Category Archives: Stapleton’s Field Dig 2013

Thursday 25 July 2013: perfect digging conditions

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ashley Tierney, Amy Brown, David Croft, Frances Bourne, Isobel Simmons, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Kit Carstairs, Mick James, Molly Barron, Muriel James, Priscilla Simmons, Sid Dring, Tony Driscoll

Weather: overcast following overnight rain, slight breeze

Today, the conditions on site are perfect for excavation, following heavy rain overnight (it was so heavy that it woke me up at 5.00 am). The colour differences are very visible, although I suspect that they will vanish as the breeze dries everything out. There is only a 10-11% chance of rain today, so we’ll be very unlucky if we get rained on.

We have slightly fewer people than yesterday, so no-one is digging the inner ditch: we can re-start that at any time. Ashley is in charge today, as I need to disappear after morning tea break to record some skeletons that have turned up during drainage work at a local church and will be doing the council’s corporate induction tour for new starters this afternoon.

I made a mental calculation last night: to empty the outer ditch, we need to remove some 4 cm of deposit from it each day. This is easily achievable, as according to Mick, about 3 cm of (292) were removed yesterday during what appeared to be a day of slow progress. I think that they have already removed today’s target and it’s not even morning tea break.

I left site around 11.15, so what follows is based on notes made by Ashley (thank you, Ashley!).

Not a lot has changed since yesterday, but progress has been made overall.

The outer ditch is starting to take shape with another few centimetres taken off. The finds have been predominantly Roman (and Late Iron Age) so far, with a small piece of Neolithic ceramic found. Pea grit was coming up at the interface between (292) and (291) beneath it, which suggests that the interface between the two deposits has been impermeable to worms at some point in the formation of the site.

The section Kit was digging in the burnt area turned up plenty of finds including animal bone, debitage, ceramics and a lot of carbonised wood. It appears to have been the site of some in situ burning during the use of the henge.

The L-shaped section across the henge wasn’t very productive of finds today. However, the finds that were coming up included animal bone, snail shell and lithics. The top soil (199) in the southern spur is close to complete removal and the team there is close to reaching the next context. The group in the eastern spur is also close to reaching the next context.

Frankie has been working hard to finish off the plan of north side of the site. Someone will need to finish off the eastern corner tomorrow, where the baulk isn’t straight. Whilst planning, Frankie also found a couple of sherds of shell-tempered pottery of a tye that we found in 2011 in colluvium (35) to the north-west of the henge. 

In total today, 250 finds were recorded by the finds team, which is impressive, so much so that we were running out of finds bags.
We finished at around 3.45 as the finds team worked efficiently and there wasn’t so much of a backlog of finds as yesterday.

(Back to my own comments)

Things are going very well on site and the team has settled into a rhythm and pattern of work that is very encouraging and that I hope helps maintain good morale on site. I’m very impressed by the team work this year and by the way in which capable supervisors are emerging from amongst the community Group’s members.

Wednesday 24 July 2013: the second week begins

On site: Keith Ftizpatrick-Matthews, Ashley Tierney, Amy Brown, Bernie Matthews, Christl Squires, Claire Briginshaw, Frances Bourne, Isobel Simmons, Frankie Saxton, Jan Turner, Jean Andrews, John Baskerville, Kit Carstairs, Mick James, Molly Barron, Muriel James, Phil Chainey, Priscilla Simmons, Sid Dring, Steve Warner, Tony Driscoll

Weather: overcast during the morning, turning to sunny with occasional clouds during the afternoon, warm, becoming hotter throughout the day, slight breeze

We are cleaning the last strip along the north-western side of the site that was left as a barrow run for emptying the inner ditch. This is currently occupying seven people and ought to be complete by morning tea break. Frankie is continuing the plan started by Keeley; the slight rain we’ve had in Letchworth Garden City hasn’t really helped to show up any extra details on site. We will need to start planning the other half of the site, too, but the challenge will be to do this with the minimum of disruption to the excavation. Excavation of the inner ditch is continuing, with the north-western edge being cleaned as (77) before the team attacks the remains of (255) in the bottom. I hope that we can have this complete this week. Ashley is working on (295), which is the burnt deposit underneath the chalk platform (88); it is distinguishable only from (94) by its more compact nature.

