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MoLAS 2004: annual review

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Selected projects 2004: Heritage management

Torre Abbey, Devon (TAC02)

Remains of Torre Abbey (© MoLAS)

Clients: Torbay Council

Author: Chris Thomas

Site supervisor: David Saxby

Works in 2004 at Torre Abbey for Torbay Council were undertaken to provide a mitigation strategy for the main Heritage Lottery funded scheme to renovate the museum there, which is due to commence in summer 2005. The west and south ranges of the Premonstratensian abbey survive, although much altered in the 16th–20th centuries when they were the residence of the Cary family. The church and east range survive only as ruins.

The client and English Heritage identified a number of areas where excavation or demolition might affect areas of the abbey with unknown significance and ‘opening-up’ works have been carried out in all these areas. Parts of the above-ground structure include the east wall of the west range (the abbot’s hall and parlour) where the outline of two cloister roofs and a number of windows have been identified, two late 16th-century staircases that possibly led up to a main staircase where the boiler room now lies and parts of the altar to the late 18th-century chapel.

The below-ground works were supervised by David Saxby with a team of one or two archaeologists. The areas were mostly sited in the cloister although one other trench was excavated west of the west range. The three trenches in the cloister have located the eastern and southern walls of the inner cloister wall; this will allow the former cloister space to be opened up as part of the main scheme. They have also uncovered a number of medieval drains, some incorporated into the cloister walls. One such took water from the lavabo which still survives in the east wall of the west range.

A second piece of work, carried out by Dave Mackie and Joe Severn, was to provide a full two-dimensional survey of the abbey and its grounds, both as an aid to the archaeological and survey works, and as a long-term landscape management tool. The survey located the exterior plan of all the buildings plus all the ruins as well as paths, boundary walls and other major features.

River Darent

Looking across the River Darent (© MoLAS)

Clients: Environment Agency

Author: Chris Thomas

The River Darent, where it enters the Thames, is known as Dartford Creek. The first phase of work on Dartford Creek involved updating a desk-based study for the Environment Agency originally done in 1999 and this has now been completed. The original study found that there were a number of archaeological features, in particular wooden structures (jetties, brushwood platforms, mooring points, etc) of indeterminate ages, along the west bank of the Darent which might be adversely affected by tides and erosion. The update, carried out by Dan Swift and Pete Rauxloh in August 2004, has found that some of the structures have survived well but others have suffered from erosion or, conversely, have been partly covered by river silts.

The next phase of work is to recover samples of wood from some of the structures in order to date them, either by radiocarbon dating or, if possible, by dendrochronological dating. Once this has been done we can assess the relative importance of the structures and advise the Environment Agency how best to preserve or record the structures in the future.

Thames Strategy East

Reconstruction of prehistoric Thames floodplain (© MoLAS)

Clients: Thames Estuary Partnership

Author: Sophie Jackson

MoLAS has provided the archaeological component of the cultural heritage assessment for the Thames Strategy East project, between Tower Bridge and Gravesend and Tilbury, working closely with Alan Baxter Associates (Historic Buildings) and LDA Design, who have coordinated and produced the overall strategy. The project has been commissioned by the Thames Estuary Partnership and will provide strategic planning guidance to the relevant local authorities.

The strategy involved the collation and examination of information contained within the Greater London Sites and Monuments Record for the study area, together with scheduled monument information, British Geological Survey drift and solid geology data, UK Hydrographic data on known and suspected wrecks in the Thames channel, historical maps, site reports and relevant UPDs (updated project designs). Information was also gathered through consultations with relevant curators and a workshop. These data were filtered and presented on a GIS (geographical information system). A chronological overview was prepared together with reach summaries, an assessment of sensitivity to development, and management and enhancement proposals. The result is a comprehensive overview of the archaeological resource, which has been fed into the wider environmental strategies for the Thames Strategy East area.

Most of the work took place between December 2003 and February 2004 and was coordinated by Julian Ayre and Jon Chandler.

Aggregates and archaeology — mapping sub-surface landscapes (London)

Palaeolithic handaxe from Hackney (© MoLAS)

Clients: English Heritage

Author: Emily Burton

Understanding site history is a vital part of the development process and a crucial method in avoiding potentially expensive, unexpected archaeological finds. The cost of aggregate extraction has increased since the introduction of the government´s Aggregates Levy that came into effect in 2002 and aims to reduce the demand for aggregates. It is, therefore, important for extraction companies and developers to obtain reliable information about the archaeological risk involved in aggregate excavation.

