Thoughts on SWAAG 2019

Area 2 excavation underway, July 2019

In July 2019 Tony and Mick from Vindomora Solutions Ltd acted as professional support for this year’s Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group‘s excavations at The Hagg, Fremington, in Swaledale. The group’s annual excavations at the site started back in 2012 and it was good to see the progress made when this season’s excavation closed and we got the site plan updated.

The site is an enclosed hut circle settlement of a layout and style usually associated with late prehistoric construction. The site however belongs to Romano-British period, with the artefact assemblage almost entirely Roman in date and ranging from a wide variety of pottery forms to a cosmetic palate, a good number of quernstone fragments, jet jewellery and herb pruning tools. The settlement seems to be an extended farmstead formed of distinct platforms and terraces, with the platforms divided by stone walls and/or banks with interconnecting pathways between. Three of the platforms investigated to date hold the remains of buildings: one of the buildings comprises the remains of a stone-built hut circle (dating to the 3rd century AD based upon pottery samples recovered from beneath the flagged floor) with a large central hearth, the remains of a windbreak stone screen and a large east-facing doorway complete with a socketed door sill and porch. Two of the other platforms also hold building remains, though these are smaller structures and appear more oval than round: so far, though not as yet fully exposed these second two buildings do not appear to have central hearths, so we may be looking at working buildings or storage rather than living spaces… mind you, this question won’t be answered until both have been fully explored and we can complete the picture (environmental sampling for ash, calcined bone and cinder helps with this). Each of these buildings appeared to have its own flagged yard of roughly equal size, leading off a ‘courtyard’. The eastern platform also appeared to have a small southern annexe which we started to look at this year.

Naturally, the most interesting features appeared in the last few days of the season, including a lovely potential grain dryer. The image to the left (click to zoom in) shows Mick trying to clean the feature down on the last afternoon of the last day…

This year’s investigations were based on four open-area excavations. Areas 1, 2 and 4 were primarily excavated by members of SWAAG and volunteers and Area 3 was excavated and recorded by students from Newcastle University, under the supervision of Dr. James Gerrard

Discussing the section of Area 1Area 1 comprised a wide trench designed to look at the northeastern building located on the site during the 2018 season. The aim of the trench was to establish the stratigraphic link of the building to the rubble and cobble bank enclosing it on its north and eastern sides. The excavation showed that the two appeared to be contemporary, with the large foundation stones of the the building being laid and then the bank behind it being built up and heightened as the back wall was built, with the bank height suggesting it was built to the height of the eaves of the building. Once complete, a layer of decorative cobbling was laid across the surface of the bank, comprised of cobble and crinoidal limestone chunks. The excavation showed that as the building went out of use and either collapsed or was robbed (or both), without the structure of the building’s back wall in place the bank behind it shifted and slid across the building’s stone floor below it.

Area 2 showing some nice flaggingArea 2 was a much wider open-area designed to target and identify the nature of a small sub-rounded annexe on the southeastern edge of the settlement. It was found to be a roughly square flagged ‘yard’, open to the west with revetted walls marking its boundaries to the north. As previously noted, a potential grain dryer was discovered beneath the flagged surface (it had been deliberately back filled and flagged over in the last period of use of the settlement), and a second potential feature was also noted, marked by a distinct edge and sunken look to the flags, but there was no time to investigate it this season and has been flagged up for the future. Most of the pottery we retrieved from the area was very late in date, including some 4th century Huntcliff-type wares, suggesting that this part of the site was in use in some form likely until abandonment of the settlement.

Area 3 under investigationArea 3 was a long, wide trench running to the rear of the domestic hut circle identified in previous seasons. The aim of the trench was to investigate the stone boundary wall marking the southern edge of the platform as well as work out what was going on in the land to the rear of the hut, especially as previous seasons had discovered iron tools associated with pruning. The area was also extended up to the western embankment of the main enclosure, which appears to be a re-used dyke-style earthwork embankment noted on LIDAR to run from the northwestern corner of the settlement to nearly 490m to the southwest, aiming for the River. This brings into speculation a potential physical link of the farmstead settlement with the Iron Age enclosure/potential hillfort at Grinton, the latter only 320m southwest of where the earthwork appears to terminate. This would obviously suggest an earlier phase to the farmstead, a theory potentially confirmed by the cut features noted beneath the rubble in Area 3 at the end of this season’s excavation, when late Iron Age pottery was recovered from a feature noted to run beneath the Roman strata. Photogrammetric reconstruction of the excavation by Vindomora also enhanced Newcastle University’s recording of the area, identifying six potential post-holes to the west of the Romano-British hut circle, which line up in a perfect semi-circle suggesting an earlier-phase roundhouse on the site. This has now been flagged for further investigation in future seasons.

Area 4 investigated the hill-top to the north of the main core of the settlement. The hilltop has long been subject to speculation as it commands a wide view across the valley and up across Fremington Edge, suggesting an ideal spot for watchtower, signal station or other similar feature. The LIDAR imagery and visible earthworks produced a network of potential features, but upon excavation the line of a flagged pathway was uncovered, as was the edge of crinoidal cobbling and a flagged feature with a crinoidal limestone edge. Artefactual material recovered included Roman pottery and daub: enough was recovered to show that a whole future season could probably focus on the hilltop!

Excavating on the hilltop

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