14th May 2013
Jane is currently working as Education Officer at the Hinkley point nuclear centre. The position is funded through Somerset County Council by EDF who are also paying for archaeological work to be carried out by Cotswold Archaeology in advance of construction of the proposed new reactor.
Jane pointed that the area around Hinkley is rather rich in archaeology. There is an Iron Age Fort at Cannington, and in the 1960s a cemetery was discovered nearby with burials of late Roman and Saxon date. More burials are likely to be revealed if proposed Cannington by-pass goes ahead. As elsewhere on the Estuary Mesolithic tools have been found along the shoreline. The conquest period is represented by Stogursey Castle, and more recent activity is well in evidence.
The excavation site itself is large, covering the equivalent of 250 football pitches and contains a number of interesting visible features including ancient hedge lines and some significant farm buildings. Though not listed these buildings were fully recorded before destruction.
Perhaps the most prominent feature is Wick Barrow -a round barrow that had been excavated in 1907 by Harold St George Grey.
Situated in an unusually low-lying position the mound was found to contain a walled shaft with an entrance. At the bottom was found a Roman coin which had probably arrived there as a result of disturbance. Within the mound were found the remains of five adults and a child. The feature was found to have been Neolithic in origin and then reopened and re-used in the Bronze Age.
A touching legend with an improving moral attaches to Wick Barrow (also known as Pixie's Mound). It appears that one day a passing plowman heard a child crying and lamenting that he had broken his pail. There was no child to be seen but the plowman did indeed find a tiny broken pail. He took it away, carefully repaired it and returned it to the same spot. The next day he was passing the same way and was curious to see whether the pail was still there. To his surprise it had gone but in its place was a delicious freshly baked cake still warm!
Jane then proceeded to describe the state of the current excavations, which are not yet complete. Interpretation can therefore not be complete either. What is clear though is that the area has seen occupation at all periods since the Mesolithic. Although there is no evidence of habitation from that period Mesolithic hunters were clearly in this area. The Neolithic is represented by the early phase of Wick Barrow suggesting that the site was significant in that period. Post holes, rubbish pits and fence lines suggest at the very least agriculture during the Bronze Age, and with the Iron Age comes evidence of occupation in the form of round houses and several burials.
Agriculture was also undertaken as there is evidence of rectangular enclosures, probably for containing animals. As the Iron Age occupation continued into the Roman period there were signs of contact with the wider Roman world, including Samian pottery and shards of amphorae which would suggest the importation of wine or foodstuffs from the Mediterranean.
A number of burials have been found on the site including that of one infant. Some distinctive features of the burials include a decapitated body; one with hobnails indicating that the boots were left on the body for some reason, and a very unusual shale coffin cover.
In addition to the Various post holes, roundhouse ring gullies and other surface features, the most unusual discovery was that of a grubenhaus. This is a style of building which includes an excavated underfloor area. Generally such structures are associated with Anglo Saxon occupation and what makes it really exciting is that this is the most westerly example so far discovered.
Finds are still being analysed. In addition to the pottery and flints mentioned above they include a fine quernstone, a lovely bronze brooch, coins and fishing weights.
I would strongly recommend a visit to Jane's website (see links) where you will find illustrations of the excavations and finds, and interviews with archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology. The website link is below.
Jane's talk was delivered with her usual infectious enthusiasm and we look forward to hearing more of this important local site as work progresses.
Jane Hill and Rachel Bellamy job share the Learning Officer post for the project. Rachel has worked as a field archaeologist, a teacher and as a learning officer in heritage. Jane has worked as an archaeological curator in museums, as a freelancer on heritage projects and has taught on archaeology courses. They will be delivering the Hinkley Point C archaeology outreach project, organising events, activities and exhibitions throughout Somerset.