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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Medieval links to salt industry unearthed

(left to right): John Kaines of Wessex Archaeology,
James Brown from the New Forest National Park
Authority, and volunteer Barry Kerley of
Hythe, who found the medieval pottery.
Archaeologists and volunteers unearthed medieval pottery as they stepped back in time to look at the New Forest National Park’s ancient salt industry.

The volunteers and experts excavated an area at Lymington where for hundreds of years a thriving salt-making industry dominated the coastline.

James Brown, the New Forest National Park Authority’s Maritime Archaeology Education and Outreach Officer, said the trenches were dug off Lower Woodside, Lymington, in an attempt to find the earliest evidence of salt production along the New Forest coast.

With 12 volunteers involved in the excavation and 65 members of the public taking part in guided walks, the events were held to celebrate the Festival of British Archaeology last week (18 – 22 July).

James said: ‘Last year we excavated at the remains of a salt boiling house which closed in 1865, just down the track from the site where we have been working this week. Much of this later salt industry was on land reclaimed from the sea, so with this excavation we have been searching for earlier evidence of salt production.’

Salt was a vital international trade and brought great wealth to Lymington. Evidence shows that at the industry’s peak in around 1730 there were 163 pans in the Lymington area. Between 1724 and 1766 Lymington exported 4,612 tons of salt in 64 ships - 12 cargoes were destined for Newfoundland, 33 to America and others to Norway, Ireland and the Channel Islands.

The pieces of pottery were sent off to a laboratory to be analysed and the results showed they dated from the 12th or 13th century.

James said: ‘We know a lot of the land was reclaimed from the sea during the salt-making process. The Domesday Book shows that salt production was going on in 1086 and we’re hoping to eventually find some evidence of Roman or Iron Age salt production in the area. If we can find the original coastline we can find where the older salt workings were. This proves that there was human activity here in medieval times.

‘We have also sent off soil samples so we can start processing the pollen and microscopic sea animals so we can see if see if it was salt marsh or freshwater habitat.’

Other New Forest National Park activities to celebrate the Festival included a finds day at Lyndhurst where people brought in their artefacts to be identified. They ranged from Palaeolithic flint stone tools from 700,000 years ago to Roman pottery from the Lymington area. Volunteers also helped with an excavation at St Michael’s Church, Lyndhurst.

Recommended Reading: The New Forest National Park: Leisure Walks for All Ages


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