Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau


The Chewton Excavation is open to group members and invited guests. We do have a placement each dig for a student either wishing to, or already studying archaeology. Several past students have done their degree excavation placements with us. 

For a readable account of the excavations from the beginning go to Our Publications page and click on 'The Story So Far'. For those who enjoys more formal detailed reports, take a look at the Interim and Summary Reports. 

Summer 2018

We dug two trenches this summer. The first was in a field outside what we believe to be the Minster Precinct boundary. We were hoping to locate an outside ditch, which can be a feature of such boundaries. No such luck. We found that the field had been a site of a quarry and that any evidence of a ditch had long been dug away. The HER did suggest that this was the case, but we had to check it out. We did think that the wall sat on a bank but that was not the case, so we backfilled and moved on. 

The second trench was in the dig field. We put a trench across the middle section of the big wall uncovered in 2015 and 2016. We needed to establish a date for its construction and how it related to the black soils of Saxon artisan activities. Not only did we establish for definite that all the courses of the wall postdated the black soils, but we also found further evidence of the first phase of the building at over a metre's depth. Although ephemeral we did pick up a cut and the lowest courses of a wall on the same alignment as that of the slumped wall from 2016 (see below) and the remains of an internal floor surface.  A very good dig indeed. 

Photos show the east end of the trench. The first shows the orangey subsoil which had a cut in it which alerted us to the course of the 1st phase wall. The subsoil on the right was in fact redeposited when the trench cut was made for the big wall on the left. 

The second photo shows the wall courses exposed once the redeposited subsoil and the black soil beneath was removed. A complicated trench. 


Lastly, the backfill team. It was all neatly filled in on Sunday morning (3rd Sept) after an explanation of what we had found was given by Pip and Kay. Coffee break included customary cake of course! 

Spring 2017. 

We attempted to answer some outstanding questions, namely

1. Where did the cross wall, first exposed in Trench 6 in April 2012, extend to? 

2. In 2011 we found a substantial drain going under an internal slab floor at the west end of the rectilinear building complex, but we didn't know how it exited the building. Did it go into a swallet, or a tank, or did it go through the foundations of the north wall and emerge somewhere downslope?

Two trenches sought to answer these questions. Trench 21 uncovered the continuation of the crosswall but, as with elsewhere on this site, crucial evidence had been robbed out. The wall stopped abruptly, short of what could have been a NE corner, either to the rectilinear building or relating to some other phase of occupation. A rubble-filled ditch feature lay immediately north of the truncation and this was a familiar feature to us, having observed similar in trench 17/17B. However, there was a curious orientation to this feature, suggesting that the corner might have formed an obtuse angle, certainly not in line with the rectilinear building. So, we answered one question and posed another!

 Left. Overhead photo  by John Croxford. 

 The wall extends from the south, but ends abruptly where  it appears to have been robbed out. To the immediate north is  a rubble-filled ditch feature and the orientation of this and  the surrounding stone work suggests an obtuse angle to the  junction. 

 Below: Viewed from the north looking south

No less perplexing was the quest to find the drain course. With a projected line of the drain plotted in our trench we did indeed uncover a similarly constructed drain channel to that previously found. This lead to a 24cm sq constructed duct through the foundations of the north wall, which then spewed out over a rubble soakaway. But then levels were analysed and we realised that this could not be the drain we were looking for. So we extended further and came down on another channel this time at the right level, but stopping short of the north wall. A rather poorly constructed duct lay beneath the base of the north wall foundation. We concluded that this had been decommissioned at some point, as there was evidence of modification in this area of the building. However, it did not explain why or how the second drain got there, or indeed what its purpose was. 

Below. Internal course of the drains as they approach the north wall foundations. The top one stops short, while the lower one is channelled to a hole in the north wall foundation

Summer 2017

On the strength of our work in 2016 in discovering Saxon occupation soils and the finding of pottery alongside bone which we had radiocarbon dated to the early Saxon period, we were fortunate to secure funding to take this investigation further. 

We put forward a proposal to dig test pits at various targeted places over the site, where we could be pretty sure there would be no previous disturbance from wall trenches. We dug 5, three of which proved successful in finding stratigraphically secure, sealed archaeology down to the natural substrate. 

We recovered much pottery, recorded  a lot of it in 3D, especially where found alongside animal bone. Six bone samples have gone off the labs for dating and we await the results with much anticipation. 


October 3rd. 

We decided to return to trench 17 which got the better of us last year, and reopen the east end of it and extend it further as 17B. We are glad we did as we now understand it far better. 

Briefly this is what we have found from the bottom up. A small amount of subsoil survives, which had been cut in to to forming gullies and ditches and immediately afterwards it gradually filled up with black ashy soil, the same as encountered last year. We have taken numerous samples for flotation and to send to the soil lab for metallurgy analysis, as this area we strongly believe was a Saxon forge and we would like to know more about what was going on there. Cut into the shallower black soil was a trench cut with wall foundation orientated N/S with an east return.  but in the deepest part of the ditch, the foundations were placed over the black ashy soil,  where they slumped drastically (see photo below).

As part of the later building they ran the course of the long WNW/ESE wall ditch straight through this earlier wall, thus almost totally truncating it, but leaving the lowest course intact. We now understand that they had also gone through the suspected area of the forge hearth and in doing so displaced vital evidence such as the cupels and crucibles, which took us some time to figure out. Most of the black soil was removed from the ditch bottom and then the trench cut was backfilled with rubble and clay matrix to make up the ground height, this being on the downslope of the hill. 

We re-exposed  the deep, 12 course foundation of the later building on a slightly different orientation NNE/SSW, but this time we understood better how they'd taken the trouble to dig out all the black and found it on the natural. 

Much potentially pre-Norman pottery was retrieved along with bone, charcoal and shell for potential C14 dating, it having been recorded in 3D so we know precisely where it came from. Some of the sherds have already been 'typed' but that work begins in earnest this week and we hope to get some further C14 dates over the winter to help with our pottery dating studies. 

We also hope to find out more about the textile threads which curiously appear in the black soil through flotation and microscope study. This will be reported on our website in due course.  

Trench 17B looking north downslope. The 12-course foundation wall of the later building is on the left, with the earlier slumped wall in the background. 

Trench 17B looking west clearly showing the severe slump of the earlier wall foundation, this in association with Saxon finds. 

Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau
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