A Landscape of Power. History Runs Deep in the Countryside of West Somerset

In the last few decades those areas that have experienced the most new building have also seen the most archaeological exploration. Sometimes, however, we end up in places that have seen comparatively little previous investigation, and this provides us with a chance to write the first systematic archaeological story of an area. This was just the case at Hinkley Point in West Somerset, where EDF Energy is currently building a new nuclear reactor. This major development provided us with an opportunity to examine a large tract of land bordering the Bristol Channel. From the reactor site itself there are fine views out across the water to the South Wales coast, but the area is exposed and susceptible to strong wind – we regularly saw the rain clouds being blown apace towards us. So you might have thought that this was an unlikely spot to find much archaeology, yet quite the opposite proved to be true.

Excavations in all weathers on a linear site with Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman occupation
Excavations in all weathers on a linear site with Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman occupation

Our work revealed fascinating evidence for past activity in this remote spot stretching back until around 3000 BC. Virtually all periods of the past were represented, including Iron Age and Roman settlements and a fascinating post-Roman cemetery dating from the 5th to 7th centuries AD. We also examined the site of a farm which was only abandoned in the 1960s, and amazingly showed that this site has also been occupied in the Iron Age, Roman and medieval periods. What was it about this spot that drew people back to it throughout history?

An unexpected early medieval burial ground – the final resting place of over 300 of the area’s local inhabitants
An unexpected early medieval burial ground – the final resting place of over 300 of the area’s local inhabitants

Fieldwork at Hinkley Point is now over, and we are engaged in the vital process of analysing and reporting on our findings. Our first book on an Iron Age settlement and Roman villa near the village of Cannington has just been published, and further volumes will follow over the next few years.

The remarkable remains of a farmhouse, which had been in use until recent times and which was shown to have medieval origins. It seems to have been the descendant of a farm with late Iron Age beginnings
The remarkable remains of a farmhouse, which had been in use until recent times and which was shown to have medieval origins. It seems to have been the descendant of a farm with late Iron Age beginnings