YORK ENVIRONS PROJECT

COTTAM: AN ANGLIAN SITE ON THE YORKSHIRE WOLDS

PROJECT OUTLINE AND RESEARCH DESIGN

1993

A1.1 BACKGROUND

A1.1.1 Description of the area/site to be examined

The Anglian site at Burrow House Farm was discovered in 1987 by metal detector enthusiasts and has subsequently been intensively worked, yielding a rich collection of predominantly Middle Saxon metalwork. It lies on arable land high on the Yorkshire Wolds some 10 miles from the coast, in the parish of Cottam and Cowlam between Driffield and Malton (NGR 49754667). One arm of a deep fluvio-glacial valley system lies adjacent to the site.

Fieldwalking has led to the recovery of animal bone, prehistoric flints and Roman and medieval pottery, as well as some probable Anglian sherds, including Torksey ware. A few items of late prehistoric metalwork have also been found by metal detector, although the majority of the datable metalwork can be assigned to the eighth and ninth centuries AD. The finds distribution coincides with a cropmark complex, including a number of enclosures, but may not be directly associated with it. Although the material was not found in a stratigraphic context, its concentration strongly suggests a relationship to an activity area of some kind.

All the finds recovered to date have been found in ploughsoil, close to the surface. The site has been regularly ploughed to a depth of c.6" for cereal cultivation but, on at least one occasion, it has also been "subsoil ploughed" for the planting of potatoes, resulting in disturbance of material to a depth of c.15" (pers comm Robert Bannister). It has been noted that this led to the recovery of additional metalwork from the ploughsoil (pers comm David Haldenby). In some areas broken chalk is visible on the surface, and the site may have suffered from topsoil erosion from raised areas; in other places it appears that topsoil survives to a depth of at least 12". Several of the metal items are quite corroded, having suffered from agricultural disturbance, whereas much appears to have only been ploughed up in recent years and is still in a good state of preservation. The finds are spread over a wide area and several appear to have been broken in antiquity.

A1.1.2 Previous work

Since its discovery in 1987 the site has been worked annually by up to five metal detector enthusiasts. From 1987-89 some 200 man-hours of searching yielded over 60 pieces of eighth and ninth-century date. From 1990 the find rate has diminished to approximately one artefact per six hours of detecting. The metalwork finds have been systematically plotted, and published in the journal of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (Haldenby 1990, 1992 and forthcoming), although the location of the site has been withheld as a contribution to its protection. The finds will ultimately be deposited with Hull Museums and Art Galleries. To date the published finds include some 30 simple pins, 26 strap-ends, 8 lead spindle whorls, 40 iron knife blades, 14 ninth-century stycas, 19 Roman coins, plus a Jellinge-style brooch and a Norse bell. The metal detector enthusiasts did not make any attempt to systematically recover the non-metal artefacts, although they have acknowledged that substantial quantities of both pottery and bone have been observable in the ploughsoil (pers comm David Haldenby). Two main concentrations of metal finds have become apparent, and these can be seen to be roughly coterminous with two concentrations of crop marks. The date range of the artefacts suggests that the site was in use for much of the eighth and ninth centuries AD.

During April 1989 fieldwalking was undertaken for Humberside Archaeological Unit by Peter Didsbury and members of East Riding Archaeological Society (Didsbury 1990). A total of 123 worked flints, 86 fragments of bone, weighing 580 grams, and 112 sherds of pottery, weighing 959 grams, was recovered. The largest group of pottery was Roman (40.2% by sherd number), followed by post-medieval to modern wares. The only ceramic material identified as belonging to the period between the fifth and twelfth centuries consisted of two sherds of Torksey-type ware. The finds and fieldwalking archive has been transferred to the Department of Archaeology, University of York: site code COT 89)

Further fieldwalking was carried out in January and February 1993 by York University Department of Archaeology, demonstrating that agricultural activity was continuing to bring settlement debris to the surface. The finds from this field work are currently being processed.

The proposed evaluation is the result of consultation between the York Environs Project and Kevin Leahy (Scunthorpe Museums), Andrew Foxon (Hull Museums), Ben Whitwell and colleagues (Humberside Archaeology Unit), David Haldenby and colleagues, and the landowner, Robert Bannister. In addition the National Archaeological Record has been consulted as part of a search for aerial photographs of the site.

A1.1.3 Reasons for and circumstances of the project

The continued cultivation of the site requires an assessment of the extent of the current survival of the crop mark site and any features associated with the eighth and ninth-century metalwork. It is likely that further subsoiling such as required for potato planting will, over the short term, remove any surviving stratigraphy, although continued shallow ploughing may do no further damage. Although the recovery rate of metalwork has now declined the site also needs some evaluation against the continued threat of robbing by unauthorised metal detector users.

The farmer, Mr Robert Bannister, has agreed that the York Environs Project shall have access to up to one acre of land, during July and August 1993, in order to conduct some limited evaluation by excavation. Following the excavation the subsoil and topsoil will be reinstated and the land returned to agriculture.

A1.1.4 Archive deposition

It is proposed that all finds resulting from this evaluation shall be retained for study by the York Environs Project for a period of up to two years; thereafter it is suggested that they are to be deposited with Hull Museum.

