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July 28, 2013
Sedgeford Historical Archeological Research Project 2013 (Lynn News)
Lynn News article link
The sketch is a conjectural reconstruction by Dr John Jolley (pictured, digging in the Lynn News article) of the industrial-scale oven (unearthed remnant pictured) that served Saxon Sedgeford.
The Sedgeford Historical Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) has just packed up its tents and marquees at the end of its eighteenth season. It has come a long way from that chance meeting off the Amalfi coast in 1996 between founder-director Dr Neil Faulkner, then conducting a tour of Roman archaeological sites, and renowned anthropologist Sedgeford Estate owner Bernard Campbell, whose ploughs frequently unearthed bones. Dr Faulkner’s 18th Annual Open Day talk ‘Who were the Anglo-Saxons?’ dismissed the view, established by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century and still learned by many of us at school twelve centuries later - that waves of axe-bearing Angles, Saxons and Jutes ‘invaded’ post-Roman Britain and established a barbarian bridgehead from which eventually all southern Britain became Angle-land.
On the contrary, these early ‘Saxons’ were a relatively democratic band of comrades-in-arms often actually joined by local Britons looking for leadership and protection in the ‘dark’ times after Roman withdrawal. It was no picnic crossing the North Sea in a small boat to start again on a north-facing coastal hill above the River Heacham. These vigorous egalitarian immigrants gave hope and leadership to a society that had fallen apart and where much of the toil had been done by slaves.
The modern-day village of Sedgeford, built on a gentle south-facing hill, has 600 inhabitants and lies within an area of outstanding natural beauty. In Saxon times, Sedgeford by contrast lay south of the river. SHARP’s original focus was a riverside graveyard mysteriously abandoned in Norman times but preserved in old mother’s threats to naughty children ‘you’ll be sent to the boneyard with the dead folk.’ This ‘Boneyard’ yielded Saxon burial and cremation – and a Viking woman buried with a horse – and a Late Saxon murder scene: a large healthy male with fatal wounds still etched into the skeleton by a Viking marauder, now an exhibit, as well as a crouch-burial dating from the Bronze Age.
Current excavations are of the ‘living space’ atop the hill. Though north-facing, this Sedgeford was sheltered from the prevailing wind and in the days of wattle and daub walls and thatched roofs –pole marks of these in the wattle are still visible – shelter may have weighed with locals as much as Conservation Area status does today. The find of the season is an industrial-scale oven (pictured) - with a Mid-Saxon handprint preserved in the hardened clay - set outside the village because of the fire-danger sparks and flames posed to thatched roofs. The rich Saxon soil it rests in puts ours to shame.
Diggers-for-a-day are so enthused by Debra Riches’ inductions they stay for week and come back annually, sifting through the shells of oysters eaten by our six foot plus forebears boated upriver to market as far as the Saxon harbour at Fring. If only the bread Saxon Sedgeford ate hadn’t contained so much grit, which wore out their teeth and plagued them with abscesses and septicaemia, we might envy their health and lifestyle .
Diggers range from archaeology scholars and students to enthusiastic amateurs of all ages and are a lively mixture of Norfolk (one man cycles in from King’s Lynn) national and international. Two locals whose future has been found in the Sedgeford trenches are Max Ogden from Snettisham, enthused by the dig aged 12, later graduate in Archaeology at Nottingham University, and Milly Foster of Sherbourne, a 16 year old SHARP digger just graduated in Archaeology at Reading. Postgraduate Alice Wolff from California explained the huge distance travelled as due to the international prestige of the site and the fact that East Anglia has so much more history than America under its quiet fields.
The past digging of 49 test pits in the gardens of Sedgeford villages themselves produced unexpected finds and included the community. Loss of revenue due to crop disturbance on the Sedgeford Estate is made good in a proportional donation made by SHARP to the church.
Once inducted, all diggers – like their namesakes in the English Civil War - have an equal say in how the project is run and over its finds. Dr Faulkner’s forthcoming book ‘Digging, Sedgeford; a people’s archaeology’ will be author-credited to ‘The SHARP team.’ If the school history many of us studied was found in Bede and a Sutton Hoo barrow in 1938 (not a great time for embracing our German heritage) , the future of school history may well come out of a trench in Sedgeford.
Director of SHARP since 2007 Mr Gary Rossin summed up, “The project’s founding objective was to research and explore human settlement and land usage within the parish of Sedgeford. The main focus of its eighteen years has been the Mid-Late Saxon period. There are important pieces of the jigsaw yet unfound, not to mention the picture on the box! In 2014, we’ll be revisiting glimpses of a Roman farmstead, a mediaeval manor, moving backwards and forwards from our continuing Saxon focus. And, on the centenary of World War 1, we will also revisit our research at the nearby aerodrome
For further information see www.sharp.co.uk (which includes a regularly updated webblog)