Basildon & Billericay

Archaeology 1

Archaeology Group 1 meets on the 2nd Wednesday afternoon of every month and. House meetings are at various members’ homes and we also have field trips to sites of archaeological interest. We aim to organise a longer field trip away from home once a year.

Annual Trip 21-24 April 2015: A Bronze Age Waterland

(This article is reproduced from our May 2015 Newsletter)

Our prime objectives this year were the Bronze age finds of Seahenge (originally on the north Norfolk coast but now exhibited after conservation at the museum in Kings Lynn) and Flag Fen, conserved in situ near Peterborough. We selected Ely as a good central hub from which to visit both sites. It has good pubs and restaurants plus a very interesting medieval cathedral.

West Stow early Anglo-Saxon village

On the first day of our visit some of us went to the West Stow Country Park and Anglo-Saxon Village near to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Prior to the creation of the Country Park in 1979 the site was used as a rubbish dump for Bury St. Edmunds, but over the years excavation has continued under the control of St. Edmonsbury Borough Council. The Council undertook the project of reconstructing a number of the nearly seventy Anglo-Saxon buildings and seven larger buildings thought to be Halls. These buildings showed different characteristics in the supposed use of internal pits which could have had floors suspended above them, solid floors, different roofing styles and basic structures. Also various natural features were created, ponds and ditches and boundary hedges, relating to the Anglo-Saxon era. Geophysical surveys and trial excavations suggest that this area was inhabited intermittently from as early as the Middle Stone Age.
The Museum was excellent, displaying, in chronological sequence, many finds from the local area; tools, axes, spears and arrows dating back to Mesolithic times as well as evidence of later Romano-British occupation.

Seahenge

This unique 4,000 year-old timber circle was discovered in 1998 on the north Norfolk coast and, because of the threat of erosion from the sea, a rescue excavation was undertaken in the summer of 1999. Seahenge was a ritual or ceremonial site comprising a ring of split tree-trunks with an upturned tree stump, including its roots, at its centre, all buried into the earth in Bronze Age times, when the site lay in a wooded area of land quite some way inland. Sea level rise combined with erosion from tides and storms resulted in Seahenge being on the immediate seashore when eventually discovered. The excavated timbers underwent lengthy conservation treatment at the Mary Rose Centre in Portsmouth. Detailed examination of the timber has produced a wealth of information about woodworking in the Early Bronze Age, the organisation of labour, and the layout and construction of ritual timber monuments. After Seahenge we explored Hanseatic King’s Lynn which included visits to

True’s Yard - two brick cottages in the North End, built around 1790 and known as True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum. Included in the many displays was a gansey, the traditional garment worn by Lynn fishermen. Each family had a distinct pattern, so if a fisherman drowned at sea he could be identified. We took advantage of the small café to rest and have lunch.

Custom House - which is over 300 years old and where we were able to discover King’s Lynn’s fascinating Hanseatic history as well as learning about the town’s famous mariners, including Vancouver and Nelson. We had a lovely evening meal in Ely and next day went to:

Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre & Archaeology Park - this is one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, home to a unique ancient monument - a long timber causeway and platform of over a kilometer, preserved for 3,500 years in the wetland. Bronze Age people drove more than 60,000 posts into the ground in 5 parallel lines and laid many hundreds of thousands of horizontal planks. The causeway is believed to have been used as a means of access to the water into which various offerings to the spirits were ritually placed after first being put beyond use. This was done by the Bronze Age Fen people for more than 1000 years. The key points of interest were:-

The Preservation Hall where we viewed a preserved section of the ritual causeway and a selection of artifacts discovered during excavations. As well as weapons, tools and jewellery, we saw the oldest example of a wooden wheel found in England and a pair of perfectly preserved bronze shears, complete with their wooden box.

The Outdoor Area which recreated a prehistoric landscape, together with reconstructed round houses from the Bronze and Iron Ages.

