Dig Diary 2009

 
Week beginning 23 August 2009Last week of the season, students with certificates
 
Sorry it has been so long in coming but I have been very busy since the end of the season. Reading a paper at the European Association of Archaeologists conference in Riva Del Garda Italy and promoting my new book ‘Tasting the Past’. The book hit the bookshops on Monday 9th November and I am doing a photo shoot for it for the Guardian newspaper on Monday and some recording for the BBC on Thursday. If any of you happen to buy the book and want to see all the pictures in it in full colour you can see them on the link on the homepage.
 
Well what happened the last week of the dig? We continued digging the trench apple 5 until we got to the end and just like a Time Team show we found a really nice post hole packed with large stones right at the and of it. In the picture you can see two large stone packed post holes but the rest of the structure if it is one is obviously in the bit we have not dug yet so more of that hopefully next season. We spent a bit of the week tidying up overgrown sections in Apple 4  there is a picture of Philip and Rhys from Nottingham university doing this.  There are a few pictures of the last lunch of the season being eaten by the students and a final diggers picture for the 2009 season with their certificates.
 
You might think we would have got our Geophysics info by now, but I am afraid we have not got it yet. As usual the site does not conform to the norm even with state of the art equipment. We did find though that the stones which we thought were a type of Granite that makes up the stones under the hovel turned out to be a metamorphic sandstone as they were not magnetic when they tested it with their equipment. Apparently they as yet could not understand from their readings what the clay platform on the main site was made from. They told us it had been subjected to intense heat over a considerable period and the physicists suggested it might have been from a early historic metalworking site. But after much contemplation I thought this could not have been the case as we have the stake holes on the Mesolithic platform and the microliths imbedded in the clay platform under the sealed layer of re deposited natural. If the clays were from a later period how could the microliths be stuck in the top of it and not burnt?? I suggested that possibly the clays came from the entrance to a cave which had had generations of gorse fires on top of it as most cave dwellers were in the habit of having fires at their cave entrances to keep wild animals away at night. If the fires were of gorse being a nitrogen fixing plant the heat of the fires would be intense and could account for the anomaly the physicists found when running their equipment over it. I suggested this to them and they have not replied to my suggestion only to say they would like to come again and take another look at it.
 
So we will have to just wait and see! I really love this site as it never ceases to surprise me and it is consistent in throwing at us anomaly after anomaly.
 
See you next year on the week starting 11th April.
 
Best wishes,
 
Jacqui
 
 

 

End of Apple 5 trench Full length of Apple 5 Lunch on the last day of the season Last week of the season students

 

Dig Diary 2009

 
Week beginning 16 August 2009
 
This week was dry enough to carry out some work on the clay platform on the main site again, so we removed another slice of the topsoil. That area of the main site does not have nice hard clay surfaces, but has more degraded clays and layers of silt, as if it  has been subjected to innumerable flooding events in its history. Emma, who was working on the corner found hard baked clay surface, which suggests that there had been a fire on the clay at some time in it's past. Because of this, the clay was fire hardened but did not wash away like the surrounding clay floor appears to have done.
 
As the weather degrades we can’t work on the clay platform under wet conditions, so we returned to trench Apple /5 and removed some more topsoil. A large granite stone appeared before long with a hole behind it which appears as if there had been a substantial post leaning up against it, and then packed next to the stone.  Farther up the trench to the edge of the field (Oak area) a lovely clear post hole appeared also with large stones packed around it. No other post holes have so far been revealed, so we are hoping that the rest of them are on the field side rather than on the hedge side, which would be impossible to excavate next season.
 
We had a very exciting day on Thursday, thanks to Martin Roseveare and his wife Anna of ArchaeoPhysica Ltd, who visited Saveock Water and carried out a Caesium Vapour Magnetometer survey on some of our fields. Caesium Vapour Magnetometers produce High-quality low-noise data,  we are now waiting patiently for the results of their survey. It was a great day for the students to see such equipment being used, as they are the only company in Britain that carry out surveys with this type of equipment.
 
 
Jacqui
 
 

 

Mat Post ex work The Hovel

 

Dig Diary 2009

 
Week beginning 09 August 2009
 
This week we had a few more students so we carried on with trench apple /5 to the end. We also planned the trench at phase 1 which is at the top of the red layer in other words we just took off the topsoil.
The next phase is to take the small stones out and see if we can make out a wall line.
 
