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James Sainsbury's blog on the EPIC dig at Sompting Brooks.
Day 1, Monday 6th July
This is the first of a series of short posts about W.A.S' excavations at the Sompting EPIC site which began last Friday (3rd July 2020)
Having laid out the grid and chosen targets last week (the elite survey team of Connie Shirley, Chris Lane and Jon) excavation began on Friday with test pit "A19" and "E19", parallel with the new stream. The aim of these test pits is to ascertain if the worked flints (and possible knapping site) first seen on the stream bank by Theresa Griffiths continue under the top soil into the field.
Both A19 and E19 have produced flakes, blades/bladelets and even cores during the excavations up until this afternoon, and Martin Simons is now firmly into an interesting alluvial layer in A19 (and excavated/recorded the first Small Finds today)
Another two test pits have been opened since Friday - L14 (south and slightly nearer the stream than E19) and O9 (Just west of L14 and very close to the bank)
L14 has produced flint debitage etc and is now coming down onto a large amount of flints and rolled flint pebbles - more to come on this tomorrow we hope.
O9 was opened yesterday and despite some nice flint blades etc we have also had a plastic bag from the first layer - hopefully less of that as we go down!
Meanwhile on the bank itself we have two sites of interest - SS1 & SS2. We are restricted with what we can do here as we can't affect the integrity of the bank - however we are permitted to scrape and clean. SS1 is the site where blades/bladelets were originally noticed - today Jacqueline Lake and Theresa Griffiths carefully cleaned this area with trowel and brush (see photo) Tomorrow the flint finds will be bagged and recorded (and there are some beauties!)
SS2 is south of SS1 and nearer to our test pits - it's a promising "scrape" and Gill Turner bagged and recorded all finds within the area today (see photo)
All in all a great start to the dig, and as we go down through these alluvial layers we just might find a knapping site (with a bit of luck!)
Day 2, Tuesday 7th July
Another fruitful day at Sompting with a smaller team continuing to work down in the test pits. Martin has recorded over 25 small finds in A19 (including a lovely microlith) so this is still our most productive test pit.
John mattocked down in E19 to reach the alluvial layer so we hope to start uncovering more worked flints from here on Thursday.
James quartered L14, an interesting test pit full of larger flint nodules and rolled pebbles, whilst Connie took the opportunity to put down the Total station and dig out O9 (the test pit furthest south and nearest the pit)
Theresa continued scraping and cleaning SS1 and SS2 (with Patricia working on SS2 this morning) A large mix of worked flints to water rolled pebbles have been recorded and await washing on Thursday.
Meanwhile Jennie found a lovely flint core just over in the field (which naturally is outside the area of the project!)
We're not on site tomorrow due to the nasty weather forecast but will be back stronger than ever Thursday morning!
Day 3, Thursday 9th July 2020
Wednesday was rained off.
A rather damp start today but a lot of progress made on this enigmatic site south of Sompting village.
Martin has continued uncovering small flint debitage/flakes in A19 (with over 40 Small Finds now recorded!) which unlike our other three test pits doesn't contain any larger flint inclusions which may be significant!
John dug down in E19, coming onto the same layer (Context 10) where we've decided Small Finds procedure is necessary to properly record any knapping episodes - there was also a small lump of ochre(?) in this test pit (see 'war paint' photo)
Vicky joined us on her birthday today (happy birthday!) and excavated down in L14, uncovering plenty of small flakes and blades but even more large flint nodules and rolled pebbles - possibly brought on to site by human hands, or part of a single flood event.
Malcolm took O9 down to a new context layer - a grey clayey silt (or is that silty clay?!) upon which a thin layer of flint and gravel lay - again this *could* be part of a single natural event, though debitage was recovered. This test pit could be key to understanding the site as it seems this layer is the same as the exposed one in the bank nearby.
Meanwhile along the stream Theresa and Patricia expanded the clean/scrape at SS1, whilst Richard and Lyn carefully cleaned and collected small flint flakes and blades from SS2.
Another great day on site and I'm looking forward to better weather tomorrow!
Day 4, Friday 10th July 2020
Beautiful sunny weather on site and another productive day at Sompting Brooks.
Martin continued to carefully trowel down in A19, with the lovely dark clay producing a total of 99(!) small finds, of which he vast majority are the result of knapping according to Bob which is fantastic.
