Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau

Thursday Dec 6th 2018. Brilliant news on the Experimental Pottery front.

Today we broke the shrinkage bars which go with the pots we fired last weekend (see below) and already we have a match of fabric with the clay used from our dig field and Type 18 in our Chewton Mendip Medieval Pottery Fabric Series. This is great news indeed for the research we're involved in into the sources of medieval coursewares. More to follow.....

Below are lovely photos by Brian of the fired pots and the shrinkage bars. 

Saturday Dec 1st 2018. The Pottery Study Group's Experiment in pot making and firing. 

After the best part of this year planning an experimental archaeology project it finally came to fruition today. We have attempted to replicate medieval pottery found on the Chewton excavation site, using clays from the dig and from test-pits in the village, plus silts from the River Chew, crushed shell from the Mendip Hills and cracked flint from Down Farm, Cranborne Chase. We have successfully fired 7 jars. The next phase is to break the jars and study the sections under the microscope to see if any match those of our Fabric Type Series. Watch this space....!


Pottery Databases latest.

We are indebted to John Bowskill for his IT expertise in building our database for recording our medieval pottery sherds. This is now being used for every sherd excavated so that we can, in due course, interogate it for detailed analysis. 

The latest project is the building of a website called the Chewton Mendip Medieval Pottery Fabric Series, in which everyone will be able to access high definition, detailed photographs of all our type series, taken by Brian Irwin. More on this nearer the launch. Further information on the pottery projects on 'Chewton Mendip Pottery Group' and 'Chewton Mendip Pottery Database'pages on this website. 

The Summer Dig 2018.

The summer dig at Chewton is now finished. You can find out about it on the Chewton Excavations Page. An Interim Report will follow in due course. 

Thursday July 19th 2018 

Trip to Down Farm, Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset

Some 17 members and friends spent a most interesting day at Martin Green's Farm. After an introductory talk in the on-site museum we looked at the display cabinets packed with all manner of items found both on Down Farm and in the surrounding area and dating from the mesolithic through to the post-medieval period. 

A guided walk followed where we inspected a large hole in the ground, a natural phenomenon which had silted up over the centuries but contained archaeological finds in the upper layers. Martin explained how the feature was first discovered and described the rather precarious method by which it was excavated some long while ago. We moved onto some ancient burial sites, the Dorset Curcus ditch, still being excavated, an Iron Age settlement site, also in the process of study before returning to the school room for lunch. Here several of us were intrigued by the kilns built for experimental archaeological projects. Pip was particularly interested in the tuyères,the pipes which were inserted into the body of the kiln and into which they blew air. We have one such possible example from the Chewton dig, though by no means conclusive at present. 

Some members retired for an evening meal to 'The Litton' pub, to round off the day. 

Inspection gantry over the big hole

Excavations of the Dorset Cursus

Looking at Woad seedheads and flowers

Excavation site of Iron Age settlement

Sunday April 15th 2018

We were delighted to extend a warm welcome to our excavation site 
to Professor John Blair and to meet his delightful family. We also welcomed Teresa Hall, no stranger to the site, who arranged the visit for us. Our grateful thanks to her. Both John and Teresa have done groundbreaking research on Minster sites. Teresa has published on Dorset Minsters  and John has written several books on Anglo-Saxon minsters in various parts of the country. Our President Dr Michael Costen also joined the gathering to hear John's views and to put forward his own on the subject.  

After getting thoroughly soaked and cold on site, we adjourned to the comfort of members Kay and Gareth's house for tea, cake and a lengthy discussion on what we have found. The precinct boundary was much discussed, as was the Saxon pottery found within the artisan area of the site. Animal bone found in association with this pottery has produced radiocarbon dates of 7th and 8th centuries.  

We were able to demonstrate the rigour with which we are excavating and recording this site and were delighted that Professor Blair thinks that there is a very good case for it being an early Saxon minster. 

We have further work to do in dating the later walls and the boundary, so we have not finished yet!  

Sunday March 25th 2018 Visit to Beacon's Hill on Mendip 

15 of us joined the walk to this multi-period site. The day began with Steve Tofts giving an illustrated talk on the various archaeological features of the site and the archaeological investigations in the past. We then walked around the woods guided by an excellent earthwork survey handout, produced by Mark Corney some years ago. Steve pointed out features ranging from Bronze Age burial mounds to a 19th Century firing range whilst Gareth added geological information. We then adjourned to the Mendip Inn for a late Sunday lunch and time to socialise. Our thanks to Steve, and to Kay and Gareth for their hospitalilty as always. 

Members' Day 4th February 2018

Our annual day when members are able to present their personal researches to the group. Always a popular event this gives the opportunity for original work to get an airing in a friendly environment with the chance of a wider discussion about their chosen subject. 

We began with Julie Bassett presenting the findings of her dissertation for her BA in Archaeological Studies at Bristol University. The subject was the medieval origins of Farrington Gurney, Somerset. Julie put forward a compelling case for the shifting of the village  and its subsequent development as a medieval ladder settlement. 

Gareth Thomas spoke on the landscape, archaeology and geology of Chewton to attempt to throw some light on the siting of the Minster Precinct in Saxon times. He amazed us with graphics, liDAR and drone footage of the area. 

Kay Boreland followed with a scientific explanation of radiocarbon dating techniques, setting the scene for a better understanding of the results of the Test Pit Project run by Pip Osborne in the summer of 2017. Supported by the Maltwood Fund of SANHS this mini project dug several 1.5sq m pits into known Saxon occupation layers to record in 3D animal bone where found alongside Saxon pottery. Selected bones were then sent for carbon dating. The results confirmed levels dating possibly as early as the late 8th century through to the 12th, with pottery found in all levels. There is much analysis of the pottery still to be done by the Pottery Group on these finds. 

Rounding off the afternoon our President Dr Michael Costen gave an illuminating talk on the Cathars of the Languedoc region of France. Michael had researched the subject extensively for a book entitled 'The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade' and gave an overview touching on their foundation, their beliefs, their buildings and their eventual downfall. 

There was the customary buffet lunch, always much appreciated. 

Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau
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