Once those cleaning the strip along the north-western edge of the site have finished, they can start work excavating henge deposits. I want to target the area around the entrance, a section through the bank the sample the underlying relict topsoil and an area around where the collection of disarticulated bone has turned up. I have been in touch with the Department of Justice and submitted an application for a new licence to exhume human bone, so we ought now to be covered in law to excavate it. No-one is concerned with the idea of dealing with human remains, so there are no issues with choosing a team for that area.

I have decided on a strategy for dealing with the majority of the henge: we will establish an L-shaped section running west from the entrance to the chalk platform (88), then turning south to cross the bank, taking in the last remaining bit of topsoil (199), to give us a complete section of what survives in the centre of the monument. In this way, we ought to get another look at the inner ditch. This should be enough to understand the sequence of construction and use of the henge and will be the principal focus (apart from the outer ditch section) for the next five weeks.

By lunchtime, the temperature had climbed to 28½° C, so we are on half-hour shifts until it drops (or, worse, reaches 30° C). The rain showers that were predicted to happen this afternoon now look exceedingly unlikely: the cloud cover of earlier in the day has given way to fluffy white clouds and long spells of sunshine.

Everyone is now working on excavating within the henge or outer ditch: there are four separate groups working in the L-shaped section, one in the inner ditch and two in the outer ditch. Frankie has started the second plan of the north-eastern half of the site. Progress this year has been amazing: it took us four weeks to reach this stage last year!

The area beneath chalk platform (88) is turning out to be complex and interesting. The chalk remains of (88) seem to be deeper at its corners, which perhaps shows how it was constructed and may indicate a concern with getting the corners right, which would suggest that the shape was important. The material underneath contains evidence for in situ burning, although it is not intense: there are no patches of heavily scorched soil. There is also animal bone and snail shell but no ceramics.

Now that we’re excavating the henge, the number of finds has increased hugely. There has been the inevitable Roman coin, from (291) in the outer ditch; it seems to be a third century type. To prevent a logjam for the recording team, we stopped work at 3.30 (it was very hot, anyway) to allow them to catch up without the diggers creating more finds.

Sunday 21 July 2013: end of the first week

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Ashley Tierney, Christl Squires, Deborah Curtis, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Philip Dean, Rhiannon Gardiner, Graham Gardiner, Tony Driscoll

Weather: overcast, light breeze, warm (19° C at the start of the day)

After four days on site (which actually adds up to only two and three-quarters days of actual work), we are at a point where we will be beginning proper excavation by lunchtime, I hope. The trowelling has produced a fair number of finds, mostly Neolithic (although there are some later objects from topsoil (199)), and it is clear that the site will continue to be productive of artefacts. Having checked last year’s licence for the exhumation of human remains (number 12-0146), I have found that it expired on 30 September 2012, so I will need to renew it before we can tackle the disarticulated bone.

Rhiannon and Frances made a new barrow access point at the western corner of the site before morning tea break, which will allow a new spoil heap to be established there. This will take the material used to backfill the inner ditch section at the end of the 2012 season. We can make a start on this later this morning.

Keeley has suggested that we make finds recording from the outer ditch section a priority, so that there will be minimal delays in this area, with which I am in full agreement. This is important, knowing the scale of the ditch: we will be able to complete its hand excavation, but it will be tight. Nevertheless, this is something that we do need to complete this season, as we need secure dating evidence, both archaeological and scientific.

Things seem to be quite quiet this morning: we have the smallest team so far and more people are occupied with non-excavation matters such as planning and finds recording than previously. Once the inner ditch has been emptied, we will be able to complete the trowelling of the remainder of the trench. The 3D finds recording is progressing, albeit more slowly than I would like (but this is always the case!), and ought to be complete by lunch time (with the possible exception of the outer ditch).

