Anglo-Saxon and Viking site at TorkseyPuddingstones | Orkney
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What the researchers say
"The Society fills an important niche in the research scene, because it supports individuals and the range of people who can apply is wide. It is extremely valuable to have a fund which facilitates the investigation of specific focussed questions which can be crucial to our understanding."
"The Antiquaries’ Research Grant allowed us to cover a lot of ground, but one special and unusual feature was that it put so much trust in the recipient between application and result. Sometimes we deliver the results in odd ways (here I am applying hearing-aid silicone to a Roman quernstone), so the ability to just get on without further complication is precious."
"The research grant from the Society in 2011 was particularly valuable because it enabled us to extend research into a new part of Orkney. It also enabled us to respond quickly, and simply, to information provided by a local informant."
Report of 2011 activities
The Society of Antiquaries provided generous funding of £5,000 for 2011, which has almost been completely expended. With permission we will carry forward the balance of £376 and use it to fund activity during January 2012.
The primary focus of the Antiquaries funding, as set out in the project proposal, has been a geophysics survey, using fluxgate magnetometry.
The appended figure shows the N-S and E-W transects overlain on an aerial photograph of the area of the suspected Viking winter camp, on higher ground to the east of the flood plain of the River Trent. The area of the camp was established by contact with metal detectorists.
The cropping regime has so far allowed survey to be undertaken over 5 fields during 3 weeks in October-November 2011, following harvesting. The data has yet to be fully processed but the preliminary analysis shows a sub-rectangular enclosure in the centre of the N-S transect, and areas of apparent pitting to the north and south. The large anomalies are the products of a buried gas pipeline that crosses the site and an electricity pylon to the north.
We aim to complete the N-S transect during 2012, following harvest of the crop in the remaining two fields, and to broaden the transects in areas of interest.
During November 2011 we were able to use University of York funding to enable two days of field-walking, with 100 students bussed to the site from York on both days. This focussed on the area of the cross of the geophysics transect, being the area of the enclosure.
Both Roman and early medieval pottery (Torksey ware) was recovered, and this will be processed and density plotted in the project GIS in January 2012. Already it is clear that there is a concentration of sherds associated with the enclosure, although it is too early to determine whether this is Roman or early medieval.
In addition, and using funding from the University of Sheffield, a small team of archaeologists excavated five test-pits in the village of Torksey in July 2011.
A range of material was recovered including pottery, animal bone and metalwork, with finds dating from the prehistoric era through to the mid-twentieth century. The most archaeologically significant element of the assemblage comprised the mid ninth- to early twelfth-century pottery; of the 537 sherds excavated, 247 date to this period.
Despite a number of test-pits being located close to late Anglo-Saxon pottery kilns, no kiln waste material was identified; instead the material suggested domestic activity. This is particularly important for our understanding of the development of the village of Torksey as previous excavations have revealed and concentrated on the industrial aspect of the settlement in the late Anglo-Saxon period.
The land in and around Torksey is frequently subject to sandstorms which often result in deep deposits of windblown sand. Such deposits were encountered during these excavations and the depth at which they occurred suggests that in parts of the village the late Anglo-Saxon deposits may be at a considerable depth below the modern ground surface. Indeed, in one test pit a seventeenth-century pit was encountered at a depth of 1 metre. Moreover, as the sand is deposited in a short space of time, there is potential it provides considerable protection for archaeological deposits.
During 2011 we also held two project workshops in York, on 24 May and 2 November, to discuss the project results and to plan future activity. These were attended by all the project team: Julian Richards, Soren Sindbaek, Steve Ashby and Hannah Brown (University of York); Dawn Hadley, Gareth Perry and Samantha Stein (University of Sheffield); Rachel Atherton (Portable Antiquities Scheme); Andy Woods (Fitzwilliam Museum); Gareth Williams (British Museum) and Jane Young (pottery specialist). Some of the Antiquaries grant was used to fund travel for participants to attend the meeting, where they could not claim this from their employer.
The residue of the Society of Antiquaries funding was used to pay a fee to Lincolnshire pottery specialist Jane Young to identify the pottery from the field-walking and test-pitting.
Dependent upon fund-raising for 2012 we hope to thin section 45 sherds to identify the kiln source, building upon earlier work by the late Alan Vince.
Our final focus during 2011 has been to establish a good relationship with the two local landowners whose farmland incorporates the area of the Viking winter camp and Anglo-Saxon beach market, and to build up the trust of those metal-detectorists who have permission to detect on these fields. This continues a project initiated by the late Mark Blackburn, at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Members of the project team are developing a full concordance of all early medieval finds known to have been recovered from the area of the Viking winter camp.
We have also worked closely with five detectorists on site and have used British Academy funding to pay for an archaeologist to organise a systematic survey and to undertake a watching brief, using GPS to log the location of all finds.
To date the location of over 100 new metal artefacts has been logged, including two pieces officially recorded as Treasure: a silver Thor’s hammer, and a fragment of gold ingot. This has demonstrated that, despite repeated night-hawking over many years, fresh ploughing after harvest is still bringing fresh Anglo-Saxon and Viking metalwork to the surface.
We aim to log all these finds and already we are beginning to identify areas of density, including one concentration associated with the enclosure identified by geophysics. This will be used to inform our choice of areas to excavate, in due course.
Prof Julian Richards, University of York
Prof Dawn Hadley, University of Sheffield