As we entered September and our penultimate week of the 2016 season dawned we delved deeper into medieval deposits and worked hard to reach the bottom of our 19th century burials before the season’s end. Favoured with blue skies and great finds nearly all week, week 11 shaped up to be one of our best of the year. This was aided by the wonderful team of new and old trainees, of course!
Dan, having finally found those wayward skeleton legs last week, was finally recording his skeleton on Monday morning. The position of the skeleton meant that Dan spent a few days balancing like a ballerina on his toes to avoid stepping on the skeleton and the planning frame. We’ll make a prima ballerina out of him yet! Aided by our placement Matt, Dan was able to successfully compile his records while also looking into the later burials in his sequence to complete a rather large pile of paperwork that has been waiting to be finished since early this summer.
Alice, our trusted Contrary Corner Connoisseur, was joined in her final week by Liz, another of our American brethren that have ventured across the pond to excavate features older than the USA as a nation. The two made headway on one of the last burials in this most difficult area of site, starting the week by cleaning the 19th century grave cut Alice revealed last week by lifting a skeleton ready to be recorded. Alice, an old hand at burials at this point, was one of the best placed to aid Liz in her first experience of archaeology and the two continued their slow but steady work into the second burial throughout the week.
The burial itself was quite damaged due to being laid so closely beneath the first burial and the large amounts of stones in the backfill. Alice and Liz carefully, using clay modelling tools, managed to expose the burial while doing no further damage to the skeleton. The burial was a difficult feature and the girls did well- we’ll have to get these two back in the future!
This latest series of stacked burials further confirms that there are multiple layers of burials across site, meaning that in future excavations on site we will have to take into account that there is likely another burial underneath most of the ones already recorded.
This week was also the second week we were joined by Archaeology Live! regular, Jo! Jo spent last week cleaning and removing a dumping deposit in the hopes that we had an area clear of burials- this was not to be as Jo and Gilbert discovered an infant burial squeezed into the area. This week Jo was a lone wolf recording and lifting her infant burial- and she made a rather spectacular find as she did! We now have a notable trend of coins in infant burials and, much like an earlier burial, the two coins Jo excavated were discovered around the head. I imagine most people, including our trainees, are shouting about paganism right now and the Victorian obsession with the occult. Interestingly coins on the eyes (as this might represent) have never been truly proven to be an actual phenomenon within antiquity- coins in mouth? Yes. Coins on eyes? Very rare. Typically a payment to the ferryman of the River Styx, also known as Charon’s Obol, it is interesting to imagine that our 19th century parishioners were simply the latest people to perpetuate something of a myth.
Of course the coins deposition into the grave during the burial may have been a simpler, less grandiose gesture. We will never know for sure, but at the very least Jo found two coins and a little 19th century mystery (and mysticism). Whatever the truth of the matter, finds like these remind us of the depth of feeling associated with the burial of a loved one; something that has changed little over the centuries.
You would think finding two coins would have been the peak for Jo, but no! Jo finished the week with a hat trick of coins after she unearthed a Roman coin later in the week. Probably a nummus, these coins were low in value at the time that when they were dropped and not everyone would have bothered to pick them back up. To us though, they are practically invaluable, adding evidence to the theory that somewhere below our feet there is some very juicy archaeology. Well done Jo!
New starters, and sisters, Emma and Katie were thrown headfirst into some medieval archaeology in the Rectory area of site. The two are investigating a series of pits and levelling deposits and slowly uncovered a medieval cobble layer with finds indicative of a 12th century date. After lots of trowelling , a dark layer began to appear beneath an orange clay deposit that hasn’t seen daylight in eight or nine centuries. Though our sondage into the corner of the rectory is small, its depth has led Katie and Emma to some difficult digging positions. Despite this, we have managed to make good headway into a snapshot of pre-rectory, earlier medieval archaeology.
The girls will continue these investigations next week as they continue to dig themselves further into the past…
Our other new inductees, Lynne and Sophia, spent the week trying to establish if there were any new burials at ‘This End’ of the site. They began by finishing off a grave cut for what could possibly be on the last burials in the area, ‘unlocking’ the earlier archaeology. Next it was time for the most important part of archaeology- CLEANING! Lynne and Sophia did a wonderful job at lightly troweling the entire area so that we could see if any more features (or grave cuts) were visible or if we were dealing with a large deposit that covered the area- either an earlier grave yard soil or something that pre-dates the graveyard. So far the latter seems to be holding true and the two began to record and remove a pre-graveyard layer in the hope we would finally uncover a construction cut for the Rectory.
And Lo!, after a momentous amount of planning, Lynne and Sophia removed some of their dumping layer to reveal an edge parallel with the rectory walls. Though they were disappointed that they wouldn’t get to dig the construction backfill themselves they have laid to rest one of the missing pieces of the rectory stratigraphy.
This week also saw the return of one our Italian stars, Federica, who once again took to burial excavation with both gusto and delicacy. She made handy work at finishing an infant burial and starting on an adult coffin stain but the true crowning moment of the week was the recovery of a piece of a medieval or Viking comb. The finds just kept coming this week!
We also had a contingent of eager tasters this week as well who were busy excavating some of the spaces between our myriad burials. However, in Amy’s case, she discovered a burial anyway- much like Jo last week we should have sensed that if there was a big enough space, they would fill it.
Later in the week Dan and Alex exposed a tile and rubble dump that may actually be the upper fill of a pit. The two carefully exposed the tiles and stones so we could get the best possible picture and plan for our records.
It was a busy week of finds washing under the Tree of Finds led by our placement Lori and we had our usual assortment of pottery, CBM, animal bone and assorted iron objects.
Find of the week is practically impossible to decide, because we had so much success this week but find-er of the week has to go to Jo for three coins and an enormous rabbit burrow- we know she’s blonde but we nearly took the Alice in Wonderland reference too far by falling in.
It’s been a great week and we head into the final week of the 2016 excavation it’s great to see how much the site has changed even in this small space of time. Now look at the picture of us all smiling and happy… Here’s to the last week!
Thanks to all the team!