Coastal archaeology

Model CITiZAN: archaeology outreach in miniature

Lara Band, CITiZAN Archaeologist for Training, takes a quick break from model building, while the MDF sealant dries and taking this opportunity to write a little bit about what she’s been up to on this Day of Archaeology….

I’m an archaeologist for CITiZAN, the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network, one of the two archaeologists for the South East region which stretches from King’s Lynn to Pagham Harbour. CITiZAN is an Heritage Lottery Funded community archaeology project with the remit to record and monitor at risk archaeology along England’s coastline and estuaries. We run training days for people to develop recording and monitoring skills and encourage people to add to and update our interactive map of coastal and intertidal archaeology via our website and app.

So what’s the model for? Well, as well our site based training days we can be found at various events around the region, talking to people and encouraging them to join us. We have a dig box and a planning frame for people to try and this model is to add a bit more hands on fun: if we can’t take people to the foreshore then we’ll bring the foreshore to the people. In miniature.

The base of the CITiZAN archaeological model with the sealant drying in the sun

The base of the CITiZAN archaeological model with the sealant drying in the sun.

The model is going to be a 6’ long rendition of a somewhat idealised section of coastline and estuary; people will be able to make their own archaeological feature in plasticine then record it with our app. So far today I’ve built the base, the frame and, at least in part, the banks behind the foreshore. I love small versions of big things as well as any chance to be creative, and I hope it’ll be a good way of introducing people to our app, and the types of archaeology they might find in the intertidal zone.

Lara starts to build up the landscape of her coastal archaeology model for CITiZAN

Lara starts to build up the landscape of her coastal archaeology model for CITiZAN.

We’re trialing it at Broadstairs Folk Week on 9th-10th August where thanks to Thanet District Council’s Coastal Communities Fund we’ll be sharing a space with the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society. We’ll be in Balmoral Garden all day both days so come and say hello. On the 1st September we’ll be taking it to the National Maritime Museum for our part in their late night event Treasures of the Thames. I’m really excited about that!

Well, the sealant will be dry, so it’s time to start putting the landscape in the frame, to  think about paints and finishes and to carry on wondering whether bits of the slightly manky looking sheepskin coat that’s been flytipped at the end of my road might make good saltmarsh, if painted green. Onwards!

A Day in the life of CITiZAN Community Archaeologists

CITiZAN is the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network. We’re Megan and Andy, the team’s Northern office. Between us we cover the English coast, running between the Scottish border and the Dee on the west coast and the border to the Wash on the east.1

Discussing coastal erosion with the Historic England’s inspector for the World Heritage site of Hadrians Wall on the coast of the Solway Firth

Over the last few days we have been travelling down the north-western coast of England from Cumbria to Lancashire; staying in Maryport and Morecambe. Along the way we’ve been stopping off to explore exciting intertidal and coastal archaeology. Our preparation for the Day of Archaeology started on Thursday with Andy whizzing off to the record office. Meanwhile, Megan went off to site for a reccy ahead of a guided walk around the 7th-century chapel.

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The 7th-century St. Patrick’s Chapel on the dramatic coast of Morcambe Bay

Andy spent most of the day searching out historic records; seeking 19th century and early plans of the area for a community training session in map regression. Among the things he found was a list of fruit trees planted by the rector of St Peters (the successor of the early medieval chapel) recorded in the list of Birth, Burials and Marriages for 1773.

Meanwhile Megan was out at the site planning her tour. The guided walk started at Rectory Gardens Wood, looking at the terraces where the rector had planted his apple, plum, pear and cherry orchard. She then moved on to look at Mesolithic settlement sites and Second World War practice trenches on Heysham Head before heading to the early medieval St Patrick’s Chapel, a National Trust owned site with unique, enigmatic rock cut graves. She finished at the 10th century St Peters Church, where several medieval cross bases and a hogback stone nestle amongst Post-medieval gravestones.

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Megan discusses the Mesolithic settlement of Heysham Head on her guided walk

The Day of Archaeology itself started with a big fry-up before heading to St. Patrick’s Chapel, to kick off a two-day building recording event. The 7th-century chapel overlooks the stunning Morecambe Bay and although it stands on a sandstone promontory, a good 10 metres above mean sea level, is at serious risk of erosion and destruction with several metres of the headland having disappeared since the turn of the 20th century.

The morning was spent teaching interested member of the public the theory of archaeology recording; off-set planning, buildings recording, taking levels and photographs. It was a lot of information for our novices to take in but everybody enjoyed themselves.

