in a Common Sea
Isles of Scilly 2005
Account of fieldwork
1. Research into the extent, nature, state of preservation and potential
of archaeological deposits at a number of prehistoric cliff-face
sites was instigated. Initial monitoring of the rates and patterns
of coastal erosion was undertaken. The characterisation of undated
sites was initiated through the collection of artefactual and palaeoenvironmental
material for dating. Previously noted findspots, were investigated
and a potential settlement site identified.
Beach scene St Martin's
- Sites in the area of Pendrathen and Halangy Porth on St Mary's
were located and recorded using GPS. The site at Pendrathen
was confirmed to be a highly eroded Bronze Age cairn with less
than one quarter of the total monument remaining. The eroding
section was cleaned and recorded and datable material recovered.
GPS survey revealed rates of erosion, relative to the 1880 OS
map, to be a loss of 4m along this coastline. The eroding section
at Halangy Porth was photographically recorded and compared
to the section recorded in 1980's, it is estimated that loss
at this site is about 1m of coastline over this period.
- Coastal survey in the area of Porth Cressa, St Mary's, relocated
a number of eroding sites; these were photographically recorded.
The recent loss of approximately 0.5m of land to the west of
the bay was reported by locals.
Porth Cressa erosion
- Coastal survey of St. Martin's relocated a number of eroding
sites. The material collected from these sites allowed their
characterisation as Neolithic and Bronze Age. At Lawrence Brow
artefacts were recovered in hillwash derived from inshore sites,
suggesting they relate either to the cairns lying upslope (e.g.
Knackyboy see below) or with unidentified settlements.
- A coastal settlement site, as yet unaffected by coastal erosion,
was identified on St. Martin's. Initial investigations suggest
a site similar to other prehistoric settlements, with an enclosure
boundary, platforms and associated houses. The site was surveyed,
and recorded although vegetation obscured much of the detail.
2. A sample of scheduled Ancient Monuments was visited to assess
their state of preservation and potential for future research.
- A number of submerged and intertidal sites proved impossible
to locate, either due to attrition or sand deposition; at others
damage due to erosive processes was noted.
- Inland many sites remain unmanaged and are suffering from
encroaching vegetation and agricultural damage. Two sites on
St Martin's were cleared of vegetation by hand and surveyed,
however it proved impossible to clear others without machinery.
In particular attempts, to assess the preservation and potential
of Knackyboy Cairn (estimated to contain the cremations of 60
individuals when excavated in 1948) were thwarted. Local accounts
indicate the monument has been obscured by vegetation for a
number of decades.
- Intertidal monuments were visited; in particular, the fieldwalls
lying off Samson and Tresco. The function and date of these
fieldwalls remains unknown, and the suggestion that some were
tidal fishtraps remains untested. In addition, the process by
which they became submerged and the condition of any associated
archaeological deposits remains unknown. Observations suggested
that submergence resulted in the loss of original land surfaces,
although this needs to be established by fieldwork.
3. Paleoenvironmental intertidal deposits previously recorded were
relocated at the time of the lowest autumn tides and their position
recorded using GPS. Submerged deposits were also located and sampled
- The survey and recording of the palaeoenvironmental deposits
has facilitated planning for future research and analysis. In
particular, the discovery of submerged peats lying in the deepest
part of the sea channels filled a gap in our spatial sampling
and future liaison with divers should lead to the identification
of other sample locales. This information will feed into the
assessment of environmental change and the chronology and extent
of prehistoric peat formation.
Peat deposit survey
4. The archaeological recording, survey and characterisation of
a number of at risk archaeological sites accidentally exposed by
building and agricultural activity was undertaken.
- Part of a previously unknown Iron Age cist cemetery on St
Mary's, had been exposed and then reburied by a farmer in 2002;
this was re-exposed, cleaned and recorded. The state of preservation
and extent of previous disturbance was also noted. The site
was accurately plotted onto OS Landline mapping, and reburied
in an archeologically appropriate manner. Fieldwalking, supplemented
by geophysical survey in accessible areas, identified an area
of archaeological activity surrounding the cists within which
lay a possible associated settlement. There are only four recorded
cist cemeteries on the islands, two on the foreshore of St.
Martin's were washed away in the 1790's whilst the second pair,
located on St Mary's in the area of Hugh Town, were excavated
in advance of building work in the 1960's. The discovery of
an undisturbed cemetery is therefore of significance. No attempt
was made to excavate the cists, but it is likely they contain
grave goods and possibly human bone. Advice on future treatment
of potential archaeological features was given to the tenant
Geophysics survey and interpretation (click the image to see
a larger version of the interpretation 152kb)
- Prehistoric activity was noted on St Agnes, exposed as a result
of agricultural works. No archaeology had been previously recorded
in this location and a prehistoric drain was cleaned, identified
and recorded. Advice on reburial and future land management
was given to the tenant farmer.
5. Planning for future research on the island is being informed
by the advances in knowledge gained from this initial trip.
- Liaison with the local community identified a number of further
potential sites, some of which are located near recorded artefact
- The lack of archaeological activity in the islands in recent
years may have lead to a decline in interest and management
of this valuable resource.
- The presentation and state of knowledge of many of the sites
remains obscure, the majority were excavated some time ago,
and many will benefit from a re-analysis and further investigation
to clarify, define, interpret and present the monuments. In
particular, there are a number of challenges to be faced in
terms of locating and reassessing previously recorded sites.
- Present models of island interactions suggest that earlier
prehistory on the islands is under-represented and there is
little understanding of the context within which the abundant
burial monuments were created and used. Future fieldwork will
focus on this and on the development of a modern Scillonian
We hope to return to the islands in 2006
Jacqui Mulville - Director of Islands in a Common Sea
tel: +44 (0)29 2087 4247
Acknowledgements and Thanks
University, The British
of Scilly Wildlife Trust, English
Environment Service Cornwall
The team: Jill Campbell, Julia Geall, Libby, Charlie
Johns, Matt Jones, Fiona Pink, Sarah Rose, Imogen Sambrook, Helen
Smith, Paul Tasker, Tim Young, Amanda Martin, Sarnia Butcher, Kathryn
Sawyer, Vanessa Staker, Ian Morrison, Gill Arbury, Nick Johnson,
Ted Moulson, Chris & Chris Savill, Terry & Jackie Perkins
The Rogers Family & The Gillet Family
St. Mary's, St. Martin's (in particular, for moving our equipment
with grace and humour) and St. Agnus boatmen
Rhiannon, Island Taxis (and Matt when he stood in!)
The staff of the many shops, cafes and public houses that made us
The people of St. Mary's, St. Martin's and St. Agnus
Support staff at Cardiff University