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BHAS Field Unit News 2016


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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 18th April 2016

* Added 24th May 2016

* Added 29th July 2016

* Added 2nd Oct 2016



Site Location:- The field immediately north of St Wulfran's Church in the village of Ovingdean, just east of Brighton, and before Rottingdean along the A259 (Ref TQ355036)

Excavations Days - Wednesdays and Saturday commencing April 9th 2016

  A whole week of excavation 13th -19th June

  A whole week of excavation 22nd - 28th August

End of excavation season end of October

Times of digging 10-00 am till 4-30 pm

The History of the Site

Geophysical surveys have revealed evidence for walls and floors located within a banked enclosure. Past seasons have produced a number of large post holes indicating that there are other timber framed buildings.

In 2009 excavations of a 13th century medieval house revealed it had a cellar or undercroft which produced 15 in-situ animal skeletons. The walls of the house had walls 1 metre thick, and two windows in the cellar faced south. Post holes on the north side of the building suggest that it had a porch or steps leading to the entrance.

Im 2014 ad 2015 excavations below the embankment revealed a buried land surface that produced mid to late Saxon pottery, a Saxon gaming piece and post holes which may belong to a Saxon house. Also below the bank was a large pit which contained animal bones, but no pottery.

The 2016 season will be removing the upper 13th century walls of a building located to the north of the main medieval house, examining a possible large pit or well, and expanding the excavations to uncover more post holes and other features, which may provide more evidence for the Saxon house.

For further details either contact the membership secretary, or the site directors John Skelton at or John Funnell at

The excavations at Ovingdean started on April 9th and will continue until October. The dig is focused in two trenches with another two being opened during the season. The investigations have revealed a complex collection of layers and features. A collection of flints are believed to be walls and floors associated with a number of medieval buildings. Post holes provide evidence for timber framed structures, and earlier mid to late Saxon pottery is being found in a buried land surface covered by a later chalk bank or rampart.

The flint floors are quite complex features in themselves with several layer of flints interspaced with soil deposits, indicating a number of phases. The key element to the dating of each layer will be any finds. A series of sondages have been created as detailed recording of each successive later will need to be conducted in various directions. At present in one sondage we have top soil covering a chalk mound under which is an orange layer with burning and charcoal, possibly indicating fire damage or a hearth. Below this layer is a chalk loamy with some Saxon pottery, The natural chalk layer is below this loamy layer and a large number of post holes have been cut into this surface which may provide evidence for Saxon houses. There are also a number of shallow gullies, possibly associated with beam slot building techniques. It is all very complex and does require patience and methodical recording.

The excavations have been drawing in a number of new recruits and a good team is already busy in the field, but new faces are always welcome.
The excavations are continuing at a pace. The south trench remains partially covered as this is the location of numerous post holes found last season. An area of flint walling and a possible floor are gradually being removed and recorded. The site is quite complex and is being recorded at every level. To the south of this floor is a gully and to the south of this yet more flint flooring. This floor has now been removed and an area full of charcoal and daub containing lots of oyster shells is being investigated. Pottery from this earlier level is not medieval and may be either Saxon or Iron Age, this will be confirmed sometime soon.

In the north trench is another complex layer of fills. These have been cut through by ditches on at least 3 occasions. These ditches could be either evidence for timber framed beam slots or re-cut boundary ditches. It is uncertain at the moment. There is one well defined wall witch has 3 layers of flint. The upper layer has traces of bonding with mortar. To the north of the this wall is a large collection of chalk blocks, which may have been a buttress, but this in turn appears to respect a large pit or well, as yet undated. At the moment the layer of large chalk blocks, which part of the north enclosure earthwork, is being removed, and then we will be able to examine the buried land surface revealed below. This surface has produced some mid Saxon pottery in the past.

A new trench has been opened up in the north east corner. This has produced a number of interesting finds from a gritty layer, and this has now been removed. A new flint floor has been found, not noted in the geophysics, and attempts are being made now to seek the direction of a large boundary ditch found in 2015. The Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) visited in June and found lots of medieval finds in a trench in the south east corner of the site.

There is going to a week of excavation from the 22nd to the 28th of August. For more details contact John Skelton the site director at

The BHAS field unit have been working hard all through the summer and have now almost completed two of the four large trenches at their excavations at Ovingdean.

The south trench had vestiges of a flint wall and floors in the north west corner. This proved to be a very complex collection of fills, with several layers of flint and soil above one another. This area has now been removed with the exception of a light loamy fill at the bottom. The excavations in this area have revealed a layer of charcoal and daub and some additional post holes and a series of gullies. The lower fill is still being removed and other features are anticipated. It will be interesting to see what the plan of the area reveals. There are several lines of post holes which could be interpreted as houses or buildings.

In the north trench a vast amount of work has been completed. The large dump of big chalk nodules that formed the bank of the earthwork on the north side of the enclosure was removed and revealed a large deposit of charcoal and daub below. This charcoal and daub collection of fills flows downwards, going in a westerly direction, before falling into a large pit. This large pit then disappears under the baulk. The whole area has been a complex mixture of fills suggesting quite a number of cuts in various directions. These cuts could be ditches or beam slot type features associated with buildings. The large flint wall, again with several layer so flint and soil has now been removed down to chalk bedrock, and a gully running south to north across the south trench must terminate under the baulk, as it does not appear in the north trench. The north trench alos revealed a numbr of ancient plough marks showng that there had been some activity in the distant past.

