West Suffolk Prehistoric Landscapes Project

Volunteer being trained

Featured image: Volunteer being trained in geophysical survey ©Past to Present Archaeology

Recently, Past to Present Archaeology began a new research project to study the Bronze Age communities of Western Suffolk. Last summer, volunteers started the archaeological investigations near Bury St Edmunds. Rupert Birtwistle, our guest writer for this week and the project’s Director, tells us all about it.

During the summer of 2021, volunteers took part in crowdfunded archaeological excavations near Bury St Edmunds to help uncover part of West Suffolk’s Prehistoric past.

The project began with a geophysical survey using a Bartington Fluxgate Dual Gradiometer. The results showed a series of large ring shapes that had the potential of being either Bronze Age burial monuments (called barrows) or a form of enclosure, or even round houses. It also revealed some linear features, probably ditches, in the north of the field.

Geophysical Survey Results
results of the geophysical survey, showing some ring ditches and linear ditches ©Past to Present Archaeology

Using the geophysics results, targeted excavation was planned to investigate the potential archaeology, with the local community. During the summer, staff and volunteers excavated four trial trenches; three of the trenches focused on the potential ring ditches, and the final trench focused on one of the linear features.

An excavator opening a trench
An excavator opening a trench ©Past to Present Archaeology

A machine excavator ‘pulled’ the trenches ready for volunteers to begin excavating. Once given a site tour, the volunteers began excavating using spades, shovels, mattocks, and trowels. To maximise the recovery of artefacts, each bucketful of spoil was sieved for finds. Each feature was also bulk sampled to undergo floatation, to recover any evidence of the past local environment.

To aid in dating the features, OSL (Optically-Simulated Luminescence) samples were also taken from the base of the features. This method of sampling gives a date on a deposit by analysing the last time quartz sediments within a deposit was exposed to light.

a volunteer for finds
A volunteer sieving for finds ©Past to Present Archaeology

Once the features were excavated, they were fully recorded. This included taking photographs, undertaking technical plan and section drawings, and completing context sheets.

a section of the excavation
A section excavated and recorded by a volunteer ©Past to Present Archaeology

Many artefacts were uncovered, including an array of Bronze Age worked flints, and earlier flint implements suggesting Neolithic and Mesolithic activity in this general area. The excavations revealed evidence of ring-ditches, pits and postholes, confirming Bronze Age activity possibly relating to both settlement and burial activity. The floatation and OSL samples are currently undergoing processing, with the results following shortly.

This crowdfunded community project was organised and run by Past to Present Archaeology alongside the geophysical surveying undertaken by Robert Evershed of Allen Archaeology.

Following the success of last summer’s work, full open excavation is due to take place summer 2022 and applications for volunteers to attend this field school are open.

Find out more

For more information on the excavations, how to donate to the crowdfund project and how to partake in this year’s excavation, visit www.pasttopresent.org/field-school-prehistoric-suffolk

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