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A “Celtic Dolmen in Oregon?” – well, at least it’s a question!

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

The supposed "Celtic dolmen" in Oregon (USA)

The supposed “Celtic dolmen” in Pike Creek Canyon (Oregon, USA)

I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw this “story”. It seems to be constructed partly from quotations from Webster’s Universal College Dictionary and “Wickipedia” (sic) and is based on research using Google Earth. In fact, it’s written by the “Oregon Nature Examiner” for The Examiner (the “insider source for everything local”), one Dave Sandersfield, who has a degree in Technical Journalism, so we can excuse the lack of archaeological knowledge displayed by the article.

It’s actually quite difficult to understand what the article is really about. It seems that, somewhere in Pike Creek Canyon, north-west of Alvord Hot Springs in Oregon  (USA) (the article says that Pike Creek is west, but it’s clear from Google Earth that it isn’t), there is a dolmen that can be seen as “a big pile of rocks”. It is in the canyon, close to Baltazar Spring. Trawling Google Earth, there are plenty of piles of rock in the canyon, but I can’t make out one that resembles a dolmen. What is interesting (to me, at any rate) is that in the canyon, there’s a photograph by timland (a photographer with an eye for interesting landscapes), showing glacial erratics.

Unfortunately, Dave Sandersfield doesn’t include a screenshot of the right bit of Google Earth, so I can’t be certain that I’ve located the right area. Mind you, he does say that it’s best “to physically walk along side this oddity and touch these unmovable rocks placed together by some prehistoric hands”, so that might well be why I can’t see anything. However, he does include a photograph showing “the round red rock pinched by the horizontal roof stone against the orange boulder on left to make the roof rock shed rain water”. Most of the photographs on the website appear to have been taken with a camera phone, to judge from the poor quality and camera shake, so there isn’t a great deal that can be judged about the nature of the alleged dolmen.

However, the one decent photograph, reproduced at the start of this post (and originally named, bizarrely, Copy_of_Celtic_shack.JPG), shows a group of reddish rocks with a larger flat slab perched above several others. This fits the definition quoted from Webster’s Universal College Dictionary that a dolmen consists of “two or more large, upright stones set with a space between and capped by a horizontal stone”. However, the photograph doesn’t really resemble anything that might be regarded as a dolmen by a European archaeologist (quite what Dave Sandersfield’s “Palaeo-archaeologist” is supposed to be isn’t explained in the article). Dolmens are found in a number of locations in western Europe and were once thought to be evidence for the diffusion of farmers from Syria-Palestine into Europe. Radiocarbon dating demolished that particular hypothesis back in the 1970s, but the monuments remain as a phenomenon of the earliest Neolithic and are part of the wider phenomenon of collective burial in stone-lined tombs.

The dolmen de Saint-Nectaire (France)

The dolmen de Saint-Nectaire (France)

So far, so good. Dolmens are the denuded remains of such tombs, whose original coverings of earth or stone have long since been lost. There is a possibility that some were built as free-standing structures, but this remains unproven. It is untrue to suggest, though that “later they were built for seasonal, especially winter equinox, observation stations”, as many early examples incorporate astronomically significant alignments; none was built principally as an “observation station” as they were always tombs. The fourth photograph, showing “Dolmen’s View looking east towards winter solstice” is presumably meant to reassure us that, like other dolmens, this one incorporates the most important of these alignments. There is no evidence, as Dave Sandersfield claims, that they were “placed near geothermal pools”.

Astérix the Gaul

Astérix le Gaulois: the fictional archetypal Celt

According to the author, dolmens “are associated with an ancient Celtic culture that built Stonehenge and other odd standing rock structures” and his quotation from Wikipedia gives us a slightly old-fashioned view of Celtic culture. There are two problems with this view. Firstly, even the latest phases of Stonehenge pre-date a recognisably Celtic culture by almost a thousand years; it’s even worse for dolmens, which pre-date it by more than two thousand. The equation of dolmens with Celts might have been put to entertaining use by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo in the Astérix comic books, but it’s utterly unhistorical. It belongs to a time before prehistorians were able to date the pre-Roman monuments of Europe and is thus more than a century and a half out of date.

