Selected Articles from the BHAS Bi-Annual magazine
"Flint" Autumn 2008
EXCAVATIONS AT PEACEHAVEN APRIL 2008
About 30 volunteers of the BHAS and MSFAT Field Units assisted with
the phase 2 excavation of a Bronze Age barrow on Peacehaven Heights
in April this year. The barrow is very close to the cliff edge and
will be lost to cliff erosion in the not too distant future.
The mound is a scheduled monument sited on the crest of a hill on
what is now open Downland. The cliff edge is only about 3m from the
southern most edge of the barrow and encroaching rapidly (see Fig1).
The mound is built on top of layers of sand and clay deposits known
as Woolwich Beds that lie over the chalk to a depth of approximately
6m in this area. The silts which cover the valley down towards
Newhaven would have provided fertile farming land and hence the focus
for prehistoric settlement. The land now lost to the sea would have
stretched for some distance but a deep marine shelf lies just a
little way out and would have defined the not too distant coastal
limit in prehistoric times.
The north/west quadrant of the mound was the focus of the
excavations. Earlier excavations of this same quadrant in 2007
revealed that the mound had been used during World War II for
military purposes. The mound commands tremendous coastal views and
two slit trenches had been dug by soldiers into the centre
effectively removing large quantities of the interior of the
earthworks. The trenches were part of the coastal defences and used
to protect the radar station that once stood adjacent to the mound.
Copper communication wire was found in last year's excavation, which
probably linked the trenches to other gun or command posts that
existed in the area.
This year a mechanical digger was used to remove the turf and top
soil enabling the excavation to proceed much more quickly than last
time and the whole quadrant was taken down spit by spit mainly using
trowels in the two weeks available. The location provided many
challenges, being a considerable distance from any facilities and
also subject to very bracing coastal breezes which at times made
recording almost impossible.
Despite this and with a courageous effort from volunteers, the
excavations revealed that the large mound that exists today covers a
smaller mound with an approximate 8m radius. This comprises layers of
the local sandy/clay deposits as well as flint (both worked and
unworked), pebbles and pieces of sandstone. Beneath the sandy layers
lay the natural - a solid yellow clay.
Around three thousand pieces of worked flint and waste flint flakes
(débitage) were collected for analysis (virtually 95%
collection). The flint work is of mixed period - Mesolithic,
Neolithic and Bronze Age - and includes scrapers, piercers, blades,
cores, an axe rough-out and a (probably) Neolithic arrowhead.
Some 40 sherds of pottery were also recovered, most of which are
prehistoric; some are of typical Bronze Age fabric with some possibly
being Beaker. Other sherds look Iron Age and Roman. These are being
processed prior to being sent for dating/analysis.
The excavation failed to produce any evidence for a central burial
but a sherd of green glazed pottery deep in the centre along with two
pieces of clay pipe in the layers above it suggest the centre of the
barrow has been disturbed, probably by Antiquarian robbers from the 1700-1800s.
The robber trench probably corresponds with one of the craters in
the mound just beyond the excavated area.
Beyond this intrusion and below the flint layers we discovered a
number of small pits containing burnt stone, charcoal and pot sherds.
Although no cremated bone appears to have survived, these are likely
to be cremation pits. Pottery and charcoal was taken from these
features for dating. A number of stake- and post-holes were also
revealed adjacent to and around the pits, which may indicate grave
markers or some other funerary or earlier structure. However, as yet,
only one quadrant has been excavated, so further excavation is needed
to have the full plan of these features.
Several soil samples were removed for further investigation along
with several, small charcoal samples.
No ring ditch was evident but shallow scoops had been removed from
the hard yellow clay in an area where the ditch might be expected.
This clay was difficult to excavate with modern metal tools and it
may have proved too difficult for the barrow builders to dig a ring
ditch. The evidence suggests that they brought in soil from the
surrounding area instead - possibly from where they were living and
farming down on the valley slope - and they made a mound from that.
Initial analysis suggests the finds will confirm this to be a Bronze
Age funerary monument. The mound has many similarities to that
excavated at Crowlink in 1998, which also produced multi-period
pottery, cremations and a grave, which had been covered by thousands
of pieces of flint débitage.
In the case of the Peacehaven mound it appears the hill-top area was
first used as a "cemetery" with cremation pits being dug
with possible markers or structures and, at some point after this,
the pits were covered with flint and soil to make the mound.
A full excavation report is being prepared and there is a possibility
of returning to Peacehaven next year to remove the east section of
the barrow, following discussions with English Heritage.
In the meantime a finds processing day may be organised in due course
to process the large amount of flint recovered from the barrow.
Details will be posted on the MSFAT website in due course.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who dug or
visited for their help and support. The dig would not have taken
place without the support and funding from BHAS, MSFAT, SAS, CCE
Sussex University and English Heritage and Dave Cudmore
Archaeological Supplies. Archaeology South East also deserves thanks
for help in determining the TBM.
OVINGDEAN EXCAVATIONS 2008
Excavations were undertaken from the end of May to the first week of
July 2008 in Ovingdean on a known medieval manorial complex which
appears to be enclosed by earthworks within a field known as Hog
Croft to the immediate north of St. Wulfran's Church.
Excavations undertaken in 2002 and 2006 had located a manorial
dwelling house dating to the thirteenth century, several tumbled
walls sited at a distance from the house and a well. Towards the end
of the 2006 season an area which produced copious amounts of animal
bone and cooking pot sherds (including an in-situ pot) was
provisionally interpreted as a detached kitchen.
During this current season of excavation, a survey of the site was
undertaken using a Total Station; this survey has been overlaid on
the earlier geophysical survey of the site and both surveys then
overlaid on an aerial view of the site from Google Earth.
