Category Archives: Norton Church Field Dig 2008

Sunday 31 August

Weather: overcast, drizzle

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ernie Ford, Mick James, Muriel Hardman, Paul Palmer, Chris Hobbs, Tim Vickers, Greg Ford, Alan Goodwin, Nigel Harper-Scott, George Hunt, Georgina Farley, Christina Farley, Oscar Farley, Keeley Hale, Tony Driscoll

Backfilling today. We removed the grid pegs and laid the geotextile quickly. By 10.30, it was completely covered by soil and the heap is diminishing rapidly. I suspect that we’ll be finished by lunch time. Everyone is working very hard and sweating: thankfully, it’s cooler than yesterday and the light drizzle helps. There’s a severe weather warning from the Met Office for later, and both Greg and George said how bad the thunderstorm was in the Watford area. It’s due to arrive with us around one o’clock…

We finished around 2 o’clock. So ends this year’s excavation.


Saturday 30 August

Weather: overcast, dry but humid, with brief sunny spells after midday

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ernie Ford, Oscar Farley, Muriel Hardman, Phil Thomas (a.m. only), Pauline Gimson, Chris Hobbs, Keeley Hale, Christina Farley, Jim Skipper, Mick James, Chris Hobbs, George Hunt, Greg Ford, Tim Vickers, Lisa Waldock, Tony Driscoll, Nigel Harper-Scott

Tim and his assistant

Tim and his assistant

Today is the last day for digging. I want to get all of (18) removed and (14) beneath it exposed across the entire north-western half of the trench. On the slope of the hollow way, Chris, Mick and George are removing (17), while at the bottom of the slope, Greg is digging out a complete section from the bottom of it to see if it really does seal the road surface (12). Tony and Nigel are planning the chalk deposit on top of the road, which I suspect may be a late repair. Once planned, they will remove it.

Tim and Lisa are doing some basic surveying. We’re having to use the dumpy level to tie the grid in to the Ordnance Survey. It will be very rough-and-ready, but it ought to be good enough until next year. I have a vague feeling that there may be an old theodolite at Burymead, which we would be able to use next year; if not, I’ll ask if we can borrow an EDM or theodolite from Heritage Network.

Having located the grid, the next task is to do the traverse to Payne’s Farm to locate a benchmark that will enable us to tie our levels in to Ordnance Datum. I’m not sure where on Payne’s Farm farmhouse the benchmark is located, although I believe it is on a wall facing the road. I will need to get a value for it from an old OS map. It’s a real shame that we didn’t record the locations of the temporary bench marks we used during the earthwork survey of 1985, as they would have made life a whole lot easier for us today. As an aside, it’s become clear to me that we missed an awful lot of detail in that survey, as we were all terribly inexperienced. It would be good to come back to Church Field in the autumn to add in details, especially of house platforms and vegetational changes. A LIDAR survey would also be very useful and I wonder if the Heritage Foundation has carried one out for the whole of the Garden City estate.

Discussing the day's finds

Discussing the day's finds

The weather is very warm already. It’s supposed to get into the mid twenties this afternoon, but it feels that already. It’s also very humid and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get thunderstorms tomorrow (rain is predicted from the early afternoon onwards).

Odd fragments of Romano-British pottery have been turning up, mostly close to the site of the felled elm by the south-western trench extension. There was clearly Romano-British activity nearby and I wonder if some of the larger fragments of material have been brought up by the roots of the tree, It is a real contrast with last year, when I think that no Romano-British material at all was found.

Deposit (17) has clearly been demonstrated to overlie the road metalling in the bottom of the hollow way. It also seems to be around 200 mm thick across the entire face of the slope and I wonder if it was deliberately laid as a means of consolidating an eroding side to the hollow way. It contains late medieval material, including both pottery and tile, with very little at the base of the slope (although there were a few finds, including a nail).

Visitors watching the slow progress

Visitors watching the slow progress

We’ve had a couple of groups of visitors to the site, following the publication of a story on Thursday in The Comet. Among them was Brendan King, from the Baldock Local History Society, with his father. It’s a pity in some ways that we weren’t able to get the story in earlier, as I think we’ve had fewer visitors than we did last year (although the open evening was much better attended, by contrast). During the afternoon a couple from Knebworth came to visit. They had come just too late on Thursday to see very much, as it was getting dark (they had initially gone to the wrong church) and said they would be back today. They are going to write up a piece for the parish magazine.

