PTA Chairman Roy Platten, Leverstock Green Primary School teacher Pauline Kirtley, and Local Historian Barbara Chapman were joined by Pauline's son John and a dozen children from the school's Geology Club to take part in Time Team's Big Dig on Saturday June 28th.
A site for the test pit in the school field (a designated Area of Archaeological Significance) was chosen based on an aerial photograph which showed a parch-mark of a semicircular feature, (? boundary ditch) with a smaller semicircular feature at one end (? Iron-age roundhouse). (The photo cannot be published here for copyright reasons. However, if you go to www.multimap.com , Search on LEVERSTOCK GREEN, locate the school on the map ( there is only one), then select the scale 5,000 from the drop-down menu on the left, you should be able to locate the school fields. Then click on the tab for aerial photographs, you will see the relevant photo. This can then be enlarged by clicking on the map at the point you wish to view.)
Above: Setting out the site for the pit using the trees and the sheds in the nursery unit as landmarks as indicated by the aerial photograph. Roy Platten marks the spot to be at the centre of the test pit and is then helped by John Catchpole to de- turf the area.
The test pit (50cm x 2m) was laid out and digging began about 10.45 in the morning, and continued through to about 4.30 in the afternoon when it was decided to call a halt and backfill the pit. The compacted clay soil of the field had made excavating the pit extremely hard and only a depth of approximately 25 - 30cm was eventually reached.
Left: Immediatly under the turf was a tiny iron stain in the top-soil.
Right: Our first find, a small piece of what we thought might be Roman pottery. (It turned out to be part of a flower pot!)
Left: The soil was so compacted and hard and, especially in context 2, so full of stones and flint nodules, that it was necessary to use a pick-axe to loosen things a little. After the dig, and on re-looking at old maps, we wondered if we had in fact hit an 18th century path/trackway from Westwick Farm which had utilised the flint and stones to create a hard surface. See 1766 map extract below. If we did the gap (gate) in the hedge to the Football Club's field forms a straight line from Westwick Farm to our test pit - the possible line of the track.
Below: John Catchpole dug his own small pit on a dip in the field, a short distance from the main pit.
However, a few interesting finds were made in the course of the day's work including pottery sherds which we believed ranged in date from Roman through to modern, a couple of flint flakes (prehistoric waste from flint tool making), a large iron nail, a piece of coal and several pieces of roof tile. Initially the artefacts were taken to the Dacorum Heritage Store where they were looked at by Curator Matt Wheeler and also seen by Eric Holland, a long-time member of the Berkhamsted Archaeological Society. (3rd July 2003) Eric confirmed much of Barbara's suggested dating and made additional suggestions but felt they should be looked at by archaeologists at Verulamium museum for more expert verification.
After further cleaning of the material which reveled much better surfaces and textures, they were taken to Verulamium Museum ( on 17th July 2003) where they were looked at by David Thorold. However, he is an expert in coins rather than pottery and flint, so he retained the artefacts for further verification by his collegues. Interestingly he was of the opinion that the larger peice of pottery found in John's mini pit was of Iron Age or possibky even Bronze Age origin. If this is confirmed this will be both exciting and of great interest given that there is to date only very little physical evidence of a settlement in this immediate area during the Iron Age, and adds weight to the likelyhood of the cropmarks seen in the aerial photos as representing Iron Age settlement. He also recognised a piece of burnt flint - presumably also from the Iron age period.
A small miniature test pit 50cm x 25cm was also dug where a dip occurred in the field, and 17 cm down a very different surface was found which we would have liked advice on from the Time Team Facilitators at Channel 4. Unfortunately however at the time it proved impossible to connect through to their help line, the local exchange somehow re-routing the call to a resident of Luton! Even the Operator could not resolve this, so again the pit was backfilled and photographed, and advice will be sought later. In retrospect, and after consulting some of the arachaeological reports written locally, it would seem we had hit the natural clay surace.
On recovering the now dated artefacts from Verulamium Museum (August 22nd 2003) it would seem that the general overview of the finds is modern. The tiles were identified as peg-tiles which could date to any period from 1250. however, realistically, given the local history of brick & tile manufacture (click here for more detail), similarly the iron nail could date to any period. There is still a query over two pieces of pottery - one possibly iron Age, another possibly Roman, though the general concensus was that they were again pieces of pegtile.
Although a little dissapointing that some of the finds were not as old as we first thaught, we nevertheless met many of our aims and objectives ( see downloadable document below). The fact that we didn't actually get very deep made the discovery of more interesting finds less likely. Nevertheless, we all had a great day, had learnt a great deal (not least that archaeology is hard work!), and are eagre to see if we can take the matter further, perhaps by rasing funds for a geophysics survey to try and unlock the mystery of the parch-marks, followe by further excavation - but this time seeking some more professional help, perhaps from the Berkhamsted Archaeological Society.
