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Creating a timeline of East Wear Bay

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Since the excavation finished in August 2016 there has been a flurry of activity behind the scenes as we make sense of the information collected from this season of excavation. Our lovely volunteers from FRAG have been washing and sorting the vast amount of finds we collected, and at the office we have begun to create a timeline of events. In this blog post I am going to take you through how we create our timeline and split our site into phases of activity.

This is one of the final shots taken by John Stevens with his drone at the 2016 excavation. You can see every feature we excavated throughout the 2015 and 2016 seasons in all their splendid glory (I love drones because you can get these wonderful vertical full trench shots). All of the archaeology that has taken place in the trench from way back when to the modern day is in this picture so our next job is to pick all of that information apart to make our timeline.

How do you even start picking that jumble of features apart?

Whilst we were on site we made meticulous records of everything we excavated. Newcomers to field archaeology are often surprised at how much paperwork an archaeological site can generate and unsurprisingly this part of the field work is often glossed over on the TV in favour of the exciting excavation action. Archaeology is destructive so we need to make sure we make careful notes as we go along. The trench is now back-filled so there is no 'popping back to have a quick check' - our records are the only evidence of the excavation that we have!

Andy MacIntosh (our site manager) and Isobel Curwen (our site supervisor) would have had a good idea of what they thought they were digging up as the field school progressed so we take the notes, photographs, drawings, and survey data, and couple it with the evidence we have from the finds from the features, and begin to piece together a picture of what happened when on our site. Simple!

Great...tell us what you found out then.

Currently we have three phases of activity with phase one looking like this:

(you will note the 'top' of the trench is now to the left).

Perhaps the first thing you might notice is that a lot of the features have 'disappeared'. That's because this plan only looks at features from the Middle Iron Age (300BC-120BC) - the rest of the features are later, but more on them at a different time.

The earliest confidently dated feature on this site is the large ditch dated to the second century BC (from the pottery which came out of it). You've already seen a birds eye view of it so here is one from ground level:

You can see it's pretty large! The Iron Age people used these ditches to mark boundaries, possibly into a settlement or for field boundaries, and that's exactly what we think this is. It might possibly be defensive, but large as it is the defensive ditches of this period are usually bigger and come with a bank (typically).

The smaller post-holes (coloured yellow on the plan) are a bit of an enigma as no finds were recovered from the fills. We are pretty confidant that the large ditch cuts through them, so they must be earlier than the second century BC. Using the eye of faith you can almost see them making a line running north-east/south-west and it is tempting to think they are part of an earlier structure. Further investigation to the area outside of the trench could shed some light, but that will be a few years in the future yet.

The final feature in this phasing is labelled as 'Middle Iron Age feature', although on closer examination it looks like it was probably filled up by this time. Now this was a very exciting discovery right at the end of the 2016 season, in fact our field school students had gone home, and was found underneath the layers making up the Greensand stone working area (phase 2). Here's a picture of it being excavated:

The feature has been interpreted as a natural pond - possibly not the find of the century - but an exciting discovery for us in two ways. Firstly there were flint tools found in this feature which possibly date to the Upper Palaeolithic (approx. 40,000BC to 8,300BC) which extends the timeline of human occupation in the area back thousands of years. Secondly we can get environmental evidence from the soil which will tell us what the environment was like throughout the different time periods. By analysing the pollen, and by looking at the physical plant and animal remains which came out of the pond sediment, we can build up a detailed picture on what the climate was like and when people came to East Wear Bay to settle and farm. We will be looking at the other side of this feature in this seasons field school.

Phase 1 summary

A cluster of post-holes were excavated but turned up no dating material, these have been preliminary dated to the Iron Age, but before the 2nd century BC

when a field boundary ditch running north-south across the site was constructed. No evidence for the settlement relating to this ditch have been found in this trench - perhaps we will uncover it during this seasons work!

For more information on how pollen analysis and environmental archaeology works:

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