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Posts Tagged ‘excavations’

Dave Allen, Keeper of Archaeology at Hampshire Museums service writes…

A current project at Basing House is the provision of a ‘viewing platform’ on the crest of the Norman ringwork and during a recent visit to look at the foundation pits for the platform supports I was ‘presented’ with a splendid example of a Palaeolithic handaxe, found in the associated service trench. 

When the works project manager called me to say it was a good time to take a look he mentioned that one of his team had found a flint handaxe.  As lumps of flint are common at Basing and handaxes are rare in northern Hampshire I had my doubts, but it turned out to be an absolute peach of an example (see photo). It’s a roughly hand-sized tool about 13cms long and the working edge, around most of the circumference, is still very fresh. The whole axe has a white ‘patina’ from being buried in chalky soil but the flint would originally have been grey in colour.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Handaxes like these belong, of course, in the Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic.  They were the multi-purpose tools of our earliest ancestors and can date back as much as half a million years.  There have been a few Middle Stone Age flint finds at Basing before, but they go back only 10,000 years, so this new discovery is a fantastic reminder of a time when small groups of humans roamed the landscape hunting woolly mammoth, wild horses, reindeer and aurochs.

 And then….

A couple of weeks after the handaxe discovery at Basing House, the call came through that another unusual find had been made at the site.  Those familiar with the place will know that what is missing at Basing is the ‘House’.  When Oliver Cromwell and his forces took Basing in a final assault in October 1645, and trashed what had once been ‘the greatest of any subject’s house in England, yea larger than most of the King’s palaces’ Parliament compounded the episode by declaring that anybody could take away brick and stone from the ruins ‘and keep it for their pains’.  This invitation to treat the site as a quarry was taken up with gusto, and only the Great Barn survived intact.

Most of the foundations remained, however, and many of these were revealed during the excavations of the 1880s to carved stone head1910.  In exploring floor levels and cellars, Lord Bolton’s gardeners found numerous architectural fragments, some of which – like the stone corbels featuring sculpted human heads  (see photo) – were actually built into the walls of the ’Bothy’, the small house constructed at the time as the site museum.  No detailed study of these fragments has yet taken place, although it is hoped that this omission will be remedied soon.  

Tudor fireplace

The news that an in situ fireplace had come to light was therefore of considerable interest.  Brickwork conservation is a constant theme at Basing and the ravages of the two hard winters we’ve experienced recently have required a good deal of remedial work.  This particular section of loose brickwork was near to the location of the viewing platform and it had clearly been built against an interior wall – a plastered wall – although it’s difficult to be certain just when.  Some modifications took place during the life of the building, some at the death, when the defences were strengthened, some after the Restoration, when the area was probably turned into a garden, and some following the excavations a century ago.  The fact that the wall removed was very ‘rough and ready’ make it a candidate for the most recent of those potential episodes, but it is built on firmer foundations that may well be of 17th century date.  Be that as it may, the fireplace is undoubtedly of 16th origin, probably of Caen stone.  We will be looking through the fragments we have in store to see if there is anything to compare.

Another mystery is just what did the fireplace serve?  The perimeter wall, the plastered wall, has quite definite returns to both east and west (putting the fireplace at the centre).  It also has a series of fixing holes suggesting that it was originally covered with oak panelling, but there is no clear indication of how far the room extended into the interior.  We may well be able to investigate the area in a little more detail during the summer.  If any of the floor level associated with the hearth remains in situ, then perhaps a basic sequence can be established.

Forthcoming Excavations

From 22nd July to 11th August the University of Southampton Archaeology Department, working alongside Hampshire County Council Museums Service and volunteers from the Basingstoke Archaeology and History Society,  will be running a training excavation at Basing House for undergraduate and postgraduate Archaeology students.  The team will be expanding on a recent geophysical survey of the grounds, as well as re-excavating trenches not investigated since 1962  and carrying out an extensive building survey of the remains of the Old House.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during the excavation, the archaeologists will be running free drop-in sessions (normal admission charge applies) including: An Introduction to Osteo-archaeology, Geophysics for Beginners, and New Recording Techniques for Archaeology, and lots more! Why not come along and see how the dig is going, and try your hand at archaeology?

For more information about the work of  University of Southampton Archaeology Department at Basing House see their blog.

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Basing House is closed until later Summer this year, but this hasn’t stopped us from getting stuck in to the annual Community Archaeology Dig.

Excavations began this week on site, with hard work being put it by all involved to begin with clearing the previous year’s excavation site. We have had a glorious couple of days with much sun shine.

The Hampshire County Council Archaeology team and Basingstoke Archaeology Society have been organising the work, and many thanks go out to them for what promises to be a fascinating project.

More details about the objectives of this year’s dig and information about the excavations as they are carried out will be published here first, with an update of the final findings being uploaded to our Basing House website after the dig has ended.

There are lots more photographs of the work being done on site at our Flickr page – www.flickr.com/photos/basinghouse

The excavations on site will continue until the 6th June. We are always happy to have as many people as possible involved in the dig, but please remember that the site is not currently open to the public, so if you would like to help out with the excavations please contact us first using the form on this page (look in the right-hand column) and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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