The purpose of the 2008 excavation was to further investigate this
possible kitchen area. Other than an area of burning and large
volumes of fire cracked and burnt flint together with large
quantities of cooking pot sherds, no evidence to confirm a detached
kitchen were found. The burnt area is unlikely to be the remains of a
hearth and it is situated within an east/west ditch, dated from
pottery found therein to have been extant from c.1200-1400. An
in-situ cooking pot found close by the burnt area is similarly dated.
Whilst the evidence indicates the possibility of fire on the site
(French raids along the coast are known at this time, particularly
Rottingdean and Brighton which are close by), confirmation would
require further archaeological investigation.
A series of three rectangular post holes were identified, the second
of which displayed evidence of a post pipe. These appear to run
roughly north/south. On the last day of excavation a fourth post
hole, of similar dimension to the first three, was located
approximately six metres to the east. A beam slot to accommodate an
angled timber was located in close proximity to the series of three
post holes. This evidence may indicate an earlier phase of occupation
on the site. However, when the building was removed in antiquity, the
voids were backfilled almost immediately as indicated by a lack of
stratigraphic layers and there were very few finds therein. The
east/west ditch cuts this earlier building and is therefore of a
later phase of occupation.
Only further excavation of the site will reveal the history and
archaeology of and it is hoped, subject to permissions, to return to
Ovingdean in 2009.
A VENERABLE MYSTERY SOLVED?
On 15 December 2007 I found a smooth, muddy "anomaly"
the size of a Polo Mint amid the intractable, slag-packed Roman
occupation layer within Trench 2 on the Arlington settlement site
(see FLINT Spring 2008, p10). It had been in close proximity to a
piece of amphora and other pottery shards, only inches from the line
of a modern land drain. When it had been washed with a bit of bottled
water, a striking, glacier-blue piece of glass emerged, which we
christened "a bead". An exciting moment! It had, however, a
curious, small protrusion on one side. It looked as though it had
once been attached to something else. Not knowing much about how
beads would have been made, I wondered if it could have been cast in
a multiple mould and then snapped off, leaving a rough, broken edge
which could perhaps have been polished away.(see Fig
Long after it had been found I continued to be intrigued. Why, if it
was a bead, was it not perfectly round? I contacted an acquaintance,
David Hill, the research half of the esteemed Roman Glassmakers team
in Quarley near Andover. David and Mark Taylor have been researching
and creating handsome and accurate Roman reproduction glass for many
years. I sent him a photo of the bead and he sent a swift and very
Apparently, the artefact was possibly not a bead, but the terminal
end of a Roman stirring rod or "swizzle stick." David had
seen hundreds of these, or portions of them, on his travels. He said
they were generally about 5-6 inches in length, and almost always
made from a length of "candy-twist" glass rod, though plain
ones are also known.
They have a loop or hook at the top and the end tends to be flattened
or sporting a simple shape, like that of a bird. Complete examples
are often found with a "captive" glass disc which moves up
or down the rod. They are often found in funerary contexts. Although
their function remains obscure, it has been suggested that they were
cosmetic spatulas, used for dipping into long-necked unguentaria, the
sliding disc (when there is one) serving as a stopper.
As for the Arlington example, David said the delicate decoration
around its edge is probably the remains of the almost completely
re-melted rope-twist effect of the glass rod. He thought the frosty
surface had been caused by "weathering or devitrification"
(whereby glassy substances change their structure over time into a
more stable, crystalline composition) than through abrasion in the
soil. "Stirring rods" are found wherever there are Romans
and certainly other examples have been found in the UK. (see Fig
2 This 1-2C AD green stirring rod recently sold at
Christies in London for £1680).
Excavations by MoLAS on the tidal foreshore of the River Thames near
the City in London in the 1990s uncovered Roman warehouses which had
once been workshops, one of which produced twisted glass stirring
rods and small blown bottles. The Museum of London has both entire
and fragmentary examples of these in its collections.
David also told me that the way handmade beads were fabricated in
Roman times is very similar to methods used today. A rod of glass was
made very hot over a flame stoked by air blown by mouth through a
pipe or in a furnace and coiled onto a tapering metal rod called a
mandrel, which was treated with a clay and water slurry barrier to
aid easy release once it had been reheated to form its characteristic
doughnut shape. (see Fig
3 An example from the British Museum)
Therefore, the hallmark of a bead is the slightly tapered, rough
finish on the inner surface of its ring. The inner surface of the
Arlington "bead" is, by contrast, smooth and fire-polished.
Slender, plain glass stirring rods continue to be used in modern
times by chemists and aromatherapists to blend often volatile
substances into solutions or mixtures. If the Romans used these
elegant rods to blend unguents and oils, their candy twist effect and
decorative terminal ends would undoubtedly have served a practical
purpose as well, to provide a better grip for the task. (See Fig
4 A twisted blue stirring rod fragment and green rod
end from the Leadenhall Court site (London EC3, 1984) and a blue rod
end from the General Post Office site (EC1, 1975).)
Luckily the land drain had not been dug several inches further to the
north, otherwise this evocative find might have been destroyed, and
we may never have known there was a hint of luxury amongst the
small-scale industrial evidence at Arlington! (see
Fig 5 An example of a 2-3C AD black rod with yellow
applied glass, provenance unknown), (see Fig
6 A Roman-era glass bead from Albrighton in
Shropshire, showing the chararcteristic rough texture of its inner ring)
Editors Note: I have been asked to point out that
although Diana's article is well researched Greg is waiting until the
find in question has been physically seen by an expert before finally