Richard worked in E19 and has started revealing more small finds, including a lovely flake (see photo)
L14 was photographed with it's large flint/pebble layer before this was removed to reveal even more grotty gravel/flint - Connie's surveying work has showed that this area was on a meander of the old watercourse so perhaps this explains the different nature of this test pit.
Vicky found a microlith in O9 whilst carefully taking the level down to the grey silty clay (or clayey silt!) uncovered yesterday by Malcolm.
Theresa and Jacqui continued the delicate scraping of SS1, with small blades, flakes and other worked flints collected and recorded by the end of the day.
Finally Lyn began a field walking odyssey to the immediate south of the site and collected a large number of struck/worked flints, though many seem to belong to the Bronze Age.
We also had a visit from Alex and Alastair from the EPIC project to see how we were getting on. They recorded some footage on camera and drone which we hope to see in the future!
Day 5, Saturday 11th July 2020
Another lovely day on site with clear sunshine and a fine breeze!
Martin continues to find and record small flint flakes in test pit A19 - there's over 120 bagged from this small 1m squared pit already but there are indications that the frequency is decreasing.
Richard also carefully trowelled down in E19 with more small finds emerging from context 10 (the same context Martin has been working through)
Meanwhile in L14 myself and then Brendon mattocked down into nasty damp clay filled with flint gravel. The purpose of this is to get a nice bulk with the stratigraphy clear enough for photography (see photo) We have very nearly reached the water line in this test pit and plan to close it tomorrow. Few finds have emerged since reaching this layer.
In O9 John continued Vicky's collection of small finds from the grey silty clay in half section which will be continued tomorrow.
In the afternoon Connie and myself laid out a new test pit just west (and nearer to the stream edge) of A19. This new test pit is designated A10 and during the clearance of the topsoil some lovely flakes were uncovered, along with a whole colony of extremely peeved ants.
Work on cleaning, scraping and collecting at SS1 is paused for the weekend so Theresa and Jacqui have the opportunity to finish their delicate work when they return on Monday!
Day 6, Sunday 12th July 2020
A lovely sunny Sunday at Sompting Brooks today where the excavations continue apace...
Martin now has over 150 small finds from test pit A19. The context remains the same (10), a brown silty clay with small flakes, debitage and uncorked flint found.
Brendon worked in E19, where we've seen small finds emerge, a painstaking process as we inch down further into the silt.
When we arrived this morning L14 was holding water after Brendon's sterling work mattocking down yesterday. The different contexts were clearly visible in the bulk but as a retouched flake of Bronze Age date was found in the damp bottom we decided this test pit would be closed. Amy dug down further onto wet grey clay, it was photographed and recorded before being filled (see photo)
John continued working into the grey silty clay in O9, recovering some beautifully small flint blades throughout the day.
I slowly removed the topsoil from the new test pit (A10) and found a number of nice flakes and even a scraper, though these seem to be from a later Neolithic/Bronze Age episode rather than the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition seen in our blade finds. We have high hopes for this test pit in the coming days!
Finally Lyn continued her field walking search and recovered a number of lovely blades along with chunkier Bronze Age flint, all adding to our knowledge of the landscape thousands of years ago.
Day 7, Monday 13th July 2020
Another hot sunny day on site at Sompting Brooks - with plenty of invertebrate visitors, some (dragonflies, butterflies!) more welcome than others (horse flies and their ilk)
A different approach to the test pits today - after analysing the small finds from Martin's A19 it was found that few were worked or showed evidence of a knapping episode. Similar patterns emerged in E19 over the last few days, with both test pits producing nice knapping evidence from the top layers only. Therefore both A19 and E19 were mattocked down to the wetter clay, with all view to photograph and record the stratigraphy.
The deepest point of L14, which was closed yesterday, produced a Bronze Age retouched flake. With similar contexts emerging low down in A19 and E19 we now think the area was a pond or small oxbow lake during the period. The later Meso/early Neo worked flints/debitage we were finding seem to have been brought to this particular area by either flood or plough.
O9 demonstrated a similar story, with beautiful bladelets emerging yesterday but the finds decreasing the further we went down, though we hope to excavate more in this test pit tomorrow.
In A10 we have the same story, some lovely worked flint and debitage of various patinas in the upper layers but much less as we went down through the clay.
