Race against time for dock diggers

WITH work about to start on creating a third millennium skyline for the Ipswich Waterfront, archaeologists are today facing a race against time to find out more about the town's first millennium roots.

WITH work about to start on creating a third millennium skyline for the Ipswich Waterfront, archaeologists are today facing a race against time to find out more about the town's first millennium roots.

They only have until the end of the month to complete their dig on the Cranfield's Mill site before it is buried under the new buildings that will take shape over the next two years.

The dig has told archaeologists much more about how the port developed in Saxon times when the town was a key trading post with continental Europe.

Last month they discovered a Saxon walkway along the riverside and now they have found more evidence of sophisticated techniques used to shore up the river banks.


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A key element in creating what was to become a dockside was woven panels which helped to build up the river bank. They caught silt which was forced through at high tides, remaining caught behind the fencing and helping to strengthen the river bank.

The habits of the medieval townspeople also helped the archaeologists - they looked on the riverbank as their municipal dump.

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That meant that there is a wealth of material being unearthed although not in any particular pattern.

The leader of the team completing the dig, Rod Gardner, said: “The quality of what we are finding is very good. It is telling us a great deal about this part of the town - the fencing panels continue for several hundred yards along the river bank.”

One thing that has become clear is that the Anglo-Saxon ships that used the port of Ipswich did not tie up beside the riverbank. They unloaded their contents on to rowing boats to carry them to shore.

Mr Gardner said: “Until the construction of ships changed during the middle ages, they could not risk being grounded by low tide.

“Therefore they would have to stay in the middle of the channel and have their goods ferried from the shore.”

There has been no sign of any wrecked ships being found and with less than a fortnight to go that does not seem likely at this site.

Mr Gardner's team is working with timber specialist Richard Darrah to examine the wood that has been preserved in wet mud for more than 1,000 years.

Specialist dating measures can pinpoint exactly when the trees were felled and therefore when the fencing dates from.

Mr Darrah said: “We can identify when the tree was felled down to the year and can tell what time of the year it was placed in the river, so we can say it has been there since the spring of 949AD.”

Wood recovered from the site is put straight into a tank of water to help preserve it as wet timber can be preserved almost indefinitely although it deteriorates rapidly if it dries out.

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N Is the future of Ipswich Waterfront more exciting than the past? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

DURING the Saxon period Ipswich was an important trading port, with ships travelling from here to what is now Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia.

Wine, ceramics, jewellery, and other expensive goods were imported. Cloth and agricultural produce were exported from Ipswich to the continent.

Ipswich is known to have been an important trading centre in the mid and late Saxon period - but it is not known how large the population was at this time.

For the up-to-date developments to this and other breaking news stories log on to the Star website atwww.eveningstar.co.uk

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