A truly fascinating and very significant object has returned to our studio for conservation work, and I have been the lucky conservator to work on it, on behalf of the Novium Museum.
The Bersted sword is over 2000 years old, discovered during excavations for a new housing estate in Bersted, West Sussex. It was found with the remains of a man, since dubbed the ‘mystery warrior’, alongside his helmet and a very elaborate and unusual headdress. Archaeologists believe he was a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar's Roman Army in Europe around 50BC.
The sword itself is bent into a v-shape, understood to be a ritual ‘killing’ of the weapon at the time of burial with its deceased owner.
X-rays and investigative cleaning were undertaken by CMAS in 2010, which were able to expose parts of the sword beneath the thick corrosion products, revealing that it is fused to a ribbed iron scabbard, complete with intact suspension loop and two copper alloy rings for attaching the scabbard to a belt. Remarkably, remains of horn, which is a material frequently lost due to decomposition on burial, are still present on the hilt. The tip of the sword was missing, but discovered separately during the excavation.
In January 2022, Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record (HER) joined many of its cousins on Historic England’s Heritage Gateway. Heritage Gateway covers the whole of England and is the only place where you can search across county boundaries for heritage information. It also includes links to individual County and National Park HERs.
So how and why did these collections of historical sites arise?
General Augustus Pitt Rivers, perhaps better known for his archaeological excavations on his estate on Cranbourne Chase, became the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments in 1882 and created the first catalogue of archaeological sites.
In 1908, the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was formed to create an inventory of ‘Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions’.
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:
(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.
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.
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.
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.
Chippenham Library Assistant Sue is our Local Studies Champion and she's very much looking forward to this month's Festival of Archaeology. Here's why!
Augustus Henry Lane Fox was born on April 14th, 1827. He inherited the rivers estate in the 1880s and through this he assumed the surname Pitt Rivers as well as the coat of arms. The Rushmore estate as it is better known, is situated within the boundaries of Cranbourne Chase.
His interest in archaeology began in the 1850s. He was one of the first archaeologists to investigate the prehistory of Wiltshire and to use antler picks, he also used flint and bone tools. He was highly methodical by the standard of the times focusing on everyday objects to understand the past, this gave a better insight into social conditions, which wasn’t usual practice at this time.
In August 1880 he began to excavate a round barrow in Cranborne Chase, a cremation was discovered with some fragments of bronze. It also contained flint implements and pieces of pot. After rebuilding the mound he planted a beech tree in memory of his friend Professor George Rolleston, he also named the barrow after his friend. The estate he inherited contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods.
In April 1889 he started to excavate in Wansdyke in North Wiltshire. He found an iron knife, nail and fragments of Samian pottery. It is thought he stayed in Devizes during the excavation.
His international collection of about 22,000 objects was the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. The Museum was built in 1885. His Wessex collection is housed in Salisbury Museum.
Pitt Rivers was appointed thee very first inspector of Ancient Monuments in 1882 because of his organisational skills and experience. There is a memorial to Pitt Rivers in St. Peters Church at Tollard Royal, he died on the 4th May 1900, his wife the honourable Alice Margaret Stanley who he married on the 3rd February 1853 is buried in the churchyard. They had 9 children who reached adulthood.
Sue, Chippenham Library
Further reading via your local library and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre
Bowden, Mark (1991). Pitt Rivers : the life and archaeological work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Ref. TOL.921 Mark, Bowden and Green, Adrian (2017). General Pitt-Rivers : Founding Father of Modern Archaeology. Ref. XPI.921 (available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre) Cranstone, B. A. L. (1984). The General's gift : a celebration of the Pitt Rivers Museum centenary 1884-1984. Ref. 069.93
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.