During the last few weeks we have been putting our spoil in one half of Apple/3 trench so we can get a digger round that part of the site in the winter to move spoil. So as we had Mat here again from Nottingham I thought we would start one day by levelling off the spoil. Mat is featured in week starting 22nd June 2008 with some other students when they moved an incredible amount of spoil in one day. There is a picture of Mat and his team this year and a picture of Mat going that little bit further by raking it after it was level. Some people are just perfectionists!
 
Later in the week it was a bit wet so we did a day doing post ex work in the workroom which is an important part of any dig. As there was a constant stream of hot chocolates, tea, coffee and biscuits on tap it made it a pleasant day for all.
 
The last day was really nice so we went back into the hovel and took out some of the smaller stones and revealed yet more huge faced building stones underneath. We are going to hire a scaffolding tower during the winter to get some high photo shots of the hovel to see if it makes any more sense from the air.
 
 
Jacqui
 
 

 

Mat Post ex work The Hovel

 

Dig Diary 2009

 
Week beginning 02 August 2009
 
This week the weather was not good on the whole so we did a bit of pot washing which is always good as during a hot summer it does tend to mount up a bit. When we did have a good day or two I spent it weeding the main site as we had to just abandon digging there in July because of the weather and the weeds have got out of hand. While I was cleaning the drains from the votive pool I decided to clean out the hooves at the same time.
Those of you that have only taken an interest in the site over the last few years might not know about them. In 2003 I was looking for the overflow drain of the winter pool when I found what I thought was another lower clay platform. When I cleaned it up I found there were dips in it and was a bit disappointed that the floor surface seemed to have been damaged in some way. It was not until I stood back from it that I saw that what I thought was damaged floor was in fact a hoof impression! The floor was not as it turned out to be a floor after all because it was paper thin. It was in fact a thin lens of clay between two layers of sand. If the sand on top of the clay had been deeper there would have been no hoof prints, if it had been not so deep the hooves of the animals would have pulled the clay away on their hooves. But it was just right. ( I feel like I am describing the porridge the three bears ate!)
 
 As you can imagine I proceeded to reveal the hooves with great caution after that and it turned out that we had small bovine and larger bovine prints, some very large deer prints and tiny horse prints. The bigger bovine ones were over 17cm diameter which is not big enough for adult Auroch (wild cattle) but too big for modern cattle as their hooves tend to be no bigger than 13 cm across. There is one bovine print however that is on the edge of a stone that definitely is big enough to be Auroch size.
 
It just so happens that two weeks later I was doing a Mesolithic food demonstration on the Time Team TV programme at Goldcliff on the Severn estuary. This was the site where  human Mesolithic footprints were found in the mud of the estuary. Consequently the expert on the programme Rachel Scales came to the site a week later and took casts of it and is doing a report on it for us when she has the time.
 
It is an amazing site to see thought, because it captures a moment in time. If the animals had stayed there any length of time the prints would have been stomped so much it would have been difficult to see them. But there are lovely clear areas around the hooves which means that maybe another pile of sand was deposited on top of it almost straight away afterwards preserving it for us to excavate possibly 10 to 20 thousand years later.
Jacqui
 

 

 

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 19th July 2009

We started the week taking levels to see if the wall we found in the trench we excavated in 2006 is at the same depth as the top of the spread of stones we have found in trench Apple / 5. It turns out the stones in apple 5 are half a metre higher than the stones in the other trench which could indicate that it is the same wall but there is more of it left in the trench we are digging now.
 
We cleared the scrub off the top of the rest of the trench this week with the help of Peter, Rhys, peter and Ganesh who did that on their first day. It is always a good thing if you have a lot of hard physical work to be done to do it on the first day as it is always easier after that!
 
  The weather was a bit on and off too so we had to retreat to the workshop every so often and do some pot washing while the showers passed. We made good headway and it appears that there are some very distinct features appearing of possibly a wall or building line but we will have to wait until next week to clean it up a bit more for a picture.
 
I had this area ploughed by a local farmer in 1988 as part of some experimental wheat grown I was doing at the time. The tractor was an old Massey Ferguson as the gateways on this smallholding are too small to get a modern tractor through them. This was a good thing as it turned out as it did not plough too deep, no more than 25 cm. So the contexts are already mixed in this trench which is why we can excavate it by taking slices off rather than pulling it back 3 cm at a time.
 
We found a lot of worked stone in the topsoil and the usual medieval and post medieval pottery. Another button turned up too, but this time it was much more eroded and tiny but you can just make out the Tudor rose on it though.
 
 There was also a nice flint blade excavated which is always a thrill to find in Cornwall as it is not found in the geology inland. I often think that archaeologists in counties such as Dorset must miss the thrill of finding flint as it is all over the county in the geology. They have to be so much more certain that the flint has been worked to distinguish it from the natural. Whereas any flint apart from maybe tiny flint pebbles brought to the field with seaweed fertilizer has to have been put there or dropped by someone.                           

