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

April - June 2012

April 2012
The top photo shows the current state of a unique 19th century barn/cattle shed, located on the edge of Brading Marsh. Below is the way it looked in 1986. The barn emerged in a planning application that may result in it having a substantial rebuild.
barn at Brading Marsh
  The barn is included in a planning application for a wide ranging development of Brading Wetlands and it's the only structure remaining of the Marsh Farm complex that occupied much of the area. It is thought to have been built in the first half of the 19th century. Its unique feature is the semi circular shape. There appears to be no record of any other agricultural building showing the same configuration. It consists of an open fronted cattle shed, originally incorporating a stone built barn at the southern end. The timbers are tied into a rear limestone wall that is angled to create the semi circular design.
  The collapse of the stone built section in such a short space of time might suggest some of the materials were robbed. Had the building been more widely known in the 1980s, it would have almost certainly been listed. The reason for the unusual design is not understood. Presumably the main purpose of the structure was to house cattle during the winter months, when the facing land would have been too wet for grazing.
  The structure was surveyed by Wessex Archaeology as part of pre-planning investigations. They concluded that, although semi dilapidated, the timbers are in reasonable condition and it can be considered a good quality build. Carpenter's marks throughout show it was constructed in one making and some features demonstrate skilled workmanship. They noted the presence of a few clay tiles and some remaining roof battens, indicating that it originally had a tiled roof. They recommended that the structure should be retained and enhanced.
  The developer has accepted the recommendation, although the wording 'enhanced' might be considered a little vague. If planning permission is granted, it will probably carry more precise requirements to determine the degree of renovation.

May 2012
In December 2009 we reported on an archaeological evaluation survey on grassland next to BAE Systems at Somerton. These preliminary excavations held out the possibility of an Iron Age roundhouse and settlement. Further archaeology was dependant on a superstore development continuing but it was delayed until now. At the time of writing, the archaeology has been underway for a week and is already revealing what could prove to be one of the Island's most important prehistoric sites.
  The excavations by Wessex Archaeology have uncovered numerous post holes and pits, identified as Iron Age from pottery finds. Some of the post holes suggest roundhouses, while other profiles might point to granaries. It seems likely archaeologists are revealing part of what was a sizable Iron Age farming settlement. The features appear to continue under an inaccessible car park but there is sufficient area uncovered to determine the nature of the settlement.
  The Island has plenty of evidence of Iron Age activity but, until now, it has been rather piecemeal, without a clear example of a roundhouse dwelling. The Northwood discovery will add a whole new dimension to the way archaeologists interpret Iron Age occupation on the Island.
  It is a little ironic that the settlement is at what appears to be an unlikely location. Island Iron Age deposits commonly arise around the coast or inland waterways. They were essentially arable farmers and there is concentrated activity in fertile valleys. The Northwood site has ground of compressed clay and flint, typical of the north Island and very difficult to work. It may be there was some advantage in being within the vicinity of the Medina but the location will certainly provide archaeologists with something to ponder. The settlement might well have been surrounded by woodland, suggesting a more a diverse range of activities. It might also point to the Island's Iron Age population being more ethnically divided than had previously been assumed.
  The archaeology is continuing and deeper excavations may provide evidence that will narrow down the Iron Age period. The pottery has yet to be properly evaluated. Any important developments arising from the continuing work will be added to this article.
excavating skeletonInitially the site has been stripped down to the topmost habitation level. The plan at left shows the arrangement of post holes and pits over just a part of the site, giving an indication of circular and linear features. Further archaeology will examine some of the features in more detail.

June 2012
The Portable Antiquities Scheme was established in 1997 to officially record archaeological finds from the nation's growing number of metal detecting enthusiasts. At the time, not all archaeologists were keen on the scheme but it has proved to be incredibly successful, not least on the Isle of Wight. The Island has recorded over 9,500 finds, some of which included a number of items, giving a total of around 14,000 artefacts.
  Most of the detecting is done on farmland. The farmer may receive a small fee for allowing the detecting to take place but the real incentive lies in the prospect of receiving half the value of any treasure found, the other half going to the finder. Treasure would normally be confined to items of precious metal or important finds in prehistoric base metal. Under the Treasure Act, there is a legal requirement to report treasure finds. However the vast majority of finds do not fall into the treasure category and it was these the scheme was mainly designed to capture.
   The scheme is run and funded by the British Museum. Each region has a Finds Liaison Officer who assesses the finds and raises the necessary documentation for inclusion in the PAS website. On the Island this function is carried out by Frank Basford, working out of the County Archaeology Unit (tel 01983 823810). The criteria for a find to be recorded under the scheme is that it should be dated before 1700, although Frank may include an occasional later item of special interest, often of particular local interest.
  Anybody can take an find along for assessment, and it doesn't have to be metal. However, the scheme is largely in the hands of metal detecting clubs. When the Island's scheme started there was just one established club, with another one getting underway. The number of detectorists has grown over time and there are now four clubs contributing. Whilst the prospect of treasure has always been a motive, many local detectorists have a more general historical interest and have developed their own expertise in common finds.
  The finds make a valuable contribution to an understanding of our past. There are regular discoveries of coins from all periods, as far back as Iron Age. Other frequent finds are dress accessories, e.g. buttons, buckles and mounts. Such items are a reminder of a time when so many worked and played in the fields. There is probably a case for drawing some conclusions from the range of discoveries, perhaps in comparison with other counties, although the locations selected by detectorists cannot necessarily be considered typical.
PAS items The three items from left are examples of Island treasure finds discovered during the life of the scheme: an Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet mount, Anglo-Saxon gold bracteate (pendant) and a medieval silver seal matrix with a Roman green jasper intaglio. Not all important finds are treasure. At right is a medieval bronze figurine of the Madonna and baby Jesus (viewed from the side) found in April this year. It is 6cm high and has a concave back for mounting on something like a staff. Only a handful of these are on record, one of which is in the British Museum.