Archaeological excavations taking place at Sherford have revealed that the landscape was once home to historic communities, dating back over 6000 years. The work, funded by the Sherford Consortium and carried out by leading archaeology and heritage practice Wessex Archaeology, alongside Devon County Council and consultants AECOM, has unearthed exciting artefacts that have helped to provide more information on the lives of early Devon settlers, including prehistoric pottery, Bronze Age tools, roundhouses and barrows.
Providing evidence of settlements at Sherford spanning thousands of years, one of the most significant and rare recent findings has been the discovery of a large amount of Neolithic pottery found within a single pit. An extremely rare find and dating back to between 3800-3700BC, archaeologists believe that the placement of the six pots may have had ceremonial significance to those living at the time.
Other major findings include two whetstones, tools used for sharpening metal objects, the remains of a bronze knife, likely to be from the Early Bronze Age, as well as a large polished stone axe which had been broken in two. The remains of several roundhouses dating to both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age have also been found. These are typically a home for an extended family group and form part of a wider community of small farmsteads which are thought to have existed across much of the Sherford site.
The findings have revealed that Sherford’s history is more extensive than originally thought, with communities and families living at the site during prehistoric and Romano British periods. The number of artefacts uncovered at Sherford has also been significant, with the amount of Bronze Age vessels discovered far exceeding those previously found elsewhere in Devon.
Archaeological investigations have been taking place at the location of the new community development for the past two years, and have included trial trench evaluations, excavations and site wide geophysical surveys. It is expected that following examination, many of the artefacts will eventually be on public display at a local museum.
Andy Mayes of AECOM, said: “The archaeological excavations at Sherford provide us with a valuable opportunity to investigate a prehistoric landscape on an unusually large scale, revealing that the area has been occupied and utilised since the prehistoric period – dating much further back than first thought.
“Many of the findings have been significant in not just understanding the history of Sherford, but also how early Devon communities lived, worked and died thousands of years ago. By closely examining these exciting artefacts, we are learning more about how this part of Devon was utilised over several millennia and we are beginning to really understand how different historic communities used the area for living and farming and how they remembered their ancestors.
Wessex Archaeology continue to work closely with The Sherford Consortium, Devon County Council and consultants AECOM to ensure that the archaeological remains on the site are dealt with in an appropriate way, and to further help us understand of how this part of Devon has developed over time.”
Emma Smith, Sherford Consortium said: “We are proud to be funding this work and delighted that the creation of a new community here at Sherford has offered a unique opportunity to find out more about previous communities here.
“As 2018 sees more new residents moving in, this is becoming a thriving, modern place to live, which has a rich and emerging heritage of its own. It is fantastic to be able to share these findings, and encourage more people to learn more about Devon’s rich history and how families and communities lived over 6,000 years ago.”
Cllr John Tucker, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: “The archaeological finds at Sherford have been truly amazing, enhancing our knowledge of the past in the South Hams greatly. Previous studies have often focused on Dartmoor and the uplands, so to be able to see how people lived and worked in the South Hams thousands of years ago is a real privilege. I look forward to seeing the artefacts and future work, in and around Sherford.”
John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council, said: "The archaeological work has revealed deep roots of a community in the area of Sherford. It highlights how rich and diverse the heritage of Devon’s prehistoric and Roman archaeology is in the landscape of rural, lowland Devon.
"I found it fascinating to attend the first open day at the site. It's been encouraging to see so many people turning up to see archaeology in practice in order to find out more about the history of the area, and the cutting-edge recording techniques used by the Consortium’s archaeological consultants have really brought the results to life."