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Cox Bank Farm, 2015: Pictorial Dig Diary


This year's excavation at Cox Bank Farm is now (August) over for the season, during which we have been investigating further features associated with the Bronze Age Burnt Mound which we started working on in 2011. We identified a number of promising-looking anomalies on the magnetometry survey map, and we investigated some of these. Some dark features started to appear in the first trench: scroll down for the full story. Click on any picture for a larger view.

Magnetometry with marked areas Magnetometry with 2015 area in red
This magnetometry map shows areas worked in previous years. The numbers indicate metres from the site datum. North is at the top. We have highlighted some of the anomalies seen in the previous picture for possible investigation. This year's initial area to be excavated is outlined in red - it does intersect a dark anomaly which extends to the S of it.

The intriguing feature which we got sight of at the end of last year's excavation will get some attention, in the hope that we can identify it. We are also hopeful of finding more of the pot which we found a large sherd of in 2013. For a pictorial week-by-week diary of this year's excavation, read on...


The area we are investigating this year is immediately S of last year's excavation, and slightly overlaps it so that we can expose the whole of that intriguing feature which showed up at the end of last year. Here is a picture of that feature. This year's excavation is immediately to the the right of this, as you look at it, but includes this part of the feature together with the sloping stony bank just to the right of the ranging rod:


Intriguing feature


Click on any picture to enlarge it.


Week 1: 3rd - 10th May


As last year, progress in the first week has been delayed by rain. We have managed to deturf the initial area, spade down nearly to the bottom of the plough soil and then do one trowelling pass. There is not much to see yet, except for the field drain!

The northern end of the area is all backfill at this level, covering the feature shown in the picture above so we have spaded more of this out. You can see this in the third photo below.

Removing the first turves Ready for spading
Removing the first row of turf. All turf removed, ready for spading
Looking East.
After one trowelling pass
We have now done one trowelling pass, and you can see the field drain emerging on the right. At the top beyond the horizontal ranging rod (at the northern end of the area) is the backfill above last year's final feature


Week 2: 12th - 17th May

A week in which our only archaeological discovery was a feature which consisted merely of an absence of stones, but which later turned out to have stones after all. Two of the stones were geologically interesting, though. And the no stones/stones area shows promise. Pictures below (click on them for a closer view).

Trowellers look up Absence of stones
Busily trowelling until Dave said smile, Janet and Terry (nearest the camera) have made better progress than Joan and me (further away) because they've hit the area of stonelessness. Looking W Well, nearly stoneless. This view is looking Northwards
A day later
The same area after another day's trowelling. Looking Eastwards
Stony after all Sunken stones?
Joan and Janet are finding that the stones are there, just apparently sunken. Meanwhile Keith and Winston are extending the trench southwards A closer view of the now-revealed stones. Maybe there is a feature underneath this area which has caused the stone layer to sink
Flint with shell impressions Coral
Geological interlude 1: a piece of flint with impressions of shells Geological interlude 2: a piece of coral(?). Both pieces were found in this trench

PS: The Oxford University Museum of Natural History tell us that the second piece above is not coral. They say that "The first specimen shows a number of bivalves in flint, and would have come from the Chalk (Upper Cretaceous), probably of Yorkshire. The second contains numerous crinoid ossicles, and would have come from the Carboniferous, probably of Yorkshire or Derbyshire."

Week 3: 19th - 24th May

Not a lot of visible progress this week, due to a combination of wet weather and stony ground. However, some darker areas are starting to emerge, suggesting feature(s) to come... Our first picture this week though is of an assemblage of the pottery sherds we found in the plough soil immediately above the stones we are now excavating.

Plough-soil pot
Pottery sherds from the plough soil

A wet start to the week And stony
It was raining first thing on the Tuesday, but now it has dried out enough for us to trowel on the newly-extended S end of the trench An hour later, you can see that we have started to expose some darker material on that S extension, and just N of it, too. Here we are looking westwards.

