Flint, Charcoal and Pottery - Our Past from Below Ground

While pottering in my garden I discovered some short lengths of white clay tubes with a small hole down the middle. These, of course, were the broken remains of old clay smoking pipes thrown away long ago. Tobacco was introduced to Britain in 1565 which set the earliest date that these pipes could have been discarded. Also uncovered in the border were some oyster shells which looked ancient. Following a little research, it appeared that these could have been consumed by the Romans. This set me thinking, with all the construction work that is being carried out in our villages of Ford and Yapton, I wondered what other finds have come to the surface now and in the past.

I can recall as a schoolboy being shown what was thought to be a rectangular Roman drain constructed from flints, uncovered by workmen who were digging a cesspit for one of the cottages on Bilsham Corner. I have never seen any report about this 'find' so it may have been fanciful thinking by someone.

One discovery that was genuine was that made by Mr. Peter Day In 1984. While field walking (methodically walking over a given area observing, collecting and recording archaeological finds) in a field just north of Diamonds Mead and alongside Drove Lane, Bilsham, he noticed areas of burnt soil, flint and handmade pottery sherds. Subsequent excavations unearthed 'finds' dating from about 900 BC. The site was very close to a previously discovered Roman site in an adjoining field which is now lies under a reservoir.

Flint Tools

With newly proposed construction sites, a usual requirement of the developer is to have assessments carried out as to the probability of finding archaeological remains. In the case of the 'Bonhams' site archaeologists were called in and discovered signs of Stone-age activity which were recorded and assessed as to their importance.

Further discoveries were made on building sites on either side of Burndell Road. Before construction started on the site behind Goodhew Close and Fordwater Gardens, Cotswold Archaeology excavated 50 trenches. These trenches revealed many ancient ditches and field boundaries, an indication of early human activities over a range of periods from Bronze-age to post-Medieval. The idea of early settlements was born out by the discovery of charcoal, burnt flint, burnt clay and broken pottery. Subsequent tests on the charcoal revealed that it was produced from wood obtained from Oak, Hawthorn, Rowan, Crab Apple and Wild Cherry trees.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery occurred last autumn when a pit was discovered on a site on the south side of Burndell Road. According to the latest Press Release by Wessex Archaeology (perhaps their most famous archaeologist to television viewers is Dr. Phil Harding of Time Team fame) more than 2000 artefacts were found in a pit dating back to the Stone-age, 6000 years ago. The finds include flint arrowheads, a flint knife and a polished flint axe. Nestled along-side these were sherds of pottery from several different pots. Evidence of the types of food that the early inhabitants of our area consumed was extracted in large quantities from the pit. These included burnt grains of emmer wheat and barley as well as fragments of hazelnut shells and traces of fruit residue such as apples.

Ford Airfield has seen a great deal of archaeological activity as a result of all the industrial development that has occurred over the past sixty years. One of the major reports was undertaken by C. Place in 1999, prior to the construction of Southern Water's Treatment Plant. The excavations uncovered evidence of ditches and postholes dating as far back as the Late Bronze-age with over 3000 sherds of pottery being found. A significant amount of flintwork was also recovered, the variety of flints not only suggested a hunting community but the likelihood of a nearby settlement. 'Finds' were also found relating to the Iron-age and the early Roman period, but according to Places' report, major Roman activity ceased in the area after approximately 60 AD. Analysis of the samples of flora found during the course of the excavations resulted in a substantial list of plants and grains being identified giving an insight into the way our ancestors lived.

Much of the archaeology retrieved from the above sites are deposited in the Littlehampton Museum.

The Yapton & Ford Local History Group have negotiated with Wessex Archaeology and arranged for Dr. Phil Harding to give a presentation covering the discovery of the 6000-year-old artefacts on the site south of Burndell Road and his career as an archaeologist.

Allen Misselbrook
February 2020

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, April 2020)