My brief for this assignment for the on-line course I’m doing was to plan fieldwork for somewhere local to me and I chose an area of our village, Uphill along where the River Axe meets the sea; I wanted to find whether Romans had a wharf here.
The Romans were very active on the Mendip Hills, mining for various metals including cadmium and lead and they may well have brought the metal by boat along the river to Uphill where there will have been larger sea-going vessels to take produce up the coast to the River Severn, where Bristol now is, down the coast to Devon, or across St George’s Channel to Wales where the Roman fort of Caerleon was.
The physical environment along the banks of the Axe is managed pasture and nature reserves and the area has been sympathetically developed as part of the flood defences – this area of the coast has been prey to flooding for millennia (there was a tsunami here in 1607) The land is soft and would be easy to excavate as it was originally low swampy areas which have now been drained (initially since Roman times but latterly in medieval times) for farming and agriculture. The limestone ridge of the Mendip Hills has had some archaeology conducted on it revealing human activity, but I would be more interested in the land around the mouth of the river.
Prior to undertaking any fieldwork it would be important to research any records about the old course of the river, of previous ‘finds’ and even local folk tales can offer some clues as to what activities might have taken place in the past. A BBC programme discovered that a local man had a genetic connection to human remains found in the area dating from the Iron Age so many locals in Somerset often stayed local! I think ‘folk’ history has a part to play in archaeology as long as it is assessed and understood in context.
It might be possible to do a geo-physical survey, and it might be possible to detect a Roman site as Roman planners, engineers and builders would have used stone from the quarry in Uphill to build wharves, warehouses, and other structures. Other settlers would have used organic materials such as wood or local withies (willow) which would not show up in such a survey. However because the area is so relatively small, many of these structures may have been pillaged and robbed out of their worked stone to be used in later buildings, walls, road fill etc
The prevailing weather conditions are wet and windy; however, the temperatures are generally mild, but it would still be better to plan fieldwork for the summer months.
Potential formation processes might include
- a change in the course of the river,
- flooding which might change the relative positions of artefacts, or destroy structures,
- drainage which affect land and land-use,
- the long history of inhabitation of the area with different generations using and reusing the habitable land which is in a comparatively small area
- the quarrying for chalk to feed the lime kilns in the nineteenth century when there was a small lime manufacturing industry here
- work done by individuals and local government and more recently national bodies such as the Environmental Agency on flood defences; these more recent works would have involved heavy machinery and mechanical diggers etc
- the establishment of a marina and boatyard in the twentieth century, also using machinery
Having submitted it I immediately saw that there were things I had missed out, things I could have done better! I had a list of formation processes which might have affected the site after any Roman activity but I omitted to include what had led to the formation of the site – although I did allude to it. There are other things which I could have done better… I wonder what assessment I will receive!