It was my first proper day back on site on Monday. The forecast wasn’t good and just as I opened the minibus door after parking in the farm-yard I could hear the rain starting to bounce off the roof. However, in line with my happy belief that the site remains workable in all but the worst rain, we went up the hill anyway to give it a try.
In trench C we have identified a lower ditch fill which has much more limestone rubble within a siltier and paler coloured soil. This is context C3 and it is particularly thick at the edges of the ditch. This is absolutely typical of the way prehistoric ditches fill up naturally. Ditch silting is a process that was investigated in detail through a groundbreaking series of long term experiments carried out by the Experimental Earthwork Committee (see the report by Martin Bell and others on the reading list). The committee made a series of new ‘prehistoric’ banks and ditches, starting with one on Overton Down in Wiltshire in 1960 and returned at regular intervals over the following years to excavate portions of them and observe the silting of ditches and collapse of banks over time. What they discovered, in outline, is that generally a ditch like ours will fill up very quickly over the first few years it is open as the winter frosts break up the upper edge of the ditch and deposit lots of rubble at the bottom of the ditch, especially at the edges. Once the erosion of the ditch edges creates a more stable slope, usually after two or three winters, this process stops and the ditch starts to fill up much more slowly.
Context C2 is the remains of that slow filling up and it lies over the top of the newly discovered context C3. In this photo we are just removing the last of context C2. Once this is done we will have to clean up the whole trench to record the top of the primary fill, context C3. We had one find from this trench today, a piece of prehistoric pottery which I found on the base of context C2. I think it is probably Iron Age but will wait until it is clean to give a definitive answer.
In trench D we are still taking layers off the site to try and resolve any features which may relate to the anomalies we could see in the gradiometer plot from last year. There are quite a lot of finds from this area. In particular we are getting a lot of worked chert, including some complete and nearly complete artefacts, alongside the pottery I mentioned last week. The pottery I think is Iron Age ‘Very Coarse Pottery’ (does exactly what it says on the tin) sometimes also known as briquetage or VCP. This is the remains of containers that were used in the production of salt in Cheshire and were then exchanged and turn up on Iron Age sites all over Northern England and North Wales. All the important work on VCP has been done by Elaine Morris at Southampton University and when I track down all my references for this I will add them to the reading list too.
Taking yet another layer off the southern half of trench D. By 11.00 the site had got too wet to continue and we had a long break down in the barn. At one stage I thought it was so bad we would have to call everything off for the day but miraculously at about 2.00 it not only stopped raining but brightened up enough for us to go back to work.
At the moment I think that we have clear evidence of both Iron Age and earlier activity on the hill top. What is not yet clear is which stage the actual construction of the bank and ditch goes with. My instinct is that the bank and ditch are earlier and the Iron Age activity is a reuse of the site but we shall see.
On the way home I was dumb enough to clip another van with our wing mirror and smash up both mirrors. If the blog is late this week it is because I have been filling in insurance forms instead of thinking about archaeology.