Category Archives: Norton Church Field Dig 2009
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.
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!
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.
Sunday 30 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Lorna Holding, Chris Hobbs, Tony Driscoll, Jon Goodwyn, Christl Squires, Jim Skipper
Weather: cloudy, warm
It’s the final day on site and we have a mini digger in to backfill, which is slightly faster than doing it by hand, but not much. We are all standing around idle as there’s nothing we can do until we’re ready to replace the turf. Another thing that’s slowing things down is that the spoilheap has to be moved in stages, as does the material dumped in the trench.
Mick, Chris and I took a brief walk over the site of the possible henge in Top Field during the late morning. We picked up some flint débitage and a piece of probable tegula. There seems to be a general spread of Roman tile throughout this part of the village.
We discovered another issue when it cam to replacing the turf, after lunch. The stack of turves was so large that it had begun to compost in the middle and the individual turves were no longer definable, so we had to get the mini digger to demolish it and spread the material on top of the site. By keeping the cattle out as much as possible over the next few months, the grass should soon re-establish itself, though.
Around 4 o’clock, just as we were finishing on site, there was a light shower of drizzle, which was actually quite refreshing. We finally left around 4.30 and another year’s excavation comes to an end.
Saturday 29 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Pauline Gimson (a.m. only), Nigel Harper-Scott, Ernie Ford, Phil Thomas, Chris Hobbs, Tony Driscoll, Jon Goodwyn, Julie Goodwyn, Karen Leiper, Christl Squires
Weather: sunny, light clouds, slightly breezy, dry
Today is our last chance to make new discoveries. We’re getting rid of (21) and Keeley has taken a 10 litre sample from it, towards the centre of the trench. It’s unclear how much more of it is left at the north-western end of the trench, but if the clay lumps are the remains of cob walling, it could be fairly thick.
Where Nigel is working, it looks as if (14) runs under the loose chalk gravel surface he’s starting to expose. If this is the case, it means that only two of the road surfaces are post-medieval in date, unless some have been completely eroded from this side of the hollow. Tony is working on the opposite side of the hollow as I want to get the full width of the road at this level properly defined and planned before we backfill.
Another piece of probable Roman flue tile has turned up in (21), just by the break of slope. This is close to where George found the large piece on the last day of digging last year. It’s presumably pure coincidence, of course.
Most of (21) is now off, I think. More and more lumps of clayey material are turning up towards the south-western side of the trench, around the floor, (27). This really helps to confirm Gil’s suggestion that we’re looking at cob walling that has been pushed over and left to weather. Chris and Keeley are planning the north-western end of the trench now, which will serve as the final record of where we are. Nevertheless, I still want to put a narrow slot through the still unnumbered deposit beneath (21), just to see if we can recover any dating material and to find out if a wall really does underlie and explain the near vertical edge to the north-west.
Chris has pointed out that the angle of one of the lumps of clay is exactly the same and in the same place as a harder lump he had at a higher level that we otherwise ignored. That was clearly the wrong decision in retrospect!
It now feels very much like the winding down hours of the dig. The final plans are being drawn and there is nothing major being discovered. I was wrong about the foundations turning up on Saturday afternoon: there are too few people on site to do much really vigorous excavation.
The finds that have been coming out during the last few days all look very much High medieval rather than late, although this needs to be confirmed by a specialist. If it is the case, it makes it look as if desertion in this part of the village was contemporary with the evidence for desertion found at St Nicholas’s School in 1997, which occurred in the first half of the fourteenth century.
Digging has now come to an end and we haven’t made any shocking or even interesting discoveries that overturn what we thought we knew this morning. No foundations have turned up, there are still patches of (21) left in place and we haven’t fully exposed the south-eastern side of road surface (23)… But that doesn’t matter. The last fifteen minutes will be spent getting levels and making sure that our records are all up to date. Then we return in the morning to put down the geotextile before the mechanical digger arrives around 10.30.
The end of an excavation is always a sad affair and rarely a cause for celebration. But at least this year, I feel that we have achieved at least some of our aims for this trench and have understood something of the development of this site over the past seven hundred years or so. Perhaps, one day, we will have another go at this trench, but that’s not currently the intention for the 2010 season, when we ought to be investigating the Bronze Age remains in Top Field.