The second problem is with the entire concept of the “ancient Celtic culture”. Yes, there was a common élite culture across western Europe during much of the first millennium BC and the label given to it by art historians and archaeologists is “Celtic”. However, that is simply a descriptive label. A century ago, when prehistoric cultural change was thought to be associated with the migrations of ethnically distinct groups of peoples, that “Celtic culture” was assumed to be associated with a group of peoples described by classical authors as living north and west of the Alps. There are enormous problems with associating material culture forms with ethnic identity, which I summarised in an article published ten years ago. The so-called “Celtic culture” includes too much diversity to be associated simply with one single ethnic group. A simple example will suffice: we know that the people called Celts by their contemporaries in the classical world lived in rectangular houses; the Britons and Irish, whose descendants think of themselves as “Celts”, lived in round houses, as their ancestors had done for several thousand years. No classical author ever describes the inhabitants of the British Isles as Celts (indeed, the late fifth-century writer Zozimos actually contrasts the Britons with the Celts) and it was on purely linguistic grounds that the identification was first made.

The supposed "Celtic Empire"

The supposed (but non-existent) “Celtic Empire”

This does not worry popular writers, such as Peter Berresford Ellis, who treat “Celtic culture” as if it is a monolithic phenomenon. It also rouses the anger of self-identifying “Celts” in Britain, Ireland and Brittany, who see any attempt to examine the concept critically as a phenomenon of English imperialism or, worse, as racism. However, it is clear to the disinterested observer that the claims made for a unified “Celtic Empire” are just plain wrong: there never was any such entity, just lots of warring tribes and kingdoms, who spoke closely related languages, valued similar artistic styles but whose basic cultures were quite distinct.

Promoting a myth of North American Celts

Promoting a myth of North American Celts

There is a more sinister and worrying aspect to the author’s identification of a purported “Celtic” monument in North America. Similar claims are made by white supremacist groups (only follow the link if you are prepared to read falsifications of the past promoted by racists; here is a resource for dealing with this type of hate-mongering). Some of the claims seem innocuous enough and often quote Professor Barry Fell as an authority. Fell was an invertebrate biologist who became enthused by epigraphy, claiming to detect traces of ogham inscriptions across the United States of America, and he developed a wide following. His work has not been well received by academics but is accepted uncritically by many amateurs as well as by those with a religious or political interest in seeing European settlers in North America millennia before Columbus. The plain fact of the matter is that there is not a shred of credible evidence for the settlement in North America of large numbers of people from western Europe before 1492.

So, are these rocks in Oregon the remains of a “Celtic dolmen”, if we leave out the bit about astronomical observations and the bit about the Celts? It should be obvious by now what my answer is going to be. The solution comes in the second paragraph. timland’s landscape photographs demonstrate what this “Celtic dolmen” really is: it’s a group of glacial erratics, left after the ice that carved out Pike Creek Canyon had melted. It wasn’t “ancient Celts” who put the “capstone” in place, but Mother Nature.

End of the first week

Sunday 31 July 2011

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Siân O’Neil, Greg Ford, Ernie Ford, Martin Jupp, Philip Dean, Mark Perks, Tony Driscoll, Christina Farley, Oscar Farley

Weather: hot and sunny; a few light clouds initially, clouding over by noon with the wind picking up strength over lunchtime but dropping back later

Oh dear! Having berated people yesterday for being late, today it was my turn… And Tony had emailed people yesterday to explain that he wouldn’t be in but no-one had picked it up in time. So apologies all round! Nick couldn’t be here as he’s got to go to Bournemouth to have a meeting with his exam board.

A sherd of Impressed Ware

A sherd of Impressed Ware (formerly known as Peterborough Type Ware)

We have two teams of three working on the subsoil material over the outer ditch. Caoimhín discovered yesterday that the context description for (35) refers to a subsoil visible in section, whereas the deposit that’s being removed actually underlies it; it appears to be an earlier subsoil horizon and has been assigned context number (59). Christina has found our first sherd of stratified Impressed Ware, which will be contemporary with the formative henge phase.

