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CORS Project Methodology

The method used by the CORS project to investigate currently inhabited settlement sites is to excavate 1m square 'test pits' as widely as possible within and around target settlements. The advantage of such small excavations is that each one can be completed quickly and causes minimal disturbance. Both these factors are critical to being able to excavate at all within CORS, where the limited amount of land which is free of buildings is mostly divided into relatively small plots held in private ownership and is subject to intensive domestic and social use as gardens, yards, drives, playgrounds and so on. Unlike similar sampling programmes across open landscapes, the choice of sites for sampling in the CORS project cannot be based simply on a theoretical model, but is limited by practicalities of access and consent, only after which can selections be made in order to ensure that as representative and unbiased a range of locations as possible are excavated across the target area.

Most CORS project test pits are excavated by members of the public working under instruction from the University of Cambridge project team who are available on site at all times to monitor progress and provide advice as required. All test pits are 1m square and follow the same excavation and recording procedure, which usually takes two days to complete.


Excavators are given a briefing lecture explaining how to dig and provided with a handbook containing stage by stage excavation instructions and a recording booklet with pro-forma pages for documenting each stage of the excavation.

Each team measures out a 1m square, makes a measured survey plan to record its location within the plot it occupies, removes any turf, and then excavates to a maximum depth of 1.2m in a series of 10cm spits. The surface of each spit is drawn at 1:10 scale before excavation. Features, if encountered, are excavated and recorded in the normal context-by-context manner.

All spoil from each spit is sieved for finds using a 10mm mesh (with exception of very heavy clay soils which have to be hand-searched). Finds from each spit are kept separate. Finds are spot-identified on site by experts who are present for the duration of the Field Academy and visit the test pits regularly. At the same time they can provide advice and check that the excavation is being carried out and recorded to the required standard.

Once each test pit is completed, sections are drawn and soil samples are taken from each spit for phosphate analysis. Pits are then backfilled and turf replaced to restore the site. Most test pits are completed when they reach natural or the maximum safe depth of 1.2m. A minority will stop on encountering a feature (ancient or modern), which is deemed inadvisable or impossible to remove, or have to finish at a level about natural due to time constraints.

Finds and completed record booklets are taken back to the University of Cambridge for formal identification, analysis and reporting. Data are submitted to HERs as soon as they are available, usually within a few weeks.