North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society

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This is the process of walking the fields after they have been ploughed, harrowed, drilled and rolled. The object is to recover items buried in the soil that show themselves upon the surface.

It is essential that after the field has been drilled there is some substantial rainfall followed by a period of drying. This washes off the artefacts and then allows the soil to dry so that damage is not caused either to the field or any growing crops.

In past times the fields were manured or 'night-soiled' to increase fertility of the soil. The night-soil contained, amongst other things, human excrement, as there was no sewerage system, broken pottery and unwanted items(there was no refuse collection). So field-walking can recover these discarded items which can be dated and help us to understand past civilisations. In addition, hotspots of a certain type of pottery might be indication of an unknown settlement or dwelling. Field-walking can also recover accidentally dropped articles and secretly hidden articles, as in the Staffordshire Hoard.

Firstly, following the processing of the field, a base line is identified that can be 'fixed' at either end by measuring to a fixed point. Then a 10x10m grid system is set up using tapes and offsets so that the entire field is set out in 10x10m grid squares or part-squares should the field not be exactly rectangular. The grid corners are marked with garden canes. Then, typically, 4-6 people will walk over the area picking up everything of interest that they find within each square and placing these items in a uniquely marked bag. This allows 'hotspots' to be identified. The fixed baseline or datum line allows the grid squares to be set up again in exactly the same place should this be necessary to excavate an identified hotspot or feature.

Field-walking is generally one of the first stages of any landscape evaluation and a 'negative' result, that is where nothing of significance archaeologically is found, can be a 'result, just as if lots of dateable material is recovered.

We are trying to walk as many fields within the Parish boundary as we can. We have the permission of most, but not all Landowners, to conduct this survey on their land.

Once the bagged artefacts are collected up the contents are washed and dried maintaining the integrity of the contents of each bag. The items are then identified, catalogued and entered onto a Database.

We have access to a large field-walking team comprising members of the Society, residents, children from North Duffield Community Primary School, York University Students of the Department of Archaeology and members of York Archaeological Trust. There are also one or two members of other Universities, other Historical and Archaeological groups and  people from surrounding villages.

The 'Finds' Database has currently just short of 4,000 entries and a count of  over 6000 items.

Field-walking has resulted in the recovery of Roman, Norman, Medieval, Georgian and Post-Medieval/Modern artefacts, Our metal-detectorist has recovered metal artefacts from these same periods as well Roman coins and Saxon artefacts. So far, nothing earlier than Roman has been confirmed . However, what is believed to be flint 'cores' have been recovered and, if confirmed , would indicate the presence of pre-historic inhabitants. A flint core is the piece of flint that remains after flint tools have been 'struck' from a larger piece of flint, the preferred choice for stone implements.

We welcome new field-walkers to our number. It is an entertaining way of spending a day or part of a day. It is good exercise and you never know what you might find. Please get in touch if you would like to give it a try.

Local school children field walking

Field Walking 2009