3. The Assessment

3.1 Introduction

The assessment of the West Heslerton Anglian Settlement Project has been undertaken over a relatively short period and has benefited from the computerised nature of the archive and its data management systems. The objective throughout has been to isolate potential areas of research, to identify parts of the archive which require enhancement, and to identify likely products of the post-excavation programme. In the case of the animal bone, the detailed processing of which has been partially undertaken by David Berg of the WYAS during the life of the project, the evidence has been pursued beyond that needed to ensure a valid assessment and even in this case the production of a further large body of material from the 1995 season means that more detailed recording will have to follow before analysis of this material can be concluded.

Although there were periods between the long excavation seasons during which basic archive checking took place, the small number of staff involved (no more than four), the quantities of new data generated each season and limitations of funding restricted post-excavation work to essential record checking, archive maintenance and digitising the hundreds of field drawings. With excavation usually continuing until the latest possible point in what had frequently to be extended field seasons, each season generated a small but not insignificant body of data which required work immediately following the excavation season.

Three project staff and a number of specialists were involved in the assessment process as detailed below. For the core staff, the principal objectives were for Christine Haughton to assess the finds and for Dominic Powlesland and James Lyall to assess the contexts and other parts of the archives, ensuring that they were sufficiently integrated and complete for the assessment to give a realistic series of objectives, and also to prepare work programmes that would bring the project to conclusion within an acceptable budget and schedule. James Lyall's dedicated work on the completion of the digital site plan has provided a key tool both for the assessment and for the future post-excavation programme.

The exceptional nature of the site and the relatively short time-scale of the assessment programme has introduced a number of problems which are particular to sites of this class. For the specialists the most difficult aspect has no doubt been the lack of detailed phasing; however, on sites of this type where the base level of knowledge is so low the phasing will, to a large extent, be a product of the analysis rather than form a framework upon which to hang it.

At the start of the project the detailed knowledge of the material culture and environmental association of Early Anglo-Saxon settlements was so limited as to be effectively non-existent; previous large excavations had either taken place before the advent of environmental archaeology or simply not produced the required material. At both West Stow and Mucking plant macrofossils were effectively absent from the record and, although substantial amounts of animal bone were recovered from West Stow, these remained unpublished at the start of the project. The state of knowledge is demonstrated by the fact that some of the West Heslerton ceramics were initially happily accepted by a number of specialists as belonging either to the Bronze or Iron Ages. The publication of the Mucking settlement report during the preparation of this assessment has raised a number of new questions regarding regional variation which require detailed attention.

The acute lack of parallels for the site as a whole, the minimal understanding of the ceramics and the lack of clearly dateable material has meant that, to a large extent, typologies have had to be built and dismantled as the project progressed, something that is clearly apparent in the archive. The site is a true 'Type-Site' in the traditional sense and amongst its major contributions will be the new understanding of the material culture of Early Anglo-Saxon settlement in general and of the North of England in particular, providing a sound foundation for future studies of the period. The only area to have received much academic attention in early Anglo-Saxon settlement studies in the preceding decade was concerned with the post-hole structures, with important contributions from Martin Millett, who was completing his study of the building tradition as this excavation began, and by Philip Dixon, who raised important questions relating to the Late Roman building tradition, a subject to which we will have to return in the analysis programme (Millett 1987/8; Dixon 1988). We have benefited greatly from the work of Heather Clemence, one of the excavation supervisors, who undertook a comparative analysis of the post-built structures at West Heslerton with the other published examples for an undergraduate thesis. The second largest group of Early Anglo-Saxon post-built structures after West Heslerton, are those from Mucking (Jones 1973; 1974; 1980; Hamerow 1993).

3.1.1 Data-sets and specialists

Structural and Contextual Specialist Cross-References
Post-hole Structures Dominic Powlesland /Heather Clemence 3.6.1 Post-Hole structures
Grubenhäuser Dominic Powlesland/James Lyall 3.6.2 The Grubenhäuser 
The Drawn Record James Lyall/Dominic Powlesland
The Context Record Dominic Powlesland
The Object Record Christine Haughton/Dominic Powlesland
Photographic and other archive materials Dominic Powlesland
Ceramics/Anglo-Saxon Christine Haughton 3.7.4 Anglo-Saxon Pottery 
Ceramics Petrology/Anglo-Saxon Alan Vince/Jane Young 4.10 Anglian Pottery Petrological Assessment 
Ceramics/Prehistoric Terry Manby 4.8 Prehistoric Ceramics Assessment 
Ceramics/Roman Barbara Davies/Maggie Darling 4.9 The Roman Pottery Assessment 
Coins (Roman) John Davies  4.15.3 Coins
Coins (Anglo-Saxon) ? 4.15.3 Coins
Metalwork Christine Haughton/Jane Cowgill/AML Finds submitted to the AML Copper alloy Iron Potential for the recovery of mineral-preserved organics Potential for metallurgical analysis
4.15.2 Copper Alloy
4.15.4 Iron
Worked bone Christine Haughton Finds submitted to the AML
4.15.1 Worked bone
Worked stone Christine Haughton Worked stone
4.15.5 Worked stone 
Glass and Amber Christine Haughton 3.7.9 Glass
4.15.6 Glass
4.15.7 Other materials 
Lithics Anne Clarke 4.13 Lithics Assessment 
Slags Jane Cowgill 4.11 The Slags and Metal-working Debris 
Animal bones David Berg 4.3 Faunal Remains Assessment 
Plant macrofossils Wendy Carruthers 4.1 Plant Macrofossils 
Charcoal Isobel Figueiral 4.2 Charcoal Assessment 
Soils Richard Macphail 4.4 Assessment of Soils 
Snails Annie Milles 4.5 Land Snails Assessment 
Coprolites Gordon Hill 4.6 Coprolite Assessment 
Pollen  David Weir 4.7 Pollen 
Dendrochronology Jennifer Hillam Dendrochronology

The data-set recovered from West Heslerton is large, well-documented and fully integrated and, although it will still be found to be lacking in some areas, mainly because of the rescue nature of its recovery, it offers a tremendous opportunity to answer a large number of fundamental questions in relation to Early Anglo-Saxon settlement as a whole.


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Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998