Back home

I seem to be forever going to and returning from places of late: Italy (a hugely inspiring trip which I daresay was too tiring to count as a true holiday), Dorset (where I managed to sneak in a spot of trespassing-cum-fieldwork in the name of my work on “seven ditches” before End Of The Road festival) and Nottingham (about which I will say much more very soon…). Now I’ve gone one better and am at home with my parents for a couple of days and nights.

Appropriately, my return led me to discover that my summary of the evidence for the early history of Puttenham has been printed in Surrey Archaeological Society Bulletin, 440 (August 2013), 5-10. Hopefully, this will stir up a bit of debate and get people thinking more carefully about how, why and when Surrey’s villages came into being (that is if people can make it all the way through – I must learn to write shorter, less dauntingly dense-looking paragraphs). I’ll be pushing it and its linked papers in the coming weeks – already it’s sparked a bit of interest in my Academia.edu profile (hello!).

Part of the paper/article concerns the provisional analysis of medieval pottery sherds I collected from the village and environs over the years (subject of a post from the other side of this summer). For me, one of the most surprising suggestions arising from it was that all the sherds I have from the western half of the historic (i.e. pre-twentieth century) village are too small to be credible as indicators of occupation, pointing to the land being used for cultivation rather than permanent settlement in the twelfth century – a situation that may have endured until the sixteenth century. Wanting to test this hypothesis, I began digging a test pit (more or less following the University of Cambridge CORS model) yesterday. It’s the first hands-on bit of archaeology I’ve done since my YAC days, and it’s taught me a couple of things. First, that digging a square metre test pit in 10cm spits takes a LONG time, especially after a prolonged stretch of dry weather – so much so that I quickly adjusted my strategy and reduced the area I dug down deeper into. Second is that the first 10-20cm is chock-full of artefacts, including considerable numbers of medieval pottery sherds, but these are intermixed with much later objects (unless there were shotgun cartridges in medieval times?!). Only towards the bottom of the second spit do the finds become fewer – though the medieval pottery here is still at the same depth as what looks to my eye very much like nineteenth-century bottle glass. Once I’ve finished writing this, I’ll return to the back garden and dig a slightly-cheaty sondage to see what lies beneath…

The start of the test pit – no finds, but a lot of angry red ants!

Lastly, and perhaps a little off topic, I should also take this opportunity to draw your attention to a new addition to my ongoing work on Mid-Anglo-Saxon Surrey, this time focusing on the ritzy non-numismatic objects found over the years. There are not a lot of them – this isn’t Kent Medieval you’re reading! – but there has been a definite and welcome spike in numbers since the Portable Antiquities Scheme came into being. Still, the data is sufficient to postulate that Ewell was at or very close to the heart of a seventh-century territory which may or may not be equivalent to Surrey in its late pre-historical existence, and that there is a modest but growing body of artefacts which more than likely entered and were lost within the county area as a consequence of their being part of treasure “liberated” (as one expert tactfully put it) from foreign churches by the Viking war-bands who passed through at various times during the later ninth century. Plus, I’ve striven to include images of as many of the artefacts as possible, which wasn’t as straightforward as I imagined. Anyway, enjoy – I’m off to get my hands dirty again.

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About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Art, Dating, Landscape, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Pottery, Puttenham, Trade, Viking. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Back home

  1. In case anyone was wondering what happened next, I dug a 50x50cm sondage for a further 10cm spit, taking my digging to a maximum depth of 30cm (I would like to have carried on but the combination of exceedingly dry soil and other things I had to do put paid to such aspirations). At this level there was still a mix of artefacts, including some medieval pottery, but also chunks of breeze blocks which my dad – who just happens to be the architect of our house – was certain derived from the building work associated with its conversion from a barn at the start of the 1970s. Thus I never penetrated beyond mixed-up modern levels into what I hope will be undisturbed earlier strata. All the same, I have an accurate record of the location of the test pit and hope to be able to return to it in time and re-dig it in order to finish what I set out to achieve.

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