Senuna Dig 2006

Gil Burleigh

A fourth and final season of excavation took place in September 2006. Once again, the work was organised and directed by Gil Burleigh in collaboration with The British Museum, The Heritage Network Ltd, the North Hertfordshire Archaeological Society and students from Birkbeck College, University of London. As before, it was a community project staffed almost entirely by volunteers and funded by The Townley Group (Friends of The British Museum).

The 2004-2005 excavation area was re-opened, measuring 16.0 × 16.0 metres square. The area was extended on its north side by 2.0 m to examine more of the centre of the enclosure, while a trench measuring 10.0 × 3.0 m was extended to the west from the north-west corner to reveal a larger area of the later Romano-British gravelled surface and to seek any relationship with the approximately north-south trackway shown by the geophysical survey. A 10.0 × 7.0 m extension from the south edge of the area was designed to define the southern extent of the deposits.

The southern extension revealed the deposits ceased after a few metres. It confirmed the previously observed sequence of events: around the second quarter of the first century AD, topsoil on the south side of a large, possibly natural, hollow was stripped to the underlying natural chalky-clay colluvium and a flint gravel surface laid. Organic soils then formed that were sealed by chalk pebble surfaces on at least two occasions.

The trench extended to the west demonstrated that the later R-B gravel surface continued and merged with the surface of the metalled road ten metres beyond. This road was of at least four phases, the earliest of which was unmetalled and formed a shallow holloway dating from about the early first century AD.

On the north side of the excavation area, in the centre of the enclosure-hollow, a sequence of clay-built hearths was uncovered, forming an elliptical ring around a clay-built platform. On its surface lay debris from feasting, including much broken pottery, animal bones and oyster shells, and also artefacts that may have been deliberately deposited as part of the rituals. These included the two halves of a puddingstone quern, fragments of pipe-clay figurines, stone and pottery spindle-whorls, and metalwork, such as coins (mostly Iron Age), iron nails and unidentified iron objects, as well as copper alloy objects of personal dress, e.g. brooches. The western-most hearth had part of a Late Bronze Age sword blade built into its make-up. The last hearth in the sequence, on the east side of the arrangement, was possibly as late as the third century AD. It was cut by a shallow midden pit containing considerable quantities of ovicaprid bones, oyster shells and a large variety of broken pottery, including decorated and figured Samian and a sherd of possible Arretine ware depicting a flying bird and a ram’s head.

Inserted into the central clay surface were several small pits, each containing calcined bone and ash. One, the largest and deepest, produced a number of artefacts including potsherds, animal bone, part of a copper alloy bangle and, at the base, an Iron Age coin. Another pit had an Iron Age coin at its base too.

Apparently as a result of ritual feasting, an organic soil formed across the whole hollow and above the hearths and earliest gravel surface. This soil is rich in artefacts and ecofacts.

The site as a whole was used for feasting and other rituals involving the deposition of votive offerings at funerals, both before and after the cremation of the deceased elsewhere but presumably nearby. The two chalk rubble floored structures found in previous years may have been for the exposition of corpses prior to cremation. Once a body had been cremated and the bulk of the remains buried in a nearby cemetery, it appears that some cremated remains were brought back onto our site to be either scattered around the hearths or placed in especially dug pits.