Dig Diary End of 2010 Season

Unfortunately we lost a lot of the pictures for the last two months of the dig because my camera was playing up and finally died. But we do have pictures of the day we moved the saddle quern fromArea H Excavation the old roundhouse at the bottom of the field to the site of the new house we are still building. The quern is on loan from the Royal Cornwall Museum and it is dated to the Bronze Age 3,500 years ago. It was excavated from a field near Chun castle in West Cornwall 30 years ago.         

A friend that has a family business demonstrating cannon fire lent us her cannon pulley to move it. Most saddle querns are easily picked up being no more than a granite slab, but the one we have is more like a boulder than a saddle quern! It does however have the advantage of being higher off the ground which makes it less strain on the back when grinding  grain on it for hours on end. The spines of some prehistoric women have been found when excavated to have wear marks on the lower vertebra indicating this type of repetitive work. Fig 1 to 3     We of course excavated pit 42 and found the latest of the ritual pits the Goat pit which is on the  home page for you to look at with an I tube link. We continued to excavate area H and found what might be a hearth for some sort of metal working process but we will have to wait until next year to find out in detail what it is.     

The new roundhouse build has been going on every week throughout the season and into the autumn. We spent five full days cutting reeds on the marshes at Marazion on the South coast which was really gruelling work. The reed beds picture 5 are no more than a mass of floating roots over a lake. One finds that when one walks over it to collect the reeds being cut when your leg disappears into muddy water up to your thighs. My local team thought we were only going  to be cutting for two days but when it covered three weekends their hunched shoulders when they started yet another day on the marshes said it all. I kept telling them when we started the project that building a house is not the problem it is cutting the wood and reeds and getting it back that is the real work. The oak trees we are using for the ring beam of the house came  from an Iron age Hill fort picture 6. Which is good because we are helping to save the archaeology from tree roots at the same time as we are building the same house that would have been there in the Iron Age. We started on the 11th January and we are just starting the thatching of it now. We have daub making in mid winter to look forward to and I wonder if they will think reed cutting was not so bad after they have thrown icy cold wet clay at the walls a few times. But this is home building prehistoric style and it was not meant to be easy but it is so very rewarding when you are sitting in a finished roundhouse by an open fire eating a bit of clay baked salmon and drinking prehistoric beer. We will be putting up more pictures of the build during the winter for you to see and we are going to have a party however finished we are on the anniversary of the day we started the build in mid January.

Quern moving Quern moving Quern Moving Area H Excavation
Reed Cutting Iron Age HIll Fort Rafter Carrying  

Dig Diary 27 June 2010

     This week we have another Australian visitor to the dig Rosemary who’s son’Rosemary helping with batonss gave her a dig week in the U.K. as a birthday present. She had watched lots of Time Team programmes in Australia  and had always wanted to try digging. Her first day was putting batons on the roundhouse on Sunday which she was not expecting to do but enjoyed herself non the less. We do give people a choice on Sunday either digging or roundhouse building and everyone to date wants to work on the roundhouse for their first day.
The next day we went back to the pit area N on the main site and uncovered another possible 5 pits. I decided to take the top of one of the pits and when I did I found a very curious thing. The floor was intact underneath and yet there appeared to be just soil under the clay plug on top of it. We have always assumed that the clay top to the contents of the pits was just a by product of cutting through a clay floor to dig the hole. But it was not the case in this instance as the floor was intact but the clay top was there and had been obviously taken from somewhere else. So does this mean that there is some significance in the clay tops to the pits, rather than just putting something back you had dug out of the hole? I have taken a picture of  a drawing so you can see what I mean. So one wonders now if the other 6 new pits are the same. Could  the contents of the pits be some sort of fluid that drenched the soil fill  rather than some more obvious deposition?
   On Tuesday we found a coin in the topsoil which was very exciting at the time even though it turned out to be a Victorian half penny and a horse shoe which has explained a geophysics mystery since 2004. If you look at the print out of the geophysics survey it looks really interesting, but turned out after all to be a rather heavy horse shoe! Oh well now we know.
It turned wet on Thursday so I did my lecture and slide show on experimental archaeology in the morning and  did pot washing in the afternoon. We even had time to do some flicking of the wet sieved contents of one of the pits and found a number of bird quills, teeth, fur and white human hair.

