Sunday 5 August
Weather cloudless and very sunny
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Charlotte Cade, Greg Ford, Muriel Hardman, Phil Thomas, Tony Driscoll, Chris Hobbs, Frankie Saxton, Mick James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Darren de Vyott, Andrew Webb
It is predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures over 30°; I will ensure that we have regular breaks for water as those excavating will become dehydrated very quickly. Just sitting here writing is making me feel hot! It may be necessary to finish early again today.
On the way in to the site, we met a local resident leaving church. He told us that some years ago, when a tree fell down at the end of his garden, he found some decorated tiles while digging out the roots. His house is on the plot where the animal pound used to be, but they are almost certainly not related to that. It is difficult to know what sort of date they were without seeing them, although they are presumably not the type found in late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century floors. On the other hand, I am doubtful that they would be medieval encaustic tiles, unless we have evidence for high status dwellings in the village (such as a house for the Abbot of St Albans’ bailiff).
We have set up the awning for finds processing, as there are far too many people to be able to accommodate everyone on site. Frankie is feeling the effects of the heat, so she will be leading the finds washing (and it is something she is experienced at doing, so she will be able to advise the newcomers). Waterproof labels are in short supply, so I will ask Heritage Network if I can buy some from them (assuming that they have plenty in stock).
Those on site are carrying on with what they were doing yesterday: Charlotte and Greg are cleaning the last remnants of (5) from over the demolition rubble (9), while Muriel is removing the north-western part of (1), where it overlies (4), and Tony, Chris H & Phil are removing it where it overlies (10). Mick is working on the south-eastern end of foundations (7) to get them cleaned up for photography and planning. Things are horribly dry and it is becoming difficult, even impossible, to see the differences between contexts (apart from (1), which is managing to retain moisture underneath the crust).
This is now the fifth day of excavation and we are a quarter of the way through the project. It’s going slowly, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once we’ve got more definite features and have got through the demolition deposits, I think the process of excavation will speed up: there is a tendency to have large numbers of definable contexts in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century deposits on a site, contrasting with many fewer in earlier periods. I am not sure why this is: have deposits in earlier phases undergone transformations from such phenomena as bioturbation that amalgamate things we can define as separate in more recent centuries? I don’t know if anyone has done any experimental work on this.
Work on site is decidedly slower as it’s been hot since the start. An early tea break means that we can fit another in before lunch, around 11.15.
Foundations (7) are definitely extending to the south-east, but the consist of very badly crushed and broken brick in this area, which is probably why they were difficult to define initially. It now looks as if the stone foundations define something like a blocked doorway, which seems more appropriate for a cottage than for a barn. I think that we should put off further investigation until (9) is removed, as it must be lying against the foundations (which would have been above ground level, so perhaps it is best to refer to (7) as a wall).
Marilyn Emerson called in to see how things are progressing. She’s injured her right hand (some cuts that are taking forever to heal), but she wants to come and dig later on.
By late morning, it’s becoming extremely hot. It’s nice enough to sit in the shade typing or washing finds in cool water, but I am very concerned about the health of the diggers: some people aren’t wearing any protection on their head and I’m not convinced that everyone is drinking enough fluids. I will have a word with the team at lunchtime.
Processing the finds from the test pits excavated in June is virtually complete. Although there is an awful lot of really dull material (coal, coke and ceramic building materials), I am sure that I will be able to find something interesting to say, particularly when it comes to comparing the assemblages between the two sites. Are there possible social differences in the use of coal, coke and lignite? Are there roof tiles from 90 Norton Road, which is now thatched? There is also a little residual material, which certainly includes Hertfordshire Grey Ware and St Neots Type Ware, pushing activity in the vicinity back into the middle ages. During the digging of the test pits, there appeared to be Romano-British and early medieval pottery, which I have not seen during processing (I have not seen the contents of all the bags). There is known to be Romano-British activity in the village and the documents make it clear that there was a community hereabouts before AD 1000.
After lunch, three of those processing finds swapped with three of the diggers. I gave everyone a reminder of the importance of head coverings and drinking plenty of fluids while the weather is like this to avoid heat stroke. Some of the diggers do look as if they are in danger of dehydrating…
We are now processing finds from this project and I think that if we do a session every other day, we ought to keep on top of things. There is nothing really unusual turning up among the finds, which consist mostly of ceramic building materials, the green vitrified clinker and nails. The clinker is curious stuff: very glassy, some quite full of bubbles, other pieces evidently without bubbles and a couple of flat pieces with a very different interior from its surfaces. What has struck me is the very low number of potsherds; perhaps this is because we are dealing with deposits that post-date the abandonment of the site and will find more once we are into occupation phases.
The site has become very dusty and the soil is turning a uniform shade of grey brown, making it difficult to see context changes other than those involving coarse components. However, with the hillwash (1) almost completely gone, it now looks as if (4) is also overlying (10), which is good to know. This means that it may also seal foundations at the top of the slope contemporary with (7) and that the area between is the inside of the building: I had been worried that we have largely missed the building, which would have lain to the north-east of (7).
It’s the end of the first week’s work and I think we can judge it a success so far, at least in terms of understanding the archaeological sequence.