We have started to look at the environmental samples from the site. These come in the form of buckets of soil that we collect from each feature on site and take back to be processed through a series of flotation tanks. We collect everything that floats and then our Environmental Archaeologist examines this and identifies remains such as charred wheat and seeds, legumes; such as peas and beans and even the tiniest of seeds. We can also identify mineralised remains which can indicate areas used as cess pits and waterlogged remains in features such as wells and waterholes. All this information can then be put together to discover what past inhabitants were eating, where they were throwing their rubbish, keeping animals and disposing of their sewage. We can also begin to piece together what the environment was like at the time from the tiny seeds we find.

 

 

At Harvest Way we have found evidence for the disposal of burnt remains within the pits and wells along with other domestic rubbish such as animal and fish bone and egg shell. Within the burnt remains we have found evidence of bread wheat, oats, barley and rye. The picture (right) shows the amount of charred grain we recovered from just one pit. This sample also contained a small number of charred peas! The grain is likely to have been burnt accidentally, perhaps during the drying process or even a storage vessel being spilt near to the fire. Once burnt it was of no use and so was thrown away into one of the rubbish pits.

We also have evidence of cess in the lower layers within the pits. The phosphates in sewage replace the organic components within plant remains and insects causing them to become semi-fossilised. We find fly eggs, woodlice and millipedes along with plant remains such as apple and grape pips. These cess layers appear to be covered by later charcoal and domestic waste layers. This has been suggested to be an attempt to mask the smell and to seal the pits once they went out of use.

We will continue to analyse the contents of features on site throughout the excavation in order to build up a full picture of life in this area of Cambridge and the changes in environment and human activity throughout the long history of the site.

 

Rhiannon Philp


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