Excavations at Burrow House Farm, Cottam, 1993 and 1995

93.1 - Excavations | 93.3 - Excavations | 95 - Excavations | Finds database


Figure 38: Aerial view of 1993 excavations
1993 Excavations

Two seasons of excavation were carried out west of Burrow House Farm, from 5 July - 13 August 1993, and 10 - 31 July 1995. In 1993 the excavations were co-directed by the author and Blaise Vyner; the 1995 excavations were directed by the author. Both excavations were carried out under the auspices of the Department of Archaeology, University of York, and the excavation team mainly comprised students from the University. In 1993 three trenches, each 10 x 20m, were machine-stripped in the area of the sub-rectangular crop-mark enclosure, although subsequently only two were excavated, site codes COT93.1 and COT93.3. These trenches were within Area 1 of the geophysical survey. In 1995 a single area, site code COT95, 20 x 50m, was excavated, c.200m to the north of the 1993 excavation. This trench lay within Area 2 of the geophysical survey. The aims of both seasons were to:

In both seasons the ploughsoil was removed by JCB mechanical excavator, to a depth at which the weathered chalk bedrock began to show, generally 0.2-0.3m below the present ground surface. The surfaces were then cleaned with hand tools and features were defined, planned and excavated. All features and deposits were given single context numbers, following the recording system adopted by the York Environs Project (itself based on the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service pro forma sheets). Numbers were assigned in blocks, with contexts 1000-1131 for COT93.1, 3000-3170 for COT93.3, and 4000-4311 for COT95. As far as possible all soil from excavated features was sieved at 0.01m and the volume of soil was recorded. In addition, samples were taken from most contexts and flotation was carried out on site. Three-dimensional coordinates were recorded for the find spots of all ceramic and metal finds recovered from features and occupation layers. Other finds were labelled by context. All trenches were divided into 10m grid squares for planning purposes. Grid squares were planned at 1:20 after cleaning; sections were drawn at 1:10.

Separate level III reports (Digital archive>COT93.1, COT93.3 and COT95>) were compiled for each trench, based solely on the stratigraphic sequence, but in the account which follows an attempt has been made to create a single integrated interpretive sequence. Nonetheless, only one feature was identified which ran between sites COT93.1 and COT93.3 making it difficult to link them, and there was little vertical stratigraphy throughout the excavations. COT95 was entirely separate although on the basis of the artefactual evidence there are grounds for considering that most of the archaeological features are later than those encountered in COT93.

All features have been assigned to four broad site-wide phases:

Period I: Natural and periglacial features

Throughout the site the earliest features formed no obvious pattern. They are interpreted as the result of natural periglacial activity or animal and root disturbance. The fact that many tended to be concentrated in areas where the natural chalk was more easily dug might suggest that they were the remains of animal burrows, although these may have resulted from the initial exploitation of root hollows. The ages of these features are uncertain but it is likely that many are of considerable antiquity and all have been grouped together as Period I features for the sake of convenience. Other features assigned to Periods II and III may also have been natural in origin but they have been interpreted as archaeological, either because they contained finds, or because they appear to form a patterned distribution.

Each of these Period I features was generally less than 0.2m in depth, and each was cut into the chalk bedrock. The fills were predominantly of a distinctive clean orange brown silty clay and apart from occasional surface finds they were archaeologically sterile. On the surface it was often difficult to distinguish these from post-holes, although excavation revealed that they lacked regular sides or flat bases, contained no evidence of packing, and did not generally contain any finds. They also tended to be concentrated in areas where the natural took the form of weathered 'pea-grit' chalk or chalk gravel.

Period IIA: Anglian Phase A

Within the excavated areas no structural features can be assigned to a date earlier than the Anglian period, broadly eighth - ninth century AD. During the first phase of Anglian activity fragmentary traces of two timber structures, Buildings 1 and 2, and a number of other pits and post-holes were recovered from COT93.1 and 93.3. Traces of a shallow ditch with internal post-holes along the west edge of COT93.1 suggest that these structures were built within a small fenced enclosure. No features from COT95 were assigned to this phase.

Period IIB: Anglian Phase B

By the beginning of the next phase of activity the Phase A buildings had been demolished and the enclosure fence had been removed. A more substantial enclosure boundary ditch was now constructed, cutting through the remains of Building 1. During the course of Phase B this ditch was recut at least once. No traces of buildings were identified in COT93.1 during this phase, although there were a number of pits, including one containing a human female skull. In COT93.3 there was a possible trench and post-in-trench timber structure, Building 3, and a number of associated features, including a corn drier. There was still no occupation within COT95 but a number of field boundaries and associated ditches have been assigned to this phase and represent the first traces of human activity identified in COT95. The finds from the backfilling of this phase, recovered from COT93.1 and 93.3 date its end to the second half of the ninth century AD.

Period III: Anglo-Scandinavian

COT93.1 and COT.93.3 appear to have been abandoned by the late ninth and early tenth century AD but in COT95 Period III was marked by the laying out of a number of enclosures. Geophysical survey has revealed the full extent of several of these, but parts of two were within the excavated area, separated by a north-south trackway. The area to the south end of COT95 appears to have been left open, outside the enclosures, but massive incurving ditches, on both sides of the excavation, formed either side of a substantial entrance way. The trackway led north into the interior of the farmstead, and each side was marked by much smaller ditches. To the east was a large sub-rectangular enclosure, apparently without any internal structures, and interpreted as a stock enclosure. To the west was a second enclosure; although most of it was beyond the edge of excavation, several post-holes suggest the presence of timber structures. The trackway led to the north end of the site where a concentration of post-holes suggests that there were several phases of timber buildings.

Period IV: Medieval and modern

Finally a number of features provide evidence for medieval and modern agricultural practices.

93.1 - Excavations | 93.3 - Excavations | 95 - Excavations | Finds database


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Tue May 15 2001