Appendix 2: Environmental Archaeology Assessment

Introduction | Methods | Results | Discussion | Recommendations

Appendix 2.3 Results

The majority of the samples produced a certain amount of recent material, specifically worm egg cases and modern rootlets, with several samples producing uncharred seeds of Rubus sp. (bramble), Chenopodium sp. (goosefoots), Urtica sp. (nettles) and occasional insects. Since none of the samples produced any evidence for waterlogging, all this material is deemed to be intrusive and indicates a low level of contamination as a result of biological activity in the soil. The upper windblown sands sampled in the column sample show evidence of small mammal burrows, and lower down this sequence a small pebble and grit layer seems likely to reflect an earthworm-generated 'pea grit' horizon, further evidence of disturbance caused by biological activity in the soil. Root penetration and occasional uncharred seeds are evident throughout the column sample, indicating some disturbance down to 0.9m depth.

Appendix 2.3.1 Trench AA

The Grubenhäuser fills produced a fairly characteristic suite of debris composed of pottery, animal bone, hammerscale and occasional fragments of fired earth. A bone pin tip was recovered from context 57 in Grubenhaus 1 and a single bone comb tooth from Grubenhaus 2. The sampled deposits in Grubenhaus 1 are finer textured than those in Grubenhäuser 2 and 3, with contexts 30, 38 and 49 in Grubenhaus 3, including over 20% flint and chalk. These latter deposits suggest a backfill or dump component rather than slow infilling by fine sediments from the topsoil or the breakdown of turves used in the construction of the Grubenhäuser (suggested by Dominic Powlesland), although the source of such turves may have impacted on the composition of these deposits. Powlesland notes the occurrence of Iron Age pottery within the fills of these Grubenhäuser, interpreting these as deriving from turves used in the construction of the Grubenhäuser, and this prejudices to some extent the finds from the samples, since their contemporaneity with the Saxon occupation cannot be proved. Some of the animal bone, the charred cereals and even the hammerscale could conceivably derive from these proposed turves rather than from rubbish discarded into the Grubenhäuser after they went out of use. The relative proportions of Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon pottery in the deposits is likely to be the best indicator of this residual component and should give us an idea of how reliable the environmental assemblages are as Anglo-Saxon samples.

Assuming for the moment the contemporaneity of the bulk of the material from the samples with the Anglo-Saxon occupation, the hammerscale indicates that iron-smithing is associated with the settlement, although flake density is too low for this activity to have been taking place in the immediate vicinity.

The bones include both domestic remains and wild vertebrates, the latter including water vole, field vole, shrew, mole, newt, frog/toad and house mouse, although the latter must have been associated with the buildings and habitation on the site. These, with the few snails from these fills (Table 5), suggest a fairly open landscape in the immediate vicinity of the Grubenhäuser. Sheep/goat bones occur most frequently of the domestic species, with cattle also fairly frequent, but pig, horse and dog occur in less than 20% of the samples.

Charred plant remains are more abundant in Grubenhäuser 1 and 2, than in 3. This may result from the manner of filling and be associated with the relatively high coarse component in Grubenhaus 3, which of course leaves less matrix for charred grain and other seeds to be incorporated, or could represent a more rapid filling. Despite much larger samples, the density of charred grain and weed seeds is appreciably lower in Grubenhaus 3. Chaff is almost absent from the Anglo-Saxon samples, but since the chaff of barley – the most frequent cereal in the Grubenhäuser (Table 9) – is particularly fragile, its absence may not be significant. Barley grains occur in 16 of the samples, while spelt and oats are only recorded in three, and hazelnut shells in one. Spelt wheat is a typical Iron Age and Roman crop, and, although it continues to be cultivated into the Anglo-Saxon period, its occurrence in these deposits could result from derivation from the turves, suggested as the possible origin for the Iron Age pottery. Few weed seeds occur in the flots and apart from those taxa noted in Table 4, no further identification was carried out for this assessment. None of the flots is particularly large, and charcoal is not very abundant.