I’ve written a list of priorities:

  1. Continue excavation of (59) to identify the outer ditch.
  2. Excavate one section of the inner ditch (aim to complete within the week).
  3. Establish the value of the TBM.
  4. Re-investigate the 20th-century ditch at the east end of Tr I (fill (22), cut [40]); consider a section across it in Tr IV north.
  5. I will give a 15 minute briefing on why excavators must record stratigraphic relationships on their context sheets and why they need to cross-reference everything to the context record.
  6. Begin the investigation of the bank structure in Tr IV north.
  7. Begin the investigation of the subsoil in Tr IV south (but only after points 2 and 4 are complete).

I think that it’s achievable, weather permitting. Setting targets like this may be inviting trouble but at the same time, it gives us a clear idea of where we’re going and something to aim for.

Excavating deposit (59), which appears to be a Late Neolithic fill in the outer ditch of the henge

The teams of three are working well with the finds recording régime. Caoimhín has asked them to swap roles every ten finds, to make sure that there is a regular rotation between diggers and finds recorders, which gives everyone a fair turn at doing everything. It is becoming quite streamlined and ought to mean the end of the end-of-day panic to lift everything.

I’ve been through the finds from (59) and there’s nothing that looks to be more recent than Neolithic in it. I suspect that we’re in the top of the outer ditch of the henge. Intriguingly, the finds include a large piece of daub, suggesting that there was once a structure nearby. Could the henge once have held a Durrington Walls style building?

By lunchtime, the temperature had reached 27°, which is not really suitable for heavy digging. People will need to take water breaks frequently this afternoon.

I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made this week, even if it doesn’t appear spectacular, with only two days of actual digging. But what we have achieved is really rather good:

  • we have confirmation that the monument is a henge;
  • we have located a secondary inner ditch, cut into the inside of the bank;
  • we have located the outer ditch, the upper fill of which contains only Late Neolithic material, confirming the date of the monument;
  • we have identified an entrance to the outer square enclosure in the geophysics, which our Trench IV happens to pass through!
  • we have established an efficient(ish) procedure for 3D finds recording in the absence of an EDM;
  • we have a clearer idea about the presence of a subsoil around the bank of the monument, which appears to have ceased forming in the later medieval period, to judge from the finds it contains.

That’s not a bad list for just a week’s work! It also shows that we ought to be able to achieve most, if not all of next week’s objectives.

As we approach 4 o’clock, it’s best not to excavate any more, as further finds will only slow us down. The temperature is really against us and people are clearly flagging in the heat. I’m also worried about sunburn: although I’ve had applications of sunblock, I can see red patches on my arms and I can feel some discomfort.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Stapleton’s Field Dig 2011

Excavation begins

Saturday 30 July 2011

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Zoe Ó Coileáin, Nick Smith, Greg Ford, Ernie Ford, Philip Dean, Chris Hobbs, Mark Perks, Martin Jupp, Christl Squires

Weather: dry, cloudy with rare patches of blue sky, becoming sunny with light cloud by lunchtime

A late start because more people were late than on time; there’s still no sign of Tony, who hasn’t said that he wouldn’t be in. Nick is continuing with the plan of Tr IV, while Zoe is planning Tr I (but without reference to last year’s plans). Everyone else is excavating in the position of the outer ditch, deposit (35). Almost straight away, Chris found a Roman coin, which is the second from this area. I have a suspicion that we can’t actually see the ditch and that it’s covered by a subsoil.

Lots of finds

Lots of finds, marked by the blue flages

Caoimhín is going through last year’s context records. They are in an awful state and would have been even worse if I’d not made people fill in what they could last September. What’s particularly galling is that contexts not recorded in section aren’t always on plan and the majority don’t have any stratigraphic relationships recorded (not even wrong ones). Things will have to be kept tighter this year!

