It’s seven weeks until this year’s excavation team lands in Somerset.
In Newcastle all sorts of behind the scenes preparations are happening. The minibus is booked, lists of equipment are being drawn up and we’re all thinking hard about exactly where we should dig this year and why.
Our grant from Brympton Parish council has also arrived (a big thank you to everyone in Brympton for their support).
In week or so the students (Adam, Eleanor, Dave, Georgia, Johanna, Kevin, Lucy and Danni) will have their final briefing and be issued with kit lists. Some of them are currently thinking about exams so I expect the dig seems a long way off.
Every field in the land has a name and many of these names are recorded on Victorian Tithe Maps. Copies of these documents for Somerset are held by the Somerset Records Office. As part of the project we’ve been looking at the field names recorded on the Tithe Maps for Lufton and the surrounding parishes.
The names given to fields by people who worked them in the past often reflect something important about those pieces of land. They might tell us who owned the land (Ball’s Mead), they might describe the piece of land (Three Cornered Field), or they might tell us about the history of the piece of land. Chester would indicate a Roman site, Blacklands a site that might have been occupied intensely in the past. So far our work hasn’t turned up any of these names but there are an interesting group of fields over in Odcombe.
Just north of the village of Odcombe are a series of fields with ‘Englands’ names. This name is likely to derive from inland and this term is often associated with parts of early medieval estates that were under direct lordly control. Two recent pieces of archaeological fieldwork on fields with ‘Englands’ names in Charleton Horethorne and Sparkford have demonstrated that both of these sites were occupied in antiquity. The fields in Odcombe might also contain similar evidence.
Englands Field Names near Odcombe © The Lufton Project and Andrew Agate
A short article on this discovery will be published in the journal of the Medieval Settlement Research Group.
We completed the survey of Hungerford and realised that the settlement continued further to the south. So we carried on surveying and in 2010 and 2011 covered two smaller fields known as Danscombe and Mr Unwin’s Field.
Geophysics of Danscombe © GeoFlo and The Lufton Project
Danscombe was particularly interesting because just before the magnetometer survey was carried out the landowner manured the field with ‘green waste‘. This is the composted hedge clippings and other stuff collected from householders by the council. Theoretically it shouldn’t have an impact on the survey but at Danscombe we discovered that the ‘green waste’ had a lot of many metal contaminants. These had a negative impact on the survey (compare image above with the one below) and this problem is currently being studied by Alissa, an MA student at Newcastle.
For all of the problems caused by the ‘green waste’ we could see that the ancient settlement continued into this field. The big line running across the image is a modern pipeline (A).
The Mr Unwin’s Field (to the east: below) was also surveyed and contained further anomalies associated with the settlement (A). We also identified a round anomaly (B) that we thought might be the remains of a roundhouse or barrow. This is where we decided to dig in 2012.
Geophysics of Mr Unwin's Field © GeoFlo and The Lufton Project
Excavation is a small part of the archaeological process. We dig for a little while but spend much longer trying to figure out what our discoveries mean. Finds analysis is a big part of the post-excavation work. Our flint assemblage was looked at by Dr Rob Young and this post is based on his analysis.
Flints were used by prehistoric peoples for tools. They worked (or knapped) the flint to produce edges that were sharper than surgical steel. A wide variety of prehistoric stone tools are known but the object illustrated below is a heavy and thick end scraper of Neolithic or Bronze Age date. It is roughly contemporary with the ring-ditch we dug in 2012.
Flint scraper of Neolithic/Bronze Age date © Rob Young and the Lufton Project
The third and final week saw the trench extended and a lot of work to investigate the ditches and sort some modern features (including a septic tank outfall pipe) from the ancient features.
Excavating in Week 3 © The Lufton Project
As archaeological excavation is destruction it was important that everything was properly recorded. A lot of drawings, photographs and paperwork were completed.
Danni Recording © The Lufton Project
Towards the end of the excavation Mr Unwin (the landowner) came to look at our trench, He was a very genial and tolerant host and the project is very grateful to Mr Unwin and his family for the support they are giving to this work.
James shows Mr Norman Unwin the trench © The Lufton Project
At the end of the week we had some help from Jamie and Carole Pullen. They lent us a digger and driver to backfill our trench! Then we put the turf back and headed back to Newcastle.
