Uncovering the medieval and prehistoric past of the New Forest in excavation led by University of Winchester archaeologist
Archaeological excavation work on a medieval earthwork in the New Forest - believed to be a royal hunting lodge - is now underway for a second season, enabling a team from the University of Winchester to discover more about the medieval and prehistoric landscape of the National Park.
Last year, the excavations in Denny Inclosure - led by Dr Paul Everill from the University's Department of Archaeology - produced fragments of medieval pottery, and charcoal that was radiocarbon dated to the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries AD.
The excavations also revealed evidence of an underlying prehistoric enclosure, indicating that the site, on a low ridge overlooking the open forest, had been an important focal point for several millennia. The current excavation is investigating both the medieval and prehistoric evidence from the site.
The site at Denny, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument protected by law, was the first of the New Forest hunting lodge earthworks to be excavated for over a century when it was investigated by Dr Everill and his team in 2016.
A number of hunting lodges were constructed in the New Forest by order of King Edward III in the mid-fourteenth century: others were added by his immediate successors. The reign of King Edward III is the epitome of the English age of chivalry, when he and his knights would return from war and engage in hunts that fostered the martial spirit.
The archaeological project is a collaboration between the University of Winchester and the New Forest National Park Authority. The research builds on the historic links between Winchester, the ancient capital of England, and the New Forest, and will encompass a number of related sites over the next few years.
The University of Winchester is one of the leading institutions in the UK for teaching archaeological field skills. It was the first department in the country to validate a degree in Archaeological Practice and to achieve recognition as a Registered Organisation with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. The New Forest National Park Authority is supporting the excavations with advice and volunteer time. They hope to shine light on this fascinating period of the New Forest's past, encouraging more people to appreciate the area's heritage and care for its special landscape.
"The New Forest as we know it today is the product of centuries of land management, largely related to the royal hunting that took place in the medieval period, but tracing its origins back far earlier. We can only understand the current landscape, and the habitats it supports, by better understanding how it was managed in the past," said Dr Everill, Senior Lecturer in Applied Archaeological Techniques.
"Being able to work in the New Forest is a fantastic opportunity, and the site provides a wonderful training experience for our students, many of whom will go on to work in professional archaeology.
"We have been fortunate to work closely with our colleagues in the National Park throughout this process, and are grateful for the specialist support and advice we have received."
Frank Green, New Forest National Park Authority Archaeologist, said: "Working closely with our archaeological colleagues from the University of Winchester is an exciting opportunity to further our knowledge of this part of the New Forest's past.
"The excavation on the site at Denny Wait provides a rare opportunity to find new evidence on lodges as the last archaeological excavation on this type of site was a hundred years ago. Modern scientific dating techniques and the ability to recover information about the site's use can now provide us with a much better understanding and the potential for more accurate dating of the site.
"We hope this will lead to similar work on other lodge sites as part of a much larger project that will expand our knowledge of potential Royal hunting sites from the medieval period."
In addition to the research goals, the excavation has already provided an opportunity for a group of school children participating in the Jon Egging Trust's Blue Skies Programme to gain experience of archaeology and to develop teamwork skills. It allowed the children to build on class-based skills learnt at the University of Winchester a fortnight earlier.
Dr Everill's team has been granted permission by Historic England, Natural England and the Forestry Commission to continue excavations at the site until 16 June.