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Buried in time – some Langstone Harbour flints.

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.

John Bowers with a few of the Hayling Island finds.

John Bowers with a few of the Hayling Island finds.

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 main channels, mud flats and islands

The main channels, mud flats and islands

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.

Flints in focus - the eyes have it.

Flints in focus – the eyes have it.

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.

The Hayling volume

The Hayling volume

* There is a feature on Chris Draper and his archaeological work at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.

Further reading:

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.

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Buried in time – Mesolithic picks and ‘tranchet axes’

Oh dear! For many years I’ve been telling people that the ‘tranchet axe’, typical of the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 6,000 years ago) was so named because ‘tranchet’ was the French for ‘cross-blow’ and it was this action that produced a chisel-like cutting edge. Not so; a ‘tranchet’ is a hunting or paring knife and puts a slightly different slant on things, if you see what I mean.  ‘Trancher’, the verb, means ‘to slice’, so I’m probably just splitting hairs, but I’ll go with that in future.

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Tranchet axe from Whitehill, Bordon.

Tranchet axe from Whitehill, Bordon.

Tranchet axes are comparatively numerous in Hampshire. J J Wymer, in his gazetteer of Mesolithic sites, describes how they vary considerably in size (anything from 100mm to 200mm in length) and that they are often referred to as ‘Thames Picks’, as so many have been dredged from that river.  They would originally have been hafted in wooden shafts, but these rarely survive.  The real ‘picks’ are more crudely manufactured, and often have a distinctive ‘banana’ shape. They can also be larger – the example from Privett is 270mm in length.

Primed for action: a pick from Privett with a replica handle

Primed for action: a pick from Privett with a replica handle

At Broom Hill, Braishfield, near Romsey, 113 axes and adzes were found and, in 1982, this could be claimed as the largest number from any single site in the United Kingdom. Michael O’Malley put this down to the good local supply of quality flint and that the inhabitants may have been making dug-out canoes. This number contrasts with the twenty tranchet axes recovered from Star Carr and neighbouring sites in Yorkshire.

A typical selection from the Willis collection

A typical selection from the Willis collection

George Willis (centre) and companions out searching for flints.

George Willis (centre) and companions out searching for flints.

Another pioneer archaeologist who made the most of the southern distribution was George Willis of Basingstoke. In the 1920s, he and his companions were dedicated ‘flinters’ in the fields of North Hampshire and found scores of artefacts. Their tally for 1928, for example, includes over 70 chipped or flaked axes and adzes and is typical of their endeavours.  They did more than their bit in picking the fields clean – so much so that you’d be hard-pressed to find such a tool in the ploughsoil today.

A more typical discovery would be that made by Adam Carew, in the roots of a tree at Whitehill, Bordon, (top) another area generally rich in evidence of the Mesolithic period.

References:

CBA Research Report 20, (1977) Gazetteer of Mesolithic sites in England & Wales, J J Wymer (ed).

O’Malley, M, (1982) When the Mammoth Roamed Romsey, A Study of the Prehistory of Romsey and District. LTVAS.

Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone.

Willis Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Digging deeper

The Hampshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is a fantastic tool. Under its alternative title of the Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record (AHBR) it can be accessed and interrogated on-line in all manner of ways. If you want to know whether your village, town or parish hides items of archaeological or historical interest it’s the place to start, and it can lead you on a trail towards obscure reports (we call them ‘grey literature’) as well as published evidence.

Using the database it’s easy to get hooked on searching for your favourite type of site – Roman villas, for instance (104 results) – and then while away an evening, sifting through the various leads, which might head you towards some splendid find displayed in a museum, or alternatively into a ditch terminal. As more and more illustrative material becomes digitally available and linked-in, the historic environment will be more and more at our fingertips and our appreciation of what has gone before will be much enhanced.

