Mucklestone excavation 2017

After last year's discovery of a bread oven, this year we looked for the associated house. The magnetometry and resistivity surveys we had carried out previously suggested that this may lie to the north of the oven. So we asked the farmer to leave that area of the field crop-free, and he very helpfully removed much of the topsoil from it with his machine. We removed the remainder of the topsoil with our trowels, and here we are hard at it in March, on the first day of the dig.

March 12

In this view, looking north, you can see the newly-opened area behind the diggers. In the foreground is the area of last year's dig. The oven is covered with soil, to protect it over the winter.

Through March, we continued to remove topsoil, finding pottery sherds and clay pipe bowls in the process. We also re-exposed a feature which we first found towards the end of the dig last year: a cluster of large stones referred to as "Feature C" on the diagram below, and formally known as Context 7. More about this feature later.

Typical finds tray Mar16 Bottle neck Mar19
A typical finds tray from the first week The neck of a bottle emerges
Pipe Bowl Mar30 Pipe bowl stamp Mar 13
Some pipe makers stamps ... ... are more legible than others

Feature C is Context 7 Mar23

The photo above, taken looking north on March 23rd, shows Feature C (Context 7) in the foreground, as we continue to trowel our way northwards.

The following drone photo was taken in April, after we had completed our first trowelling pass over the area. Here the top of the picture is the southern end of the whole site, with the oven partially re-exposed in the top half. The most prominent new features are the lines running roughly E-W across the newly-trowelled area. We think these may be plough lines contemporary with the oven. Between these lines and the oven, near an angle in the eastern (lefthand) baulk, can be seen the stones of Feature C.

Aerial view Apr26

In April, with the help of a group of students, we cleared the oven and cleaned up the area of last year's dig. In the process of doing this, one of the students found a very nice flint blade, pictured below.

Flint blade Flint blade close-up

And here is the oven, newly-revealed. In this view looking north, you can see the remains of the burnt beam between rows of stones, forming the base of the oven's front wall.

Oven Apr27

Meanwhile, excavation of the new area continued, revealing some intriguing features, and in the process, quite a lot of pottery sherds and clay pipe bowls. Some of the pipe makers' stamps are pictured below. Click on any one for a closer view.

Pipe stamp Apr09 Pipe stamp Apr30 Pipe stamp Apr30

So, what are these "intriguing features" referred to above? Briefly: ditches, post holes, possibly a gateway, and possibly a corn drying pit. To help explain, I will refer to a diagram of Winston's (our Dig Director) which I have annotated to show the location of these features.

Annotated diagram of features

Key: Last year's (2016) excavation is in the southern square outlined in black; this year's (2017) is in the northern square, outlined in red. Features 1-6 are ditches (6 is last year's "Keith's ditch"). A is the oven, B is a group of 4 post holes. C or Context 7 (pictured earlier) is a group of large stones over a post hole, and D is possibly a corn-drying pit. More pictures of these follow. There was also a post hole in ditch 5. The remaining feature shown but not annotated in the diagram, is a shallow hole under a pair of large stones which was excavated last year - it lies just to the SE of the oven.

You can see many of these features in the following picture, taken by Terry using his drone in June. I have turned it upside down so that the north end of the dig is top. We have covered the oven again to protect it.

Aerial view June27

Let's have a closer look at some of these features. First, Ditch 2. This was not very deep, and underneath the plough soil it was filled with lots of large pebbles and very little else. Maybe it was a boundary ditch, perhaps there was a fence or hedge laid in it. The picture below shows how it looked towards the end of May, before all the pebbles had been removed. Here we are looking along it from W to E, along the northern baulk. The orange colour is the natural sub-soil.

In the aerial view above, all the pebbles have been removed from Ditch 2, and you can see where it joins Ditch 3 in the NE corner.

Ditch 2, May23

Now we'll have a loook at Ditch 5, at the southern end of this year's area. The direction of this ditch was not very obvious initially, but as Dave started to clean up around it it became clear that it ran towards Feature C, but did not actually reach it. It was filled with a very dark material, which appeared to have spilled out over the sides. Maybe it had held a beam of timber, perhaps the base of a fence. Later, Dave found a post hole very close to the northern side of it. You can perhaps see this in one of the following pictures, which show the progression of its excavation.

