About the site

Map showing the location of Walpole

Map showing the location of the Walpole landfill site. By Nancy Hollinrake

Today Walpole is home to a busy landfill site, owned and operated by Viridor, in the heart of the Somerset Levels. Since 2000, archaeological work by C & N Hollinrake ahead of landfill cell construction has revealed a prehistoric landscape where dry land met a tidal saltmarsh.

After the last ice age, 11 000 years ago, the river Severn ran through a rocky gorge to the sea, which was much farther west than the present day Bristol Channel. As the earth’s crust adjusted to no longer carrying the weight of the ice, the north of Britain rose relative to sea level, whereas the south sank. This meant that the sea came further inland, flooding the channel of the river Severn. 9 000 years ago, Walpole was still dry land, probably with a covering of trees, although the sea was approaching. Over the next seven thousand years, the site gradually became closer to the sea, becoming an island surrounded by tidal saltmarsh before being covered completely in intertidal clays.

The prehistoric marshland was rich in natural resources. Preserved hoofprints show that large wild animals such as deer were living in the area, and the bones of a large type of prehistoric cattle known as an aurochs have been found in an old channel in the saltmarsh, along with the bones of edible fish and shells of cockles. Flint arrowheads used for hunting have been found on the island. To help cross the marsh, Neolithic people built wooden trackways by cutting and sharpening tree branches into stakes.

During the Roman period, attempts were made to reclaim the land from the sea and a network of ditches was dug. Throughout the last two thousand years, the site has been low-lying grazing land, crossed by ditches and prone to flooding in winter.



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