Intervention: Micrographia Samples

In March, I attended a weekend event organised by CitiZan (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network). It began on the beach at Pett Levels, East Sussex.

I joined the group working with Lara, Scott and Stephanie of CitiZan investigating and recording the wooden structures in the intertidal zone. We uncovered pieces of woody material which we measured, bagged and labelled.

The next day samples of the collected materials were sliced thinly and precisely and viewed under the microscope. The observed organic patterns identified the specific wood type from which the sample was taken.

Using similar technologies to those of the English scientist Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703). He coined the term cell for describing biological organisms. His book `Micrographia’ in 1665 described his observations using microscopes. Many people challenged his drawings as they could not believe what they saw. I was looking again at a familiar material (wood) but I saw a greater level of pattern and intricacy than is possible without a microscope.

The following week …

Woven Groyne near Herbrand Walk

Taking my new-learned skills, I revisited a structure that I had previously photographed on Cooden beach near Herbrand Walk.

There is a set of posts that are unusual when compared to the more `traditional’ groyne sets that I photograph. This set runs parallel to the shoreline and consist of stumps of worn wood – faggots – put together to form a barrier of sorts in the intertidal zone. They stand towards the sea side of the beach and appear at a point where the current groyne field ends.

Woven Groyne on Herbrand Walk

“Low-cost beach stabilisation, using faggoting, i.e. installing lines of brushwood stakes “dug” into
the beach was in wide usage on the south-east coast of the UK some forty to fifty years ago….
Plate 1, taken in 1983, shows how faggoting was used to stabilise a shingle “storm beach” at Cooden, East Sussex, on a semi-urban coastline that was vulnerable to flooding, but where major coast protection works could not be justified. Here, the faggotting had been installed to prevent a breach forming at an erosion “hot spot” in the centre of an embayment. Here, the faggoting consisted of bundles of timber pilings driven into the beach substratum inshore parallel and shore perpendicular rows. The palings were of a restricted height above general beach level and designed to prevent beach levels from falling, by preventing shingle from washing out seawards. It has been observed that while this type of construction did indeed trap shingle, the increased turbulence tended to prevent sandy sediments from settling out.”

Herbrand Walk 1983

Faggoting at Cooden shingle beach, Pevensey Bay, 1983


From `Understanding the lowering of beaches in front of coastal defence structures, Phase 2 Mitigation methods’, Defra, TN CBS0726/08 6 Rev 4.0 pp5-7






Samples from the wooden faggots …

With my new-found knowledge of sampling and preparing slides, I surveyed the wooden posts measuring and recording the length and width and then taking six samples. Each sample was a one-centimetre cube which I bagged and labelled.

Back in the studio I carefully sliced and prepared slides from three of the six samples collected:
Transversal sample – a cross section 90 degrees to the grain
Tangential sample – runs parallel to the grain but at a tangent to the growth rings
Radial sample – runs in a line from the centre point of the growth rings to the bark edge.

I backlit the samples and photographed them using a mobile phone with a macro lens (24x) attachment: `21st Century Micrographia’


Samples with ink added

Amazing images. I used transversal slides from Samples 2 and 6 and added ink to increase the visibility of the structural elements of the visible cells. The coloured elements in the ink adhered readily to selective parts of the structures and I then used cotton wool and paper to draw away the excess ink so that I could photograph the resulting image.

It is intriguing to look at the pattern and structure of the samples that are unseen without a microscope or macro-photography. Organic patterns, structures forming patterns and the beauty of the natural world that goes unseen.

Discovering the origin of the wooden faggots by looking closely at the characteristics of the tree that is now lost in the waves raised more questions. I am interested in the networks built between people and their environment – where did the wood come from? Who built the structure? When was it built? I am looking at links between the intertidal zone and the local woodland, natural and imposed processes and viewing the functional against the aesthetic.

I sent some samples to Dr Scott Timpany, Programme Leader of Undergraduate Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who kindly offered to see if they could be identified. I await results and to see where this will take me … I think it could be moving towards some green wood sculpture …

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.