Saturday 9th January saw the 25th Derbyshire Archaeology Day unfurl its wings at its now traditional home of the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield. Derbyshire Archaeology Day is a chance for many of us interested in archaeology and heritage, both professional and amateur, to catch up on events, projects and of course excavations over the preceding year, but it was a day tinged with sadness as the recent death of a long-time supporter of all things archaeological in Derbyshire and beyond, Jon Humble was announced. Jon was known to many of us, and he was tireless in his championing of our archaeological heritage, from producing management plans for sites such as Arbor Low and Stanton Moor, to squirming around in some of our long-forgotten mine-shafts and more. I last bumped into Jon on a Neolithic Studies Group (NSG) field-trip to Pembrokeshire, and his interest in Neolithic archaeology was matched by his knowledge of the industrial heritage of the area. Always ready with a joke and a camera, he will be missed by many.
On to the presentations. The first of the presentations was by Matt Beamish of University of Leicester Archaeological Services. This detailed some of the work which had been undertaken at Trent Farm, Long Eaton. This turned out to be a really multiphased site, with evidence of activity dating back to the Paleolithic. Whilst this was limited to a single artefact (a Cheddar point for the keen amongst you) it does shed just a glimmer of light on the very distant past. Rather more interesting was evidence of Mesolithic people living by the River Trent. A post-lined pit was the star find – it was lined with posts made from oak and ash, and these were ‘squared off’ at the sharp end, clear signs of being worked by human hand. These were radiocarbon dated to the middle of the 8th millennium bc (approximately 8,500 bc). Nearby was a layer of wood chipping and other organic material, which was probably the waste product of working the timbers for the pit. One other possibility is that it was a simple water filtration device . . . Elsewhere on the site the team revealed a number of Romano-British features including a well, enclosures, ditches and pits which have been dated to between the 1st-4th centuries AD. The Romano-British occupation seems to have been episodic over this period. The most recent archaeology was a number of Edwardian rifle ranges. These took the form of walls and some distance away, trenches. They pre-date WW1 and were used by the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Two of the walls are still upstanding!
Next up was David Ingham of Albion Archaeology reporting on a relatively small-scale excavation at Willington. I say small-scale, but this is in relation to the extensive work already carried out on the prehistoric sites in the area. David reported on a pair of ring ditches, one single and one double, which emerged during development work. Taking the single ring ditch first; the ditch itself was approximately 1.3m wide and 40cm deep. There were no finds in the ditch itself, but 3 pits within the centre held a bit of a surprise. Among the finds were a number of Bronze Age loom weights, these were typically a little over 150mm long and weighed 2.5kg. Of more interest perhaps was the largest of the pits which contained 120 kg of burnt/heated stones packed into the bottom. This, coupled with evidence of burning, strongly suggests that the pit was once used for heating water. Now among the finds in this pit were shards of pottery, some of which bore impressions of fabric or textiles and it isn’t too fanciful to think of this site being involved in textile production including dyeing of fabrics!
The double ring ditch was very different. Here the ‘entrances’ had been blocked off in prehistory and in the centre was an area which may have been a mound, but that had been much reduced, almost to ground level. There was a central pit with what seemed to be a charcoal lining – probably decayed wood and nearby was a small area of burning, as was evidenced by the remains of an oak plank – this was dated to around 1981 BC. No bones were found here, but it may be that this is due to the very acid soil on the site. The ditches were wider and deeper, being up to 2.5m wide and 40cm deep. Interestingly, there seems to have been later activity on the site, with a revetment or palisade of small timber posts around 1300 BC. Such re-use of sites in the past is not at all unusual and speaks of a continued reverence of the site by people long after the original site was created.
Steve Malone of Trent & Peak Archaeology was up next with the first of the presentations featuring the use of Lidar. This is a relatively new airborne survey technique which uses lasers to map features present in the ground. It measures the small changes in height, and you can even ‘remove’ trees and other obstacles from the picture. Steve’s presentation was the work which is being carried out for the DerwentWISE project looking at the lower Derwent valley from Matlock to Derby. Of course this is most famous for the World Heritage Site of the Derwent Valley Mills, but this project is showing us many more sites and features that were previously unknown. The results are impressive, but sadly I don’t have any images for you! DerwentWise has over 60 projects embedded within it and there were two more presentations linked to DerwentWise and Lidar data.
We heard from Anna Badcock who used historic maps and records in conjunction with Lidar data to trace lost gardens of Kedleston Hall. We also heard about a 4 year project aimed at improving our understanding, presentation and interpretation of Duffield Castle. Given that I’d heard of it and had seen Castle Rd in Duffield, I was surprised to find out exactly where it was! I’d always thought Castle Rd led up to the castle, seemingly not . . . So it seems that the project is off to a good start, and I for one will be paying a visit to see how things progress.
The prize for the most challenging excavation of 2015 must surely go to the Trent & Peak Archaeology excavations at Darley Abbey Mill in Derby. The excavations involved examining the weir and the possible remains of a medieval mill. There is historical evidence for the area being used for small-scale industry on 18th century maps, but little else so far. Indeed, a promontory on these maps has been removed, making it more difficult to understand the history of the site.
However, what emerged over the course of the excavation was a fairly substantial structure with both timber, brick and stone elements. As can be seen in the images, some of the posts were up to 4m in length. These had been worked (e.g. split or shaped into spikes) and driven deep into the river bed. All the timbers have been dated to an 80 year period (1453-1536). The date range of the timbers suggests that the structure had been conserved or repaired at some point, but no such work was carried out after the monastery was dissolved in 1538. Paul Flintoft argued that the evidence so far has suggests the presence of a mill and the site has much in common with others found in the region. However, this is not yet conclusive and given the removal of evidence in the past, this may be as much as can be said with any certainty. We have to thank Paul and Trent & Peak Archaeology for the images here too.
The day ended with Ken Smith of the Peak District National Park’s Cultural Heritage team providing an update on the work of the Park. Of course, Jon Humble had been involved in much of this, and was a fitting way to end the day. Another successful Derbyshire Archaeology Day done, and our thanks to the organisers. I attended with friends who had not been before and they were very impressed, and are looking forward to coming back next year. What more can you say?