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BHAS Field Unit Archive 2014


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This section contains the latest news from the Field Unit, as and when it occurs. New sections are added as and when to show the progress the Field Unit are making during the year.

* Original Information 7th March 2014

* added 23rd April 2014

* added 17th May 2014

* added 6th July 2014

* added 25th August 2014

* added 31st October 2014

* added 4th January 2015

BHAS Winter Programme 2014

The BHAS winter programme has been only slightly affected by the weather and other events. The pre-Christmas walk had to be cancelled due to very heavy rain and the post Christmas walk cancelled to a foot injury to the leader. The finds processing days were well attended with all of the pottery marked and catalogued. The second session ended with a presentation about the past excavations at Ovingdean. We have quite a number of new members and as it is likely that we will be returning to Ovingdean in 2014 so it was thought that the information would prove useful. The BHAS did visit Worthing Museum and after a pleasant lunch climbed Highdown Hill to explore the Iron Age hill fort and later Saxon cemetery. We also had members of Thames Valley Archaeological Services along who spoke about their recent excavations on the Roman and Iron Age site at Northbrook College.

Martin Snow led a good number around the interior of The Devils Dyke Iron age hill fort, but on this occasion Martin told us about the pleasure ground and vernicular railway that had once been built there in the late 1880's. He also led us to the bomb testing grounds built and completed at the end of 1918 and never used as the First World War ended. A small group visited the Museum of London to see their very impressive 'Cheapside Hoard' a display of Elizabethan jewellery, and had fun with the trains due to the flooding in Sussex. The first day school with Chris Butler had to be cancelled due to personal reasons, but the other two with David Rudling on Coins and Dr Mike Allen on environmental sampling will still take place in March. There are still tickets available.

The winter programme of talks on both archaeological and local history topics have all been well attended. The final talks will be in March.


BHAS Excavations 2014

It is going to be a very busy year with excavations planned at the 13th Century medieval site at Ovingdean, the Neolithic causewayed enclosure at Whitehawk Hill (where we will be working with Archaeology South East) and some test trenching at Rocky Clump seeking the possible settlement site. There will also be other digs in Sussex at Bridge Farm with Rob Wallace and David Millum and The Sussex School of archaeology are planning some investigations at the Roman villa at Plumpton. The BHAS excavations will commence on Saturday 5th April, which site though it still to be determined as we are awaiting our consent forms.

For further information about digging with BHAS contact John Funnell at or call 0844 5888 277


Excavations at Ovingdean 2014

The new season of BHAS excavations commenced on Saturday April 5th. The BHAS field unit have returned to the field immediately north of St Wulfran's the church at Ovingdean. A new series of trenches will attempt to date the medieval complex enclosure earthworks. The mounds have the medieval walls lying on top of the features so they must be of an earlier construction. Field walking at Ovingdean has produced finds from the Neolithic period, the Iron Age, Roman and medieval periods so it is possible that these feature are much older than the 13th century.

Other trenches will try and trace walls and ditches found in earlier seasons, and investigations will seek the extent of a timber framed building partially revealed in past seasons. The results of a number of geophysical surveys tend to suggest that there is a collection of large rubbish pits, which would provide useful dating material. There is a query about the entrance to the enclosure which appears to be in 2 locations. We will be finding out if one, or both of these features relates to the medieval period and/or perhaps one of the entrances are linked to an earlier phase.

The excavation has already been fenced off, as the field is the home for several horses. The excavations area currently enclosed will look at the east side of the field. The excavations will later move to an area westwards to investigate one of the entrances to the enclosure and the rubbish pits.


BHAS returned to Ovingdean in early April. We are looking for evidence for a large timber framed building, a possible dove-cote and the date of the earthworks which have 13th century walls running along the top of the mounds.

We have so far opened 4 trenches. The first trench called B1 has already revealed 3 postholes and a ditch investigated in 2008. Another 3 post holes on the same alignment have been revealed, and a GPR survey conducted by David Staveley is indicating that there will be others.

A second trench called B2, and located east of trench B1, was cut to investigate the other side of a timber framed building. The partially excavated section of a post hole was recorded in 2008 suggesting that a large building lay in that direction. The excavations so far have revealed a section of the ditch also found in trench B1 and sections of another 2 ditches located to the south of the original ditch. One of the ditches had a bottom layer of daub, many pieces having wattle impressions. Other post holes have been revealed including a nice flint packed one with a post pipe. New features partially revealed are now being investigated through small extensions to the main trench.

The third trench is aligned to investigate the location of a possible dove-cote. A circular cut was excavated in 2002 when a trial trench revealed a large conglomeration of large flints and fire cracked material. Already large quantities or large flint nodule are being revealed.