Friday 28 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Alan Goodwin, Phil Thomas, David Croft, Ursula Scott, Karen Leiper, George Hunt, Sophia Brookes, Alice Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Christl Squires, Louise Pateman, Tony Driscoll
Weather: cloudy with occasional sunny spells and occasional showers, windy, cool
With only two days to go, the archaeology is getting complex and we seem to have features related to occupation at the north-western end of the trench. There is clearly a great deal more that could be excavated, but we will be leaving it to a future project. We have nevertheless demonstrated the quality of the remains in Church Field and the potential of the site for future research. We aren’t trying to solve the riddle of the universe or rewrite the medieval history of Norton: this isn’t Time Team!
The Guardian G2 supplement has the story about the project today in an issue dedicated largely to archaeology. The story is well balanced and I’m glad to see that it quotes Lisa and Cameron as well as Phil and me. The council and our various sponsors are all mentioned, too.
More clay patches like (27) are turning up, mostly towards the south-western edge of the trench and all with their surfaces at roughly the same level. Some are really quite small (around 0.25 m square), so only (27) actually looks like a floor, although I’m sure that they are structural.
Bizarrely, the paler material under (21) is dropping away almost vertically around 3 m in from the north-western edge of the trench. It’s a very distinct and clear slope and I’m currently at a loss to explain it. The material filling the deeper part to the north-west is still (21), though.
On the south-eastern side of the hollow way, Mick has discovered that (16) seals a part of (12) that has been under-dug. Finally, this end of the site is making some sense. It’s been my fault for not trying to tackle it before.
We had ten members of the North Hertfordshire Archaeological Society turn up for a site visit at 2.30. They seemed impressed with what we’ve achieved and Gil made the interesting suggestion that the clay lumps around (27) are the remains of cob walls pushed over when the building was demolished. So we know why we have a floor apparently without associated foundations.
Apart from the very deep part at the north-western end of the trench, (21) is now almost completely removed. The underlying deposit is still undulating, although not as much as I originally thought. I still wonder if the sudden changes in level to the north-west and south-east are something to do with underlying foundations.
How much more we can achieve before the end of digging tomorrow is unclear. We’re going to have to plan the still unnumbered deposit under (21) and I’d like to begin removing it. We also need to plan (27) and the possibly associated other clay lumps.
Thursday 27 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (a.m. only), Phil Thomas, Keeley Hale, Pauline Gimson, Nigel Harper-Scott, Alan Goodwin, David Croft, Ursula Scott, George Hunt, Owain James, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Philip Dean, Louise Pateman, Ken Bird (a.m. only)
Weather: dry, cloudy, sunny spells, warm
As ever, most people are working at the top of the hollow way, removing (21), which is sealing the paler material that has not yet been assigned a context number. Keeley, though, is still revealing (22).
Nigel has started to remove (29), which is the north-western patch of road surface that is probably equivalent to (12) across the hollow. Mick and Owain are working on the road surfaces to the south-east.
The material under (21) has a very uneven surface with dips and hollows over a vertical distance of around 0.25 m that has nothing to do with the topography.
During the evening, we had a reception for sponsors and local dignitaries. About a hundred people turned up, including visitors from Fiji! Thanks to Alice and Elizabeth for taking round the sandwiches…
Wednesday 26 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Pauline Gimson, Alan Goodwin, Lisa Waldock, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Philip Dean, George Hunt, Owain James, Keeley Hale, Tony Driscoll, Jim Skipper, Christl Squires, Louise Pateman
Weather: cloudy and dry following overnight rain and early morning drizzle, with sunny spells by noon, clouding over again during the afternoon
Today is almost perfect digging: the light is good, the moisture content of the soil is just right and it’s a reasonable temperature. Colour differences are showing beautifully.
Almost everyone is working on the removal of (21), which is coming down onto (22) to the south-east and a different but still lighter colour further north-west from there. Where Keeley is working, on the edge of (22), it has an almost vertical break to the south-east, as if it’s been cut through by a feature. In this location, I suspect a roadside ditch.
Tony and Nigel are repairing the fence from another break-in by cattle. This time, they had deposited a cow pat by the gate but seem not to have trampled the site, which is a relief.
