24 Apr 2013

Well Well (Roman) Well

Enfield Archaeological Society (EAS) have been assisting Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) again, this time in their monitoring at the Bush Hill Park Roman settlement.

well outline
The well outline in dark grey is clearly visible in plan; with burnt red clay on the left

Contractors for Enfield Council have opened service trenches to the rear of several Council owned properties. One such trench half sectioned a large Roman boundary ditch, whilst a few gardens away, a similar trench revealed about one quarter of a circular feature outlined by a dark deposit, and containing an area of intense burning suggestive of an industrial process.

With the recommendation of English Heritage's Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service (GLAAS), EAS were invited to investigate this latter feature. On 22nd & 23rd April 2013, Dr. Martin Dearne lead a small team to carry out the work.Careful excavation revealed that the dark organic deposit around the perimeter of the feature was almost certainly all that remained of the vertical timber lining to a Roman well shaft.

Having gone out of use, the well appears to have been back-filled to within about 70cms of the Roman ground surface and a dished hearth installed in the resultant circular hollow, which probably served to keep it out of the wind.

hearth in well
The top layer of the hearth is removed revealing the cobble bed and the circular cut into the fill of the well

The team were able to excavate the hearth which consisted of a single layer of large irregular flint cobbles set in a concave bed of brickearth/clay (possibly including reused furnace lining). The cobbles were then capped with a similar brickearth/clay layer. The operating temperature of the hearth was sufficiently high to thoroughly fire the layers both above and beneath the cobbles.

Whilst copious evidence of charcoal adjacent to the hearth left little doubt as to how it was fueled, the complete lack of any kind of process debris means that the purpose of such a high temperature facility remains a mystery, at least for the time being.

beaker fragment
Scale decorated beaker

Beneath the hearth, the backfill to the well shaft contained late 3rd and early 4th century pottery. Between the well cut and timber lining, a gap had been backfilled with a mixture of coarse gravel and pottery sherds. Amongst items recovered was a substantial body sherd from a scale decorated indented beaker in Nene Valley colour coated ware and the complete rim and part neck of a disc-rimmed flagon in Oxfordshire redware, imitating a rare Samian form. Sherds from Highgate ware poppy head beakers and rim sherds from two different mortaria were also found.

tegula fragment
Tegula roof tile fragment

Other finds included frequent large amphora sherds and a fragment of tegula roof tile. The delaminated enamel sheaths of horse molar teeth were identified together with the distal end of an ovicaprid (probably sheep) metatarsal with knuckle bones still attached.

This fruitful and interesting excavation represents the furthest south within the settlement that this kind of feature and activity has been identified to date.

EAS are grateful to GLAAS and MOLA for facilitating the work and we look forward to future co-operations.


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