Sunday 24th May
By the end of the week, we have got that extension level with the main part of the trench. Looking N now, we can see a darker area of burnt mound material (heat cracked stones with some charcoal and black silty material, maybe ash). This is mainly concentrated near our information board, but does spread NE somewhat. It is surrounded by the lighter clay line of the field drain on the E, our backfill of last year's final feature across the N end, and down the W edge a line of what looks like natural clay


Week 4: 26th - 31st May

Again, a week troubled by rain. We could not dig at all on the Sunday (31st May). A little more of the S dark feature is showing up though, and we are trying to find its edges...


Dark feature emerging The team at work
The dark feature is getting larger and darker from this S end of the trench. Lots of charcoal and blackened, heat-cracked stones in it. A couple of days later, looking N. We are trying to find the edges of this feature, but it is very hard work on this stony ground.


Week 5: 2nd - 7th June

A much more productive week, even if the now drier weather meant we had to moisten the surface to make it trowellable! The dark feature at the S end seems to be resolving itself into three distinct parts: two depressions or maybe holes which appear to be filled with that black stony burnt mound material, with a block of clay between them. This clay seems to have a channel going around it joining the two holes. What on earth is going on?


One dark feature... or two
Even early in the week, we can see that what looks like one single feature in this view looking S... ...from this angle, looking W, seems to be resolving into two darker areas, to either side of the E-W ranging rod

A couple of days later, the feature(s) are less dark because they've dried out, but you can still see that there are two darker areas divided by a lighter bit.
Here we are looking N

Looking for edges An hour later
Looking S at what is currently the N end of the feature(s). We have wetted it to make it workable, but you can see the darker fill in the middle of it An hour later, we have removed some of the black fill. You can clearly see the lump of clay separating the two parts
Joan's channel ?
Joan is removing the black fill from what seems to be a channel around the clay lump. Notice the horizontal line of orange clay across the middle of the picture - Joan's channel cuts it.
Looking E
Looking E again, an hour later. Maybe we'll have a better idea of what we're looking at next week, when we've removed more of the black fill (blackened broken stones, black silty stuff and some charcoal)

Week 6: 9th - 14th June

Not a lot of progress this week due to rain - apart from interruptions on days we did dig, we had to call one day off entirely. Just one picture, showing the clay lump with a little more black fill removed from around it. Compare with the final picture last week.

More of the clay lump
The clay lump which appears to be separating two parts of what we think may be a trough. Looking E.

Week 7: 16th - 21st June

A much more productive week on the whole, but ending with some overnight rain - see final picture! As we remove black fill from the trough, it is obvious that over the thousands of years since it was used, the clay which covers and surrounds it has crept over the sides. It has become difficult to see the original edges.

N end of trough General view 1
Here you can see the black material underneath the clay on the W edge of the trough You can perhaps see this in this view as well, in which you can also see the clay lump crossing the S end of the trough. I am taking the photo immediately below
General view 2 N feature edge
Here Dave is taking the photo immediately above. In this view you can see what appears to be the sloping E edge of the trough but just may be the result of clay slumping At the N end of the area is this diagonal line heading roughly NE from the corner of the trough. We think it may be the E edge of a dew pond, another edge of the feature we found at the end of last year's excavation
How well the trough holds water
This view of the site after rain at the end of the week shows how well the trough holds water! Looking N.

Week 8: 23rd - 28th June

This week we have been removing more black material from the trough and around the lump at the S end of the trough. We have also been removing clay gradually in layers from the surface of this lump. At the N end of the area, we have started to expose a sloping layer of stones running NE from the NE corner of the trough. This is suggesting even more strongly that the feature we found at the end last season is the N edge of a stone-lined dewpond, and the NE line is another edge of it.

General view with dewpond section Crossing
The black material surrounds the clay lump. In the N end of the trough you can clearly see a diagonal line demarcating stones from what appears to be a grey silt. Beyond you can see the sloping stony edge of the suspected dewpond. Here we a are looking down on the clay lump. Maybe it was used to carry a path across this end of the trough?

Week 9: 30th June - 5th July

This week we have been continuing to remove black material from the trough and around and from the lump at it's S end. We have also been removing clay gradually in layers from the surface of this lump. Grey slightly sandy or silty material is coming out of what may or may not be a separate dewpond feature at it's northern end, too.

