Giving memories a voice

We can write down our memories for future generations to read, but we can also hear the past through sound recordings and videos.

Today Alex is visiting from The Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN http://www.citizan.org.uk), an organization set up in response to dynamic threats to our island coastal heritage. It is a community archaeology project and actively promotes site recording and long-term monitoring programmes led by volunteers.

Alex will be soon leading a walk at Studland on the Dorset coast, looking at the WWII sites, and as well as research for the tour she hopes to play snippets from our sound archive of local people talking about what it was like, what they saw and stories of life in Studland during WWII.

Studland played an important part in WWII as a testing area for amphibius tanks and  fougasse (burning sea). In April 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and in charge of the military operation) met at Fort Henry on Redend Point at Studland to watch the combined power of the Allied Forces preparing for D-Day.

Alex l listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes

Alex listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes

 

The copies of the small sound archive we hold at the office are all still on original cassette tapes. For younger readers there is a picture below of what one is!

A cassette tape

A cassette tape

 

 

Alex has had to come and use our old technology to be able to then record a digitized copy for use in the field. We will need to digitize our archive so the recordings are more accessible. Luckily we have a cassette transcribing machine and a cassette player. The transcriber has extra controls so you can slow the tape down, change the tone and various backspace and counter options. It even has a foot pedal control!

Transcribing machine –  a special purpose machine which is used for voice recording processing, so the recording can be  written in hard copy form.

The Transcribing machine

The Transcribing machine

 

 

One day these machines will become part of the archaeological archives. At the moment they are thankfully still available and needed to play the memories from the past.

Finds in the flowerbed

In the Trust we have many large wonderful gardens, but we also have many small gardens attached to our offices, tea-rooms, shops, holiday cottages and some tenanted properties. These gardens are cared for by a group of volunteers who do a fantastic job tending them all year round.

A few weeks ago I had a call from the group who work in Purbeck, they had collected lots of pottery, ironwork and clay pipes while digging in the gardens they look after. They hoped I would be able have a look at them and help them to record what they had found, date them and add the information to the archive.

A box of goodies to search through

A box of goodies to search through

They had done a great job keeping every site separated from the next, so we could relate the finds to the properties they came from and where in the garden they were found. The pottery was a mixture of china and local earthenware, and were mainly 18th and 19th  century in date. Though there were some sherds that were probably  medieval and a few from the early 17th century. The pottery can tell us a lot about the social standing of the people who lived in the attached properties. The quality of the china, and the types of vessels can point to the inhabitants position in society and whether they had  good or bad fortunes! Clues to changes in society were  found in the collection from one of the gardens were the  property  had been a private family home, a poor house with 12 families and a pub!

As we went through the boxes and bags it became clear that some of the sherds fitted together. We soon found we  had  a lovely small ginger jar probably from the first half of the 19th century. Yay! time to get the glue out and also to look out for the missing bits when next digging the weeds!

Small 19th century ginger jar

Small 19th century ginger jar

Amongst all the pottery, clay pipes and ironwork there appeared a piece of flint. Oooo excitement grew as the soil was brush off and the light hit the tell tales signs that  mans hand had been involved in shaping this stone. Probably Bronze age, and  a multi purpose tool, reduced in usefulness after being snapped in two.

A prehistoric flint/chert tool found in the flowerbed at the Purbeck office

A broken prehistoric flint/chert tool found in the flowerbed at the Purbeck office

So when weeding that flowerbed collect all those bits and pieces, give them a wash, find a friendly archaeologist, offer them tea and cake and you never know what new tales will emerge about your own little plot of history.

Gill and Jill two of the flowerbed diggers with some of their finds

Gill and Jill two of the flowerbed diggers with some of their finds

Meshing the Bell Barrows at Godlingston

It was a good day on Wednesday. Two Bell Barrows and a Bowl Barrow on Godlingston Heath got meshed. I have known them a long time and they have not looked their best but they shone on Wednesday. They are now in the conservation condition that these nationally significant Bronze Age burial mounds deserve.

Crossing the border and driving down through the Dorset countryside to Purbeck, I felt elated. Good Bell Barrows are rare things and those that are known have often been damaged by ploughing.

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

3 bell barrows and a bowl barrow built over 4,000 years ago overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island

The Godlingston barrows lie in a beautiful position, on a slope overlooking Poole Harbour. The heather and gorse landscape looks 21st century BC, little intrudes from the 21st century AD (if you ignore the golf course and ice cream van in the lay-by).

They are Bell Barrows because they have an outer quarry ditch, a raised level platform (berm) within and a large mound at the centre. In plan they were thought to look like an old fashioned bell, hence the name. They are usually larger than ordinary burial mounds and concentrated in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire (a Wessex thing).

Each barrow was a burial place for one or more significant people. At the centre of the mound lies the grave of someone, accompanied by special objects, perhaps a bow and a sheath of arrows, a bronze dagger, pottery vessels and perhaps a necklace or mace of office.

The Trust inherited a tenancy which prevented access for many years. During that time the land was left to become overgrown with gorse and bracken and rabbits using the mounds to dig burrows.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

A view from the central barrow back towards the north bell barrow. A smaller bowl barrow was later built across its ditch.

The Bronze Age people and their culture are long gone. Their barrows are all the information we have about them. Anything we are likely to know about these ancient British people lie locked in their monuments. Science gives us new ways of finding out every year and digging up a site can only take place once. Once it is dug it is gone so if it happens it must be done archaeologically, recording the clues in each layer of soil as we dig deeper.

Rabbits are not good archaeologists and so it is better for them to dig their homes somewhere else.

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Resistivity meter in the foreground and magnetometer in the background

Now Godlingston is back in hand and managed under a higher level stewardship agreement. We used to surround sites with rabbit proof fences to keep them out but we now mesh vulnerable sites with wire. This armour plates them and quickly becomes hidden under grass and heather. We carry out geophysical surveys of the whole site first as once the mesh is in place such surveys cannot take place.

English Heritage and Natural England agreed the method of the work and provided funding and Paul the Ranger arranged for the Trevor the contractor and his team to do the meshing. He had a great brush cutter that gave the barrows a hair cut and then the mesh was laid and pinned in place.

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

The barrows were given a hair cut with this handy machine to prepare the surface for meshing

They now look very impressive. There is one mound which has been very badly dug into and this will need careful archaeological excavation and reprofiling next June before it can be meshed.

One of our Tank Traps has fallen

This week, I went to see a line of concrete blocks across a small valley leading up from Studland beach in SE Dorset. They have been cleared of scrub and are now on clear display to visitors.

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They were set in place in 1940 to prevent German tanks progressing inland if there was an invasion here. Studland was seen as very vulnerable and there are gun emplacements, machine gun posts and other structures built amongst the Studland sand dunes. English Heritage has just listed them Grade II. The older things get the rarer and more valuable they become. The recent wet weather has caused one of the tank traps (‘shark’s teeth’) to fall as the valley sands and clays slump and slide. The war-time builders rushing to erect a defence against imminent attack would not expect their efforts to be valued as a historic monument 73 years later.

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