Start of the third week of excavation

Wednesday 19 August

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Pauline Gimson, Alan Goodwin, Mike Spencer, Lisa Waldock, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Lorna Boyd-Bell, Chris Hobbs, George Hunt, Tony Driscoll, Sophia Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Barbara Crombie

Weather: sunny, very light cirrus cloud

We arrived on site to find the fence down but no sign of trampling by bullocks or any new ‘presents’ left by them. It turned out that the wire tying the fence to the posts had been completely removed, top and bottom, so it’s a clear case of vandalism. We need to find out who is the Community Police Officer for Norton and ask them to keep an eye out. Nevertheless, no damage had been done to the site, apart from a small area of collapse by the road surface, where the roof of an old rabbit burrow had fallen in.

A collapsed and possibly very old rabbit burrow

A collapsed and possibly very old rabbit burrow

It was also very dry when we got here, as there has been no rain since the weekend, so I started by giving the site a good hosing. People are very tightly packed in on site, as (14) survives only in limited areas, although the colour differences that were visible on Sunday are no longer apparent. This does mean, though, that we out to have most of it off today, apart from the small part of it in the south-western extension, where there is still a fair depth of it left.

Next to tackle will be the chalky material left on the north-western side of the hollow way. The material beneath (14) seems also to be running beneath it and we have not established a satisfactory relationship between it and (14); I’m wondering if it seals it, as the material on the edge of the ditch looks very much like (14).

The ground is drying out rapidly, so I gave the trench a longer soaking at morning teabreak, which seems to have penetrated further than it did earlier. It’s a shame that we have to go back and forth into the churchyard to turn it on and off, though!

This year we are keeping on top of the finds much better than in previous years. It’s not so much the fact that we now have a documentation system but more that Sophia and Elizabeth have really got to grips with processing stuff, so that we are usually washing within a day (or at most two) of discovery. I’m also trying to be as thorough as I can about discarding non-artefactual stone and unburnt flint to reduce the workload later.

There are considerable differences in what lies beneath (14) on different parts of the site. One the slope, there are two separate deposits: a much harder, rather clayey layer and a lighter, yellowish brown layer, which appears to lie beneath the yellowish brown material. At the top of the slope, there is a very stony deposit that superficially resembles (14) but which has a very clear interface with it; the biggest difficulty is that its surface is very uneven.

At lunchtime, we did two separate soakings: a long one of 25 minutes at the start and a short five-minute one at the end. The effect was well worth it: on the hottest day of the dig so far, we found that the soil remained reasonably damp almost until afternoon teabreak.

A St Neots type ware handle

A St Neots type ware handle

Some more good finds have turned up: there’s a chunky St Neots Type Ware handle, probably from one of the large handled jars that are typical of the tenth to twelfth centuries. There was also a fragment of what seems to be floor tile in a St Neots Type Ware fabric. I’ve seen a similar tile before, among the collection of material from beside the spring at Ashwell, examined by the NHDC Field Archaeology team in 1990. If it really is St Neots Type Ware, then it’s very early for floor tile (although we have also had stratigraphically early tile at 11 Norton Road).

The “surface” on the north-western slope of the hollow way has turned out, after a few days’ weathering and a good soaking today, to be exactly that: it’s part of the road surface. This means that we can abandon the idea that the road just ran on the south-eastern slope but extended its full width; however, the deeper part of the hollow can now be seen clearly to post-date its construction. This is intriguing. Was it the formation of the deep hollow that led to its abandonment or was the centre of the road deliberately dug away to create a boundary ditch? The dating of the surface may give us some clues…

The full width of the road is now exposed

The full width of the road is now exposed


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

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