 

 
Jacqui
 

 

 

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 12th July 2009

This week we continued to extend the trench in Apple /5 but while clearing the bushes away from the wall we discovered what appeared to be an old gateway that had been blocked with stones. We decided to take it out, so we excavated the soil fill on top and started to remove the stones. One of the stones that had some holes cut into it presumably to hold a gate looked remarkably like a Bronze Age saddle quern as it was worn very smooth on top and was concave. Either that or it had been used as a door step and had been worn in that way. On the other side of the wall we cleaned up the edge to find a huge granite stone lying across the gateway. It had a chunk of stone taken out by drilling it three times which we thought was a little odd. Mainly because the piece that was taken off would not make much difference to the use of the stone  as a gate post. However, while Barbara one of our local team was taking a stone out of the blocked entrance on the other side she noticed a stone she took out and said ‘I bet that is the bit that was taken off the gate post.’ So not really thinking it could be we put it on top and low and behold Barbara was right it was the piece that had been chipped off!
 
The next day Julian and I continued to take off the stones and fill and discovered a can and a bottle at the bottom, as we took out more soil we found more and more cans and bottles. Now one might think a that load of old tin cans and bottles might be very boring, but we had a wonderful afternoon carefully clearing the soil away to reveal the extent of the feature. Julian then planned it and you can see a picture of it on this page. We then took them out and cleaned up the cobbled base of what had been the gateway. It certainly looks like the person blocking the gateway just pulled down one of the gate posts to block it and half of his job was done. We are going to try and return the post to its original place but we will have to wait until there are a lot of diggers around that day as it is a pretty big stone!
 
The next day it was really wet so Julian and Harriet took on the task of cleaning the bottles and tins so we could try and identify them and perhaps put a date to the deposition. We found that there were 4 Lyles golden syrup tins, 4 tins of glucose powder, a tin of baking powder and a tin of shoe polish called Nugget dating to around 1947-1951. We also found on the base of a small glass jar the words Chesebourgh, New York. We found that Chesebourgh use to make jars of Vaseline and finally joined up with Pond’s in 1955 so we have a possible date around the late 40’s to early 50’s.
Then we noticed that one of the broken pieces of white saucer had a stamp on the base saying it was made in Czechoslovakia which we thought was a bit odd as it was clearly a saucer from a small coffee cup. Drinking coffee in Britain in the late 40’s in the countryside was almost unheard of apart from the American forces bases during the war but they did not drink it in small cups like the do in Europe. So we looked into the makers name and found a sad story about the manufacture of the ceramic. It was made for a company called Mier and Co., Poshetzau. It was a family company started in 1890. The company thrived right through the first world war until in 1938 their shares in the factory were confiscated by the Nazis and they put the factory in charge of others. The factory closed in 1945.
So was there perhaps an eastern European refugee was working on the farm during or after the war but we can’t seem to find any record of it.
 
The small spread of rubbish dumped on the base of the gateway when it was being filled in gave us more questions than answers. Such as how did the fancy eastern European coffee saucer get there? Did the farmer really have a very sweet tooth? As he had 4 cans of golden syrup and 4 cans of glucose powder and who had the Vaseline?
I imagine the farmer would have thought it was really funny that we so carefully excavated his old syrup tins more than 60 years after he dumped them in the wall.
 
Jacqui
 

 

 

 

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 5th July 2009

This week we worked exclusively on the trench Apple/ 5 and also started taking down the new section of wall you saw the picture of last week. In the topsoil of Apple/5 we found another nice piece of flint, a small core with part of the cortex still intact. This is typical of the beach flint in Cornwall and is primarily only good enough for taking microliths from, as it is so small. This area was ploughed by me in 1988, so the context is mixed which is why the blade last week and this small core came out of the topsoil. We also found two interesting buttons in the topsoil this week. One is very worn and looks like it had a sort of basket weave pattern on it. The other is a gilt military button from an artillery soldier dating from between 1790 to 1810. The latter part of these dates are from a period of military history in the U.K. called the Peninsular war that we all know from the TV programme in the U.K. called Sharp starring Sean Bean. What was this artillery soldier doing in this field in Cornwall we can only guess.
 
