Differences in soil composition, visible as black and grey stratigraphic layers in the profile of a trench wall, show the changes in landscape. These changes in layer colour and composition are due to the different types of particles being laid down on the land surface as the environment changes.

Recording and palaeoenvironmental sampling of one of the ditches at Puxton Dolmoors. Sediments at the base of the ditch show that it was open in an intertidal environment, but as it silted up this changed to a freshwater (ie reclaimed) environment.

North Somerset Levels project

Professor Stephen Rippon

Professor Rippon has had a long term research interest in the North Somerset Levels, around 100 square kilometres of reclaimed wetland in north west Somerset. A strongly interdisciplinary project has examined the changing way that human communities exploited, modified and transformed this wetland, changing an intertidal salt marsh into the reclaimed landscape of today. Archaeological survey and excavation was carried out on three Romano-British landscapes. At Puxton Dolmoors a 1st to 2nd century enclosure complex replaced salt production on what was still a high intertidal, saltmarsh used primarily for grazing livestock. Further evidence for Late Iron Age/early Roman-British salt production was also found at Banwell Moor though here a ditches enclosure system proved to be late Roman (mid 3rd to 4th century) in date. Palaeoenvironmental evidence shows that this landscape has been protected from tidal inundation, as was the case at the contemporary site at Kenn Moor. This considerable investment of resources in wetland reclamation reflects the wider pattern of agricultural investment and innovation seen in the Somerset area.

In the early medieval period the landscape was once again flooded by the sea as most of the North Somerset Levels reverted to saltmarshes. Around the 10th century, however, reclamation resumed starting with small areas that were enclosed by oval shaped dikes, such as Puxton. A careful analysis of the historic landscape - the present pattern of settlements, roads, fields, drainage features and so on - as well as historical maps and documents and extensive archaeological survey have allowed the subsequent of this landscape to be unravelled.

Two major reports have been published on this work:

Rippon, S. 2006: Landscape, Community and colonisation: the North Somerset Levels during the 1st to 2nd millennia AD. York: Council for British Archaeology Research Report 152. pp xix + 317.

Rippon, S. 2000: ‘The Romano-British exploitation of coastal wetlands: survey and excavation on the North Somerset Levels, 1993-7’, Britannia 31, 69-200.