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  Inside Out - North West : Monday September 29 2003

CHESTER'S EXTRAORDINARY DIG

Mike Emery
Archeologist Mike Emery admires his Bronze Age finds

One of the most important archaeological sites in Britain is emerging in Poulton near Chester.

The site's ancient finds and Hollywood connections make it no ordinary dig.

Inside Out joined the archaeological team in a remote field by the River Dee as they searched for a Roman villa.

But events took an astonishing turn when instead they unearthed the first Bronze Age burial site ever to be discovered in Cheshire.

Archaeologist Mike Emery who is leading excavations at the site says he was gob-smacked by the finds. "We’ve gone back about 3,500 years, and we’re actually one of the first people to stand on this surface."

Hollywood help

Skeleton discovered in Poulton
One of the skeletons discovered in Poulton

Another factor distinguishing this ordinary-looking field from most archaeological sites is its connection to Hollywood - the dig is part funded by actor Ralph Fiennes, star of Schindler’s List and The English Patient.

Ralph is Archaeologist Mike Emery’s adoptive brother. Mike says, "Ralph’s probably put in about a third of the cost over the last eight years."

"This year we’ve actually managed to run the site totally self-financing, purely through the training of students and others who want to learn about archaeology."

Preservation

Mike’s been digging at the site for the last eight years with the support of the local farmer.

Mike Emery showing the flint artefact
Flint artifacts believed to date back to 5,000 - 6,500 BC

He’s helped to establish the site as an independently run charitable trust. It’s called the Poulton Research Project. Their aim is to preserve the finds and make archaeology accessible to everyone.

Mike runs a Saturday club on the site for the public, through West Cheshire College, and uses the summer months to train students.

The Geophysics on the site are run by Alan Brown from Daresbury Laboratories.

Breakthrough

This summer’s Bronze Age discovery has unearthed human graves, animal bones and items including pottery and flint artifacts believed to be parts of tools dating back to 5000 -6,500 BC.

Floor tile
The medieval tile found by Gerry Fair
Image copyright: The Poulton Research Project

Prior to this summer’s dig, the team’s first major breakthrough was finding the remains of a Medieval chapel and cemetery.

It dates back to the twelfth century and was run by Cistercian monks who also had an abbey near to this summer’s dig.

Site discovery

The excavation of the site originally came about because of farmer Gerry Fair. He first discovered a medieval tile in his field more than twelve years ago.

Gerry says, "We dug down about a yard and found a magnificent ceramic tile and several teeth. That started me going and I was then looking for someone to come and do a proper investigation."

Gerry Fair
Gerry Fair recalls discovering the site

History influencing today

The site is not only providing a fascinating insight into the Bronze Age.

Cheshire Police’s Crime Scene Investigations unit believe the site and Mike’s geophysics skills can help train some of their forensic officers in areas such as locating shallow graves at scenes of crimes.

Mike says, "Every year has produced something new and this year has proved no exception."

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Archeology and ancient history
BBC: History - Bronze Age

On the rest of the web
The Poulton Research Project
West Cheshire College

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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