Thursday, 28 May 2015

Saxon period Butter Churn lid found near Stafford

For some months now Network Rail has been digging up fields near my home in Staffordshire. The reason, we are told, is that the railway around Stafford, particularly at Norton Bridge Junction where the line divides in two towards Manchester and Liverpool, is a major bottleneck causing congestion and delay on this key rail route.

The £250 million Stafford Area Improvements Programme plan is to separate slow and fast moving trains by building a new section of track to take Stone and Manchester bound traffic over, rather than across, the West Coast Main Line. Works, which started in Spring 2014, include:

  • Over six miles of new 100mph railway
  • A new flyover, removing a key bottleneck at Norton Bridge Junction and separating intercity, commuter and freight traffic
  • 10 new bridges and one bridge enhancement
  • A major realignment of the B5026 highway
  • Road, river and footpath diversions
  • The diversion of two high pressure gas pipelines by National Grid

Another Staffordshire field obliterated at Norton Bridge
Suspicious locals swear it is the start of HS2 which will rip through the heart of Staffordshire without stopping at a single station in the county, but this is avidly denied by the project operators, the Staffordshire Alliance, a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail. Work is due completion in 2017.

The  major excavation works have so far revealed a number of archaeological finds made in a section of waterlogged peat close to Meece Road. A number of Victorian stoneware bottles bearing the names of breweries from Bristol to Manchester have also been unearthed, probably left by the navigational engineers who built the line in the 1830s.

Evidence of prehistoric activity was uncovered at the same area which included worked wooden stakes and wood chips and a butter churn lid that was initially believed to have been from the same period. There have so far been no associated finds of pottery or metalwork to provide any clues to the date of the wooden finds.

The butter churn lid
In April Dr Tetlow, of Headland Archaeology, a specialist in prehistoric British wetland said, “We don’t have firm dates yet, but we’ve taken samples for radiocarbon dating and pollen analysis.” Dr Tetlow added, “Preliminary analysis of the wood indicates working with a metal tool and so we’re looking at a period just after the beginning of the Bronze Age around 2,500BC.

However, in this week's Staffordshire Newsletter the results of the radiocarbon testing have been released with the butter churn lid now dated to between 715-890 AD, the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard. Existing archaeological knowledge of this period for this area of the Midlands, the heart of Mercia, is scarce and Saxon period finds of organic materials such as wood are very rare indeed.

An information day will be held in June when visitors will be able to view some of the objects. Dr Tetlow is also preparing a paper on the finds for the Stafford and Mid-Staffs Archaeological Society.

Archaeological find at Norton Bridge turns out to be from Saxon period - Staffordshire Newsletter 21 May 2015

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