We have reached the point of assigning new context numbers, four to the outer ditch section and two to areas around the edge of the henge bank. The new henge bank numbers relate to what appears to be a relict Neolithic topsoil beneath the bank and to material on the berm between bank and outer ditch. It feels like real archaeology now!

The inner ditch backfill was emptied soon after lunch and it is now being cleaned. We need to check where we had reached at the end of the 2012 and will be able to complete its excavation. I suspect that there can be very little left inside it by way of fills, so we ought to get it finished early next week, which would be a relief, considering that we started to dig the section in 2011.

The sun is beginning to break through the clouds and as it does so, it is getting inexorably (and rapidly) hotter. By the time we left site, it was touching 30° C.

Saturday 20 July 2013: continuing to trowel back

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Bernie Matthews, Deborah Curtis, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Paul Browne, Phil Thomas, Tony Driscoll

Weather: overcast, warm with a slight breeze

Conditions on site today are ideal: it’s warm (around 21° C) and the cloud cover is preventing the worst of the sun’s effects (although it will still be possible to burn). It looks as if we will at last be able to do a full day’s work on site, though.

By the end of yesterday, trowelling back had covered almost half the site and ought to be complete after morning tea-break. Yesterday’s finds are being numbered and assigned to the correct context numbers, ready for recording by EDM. It feels as if we are properly under way after a few days of preparation work. Keeley is about to start planning: it will be good to have an accurate, hand-drawn plan of the site after last year’s purely EDM-based plans, which have never been drawn up using a CAD package.

In checking the collection of bone that may be in the south-eastern terminal of the inner ditch, I spotted what appears to be a piece of human tibia, a definite piece of human maxilla and a human molar. There is also definitely animal bone, including a large ?sheep’s molar. This probably means that we don’t have a human burial as such, but a collection of bone that includes both human and animal. I need to check whether we are still covered by last year’s licence to remove human remains from the Department of Justice or if I need to apply for a new one.

Just before morning tea break, Deborah discovered a deposit of what appeared to be carbonised seeds against the outer edge of the henge bank. On excavating after the break, the deposit appeared to occupy a distinct hollow around 90 mm in diameter. We have collected the material as a sample for flotation, but I am unsure if this is actually archaeological material as opposed to recent botanical material (simply black seeds that have been taken underground by a burrowing insect or something similar).

The finds are being collected quite slowly, although this is only to be expected as there was a huge backlog from yesterday. One of the difficulties is assigning context numbers, as we have only a sketch plan to base them on. I have learned a valuable lesson about relying on EDM data… Once Keeley has done a master plan of the site, things will be a great deal easier.

It is becoming clear that the north-western edge of the henge interior has suffered more from ploughing than the south-eastern and that its effects overall have been more devastating than I previously believed. We are on what appears to be chalk bedrock at the north-western edge (and the machine has not helped in removing the thin deposits that survived over it). It has been the presence of the bank to the south-east that seems to have helped retain activity deposits in the centre of the monument. We are fortunate indeed to have started excavation when we did, as I suspect that only a few more years of ploughing would have removed all traces of the site apart from the outer ditch.

The chalk bank also seems to have been broader at the base than I first thought: the outer edge consists of well consolidated chalk, while the inner edge is more loose chalk and soil. This makes it around 3 to 3.5 m thick at the base. The inner ditch then defines a very small area inside this, perhaps no more than around 12 by 8 m (I will need to check these measurements against the results of the geophysical surveys).

There is still a small patch of topsoil left over the south-western activity deposits and a small section of the bank, (199). It is producing finds of relatively recent date (Bernie has found a piece of medieval or early post-medieval tile, for instance), which is not an issue and certainly ought not to be regarded as contamination once we come to do the initial post-excavation analysis of finds.

