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Trench 7: The 2018 excavation summary

The 2018 summer season has seen the excavation of the upper layers of the seventh trench to be opened at the intriguing Romano-British settlement site at Bridge Farm, near Barcombe Mills.

A row of half-sectioned postholes

Trench 7 is located in the very centre of the area enclosed by the second century double ditch defences and it was hoped that this 45 by 20 metre area over the central crossroads could reveal an important structure. However we always have to remember that this site represents over 300 years of activity and so far we have only been able to penetrate the upper layers of this trench which seem to be mainly industrial features. These consist of large pits, areas of fired clay, series of postholes with large flint packing and deposits with high carbon content. Some of the postholes appear to be in definite rows suggesting possible rectangular structures.

One such area was of particular interest as a deposit of fired clay appeared surrounded by lumps of chalk and Downland flint. The feature had the appearance of some kind of hearth or kiln with the presence of chalk leading us to think that it may be the remains of a simple clamp-type lime kiln. The only previous occurrence of chalk at the site was in the walls of the well excavated in 2017 but the chalk in this instance could not be argued as a structural element in an obviously fired environment. Lime was used in the Roman period for mixing mortar and plaster as well as a fertiliser for agriculture.

The possible lime kiln

The 15 metre section at the east end of the trench has not been excavated other than for the initial clean back of the whole trench surface which produced a great deal of pottery and an area of road structure at only 200mm below the current ground level. The upper layer of this consisted of flint pebbles and small nodules which had been unsurprisingly disturbed by ploughing but at the eastern end was an under-layer of compressed flint gravels which seemed to form the main base structure of the road. This however was not found anywhere else along the trench at this shallow depth and may have been ploughed and/or robbed out.

A pit in the northwest corner of the trench against the trench baulks proved to be not only multi-layered but very deep. In the end excavation was curtailed for safety considerations until we can remove the spoil heap from this area over the winter so that a larger stepped excavation can take place next year. Most of the pit and postholes discovered were half-sectioned and recorded but need fully excavating making a busy time from the very start of next season. The trench has now been covered with black plastic sheeting to keep down the weeds and hopefully lessen the effects of flooding with the more fragile features encased in straw-filled bags against the frost.

Decorated samian bowl sherd

   

The almost complete mortarium

 

Amongst the large and varied assemblage of over 17,000 pottery sherds recovered we have seen a greater percentage of fine wares than in previous seasons. This includes a good quantity of samian, some with embossed decoration, maker’s marks and scratched graffiti. Close to our possible lime kiln was a pile of black colour-coated white fineware beaker sherds with a number of large amphora sherds nearby. We also had more mortaria sherds than in previous years including an almost complete mortarium in a light buff/cream fabric. Because this is obviously going to be another 2-3 year trench we will have to to be patient before commissioning the pottery analysis.

A pile of fineware pot sherds

But before then we are hoping to arrange for archaeomagnetic dating of the burnt clay deposits prior to next season providing we can raise the funding. With this in mind we had to leave these deposits untouched this year as the samples need to be taken from in situ features for the method to be successful.

Next year promises another exciting season as we further excavate the features already revealed and work our way carefully down through the layers of the later Roman-period in search of earlier remains.

Some of the black colour-coated fineware after washing

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