Wednesday 17 July 2013: first day on site for the summer excavation

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Bernie Matthews, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner, Jean Andrews, John Baskerville, Julie Martin, Kit Carstairs, Lindsay Duncan, Sylvia Duncan, Mick James, Steve Foulds, Steve Warner, Tony Driscoll, Phil Chainey

Weather: sunny, occasional slight breeze, hot (23° C at the start of work, rising to 31° C by 12.30 pm)

Today is hardly ideal for the heavy work of clearing the site of debris left by the mechanical excavator: it is very hot, airless and, of course, there is no shade whatsoever in Stapleton’s Field. I am glad that last night I wrote a hot weather policy to apply in situations like this: basically, the hotter it gets, the more frequently we will stop for water breaks until (or if) it reaches 30° C, at which point we will stop work for the day.

We started by clearing back around the top of the trench edges as well as rapidly hoeing and shovel-scraping the material left inside the trench. Despite the heat, everyone took to the work without complaint (and, I have to say, with the enthusiasm I’ve come to appreciate from the Group). We had our first break at 11 o’clock; by the time people had returned to work at 11.15, it was 27.5° C and it was clear that we would need another break at 11.45.

By the end of the 11.45 break, it had reached 29.5° C, so Keeley and I decided that we would work for another half hour before packing up for the day. This would enable the group being trained in the use of the EDM to finish their training; about one third of the main trench ought to have been cleared by 12.30, so progress is being made.

The outer bank of the henge is showing up nicely, as is the entrance through it. There is an interesting concentration of carbonised material in the entrance, so we will need to target this as part of the project. There is also an area of carbonised wood fragments inside the henge (but with no trace of bone, so it’s unlikely to be a cremation burial), while the area of burning that we spotted last year just inside the inner ditch section now looks more extensive. On the north-western edge of the trench, there looks to be a later cut feature made through the henge bank: I wonder if it is connected with the Roman activity we found in 2011 and 2012. We will only investigate it if there is time as I don’t want to waste resources on a peripheral (if interesting) research question. The outer ditch has to be the principal priority this year, as we need to show that the radiocarbon date obtained from bone recovered at Easter was anomalous and to try to explain why it came out as Romano-British when the only material it was associated with was Neolithic.

By 12.30, it had exceeded 30° C, so Keeley and I reluctantly decided to call off work for the day. What we have achieved in this heat is remarkable, and everyone is to be thanked for their efforts in difficult circumstances. As it turns out, we were probably right to stop when we did, as  one member of the team was unable to do any physical work by noon and another felt faint as we were leaving site.


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 17 July 2013, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2013 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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