Yet more Romano-British pottery is turning up. Towards the north-western end of the site, we’ve now had a sherd of a colour-coated bowl (I think it’s Oxfordshire White Ware) and a piece from a Braughing jar. I wonder if the erosion of topsoil on last year’s site was responsible for the loss of early material rather than the absence of activity, as Evelyn Goodwin found Roman pottery on her allotment, the other side of 117/119 Norton Road.

Tim and his team managed to locate the bench mark at Payne’s Farm before lunch. They are now doing the return run of the traverse. There was a difference of only 23 mm between the two, which is very good!

The inevitable last minute discovery

The inevitable last minute discovery

During the afternoon, the weather became much hotter and sunnier. People were visibly flagging, so we had an early tea-break as I was worried about dehydration. There was the inevitable last minute find of a fragment of Romano-British box flue tile; if it’s related to the occupation in this general area, it suggests something of a rather higher status than I’ve been assuming, as it presupposes a building with a hypocaust. Nevertheless, one box flue tile fragment does not a villa make! We need more evidence, which we may get next year. Since little progress was being made and it was clear that we were not going to finish removing (18), we finished a little before 4 o’clock. The dig is now officially over and tomorrow will be spent backfilling.

Friday 29 August

Weather: overcast, dry, warm

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Tony Driscoll, Alan Goodwin, Phil Thomas, Pauline Gimson, George Hunt, Owain James, Zara Cameron, Jim Skipper, Christl Squires, Hilary Wood, Chris Hobbs

Yet another very dry day, with no overnight rain. Progress is dreadfully slow and with only two days to go, it looks as if we won’t actually uncover a building. Looking yesterday at the types of late medieval peasant buildings from Caldecote, which is only five kilometres away, and Broadfield, which is about 15 km, we’d expect to find chalk rubble foundations, of which there are so far no traces.

Last night’s open evening was a success, with over sixty visitors, including the Chairman of North Herts District Council, councillors from Letchworth Garden City Parish Council, Stewart Bryant (the County Archaeologist), Josh Tidy from the Heritage Museum and representatives of the Heritage Foundation. The display prepared by Sam and Phil Howard was impressive and attracted a lot of good comments, while the marquee where we put it and the refreshments is enormous.

Pauline has found a broken blade of Neolithic character in (18). It’s noticeable how we seem to have had more lithics this year than last. There are not enough to suggest that we are on a prehistoric site and they seem to be of various dates, so it’s presumably just background noise relating to the intensive prehistoric activity just a few hundred metres away. On the other hand, last year’s Bronze Age pit shows that there is the potential for finding prehistoric activity in Church Field.

The group has received a letter from Oliver Heald MP, offering congratulations for the lottery grant. He wasn’t able to make it to the open evening, which is a pity, but we need to make sure that we keep him informed of what’s going on.

Copper alloy buckle

Copper alloy buckle

Phil has found a rather nice copper alloy buckle of sixteenth- or seventeenth-century type. This end of deposit (18) is becoming rather productive of good, display worthy finds. This makes me hopeful that we’ll get lots of decent, datable finds when we eventually get to domestic occupation (if we’re not already in it).

Gil Burleigh called in to the site during the late morning as he wasn’t at the open evening last night. He took a couple of photographs and seemed generally impressed with the potential of the site. He also confirmed my provisional dating for the knife handle and the buckle.

During lunch-break, we took down the marquee, which took a lot less time than it did to put up, apparently. It would look good with a group logo painted onto one of the panels…

I’ve decided to get a sample of 10 litres from context (18), sample [1]: it’s an evidently undisturbed late sixteenth-century deposit that is producing domestic debris. I’m wondering whether it accumulated in the open air, close to habitation or inside a building (among other possibilities). The ceramics are mostly unfamiliar fabrics, which I assume are largely sixteenth-century types, as I have never really seen anything of that date locally.

Working at the bottom of the slope, George has found that the gully was slightly underdug. Beyond that, he’s taking out (17), which Owain and Chris are working their way down from the top. I’d really like to know how thick it is and if it really does seal road surface (12) before we finish this season’s work. I’m also keen to know if it formed close to contemporary habitation or after the abandonment of a building, so we’ve taken sample [2] from this deposit. In retrospect, it would have been good to get a sample from (7)/(8), too. Interestingly, the quantity of finds from (17) drops off going down the slope, so that by half way down, there are none.