Mick and Owain are working on the road surfaces at the extreme south-east of the site. Mick is coming down onto the same orange gravel that he exposed last week, (23). This seems to correspond to a new deposit being exposed on the north-western side of the hollow way by Tony, (30). This appears to be overlain by (14), but I can’t be sure yet. It’s certainly earlier than the poorly preserved surface (29), which lay beneath surface (20). I suspect that (29) corresponds to (12) on the opposite side of the hollow way. The sequence on the south-eastern side seems to be (12), a chalky surface, overlying the gravel (23), which seals a loose cobbled surface, (24), which in turn seals a compact chalk surface, (25).
We have finally found a structure! Well, not a structure as such but a proper clay floor surface, (27), in the extreme western corner of the trench. On Sunday, I found that (21) was coming down onto a rising clay deposit with a rather straight edge; Philip cleaned the south-eastern side of the area and found a straight edge at right angles to the first. There’s currently no sign of foundations, so I assume that it’s a floor belonging to a relatively flimsy timber-framed structure.
By lunchtime, the wind and sun had dried out the surface, so it was necessary to get the hose out. It helped the visitors from the Museums Service to see the colour differences in the soil. They seemed impressed with the site and were excited by some of the finds. One that has grabbed my attention is a piece of thick pottery from (21), found by George. It feels prehistoric (it’s very soft and ‘soapy’ in texture, hand made with roughly incised decoration on the outer surface) but resembles no prehistoric pottery that I’m familiar with. I wonder if it could be Pagan Saxon…
Just after the visitors left, Muriel found a bronze minimissimus. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen one of these late Roman coins, although it’s at the larger end of the size range. Although some once claimed that minimissimi were of fifth-century (or even later) date, they date from the 280s and 290s, a period when the money supply to Britain had effectively dried up in the aftermath of the fall of the Gallic Empire of Postumus.
Sunday 23 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Keeley Hale, Nigel Harper-Scott, Mike Spencer, Lorna Boyd-Bell, Barbara Crombie (a.m. only), Tony Driscoll, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford (not digging)
Weather: sunny, dry, very light cirrus cloud and lots of vapour trails initially, with occasional small cumulus by lunchtime and becoming more hot and humid
We’re very thin on the ground today, with only seven people on site at the start (there are eleven names booked in on the list) and nobody to wash finds. The finds washing isn’t really an issue, but the small number of diggers is worrying, when we still have an awful lot to do. The bullocks (which, we’ve noticed, include at least one cow) are standing on the spoilheap outside the site, looking in with worryingly defiant expressions. And my webbook has died, so I can’t post updates to the blog during the day. But then, how many people are reading it during working hours?
We will be concentrating on (21) today, with Tony and Nigel working at getting off (20) and the remnants of (14) beneath it. Ernie arrived around 10.40, so the site no longer looks too bad. There are only four bags of unprocessed finds, two of them containing very little, so a day without processing probably won’t harm us!
Because it’s such a quiet day, I’ve been able to do half an hour’s digging! If nothing else, it gives me a bit more of an insight into the deposit. The main characteristic of (21) that distinguishes it from (14) is the relative lack of Romano-British material and the fact that there are no stones sticking up in it: they are all laid naturally, demonstrating that this is not a dumped deposit. It’s also rather more clayey than (14), with patches of considerably stiffer material.
We’ve reached a point where the lack of rain since Thursday is once again making it necessary to soak at regular intervals. I gave it ten minutes at teabreak and there was a little standing water on the surface after then (presumably more evidence that (21) is more clayey, as half an hours’ soaking of (14) did not make puddles). It’s sunny and slightly breezy, so the surface water ought to evaporate quite rapidly.
North Hertfordshire District Council on Wednesday afternoon, special invitations to the local great and good on Thursday evening and North Hertfordshire Archaeological Society on Friday afternoon. I feel that I don’t have much to say, and we haven’t got many of the pretty types of finds that we had last year. I’m sure that I’ll be able to keep talking for half an hour or more: I’m rarely stuck for words…I’m beginning to wonder what I ought to say to next week’s visitors. We have three lots coming: a group of colleagues from
I think that it’s going to be very warm this afternoon, despite the breeze. It feels already to be in the mid 20s and the lack of cloud means that it’s bound to get hotter. I may well arrange to pack up half an hour early if it becomes ridiculously hot.
Keeley is exposing the south-eastern edge of (22), the much lighter, yellowish clayey material underlying (21). It drops away sharply to the south-east and looks very like a natural subsoil or drift deposit cut by a ditch. It’s unexpected to see natural so high up (it’s roughly level with the modern ground surface on the opposite side of the hollow way), but it’s not impossible that we have located the top of the clayey drift.
