Pococks Field Excavation 2014 – some early thoughts on this exciting archaeological site

The November Meeting, Giles Dawkes talks about “Pococks Field”

The room was packed to capacity, with 95 seats taken, and one latecomer standing, to hear Giles Dawkes explain what had been found at Pococks Field. Giles explained that they were at the halfway point of the excavation, and that he had come straight from the dig, with his trowel still in his pocket and mud on his trousers, and that it was all very exciting, with more archaeology being exposed every time the diggers removed more topsoil, with so far over 4000 contexts, and 23 buildings. There was a table to view a selection of the interesting finds.

All finds are identified and located by GPS, then drawn into auto-cad, so that the entire site is represented in one drawing that can be zoomed into for closer analysis. Finds of discrete periods can then be identified and filtered out to be able to view and analyse each period in isolation. Aerial photos are taken by a drone all over the site, these are then stitched together to form one image, that can then be dropped onto the auto-cad drawing. All this modern technology is a great aid for contextual interpretation. An A4 site map was present as a hand-out.

The Bronze Age, and all periods of the Iron Age are represented, with Roman burials, building material and a possible shrine within an enclosure, Saxon buildings and settlement evidence, Medieval boundaries and track-ways, and a Tudor house. Geologically it is at the Eastern edge of the rising chalk-lands, and would have had a fresh water stream close by, with a tidal salt water lagoon, that is now largely filled with alluvium and colluvium and turned to pasturage. The site is multi-layered, very crowded, and in antiquity would have been an ideal settlement location, with the fish and wildfowl resource of the lagoon, and the higher chalk slopes for pasture and arable crops. Several drove-ways are in evidence, Iron Age and Medieval leading uphill from the marsh, and a broad Roman track running parallel to the shore line, along the approximate line of King’s Drive. There was particularly an enormous amount of briquetage debris from Iron Age salt working. There is even a possible Neolithic antler, found in a later Bronze Age pit context. The site would have been attractive throughout antiquity, as evidenced by the Shinewater site on the Eastern side of the lagoon. Earlier periods are possibly below features that are still being dug, and may emerge later.

This week a Bronze Age enclosure ditch has been identified, together with lots of Bronze Age pits that have “burnt mound” material of shattered flints within them. No-one is entirely sure what the purpose of the pits was, but they could have contained water, for cooking, beer making or shamanic sweat baths!

There are huge amounts of Iron Age pot briquetage waste and pedestals associated with salt making, in at least 50 pits, representing industrial scale production. The actual sites of production have not yet been found, but would have taken place near the edge of the lagoon. One theory is that this could represent the activity of a single season, so may represent a transitional activity, but there is also lots of settlement evidence, with a round house in an enclosure ditch, very well preserved bread ovens, several structured depositions, including a horse head with harness pieces, and a dog. Interestingly the settlement seems to be all on the sloping ground, with the higher, flatter ground reserved for pasture or agricultural use.

There is a 2nd century Roman mortuary enclosure with an enigmatic square building in the centre, with just the robbed out one metre wide chalk foundations remaining, that could be a Roman shrine, indeed there are a whole series of Roman buildings with associated cobble flooring, a Roman corn drier, and stone post pads that could be for a granary. There are 16 burials from both the Roman and Iron Age periods, with excellent bone preservation, the Ph. levels being perfect.

The Saxon period is represented by ditches, several sunken houses with associated weaving combs, pin-beaters, loom weights and a chalk spindle whorl. There is also a post-built building, this is not a typical long hall-house, but an almost square short-house, with ground fast supports and possible plank walls. This is for uncertain use, and appears to have nothing at the corners.

There are several Medieval period ditches as field and house boundaries, cobbled areas with associated square buildings, a possible dovecote, coins, lead weights, and ceramics, all in the same general area as earlier periods, and an 8 x 4 meter house platform terraced into the slope to provide a flat floor, which contains a simple brick hearth. A slightly later ditch contains the semi-articulated bones of a dog and a pig’s head. There is a later, large building with 1 meter wide chalk foundations, dated by tiles to a late 14th or 15th century date. This has no evidence of a hearth or internal features, all floor levels having been lost, and would probably have had a simple central fire, with smoke exiting at roof level. There were Tudor period add-on rooms of a washroom and brew-house, with charcoal evidence of a hearth, built of robbed out stone from an earlier building mixed with Tudor tiles. This building has an associated cobbled courtyard with evidence of blacksmithing, horse shoes and harness pieces, and points to it being built as a gentry level house that changed use over time, becoming more utilitarian and agricultural. Demolition rubble from the building contains typical 17th century Rhineland salt-glazed stoneware. The 1830 tithe map shows a building at the approximate location, but it is not very detailed and it cannot be certain that it was this one, and may be Pococks farmhouse. There may be some documentary evidence buried in the archives at Chatsworth, but that will need a lot more research.

The Q & A session revealed that it was known that there were features within the field, particularly the double lynchet track-way and enigmatic stone built tank that were dug by the society, and that EBC had asked English Heritage to have the site listed as of archaeological significance, but without a specific feature this was impossible, hence the early decision to do a complete site strip excavation. One particularly interesting find is a highly decorated, channelled Roman brick that would have contained a lead pipe, and which are usually associated with high status Roman baths. This led to speculation that a Roman villa, or similar may have been present close by, possibly under the site of the DGH, which was simply bulldozed away during the construction of the hospital. There are rumours that this happened, though no-one can now ever know. The society’s finds of thousands of Roman pot shards, including Samian-ware, and pieces of flue tile at the Poplin Marsh site just east of the DGH, gives credence to this possibility. Lawrence Stevens told us that the report of that dig is very close to publication.

The site will continue to be dug until February or March, but future visits are now problematical because it has become an active building site with lots of machines working, which carries difficult health and safety implications.

Society chairman Robin Reffell proposed the vote of thanks, and the filled room gave enthusiastic thanks for this most instructive and informative talk.

Report by John Warren

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