It’s become terribly humid as the afternoon has progressed. The temperature is well into the 20s, there’s very little breeze and the almost unbroken cloud cover is barely moving. People are definitely flagging, even after Hilary’s eclairs, which she provided at afternoon tea-break.

Thursday 28 August

Weather: overcast, dry, cool

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Sarah Ironmonger, Alan Goodwin, Phil Thomas (a.m.), Nick Smith, Lisa Waldock, George Hunt, Owain James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Tony Driscoll, Hilary Wood, Christl Squires, Philip Dean, Mick James, Chris Hobbs, Tom Burningham (from 12.30), Claire Calver (p.m.)

A bad start to the day: the builders (who are doing something that seems to have had no archaeological monitoring at St Nicholas’s School) had blocked the car park, forcing most of us to park in Church Lane. Having told us just before ten that the car park was clear, it turned out that they had parked so haphazardly that it was impossible to park more than a couple of cars in there. So the residents started complaining. Tough on them: complain to the builders, who are preventing us from using the car park that enables us not to park in the lane.

We're making progress, but it's slow!

We're making progress, but it's slow

Its still very dry on site, but we are making progress. Deposit (7)/(8) should be gone by lunchtime and I’m hoping that well be able to make a start on the underlying material.

It’s our open evening on site, so Mick and Chris have gone to collect that tables we’ve been lent. We’ve got big banners from NHDC and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation as well as from the National Lottery (which has been up throughout the excavation) and Hertfordshire Timber. There is a marquee which is going to be erected between the site and the churchyard gate, which is where the display that Phil and Sam Thomas have prepared will be put up. I suspect that it’s also where refreshments will be served and finds shown to the public.

The weather really feels autumnal now. It’s overcast, cool and occasionally breezy. Summer barely seems to have happened for the second year running. I think I’ve needed sunblock on only three occasions on site!

Philip is getting ready to plan the small area of (14) at the north-west end of the metre-wide section across the hollow way. A quick exploration yesterday revealed that it doesn’t seal (17), the material below (9) that can be seen apparently to seal the road surface, (12). Instead, it overlies (17). It’s also being uncovered as the south-eastern part of (7)/(8) is removed. This makes me curious about the dates of (12) and (17): as (14) underlies (7)/(8), which appears to be early seventeenth-century in date, and seals (12), then the road surface ought to be very early seventeenth century at the latest and potentially rather earlier. Might it date from the period when the vestry was given responsibility for road maintenance in the sixteenth century? Bizarrely, it’s still the earliest context on site…

The tyg (cocoa mug) handle from yesterday

The tyg (cocoa mug) handle from yesterday

I’m really hoping that we find some definite traces of a building before the end of the excavation. The material beneath (7)/(8) at the north-western end of the trench, context (18), looks to contain a reasonable proportion of tile, as has (7)/(8) itself, so we must be close to the site of a building. Given the type of tile, which does not appear to me to be medieval, I’m hoping that we’re close to it stratigraphically. There is still a very definite platform on the site, which the archaeological deposits appear to be following, for the most part.

Chris has had a look at (18) and its relationship with (14). It’s evidently overlying it, with (14) dropping away to the north-west, at least in the trench extension. At least with these deposits that can be distinguished by their different degrees of stoniness, we can see tell them apart even when conditions are as dry as they are currently.

Mick is planning (18) as a prelude to excavating it. It’s a relatively simple plan, so it ought not to take too long before people can get to work on it. I’ll be interested to see the date of material from it (all that’s visible at the moment is early modern-looking tile). By 2.35, it was ready to excavate.

I’m beginning to wonder if (14) is the remains of an external surface. It does have a rather cobbled appearance, with its western edge aligned roughly on the top of the platform. It would be good if (18) turns out to seal the foundations of the last building on the site!

At some point this afternoon, several people are going to have to put the marquee up. I’m not sure when Phil and Sam are bringing the display materials across or quite how they are going to be mounted for this evening, though I’m sure that Mick and Chris have it all sorted out.