In the small area where the excavation of (35) is going on, there is already a large number of finds. They include lithics, ceramics (at least some of which seem to be prehistoric, although others are Roman) and the Roman coin. If this is a ditch fill, it shows that it was continuing to silt into the first millennium AD. That would suggest that it’s a rather substantial feature. On the other hand, it’s directly overlying the natural chalk with no sign of a cut, which makes me think that it’s more likely to have developed as a subsoil.

By lunchtime, most of (35) left by the machine beyond the edge of last year’s Trench I has been removed, leaving a lot of finds to be recorded. Once we’re finished with planning in this trench, the non-digging person in a team of three will become responsible for dealing with the finds. This will speed up the whole process of 3D recording, which got so out of hand last year.

A plough rut running into the henge bank

A plough rut newly discovered by Nick that runs into the henge bank: this is why there is no longer a visible earthwork!

Caoimhín has come up with a good suggestion for the TBM. Rather than measure from the head of the nail or the top of the post, we will be taking the backsight from the soil surface on the site north side of the base of the peg. This way, it won’t matter if the peg is knocked or the nail is disturbed.

The number of finds in (35) is huge. This may well be a reflection of its status as a (probable) subsoil, in that it incorporates a variety of material possibly introduced by medieval ploughing. As we get into ditch deposits, I’m confident that the number of finds will decrease. Quite how this may work with the deposits in the centre of the henge, I don’t know.

Overall, I’m fairly happy with progress. I was irritated by the late start this morning, as we didn’t actually start doing anything until 11 a.m., but it’s a Saturday and people are giving up their free time to be here, so I ought not to complain. Once excavation was under way, it progressed at a reasonable pace (considering the dryness of the soil) and recording the finds was quicker than last year. This is a process that I’m sure will speed up as people become more accustomed to the system.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Stapleton’s Field Dig 2011

Getting ready to excavate

Friday 29 July 2011; Day of Archaeology

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoihmín Ó Caoileáin, Chris Hobbs, David Sims, Siân O’Neill, Nick Smith, Tony Driscoll, William Peters, Sophia Brookes, Elizabeth Brookes, Pauline Gimson, Sid Rowe, David Croft, Ursula Scott, Ann Pegrum

Weather: overcast, dry; much cooler than yesterday!

The inner ditch of the henge seen in section

The inner ditch of the henge seen in section; it has been cut secondarily into the inside of the bank

Today we ought to begin the archaeological investigation proper. William is planning Trench IV, starting at the south. Sophia, Elizabeth, Pauline, David, Nick and Siân are finishing the cleaning of Trench I, after which it can be planned. Tony is taking Ursula, David and Ann through basic context recording procedures. Caoimhín and Chris are doing the traverse from the Church Field temporary bench mark across to the site. I’m trying to remember to tweet about the Day of Archaeology; our first post went up just before lunch.

I can now be confident that the material inside the outer chalk deposit is later: it’s the fill of the inner ditch that shows on the geophysics. This would have been impossible to cut secondarily into a mound and can only have been done if the outer ring of chalk is the remains of a primary bank. So we really do have a formative henge and I can stop fretting!

Caoimhín did some video recording over the lunch break. He’s going to edit them and I’ll post them at a future date. My second post for Day of Archaeology has now gone live.

Planning and recording is proceeding well. So far, I’m very happy with our progress.

I’ve not blogged much today because I’ve been concentrating on the Day of Archaeology and trying to remember to tweet.

Filed under: Fieldwork

Finishing the cleaning

Thursday 29 July 2011

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, William Peters, Julie Goodwin, Sid Rowe, Henry Marshall, Caoimhín Ó Coiléain, Philip Dean, Siân O’Neill, Nick Smith, Tony Driscoll

Weather: sunny, hot, slight breeze; becoming cloudier after midday

Hoeing Trench IV

Hoeing Trench IV

Despite a weather forecast promising overcast skies, there’s barely a wisp of cloud and we’re already 22° C. As the work today is largely heavy (hoeing, moving spoilheaps, clearing vegetation etc.), people will need to be careful to use sunblock and drink plenty of water.