A1.2 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

A1.2.1 Academic or research design

The York Environs Project has identified the Middle Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian periods as being immediate priorities for research in York's hinterland, given the relative lack of work on sites of this period in the environs compared to the major excavations that have been conducted on sites of this date in the City of York (YEP 1992). Recently published results from Wharram Percy (Milne and Richards 1992) have offered a tantalising glimpse of Middle Saxon activity in the Yorkshire Wolds, but have emphasised important questions about chronology, settlement organisation and continuity. The eighth and ninth-century site at Cottam provides an opportunity to redress this imbalance:

"The site would seem to present the sort of opportunity anticipated with some urgency by Watkins in 1983 to fill the gap in knowledge of Middle Saxon settlement sites in the East Riding of Yorkshire." (Haldenby 1990, citing Watkins 1983)

In addition, it has become apparent that metal detector enthusiasts have discovered a number of sites in Humberside and the historic East Riding of Yorkshire, which are producing rich Middle Saxon and Viking Age metalwork, but which are of a hitherto unknown type (pers comm Kevin Leahy). So far none of this class of site has been investigated through excavation. There is an urgent need, therefore, to characterise the archaeological features associated with these sites, and quantify the level of survival, before all the metalwork has been removed, and the stratigraphy destroyed.

The objectives of the proposed project are, therefore:

  1. To establish the extent and survival of archaeological deposits on the site
  2. To identify the extent of the eighth and ninth century activity and to determine the development of the site
  3. To establish the relationship of the metalwork finds and the crop mark features
  4. To determine the nature of the eighth and ninth century activity on the site

A1.2.2 Publication and presentation

It is proposed that the evaluation excavations will be published in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, continuing the series of articles on the finds from the site initiated by David Haldenby. A report will also be prepared for either Antiquity or Medieval Archaeology. The full results will also be fed into the work of the York Environs Project, and will feature in more general works of synthesis resulting from the project. Outputs of the project will also be entered into the Geographical Information System being developed for the York Environs Project, and to the appropriate county Sites and Monuments Record.

The potential for display and publicity while the project is ongoing is limited due to the rural location and current agricultural practice; it is also undesirable given the continued threat from unauthorised metal detector users.

A1.3 METHODS STATEMENT

A1.3.1 Anticipated data, methodology for data gathering and processing and its relationship to project objectives

In order to address the project aims a range of investigative techniques will be employed.

  1. Input of distribution of all fieldwalking and metal detector finds into a computerised Geographical Information System (GIS), combined with a digitised and rectified plot of the crop marks (York Environs Project) (Objectives B & C)
  2. Excavation will be undertaken in the areas marked (Fig.4) between 5th July and 13 August 1993, in order to assess the survival and nature of the site features, in accordance with the project aims. Fig.4 identifies a 60 sqm box within which on-site works wil be confined. Three proposed trenches, 20 x 10m, are marked within the box. The trenches are positioned to allow comparison of artefact-rich areas with apparent blank areas (J D Richards & B E Vyner, York Environs Project) (Objectives A, B, C & D)
  3. Further use of metal detector and magnetic susceptibility meter within excavated area and entry of data into GIS (David Haldenby et al, and York Environs Project) (Objective B)
  4. Faunal, molluscan and macrobotanical assemblages derived from the excavated areas will be examined and processed, and the potential survival of palaeoenvironmental material will be evaluated (Environmental Archaeology Unit) (Objectives A and D)
  5. Full processing, conservation and analysis of artefact assemblages will be undertaken (Hull Museums and York Archaeological Trust) (Objectives B and D)
  6. Geophysical survey of unexcavated areas, using resistivity, and input of results into project GIS (J E Szymanski, Dept of Electronics & York Environs Project, University of York) (Objective A)

A1.4 RESOURCES AND PROGRAMMING

A1.4.1 Staffing and equipment

The excavation element of the evaluation will be conducted over six weeks by two teams from the University of York, and three teams contributed by Earthwatch. The excavations will be directed by Dr J D Richards and B E Vyner. There will be an average of twenty personnel on site at any one time, with a ratio of c 1:2 experienced to unexperienced staff. The excavations will have a training brief.

Initial assessment of topsoil cover should enable the use of topsoil removal using a JCB, after which excavation will utilise appropriate equipment. Contexts will, as appropriate, be sampled for palaeoenvironmental analysis; where possible all contexts will be sieved to maximise artefact recovery. Metal detectors will be used on site to screen overburden and cleared areas.

Appropriate site cabins, tools stores and toilet accommodation will be located on farm land adjacent to the site; primary records and archive will not be left on site; records will be duplicated regularly. The site directors and supervisors will be aware of health and safety requirements.

A1.4.2 Timetable

1993
July - AugustExcavation & on-site finds processing 6 weeks
GIS data entry(YEP) 
Sept - OctConservation, as required(York)1 week?
Nov - Dec Finds processing(YEP) 2 weeks
Archive text(BEV/JDR)2 weeks
Geophysical data processing(JES)1 week
Environmental evaluation(EAU)1 week
GIS data entry(YEP)1 week
1994
Jan - AprilPublication text(JDR)2 weeks
Illustrations(YEP)2 weeks
Author Dr J D Richards
Department of Archaeology
University of York
Date 21st April 1993

References