Archaeological Excavations at Main Road, Kelsale, 2020

The remains of part of a medieval farm were found during excavations by Cotswold Archaeology in 2020 on the west side of Main Road in Kelsale. The site, on a shallow east-facing slope overlooking the River Fromus, was pasture at the time of digging. The work was undertaken as a requirement on the planning conditions for new housing and was paid for by the developer Badger Building. The archaeological potential of the site had been identified during a preliminary trial trench evaluation, when remains dating to the medieval period (1066-1539) were found in the northern part of the site. As a result, an area measuring 74m x 38m was identified for more detailed work.

The main phase of activity uncovered during the excavation (lime green on Figure 1) dated to the 11th to 13th centuries and was probably part of a farm. On the west side of the site there were two opposing ditched enclosures; the gap between them was 2.3m wide forming a narrow trackway that led eastwards to an open area of ground (perhaps with some temporary posts or fences). Few finds were recovered from the ditch fills but environmental samples produced evidence of wheat and barley grains and legumes suggesting food, hay and fodder plants. It appears that these were not domestic enclosures for dwellings (we would have expected a lot more pottery and general detritus) but paddocks for livestock, although one large pit associated with the northern enclosure contained 13 sherds of 11th to 12th-century pottery and a low level of other material that we would interpret as general rubbish, including a dump of charcoal. This might represent the very edge of the inhabited part of the farmyard.

A site plan showing the archaeology found during excavations
A site plan showing the archaeology found during excavations

A series of north-west/south-east orientated narrow gullies were found at the eastern end of the site, beyond the open area. These were aligned with the enclosures and may have formed part of the same agricultural activity, perhaps indicating strip fields for arable crops. Pottery found within the gullies dated from the 12th to 13th century, perhaps a little later than the pit associated with the enclosures to the west, and they cut across some less well-defined gullies (orange on the plan), which represent an earlier phase of use, probably also agricultural. Other pits and postholes are likely to represent those daily activities associated with a working farm, such tethering posts, fences, barriers and occasional pits. A large pit in the southern part of the site was clearly for rubbish disposal; it contained pottery, animal bone, fired clay and charcoal, and was deposited in layers, perhaps with the more potent deposits being sealed by sterile material before subsequent deposits were made.

Medieval bone tuning peg from a musical instrument
Medieval bone tuning peg from a musical instrument

Overall, the excavation produced one of the largest collections of medieval pottery recorded so far in the area, as well as an 11th to 12th-century iron knife, a coin dated 1247-79 (probably Henry III) and a medieval iron hinge pivot that would have come from a building. Most exciting of all, however, was a bone tuning peg from a musical instrument.

A cut quarter of a hammered voided long-cross penny (1247-79)
A cut quarter of a hammered voided long-cross penny (1247-79), probably for Henry III. The reverse on the left shows three pellets in one quarter and the possible ligated letters CR around the edge, which would have originally noted the moneyer’s name and mint when the coin was complete; the obverse shows the remains of side hair curls of the king and letters ICV from HENRICVS REX

Environmental evidence revealed that a range of cereals (wheat, barley and oats) would have been grown, eaten and fed to animals, indicating that the land was probably managed through a mixture of crop rotation and pasture. Further insight into medieval Kelsale’s diet comes from the presence of animal and bird bones (including bone from sheep and cattle), birds’ eggs and fish, with shell deposits indicating that oysters, mussels and cockles were also popular. Generally, these would have been thrown into rubbish heaps or ‘middens’ within the settlement and then later used for manuring the land, which is how they ended up in the field ditches. Dog and cat bones were also found; these were from pets kept for pest control and were probably originally buried and subsequently disturbed and the bones dispersed.

Although only a small excavation, this work has added to the picture of medieval Kelsale and shows what evidence can survive beneath our feet across the Suffolk countryside.

Cotswold Archaeology are grateful to Badger Building for their help, support and funding of these excavations.

Caz Adams

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