The weathering of the exposed surface in Trench IV makes it clear that we do indeed have a ditch on this side. There are also distinct bands visible inside the bank, allowing an assessment to be made of its construction.

By lunchtime, all of Tr IV has been cleaned, the vegetation around both trenches removed, the spoilheaps cleared back and work started on taking the backfill off the geotextile. Better progress than I’d hoped in this heat and humidity!

I’ve redone the matrix for last year’s Tr I and found that I’d missed assigning a context to a chalk deposit seen in section. All done now, so we’re ready to start assigning contexts to Tr IV.

There’s a lot of dust on the surface of the bank, so it will need to be brushed carefully. That way, we ought to be able to distinguish between the separate dump horizons.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Stapleton’s Field Dig 2011

Opening the trenches in Stapleton’s Field

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coiléain, Keeley Hale, Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Siân O’Neill, Nick Smith, William Peters, Martin Jupp, Sid Rowe

Weather: dry, overcast

Cutting the first sod of Trench IV

Cutting the first sod of Trench IV

Arrived on site around 8 a.m. to find Caomhín in Church Lane; Keeley and Philip were already on site and Tony arrived shortly afterwards. The digger started stripping topsoil at 8.30. He began at the southern end of Trench IV, where the topsoil is really shallow and comes straight down on to chalk. We should hit the square enclosure ditch reasonably close to this end.

Puzzlingly, nothing is showing up, despite being half way along Trench IV: no outer enclosure, no outer henge ditch, no bank, no internal deposits. I’m convinced that we’re in the right place, so at this stage, I don’t understand what’s going on.

Just as I was writing this, Caoimhín spotted that chalk we had assumed to be natural is on top of a soil deposit, which means we’re in the bank material. There’s no sign of an outer ditch; have we hit a causeway that doesn’t show on the geophysics? I also think I’ve put the trench about 4 or 5 metres too far east. That ought not to be a problem. More disappointing is the fact that we’ve missed the square enclosure’s southern ditch (unless we’ve hit a gap in that, too).

We’ve now hit last year’s geotextile in Trench I. It’s a relief to know that we’ve not gone too far south, just too far east. Further north, we have the outer ditch showing beautifully. There have been some struck flints and sherds of prehistoric pottery from the top (we’ve left the pottery in situ but collected the flints from the digger bucket).

The northern end of Trench IV

The northern end of Trench IV: the outer ditch, perhaps cut through a natural hollow

The outer ditch to the north now appears ridiculously wide and I wonder if we’re dealing with a slightly thicker subsoil here. Interestingly, there was no subsoil south of the henge, no finds and no ditch. We’re back onto chalk only within 5 m of the north end of the trench; this can’t all be ditch fill (it would make the ditch around 10 m wide!), so are we looking at a natural hollow into which the ditch was cut?

After lunch, we started stripping Trench I. It’s much easier following the geotextile than running athwart it. It’s also a lot less interesting to watch the machine, as it’s not revealing any archaeology.

People have moved on to hoeing to clean Trench IV, starting from the north. We’ve already had a flake with scraper-like retouch along one edge (which I’d see as later than the henge, but it does come from the ditch/hollow area, so it could easily be Bronze Age).

As the southern part of Trench IV was being hoed, combined with the oxidation of the soil, it now seems that we do have a ditch on the southern side of the bank. One by-product of putting the new trench a little too far to the east is that we can now see with some clarity a whole arc of the chalk bank of the henge. This is very gratifying!

A dormouse in search of a teapot

A dormouse in search of a teapot

There was an Alice in Wonderland moment when a dormouse was spotted, dozy and probably a little shocked at being rudely interrupted from its slumbers by the mechanical digger. It sat blinking on the edge of the trench. I hope that it finds its burrow before one of the local raptors finds it!

