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Excavating the CA archive: Essex


Joe Flatman explores half a century of experiences from the previous.

A choice of articles talked about by Joe Flatman on this month’s column beneath could be accessed without cost for one month by way of Precise Editions, from 2 June. Use the hyperlinks inside the textual content to leap to the person articles, or click on on the covers beneath. Print subscribers can add digital entry to their account for simply £12 a 12 months – this contains all the pieces from the final 50 years, proper again to Situation 1! Name our devoted subscriptions crew on 020 8819 5580, quoting DIGI388, so as to add digital entry to your account, or click on right here for extra info.


The historian Gillian Darley wrote a ebook in 2019 entitled Wonderful Essex: in reward of England’s most misunderstood county. By the use of an introduction to my newest column on that county, I like to recommend this ebook to you. Darley writes splendidly and is aware of the world intimately, and her level about its buried treasures is a superb one: there’s a lot to admire right here.

Building time once more

It’s fairly near blasphemous that Essex is taken into account a county with little seen prehistory. As CA 108 (February 1988) defined, ‘Clacton is the one city within the nation to have given its identify to 2 type-sites – the Clactonian within the Palaeolithic, and the Rinyo-Clacton within the late Neolithic – however there are not any spectacular hill forts and few upstanding barrows’ (see CA 288, March 2014, and CA 313, April 2016, for particular discussions of those websites). CA 108 tried to set the file straight by making the journal’s first main foray into the county’s prehistory at Springfield, on the jap outskirts of Chelmsford, the place air images revealed crop marks masking a big space attributable to be redeveloped for business and housing. Two websites had been excavated: a cursus and, a few mile to the north, a late Bronze Age stronghold later coated by an early Saxon cemetery and a late Saxon settlement. Thus the sample was set for CA’s reporting on – and the varieties of prehistoric websites featured in – Essex: largely ones made upfront of losses to building.

Later editions of the journal did handle to seek out some larger reward within the Bronze Age, together with a fantastic cemetery website at Brightlingsea in CA 126 (September 1991) – once more discovered previous to its loss, alas, on this case upfront of a quarry – and a spectacular hoard from Burnham-on-Crouch in CA 252 (March 2011), discovered – and fortunately reported to the Moveable Antiquities Scheme – by a metal-detectorist, enabling its cautious excavation, restoration, and conservation.

From newer prehistory, there have been some treasured and fragile issues discovered on the foreshore, together with the excellent Iron Age salterns at Leigh Beck Marshes on Canvey Island in CA 174 (June 2001).

Some nice reward

It’s inconceivable to debate the archaeology of Essex with out mentioning the good navy city of Colchester. Fortunately, this can be a website that I featured in CA 330 (September 2017) in a earlier column on Roman Britain, permitting me as a substitute to share my pleasure for different, lesser-known Roman websites and finds from the county. The temple at Harlow is a website that many really feel love for, and rightly so. It first featured in CA 11 (November 1968), and subsequently in CA 104 (April 1987) and CA 112 (December 1988). It was initially dropped at public consideration again in 1928 by no lesser identify than Mortimer Wheeler (though CA 11 is at pains to emphasize that he was not its excavator: that accolade goes to a neighborhood antiquarian, the fantastically named Miller Christy). Even lesser-known, however arguably as necessary, is the Iron Age, Roman, and later website at Rivenhall, simply north of Witham, which featured in CA 30 (January 1972), CA 36 (January 1973), and CA 48 (January 1975). This website could be usefully mixed with an examination of Present Archaeology’s protection of the Iron Age and Roman settlement at Little Waltham, a couple of miles to the west, in CA 36 (January 1973) and CA 53 (November 1975), and at Kelvedon, an identical distance to the east, in CA 48 (January 1975). Collectively, these websites present a neat palimpsest of what could be termed ‘settlement archaeology’, undertaken within the county within the Seventies. Initially archaeologists had been serious about them as ‘abandoned’, primarily medieval, villages – following the traditions established by the likes of Maurice Beresford and John Hurst (see extra on these pioneers in my column in CA 340, July 2018) – however they quickly expanded into multi-site, multi-period examinations. This trio of areas reveal a lot about lives and livelihoods in Essex throughout the millennia, with wonderful finds from the Iron Age, and the Romano-British and later durations. It’s a coverage of fact borne out in different problems with Present Archaeology – for instance, of excellent finds of Roman glass made in burial contexts close to Billericay in CA 186 (June 2003). I might write a number of columns on Roman Essex alone.

Songs of religion and devotion

One discovery in Essex above all others has recurrently hit the archaeological headlines for the reason that early 2000s – the spectacular Saxon princely burial from Prittlewell, close to Southend-on-Sea. This was, fairly merely, one of the thrilling finds made in Britain on this interval. CA 190 (February 2004) coated the story when the location, already identified for its burials, was absolutely excavated upfront of road-widening works. There, archaeologists uncovered the richest burial since Sutton Hoo, located amid a cemetery of a minimum of 34 burials, many containing fantastic grave items, together with three with jewelry (comparable to a rock crystal and an amber necklace) and no fewer than 19 with weapons, together with six with swords – high-status certainly. CA 198 (July/August 2005) picked up the small print of the location (alongside close by Rayleigh, a Saxon cemetery website simply 5 miles from Prittlewell) and, most not too long ago, CA 352 (July 2019) returned with an replace on the post-excavation analyses and interpretation, particularly of the lavishly furnished timber burial chamber and its grave items, together with copper-alloy vessels, ingesting vessels, weapons, musical devices, and far, way more.

I finish my exploration of the archaeology of Essex with one other of the ‘nice’ websites – not simply of the county however of the entire nation: Mucking, close to Stanford-le-Hope. This can be a website that Present Archaeology simply can’t get sufficient of, with in-depth options showing throughout the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, and 2000s, from CA 50 (Might 1975) to, most not too long ago, CA 322 (January 2017). The positioning is as wealthy and different because the county, containing stays relationship from the Neolithic to the medieval interval, with its Bronze Age and, particularly, Anglo-Saxon options being significantly notable; there may be additionally splendid proof of Roman settlement. CA 50 set the scene at what started in 1965 as an examination of the world’s Saxon origins – no shock given its location lower than a mile from the Thames Estuary. CA 111 (September 1988) picked up on these threads, but it surely was solely a query of time earlier than the larger story of the location emerged, in CA 311 (February 2016) and CA 322 (January 2017). These revealed the true extent of long-term occupation there, evidenced by a surprising array of finds and options – greater than 800 burials ranging in date from the early fifth to seventh centuries, greater than 200 sunken/pit buildings, practically a dozen giant timber-framed corridor buildings, and in whole greater than 44,000 individually identifiable archaeological options. Really, as an incredible Essex band as soon as sang, all the pieces counts in giant quantities.


Joe Flatman

Concerning the creator
Joe Flatman accomplished a PhD in medieval archaeology on the College of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and native and – most not too long ago – central authorities. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Supervisor within the Nationwide Belief’s London and South-East Area, main a crew engaged on Belief websites throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You’ll be able to observe him on Twitter @joeflatman.

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