Day Five: Nornour and Porth Cressa

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The Aliens have landed.

Last night, on returning to our bunker after dusk, we spotted what looked like an alien landing. There was an eiree glow up on the battlements, which on closer inspection  turned out to be Bob (the bird counter) sideline in moth trapping.  Today we can report that all moths stayed at home last night (unless they were abducted by aliens?).

This morning we packed up all our belongings (again) and headed off to catch a chartered boat to Nornour with our team.  Landing on this small quay-free island can be tricky so the jet boat towed a tender (smaller boat) behind to help us disembark.  On our arrival, we had welcoming guard of six seals who watched with amusement as we transferred firstly to the tender and then to dry land in a lively Atlantic swell.  A few feet got wet – then our boatman gave a cheery wave and was gone, joking he may not return (such extended stays have occurred in the past due to misunderstandings, but with mobile phones these are a thing of the past…..we hoped).

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Tiny Nornour is home to an extensive settlement, revealed when a storm stipped away overlying sand deposits and a collection of roman brooches were found. There are a series of freestanding houses, with ramm floors, central hearths and courtyards that were subsequently remodelled and filled up with midden (rubbish – shells, bones, ash, plant waste) when they went out of use.  There are seven different phases of building and a fine finds assemblage.  Occupied from the Bronze Age onward one particular building was the focus for the depostiion of Romano-British brooches, as well as a series of mintature pots, found placed in the hearth and secreted withing the walls. These minature urns are a standard size and shape with slightly different decoration and are without parrallel in the UK.  Made of a particular type of Cornish clay (gabbroic), which has only recently reported from two other prehistoric sites on Scilly, they remain enigmatically Bronze Age in shape but potentially much later in the timing of their deposition.

Sarnia Butcher, one of the original excavators of the site accompanied us. When the brooches were discovered she was the Inspector of Ancient Monuments with responsibility for the Roman period and was sent down to have look at this new material. She ended up leading excavations on the site and the report is published in Cornish Archaeology (1978 and 2001).  It is always fantastic to hear about the archaeology direct from the excavator and to wonder at the tenacity of excavation teams some 40 years ago.

We once again photographed and recorded the erosion activity and filled in our Shorewatch forms, although it may prove slightly harder for our volunteers to get out to check on Nornour.

The boatman reappeared to return us to St Marys and we retired to a café to discuss the mornings work.  As a result we lunched with Ray Mears (well on the next table) and ended up having a brief chat with him about archaeology, in particular his favourite period the Mesolithic.  He was very interested in our evidence and in how people arrived on the islands in early boats. We discussed the recent evidence for the Mesolithic on a series of distant off-shore British islands, the Shetland and Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides.  With an interest in wild foods Ray pointed out that, in addition to the rich marine food resources, the islands had bountiful plant resources with a longer growing season, providing a cornucopia for early settlers.

Ian’s interview was broadcast at lunchtime on the Radio Scilly Wildlife program, but we missed it – however you can listen to it again.

We then popped along the beach to look at a couple of sites at Porth Cressa, where a cist, a house and a cremation urn (found a few years ago by one our Shorewatch volunteers) have all previously been recorded.  The house and cist are still clearly visible and actively eroding, and we found a flint flakes, a broken scraper and a few sherds of pot (probably Iron Age) associated with the house and midden.   The density of flint on later prehistoric Scillonian sites (i.e. Bronze and Iron Age) is of interest as it appears to be more common than on other insular sites of this period.  Flint, whilst not local, is freely available as beach pebbles deposited by the glaciers provide an abundance of material and it seems everywhere we look we find more worked flint.

This completed we had time for a swift shopping session before getting on the Scillonian for a smoother journey home, followed by a long drive to Wales.

We will be sending more details of our activities to all those who expressed interest in the Isles of Scilly Archaeology Group.  We apologise to all those who could not join us due to the weather or the timing of the events, but we will be organising more activities in the future.  If anyone has ideas for future activiites or themes, and comments on convenient timings and publicity please do get in touch via the ScillyArchaeology blog or email  chjohns@cornwall.gov.uk).

We would like to thank the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (particularly Julie Love) for their support and accomodation, and their volunteers Mair, Barry and Bob for letting us bed down in the bunker. The bedraggled biologists can now have our beds, should their tent prove permanently damaged by the storm.  The AONB supported our trip to Nornour whilst Bryher Boats, and the St Mary’s boatmen transported us from isle to isle.  Ted Moulson helped to move our equipment up and down the Garrison hill (phew!) and the Tourist Office and Radio Scilly promoted and supported out work. We also wish to say how much we enjoyed sharing the rich archeaological heritage with the islanders and visitors alike – we will return.

Jacqui, Charlie and Ian

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