ELHAS Meeting Report - February 2010

For our February meeting we were treated to an illustrated talk by Pam Judkins about archaeological excavations in the Wakefield area over the last ten years. Pam, who has worked at Wakefield museum since the 1970's, was originally the archaeologist there, but is now Senior Officer Collections Manager. She trained for her profession at Cambridge and Reading Universities. She began her talk by explaining that due to legislated changes in the planning process it is now compulsory for developers to undertake an archaeological survey prior to developing a site. This naturally is a delight for archaeologists since it has resulted in access to many more places of interest, but is not necessarily viewed in the same light by the developers. None the less this has resulted in over 300 digs in the Wakefield area in the last ten years, and this pattern is repeated all over the country. Pam explained that although some digs reveal very little in the way of actual artefacts, they all contribute to our understanding and knowledge about our area. In some cases the work recently undertaken has completely changed the originally held view about a site.

Such a situation occurred in Normanton in 2002 when work revealed that the site had been inhabited since 3,000 bc and the finds doubled the amount of bronze age pottery previously discovered in the area. However she also admitted that sometimes the best laid plans of archaeologists all came to nothing. Such was the case when work was being undertaken at Sharlston Colliery. This was thought to be a heaven sent opportunity to excavate a medieval bell pit. Sadly the dig revealed nothing and so the search for a bell pit in the area goes on. Whilst describing the discovery of the now well known chariot burial site near Ferrybridge, Pam told us of perhaps one of the most bizarre finds. Surrounding the chariot was a huge burial pit containing the jaws and front right leg of hundreds of oxen. Since carbon dating revealed that the bones had been deposited there over hundreds of years, it is now believed the site had some religious or ritual significance for over 1,000 years. However the most heart warming story Pam told was her own belief surrounding the chariot burial. Tests have revealed that the occupant of the chariot did not grow up in the area. Pam's theory is that he died whist away from home and the locals wanted to bury him according to the rites of his own area. However knowledge of chariot burials, which abound in East Yorkshire was scant, and so he was buried lying in a complete, though cobbled together chariot, instead of the chariot being taken apart and the sections buried. One likes to think that our ancestors of so many hundreds of years ago would have been so considerate.

Pam ended her talk by giving us details of an event being organised by Wakefield Historical Society to commemorate the 550th anniversary of the death of Richard Duke of York. The society plans to make a journey following the route along which Richard's body was taken from Pontefract for reburial at Fotheringay. For more details please visit www.richarddukeofyorkfuneral.org.uk

The next meeting on Monday 29th March will feature Mr John Claridge who will present an illustrated talk about the 'History of the Supermarine Spitfire'.