The fourth trench is looking at post holes that may be the north side of the timber framed building. So far there have been finds of medieval pottery, and a layer of mortar and flint debris is coming into view.

Ovingdean has always been a very complex site, and each new test trench makes the overall picture even more complex. The excavations will continue until August when the team will move to Whitehawk Hill for 3 weeks.

The BHAS field unit started digging in Hog Croft field, Ovingdean in April. The field is located immediately north of St Wulfran's church. The excavation commenced by opening up trenches B1 and B2, looking for post holes found in 2008. The post holes were quite large and suggest that north of the large masonry medieval building excavated in 2009 there is a large timber framed building. The post holes were re-located and the trenches extended to about 10 metres in lengths to seek other post holes.

The plan has been successful and a new post holes have been revealed. However, as is usual in archaeology it is not that easy. In trench B1, the most westerly trench a total of 6 post holes have been found all in a line. They do vary in size and depth, but are all basically rectangular in shape. At the south end another post hole has been revealed, but not on the same alignment, which raises some questions. A ditch which runs east/west between the first 2 post holes and the mostly northerly 4 post has also been revealed, it was excavated in 2008 and was known about.

The second trench B2 was cut where only a single post hole had been found in 2008. The new excavations have revealed another 3 post holes, 2 in this trench and another on the same alignment in trench 'H'. What is causing a bit of head scratching is that the post holes in trench B2 are on a different pitch to those in trench B1, and between the post holes have been found not one, but 3 ditches.

One of the ditches terminates at the baulk on the east side of trench B2 and the lower fill consisted of a mass of daub, much of it with lath impressions. One ditch was partially excavated in 2008 and a plastic membrane placed to relocate this depth. The remaining fill has now been removed. The third ditch is extremely large and is located at the south end of trench B2. A small feature in trench B1 may indicate the west terminus of this ditch.

A visit to site was made by David Staveley with his new ground penetrating radar machine. The survey indicated the location of more post holes which could be the end of the large timber framed building. At present, a pair of large round post holes have been revealed but are not in the right place for the building end. This trench also revealed a thick chalk floor, but underneath this surface a number of Victorian blue and white ceramics have been found, so this is probably a much later feature. Is it a filled in well?

We are currently extending the trench B1 to trench 'J' which will cut through the large enclosure earthworks. We have been asked to try and date this feature. The mound has 13th century walls on top and it is possible, that as other Iron Age features have been found south of the church, that this feature is much older than the medieval period.

Another trench opened is trench 'C' and this is seeking evidence for a possible medieval dove-cote. A test trench sunk in 2004 revealed a large collection of large flint nodules and fire-cracked flint. There was also a curved west section. Although bone and some nice medieval pottery have been recovered at present there is little sign of the large conglomeration of flints found a decade or so ago.

The complex series of post holes have raised the question as to whether there are not one, but several, timber framed buildings within this medieval enclosure. Ovingdean has always tended to raise more questions than answers.

The excavations will probably continue until the autumn.

The Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society field unit continue to investigate the features in the field located immediately north of St Wulfran's church at Ovingdean. A number of extensions have been made to the existing trenches, but these have only made the site plan even more complicated.

The pair of north earlier south trenches have produced a number of new post holes, some being rectangular in shape while others are round. They are located all over the site and at present it is proving difficult to determine just how many possible buildings there are in this very small area. The features are being planned, sectioned and recorded. The area called the 'tower' trench is being extended southwards to pick up the area of large flints found in previous seasons, as they appear to have disappeared from view only a metre or so in the trench extended northwards. A new post hole to the north of this mixture has been revealed, but it is not deemed part of any east facing revetment as yet, being only a single feature.

An area deemed lacking in features by the ground penetrating radar has produced the most interesting collection of finds including plenty of medieval pottery, including green glazed wares, but also part of a medieval chimney. The other designated trenches in this area may now be opened up.

A BHAS member researching historical details for another project found a lovely clipping in the Illustrated London Evening News of 1852 a picture of military manoeuvres taking place in Ovingdean field. It is a drawing but the church and the gate are very accurate and it shows infantry firing over the wall into the field, what on earth were they firing at? Perhaps this is why we are uncovering lots of Victorian finds in this field.

The field Unit are also planning to conduct a new geophysical survey west of the electric fencing. We will be using the Society's resistivity machine, an RM15, which will hopefully be a more detailed survey that will produce results about our disappearing walls.

After a 3 week spell digging at Whitehawk in August, on a community project, the BHAS field unit returned to Ovingdean. During September the existing trenches were excavated and a number of extensions made in some directions.