On the north-western bit of road surface, where Nigel has been removing (20), he’s come down onto a soily deposit that at first I identified with (14), but now I’m not so sure. It’s best to give it a new number, (28); in turn, it seals what appears to be an earlier road surface, (29). I suspect that (29) or an even earlier surface will be what seals (14).
Where Keeley is exposing the edge of (22), there’s a short stretch where it drops away almost vertically, as if there’s a ditch cut through it whose south-eastern edge we can’t see. A short distance into the trench, there’s then a subrectangular indentation, as if there’s a pit cut through it. I have a suspicion that I’m inventing features where none exist, just because I want them. I’m also convinced that I’ve seen a deposit just like this before, but can’t remember where. Was there something like it in the 2007 trench to the west or was it something from Green Lane in 1988? Either way, it really makes me think it’s natural and not archaeological.
People are really flagging in the heat and I’m not surprised. It was 25° at lunchtime and is obviously much hotter now. We’ll have afternoon teabreak at 3.15 and pack up: this really isn’t the weather for heavy work and as I’m the only one being paid, I can’t expect people to make themselves ill on behalf of the project.
Right at the end of the day, there were two good finds. Ernie found a pierced copper alloy tag in (21), while Keeley found a tessera made from tile.
Saturday 22 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Keeley Hale, Julie Goodwyn, Barbara Crombie (to 11.30, then back at 2.20), Nigel Harper-Scott, Ernie Ford, Mike Spencer, Phil Thomas, Clare Skelly, Philip Dean, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires (first thing only), Sophia Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Alice Brookes
Weather: light cloud, sunny spells
Once again, the site remained free from bullocks overnight. I wonder what it is that makes one of them want to get in here so desperately every now and again. Yesterday’s rain has also messed up the site: we can barely see soil changes that were really clear yesterday, so some areas are having to be re-cleaned. Almost everyone is working on (21), although Keeley is still dealing with a small patch of (14) overlying the yellowish clay she’s exposed there,while Nigel is continuing to remove road surface (20).
Christl came in first thing to sort out the finds from yesterday. We had to pack up in a rush and in the pouring rain, which meant that it was impossible to write on the finds bags. At least they all contained labels from the trays. She had it all organised by 10.35.
I am amazed that we’ve assigned only two new context numbers in nearly three weeks of excavation. Admittedly,some of the contexts we’ve been dealing with were numbered but not excavated last year, so we have worked on a good many more than would at first appear. It’s also a reflection of just how much of (14) there was to remove: while we spent three weeks tickling the topsoil last year, this year, we spent almost three weeks tackling a relatively thick dump of soil made in the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
The bells of St Nicholas’s Church have been pealing since shortly after ten o’clock, which probably means that the ringers are performing a quarter peal, which will last around 45 minutes, or a full peal, taking around three hours. It all sounds very rural and late medieval: just right for what we’re excavating!
At the top of the slope, the yellowish clay suddenly dips down: this is why Keeley has got a pocket of (14) left there. People have been following the contours of the modern ground surface, quite naturally, but this doesn’t always reflect the contours of the underlying archaeological deposits. It’s clearly the case here. Why there is this sudden dramatic dip is not clear at the moment. It would be good to think that it might have been caused by an underlying wall, but I don’t want to raise my hopes too far just yet.
Yesterday’s rain has really soaked into the ground, making it much softer. It’s also easier to see colour changes, as it doesn’t seem to be drying out as quickly as when it’s hosed down.
I have constructed the first matrix I’ve attempted this year (there has been no need, with so few new context numbers!). I’ve assigned a context number now to every deposit that can been on site, which brings the total up to a mere 26! We don’t have any good stratigraphic links across the hollow way, which can only really be done by putting different road surfaces into a relative sequence and trying to match them up. So far, 12 to the south-east appears, from the dating of the finds (nineteenth century), to be contemporary with (20) to the north-west. This is unexpectedly late and suggests that the road surface continued to be used more than a century after the road was closed. This is interesting as it shows that even the detailed maps omit it; presumably the map makers saw it as no more than a derelict path. I’m unsure if we can really be certain that it was being maintained after the new road was built in the early eighteenth century, though.
