OUSE AND DERWENT PROJECT

In 2016 planning started once again. This time we had Paul Durdin on board as one of the professional archaeologists- he had been an archaeology student volunteering in 2013 and 2014- and Jon Kenny retained for a further three years. In addition we had the services of John Phillips, a professional film maker as it was our intention to include film and filmed sketches this time. Once again the round of planning meetings and discussions until I finally submitted a pre-application which received, what we regarded, as positive feedback. A full application was submitted in 2017 and, wonder of wonders, we had been successful again, this time to the tune of £79,400.

Our project this time was almost wholly archaeologically based. We had answered serious archaeological questions with our earlier work and also demonstrated that we had the expertise and volunteer workforce to undertake a much more complicated and wide-ranging investigation. This time we extended south to Hemingbrough and north to Wheldrake whilst retaining our continued interest in North Duffield. The whole area is encompassed by the rivers Ouse to the west, the Derwent to the east and, with both rivers meeting in the south at Barmby-on-the-Marsh forming a roughly shield shape with York slightly offset at the top.

Permission had been obtained from three landowners: Site 1 at North Duffield was on Hugh Field Lane and I had been interested in this site from the start because there was what appeared to be a double ditched trapezoidal shaped enclosure containing a roadhouse ring ditch equally as big as the one we excavated at Park House Farm in our earlier project. In fact, the two roundhouses are only 300 meters apart; Site 2 was at West End Farm, Wood Hall just outside Hemingbrough and my attention had been drawn to this by excavations ahead of clay extraction at a quarry in Hemingbrough which had revealed an industrial Iron Age site; Site 3 was at Hard Moor Farm, Wheldrake mainly because the landowner is a friend of Jon Kenny and Jon has had a continued interest in the area of Wheldrake Woods.

The intention, weather and crop patterns permitting was to excavate these three sites in the order 2,1,3. Due to the fact that we needed to conduct one excavation in each of the three years of the project and we had to take into account possible bad weather in future years, it was necessary to conduct our first dig at Hemingbrough in the autumn of 2017. Advertisements went out and our usual trusty volunteers turned up together with a strong group of both post graduate and student archaeologists from York University.

The dig took place from 30th September to 14th of October. In total, in excess of 80 people volunteered for the excavation, not, of course, all at the same time. We had a small disaster in that the large marquee, the small marquee and the toilet tent all blew down in the first few days in high winds overnight, the large marquee damaged beyond repair. I was able to repair the small marquee and we had to hire a marquee commercially which was expensive. I bought a new toilet tent and in time repaired the old one.

This image shows the damage- the marquee has been moved sideways by 10m

The geophysics for the site was remarkable, Due to the fact that we had been badly let down by the company from whom we had intended to buy the magnetometer, we were obliged to hire one.

This image shows the magnetometer data. We decided to put trial trenches over the black and white feature (top left), the feature top centre, the linear ditch, and two roundhouse ring ditches. We also put in another trench to check for a doorway and continuity of the ring ditch.

The black and white dipole response in the top left corner, Trench 1, eventually turned out to be two buried oil drums! But, in the trench we found a number of pre-historic ditches and recovered Iron Age pottery, animal bones and iron slag. The feature in the top centre of the above image, Trench 2, contained a roundhouse ring ditch, a post hole and a prehistoric ditch. We recovered Iron Age and Roman pottery, iron slag and bone from this trench.  We also recovered a ‘pot lid’ which still causes discussion as to its real purpose. The linear ditch, Trench 3, revealed several ditches, some fairly modern and some ancient field boundaries, but also a Roman ditch dated from  pottery it contained.  We also recovered animal bone. Trench 4 was over the most easterly of the two roundhouses we investigated. We confirmed the existence of the ring ditch and several post holes or post pads and recovered a good quantity of Iron Age pottery and further animal bone. Trench 6 was opened to look for the doorway of this roundhouse. We did not find a doorway but we did confirm the continuity of the ring ditch and discover a prehistoric ditch. The ditches contained late Iron Age pot and animal bone.

This item has been described at a loom weight or pot lid.


This weight has been variously considered to be a thatch, loom or fishing net weight. It is made of poorly fired clay, has a hole through the top, is pyramidal in shape and has a grove either worn or made in the narrow end near the hole.

The above item was one of two complete weights recovered from the site together with parts of further similar weights. In addition fired clay, possibly from the walls of a roundhouse or kiln lining, animal bones and granulated deposits that may turn out to be either bog iron or iron pan.

Interestingly, when soil samples were later processed, hammerscale was found to be present. This is created when iron is being ‘worked’ by beating with a hammer and bits of metal fly off. So it is highly likely that iron was being both smelted and forged on site.

A few pieces of worked flint were recovered, thought to be of Mesolithic date.

Trench 5 was the most exciting in that it contained the ring ditches of two roundhouses, together with the doorway terminals and a deep Roman ditch. There were also some post holes and some post pads. Finds from this trench were Middle and Late Iron Age pot and Roman Pot.

