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Up to 40 archeologists have been deployed to discover the secrets lying beneath the link road route.

First findings from link road digs

Archeological investigations along the route of the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road confirm that the area has a rich history of human habitation, East Sussex county archaeologist Casper Johnson said in a recent talk at Hastings museum. However, nothing has been found pertaining to the Battle of Hastings. A temporary exhibition of some of the finds is planned for Bexhill museum in February. Nick Terdre reports.

Mr Johnson was giving a preliminary account of the findings of the major survey which is being carried out as part of the road-building project – there have previously been no archeological investigations of the area on this scale, he told the packed meeting. The area has had its ups and downs since the ice sheet retreated at the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. At that time it was far inland, but it has at times been deep under water, and only 1,000 years ago much of Combe Haven consisted of tidal creeks and marshland.

Cores recovered from boreholes can be a source of clues to the past. Following initial recording, these will be further analysed during the post-excavation programme.

The result is that there are three main layers of sediments where evidence of human activities and changing landscapes may be hidden. Various methods have been used to uncover the hidden secrets, including a lidar aerial laser survey, geo-electric and topographic surveys, stratigraphic mapping, test-pits, boreholes and a metal detector survey. The ultimate aim is to incorporate all the findings in an overall model.

The investigations are being conducted by Oxford Archeology, which has assigned up to 40 archeologists to the job since beginning work about a year ago. This is a professional crew, doing really good quality work, Mr Johnson said. The cost, which is ultimately borne by the taxpayer, had just exceeded £1 million by early February.

Among the findings are the largest concentration of flint scatters so far unearthed in East Sussex. Some of the scatters can be associated with places which were continuously occupied and others with places used only temporarily. It appears that people kept returning to one location known as Site 15 South over many thousands of years.

In several places groups of postholes have been found that may be interpreted as sites of structures such as buildings; work is ongoing to clarify whether this is so. A Bronze Age ring ditch has been found, with what may be postholes around it. This is possibly some kind of henge or burial monument or both – there are often complicated patterns of use and reuse, Mr Johnson said.

A series of earthwork features in the Upper Wilting area suggest late Iron Age/early Roman times – 50 BC-50 AD. Here concentrations of pottery imported from France have been found which seem to date from just before the main Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD. One of the most exciting finds is a large-scale bloomery or iron-making site which – unusually – appears to  pre-date the Roman conquest. From the site, which is still being excavated, it may be possible to reconstruct the iron-making process.

This pot has been provisionally dated as early Saxon, one of the few findings from that period.

No skulls have been found, Mr Johnson told a questioner – in what are very acidic conditions, in which the water level goes up and down over the course of the seasons; bone just disintegrates.

Although we know that people were living at Upper Wilting and in Crowhurst back in 1066, nothing has so far been found that can be tied to this period. Little has been found that can be securely dated to Saxon times, but that is not unexpected as the route of the link road avoids most of the places known to have been occupied in that period.

A temporary exhibition with display boards and some of the finds will be mounted in Bexhill Museum during February, though exact dates have yet to be fixed, Oxford Archeology tells HOT.


All photos: ESCC.

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Posted 12:14 Saturday, Feb 8, 2014 In: Home Ground

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