Friday 10 August
Weather sunny and dry
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Tony Driscoll, Mervyn Evans, Muriel Hardman, Alan Goodwin (a.m.), Evelyn Goodwin (a.m.), Anne Lake, Phil Thomas, Chris Appleyard, Mick James, Frankie Saxton, Chris Hobbs, Ken Bird
Lots of people again and very little to excavate. I can only fit four people on to the site, removing the last of (4); after that, we’ll be able to use four people planning the two deposits (9) and (10). In the meantime, everyone else is sorting the washed finds into classes of material, starting with the test pits. I’ve found that the bulk finds record sheets aren’t suitable for our tasks, so I’ll have to redesign them and print some up next Tuesday at Hitchin Museum.
Bob Lancaster called in to site first thing with a draft of the invitation to the Open Evening. It all looks good and it ought to go out early next week. He returned later in the morning with prints of a photograph taken around 1905 from Fuller’s Well. It’s been taken to show the west end of the church, where the west window is undergoing repair or restoration (this should help us fix the date more precisely). In the background, the barn on the site is visible and the large open door is prominent. Bob has emailed me an electronic copy, which I will post to the blog.
Yesterday, Frankie brought in a photocopy from a book The Natural History of Europe (H Evans 1968, Hamlyn) with an illustration of dung beetle types. Those that produced the cocoon-like objects (technically ‘breeding pellets’) are known as ‘lousy watchman’ dor beetles, Geotrupes stercoraris, which lay eggs on pellets of dung that they hide in underground tunnels. So the question of what these objects are is settled.
Muriel has brought in a magnet to test the vitreous waste from K&L. It is not highly magnetised, except where there are concentrations of ferrous material incorporated within it. What is very interesting is how much magnetic material there is throughout the soil on the site. If this had been a smithy, I’d be tempted to suggest that we have hammerscale: it will certainly be worth looking at deposits in the farmyard and the barn floor to see if there is evidence for ironworking on site.
In sorting through the finds, there is a fair amount of ironstone in (5). It is presumably of immediately local origin and some of it looks like iron pan. It will be interesting to find out if there is evidence for its exploitation in the documents – might it account for the quarrying evident in the north-eastern part of Church Field?
During lunch break, Muriel and Mick went for a walk through Church Field, where they picked up a small collection of pottery. It’s all the same general type of material and I think it’s all Hertfordshire Grey Ware. One piece has part of the sagging base, showing that it is definitely medieval and not a Romano-British grey ware. At the same time, I walked down to Nortonbury in the hope of photographing the house, but couldn’t get a decent angle without trespassing. The restoration of 2003 seems to have hidden all traces of the historic building.
After lunch, we’ve been able to start on (10) and it will be possible to begin (9) once the levelling has been completed. At long last, we’re into pre-1930s archaeology, at least to the south-west. This ought to improve morale, as things have been very slow so far this week. By the end of tomorrow, I hope that we’ll be able to see the barn and its floor (at least, what’s left of the floor) a lot more clearly. It looks as if (10) sits on a very compacted chalk deposit, which is either an earlier yard surface or the foundations for one. The demolition rubble (9) is extremely compact and full of large stones, making it difficult to trowel. I wonder if it does actually overlie (10) where it spills over the line of the south-western wall of the barn.
The material that (10) is trowelling down onto now looks very like (9), so perhaps the stratigraphy is the other way round, with (10) just another demolition deposit overlying the principal demolition deposit. I hope that I’m wrong about this! On the other hand, there is the worry that it is the natural: it consists of badly decayed chalk with larger pieces of chalk in it. Against this, there are occasional finds in it and although it is at least 0.15 m thick, it still appears to overlie the south-western wall of the barn. I’d also expect the natural here to be clay, as we are not far below the the top of the hill.
Another puzzle is the south-eastern corner of the trench. These is a discrete patch of chalk with cobbles forming its north-eastern and north-western limits, that looks potentially like a structure and floor. As far as I know, there are no structures recorded in this position on the historic maps, so if it is another building, it may be earlier than 1798. On the other hand, it is not especially convincing as a building (the ‘foundations’, if they are such, are very narrow) and I still wonder if it’s an original yard surface.
My fears about ‘natural’ are dissipating as (10) comes down onto what are clearly cobbled yard surfaces that must be earlier. We still need to resolve the relationship between (9) at the top of the slope and (10); given than (9) is what first appeared to be ‘natural’ yet seems to overlie some of the yard surfaces, I am inclining more to the view that it is a compacted chalk floor to the barn that was disturbed by the demolition of the barn and has partly crept down the slope over the top of the foundations of the barn. At the end of the day, Mick started to turn up sherds of what appears to be Romano-British pottery in (10) as well as the ubiquitous post-medieval ceramic building materials.