Pointy sticks in the peat...
During the summer of 2011 Birmingham Archaeo-Environmental from the University of Birmingham undertook a student training excavation at Geldeston, Norfolk. The site, defined as a post alignment, had previously been identified during a Halcrow-BESL initiative of flood alleviation works on behalf of the Environment Agency. A programme of recording was undertaken in 2010 on surviving parts of what appeared to be a timber post alignment and trackway. Although no dating has yet been carried out, the site bears close resemblance to two other post alignments in the same 3mile stretch of river valley; at Beccles and Barsham. These were found to date to the late Iron Age and it is thought the same is true of the site at Geldeston.
In order to place this structure within the context of the region it was decided that a new excavation on an undisturbed part of the site be carried out as part of the Archaeology undergraduate fieldwork training programme. Work was carried out in two areas. The first was adjacent to the previous excavations where the topsoil had been removed but archaeological investigation had not taken place. A second trench was excavated to the north of the known archaeology using a mechanical excavator. The site was then cleaned by hand in order to reveal the large upright oak posts and horizontal trackway structure that characterised the site.
A section was then excavated across the alignment within Trench 2 which revealed a triple post row with a small amount of timber debris around the posts. (Picture 1, above) This type of debris has been seen previously at the Beccles alignment and seems to have been brought from offsite, possibly to consolidate the ground surface during the insertion of the posts (Picture 2, right). Some of this debris probably resulted from the shaping of the posts but the majority relates to the reduction of larger timbers to make objects that are not represented at the site. In some areas this debris, and the tops of the posts, had been burnt possibly indicting a phase of drying out at the site that allowed the debris and the peat to catch fire.
At the south end of this trench a concentration of Iron Age pottery was recovered which may represent several vessels being deposited at the site. This may have occurred as part of the construction phase as accidental waste or alternatively this may represent the deliberate deposition of artefacts near the terminus of the post alignment. The pottery is currently being analysed and we hope to have a better indication as to the date and function of the vessels soon.
A total of 18 oak posts were recovered during the excavation using a tried and tested method involving a rope, a bit of carpet and a long pole (Picture 3, above)! Although the tops of the posts were in fairly poor condition the tips were perfectly preserved
(Picture 4, right). The ends of the posts displayed a variety of toolmarks indicating several different tools indicating that several people had worked on the construction of the alignment. These toolmarks indicate the use of iron rather than bronze tools helping to add to the suspicion that this alignment may be Iron Age. The posts were then photographed and drawn in the field then sub-sampled for dendrochronological analysis (Picture 5, below). Two posts were retained for laser scanning to record any possible tool signatures (where a damaged axe has left its impression in the wood). The remaining posts were then reburied during the backfilling of the site (Picture 6, below).
The timber debris has been recorded and preliminary examination shows that it mostly consists of oak wood chips and larger pieces of debris. A small proportion of the worked wood recovered was not oak and will need to be identified under the microscope. The information gathered by the students in the field has been entered into a database and will form the basis of the statistical analysis of the wood assemblage (Picture 7, below). The laser scanning of two of the posts provides highly accurate 3D models for future analysis and virtual display, with the opportunity for creating perfect physical replicas in the future.
The site was not only visited by members of the local community during our open day but was filmed for the television programme, Digging for Britain (Picture 8, below). The programme is due to air sometime in August so watch this space!
The site at Geldeston forms part of a growing corpus of data for a distinctive class of site that seems to be a feature unique to the Waveney Valley in East Anglia. These structures are enigmatic and may represent pathways through the floodplain, a navigation aid to those using the river or as monuments constructed during the tumultuous time prior to the Roman conquest.