We have had a reasonably productive day. We have stripped around 120 metres of trench of topsoil (about 240 m2), much of Trench IV has been cleaned, the fencing is in place and a lot of the tidying of the walkways around the edge has been completed. Tomorrow, we will need to finish the initial cleaning, get everything planned and, if all goes according to plan, we can get excavation of the ditch section at the west end of Trench I underway.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Stapleton’s Field Dig 2011

Eighth (and Last) Day in Church Field – Easter Monday 2nd May 2011

On-Site: Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Mervyn Evans, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford, Ruth Halliwell, Nigel Harper-Scott, Chris Hobbs, Stephen Mason.

Weather: Sunny and hot, with a clear sky and strong wind.

Today is our last day in Church Field, for the foreseeable future. I am keen to get people working today as we only have the morning to clean up contexts and finish plans and records, before backfilling the trench. The hose has not been set-up to wet the site and aid trowelling, because the contexts are easier to read dry; and thereby ensure remaining parts of contexts (5) and (3) are fully removed.

The “plateau” of context (7), that was hidden below (3), will be removed to the same height of the rest of (7) surrounding it. Unfortunately, there is not have enough time or people to completely remove all of (7) to the next context before starting to back fill after lunch.

Context (3) is also to be removed in its entirety, so that recording can be completed and new contexts identified, and Mervyn will remove the rest of the sectioned part of (2), hopefully (2) will be left in a state that can be resolved in a future excavation.

Nigel and Philip are tasked with drawing the sondage’s stratigraphy; it will not be progressed further on this dig due to time and safety. It is almost a metre deep and going deeper would require the sides to be shored and hard hats etc worn by the excavators; which we do not have the capacity to provide. The sondage looks interesting and we believe we may have located the ditch. Although the fill looks very much the same, in the stratigraphy it can be seen in the lower part of the sondage to be stonier and sandier in the northern part of the sondage and less stony and more clay-like in the southern end. It is difficult to read the sondage stratigraphy as only two of its sides receive sunlight, and then only later in the day.

By lunchtime context (3) is gone as far as we can determine, everything has returned to its universal mid-grey colour. Areas have been lightly cleaned back to remove remaining loose soil and pebbles/flints for photographs to be taken of the site at the conclusion of the excavation. The final plans, levels and checks on context sheets of the site were completed during the lunch break.

Geo-textile was laid across the site and back filling began shortly after lunch (2pm), the final pieces of turf were repatriated at 4:10pm.

There have been two new small finds today; a fragment of an iron horseshoe from context (3) and an iron rim(?)from context (2). Unfortunately, some time yesterday we ran out of object sheets to record small finds, consequently small finds to have only been registered on the level and small finds registers, plus context sheets.

At this time we have not located the possible Roman feature that was the primary mandate for this excavation. On-the-surface, it seems what has been discovered are two fairly recent deposits of industrial to modern period waste situated above our intended target. Either these originated from the barn excavated in 2007 or possibly past work involving the straightening of Norton Road (if the tarmac finds are anything to go by).

Our only feature (8); a consolidated line of flint and pebble, could be interpreted as a field drain; possibly linked to the barn. Its SW/NE orientation directs it toward the area in which the barn was located. Further excavation would better reveal the true intent of this feature and the site has been left in a state with which future work can continue if the decision is made.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2011

Seventh Day in Church Field – Easter Sunday 1st May 2011

On-Site: Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Mervyn Evans, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford, Pauline Gimson, Ruth Halliwell, Nigel Harper-Scott,  Lorna Holding, Stephen Mason, Jim Skipper. Morning: Wendy Gross

Weather: Sunny and hot, with a clear sky and strong wind.

The day started with a quick briefing which concluded with my accidental discovery of a small find within context (3);and where hot on its heels. Today is our last full day of excavation, and although we will not complete several contexts before tomorrow, we can at least work on tidying up several loose ends. Again, the trench has done its trick of being more easier to read after an overnight drying, than when it is wetted.

Context (3) is in the way… The beginnings of sectioning this supposed rubbish dump has shown that it is only at surface level and not deep in this area, and I have tasked three people with cleaning it to the top of (7) so levels can be taken and then this false plateau reduced down to the current level of (7) that has not yet been bottomed out.

