Many researchers have argued that from later prehistory, ritualised practices were focused upon houses, settlements and fields (Barrett 1989; Bradley 2003, 2005; Brück 1999; Williams 2003). Ditches of enclosures and fields, storage pits and wells, and the ring gullies, doorways and postholes of roundhouses were sometimes settings of everyday acts of magic and ritual. Concepts of ancestry and community, memory, tradition and oral history would have been important. For Iron Age and Romano-British people, cosmological, spiritual and religious ideas were a much greater part of daily life than today. Their relationships to animals and material culture may also have differed significantly from our own modern societies.
Several studies have examined the spatial and temporal distribution of artefacts, human and animal remains across Iron Age and Romano-British settlements. This work has shown that there were often patterns to this discard (e.g. Hill 1995b, 1996b; Hingley 2006; Willis 1997; Wilson 1992, 1999; Woodward 2002). Specific locations were the setting for a variety of depositional practices, some potentially associated with the symbolic importance and liminal nature of boundaries (e.g. Bowden and McComish 1987; Hingley 1990). Pits, roundhouse ring gullies, wells and waterholes, the corners of enclosure ditches, ditch terminals especially by entrances and gateways, and ditch junctions were often the focus for such deposition. The spatial location of activities within and around enclosures may have been structured by common cultural understandings of the use of domestic space and the socially ‘correct’ contexts in which to deposit materials including ‘refuse’ such as broken pottery, butchered animal bone, slag, charcoal and burnt stone (q.v. Cumberpatch and Robbins n.d.; Robbins 2000: 87). Refuse was thus disposed of in culturally prescribed locations, as in our own society, but on an unremarked everyday basis. This nevertheless reflected unconscious cosmological beliefs or habitual practices concerning boundaries, cleanliness and pollution.
Romano-British ceramic dumps
One interesting and more unusual aspect of pottery deposition has been identified on some Romano-British rural sites in South Yorkshire. At Gunhills, Armthorpe, there was a general ‘background’ of ceramic deposition in ditches and pits, a dispersed, low-level of often fragmented and eroded sherds that is a common pattern on many Romano-British rural sites in the region and elsewhere. One otherwise unprepossessing stretch of boundary ditch between a trackway and a field, however, produced nearly 4000 sherds of Romano-British pottery extending in date from the late 2nd century to the later 3rd century (Richardson 2008: 15, 18, fig. 6; Leary, Evans et al. 2008: 31, 44). Some of the sherds were relatively large, ‘fresh’ and unabraded, whereas others were very worn and had clearly been exposed on the surface for protracted periods. There was a higher proportion of bowls, dishes and wide-mouthed jars in this group than in most other ceramic assemblages from the site, yet the site of deposition was relatively remote from other places of ceramic disposal and concentrations of human activities. The pottery dump was almost certainly a secondary deposit of material that had accumulated elsewhere, probably in a midden heap, before being gathered up together with fresher material and deposited c. 270 AD or soon after (Leary, Evans et al. 2008). Why though was this material transported away from the nearest settlement focus, and why was it dumped in that specific length of field system ditch?
Elsewhere at Armthorpe, substantial portions of pottery bases or rims were found as deposits in the bottom of ditches ‘nested’ within piles of burnt or fire-cracked stones, one being inverted but substantively complete (Chadwick, Powell and Richardson 2007: plates 1-2; Leary, Evans et al. 2008: 27, 44), whilst two disused ovens contained most of a lid-seated jar and a complete jar base. An iron plough share tip was also found in the backfill of a small oven or corn drier; and an iron spade shoe in a ditch could even have been deliberately deposited (Richardson 2008: 21). At High Street, Shafton, the eastern boundary ditch contained three almost complete Romano-British vessels (Burgess 2001a). At Enclosure E3 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street, a substantial group of Black Burnished Ware sherds was deposited in a field ditch next to either a narrow enclosure entrance, or the point where the enclosure bank met an associated field boundary (Upson-Smith 2002: fig. 11).
Large dumps of ceramic sherds of mixed date and different degrees of wear and weathering have now been recorded at several sites. In Area 3 at FARRRS, several hand-dug slots across one ditch produced much of the overall Romano-British pottery assemblage from the site (68% by count, 56% by weight), with just one slot producing nearly 500 sherds of predominantly later 2nd to early 3rd century AD ceramics (Daniel 2017: 10). This consisted of grey wares, including the base from a large jar or bowl, most of a large ‘native-tradition’ jar or bowl, and fragments from a Central Gaulish samian bowl or dish. Nearby features contained little or no pottery. At Stainforth Marina, one excavated segment across a ditch in an evaluation trench produced fire-cracked pebbles and 120 pottery sherds, by far a larger group than the rest of the ceramic assemblage from the entire site (Strafford 2014: 15-16). Predominantly grey ware, some sherds were in a fresh condition, but others were notably worn and abraded, and may have been deposited in watery conditions. One fresh sherd from a colour-coated beaker from the Nene Valley or Lincoln, the only one identified from that type of vessel, featured a white dolphin as a raised barbotine decorative motif (Rowlandson 2014: 44, 47, plates 21-2).
At Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe some large groups of Romano-British pottery were recovered from pits, several ditches and a ditch intersection (Weston 2015: 6-7). The pottery contained worn and sooted sherds from domestic occupation, but also warped and cracked ‘seconds’ and ‘wasters’ from pottery production. The quantities of pottery waste might reflect the use of these features as handy dumping areas following the rake-out of kiln structures. The kilns might have been shallow or above-ground features that did not survive later plough truncation (Rowlandson and Monteil 2015: 27) – the broadly contemporary kilns at Blaxton certainly had little surviving structural remains (Buckland and Dolby 1980). Alternatively, kilns were located close by but not actually within the excavated area. Two pits were especially interesting – one contained nearly two complete samian bowls on the base of the pit, along with a fragment from a samian cup (Rowlandson and Monteil 2015: 25). Most of the remaining fresh sherds were dominated by large bowls including substantial portions of three warped or heavily cracked large bowls. Another pit again contained fresh sherds including many that were warped and misfired, but also a large proportion of an unusual jar in an oxidised fabric with white painted horizontal bands (ibid.: 26-7).
At Rossington Grange Farm, one short length of ditch forming the western boundary of Enclosure 5 produced a dump of 3321 sherds from its tertiary fill, all apparently from one episode as evidenced by cross-joins (Roberts and Weston 2016: 15, plate 2; Rowlandson, Monteil and Hartley 2015: 42-3). These were mostly local grey ware storage jars, bowls and dishes of mid-2nd to late 2nd century date, including some substantial upper or lower portions of vessels and many of which had been heavily used for cooking as they had carbonised residues. There were also sherds from at least seven warped wasters and misfired vessels, and fragments of mortaria manufactured in Lincoln. This ceramic group again appeared to be a mixture of pottery production waste along with domestic discard that had been deposited together; and overall would have looked quite striking.
Such depositional patterns do not easily fit within functional, ‘common-sense’ explanations of refuse disposal and casual discard, but also not cliched ideas of very formally structured ‘ritual’ deposits either (Chadwick 2012: 288-9, 2015: 52-3). At Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe, the selection of more prized and/or unusual vessels to be deposited alongside the pottery production waste might have represented a practice of tidying up or ‘closing down’ the process of pottery production (Rowlandson and Monteith 2015: 26-7). Such ‘decommissioning’ might also explain some of the deposits in the ovens or corn driers at Gunhills, Armthorpe (Chadwick, Powell and Richardson 2007: 65-6). Other groups of near complete vessels combined with burnt stone may have been the residues from feasts held to celebrate key stages in the agricultural cycle such as planting, harvests or autumn culling; or more irregular events such as births, marriages, and deaths (Chadwick 2012, 2015). The combination of fresh sherds with worn and abraded material that had probably been lying in surface middens prior to deposition might reflect episodes when farmsteads and enclosures were periodically cleared out, but it is unclear why this dumping seems to have been such an episodic process, or why the material was not incorporated in any manuring spreads – perhaps manuring in the medieval and post-medieval form did not take place, especially if animals were just folded onto arable fields after cultivation. It does seem odd that sometimes rather distant ditches were chosen for such deposition, rather than those closest to domestic inhabitation.
It is possible that the mixing of materials discarded from the household with the wider landscape reflected implicit or subconscious ideas about ties to the land and social identity (J.G. Evans 2003: 141-3, 2007: 182), whilst pottery’s associations with food preparation, storage and consumption might have been significant too. Pottery may have signified a human presence within the landscape, and such deposition may have been a deliberate ‘entexturing of the ground’ (J.G. Evans 2003: 126) or of ‘signing the land’. Occasional concentrated dumps of material found in field ditches may have been linked to notions of boundaries, tenure and identity. Such dumps could also have marked changes in household occupancy or to rights of access, tenure and ownership.
Waterholes and wells
The depositional processes in Romano-British wells, deep pits or shafts have been explored by several detailed taphonomic studies (Ayton 2011; Berg 1990; Cool and Richardson 2013; Gerrard 2009; Millett and Taylor 2006; Poulton and Scott 1993; Roskams et al. 2013; van Driel-Murray 1999), and some of the regional evidence is presented elsewhere (Chadwick 2009, 2010, 2015). Not all Romano-British wells have produced ‘unusual’ deposits by any means, but small numbers have yielded extremely interesting sequences of artefacts and palaeo-environmental remains. Wells were used to dump domestic refuse, butchery waste and building rubble, and such deep features inevitably act as ‘traps’ for stray artefacts or for small animals. Other deposits, however, included human remains, animal remains (particularly dogs and the heads/skulls of cattle, sheep and horses), whole or near complete ceramic and metal vessels, leather shoes, beehive and flat rotary stone querns, brooches and iron tools. The presence of human and animal remains would have been incompatible with drawing drinking water, so this activity presumably followed disuse and might have reflected closure or termination rites prior to abandonment.
