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Holes in the Landscape: Seventeen Years of Archaeological Investigations at Nosterfield Quarry

posted 22 Jun 2011, 09:36 by Paul Brayford   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 15:04 ]

The Publication Report for Nosterfield Quarry is now available to download, from theArchaeological Planning Consultancy, along with an associated feature map:

Publication report (42.38MB) | Feature map (0.96MB)

horse burial
After an epic 17 years on site the publication report for Nosterfield Quarry is complete. This important work tells the story of the northern margins of Thornborough Moor, the changing patterns of its use during the prehistoric period, the drainage of the wetland and their subsequent enclosure.

While Nosterfield Quarry has resulted in the loss of the archaeological deposits discussed within this tome, it has paradoxically added significantly to our understanding of the archaeology and landscape of the wider area and provided a framework in which future discoveries can be placed and understood.

The fieldwork and publication have been funded by Tarmac Northern. The work has been produced by Antony Dickson (B.A., M.A.) and Guy Hopkinson (B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc.) on behalf of Mike Griffiths and Associates, and has been peer reviewed by Mark Edmonds, the Anniversary Chair at the archaeology department at the University of York.

Publication Summary:

What do the archaeological deposits at Nosterfield tell us about settlement over time? The earliest evidence relates to occupation activity which may have occurred many millennia ago: possibly prior to the start of the Mesolithic period. After this communities visited the area episodically during the Later Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic leaving sporadic evidence of their settlements sites. It is possible that these visits were part of a wider pattern of occupation which may have involved contact with different regions of the north of England. Probably by the Middle Neolithic we see the establishment of the first major monuments in the area; although the settlement activity associated with the creation and use of these monuments appears to be small in scale as witnessed by the evidence from the quarry. By the Later Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age there is a significant increase in the intensity of occupation reflected in the quantity of pits at Nosterfield Quarry containing Grooved Ware. It is likely that this occupation phase is related to the establishment of the henges at Thornborough and quite probably further afield.

During the later phases of the Earlier and Middle Bronze Age funerary activity signifies the presence of communities in the vicinity of Nosterfield. This is characterised by both cremation and inhumation and resulted in the creation of a cremation cemetery in the Middle Bronze Age which was probably associated with a small extended family group. The construction of a series of large rectilinear enclosures is possibly related to Late Bronze Age activity, although these major landscape features may well be later and date to the Iron Age.

Although there is relatively little evidence for Iron Age activity from the quarry excavations, what exists is quite unusual. Further land division takes the form of two long straight pit alignments which appear to respect the location of the rectilinear enclosures. We also see the construction of two small square enclosures, at least one of which is a probabe square barrow, though as always the degree of plough truncation makes interpretation difficult. Two burials also date to the Iron Age. One burial was located in the ditch of the probable square barrow, while the other was found in one of the pits forming the two alignments. Most interesting, however, is the burial of three horses and a mule in a single large pit close to one of the square enclosures. A quadruple animal burial such as this is very rare and most likely represents a sacrificial ritual.

During the Roman period there is again little direct evidence for occupation. There appears to be some kind of agricultural or industrial activity taking place, indicated by what has been interpreted as a corn dryer, but beyond this and a few probably associated pits there is only a background scatter of abraded Roman pottery. This pottery was probably introduced into the area as a result of manuring, and includes some fairly high status forms such as samian ware and mortaria. This material clearly indicates occupation in the vicinity, and may well have derived from the putative villa at Well.

The Medieval period is poorly represented in the archaeological record. A single boundary feature is possibly of an Early Medieval date while the Later Medieval period is charcterised by features associated with the farming landscape, and documentary sources indicate the exploitation of the wetland area for peat digging.

Linear ditches forming a regular system of field boundaries testify to the re-organisation of the landscape during the implementation of enclosure across the quarry area in the later Post-Medieval. Associated with the process of enclosure is the drainage of the landscape charcterised by linear ditches, many of which contained ceramic drains. Other agricultural features include wells which were probably associated with the watering of livestock.

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