Jacqui and Theresa completed their careful cleaning and collecting at SS1 today. With some lovely finds from this area of the stream bank we are now thinking that the best way forward will be to search the bank northwards, plotting in all small finds to create a better picture of the scale of this site. Though we don't believe we've found the knapping area itself we know we are very close by. The alternative theory is that a much larger area was utilised for knapping, possibly between tides or flood events, which would explain the scattered nature of our discoveries.
All still to play for tomorrow!
Day 8, Tuesday 14th July 2020
We had a transitional day on site today with the closure of A19, E19 and O9 after they were photographed and levels recorded on the total station.
A10 produced a few clustered flakes which may be of note but we'll wait until Bob has had a look tomorrow. The plan with A10 is to take the final context (again a brown silty clay with few inclusions) and record/photograph tomorrow before refilling this test pit.
Tomorrow we change tack and target the stream bank to the north of the test pit area - careful find-spotting with labels, nails and the total station will hopefully give us a good idea of how far this general knapping area extends.
It's a jungle up there but with such eager flint-hunters I'm sure a few bramble wounds won't stop us!
Day 9, Wednesday 15th July 2020
All change on site today as the team moved north along the stream with a view to carefully collecting more blades & flakes.
Early on in the day A10 was recorded and filled, making that the last of our 4 test pits to be finished after some mixed results across this area.
However, the stream bank produced some lovely finds later on! Careful brushing/scraping and collecting meant that we recorded over 60 small finds from a small area of the east bank. Using the Total station was difficult at first due to the vegetation but we succeeded in plotting a nice scatter by the end of day.
Tomorrow we plan to take some further auger samples from the test pit area to better understand the varied soil depositions, and maybe we'll make it to the western bank where a few beautiful blades have already been spotted!
Day 10, Thursday 16th July 2020
A short blog post for today as we near the end of our time at the beautiful Sompting Brooks.
Most of the team were carefully brushing and recording small finds in SS4 and SS5, the east and west bank of the stream respectively.
Gill, Jennie and Patricia recorded over 130 confirmed flakes, bladelets and flint debitage. Again we know we're very close to the original knapping area, with numerous finds coming from both banks (its worth bearing in mind the EPIC Project stream cuts through the general area of knapping, hence its discovery during field walking last year!)
Simon and Sue helped Vicky with the augering this afternoon, giving us a better picture of the soil contexts in the area of our filled-in test pits.
We have the final grids to complete in SS5 tomorrow, then perhaps some light fieldwalking after lunch!
Day 11, Friday 17th July 2020
Today was our last session on site at the Sompting Brooks EPIC Project. We finished off collecting and recording on the bank (SS5) with a lovely core fragment being uncovered..
Meanwhile Vicky, John and Donna finished augering in the area of test pits O9 and L14, proving that the soil changes occur south of a Victorian(?) drain, but remain much the same to the north.
Connie and Chris plotted the EPIC Project stream banks to give us a useful background for plotting the finds from the last few days.
It's been a wonderful couple of weeks from my point of view (and hopefully everyone else's!) It wouldn't have been possible without Connie and everyone who attended for however long they could (including our hard-working finds team of course). Thanks are also due to the Sompting EPIC Project for inviting us to excavate at this beautiful site and their support throughout.
Unfortunately we didn't come down onto a knapping floor but we know we can't be far away from a significantly large area of flint-tool making activities, most of which seems to date to the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic. We now have a better understanding of the landscape in this little-investigated field, and can say with confidence that this small area of the Sussex coastal plain was visited by people time and time again thousands of years ago. The hunting opportunities in this wetland environment would have been worth exploiting, and I can't help but conjure up an image of a small mobile community settling down for a while on this spot some 6000 years ago.
Martin and Gilly Simons: Downside, Shoreham Test PitDay 1
27 April 2020
Since moving to our house 5 years ago, every time we planted a shrub it was very hard to get any depth easily, there seemed to be a hard layer of coal ash and clinker quite near the surface. Our house is built on what was a very large World War One army camp in Shoreham, existing from 1914 to 1919. It covered an area of farmland from west of Buckingham Park then east along the north side of Upper Shoreham Road as far as Southlands Hospital and stretched northwards on the Downs to beyond what is now the A27.
Up to 20,000 recruits were housed here at any one time!
So, we decided to dig a metre square test pit in the lawn (more weeds than lawn!), towards the end of our garden, away from our shrub planting efforts. With a little research we discovered we are close to a cookhouse and a drying room in Area 15.
