Tag Archives: archaeology

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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Opencast operation on land north of Newcastle reveals new prehistoric site

The Brenkley archaeological site
The Brenkley archaeological site

More evidence has emerged of what is described as a “dynamic” landscape of prehistoric settlements in the North East.

Excavations carried out by Headland Archaeology at the Brenkley Lane surface mining site to the north of Newcastle have revealed an Iron Age settlement across a five-hectare area which is centred on four roundhouses within a double rectangular enclosure.

The Iron Age dated from around 800BC to the Roman conquest.

The two month-long dig, on behalf of operators Banks Mining, has revealed a complex series of archaeological features spread across the site, with the remains being grouped into three main phases of activity.

Most of the remains uncovered relate to an extensive period of occupation during the Iron Age, with a series of large rectangular ditches enclosing several concentrations of ring gullies, which are the foundation trenches of the settlement’s buildings.

Pits and other features, such as boundary and enclosure ditches, have also been uncovered, suggesting that buildings had been rebuilt several times.

Objects uncovered include Iron Age quern stones for processing grain, a spindle whorl for weaving, ceramic vessels used in salt transportation and Bronze Age pottery, suggest that a mixture of domestic and food-processing activities were carried out in the area, with features nearby thought to relate to the management of livestock.

An early Bronze Age cemetery, dating from between 2,100BC and 750BC, is represented by three cremations, while a period of medieval activity between 500 and 1,500 years ago is shown by a grain-drying kiln and extensive rig-and-furrow agriculture.

In 2008, one of the most complete Iron Age settlements to be excavated in the North East, which comprised approximately 50 roundhouses in an enclosed two-hectare area, was unearthed at Banks’s now-restored Delhi surface mine on the Blagdon Estate near Seaton Burn.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said:

“It’s fascinating to see how this area was worked and inhabited through the ages.

“We’ve worked closely with archaeologists across many of our sites for several years to ensure that detailed investigations are carried out and proper records kept.

“These discoveries simply wouldn’t be coming to light without the surface mining work .

“We’re very pleased that our coal mining operations at Brenkley Lane have led to these latest discoveries which further enhance the understanding of our region’s history.”

Ed Bailey, project manager at Headland Archaeology, said:

“The results of our work have added to the growing body of Iron Age sites around Newcastle that have been excavated in recent years which suggests a dynamic landscape of interrelated settlements across the area during this period.”

Previous discoveries as the Dellhi and Shotton surface mining sites have included a regular system of prehistoric landscape division.

Pit alignments ran perpendicular to the south bank of the River Blyth, which archaeologist Jon McKelvey suggests may have marked off areas such as pasture, woodland and access to water for communities.

Three large Iron Age settlements have also been revealed at Blagdon Park and East and West Brunton, with substantial banks and ditches designed to illustrate the wealth and power of the occupants.

It is now thought that in the late Iron Age the coastal plain, for at least 25km north of Newcastle, was covered with settlements at 1km intervals.

An Anglo-Saxon settlement was also found at Shotton consisting of six halls.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  28 Nov 2014

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Binchester Roman Town bought by the Auckland Castle Trust for £2m

A Roman site dubbed the Pompeii of the North has been bought for £2m, allaying fears for its future.

The Binchester Roman Town, where archeologists unearthed artefacts dating back 1,800 years, has been bought by the Auckland Castle Trust.

The Church Commissioners have accepted a £2m bid for the site, having originally rejected it.

Trust bosses had launched a petition urging the commissioners to accept the bid, which 4,000 people signed.

The trust had feared that the commissioners’ plans to sell the site in two lots could have made it harder to preserve the fort and ensure there is public access to it, but have now spoken of saving it for the nation in its entirety.

The fort, on the banks of the River Wear in County Durham, on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland, a mile from Auckland Castle, hit the international headlines in the summer when it was revealed archaeologists had uncovered some of the most exciting historical finds in living memory.

The commissioners then announced plans to sell it in two lots. While the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and can’t be built on, one plot includes Binchester Hall and has planning permission for conversion and development, while the second includes 50% of the Roman remains.

The trust launched an 11th hour bid to buy the site for £2m, ahead of a tender deadline today, Monday.

Bosses feared that if it was split between two owners it could open the risk for surrounding development, curtail public access and see the end of years of academic research. The organisation argued that bringing both plots under its wing would safeguard future access and research.

Its initial bid was rejected, sparking the e-petition which 4,000 signed. And now, the commissioners have accepted the original bid.

Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s head curator, said:

“This is wonderful news and we are delighted that Binchester will now be protected for future generations.

“Contracts still have to be exchanged, but the Auckland Castle Trust has successfully come through the tender process as the preferred bidder and now we can start to look to the future of this vitally important site and ensure its past and status as one of not just Britain’s but Europe’s most important Roman sites is secured.

“Here at Auckland Castle we have been thrilled by the goodwill and support we have received as we strove to raise awareness about Binchester.

“Our first priorities are to secure the site for the winter, work with Durham County Council and English Heritage to help shape Binchester’s future and to start pulling together plans to ensure the Roman remains continue to be available for archaeologists and the public to enjoy for generations to come.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  23 Sept 2014

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Developers “could buy County Durham Roman site”

Concerns have been raised that the site of a Roman settlement dubbed the Pompeii of the North could be sold to developers.

Binchester, just outside Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has some of Britain’s best-preserved Roman remains, including a bath house with seven-foot walls and painted plaster.

Last year a statue head, possibly of a local Roman god, was found by an archaeology student helping with the major excavation works that are being carried out.

The land where the settlement has stood for around 1,800 years is owned by the Church Commissioners. They are selling ten plots around Bishop Auckland, including two adjoining ones which cover the Binchester site.

The Auckland Castle Trust, financed by city philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer and which is aiming to reinvigorate the local area with tourism by tapping into its heritage, has made a £2 million bid for the plots.

Although the Roman settlement itself could not be developed, an old hall on one of the plots could be, affecting access to the site. Selling the plots off separately could also hamper archaeologists’ work.

 Mr Ruffer, chairman of the trust, said the £2 million bid was ten per cent higher than their own valuation of the site.

We have done this because there is no one else in a position to do it and Binchester must be secured by someone who has a heart for Bishop Auckland and a deep understanding of the site’s importance in a national and international context,” he said.

The trust has called for the public to back its bid by writing to the Church Commissioners.

David Ronn, chief executive of the Auckland Castle Trust, said: “We need to save the best of Bishop Auckland’s, County Durham’s, the North-East’s and indeed the UK’s past to take into the future.”

 Dr David Petts, lecturer in archaeology at Durham University who has been project co-ordinator on the Binchester excavation, said: “Binchester is one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites in Britain and deserves to be protected for future generations to visit.”

Only a small percentage of the settlement, which surrounded a fort on the road north to Hadrian’s Wall, has been revealed so far.

Source –  Northern Echo, 29 Aug 2014

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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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