The site is still remarkably straightforward: (21) is yet another blanket deposit that covers everything north-west of the hollow way. Between them, (14) and (21) look very like a B-horizon to the soil, although they are clearly not, as (14) was certainly dumped. This is yet another reason why a site like this needs to be excavated by hand from the turf down. Had we machined down through (14) and (21), we probably would have interpreted them as a B-horizon.
The usual weekend lunchtime: those who go across to The Three Horseshoes are enjoying their pints too much to come back for 2 o’clock! If I weren’t driving, I’d be tempted to join them, but a lunchtime drink would also send me to sleep for the rest of the afternoon, I suspect.
I have the impression from the finds coming from (21) that we have left the sixteenth century behind and that the material is more likely to be of fifteenth-century, if not fourteenth-century, date at the latest. Still, it’s all open to reinterpretation once a specialist has had a look at it. The site is richer in finds than stratigraphy and I think we’ll have a good range of medieval ceramics by the end of this season. I’m surprised that the interesting metalwork we had last year is not turning up this year: all we’ve had have been bits of iron and a small copper alloy plate.
We can now see a clear sequence of road surfaces on the south-eastern side of the hollow way: the uppermost surface, (12), seals a more orange gravelly deposit, (23), which can be seen further south-west. Beneath this is another more cobbled surface, (24) and underneath this in turn is a chalk surface, (25). Each appears to be a surface in its own right, not a series of foundation deposits. There is certainly a concentration of pea grit at the base of (12) over the interface with (23).
Keeley’s investigation of the patch of (14) overlying the more yellow clay, (22), is a bit confusing. In places, she appears to be coming down onto (21), while the clay (22) appears to be rather discontinuous. Nevertheless, it does appear to be something different from as well as beneath (21), not simply lenses of clay.
Friday 21 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Keeley Hale, Muriel Hardman, Mick James, Nigel Harper-Scott, Alan Goodwin, Mike Spencer, Phil Thomas, Lisa Waldock, George Hunt, Christl Squires, Barbara Crombie
Weather: occasional clouds, dry, sunny spells
The bullocks haven’t been into the site overnight, which is a huge relief. Now that we are getting into proper medieval deposits, I was getting concerned about damage.
Congratulations to Lisa, who got her A-Level grades to get into the University of Southampton, and to George, who got four As at AS level!
The road surface on the north-western side of the hollow way, (20), is almost off. To the north-west, it comes straight down onto the last remaining bit of (14), while to the south-east, it overlies the yellowish material seen further up the slope. There are hints that it overlies an earlier cobbled surface, which appears to be sealed by (14), but we need time to sort this out. Mick is working on (12), the road surface on the opposite side of the hollow way.
Everyone else is tackling (21), the stonier deposit underneath (14) and against the north-eastern baulk, it is coming down onto a lighter deposit. I’m unsure whether this is the same as on the slope of the hollow way or something different.
As Mick takes off (12), it’s revealing a more orange gravelly layer beneath. It peels off really cleanly and it’s evident that there will be a whole series of road surfaces, just as one would expect.
Just after morning teabreak, it began to spit with rain. People kept on digging until it really began to pour from the sky. By noon, it was showing no sign of abating, so I decided that we would have our lunch then and I would decide at 1 o’clock what to do. I drove off to the museum to warm up and by the time I was ready to leave, it was pouring again. Although blue skies were visible in the distance, there was so much standing water in the trench that excavation was impossible. Reluctantly, I called it a day and we all went home.
Thursday 20 August
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mervyn Evans, Keeley Hale, Muriel Hardman, Pauline Gimson, Nigel Harper-Scott, Alan Goodwin, Mike Spencer, David Croft, Ursula Croft, Tony Driscoll, Christl Squires, Sophia Brookes, Barbara Crombie
Weather: initially sunny, but rapidly clouding over, dry
We arrived to find that the wretched bullocks had broken in yet again, this time without breaking down the fence. The site was trampled and there’s a big pile of fresh dung in the eastern corner of the trench. This is getting beyond a joke and I was semi-inclined to shut things down straight away. However, that would have been an over-reaction, so Tony and Nigel are doing some major repairs to the fence.
There are only small patches of (14) left, which will be off by lunchtime, apart from the bit that is running beneath the road surface, (20), on the north-western side of the hollow way.