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Update from John Jolleys (Chair of Trustees)

SHARP 2020 - a springboard for 2021 and beyond. Although our 2020 Easter fieldwork, summer excavation season and programme of courses and lectures may have fallen victim to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, our ambitions and ideas, research work and planning for the future go on apace.

Publications:- Neil, Gary and Ellie are involved in completing post-excavation work on the middle and later Anglo-Saxon settlement site in Chalkpit field. The results will be published as a monograph and companion to Digging Sedgeford - A Peoples’ Archaeology. A large open-plan area has been excavated over a period of several seasons and we have been able to follow developments from the early 8th century up to the middle of the 11th.

Our 25th Anniversary conference:- This had been scheduled to be held at the Maltings in Wells-next-the-Sea in November along with an exhibition of some of our work and finds. Our invited speakers included many of Britain’s most eminent scholars of the Anglo-Saxon era.

Although the event at Wells has fallen victim to Covid, it will take place in an electronic format, with all speakers making their contributions. It will be available on-line and recorded and it is hoped that by this a wider audience than could be accommodated in the conference centre can be reached. Furthermore, our old friend from the early years of SHARP, Rik Hoggett, will edit a publication based upon our speakers’ contributions.

SHARP already has plans to hold a conference and exhibition during 2021 to celebrate our 25th season of excavation.

Our thanks go to Jeffrey Bonas and his fellow members of the North West Norfolk Historical Society for financing the Wells event and indeed for their invaluable help with scientific investigations which have provided vital information to underpin our research over many seasons.

Ongoing work in the field:- Although we have not been able to be present on-trench and in the field, we have still been able to use the time to have a wide-ranging exchange of ideas about past findings and to come up with new hypotheses and plans for further investigation.

The geophysics survey of Chalkpit field is now complete and work will resume in Hall field, West Hall field and ‘Saggy Horse field’ as soon as it becomes possible to do so. The results from Chalkpit field are fascinating, showing many new and unsuspected features: both archaeological and geological. The geology is particularly interesting and demonstrates Norfolk’s glacial past.

The patterns we can see are identical to those visible today on the ground surface in the north Canadian Arctic.

Without our own magnetometer and without the hard work and skills of our geophysics team these features would have remained hidden from us.

The malthouses:- As the excavation of Trench 23 has progressed, it has now become evident that we have a complex of Malthouses dating to the 8th century. The excavation of ‘Malthouse 1’ will be completed in 2021 and a paper about it, authored by Ellie and Neil, has been accepted for publication. There are also at least three more kilns in the trench and all will need careful excavation in forthcoming seasons to extract the maximum amount of information possible. The continuing work of our environmental team is essential to this task and a member of the team is using material from the Sedgeford malthouses as part of her Oxford University D.Phil. research. The malthouses are unique, no others from this date have yet been identified.

All our discoveries down the years: the size of cemetery, the malthouse complex and the settlement site, where buildings which conform to the same dimensions within bounded plots, underline that Sedgeford was not a rural backwater, but a place of significance within the Anglo- Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia.

Human remains:- The surprise discovery from 2019 was the Romano-British cremation in ‘Saggy Horse field’. The style of the pots dated them to the 2nd century. X-ray images of the largest of these confirmed the presence of cremated human bone and the contents will be excavated by our human remains specialists in the near future. It is planned for this to be recorded on video and posted on our website.

CSI Sedgeford:- Ray Baldry gave a Tuesday evening talk in Sedgeford church and also at a national symposium on three of our burials from the Boneyard; all victims of a sharp-bladed assault. Graphic images of the victims’ skulls demonstrated the ferocity of the attack, which must have been inflicted by members of a warrior band - a drunken argument between locals would have involved the use of blunt instruments.

Samples from each victim are currently being dated. The C14 radio-carbon results are imminent and Ray will announce “whodunnit” during the 2021 Tuesday lecture series. Could it have been King Offa’s Mercians?, or was it the Danes a century later?

Landscape: work in progress:- 25 years of work on-site suggests, that at some stage during the 8th century, an authority with organisational and technological skills had directed the development of Sedgeford. The Church perhaps, since they brought with them the accumulated knowledge of late classical antiquity and early medieval Europe.

We are looking to see whether any of the Anglo-Saxon landscape remains within that of the 21st century and indeed whether any earlier patterns dating back to the Romano-British period may have been re-used by the Anglo-Saxons.

Aerial photographs, both recent and those taken by the RAF in 1946, LiDAR images, satellite views, old maps, geophysical investigations, work ‘on the ground’ : all are complementary and much work can be done out of season.

We shall also revisit the Reedam further, to investigate its stratigraphy and dating. We know it was an important asset to the medieval manor, but also that construction work had been done during the 8th century. There is some evidence from stratigraphy and from our 2019 auger cores of a Roman presence.

Not just a medieval ditch, but a canal:- We have been able to identify a feature running parallel to and to the south of the Heacham river. This has been traced from ‘Fring harbour’ through Sedgeford and Eaton to the edge of Heacham. Where sectioned, it is some 6m in width and about 1.0 to 1.5m in depth.

What is its date? 11th/12th century and part of the manor? - or could it be part of an earlier transport system from Roman times for the bulk-transport of grain to and from the Peddars Way and the Roman site at Fring and thence to the sea for dispatch onwards to the Roman army at Brancaster, on the Wall and possibly to garrisons across the North Sea on the Rhine frontier?

As yet we lack firm dating evidence and we shall be active in attempting to clarify matters.

The future is planned and looks exciting. Sedgeford keeps delivering and there are many years for the Project to continue its work.

Keep coming to SHARP. To dig, or to visit. Above all keep up to date with our blog posts.

Best regards for the future and see you in 2021. John Jolleys. Chair of SHARP Trustees.


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