As we took down the wall we found a lot of pottery in it which is the same as we found in the part of the wall we took down in 2006 showing it must have been repaired by the person that removed the remains of the hovel cottage in the 1950’s. At the base of the wall though we found a typical kind of granite tool that we have found over the years in the lower levels of the hovel. There is a picture of it and one of the other tools of similar form we have found. They are clearly worn on their ends and have notches  in their sides to make them easy to hold in the hand. If anyone has seen similar tools on their excavations we would love to hear from you.
 
Jacqui
 

 

 

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 28th June 2009

    As it was nice weather Julien and I a student from Belgium took a look at  a feather pits that was previously thought to be empty. While Julian cleaned up pit 18 I decided to excavated pit 41 which had not been touched before. It is very slow and painstaking work taking off the layers of silt build up from the last few years to get to the possible base of the pit. Everything taken off is bagged up and saved for a hot day when it will be wet sieved in case anything was missed during excavation. Pit 18 started to reveal some egg membranes and feathers by the end of the day. I got to the feather layer in 41 before we packed up for the day too. It appeared to be lined with swan feathers then covered with some amazingly glittery sand. We looked at fragments of the sand under the microscope later and found it to be primarily made up of clear quartz crystals. This sand is not found in the geology of this area so it must have been brought in from somewhere to cover the feather lining with. We intended to continue excavating the pits the next day but the weather forecast was for thunderstorms so I decided not to continue excavating them until the weather was consistently dry again. This is not because I mind getting wet myself  it is because when there is a sudden downpour of rain the pits fill up from the peat layer beneath making it impossible to excavated carefully.
 
   So we went back to trench Apple/5  and took off another layer of topsoil. In the topsoil we found the bowl of a pewter spoon which we have dated to around the late 16th century. On Wednesday I decided to take another slice of the wall that is between area Apple and the Hovel stones. I have been thinking about doing this for a while to see if the hovel stones are underneath it like they are in the other section of wall we took away in 2006. We made a start by clearing of an area of topsoil up to the edge of the wall  and I plan to start taking off the wall section itself on Sunday weather permitting.
 
 
Jacqui
 
 

 

     

 

Dig Diary 2009

Week(s) beginning 14th & 21st June 2009

We started the week looking at some of the large stones in the hovel that we excavated in 2002. After planning the area and taking endless photos and videos we thought it was time to have a look underneath them. The two stones we moved appeared to have fallen on top of a flat stone platform or floor surface. So we were expecting the floor that was clearly on either side of them to be continuous. As usual at Saveock it did not do what we expected. After Dave and Ryan lifted and slid the large stones away on the top of a ladder and we saw that what appeared to be a continuous floor had gaps in it. These gaps were seemingly carefully packed with small stones but not edge to edge as you would do on a surface that was walked upon. They were packed with big enough gaps between them to show it was not part of a floor surface. They then took a stone out that I had always been interested in out which had a clearly man made notch cut out of.  Under this too was the seemingly random packing of stones. The stones could not have just fallen under these large slabs of granite as they would not look so neatly packed. As I said before they were not packed like a cobbled floor surface either because there were gaps big enough to trip you over if you caught your toe in them. No doubt we will find out what they are eventually when we take more stones out.
 
On Tuesday the clay had dried out enough for us to go back to the clay platform on the main site. We revealed more of the burnt hearth area in the middle and more of the platform.
 
Wednesday was wet again so we went back into the workshop to do some pot washing and flicking of pit contents.
 
Thursday we went back to Apple/5 trench that we started in April as the rain had been too heavy to work on the clay platform for a few days.
 
The following week we concentrated for the most part on Apple /5 trench. We removed the topsoil off and found the remains of a wall feature that had been clearly robbed in places of its large stones. The students planned it before we take off any of the spread of stones away. If it is another part of the wall we excavated last year the line of the wall should become clearer as we take off the random spread of stones. We did however fine a nice flint blade in the trench and also a considerable amount of shaped stone tools.
Next week we will expand the trench and plan it before we take of the next layer of stones.
 
Jacqui

 

Removing the stone from the hovel Stone packing notched stone Cleaning Apple 5 Flint scraper from Apple 5

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 07 June 2009

At the beginning of the week we went back to the clay platform Anna, Cathy & Mark flicking pit findsand as we took off the topsoil found it to be very damaged by moles at the stream side, but you could still distinguish between the moles and the stake holes thankfully. The weather turned a bit nasty on Monday so we attempted to work on the stones in the Hovel area as we can dig there in wet weather usually. But by lunch time it was really very wet and some of us did not have the best waterproofs, so we inside for the rest of the day. At first the students  did some pot washing and then for a change I gave them some wet sieving bags to flick through. These are the dried contents of the pool and the pits after wet sieving and it is a very painstaking process which we call flicking. Basically you have a pile of pit contents and with the use of tweezers have to flick them to the side a teaspoonful at a time to see if there are any animal hairs or teeth or whiskers in it.
  The weather improved the next day, but not enough to work on the clay platform so it was not until Wednesday that we could go back to it. By the end of Thursday we found a patch of burnt clay in the middle of the area we had excavated indicating it could have been a hearth of some sort. Hopefully we will get back to it next week if it is still dry.
 
