Well, it’s all over now – our last dig for Managing a Masterpiece, as this amazing Heritage Lottery Funded project along the Suffolk/Essex border comes to an end. Although of course the end of the digging is never the end of a dig, as we move into post-excavation mode, getting specialist reports on the finds, putting them into context and using all this to draw our final conclusions about what the features we’ve unearthed are, and what they can tell us about the history of the site.
ACA Archaeological Supervisor Cat Ranson takes a few moments early on Sunday morning before volunteers arrive for a quiet think about the archaeology in Trench A and to make plans for the final day’s digging
In Trench C it’s now clear that the intermittent feature showing on the geophysical survey which we thought might be a double ditch is in fact just that – intermittent. Although we’ve only excavated a narrow – 2m wide – slice across it, in both places the features are actually large, deep approximately round pits, NOT a continuous ditch. These pits have no burnt material in them, and very few finds, and those that have been retrieved are mostly undateable bone, but while a few distincly Roman-looking potshreds have been recovered from them, so have others which look medieval, so it seems as if the pits are medieval. There was much animated discussion in the trench today as to their function, and this is no surprise, as pits can be difficult to understand, not least because (especially in a small trench) it can be well-nigh impossible to work out how to join up these dots into a meaningful pattern (or indeed whether they should be joined up at all). Pits are most commonly interpreted as being cess pits or rubbish pits, but the small number of finds and the very inorganic fill from the pits in Trench C make this seem unlikely. Other explanations offered by archaeologists for pit funtions range from water tanks to pig-fattening pens(!) (presumably an early example of a pig in a poke). And of course, post pits. It is plausible that the Trench C pits held very large posts, supporting the roof of a large structure such as an aisled barn or residential hall – at more than 1m in diameter they are on the large side for this, but it’s certainly not impossible. Giving some support to this is the distance between the two lines of pits, which is about 6m, and also that there is a narrow continuous shallow slot on the far (outer?) side of the putative building, which may be a drip gully or a base plate slot. The surface between the two lines of pits is a very clean uniform clay surface, which may be natural or alternatively a building floor surface. The building hypothesis seems weakened by the paucity of finds, although many medieval buildings were actually kept very clean so, again, it’s not impossible and, on balance, at the moment a building it seems the most likely explanation – although by no means certain. (We’ll think about this one a bit more when we have the specialist reports back…) What certainly is clear is that the pits are cutting through an earlier feature, probably a shallow ditch of Roman date, hence the residual Roman pottery.
In Trench B the bottom of ditch remained just beyond reach, but the excavation here has served its purpose of dating the period when the ditch was open, and being actively filled, showing this to be contemporary with the medieval activity, including the ovens, in Trench A. Although even in Trench B, there is another pit, which may be Roman.
Work in Trench A today focussed mainly on recording the large number of features which have been found there. Excavation of the pig and cleaning up the sections adjacent to it reinforced the suggestion made yesterday that it predates the use of the medieval ovens, and may well be Roman. Buried articuated pigs are a fairly unusual find, in any period. This appears to be a youngish animal, and possibly female.
Section adjacent to the pig burial (top of image), showing a shallow black sooty medieval depression cutting down just ot one side of the pig skeleton. The layer the pig is was entirely free of any soot, charcoal, ash or cinders – and also free of any pottery whcih could date it, rather frustratingly…
Cat and Aldous are last to come off site, as they finish discussing the final recording of one of the ovens
By the end of the afternoon crowds of dozens of interested visitors had turned up to find out what had been found. It all made for a great end to a very enjoyable, very exciting dig. With some really special finds (I particularly liked the cloth-impressed clay oven wall fragment) and several mysteries to get everyone thinking, all in beatuful countriside, it had something for everyone.
There has been so much interest and enthusiasm generated by the archaeological projects we’ve run in the Stour Valley for Managaing a Masterpiece that there is considerable interest in setting up a group to carry this on in this area. If you’ve been involved in these and would like to carry on – or even if you haven’t been, but wish you had – then do get in touch with ACA. We will be helping set up a meeting to see if this can get off the ground. Perhaps we’ll even be able to come back to Goldingham for another dig next year…
Thanks again, finally, to Ashley Cooper, and the memory of Harold Cooper, without whom this dig would never have happened.