Off came the turf ready to start tomorrow, husband and wife team (wife didn’t want her photo taken)!
Downside, Shoreham Test Pit Day 2
It’s the second day, we got down through 8 inches of topsoil, lots of rubbish finds, bathroom tile, flowerpot, glass, asbestos cement sheet, bits of brick, lots of cinders, several pieces of sandstone of varying thickness, plastic, bits of flint (some interesting, details to follow when we have got through the topsoil) and some very anaemic skinny worms!
One photo for today, three pieces of burnt flint, I like to think probably prehistoric, can’t imagine a soldier would put flint in a hut stove!
Downside, Shoreham Test Pit Day 3
Still working down through topsoil, we went down another 6 inches with similar finds as before until we reached a layer of soft ash where the worms were very fat! We called it a day, could do no more, back ache! Mind you the digging was very easy compared with Sompting!
Today’s photo of miscellaneous finds left to right, a bit mixed up, top to bottom as follows: 4 pieces of sandstone, 2 of bathroom tile, slate, asbestos cement, 4 white china, 1 glazed pottery, fragment of glass jar neck, bit of flowerpot, thin alloy button, miscellaneous plastic, part of a doll, molten aluminium, piece of steel cable and a castor! This is just a selection of the best finds!!!! And a bonus find, a possible axe. Flint finds tomorrow.
Downside, Shoreham Test Pit Day 4
My wife, Gilly, starts trowelling one side, after going through an inch of softish ash/clinker she says “Oh, feels like concrete”. I was a bit gutted she found it and not me! So, we scrape away and yes it does feel solid, impossible to trowel so had a good dig in and managed to break through, it was a two inch thick layer of compacted ash and clinker, really solid. Definitely not a floor as it wasn’t level and followed the downward contour of the slope, not a road surface as not thick enough to support a horse and cart. As it was 10 metres south of our shrub planting efforts it was clear that this compacted surface extended some distance, my guess is it was an assembly area or a very wide pathway between huts. We excavated this surface which was sitting directly on subsoil. There was one find directly underneath, a small piece of white china, probably from a plate or saucer, although I can’t imagine soldiers with saucers! We can assume that all the topsoil we have excavated is imported/created post 1919!
So, the mystery of the hard shrub planting was solved.
The excavation continues!
Today’s photos of the test pit compacted ash surface, and of the flint finds from the topsoil above the compacted surface, top to bottom left to right: blade, small worked out core, possible knife, 3 struck flakes, 4 retouched pieces/flakes.
Downside, Shoreham Test Pit Day 5
We are now trowelling through a silty fine subsoil with scattered flint nodules 1-3 inches, many broken and some by human hand. We excavated about 3 inches when flint nodules became more common together with a number of pieces of burnt flint, and still some worked flints appearing. After a further 3 inches flecks of chalk appeared and over the next few inches small lumps of chalk, before we reached lumpy chalk bedrock at about 30 inches from the surface, the last few inches yielded no finds.
Other than the one piece of white china there were no other finds of historic origin below the compacted ash surface, the surface was so compact that no worms were able to penetrate below.
Photo of the profile today.
Last report tomorrow.
Downside, Shoreham Test Pit Day 6
2 May 2020
Of course, the hole needed filling, we did it layer by layer and made such a good job with compaction that when we put the turves back, we had a dip! Had to import soil from elsewhere to top it up.
We sent this photo to the family; they were horrified that I was standing in such a deep hole! I was actually on my knees in a two-and-a-half-foot deep hole!!!! And no, I wasn’t actually using that pointy spade!
Today’s final two finds photos from below the compacted ash surface are of the burnt flint (top photo) and of the flint finds top to bottom left to right: thick roughly retouched scraper, retouched flake, possible concave scraper, 4 small retouched flints to be further researched, 2 small and 1 large core fragments, 2 possible knives, and 4 retouched flakes/pieces.
I find it astonishing that a randomly dug test pit could produce so many pieces of worked prehistoric flint, just shows what is underground on the lower slopes of the South Downs. And I have no intention of excavating my garden!!!!
Best wishes to all, hope to get digging at Sompting soon, even with a face mask!
