To the south a sandy strait separates Bryher from Samson, depopulated by Augustus Smith in the mid nineteenth century Land Use Consultants , The geology of Bryher is granite, with weathered periglacial head, known locally as ram, mantling the lower hill slopes and valley floors and supporting soils suitable for cultivation and pasture. On the southwestern side of the island blown sand creates a lowlying area of sand dunes; the coastline is otherwise of rugged granite ibid, 89; Geological Survey of Great Britain, , Isles of Scilly, Sheets and The sword and mirror burial site is situated on Hillside Farm, towards the southern end of Bryher, just below the 10m contour line at the base of the north-facing slope of Samson Hill SV.
It lies within narrow rectangular bulb fields, ridged for potato cultivation, bordered by pittosporum hedges and stone walling. To the south is unenclosed heathland on the steep rise of Samson Hill, which visually dominates and overlooks the site.
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To the north the farmland falls to the narrow neck of land between Great Porth and Green Bay, rising up again to the bulb strips on the southern slopes of Timmy s Hill. Nearby, at the edge of Great Porth, is the prominent landmark of Great Carn, which, when the shoreline was further away, must have been even more striking as a natural feature, rising out of the low ground below the site. Historic landscape character The Historic Landscape Assessment for Scilly characterised the farmland surrounding the sword and mirror cist as a mixture of Anciently Enclosed Land AEL and late nineteenth or early twentieth century bulb strips Fig 3; Land Use Consultants AEL is land that was probably first enclosed in the medieval period or earlier, and includes both rectilinear and irregular stone-walled fields.
The bulb strips are small narrow enclosures with high hedges designed for the cultivation of flowers daffodils and narcissi ; the vast majority of these have been created by sub-division of AEL, although their distinctive pattern of parallel strips tends to obscure the earlier field pattern. Most of the farmland here retained the ancient pattern until the end of the nineteenth century but had been sub-divided into linear bulb strips by the time of the Ordnance Survey 25in map.
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Archaeology and history The presence of worked flint in the vicinity of the site indicates activity from the Neolithic period onwards see the commentary below by Henrietta Quinnell on flint finds. The island has numerous Bronze Age cairns and entrance graves, including some on Samson Hill, together with relict prehistoric field systems and the boulder walls of others within the intertidal zones to east and west of the site Fig 4; Ratcliffe and Johns , 26 A Roman coin, a brooch and greisen spindle whorl have been retrieved from the ploughsoil in the field to the north of that in which the cist was discovered G Langdon pers comm.
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A single sherd of E ware from Veronica Farm, m north-east of the Hillside Farm site, indicates activity in the area during the late sixth to early eighth centuries Ratcliffe , The place-name Bryher is first recorded as Braer in and is probably derived from the Cornish place-name elements bre, hill, and the plural suffix yer; that is, place of hills Padel , A concentration of medieval pottery in the fields around Veronica Farm at South ard suggests that it could be the site of the documented medieval settlement of Bantom Ratcliffe , 7.
From the beginning of the Holocene period, as the ice sheets melted and sea level rose, the submergence of low-lying areas led to the formation of one main island by about 3, BC. The main island may have survived until the end of the Roman period but further rises in sea level, and perhaps a final inundation during the early second millennium AD, resulted in the eventual submergence of the flats in the middle of the land mass and formation of the present pattern of islands.
Final separation of the islands might not have been complete until the early sixteenth century. More recent research, involving radiocarbon dating and environmental analysis of inter-tidal peat deposits, suggests that sea level rise has been less dramatic. Crown Copyright. Unauthorised reproduction infringes Crown Copyright and may lead to prosecution or civil proceedings. Cornwall County Council Licence No , This still suggests that the western side of Bryher has experienced considerable coastal retreat since prehistoric times; during the late Iron Age and Romano-British period the nearest shoreline is likely to have been between 0.