In trench C' earlier excavations in 2002 - 2008 had revealed a large conglomeration of flint nodules, and fire-cracked flint to suggest that this are was the possible location for a dove-cote. The west side of this trench had a curved end and medieval dove-cotes at Hangleton and Patcham are both circular. Sadly the new excavations have failed to support any evidence for this theory, but have found quite a number of other features instead. The trench has revealed an area of very disturbed soft chalk with a pair of gullies that may be the vestiges of a medieval wooden cart track. Traces of the fire-cracked flint are now being revealed on the south side, and a previously unknown ditch has been revealed on the north side, yet another to add to the many at Ovingdean.

Trench 'D' has revealed a large area of large flint nodules and a mortared 'floor'. The east send of this section has a number of loose flints, and a curved section containing a number of stake holes, and several post holes may indicate the presence of a wooden revetment, perhaps to prevent soil slip from the earthen bank located immediately west of this feature. If the mortared surface is a building then it is a very poorly constructed feature. The site director, John Skelton, believes that it is not a floor, but a mortared surface only to cover and consolidate the earthen bank.

The first trenches B1 and B2 have now been completed and recorded. A number of small extensions in various direction have produced more post holes, of varying sizes. It is possible that there 3 timber framed buildings focused in the centre of the enclosure. A number of post holes found in another trench 'H', and found by ground penetrating radar (GPR), have not proved to be the north end of a structure as they are very irregularly spaced, and are round in shape rather than the rectangular ones found in B1 and B2.

Another major project has been the cutting of a section through the north earthwork. The idea for this is to try and find some dating material to confirm the date of its construction. The section is proving quite complex but has had some very interesting results. The upper surface consisted of chalk overlying a lower loamy fill. This layer, in section, appears to be an early bank into which chalk was later placed. On the north side this hard, compact chalk gave way to a much looser component created from very large blocks of chalk, obviously transport from the quarry on Cattle Hill.

Below the large chalk blocks was a buried land surface of clay like loamy soil. The buried land surface covered and sealed a large pit. This pit has been partially excavated and 2 sherds of pottery have been found. The pottery is definitely not medieval and may be either Saxon or Iron Age. It is being examined by the Sussex Archaeological Societies Research Officer, Luke Barber, in a few days so we may have some very interesting news.

Parts of the Ovingdean site are still being excavated, but the project is now winding down and will hopefully end at the end of October, or early November at the latest. There is lots of recording to complete so the BHAS field unit is going to be very busy right up to the end of the season.

A full programme of BHAS winter events is planned. These include finds processing from Ovingdean, days schools with a number of specialists, and a number of visits to the Docklands and British museums.


The Ovingdean excavation was planned to finish at the end of October, but with so many new features being uncovered and requiring recording the dig actually ended in early December. The last day was one of geophysics when a magnetometry survey was carried out on lands to the west of the dig location, and a new resistivity survey using smaller increments that may produce evidence for post holes. David Staveley conducted the magnetometry survey and later tried out his new Ground Penetrating Radar equipment.

The final phases of the 2014 dig produced yet more post holes bringing the total to 39. We will now be some studying the plans of these post holes to see if we can determine whether we have several small buildings or one large complex structure.

The section through the bank found that it was constructed of large chalk nodules and that these covered a thick buried land surface. Finds of pottery from this surface are of early to late Saxon date (Pers. Comm. Luke Barber), so there is an earlier phase to the medieval enclosure. The buried land surface sealed an earlier pit but the only finds from this were a collection of animal bones which appear to be in a later cut. Some small sherds of un-diagnostic pottery were recovered, but only tiny pieces.

Trench D was cut to the east of the section through the bank and this produced evidence for a number of different layers. The top loam was removed down onto a flint floor, which had medieval pottery in among the flints. Below this floor was another 20cms of loam before a second floor was revealed. The lower floor was slightly shorter than the one above. Under this second, lower floor level the excavations revealed a series of stake holes cut into the natural chalk. These stake holes appear to be some sort of revetment, possibly for the floor. Other features found included some more post holes and a small pit. The fact that the stake holes were found under the floor clearly indicates that these features were created earlier. These floors also appeared on the east side of the section cut through the bank, but then petered out onto a flint cobbled surface.

Trench 'C' which was opened to investigate the location of a possible dove-cote confirmed that it was not in that area and that a large conglomeration of flint and fire-cracked found in 2002 has not yet been fully explained. We may have to re-open the original trench for a re-assessment. We did reveal yet another large ditch cutting through the enclosure and several more post holes. An interesting feature was a pair of linear shallow gullies which may be medieval cart tracks.

