The probe at Pear Tree Farm By David Kaye

For the past seven years Mr. G. A. Harrison, the foreman for Mr. J. Mawby at Pear Tree Hill Farm, Whaplode Drove, South Lincolnshire, had been picking up pieces of Romano-British pottery in a field near Flag Lane. His daughter, Pat, recognised several of these sherds, when she visited the small private museum of Mr. J. Mossop with a party from the Historical Society of the George Farmer Secondary School, Holbeach. The field in question had been deep ploughed since 1954, and had been so treated early in the summer of 1961.

On the evening of September 4th, 1961, a probe was used on the site to determine the most likely places for hut sites. It was found that in most places an orange clay layer of natural soil was located at a mean depth of some 18 inches. However, in certain cases there was a thin deposit of burnt material in the probe’s groove just above this natural layer. The excavations proper began next morning, and by the afternoon of that day a sloping charred surface had been revealed in trench No. 1. Eventually this turned out to be a depression some five feet in width, which was packed thickly with sherds of Samianware, Castorware and local Romano British grey pottery together with a quantity of rather crude earthenware. These lay on a deposit of ash with a mean depth of one inch. (See diagram).

Trench No. 2 brought forth the first positive proof of actual buildings in the form of a few lumps of wattle and daub. In addition there were no less than 54 fragments of bone belonging to small animals, parts of at least nine different Romano-British grey pots, 18 portions of tile and brick, together with a quantity of oyster and mussel shells. On the 12th a new trench was sunk running parallel to trench No. 2 on its eastern side at a distance o! three feet. This yielded similar finds. What may have been flattened clay floor of a hut appeared in this trench and there were possible post holes too. (See Photograph).

Towards the western end of the fourth trench were four fragments of a smashed quern and an almost complete tile. Here must have been a creek from which the hut dwellers obtained their water supply. It probably became silted up after the dykes had given way sometime in Saxon times. Excavations ceased on the 20th. No coin had been found, but this was not unexpected since during the last two years on three other sites in the area only one undecipherable coin has been found. Portions of querns and other larger stone objects were found not only in the creek but lying on or near the surface over a wide area.

At this point reference must be made to the number of sherds of coloured ware (presumably from Castor), which Mr. Mossop identified as dating from about 300 A.D. This came in various shades of red, dark brown, buff and black. Unfortunately insufficient sherds of any particular vessel were recovered to make assembly possible. Mr. B. R. Hartley of Leeds University examined the Samian and was able to date it as coming from Central Gaul and being of the mid and late Antonine Period (i.e. 155-190 A.D.).

The population of the area in Roman times seems to have been as great if not greater than it is today. The inhabitants seem to have copied Roman habits such as eating shell fish, and to have bought good Roman pottery. This eked out their own crude Iron Age type of pottery, which continued in everyday use. The absence of coins is in line with this evidence, since it is quite possible that the hut-dwellers sold locally-snared fowls and caught fish to the inhabitants of towns like Castor, and spent all their earnings immediately on goods and shell fish, since coins were of little use in the Fens themselves. One of the problems yet to be solved is the presence of tiles and bricks, when no dwellings needing them have been uncovered, but there is quite a chance that this may be resolved in 1962. Has this ever been solved?

Source: Lincolnshire Life Spring 1962

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