North Park Quarry

Watching brief and subsequent detailed archaeological excavation by G Santamaria of WA to the north and east of previous phases of work (figs 6 and 7) and an exploratory machine slot excavated through a possible palaeochannel revealed but not investigated during the 2015 season. The possible palaeochannel measured c 40m in width but was relatively shallow, at a maximum of 2m to the underlying sand (fig 8). Geoarchaeological investigation indicated that it was a topographic feature of probable Pleistocene date and was likely to have its origins as part of an anastomosing (multi-channel) river system. The deposits within the lower metre were almost certainly of Pleistocene date (as witnessed by the cryoturbative features observed from its lowest fill) and were probably laid down within the feature during a cold-stage period, as without the presence of permafrost the underlying sands would have been scoured away to a much greater degree. Deposits that were discernible probably represented the upper fill during much of the Holocene, up until the advent of modern ploughing when a mixed tertiary fill was deposited. No buried soil or land surface was present, as no period of rapid deposition had occurred that could have preserved one, while any towards the upper fills would have been incorporated into the overlying plough-soil. Its significance was limited and palaeoenvironmental potential was low as all the fills consisted primarily of mineral material, and there was no layering or horizonation discernible within the deposits. The archaeological significance of the feature is that it would have been an extant, if shallow, landscape feature during prehistory and may occasionally have held standing water (although this is very unlikely to have been permanent). Towards the north-western limit of the 2016 excavation, in an area continuing on from the previous season (SyAC 100, 288), a further eighteen cremations, of both urned and unurned burials, provisionally dated to the Bronze Age, were investigated. The concentration of features decreased further to the north-west where the archaeology appeared more dispersed, comprising a few isolated features including pits, postholes and a further small cluster of cremation graves. Within the southern extent of this area, a complete ring ditch (fig 9), most likely that of a barrow, was recorded. Despite a longitudinal bulk section being left in situ across the centre of the feature in an attempt to identify any mound material, none was observed and the associated mound is believed to have been truncated by prolonged ploughing. The ring ditch had an external diameter of 13.10m and an internal diameter of 9.50m. Several hand-excavated interventions across the ditch showed that it measured 2.10m wide x 0.82m deep with a V-shaped profile. The ditch fills derived from natural silting and contained no archaeological finds or features. The internal area of the ring did not contain any burials; two tree-throw hollows were investigated within the area, but these were devoid of archaeological material. Associated with the ring ditch were several clusters of cremation burials. A group of 21 cremation graves was located to the north-north-west of the barrow with another group of six located to the south-south-east. Three more cremation graves were identified cutting through the uppermost fill of the ring ditch itself. This last group could be included in the latest phase of use of the monument. To the north of the possible barrow an undated but probably prehistoric ditch, aligned north-west/south-east, appeared to mark the limit of the mortuary landscape. The ditch measured >108.50m long x 1.35m wide x 0.65m deep with a V-shaped profile. Several features were investigated beyond the ditch towards the north-east, most of which proved to be tree-throw hollows with some undated pits of unknown function. Investigations in the eastern part of the site, directly north of the route of a disused pipeline, revealed the most noteworthy discoveries to date: a small enclosure formed of an L-shaped ditch aligned north--south/east--west (fig 7) was identified. The enclosure ditch measured c 70m in combined length and was 1.8m wide x 0.7m deep. A central gap in its southern length may represent an entrance. The enclosure continued northwards, outside the limit of the excavated area. Within the enclosure was a group of large discrete features and a smaller right-angled enclosure, open at its western and southern sides. It is possible that these sides were truncated away rather than a deliberate omission as the overburden in the area was shallow. Within the smaller enclosure two Romano-British inhumations were excavated, both of which contained lead coffins, 4414 & 4428 (figs 7 and 10). Coffin 4428 was located in the southern part of the small enclosure while coffin 4414 was located centrally. Both were aligned broadly east--west and had similar-sized rectangular grave cuts. Both coffins were constructed from soldered sheets of cast lead with decorated lids featuring a relief design of scallop shells set within triangles and rectangles formed of beaded strap decorations. The decoration suggests a possible 2nd century AD date although further work is required to confirm this. Both had similar dimensions measuring 1.90m long x 0.45m wide x 0.36m high. The coffins are thought to have been originally contained within larger wooden coffins, identified as a stain within the graves and close to the lead coffins themselves. Both coffins were lifted on site and transported to a laboratory for detailed excavation. The decorated lid of 4428 had partially sunk into the coffin and some distortion had occurred, particularly at its ends, allowing sand to accumulate inside. The coffin contained the fragmentary remains of an adult and some neonate (under 6 months old) skull fragments. The head end, side wall of the coffin had been ‘peeled back’, most likely in antiquity, suggesting the neonate may have been placed in the coffin following the original burial. The sex of the adult could not be ascertained owing to the extremely poor preservation of the bone and no artefacts were recovered from within the coffin. Coffin 4414 was substantially distorted and the decorated lid had collapsed inwards. Its decoration was similar to coffin 4428, incorporating scallop shells and strapping. Small wood fragments were present, attached to some areas of the lid, and sand was present inside the coffin. This coffin is awaiting internal excavation, but it is unlikely that any organic remains will survive owing to the extent of the ingress of sand and its acidity. Four further inhumation burials were identified within this small cemetery. Three of the burials were located in the ditch of the small enclosure and a fourth outside the larger enclosure ditch to the south-east. Three had remains of degraded wood coffins within their grave cut together with a small quantity of iron nails, and a fourth may have had a coffin but it was badly disturbed and only few iron nails survived. The coffins were of similar dimensions measuring c 1.80m long x 0.40m wide. Several discrete features within the enclosure were investigated that proved to be large tree-throw hollows. It is possible that the cemetery extends further to the north and may form part of a much larger and significant area of Romano-British mortuary activity. Towards the west of the large enclosure, another ditch on a similar north--south alignment was investigated. Part of this feature was investigated in 2015 and this season’s work exposed a further 36m length of the ditch. The undated ditch measured 54m long in total x 1.8m x 0.3m deep. The feature was on a similar alignment to the enclosure ditches and may represent an additional phase of this activity although this is unclear at this stage.
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