There was a strong tradition in many parts of Iron Age Britain for the deposition of metalwork, other artefacts and human and animal remains in river and lakes, but perhaps due to the lack of Iron Age wells this does not seem to have been a particularly significant social practice in such features, although some deposits from a late Iron Age well excavated at Silchester may be an exception (Fulford et al. 2018). As deep well shafts with timber or stone linings were largely a post-conquest development, placed deposits in wells might also have been a Romano-British phenomenon (Webster 1997a: 136-7), whereby indigenous traditions concerning water, pits and deposits were combined with ‘Roman’ chthonic rites and other beliefs concerning watery places. Hingley (2006: 238) proposed that during later prehistory iron objects were mainly placed within boundaries, but during the Romano-British period this changed to wells and deep pits.
A probably Iron Age waterhole excavated during the FARRRS road scheme did not produce any particularly ‘unusual’ animal remains, but its basal fill did have a stone block and a large part of a very abraded mica-rich dish probably from a Lincoln workshop, and dating to the mid- to later 1st century AD (Daniel 2017: 17). This artefact might have originated in the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge around 4 kilometres away and could have pre-dated the final invasion of the north, and one can speculate whether it was a diplomatic gift, war booty, or was already an many decades old before it was deposited (ibid.: 28). Four waterholes were excavated at Rossington Inland Port, some at least probably Romano-British in origin as they had been dug into a ditch that produced Romano-British finds. They produced some pottery and animal bone, two of them more than 30 sherds each which was slightly unusual for this rural site; but one contained a large limestone block, with a cup-shaped depression worn or drilled into one surface, perhaps a pivot-hole in a door jamb; and another contained a stone block (Daniel, Harrison and Powell 2014b: 6-7). This admittedly limited evidence may indicate that waterholes did not carry the same set of symbolic meanings as wells.
Few of the small number of Romano-British wells excavated in South Yorkshire have produced potentially deliberately placed deposits, though of this small number most have not been fully investigated. One well excavated by J.D. Leader at Templeborough contained quern stones and leather sandal soles (Freemantle 1913: 101). A timber-lined well within the principia or praetorium at Templeborough was investigated by a site foreman after the excavations by Thomas May had ceased, and this produced pig jaws, a stone column base, a ‘black vase’ (some form of small colour-coated or terra nigra beaker?), and an amphora (May 1922: plate liii). A well at 8–10 High Street in Doncaster produced a complete but fragmented samian cup, most of a mica-dusted beaker and the large inverted top half of a stamped Dressel 20 amphorae (Chadwick and Burgess 2008: 44; Leary 2008: 87).
Placed or structured deposits
Given the problems and constraints outlined above, it remains difficult to identify deposits of material culture and animal remains that seem to have been more deliberately placed or ‘structured’. The archaeological evidence is complicated by the fact that often it was the same locations in and around enclosures and fields that were also chosen as the settings for Iron Age and Romano-British depositional events that appear to have had a more conscious, deliberate aspect. These included complete or near-complete ceramic vessels, complete or deliberately broken quernstones, complete or partially-articulated animal remains (Associated Bone Groups or ABGs), and human remains (Chadwick 2004, 2008a, 2012, 2015; Chadwick, Martin and Richardson 2013; Morris 2008, 2011; Wilson 1992, 1999). Trying to separate ‘everyday’ refuse disposal from more ritualised practices is therefore extremely difficult, especially when it is unlikely that prehistoric people would have made such binary distinctions themselves (e.g. Brück 1999; Chadwick 2012; Cumberpatch and Van de Noort 2007). In some instances, these might have represented the deliberate burial or discard of objects belonging to the deceased; or parts of people and animals and/or food items that were offerings to gods, spirits or ancestors (Cunliffe 1992; Smith et al. 2018). Propitiatory or apotropaic concerns may have been behind some deposits, whilst other remains may have resulted from relatively informal, small-scale practices associated with events in human lives such as births and deaths; or the agricultural calendar, such as rites associated with planting and spring livestock births, harvests, and the autumn culling of animals. Other deposits might have been from divination, or residues from feasting and therefore even more difficult to discern from everyday discard.
