2009 Community Digs
Twenty-eight test pits were excavated at Pirton in 2009, bringing the total to fifty-six. As in 2008, many of these were excavated by local residents and members of the North Hertfordshire Archaeological Society, once again using the same methods and under the same ACA supervision as the HEFA test pits. On the basis of this large number of excavated pits, it is now possible to make, with some confidence, a number of inferences regarding the likely development of the settlement. Two main foci of activity in the Roman period can been seen, one in the north of the present village in the area of Hammonds Farm and Burge End Farm and the other to the north of Walnut Tree Farm. This later area has also produced the only evidence of fifth to ninth century date, a single sherd of Early/Middle Saxon hand-built ware from PIR/09/05. Found in a pit which also yielded pottery of Roman date, both apparently residual in medieval contexts, this may indicate a continuation of activity from the Roman to early Anglo-Saxon periods, although it is difficult to say this with certainty. The site then appears to have been abandoned until the later part of the late Saxon period. Settlement at this time appears to be widespread across the eastern side of the present village, focussed in particular on Burge End Farm, the area south of West Lane and the area north of Walnut Farm. The absence of material from test pits in between these areas may possibly indicate that the settlement was of polyfocal form, with three separate foci of settlement separated by less intensively used areas.
Almost all the excavated pits have produced pottery dating to the mid eleventh to mid fourteenth centuries, suggesting that the village at this time had become larger, more fully nucleated and more densely settled. In particular, the western part of the present village appears to be in intensive use for the first time, probably reflecting the expansion of settlement in this area as the motte and bailey castle was constructed. In contrast to this period of growth and expansion, there is a dramatic drop-off in the volume of pottery of post-fourteenth century medieval date, apparent in nearly all the excavated test pits, suggesting considerable contraction of settlement at this time. In particular, the centre of the present village north-east and south-west of the church has produced almost no pottery of this date. On current evidence, it seems that the formerly large nucleated village was reduced to perhaps no more than five islands of occupation, farmsteads or small cottage clusters, within an otherwise largely deserted landscape. Recovery does not seem to have been established until the seventeenth or even eighteenth century, and even then the volume of pottery recovered does not match that of the high medieval period.