 
Jacqui

 

Starting the clay platform Pot washing Find flicking Clay platform

Dig Diary 2009

Week beginning 31st May 2009

I did not put up a dig diary for the other week in April we dug as it was not good weather and we did not get down enough in the trench to find anything new. Last week however was brilliant. I decided as we are quiet with students at the moment and it is dry to go back to the pits that were excavated in 2003 and see if they were dug deep enough. Most of the pits were excavated during 2003-2005 and the majority appeared to have been emptied in antiquity. I excavated a few last season and found that the previous excavator did not go deep enough and we had some interesting finds look at the dig diary for week 29th June 2008 and you will see what I mean.
 
So Cathy cleaned out the silt of pit 34 and found traces of feathers and quills which we had not found before at the same time I cleaned out pit 30 and found a thick layer of black fur like the fur we found in the cat pit. There may be teeth and whiskers in that pit too which we will not find until we wet sieve the contents we excavated. Cathy then started on pit 13 whilst I looked at pit 28 and 27 which turned out to be really empty. Cathy found black and ginger coloured hair at what appeared to be the base of the pit. Further cleaning up with tiny dental tools revealed a fur lined bowl at one end of the rectangular pit. In this bowl were 5 egg membranes. We have only found the remains of deposited eggs in 3 previous pits before so this was a real find. Cathy was delighted as this is her second season at Saveock and she did not find much more than roots and shillet last year.
 
 On Thursday we decided to extend the clay platform to the east and by the end of the day found the edge of a raised platform with a possible drip gully to the side of it. On its edge was a double line of stakes indicating that is had a double wattle wall around it. This is an unusual feature in Cornish archaeology as the wattle walls around dwellings tend to be single. A double row once made can have bracken and hay stuffed between it making a warm insulated wall.
The weather is turning a bit wet now so we might have to leave this feature until the middle of next week as you can’t work on the clay platform if it is wet or people’s boots can damage the surface.
 
 
Jacqui

 

Cathy next to feather pit Pit 13 Pit 30 Pit 34 New clay platform of a dwelling

2009 Dig Diary

Week beginning 19th April

Welcome to the first dig diary of our 9th season at Saveock! Last season we uncovered the base of a wall running parallel to the mediaeval wall in Apple. This wall however was much deeper and under a re-deposited layer of red subsoil. When excavating the feature last year apart from some worn and notched stone we found no other artefacts. This indicates the feature has some age to it or that they were incredibly tidy people!
 
So this season we decided to try and find some more of the wall by putting another trench in Apple area parallel to the medieval wall. We took the topsoil off and there was very little in the way of finds showing that the field was permanent pasture and not ploughed for crops. When we reached the top of the re-deposited red subsoil that we found in the previous trench we came across some random but clearly faced granite slabs. The students planned the feature and we are going to go through the subsoil next week to see if the slabs were connected with the wall base we found last year.
 
In different trenches in Apple we have come across this red re-deposited subsoil and it is usually flecked with charcoal as the trench we excavated this week was. In the section that the students were learning to do section drawings on there is a lens of charcoal 12 cm deep in places showing that there was a bonfire on top of the red redeposit at some time. The tiny flecks found in on the top of the red subsoil in the other trenches near to it could have been blown across the area after the bonfire. We think that this subsoil was re-deposited over this area possibly to level the natural slope to make a level platform for habitation and there was at least one bonfire on top of it at the time.
 
We had a bit of news on the votive pits over the winter too.  In Pit 28 that we excavated during 2003 which had been empted in antiquity we found a tooth and a piece of ceramic. The tooth we now know is a cats tooth the same as in Pit 37 the ceramic we were not sure about though. So I took it to someone who knows about post medieval pots and he immediately recognized it as a particular type of pot decorated with brown spots called a Posset pot dating to c 1700. This is very interesting as we have dates for two feather pits c1640’s and the cat pit c1740’s so this places Pit 28’s date right between them. Were the pits only put in once every fifty year or so? We don’t know at present we will only find out when we get the funding to have all 45 pits already excavated dated, but it does show a fifty year gap between some of the pits at least.
 
Jacqui