West Dereham Sign Gary Trouton

West Dereham Heritage Group - September meeting

November 2011

For our September meeting we were pleased to welcome Jayne Bown who works for Norfolk Archaeology. Jayne came instead of Peter Watkins who has moved on since we contacted him to come and update us on the progress of the excavations on the site of the new Frimstone quarry on the north western boundary of the Parish close to Crimplesham. As Jayne was also involved during the duration of the dig she was well qualified to give us details of the findings to date.

The land is owned by Norfolk County Council and leased to Frimstones to allow extraction of sand and aggregate, their existing site having become depleted.

Before any such extraction can begin the site has to be accessed for remains of past civilisations that need to be researched and preserved. Such remains are usually very fragile and therefore vulnerable to disturbance however light. A past history of surface finds have indicated there has been some form of habitation on it in the past which has also given a guide to the age of what cannot be seen under the surface.

This is done by what archaeologist call “field walking” and artefacts that are on the surface which can be seen by a trained eye and thus collected for examination. These have been brought to the surface by deep modern ploughing. The site might also contain irregular features, humps and depressions which can be seen from the edge of the field or from the air. An air survey can be particularly revealing in a dry summer as what are known as “crop marks” appear and show a marked difference to the surrounding crop.

The soil dries out quicker over old foundations and roadways and shows up as the crop loses moisture. The opposite occurs if there are post holes, ditches or waste pits as these areas hold moisture and the crop shows up a darker green than the rest.

It was clear from the initial survey that the site held some remains which had to be investigated before quarrying could begin. This was backed up by the more modern method of looking below the surface of field with the use of Geophysics which is a sensitive device that looks for anomalies in the soil structure.

Excavation can now begin in earnest with test trenches going in all over the site.

The first layers are taken off with a machine but as soon as any indication of archaeology is seen then this stops and work goes on by hand. If you have seen the television programme Time Team then you will know how its done.

After some weeks of work one small area showed signs of having held a number of dwellings. Various artefacts, pottery etc seemed to indicate having been occupied between the 5th and 7th centuries. These people were here after the Romans left England around 438AD but so far no burials have been discovered. As the site covers 7 acres and the main excavations are in a small western edge there is no doubt more to find. It would be most unusual not to find some burials as the site is on high ground that faces out to the south which at that time would have been the vast watery world of the Fens stretching out to Ely and Wisbech. These people favoured burials which looked out over water and as at Sutton Hoo persons of importance were buried with all their possessions which included weapons, jewellery and even prized animals.

Several items have been found which are worth mentioning which included a bronze belt end, a bronze broach and a number of garment pins. There is also a lot of pottery fragments which includes some Roman examples.

It is hoped that once the cleaning and indexing of the finds has been completed they will be released and we will be able to acquire them for display in our new Heritage Room exhibition area.

It’s a matter of watching this space, to be continued.

By the time you read this we will be able to use our Village Hall after its refurbishment and the Village Hall Committee will have staged its first event.

I shall report on the open days that will take place during a weekend in October next time.

Richard C. French

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