One large step along this route has been taken by the staff of the Hampshire County Council Historic Environment Section, with the release of the Atlas of Hampshire’s Archaeology. Using the 50,000 records at their disposal, David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Alan Whitney (Historic Data Manager) have produced a set of forty maps which span the periods from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) which began around 10,000 years ago, to the end of the Roman occupation (about 1600 years ago). The excellent base maps employ either topography (15 altitude bands) or landscape type (derived from a palette of 25 pastel shades) and this, together with the river systems, allows the current character of the country to be easily read.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named 'Soldier's Ring' is represented by the hedgeline and diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the horizon.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named ‘Soldier’s Ring’, a Romano-British enclosure, is represented by the hedgeline and foreground diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the near horizon.

When it comes to putting things on the map, there are at least forty different symbols employed, but these range from just three for our Middle Stone Age ancestors, to eleven on one of the Roman maps. This inevitably leads to a bit of congestion, especially when the symbol for a single find is essentially larger than an industrial estate, but care has been taken to make everything fit sympathetically.

A genuine sense of distribution can be obtained for all periods – and an appreciation of the physical relationship of communities with soil types and river systems. It highlights the enigma of the Neolithic in Hampshire – long barrows, yes, but why on earth no causewayed enclosures, cursus monuments or henges? It also shows how, by the following Bronze Age – to judge from the spread of round barrows – there were no ‘no go’ areas. In the Iron Age – a period blessed with 14 maps – grain and wool processing are among particular activities that can be teased out and ‘banjo enclosures’ also have their part to play; on the Roman maps, the layout of the road system brings communications well and truly to the fore.

The 'banjo enclosure' at Nettlebank Copse - investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

The Iron Age ‘banjo enclosure’ at Nettlebank Copse – investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

Roman roads are an interesting subject, and have a number of people committed to their study. The current maps don’t include the routes through the New Forest surveyed by Arthur Clarke (2003), the last Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, which would enhance the western approaches. Other features that don’t fare well (in the Bronze Age) are the so-called ‘ranch boundaries’, sometimes termed ‘Wessex linears’, which are represented by a static symbol when their role, interpreted by some as the first tangible manifestation of territories (Cunliffe, 1993), would be better shown by a true representation.

The maps are accompanied by short essays summarising the character of each period, particularly with regard to the landscape. Indeed, the word ‘landscape’ wins out in any word count and is perhaps a little repetitive, especially when it is contrasting the  ‘farmed’ with the ‘wild’. True, the landscape is the canvas holding the scene together, but with such vivid and varied pictures being painted by the human activity, it could perhaps be allowed to slip into the background a little. Alternatively, simpler maps showing the advance of the ‘farmed’ at the expense of the ‘wild’ would make the point – but would take a lot more preparation!

George Willis and friends picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints - in the 1920s.

George Willis and friends in the 1920s – picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints.

The maps throw up a number of issues not explored in the text, issues that tend to dog distribution maps. The concentration of finds in certain areas will be the result of individual fieldwork (George Willis et al around Basingstoke, for example, or Malcolm Lyne (2012) in Binsted and environs) and the growth of certain towns (Basingstoke, Andover etc) will have provided many more opportunities for discovery than other locations. Aerial cover will also be uneven, although in time the increasing use of LIDAR will bring greater equality. As a result there will inevitably be some bias on display, but the maps do a brilliant job in presenting the current state of knowledge and providing food for thought.

And in so doing, they are the perfect spur and complement to further research. The national ‘Atlas of Hillforts’ , for example, is nearing completion and it will be interesting to see how much variety is proposed in the survey for the forty or so ‘hillforts’ on the Hampshire map. Also, the Roman layout is forever being reconsidered – including roads that deviate for unknown reasons – whither Vindomis? etc ; and the monumental ‘desert’ that is the Neolithic remains as intriguing as ever.

So do make use of the maps – and having taken in the broad sweep of thousands of years of human history, consult the Historic Environment Record, and dig a little deeper.

Dave Allen, Curator of Hampshire Archaeology, Hampshire Cultural Trust

References;

Clarke, A (2003) The Roman road on the eastern fringe of the New Forest, Hampshire Studies, Vol 58, 33-58

Cunliffe, B W  (1993), Wessex to A D 1000. p129 ff

Lyne, M (2012), Archaeological Research in Binsted, Kingsley and Alice Holt Forest, BAR British Series 574