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On Monday (25 November) I was delighted to be able to attend a ‘Collections in Focus’ talk given by Simon Cleggett, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology.

Entitled ’Echoes of the Voices from WW1: The Larkhill 300’, this concerned the exciting and varied discoveries made at Larkhill, Bulford and Tidworth for the Army Basing Programme, whereby some 30,000 troops and their families will need to be accommodated following their return to the UK. The archaeological investigation has entailed stripping some 33 hectares of land back to the bare chalk, revealing artefacts dating from the Early Neolithic to modern ‘conflict archaeology’ pertaining to World War 1.

Wessex Archaeology excavations at Larkhill

Click here to read more about Wessex Archaeology’s excavations

Among the early Neolithic finds was a causewayed enclosure which is, in fact, the closest causewayed enclosure to Stonehenge yet found, and dates to about 900 years pre-Stonehenge Phase 1. Thus it’s not too fanciful to consider that the people involved in its construction may have been involved in the conceptualisation of the future Stonehenge. There are just over 80 causewayed enclosures in the UK and they are thus fairly rare.

As a scientist (albeit a chemist, but I did once study ‘A’Level zoology) I was intrigued to learn that (being Caprinae) sheep and goats are anatomically uncannily very similar – almost identical. Hence distinguishing between the two requires outstanding observational skills and extensive practice. This has been quite problematic archaeologically, and archaeologists refer to such skeletons as sheep-goats. (This reminded me of how embarrassed I once was when having a lift home from work with a colleague. Noticing a large number of animals in a field, I exclaimed, “Blimey, look at all those goats!” He fell about laughing and said, ”Those are not goats, they’re sheep that have recently been shorn”!). I now don’t feel quite so foolish.

In terms of  ‘Conflict Archaeology’, Larkhill turns out to be the largest WW1 practice battlefield ever excavated. It was very poignant that, occurring during 2016-2017, the excavations occurred during the centenary of WW1 itself. This did not go unnoticed by the archaeologists on site. The excavations revealed WW1 practice trenches and tunnels, the entrances of which had graphitic graffiti of soldiers (rank, name and number) who were training there, and whose families may therefore be traceable. There were 400 pieces of graffiti pertaining to 300 names, this inspiring the title of Simon’s talk.

It is anticipated that the many artefacts found during these excavations will eventually be housed in Salisbury Museum.

Thank you Alan, as always.