Case Study: ‘The Story of Hoxne’ – A Test Pit weekend at Hoxne, Suffolk

When the Hoxne Heritage Group, as a part of their Heritage Lottery Fund project ‘The Story of Hoxne’ decided to run an archaeological community event, Suffolk Archaeology, as Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service (SCCAS), were employed to provide professional advice and supervision…

Hoxne is already famous for its particularly rich and well-known archaeological and historical background, with two sites of international importance, the Palaeolithic site at the former brickworks on the Eye Road and the findspot of the late Roman Hoxne Hoard in a nearby field, plus a long association with the legend of the martyrdom of St Edmund in 870AD and its important position in the early Christian church as the site for a Chapel of St Edmund, a Bishopric and then a palace or manor for the Bishops of Norwich. The excavation of the 1m square test pits was therefore a rare and exciting opportunity to investigate, in some areas for the first time, the archaeological potential of the village, for both local volunteers and archaeologists alike.

Volunteers working on a test pit in their garden at Hoxne

A total of twenty-nine test pits were excavated over the course of a weekend in July 2013 by a group of over 70 volunteers, predominantly consisting of local residents but also including people from further afield, despite the summertime distractions of glorious weather and a British man finally winning Wimbledon. Suffolk Archaeology provided each team with a recording and guidance/info pack, and its staff circulated around the test pits throughout the project providing advice and, if needed, some encouragement! The volunteers were shown how to systematically excavate and record their pits, and then process their finds, so that their results could be included in the final project report.

Volunteers working on one of the test pits in Hoxne

The test pits usually contained a series of soil layers which had been created by human activity in the medieval, post-medieval and modern periods but some test pits identified man-made features, such as the edge of a platform cut into the natural slope for a former building, possible cobbled yard or road surfaces, and a former ditch. Two test pits found pottery dating to the early medieval period (c. 11th-12th century), with slightly later medieval pottery, dating to the 12th-14th centuries, from eight test pits and later medieval pottery dating to the 15th-16th century, in twelve. This is an important result as, apart from in one or two locations, little such evidence for medieval Hoxne has previously been found.

Jo Caruth presenting the final results of the project in Hoxne Village Hall

Most of the test pits then contained post-medieval and modern material, the quantities generally reflecting the location of each site in relation to the established post-medieval settlement. The post-medieval finds consisted of a typical range of material that would have been used in everyday life in the village and shows how domestic rubbish was often discarded in the immediate vicinity of homes and businesses. Twenty-five pits contained pottery, which included imported vessels, a wide range of industrially produced vessels and other twentieth century ceramics. Other finds included ceramic building material, fragments of clay tobacco pipe, glass, metalwork and organic material such as animal bone and oyster shell. The frequent modern material, such as concrete, tarmac, marbles, coins and plastic toys also showed how, despite our modern methods of rubbish disposal, we are still creating new archaeological deposits for future generations to discover.

In addition to the main event our Outreach Officer also visited the local primary school and showed pupils how to excavate two test pits on the village green. We also produced a full project report, in the same fashion as our commercial projects, so that the results could be added to the Suffolk Historic Environment Record. Suffolk Archaeology staff also provided a presentation of the results at a final event to mark the end of the overall HLF project.

Mosaic depicting the legend of St Edmund hiding under Goldbrook Bridge, Hoxne, created by Hoxne schoolchildren using finds from their test pits