Backfilling the trench © The Lufton Project
Over the weekend we talked to lots of visitors at the open day. Then on Sunday our prayers were answered. The heavens opened and it rained.
James surveying a wet trench © The Lufton Project
Some water in the soil meant that we could see the archaeology and that the digging was a bit easier.
The ring-ditch is revealed as we begin to define and excavate features © The Lufton Project
We worked hard to define and begin to excavate the features. We were rewarded with some tiny pieces of Early to Middle Bronze Age pottery from the ring ditch and some Iron Age pottery from the big ditch.
Kristjan and Fraser working hard © The Lufton Project
We made good progress in Week 2. The water bowser that seemed so important to have in the dryness of Week 1 was a bit redundant…
We went into Week 3 feeling pretty happy with what we’d discovered.
In 2012 we carried out a three week excavation to investigate geophysical anomalies identified in Mr Unwin’s Field. One of these anomalies was circular (B on the graphic below) and such features are usually termed ‘ring-ditches‘, the other was a linear anomaly that was likely to be a ditch (A on the graphic below). The excavation was designed to work out whether the ring-ditch was a part of a burial mound or a prehistoric house and whether it came before or after the ditch.
Geophysics of Mr Unwin's Field © GeoFlo and The Lufton Project
The trench was laid out as a 10m x 10m square and excavated by hand. We started by removing the turf and then, in what was about the only hot and dry week of the Summer, we started excavating.
Cutting the turf © The Lufton Project
We removed ploughsoil and subsoil to a depth of about 0.4m. If a cubic metre of sand weighs about a tonne, we shifted about 40tonnes of spoil by hand! At 40cm deep we were on top of a layer archaeologists call ‘the natural’. This is a geological deposit (in our case a nasty clay) that pre-dates all human activity. Cut into the natural were some features. These included the ditch and arc of the ring-ditch we were looking for. These features were filled with a slightly darker and moister sediment than the surrounding natural and are visible in the following photos as dark stains.
Newcastle Students Kate and Ellie along with local volunteers Pete and Robin have found the ring ditch (visible as a dark arc in the deepest part of the trench). © The Lufton Project
The week was really dry and by the end of it the clay had baked hard. The dried out features had all but disappeared from view. We prayed for rain…
Brown, brown and brown. The trench has dried out and the archaeology's invisible © The Lufton Project
We’re pleased to announce that the big army tent has arrived and been tested by our friends in SSARG.
The Tent Erectors from SSARG © The Lufton Project
Last year we didn’t have much shelter on site (well, we had a couple of gazebos that couldn’t cope with a light breeze). So the tent is a welcome addition to the project. It’ll be shelter on rainy days (many of those I expect), shade on hot days (not many of those!) and a place to keep our kit and most importantly do the paperwork.
It’s all a reminder that the excavation is coming soon…
Following the geophysical survey of the area around the villa we took a decision to survey the big field to the south. This piece of land is known as ‘Hungerford’, a fieldname that usually denotes poor land. In the nineteenth century this big field was a number of smaller fields some of which were named ‘Little’ and ‘Lower Danscombe’.
The geophysical survey was undertaken between 2009 and 2011 and revealed an astonishing archaeological landscape. It is of many phases but includes a large and almost circular enclosure and a settlement with trackways and enclosures. This ancient settlement was a new discovery. We had no idea it was there and it came as quite a surprise.
The settlement probably dates to the Iron Age and Roman periods. Some of the geophysical anomalies are likely to be contemporary with the villa – it may be where the agricultural workers and tenants lived.
Geophysics of Hungerford © GeoFlo and the Lufton Project
The small-scale metal detecting survey recovered a small number of Roman coins as well as the coin of Henry VIII.
This is one of the Roman coins. The obverse (heads) shows the Emperor Constantine I. He was elevated to the imperial throne at Eburacum (York), became the first Christian Roman emperor and established Constantinople (Istanbul). The reverse shows the Genius of the Roman people (surrounded by the legend GENIO POP ROM). At the bottom of the coin (in the exergue) is a mintmark PLN, which tells us that the first (Prima) ‘workshop’ of the mint at Londinium (London) made this coin in the summer of AD307(RICVI (London), 88).
This coin could have been dropped by one of the villa’s inhabitants!
Obverse: head of Constantine, Reverse: GENIO POP ROM // PLN © The Lufton Project© The Lufton Project