Breaking New Ground

Reconnecting People with The Brecks

From Sat Nav to Saxons: Highlights from the Recent Archaeology in Suffolk Conference

There was the most beautiful sunrise over the Norfolk countryside on Saturday morning. I thought it might herald a successful journey into Ipswich.  I hoped it would.  So far my experience had involved driving around in circles, with a map rendered useless by a maze of lanes, road closures and roundabouts!  This time I borrowed my boyfriend’s Sat Nav, assured that it would not fail.  Alas, it too struggled once in the city, Neptune Marinadepositing me at the water’s edge rather than the promised car park! Thanks to a very helpful security guard, I did make it to the conference, with time to put up the project banners and leaflets.

The conference was the first of its kind in the area and is hoped to become a regular event.  Judging by the number of attendees and the delicious cookies on offer during the breaks, I’m confident it will be.  There was a full programme of speakers, taking us from prehistory to the Second World War.  The sites featured spanned the length and breadth of the county from Newmarket in the west, to Rendlesham in the east.  The aim was to promote some of the most interesting new sites and ongoing archaeological projects in the county. 

Pitts, postholes and pottery took me back to my days at University , though being a Heritage Conservator rather than a Archaeologist, we were given a short leash when it came to practical excavations.  It was, therefore, encouraging to hear about the work at Barber’s Point on the River Alde.  Here, Jezz Meredith (SCC Archaeologist Service Field team) and his team actively engaged with schools, involving 140 children in hands-on excavations!  Sadly the site has been lost to the river since the recent tidal surge, but their work has given a fascinating insight into a transitional community from the 7th century.  The presentation was tinged with sadness due to the unexpected death of Jezz’s colleague, Richard Newman, just 2 weeks ago; Richard was due to be co-presenting.  Jezz paid tribute to him saying that whilst he will really be missed, it was fantastic that he was there for the last phase of the project.

For me, the highlight of the conference was Leigh Alston’s rather sobering presentation on the built heritage.  I had no idea that so many charming and important historic buildings could slip though the planning process to be lost for ever; their features even going unrecorded before demolition due to lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding.   He stressed the importance of good recording of Suffolk’s built heritage, and though the current planning process gives little recognition to it, there were some encouraging thoughts about the future.

The prize for the most curious find has to go to Mark Hinman (Pre-Construct Archaeology).  His presentation took us along the Heathland Road, to the A11 Fiveways to Thetford improvement Scheme and a puzzling pit of bones. A human skull with a big dent in the forehead had been buried surrounded by the bones of water voles (perhaps surprising for the dry, barren Brecks).  Cattle bones including a skull were also included in the seemingly carefully laid out burial.

Developments like the A11 and the expanding Swan Hotel in Lavenham (soon to become a spa and pampering centre) generate opportunities for archaeological investigation.   As Jess Tipper, County Archaeologist highlighted, with the need for housing and infrastructure, the opportunities for archaeology projects looks set to increase.  This brings challenges – to balance new development with the conservation and enhancement of Suffolk’s heritage.

What we consider to be archaeology and heritage is also moving on, as Dr Robert Liddiard (University of East Anglia) highlighted in his whistle-stop tour of the Second World War defensive landscape.  The pill boxes we all take somewhat for granted were part of a wider landscape of defensive features, which serve as a record for a key time in history.

BNG BannersThe conference closed and banners were taken down before it was time for me to do battle with the roads of Ipswich once more.  The Sat Nav faired a little better this time, perhaps the gloomy gridlock gave it time to catch-up!  


Thanks to the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Society for arranging the conference and to the other speakers not featured here – I found all the presentations interesting and well delivered. (Special thanks to whoever made the cookies)

The conference also saw the formal launch of the new Suffolk Heritage Explorer website:

This is an online version of the Suffolk Historic Environment Record, the definitive database of the known archaeology in the county. 

If you would like to know more about the archaeology of the Brecks, Norfolk County Council and Suffolk County Council are running a training programme as part of the BNG scheme.  Click here to find out more.