Last Monday, we had a guest entry by my friend Howard Williams about his excavation of a Devon manor site abandoned in the 1580s. Here’s his account of some other recent work of his, stuff many people may not recognise as archaeology, but nevertheless treating source material that very few non-archaeologist scholars pay much attention to.
Further Fieldwork in Devon in July 2007
By Dr Howard Williams
In addition to the archaeological excavation, we conducted other forms of fieldwork. Very few historical churchyards in Devon have been recorded to a high archaeological standard, allowing the changing forms of mortuary commemoration to be charted in detail from the 18th century (the oldest gravestones that survive) to the present day. This year we completed the survey of Stokenham’s churchyard memorials and moved on to record most of the gravestones in the neighbouring parish of Slapton. The size, form, style, materials and lettering of each monument were recorded. Next, the precise location of each memorial was recorded through a dGPS survey. The results promise to reveal the changing character of mortuary monuments over time as well as the evolving use of the churchyard as a commemorative space.
War Memorial Survey
Another aspect of historical or contemporary archaeology that took place during the Stokenham fieldwork season. University of Exeter doctoral student and the Stokenham project’s chief supervisor, Sam Walls, is researching 20th century war memorials from an archaeological perspective. As an element of his research, the 2007 field season incorporated two investigations of visitor interaction with the famous Torcross war memorial. This is a unique memorial commemorating a unique event. Prior to the D-Day landings of June 1944, the area around Slapton and Stokenham was evacuated of its local population for over six months to make way for the U.S. army training exercises. The beaches were used for mock-landings and the countryside for war games including the use of live ammunition. The war memorial commemorates the c. 1,000 U.S. soldiers who were either killed by ‘friendly fire’ or in attacks by German motor torpedo ‘E-boats’ in Lyme Bay during these training exercises. The memorial was not commissioned by the British or U.S. governments, it is a distinctive initiative of local people. It consists of a World War II U.S. Sherman tank that sank during practices for the D-Day landings off Slapton Sands in the spring of 1944. Through interviews with visitors and observations of how visitors interacted with the monument, important information was gleaned concerning how this monument is experienced and interpreted by people today. Stokenham church and Torcross monument are places of pilgrimage for those interested in the war, for and veterans of the conflict and for their families.
The final success of Stokenham ’07 was the training of 22 first year Exeter archaeology students. Each year, archaeology students at the University have to complete a minimum of 4 weeks fieldwork. This helps them to understand the data they study during academic classes in term-time, but also gives ‘transferable skills’ valuable for graduate careers as well as essential archaeological skills for those of them that wish to pursue job opportunities in archaeology and the heritage industry.
In previous years, there was a unique facet to the community archaeology of the project: we were digging ahead of the extension of the parish churchyard. Hence we were digging ahead of new graves being put in and with the community as interested in what the dig could do for their future as much as what it revealed about their past! This distinctive relationship reveals a lot about contemporary rural attitudes towards English churchyards as places of memory. We have published about this in the journal Public Archaeology.
The 2007 field season was designed to incorporate a range of community archaeology activities. To this end, the project was funded and supported by X-Arch (Exploring Archaeology) project, a community archaeology initiative directed by myself and funded by the University of Exeter and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Through this support, the dig was ‘open’ throughout the season for site-tours and everyone was invited to join in. We also hosted weekend open days, the last one in collaboration with the Devon Archaeology Society. Overall, despite the miserable July weather England experienced, we had over 900 visitors as well as the participation of over 120 school children and 8 local volunteers.