Friday 24 August

Weather overcast, slightly misty, damp

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Peter Owen (morning only), Chris Hobbs, Mick James, Muriel Hardman, Owain James, Tony Driscoll, Hilary Wood (early morning only), Deborah Giles, Nigel Harper-Scott, Fiona Weller, Sam Weller

We have a good turnout today. Tony is finishing recording (21), Mervyn and Peter are staring the excavation of (29), Chris is planning the gulley containing (11), now numbered [31], while Mick, Owain and Muriel are removing cobbles (28). Everyone else is sorting finds, most of which come from demolition deposit (10).

Tony has found that his deposit (21) is apparently cut by the foundations of wall (7), cut [18]. This would put it earlier in the sequence than the barn, which could have interesting implications both for the date of the deposit and for the date of the barn. It is evident that (21) occupies a diffuse and probably quite eroded linear hollow (the sides are too shallow to regard it as a ditch or gulley); this is on a different alignment from the barn and cannot be related to wear patterns within the barn floor, as I originally thought.

Cobbles (28) are out and the underlying clay can now be planned. It occupies a smaller area than the cobbles or the chalk that was above them. It’s also looking very straight-edged, as if it is the capping of a large rectangular pit. I am put in mind of the nineteenth-century cess pit at BAL-45 (Icknield Way East, Baldock) in 1988, which had a dead cow covered in hay at the bottom of it… I hope this isn’t going to be a repeat!

In cleaning gully [31] for photography, Chris has found a piece of pottery in the overdug area at the north-eastern end, where I suspected that he had cut into an earlier posthole. We can at least now say that there definitely is a feature there.

Attacking the clay

Attacking the clay

The stiff clay (30) beneath cobbles (28) was removed to a depth of around 0.5 m and found to contain no archaeological material. Although it is quite unlike the clay natural at 111 Norton Road, as seen by Chris, its grey, anaerobic colour and the presence of iron pan makes it almost certainly natural. We thus seem to have discovered the boundary between glacial clay and periglacially modified chalk north of the church.

Muriel has cleaned around the possible posthole north-west of gully [31] and there is a definite feature there. It’s going off into the baulk and it’s not clear if it is a posthole or something rather larger; its fill is (34).

Nigel is working on the poorly-defined feature cut by [31] at its north-eastern end. There are fragments of pottery in deposit (35), showing that it is archaeological in nature, but it is very difficult to work out its shape. No pre-excavation plan could be drawn, so he’s working from the known extent, where it was cut by [31], back to the natural.

Finds sorting was completed quite early this morning and people moved on to finds washing. This is progressing well and we are almost up-to-date with it once more. Things are feeling very much as if the excavation is winding down, as indeed it is.

This horrible cow

This horrible cow

We have done well to get it all finished within the four weeks I allotted to the project and it’s thanks to the hard work put in by all the volunteers that we have achieved so much. The principal aims of the project design have been fulfilled and we have enhanced our understanding of this part of Church Field. I’m inclining more and more to the idea that we publish this excavation as a discrete unit. We have an evidently post-medieval farm that can perhaps be tracked in documents from 1668, with an undocumented phase of medieval activity before that, including structural evidence. The prehistoric evidence is effectively incidental, but nevertheless of interest.

There’s an appropriate Edward Lear limerick that I am constantly put in mind of whenever we’re on site…

There was an old man who said “How
shall I flee from this horrible cow?
I will sit on this stile
and continue to smile,
which may soften the heart of the cow.”


About Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

I'm the Archaeology Officer for North Hertfordshire District Council Museum Service. I was born and brought up in Letchworth Garden City, so I have a life-long connection with the area.

Posted on 24 August 2007, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2007. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’m with Bill Bryson (1991) when it comes to cows:-

    “To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you… They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends for ever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect.”

    I have got my eye on the large, belligerent, bullock. Should be tasty!

    Robert Lancaster

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