Oxford Archaeology (OA) was initially employed to carry out an assessment of the history of the mines to inform the planning application, and from 2001-2009 to carry out a detailed Archaeological Watching and Recording Brief of the stabilisation works.
OA's contribution involved regular attendance on site to monitor the ongoing works and compile a detailed written, drawn and photographic record of the historic workings as they were revealed. For the majority of the time on site the works were carried out by a single archaeologist, attending on a daily basis. In the later stages of the project, as the pace of work increased and areas of particular interest were revealed, OA's team increased to (at its maximum) five full time archaeologists. Back up support was provided by a dedicated team of finds specialists, surveyors and CAD operatives back at OA's headquarters in Oxford.Back to Top
For health and safety reasons OA worked within the protective shelter of the roadways to record the landscape and to sample key features visible from the protective roadways. Special arrangements, however, were made with the Mine Manager and Hydrock to construct temporary offshoot roadways to investigate or recover a particularly significant feature or find. This co-operation and assistance significantly enhanced OA's understanding of the mining landscape and the material culture of both the miners and the people of Combe Down.Back to Top
The standard day-to-day works of OA involved the production of large scale plans of visible areas as revealed by the progress of the modern roadways. These plans were accompanied by a detailed written record and photographs of key features and deposits taken on a daily basis by the site team. This record was augmented by OA's Mining Archaeologist who provided specialist advice on the range of quarry features and extraction techniques being revealed.
In addition to the daily recording and photographing schedule, OA also surveyed the mines using video recording and laser scanning. The laser scanning was used to produce rapid 3D flythroughs of the mine with the capacity to produce detailed 3D models of those areas of the mine surveyed.Back to Top
For the majority of OA's investigation, the location of the engineering works and roadways were dictated entirely by the needs of the stabilisation process. However in the final year of the project, a number of temporary steel roadways were constructed in order to allow OA dedicated access to areas of particular archaeological and historic interest. These areas were recorded and photographed in detail and laser scanning and video recording carried out. Some traditional archaeological excavation took place as OA's archaeologists and the miners dug small sections through features such as cartways and spoil banks to investigate for the first time, under archaeological conditions, their make-up and to retrieve artefacts to attempt to date the deposits.
Other particularly evocative finds included masons' work 'dressing' areas which often contained smooth stone work benches surrounded by a jumble of off-cuts and discarded pieces of worked stone and intended architectural pieces, discarded when the stone proved impure or when the mason's skill deserted him and the pieces warped beneath his hand.Back to Top
Despite the fact that many of the artefacts were either removed from the mine during its life, or during the years when it lay derelict and open to the casual adventurer and the dedicated caver, some interesting artefacts have been recovered during the excavations. These include the wooden remains of a wheelbarrow, a number of huge stone saws dating from the 19th and early 20th century, and a small litter of broken and discarded mining tools. The most common find was the ubiquitous clay pipe, sometimes discovered unbroken and left in niches or ledges in the mine, but more usually snapped and discarded in the piles of waste stone that cover the floor of the mine.
It would appear that almost from the start of the mine, abandoned or finished areas were used as a convenient dumping place by the people of Combe Down, with rubbish thrown down the light shafts into these areas. A large and varied collection of pottery shards dating from the 18th to the 20th century were discovered as well as more bulky finds including toilets, washing machines, bed bases and even a 1940s revolver which OA quickly handed over to the police!Back to Top