The excavations have revealed that the enclosure does contain timber framed buildings, but the profusion of post holes raises lots more questions. The excavations have failed to determine just how large, and how many buildings or structures there are there at Ovingdean. Only a large open area of excavation will reveal what is really hidden beneath the turf at Ovingdean.

The finds have been a mixture of medieval and Victorian, with the star find being a bone gaming piece, possibly Saxon in date. Other finds have included a medieval arrow head and some buckles.

The geophysical surveys were not that successful, possibly due to plenty of heavy rain over the previous weeks, but the GPR did suggest that a circular structure may be located at the north end of the enclosure. A similar feature was found at Stretham near Shoreham which proved to be a large oven. We may have a dove-cote or oven but it will require further investigations at Ovingdean to determine exactly what.

The excavations for the 2015 season will be discussed in January and the decision made issued in the next update.

There will be finds processing in January and February and a number of day schools during the winter, along with museum visits, walks and talks..


Neolithic Whitehawk Hill

BHAS are one of the partners for a Heritage Lottery Funded investigation at Whitehawk Hill. The project is being led by the professional unit of Archaeology South East. The project will incorporate a new study of the finds from the Curwen excavations conducted from 1929 to 1932 and will be based at Brighton Museum. Field work will include training in the use of a magnetometry machine, and learning how to download and understand the information produced. The results of the geophysical survey will determine where a number of trenches will be excavated sometime during July and August. The area of investigation is around the Neolithic causewayed enclosure, which is an scheduled ancient monument (SAM). The dig will examine new earthworks revealed after the movement of an old allotment fence line. It is hoped that the new excavations will reveal new features related to the Neolithic landscape.

In early May members of the BHAS field unit were tutored in the setting up and use of a magnetometer, a Bartington gradiometer. The training was conducted by Archaeology South East (ASE) as part of a HLF funded community project. The BHAS unit was divided into 2 groups and a survey was conducted all over the Scheduled Ancient Monument, which is a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure, located on the top of Whitehawk Hill. The survey encompassed additional lands that were once allotments, and some scrub to the south of the monument which was accessible. It was hoped that the new survey would reveal hitherto unseen features from the prehistoric period.

A second week of training was conducted at the ASE head quarters at Portslade. The BHAS field unit members were instructed in how to down load and interpret the data produced form the survey. The results are now being analysed and images should be forthcoming soon. The results will influence the location of excavations in and around the monument planned to commence in August.

In early May members of the BHAS field unit assisted Archaeology South East (ASE) in conducting a magnetometry survey in and around the Neolithic Causewayed enclosure located at Whitehawk Hill, Brighton. The results have produced some interesting anomalies. The BHAS field unit will join with ASE for a 3 week dig at Whitehawk Hill from 11th August to the 29th August. There will be an open day on Saturday 23rd August.

Members of the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society are also involved in re-packing and data processing the finds from the original Whitehawk excavation conducted by the Curwens, father and son, from 1929 to 1932.

In May members of the field unit took part in magnetometry survey of Whitehawk Hill. As a result of this exercise a number of trenches have been set out to try and find evidence for Neolithic activity south of the known Causewayed Enclosure. Other trenches will be opened north of the TV mast and running along the race track. It is not certain how much of the monument was surveyed by bosing by the Curwen's, who excavated part of the site in the 1920's ad 1930's or whether the lands were ever examined at all, as there are no records of any previous investigations in these new areas.

Finds so far have included items such as coins and glassware, from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. A number of prehistoric flint flakes, fire-cracked flint and scrapers from the lower layers have also been found.

There are still many secrets to unravel about the construction and us of these enigmatic features, and hopefully the new excavations will reveal exciting new finds.

The excavations will continue until August 31st

During 3 weeks in August the BHAS field Unit joined the professional unit of Archaeology South East (ASE) in a community project on Whitehawk Hill. A geophysical survey had taken place back in May and a number of possible new features possibly related to the Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure were noted in the results. A total of 10 trenches were cut in various locations around the Scheduled Ancient Monument to investigate a number of these possible ancient features. A pair of trenches along the side of the race track close to the main race course stand revealed a number of geological anomalies, as did most of the other trenches, which was a great pity. Quite a number of Neolithic flint flakes were recovered and a survey is planned of the adjacent allotments. The majority of the finds were of Victorian date and probably associated with dumping from Brighton.

Perhaps the most positive result of the project was a group of BHAS volunteers and new public faces working inside the Brighton Museum. This dedicated group managed to re-pack and record on computer most of the finds from the 1929-1934 excavations. New finds are being relocated back to Brighton museum from other museums and this project is expected to continue into the late autumn.





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