More sixteenth-century deposit
Friday 14 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Muriel Hardman, Christl Squires, Mick James, Pauline Gimson, Nigel Harper-Scott, Phil Thomas, Lisa Waldock, Lorna Holding, George Hunt, Owain James, Tony Driscoll, Christina Farley (morning only), Oscar Farley (morning only), Sophie Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Alice Brookes
Weather: sunny, light cloud, warm and dry
The bullocks had got in again this morning, despite there being no bottles on the grid pegs to attract them. So that hypothesis has to be abandoned!
Yesterday afternoon, more of deposit (14) was removed; towards the top of the hollow way, it is coming down onto what appears to be the same deposit as was seen in the deeper spit removed last year, (17). It’s still producing medieval, Romano-British and prehistoric material.
We had a visit from a reporter from The Guardian, Patrick Barkham, who brought a photographer, Graham Turner. Ros Allwood, NHDC Cultural Services Manager, and Sarah Crombie from Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation also came along. The reporter spent a couple of hours on site talking to a number of people and seemed quite satisfied. The story ought to appear in The Guardian G2 section some time next week.
The material forming (14) has clearly been dumped: we are now seeing large flat stones sitting vertically in it. It may have come from the quarry pits to the north-east, just over Shefford Lane, although we can only guess at the moment. Perhaps a test pit in the quarries would give us a date for their formation. The source of (14) would be the source of the prehistoric and Romano-British material it contains, though.
I’m worried by the slow progress, but its difficult to see how people can go any faster than they are doing: they are removing anywhere between 30 and 50 mm of deposit in each spit, which slows the horizontal progress across the site. With Chris’s discovery of the chalk bedrock in the bottom of the hollow way, this means that there could be a metre or more of deposit to remove before the site is clear of all archaeology. On the other hand, there ought to be a layer of drift on top of the chalk and there is no guarantee that its level in the bottom of the hollow way is its real level, as it could have been worn away during the creation of the hollow.
The finds control system is working well. It adds quite a layer of bureaucracy to the procedure, but we do at least know where each bag of finds is at any one time, which bags are on site and which are actively being added to by the excavators. We should also have a better idea of the range of finds from individual contexts even before initial washing.
Intriguingly, there are fewer prehistoric and Romano-British finds from (14) today. It’s almost as if one cartload of soil contained disturbed earlier material and the rest didn’t.
In the hollow way, Mick and Owain have made some progress with determining what’s happening with (16). It appears to overlie the gravel deposit (19), which forms part of the road metalling. It becomes thinner and less easy to recognise as it climbs the slope, which is exactly what one would expect with gravel: it creeps downhill.
In the south-western trench extension, Chris is carrying on where Christina and Oscar left off this morning. He’s found that the larger stones against the south-eastern edge of the trench are set in a very stiff deposit. There’s also a linear patch of stiff but stone-free material running at right angles to it. I’m tempted to think that we have finally identified some foundations… If so, this would be really good news.