A gallery of some of the photos taken during the dig can be seen below. The full, detailed site report is being written by Barbara Chapman and will be deposited with the Herts SMR, at DCHT and with Time Team. The archive will for the time being be held by Barbara Chapman, later hopefully to be displayed in the school.
Click on the documents listed below for further details of the finds, and of nearby entries in the sites & Monument Record.
Photo Gallery Showing The Dig.
Please click on photos for enlarged version.
Everyone gets stuck in at the begining. Roy takes Context sheets to Barbara (taking photo) for recording.
Admiring the main pits level surface at the end of Context 1.
The sun was VERY hot (hense the umbrella). As John digs his mini pit two of the girls sift the debris to ensure no finds are lost. The two in the centre are cleaning off some of the dirt on a few finds.
X (trowel) marks the spot of the find of a peice of what appears to be Victorian flower pot.
Levelled context 2.
John was down to what we now think was the natural layer of clay (Context 3). Work was stopped at this stage tp prevent damage to possible features not easily recognised by our enthusistic Young Archaeologists.
Roy had come across a largish peice of ? Roman tile at the very begining of Context 3. This was later diagnosed as pegtile, dating anytime from 1250 to 20th Century.
Levelling off the pit surface before closing it down about 4.45pm.
The finished surface after a day's hard digging. The orange of the "natural" surface beneath is beginign to show through.
Due to the heat and the time of day, most helpers had given up. A few were still sifting the heap by the main pit to ensure no finds were lost, before it all had to be shovelled back in! The pile in the forground shows clearly the ratio of stone to soil from the mini pit.
Sectional views of the main pit showing the different contexts. Context 2, with its high proportion of stone and flints is particularly obvious. Possibly indicating the laid track/path shown on the 1766 Dury & Andrew's map Click to link back to map.
Photo Gallery Showing some of the Artefacts.
Details of dating may alter afer verification confirmed from Verulamium Museum staff.
The photos do not enlarge further.
From Context 1:
Though initially to have been a possible piece of Roman tile or tessera, this was later identifieed as a piece of peg tile 1250+
Piece of coal. Several smaller peices were found and lots of tiny fragments of either coal or charcoal.
Though initially to have been a possible piece of Roman pottery this was later identifieed as a piece of peg tile 1250+.See photo above.
These flints were kept as the percussion marks suggested they may have been worked. However they were later identified as having been naturally struck.
From Context 2:
L: This is probably a piece of Victorian flower pot.
Below: A small fragment of coal.
L: A probable piece of flint waste, which again turned out to be naturally struck.
R: Two photos showing both sides of the same peice of possible Roman pottery. There is still a query as to the identification of this piece.
Below L: Three pieces of pegtile 1250+
L, R, & below: more pegtile. The piece above R showing a curve for a notch for a nail (peg) or similar.
AboveL & R : small sherd of glazed pottery, post-medieval in date, showing evidence of glazing on both sides. L: a tiny sherd of similar pottery, possiby from the same vessel.
Below: Two small pieces of pottery, thought to be post-medieval and possibly modern.
L & R : These were all thought to be small fragments of 19th Century china. Top R shows the largest fragment enlarged, Bottom R showing two fragments of typical "blue & white" or "willow pattern" china. However, some of the other white pieces were in fact chipped off pieces of natural flint.
Above L & R. Two small fragments of slag.
From Context 3:
Above L & R : More pegtile, from just into Context 3 (click here to show picture of Roy excavating the items.) The right hand picture shows the largest piece greatly enlarged and turned over. The pieces were apparantly all together but very friable and they crumbled as they were taken from the soil, leaving many almost dustlike pieces behind.
Right: An iron nail noticed by Eleanor Platten just as we were about to close down the pit. It was in the end section wall and mostly outside the pit, but Eleanor's sharp eyes spotted it and it was pulled carefully out. It is unlikley to be Roman as it appears to be circular in section ( most Roman nails were square sectioned), but it could be from almost any period from Roman times.
From John's pit.
L: This piece of pottery was found in Context 1 and was thaught by David Thorold to be possibly of IronAge in origin, though later dated as post 18th century pegtile. A further opinion is being saught.
R: The twp pictures are of the same fragment, as yet unidentified.
Below: The two picture on the right are of the same piece of what is probably tile. The two very tiny fragments on the L part of numerous very tiny fragments all found in much the same are of the pit.