The remnants of context (6) still need to be removed from around the sondage and opposite this is a small remnant of (5) that still needs to be cleaned away to reveal the extent of (3) as it slopes down under (5) to meet (2). The sondage is about 0.6m deep and possibly still a long way from the natural and we haven’t yet hit the ditch that we hope curves into our trench as proposed from the geophysics results.

After lunch it was decided to put up the gazebo to offer protection from the sun, it was noticed that in areas sheltered from the cold wind that the sun is burning particularly ferociously. Unfortunately, this decision proved fatal to the gazebo, which after an hour and after a brief period of harsh, unrelenting battering from the wind has collapsed due to metal fatigue on two of the supports.

The sondage is now about 0.7m deep but is still producing pot, and by the end of the day it produced a nice piece of coarse ceramic ware, with a grooved patterning. As there are no pottery specialists on site this weekend, we have adopted it as Bronze Age grooved ware… We are under no illusion that this is the case and await informed advise on its actual age, but it seems to improve morale a little over the disappointment that we haven’t managed to progress deeper than these two modern debris fills; (2) and (3).

Context (3) is my biggest concern, it is not playing game and trowelling has revealed that it dips sharply into a pit or large hollow at the western extremity of the trench and into the trench wall. This suggests that the sectioned area of (3) assumed to be across its centre was just a large area of overspill, which has cascaded northerly toward contexts (2) and (6). Will we complete this by tomorrow? Tony has started a new plan of the trench, but levels have not yet been taken on the “plateau” of context (7) under (3), in part, due to this discovery.

Context (6) has been cleared, however this has complicated matters more; east of the sondage (6) has come down on to (9) discovered in the sondage. Immediately south of the sondage, context (6) has come down on to a new context that looks more like (7) than (9). This needs to be reviewed tomorrow morning. No new small finds, and all other finds follow previous discoveries, however, it is being noted that we are finding a lot of sherds that may belong to the same three possibly four ceramic objects.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2011

Sixth Day in Church Field – Saturday 30th April 2011

On-Site: Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Mervyn Evans, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford, Pauline Gimson, Alan Goodwin, Keeley Hale, Ruth Halliwell, Nigel Harper-Scott,  Lorna Holding, Henry Marshall, Philip Thomas.

Weather: Sunny and warm, with a clear sky and strong cool breeze.

Again, this morning, we find that the contexts are showing up better in the dry than when wetted; a complete reversal to my previous experience.

Tony starts the day planning the new contexts that have been revealed from under contexts (4) and (5). Ernie is continuing to clean back (6) and the two Philips are excavating the sondage. Pauline and Mervyn are to section across the centre of context (3) and Nigel will continue sectioning context (2). Henry, Lorna and Ruth will clean away context (7) surrounding (3). The area south of context (8) is looking extremely gravelly compared to the remaining (7) and I have numbered this context (10). It will be interesting to see if the remaining (7) north of (8) produces the same surface as (10) or a new context that might suggest the line of pebbles borders something.

Home-baked biscuits were provided by Nigel at tea break. This year we are really being spoiled!

Context (2) is proving to be perplexing. It is definitely a dump, however, a dump for what is difficult to establish as there is just an amorphous array of detritus coming from it; livestock remains, nails, barbed wire, CBM, pottery (of various styles), glass, tarmac, industrial waste. One thought is that this was a dumping ground for refuse produced from the change in the road layout.

After lunch a quick review of the sectioning of context (3) seems to suggest that it is not as deep as first thought and lies as a shallow layer across what seems to be more of (7). Whilst I decide what to do with (3), I’ve asked Mervyn, Nigel and Pauline to quickly excavate out contexts (11), (12), (13) and (14). As thought, these are relatively shallow deposits of a silty loam soil, in the case of (12) this has ended in what seems to be the remains of a tree root that has rotted completely away, and my thoughts are that this may be the case for some if not all the other three shallow contexts found under (5). A button was recovered from the bottom of context (11).

