On Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st September 2014, sixteen test pits were dug by residents and local volunteers which, added to those dug in 2012, brings the total to 50 test pits. You can read about the first set of community test pit excavations, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Managing a Masterpiece project, on the ACA blog here and the full project report is available on the ACA website here.
This time, the excavations were supported by the Dedham Vale AONB, Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society, and the Nayland with Wissington Community Council. Andora Carver, Secretary of the Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society, coordinated the excavations by liaising with homeowners and recruiting volunteers. The base for the two days was her barn off Mill Street. Everyone initially met there for a briefing about the excavation procedure on the damp Saturday morning before dispersing to the test pit sites to warm up with some enthusiastic digging. Stour Valley Community Archaeology (SVCA) kindly lent out their equipment and many of their members volunteered to lend their expertise and muscle power over the weekend.
The test pits were scattered across the village and included sites on Harpers Hill, Laburnum Way, Bear Street and near the cemetary in the north-west of the village; and sites on Gravel Hill, Stoke Road, Mill Street and Fen Street in the north-east; and sites on Newlands Lane and nearby allotments, Court Street in the south-east.
Preliminary analysis of the 2014 pottery sherds seems to suggest that there is still little evidence of settlement prior to the 12th century AD in Nayland. Most of the test pits around Newlands Lane and Court Street produced High Medieval pottery as expected because the 2012 excavations had highlighted this area as the focus of settlement at that time. The pottery will be sent away for specialist analysis and the final report will be available on the webpage here soon.
A wall was found in one of the two test pits dug at Alston Court, which may be the remains of an earlier phase of the main house or possibly the foundations of a row of cottages thought to have existed nearby. Another interesting feature found in the test pits was a post-hole which turned up in the allotment gardens to the west of the main village, indicating the presence of an earlier structure in what is an open area today.
Test pit 10, off Newlands Lane, found the small figure of an, as yet, unidentified saint in the same context as a medal of St Gerard Majella, an 18th century Italian lay brother (both finds shown right against a 5cm scale). St Gerard Majella is the patron saint of expectant mothers and their unborn children, and fittingly, the other side of the medallion shows the virgin Mary with the child Jesus. The same test pit also produced a Nuremberg jeton, a mass-produced money counter. In 2012, another jeton was found during the excavations in Nayland, which indicates that the village was an important commercial centre during the early post-medieval period.
On Sunday afternoon, the finds were brought back to the base to be sorted by Cat Ranson, ACA’s archaeological supervisor, and John Newman, a Suffolk-based freelance archaeologist and pottery specialist. As in 2012, the small 1m2 holes produced a huge amount of building material – particularly tile – suggesting that past inhabitants of Nayland could afford to tile rather than thatch their roofs, and so avoid the latter’s associated fire risk. Once all of the finds and records were collected in, diggers and test pit hosts were then invited to have some well-deserved refreshments in Andora’s garden and Dr Carenza Lewis, ACA’s Director, gave a summary of the findings, with contributions from all those who had taken part.
ACA will be returning to Suffolk for another weekend of community test pit excavations next month for ‘the Big Dig’ in Sudbury on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October 2014.
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