Excavating the Neolithic at Street House

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The latest excavations at Street House, near Loftus, have explored an Early Neolithic monument dating to c.3700 BC.

An aerial view of the excavation at Street House this year
A drone image of the site under excavation this year. [Image: Paul Docherty]

This area has revealed evidence of many periods of occupation since it was first excavated in 1979-1981, and geophysical survey to the east of a Roman site excavated in 2013 identified an extensive feature that, since 2016, excavation has demonstrated to be a Neolithic structure. It is buried more than 1m below the ground, so the deposits have not been disturbed by later agricultural activities, and a substantial number of objects have been recovered.

Archaeological investigation suggests that this structure represents only the latest phase of Neolithic activity at the site. It is argued to have begun with a deep façade trench (3m below ground level) and a large pit to the east. This was followed by a deep chamber that functioned as a possible crematorium at the north end of the site, where burnt deposits from a collapsed structure have been found. The penultimate event was the construction of a small ovoid house (Structure 18), measuring approximately 8m by 5m, with a number of posts and structural details that either overlay or cut into the burnt horizons. At this level, the finds (including carinated bowls and flint tools) had not been burned.

Over 2,400 artefacts indicative of domestic occupation have come from this area, including seeds and hazelnut shells, with a type of saddle quernstone that may have been used to prepare them for cooking. Certain pottery vessels appear to be placed around the walls of the house, and flint tools were often recorded nearby in what seems to be a consistent pattern. ‘This type of structured or intentional placement of objects is recognised elsewhere in pits in the Neolithic period, so to discover this pattern inside a structure is exciting,’ project leader Dr Steve Sherlock said. Analysis of the contents of the pots, which may provide clues to the foods being prepared, is being carried out through a partnership with a student from Bristol University.

A further small Neolithic house was excavated 200m to the north in 2010-2011. The final act at this site was unusual, as the whole site was buried under over 30 tonnes of clay and other debris, perhaps in an attempt to conceal the monument.

A book about the excavations at Street House has recently been published. For more information, visit www.teesarchaeology.com/home/home.html.

Text by Steve Sherlock

This news article appears in issue 359 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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