Lots of sponsors' banners

Lots of sponsors' banners

A deposit that looks very like (and probably is) (14) is turning up underneath the northern part of the north-western end of (18). If this is the case, then (14) could well cover the entire trench outside the hollow way. Based on its characteristics where Philip is working, it’s likely to turn out to be very difficult to excavate. The degree of compaction is not consistent throughout, but so much of it is highly compacted that it is very likely to have been laid as a formal surface (or at least, as the foundations for a surface). Towards the end of the day, Phil found an iron buckle in the deposit. A couple of minutes earlier, George had found a copper alloy lace tie (if that’s the correct term) in (7)/(8). Nothing emerging from (18) so far seems to be later in date than 1600 and most of the pottery has been medieval (although there is a sherd of possible Tudor Green ware).

Wednesday 27 August

Weather: overcast, dry and breezy

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Sarah Ironmonger, Alan Goodwin, Phil Thomas, Oscar Farley, Georgina Farley, George Hunt, Nick Smith, Zara Cameron, Nigel Harper-Scott, Tony Driscoll, Philip Dean, Christl Squires, Hilary Wood, Mick James

It’s the last week on site and it’s become abundantly clear that we are not going to finish the trench this year. We were perhaps over-ambitious with the size but the weather has also been against us: it has been far too dry. Perhaps next year we should consider a spring excavation rather than summer, or sort out a means of using a hose on site to give it a good soaking regularly throughout the day. We also need to recruit some more confident and experienced diggers (it’s tempting to suggest that we should employ one or two professionals, but I doubt that the budget can take that as well as a supervisor).

Lady Verulam, the Museums Manager, Chairman of the Council and Chief Exectuive of the Council are shown the site

Lady Verulam, the Museums Manager, Chairman of the Council and Chief Exectuive of the Council are shown the site

We’re being visited this morning by Dione, Lady Verulam, who is Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire. She has an interest in archaeology, so it’s good that her visit to North Hertfordshire coincides with the excavation; we will also have a senior manager from the council here, which can only serve to further the cause of museums and, in particular, archaeology as something that local taxpayers should fund. Even if there’s not much to see in the ground, we do at least have a few pretty finds.

Today’s priorities will be to complete the removal of (7)/(8) and (9); to remove the deposit below (9), which appears to seal the road surface, (12); and to find out the relationship between the deposit sealed by (7)/(8) to the north-west and (14) to the south-east. The forecast is that today should be dry, but the clouds are worryingly grey.

I’m hoping that if we can complete today’s priorities, by tomorrow we will have something concrete to show the visitors to the open evening: a floor, perhaps, or structural traces.

Lady Verulam was accompanied to site by John Campbell, the Chief Executive of the Council, and Alison Ashley, the Chairman of the Council. I was able to show her some of the nicer finds and the trench. She seemed impressed with the community involvement, as did the NHDC representatives.

It's like trowelling paving slabs

It's like trowelling paving slabs

The ground is dreadfully hard and needs regular spraying to stop it drying out too much. Mick has found part of a tyg (a late sixteenth- or seventeenth-century cocoa mug) in deposit (7)/(8), which further confirms its early seventeenth-century date. To the south-east, the ground is so dry and hard that it’s all but impossible to excavate: it’s tending to come away in lumps or not at all. There is a fair amount of what looks to be late medieval/early post-medieval tile, which encourages me to think that there must be a building in the vicinity. Perhaps the material under (7)/(8) derives from its demolition.

Around mid-day, Ken Bird dropped in to visit the site. He’s still weak from his recent illness (he lost a stone in weight) but is now on the road to recovery and should be back in circulation soon. Cameron also called in at lunchtime; it’s his birthday tomorrow, but he’ll be in on Friday.

I had to leave for a meeting at the museum at lunchtime and during the afternoon, further progress was made on the removal of (7)/(8).

Sunday 24 August

Weather: overcast and cool following overnight rain and early morning drizzle

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford, Tim Vickers, Oscar Farley, Christina Farley, Nigel Harper-Scott, Chris Hobbs, Philip Dean, Muriel Hardman, George Hunt, Tony Driscoll, Mick James, Bina de Wilde, Grace de Wilde, Evelyn de Wilde

Better conditions for digging!

Better conditions for digging!

Following the overnight rain, I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t be working this morning,especially since there was constant drizzle until ten o’clock. It was light enough to set up site and soon stopped. The rain has done wonders for what we can see on site. All the under-digging is horrible visible as extensive areas of greyer material (although, thankfully, most of it appears to be superficial), while in the bottom of the hollow way, the reason that Muriel and Chris were unable to get their separate bits of gully (15) aligned was that they were in fact digging different deposits. Chris was taking out the topsoil, which had formed very recently in a gully with a butt end virtually where he had stopped digging yesterday; Muriel, by contrast, was excavating the yellow-grey material underlying (9), which forms much of the base of the gully towards the north-west. Gully (15) itself was cut through (9) but its fill was indistinguishable from the topsoil, (1).

