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

July-September 2012

July 2012
Over a year ago we reported that the council's review of heritage facilities had stalled. A cut had been arrived at somewhat arbitrarily and the review would be left with finding ways of meeting it. Since then there has been little attention to the matter. The council advise that the review is now underway, with a view to making the savings this year.
  The review covers the Record Office, Archaeology Unit, museums, archives and artefact collections. The likely considerations and options are still much as outlined in our February 2011 news item. Since that time there has been some natural wastage, leaving a savings target of 150,000. One new factor is the announcement that the council may dispose of the Guildhall. This raises questions about the Island Museum and additional artefacts and archives held at the Guildhall. At present it seems the matter is being treated as separate from the review and will be dealt with if and when disposal comes to pass.
  The review process requires officers to arrive at broad proposals and then consult with bodies like the History Forum and the Museum Forum to finalise a detailed plan. This will then be offered for full public consultation. The problem of sub-standard environmental conditions for some archives still hangs over the review. The National Archive has insisted the council take some action on the matter but, as yet, no solution seems to be forthcoming. Originally, sharing artefact storage with the mainland was thought to be a possibility but the idea seems to have faded in the face of impracticalities. Relocation and amalgamation of existing facilities will be an important factor under consideration. There may be sufficient savings from amalgamating facilities to encourage some sort of one-stop visitor centre.
  It looks as if the review could be a watershed in the life of the Island's heritage facilities. One of the reasons for the delay in proceeding with the review was that the council gave priority to services for which it has statutory obligations: it has no such obligations towards much of the Heritage Service. Officers are contemplating an overall heritage strategy to accompany the changes, presumably aimed at the long term survival of the service. The council's recent announcement of another programme of cuts from 2014 is ominous
  A key factor in survival will be public support. Previous surveys have shown too many Islanders aren't even aware the facilities exist. Outside of the Dinosaur Museum, visitor numbers to museums are low, particularly among locals. Yet the increasing number of local history websites suggests there is plenty of interest in the subject. Any strategy will probably have to feature a change in policy towards style and presentation, including a more proactive approach to the internet.

August 2012
Back in March 2009 we covered an excavation at Lynnbottom Tip that revealed the profile of a boundary ditch that runs from top to bottom of the Island. There were no finds or useful deposits but it was thought it might just be possible to date the ditch using the OSL method. First attempts failed but a report has now been released providing a date.
Motkin boundary
  The boundary, shown as the red line above, was discovered by Island archaeologist David Motkin some years ago, through the study of aerial photographs. The lack of any dating evidence gave rise to wide ranging speculation. It has therefore been interesting to learn that the excavated material has been dated to Iron Age/Roman, with some later medieval activity.
  The Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating method is applied to certain minerals in soil sediment containing crystals, such as quartz and feldspar. Put crudely, it measures the reaction of electrons after the grains have been buried and no longer exposed to sunlight. The initial test samples proved inadequate and results were inconclusive but subsequent samples produced more robust results.
  The excavation revealed the ditch was unusual in that it had a double gully at the base. Iron Age and Roman ditches generally denote settlement enclosures, field boundaries or defensive features. A long linear feature such as this can most likely be explained as a territory division. Prehistoric linear ditches are not unknown but they are less clearly understood.
  The Iron Age tribes on the facing mainland were the Durotriges, Belgae and Atrebates. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that the Island had a related tribal division, but for the fact that almost all Iron Age coins found on the Island have been Durotriges. However, coins only emerged in the late Iron Age, so the ditch could reflect earlier developments.
  The Motkin Boundary remains one of the Island's most intriguing earthworks. It would be a relatively simple archaeological project to pursue it at other points along its route, via geophysical survey and a few simple trenches. It would be interesting to see if the double gully feature is continuous and there's always the possibility of a revealing find.

September 2012
It seems the muddy sediment of the River Medina still has evidence of past activity to reveal. The recently discovered timbers are a post alignment and thought to be a possible a fish weir. The Island's intertidal zones will have doubtless seen many of these fish traps over time but hard evidence for them is scarce.
  The timbers were revealed at some distance from the bank during an extreme low tide, which accounts for why they have not been seen before. There may have also been some favourable movement in river sediment. They were noticed by men working at Island Harbour. Little of the remains were exposed but the suggestion of a post alignment was enough to prompt their curiosity and they had the foresight to remove one post and take it to the Archaeology Unit for examination. There is no telling when the remains will be exposed again.
  The Archaeology Unit had the timber radiocarbon dated and it provided a date range of AD 1208-1281. The post alignment was at an angle to the bank and seemed to contain some interwoven material, suggesting it was most likely to be a fish weir. Intertidal post alignments containing wattle have arisen at a number of places on the Island but few can be identified as fish weirs. There were hints of fish weirs during the Wootton-Quarr intertidal project with one certain example at Binstead. It was a V shaped post and wattle structure and was dated as Saxo-Norman.
  This recent discovery is to the north of Island Harbour. In the 13th century this natural inlet was on Quarr Abbey lands and was operated by them as a 'sea pond', for holding fish. It is not unreasonable to assume the fish weir may have been part of their operation. However, the land adjacent to the feature was beyond their ownership, so their involvement is by no means certain.
fish weir   The concept of fish weirs existed from prehistoric times. They could be constructed of posts and wattle or stone, with many variations in size and layout. Fish travelling with the tide or current would be funnelled into a trap. The illustration at left is an artist's impression of the example discovered at Binstead.