Excavating in earnest

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Nigel Harper-Scott, Phil Thomas, Greg Ford, Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Mark Perks, Christina Farley, Mervyn Evans, Ernie Ford, Oscar Farley, Sophia Brookes, Alice Brookes

Weather: overcast, gusty

I began by giving everyone a talking-to about site discipline, occasioned by what happened at the end of yesterday. The finds team were persuaded to pack up at 4.15, which led to problems when it came to putting away site finds. What I’ve said now is that no-one is allowed to leave site until everyone is ready to go; similarly, no-one can come on to site until everything has been unloaded from the van. This is how it’s always worked in the past. How soon they forget!

We’re continuing to excavate in Trench III; deposit (1) is the fill of the ditch crossing the trench, while (2) is the patch of topsoil left along the southern edge. Where part of (2) was removed yesterday, it looks as if there may be a second ditch running at right angles to the first, although more needs to be cleared before we can be certain. If the trench is where I wanted it to be (which would be remarkable, given the difficulties we had laying out the site!), then it ought to be a second ditch.

Trench II has been planned and levelling is almost complete, so we can get people digging as soon as they’re ready. I’ll be able to pull Mervyn and Oscar off sieving and put them to work in the trench. Chris suggests putting off levelling in Trench I until Wednesday as this will give us three groups to excavate Trench II, each working on a separate feature.

The forecast suggested that there might be a risk of a rain shower at lunchtime. The cloud is certainly getting thicker and it feels slightly fresher (it’s been very muggy so far), so we may well be in for a little rain. It would help the digging, which is very difficult as the soil is so clayey.

At 1.15, it eventually started to drizzle very lightly; not enough to prevent working and not enough to make the slightest difference to digging. Let’s hope we get a downpour overnight.

We now have two groups working in Trench II. Tony, Mervyn and Oscar are dealing with the probable ditch fill at the north-eastern end, while Phil and Greg are looking at another probable dtich fill toward the south-west. The dryness is making excavation difficult, at least where the exposed surface has developed a hard crust. I hope that as they get deeper, the soil will be damper.

We now have two definite ditches meeting at right angles in Trench III. Both have produced Romano-British pottery, so we can stop 3D recording and just excavate normally now. This will speed up dealing with them. However, in addition to the two sections across the individual ditches, we will also need to excavate a section across the junction to determine the relationship between them.

In Trench II, neither of the suspected ditch fills started so far is producing much material, in contrast to those in Trench III. This may mean that the features are prehistoric or it may mean that those in Trench III are closer to habitation. The number of finds in the Trench III features appears too high for them simply to be field ditches, so I assume that it’s on the edge of a Romano-British farmstead or something similar. As the features in Trench II appear from the geophysical results to be elements of a rectangular enclosure, they ought also to be close to habitation, yet are producing almost no finds, bar the occasional struck flint. This strongly suggests to me that they are prehistoric and roughly contemporary with the henge to the south.

We seem to be on the very edge of a weather system: there are dark clouds, heavy with rain, passing to our south, over Stevenage. Here, the clouds are lighter and more broken, with patches of blue sky. For the fourth year running, a miserbale August outside Norton is leaving us without rain!

Looking at the Roman features in Trench III, which have become defined as very narrow linear trenches, I was struck by a worrying thought: are they robbed-out foundation trenches? We’re not in a good location for a villa (towards the top of the slope in a valley facing north-north-east) and none of the finds suggests high status occupation), but a field barn or rural shrine remain distinctly possible. Although it’s not exactly what I was hoping for here, it would nevertheless be an interesting discovery. We need to find out what profile the features possess: vertical sides would mean foundation trenches, while sloping sides would indicate ditches.

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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 22 August 2010, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2010. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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