Tag Archives: archaeologists

Excavation of forgotten WW1 camp

Archaeologists have been unearthing military marvels at a forgotten First World War training camp  in the North-East.

Dozens of volunteers have been helping a week-long excavation of Cocken Hall camp, near Durham – and what they have found could change the history books forever.

Today, the centuries-old hall is no more and the site is feet deep in nettles and bushes. But 100 years ago, it was home to up to 1,100 military men preparing for battle on the  Western Front.

Enthusiasts from archaeology outfit No Man’s Land travelled from across the country for this week’s dig, the first since the camp was abandoned near the end of the war.

They have unearthed foundations and artefacts from the military camp – and their work around the original hall suggests the site may have been inhabited well before the previous 17th century estimate.

Project director Alastair Fraser said:

“We’ve been able to establish the arrangements of the camp and we now know much more about the house – we’ve realised it was probably older than we thought.

“We’ve had 3D scanners on site and we now hope to produce a 3D model, which we should be able to render – because we have photographs from the time.”

 Cocken Hall dates from at least the 17th century, possibly earlier. Volunteers have found 16th and 17th century wall painting this week.

In the late 18th century, it was known for its ornamental gardens; while in the 19th century it was a convent, then a private home.

It was acquired by the Lambtons, the family of the Earls of Durham, around the 1870s.

Following an early 20th century modernisation, it was to be let again but sadly the prospective tenant died, meaning that at the outbreak of war in 1914 it was unoccupied.

The Earl handed the hall to the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and it became the training base for the 18th battalion, known as the Durham Pals – men who enlisted with their friends and workmates.

The hall proved too small to accommodate all the men, so a barracks, bath house, rifle range, canteen and recreation room were built. Trenches were also dug, to simulate the brutal warfare the men could expect on the Continent.

 The 18th left for France in May 1915, but Cocken was later used by other DLI battalions, the York and Lancaster Regiment and the forerunner of the Home Guard.

The camp was demolished after the war and the hall, which was in a poor state, followed around 1928 – taking its secrets with it, until now.

Findings will go into a major exhibition on Durham and the Somme marking the centenary of the famous battle next year and Mr Fraser hopes to take a team to excavate part of the Somme where the DLI fought in 2018.

Source – Northern Echo, 26 June 2015

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Roman villa discovered on site of new by-pass

VILLA: Archaeologists at work on the site.

Work  on a new bypass has revealed a Roman villa dating back to the third or fourth century AD which has lain hidden under farmers fields for hundreds of years.

Archaeologists say it is a significant find , and the first Roman villa to be discovered in North Yorkshire since the Second World War. It lies near Aiskew, Bedale, close to the A1 which is along the line of Dere Street, the original Roman road from Eboracum the capital of the north at York and the Roman fort of Cataractonium, now modern day Catterick.

Archaeologists discovered the site during initial excavations for the new £34m Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar bypass and a dig has been carried out over the past four months.

“We expected to find some interesting archaeology but we never expected to find something quite so significant,” said Bedale Councillor John Weighell, leader of North Yorkshire County Council who are carrying out the work.

The villa is described as extensive with a series of rooms and one pavilion type room with under floor heating. There are small sections of mosaics, and evidence of plaster and concrete from floors and walls.

Development archaeologist Lucie Hawkins said:

”The rooms would have been painted in bright vibrant colours, it is a higher status building and would have had lots of colour.

 “It is quite a substantial size and was set within a landscaped environment and field systems. It is a very exciting find, you don’t discover Roman villas that often and because it was totally unknown before the excavations began it makes it more interesting.

“It helps us to look at the wider Roman world , the villa is quite close to the A1 which was a Roman road so we can build up a picture. We can’t say at the moment if it would have been connected to Cataractonium, there are other Roman settlements such as Aldborough.”

The dig is due to finish in the next couple of weeks and because it is a construction site people are not allowed on it. But a display held at a later date along with updates and a final report.

Cllr Weighell said the new road will cover part of the site but the council’s archaeological team has worked with English Heritage to gain as much knowledge as possible from the excavations.

 “It has certainly proved interesting, it is fascinating that nearly two thousand years ago there was a former civilisation here and this could help us find out more about it,”  he added.
Source – Northern Echo, 21 Mar 2015
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War of the Roses skeletons discovery – Lancastrians executed by Yorkists?

War of the Roses skeletons discovery - Lancastrians executed by Yorkists?

Remains of executed Lancastrians?

The discovery of a dozen skeletons by workmen could belong to Lancastrian soldiers executed after one of the War of the Roses bloodiest battles.

The grisly find of 12 skeletons was made as electricity cables were laid on Tadcaster Road, near the Knavesmire in York.

The area was where criminals convicted in York were executed up until 1802 – including highwayman Dick Turpin – but archaeologists believe the bodies could belong to Lancastrian soldiers, possibly captured after the Battle of Towton.

Radiocarbon dating on two of the skeletons suggests they died around the 1460s.

