Captains (B)Log Stardate 09 July 2007


Steve playing island skittlesWe have now been working here for over a week and, whilst the weather has not been entirely kind, everyone has developed as a minimum a great navvy tan (on the face, back of neck and hands).  We have survived torrential rain and high winds, but whatever we get here seems mild compared to the strange weather on the mainland (floods and hail) and our lack of communication (no TV, newspapers, and radio very intermittently) has increased our sense of bewilderment when we hear of terrorist attacks.  

All tents remain standing; they are a source of worry to me – what do we do if we get wiped out?   However, even our 70’s frame tent on Tean, which is standing up without much of its frame, is clinging tenaciously to its upright form.  The sweepstake on its demise is favouring those who voted it would still be standing at the end.

With regard to the archaeology, I remain unconvinced that our blog provides anything other that a frankly bewildering account of boats, rain and mud so I thought I should try a summary.

Firstly St Martin’s, at Knackyboy Cairn, the entrance grave (a tomb with a chamber containing the cremated remains of the dead) we have cleared the vegetation (again) so the site is visible. 


Then using an auger (a large corkscrew on a stick) we have been examining the surrounding landscape.  From last year we know the entire area around the monument is covered in windblown sand and we trying to map the buried ancient land surface.  In one of our 2006 test pits we found a line of stones and further excavation has indicated a substantial wall running inland from the monument – the age of this is unknown and it may yet be post-medieval.  There are accounts of sand blows in the 17th century that caused the islands to be abandoned, so we may well be looking at build up from this event.  Today our geophysics chap, Tim, arrives so we will be trying to trace the wall over a larger area.  We have also discovered the cause of the strange holes dug into the monument – they were foxholes during the war! 

Elsewhere at Old Stable the test pitting has revealed a concentration of flint, but in no great numbers.  Coastal monitoring has recorded a number of flint tools eroding out in front of Knackyboy Cairn and by the Old Quay; both are previously recorded find spots.   We will clean up the sections, photograph and record these areas.  Mel, our flint specialist, is pleased with her haul and has gone home happy. 


Tean is a beautiful uninhabited island, and the multi-period site in East Porth evokes a real sense of time.  The site was first dug in the 1950s by Charles Thomas and we are continuing his work. 

Charles Thomas - the previous excavator returns

The oldest part is a Romano-British midden (rubbish heap of shell, fish, bird and mammal bones and organic waste) with a semi-subterranean structure built into it (a possible hut).  Nearby are a couple of fired clay ‘platforms’, which have been interpreted as corndryers.  This part of the site is eroding and we are examining the surviving deposits looking for pottery or other datable material.  

The next recorded activity is the burial of a four bodies in long stone lined ‘cist’ graves.  These include an older ‘toothless’ woman whose head lies under the altar of the later built chapel: Charles thought she may in fact be St. Theona, after whom the island is named.   A stone built chapel overlies these graves, and a series of later cist graves were then dug.  These ten graves included four young children and evidence of leprosy was found in some of the skeletons by Don Brothwell (the details were published in a paper in 1961).  After analysis the skeletons were returned to the islands and possibly reburied in the Tresco graveyard.  We do not know if these people were related, where they came from, their diet or over what period they were buried – all of which modern analytical techniques could tell us if they were still accessible – never mind.  The chapel lies within an enclosure that we will be examining by geophysical survey to see if more graves are present.  We have also cleared the chapel of vegetation to make it easier to understand for visitors and now some of the cist graves are once again visible.

The next discernable phase is the much later Nance farmhouse built in 1684, this family introduced the kelp industry to Scilly.   Seaweed was burnt to obtain potash used in glass making – the stalwart of many coastal communities (I have seen a kelpers village up on South Uist) during the Napoleonic Wars when cheap potash from France was not available.  Later the Tean farmhouse was built in the late seventeenth century, with associated outbuilding, including one used as a slaughterhouse.   There are also the ruins of a quay built out form the house.  Finally a large field wall (the Tean Wall – very similar to the Deer Park wall on Samson was built).  We are recording the farmhouse and have cleared down to the floor revealing beautiful cobbles in the entrance area and stone paving leading out from the house. 

Tean farmhouse

The other buildings and walls are also being recorded, and comparison with the 1880’s OS map data suggests that more buildings were present but had been ruined and incorporated into the enclosure wall at that time, something else we need to explore.  The sea, the weather and gravity are all taking a toll on these buildings and, just as we did on Samson last year, we are recording them before they are conserved in an attempt to perverse them for the future. 

Tean farmhouse - blocked up window

Anyhow that’s enough archaeology for today, I have to go and see how various tasks are coming along and post this on the blog.  I will be updating the archaeology blog again next week, after our search for the crew of the HMS Association on St Agnes.

On a lighter note our assimilation into the local community is gaining pace, three of our team have been playing cricket with the local chaps and last night we had an enjoyable night of skittles, food, beer, quiz and music (including some great Johnny Cash covers). 

Steve playing island skittles

Edds catch

The whole team love St Martin’s and its inhabitants and it will be a wrench to move to Bryher on Friday.  My recognisance to Bryher with Charlie yesterday revealed a grand little pub, café and friendly folk so I am sure we shall all survive.

Bye for now.



2 Responses to “Captains (B)Log Stardate 09 July 2007”

  1. Ian Freestone Says:

    Tean is uninhabited now, it was kelp producing in the seventeenth century. Was it a leper colony at the time of the cist burials? and apart from the “corn-driers” what was the R-B community doing. Any indications of salt production?

  2. shajam Says:

    Ah hah! A good point about the salt making, there are some poorly fired clay artefacts (well lumps) as well as the clay platforms – so there may be briquetage (objects used in evaporating salt water to extract the salt). The RB folk were definately fishing, hunting (for seals and sea birds at least), farming and gathering shellfish. The remains of the ‘hut’ are very sparse and poised on the edge of a eroding section – so we are stuck with a very small bit of evidence.

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