Appendix 2.3.2 Trench AB and other possible cremation samples

Three bulk samples and a series of 19 samples taken to test for cremation evidence were collected from this trench, and a further five samples from Trenches AA and AC were also tested for cremation evidence (Table 5). All these samples were relatively small. A few produced ceramics, four a little fired earth, several produced fragments or pieces of 'building stone', and all produced bone, some of which was burnt. Much of the unburnt bone could be attributed to domestic species, or wild birds and small vertebrates (Table 5). None of the burnt bone was attributed to human at this stage, but someone experienced in studying cremated human bone may be able to recognise human material among the fragments. The identified bone from the samples included sheep/goat, neonate pig, small bird, house mouse, field vole, rodent, frog and toad. The bulk samples produced flots that included charred barley grains, a probable charred legume and a hazelnut shell fragment, but the flots from the smaller cremation samples have not yet been studied. The charcoal-rich layer in a pit within one of the barrow ditches has produced the largest flot from the site and is the only sample to include sufficient charcoal to warrant any further study.

The animal bone and occasional charred cereal grain and hazelnut shell suggest that, despite this trench being over a cemetery, there is still some domestic settlement rubbish entering the deposits, or material is being re-worked from settlement activity in the area prior to its use as a cemetery.

Appendix 2.3.3 Trench AC

Three bulk samples and a column of samples were taken in this trench. The bulk samples from a deposit, 101, at the north end of the trench and within a ring-ditch, 106, produced pottery and animal bone, and the latter sample a little fired earth. The bones included fragments of horse, sheep/goat, house mouse, shrew, vole and frog/toad, and barley, oats and spelt wheat are present in the flots. The ring-ditch fill includes part of the skeleton of a lamb.

The column of samples through the ditch section produced pottery in most fills and animal bone in all. Other finds were very limited, although a little fired earth and two flakes of hammerscale were recovered. There is a general tendency for the >7mm component of the residue to decrease upwards, suggesting progressively less bank erosion and more silting or sand blow in the fills. The top two sample residues greater than 1.0mm represented less than 4% by weight of the total sample, while this residue fraction for the basal sample in the ditch comprised nearly a third (32%) of the total sample by weight.

The column samples produced fragments of cattle, sheep/goat and chicken bone, and charred hazelnut shell, and ?barley and ?oat grains. The small vertebrates include field vole, water vole, house mouse, ?yellow necked mouse (the identification to Apodemus flavicollis is based upon the large size of the specimen) and frog/toad. Charred cereal grain was present in all but one sample, with the greatest density, at 1.4 grains per litre sediment, occurring 15 centimetres above the base of the ditch. The few charred remains appear to be concentrated in samples 2-4 from the base and samples 9-13 25cm further up the fills. While this distribution does not precisely mirror the pottery finds, in combination these data suggest two episodes of filling when the finds concentrations are higher, perhaps reflecting more activity or disturbance in the area.

Although four samples were taken for pollen from the bases of the two ditches sectioned in Trench AC, these have not yet been studied and may well be devoid of pollen or contain only heavily degraded and biased assemblages. In the absence of these data only the snail shells afford some information on the local environment of the site. The snails in the column sample have been preliminarily identified, but not quantified (Table 8). Shell density was low throughout the column, with shells absent from the upper two samples. Shell numbers are too low to consider any changes through the sequence, but shells of freshwater snails occur in the basal 0.6m of the fills. These include taxa associated with small bodies of water, running water, and marshes and ditches which tend to dry up (Macan 1977). These suggest that the ditch contained standing water for much, if not all, of the year during its early phases of infilling and may have contained flowing water on some occasions. The terrestrial molluscs, although limited in number, include only taxa of catholic and open country habitats, suggesting that throughout the period the ditch was infilling the immediate area was probably an open grassland environment. There are no taxa characteristic of shaded or woodland habitats. This latter may even suggest that the ditches were not accompanied by hedges but the sample sizes are too small for any confident interpretation.


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