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Friday 28 October 2011

Garden Archaeology in Burton Green

Describes an amateur archaeological dig, in a garden at Burton Green, Warwickshire. The dig and its findings were presented to the Burton Green History Group in October 2011.

The Inspiration for the Dig

In July 2009 the large village of Kibworth, in Leicestershire, undertook an extensive investigation of its history, which was made into a BBC TV series, 'The Story of England'. See BBC The Kibworth Dig.

Kibworth is fortunate, and exceptional, in that it has a large amount of surviving documentation from the medieval period. In the absence of written documentation, some idea of a village's history can still be obtained by exploring what lies beneath the soil. In the Kibworth program, some 50 villagers dug small test pits, in their gardens, to see what might be found.

A member of the Burton Green History Group thought that it might be instructive to dig a test pit in their own garden. The resident has a house that was built in the early Victorian period. Although the present house is Victorian, the house was built on the site of an older dwelling.

The Dig

From an 1802 map, it was known that there had been a building on this particular site for at least 200 years, so it was likely that some artifacts could be found here.

If you have access to a metal detector then this can be used to identify any hot spots in the garden and to maximise the chances of a productive excavation.

The resident chose a spot in a lawn at the rear of their house, a few metres from the house.

A 1 metre square area was marked out with pegs.

This photo shows the 1 metre square, with the turf carefully removed and stacked (for replacement afterwards).

The soil was then removed in layers of 10 cm. The piece of white card was being used simply to indicate a depth of 10cm. This photo was taken at a depth of about 8cm. Roots of some nearby shrubs, running beneath the lawn, have been exposed.

All of the excavated soil was sieved. A sieve is not essential, but it makes separation of the soil from any objects in the soil much simpler and faster. The basin contains stones that had been removed at this point.

In this particular garden, the soil was friable down to about 20cm. Then a layer of clay was encountered. In the Kibworth dig, residents were told to stop digging when they reached clay. In the Cromwell Lane dig, 20cm of the clay layer was also excavated.

The Finds

These are two trays of sieved material that was found in the Cromwell Lane dig. 

The left tray contains material found in the upper 20cm of soil, and the right tray contains material found in the lower clay layer.

The material is mainly stones, plus a few Victorian artifacts which are shown below.

Just below are the most interesting of the finds, after sorting out, and some light cleaning. All of this material, which is a considerable amount, came from the 1 metre square test pit...

There were several fragments of porcelain, originating from various different pieces of crockery.

These are fragments of earthenware (used for cooking vessels) and stoneware (used for storage jars).

These are fragments of glass, of various different thicknesses, shapes, and colours.

Several pieces of very rusty iron work.

These ought to be cleaned further, to give a better idea of exactly what the objects are. The items are quite fragile so cleaning is not simple.

Various pieces of brick.

The brick at the left appears to be part of a house brick, although the width of the brick is smaller (48mm) than the bricks of most Victorian houses.

The fragment in the middle appears to have a black surface, as though burnt. The fragment at the right appears to be part of a brick tile.

Pieces of bone.

A fragment of a clay pipe. This may have been used for smoking.

Numerous stones were excavated. This is a singularly usual stone, unlike any others that were found.

It is about 14cm in length.

All of the material shown above came from the 1 metre square test pit.

The Geology

In the Kibworth dig, residents were told to stop digging when they reached clay. Our resident proceeded to excavate for a further 20cm into the clay, to a total depth of 40cm.

This photo shows a profile of the side of the pit, after excavation to a depth of 30cm.

The red dotted lines, added to the image, indicate the boundaries between an upper layer of cultivated soil, and an intermediate layer of compacted soil, and the start of the clay layer.

The Kibworth Dig
This is a very short (1 minute) video of the Kibworth dig....

Digs in Burton Green would most likely to be productive around the old village green, Cromwell Cottage, Moat Farm, and Long Meadow Farm, though Victorian artifacts might possibly be found anywhere. There is also believed to have been a settlement near the top of Westwood Heath Road.

There are basic instructions for digging a back garden test pit here:
How To Dig Up Your Back Garden (Suffolk County Council)
Garden Archaeology (Leicestershire County Council)

A more complete methodology, for serious excavators, is described here:
Test Pitting Methodology (South Oxfordshire Project)

See Also

Burton Green History Group