While the north trench does possess fewer post holes than the one in the south it does contain, along with the large charcoal filled pit, another huge feature which is beginning to look very much like a well. The feature has a central area of soft and dark loamy soil with lots of large flint nodules, possibly for capping. At the south edge of the well the flint wall stopped appearing to respect its location. On the north side of the wall there is a wall of large chalk blocks appears to be associated with its function, its purpose as yet unknown.

At the north end of the both the north and north east trenches a large boundary ditch was found. This has been sectioned in several places and has found to have had a large re-cut. This ditch was cut by a Southern Water trench that runs across the field, which truncated this ditch, so no north side of the boundary ditch was found. The feature is quite deep and has a wide flat bottom.

The finds have been fewer than last year but there has still been an interesting collection of pottery, bone and shell. Sadly once again there were no coin finds?

The excavation will close at the end of the September but the site will be open for a few days while drawing and recording is completed. It will then be covered with tarpaulins to protect over the winter period.


Post excavation

The Ovingdean post ex will begin sometime in October. There will be sorting and washing with finds marking and cataloguing talking place after Christmas. Details of the post ex will be posted on the BHAS updates, which is available to all members.


Excavations at Preston Manor and The Royal Pavilion


In May and July a small BHAS digging team led by Lisa Fisher conducted some small excavations at Preston Manor and The royal Pavilion. At Preston Manor a trench measuring 3.5 metres by 2 metres revealed a number of layers which produced lots of Victorian pottery and ceramics, some nails and bone and a single sherd of medieval green glazed pottery.

Th excavation at the Royal Pavilion measured only 2.5 metres by 1 metre but produced an intriguing collection of finds. Most of these finds consisted of clay pigeon tablets. The tablets had obviously been shot to pieces, but with many fragments had either decoration or ledgings. There was also a collection of shell cases. No one appears to know why this concentrated deposit was found in the pavilion gardens. Sadly no Roman coins or finds from the Regency period were recovered, they were probably deeper down.



BHAS do have a geophysic's team led by Pete Tolhurst, and a number of projects are being planned for this season. Among the investigations are a possible Roman or Iron Age enclosure and a Neolithic landscape where two long barrows are already recorded. We will also be seeking evidence for a medieval building near Uckfield.

If you would like to join this team contact either the site Director John Skelton or the Archaeological Co-ordinator John Funnell at the email addresses shown above.


The BHAS geophysics team have been in action at both Preston Manor and in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. The Preston Manor survey examined an area north of Preston Park. A major magnetometry survey has been conducted by Brighton University over most of Preston Park, but there are areas with too much metal fencing to allow magnetometry. The BHAS team conducted small resistivity survey close to the Preston Park tennis courts last year, but found very little. The ground was the location of the old bowling greens. A new survey in May around Preston Manor had a number of subtle earthworks, possibly old field systems. The results indicate a possible circular feature, but a more detailed study of the results is being undertaken at the moment.

The small survey in grounds to the north of The Royal Pavilion was planned to seek evidence for the old Grove farm house that may have stood in that location, as well as possible World War I hospital buildings that are known to have existed. The survey was completed only a few days ago and the results are currently being processed.

A new survey is planned for Hempstead Farm near Uckfield. The lands are close to a building dating back to the 16th century. It is possible that other buildings may be located in that area.

For more details about joining the BHAS geophysics team contact Pete Tolhurst at


The BHAS training officer Pete Tolhurst is planning to conduct some resistivity surveying during the autumn and spring. There are a number of projects in the pipe line and once again details will be published on the BHAS updates. There may also some opportunity for some small scale excavations located around Sussex. For more details contact Pete Tolhurst at


BHAS Outreach


The BHAS Outreach team have been very busy over the past few weeks. As well as visiting Patcham School they have been in action at two major events at Preston Manor and The Royal Pavilion. The team also have a regular slot at the Brighton Museum Lab Days, where the finds are displayed for examination and handling. Finds processing is also conducted at these events showing the public about post -excavation processes and recording. The outreach team are always busy showing the interested public what can be found in and around the City of Brighton and Hove. The outreach days at Preston Manor and The Royal Pavilion allowed handling of Iron Age, Roman and Medieval pottery, as well as an extensive collection of Neolithic flintwork, including a number of axes found during field walking.


BHAS Trip to Piddington Roman Villa and Earls Barton Church


On Sunday July 17th BHAS visited the wonderful museum at Piddington near Peterborough. It is a splendid museum full of Roman artefacts found during the excavations. We were then led to the site of a magnificent 2nd century Roman villa. The site director Roy Friendship-Taylor spoke at great length about how the villa started, its Iron Age origins, the 2nd century extensive Roman complex including a huge well and a bath house. The Saxons arrive later and the village is there close to the church. It is a rare case of transition from the Iron Age through to the Saxon periods. We later visited the magnificent Saxon Church at Earls Barton. The next trip is to the Iron Age and Roman town of Camulodunum (Colchester) in August.



For more information on the BHAS Training Sessions contact Pete Tolhurst at

For more information about the excavations contact either the site director John Skelton at or the BHAS co-ordinator at

If you are interested in any of these projects contact John Funnell at or call 0844 5888 277 (Evenings)



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