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The Contribution of Test Pits to Archaeology

last modified Apr 08, 2014 04:10 PM
Dr Carenza Lewis was recently invited to talk at the Swaledale Big Dig launch about how systematic small-scale excavations in Curently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) are advancing our knowledge and understanding of medieval settlement origins and development.


The Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group (SWAAG) are organising community test-pit excavations in the villages of Reeth, Fremington and Grinton this summer. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and supported by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, SWAAG will begin with a series of training events and introductory talks in preparation for three weekends of test-pit digging in May, June and July. Other than a reference to Reeth in Domesday in 1086, and its proximity to an Iron Age settlement to the west of the village, very little is currently known about early occupation in the area. In the last fifteen years, the technique of test-pit excavation has been increasingly used by archaeologists to reconstruct how CORS have changed overtime, and the University of Cambridge CORS project led by Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA), has used the same methodology to dig and record over 1500 test-pits in over 50 different rural communities since 2005.

You can view Carenza's talk and slide presentation to SWAAG about the contribution of test-pits to archaeology at the Swaledale Big Dig launch last month in the embedded YouTube video below, courtesy of Mike Cooke of Colliewood Films.

In this, she not only presents distribution maps of the pottery recovered from test-pit sites to show how individual settlements have changed overtime, but also how comparison between villages in the University of Cambridge CORS project is showing regional variation in the rise and fall of population levels and provides new evidence for the impact of events such as the Black Death. Although the majority of ACA's test-pit excavations have taken place in East Anglia, the unit have also run and supervised digs in central and northern England, at Kibworth in Leicestershire in 2008 and at Castleton in Derbyshire in 2008 and 2009. Carenza discusses how these case studies are proving to be interesting contrasts to the patterns seen in the east of England, and that the excavations to be undertaken by SWAAG will also contribute towards this bigger picture. The findings from the ACA test-pit excavations are published annually in the Medieval Settlement Research Group (MSRG) journal. Scanned copies of the articles are available to view and download on the ACA website here.

Carenza was also approached to give the key note talk last month at a meeting of the Friends of Corhampton Saxon Church, Hampshire, who have been investigating the Saxons in the Meon Valley, again as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project. During her two day visit, she was taken to the church at Corhampton (dating to c.1020AD) and shown some of the Saxon archaeological sites in the Meon Valley being highlighted by the project. She also visited Droxford Junior School (shown below) and met members of the South Downs National Park Authority to discuss incorporating archaeology in the new Key Stage 2 History curriculum, which covers Britain's settlement by Anglo-Saxons as part of a chronological narrative of prehistoric and early medieval Britain. For more information about their project, please see their website here.

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