in a Common Sea
Isles of Scilly 2006
Account of fieldwork
This year's fieldwork season was extremely successful. A number
of projects were undertaken and this is a (very) brief outline of
Posters in PDF format outlining aspects of the project are available
for viewing or download:
Cairn 1 (437k) Knackyboy
Cairn 2 (619k)
You may also like to download the 2006
season Project Report (PDF 4mb)
The now uninhabited island of Samson has a wealth of information
on recent Scillonian history. Abandoned in 1855, the islands have
a fabulously well preserved post-medieval (late 17th to the mid-19th
century) landscape and settlement of 19 buildings, however the ravages
of time have taken their toll and something needed to be done to
secure the remains for the future. A previous excavation undertaken
by Cardiff University in 1977 has already revealed much about the
island's life in the declining years of Samson's occupation.
This year work funded by the Isles
of Scilly AONB Sustainable Development Fund, the Heritage
Lottery Fund, the Scheduled Monument Management Programe (to which
English Heritage, Cornwall Heritage Trust and Cornwall County Council
contribute) and Cardiff University has started the long (and expensive)
process of conserving these historic dwellings. This year was a
pilot study, and our results should provide for more accurate future
estimates of the time and resources needed for such work as well
as the logistical challenges that have to be met in working on uninhabited
Boat unloading on Samson
of Scilly Wildlife Trust cleared destructive vegetation
growth to enable us to record the buildings using drawing and photography.
Clearance of vegetation also provided routeways through the buildings,
facilitating visitor access across the site and through the buildings
without the need to clamber over walls, thus reducing further destruction
to the settlement.
Once recorded, consolidation work on the most vulnerable parts of
the buildings was undertaken by specialists. This included strengthening
walls, removing the build up of windblown sand where it impacted
on building stability and restoring stone work using the minimum
of intervention and traditional techniques wherever possible. Decaying
and fallen wooden lintels were moved back into their original positions
and provided with support to ensure the integrity of the houses
persists for some years to come. Potential damage to vegetation
and in particular to the lichens living on the buildings was minimised
by close liaison with wildlife advisers.
Decaying and fallen lintels and lichen survey
Further limited archaeological investigation took place in one house,
house H, thought to be one of the earliest houses. This produced
a wealth of finds associated with the later occupation of adjoining
houses, and proved to be a unique structure with walls consisting
of huge dressed blocks of granite, unlike the other houses surveyed.
Analysis of the material dumped into this house once it went out
of use should allow us to establish at what date it was abandoned,
however to discover when it was built would require more fieldwork.
Other discoveries included a possible entrance grave lying close
to the heart of the settlement and the incorporation of much earlier
(prehistoric or medieval) structures into the later housing.
Archaeological investigation and possible entrance grave
2. Knackyboy Cairn, St Martin's
The island of St. Martin's is home to one of the most populated
tombs in British prehistory, containing the remains of up to sixty
people. During the Bronze Age people were buried in entrance graves:
roughly circular structures made of stones and soil that overlay
a rectangular-shaped chamber and were surrounded by a kerb of boulders.
It was possible to enter the chamber from outside and people were
placed in these tombs over a period of years. Tombs of this type
are confined to the Isles of Scilly and a small area of the mainland
in West Penwith, Cornwall, Tramore, Ireland and small numbers of
similar monuments are known in the Channel Islands and Brittany.
Knackyboy cairn is one of the five examples excavated since 1939,
but due to the untimely death of the excavator it was never fully
published. The site produced over 200kg of pottery, including twenty-two
complete pots, bronze metalwork, glass beads in addition to the
human remains. The people had been cremated and their ashes placed
in the chamber, sometimes in pots known as urns. Some of the material
excavated from the cairn still exists and we hope that by using
modern methods to study the pots and bones we can find out more
about who was placed in the tomb and how long the tomb was used.
Dense vegetation around Knackyboy and wide vista from the site
The site itself was very hard to find as it was concealed by dense
vegetation -using local help we cleared up to and around the monument
revealing Knackyboy for the first time in many years. The location
of the entrance grave is stunning with wide vistas across the sea
to the other islands. We investigated the setting of the monument
by digging a number of test pits away from the monument itself,
in particular we were interested in a promentary lying below and
in front of the monument as a possible pyre site. A test pit here
revealed a possible structure and a few fragements of pot and flint,
however further work would be required to clarify what sort of activity
was occurring here. Behind the monument we revealed the extent of
windblown sand deposition on the islands. The old land surface lay
between 0.8m and over 2m below sand (investigated by auger), thus
any prehistory in this area is buried deep below ground. The date
of the sand blows is not known, although there are records of the
islands suffering from sand blows in the 17th century, no dating
evidence was recovered from the test pits were the ground surface
was visible. We are continuing to investigate the Knackyboy archive
and once all material has been located and assessed we hope to complete
the analysis of this material and maybe return to the monument for
Digging test pits beyond Knackyboy
3. Coastal monitoring
Further assessment of the coast of St. Martin's revealed
the presence of worked flint in the areas downslope from the monument,
material has been recovered from here over many, many, years but
as for the area behind the cairn it is possible that deep deposits
of windblown sand lie over any archaeology.
