14 August 2013

Digging up the Geophysics at Barcombe

Despite what I said in my last post, I always enjoy it when somebody else digs up a site based on my geophysics. I get to learn so much by comparing the geophys results to what is excavated, yet someone else has to deal with running the thing and paying for it all. This happened at Barcombe this year, on the site of the fortified Roman settlement I had previously surveyed. I even took a week off work to have a dig for a change, which is not something the local archaeologists are used to seeing.

The Culver Project was of course running the dig, with the help of AOC Archaeology in a giant community dig funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The excavation was carried out in a pasture at the southern end of the site. The Culver guys also did an earth resistance survey to the west of the excavations, which shows the trackway and the old river bank nicely. Here is an annotated zoomed in image (click to enlarge) with descriptions of the various features described below.

A) This is a very strong feature on the survey, and it was expected to be industrial. The feature didn't disappoint, as it turned out to be a large circular pit with strong in-situ burning. There was no pottery wasters, but there was some tile wasters, suggesting that it might have been used as a tile kiln. This is not certain though, as Roman tile kilns are usually rectangular.

B) This curving ditch feature surrounding feature A contained a lot of tile wasters, reinforcing the idea that it was a tile kiln.

C) This small feature on the geophysics turned out to be very interesting indeed. It was a rectangular pit lined with tiles. A large blob of concrete was in the bottom, seemingly put in wet, as it had stuck to some of the tiles at the bottom. Nobody knows what this feature was used for.

D) This is one of the many tracks going through the site. The side ditches were quite substantial, being nearly as large as you would expect on a normal Roman road. The surface, where it showed, was river gravel, and had cart ruts running through it. Being a Roman road nerd, this feature is the one that got me most excited.

E) Half of a large pit was excavated here, containing occupation debris. These sort of features are common across the site, especially in the centre of the settlement, where there hardly seems to be a spot free of them.

F) This trench was put in to examine the relationship between the double ditched enclosure and the trackway as they crossed, and did not disappoint. The later enclosure clearly cut the earlier trackway. An almost complete quern stone was found towards the eastern end.

G) This trench was put in to see how the archaeology was affected by ploughing in the arable field to the north. Fortunately, the archaeology seems to be mostly below plough depth. The western ditch of the trackway was found as expected.

I) The eastern ditch of this trackway could not be found. Instead, the two features shown on the geophysics turned out to be two large pits. The southern one was square with vertical sides.

J) The enclosure was examined in greater detail here, by means of a hole cut through the hedge. The layers were not as clear as at F, with three ditches seemingly crossing the trench. The ditches were very deep, heading well down into the water table.

K) The ditch crossing here was again found to be cut by the main enclosure ditch. An intact (before being clipped by the bucket) cremation burial was found here and block lifted to be excavated elsewhere.

If you want to know more details about what happened, you can visit the excavation diary.

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