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Offshore Windfarm Unearths Tales of Suffolk’s Past

09/10/2017

One of Europe’s largest archaeological digs this year has uncovered a rich tapestry of information about Suffolk’s history during Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval times.

The project was commissioned by ScottishPower Renewables, as part of the company’s promise to ensure that work to install underground cables to connect the company’s East Anglia ONE offshore windfarm to the National Grid is carried out sensitively.

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Wardell Armstrong was commissioned to oversee archaeological works across 60 hectares of Suffolk countryside, working closely with Suffolk County Council. Up to 400 archaeologists have been involved in the work since February, with a peak on-site workforce of around 250 at any given time, as well as 20 members of the Ipswich and District Metal Detector club.

The dig has revealed new insight in to past settlements and land use activities in the region. So far evidence from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman period, Anglo-Saxons and into the medieval period has been found.

As well as evidence of residential dwellings and places of work, a wide range of pottery fragments have been discovered alongside tools and coins and other pieces of interest.

Although perfectly intact artefacts are rare in such digs, many items of archaeological significance have been recovered.  Discoveries include fragments of green-glazed face jugs, popular in Medieval homes in 13th century England.  Archaeologists think it is likely the jug was manufactured in Grimston, near King’s Lynn, which was a centre for the production of medieval pottery at this time. Household items manufactured at Grimston were exported from King’s Lynn all over Europe and proved to be especially popular in Norway where nearly half of all the medieval pottery recovered was made at Grimston.

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Fragments of Bronze Age cooking pots have also been discovered. Archaeologists can find out a great deal about the past by examining these broken fragments after they have been carefully cleaned. The overall shape of a pot, together with the manufacturing technique and style of decoration are all studied. Vessels from the same time period, cultural group or region usually have share certain characteristics in  such as form, shape or decorative motifs which mean they can be quickly recognised and identified.

The archaeological excavations have been funded by ScottishPower Renewables, prior to the construction of a 37km underground cable. The cable will connect the 102 turbines from the East Anglia ONE Offshore wind farm to a new electricity converter station at Bramford.

Joanna Young, Stakeholder Manager at ScottishPower Renewables, said: “Hundreds of archaeologists and metal detectorists combing over fields in Suffolk is not the first thing you think of when you imagine an offshore windfarm - but it highlights the wide range of efforts needed to build a major energy project like ours.

“We decided early on to invest in underground cables to take power from the offshore windfarm to the National Grid, rather than building pylons. This means laying cables under the ground and roads and rivers and railways across a 37km stretch. We need to make sure that we do this work in a sensitive manner, and it is important to record all items of archaeological significance.

“The East Anglia ONE offshore windfarm will provide a boost for the local economy, supporting jobs and training opportunities for decades to come, as well as helping the Government to achieve its ambitions of a low carbon future. It is an added bonus that this project for the future has helped to uncover more detail about Suffolk’s rich past.”

Richard Newman Post-Excavation Manager at Wardell Armstrong, said: “It is not often that archaeologists get access to such a vast corridor of land, and the project has been fascinating. The experts on site are often required to act like detectives to understand why buildings and artefacts have been found in certain locations, and then gradually we can build a larger picture. Each find reveals a different clue about the way life used to be in Suffolk, and helps to increase our historical understanding. All of the finds will now be analysed further, and detailed reports will be produced, but it is safe to say we already know a lot more about Suffolk’s history today than we did a year ago.”

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Cllr Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, said: “The project is a great example of successful partnership working, between ScottishPower and Suffolk County Council, as well as hundreds of archaeologists and detectorists. It has been a logistically challenging project, with so many sites and so many people involved, but everyone has pulled together to deliver a successful dig. Once the full reports have been produced we plan to make the artefacts available to local museums, giving people across the region and beyond a chance to interact with important features from Suffolk’s past.”

The 102 turbine East Anglia ONE windfarm is the most cost effective offshore windfarm to go into construction in the UK. Once fully operational, East Anglia ONE will provide enough clean energy to power the equivalent of almost 600,000 homes, which is the majority of households in Suffolk and Norfolk.

The cable laying project for East Anglia ONE will begin in the next few months, and construction work is already underway at the onshore substation site in Bramford.

Offshore work begins in 2018, with the turbines due to be installed in 2019, before the project is fully operational during 2020.