ASE environmental project reveals amazing finds

12 August 2013

ASE excavations at Medmerry, West Sussex

Excavations by Archaeology South-East (ASE) at Medmerry, West Sussex have revealed extensive Bronze Age settlement and a well-preserved medieval fish weir.

For the last 2 years ASE has been working with the Environment Agency, their contractors Team Van Oord and the Chichester District Archaeologist, James Kenny, to mitigate the archaeological impact from the Managed Realignment Scheme at Medmerry, Nr. Selsey, West Sussex.

The Medmerry Managed Realignment Scheme covers an area of over 3km² (300 football pitches) and will provide coastal flood defence for around 350 homes in Selsey and the surrounding area. It will also create intertidal compensatory habitat for endangered birds and other wildlife, to replace similar habitats around the Solent that are being impacted by other flood defence schemes. In addition, the scheme will provide extensive new public access routes.

The archaeological investigation at Medmerry is unique in its scale (c. 50 ha.) and location, lying as it does on the lower Sussex Coastal Plain adjacent to the present coastline, which elsewhere has been left as farmland or obscured by development prior to the advent of developer funded archaeological research in the 1980s.

ASE project at Medmerry reveals extensive Bronze Age settlement

Bronze Age Landscape

Results are preliminary, but the works appear to have revealed evidence of an extensive structured landscape during the Mid to Late Bronze Age focused on the light brickearth soils adjacent to what was a large estuarine system some 2-3km inland from the now eroded coastline. Finds have included extensive field systems and enclosures, more than a dozen roundhouses, eight well preserved burnt mounds, a cemetery containing c. 50 cremation/pyre deposits and well features, one of which contained preserved wattle work C14 dated to c. 1,100 BC.

Activity appears to have ended abruptly during the Late Bronze Age and it is hoped that environmental and dating evidence will help shed light on possible causes for this. These are extremely exciting finds and will provide an insight into the Bronze Age occupation of Sussex not previously possible.

Medieval Fish Weir

During excavations within a now silted river channel a series of timber uprights were recorded leading off the previous foreshore. This structure lay within 20m of two of the Bronze Age Burnt Mounds and a possible Bronze Age date was postulated. On closer examination the structure proved to be a wattle work Fish Weir preserved to c. 0.5m in height and some 160m in length. Despite its proximity to the prehistoric features, tool marks found on the structure suggested a later date, which was confirmed by a C14 sample providing a 14th Century date. The Fish Weir suggests large scale exploitation of fish stocks at this time and was most likely organised under the auspices of the Bishop of Chichester. Whilst fish weirs of this date are known nationally no structures of this type have previously been recorded in Sussex, and certainly none so extensive or well preserved.

Other Finds

Other finds from the site include several early Neolithic (4,000-3,300 BC) pits, probable Iron Age/Romano British field systems, a Roman mill stone and evidence of settlement near the site and WWII remains associated with the defence of Britain and the later use of the site as an air to ground gunnery range.

Future of the site

Following the completion of site works in early September a programme of post-excavation assessment and analysis will begin, culminating in publication of academic and popular works in 2015. A series of new public access routes will be opened to the public in November 2013 when the site will become an RSPB-managed reserve. The RSPB will include archaeology within its management plan for the site, and help tell the story of what has been found through onsite interpretation, guided walks and their web presence. The RSPB is also currently in discussion with a local interest group regarding the ongoing monitoring of the site as it becomes a tidal environment.

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