I think that we will have completed most of the trowelling back shortly after lunch. Philip is about to start cleaning the spur across the outer ditch, which ought not to take long. That can be planned rapidly and work can start in earnest on it. We will be able to accommodate five or six people in here initially; they will be dealing with the deposit of colluvium that fills the top of the ditch. Although this is still technically deposit (35), I think that it deserves to have a new number for the purposes of the excavation. As we are close to the trench dug at Easter, we ought to be able to compare the sequence there with the one we excavate here quite easily. It will be instructive to see if the sequence is as simple as it appeared to be in the machine dug section.

Today is the first day that it has been possible to return from lunch to do proper work: over the past three days, it has been so hot by lunchtime, that doing anything afterwards proved a real effort. With the breeze and the cloud cover, people actually refreshed following the break.

Bernie has discovered a very nice large sherd of Peterborough Type Impressed Ware. This is perhaps the largest piece we have had from the site. It has a distinct carination with whipped cord maggots either side, so it ought to be easily identifiable to type. Once again, we seem to be getting material from the early days of henge construction. It will be interesting to see what we get from the outer ditch.

It looks as if we will have cleared yesterday’s finds and some of today’s by the end of the day, which means that by the end of tomorrow, we ought to be up-to-date with lifting everything. The main issue has been assigning context numbers to everything: last year, we relied on using the EDM co-ordinates to match finds made during the first two weeks to the plan that was only done during the third week and I am determined that we do not do that this year. We do need to sort out last year’s plan data!

Where Martin has been working on the bank on the south side of the monument, he has found that it survives only as a very superficial deposit that trowels away with little effort. This means that the deposit beneath is a surviving ground surface from the time of the bank’s construction. This will be a good place to put through a section to examine this relict topsoil.

Where Philip is cleaning the outer ditch, it has become clear that there are two deposits visible, confirming the impression gained during topsoil stripping last week. There are a few sherds of prehistoric pottery in the outer deposit, which will be the stratigraphically earlier, and a fragment of what appears to be Romano-British greyware in the inner deposit, which is the colluvial deposit in the top of the hollow, suggesting that the outer ditch was still visible as a slight depression in the Roman period, confirming what we found during the Easter dig.

Trowelling back is almost complete, apart from a strip along the south-western edge of the site, which will be used as a barrow run tomorrow during the emptying of the material used to backfill the section excavated through the inner ditch. There is only minimal work left to do in the ditch – perhaps only a day or two – and it may be possible to excavate a second section through it (which would mean that we will have two sections through inner and outer ditches).

Progress seems to have been far better this year than last; this is despite having fewer people and losing three almost half days to the heat. Although we are dealing with a site that is about a quarter the size of the 2012 trench, this is the area with the most complex archaeology and by far the densest concentration of finds. People really do seem to be more enthusiastic and hard working this year. Perhaps the smaller site makes it more sociable and makes it feel more of a team effort. Whatever the reason, I am pleased.

Friday 19 July 2013: starting to do proper archaeology

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Bernie Matthews, Chris Hobbs, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Kit Carstairs, Lindsay Duncan, Sylvia Duncan, Mick James, Paul Browne, Paul Eland, Steve Foulds, Tony Driscoll

Weather: hot (26° C at 10 o’clock) and sunny with the merest hint of haze around the horizon

After yesterday’s heroic efforts to clear the site, which was done by the time it had reached 30° c, today we can start trowelling back in earnest. We need to give the site only a gentle scrape to be able to get it into a state ready for planning. Once one half has been cleaned, someone can do that plan, which means tht we won’t have the hold-ups that we have experienced in the past.

We were hoping to do 3D finds recording from today, but it turns out that the batteries on the EDM have not been charged (it’s brand new kit, unlike last year), so I will have to take it in to chrage fully this evening. Nevertheless, I think that we still ought to mark findspots for recording tomorrow: there isn’t a great deal of material turning up at the moment, which is fortunate.

