A second day of trial pits

Saturday 31 October 2009

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Alan Goodwin, Nigel Harper-Scott, Pauline Gimson, Christl Squires, Philip Dean, Julie Goodwyn, Phil Thomas, Keeley Hale, Chris Hobbs, Lorna Holding, Kieran Harkin, George Newton, Harry Webb, Cameron

Weather: cloudy and warm following early morning rain

We have enough people to start a fourth trench today, which is in the southern half of the allotments. It’s been dug over recently, so that the diggers can be relatively vigorous in their trowelling. The overnight rain (which continued until after 8 o’clock this morning) has made the soil soft and easier to trowel.

Setting out a new trench, Trench IV

Setting out a new trench, Trench IV

Trench I is coming down onto a new deposit, which is more yellowish and looks rather clayey. It also looks more like an archaeological deposit than recent cultivation. In Trench II, there is evidence for a bonfire (burnt clay in the soil and patches of sooty material), under which there seems to be powdery brick. A coin (perhaps a halfpenny) has been found in Trench III, where there also seems to be an archaeological deposit showing up in the north-eastern corner.

A tessera has turned up in Trench II. Once again, there’s evidence for a substantial building in the vicinity of the church. Could it be a villa or is it a cottage house type? The topography is wrong for a villa – we’re just off the crest of a hill on the southern edge of a shallow valley running to the north-east – but I don’t think that things are always necessarily so deterministic!

A Roman tessera

A Roman tessera

I’ve found a convenient location in the churchyard where we can see both the TBM in the allotments (which is the support for Evelyn’s water butt) and the TBM on the cattle trough in Church Field. We’ll be able to measure in the height of this project’s TBM without having to do a traverse.

Looking at gardening forums on the web, it appears that rotavators are not without controversy. Because they always dig to the same depth (claimed to be ten inches (0.25 m) by one commenter, although another site says 2-4 inches (0.05-0.10 m) with a further comment that 9 inches (0.23 m) is more likely), there is a risk of creating an impervious pan below the cultivation soil. This seems to be roughly right for what we’re getting. We archaeologists lead exciting lives, getting information about all sorts of things from diverse sources!

Christl has found another coin, this time in Trench I. It’s a 1976 penny and it’s in the pre-rotavator deposit. All four trenches now have this hard layer; it will be interesting to see how thick it is. It will also be interesting to see if crops grow better in the trench locations.

According to Evelyn, the plot she works was only rotavated on one occasion, so it appears that the formation of the pan can be very rapid. Trench IV, where there was no such treatment, has a rather different deposit under the cultivation soil; it’s a very firm yellowish layer that looks like a surface.

As the excavation of IV (13) progressed, it became more evident that it was a surface, mostly containing late medieval/early post-medieval tile. There were a couple of later finds, probably intrusive or from an area of under-digging. We have possibly located part of the parish poorhouse.


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 31 October 2009, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2009. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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