Day of Archaeology – Sylvia Warman English Heritage Science Advisor (London)

My first task was to check the tide tables for December to identify the best date for our annual visit to the submerged forest at Erith, on the south bank of the Thames. This is an amazing place where Prehistoric woodland became flooded due to rising sea-levels and both the trees and the peat that formed around them have been preserved beneath the modern Thames. The site is only well exposed at the lowest tides of the year. This site is continuously eroded and visiting each year helps us to record what has been lost as well as identifying new exposures. This is one of several sites across England being studied as part of the Exceptional Wetland and Waterlogged Heritage project under the National Heritage Protection Plan

Next I followed up on a site I had visited earlier in the week in Southwark on Queen Elizabeth Street. The area had previously revealed field systems o f Neolithic to Early Bronze Age date; hence an archaeological evaluation was requested. The test-pit had not produced any archaeological artefacts or features but it did contain a palaeochannel (remains of a stream). This was not a surprise as this area is known to include a number of channels that once flowed into various tributaries of the Thames such as the NeckingerRiver. I then searched The British Geological Survey online borehole records and I found that several boreholes had been carried out in neighbouring streets. The information from these will help the archaeological contractors in interpreting the results of the evaluation as the field work will be followed up by laboratory work on samples and a written report.

Another aspect of the work of Science Advisors is developing free guidance on archaeological science for those working in the heritage sector. One of the older titles is the 2001 publication on Archaeometallurgy (the study of ancient metal working). This title is being reviewed and updated by colleagues at FortCumberland (where EH has its laboratories and specialists in a range of disciplines within archaeological science). Before the new version is drafted we are re-reading the original and looking out for areas where it can be improved; new case studies to add and updating of references to other methods such as dating techniques. It is also important to ensure any references to the planning system include the most recent legislation.

My day ended with a train journey which provided some time to read another chapter of London’s Lost Rivers by Nick Barton. Following on from the Southwark site I had looked at in the morning I chose the chapter on The Rivers of the South.