A visit to Halangy Porth noted the continual erosion of this site,
exacerbated by the use of part of the site as an access point to
the beach (a wall had been dismantled and used to form a step down
to the beach). To facilitate the preservation of the site this step
was removed. Future work to establish the limit of the site and
to further record the site would be appropriate.
4. Flint Scatters
On St. Martin's a further flint scatter, lying along the
slope towards the north from Knackyboy, was investigated. An assemblage
of flint has been recovered over the past few years by a local resident
and an initial assessment of the material suggests later Neolithic
activity in this area. We plan to return to this area for further
investigations. The museum collections held by the Isles of Scilly
were also visited and the flint collection assessed, this revealed
the presence of both Mesolithic and later Neolithic/Bronze Age flintwork,
with more of the former present that had been previously appreciated.
This suggests a significant Mesolithic presence on the islands,
to date very few early sites have been identified. We re-visited
one of these sites, eroding on the coastline of St. Martins and
recovered further small quantities of Mesolithic material.
5. St Mary's - Burial Cists and Houses
Last year we exposed and recorded three cist burials, part
of a newly discovered cist cemetery, on St. Mary's. Cist burials
are subterranean stone boxes that contain a single person and are
capped over with large slabs of stone. These cists, often found
in groups and sometimes associated with settlements, date to the
Iron Age and Romano-British periods - 700 BC to AD 410. In the area
around the cists many finds have been exposed by ploughing, and
the geophysical survey that we undertook last year indicated a possible
settlement close by. Fieldwork this year targeted geophysical anomalies
and trial trenches were positioned to enable the ground truthing
of archaeological features.
Three trenches were dug, with the help of a local contractor to
clear the soil overburden. These revealed significant archaeological
activity in all three, with the large quantities of pottery and
charcoal, with some flint, hammerstones, fire-cracked and worked
stone also recovered. This material lay within possible ditches
(or pits?), and the presence of at least three largely complete
vessel bases in one trench alone is of significance. Environmental
samples were taken to examine the potential for the recovery of
macro-fossils. Augering through the archaeological deposits revealed
that some of the archaeology is at least 80cm in depth, and the
presence of waterlogged contexts was noted.
Trial trench on St Mary's
In 2005 we cleaned and recorded the eroding section of
the cairn at Pendrathen on St Mary's. In May 2006 during the QRA
fieldtrip Dr R. Scaife took a small pollen sample from the eroding
face and preliminary analysis revealed pollen preservation was good.
Further sequential pollen samples were taken from the same area
and plotted onto the section drawing from last year. These now await
Jacqui Mulville - Director of Islands in a Common Sea
tel: +44 (0)29 2087 4247
Acknowledgements and Thanks
British Academy, Isles
of Scilly AONB,
Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust,
of Cornwall, Historic
Environment Service Cornwall, Isles
of Scilly Museum.
The team: Charlie Johns, Ian Dennis, Steve
Mills, Amelia Pannett, Rory Barclay ,Sally Brown, Jessie Collins,
Aidan Farnan, Dave Fung, Julia Geall, Amy Hunt, Matt Jones, Jo Lewis,
Maura von Oshen, 'Champ' Pitfield, Cat Richards, Rob Smith.
May, Eric Berry, Sarnia Butcher, Dave Mawer, Julie Love, Amanda
Martin Kathryn Sawyer, Vanessa Staker, Ian Morrison, Gill Arbery,
Nick Johnson, Ted Moulson, Chris & Chris Savill, Terry &
Jackie Perkins, The Rogers Family, Todd Stevens.
The staff of the many shops, cafes and public houses that made
The children of the Five Islands School.
The people of St. Mary's and St. Martin's.
Support staff at Cardiff University.
Transport: Bryher, St. Martin's and
St. Mary's boatmen, Rhiannon (Island Taxis), Buccabu Bike hire.