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Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research 2007

Thursday 13 September 2007: 09.30-19.30


at the BA Festival of Science, University of York
Biology Department B/B/002

PROGRAMME

09.30-09.35 Organiser Introduction


09.35-10.05 Gavin Simpson Some aspects of product packaging and recycling in
later mediaeval Baltic trade.
10.05-10.35 Lydia Carr Working partners: Tessa Verney Wheeler; Mortimer
Wheeler, and the Caerleon Amphitheatre
10.35-11.05 Linda Hall Dating fixtures and fittings in historic buildings; work
towards a typology
11.05-11.20 Break – Tea and coffee will be provided

11.20-11.50 Colin Martin The silent shores speak: investigating a maritime


landscape in north Argyll
11.50-12.20 John Schofield, Cassie The Van
Newland, Adrian Myers,
Anna Nilsson and Greg
Bailey
12.20-12.50 Paula Ware A cautionary tale: conflicts of opinion in the
interpretation of an early medieval battlefield
(12.50-14.00) Lunch break – A sandwich lunch will be provided

14.00-14.30 Dominic Powlesland Beneath the Sands of Time: Unravelling the hidden
past of the Vale of Pickering
14.30-15.00 Vincent Gaffney Doggerland: mapping a lost European country

15.00-15.15 Break - Tea and coffee will be provided

15.15-15.45 Brendon Wilkins Time and tide: five millennia of environmental change
and activity on the banks of the Suir
15.45-16.15 Ian Gibb “Shake, Rattle and Roll: Vibration Effects at the
Hampton Court Music Festival”
16.15-17.45 Break
18.00-20.00 Reception in the Refectory, Kings Manor, Archaeology Department,
University of York.
Presentations by Julian Richards

The purpose of the awards is to encourage researchers to present their work, much of which is
fascinating but often little-known, to a wider public. The audience are invited to help with the
judging, and to meet the speakers at a reception at the end of the afternoon when the awards
are presented.
Each speaker will speak for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions from the audience.
V2: Created 30.05.07
Time and Tide: five millennia of environmental change and activity on the
banks of the Suir.

Brendon Wilkins. Headland Archaeology Ltd. Republic of Ireland.

Talking about his dark 1970 Korean War comedy, M*A*S*H, the late
Hollywood filmmaker, Robert Altman, said that he didn’t direct the film—it just
escaped. Looking back on the six months my crew and I spent excavating Site 34,
Newrath, Co. Kilkenny, I know exactly what he meant. Affectionately known by
our team as ‘THE BOG’, this wetland archaeology site was excavated by
Headland Archaeology Ltd on behalf of Waterford City Council, Waterford
County Council, Kilkenny County Council and the National Roads Authority
prior to the construction of the N25 Waterford City Bypass (NGR 259040 114340;
8 m OD; excavation licence no. 03E0319). As summer turned into winter it
descended into a quagmire. One morning we arrived on site to find the whole
area submerged beneath water over a metre in depth. Freak storms had
combined with spring tides and you could canoe from one side of the valley to
the other. But miraculously the waters receded and we lived to tell the tale.

These may well have been the harshest conditions I have ever worked in,
but I also have to admit that it was the best archaeology I have ever excavated.
Site 34 was an exceptionally well-preserved multi-period site comprising 21
individual wooden structures and 5 areas of activity, with almost every chapter
of human history represented in the same excavation. There were Mesolithic flint
scatters on what would have been a dryland surface at the waters edge; Early
Bronze Age trackways intended to cross boggy ground to reach the open water; a
Bronze Age burnt mound on the edge of the wetland area; Iron Age hurdles to
cross tidal creeks for saltmarsh grazing; medieval platforms for the same
purpose; and a 19th-century brick kiln, making use of the abundant alluvial clay.

Situated in an alluvial and estuarine landscape, the wet conditions of Site 34


meant that as well as quantity, Newrath had exceptionally well-preserved
archaeological deposits. In different parts of the wetland area and at different
depths below the present ground surface, we encountered archaeological
material and environmental evidence relating not just to different time periods,
but belonging to different types of landscape. This posed a technical challenge,
but it also presented us with an excellent opportunity to try and understand how
cultural and social practices had changed over time.

Archaeology bridges both the sciences and the humanities, and we draw on
a wide variety of information using a diverse range of skills and techniques to
build a picture of our past. Environmental archaeology is a specialist sub-
discipline that investigates past human environments using techniques
developed in the life sciences like zoology, botany, geology and geomorphology.
By analysing plant and animal microfossils from core samples taken at Newrath,
we have been able to reconstruct past vegetation and sea level. These methods
include:

• Pollen grains from plants living close to the site


• Diatoms: single-celled algae living in the wetland habitats
• Foraminifera: single-celled animals indicative of water salinity

This research has enabled us to recognise the dramatic environmental changes at


Newrath, particularly over the period between 5,000 and 2,000 years ago. As sea
level rose, the dense woodland growing beside the river Suir became
progressively wetter, killing off the trees and replacing them with reedbed.
Further rises transformed this freshwater environment as brackish tidal water
flooded the reedbed, eventually being replaced by open grassy salt mash. The
results have provided us with a framework or a context to understand what kind
of landscape people were living and working in, but it is the structures we find
and the artefacts associated with them that provide the tantalising clues as to
what people were doing in those landscapes—how they were living, how they
were working and, sometimes, even how they were thinking.
It is tempting to explain the different forms of trackway as a cultural
adaptation to the rich wetland environment, but we must beware that our
scientific explanations of how similar landscapes work in the present does not
inhibit our ability to understand how people interpreted their world in the past.
This was not a neutral landscape where the only consideration was access to
resources. Foragers, farmers and fishermen would all have developed a personal
understanding of the wetland landscape, identifying pools and creeks by name
or story – an intimate web of knowledge that powerful influenced how the
landscape was used.

Newrath in the Iron Age, illustrated as a tidal, salt marsh landscape.