Mastering Test Pit Digging in Nayland

TP 6cContinuing to uncover the hidden settlement history of the Stour Valley,  Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) supervised the digging of 34 1m2 archaeological in the Suffolk village of Nayland by residents, their families, friends and local volunteers over three days last weekend. Another Managing a Masterpiece community excavation funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a large number of ACA’s regular volunteers turned up to support Nayland’s residents following their participation in similar test pit digs in Clare and Long Melford as well as larger scale excavations at Mount Bures and Bures Common.

17 test pits began on Friday morning after a briefing at Nayland Primary School, while the remainder started on Saturday. The October weather was exceptionally bright and dry, with only a little mist on Sunday, allowing for many of the diggers to reach natural. Considerable thanks are owed to our local coordinator, Andora Carver, for finding test pit sites in the village, organising teams of diggers and arranging refreshments at the briefings, a lunchtime barbeque on Saturday and a fantastic spread of tea and cake for the final summary on Sunday.

DSCF3508Local freelance archaeologist and medieval pottery specialist, John Newman, joined us on Saturday and Sunday to identify the test pit finds as they were delivered to base. His initial assessment indicates that virtually no Roman and no Anglo-Saxon pottery was found in the village and only a small amount of early medieval pottery. However, there was a considerable amount of late medieval pottery indicating that Nayland saw a population rise and increase in wealth from the late fourteenth century.  In her end of excavation summary, Carenza Lewis noted that this pattern is very similar to the one seen in Long Melford, another Suffolk cloth town in the Stour Valley, which saw a large rise in the volume of pottery recovered from the fifteen and sixteenth centuries. This is in stark contrast to nearly all other University of Cambridge CORS in the eastern region where test pitting has been carried out, where the pattern is more commonly of a considerable drop in the volume of pottery recovered following the Black Death. The test pit digs of 2011 in the nearby small town of Clare did not have the same late medieval surge with the peak of the cloth-making industry.

DSCF3556Notable amongst the finds were two sixteenth century coins, a penny and a threepence, dating from the reign of Elizabeth I. The base metal shows through on the penny meaning it is probably a contemporary forgery. It is heavily clipped around the edges where someone has shaved metal from the coin’s circumference. Another sixteenth century find was a Nuremberg jeton, a metal counter used in accounting and calculating commercial transactions on a chequer board.

Back at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, the finds processing is already underway. All of the surfaces of the drying room are currently covered in the test pit finds from Nayland, and the pottery sherds are being separated ready for specialist identification. The pottery report will be uploaded to the ACA excavation reports and will be found on the Nayland webpage here in due course.

Carenza speaks at the final meeting

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