Roadside gully (15)

Roadside gully (15)

Mick and Tony have finished the plan of (9), so once that’s done, Philip can get started on excavating it in the one-metre section. Mick has also added the last bit of context (6) to the plan, so Christina is removing it. Chris has gone to get the ranging poles so that I can photograph gully (15) and as the cleaning over (7)/(8) comes to an end, so people are waiting for something to do (planning (7)/(8) is the next task).

After another shower of drizzle, the weather has suddenly turned warm and is much more pleasant. We’ve started removing the north-western end of deposit (7)/(8) and it feels as if we’re dealing with sensible archaeology. This is the deposit that Tony’s knife was in and it would be good to think that we’re back to the Early Modern period. I had a look at some medieval knife handles last night and I don’t think that the decoration is right for anything earlier than the sixteenth century. Still, it really needs an expert opinion.

Before lunch, Mick had a quick trowel at the south-eastern edge of the road metalling, (12), to see how it relates to the material to the south-east, (16). In places one appears to overlie the other, while elsewhere the situation appears reversed. A quick dig showed that it is a vertical interface. Given this, it is more reasonable to assume that a relatively solid road surface with a near-vertical edge was in place when a soil deposit formed against it than the other way round. He’s now taking out (16) in the metre-wide section.

To the north-west, Philip is removing (9) in the section. It’s quite thick towards the break of slope and it appears that the slope was much smoother before (9) formed. Although there is Roman material from the deposit (there’s a fragment of colour-coated pottery), there is also clinker from Kryn & Lahy, which we know post-dates 1915. This seems to confirm my interpretation that it derives from the underlying material, (14), through erosion in recent years. It is possible that the digging of gully (15) was what encouraged this deposit to form…

An early seventeenth-century rose farthing

An early seventeenth-century rose farthing

At the north-western end of the trench, the excavation of (7)/(8) is under way. Almost immediately after lunch, Muriel found a rose farthing. It’s in slightly fragile condition, but ought to conserve well. We’re probably looking at a date in the early seventeenth century. This isn’t contradicted by the other finds from the deposit so far, apart from a sherd of nineteenth-century glazed ware that is probably intrusive.

Mick has virtually finished removing (16). The deposit beneath it clearly continues under (12) and as that continues under the deposit beneath (9), it will be a while before we are able to deal with it. That end of the trench is therefore effectively finished until these other deposits can be removed.

The depth of (7)/(8) appears quite variable. In the northern corner, it is quite thick (perhaps as much as 100 mm in places), but in others it’s very shallow (as little as 10 mm in places). This is nothing to do with over-digging (or underdigging) the overlying deposit (6): there are places where the underlying deposit can be seen to be dipping down quite dramatically.

Saturday 23 August

Weather: sunny, dry, light clouds

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Chris Hobbs, Muriel Hardman, Claire Skelly, George Hunt, Keeley Hale, Phil Thomas, David Scott, Ursula Scott, Nigel Harper-Scott, Tony Driscoll, Greg Ford, Ernie Ford

It's very dry!

It's very dry!

It promises to be a glorious, mostly sunny and dry day today. Perfect weather for not digging. On site, though it’s a different matter: everything is very dry, colours are all tending to grey and the surface is like concrete. There’s a constant danger of either under-digging (which is what has tended to happen throughout the excavation) or of over-digging because the soil is coming off in large clumps.

Chris and Muriel are planning (12), the road surface, which really only extends about half way up the slope. Beyond it (and apparently underneath it) is a material that closely resembles (9) on the opposite slope. At the moment, the potential relationship is obscured not only by (12) but also by the material in the very bottom of the hollow, which I’m still treating as topsoil, (1).

There is still a very small patch of topsoil that’s coming off at the south-western end of the extension and over (9) at the top of the slope in the main part of the trench. There is only a little bit of (6) remaining, which I expect to be off by morning tea break, so that (7) will be fully exposed (unless, of course, the clayey deposit (8) actually overlies it, as I was thinking yesterday). The overdigging on the north-western side of the hollow way has confirmed that (9) definitely overlies (14).

