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River Alde Saxon Heritage Project

Barbers Point 2010

Initiated and run by

The project was initiated by Aldeburgh and District Local History Society (ADLHS) and run by ADLHS with Suffolk CC Archaeological Service (SCCAS)

Funding sources

Heritage Lottery Fund

Educational Aims

  • To train volunteers in aspects of excavation, site recording, finds recognition and finds processing.
  • To involve local schools during the excavation and to invite nine schools to participate in excavation and finds processing.
  • To give staff and experienced volunteers opportunities to supervise excavators and/or school pupils.
  • To develop educational packs for the participating schools and to run a series of outreach follow-up visits.

Archaeological Aims

  • To enhance and extend the excavations at Barbers Point conducted in 2004 and 2006.
  • To reveal more fully the post-hole structures and other features internal to the surrounding enclosure ditches and to characterise and date these.
  • To further extend the site in the vicinity of previously recognised Saxon burials and to investigate their relationship with the adjacent post-hole building (a possible chapel).
  • To investigate and further reveal elements of Roman and prehistoric archaeology within the site.

Work done and results

The training excavation ran for three weeks during September 2010. Teams of ADLHS volunteers were assigned to a SCCAS supervisor. These teams worked to remove and sieve areas of an overlying layer containing large quantities of finds. Volunteers took it in turn to shovel, carry buckets and operate the sieves. Once the layer was removed the underlying features were revealed. These features (ditches, post-holes, pits and graves) were carefully excavated, planned and recorded. Most volunteers had opportunities to dig and record individual features. Many of those working towards the end of the project also helped to excavate graves. The washing, sorting and bagging of finds was also conducted on site with a SCCAS supervisor and experienced volunteers showing newer recruits how to process the finds. Some wet sieving of soil samples was also conducted on site.

The results of the 2010 season of excavation surpassed our expectations by revealing further evidence of Middle Saxon post-hole built structures and up to nine further graves, six of them containing surviving bone. Radiocarbon dates have confirmed that all are likely to have been buried during the 7th century AD with the bulk of the dates clustering towards the second half of the century. This would make the site contemporary with the founding of St Botolph’s monastery on the other side of the River Alde at Iken. These individuals are likely to be the first generation of Christians buried in the region and are only a single generation younger than some of the nationally important pagan burials at Snape, 3.5km away.

During a three day period during the middle of the project, the site hosted visits from nine local primary schools. Each visit began with a guided tour of the site and a discussion of archaeological principles. Then the students were split into working groups, with each group embarking on a carousel of activities across the site including the excavation and sieving of the overlying layer and the washing of finds. These activities were supervised by the volunteers, making this an opportunity to consolidate their knowledge, skills and expertise by teaching procedures to the students.

Over the following academic year the ADLHS have maintained links with the participating schools and have presented each school with a resource pack including a dig diary, information sheets, replica artefacts and a DVD of films and images from the excavation. The resource pack was given to the school during a special Saxon-themed assembly organised and delivered by the ADLHS outreach team.

The project will conclude during the spring of 2012 with a conference featuring speakers from SCCAS, ADHLS and invited experts. This will coincide with the launch of the archive report of the excavation and of a specially commissioned reconstruction image of the Saxon occupation of the site.

Lessons learned

This was the third season of this training excavation, so there have been many opportunities to make improvements since the first dig in 2004. Out of the many changes made since 2004, the following are the main points:

  • Maximise the number of trained staff. Ideally there should be a ratio of three or four volunteers to each supervisor. Although this makes the project more expensive, the quality of the excavation, the archive and the finds recovery is far superior. Also this gives an opportunity for staff to gain confidence by teaching volunteers and demonstrating their expertise.
  • Use the expertise of the volunteers. Volunteers who have worked previously were often only too happy to train and help the newer recruits. Helping the visiting school pupils was also a great boost to the confidence of the volunteers and definitely helped them to consolidate and refine their skills and knowledge. If volunteers (or staff for that matter) show any particular aptitude or enthusiasm for a particular aspect of the project give them responsibility in this area.
  • Using volunteers might be one of the few ways that research excavations can be run during the present financial climate. Barbers Point demonstrates that a site of regional (possibly of national) importance can be run as a training excavation.

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