In the afternoon we put the classroom sessions into practice. There was a chance to plan the rock-cut graves; some with head sockets and others with indications of slab coverings. The graves proved a little bit challenging but our volunteers ploughed on. Next they moved on to drawing an elevation of the chapel, much of it ruinous, with the west wall completely gone. But a fantastic Anglo-Saxon doorway in the south wall remained. Intrigued by the arched door, with three similar doors reconstructed in St Peters Church, they discussed it with Paul Gwilliam, our building’s expert.  Debating whether the doorway was in its original position or whether it was moved during the early 20th century reconstruction of the chapel.

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Our volunteers record the enigmatic rock-cut graves

All these processes are how a buildings archaeologist would go about recording a site such as St. Patrick’s Chapel. Our volunteers now have the skills to record their medieval church and monitor the erosion caused by Morecambe Bay.  The three CITiZAN offices, based in York, Portsmouth and London will be teaching archaeological skills on beaches, cliff tops and intertidal zones around England in the next three years.  Hopefully every training session will be as fun as today!

CITiZAN explores wrecks in the rain

CITIZAN South East has been having a wet and soggy day in Maldon at the start of a three day event for the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology.

The Small Unmanned Aircraft survey of the ‘barge graveyard’ was sadly curtailed by the rain, but an interesting conversation was held with a passing coastal geomorphologist. In the afternoon the Thames Barge Sailing Trust kindly gave us a tour of the barge Pudge, not just a barge but also a Dunkerque little ship. This was followed by a talk on the history of these fascinating vessels, “the heavy goods vehicles of the Victorian age”.

The tour and talk was especially interesting as we’ll be recording the remains of barges over Saturday and Sunday at the ‘barge graveyard‘and again later in September (dates and volunteer opportunities to be announced). Despite the rain it was a most successful  day!

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Moving a dune, eroding archaeology on Scotland’s north east coast.

The sand dunes at Brora, Sutherland, on Scotland’s north east coast, are over four metres high. Buried within them are the remains of the late 16th / early 17th century saltpans. Over the centuries, the wind had blown sand over the site, completely covering it until it became forgotten about.

Sand dune at Brora

Sand dune at Brora

In recent years, coastal erosion had exposed part of the front wall of one of the buildings, and on the Day of Archaeology, we finished machining and started cleaning up the site.

We knew that masonry remained buried in the dunes as we had uncovered half of a building in 201. Although we had seen the front wall of the buried portion, we did not know how much would survive.

In order to uncover the site, we had to remove hundreds of tons of sand and had spent the previous two days landscaping the dune. Removing the sand would allow us to work safely , but we had to make sure that the wind would not blow away the reshaped dune, so were replacing the turf on the remodelled dune as quickly as possible.

Machine stripping of dune

Machine stripping of dune

We were finished with the machine by 9:00am (the machine driver had another job to go to so started early, one of the benefits of long summer days up in the north!). The machine had taken out the bulk of the sand while we dug close to the walls to ensure that the machine bucket didn’t damage the masonry.

Cleaning site by hand

Cleaning site by hand

When the machine had gone, the walls plotted with the EDM, and loose of unsafe masonry was drawn, photographed and then removed.

Using an EDM for survey

Using an EDM for survey

There was also much collapsed masonry within the building, and once the machine had left, this had to be removed by hand.

Heavy work, moving stones

Heavy work, moving stones

We also spent time videoing Calum, a young volunteer who helped us out last year also, and had been inspired to use the Brora dig for a school project.

By the end of the day, we had cleared enough sand to reveal a small room, roughly 4 m x 4.5m, with a doorway facing the sea and a fireplace in one wall. While machining we had seen the lintel of the fireplace and it seemed to have initials carved into it. As we removed more sand from around it, we could see that there were further initials on one of the jambs; the other had nicks etched into its edge, perhaps where people had sharpened their knives.

Fireplace

Fireplace

The project had been initiated due to Jacqueline Aitken’s passion for, and concerns about, the archaeology of Brora. Jacquie remembers playing on eroding masonry (now long gone) when she was a child and was worried that Brora’s industrial heritage was being washed away by the sea. A member of the Clyne Heritage Society, she contacted SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) and a joint project, (also involving the University of St Andrews where Jo and I are based), was established. Thanks to funding from Historic Scotland, a small bit of Brora’s past is being recorded before it is lost forever.

Clyne Heritage group members

Clyne Heritage group members