Excavation at Fornham All Saints

Suffolk Archaeology CIC are currently working on a large scale excavation between Bury St Edmunds and Fornham All Saints. The site lies close to the terminal eastern end of the Fornham Cursus and the excavation follows previous extensive evaluation work at the site….

The Excavation

Early days of the excavation site strip in April 2016. Photo taken by Comissionair.June 2016

The excavation was started in early April and so far, at the northern end of the site, we have found around 120 Iron Age storage pits.

These pits are distinctive in their uniformly circular shape, mostly steep sides and flat bases. Very few of the pits intercut, suggesting a single phase of activity where the knowledge of the location of the earlier pits is maintained as new ones are dug. The pits are filled with variable quantities of pottery, animal bone and other waste deposits. Occasional deliberate, placed deposits can be expected.

This sort of pit group is widely recognised for the Iron Age period and the pits are thought to have been used for grain storage before later being filled with domestic debris. Similar groups of pits have been found at sites on the opposing side of the Lark Valley at Fornham St Genevieve (FSG 019) and at RAF Lakenheath (ERL 147 and ERL 222. After filling with grain the pits would be sealed and this would prevent both air and wildlife from getting to this precious commodity. The evidence for this interpretation however is often weak or absent as we rarely actually find grain within the pits.

A group of Iron Age storage pits after excavationOnce the grain was removed the pits were used for rubbish disposal and in some cases we find special deposits of parts of human skeletons, animal skulls or whole objects. We think that these were put in deliberately, perhaps at the end of a season, or the end of the use of a pit cluster, to officially close the pit…and perhaps as a good luck charm for the next year’s crop. These pits are an important part of an Iron Age settlement, although we don’t always find the houses to go with them.

Pottery from these pits suggest that they were in use between about 400 and 100 BC. We will need to take some radiocarbon dates to try and refine this further and establish a beginning and an end date for the settlement.

Northern excavation area, July 2016. Photo taken by Comissionair.August 2016

With this initial phase now complete, the Field Team have now moved up the slope towards the southern end of the site. Here the archaeology has revealed a multi-phase landscape with a Bronze Age droveway, a Roman field system, a 'D' shaped Iron Age enclosure and more storage and quarry pits along with later post-medieval and World War 2 activity. We are finding large quantities of flint both worked and burnt. There are small 'temper' pits full of burnt flint for possible use in pottery manufacture as the tempering agent.

Excavating and recording a possible 'working hollow', Fornham All Saints

We have also recovered quantities of Beaker pottery from a small Bronze Age pit. This pottery appears in Britain in about 2500BC, at the same time as the earliest metal objects. Beakers have all-over decoration, or designs in panels. They are always geometric patterns, in lines. Sometimes the panels are outlined by incised lines. The decoration is applied by either comb impression – a toothed comb pressing into the dried pot using a wooden, stone or antler comb, cord impression – using a twisted cord or by finger nail impression – the nail was pressed into the wet clay to make a half-moon or twice to make a leaf shape.

One of the features currently being excavated is a large metalled surface (flint and stone cobbles) which may be a ‘working hollow’ or possibly even a Bronze Age ‘pond barrow’.

These areas are still under investigation and more information on the features, functions and dates should be seen in the coming weeks.

Regular updates on the progress of the excavation are being provided on our Facebook page.