Malthouse Field, Sompting by Connie Shirley; Sompting Site Director, Surveyor, Project Manager, and WAS Treasurer Con Ainsworth Memorial Lecture 8 October 2019
Connie began with saying she was honoured to give this lecture as it was Con that first introduced her to archaeology way back in 1986 when she took one of his courses, and she has not looked back since - hence her long list of WAS titles.
Connie introduced the site, an area of land currently in use as horse paddocks just south of the A27, opposite Sompting Church and Sompting Abbotts. The project started when WAS were asked in 2017 to investigate the remains of a small flint building in one of the paddocks that was only meant to be a couple of days work…..
The flint wall that started it all
Showing a bird’s eye image that was taken from a members drone, Connie talked through the site history. From the church - built in the 10th century - to the current Tristram family landowners owning the land since 1879. In 1936 the first South of England show was held there and in 1960 it hosted the Donkey Derby. A 1627 survey documented a Malting House on the site, 1772 Map shows the area as Malthouse Barn Field, Malthouse Field and Malthouse Close, 1896 map shows a pond and line of trees and the 1936 South of England show map shows the excavation area as close to the entrance, empties yard and rabbit stand.
The coast had been extremely close to the site but from the 13th century longshore drift led to the silting up of the local coastline and by the 18th century the land was being farmed. Connie added that a bonus to the work at Malthouse field had been the opportunity for WAS to fieldwalk an area further south of the site as part of the EPIC project which had recently dug a new channel for the local watercourse, exposing potentially prehistoric soil layers and worked flint. Members from WAS had found plenty including a broken Barbed and tanged arrowhead, microliths and a knapping site.
Summarising what had been found to date, Connie discussed the structure under the tree which had substantial walls and floor tiles. It could have held water but no drain was located. A pathway leading to it had oyster shell and clay pipe in it. A flint wall running east- west abuts the rectangular building and could be part of an earlier structure. A north-south flint wall contained a chalk block structure that revealed a well. On John Mill’s advice the 2019 excavations targeted the well cut which could date its construction. A clay with flints layer was discovered adjacent to the well cut, potentially deposited at the end of the last ice age and containing worked flint. When it became too deep to excavate the well cut further, an auger sample took the excavation to a total depth of 3.6 meters and revealed medieval pottery and struck flint.
The well cut: the depths members had to sink to
A compact ‘yard like’ surface was located below the north-south flint wall, and features that could be postholes were identified running along the middle of the building complex. The features are comparable with other known excavated Malthouse sites. A pit was also discovered that contained medieval pottery, oyster shell and worked flint, possibly evidence of an earlier occupation. Gordon Hayden then made a guest appearance via a video Connie showed from 2018 where he discussed layers of burning located within one of the trenches.
The 2019 excavations had only just finished so results are still being analysed, but trench targets had been established through Geophysical surveys in the spring. One survey had identified features in other paddocks. One was natural geology but the other (Trench 10) contained a modern water pipe (probably associated with the 1936 show), a degraded chalk surface which is found across the site which had features dug into it, a potentially military-cut trench, Romano-British pottery and a medieval pit containing Saxo-Norman pot sherds.
The enigma that was Trench 10
Building materials from across the site include substantial amount of flint, chalk, brick and evidence of wattle and daub. A piece of Caen stone from a mullion window was also discovered which contained a VV (Virgin of Virgins) apotropaic mark, possibly reused from another site. Finds include Prehistoric, Romano-British, medieval and later pottery, two 16th century Nuremberg Jettons and a French clay pipe stem (Connie likes to think it is evidence of smuggling). A piece of Bronze Age pottery contained a thumb print and some of the medieval pottery could be from Binsted.
More modern finds include glass, a powder compact, a key for a Hornby ‘0’ gauge toy train and a tube of Gleam toothpaste.
The flint finds indicate temporary hunting and farming but not permanent settlement.
Connie finished by revealing that a recent Tristram family document had come to light from 1758 showing another building on the site which could line up with one of the as yet unexcavated geophysical anomalies, possibly evidence of an earlier building. That’s for next year….to be continued ………
Some of the finds
Worthing Library is undergoing building works starting in the Autumn 2019, so beginning with the November 12th lecture, the venue will be The Gordon Room, next to The Assembly Room around the corner in Stoke Abbot Road.
The timing will alter also as the room must close earlier than the library. The venue will be open from 7pm for notices, coffee and chat, the lecture running between 7:30 and 8:30pm.