It is just a scoop in the ground and a couple of post holes, but the remains of a little hut discovered on the site of the proposed Hinkley C nuclear power station is throwing new light on the Dark Ages.
For it is the first example of a Saxon ‘Grubenhaus’, or ‘grub hut’, to be found in county, and clear evidence that the European invaders were in the county 1,400 years ago.
It is just one of a wide range of artefacts and ground features which have been revealed during excavations – which cover an area of land the equivalent of 262 football pitches – on the power station site in the largest ever archaeological project to take place in Somerset.
Evidence of settlements dating back more than 3,000 years to the Bronze Age are helping archaeologists understand the changing landscape of this moody low-lying region bordering the Bristol Channel.
The investigation, which will not be completed for around another 18 months, has been funded by the company that wants to build the new power station. French energy giant EDF has ploughed around £3 million into the work.
The area was already known to have been important to man for thousands of years. Wick Barrow, also known as Pixie’s Mound, stands just outside the site in a nature reserve. It was investigated back in 1907. The skull of an Neolithic Hinkley man recovered at that early dig stared watchfully out at the press gathered for the briefing on the new work at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton yesterday.
The new excavations, carried out by Cotswold Archaeology and overseen by Somerset County Council’s heritage team, found the foundations of small Roman buildings, a grain dryer, quern stones, jewellery and graves. One Romano-Briton was buried with his or her head between their feet under slabs of stone. A stone anchor and fishing weight were testimony to the days when, as county archaeologist Bob Croft put it: “The Severn was the M5”.
Elegant red Samian ware pottery from across the Channel in France is a common find on British Roman sites, and here is a reminder of cross-channel fertilisation 2,000 years before the arrival of EDF. But it is that little depression in the ground, that is most intriguing. The early Saxons built their wooden homes over pits and this, just a hut, is in the same distinctive style.
When the Saxons were sweeping across England in battles and land grabs that took years the River Parrett, south and east of Hinkley was for a time a barrier to their expansion. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle acknowledges the fact. Under the year 658AD it records: “In this year Cenwalh fought at Penselwood against the Welsh and drove them in flight as far as the Parrett.”
Archaeologists think this the little hut is very early, it could have been built by some of the first Saxons to cross the river. Whoever they were they were pioneers.
Work will continue at Hinkley and excavations will also go ahead at Cannington on the site of the planned bypass. An outreach programme will share the finds with schools and community groups. More information at archaeologyathinkleypoint.word press.com.