Field walking on 24 February 2019 at Mill Lane Farm

The final outing of our 2018-2019 field walking season was a grid survey instead of our  usual transect survey. The objective was to intensively survey a small area of Mill Lane Farm which had already yielded a scatter of Iron Age pottery during previous field walking by Cambridge Archaeology Field Group (CAFG) and, more recently, Saxon pottery  by HIAG. This site is close to a location an Iron Age site identified by Cambridge Archaeological Unit during a watching brief on a Histon to Waterbeach electricity cable route.

The weather turned out to be glorious  – completely cloudless, windless and unusually warm for February, with skylarks singing all around us.  We measured out a grid consisting of eighteen 10mx10m squares and carefully examined each square with small teams or two or three volunteers in each square. Below is a zoomed in map of the area. The blue flags mark the coordinates of our grid corners as measured by hand held GPS with the usual accuracy limitations – our squares were more accurately surveyed than this suggests. The small square coloured markers are the locations of early pottery finds on previous field walking outings – as indicated in the key. The wavy brown line at the top is the 10m height contour. The diagonal blue line is the drainage ditch to the east of the farm track.

As we have previously experienced on this site, we found plenty of cut bone – evidence of recent land use for pig farming and the feeding of kitchen waste to the animals. There was also a scatter of modern stainless steel cutlery – almost certainly scraped from plates into the kitchen waste bins along with uneaten food. As a result the field is probably a detectorist’s nightmare.

The yield from the grid walking was initially slightly disappointing in that there was surprisingly little pottery – of any era – to be found. The finds have not yet been thoroughly washed and examined, but below is an example of pottery from one grid square: three sherds of post-medieval glazed red earthenware, one unglazed probably medieval sherd at the top, and in the centre one small sherd with a very soft fired fabric with what looks like scored decoration – which just might be Iron Age.

We will ask Paul Blinkhorn, our pottery expert, to have a look at the assemblage from the day and determine.

Postscript: The subsequent analysis by Paul confirmed the Iron Age sherd tentatively identified above. Iron Age pottery was soft fired, probably in bonfire clamps rather than sophisticated pottery kilns used later during the  Roman occupation, and it seldom survives many centuries of battering and weathering in the plough soil. This is a small but significant result reinforcing the idea of a nearby Iron Age occupation site. So the grid walking outing met its objective!


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