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07 Sep 15

RAF Friston

Over the weekend we officially launched the opening of the land recently acquired at Gayles Farm. The free event was themed around the site’s recent history as a Second World War airfield, RAF Friston, with displays of 1940s music and dancing, the Sussex Home Guard and even a flypast from a Spitfire. The site was initially a decoy airfield, but the Luftwaffe didn’t take the bait, so it became an emergency landing strip and by 1941 was designated as a forward satellite station. Hurricanes from Friston were involved in the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942, and the airfield also played an important role in supporting the D-Day landings of June 1944 when the Operations Record Book notes that “Many emergency landings were made and the airfield began to look like a Bomber Station when almost every type of bomber and fighter could be identified…”. But the site also has a deeper past. Airborne laser scanning, capable of producing a highly detailed model of the ground surface, has shown the remains of extensive systems of fields which almost certainly date to the Iron Age and Romano-British periods, around 2,000 years ago. In fact, this area has even produced flint tools which pre-date the last Ice Age, something we hope to investigate further in 2016.

Visitors and staff having fun at the Gayles Farm opening celebration event

21 Aug 15

Life and death on Baily's Hill

The dust has settled from our second set of SSAP excavations, digging on Baily's Hill. While the specialists are still busy analysing the pottery and other finds, the first impressions from the dig confirm activity on the hill over thousands of years. Much of the ground appears to have been disturbed by the military training that was taking place here during the Second World War. The valleys were used as tank and artillery ranges, with moving targets mounted on trolleys, and there was even a range where machine-gunners could practice targeting dive-bombers. The excavations encountered evidence of farming here in the period after the Norman Conquest, and though we weren’t able to confirm any additional Prehistoric burial monuments on the ridge, we did find plenty of evidence of other activity around this time. Interestingly we kept finding just one particular type of flint tool, known as a ‘scraper’, which would have been used for working animal hides. Perhaps the community living here was specialising in a particular form of craft, trading with neighbouring groups who were producing grains or flaked flint axes. Our volunteers contributed altogether more than 1500 hours of their time to our excavations on Baily's Hill, a tremendous effort and I’m incredibly proud of what they achieved working under the guidance of the Chris Greatorex archaeology team.

Archaeological dig at Baily's Hill on the Seven Sisters

30 Jul 15

A Prehistoric landscape

At its heart the Seven Sisters is a Prehistoric landscape. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers roamed these slopes, and the creation of the chalk grassland—now such a significant habitat for rare plant and insect species—was started by the first farmers 6 000 years ago. Often the only remains which survive from this period are scatters of the flint tools which they used. But around 4 500 years ago, during the Bronze Age, people began to build monuments – mounds known as ‘barrows’ or ‘tumuli’ containing burials. It was a group of these which first attracted archaeologists to Baily's Hill over 150 years ago. But by mapping the lumps and bumps on the surface of Baily's Hill, and using geophysical survey to map features below the turf we have identified a huge range of new features. As well as a number of other possible burial sites, the surveys suggest we may have Bronze Age roundhouses, and traces of prehistoric field systems. Our excavations here in the coming weeks may help us to understand not only how people were burying their dead, but how they were living and working on this ridge around 3,000 years ago. Please be sure to come up and see us at the excavation site from 1 - 11 August.

Location of Baily's Hill archaeological dig