Excavations by Oxford Archaeology during the creation of Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve, funded by DP World as part of the London Gateway Port Development, revealed important evidence for landscape evolution and for methods of salt production and associated activities that took place during the Iron Age and Roman periods.

Pollen and microfauna (ostracods and foraminifera) helped to elucidate landscape development at and around the site from the early Holocene to the medieval period. The analysis of charred plant macrofossils, together with thin-section analysis of the soil itself (micromorphology) showed that saltmarsh plants were burnt as fuel for the salterns. However, while in the Iron Age the plants were burnt together with the sediment in which they grew, the Roman salters appear to have taken care to harvest the plants leaving the roots in place, perhaps to encourage future growth for a sustainable fuel source.

A remarkable discovery of a compact deposit entirely composed of tiny fish bones provided the first evidence recovered from Roman Britain of the local production of fish sauce at a salt making site, possibly a late Roman response to the disruption of trade with the rest of Roman world. Apart from juvenile herring and sprat, which were typically used in the manufacture of garum and other fish sauces, bones were found from other tiny fish, all of which now inhabit the Thames Estuary, including smelt, pipefish, stickleback, goby, and pogge, as well as shrimps, suggesting the production of a local variant. Perforated scapulae also suggest that meat was salted at the site.


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