Articles tagged with: archaeology

A town through time: Recent excavations in Calne town centre

on Tuesday, 07 December 2021. Posted in Archaeology

We have recently had an exciting opportunity to understand more about the origins and development of the historic North Wiltshire market town of Calne. Throughout October and November, Worcestershire Archaeology (WA) have been undertaking a full excavation of plot of land to the east of the High Street in Calne. The work was commissioned by Churchill Retirement Living for development into a Residential Home for which they had planning consent. The excavation follows an earlier phase of evaluation by WA in 2016 where a sequence of buried features and deposits from Saxon to post-medieval had been revealed.

The site lies in a part of the town is thought to have been an early medieval addition to the Saxon settlement of Calne which largely lay to the south of the river around the parish church. This ‘laid out’ settlement comprised the High Street and market places from which long narrow ‘burgage plots’ were established to provide each property fronting the High Street to have sufficient space to the rear to be able to grow food, keep animals and carry out small scale industry. Historic maps depict the site divided into four or five of these burgage plots stretching between the High Street and The Pippins (formerly Back Lane). In recent decades, the site has been terraced and divided by garden walls and partially used as a car park.

The following is a summary of the findings from WA:

A New Start with a New Placement

on Tuesday, 23 November 2021. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Hiya! I’m Sejal and I’m a trainee conservator doing my placement with the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service. I’m excited to start my professional work here and I am looking forward to some amazing projects.

A woman with red hair wearing a face covering stands next to a museum cabinet with 4 skulls and two knapped tools
Showing off my last big project; some anatomical skull models for the Durham Museum of Archaeology

My placement is part of my master’s degree in object conservation at Durham University. My background is primarily based in archaeology and I’ve been on several excavations, but I’ve always gravitated more towards lab work than field work. For my undergraduate dissertation, I spent a month in Portugal, helping sort through discarded ceramics from a seventeenth century kiln. It was like trying to put 100 jigsaw puzzles together at once, but you only have about 75% of the pieces.

A table covered with pottery bowls and plates, some mostly incomplete all with fragments taped together
A nearly complete set of 18th century tablewares from a kiln waste site in Portugal

I’m originally from the United States and have spent the last four years up north for my studies, so I haven’t spent much time in the southwest of the UK. So, I’m very excited to explore the region and the rich prehistory and history it holds. I also hope to visit a lot of local museums and work with a variety of institutions whilst I’m here.

Being a newbie out of lockdown (for the time being?)

on Thursday, 16 September 2021. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre

(With apologies to my colleague, Neil Adam, for stealing the title from his blog article)

Hello everyone, my name is Tim Havard and I am the new Assistant County Archaeologist for Wiltshire, a role I began in early August 2021.

I have always been fascinated by history and archaeology. I grew up on a small farm in south Worcestershire almost at the foot of Bredon Hill (an outlier of the Cotswolds). I’m sure that some are aware of the spectacular Iron Age hillfort on top of the hill but I was a frequent visitor here in my youth when my little legs would carry me up the long walk to the top. I spent many happy hours running up and down the banks and ditches here pretending to be an Iron Age warrior.

Aerial photograph of hilltop with hill fort
Photo credit: Nick Turner Photography

Much like many hillforts of Wiltshire, a simple photo cannot do justice to how spectacular the site is. The only way to truly appreciate the setting and views afforded is to visit it on foot. There is a large stone at the top of the hill known locally as The Elephant Stone and legend has it that if you walk three times around the stone then you will be cured of any illness!

Whilst living on the farm my interest in archaeology would manifest itself in the form of digging random holes in the ground to see what I could find. My father and grandfather were a little less enthusiastic about my endeavours than I was at the time. They were probably quite happy therefore when I went to Southampton University to study archaeology which I chose over history as it would afford me chances to get out of the lecture theatre.

Following university I worked for a small archaeology unit outside Southampton and then moved to Cotswold Archaeology where I worked for 22 years. This gave me the opportunity to work on many sites in Wiltshire and see some fantastic and rewarding archaeology. Among my fondest memories of fieldwork undertaken in Wiltshire have been a small evaluation trench unexpectedly full of Saxon features, a test trench to investigate the prehistoric and medieval defences of Malmesbury and a watching brief in the shadow of Malmesbury Abbey. However, the highlight of my fieldwork in Wiltshire was undoubtedly the direction a large scale excavation of a multi period site at Wroughton, on the site of the former airfield, in 2018 and 2019 with archaeology ranging in date from the Bronze Age through to World War Two.

Following on from the evaluation, the first feature uncovered was a prehistoric pit alignment.

Cleared earth with round shadowy features visible on the ground
Prehistoric pit alignment flanked by Iron Age Storage Pits (photo Cotswold Archaeology)

As the stripped area was extended, further evidence for intensive Iron Age occupation in the form of roundhouses and numerous storage pits were uncovered. The western half of a huge ring ditch, possibly denoting a henge was found. The site was also occupied in the Roman period; a cemetery of 14 burials and a drying oven belonging to this period were recorded.

Hole dug into ground with chamber lined with stone
Roman Drying Oven (photo Cotswold Archaeology)

The site was one of the most rewarding of my fieldwork career. It was not without its challenges though; a wide open airfield site in January and February was particularly inclement; at times the wind was so strong it was not safe to work on site.