Since then, sea level has risen between 4. The project In March a local farmer, Paul Jenkins, found an iron sword in a bronze scabbard inside a stonelined cist grave exposed during potato cultivation in a field on the northern side of Samson Hill Fig 7. Previously, during , having relatively recently taken on the tenancy of Hillside Farm, he had deep ploughed the cist field to break up the lower soil structure in order to rejuvenate soil fertility and improve drainage.
This involved ploughing to a depth of mm, in comparison with the usual depth of mm, and it is this deeper ploughing that is likely to have initially disturbed the cist.
In the field was ploughed to the usual depth and potatoes planted. During late March, while Mr Jenkins was spraying his potato crop, one of his tractor wheels sank into the ground. To free it he had to remove a stone, below which was a hole opening into a larger cavity.
Closer inspection revealed the cavity to be stone-walled and roofed, the removed stone being a dislodged capstone. On reaching inside he discovered the sword Hooley He then contacted the British Museum, who gave him initial conservation advice regarding the sword and recommended that he take it to the Isles of Scilly Museum. He took detailed notes and measurements and made a photographic record, using a dedicated flash to photograph the interior of the cist Hooley The discovery was reported in the local press and mentioned on national radio.
Prince Charles visited Hillside Farm to view the sword during an official trip to Scilly in May The sword was subsequently transferred to English Heritage s Centre for Archaeology CfA in Portsmouth, where it was assessed for two levels of conservation: first, to stabilise the object and allow investigative analysis, and second, to allow it to be put on display.
The national importance of the archaeological discovery was recognised and in September Jeanette Ratcliffe, Senior Archaeologist at the Cornwall Archaeological Unit CAU, now the Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council , produced a project design for evaluation, recording and reinstatement of the site Ratcliffe a.
There were a number of strong conservation, research and management reasons for the project: the contents of the cist were vulnerable to contamination and deterioration and looting by treasure hunters was a possible threat. The project offered the unique opportunity to record fully the 6. The coast and tide levels in the Late Iron Age are likely to have been similar.
Finally, although a 20m radius around the exposed cist was designated as a Scheduled Monument NM no , other buried remains in the surrounding field s were potentially vulnerable to ploughing and it was therefore necessary to determine the nature and extent of any associated buried remains in order to formulate an appropriate management strategy.
The general aims of the project were to: ensure the conservation and interpretation of the burial and its grave goods; record the contents of the cist by careful excavation; establish the potential for further analysis; determine the local context of the burial in order to more accurately define the Scheduled Monument boundary; reinstate the site to ensure future conservation of the remaining cist structure; and analyse and disseminate the results of the project.
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The timetable for the archaeological fieldwork was designed to fit in with the farmer s cropping programme. The potato crop was lifted in July August and ridging-up for a winter crop of potatoes was to take place from the beginning of November.
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Consequently, on-site recording work commenced during September and was completed by the end of October The first stage was a topographical survey, recording the immediate landscape context. This was followed by magnetometer and resistivity surveys over an area of c 3ha of the cist field and surrounding fields Linford et al The resulting plan of geophysical anomalies, overlaid on the topographical survey, was used to locate the cist excavation, Fig 6 The southern end of Bryher looking south-east , showing Samson Hill and the relict prehistoric field system.
The location of the sword and mirror burial is circled Cornwall County Council. The excavation strategy for the cist consisted of the controlled removal of the contents in spits or layers. Identified human bone and artefacts were recorded three-dimensionally, their position being marked on a plan and depths recorded with a dumpy level reading. Recording was carried out according to standard CAU procedure Nowakowski Excavation of the contents was total, down to the ram that formed the floor of the cist. All the soil inside the cist was sampled and retained for postexcavation analysis.
Phosphate sampling At the project design stage phosphate sampling was considered essential, given the strong possibility that there would be little or no surviving human bone. Sampling intervals needed to be close enough to 9 Fig 7 Paul Jenkins with the sword soon after its discovery Gibson Collection. Consequently, samples were taken at 50mm intervals based on a consistent grid pattern for each spit or layer, 10gm of soil being taken from the intersection point between the 50mm squares.
