Thetford Forest Archaeology  

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Thetford Forest Archaeological Survey

Thetford Forest Archaeology

Thetford Forest is located in the East Anglian district of Breckland, south-east Britain, and is divided between the two English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Breckland is an area of light free-draining aeolian sandy soils, laying on a bed of cretaceous chalk, and has traditionally been used for heath, sheep pasture, rabbit warren and marginal arable farming. Thetford Forest is a modern lowland pine forest; created after 1919, it now covers 21,000 hectares of the Brecks.

Aims of this landscape archaeology project include: 1) the enhancement of the sites & monuments record - detecting unrecorded archaeology sites; 2) the mapping of lithic (prehistoric struck flints) densities - examining the spread of prehistoric finds across Thetford Forest; 3) and the mapping of manure-scattered ceramics (light background scatters of small abraded sherds of pottery). I hope to compare the accumulated archaeological data with landscape features. Fieldwalking methods have been applied in a pine forest. This is an amateur archaeology project. The fieldwork has been conducted by one surveyor - myself!

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Paul Brooker

neolithic flint arrowheads - Thetford Forest


While aerial photographers, rescue archaeologists, metal detectorists, and field-walkers are gradually filling the sites & monument record, forested areas appear as relatively blank areas - almost as though they don't have a past. Local professionals in collaboration with the Forestry Commission are now surveying Thetford Forest for earthworks. My work compliments this task. I have applied the landscape archaeology technique of fieldwalking to exposed soils in the forest.

Early Survey Results and Project Relaunch

I initially started searching for flints in Thetford Forest during 1995. I formalised my searches and survey technique in 1997 when I launched this project. However, after three winter seasons I mothballed the project between 2000 and 2005.

Roman Pottery, Thetford Warren

Several new sites were recorded between 1997 and 2000, including 1) a number of high density prehistoric flake scatters; 2) a three hectare 4th century Romano-British settlement; 3) a 12th century Medieval (probable) pottery production centre; and 4) probable post-medieval earthworks. I hope to build up a database of flake scatters across the surfaces of Breckland - some have high percentages of utilisation, others not - some include numbers of waste cores, some include numbers of blade-like flakes, others not, etc. I want to map out these differences in both the densities and characteristics of prehistoric flake scatters on the surface.

One interesting development appears to be arising from the mapping of manure scatters. Although Medieval manure-scatter appears where expected - on the shallower calcareous soils of the slopes; Romano-British manure-scatter is more widespread, and can even occasionally be found on the deeper brownearths of the uplands. This might suggest a widespread cultivation of the Brecks during the Roman period, or a difference in settlement pattern compared to that of the Medieval period.

This website also exists as an example of how amateur enthusiasts can responsibly participate in field archaeology, and contribute to the archaeological record. It also provides an example of how surface collection and sampling methods can be applied to a pine forest environment such as Thetford Forest. I have recently relaunched the Thetford Forest Archaeological Survey, following a five year break from field-walking and amateur archaeology. As part of this relaunch, I have rebuilt this website so that finds can be e-reported more effectively.

I would like to extend my thanks to Forestry Enterprise (East Anglia District), Suffolk Archaeology, Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, Colin Pendleton, Kate Sussams, Peter Robins, and everyone else who has past or present supported my project - but above all, I must thank my long suffering wife Suzanne.