A good time to review some of the discoveries of the past year. Much of what we have written here is to do with work that National Trust archaeologists have carried out themselves. However, resources dictate that I usually need to a ask archaeological contractors to carry out recording work.
Here are some of the discoveries from repairs, developments and service trenches that needed excavating this year. At some places, a trench can be dug where there is a near certainty that archaeology will be affected…even when the location has been chosen to avoid it. At others, we do not have enough information to know what will be discovered. Geophysics can help… but often it is difficult to know what lies beneath the ground.
In January, trenching for a new drainage system and fibre-optic cable line around the house at Montacute, Somerset was watched by Mike and Peter of Terrain Archaeology but nothing much came up there despite the the archaeological potential of the place. Beyond history there is only archaeology to help us understand. A similar trench at Tyntesfield recorded by Jim of Talits (The Answer Lies In The Soil) found the footings of the original entrance lodge for the mansion complete with its fireplace and flagstone floor. Sam of Absolute Archaeology watched a cable trench for the new IT system in Kingston Lacy Park and this revealed a concentration of flint tools evidence for a Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation site here over 4000 years ago.
In May, bodies were found. Bottleknap Cottage in Long Bredy, west Dorset is the only piece of National Trust land in the Bride Valley. Peter and Mike were asked to watch while a new drain and soakaway were dug there. At about a metre deep, the digger bucket brought up bones beneath a pile of rubble. Remains of two human skeletons had been discovered in a completely unexpected place… several hundred metres from the parish church. Probably pre-Christian but there was no previous evidence for an ancient settlement site here.. so we will have to wait for the radiocarbon date to find out how old they are.
In the summer… and now into their stride, Mike and Peter watched a drainage trench at Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate. Although late Victorian, Max Gate sits on a large Middle Neolithic enclosure.. it dates to about 3000 BC (like the earthwork around Stonehenge). Hardy found Iron Age and Roman burials here when his house and garden were created, so a new excavation was bound to hit something ..wherever it was located. The trench was dug carefully.. by hand but sure enough it uncovered the top of a Roman burial. The skeleton was covered and the pipe placed above it and whoever it was.. was left it in peace.
Bob of Forum Heritage has been recording historic buildings for us.. the paper mill at Silverton, Killerton Estate in Devon and the Almshouses in Sherborne village, Gloucestershire. He is currently making a record of Hyde Farm in Dorset while it is being refurbished. The walls have subsided over the last 200 years. The reason being that they are sinking into the pits and foundation trenches of an Iron Age settlement.
Jon of AC Archaeology did some archaeological recording while the Knightshayes cricket pavilion, Devon was being built. We thought that settlement remains from the nearby Roman fort might be found but the evidence was limited to the footings for a guardhouse used by the Americans during WWII.
These are all small important fragments, pieces from jigsaws of the past. Trenches are windows. Archaeological layers can only be broken up once. An experienced eye is needed, someone to write the story of what they see.
I wonder what 2014 will bring. On Monday I go to Lacock to discuss the route of a new sewage pipe for the Abbey.The new trench will have to negotiate a lot of buried archaeology.. as we found out when the old one was repaired in 96.