Excavating the CA Archive: Lincolnshire

10 mins read


Joe Flatman explores half a century of reports from the past.

A selection of articles mentioned by Joe Flatman in this month’s column below can be accessed for free for one month via Exact Editions, from 2 December. Use the links within the text to jump to the individual articles, or click on the covers below. Print subscribers can add digital access to their account for just £12 a year – this includes everything from the last 50 years, right back to Issue 1! Call our dedicated subscriptions team on 020 8819 5580, quoting DIGI382, to add digital access to your account, or click here for more information.


I head east, in this column, to Lincolnshire and the origins of Current Archaeology. The Welland River Project featured in no less an issue than CA 1, back in March 1967, and was also the first fieldwork mentioned by the magazine, following directly on from the introductory editorial. The magazine thus began its now 54-year (and counting) run by diving headfirst into the Fens, examining work undertaken there between 1962 and 1966 that produced a great panorama of prehistoric, Roman, and early medieval settlements. CA returned to this area in issue 160 (November 1998), when regular contributor Francis Pryor wrote of his work at Welland Bank Quarry, a spectacular multi-period prehistoric site just north of Peterborough. For those of you interested in other large-scale surveys of the county, the magazine has provided excellent summaries over the years, specifically of the Lincolnshire Fens in the prehistoric and early medieval periods: see CA 172 (February 2001) and CA 332 (November 2017).

INDUSTRIES OF SALT AND IRON

The salterns of the Lincolnshire coast, which have been proven to date back as far as the Middle Bronze Age, featured in CA 350 (May 2019), when Chris Catling toured some of the sites and finds that feature in Tom Lane’s book Mineral from the Marshes: Coastal Salt-making in Lincolnshire. A specific salt-making site in the area made an appearance, too, much earlier in the magazine’s history, in CA 136 (December 1993), when a new Bronze Age discovery made at Tetney, near Cleethorpes, was one of the earliest such sites identified in the entire country.

CA’s coverage of prehistoric and Roman Lincolnshire is full of similar examples of industrious activity, in the past and present alike. CA 31 (March 1972), for example, focused on Romano-British kilns at Barton-upon-Humber, examining the discovery of such sites in the area as well as modern-day experiments to replicate their manufacturing processes. A very different industry then featured in CA 176 (November 2001), which covered Fiskerton, near Lincoln, where waterlogged peat had preserved prehistoric metal and wooden objects in exceptional condition. Finds included items of iron, copper alloy, and carved bone, thrown into the marsh as ritual offerings, along with two log-boats. The concentration of artefacts there was so rich that it led prehistorian Mike Parker Pearson to compare Fiskerton to La Tène, the 19th-century Swiss lakeside excavation that had a profound and lasting influence on the understanding of Iron Age Europe.

CA 176 featured an article on prehistoric Fiskerton, where waterlogged peat was found to have preserved wooden and metal objects, including two log-boats.

LIFE AND DEATH IN THE FENS

One of the richest and most famous early medieval sites in Lincolnshire first featured in CA 126 (October 1991): Flixborough, just north of Scunthorpe, on the east bank of the River Trent. There, work from 1988 onwards revealed a superbly preserved monastic and aristocratic settlement, possibly founded by St Etheldreda (Æthelthryth), the daughter of King Anna of Essex, who passed through the district c.AD 670. A less well known but arguably as important site of this period then featured in CA 313 (April 2016), when discoveries made at Little Carlton near Louth identified a similarly high-status settlement in the middle of Lindsey Marsh, following the lucky find of a silver stylus (an ornate writing tool) comparable to only one other site known in the area – that of the aforementioned Flixborough.

Over the next few years, more and more such finds were made – in the end, 16 in total – all dating to c.AD 710-850, leading in turn to a systematic archaeological survey of the entire area. And a very different type of ‘high-status’ settlement then featured in CA 281 (August 2013) – that of the Viking army’s winter camp of AD 872 to 873 at Torksey, right at the centre of the modern-day county, some 13 miles north-west of Lincoln. The site’s name and its use by the ‘Great Army’ was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 872, but despite this guide, its location remained elusive until metal-detector finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme helped to pin it down. This, in turn, led to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary survey of the site and its wider landscape by the Universities of Sheffield and York, using a range of tools and techniques including soil science, palynology (pollen analysis), geophysics, survey, and test-pitting. For more on Viking Lincolnshire, see also CA 190 (February 2004).

URBAN LIFE UNDER DANELAW

Stamford, situated in the far south-western corner of the county, is regularly rated as one of the best-preserved small towns in Britain, thanks to its rich surviving architecture. CA 10 (September 1968) paid an in-depth visit there to examine its equally important archaeological sites and structures, dating from the town’s 9th-century development under the Danes, as one of the five boroughs of Danelaw (the others being Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Lincoln). There, among other notable finds, some of the first and finest medieval glazed pottery in western Europe was produced, reflecting a flourishing trade to and from the Continent in what would at its height have been a buzzingly cosmopolitan urban location.

The city of Lincoln has also been a regular of the magazine down the years, featuring first in CA 26 (May 1971), in an article focused on its Roman origins, and again in issues 53 and 63 (November 1975 and September 1978) examining its early and later medieval structures, including the well-preserved church of St Paul-in-the-Bail, which has no fewer than 17 phases, commencing in the 7th century. Then, finally, CA 129 (June 1992) was a Lincoln ‘special edition’ almost wholly focused on the city.

Stamford, featured in CA 10, was one of the five boroughs of Danelaw and is known today for its fine historic architecture.

In stark contrast to Stamford and Lincoln’s surviving urban riches, I close this column with a trip made in CA 56 (May 1976) to the deserted medieval village of Goltho, a site some nine miles east of Lincoln, excavated by a team led by the legendary Guy Beresford of the Medieval Village Research Group between 1970 and 1974. At the time, this was one of the most famous sites in the country, rivalling Wharram Percy in Yorkshire for recognition. Gradually though, the site’s fame slid from view, which is a great pity, since the work undertaken here – uncovering an initial Saxon settlement, then a fortified settlement of around AD 850 onwards, a motte-and-bailey castle constructed around 1080, and finally a later medieval settlement that was in turn deserted – remains noteworthy both for the scale of these discoveries and the completeness of the excavations.


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About the author
Joe Flatman completed a PhD in medieval archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and local and most recently –central government. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Manager in the National Trust’s London and South-East Region, leading a team working on Trust sites across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You can follow him on Twitter @joeflatman.

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