A new context (15) has been located in the sondage, and seems to be a shallow layer of soily clay; that doesn’t quite stretch the length of the sondage (north to south), compared to the compact clay of (9). Context (9) continues down a good 0.1m below (15) and so after planning, levelling and excavating away (15) context (9) is seen to continue underneath (15) effectively sandwiching it. My initial thought is that (15) is just a shallow less compacted area of (9). Nevertheless, almost 0.6m down the sondage is still producing pottery. We are now past the halfway mark before I close the sondage due to its depth for health and safety reasons.

South of the shallow area of context (3) on its plinth of (7) a new clayish layer (16) is emerging, whilst adjacent to this layer and almost running parallel with (8); and possibly just an extension of this context, is another emerging area of consolidated flint and pebbles (17).

No small finds today. But, again, the usual finds are being made as remains consistent with the previous days digging.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2011

Fifth day in Church field – Royal Wedding, Friday 29th April 2011

On-site: Philip Dean, Tony Driscoll, Mervyn Evans, Ernie Ford, Greg Ford, Pauline Gimson, Alan Goodwin, Keeley Hale, Ruth Halliwell, Nigel Harper-Scott, Chris Hobbs, Henry Marshall, Sid Rowe

Weather; Cool and overcast with a slight wind, afternoon warm with occasional bursts of sun.

The day started off with cakes provided by Pauline and hanging flags from the compound fence, one would almost think a wedding was going on. Keeley has stepped in to oversee the finds processing whilst Christl has been called away. Alan has volunteered to help.

We find the trench in a myriad of different soil colour; a blessing and a curse in many ways. The different contexts are showing up well, and areas still with a minor covering of topsoil are easily identified, however, it can be seen that in one area that a new context has been found, unidentified and excavated through to another context; possibly (2), beneath. Thankfully this is only a small area; approx 0.3m x 0.1m, no finds were discovered in this area on the Monday when it was being excavated.

Tony and Ruth begin by finishing the trench plan; started Monday evening, whilst I briefed the others on how we would continue the excavation. Chris and Sid are to mark off the north-east corner of the trench with a 1m x 1m sondage to evaluate the depth of the archaeological stratigraphy; recording contexts and finds as they progress. We have only three real days left for excavating and it is looking unlikely that we will reach our possible Roman feature.

Mervyn is to remove the rest of context (4) and Ernie (6), whilst Philip and Henry continue trowelling down (7) to try and expose more of our flint feature; context (8). Pauline is to start sectioning context (3) whilst Nigel takes over from Keeley in sectioning (2). After looking at the damaged contexts mistakenly excavated last Monday, it looked as though context (5) maybe lying over contexts (2) and (3), I asked Nigel and Pauline to delay excavating these contexts and remove (5) first.

This was shown to be the right decision, because as (5) was removed it could be seen that (2) and (3) do start to converge. What is also interesting is that three small oval fills of soil have emerged under (5) these could be natural hollows in context (3) that have a natural soil fill. Nigel has also uncovered a hollowed soil area dividing contexts (2) and (3) but it is also not connected to (5) or any of the other contexts. These have been given new contexts numbers (11), (12), (13) and (14), but because of the size I do not think these will amount to much or produce much in the way of finds.

In our sondage context (9); a thick layer of clay with chalk and gravel inclusions, has been uncovered under (6) and is being planned and levelled before work continues. Whilst trowelling back context (7) has revealed a more flint/pebble included layer south of our feature (8) and this has been numbered context (10).

Before the end of the day, Sid has found our one and only small find of the day; a shaped sandstone bar(?), located in the northern wall of the sondage. Quite what it is; whetstone or rubbing stone, I am not sure, but I am certain something similar was found during one of the NCAG’s previous excavations in this field. Other finds have remained consistent to the previous weekend’s inventory. Although, finds processing of items found in the unstratified layers during turf removal has found a fragment of sea shell with a number of small holes drilled through it.

Filed under: Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2011