Brimelow Farm 2018

This year we are back at Brimelow Farm to see if we can find out what is going in the field in front of the farmhouse (the one with pond in it) – and also have another look at the Roman road we found in 2004. In November 2016 we carried out a GPR survey of this field (GPR Survey (2) in the diagram below), extending the one we had started earlier in the summer. The farmer, Roy Brandon, had mentioned seeing marks in the grass in dry weather, which could indicate possible building foundations. Our survey results did not shown any evidence of these but they did throw up some linear anomalies that we thought we should investigate.  In 2016 we also carried out a survey of an area on the line of the Roman road just south of where we had discovered it in 2004 (GPR Survey (1)). The intention of this was just to see if GPR could detect the road where resistivity had always failed. The survey result was a success showing indications of the road running south along the alignment. This gave us confidence in this method and in fact was later used successfully at Garstang where David Ratledge was looking for the road. As well as the road, the result at Brimelow also indicated a thin linear anomaly running across it with a right angle end to it. This is also be a target for this years investigations.

Date: Friday May 11th

Having made things right with the farmer earlier in the week, we could start with this project in earnest – and with Andy back from his two month stint on the A14 excavations near Cambridge, we had a good turn out (Andy is now our resident archaeologist). Joining us on site was Christine, Neil, Patrick and Mark. As with our activities last time on this site, we had to spend a lot of time trying to establish our baseline datum. Over the years Roy has placed various bits of plant equipment including ISO containers in our line of sight (this is a problem the Romans must have had when establishing straight line alignments between to non-intervisible points such as over a hill). We know that the Romans used a groma for surveying but how? – was it just trial and error (which is the generally accepted method i.e. guessing a position on the alignment, then readjusting by sighting along string lines until they align in both directions). This cannot work in our case as no where on the alignment are both datum points visible. I decided to experiment and built my self a groma and brought it along to test how effective it was. In actual fact it proved to be pretty useless particularly in the breezy conditions (maybe I should have used heavier weights on the ends of the strings). However the main problem for me was the fact that there was no fine adjustment – this was surely essential for long distance alignments (the Greeks apparently used a diaopta which was the forerunner to the modern theodolite which had fine adjustment in both pan and tilt).

Anyway, while I busied myself with my surveying exercise, the rest of the team carried out the real business by laying out a trial trench over one of the GPR survey anomalies discovered in the field with the pond in it (this was easy to find as we had used the adjacent fence line as reference). A 2m x 1m trench was marked out and after removing the turf it soon seemed to become evident what the possible cause of the anomaly was. This was a broad band of cinder and clinker running north south across the trench and the pottery and material coming from it suggested a fairly modern date. This was not what we had hoped for but GPR had suggested the anomaly was deeper in the ground – perhaps 60cm down (maybe we hadn’t reached it yet).

Date: Tuesday 15th May

On site with just Andy and Mike Keulemans who joined us for the first time (he actually lives near Round Moor Farm which is just up the road so it’s quit handy for him). Before Mike arrived, Andy and I had another go at the baseline problem.  This time I was determined to establish the right line by climbing on top of the ISO container to place some makers in classic groma fashion. After some ‘messing about’ I was fairly confident I was on the right line.

Anyway getting back to the excavation we were able extending the trench to 2.5m x 2m. This gave us a better idea of the shape of the band of cinder detected last week. The next step was to put a section through to get an idea of its construction. Underneath the cinder, a band of orange clay was revealed, possibly the fill of a ditch.

Date: Tuesday 22nd May

Better turnout this week with Trevor Boardman and Dave North joining myself, Andy and Mike. While Mike and Andy proceeded to deepen the trench started last time, I spent some time trying to explain my problem with establishing the baseline to Trevor and Dave (our previous work is locate from it, so quite important). We discussed in depth about the Romans having a similar problem, and in particular, how did they establish accurate long distant alignments between to known positions (to me guesswork would just not be good enough).

Back to the excavations – Mike and Andy soon uncovered what seemed to be the natural soft sandy clay subsurface. This was a lot shallower than expected. However the surprise was a recently excavated pit on the west side of the trench which contained the remains of an animal – plastic rope around one of the bones proving its recent deposit (the bones size and type suggested possibly a pig).  Why it had been buried is unclear but large pieces of lime amongst the remains suggest a diseased animal. We decided therefore not to go any further with excavating this area. While Dave and I returned to the baseline issue (rechecking dimension take from previous visits showed that we still hadn’t got the right line), Andy was given the task of drawing up the section. It became obvious that on the east side of the trench, there appeared to be a filled in ditch.This was right on the edge of trench, which will therefore need further investigated (on our next visit).

