Words and picture by Simon Keith
Following a similar exercise last year, two more 1m x 1m test pits were opened in East Hatley: the first on Saturday 5th September at the rear of the Manor House and the second the following day in a paddock near the footpath to the former St Denis Church.
Both digs were well supported by local residents of East Hatley and GamArch members – and we also had the benefit of advice and support from Jemima Woolverton of Jigsaw Cambridgeshire.*
We are all grateful to the owners for their enthusiastic support and logistic supplies (particularly tea and biscuits): the Wilsher family at the Manor House and Mervyn Lack and Linda Hudson at 34 East Hatley.
The first pit was about 6m from Manor House – which replaced a house built by the Castell family and demolished in 1684 and, as far as we know, is the oldest house site in East Hatley.
There were finds of a domestic nature which are still being assessed. As might be expected from such a location, the ground had been much disturbed over the years – some of the disturbance became clear when we reached a line of clay land drains.
The second pit in the paddock revealed a marked burnt surface at 20 cm below ground level; in four more small exploratory pits, there was similar burnt material which seemed to indicate the burnt surface extended at least 6m east to west and with similar dimensions north to south.
So what burnt down and when? Was it a building? Was it a barn, perhaps a tithe barn? Was it simply a rick? We do not know, but perhaps one day we will. There were finds in this pit below the burnt surface, which are also being assessed.
* GamArch is Gamlingay Archaeology Group – and very active they are too. Jigsaw is a Heritage Lottery Funded project – www.jigsawcambs.org.
▲ What a test pit looks like! 1sq m and, ideally, 1m deep – the heavy Hatley clay (and some yet-to-be-uncovered clay land drains) prevented the archaeologists going much deeper than as shown here. The object in the pit is a 20th century tape measure. There are more photos on the GamArch website.
Words – Simon Keith
Photos – John O'Sullivan
What is a test pit?
Over the weekend of 25 / 27th July 2014, two test pits were dug in East Hatley. This is a brief report:
1. A DEMONSTRATION TEST PIT was dug with instruction by Jemima Woolverton of Jigsaw Cambridge at the Manor House on Friday, July 25th. It was very well attended by East Hatley and Gamlingay people.
The logistics were excellently arranged by Mark and Gill Wisher (tea, coffee, biscuits, awnings to keep off the sun, water, tables, chairs).
There were a lot of finds which, I suppose might be expected of a site so near an old house. We got down to a cobbled path at just over 0.5m and it was the undisturbed clay below this. The finds have been washed and bagged.
2. A SECOND TEST PIT was dug on land belonging to David Fisher and Becky White about 50m south of St Denis church on Sunday, 27th July.
About 10 people attended and worked on it. We were fortunate that Zinnie Denby-Mann came as she has a degree in archaeology and gave useful advice.
There were many fewer finds than on Friday and much less domestic detritus – lots of small red brick fragments, some small bits of burnt wood, a tile and what I think was a ridge tile plus lots of stones, all in very compact grey clay.
There was a layer of gravelly stuff at about 0.35m and undisturbed yellow clay at about .0.8m. There was no evidence this site was close to a dwelling. Sample finds washed and bagged.
3. NEXT? Everyone, including the owners Mervyn Lack and Linda Hudson, wants to know what lies beneath the surface in the paddock to the north of the Church footpath. We hope we might do another test (or even two) there before the autumn.
Our thanks to the following from Hatley for their time, input and hard work over the weekend...:
... and also to members of Gamlingay Archaeology Group (GamArch) who were such enthusiastic and knowledgeable helpers.
What is a test pit?
Test pitting is a way of sampling the archaeological evidence of an area, writes Simon Keith.
Such exercises have been carried out in many villages, particularly in the Eastern Counties, including, in our area, in Potton and Meldreth.
A series of 1m x 1m x 1m pits are dug at a number of sites and the findings recorded systematically at various levels at which they are found. It can yield valuable archaeological results.
These projects are often community activities with many people, including children, involved sharing the excitement of discovery.
"By digging and analysing their own archaeological test-pit, they're creating one part of a huge jigsaw – the more pieces we have, the clearer and more accurate is the picture. "Professor Carenza Lewis.
Read this article for How to dig a test pit.