Helping with the batons  Coin in the soil  Plan of pits  Horseshoe
Geophysics  Happy pot washers  Flicking dried wet sieved material  Wet sieved finds 

Dig Diary 20 June 2010

 We started the week by working on the roundhouse as usual which is really taking shape. RaPreapring the batonschel our student from Australia really enjoyed baton tying as you can see in the picture. The batons are what we tie the thatch onto and they are also used as a ladder to work on the frame. The roundhouse then becomes a giant climbing frame before we thatch it. We think we will need to add some more strength to the ring beam now so we can do that when we have finished putting on the batons.
On Monday we went back to the area of the feather pits on the main site area N. It was extremely hot this week and we were grateful that that part of the site is in shade from 11am onwards. We found what looks like the top of another pit too. I decided we should have a look in one of the pits not excavated in the next trench from last year. After taking off the mixed clay top Rachel dug down not more than 10 cm before she came to a solid layer of clay. Just in case it was not the bottom of the pit she took 5 cm of the clay base out and found nothing but more clay. So it looks like this pit was cut to a depth of 10 cm and then abandoned. In pits that have been empty before there has always been a few feathers or small stones or quills in its base indicating it had once been filled and then was emptied. This pit though was a first as it did not seem to have been filled at all. However we have saved all the fill in bags and will wet sieve it just in case we missed anything in the excavation process. We found a cluster of pit tops in the trench and next week weather permitting we will continue to open this area and see if we can find more pit tops.

Helping with the batons  Rachel with buckets  Abandoned pit cut  Three new pits

Dig Diary 13 June 2010

   This week we just had one visiting digger a professional archaeologist fromTom helping with the rafters America called Tom that read about the site from the American Institute article a about the feather pits. It was great for me for a change to spend a week with an archaeologist instead of students, as we could just get on with the digging without me having to teach him how to do his planning etc! Although saying that we did spend a lot of time talking about the site rather than digging it. The first two days he helped us with the roundhouse build and as he is a tall guy so it was great to have him help with the rafters which are all over 7 metres long. He also helped Ryan to put up the door that he was making. We used fresh oak sticks to peg the door frame together only taking part of the bark off so they would fit in nice and tight.


It was then dry enough to go down onto the clay platform so we did not go back to H which we can dig on wet days.
We did not get to dig down there last year much at all as it was just too wet and  what platform we revealed had no pits in it either. I was beginning to think we had come to the end of the pits. However Saveock has not finished surprising us because in the small area we excavated we have found three pits already! So I am going to open up the area more next week and see the pattern of pits before I take a look inside one of them. I really have no idea what we will find as we now have not just feather pits but cat, dog and pig pits. One thing I am quite confident about is that they  will be different from the other pits we have excavated to date because of the 48 of them none are the same. I was cleaning the area near the pits on my own on Friday and found another pit under the corner of last year’s trench that was not finished due to the wet weather. So that makes four new pits in a very small area.

Tom helping with the rafters  Putting on the door frame  Fresh Oak stick for peg for door frame  Three new pits Fourth pit

