To Leeds, to meet with John Bowers, who in the late 1960s and early 70s was one of an intrepid band collecting prehistoric flintwork from the muddy foreshores of Langstone Harbour. John’s real interest lay in bird watching and other natural history pursuits, but encouraged by Chris Draper*, he and his wife joined in rescuing the flint and pottery revealed by the shifting tides, and benefited from ‘identification sessions’ with Roger Jacobi and others.
With the passage of time, John feels it is now appropriate for the flints to find their way to an established archive, and with most of the harbour falling within the Havant Borough Council area, the Hampshire Cultural Trust has offered to take them in. A reasonable number of the tools and artefacts have details of location (and the collection date), some more common types, such as scrapers, have just the location.
The Harbour has been the focus of considerable interest over the years, with Barry Cunliffe and Richard Bradley cutting their archaeological teeth in the area while still at school. In more recent years Mike Hughes, while County Archaeologist, instituted a programme of work that ran for nine years (1992 – 2000) involving Portsmouth & Southampton Universities and the Hampshire & Wight Maritime Trust, to look in detail at the intertidal zones.
Fieldwork was, of necessity, more restricted than fifty years ago. Langstone Harbour is one of the most important bird reserves in the country and much of it is out of bounds to the general public and was only available to the project for three weeks in the year. Nevertheless, the survey produced 53 new sites and distinct features for the Historic Environment Record, as it plotted the submerged and semi-submerged landscape. Dense scatters of Mesolithic to Bronze Age flints sat alongside large pieces of Bronze Age pottery associated with a hearth; and formerly complete Bronze Age urns were found in some number.
The work showed that to Mesolithic communities (c 8,000 years ago) the area was a low-lying valley, 40km from the sea and it provided a rich source of raw flint, exposed in the gravels of the river beds. By the Bronze Age (4000 years ago) permanent settlement and barrows were constructed on the coastal plain, while the harbour area would have been suitable for summer grazing. It was only in the Iron Age (2500 years ago) that the sea-level rose sufficiently to allow saltwater ingress, and salt making industries exploited the brine-filled creeks. Oysters would have been fished here in Roman times, and the harbour may have been accessible to Roman ships.
* There is a feature on Chris Draper and his archaeological work at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.
Allen & Gardiner (2000), Our Changing Coast: a survey of the intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour, Hampshire. CBA Research Report 124.
Allen & Gardiner (2001) Langstone Harbour, Hants Field Club Newsletter, 36 p 3-5.