North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society

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EXPLORING THE IRON AGE


From 21st July to 27th July 2012, inclusive, Archaeology North Duffield(AND) staged their first ever true archaeological 'dig' in a field to the  North of the village.


The event was entered into the Festival of British Archaeology-a series of Nationwide events brought together by the Council for British Archaeology.

To finance this Project , AND has received Heritage Lottery Funding to investigate the local  historical landscape


Aerial photographs had shown indications in the crops of  several round features and what appeared to be numerous linear ditches: one such ditch cut the field in two about halfway along its length and running in roughly an East West direction.

The 'dig' was run with the invaluable assistance and guidance of Dr Jon Kenny, Community Archaeologist and Hannah Baxter, both archaeologists with York Archaeological Trust.


In the first instance, a geophysical survey of parts of the field  was conducted using both Resistivity and Magnetometry. The latter proved inconclusive but, the former showed clear indications of the long linear 'ditch'. A second attempt at Resistivity  to locate the larger of the three round features failed when the Resistivity meter was found to be malfunctioning. An exercise in triangulation using permanent features in the landscape was therefore used to pinpoint  three features for investigation: the large round 'hut-circle', the long linear ditch and what appeared to be a junction of two short ditches and a two-sided adjacent feature. It was possible to locate, roughly all these features using intersecting lines between four or more fixed points. All three points of investigation were therefore marked out.


A local resident with considerable digger-driving experience volunteered to drive the farmers JCB to remove the turf of the three trenches and as much of the top plough-soil as possible without interfering with the undisturbed 'natural' soil beneath.


Over the first day of the 'dig' a team of volunteers, which included two students on 'placement', a number of archaeologists, ex-archaeologists and archaeologists in training, members of AND both with and without digging experience  and visitors from as far afield as Huddersfield and York worked hard to remove the topsoil.


The 'natural' sub-soil turned out to be glacial sand impregnated with 'iron-pan'( iron deposits much like rust which forms at a point below where the plough can reach). The removal of the plough-soil left after the digger departed was heavy work and caused not a few beads of sweat. During the course of the day we received quite a few visitors, including a number of children, who came to see what was happening and, in a number of cases, got the chance to have a go at being an archaeologist by digging with us.


Once we had cleared off the top-soil in the three trenches, many features were disclosed-evident by soil/silt intrusion into the sand. Some of these appeared to be drainage ditches, both old and more recent; other light linear marks in the sand were interpreted as plough-scrapes, where the plough had penetrated lower than normal through the plough-soil. All these features had to be investigated to establish  what they were. We did find the linear ditch in Trench 1, we did not find the round 'hut-circle' in Trench 2 nor the strange features seen in the crop-marks in Trench 3.


We subsequently extended Trench 2 which resulted in a slight soil discolouration being seen in the SE corner which, we hoped, was the outer perimeter of the 'hut-circle'. We again extended Trench 2, after investigating all the revealed features, to both West and East. At long last we uncovered a large round feature, too large, in fact, to be a hut-circle and now believed to be a 'ring-ditch of estimated 30m diameter


We recovered a great many stones which are something of an enigma. They are of sandstone and have been examined by John Hickson, a geologist, who confirms that they are Sherwood sandstone which underlies North Duffield at some several meters depth . It is likely that they were deposited at the end of the last Great Ice Age, 12,000 years ago, as the glaciers retreated, dumping their loads of stones picked up on their travels South. There is no known local outcrop of Sherwood sandstone, the nearest being at


We also found pottery which comprised 13 sherds of Iron Age [pottery to a total weight of 191.56gms and three sherds of Roman pottery: 1 piece of pottery similar to Holme-on-Spalding Moor grey ware , one grey ware handle and 1 sherd of calcite gritted ware (2-3C AD) Our thanks to Tony Austin of York University for identifying these items for us.

 

A lot of the bureaucracy of a 'dig' is never seen on Time Team; meticulous photographs of every stage, recording of features, drawing of plans, collecting samples, collecting 'finds', excavation of every feature whether it is thought to be man-made or natural, washing and drying of finds before cataloguing etc etc.

Both Saturday and Sunday resulted in plenty of visitors and roughly 25 volunteer diggers each day. Inevitably, the number dropped during the week, but, we still had up to 15 volunteers each day. Without them and all their hard work we would have struggled to complete the 'dig'. As it was, we felt able to open a fourth Trench to confirm the continuity of the linear ditch and to recover more dating evidence in the form of pottery.


Oh, and we found a skeleton in the extension to Trench 2. Sadly it was of a sheep, perhaps two sheep, but the bones were badly eroded suggesting that the soil is acidic. No other bone of any kind was found in any of the Trenches, which is quite unusual as we have turned up many in field-walking.


So we achieved all our aims: we found and confirmed the existence of the  ditch and circular feature, we obtained dating evidence, we successfully completed quite a large-scale dig, pulled together a large team of professional, in-training, would-be  and amateur archaeologists and, all-in-all had a wonderful, if tiring time.


Thanks to everyone who took part, be they diggers or visitors(or both). A further Report is in production and will be released shortly.


Crop-mark indications

Jon Kenny briefs the diggers

Geoff Helstrip removes the turf and topsoil, supervised by  Dr Jon Kenny

The image of the ring-ditch appears in the sand

Iron Age pottery

The compulsory ‘end-of-dig’ photo