Date: Tuesday 5th June

Just three of us today (Me, Andy and Trevor) – that is until Mark turned up with his camera. With the GM Federation Archaeological Festival drawing close (22nd/23rd June) we decided to leave Trench 1 for the time being and open up some test pits on the Road road site ensure we have some archaeology for the volunteers to work on. Using the baseline that we had established on our last visit, Andy quickly located the position for our first test pit, which was intended to be over the linear anomaly detected on the 2016 GPR survey on on the east edge of the road. Well that was the plan (more on that later).  After removing the turf from a 1m x 1m test pit, we soon reached the light brown subsoil, but no sign of the anomaly. Extending the trench another half metre to the south, thankfully the reason for the anomaly was revealed and it was as we suspected a field drain, i.e. a narrow ditch feature. It was filled with material which had experienced burning including vitrified lumps and the date for the fill quickly became a apparent when a fragment of a telephone dialer came out of it.
Having established the linear feature, we needed to find out the reason for the apparent 90 degree bend in it as shown on the GPR survey. Our next 1m x 1m test pit was located 3.5 metres west of the first but again we had to extend it by half a metre (this time northwards) before we could detect the feature. However instead of a bend, the feature continued across the trench even after another half metre extension (obviously something wasn’t quite right as it wasn’t matching our survey). Before we finished for the day one nagging question remained – could we still find the Roman road? (if not, it would not only put doubt on our previous findings, including the GPR result but also whether there is enough archaeology on this site for the GM Festival in 2 weeks time).We therefore put in a small (1m x 0.5m) sondage on the south side of test pit2 and thankfully stone cobbles began to appear just a few centimeters into the subsoil. Once back home I soon realised why we weren’t finding the linear anomaly where we had expected it be and why we hadn’t been able to detect the bend in it – we weren’t actually where we thought we where. In fact we were further east by about 3m (I can’t blame Andy, he was working off the dodgy scale on the drawing and I should have pre-marked it anyway). However it does show that we have been able to replicate our position quite accurately from our 2016 survey work.

Date: Friday 8th June

Just me and Andy today (everybody else seems to be poorly for one reason or another). Anyway we took the opportunity extend the the sondage we had opened on Tuesday to see if we could find the eastern edge of the road. Nervously we cut through the subsoil under the turf (finding good evidence for the road here was essential for a good number or reasons). We needn’t have worried however, as the telltale cobbling began to appear in some quantity, albeit at an ever increasing depth. they extended beyond our 1 metre extension. In the end we needed to extend the trench by a further 2.5 metres before we were sure we had found the edge of the road (at about 1.5 metres beyond the first sondage). The cobbles here demonstrate a significant camber here (similar ti Stanifield) and end quite abruptly which gives us a definite edge of the road. If our measurements are correct, this could show that the width of the road here was 10 metres (similar again to Stanified).  No ditch though – instead there seams to be a line of stones which was also detected last time we were here in 2004. Could it be that this was how they marked the position of the road instead of the usual ditch. A trench on the other side of the road will hopefully confirm the width.

Date : Tuesday 12th June

Four on site today, me and Andy starting in the morning as usual, with Trevor paying a visit in the afternoon followed later by Mark with his metal detector. The quest today was to find the end of the linear anomaly where it appears to turn through 90 degrees, so another test pit (No.3 ) was put in half a meter to the west of test pit 2. The anomaly appeared quite readily at the bottom of the trench but we had to extend it by another metre westward before the end of it could be seen. As predicted, it did have a 90 degree bend but this stopped after just a few centimetres. After some head scratching we decided to extend the trench northwards by half metre but no sign of the 90 degree anomaly. We therefore decided to take the extension down to the level of the Roman road which reassuringly appeared just a few centimetres  below the level of the anomaly. Amongst the stones of the Roman road the anomaly appeared but this time with just a clay fill instead of the burnt material we’d seen before. Not far into the fill, the reason for the anomaly suddenly became apparent as sections of a terracotta drain began to appear. The fill is so different and as there seems no be no indication in the sub-soil, there is a suspicion that the two anomalies may not be related.

Date: Wednesday 13th June

Afternoon start today as paid Steve Baldwin from Burscough to talk about a possible collaboration with one of his projects. It was worth going to Brimelow though, as the Patrick joined myself and Andy. Patrick as not been feeling well for since the start of this project so it was great to see him in the field. The plan today was (wip)