Saturday 23 August

Weather: sunny, dry, light clouds

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Chris Hobbs, Muriel Hardman, Claire Skelly, George Hunt, Keeley Hale, Phil Thomas, David Scott, Ursula Scott, Nigel Harper-Scott, Tony Driscoll, Greg Ford, Ernie Ford

It's very dry!

It's very dry!

It promises to be a glorious, mostly sunny and dry day today. Perfect weather for not digging. On site, though it’s a different matter: everything is very dry, colours are all tending to grey and the surface is like concrete. There’s a constant danger of either under-digging (which is what has tended to happen throughout the excavation) or of over-digging because the soil is coming off in large clumps.

Chris and Muriel are planning (12), the road surface, which really only extends about half way up the slope. Beyond it (and apparently underneath it) is a material that closely resembles (9) on the opposite slope. At the moment, the potential relationship is obscured not only by (12) but also by the material in the very bottom of the hollow, which I’m still treating as topsoil, (1).

There is still a very small patch of topsoil that’s coming off at the south-western end of the extension and over (9) at the top of the slope in the main part of the trench. There is only a little bit of (6) remaining, which I expect to be off by morning tea break, so that (7) will be fully exposed (unless, of course, the clayey deposit (8) actually overlies it, as I was thinking yesterday). The overdigging on the north-western side of the hollow way has confirmed that (9) definitely overlies (14).

The road is now planned and Chris is taking off the little hump of (1) remaining in the bottom of the dip. I think that we’ll be able to string out a metre-wide section through the hollow this afternoon, which will speed up how we deal with the south-eastern part of the trench. We can then put more people to work at the top (north-western) end, which, I hope, will get us back into medieval deposits by early next week.

It is so dry on site that it’s impossible to see the difference between (7) and (8) at the moment. I’ve asked Tony to fill the water spray in the hope that we’ll be able to see a colour change. There is supposed to be a weather front passing over tonight, so we ought to have at least some rain. Even if it’s raining in the morning, I want to come over to see how the site looks when it’s very wet. I suspect that all sorts of things I haven’t yet noticed will show up…

After spraying, it looks as if there is no real distinction between (7) and (8). It’s also evident that there has been slight under-digging of (6), probably by just a few millimetres. Tony is sorting that out. There is also under-digging on the south-eastern part of (8), which Mick is dealing with. We ought to be able to get the deposit planned by lunchtime, though. As it’s an uncomplicated deposit, that ought not to take long and we can start work on removing it.

Digging the gully in the hollow way

Digging the gully in the hollow way

In the bottom of the hollow way, Chris (who is working at the south-western end) has found that there is a rounded bottom with (9) to the north-west and (12) to the south-east. At the other end, Muriel is finding cobbles in the bottom. The fill, though, is purely topsoil (and fairly recent, to judge from the sherd of colourless glass Chris found at the bottom). Because of this and because I want to deal with the hollow purely by means of a slot, I won’t get anyone to excavate the whole thing.

After lunch, we laid out the metre slot and Phil has started planning context (9). To the south-east, the edge looks to have been deliberately cut back to created a drainage gully in the bottom of the hollow, which is aligned directly on the gate in the north-east corner of the field. The bottom of the gully is defined by the road metalling (12) and it looks as if (9) may actually overlie it, which would be logical if, as I suspect, (9) is simply material eroded from (14) slipping down the slope (it looks very topsoil like). I’ve decided that Chris and Muriel ought to carry on removing the fill of this ‘gully’, even if it is filled just with topsoil. As Muriel has continued to empty her section of gully, it’s now definitely the case that (9) overlies (12), giving us a stratigraphic relationship across the hollow for the first time.

At the top, the removal of (6) has taken longer than expected because of the usual problem of under-digging owing to the hardness of the soil. At least there is a distinct colour change between (6) and (7) which can be shown up by spraying. Mick thinks that (7)/(8) then overlies (14), which looks to be a reasonable assumption. This has enabled me to update my provisional matrix, which makes sense of what we’ve got to date. We have ten discrete chronological horizons, none of which can really be dated yet apart from the top four (all late twentieth century) and the one below (context (2), which I think is late eighteenth).

Yesterday, Nigel lent me a data stick with photographs taken by his friend with a microlite showing the excavation. They date from Friday of last week (15 August), so that’s where I’ve put one of them in the blog. It’s good that they show the site from all round and especially in relation to the present village.

I feel that we’ve really got somewhere over the past couple of days, despite my rather negative feelings on Wednesday. We did spend too long on the topsoil and we did under-dig it, which is all my fault. On the other hand, this sort of site would be too badly damaged by a JCB to justify using machinery to strip the topsoil (even assuming that we could have got one onto the field) and even using m*tt*cks would have been unnecessarily brutal. Our real enemy has been the dryness, which is ironic given that this has been one of the wettest Augusts for a long time.

A very worrying thought has just occurred to me. The only medieval domestic buildings so far investigated archaeologically in Norton have all been cellared, like the examples at Green Lane in 1988 and at St Nicholas’s School in the 1990s. What if the buildings here were of the same type? We would obviously have to bottom them to understand them.

Decorated bone handle and iron knife

Decorated bone handle and iron knife

Ten minutes before packing up, Tony found a knife with bone handle. Most of the iron knife has broken off, but all the handle is present (although broken). There are three rivets holding the handle in place. The handle is decorated with dot-and-circle marks forming a semi-circle around the end of the handle and there are two bands of linear decoration. It looks to me to be sixteenth (or possibly earlier seventeenth) century in date, although I wouldn’t rule out a later medieval date, either. A very nice find!

About Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

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

Posted on 23 August 2008, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2008. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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