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

July - September 2005

July 2005
Plans for development of 20 hectares of Pan farmland, for 800 homes, prompted a major archaeological project to investigate the site before work began. Past records offered the prospect of both Neanderthal and Medieval discoveries. Sadly, as the dig now comes to an end, little of significance has been found.
  The expectations were based on Stone Age flint implements discovered nearby in the 1920s. Given the importance of Neanderthal finds, from around 25,000 years ago, it was inevitable some excitement was generated at the prospect of further discoveries. It was also hoped to trace the location of Pan's medieval village, recorded in Domesday but never subject to further reference.
  In preparation, the whole area was covered by a geophysical survey. Anomalies were mapped as the basis for archaeological investigation. In one of the Island's most wide-ranging digs, around 50 trenches were dug across the length and breadth of the area. In the event they revealed nothing of significance. The anomalies turned out to be either natural features or farm drainage systems. Ironically any similar sized area picked at random on the Island would almost certainly provide more finds. The lack of finds at Pan suggests it was converted from woodland to farmland at some point and remained just that.
  The excavation was launched as a community project and the biggest disappointment for locals may well be a failure to locate the medieval village. However the Domesday reference indicates little more than a tiny hamlet. It now looks as if this has been permanently lost under existing buildings nearer to the Medina. Neanderthal evidence may have also been also lost to earlier development, when archaeological demands were less rigorous.
  From a community interest point of view the results have been less than ideal, but archaeologists will draw some comfort from the fact that a large housing development is not going to bury any important archaeological sites.

August 2005
In the past few weeks archaeologists have been excavating in a Shalfleet garden and uncovering a complex range of features, providing evidence of Neolithic, Saxon and Medieval occupation. The key interest surrounded two Saxon graves.
  The graves had most of their skeletons intact. They have been carbon dated to between the early 7th and mid 8th century. This period spans the Christian conversion of the Island in 686AD. Nevertheless the graves were on an east-west alignment suggesting they are Christian burials. Shalfleet's Anglo-Saxon origins are well documented and the early dating raises the intriguing question as to whether they preceded a formal parish centre. Full details of the discovery are still being withheld but disclosure will certainly attract national interest. Every such burial adds something to Anglo-Saxon history.
  Considering the compact area of excavation, the range of periods uncovered was exceptional. The edge of two pits were exposed which contained Neolithic/Bronze Age material. The site contained a number of post holes, although, as yet, it is unclear whether these can be dated. Medieval features and material were discovered, including an early medieval toilet (don't ask how they identified this). Some finds offered a tantalising glimpse of features beyond the boundary of what was accessible.
  The excavation was a challenging one for archaeologists. Different levels, spanning neolithic through to medieval, were complicated by periodic flooding from the nearby creek. This effectively laid down geological beds between archaeological contexts. In fact one feature might suggest a revetment built as a flood defence. The dig is now complete but the final analysis and report will take some months. The conclusions are likely to represent one the year's most important local archaeological events.
  Like most Island excavations, this one was subject to confidentiality on behalf of the developer. We can only report on it now following its completion. Some restrictions still exist, imposed by the church in the light of Christian burials. It might seem strange that national TV can revel in live archaeology while numerous local digs are conducted in secret. The Shalfleet dig would have been both fascinating and educational for locals to view, and archaeology has no purpose other than to inform the culture. Plumbing has come long way since the medieval toilet, but it seems public knowledge still remains at the behest of landowners and the church.

September 2005
A community project is being formulated to re-create the working processes of the Island's first farmers. The plan is to take a plot of land and farm it using only the tools of our Neolithic ancestors
  The project is intended to cover the tasks of preparing the land, sowing seed and harvesting a wheat crop. The net result will hopefully be a Neolithic bread. The implements will ideally be based on local finds from the New Stone Age period. A flint knapper will duplicate the tools. It remains to be seen whether a sufficient range of tools exist in the local archaeological record, particularly for breaking up the soil and creating furrows. Neolithic man also used bone and probably made some wooden equipment or used naturally shaped branches, although little evidence of such implements has survived. The most likely crop will be spelt, an ancient wheat still used today for livestock forage. Creating the correct tools is only half the challenge: acquiring the skills to use them efficiently is likely to generate much fun and frustration.
  The shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer is generally seen as one of the great watersheds in civilisation, when man ceased to be nomadic and established permanent settlements. The project will provide first hand experience of the trials and tribulations that beset those early farmers, and may well yield interesting discoveries. The tasks will be undertaken entirely by members of the community, facilitated by Joy Verrinder, Project Education Officer at Carisbrooke Castle Museum. At present it is still at the planning stage but anyone wishing to be kept abreast of developments can contact Joy at the Museum.

neolithic axe This polished stone axe is an example of a Neolithic tool. A number of these have been found on the Island, some made of imported stone, as was this one discovered at Thorness. It shows how our early farming ancestors had brought stone tool making to a fine art.