Sunday 17 August

Weather: clouds, sunny spells and light breeze following overnight rain

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Lorna Boyd-Bell, Greg Ford, Ernie Ford, Luke Gearing, Alison Coates, Chris Hobbs, Georgina Farley, Oscar Farley, Christina Farley, Nigel Harper-Scott, Muriel Hardman, Freddie Sharman, Claire Skelly, Mick James, Tony Driscoll

The north-western end of the trench is looking rather more complex this morning, after the rain has shown up soil differences rather more effectively. Context (2) is trowelling down onto a very thin deposit of very similar material with small chalk gravel in it; the deposit is probably no more than 3 or 4 millimetres thick, which is why it has been removed in a number of places without spotting it. Now that we can see it, it’s easier to deal with.

At the opposite end of the trench, Mick is now removing the clayey deposit on the south-eastern side of the hollow way, context (4). It evidently overlies the road metalling in the hollow and it’s intriguing that the road did not occupy the bottom of the hollow but rather ran on the shallower slope on the south-eastern side. The very bottom of the hollow may have been a drainage ditch at this stage or it may have formed by rutting from wheeled vehicles. We should be able to sort this out once we start excavating in the very bottom.

A sunny and dry morning on site

A sunny and dry morning on site

There is no trace this year of the harrowing that we found in last year’s trench, in the south-western corner of Church Field. At the time, I interpreted this as evidence for the ploughing up of the meadow during the Second World War, when this sort of thing happened all over the UK. That we don’t have it here makes me wonder if it was done only over the site of the demolished barn and adjacent farmyard to break up the soil to encourage grass to grow.

Muriel is removing the topsoil that underlay the dump of chalky material in the hollow way. The cut from which I now suspect it came has been assigned context number [5].

I intend to institute a new rule for the next time we do any fieldwork: no mobile ‘phone calls or text messages to be made or received on site except during scheduled breaks. There is one member of the team who frequently uses a mobile ‘phone for both calls and texts during working hours, which is unfair on everyone else. It would be inequitable to introduce the rule now, but it needs to be put into the “useful hints/common courtesy” section.

Context (4) is dreadfully hard and compacted, so I’ve given Mick the m*tt*ck to use on it. Its formation must post-date the abandonment of the road and is therefore no older than the early eighteenth century. It’s producing very little by way of finds and comes straight down onto a highly compacted clay and chalk pebble surface that may be related to other surfaces to the north-west.

I’ve done a quick sketch of the site to try to understand what’s going on. It’s enabled me to assign some context numbers to the different materials that are showing up. The chalk flecked deposit beneath (2) is context (6) and the material beneath that is (7). The very clayey material by the trench extension is context (8); I haven’t yet assigned a context number to the very similar material with chalk pebbles to its south-east, though. At the top of the slope into the hollow way, the uppermost of the two chalky deposits is context (9); this appears to overlie a grey topsoil-like deposit, (10), which in turns overlies another chalky deposit (11). The road metalling on the south-eastern side of the hollow way is (12), although I suspect that it will need to be subdivided as we discover the repairs that must have been made to it.

The ground is drying out dreadfully, with the sun baking the clayey deposits almost too hard to excavate. Everything is also tending towards a uniform grey-brown colour, which doesn’t help matters. Nevertheless, it’s becoming apparent that (6) does not extend as far south-east as (2), which seems restricted to a band about three metres wide at the north-western end of the trench.

Everyone is subdued today. I think it’s because it’s felt like a long week and the sun is very warm whenever the clouds part. It’s also tiring work digging such unyielding deposits. Even a few more spectacular finds would help lift people’s spirits, I’m sure. Why can’t we have some pretty things turn up?

Muriel’s patch of clay has been assigned context (13) and she’s now planning it. This also overlies topsoil (1) and is presumably related to the nearby cut, [5], in the same way that (3), above it, was. I had just completed my first provisional matrix when all this showed up, so it already needs correcting.

Road metalling in the hollow way

Road metalling in the hollow way

I’ve made an outline of the excavation trench to photocopy next week to enable me to draw sketches of the site more rapidly. A combination of annotated plans with context numbers will help me work out what is going on in the more complex areas of stratigraphy. It might also be useful to plan out the extents of individual contexts at this scale, given that some of the larger blanket deposits don’t fit on to even an A3 sheet of permatrace.

We’ll be packing up early today, as we are storing the tools at Chris’s house since Mick – who normally takes them home at night – probably won’t be here on Wednesday. I’ll also fit what I can into the back of the van (although it’s currently quite well loaded with the sample buckets).

I’ll be grateful for a rest tomorrow. I’m so unused to being out of doors that I find just being in the field quite exhausting. I think everyone else is showing considerable fatigue: not only have they been out in the open air, they’ve also been doing hard physical work, so they have more right than I do to a decent rest. There’s also the issue of dehydration on a day like today, which has been the warmest we’ve had for some time.

The archaeology seems to be reasonably clear now. In the hollow way, we have a road surface, which may be the only surviving surface or it may be one of a number; the bottom of the hollow appears to be either a deliberately dug drainage gully or rutting caused by wheeled vehicles at the bottom of the slope. At the top of the slope to the north-west, is the badly degraded remains of a late eighteenth-century surface, which I still suspect to derive from the floor of a structure overlooking the crossroads. Beneath it are traces of a more solid clay floor ins a rather different position. This presumably belongs to an earlier building. From its position, I suspect that this building faces the village street rather than the crossroads. The finds from the topsoil still lead me to suspect that the most intensive activity on this part of the site occurred between the tenth and sixteenth centuries.

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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 17 August 2008, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2008. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great t read Keith, well done, seems that things are progressing slowly; but let’s hope for a great 2 weeks to finish…………Ken

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