Tollgate Farm Roman Site 2005
Author: Winston Hollins, Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society
Tollgate Farm 2005
This year we had the benefit of the magnetometry survey. This complemented and confirmed the evidence from the resistivity survey. There was an area of very high activity not picked up by the resistivity. A second area, which showed as a general area of high resistivity without structure, seemed to have some form on the magnetometry survey, with parallel lines and a single line normal to these.
First, there was unfinished business in the form of the pit, which had been started, but not completed, the previous year. We decided to put quite a big square around the pit in the hope of finding some Roman activity associated with the pit. This was futile; the few shallow pits around had very little in them, and no obvious link to the big pit.
The big pit turned out to be a bipartite pit (two interconnected pits), the larger one being over a metre in diameter and over 2.5 metres deep. The smaller one is about 2 metres deep and less than a metre in diameter. Some of the fill of the larger pit was sent away for environmental analysis. This has proved to be quite interesting, the pollen analysis showing the land around to be in similar use to that of today, with hay /grass cropping and a similar mixture of trees. It does have indications of water lilies which suggests a pond or lake nearby (the stream at the bottom of the field has the name black lake). Also, fragments of cereals were found suggesting some domestic activity. The fill of the pit is described as domestic rubbish.
The excavation of the pits proved problematic, either being too hard to trowel or flooded. However we can say a great deal about the two pits. They were cut and lined with a mixture of clay, stones, large bones and pot fragments. The big pit seemed to have been eroded at the top and reused and relined. The smaller pit shows little sign of erosion. The smaller pit was dug deeper than required and given a thick lining of clay at its base. We are assuming that the big pit was originally a storage pit. It is possible that it was partially back filled, probably because it could no longer be repaired. The sides near the base appear to have collapsed several times and fresh clay had been put in with a great concentration of long bones and some hefty sand stones to shore up the sides.
At the top of this backfill a trumpet brooch was found on an area of small stones. It is possible that at this point the second pit was dug and the partially backfilled pit used as a stoke hole to heat something held at the top of the small pit (rather like a corn drying oven). Both pits were then back filled completely. The fill contained lots of charcoal and similar pot to that found in previous years. It did contain a fragment of a very delicate decorated bronze bracelet. There were some large pieces of slag consistent with smithing having taken place nearby.
We then went on to investigate the two interesting areas displayed by magnetometry.
The area of intense activity was disappointing; it turned out to be burnt remains of a hedge and fence.
Next, the interesting parallel lines. These turned out to represent beam slots with post holes, a possible drip trench, a path way and a large ditch. We are interpreting this as a multi phase occupation area, possibly a smithy. We found iron tools, which may belong to a smithy. In addition, there were sandy floors with some slaggy areas.
The most amazing feature was a metre diameter circle of charcoal (with metal flakes) which may have been where a smith fitted the red-hot iron rims on to wooden wheels.
The large ditch may well be a boundary ditch; it certainly seems to have had a row of stakes on its edge.
You would expect the finds in a smithy to be quite low class but here we found something quite different. The spouted jar (is it an alembic?) caused quite a stir. It seems to be very early (70 A.D. at the latest, to quote Vivien Swann).
Although most of the pottery was coarse ware we had a large number of rustic wares with a great variety of applied raised patterns (to aid gripping the pots). Fragments of at least one fine drinking glass were found and the, soon to be famous, intaglio.
We now believe that the site was in use for several hundred years in the Roman period.
Hopefully there will be more dramatic finds next year to give us a better idea of exactly what the site was used for. Certainly this year has given us the biggest insight yet into what this fascinating site is all about.
There are more pictures in the Tollgate 2005 Picture Gallery
Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, April 2006.