The temperature was 28° C by noon and seems to have stabilised, so it is possible that we’ll get a complete day on site, which would be very good. The finds that are turning up include Peterborough Type Ware, Grooved Ware, lithics (only débitage so far today) and burnt sandstone. Interestingly, we seem to have bits of bedrock showing up, suggesting that the deposits in the centre of the monument aren’t as thick as I had originally thought, unless there is a hollow at is centre that contains a greater depth (which is the impression given by the posthole, that seems to have been cut through a depth of at least 0.25 m of archaeological deposits. There is also a patch of what may be an old ground surface beneath the bank, although this needs to be tested.

We seem to have reached a point where the heat is not too bad: there is an intermittent and occasionally strong breeze that is keeping the temperature between 28° and 30°, allowing work to continue into the afternoon. If people are happy to continue working – and they are – then I’m happy for the to do so.

Although it’s still very early in the project, we have complex archaeology showing up and the challenge will be to target areas that hold the highest potential to answer the research questions. The outer ditch clearly remains the top priority and by the end of tomorrow, it will be clean enough to plan and excavation can begin on it; I plan to start with two teams working from the centre out until we are so far down that there is only room for one team. The ditch fills did not appear to be artefact rich when we machined out the section at Easter, so I am hopeful that we will make rapid progress with its excavation. We also need to complete the excavation of the section through the inner ditch that was begun in 2011: it’s a real shame that we didn’t complete it last year. Those two areas aside, we ought to have a look at the structure of the bank and perhaps see if there is any evidence for activity on the site in the former ground surface beneath it. There is also the posthole, excavation of which began in 2010, which remains to be completed, as only a section through the post-pipe was ever completed.

We also need to investigate the area that appears to be bedrock: is that really what it is or might it be an area of rammed chalk? It certainly does appear to be at a higher level than any of the chalk bedrock elsewhere on site. There are clear plough ruts through it, so an examination of one of these might show if it is a skin on top of archaeological deposits. It will also be necessary to excavate a section through the entrance to see if we can pick up any of the possible postholes that show up as anomalies on the magnetometer survey. There is a patch of carbonised wood on one side of the gap in the bank that looks as if it may be the remains of a post.

By 2 o’clock, the temperature had reached over 30° C, so we decided to stop work for the day.

Friday 19 July 2013: starting to do proper archaeology

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Bernie Matthews, Chris Hobbs, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Kit Carstairs, Lindsay Duncan, Sylvia Duncan, Mick James, Paul Browne, Paul Eland, Steve Foulds, Tony Driscoll

Weather: hot (26° C at 10 o’clock) and sunny with the merest hint of haze around the horizon

After yesterday’s heroic efforts to clear the site, which was done by the time it had reached 30° c, today we can start trowelling back in earnest. We need to give the site only a gentle scrape to be able to get it into a state ready for planning. Once one half has been cleaned, someone can do that plan, which means tht we won’t have the hold-ups that we have experienced in the past.

We were hoping to do 3D finds recording from today, but it turns out that the batteries on the EDM have not been charged (it’s brand new kit, unlike last year), so I will have to take it in to chrage fully this evening. Nevertheless, I think that we still ought to mark findspots for recording tomorrow: there isn’t a great deal of material turning up at the moment, which is fortunate.

The temperature was 28° C by noon and seems to have stabilised, so it is possible that we’ll get a complete day on site, which would be very good. The finds that are turning up include Peterborough Type Ware, Grooved Ware, lithics (only débitage so far today) and burnt sandstone. Interestingly, we seem to have bits of bedrock showing up, suggesting that the deposits in the centre of the monument aren’t as thick as I had originally thought, unless there is a hollow at is centre that contains a greater depth (which is the impression given by the posthole, that seems to have been cut through a depth of at least 0.25 m of archaeological deposits. There is also a patch of what may be an old ground surface beneath the bank, although this needs to be tested.

We seem to have reached a point where the heat is not too bad: there is an intermittent and occasionally strong breeze that is keeping the temperature between 28° and 30°, allowing work to continue into the afternoon. If people are happy to continue working – and they are – then I’m happy for the to do so.

