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Understanding the archaeology of the Whittlewood area will not only tell us more about the historic period, where documents provide part of the picture, but will also allow us to piece together how the landscape and settlement pattern evolved during the prehistoric and Roman periods.
The archaeological evidence takes many forms and its study requires a suite of field survey techniques to be deployed. From well-preserved earthworks of medieval settlement and field systems visible on the ground (of which many currently have no accurate archaeological record), further evidence can be gleaned from careful observation and interpretation of aerial photographs. These can show buried or near destroyed features such as early field systems, road networks, individual buildings or settlements, and industrial activities. Hidden from the aerial observation, and for long periods during the year on the ground, wooded areas have the potential to preserve features of all periods within their bounds since they will have escaped in large part the ravages of the plough. Where the potential for archaeological survival can be predicted using other methods, the ability to assess the nature of buried archaeology through the use of geophysical survey methods offers unique opportunities to gain crucial evidence that may help to answer the main project questions.
Fieldwalking, the systematic collection and plotting of cultural material such as pottery and metalwork from the surface of ploughed fields, not only has the potential to identify discrete areas of past human activity, but the collection of diagnostic artefacts may allow dates and chronologies for continuity and change to be established. Only about one third of the study area is under the plough and there is a danger is that concentration on these areas will skew our interpretation of the overall patterns of early settlement and landuse. In order to arrive at a balance, a further technique, that of Shovel Test Pitting (STPs), will be used on pasture and within surviving settlements. This provides the opportunity for artefact recovery in areas which would normally be outside the scope of the non-intrusive fieldwork.
The order in which these tasks will be performed is very much dictated by the seasons and modern farming practices. Fieldwalking must take place during the period after harvest and before the crops have grown substantially (September-October). Woodland survey requires the dying back of overgrowth and leaf fall (January-February).Geophysics requires residual moisture in the ground for best results (April and October are considered good months). Earthwork survey is less dependent upon the seasons, but are best undertaken after the pasture has been closely grazed (Spring-Summer).
The archaeological programme, of which this is just an outline, will be a busy one. The two-year pilot period is designed to test the potential of the study area to answer the central questions about medieval settlement and landuse, and in particular the process of village formation and the survival of dispersed settlement patterns. The period will also provide us with the opportunity to test our own methodologies. What are the best approaches to the problems of understanding the archaeology of Whittlewood? Will standard techniques produce the quality of information we want, or will these have to be especially tailored in order for them to work? We can look forward to success and failure as we discover more of the archaeology of the study area and learn how best to tackle its identification, collection, recording and analysis.
Fieldwork progress to October 2001: areas covered
As we follow the various stages, we will add to these web pages, making sure that you are some of the first to know about how the project is progressing. Just click on the links in the lefthand column of this page to find out more.
To volunteer your services as a fieldworker visit our comments page.