The road is now planned and Chris is taking off the little hump of (1) remaining in the bottom of the dip. I think that we’ll be able to string out a metre-wide section through the hollow this afternoon, which will speed up how we deal with the south-eastern part of the trench. We can then put more people to work at the top (north-western) end, which, I hope, will get us back into medieval deposits by early next week.

It is so dry on site that it’s impossible to see the difference between (7) and (8) at the moment. I’ve asked Tony to fill the water spray in the hope that we’ll be able to see a colour change. There is supposed to be a weather front passing over tonight, so we ought to have at least some rain. Even if it’s raining in the morning, I want to come over to see how the site looks when it’s very wet. I suspect that all sorts of things I haven’t yet noticed will show up…

After spraying, it looks as if there is no real distinction between (7) and (8). It’s also evident that there has been slight under-digging of (6), probably by just a few millimetres. Tony is sorting that out. There is also under-digging on the south-eastern part of (8), which Mick is dealing with. We ought to be able to get the deposit planned by lunchtime, though. As it’s an uncomplicated deposit, that ought not to take long and we can start work on removing it.

Digging the gully in the hollow way

Digging the gully in the hollow way

In the bottom of the hollow way, Chris (who is working at the south-western end) has found that there is a rounded bottom with (9) to the north-west and (12) to the south-east. At the other end, Muriel is finding cobbles in the bottom. The fill, though, is purely topsoil (and fairly recent, to judge from the sherd of colourless glass Chris found at the bottom). Because of this and because I want to deal with the hollow purely by means of a slot, I won’t get anyone to excavate the whole thing.

After lunch, we laid out the metre slot and Phil has started planning context (9). To the south-east, the edge looks to have been deliberately cut back to created a drainage gully in the bottom of the hollow, which is aligned directly on the gate in the north-east corner of the field. The bottom of the gully is defined by the road metalling (12) and it looks as if (9) may actually overlie it, which would be logical if, as I suspect, (9) is simply material eroded from (14) slipping down the slope (it looks very topsoil like). I’ve decided that Chris and Muriel ought to carry on removing the fill of this ‘gully’, even if it is filled just with topsoil. As Muriel has continued to empty her section of gully, it’s now definitely the case that (9) overlies (12), giving us a stratigraphic relationship across the hollow for the first time.

At the top, the removal of (6) has taken longer than expected because of the usual problem of under-digging owing to the hardness of the soil. At least there is a distinct colour change between (6) and (7) which can be shown up by spraying. Mick thinks that (7)/(8) then overlies (14), which looks to be a reasonable assumption. This has enabled me to update my provisional matrix, which makes sense of what we’ve got to date. We have ten discrete chronological horizons, none of which can really be dated yet apart from the top four (all late twentieth century) and the one below (context (2), which I think is late eighteenth).

Yesterday, Nigel lent me a data stick with photographs taken by his friend with a microlite showing the excavation. They date from Friday of last week (15 August), so that’s where I’ve put one of them in the blog. It’s good that they show the site from all round and especially in relation to the present village.

I feel that we’ve really got somewhere over the past couple of days, despite my rather negative feelings on Wednesday. We did spend too long on the topsoil and we did under-dig it, which is all my fault. On the other hand, this sort of site would be too badly damaged by a JCB to justify using machinery to strip the topsoil (even assuming that we could have got one onto the field) and even using m*tt*cks would have been unnecessarily brutal. Our real enemy has been the dryness, which is ironic given that this has been one of the wettest Augusts for a long time.

A very worrying thought has just occurred to me. The only medieval domestic buildings so far investigated archaeologically in Norton have all been cellared, like the examples at Green Lane in 1988 and at St Nicholas’s School in the 1990s. What if the buildings here were of the same type? We would obviously have to bottom them to understand them.

Decorated bone handle and iron knife

Decorated bone handle and iron knife

Ten minutes before packing up, Tony found a knife with bone handle. Most of the iron knife has broken off, but all the handle is present (although broken). There are three rivets holding the handle in place. The handle is decorated with dot-and-circle marks forming a semi-circle around the end of the handle and there are two bands of linear decoration. It looks to me to be sixteenth (or possibly earlier seventeenth) century in date, although I wouldn’t rule out a later medieval date, either. A very nice find!

