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Gillow Farm excavations 2

As part of the LOWV project, a systematic study of the cropmarks in the 12 parishes was started in January 2005. The most usual cause of cropmarks is the presence of an old, filled-in ditch in a field. This will hold more water than the surrounding land, and as a consequence, crops growing above it will ripen later. From the air these features show up vividly in late summer when the weather conditions have been favourable.

These two cropmarks in this photograph, taken in 1995, were particularly intriguing.

photo Chris Mussen

 

An examination of other photographs showed more detail.

After contacting the farmer, we gridded out the field into 20 metre squares and carefully walked across the ploughed surface, collecting finds.

The field produced many finds, including a Mesolithic flint blade, far left, and a Romano-Celtic brooch of the late 1st to early 2nd centuries AD.
   

Although we had walked a number of selected fields in the area looking for finds, this site seemed particularly promising.

Where we had walked in fields with the type of oval enclosure we could see here we had found quantities of Romano-British pottery. The larger enclosure seemed therefore likely to have been a settlement of the Roman period.

The smaller feature, with the very pronounced cropmarks, was different. We wondered if it was a henge - a type of prehistoric monument with an external bank. Henges are a characteristic monument of the Neolithic period taking their name from Stonehenge. They usually don't have stones though.

Nothing much was known about these features - they were recorded on Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record database as record number 30264 - as two circular enclosures of unknown date.

On Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd August 2006 a geophysical survey of the site was carried out. This was done by Anne and Martin Roseveare of Archeaophysica and revealed much more detail about the site.

The large enclosure had internal partitions, and the smaller one an area of burning in it's north-eastern quadrant.

The smaller enclosure was found to have a mound in its centre. This would be more typical of a Bronze Age barrow than a Neolithic henge.

 

   

The field before excavation. The bump is visible against the far hedge line.
   

We began removing the ploughsoil from selected areas of the site on Thursday 5th August. The ploughsoil was quite shallow and patches of the underlying bedrock - the Old Red Sandstone - were exposed.

 

 

Hand excavation began on Friday 6th August

 

 

The area around the entrance to the larger enclosure.

 

 

After a while pottery started to appear in the fill of the ditch of the larger enclosure.

 

 

Mixed pottery and other debris. This was lying against the outside of the enclosure ditch, suggesting that it had been thrown in from the inside. This pottery proved that the site was occupied by people during the Roman period.

 

 

1 and 2 are rims of Severn Valley Ware, a common Roman period pottery. Other pieces of Romano-British were also present. 3 is a much coarser piece of pottery which had been heated to about 500 degrees Celsius. There was also some slag.

 

 

The ditch totally excavated. Cut through the sandstone bedrock, it had a gully at the bottom (on the outside) with a step inside.

In the section, on the left about 60cm from the base, is part of the dump of Romano-British rubbish, including a large sherd of Severn Valley Ware.

The larger enclosure shown on the cropmarks and the geophysical survey was therefore, as supposed, A Romano-British settlement. It was presumably a farming settlement, but the slag and other finds suggests that the people also worked iron, probably as a sort of 'cottage industry' at times when the agricultural cycle gave them some spare time.

We therefore turned our attention to the smaller enclosure. At this stage our working interpretation was that it was a large Bronze Age round barrow.

   

In the south-east quadrant of the circle we found two features which appeared to be cremations. However closer examination of the ashy deposit found no fragments of calcined bone. Even modern cremations leave pieces of bone which are then ground to powder (this is what we call 'ashes').

 

 

We cleaned off the ploughsoil exposing a solid layer of clay and stone. This view is in the north-east quadrant of the circle looking south

 

 

The south-west quadrant of the inside of the circular feature looking south. The clay and stone layer underlay the ploughsoil. (The wooden peg is the same one as in the previous view.)

At this stage we still believed that we were looking at the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound. The clay could not have derived from weathering of the sandstone. The only source of the clay here was from the bands of ancient clay beneath the top layer of the old red sandstone. Therefore it must have come from the surrounding ditch.

Two things started us questioning our original interpretation of this site. One was the amount of medieval pottery we were finding; the other was that the clay and stone layer looked suspiciously like a made surface rather than the base of a ploughed-out mound.

   

Concentrating on the north-east quadrant of the ring, we removed the clay and stone layer. Taking a line at 45 degrees north-east from the centre we first removed the layer to the east of it.

A  burnt surface was then revealed.

   

On this was spread of medieval pottery - the mound found by surveying was not a Bronze Age barrow!

We then uncovered the second part of this layer within the quadrant.

   

Some of the pottery was in quite large pieces. It had been left where it had been dropped and then covered with the clay and stone surface.

   

When we removed all the pottery, several rectangular red patches were clearly visible (1 and 2). These were highly magnetic and had clearly been the location of fires.

   

In the meantime we were cutting sections through the circular ditch. This section is directly south of the centre of the feature.

 

 

The section of the ditch excavated to the bottom.

 

 

The positions of the ditch cuts

 

 

The section through the northern part of the ring-ditch excavated to the bottom.

   

Anne and Martin Roseveare of Archaeophysica doing a magnetic susceptiblity survey of a section through the northern part of the ditch.

 
   

Top: plot of the magnetic susceptibility readings - Red is high; north (the outside) is to the left.. These readings suggest that the ditch was filled up from the north.

   

Taking samples from the ditch.
   

Returning to the centre we dug into the layer on which the spread of pottery had been lying.

This was a dark material with a lot of charcoal in it.

Below this was a layer of clay which had been laid on top of the natural sand. There were several features in this layer.

   

Taking samples.

 

 

The largest of the features in the clay layer seemed to be a squarish post-hole.

 

 

The centre of the ring: The stone rubble on the left appears to be in a deep feature which we did not excavate.

   
   

For further information please contact Archenfield Archaeology Ltd on 01432 860003 or email info@archenfield.com

 

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This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.