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

October - December 2019


October 2019
THE BOULDNOR SITE THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
More information and pictures have been released following the latest revelation from the underwater archaeology at Bouldnor. This important Stone Age site was discovered in 2005 and has already rewritten British prehistory in setting back the transition from hunter-gatherers to settled communities by 2,000 years. The recent discovery of a timber construction adds a level of skills not previously anticipated in the Late Mesolithic period.
  It had always been assumed the advancing neolithic culture on the continent had been delayed in reaching Britain because rising sea levels had broken the land connection with our neighbours. The evidence for imported wheat on the Bouldnor site dated 8,000 years ago suggests a settlement beyond hunter-gatherers that must have been subject to continental influence. At this time the English Channel had already made inroads in the south but Britain was still connected further north.
  This latest discovery on the site is a multi layer timber structure that appears to have been alongside a stream. One conclusion is it was a platform for boat building. A boat at this time could have been little more than a hollowed out tree trunk.
  The land that is now eleven metres below sea level would have been above sea level at the time and perhaps connected via waterways to other local settlements. There is of course much that is still unknown about the people who inhabited this settlement but it remains one of the most important and intriguing archaeological sites in Britain.

Bouldnor archaeology
The feature as identified before excavation.

Bouldnor archaeology
The structure revealed under excavation

Bouldnor archaeology
Site Director, Garry Momber, tagging the excavation.

Bouldnor archaeology
Lower layer of the construction, made using stone tools.

  There are many problems associated with underwater archaeology. The silting over of the archaeology is a major factor in its preservation but once the feature is excavated there is no method of preserving it in situ, so everything has to be lifted as soon as possible. This process adds to the expense of such operations. The local Maritime Archaeology Trust are responsible for the site and rely heavily on financial support from the public.



November 2019
CAN WE AFFORD TO ABANDON
UNIQUE INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE?
The discoveries made during the recent excavations of Dodnor cement kilns included a structure that is an unusual example of the industry's 19th century development, posing many unanswered question that can only be resolved by future archaeology. The site is earmarked for protection on the Local List, but as can be seen in the photos below, a few months after the excavations it is being left to become overgrown, which will inhibit any further investigation.

Dodnor kilns
  Prior to recent excavations, this Local List site had been allowed to become completely overgrown, and as a result was revealed to have suffered extensive damage and some collapse. This neglect by the authorities of a council owned site was in the face of protests that the site could provide evidence of the early local development of cement kiln technology. It now looks as if there is a danger the council is going down the same route again, in spite of an identified need for further investigation.
  The Archaeology Report on the Dodnor site makes it clear that full excavations could not be completed and that further work would be required. Either the relevant officials didn't bother to read it or they have simply ignored its content. They should oblige Gift to Nature, who manage the site, to keep it clear of overgrowth.
  The excavations revealed an unexpectedly complex structure which represents a type of kiln that, until now, was largely unknown. Its design was never patented and there are only vague references to it in accounts of 19th century developments. Wider aspects of the kiln suggests the company was experimenting with processes of which there is no industrial record and would have been unique to the Dodnor operation. It will require future archaeology to establish exactly how these processes worked, which would add an important element to the history of the cement industry.
  The Isle of Wight is probably the nation's last outpost for officials and archaeologists who see industrial history as a secondary consideration. This backwater culture was recently demonstrated by archaeologists in one of the Island's leading societies, when they thwarted the society's attempt to embrace industrial archaeology. Getting the local authority to support preservation of industrial heritage has been a well documented uphill battle.




December 2019
FRESHWATER'S VANISHING HISTORICAL ODDITIES
Following last month's item on the overgrowth of Dodnor cement kilns, it has been pointed out that Freshwater has an example of historical features that have become almost entirely overgrown. The photos below show the lime kilns at Moons Hill as they appeared some years ago and the same site as it appears today
Moons Hill kilns
  The concrete domes were not part of the original structure but were added by a Victorian antiquarian, Robert Walker. His involvement is probably more interesting than the original lime kiln origin. He was an advocate of the theory that the Isle of Wight was the island called Ictis, referred to by a Greek historian in the first century as somewhere on the south coast where the Phoenicians came to collect mined tin for transport to Gaul. Supporters of the theory overcame the problem of the Island's lack of tin mines by claiming the material was transferred overland to the Island from mines in the West Country, to be collected here by the Phoenicians.
  When Robert Walker came across the Moons Hill kilns he came to the conclusion they must be somehow connected with the Phoenician trade and claimed a couple of scratched marks on the inside were Greek lettering. He suggested the kilns were crematorium, although it is not clear why this would have been a Phoenician requirement. In 1892 he published a booklet incorporating these theories, entitled Phoenicia in Freshwater, wherein he explains that his concrete domes reflect the original design and provide protection for what he saw as important ancient structures.
  Ultimately the Isle of Wight Ictis theory was largely discredited. However, the description 'Supposed Roman Crematoria' remained on OS maps and sometime in the late 20th century they were Grade II listed on that basis. In 2000 the IW Industrial Archaeology Society surveyed the site and established they were standard lime kilns, probably dating around the late 18th/early 19th century. In fact some locals had suggested this to Robert Walker at the time of his deliberations but he dismissed them as having 'unscientific minds'.
  The kilns no longer appear to be listed, so they may have been delisted as a result of their revised assessment. Without any statutory protection, there will be nobody with any responsibility towards them. If Moons Hill residents and the parish council are not interested in retaining their visibilty, it seems unlikely anybody else will be concerned.