Insight into world of archaeology

L-R George Brown, Barry Mead and new President of Morpeth Rotary Professor Andrew Hamnett.
L-R George Brown, Barry Mead and new President of Morpeth Rotary Professor Andrew Hamnett.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Barry Mead told members how a trowel changed his life in 1977. Before that time, he had been a civil servant in London.

He got so interested in helping with an archaeology project that he decided to go to Reading University to study the subject.

He met his future wife at a Roman site in 1979 and has been married for 30 years. He has also been a field archaeologist for 30 years.

Mr Mead modestly says he never found that much, but was very good at shifting soil.

His favourite tools are the mattock and trowel. He is now a ‘hands on’ archaeologist, working at Morpeth for three days a week.

Working on a church graveyard at Redditch in Worcestershire, one of his first finds was a human jaw bone which had to be recorded, washed and dried. He and his wife ended up with an airing cupboard full of skeletons and found cake boxes were very good for storage.

He lives near Cresswell and recently found a whale bone. Mr Mead was able to trace it to a sperm whale that had once been in a conservatory at the now demolished Cresswell Hall.

In 1820, the owner had the bones mounted on a plinth, which is still in the village.

On a school tour of Bothal, while working for Wansbeck District Council, a gardener handed him a jaw bone he had in his pocket.

Unfortunately, the location and the timing were not too helpful as he had found it in an electrician’s trench two years earlier. It was likely to have been from the churchyard.

The teeth were badly worn and that can help with dating as in the middle ages there was a lot of grit in the bread, but history is all around.

He saw a mole hill on the village green at Cresswell and found part of a clay pipe from the 1800s.

Mr Mead has worked at Housesteads, which is the best-preserved Roman Fort in Europe and had a civilian settlement around the fort. Whenever there are molehills there, pieces of Roman pottery appear, dating from the 3rd and 4th century.

Flint was found on an excavation at Low Hauxley, which is rare in Northumberland.

Hauxley is a pre-historic site of national and even world importance. One part has the remains of an Iron Age round house with a 2,000-year-old stone hearth. It was found after a winter shift in the sand dunes.

There was a 4,200-year-old double semi-circle, half of which was in the North Sea. Over the whole of the coast between Whitby and Berwick, the worst erosion is at Hauxley, losing a metre to the sea each year.

It was a 10-week dig extended to 13 weeks as it is harder to dig in the hot, dry weather. The oldest pottery was Bronze Age and it was beneath a 12-inch layer of pebbles, possible evidence of a tsunami.

It is probable that two huts are 8,000 to 9,000 years old and they could be the oldest houses in the UK.

A total of 20,000 pieces of struck flint have been found. One was a leaf-shaped flint arrow head.

In March, a lot of layers of peat were uncovered over a one-mile section of Druridge Bay. Old tree stumps were found that were 5,000 to 7,000 years old.

At Hauxley, animal tracks such as red deer and aurochs – as well as human footprints – were found. A 3,000-year-old burial pit had antlers, often used as a pick axe, and ox shoulder blades, often used as shovels.

Mr Mead added that any ploughed field will give up historical artefacts. It is all a matter of knowing what to look for.

George Brown thanked Mr Mead for his interesting talk.