The Must Farm Boats - Bronze Age log boats discovered nearby. First damaged to put them beyond subsequent use, these boats were then laid at intervals across the gut of an ancient creek-bed as offerings to the spirits. This was over a period of some hundreds of years. The boats are now in the process of conservation at Flag Fen.

Our annual trips are always enjoyable but this was certainly one of the most interesting and was helped by the good weather!

2014 Field Trip to Creswell Crags & Lincoln

(This article is reproduced from our May 2014 Newsletter)

Six members of the group and two spouses took off for Lincoln on Tuesday 29th April, partly to explore this ancient Roman, Norman and Medieval city with its magnificent cathedral and historical museum. Our stay was at the Premier Inn in the centre of town; very convenient, comfortable and reasonably priced, as agreed by all.

Our wander around Lincoln took us up Steep Hill to the Museum and the Cathedral (quite a challenge on the calves), then a tour of various examples of Roman architecture and finally introduced us to a variety of very comfortable cafés and restaurants.

The main reason for our trip however was our visit to Creswell Crags on the Wednesday and we were not disappointed. Situated about 30 miles to the north west of Lincoln and easily accessible via the A1, it is an internationally important archaeological site going back to the Ice Age: indeed at present this is the farthest north that Stone-age Cave Art has yet been found in Europe. There is evidence of intermittent human habitation in the caves on either side of the gorge - from Neanderthals, as far back as around 50,000 years ago, to the cave dwellers of the late Upper Palaeolithic dated at 13,000 years ago. In those Ice Age days, sea levels were very much lower than at present, Britain was still connected to the continent of Europe and the North Sea was a vast plain over which, during warmer interglacial periods, humans and their animal prey wandered at will. Evidence of this is found in the image of an ibis, a bird from much further south and east within Europe, on the ceiling of the cave. The caves at Creswell were only occupied during these warmer periods and probably not throughout the year.

The magnesium limestone gorge is believed to be a collapsed cave system similar to Cheddar Gorge. Excavation of the caves themselves by local antiquarians began around 1875 and much evidence of human and animal habitation in the form of bones, tools and weapons has been discovered since. No human bones have been found. Early excavation was very crude, involving explosives and with very little attention being paid to proper recording and preservation of finds. Modern day archaeology is thankfully far more scientific.

In 2003 international specialist archaeologists discovered artistic representations in several of the caves, depicting the various animals known to the cave dwellers e.g. horses, bison and birds as well as representative aspects of the human form itself. The reason for the very late discovery of these images was probably the low roof levels in the caves before excavation had removed the soil that had accreted. This came from their use as animal shelters, storage sheds etc., since the end of Stone Age occupation. It was also extremely difficult to distinguish the artistic hand of man from the natural geological forms and marks, and graffiti by all and sundry over the millennia, on the soft limestone surfaces.

It was a puzzle to us all why the site was so rarely publicised in magazines and journals of Archaeology but our very likeable archaeologist guide, John Cartledge, pointed out the struggle that they had in obtaining the appropriate funding, a common restriction on the archaeological scene the world over. However, unknown no longer – a review has just been published on Trip Adviser.

Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.

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More Group Pages
10 Pin Bowling Ambling Group
Archaeology 1 Archaeology 2
Art Appreciation Bridge
Compleat Gardener Computer Workshop
Development of Middle East Discussion & Pub Lunch 2
Drama Economic Thoughts
Essex Churches Essex History
Essex History 2 Essex Villages
Film Group French Conversation
French for the Rusty Further French
German Conversation Golf
Half Ramble Jazz Appreciation
Literature 1 Literature 2
Music for Pleasure Music Matinee
Patchwork & Quilting Pétanque
Philosophy Photography
Poetry for Pleasure Railway Journeys
Rambling Science
Scrabble for Fun Solo Uno Sunday
Table Tennis Theatre Studies Group
Wine Appreciation Writing for Fun