Case Study: ‘Touching the Tide’ - Community excavations at Barber’s Point, Friston, Suffolk

Suffolk Archaeology for several years has been assisting the Aldeburgh and District Local History Society in a series of community excavations at Barber’s Point, Friston, the last taking place during September 2013 with funding from Touching the Tide (Heritage Lottery Fund) …

Volunteers excavating the graves at Barbers Point

The final research excavation at the site, which is located near the north bank of the Rver Alde at the end of a promontory that jutted out towards the river channel, lasted for three weeks. Under supervision from SACIC staff, over 35 volunteers took part and were trained in excavation techniques and recording. The project also took part in the national Heritage Open Days programme which saw a further 160 people visit the excavations. Pupils from five local schools were also able to visit the site and the project was followed up by a programme of outreach events. The daily progress of the 2013 excavation can be seen in the Daily Blog, Photo Gallery and Video Diary on the ADLHS website.

The excavations at Barber’s Point have shown that the site was originally an island, first used during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, then for salt manufacture during the Roman period before being modified in the Early to Middle Saxon periods (6th to 9th centuries AD). Large enclosure ditches surrounded evidence for post-hole buildings and a small but intriguing cemetery of 19 individuals which garnered attention in the local media. The earliest grave was dug about AD 600 and contained a teenage female interred with a wooden box placed at her feet. This box contained a number of items including a key, a fossil, a miniature Iron Age terret ring, a piece of amber and, most intriguing of all, a large cowrie shell probably originating from the Red Sea!

The excavation at Barber's Point

The subsequent abandonment of the site was probably due to Viking incursions during the 9th century AD. During the medieval or post-medieval periods an immense project of land reclamation drained the saltmarsh behind the site, creating Hazlewood marshes and linking Barber’s Point to the north bank of the river.

The Barbers Point excavation team.jpg

Soon after the final excavation the site, once again, became an island, following the dramatic tidal surges of December 2013 which breached the river wall, flooding the fields behind the site and transforming Hazlewood Marshes into submerged mud flats. The site now stands slightly above the high water mark, confirming that it had been an island in the pre-medieval period.

Booklet cover: Life and Death at Barber's Point

Since the excavation finished Suffolk Archaeology has been engaged in producing an assessment report on the results, and has helped co-author a booklet ‘Life and Death at Barber’s Point: a Saxon cemetery on the cusp of Christianity' which is available for £2.50 (includes p&p) from Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB, Dock Lane, Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 1PE.