Ditch 5 Jun15 Plough lines and Ditch 5 Jul16
The beginning of Ditch 5's excavation on June 15th, with Feature C in the distance. Looking E. Above, Dave is working at the E end of Ditch 5 on July 16th, attempting to discover if it continues. It appears not to. You can also see the plough lines very clearly
Ditch 5 Aug17 Feature C and Ditch 5 Aug22
Looking from the W baulk on August 17th, here you can see the black material that appears to have spilled from Ditch 5. The ditch does seem to continue on a little further from this point, towards the N edge of Feature C. Here on August 22nd, looking westwards from Feature C towards Ditch 5, where I am confirming that it does indeed end at this point. You can also see another plough line which runs at an angle to all the others. It pre-dates both Ditch 5 and Feature C, being cut by both. You can also see it in the previous photo.

This brings us on to Feature C. This initially appeared last year, in the northern baulk of that year's area. A cluster of large stones, we fully exposed it this year towards the end of March (see March 23rd photo towards the top of this page). As we cleaned it up, we discovered that one of the stones, on the northern side of the cluster, had a hollow cut into it. Was this a gate pivot stone? [William Marshall, writing in 1788 in his book "The Rural Economy of Yorkshire", describes the use of a pivot stone in the hanging of gates.] In the first of the four photos below, taken on August 22nd, you can see a triangular stone on the right hand side. It looks as if it has been broken at some point, but you can still see the hollow cut in it. The sequence of 4 photos shows that when the stones were removed, a post hole was revealed and as the fill was being removed, some large pottery sherds emerged. The fourth photo has the best view of the (broken) pivot stone. (We found what appeared to be another pivot stone in Ditch 5).

Feature C Aug22 Feature C Aug 24
1 - Feature C, with the smaller stones removed 2 - all but one large stone (and the pivot stone) removed
Feature C Aug 24 Feature C Aug24
3 - Removing the fill: midland purple (L) and midland yellow (R) sherds emerging 4 - Another sherd shows after removing more fill

The following four photos show Feature D, which appeared when we were investigating the junction of the two ditches, numbered 2 and 3 on the diagram, in the NE corner of this year's trench. The feature had very straight vertical sides, and in the bottom was a large quantity of very black material, possibly ash. Had this perhaps been used for drying corn or some other crop? If so, there was probably a fire in the bottom, above which the material to be dried was supported on cross-timbers.

Feature D July 6 Feature D July 9
Looking N. In the bottom of Ditch 3's northern end, this black material starts to appear Looking E. After removing more fill from the ditch, you can see a lot of black material in the bottom
Feature D July 9-2 Feature D July13
A close-up of the black material in the bottom of the feature's N end. Could the black material higher up in the side be remnants of cross-timbers? Again looking E, this is feature D after removing all the black material. Note the very straight-cut E side

The final set of photos shows a further selection of this year's finds

Key 1 Jun24 Key 2 Jun25
These keys were found near the southern end of Ditch 3
17th C Tin Glaze Midland Yellow bowl or dish
17th Century Tin Glaze Midland Yellow bowl or dish
Trailed slipware late 17C Thomas Hughes pipe bowl
Trailed slipware dish 1680 - 1710 Pipe Bowl - Thomas Hughes 1658-1700
Decorated Midland Yellow 17C slipware
Midland Yellow dish rim with impressed decoration 17C slipware
Chafing dish base Multi-handled slipware posset pot
Chafing dish base - early 17C? Late 17C multi-handled slipware (posset pot?)

We clearly have not found the house yet, but surely there must be one nearby somewhere. We were misled by the ditches' appearance in the geophysics, but the quantity of early and later 17C pottery and clay pipes, and the two keys, encourages us to continue the search. We think that maybe the ditches surrounded an enclosure in which crops were grown in a small way. The enclosure was probably fenced, with one or two gates - we suspect the gap between ditches 4 and 5 may have been a gateway. Towards the end of this year's dig, we investigated a small area along the S baulk of the whole site (S of the oven). Here we found many nails, which tended to be aligned, and a lot of pottery sherds. Maybe the house was S or SE of the oven. In this position, the prevailing wind would have carried smoke from the oven away from the house. We'll maybe have a look later in October, weather permitting, after the maize has been harvested. Watch this space for further updates!

Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society,7th October 2017

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