Although it’s still very early in the project, we have complex archaeology showing up and the challenge will be to target areas that hold the highest potential to answer the research questions. The outer ditch clearly remains the top priority and by the end of tomorrow, it will be clean enough to plan and excavation can begin on it; I plan to start with two teams working from the centre out until we are so far down that there is only room for one team. The ditch fills did not appear to be artefact rich when we machined out the section at Easter, so I am hopeful that we will make rapid progress with its excavation. We also need to complete the excavation of the section through the inner ditch that was begun in 2011: it’s a real shame that we didn’t complete it last year. Those two areas aside, we ought to have a look at the structure of the bank and perhaps see if there is any evidence for activity on the site in the former ground surface beneath it. There is also the posthole, excavation of which began in 2010, which remains to be completed, as only a section through the post-pipe was ever completed.

We also need to investigate the area that appears to be bedrock: is that really what it is or might it be an area of rammed chalk? It certainly does appear to be at a higher level than any of the chalk bedrock elsewhere on site. There are clear plough ruts through it, so an examination of one of these might show if it is a skin on top of archaeological deposits. It will also be necessary to excavate a section through the entrance to see if we can pick up any of the possible postholes that show up as anomalies on the magnetometer survey. There is a patch of carbonised wood on one side of the gap in the bank that looks as if it may be the remains of a post.

By 2 o’clock, the temperature had reached over 30° C, so we decided to stop work for the day.

Thursday 18 July 2013: continuing to clean the site

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Ashley Tierney, Bernie Matthews, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Julie Martin, Kit Carstairs, Lindsay Duncan, Sylvia Duncan, Mick James, Paul Eland, Steve Foulds, Steve Warner, Tony Driscoll

Weather: hot (24° C at 10.00 am) and sunny; no cloud but a very slight haze

After yesterday’s heat, which forced us to finish early, the local radio forecast is that we will only get up to 27° C today, which, if true, would mean that we will get a whole day’s work in (dependant, of course, on how tiring working in the sun proves for people). With this holiday type weather, I think that flexibility is the key to avoiding heat exhaustion. Apparently the BBC has suggested temperatures in the low 30s, but this may apply only to the area west of London. Keeley and I will be monitoring the thermometer…

Before we started work, one of the buzzards that nests at Nortonbury flew over, obviously checking out what we are doing. At least it’s not a vulture. Last week, during the topsoil stripping, we had a visit from one of the red kites that nests by Church Field. It landed in the field on the opposite side of the footpath; they are much larger than I had imagined and perhaps as big as a buzzard.

There are a few interesting finds coming out of the initial scraping. Yesterday, Keeley spotted a rather nice (if damaged) horseshoe scraper in the colluvium over the outer ditch, there has been a sherd of possible Grooved Ware today and a coin that appears to be a penny of Victoria or an early twentieth-century monarch. This last came from the spoilheap, so it’s not exactly relevant to the henge!

The south-western branch of the inner ditch that showed so clearly during topsoil stripping is becoming visible, so once we have cleaned the site thoroughly, we will not only be able to plan it but also to target what appears to be its south-eastern terminal. This is where interesting things ought to be happening.

By morning tea-break at 11.00, the temperature was 26.5° C, so we will work for another hour until 12.15, when I suspect that it will have reached 27° C, meaning that a half hour work session will take us through to lunch at 1 o’clock. There is a slight breeze today, which is making it feel not so hot. These few degrees make all the difference.

Another piece of prehistoric pot has turned up, this time from the spoil heap. There is also a concentration of highly eroded animal bone from a deposit close to the entrance that may be in the terminal of the inner ditch. There are some quite large pieces, which appear to be from a cow sized animal. The bone is being left in situ so that we can examine this area properly when excavation begins in earnest. Tony has found another scraper, this time a thumbnail scraper.

Progress has been more rapid today and, assuming that we get a full day’s work in, the site ought to be completely cleaned by the end of the day, in which case we trowel tomorrow. I had feared that it might take three or more days, but as the weather is due to be cooler still over the next few days, I am confident that we’ll be excavating in earnest before the end of our first week. This is good progress.