Friday 22 August

Weather: light cloud, sunny following early morning showers

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Nigel Harper-Scott, Mick James, Muriel Hardman, Alan Goodwin, Phil Howard, David Scott, Ursula Scott, George Hunt, Christina Farley, Oscar Farley, Philip Dean, Chris Hobbs, Keeley Hale, Owain James, Luke Gearing, Anne Pegrum, Christl Squires, Tony Driscoll

Hard at work

Hard at work

Another very busy day, with lots of people. Fortunately, a fair few of them are reasonably experienced, so I’m hoping we’ll make further progress, having been good yesterday afternoon, when I wasn’t on site. Tony is planning context (6), which has now been fully exposed, and once that’s done, we can remove it to expose (7) underneath. There is a little topsoil left, but it ought to be gone before the end of the day.

At the north-western end of the trench, as (7) is being exposed where it’s not overlain by (6), it appears to be on top of the rubbly material that underlies (2) further to the south-east. It also looks as if it might be on top of (8), although I’m not yet certain of that.

I’m also still not certain about what’s going on in the bottom of the hollow way. The material is still very topsoil-like, but it is a lot darker (it’s clearly much damper). I can’t tell whether it’s filling a deliberately cut ditch or just a rut created by wheeled traffic at the edge of the road. As Alan is defining (9), it does seem to be dipping down more sharply as it gets toward the bottom of the slope.

Fred the Metrognome

Fred the Metrognome

We now seem to have a temporary site mascot, Fred the Metrognome. All based around David Bowie’sThe Laughing Gnome, which I made the mistake of playing to some of the younger members of the team…

Rachel from BBC Three Counties Radio testing her equipment

Today, I’m feeling a lot happier about progress, although it’s become clear that we won’t finish the trench this year. As luck would have it, a friend of Alan’s has given the project a hundred square metres of geotextile that we can put under the backfilled soil to protect the archaeology until next year. The one catch is that it’s hitherto been used as a base for a heap of pig manure. At least the grass will grow back healthily!

I’ve had a somewhat disrupted day, which means I’ve written very little. Still, we managed to remove all the topsoil and just before packing up, George found an 1862 ha’penny in almost perfect condition. It was in the last little bit of topsoil, so it doesn’t upset any of my deductions from the stratified deposits.

Thursday 21 August

Weather: clouds, sunny spells,breezy, dry and warm

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Phil Howard, Chris Hobbs, Philip Dean, Ursula Scott, David Scott, Alan Goodwin, Muriel Hardman, Jack Brierley, John Brierley, Mick James, Alison Coates, Howard Webber, Luke Gearing, Keeley Hale

Having slept on things that were worrying me yesterday, I’ve taken the radical decision of assigning much of the material left on top of recognisably archaeological contexts to the topsoil, context (1). This has come about because I am now convinced that I have allowed people to underdig through caution and because the dry weather has created apparent differences in colour, texture and consistence that are just not real. We’re not making progress because we’ve been tickling the topsoil in too many places.

So, I’ve set people to work at the north-western end to define the limits of (6), the slightly chalky deposit underlying (2). In places, there are remnants of topsoil masking (2), so we now know for certain that (2) is badly contaminated by material that was really in the topsoil, which confirms my original suspicion that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century finds from ‘(2)’ are actually from (1).

On the slope, Philip, Ursula and David are uncovering the chalky gravelly deposit that is increasingly looking like the material at the north-eastern end of the trench extension. Within the extension, Keeley has found an interface between this material and the stoneless clay to the north-west; to the south, Luke seems to have found a stoneless clay as well. This means that we seem to have a south-western limit to this material.

Having now planned out the site for Mick, it’s becoming rather clearer to me what is going on. The very broken up floor (2) overlies (6), a superficial deposit of chalk that may have originated as a thin scatter of chalk on top of an underlying floor, (7); to the south, there is an interface between (7) and (8), the stoneless clay that is in the south-western extension. This in turn has a relationship with the as yet unnumbered context that now covers much of the south-eastern side of the extension to the north-eastern edge of the main trench. This has an unclear relationship with the chalky material that runs down the slope into the bottom of the hollow way. It is in this area that the largest patches of underdug topsoil have been left. The very bottom of the hollow way may be topsoil or it may be the fill of a drainage gully: I’m still undecided. On the opposite slope, the metalling of the road, (12), is now almost clear.

Luke has been giving his opinions on the National Curriculum (“written by old men who want you to learn what they learned”, “so much of it has been proved wrong”) as well as communism today. Repetitive though it is, at least today he’s talking with adults who are able to correct him. Strange as it seems, it suspect I’ll miss this chatter when he’s not here next week.