The bones were discovered in November 2013 by Northern Powergrid and its contractor Interserve, who were working on replacing more than 6,500km of underground electricity cables.

York is one of only five designated UK areas of archaeological importance, which means any work disturbing the ground must be overseen, so the companies worked in conjunction with the City of York Council and York Archaeological Trust on the infrastructure project.

A team of archaeologists remained present on site at all times and, when workmen discovered the first bones, they were called over to examine the find and begin the process of carefully uncovering the skeletons.

 

The skeletons were identified as male and mostly aged between 25 and 40 at the time of their death. Two had significant bone fractures which could be evidence of fighting, perhaps associated with professional soldiers.

Ruth Whyte, osteo-archaologist for York Archaeological Trust said:

“We knew this was a fascinating find as, unlike 15th century Christian burial practice, the skeletons were all together and weren’t facing East-West.

“The Knavesmire was the site of York’s Tyburn, where convicted criminals were executed right up until 1802.

Were these individuals criminals or could they have been Lancastrian soldiers? They may have been captured in battle and brought to York for execution, possibly in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses, and their remains hastily buried near the gallows.”

 

Dave Smith, Northern Powergrid’s Project Engineer, said:

“When we started the 18-month project to replace cables dating back to the 1950s we never expected that we – and our contractor Interserve – would be so instrumental in helping unearth such a key discovery for the city.”

The skeletons have been handed over to York Archaeological Trust to protect and preserve. Arrangements are also underway to exhibit one of the skeletons as part of the city’s Richard III Experience at Monk Bar in March.

Source – Northern Echo,  27 Feb 2015

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Outline of medieval church revealed on building site

Outline of medieval church revealed on building site

THE outline of a medieval church has been revealed on the site of a new home for the elderly.

The foundations were discovered by workmen building an extra care scheme in Leyburn, North Yorkshire.

Archaeologists were brought in and their work has led to the clear outline of a Christian church dating back to before the Norman Conquest in 1066 being revealed.

Two bodies were also found at the site. It is thought the remains were of a young man and an older woman who were both found in a crouching position.

It is believed there were early Christian burials due to the east west alignment of the bodies.

Further work using the latest carbon dating techniques is taking place to more accurately establish how long ago the burials took place.

Experts from York-based On-Site Archaeology have worked alongside the builders carefully cataloguing the discoveries.

The extra care scheme is being built by Broadacres Housing Association.

Projects officer Graham Bruce said:

“The site is probably a family chapel possibly dating back to Saxon or early Norman times, as it is a clean area with relatively little waste. There is probably a rubbish dump nearby.

 “Interestingly, the Doomsday Book mentions two manors in Leyburn and this may relate to the abandoned settlement.”

The scientists’ work also unearthed two other small structures which pre-date the church.

It is possible they are bronze age and iron age dwellings.

Finds relating to these periods include animal bones, flint tools, and pottery shards.

Evidence of medieval farming was also discovered above the church foundations.

Archaeological work has now finished on the site, although the team are still examining the finds.

Mr Bruce added:

“All the items we have gathered will be offered to Broadacres, the site’s owners.

“The two bodies may be reburied somewhere on the site, as that it where they were buried originally.

“At some stage we will produce a report on the dig and our later work which will be available to the public.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  09 Feb 2015

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Northumberland fort find gets to the bottom of Roman history

A rare find has allowed archaeologists to get to the bottom of everyday life at a Northumberland Roman fort.

What is believed to be the only wooden toilet seat to be found in the Roman Empire has been unearthed at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall.

We are absolutely delighted with the find. The seat has survived because of the fantastic preservation conditions on site,” said Vindolanda director of excavations Dr Andrew Birley.

This site has also produced discoveries ranging from the famous Vindolanda wooden writing tablets and socks, to a gold coin and a gladiator drinking glass.

The seat was discovered by Dr Birley in the deep pre-Hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble toilet seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda.

Dr Birley said that in the chilly conditions of what was the northernmost limits of the Empire, a wooden seat would have been preferable to stone.

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

The Roman toilets would have been serviced by running water.

The Romans brought this toilet technology to Britain 2,000 years ago. It was cleanliness to the max compared with what had gone on before,” said Dr Birley.

The seat has been well used and was decommissioned from its original location and discarded amongst the rubbish left behind in the fort before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the early Second Century.

Dr Birley said: “There is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before and this discovery is wonderful.

“We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat.

“As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found.

“It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable.

“Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate as their drains often contain astonishing artefacts.

“Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy.”

Discoveries at Vindolanda from latrines have included a baby boot, coins, a betrothal medallion, and a bronze lamp.

Archaeologists now hope to find a spongia – the natural sponge on a stick which Romans used instead of toilet paper, and with over 100 years of archaeology remaining and the unique conditions for the preservation of such organic finds a discovery may be possible.

The wooden seat will take up to 18 months to conserve and once this process is complete the artefact will be put on display.

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 27 Aug 2014

 

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