Castle Hill Community Dig Blog 3: What we know so far…

Well that’s it for this year. Excavation is complete, records are finalised, finds are washed (mostly), we’ve bid a sad farewell to our fantastic volunteers, packed everything up, backfilled the site and gone home.

It has been a very productive second week. With the trenches cleaned up, the focus this week has been on recording the archaeology – plans, sections, contexts sheets, site photography, using the dumpy level; our volunteers have been taken through the entire process. With only two weeks on site this season, the excavation has focused on evaluating what we have rather than exploring it in detail; and whilst we have dug a few intrusive slots to investigate key relationships, this year work has predominately focused on recording what was already exposed so that we can go away and formulate research questions for future work.

All of the trenches are meticulously planned by our volunteers.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the process. Back at the University we need to start putting all the records back together, finish cleaning and cataloguing the finds, and start the analysis on what we have recovered. This means it will be several more months before we can start saying something definitive about what we have found. However, here are our first impressions…

Excavation in Trench 1 during the second week focused on digging a slot across the suspected outer ditch of the earthwork. This proved not to be the straightforward task we expected and we struggled to understand what was going on until finally we found that a modern drain had been dug along the line of the ditch disturbing the medieval feature. With new understanding we continued investigating and have found that the original ditch had been deliberately backfilled at some point in the medieval period with densely packed stone rubble, possibly to create a causeway marking a possible entrance into the site, although this will need further investigation to confirm.

The accompanying bank had been deliberately constructed with alternating layers of earth and stone rubble mounded up to create a feature c.12m wide (the ditch appears to be c.2.5m wide). Clearly a lot of effort has gone into the construction of this ditch and bank but there is no evidence of a wall running along the top of the earthwork. Instead, perhaps it supported a timber fence or a hedge, and it was most likely intended to prevent livestock and casual intruders wandering into the compound within.

In the centre of the site, we began investigation of Trench 2. This was dug to investigate a curious hollow and earth mound. The hollow appears to be the remains of a pond, perhaps a post-medieval cattle pond but our initial idea that the mound was earth dug out from it has proved incorrect. Instead, the mound appears to be deliberately constructed, built up with layers of clay contained behind a kerb of fieldstones running around its base. It now looks like we may have found something like a barrow or a windmill mound. This is very exciting and tantalisingly there is another mound in the field and more mounds once existed under surrounding housing estates (marked on Ordnance Survey maps). Could we have much older Bronze Age monuments on site, perhaps the remains of a barrow cemetery?  Again more work is needed before we know for certain.

Finally, our third trench, which was investigating an area described in the geophysical survey as a spread of ‘modern rubble’ but which proved to be a layer of broken roof slates mixed with 13th/14th century pottery, broken ridge tiles and iron slag continues to produce exciting results. The rubble overlies large areas of stone and earth surfaces and our current hypothesis is that the stone surfaces represent external yard areas and the earth surfaces are internal floors showing where timber buildings once stood. The iron slag concentrates in particular areas and we also have evidence of hammerscale (the tiny sparks produced when molten metal is hit with a hammer), suggesting smelting and smithing were both occurring on site. Honouring the memory of Time Team we kept the volunteers digging until the last possible moment and on the last day uncovered part of a substantial stone footing for a large rectangular structure. This may be our first stone building, or perhaps something a little smaller, maybe an industrial structure like a kiln relating to the iron smelting. All going well, we will be back next year to find out…

The Castle Hill 2016 dig team.

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