A total of phosphate samples were taken from the cist interior. A sequence of 60 phosphate samples was taken at 50mm intervals from four columns on the northern edge of the Trench 1 in order to obtain information on background levels of phosphate from the ground outside the cist. When it became clear during excavation that bone had survived, albeit poorly, and that the position of the body could be seen, it was decided that the primary aim in assessing the phosphate samples should be to test the methodology of phosphate analysis, to define in more detail the position of the body and also to analyse the samples for manganese to see if this showed enhancement in the area of the body or the underlying thin layer of brown silty clay.
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The assessment showed that where bone was present, total phosphorous and calcium However, these did not provide more information about the position of the body than was already known from excavation and therefore no further analysis was carried out on the phosphate samples Keeley and Smith The sword and mirror burial This section provides a summary description of the excavated cist, followed by detailed specialist reports on the cist contents. Throughout the report, the context numbers for features, cuts and structures are shown in square brackets for instance  and those for deposits, layers and fills in parentheses Cist structure, contents and post-depositional processes Cist structure The cist survived complete below the surface of the field, the flat, upper face of the capstones lying at a depth of mm below the present ground surface.
Adhering to the capstones were vestiges of the light olive-grey clay luting or mortar that sealed the gaps between them and held them and some smaller stones in place on top of the walls. The four in-situ bolster-shaped granite capstones fitted together well but barely spanned the top of the cist; the one removed by Paul Jenkins would also have fitted neatly Figs 9 and The dry-stone walls of the cist Fig 11 are coursed and slightly corbelled.
The main basal Above these, up to two courses of smaller slabs and rubble, generally laid flat, infill irregularities in the top of the basal course and raise the wall to a fairly even upper level about mm above the cist floor. There was no evidence of luting in the interstices of the side walls. The walling defines a quadrilateral internal area with a north south long axis measuring 1. The plan is asymmetrical: the east side of the cist has a shallower concave curve than the west and the southern end is angled while the northern end tapers to a single, rectangular transverse wall slab.
The cist was built as a freestanding structure within an ovate pit measuring 2. This had been dug through a layer of buried soil and into a pocket of naturally occurring, soft, stoneless, orange silty clay in the ram, which formed the floor of the cist. There was no evidence of an old turf-line on the buried soil and this was probably removed during the construction process.
The space between the cist walls and the edges of the pit had been backfilled with redeposited ram, compacted dark yellowish-brown stony clay, which might have been dug and brought from elsewhere. The floor of the cist was cut down into an oval shape, mm deep and squared off at the south end with a crescent shape cut out of the west side, probably to accommodate the flexed knees of the body. This was reflected in the curve of the walling above. The body was almost certainly laid in the grave after the cist walls had been built.
There would have been insufficient space in the pit to build the walls around the interred body without disturbing it. Cist fills The primary deposit in the cist was a thin layer of brown silty clay, 20mm deep 22 , referred to during excavation as the body stain but more likely to have derived from soil spilling into the cist during the interment Fig The human skeletal remains very poorly preserved because of the acidic soil conditions and most of the finds were embedded in The clay was assigned various context numbers according to level or spatial position within the cist: 13 , 17 21 Fig Taken as a whole, the deposit has been interpreted as washed-in clay luting from the capstones above.
Similar deposits were recorded at the bottom of the Porth Cressa cist graves Ashbee , 65 The area of the skull was defined by a sub-circular cavity  filled with loose soft dark brown silty clay 14 , its eastern edge partially formed by in situ skull fragments Figs 11 and Presumably, at some stage in the skeletal decomposition, the skull had collapsed and filled with soil before being sealed by more luting washed in from above. Forty-four teeth fragments were recovered from sieving the grey clay below the skull cavity.