West Dean Archaeological Project

Studies in the long-term social use of the West Sussex Downs


West Dean provides the focus for our undergraduate training, introducing students to the reasoned application of a wide range of archaeological techniques before they go and work on other projects in the UK or abroad. This is also a research project which is studying the West Dean Estate and its immediate environment in order to investigate evidence for changes in the form and location of occupation and land use, through survey, excavation, environmental research and artefact analysis. The project is co-ordinated by the UCL Institute of Archaeology lead by Bill Sillar, Mark Roberts, Andrew Gardner and Ulrike Summer in association with the UCL Centre for Applied Archaeology (CAA).

Edward James inherited West Dean, West Sussex, after the death of his father in 1912 when he was five years old. He became a life long patron of the arts, especially surrealist artists like Dali and Magritte. In 1964 Edward arranged for the estate to become a charitable trust (The Edward James Foundation) and in 1971 his flint mansion became West Dean College which is now an internationally renowned centre for the visual arts, traditional crafts and conservation.


The West Dean Estate incorporates 6000 acres of the South Downs with scatters of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic flint work, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age earthworks, a well developed Roman settlement system, Norman churches, and Medieval villages, farms and industries. Apart from the river Lavant the area is characterized by smaller dry valleys, with the Iron Age Hill top sites of the Trundle, Harting Beacon and Bow Hill commanding the largest views in the area. Today the ownership and management of this area is dominated by large estates such as West Dean, Goodwood and the National Trust with land use greatly influenced by leisure pursuits such as walking, riding, hunting and racing, as well as more traditional agricultural activities including arable and pasture farming and woodland management.Our fieldwork started in 2006 and aims to undertake an archaeological survey of the West Dean Estate in order to identify evidence for changes in the form and location of occupation and land use over time, through a review of previous work in the area complimented by landscape survey, targeted excavation, environmental research and artefact analysis. This work will include both a focus on environmental history and a consideration of how farmers, craftsmen, artists and archaeologists shape our engagement with the landscape.

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