to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

April - June 2001

April 2001
Ruth Waller

The appointment of Ruth Waller as Head of Archaeology comes as something of a relief after months of uncertainty surrounding the council's dedication to the unit. Ruth's previous post was as Borough Archaeologist at Sandwell in the West Midlands and she brings a wide ranging experience to the Island team
  Originally from Burton-on-Trent, Ruth gained a degree in archaeology at Birmingham University in the early 1980's. After 18 months supervising an excavation team for Staffordshire Council, the call of the 'dig' lured her into a working tour of sites throughout this country and abroad. These projects included the discovery of the huge Black Death burial pits at the Royal Mint site, the 'Bandkeramic' (prehistoric) sites in Germany and the Ggantija Temple site in Gozo, Malta which dates back to the 3rd Millennium BC.
  A two year stint at the Urban Archaeology section at the Museum of London gave her experience in dealing with finds from Roman to post medieval. She then did a postgraduate course at Oxford University to retrain as one of the new archaeological 'curators', after which she practised in this field at Lincolnshire and Shropshire. She started with Sandwell Borough Council in 1994.
  Ruth is a keen to encourage the interest and active involvement of the community, and one of her first acts will be to establish an IW branch of the Young Archaeologist's Club for children. A feature of the current archaeological scene is the popularity of the subject on national TV next to an apparent lack of interest at local level. Let's hope Ruth can ring some changes on the Island.

May 2001
"And hath set forwarde provideing me of all the necessaryes for our intended voyage, whc is in a good ship named the Bonnie Besse, built at the Cowes in the Isle of Wight being a new ship of fourescore and ten Tunnes, or thereabout, full fraught with all kind of provision for 2 yeares, as also with 45 brave gallant Gentlemen, and some of them their Wyves, and Children with them richlie set forwarde for to plant in Virginia"
  The above extract is from a letter dated 4th May 1623 from a passenger to his mother on sailing out of London for Virginia. This letter was recently discovered among the archives of the Virginia Company of London and constitutes the earliest known record of Island shipbuilding. Some subsequent voyages of the Bonnie Besse have also been traced, up until 1636.
  It has long been thought that 17th century trade with the burgeoning colonies promoted the growth of shipbuilding at Cowes, perhaps even its inception. Until now the earliest suggestion has been evidence of shipwrights in Cowes towards the middle of the century. This new discovery puts Island shipbuilding at the dawn of American colonisation and demonstrates the local wealth generated by the supply of goods and services for these ventures.
  The connection with the Virginia Company is pertinent as much of Cowes' trade was associated with this colony. Island patentees were among the consortium who financed the Isle of Wight Plantation in Virginia around 1620, notably Sir Richard Worsley and Cowes trader Robert Newland. A key merchant, Newland was a shareholder with the Virginia Company and probably held favourable status as a supplier. In subsequent Company papers there are hints of his investment in shipbuilding, so he may have been involved in the origins of the Bonnie Besse. More may be revealed about this critical period in Island development as research into the company archives continues.

June 2001
The eroding cliff face on the south west coast of the Island has compelled the Archaeological Unit to carry out an urgent rescue investigation of two prehistoric hearth sites. They had already been noted during a Coastal Survey but were now in danger of being destroyed without record.
  The hearths are structures of burnt stone and charcoal which date back to prehistoric times, from people living and farming the land around former tributaries of the ancient Western Yar River. Archaeologists are not certain as to their exact function but it's thought they may be the remains of cooking or ritual activities. Similar hearths recently excavated in the Wootton area have been radiocarbon dated to the Bronze Age, almost 5,500 years ago, a time when rising sea levels and shrinking forests were changing the face of the Island.
  The upper, later, hearth is represented by a layer of burnt flint and ironstone with charcoal. The lower hearth is a pit containing 5 layers of burnt stone and charcoal. An exciting discovery was that the hearths can be directly related to a lower level of organic sediments and gravel from a river channel of the ancient Western Yar tributary which dates back to the Mesolithic (middle stone age). The organic sediments survive as layers of preserved plant remains and hazelnuts. Samples have been taken from the hearths and organic remains in the hope that radiocarbon dating can securely date the entire sequence of prehistoric activity in this area.
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