Bomb reveals Saxon ditch

October 3, 1997

The new treasure act came into force last week but archaeologists are already making great finds without digging

FALLOUT from the IRA bomb attack on Manchester in 1996 has led archaeologists to a ditch which may date back to the Anglo-Saxons. They believe they have discovered the Hanging Ditch, first mentioned by an 18th-century historian, under land earmarked for Manchester's post-bomb redevelopment.

Early excavations have already thrown up finds from the 14th century, including shoes, dagger sheaths, bones and a small bell that still rings. Pollen and other environmental material dating from prehistoric times have also been found in a natural ravine forming part of the ditch.

Researchers from Manchester University's archaeology unit were given the chance to examine the site, now waste ground, before it was redeveloped. In a month's time three old buildings will be transferred about 250 metres on to the land to make way for a restored and enlarged Marks & Spencer's store. By then, archaeologists hope to have found out the size and date of the ditch and collected much of the evidence it contains.

The antiquarian and historian the Rev James Whittakker recorded seeing part of the Hanging Ditch in the 18th century but until now archaeologists have not been able to find it. Nor do they know exactly what it is, although they are working on two possibilities.

First, that it is part of the fortifications which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says were built by the King of Mercia on the Mercia/Northumbria boundary. Second, that it is part of a medieval defence of the town, of which there is no record.

The 14th-century finds clearly indicate some work was done on the ditch at that time. John Walker, director of the University of Manchester's archaeology unit, said the ditch probably received its name from a hanging valley, or dean.

Once at the heart of medieval Manchester, it appears to be about 700 metres long, about 20 metres wide and is six metres below the present ground surface. The site had already been affected by one bomb. The top is made up of debris from attacks by the Luftwaffe.

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