A better day

Saturday 22 August

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Keeley Hale, Julie Goodwyn, Barbara Crombie (to 11.30, then back at 2.20), Nigel Harper-Scott, Ernie Ford, Mike Spencer, Phil Thomas, Clare Skelly, Philip Dean, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires (first thing only), Sophia Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Alice Brookes

Weather: light cloud, sunny spells

Once again, the site remained free from bullocks overnight. I wonder what it is that makes one of them want to get in here so desperately every now and again. Yesterday’s rain has also messed up the site: we can barely see soil changes that were really clear yesterday, so some areas are having to be re-cleaned. Almost everyone is working on (21), although Keeley is still dealing with a small patch of (14) overlying the yellowish clay she’s exposed there,while Nigel is continuing to remove road surface (20).

Removing deposit (21)

Removing deposit (21)

Christl came in first thing to sort out the finds from yesterday. We had to pack up in a rush and in the pouring rain, which meant that it was impossible to write on the finds bags. At least they all contained labels from the trays. She had it all organised by 10.35.

I am amazed that we’ve assigned only two new context numbers in nearly three weeks of excavation. Admittedly,some of the contexts we’ve been dealing with were numbered but not excavated last year, so we have worked on a good many more than would at first appear. It’s also a reflection of just how much of (14) there was to remove: while we spent three weeks tickling the topsoil last year, this year, we spent almost three weeks tackling a relatively thick dump of soil made in the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

The bells of St Nicholas’s Church have been pealing since shortly after ten o’clock, which probably means that the ringers are performing a quarter peal, which will last around 45 minutes, or a full peal, taking around three hours. It all sounds very rural and late medieval: just right for what we’re excavating!

At the top of the slope, the yellowish clay suddenly dips down: this is why Keeley has got a pocket of (14) left there. People have been following the contours of the modern ground surface, quite naturally, but this doesn’t always reflect the contours of the underlying archaeological deposits. It’s clearly the case here. Why there is this sudden dramatic dip is not clear at the moment. It would be good to think that it might have been caused by an underlying wall, but I don’t want to raise my hopes too far just yet.

Yesterday’s rain has really soaked into the ground, making it much softer. It’s also easier to see colour changes, as it doesn’t seem to be drying out as quickly as when it’s hosed down.

I have constructed the first matrix I’ve attempted this year (there has been no need, with so few new context numbers!). I’ve assigned a context number now to every deposit that can been on site, which brings the total up to a mere 26! We don’t have any good stratigraphic links across the hollow way, which can only really be done by putting different road surfaces into a relative sequence and trying to match them up. So far, 12 to the south-east appears, from the dating of the finds (nineteenth century), to be contemporary with (20) to the north-west. This is unexpectedly late and suggests that the road surface continued to be used more than a century after the road was closed. This is interesting as it shows that even the detailed maps omit it; presumably the map makers saw it as no more than a derelict path. I’m unsure if we can really be certain that it was being maintained after the new road was built in the early eighteenth century, though.

The site is still remarkably straightforward: (21) is yet another blanket deposit that covers everything north-west of the hollow way. Between them, (14) and (21) look very like a B-horizon to the soil, although they are clearly not, as (14) was certainly dumped. This is yet another reason why a site like this needs to be excavated by hand from the turf down. Had we machined down through (14) and (21), we probably would have interpreted them as a B-horizon.

A ?nineteenth-century marble from the road surface

A ?nineteenth-century marble from the road surface

The usual weekend lunchtime: those who go across to The Three Horseshoes are enjoying their pints too much to come back for 2 o’clock! If I weren’t driving, I’d be tempted to join them, but a lunchtime drink would also send me to sleep for the rest of the afternoon, I suspect.

I have the impression from the finds coming from (21) that we have left the sixteenth century behind and that the material is more likely to be of fifteenth-century, if not fourteenth-century, date at the latest. Still, it’s all open to reinterpretation once a specialist has had a look at it. The site is richer in finds than stratigraphy and I think we’ll have a good range of medieval ceramics by the end of this season. I’m surprised that the interesting metalwork we had last year is not turning up this year: all we’ve had have been bits of iron and a small copper alloy plate.

We can now see a clear sequence of road surfaces on the south-eastern side of the hollow way: the uppermost surface, (12), seals a more orange gravelly deposit, (23), which can be seen further south-west. Beneath this is another more cobbled surface, (24) and underneath this in turn is a chalk surface, (25). Each appears to be a surface in its own right, not a series of foundation deposits. There is certainly a concentration of pea grit at the base of (12) over the interface with (23).

Numerous superimposed road surfaces

Numerous superimposed road surfaces

Keeley’s investigation of the patch of (14) overlying the more yellow clay, (22), is a bit confusing. In places, she appears to be coming down onto (21), while the clay (22) appears to be rather discontinuous. Nevertheless, it does appear to be something different from as well as beneath (21), not simply lenses of clay.


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

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