A Preliminary Report of the First Weekend Dig at Histon Manor
7th to 8th September 2019

What a busy weekend! And in many ways very fruitful. The weather was kind to us – a sort of Goldilocks’ time – not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy – and no rain!
Many thanks go to the 30 people (including four youngsters) who took part in digging four test pits, sieving the soil and starting the washing of finds.  I am perhaps speaking for myself here, but it always seems an exhausting time (in a good way of course!)  – maybe because of all that fresh air, or maybe because of a focus on activities that require stamina and mental focus, whilst socialising over several hours. And of course there are the mini-delights of finding man-made items that bit by bit tell us more and more about the people who came before us and pioneered their way across the local landscape.

Background. Our previous test pits in areas to the west, north and east of Histon Manor have uncovered Bronze Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval era pottery indicating the presence of very early settlement.  Histon Manor probably also lies within this area of early settlement. The whole of Histon was originally a single Saxon village recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The grounds of Histon Manor contain a medieval moated site which is a scheduled ancient monument (so for the moment we cannot dig there). The moat encloses a rectangle 85 by 42 m.  A manor house was recorded as being abandoned in about 1540 but we do not know the location of that house. The current house up the hill nearer the church has evidence of dating from at least the 17th century, extensively rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries.   So there are a number of questions relating to how the Saxon and early medieval peoples occupied this site. How was this land used? Where were people living and did they farm this area early on? And is there an ancient trackways nearby, for example along  the western boundary of Histon Manor – could a now disappeared “road” marked on the 1806 enclosure award map be part of the medieval street plan of the village?

Preliminary partial review of the first weekend. The pottery will be sent for expert analysis.

Test Pit 7, located in the paddock, was dug down to almost 60 cm. This pit is some 25m north of the moat.

Digging and sieving at test pit 7

The main feature was the finding of many animal bones, especially several jaw bones, most likely from sheep.

Aminal jaw bones from test pit 7 context 4

Could this be a refuse area – heads dumped after butchering? And at a lower context an impressive tile which does not look modern. These items required some careful excavation. The soil was hard clay at times then became a little easier. So far no significant pottery has been found in this pit.

Test Pit 8, located near the western boundary, was dug down to 50 cm. This was really hard work – the clay was like ‘concrete’ and ‘sieving’ involved breaking up hard pieces of soil that sometimes felt like rocks. So hard work here!

Excavating test pit 8

There were several Victorian clay tobacco pipes in the upper layers ….

Clay tobacco pipe fragments from test pit 8 context 2

and a small number of medieval pottery sherds lower down.

Medieval pottery sherds from test pit 8 context 4

So has this pottery been spread with manure indicating that this area has been farmed in medieval times?

Test Pit 9, located in the woodlands, with St Andrews church visible over the wall, was dug to nearly 70 cm. The soil was more organic in content and easier to dig. The pit revealed a large number of pottery sherds many of which look early medieval, and possibly Saxon, and confirms that this was probably an area of early settlement. There were some oyster shells and some small pieces of dressed stone. Could there have been as yet unidentified early medieval or even Saxon crofts in this area?

Oyster shells and medieval pottery rim sherds from test pit 9 context 5

Test Pit 10 is located at the bottom of the main lawn slope. This had less attention over the weekend, and was dug to almost 20 cm. There is quite a bit of brick. One possible medieval sherd was found.

The aim of next weekend will be to finish all four test pits and there may be time to wash the bulk of finds over the weekend. All volunteers, experienced or novice, most welcome! Even one session can be very helpful, and there are some gentler sitting down activities. Please contact us at hisimp.archaeology.group@gmail.com

Arnold Fertig
HIAG Chair

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