YORK ENVIRONS PROJECT

COTTAM: AN ANGLIAN SITE ON THE YORKSHIRE WOLDS

Fieldwalking

1993

By B. E. Vyner

In mid-January 1993 part of the northern area of the extensive arable field at Cottam which had produced the metalwork finds was gridded for fieldwalking. Referring to the eastern hedgeline, a 30 metre grid was established using ranging poles and an optical square. Over four days late in January and in early February 122 squares were walked by a team of first year students. An area of almost 11 ha was covered. Not unexpectedly, weather conditions were wintry, cold and dry on one day, but cold, wet and windy on the others. Students were shown the range of material likely to be present on the field surface and fieldwalking was undertaken by line, six or seven students and a supervisor slowly walking each square from east to west. Obviously modern material such as asbestos roofing fragments and plastic items, as well as geological specimens, were discarded on bagging the finds from each square. Initially what appeared to be lumps of iron slag were retrieved, but these were spread so thickly and ubiquitously across this area of the field that it became impractical to retain them and after the first day these were ignored. Doubt as to their origin was resolved only later in the summer, when thin-section analysis undertaken by David Dungworth revealed at least some of this material to be slag with a high iron content. Having regard to the research aims of the project, interest was concentrated on material potentially of post-Roman date. However, the existence of a Romano-British, if not earlier, establishment, provided the potential of a direct precursor to the later activity, while the known difficulties of identifying ceramic material of the post-Roman period imposed a certain rigour on the recovery and discard process. It soon became clear that, while there was a quantity of pottery of undoubted Romano-British date, as well as a range of pottery fabrics whose origin was less clear, material of medieval and post-medieval date was almost completely absent; generally distributed fragments of post-medieval tile and brick were discarded. Fieldwalking recovered an extensive collection of flint flakes of Bronze Age or earlier origin, together with a few flint artefacts.

Comments on the assemblage.

Prehistoric material - JB has done a report - there is a concentration of blades and points to the north of the fieldwalking area. Note the sherd of Collared Urn from the surface of the main ditch, Area 1. TGManby reckons there should be a barrow in the field, so it might be worth chasing him for some more information to see if either the pottery sherd or any flint finds tally - I will if you want. I should not have thought the CU sherd would have moved far, but it is on its own and does not correlate with any arrowhead finds. There are 4 identified Iron Age pottery fabrics, but tiny quantities. For what it is worth they seem to be focussed toward the centre of our fieldwalked area, ie somewhat to the west of where we excavated.

Roman material - RB greywares are distributed across the whole area walked, as is Huntcliff Ware. It is interesting that there is no obvious Romano-British material apart from pottery - no metalwork, no querns or other stonework.

Potential post-Roman material - Torksey Ware has an interesting distribution, limited to the east. The whetstone fragments are useful confirmations of the metal detecting finds. Fabric 3, the main 'uncertain' pottery fabric, is quite widely distributed, but is interestingly absent from the central area, including the area we excavated. Query: if Fabric 3 is RB why does it not have the same distribution pattern as the RB greyware? (or Huntcliff Ware, come to that). Could one argue for rubbish disposal from domestic activity centred where we excavated? Why is the fabric absent from the fieldwalking assemblage at this spot, but present in excavated assemblages?

Medieval and post-Medieval material - a small amount of material which seems to be mostly distributed in the eastern area. This is probably the result of manuring, and its distribution is probably related to the location of the farm - manuring usually takes place in the winter when weather windows enforce limited access to the fields, plus disinclination on the part of horse and man to go further than necessary.