Day two: Thursday 12 July

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Arlene Walker, Bernie Matthews, Frances Bourne, Jack Ryan, Jean Andrews, Jordan Charalampous, Martin Coard, Nadia Musaid, Navid Tomlinson, Norman Norrington, Oliver Sharman, Rachel Mills, Rebecca Harrison, Sami Yusuf, Tz-ling Lai, Martin Jupp, Izzy Gray

Weather: sunny, clouds, becoming hazy and then cloudy during the afternoon

Lots of start-of-project niggles this morning. Setting up the Total Station was very time consuming; Caoimhín and I had completely forgotten how to set it up to record the backsight; levelling it takes for ever. Then, we couldn’t locate the finds labels. Then I couldn’t locate last year’s records to work out the context numbers, although I found a sketch of last year’s Trench I that enabled me to do so. It is all very minor stuff and possible to work around. Caoimhín has written down instructions on how to set up the Total Station, so we will avoid that problem in future, while Nigel was able to drop off a box of labels.

We now have a sketch plan of the site complete with context numbers. This has been surveyed with the Total Station to give us a proper pre-excavation plan that we can create in a CAD drawing. The are of over-digging in the north-eastern corner of the trench has been marked off as a separate area that we are treating as a sondage, which gives us a view through the colluvium into the top of the outer ditch. There are areas of topsoil on the edges of the sondage (context (90)), while the underlying colluvium (context (21)) appears from the section to be quite uniform. Tz-ling discovered a piece of samian ware in it, which confirms what we found nearby in Trench IV last year, that its formation continued into at least the early medieval period.

Excavating the henge, Thursday 12 july 2012 from Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews on Vimeo.

We had two visitors to the site during the morning. Gil Burleigh dropped in mid morning to have a look around and get some photographs. Then Christina Bryant, an artist working on a research project on the urban fringes of Letchworth Garden City, came to see the site for the first time. She will be photographing the excavation regularly as part of her work.

By lunchtime, there was a team working on hoeing off the remaining topsoil (context (60)) on the western side of the site, where it overlies the colluvium in this area. This colluvium is part of the dreaded context (35) from last year, which we spent so much time working on without real resolution.

Martin had another look at the piece of pottery that was found during topsoil stripping and covered with geotextile. It is clearly grooved ware, with chevron decoration and appears to be a near complete vessel, being part of a thicker collar like element below the rim. A curious find but still of Late Neolithic date.

I am still having slightly wobbly moments wondering if the site is a burial mound after all. There does appear to be a ring of chalk in the centre of the monument, which could, conceivably, be the remains of a small mound. It is very unlikely, though, as the centre of the monument is occupied by a massive posthole and there are no traces of burials.Moreover, the finds are of Neolithic date; a burial mound of this date ought to have an inhumation burial at its centre. No, it really is a henge, albeit an unusual one.

As it has clouded over, it’s beginning to feel quite chilly, although that’s only relative (according to my ’phone, it’s 20°). We are due for rain this evening, which will actually be useful, as the ground is becoming very dry and difficult to dig.

An intriguing discovery has been a 1.5 m square cut, filled with poorly consolidated topsoil. It looks like an archaeological test pit of very recent date (it’s not geotechnical, as it stops at the chalk bedrock), yet our trenches are the first to have been dug in this field since (I think) 1961. The lack of consolidation of the fill makes me think that it must have been dug since the last time the field was ploughed, in October 2010, if not in the past few months, which is very puzzling. I can’t think of any context in which a pit like this could have been dug legitimately.

We have achieved a lot more in the first two days than I had anticipated or even thought possible. All the loose from machining has been cleaned up, the edges of the trench straightened, an initial pre-excavation plan completed and more than 250 finds registered. I think this is impressive and a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, who are an enthusiastic lot. I think that we are going to get some good results this year.

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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 12 July 2012, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2012. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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