August 6/7 BIG DIG 2016

Histon and Impington Village Society Archaeology Group

Big Final Digging Weekend 6/7 August 2016

Download this report as a PDF (best for printing)  August Report

A very productive weekend not only took our tally of test pits to 28 but revealed the original Anglo-Saxon locations of both Histon and Impington, showed the reduction in arable cultivation after the Black Death, the emparkment of the Impington Hall estate and even gave us our first Roman coin !

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Yet more glorious weather saw us joined by volunteers from Cottenham, Chesterton, St Ives, Shelford, Sawston, Swavesey and Great Bardfield to augment the impressive number of friends, relations and neighbours brave enough to come to help us and try something a bit different.


Sue Miller – Orwell History Group


John Stanford – Fen Edge Archaeology Group


Robert Skeen – Meldreth History Group & Donna Martin – Soham Museum Soc

We are particularly grateful to the leaders from other local groups who came to supervise and advise, including Terry Dymott and Colin Coates from the Cambridge Archaeology Field Group. This made it much easier  to run so many test pits.  Helen Stocks- Morgan from Oxford Archaeology East again kindly came to help and advise.


Heavy work with mattock and trenching tool



Delicate recovery of a dog’s skeleton

Especial thanks to all those who went to so much trouble to host a test pit and make everyone welcome.  Thank you for your enthusiasm, the drinks, nibbles and not least the gazebos and shady trees which kept everyone comfortable.



Richard discussing a medieval pot handle from Barrowcrofts

Richard Mortimer, Senior Projects Manager with Oxford Archaeology East very kindly joined us at the Sunday afternoon bring and share tea. In a fascinating and most entertaining talk he examined and explained the finds and showed us that we really had made significant discoveries.




Church Street with Helen


Richard explained how people lived in scattered settlements up to the middle Saxon period, about 800-900 AD. They then started to live together in “tuns” or towns, with names ending in -ton. Such villages would then soon acquire a church nearby. Remarkably, we found the characteristic thick hand-made black pottery of this period both at Church Street in Histon and in Park Drive on the edge of the College grounds in Impington. So that is where and when our villages first started.

Richard  described the “manuring” of the arable fields. Every piece of animal and domestic waste – literally – and including broken pots, went onto a heap which was subsequently spread on the fields. The resulting  thin sprinkling of pottery fragments was turned over and abraded by the ploughs, indicating arable use of the land but not the presence of habitation. If the pottery stops at a particular date, it indicates that the land reverted to pasture at that time. The types of unglazed medieval pottery found in Barrowcrofts and West Road show that these fields were probably returned to pasture following the population decline after the Black Death.

At Park Drive there were no post-medieval deposits at all – it would appear that Impington Park was formed into pasture, perhaps at a Tudor date, and people were possibly resettled elsewhere.


Anglo-Saxon pottery from Church Street, Histon


Anglo-Saxon pottery from Park Drive, Impington


Cottenham Road



Park Drive



Medieval pottery from West Road


Worked flint from Park Drive


Lava quern stone from Cottenham Rd

Perhaps 6000 years old is this small worked flint, found in Park Drive. Would it be mounted in a wooden handle for a knife, or should we imagine half a dozen set in the end of a hefty club?

The piece of a lava quern stone dates from before the 12th century, when the villagers were made  to give up their hand querns and pay to send their corn to be ground at the Lord’s new windmill.


Park Lane


West Road


Jane showing Colin where she discovered the Roman coin


The Coin


The Coin


Terry and heavy sticky clay


Neatly exposed clay subsoil


The End

Thank you everyone for your help, friendliness and enthusiasm.  Over 250 people were involved at some stage or another – a remarkable effort. Several people have commented on the social aspects of the project – how  working together has promoted a feeling of community  and provided an opportunity to get to know people you would not normally meet. All quite apart from the spectacular uncovering of the origins of our villages. I hope to give a full report at a talk in October.


David Oates.            Project Leader.