Due to the cost of the hire of the magnetometer we decided to hire one for two weeks in 2018 and survey both sites 1 and 3. Site one presented some amazing results.

Not only does it show the double ditched trapezoidal enclosure but, it contains at least 9 roundhouse ring ditches plus others about the site, a possible drove-way and maybe another double ditched trapezoidal enclosure to the south containing more roundhouse ring ditches. Sitting on top could be a building and probably of later date.

When we carried out the survey at Hard Moor Farm we did not get encouraging results. We could see some ditches but the ring ditch was unclear. However, there did appear to be the footprint of a building across a hedge line and not respecting that hedge-line. No building is shown on the first series OS map of 1852 although the hedge- line is shown.

Google maps image of site overlain with geophysics data

Since this site did not appear to meet our research agenda, permission was sought from HLF to look for another site. Two other sites have been identified and permission from the landowners obtained. We plan to survey both sites before we decide which one meets our research questions. In the meantime, we resolved to investigate Site 3 with a limited excavation. At the end of May 2018 we opened up three small trenches, later followed by two more.

Trench 1 was in the general area of where the ring ditch was thought to be. In fact, a linear ditch, visible in the geophysics and crop marks,  was confirmed as being of an Iron Age date from which pottery was recovered and one rather nice flint tool which has yet to be officially identified.

Trench 2 was a little speculative as it was based upon a very large piece of iron slag or bog iron visible on the surface at the very edge of a ditch. The lump returned a weight of 6.9kgs. On excavation, we discovered a curving ditch which may be a ring ditch and this contained more iron slag, Iron Age pottery and some flint. This was not apparent in crop marks. We also found what may be kiln lining.

Trench 3 was opened over the geophysics anomaly that we thought might be a building. It turned out to be an enclosure ditch and Trench 5 was opened to confirm this. The enclosure was possibly 15m across and contained a lot more iron slag including what looks very much like kiln lining and plenty of big rim sherds of Iron Age pottery.

Given the amount of iron slag we recovered and the possible kiln lining, it seems likely that there is a kiln somewhere nearby. We have not sent the iron slag for analysis as yet and will send it with any that we find at our dig in North Duffield later in 2018 to save money.

Trench 4 was opened on the Sunday mainly because we had too many volunteers for the remaining work that needed doing given that Trench 1 had been completed. This trench and Trench 2 were really hard work due to a thick overlay of clay, nevertheless there were some significant finds.

The site has dated, on the ceramic finds, to the period from Middle Iron Age 300BC to the early Roman period 2-3rdC AD.

In addition to the ceramic assemblage, already mentioned iron slag et al were recovered, three flint tools and a flint core, some bone of which some was burnt and charcoal. No assessment of these other fabrics has been undertaken in an effort to save on cost. They will be included with whatever finds are produced by the dig in North Duffield later in 2018.

Apart from the archaeology element of the Ouse and Derwent Project we plan to create a filmed record of the day-to-day events and hold workshops around the district on subjects of interest to local groups and individuals. Our film producer, John Phillips and Jon Kenny have been working with a group of adults with disabilities known as York People First, to create sketches illustrating the Iron Age. This is well under way and it is intended to have a film showing at the end of the Project as well as releasing some items on Social Media.

Whilst on the subject of Social Media, this has been used as the main method of choice to disseminate information on progress of the Project and advertising future events. It has proved a very efficient and effective way to reach out to the community.

Workshops have, so far, been at North Duffield Village Hall – OASIS recording system of reporting archaeological activities, Wheldrake Village Hall- Geophysical Survey and Riccall Regen Centre- Desk Based Survey (research into previous intelligence on each of the three sites). It is planned to hold further workshops on Osteology) study of bone), optical luminescence (a new dating method based on when the object was least subjected to heat), finds washing and analysis, smelting of iron demonstration followed by smithing of the resultant ‘bloom’ at Sheffield, photography and Information Technology in archaeology, ceramic identification, use of geographical information systems (Lidar etc) and Life in the Iron Age.

Our staff will visit local school delivering lessons on the Iron Age and allowing children to visit one of the excavation sites. We are also continuing to work with our previous partners in delivering opportunities to groups and individuals disadvantaged by disability and conditions that otherwise would preclude them from taking part in activities. This is, indeed, a very important part of our remit to be inclusive in all that we do. We are currently working with adults with learning and physical disabilities, the profoundly deaf and those on the Autism Spectrum and we look forward to running courses to back up visits to one or more of the digs.

Finally, when all the elements of the Project have been completed, we will be making reports to the Heritage Environment Record and the Archaeological Data Service as well as archaeological journals and giving presentations to local groups.

For this project we created and used a digital Context Card based on the use of a tablet. For the dig at Hemingbrough we backed everything up on paper but, when that worked faultlessly, all future excavations went paperless. We are happy to make this process available to other groups. Just email us for further details.