Dig Diary 06 June 2010

Now it is the season, we are doing a roundhouse building day on Sundays which field school students can join in too if they want to or they can dig. We got the main rafters up this Sunday and theGlaze sorting house is really beginning to take shape.  The weather was good too which was not the case on Monday and Tuesday! It rained all day for the two days and rather than just do some pot washing I thought it would be good to see if we could categorize the huge quantities of medieval and post medieval terracotta ceramics we have excavated from the topsoil during the last 10 years. The first day after getting the 10 full archive boxes out of the store and spreading them around started to see if we could match glazes or fabrics. After a day of doing that you really start to get a bit glaze crazy as the greenish browns all start to look like the yellowy browns! However, we finally decided to group them together in rough colour categorise and then differentiated between the types of brown, dull, shiny, streaked etc. and as you can see from the photograph did a good job in the end. That picture is just two archive boxes worth. Tuesday looked a bit better and we went on to the main site to dig but the rain set in again and we returned to the workshop and had a cup of tea and looked at the archive boxes again. This time I thought it might be good to see how many different rim types we had so we separated them from the bases and handles and set to work. It took 5 of us all day to do it, but finally we categorized the majority that we had from the boxes (there are still more to be washed and ladled). The picture tells it all we found 180 distinctly different rim types which is truly amazing! We are going to draw them and give them a number and put them on the data base with pictures during the summer every day we get a wet day and can’t dig. These will be later in the winter put on the website. Wednesday and Thursday were good days for digging so we went back to area H. After a day it was clear there was some sort of drain cut running along it towards the stream and we excavated part of it. The odd thing was if it was a drain it would have its base filled with stones to allow the water to flow through it but we found no stones in the part we dug. Just soil and at its base a yellow clay floor that is similar to our earlier prehistoric levels.  We continued to clean the floor around the drain and had to leave it for the next week.
Glaze Sorting  Sorting rim shards  Clearing the floor  Possible drain feature

Dig Diary 30 May 2010

During the winter the local team and I have been building  Cathy from Canadaa replica of a Bronze Age roundhouse from Itford in Sussex. This house was build into a cut in a south facing bank.  I have had the cut dug ready to reconstruct it for 10 years now and finally decided there was enough enthusiasm in the local team to build it at last. We are going to put up a separate page on the site about the build so I won’t tell you too much about it now. On the first day of the dig the students helped us to dig holes to put the outer wall posts in and here is a picture of Cathy from Canada in the foreground just about to start digging another hole. This is Cathy’s third season at Saveock and she is very pleased to be here in time to help us with the roundhouse before  it is finished.
The weather was great for the rest of the  week and the clay platform had dried out well so I decided to take out area H on the main site. This area had a test pit done in it in 2002 which seemed to show nothing but fill, so I decided it would be good to take out the whole area and finally see what is going on there. It was harder going than we thought though as  the soil was very compacted and there seemed just under the surface to be two or three different floors. As they were just under the turf they were probably part of a cobbled yard that was next to the mill house. The mill and the mill house were abandoned in the 1850’s when the railway cut through this valley so the floor must date to prior 1850.  The weather was hot enough  to do some wet sieving for the first time this year too from the pit cleanings last season and we found some more dog claws and a bone  from pit 35.
Cathy from Canada with students diggin post holes  Taking our area H from the main site  Showing textiles from the pool to students  Dog claws & bones

Dig Diary 11th April 2010

Here we are again with another season and this year it is our 10th season! We spent much of the week tidying up the sticks and leaves that had blown into trench Apple 5 over the winter. The students after tidying up the edges of the trenches then planned it all.  They did some surveying and section drawing and we did a day of finds work including pot washing and finds labelling.  Unfortunately it had been too wet to be able to work on the main site as the clay platform needs to dry out from the spring rain before we could work on it. The dig closed  again at the end of that week until we start for the main season in June.
A week after the dig week I had to go to Ireland to do some filming for the BBC on a new programme about the history of Ancient Britain. I was demonstrating Neolithic Cooking in the middle of a peat bog on the edge of the sea in County Mayo. Fortunately my film day was nice and sunny, but the next day it started to snow and we nearly did not get on our flight from Dublin to Newquay as the snow was getting pretty thick. Here are a few pictures of what I was doing. The presenter was Neil Oliver of Coast fame who I have worked with before so it was nice to catch up with him again. I made Butter, Neolithic bread and added home made malt which I ground on a Neolithic quern from the local site. I made a beef stew and frumenty which is whole wheat boiled until it bursts then eaten with cream and honey. This was actually very nice too although Neil had to eat so much of it to get the shots right he got a bit fed up with it, especially as he had just had his lunch before filming!
Another season begins  Tidying around post hole  Tidying up the edge  Wet day alternative - Pot washing  Surveying
Making butter on camera 
Director & local archaeologist looking at Neolithic site  end of day shot with Neil