A guest post by Dom Price, Species Recovery Trust, on the experiments at Butser Ancient Farm.
Ancient crops, strange fungus and witchcraft.
Butser ancient farm is a key site forming part of a project to re-introduce two species of now extinct plants. Darnel and upright goosefoot were both a relatively common site in ancient farming systems before the introduction of modern agriculture, including the widespread use of herbicide and improvements in seed cleaning technology which allowed all ‘weed’ species to be removed before seeds were re-sown. Both of these plants vanished from mainland Britain over two decades ago, and Darnel is now hanging on a knife edge on the Arran Isles off the west coast of Ireland. Continue reading
Grand Saxon Designs
We already have one Saxon house at Butser Ancient Farm based on local archaeological evidence. It was built by treewright Darren Hammerton in 2016. Now he’s working on a second house from the same site, built with different techniques.
Treewrighting is the ancient process of taking timber from source through to manufactured wooden item. It pre-dates modern power tools by thousands of years, and treewrighting involves the use of familiar tools, such as chisels and axes, as well as less familiar wood-working equipment like adzes and specialist axes.
This summer Darren is running a series of workshops to teach aspiring treewrights some of the ancient techniques and crafts needed to build Saxon houses.These workshops will run at the same time as the second Saxon hall house reconstruction, so participants can get close to and, in some cases, involved in an exciting archaeological reconstruction programme.
We’ll start with making Saxon bulwark walls, which are horizonal timber slats set into recessed grooves in timber uprights. Darren will also teach the treewrighting techniques to build a Saxon roof truss and a Saxon har-hung door, a door hinged without metalwork. There will also be a wattle hurdle workshop which are used for a bed for the roof thatch.
If you want to prepare for your own Saxon grand design, this summer is your chance to learn the treewrighting techniques you’ll need.
You can book the workshops on the website at: http://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/treewrighting-workshops/
A happy group of Butser staff travelled to Suffolk last week to visit two great archaeological sites – West Stow and the iconic Neolithic flint mines of Grimes Graves.
West Stow Anglo-Saxon village is a site built around a number of experimental reconstructions of houses from the early phase of Anglo-Saxon Britain, from the 5th – 7th Centuries. The houses are built on the site of the original settlement. As so little is known of housing and culture of the period it was very interesting to see their reconstructions. The site and period are different from our Butser Saxon buildings, which date from around the 7th – 8th Centuries, and have markedly different archaeology, so it was great to see the experimental interpretation of these buildings and enjoy the excellent small museums on site.
Without doubt, the highlight of our trip was the visit to Grimes Graves. Site manager Rob, along with other terrific members of staff, opened the site specially for us on a rather wintry but really lovely sunny Suffolk morning. The site, with its distinctive potholed landscape, features over 400 former flint mining pits. The mines were in operation around 4500 years ago. The miners extracted flint from a below-ground seam by excavating more or less funnel-shaped pits, 20 or more metres deep. There are quite a lot of flint lumps (nodules) above this level, but they were after the finest, black Suffolk flint, which occurs, fairly unusually, in a continuous bed well below ground level. How they knew it was there is just one of the fascinating archaeological questions arising from our visit!
After kitting up with hard hats, we descended into one of the few original pits to have been archaeologically excavated, which has been cleared of the infill that has closed over the vast majority of the others. Inside we experienced what is as close as it is perhaps possible to get to a Neolithic landscape, albeit a subterranean one! The really unexpected, and very cool, part of the Grimes Graves experience was being given access to the normally closed-off excavation tunnels, where miners used their antler picks and hands to form chambers off to the sides of the main pit, following the flint seam. Sitting in a Neolithic flint mine, talking about the archaeology… does it get any better?
We can highly recommend a visit to both sites if you find yourself in Suffolk. Grimes Graves and West Stow are only around 15 miles apart, with the interesting Anglo Saxon town of Thetford more or less in between.
Each year we have several wonderful students join us from across Europe for a work-experience placement, whether they are studying archaeology, cultural heritage, museum studies or a range of other relevant subjects, they get the chance to see how somewhere like Butser operates on a day to day basis, conduct their own experiments and research projects, and generally get stuck in to life on the farm.
At the end of last year, Àngels joined us for a 3 month period from Catalonia. She brought brilliant new ideas to the farm and worked with us on a huge range of projects from painting the Roman Villa to making pottery, designing signs, evaluating and collecting feedback and more.
Àngels has written a great blog piece for the Exarc website about all the things she experienced and learned during her placement. Take a look here.
We want to say a big thank you to Àngels for all her help and hope to see her back on the farm again before too long!
A couple of weeks ago we were excited to be invited to the East Hants Volunteer Awards 2019 following the nomination of our regular Wednesday volunteer team for the award of small team of the year!
Members of the team donned their finery for the awards presentation, joining a hall full of inspiring volunteers and nominees. After hearing about some of the wonderful volunteer projects going on locally it was time for the small team award….
After a drumroll, the winner was announced… Continue reading