My name is Si Cleggett and I am the Wessex Archaeology Project Manager for the Army Basing Programme. Wessex Archaeology is one of the Country’s leading heritage practices. We were commissioned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s (DIO) consultant’s WYG to undertake a programme of archaeological works. This was necessary in advance of DIO’s project to build 227 new military houses at Bulford in Wiltshire for families moving to the Salisbury Plain area under the Army Basing Programme. Desk-based research and a geophysical survey laid the foundations of fieldwork that began in February 2015.
The Bulford site is situated around 2 km to the east of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and is set within a wider landscape renowned for its rich and outstanding archaeological evidence of human activity from early prehistory onwards.
Background of Bulford
The 227 new houses proposed on the Bulford site will be occupying land that has revealed a rich tapestry of archaeological remains that charts human activity from the Neolithic period (c. 3500 BC), into the Bronze Age (c. 2500 BC), to the Anglo-Saxon period and even remains from World War I and II.
To put that into context, the Bulford site saw activity at roughly the same time that Neolithic and later Bronze Age communities were constructing the monuments within the Stonehenge environment – probably pre-dating the building of the first pyramid for the Egyptian King Djoser! A large number of Neolithic pits were revealed that turned out to contain some spectacular items including flint axes, flint knives, a carved chalk bowl, red and roe deer antler, aurochs (an extinct form of large wild cattle), pottery and a bone pin. The pottery suggests that the pits were dug between 2900 and 2400 BC (4900 years ago to 4400 years ago). To place that in a global context, Biblical scholars place the Mesopotamian flood of Noah in around 2900 BC.
Two large circular cropmarks were visible on aerial photographs and were confirmed by our geophysics team. Recent work has suggested that during the Neolithic period, two circular ritual enclosures were placed on the site overlooking the confluence of two rivers (the Avon and the Nine Mile Rivers). Current evidence suggests that the enclosures were later re-modelled during the Bronze Age and probably re-used as burial mounds.
A Grave Discovery
Around 3,550 years after the Neolithic activity on site, in the 7th and 8th centuries, Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the area established a cemetery comprising at least 150 graves.
This unexpected find has added a chapter to the story of Bulford that pre-dates the Domesday survey of 1086 by 400 years. The cemetery charts the lives of an essentially Germanic people during the ‘Conversion Period’ when Christianity began to have a tangible influence on a predominantly Pagan society. Excavation has revealed the remains of females and males of varying ages, from newborns to elderly adults.
They were often buried with knives (a common, multi-purpose personal accoutrement at the time) and brooches, dress pins and earrings adorned with coloured glass have also been recovered. Three adult males were buried with spears, and cowrie shells from as far afield as the Red Sea have also been found.
There is some evidence to suggest that a field farrier may have shoed horses and mules here before they were taken to join the troops on the front lines during World War I. These findings are particularly profound as we find ourselves excavating on site during the centenary year of that conflict.
Military practice trenches have been uncovered reflecting the activity of the Bulford Garrison in the training of troops before mobilisation to the major theatres of war. During World War II, there was little answer on the ground to the devastating effect of German tanks until the design and introduction of the PIAT anti-tank weapon. The PIAT first saw action during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 and there is evidence to suggest that the weapon was fired at stationary armoured vehicles, probably a Cromwell-type British tank, as a training exercise.
Archaeological work is still ongoing on site at Bulford and our teams have already fought against at least 10 storms, rain, ice, wind and snow. The Bulford site really is a time capsule that adds to our story as a nation over thousands of years. The new homes for soldiers’ families will occupy a very special space indeed - one that reflects the familiar lives and beliefs of our ancestors within a fascinating landscape.
Wiltshire Council’s Strategic Planning Committee resolved to grant planning permission for the housing development, subject to conditions, when it met on 13 April 2016. Construction of the homes is expected to get underway from early 2017.