Twenty-four test pits were excavated at Paston in 2012. Nine were sited around Paston Hall, barn and church, nine around Mundesley Road, Chapel Road, Bears Road and Vicarage Road, four in Stow Hill and two in the outlying southern part of the parish.
In general, relatively little pre-modern pottery was discovered. This may be partly due to the fact that only four of the pits were excavated to natural, three of which were in the Stow Hill area where most of the Roman and late Anglo-Saxon pottery was discovered. Another factor may be the fact that no pits were sited in Paston Green or south of the church where the village was supposedly located until the 15th century.
The earliest pottery recovered from the 2012 test pits dated to the Romano-British period, with at least five sherds of this recovered from PAS/12/21 and PAS/12/24, both located at Stow Hill. This echoes previous finds of similar material nearby (NHER 6880), and it seems highly probable that there was settlement of some sort here in the Roman period. It is less easy to interpret the single sherd of Romano-British pottery from PAS/12/07, the only other pit to produce any material of this date in 2012, which probably simply relates to low-intensity use of the area, perhaps for arable. The same Stow Hill pits which produced Romano-British material (PAS/12/21 and PAS/12/24) also produced significant volumes of Thetford Ware, with seven large sherds recovered from PAS/12/21 and two very large sherds found in PAS/12/24 in a deposit entirely free of any later material. It seems clear that habitation of some sort was present here in the late Anglo-Saxon period, and this is particularly interesting given the Stow element in the place name, derived from the Old English word meaning ‘place’, ‘holy place’ or ‘assembly place’. No pottery of this date was found in any other pits, including those around the present church.
Stow Hill produced very much less pottery of high medieval date, suggesting that settlement here at this date was on the wane, or of very limited extent. In contrast, larger amounts were recovered from several of the pits in the Mundesley Road/Chapel Road/Bears Road/Vicarage Road area, indicating tha there was settlement present in this area at this time. Considerably fewer pits further south, near Paston Hall and immediately north of the church, produced pottery of this date, giving some support to the accounts in the Paston Letters which suggest that this area lay beyond the pre-15th century settlement south of the church.
The pattern indicated by the test pit excavations for the later medieval period is strikingly different. None of the pits north of the church along the Mundesley Road produced any pottery of late medieval date at all, while the area south of the church actually produced more pottery of this date than for the high medieval period. This seems to indicate severe contraction associated with a southward shift of settlement: this seems to be at variance with the documentary evidence which indicates that the village was relocated northwards away from this area in the 15th century. However, no pits produced very much pottery of this date, and that which was recovered (from PAS/12/01 and PAS/12/05) may derive from occupation at Paston Hall rather than tenant plots, as both pits were sited within the present gardens of the hall. Overall however, the impression does seem to be of contraction in the later medieval period in Paston.