Geoarchaeology Fieldwork at Rendlesham, 2021

hand holding auger with black soil sample

What was the environment like in the past? Was the course of the river Deben different and was it navigable all the way up to Rendlesham?  These are very good questions and ones that we are hoping to answer as part of our community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed.

In June/July 2021, we conducted an auger survey at Rendlesham, with the expertise of Professor Charles French and Dr Sean Taylor from University of Cambridge. The aim of the fieldwork was to understand the soil sequence in the Deben valley and to look for waterlogged deposits, which may tell us more about the development of vegetation in the valley and the impact of human activity.

With help from 25 hard-working volunteers, we extracted a series of 67 boreholes using a hand auger. The hand auger acted like a corkscrew to extract the soil in 10cm sections until it hit the bottom layer of gravel. We also brought in a power auger, operated by professionals, to extract 4 larger soil cores to ensure we had a full sample of the soil sequence.

These boreholes revealed an area of springs emerging from the sand geology, as well as a possible meandering palaeo-channel (old river channel) of up to about 100m across and 2-4m in depth. The palaeo-channel may well have been still active and in close proximity to the Anglo-Saxon settlement and might well explain their positions in this landscape. Nonetheless, we will have to await the results from the analysis.

The palaeo-channel is cut into medium-coarse sands and flint gravel deposits most probably derived from melting ice-sheet deposits from more than 10,000 years ago, which form the base of the Deben valley. Above this is 40-50cm of wood peat, then 20-50cms of highly organic silt mud with freshwater shells and coarse sand, before a major change to silty clay alluvium just below today’s lush pasture grasses.

So what next?

All the soil samples were taken back to the geoarchaeology labs at University of Cambridge by Professor French and Dr Taylor to start the analysis. This will involve palynological analysis (analysis of plant pollen, spores, and microscopic organisms) and radiocarbon dating.

The analysis will take several months to complete but we hope to have more to report in 2022.

tiny shell held by a hand
Tiny freshwater mollusc shell from a historic layer of soil

This fieldwork was undertaken as part of the community archaeology project Rendlesham Revealed: Anglo-Saxon Life in South-East Suffolk, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

If you want to get involved with the Rendlesham Revealed project and future fieldwork, you can sign up to our e-newsletter for updates.

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