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Southwold and Reydon Community Test Pit Excavations

last modified Sep 02, 2014 06:26 PM
Funded by Touching the Tide, local residents and volunteers dug 16 archaeological test pits in the coastal Suffolk towns of Southwold and Reydon last weekend with ACA and support from Southwold Museum Historical Society.


Touching the Tide is a Heritage Lottery Funded partnership project which aims to raise awareness of the complex and changeable nature of the Suffolk coastline between Covehithe and Felixstowe. Over thousands of years, coastal erosion and overseas migration have resulted in the loss, shift, creation and renewal of coastal communities in Suffolk. Although the loss of the medieval town of Dunwich to the sea is widely known, the changing fortunes of settlements still in existence, such as Southwold and Reydon, have received less attention. Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA at the University of Cambridge, aims to redress the imbalance of research by collecting archaeological evidence for the origins and developement of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS), rather than those that have been deserted. As part of the Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA), ACA have already supervised the excavation of 1m² 'test pits' in the Suffolk coastal village of Walberswick, and were invited by Touching the Tide to supervise four days of community archaeological test pit excavations in the nearby settlements of Southwold and Reydon this summer.

ACA liaised with Southwold Museum & Historical Society (SMHS) to recuit local residents to offer their gardens to dig and volunteers to take part in the excavations, and nearly fifty people were involved in hosting test pits and excavating them from Thursday 28th to Sunday 31st August 2014. Eight of the test pits were located in Southwold, with sites at the caravan park, Gun Hill, Southwold Common, North Road, the Scout Hut and in the allotments behind Station Road. The other 8 test pits were north of the Buss Creek in Reydon, with sites on Gorse Road, Halesworth Road, Wangford Road and Long Marsh.

Diggers attended one of two briefings given by Dr Lewis, on Thursday and Saturday mornings held at the Stella Peskett Millennium Hall in north Southwold, to learn about the process of excavating and recording an archaeological test pit, and were visited on site regularly by the ACA team and members of SMHS. John Newman, a freelance archaeologist based in Suffolk, was on hand for the last 3 days to help identify the pottery and other small finds, and Touching the Tide Project Manager, Bill Jenman, was also present throughout the excavations - even enthusiastically volunteering to help to dig several of the test pits. All of the activity was brilliantly captured on camera by Sarah Groves, a Trustee of SMHS, and her photographs from the 4 days can be viewed on Flickr here. Especial thanks are owed to Chris Cardwell, Jan Holloway, Sarah Groves and their various volunteers from SMHS for promoting the test pit excavations locally, and for coordinating refreshments and access to the base. 

Following a long weekend of sun, sea and sandy digging conditions in Southwold and Reydon, the event concluded with a provisional summary of the excavations' findings by Dr Carenza Lewis at the Millennium Hall on Sunday afternoon, attended by many of the homeowners and diggers involved in the test pit digging as well as other interested local residents and visitors. All of the finds from the test pit were on display and Dr Lewis asked the test pit teams to say a few words about their dig experiences, before going through a provisional distribution map of the pottery of different ages. The final pottery report will be available on the ACA website within a couple of weeks.

Considering that these were only small scale excavations in now built-up areas, many of the test pits unearthed prehistoric flint finds from many thousands of years ago. One test pit on Southwold Common found a possible arrowhead (shown right) and the test pit at the caravan site found a possible Palaeolithic blade. Only one sherd of Roman pottery was found in Reydon and no Anglo-Saxon sherds were recovered in either settlement. However, medieval pottery was found at several of the test pit sites in Southwold and the southern-most of those dug in Reydon.

In feedback collected at the end of the event, 100% of the participants rated the event as 'excellent' or 'good' and 94% said that they would recommend the activity to others. There was high praise for the organisation ahead of and during the excavations as well as the support and expertise provided by ACA and the Museum, with one participant describing the event as "a fascinating, well managed project" (RD) and another saying she found it a "very pleasant experience. All technical and support staff were very helpful and friendly down-to-earth people" (MJ). Local residents appeared to relish the chance to find out more about the hidden history on their doorsteps, with one test pit owner saying he "found the whole dig exciting and (was) pleased to be involved in archaeology in my own garden" (MW) and another that he wished to pursue this interest further: "very enjoyable experience. I hope to get involved in similar digs and/or volunteer digging in my local area in the future" (DW). Many of the residents invited family and friends to help with the digging and one participant said afterwards that "it was good to see the interest (my grandchildren aged 8 and 6) showed and questions they were asking" (DB).

ACA will be returning to Suffolk for another two weekends of community test pit excavations this autumn; firstly in Nayland on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st September, and then Sudbury on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October 2014. If you are interested in finding out how you can get involved in digging during either of these events, or help in the organisation of volunteers and finds on the day, please see ACA's calendar for the relevant contact details.


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