We’re back in the field for an ‘extra’ season, the first time since 2008 that we have returned to open a trench that we have already excavated extensively. Each year we fully excavate the trenches that we open, and until 2014 had no cause to open any of our fully excavated trenches again.
Then in the summer of 2014 we made a very unusual discovery, which you can follow through the blog posts from last season and in our recently published and downloadable interim report. The geophysical survey showed a large dark amorphous blob, and when we revealed it, it proved to be a very large, and exceptionally deep Anglo-Saxon midden, or rubbish pit. We made enormous progress last year, discovering iron working evidence, a hearth and a huge amount of early Saxon pottery, animal bone and vessel glass. We put a 1m wide central slot through the midden, and reached a depth of 1.8m, but we did not find the full depth – a layer of flint nodules at 1.8m depth overlies up to a metre more of sediment.
The laid flint nodules in the bottom of the slot dug across the huge midden pit in the south-east corner of Trench 1 – dug as far as it was safe to go, and indeed possible within our 6 week dig!
We knew we had to come back to find out the origins and extent of this highly unusual feature! We are lucky to have been successful in our application to the Up on the Downs HLF scheme, and along with a private donation we are able to be here for four weeks this summer to investigate those remaining questions with a small group of volunteers.
We re-opened part of last year’s trench at the end of last week, and extended our survey by 5 metres on the eastern and southern sides to catch the ‘halo’ of orange clay that surrounds the dark midden material. We suspect that this might be the true extent of the ‘hole in the ground’ that was filled with Saxon rubbish, and that this might give us a clue to whether the pit was dug by hand or whether it is a natural feature. You can see this orange clay in the photo below:
We have some very direct targets this year, as you can probably tell! We are here for a
shorter dig to put another north-south slot through the midden, on the north side of the central east-west slot, in the hopes of being to expose more of the flint nodules (their purpose is at present unknown) and to establish the origin of the ‘crater’ itself. Was chalk quarried away? Did a completely natural geological event cause a sinkhole to open up, which the Anglo-Saxons then took advantage of? We hope to be able to get closer to answering these at least!
We started cleaning back the trench in earnest on Monday afternoon after we’d set up our dig infrastructure, revealing the archaeological features that we excavated last season, and cleaning up the backfill from them. We dug out the remaining backfill from the deep trenches through the ‘blob’, which we had covered with black plastic to make cleaning up easier in case we wanted to return.
The cleaning of trench went quickly and we’re now well into excavation, starting to take down the slot in the north part of the midden, and already finding interesting artefacts! Our wonderful team of finds washers are also back in force, getting to grips with both the new material coming up and with some of the finds that didn’t get washed at the end of last season – there was such a lot of material that we had to take it back to the department, and even with a team of undergraduates working hard on processing it, we still had unwashed finds to bring back to Lyminge!
There were also a few surprises in the areas that we haven’t excavated before. Several new post holes and what seems to be another sunken-featured building (a type of structure typical on Anglo-Saxon settlement sites with a rectangular pit beneath it) became apparent as we machined away and then hand-cleaned the trench.
The SFB is a surprise as it doesn’t show up on the geophysics, and all those we have excavated in previous seasons have been present as clearly defined black rectangles on the geophysical plan. It appears to have been backfilled with clay, very similar to the clay the SFB pit was dug into, which may be one reason that it isn’t as clearly defined as the others we have excavated. This structure is our 8th SFB at Lyminge, and has the potential to be contemporary with the midden. So far, even though it is full of very difficult-to-dig clay, there is a great deal of animal bone in it and we already have a nice whetstone for sharpening knives.
Last year one of our supervisors from Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Keith Parfitt, put a slot through the southern half of the ‘blob’, locating the flint nodules once more. He wasn’t able to fully excavate that slot and we now have two student volunteers completing the task. A great deal of animal bone was found towards the lower layers, which provided us with some very early radiocarbon dates of the 5th-6th centuries AD, and Dan and Owen are finding yet more of this feasting debris, along with some Roman pottery (not unusual in Anglo-Saxon contexts).
With all the excitement of digging comes new finds…and of course one of the weeks most spectacular finds comes not from the excavation but from the finds washing team! We do sieve all of the material that comes up carefully but sometimes things do end up in finds trays. This amazingly complete brooch came up early this week, discovered in a bag of unwashed finds from LYM14, still extremely well preserved with its iron pin still attached, although corroded. It is a stylised representation of a raptor (perhaps a hawk or an eagle), and dates from 530-570 AD, in the Frankish style.
The brooch even has gilding (you can spot this on the tail feathers), and once properly cleaned and conserved should show up beautifully. It is yet another fantastic example of high-status artefacts to come up from the blob, adding to our picture of Lyminge as an important royal centre with links to the continent.
The slot that we have begun opening in the northern half of the blob is already turning up fascinating artefacts. Not only are we getting the usual supply of animal bone, pottery, daub and slag, but a very unusual glass bead has was excavated just yesterday by one of our student volunteers, Jess.
It is flat in profile, rather than the rounder beads usually found, and the hole for suspension runs through the diameter of the bead rather than piercing the centre, making it more of a pendant. It is broken, but you can still clearly see the cross and dot design, and adds a pop of colour to the usual greys and browns of pottery and animal bone that we find in Anglo-Saxon sites! If anyone knows of a parallel we’d love to hear about it.
You can see that we have started in earnest and are already turning up some amazing archaeology and the artefacts to go with it – even though we have opened a smaller trench and have much more specific goals this year. We’re well on our way to answering the questions last year’s dig left and to adding to the amazing assemblage Lyminge has turned up year on year since our investigations began back in 2007.
Don’t forget that there are weekly site tours at 2pm on Saturdays, and that Saturday 22nd August will be a full open day from 10am to 4.30pm. We look forward to your visit, but if you can’t make it, we’ll be blogging as often as we can!