I’m feeling rather happier about the site today, although I’m still concerned about the appallingly slow progress. It’s partly been the weather, but it’s also partly a reflection that we just haven’t had enough experienced people on many day and too many inexperienced. I wonder what happened to a number of the people who dug last year, like Mervyn, who were already experienced excavators and who would have really been able to make a difference this year. Still, we are programmed to be back in Church Field next year, so there’s no problem about not finishing the trench this year.

This afternoon, Mick is going to concentrate on getting the remainder of the topsoil off and, I hope, what is left of context (2). I’m going to try to call back around 4.30, but it will depend entirely on what is going on at the museum.

In the event, I wasn’t able to get away from the museum until after five.

Wednesday 20 August

Weather: overcast, dry

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Tony Driscoll, Luke Gearing, Alan Goodwin, Georgina Farley, Oscar Farley, Christina Farley, Phil Thomas, George Hunt, Bina de Wilde, Christl Squires, Philip Dean (p.m. only)

Another week starts and we are half way through the season. I rather wish we were further ahead on site than we are – we’re still at the stage of sorting out some quite basic stuff – but there’s still a chance of completing the trench this year. One things that could speed us up would be to put just a section through the hollow way rather than excavate all of it that’s in our trench, which is something I’ve been thinking about since we started. It would probably give the best results on the south-western side of the trench, further from the junction.

We have a museum staff visit at 11 o’clock this morning, which will be slightly disruptive. Nevertheless, it’s good that other staff members get to see a bit of what I do and also understand something about the processes whereby the archaeological material that comes into the museum is recovered.

A quiet day on site

A quiet day on site

It seems really rather quiet on site: there’s no loud chatter and everyone is just getting on with digging. The weather is okay (but scarcely what one would expect in the middle of August) and although we’ve had showers threatened, they’re supposed to be light if they do occur. It’s also reasonably warm.

The thin chalk-flecked deposit to which I’ve assigned context (6) really does not appear to spread any further south-east than it appeared to do on Sunday. It is very superficial, too, although I don’t think that anyone is trowelling it away. Context (2) is still producing principally late eighteenth-century material and the few bits of nineteenth and even twentieth-century stuff that have come from it are either intrusive or a result of not clearing the topsoil thoroughly (I have never been happy that all the topsoil was removed). The situation in the south-western extension is worse: I think that there is still quite a lot of topsoil left over much of it.

Luke finished removing (13), which Muriel had started on Sunday, and the remains of the topsoil beneath it. I’m still uncertain whether the material in the very bottom of the hollow way is context (1) topsoil or a separate drainage gully fill. The main difference seems to be in relative moisture content.

Tony is removing (5), although he’s doing it with a trowel rather than m*tt*ck. It’s producing very few finds but it has to be a late deposit as it overlies the road metalling (12) and is barely beneath the turf. Given that the metalling represents a road that went out of use in the first half of the eighteenth century, the clay on top can be no earlier.

During lunch, the clouds have become somewhat thicker and it may be that we have rain before the end of the afternoon. There is also a group of people who are likely to be late back from lunch. Why do I feel that today is not going to be the most productive of the entire project?

I’ve got Alan and Philip trying to sort out what’s happening towards the top of the slope. Alan is looking at context (10), which was supposed to underlie (9) and overlie (11), but there appears to be no difference between (9) and (11): I suspect that (10) is yet again merely the remains of topsoil that has not yet been removed. In future, I must be more emphatic about what is and what is not topsoil. Philip is looking at the edge of context (2), where it overlies (9), to see how it relates to the clayey material (8), to the chalky clayey material to its south-east and the chalky deposit to the north-east.

Luke has suddenly found someone to chat to and we’ve been through computer languages, computer games, communism and who knows (cares?) what else. After half an hour, though, it all ground to a close.

Alan soon found that (10) is indeed a small patch of topsoil overlying (9), confirming my instincts about it. It also appears that (9) and (11) are essentially the same thing. Philip also found that (2) overlies the chalky/gravelly deposit tot he north-east, although I’m not yet certain about how this latter deposit relates to (9)/(11).

There was a light rain shower around four o’clock which wasn’t bad enough to stop us working, but a heaver one around twenty-five past made me decide to pack up then. Even so, the rain didn’t last and the site will probably be just as dry tomorrow as it has been today. All in all, it was a quiet day making slow progress.

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