The end of the first week

Sunday 9 August

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Clare Skelly, Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Sophie Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Alice Brookes, Oscar Farley, Christina Farley, Chris Hobbs

Weather: overcast, dry and warm; the sun began to break through around midday.

I’m feeling much more positive about the excavation than at any point last year: we seem to have sorted out the confusions over topsoil and twentieth-century deposits and are now dealing with real medieval occupation. I’m confident that the structure(s) will come at some point. The finds control system also seems to be working efficiently.

On arrival, there was a bullock in the compound but no sign of where it might have broken through the fence. It leapt out when I tried to manœuvre it towards the gate, damaging the fence in the process. I’m slightly worried that if this becomes a regular occurrence, we will have to backfill. I really don’t want to see sensitive medieval archaeology damaged by trampling cattle!

Teenage boys (albeit lacking testosterone!)

Teenage boys (albeit lacking testosterone!)

On the north-western slope of the hollow way, Christina, Oscar and Chris are dealing with the interleaved lenses as part of the topsoil, as it’s all clearly twentieth-century in date (Oscar found a piece of green plastic to confirm the dating). Based on what’s going on at the top of the slope, I had expected these deposits to overlie (14) all the way to the bottom, However, about halfway down the slope, Chris and Oscar are coming down onto something that’s much more compact. It looks to be level and I wonder if it’s either structural or if it’s a road surface pre-dating the formation of the hollow way.

There’s a steady trickle of metalwork – all iron – from deposit (18), which fits the pattern established at the end of last year, when the best metalwork came from this end of the site. So far we don’t have anything to match the interest of the buckles, but we still have three weeks to go.

The larger cobbles visible through (14) are looking increasingly to form a linear pattern more-or-less parallel with the hollow way to the south-east and turning through a right angle more to the north-west in the middle of the trench. I may be over-interpreting a few cobbles, but they do look suspiciously rectilinear.

The chalk “surface” part way down the slope

The chalk “surface” part way down the slope

The chalk that Chris and Oscar have been uncovering on the side of the hollow way is evidently level and it does look very surface-like. On the other hand, it seems to peter out very quickly to the north-west: I can’t tell if this is because it is sloping down in that direction or if it genuinely ends there. The south-eastern edge is very irregular, but this probably has a lot to do with erosion on the sides of the hollow way.

During lunchtime, the sun broke through the clouds and the site is beginning to get very dry again. Although it makes digging more difficult, at least I no longer have problems with interpretation. It seems reasonable to conclude that (14) is a spread deposit rather than one that formed naturally, as its surface is very uneven. Deposit (18) overlies it; in place it is very superficial, while in others, it is deeper. On the north-western slope of the hollow way, the topsoil is mixed with lenses of chalkier soil that presumably derives from (14), while the chalk “surface” beneath it is apparently quite narrow.

We do need to sort out the south-eastern end of the site, though. Last year, we were able to determine that the clayey deposit (16) overlies the road surface. There is a large piece of post-medieval tile in it, so that’s a partial confirmation of what can be deduced stratigraphically about the date of the metalling. I’m still uncertain about deposit (19), though, as this only became visible towards the end of last year and I don’t recall investigating it: I certainly didn’t incorporate it into the site matrix. I’ll probably put people on to this area on Wednesday.

We’re into the last half hour of the day. After a week, the site doesn’t look vastly different from the way it did after removing the geotextile, although I think we’ve achieved much more than a quick look would suggest. We’ve confirmed my idea that the deposits at the top of the slope are sixteenth-century in date (and contain much earlier material, including Roman) and we’re getting somewhere with the slope of the hollow way. What I don’t yet know is how much material there is to remove from the site before we hit natural: we may never find out…

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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 9 August 2009, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2009. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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