By 12.30, it was almost 27° C, which means that the half hour will take us through to lunch-time. Nevertheless, the breeze is cooling and does make the heat more bearable than yesterday. I intend to stop work today one the shovel-scraping of the trench is complete. This will probably be around the middle of the afternoon. Although a lot of progress has been made on clearing a path around the top edge of the trench, I am less concerned that we get this finished today.

The henge is looking reasonable obvious, despite the dryness. The entrance is quite apparent and there is an interesting cluster of carbonised wood (with some fragments quite large) towards its northern edge. This is another area that will need proper targeting once excavation is under way. It’s good to be concentrating solely on the henge this time: although the Romano-British stuff we had last year was interesting in its own right (and important to the story of Baldock), it’s the Neolithic that is our reason for being here, so being able to focus on this is helping to answer the main research questions.

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

Read the rest of this entry

Post on the North Herts Museum’s website

I’ve written a short piece on the henge for the North Herts Museum’s website, which may be of interest.

Day three: Easter Sunday 31 March 2013

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Chris Hobbs (a.m. only), Nigel Harper-Scott, Ivor Davies, Tony Driscoll, Jean Andrews, Mervyn Evans, Martin Jupp, Susana Suldana, Jim Skipper, Lindsay Duncan, Sylvia Duncan

Weather: dry, cloudy with occasional sunny spells, very cold east wind; one snow shower

Excavating animal bone in the base of the ditch

Excavating animal bone in the base of the ditch

Keeley and Chris are excavating deposit (287) in the base of the ditch, which is still producing fragments of animal bone (including a piece of jaw and a tooth that were not connected with the teeth Mervyn found yesterday – signs of animal scavenging?). The deposit does not appear to be very thick, as Keeley is coming down rapidly onto rubbly chalk that may be the weathered base of the ditch. Nigel is beginning a plan of the trench.

Sieving is producing very little material, as it was towards the end of yesterday. What has turned up so far appears to be mostly Romano-British, so I suspect that we are dealing with colluvium rather than ditch fills.

Keeley’s rubble is indeed the base of the ditch and it is significant that all the finds are sitting on it, covered by the silt of deposit (287), which is therefore the primary fill. On the base of the ditch was a lump of fired clay that Keeley and Chris were worried might be medieval brick, but it was daub. There is a second potential piece. Interestingly, none has turned up during the sieving, which raises the possibility that it is part of a structured deposit.

Sieving continues, despite the cold

Sieving continues, despite the cold

As sieving continues, there has been more Neolithic material turning up and less Roman. It seems that the spoil represents destroyed stratigraphy quite accurately: it’s a shame that there is no way of telling which parts derive from which ditch fills and which are from the colluvium. One possible way of sorting out at least some of the material will come in the summer, when we excavate the trench to hand dig across the outer ditch: if we create a separate spoil heap for the colluvium (which will be stripped by machine), we can establish the range of finds it contains and suggest by elimination which classes derive from the ditch fills.

Ditch [288] emptied

Ditch [288] emptied

Excavation of the ditch, [288], was finished by 2.30. Martin took over from Chris after he had to leave at 12.30, and he and Keeley worked into their lunch break to make good progress on excavation. The base of the ditch is flat and the outer side slopes more steeply than the inner, which also has a curious break of slope near the top. There seem to be no more than four or five fills visible in section, although it’s possible that more will be identifiable through excavation in plan. I have record photographs and Nigel has planned it. All that needs to be done now is for Keeley to draw the section and we can pack up.

All in all, this has been a very productive and informative spring excavation. Although the weather hasn’t been on our side (who could have predicted that we would still be in single figure temperatures and have snow at the very end of March?), people have really worked hard and enthusiastically at the sieving. I had feared that the cold would be offputting, but it hasn’t turned out that way. I’ll do a further update on my thoughts about what this short excavation has achieved on the new North Herts Museum blog.

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