The Lea Valley mapping project was funded by English Heritage (EH) under the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) and carried out by MoLAS in collaboration with British Geological Survey (BGS), and supported by a team of academic, university- and EH-based, advisers.

The Lower Lea Valley lies in an area earmarked for regeneration, where extensive quarrying has been carried out in the past and continues in places. The impact of future quarrying and the process of regeneration will involve large-scale groundworks that will affect archaeological deposits. Very little is yet known about the archaeology that lies within the buried deposits of the Lea Valley but ALSF funding has provided an opportunity to redress this, through a mapping project designed to predict areas of archaeological potential within the buried and unknown Quaternary stratigraphy. These deposits have previously been mapped by the BGS mainly as Holocene alluvium and Pleistocene river terraces, without any correlation with potentially commercially valuable aggregates or zones of high archaeological importance.

The long history of geological and geotechnical investigation in the area has created a large archive of borehole logs (over 3000) and other observations which are held by the BGS. Since it is a built-up area, contemporary observations are only possible where new invasive works take place and remote sensing of the buried landscape and features such as palaeochannels is not possible. There have been no large-scale archaeological interventions in the study area but numerous small-scale excavations and observations (c 1500) have taken place and show that the valley holds a rich archaeological resource within the drift deposits and made ground.

During the course of the project a geoarchaeological database of sub-surface alluvial deposits was created from borehole data and archaeological records covering the study area. A series of contour plots, vertical profiles and horizontal slices (deposit models) have been generated through the sub-surface stratigraphy of the study area using Terrastation II (TSII), and further modelled using GIS-based software.

A detailed examination of a small part of the study area was carried out to test the approach adopted for extracting and manipulating information from the database. During this process it became apparent that the database created has a significant potential to enhance our understanding of the Quaternary sequence and archaeology of the Lower Lea. Using both Arcview and TSII software, ways were explored to look at the stratigraphic and geographic perspective of the data and to link the sequence of deposits to the distribution of archaeological evidence and landscape characteristics. Through interrogation of the database and by linking similar deposits in adjacent boreholes, deposit models were generated that reconstructed the sub-surface stratigraphy of the modern floodplain and adjacent river terraces. This has enabled the project team to observe the evolving landscape of the area and to predict areas of archaeological potential by gaining a better understanding of the deposits present and tracking the onset of Holocene wetland sedimentation.

The sub-surface mapping technology used in the Lea Valley mapping project has transformed the way we can assess archaeological potential and its concomitant risk to developers and extraction companies. Although the BGS mapping covers few deposits suitable for future gravel extraction in the Lower Lea, the strategies devised and modelling undertaken in this area could be readily applied to areas of much greater potential for future aggregate extraction.

Chichester Harbour research framework, West Sussex

Looking over Chichester Harbour (© Chichester Harbour Conservancy)

Clients: Chichester Harbour Conservancy

Authors: Nick Bateman and Anthony Francis

MoLAS carried out a major assessment (an archaeological research framework) of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) of Chichester Harbour, on behalf of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy as the first element of their Heritage Lottery funded two-year programme of activity for enhancing peoples' enjoyment and understanding of the harbour area.

The 74 sq km of the AONB comprises several villages, farmland, large areas of mudflats and tidal creeks, and expanses of estuary and river. It is particularly rich in archaeological remains: Mesolithic flint scatters; Iron Age hillforts; Fishbourne Roman palace; Bosham Saxon church; many half-submerged wrecks and foreshore structures; and lots of World War II defences.

The research framework comprised assessment of the buried, visible and subtidal archaeology, presented first on a chronological and then on a thematic basis. This summary of 'gaps in knowledge' was followed by identification of possible research priorities and activities which the Conservancy might seek to push forward over the next 18 months. The projects eventually chosen to go forward by the Conservancy will, as far as possible, involve local people and volunteer groups rather than professionals.

Research priorities identified by us centred around the following themes: the changing landscape (shorelines etc); the palaeoenvironment; military history (from hillforts to the Second World War); industrial evidence (from brickmaking to fishing); settlement; and subtidal features (wrecks, buried landscapes).

MoLAS's involvement in the project, however, is not yet ended. We will be joining in a day conference on the state of knowledge about the harbour next spring; MoLAS specialists will be contributing to artefact-handling sessions to be run by the Conservancy; and we hope to be setting up a joint web site with the Conservancy to present some of the results.

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