Touching the Tide is a three-year Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, covering the Suffolk coast between Covehithe to Felixstowe, which began in 2013. The project is commissioning a series of archaeological digs and training courses to engage residents in the changing nature of the coast and the impact it had on former inhabitants. Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) have been invited by Touching the Tide to run two training events for local volunteers in Snape this spring, the first of which was a field-walking day on 15th February 2014.
Snape lies on the north bank of the River Alde, 6km west of Aldeburgh, centrally located along the Suffolk coastline. A group of eight Bronze Age round barrows near the present village were excavated in the 19th and 20th centuries and found to be re-used in the 6th century AD as a cemetery comprising of inhumations, cremations and three ship burials, similar to that of nearby Sutton Hoo at Woodbridge. You can read more about the Snape Anglo-Saxon cemetery and the archaeology of the Suffolk coast in a report produced by Suffolk County Council in 2007 here. Last weekend’s field-walking took place west of a new housing development in the north of the village, where pre-construction archaeological investigation found evidence for prehistoric, Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon use of the site.
Dr Carenza Lewis began the training with an introductory talk on the aims, methods and achievements of archaeological field-walking in Snape Village Hall, which was followed by a finds handling session. Sue Anderson, of Spoilheap Archaeology, joined ACA for the day as a pottery and small finds specialist. She will also be helping with two of ACA’s Higher Education Field Academies in Norfolk this summer.
A recconnaissance of the field was undertaken earlier in the week by Bill Jenman, manager of Touching the Tide, to check that it was not under water following the recent rainfall and flooding concerns. Thankfully the sandy soil had drained well and the rain weathered the surface of the crop-free field which gave good visibility for spotting finds. It was very windy in the morning when laying out the grid but remained relatively warm, sunny and dry until the last half hour of the field-walking, after which we returned to the village hall for tea and Bill’s home-made honey and ginger cake!
The volunteers completed walking a 20m grid of the field on Saturday and washed the finds after they had been provisionally sorted by Sue back at the base. The day concluded with an initial overview of what had been found. The majority of the finds were post-medieval pottery and ceramic building material but some burnt and struck flint were found as well as medieval pottery, including a sherd of possible early German stoneware. The pottery will be sent away for specialist analysis and a distribution map of the results will be available on the ACA project reports webpage in due course.
Many of the volunteers were members of the Aldeburgh & District Local History Society, which led a community archaeological excavation at Barbers Point, on the southern bank of the River Alde near Iken, last September. The three week dig was funded by Touching the Tide to continue their investigation of a Saxon burial site, thought to be very early Christian dating to 700-750AD. You can watch a video about their discoveries on the BBC website here, and read the dig’s daily blog on their website here.
Other participants were volunteers for the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding National Beauty, for whom this was their first experience of archaeological fieldwork. In feedback completed at the end of the day, 95% of the participants rated the day as ‘excellent’ and 95% would recommend the activitiy to others. Below are a selection of quotes from the volunteers:
“I was impressed by the academic basis of it and it made me feel that it might genuinely contribute something useful.” (CS)
“This particular event was productive and gave immediate results, therefore rewarding.” (VC)
“Excellent cake!” (RJ)
“Well run, informative, good fun.” (VR)
“Field walking is something that both of us have wanted to do for a long time, but have not had the connections to be able to do so. I found the whole day to be both fascinating and stimulating; the fact that you can possibly deduce the boundaries of manorial lands via the density of manuring and therefore the finds was a good example! Carenza gave a very clear presentation to set the scene, well backed up with examples. As she said, by the afternoon session we seemed to be more discerning as to what was bagged so we had indeed got our eye in.” (TP & CP)
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