Test Pit 29 - Topcliffe Mill, 36 North End

This pit was dug on a moated site south of the Church.  A manor house is believed to have stood on the site from at least the late thirteenth to early fifteenth centuries.

The Finds

The pottery from test pit 29 included five Bronze Age sherds, and two sherds of St Neots Ware and one of Stamford Ware dating to the Late Saxon period. Pottery dating to the 12th -14th centuries included 33 sherds of Medieval Sandy Ware, 24 sherds of Hedingham Ware, 86 sherds of Hertfordshire Greyware and seven sherds of Surrey Whiteware. Four sherds of Late Medieval Ware were also found.

The most notable find from this test pit was a medieval metal arrowhead. Although bows with arrows were widely used in warfare and hunting, arrowheads are relatively unusual finds, associated (although not exclusively so) with higher status sites such as castles or a manorial sites. Subsequent examination of the arrowhead, including x-ray images (shown on the right) revealed that it had squared barbs and had been wrapped in leather. According to Jessop (Oliver Jessop, 1996, A New Typology for the Study of Medieval Arrowheads, (in) Medieval Archaeology, The Society for Medieval Archaeology volume 40 (pp 192-205)) this style of arrowhead is called a broadhead and became popular by the 13th to 14th century. The large barbs were designed to become embedded in the flesh of the target and it is thought that these arrowheads were used predominantly for hunting.

Other finds from this pit included other unidentifiable ferrous metal items, slag, oyster shell, charcoal, daub and some possible ancient brick. It was the only one of the 32 pits to produce a flint blade. The faunal assemblage included bones of cow, sheep/goat, pig, horse, chicken, teal and a large quantity of unidentifiable bones of mostly sheep-sized animals.

The assemblage of Bronze Age pottery gives strong evidence for activity in this area at this time and may indicate the existence of sealed, stratified Bronze Age contexts below 0.8m depth in this area. These finds contribute towards the general distribution of Bronze Age sherds observed from eight test pits across Meldreth. The area then appears to have been abandoned until the late Saxon era when it may have seen use as fields or gardens. A dramatic expansion in occupation activity then took place during the 12th -14th centuries, with more than 150 sherds of medieval pottery produced from the pit. The sherds of Surrey White Ware are particularly worthy of comment, as such material is a very rare find in the area, and this is the only test pit which produced it in Meldreth, suggesting that the occupants of the manor had access to resources and markets which were not exploited by other occupants of the village. The pit also produced huge quantities of bone, also reflecting the manorial history of the site. The pottery assemblage then shows very clearly an abandonment of the site before the end of the 15th century, and it was never occupied again. This is similar to the picture observed at other manorial sites in the village.

For an overview of the site and finds, please click on the image of the exhibition poster which is the first image in the gallery below.

For detailed analysis of the finds, please see the results sheet for this pit, which is available as a download at the bottom of this page.

For more information on and images of the arrowhead found in Context 3, please see the Conservationist’s report.

For reports and maps relating to all of the test pits, please see the documents available on our results page.

Site Diary

Day One

After marking out the pit and measuring the site, I went to put up the “Test Pit Open” signs.  When I returned, the team had dug the first context and found medieval pottery and an old brick! This was very encouraging as although we knew we were digging on the site of a medieval manor house we were worried that work on and alterations to the field might mean that we would find nothing. The finds continued to come: lots of pottery, shells and bones. Were we digging near to where the kitchen had been located? There was lots of excitement when Erwin found an arrowhead in a clump of soil in the third context.  The same context produced 38 pieces of bone, 48 pieces of pottery and 62 pieces of shell.  We stopped for the day when we were part way through context 4. We all worked well as a team and had a great day.

Day Two

New members joined the team and again we all worked like a well-oiled machine.  Lots of people visited the site and it was enjoyable to show off our finds.  Context 4 was very productive, with lots of bones, teeth and pot. We were all beginning to be rather blasé at finding yet another piece of medieval pottery! The next few contexts produced quite a lot of finds, but not as many as contexts 3 and 4. At 4.00pm we made the decision to stop digging at the end of context 8.  However, as an exploratory dig in one corner revealed pottery, we didn’t fill in the pit.

Day Three

Work continued with some different team members a few days later.  The soil became increasingly like clay and we had few finds but it was a really enjoyable day with good company! We stopped digging after the eleventh context and filled in the pit.  With a mound of surplus soil on the top (see photograph in the gallery below), it bears little resemblance to the photographs Carenza showed us of what a finished test pit should look like!

Photo Gallery

Please click on a photograph to display a larger image.


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