Hello from Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Team

on Thursday, 17 June 2021. Posted in Archaeology

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Anne Carney and I took on the role of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Partnership Manager in December 2020.

A little bit about me. I grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles and I have now lived longer in England than in Ireland. I spent a large part of my childhood in Downpatrick surrounded by a range of historic sites which I must admit I took for granted at the time.

Some sites, such as Saul Church and Struell Wells are associated with St Patrick who came to this part of Ireland in 432 A.D. For me, however, the more memorable sites are the megalithic tombs, standing stones and the stone circles that litter the landscape. My dad didn’t seem to get much time off work but I remember that he always took my sister and me to one of these sites for a picnic each Easter. My favourite was the stone circle at Ballynoe. This could, of course, have been because my sister and I got to eat our Easter eggs in amongst the stones! To reach the stone circle you had to walk along a magical sunken lane, which in my young mind fairies lived and I still remember the sense of wonder I felt coming out of the green tunnel into the field with the stones. I also remember being annoyed that my dad (whom I thought knew everything) didn’t know who put the stones there or why. It would be some years before I would find out more about these types of monuments.

Amazing Wiltshire Museums

on Friday, 11 June 2021. Posted in Museums

This week is #MuseumWeek – a worldwide festival for cultural institutions on social media. So it seems a perfect time to talk about some of the amazing museums that can be found across Wiltshire. Whatever your interests - from archaeology to transport to modern art - you will find something that appeals and inspires.

Like many other spaces, museums have been closed for much of the last year due to the pandemic. They are now able to re-open and have been looking forward to welcoming back the public once again, having made all the necessary arrangements to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit following the latest national lockdown. You can find out more information about museums in the county by visiting the Museum in Wiltshire website.

There are so many great museums it’s difficult to know where to kick off, so to quote The Sound of Music, ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’ by looking at some of the earliest objects from Wiltshire.

To find out about more about Wiltshire’s prehistory, you can’t beat Wiltshire Museum, Devizes and Salisbury Museum. Both are home to collections designated as having national or international importance, which tell the story of Wiltshire over the last 500,000 years.

Wiltshire Museum has beautiful gold items from the time of Stonehenge, some of my other favourites items on display are these exquisitely worked bronze age arrowheads.

Museum display case with gold items and other archaeological findsThree finely worked bronze age arrowheads at Wiltshire Museum

Salisbury Museum’s award-winning Wessex Gallery includes the Amesbury Archer and finds from Stonehenge.

The Unusual Journeys of Celia Fiennes

on Monday, 01 March 2021. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

“Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their time in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souvereign remedy to cure or preserve from these Epidemic diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? – it would also form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing foreign parts..”

So begins the work of Celia Fiennes published as “Through England on a Side Saddle in the time of William and Mary” by her descendant Emily Griffiths in 1888. Celia Fiennes was born in Newton Tony, Wiltshire on the 7 June 1662 and died on 10 April 1741 in Hackney aged 78, buried on the 17th April in Newton Tony. She was one of England’s first female travellers and was unusual for her time in travelling the length and breadth of the country on horseback with only one or two servants for company.

Engraving of Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, a man with long curly hair, moustache and seventeenth century military clothing
Engraving of Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes, Celia’s father (ref P3629)

She was born to Nathaniel Fiennes, a Parliamentarian colonel during the civil war and politician, and his second wife, Frances Whitehead. Celia spent most of her younger years in Newton Tony, living at the manor house on the west side of the High Street. The house was largely demolished in the early 19th century but its kitchen later became part of the Three Horse Shoes. Her parents were non-conformist and a group of Presbyterians met at their house, and in 1672 the house was certified for Presbyterian meetings.

Black and white painting depicting the former church of St Andrew's at Newton Tony surrounded by trees
Painting of the former church of St Andrew's from the northeast, Newton Tony, by Geoffrey Crowe (© Geoffrey Crowe, ref P36014)

Celia Fiennes mostly travelled during the period 1684-1703 but continued intermittently until 1712. Her earlier journeys were predominatly in the south, including to Salisbury, Bath and Stonehenge. In 1697 she travelled in the north and then in 1698 undertook her Great Journey travelling to Newcastle, the Lake District, Durham to the South-west Gloucester, Bristol and Cornwall (to Land’s End).

Remarkably, her travels emcompassed every county in England 100 years before the Stagecoach. She travelled sidesaddle on horseback, with only one or two servants staying in inns and sometimes in the country houses of her connections (often seeing these buildings in stages of construction). She wrote notes as she travelled and eventually wrote them all up into a memoir in 1702, originally intended only for family reading. Her explorations began as a way for her ‘to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise’ but her notes demonstrate she had a keen interest in the places she visited. She had a particular interest in mining and industry and also often remarks on the local food she eats, the roads she travelled on and the houses she stayed in: a valuable source for historians! Through her words we get a glimpse of 17th century everyday life. We might never have thought about what it would be like to travel the country without signposts but she highlights them as a notable feature remarking on ‘posts and hands pointing to each road with the names of the great towns or market towns that it leads to’.

Her travels in Wiltshire and its locality prove interesting reading. You can probably guess where she is referring to with this statement, visiting around 1690: ‘This… is reckon'd one of the wonders of England how such prodigeous stone should be brought there, as no such Stone is seen in ye Country nearer than 20 mile.’ If you guessed Stonehenge you are correct!

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