Summary

These pages present the results of the first two phases of the South West Archaeological Research Framework (SWARF) project: a Resource Assessment and a Research Agenda for archaeology in South West England. They cover the area of the historic counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire and the project was sponsored by English Heritage and the local authorities of the region. The project had as its aim the provision of a structure in which to make decisions about future archaeological research and is part of an English Heritage initiative to prepare a series of such reports for the whole country.

The regions of England, as defined by central government, have a short history and so this is the first report to cover the area now called South West England. It contains a comprehensive overview of the region from the Palaeolithic to the present day with the aim of providing an accessible and up-to-date review of the current state of archaeological knowledge. It also hopes to define the character of that resource to act as a reference when taking decisions on the future of the resource. It also highlights the major gaps in our knowledge and also areas where the region’s archaeological resource may have most to contribute to national and international research questions.

In order to make the Research Framework as comprehensive as possible the work has been carried out by a large number of people with research interests across the region. The reports originated from a smaller number who prepared draft documents for each period. The membership of these period groups was drawn from all sectors of the archaeological community in order to get as wide a view of the issues as possible. The draft documents were circulated to a wider group which intended to include all those working, researching or just interested in the archaeology of the region. As part of the process two seminars were held, one to discuss the Resource Assessment and one to discuss the Research Agenda. These were attended by over 150 people and provided a forum for discussion that has contributed greatly to the quality of the final document. The final stage of the project, the Research Strategy, was developed in a similar way and published separately.

These pages comprises hapters summarising our knowledge of the region by chronological period: Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, Later Bronze Age and Iron Age, Roman, Early Medieval, Medieval, Post-Medieval and Modern. These are accompanied by an introduction to the project and the region, a chapter on environmental archaeology in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age and the Research Agenda. The text is supported by maps, diagrams and an extensive bibliography.

As the work demonstrates, South West England is probably the most diverse of the English regions and contains some of its best-known archaeological sites. The caves of Mendip and Torbay contain some of the finest Palaeolithic remains in England whilst later in prehistory sites such as Avebury, Stonehenge and Maiden Castle are of international repute. The Roman period is famous for its spectacular mosaics from sites such as Chedworth and Cirencester and may have remained in contact with the empire into the 5th and 6th centuries. Glastonbury is famous for its Abbey and early Christian associations but the region contains many fine churches and cathedrals, of which Salisbury and Wells are perhaps the best known. The importance of mining in some areas is reflected in the recent successful bid for World Heritage Site status.

Much of the region is dominated by its coast which has allowed extensive influence from bordering areas such as Wales, Ireland and Brittany but has also allowed the spread of people and ideas from the region to all corners of the world. The coast, and the inland areas, present a wide variety of environments: from the rocky cliffs of Cornwall, via the granite uplands of Bodmin and Dartmoor, the wide alluvial deposits of Somerset to the chalk downland of Dorset and Wiltshire and the limestone hills of Gloucestershire. This diversity provides a wealth of avenues for archaeological research to which can be added the important urban deposits of the great medieval and later port of Bristol and other cities such as Gloucester and Exeter.

Archaeological research is not static and many new sites have had to be added to this report as it was being written but it is hoped that this report of the state of archaeology at the beginning of the 21st century will provide a springboard for future research and a focus around which we can pool our energies.