Chacombe Community Archaeology - Berry Close
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(Thanks to Geoff Jones (GJ) for some of the photographs.)
in 2014 I was approached by Ian Williams and Geoff Jones, two
individuals with a strong interest in the field known as Berry Close
which lies next to the church in Chacombe. All empty fields next to
churches are interesting and it was clear from the earthworks in the
field that something special was happening here. An entry into the
archaeology of the site was offered when it was decided to erect a
large stone monument to the donor who gave the field to the people of
Chacombe. A condition of the planning was that the seating for the
stone should be investigated archaeologically which lead us to stage
the first Chacombe Archaeology Weekend. of course any programme of
archaeological work associated with planning begins with a detailed
plan known as a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI). It's a fairly
dull document but if interested you can read ours HERE.
The weekend of the 21st. / 22nd. saw us supporting the Chacombe
Archaeology Weekend. A small group of local enthusiasts have been
encouraging their community to take a more informed interest in Berry
Close, this suggestively named field next to the church. The field is
packed with earthworks which to my eye had the look of a small
medieval ringwork with attached settlement remains. There was a portion
of a large rampart and ditch which looked defensive and behind the
rampart were clearly visible the grass covered foundations of some major
stone buildings so during the event we had teams of volunteers working
on surveying in detail for the first time these remains.
The monument was to be set on a low bank and we were charged with digging out a
trench 2 metres long by 1 metre wide and 1 metre deep. We had a number
of willing and able volunteers to assist with this and would have
finished by the end of Sunday if it hadn't been for the arrival of a
vicious winter storm around 1.00 p.m. The results needed some thinking
about, most of the bank seems to have been composed of loam of varying
quality but the good news was that within this were certain horizons
where we found a very extensive assemblage of medieval pottery.
The day before preparations are nearly complete then Saturday morning
dawns clear and bright and Pater puts his team through their paces.
Out in the field Mike leads his team of surveyors. Verna and
Hazel had not sloped off to the pub but were getting acquainted with
the level of the 110m contour.
Back on the field large scale surveying and heavy duty
diggers round one trench... easy, until it starts to get deep.
We were delighted to welcome local planning archaeologist Liz Mordue on a site visit.
before the storm hit, a new level (A004) has just been
And here we are rapidly clearing up loose soil as the rain begins
(Photo by GJ).
part of our programme to involve the community we had several school
age children join us. For insurance reasons they could not take part in
the main dig but Ian Williams came up with the brilliant idea of having
them investigate the mole hills in Berry Close. To this end he had
marked them out and then helped our budding archaeologists sift through
the soil with trowels in search of finds which were then properly
washed, numbered and bagged. Here is William's account:
the weekend of the 21st of February 2015 I went to the archaeological
dig in Berry Close. The reason we were there was that there was a dig there because some
people wanted to stand one of the big sand stones up as a tribute to
Mrs Bennet who released the field to the public. But when you are
digging in a site like Berry Close (which is on the Jurassic Way) you
have to excavate it properly.
I arrived I was asked to dig up some marked molehills. I had to dig up
molehills because when moles come to the surface they pull up a lot of
objects that have been previously buried, when I dug in the molehills I
was asked to remove anything that was not dirt from the mound of
earth. Whilst I was there we found numerous things including some
animal bone, some possible pieces of pot and a piece of clay pipe. In
the main dig, some practice musket balls were found.
and this is what Jai-Jay had to say:
On Saturday afternoon we went to the field to see the archaeologist who
was digging a pit in the filed next to the pub, we were asked if we
wanted to do some digging. After the safety brief we had to put
on gloves and a high viz vest. Our job was to scrape mole hills in
different places in the field to see if the mole hills had finds and
find out the differences that happened in different places.
Kneeling down next to thew molehill i used the trowel to scrape the
dirt towards me a few centimetres at a time looking closely for bits of
pottery, glass, metal or stones, until we had scraped the mole hills to
ground level. We then washed the finds in very cold water for Stephen
the archaeologist to look at for us.
In the mole hills nearest the mound we found bits of flint, pottery,
stones, plaster and burnt bits of wood and a nail. At the bottom of the
field we found nothing in the mole hills which means that at the top of
the field there could be a building under the grass and not at the
bottom of the field.
Our human moles (Photos by GJ).
Because of the bad weather on
Sunday we returned to the site the following Wednesday and the material
we had started to see appearing turned out to be primarily burnt daub
as in wattle and daub. This is a common phenomenon on many sites where
a building has burnt down the daub - which is mainly clay - gets fired.
In our case we had elements of the finished facing of the wall and
pieces which preserved the placing of the stakes that would have
supported the wall. Mixed in with this destruction layer were further
fragments of early medieval pottery.
Things became really exciting
as we cleared this deposit to uncover a small arrangement of flat
stones which was almost certainly a post pad or a base for a vertical
timber post supporting some structure and underneath that a further
post hole and possible slot for a horizontal beam, probably belonging
to an earlier building. An amazing amount of evidence to recover
from such a small 'random' area. Once the pottery is washed and
examined we'll have a much better idea of the dating of all this.
Unfortunately working in such a confined area it's quite difficult to
make sense of the structural elements but we can be sure there was
plenty going on here in the middle ages.
Post pad to the right, charcoal spread to the
Some of the fired daub and samples of the pottery
that was coming up.
Recording underway: Peter is drawing the plan and Geoff is helping me draw the section
Underneath the post pad a complicated arrangement of hollows and burnt clay and underneath that slot and post hole.
And then it was all over except for the pot washing and office work.
often have to be reminded that in general terms one day's digging
generates two days back in the office following it all up, sorting out
the drawings, checking the records and then writing up the report. An
early step was to take the rough pencil plan from the survey of the
manor mound and draw it out as 'best' for publication. Here it is and
it shows just how much detail can be recorded by careful observation of
the 'humps and bumps' on the ground. One can clearly begin to see the
potential outlines of buildings amongst what initially seems a
confusing pattern of earthworks.
Another task was to join up the dots on the earthwork profile drawn through the main earthworks on the 'manor' site.
following weekend we gathered at Geoff's place where he had helpfully
set up doors on dustbins to give us a working surface. Then after the
appropriate briefing the group set to work. By the end of it we had
identified 76 medieval pot sherds weighing in at 0.8 kg. that seems
quite a lot for a small trench in a corner of a field. Still it will
give us plenty of material to analyse once we have made a pilgrimage to
look at whatever exists in Northamptonshire by way of a type series.
The occasion, as well as being one for good coffee, also gave everyone
lots of chances to talk over some of the issues raised by the dig.
Geoff made some interesting suggestions about the firing temperatures
and colours of the local clay as well as ingeniously cutting hazel
wands of suitable dimensions to recreate the arrangement preserved in
one of our lumps of preserved daub.
A happy band of washers and Geoff's hazel wand confection.