The two days’ digging at Daws Heath were a wonderful experience carried out in full sunshine with a great group of people. Dozens of people visited on Thursday to look at the finds and learn about what we were doing. This bit of Essex is lovely and very secluded – I was staggered on leaving to discover how close Daws Heath was to the main road!
The pottery from the test pits has now been formally identified by Paul Blinkhorn, and the results are online at http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/aca/dawsheath.html. I have just finished an analysis session conducted with the students (who carried out the digging on ten of the 12 pits as part of their Higher Education Field Academy), in which we went through the results as they remembered them. As is often the case, some of the provisional identifications made in the field have changed in the face of thorough examination by Paul under more ideal conditions. Notably, the possible Roman sherds have turned out to be more recent. In fact, the earliest pottery to come from any of the pits is Early Medieval Sandy Ware, dating to 1100-1400 AD. This follows the pattern of most of the Essex communities we’ve excavated test pits in, which generally do not produce pre-Norman material – unlike villages further north in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. None of the Daws Heath pits produced more than a single sherd of High Medieval pottery, which we would normally interpret as indicative of low-intensity use such as arable manuring rather than settlement. A similarly low intensity of finds of Late Medieval date suggests the same situation continued in 14th – 16th century, although there is at least no sign of any signficant drop in activity in the wake of the so-called ‘disastrous’ 14th century. Most of the pits also produced little post-medieval material either, suggesting that the settlement is of mostly relatively recent origin.
Many of the Daws Heath test pits did produce worked flint, however, suggesting this low-intensity use of the area was of very long standing. Perhaps the most memorable find was an unusual worked flint flake from Test Pit One which had been retouched along its ventral/concave side. Even more intriguingly, this was recovered from the top of a well-defined post hole, suggesting a structure of some sort was present in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. On the basis of the finds from the test pits so far, this may well have been the most substantial structure to be built in the area for the next three thousand years!
We will hope to return to Daws Heath next year, in order to see whether pre-modern occupatino is really as minimal as the 2013 test pits have indicated – or whether we have simply missed it so far…
In the meantime I’d like to thank all the school students and staff who worked so hard, and the residents of Daws Heath and the Hadleigh/Thundersleigh area who made us so welcome.