Past in Mind Archaeological Excavation Project (Monday August 13th to Sunday August 26th, Public visit days August 27th/28th, Backfilling August 29th– 30th)
General Briefing Information
Introducing the Past in Mind Project
Past in Mind is a Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ funded project run by the mental health charity Herefordshire Mind, and is an innovative heritage, community learning and mental health support project. It is running from June 2012 to June 2013, and is undertaking an exciting new historical and archaeological investigation of the lost settlement at the Studmarsh/Grove (located on the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire).
The project is being undertaken by volunteers including people recovering from mental health problems. With professional support and training, volunteer opportunities will include historical research, archaeological survey and ‘digging’, finds and results analysis and the development of displays and other information resources.
The Grove archaeological investigation
The Studmarsh/Grove site today consists of enigmatic patterns of ‘humps and bumps’ spread across a grazed field. Although the site – first recognised on aerial photographs in the 1970s – would generally be described as a ‘DesertedMedievalVillage’ (or ‘DMV’ for short) the truth is we don’t know what is really represented by these remains. Questions such as what the settlement looked like, when and how it began, how big it is, what life was like there, how it changed through the centuries, why it declined, and how it relates to the origins of local life today, all remain to be answered.
These questions are particularly interesting because the Studmarsh/Grove is just one of hundreds of similar sites across Herefordshire and the West Midlands. This vast lost story of rural life stretching back over hundreds of years has been little investigated, and the Studmarsh/Grove investigation will also shed important new light on the archaeological potential and importance of many similar sites.
The archaeological excavation (August 13th to August 26th)
The aim of the excavation is dig into some of the platforms, ditches, banks and other features which make up the site (which we previously mapped during the survey work in July), and to try and find out what lies beneath these features. Although archaeology often produces the unexpected, we are fairly confident we will find building remains, and finds such as old pottery. We hope this information will link with the ongoing historical research to reveal something both of the lost story of Studmarsh/The Grove through time, and allow a direct glimpse of the lives of the people who once lived there. However, excavation does not produce instant answers, and the real objective of the two week digging project is to produce a detailed record of everything we find supported by plans, drawings and photographs. At the next ‘post excavation’ stage all this information will then be subject to further analysis to being to understand what we have really found.
What is involved
We will be begin by digging a series of small square test pits across the site to establish the nature of the archaeological remains in different places, and the potential for further excavation. We will then expand two of those text pit excavations into larger trenches to more fully explore the remains in those areas. These larger excavations will involve careful investigation of the buried layers and features such as stone walls, pits, postholes etc which we may find.
Although there will be a degree of physical work in all of this – removing turf, using tools such as mattocks, spades, wheelbarrows and trowels to gradually uncover buried features – there is much more to excavation than that. Producing section drawings and plans at each stage of the process, keeping written records, cleaning and recording finds, and taking photographs are all essential parts of the process, so there will be plenty to get involved with, and you don’t need to be an Olympic endurance athlete to take part!
Dai Williams and Chris Atkinson from Herefordshire Archaeology will be on hand to give all the necessary support and training, and no prior experience is required.
Public Visit Days Monday August 27th and Tuesday August 28th
Working with the National Trust, we are very keen that the results of the work are made publicly available. The excavation will therefore be open for public visits over the August Bank Holiday Monday (August 27th) and Tuesday August 26th. The visit process is being coordinated with the help of the National Trust, and will include the option for visitors to join morning and afternoon guided tours or to drop into the site as and when during those days.
We very much hope that at least some of the volunteer team who have been involved in the excavation project will be available on those days to help explain the discoveries we have made to the visitors, and this is another opportunity to get involved in the project.
Backfilling and ground restoration August 29th and August 30th
The final stage of the excavation is to restore the holes we have dug. This is important because we have only been given permission to dig via the National Trust and the farmer on strict condition that we properly reinstate the excavated areas. Moreover, it is crucial for the long term future of the remaining archaeological deposits that the ground is maintained in good condition.
Essentially backfilling will involve replacing the soil we have removed back into the excavation trenches, ensuring that the ground profile of the ‘humps and bumps’ we have dug into is restored during this process, and then that the turf is carefully replaced so that the grass will rapidly re-grow and recover. The aim is to make sure the site will soon look as if we had never been there.
Obviously, the ground restoration will involve physical work and might not sound terribly glamorous. However, it is an important part of the project, and we would very much welcome volunteer help with this final stage of the excavation.
(Prepared by Ian Bapty)