a few miles away though. It has only two entrances, one in the NE corner and one in the SW… and the ditches at the corners don’t quite match.

Let’s climb the scaffold tower and look down at the trench. We’ve put it at the SW entrance. We can see the three ends of the ditches in plan. The road metalling has sunk into the soft ditch filling so it has not been ploughed away.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

The fort SW entrance from the scaffold tower. The outer ditch terminal is clear with remains of road metalling crushed into its surface. The middle and deep inner ditch have not yet been excavated. Most of the upper layers including the road have been ploughed away over hundreds of years. This land was part of the Shapwick common fields in the medieval period.

Gerald, Becki and Rob, if you could just remove the upper layers..yes, there are the ditches filled with pottery, animal bone and the occasional coin. It seems to date mostly to the end of the 2nd century. The outer two ditches are only a metre deep but the inner one is massive.. over 4m deep. Strange, some of the finds are 4th century.

Here it is..white chalk ramparts with a timber wall along the crest of the innermost defence. Inside it is full of rectangular buildings. Curious, the Dorchester road is blocked by the fort gates guarded by soldiers. They’re checking all the traffic. The Saxon raids along the coast have increased in recent months and this place, Vindocladia, is vulnerable. They haven’t the resources to build stone walls like those at Durnovaria (Dorchester). This secure place, the burgus fort, will have to do the job. A place of last resort for the Romanised Brits. Tense times.

Lets climb down from the scaffold and get into the car. I hope you enjoyed my favourite field. Nancy climbs in beside us. “How was it for you”…. “The earth moved”.. it certainly did.. and there was so much in it!