Clay lump Dewpond?
This is the clay lump at the S end of the "trough". There is a clear edge here between black mound material on the right of the lump and the orange and grey clay on the left. This is the grey silt-filled feature at the N end. Stony banks appear to come down into it from E and N. The N bank appears to be a lighter colour because we have wetted the interior of the feature to make it easier to trowel.

Overview July5
A couple of days later and the clay lump has gone. This view of the whole area (N is to the right) shows we have not found the W edge of the main feature

Week 10: 7th - 12th July

Not a lot of progress this week as several of us were away, those who were here have been removing more fill material, which is very difficult to trowel. It looks and feels like dark grey fudge.

Janet and Glenn
Here Janet and Glenn are removing more fill from what we still think are a trough and a dewpond. Looking North. You can see a large stone or rock in the fill in front of Glenn. For close-ups of it, see week 12 below.

Black fudge fill Trough
Looking closer at the area where Glenn was working you can see the black or dark grey fudge-like material filling the trough. There are heat-shattered stones and charcoal in there, too. Here's what the trough (?) looks like now.
Aerial view July5 Aerial view July12
This aerial view of the site from Terry's drone shows the site on 5th July... ...and this a week later, on the 12th. S is to the top in both pictures

Week 11: 14th - 19thJuly

The main feature is increasingly looking too large to be a trough (it would've taken too long to heat up so much water) so we think maybe it was a water reservoir, perhaps fed by a spring - or just a dewpond? But it is a very odd shape. And we still have not found the W edge. We're not too sure about the E edge, either!

Digging on July 14 Whole feature
We are removing the black fill material from the bottom of the feature Here's how it looks at this stage
N is to the right
Black fill 1 Black fill 2
This is what the stuff on the bottom looks like close-up. There is some orange clay in it - perhaps we're close to the bottom. Another view of the black fill from a bit further along the feature. There's still plenty of charcoal in both views so we're obviously not at the bottom yet
S end N end
This is the S end of the feature.
N to the right. The far side is not the true edge as you can see plenty of black fill to be removed from it. The slope on the left, coming into the feature from the S, is a true side though.
This is the N end, looking S. The sloping stony sides look to be true sides of the feature, certainly that on the L (Eastern) edge. Not too sure about the one facing us though.

Week 12: 21st - 23rd July

This is our final week this year, as we have to move on to Buxton. Unfortunately, we have been unable to come to any agreed conclusion as to what this feature (or features) represents, or even what its true extent is. We excavated its E edge a little further, to reveal what appears to be a horizontal stony layer forming an edge or maybe a step. We dug a small section westwards in an attempt to locate the main feature's W edge but this was inconclusive. We did find some large pieces of charcoal in the bottom of the feature, which may have been deposited early in the life of the mound, so we intend to get as precise a C14 dating of this as we can (or as we can afford). We also found a large nearly spherical stone in the fill of the feature. See pictures below. The stone is currently of unknown composition. Its density is about 2.6 g/cc, which is consistent with granite, limestone and several other types of rock. We are currently seeking expert opinions. The farmer is happy for us to return next year, so maybe excavation of an adjacent area(s), S and perhaps W of this one, may cast some light on what this feature is!

July21 Step?
This is a view looking south. We have started a section at right angles to it to the W (right-hand side from this viewpoint) Looking N now, that section is in front of where Janet is kneeling. You can also see on the E side where we have cut away some of that side of the feature to reveal a horizontal stone layer
From N From S
The final day, looking S. The large piece of charcoal pictured below came from the bottom, about half a metre from this N end The final day, looking N. The section cut to the W to try to find the W edge of the feature has not produced a clear result!
This is the large piece of charcoal referred to above. It is not very thick.
Rock3 Rock4
Here are four views of the rock which you can see in situ in week 10's pics
Final day team
The final day team (except Dave, who is taking the photo). We'll return to re-turf it when the farmer has back-filled it. Thanks, Graham!

Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, 7th August 2015.