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TVAS News: Farming in Prehistoric Huish Episcopi, Langport, Somerset

Archaeologists from TVAS (South West) have recently finished investigating an area of land at Bowdens Quarry, Huish Episcopi, Somerset for Lovell Purbeck.

The excavations, carried out in advance of lias extraction, investigated approximately 1ha of land overlooking the Parrett valley. Top- and subsoil were removed across the area exposing the underlying geology with the archaeological features cut into it. The team were able to identify two circular structures, sections of ditch and gully and a typical range of pits and postholes. These features were all investigated further in order to obtain dating evidence and any clues as to their original use.

The earliest set of features discovered was a circular post-built structure, probably a roundhouse, which stylistically may belong to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age though dating evidence in this case was sparse. Middle Iron Age occupation was firmly attested with a sample of burnt residue that coated one of the pot sherds found in a storage pit giving a carbon date of 322-205 cal BC. Approximately 10m to the east of the first roundhouse was found a second circular structure; this time built using a penannular gully dated to the later Iron Age by several sherds of distinctive Durotrigian-style pottery which were found in a posthole within the structure. Other features of the same date include land divisions and additional storage pits. These two groups of features have been interpreted as Iron Age farmsteads, either two stages of the same complex or two different occupations of the same site a few hundred years apart.

Detailed study of soil samples and animal bone collected from features provided clues about what type of farming was practiced on the site. Little information is available for the Middle Iron Age features as these contained little animal bone, and the only charred plant remains recovered were weed seeds from plants favouring waste and disturbed ground. No cereals were noted in the samples. For the later Iron Age, the finding of small amounts of horse, cattle and sheep/goat bones, in conjunction with the presence of ditched enclosures, and the recovery of spelt wheat grains from soil samples suggest that at this time the small farmstead was practicing a mixed economy.

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

A view of the site during the excavation of the post-built roundhouse and adjacent ditch, looking northwest. Excavating the penannular ring gully, looking north.

Panoramic view of the excavated ring gully with the storage pit visible on the right. Bell-bottomed Iron Age storage pit 102 from which the carbon date was taken.