Possible examples of placed deposits from the wider Yorkshire and north midlands region have been outlined previously (Chadwick 2004, 2008a: app. F, 2012, 2015). One factor that may hamper the identification of ABGs of animal and human remains is the generally poor preservation of bone on some South Yorkshire sites due to the more acidic soils on Coal Measures and Sherwood Sandstone geologies. But this might only be a partial explanation, as it is also possible that cultural practices in the past were also involved. During the Iron Age and Roman periods animal remains could have been butchered and disposed of in different ways to other regions (C. Merrony pers. comm.), and it is possible that bone was ground up as fertilizer or deposited on the ground away from settlements or in places that have left little or no archaeological signature. Detailed work on body part representation, fragmentation and degree of wear and erosion on bones is required to test this hypothesis.
At Sutton Common, two human skulls and some other human bone fragments were found in the northern outer ditch terminal of the eastern entrance, along with dog remains, a saddle quern fragment, and the only yew wood from the site (Knüsel 2007: 139; Outram 2007: 142; Thomas 2007: 147; Watts 2007: 145). The northern inner ditch terminal of the east entrance contained a human tibia fragment, the only stratified Iron Age pottery from the site, a small rim sherd (Cumberpatch, Vince and Knight 2007: 143); and an antler weaving comb (Tuohy 2007: 147). Given the general paucity of artefacts at Sutton Common (although the poor excavation and sampling strategy did not help), it seems likely that these locations held social or cosmological significance as thresholds or portals through enclosing boundaries. Boundaries and entrances are often sites of social tension and/or symbolic significance in many more recent ethnographically documented small-scale communities around the world.
On sites on the Magnesian Limestone, more detailed information is recoverable. At Pickburn Leys, two substantially complete late Iron Age vessels and animal bone were recovered from the fill of a recut enclosure ditch, on the south-eastern side of the enclosure near to an entrance (Sydes 1993: 37-8). A later recut of the ditch at this point produced a rotary quern stone fragment. A group of disarticulated cattle bones was found in the eastern terminal of the E1 enclosure internal sub-enclosure ditch at Adwick-le-Street, possibly a deliberate dump to mark the entrance (Meadows and Chapman 2004: 5). A dog was buried in the western ditch of Enclosure ditch E1 at Adwick-le-Street (Meadows and Chapman 2004: 5), another in a pit in Enclosure E3, around 20m away from two pits containing querns (Upson-Smith 2002: fig. 6; see below). Cremated animal bones found in a possible stone-lined cist in the enclosure at Roebuck Hill, Jump may have been dog remains (Robinson and Johnson 2007: 8-9). Another pit on this site contained burnt bone, loomweight fragments, late Iron Age or early Romano-British pottery, and a burnt quernstone fragment.
The treatment of quernstones and quern fragments is particularly interesting (Buckley 1991; Chadwick 2008a, 2015). They are often found in topsoil or the uppermost fills of features, suggesting that these could have been tertiary or closure deposits. Sometimes whole top stones or base stones of querns were deposited whole, as in the large ring ditch surrounding one of the roundhouses at Balby Carr D(ii), where three beehive quernstone bases were recorded (Heslop 2005; Richardson and Rose 2005: 4.7) along with cattle, sheep/goat, pig, and deer remains; in addition to Iron Age pottery and the La Tène-style glass bracelet noted above. Intriguingly, the ring ditch around the smaller roundhouse at Balby Carr D1 contained articulated remains from a sheep/goat near the entrance (Rose and Roberts 2006: 6.1.2). A beehive quern fragment was found with a deposit of charred cereals at the entrance terminal of the enclosure ditch at Roebuck Hill, Jump (Robinson and Johnson 2007: 7).
At other times, querns seem to have been very deliberately smashed, and/or have had their external grinding surfaces removed (Heslop 1988, 2008a), as at Rossington Bridge Farm (Cruse and Gaunt 2016). Eighteen saddle quern fragments were found in just two postholes from a single four-post structure at Sutton Common (Watts 2007: 145-6). Half an upper beehive quernstone was found in a pit opposite the entrance of Enclosure C at Woodhead Opencast Site, Wombwell (Jones 2003: 11), and at Enclosure E1 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street, a pit contained late Iron Age or early Romano-British pottery, animal bone and three fragments (two conjoining) of a rotary quernstone (Meadows and Chapman 2004: 8). A near-complete but fragmented beehive upper stone was found in pit near Enclosure E3 at Redhouse Farm (Upson-Smith 2002: 14, 23), incorporated into the clay and stone lining. A second pit contained a dog burial, a third a broken upper beehive quern. Further south at Enclosure E8, another pit contained an inverted beehive quern top stone (Upson-Smith 2004: 9). At Enclosure 1 at Pastures Road, Mexborough, a partial beehive quernstone base was recovered from the south-east corner of the enclosure ditch, and another partial quern base stone from a pit adjacent to the northern terminus of the enclosure ditch (Williams and Weston 2008: 5-6).
Why some querns were selected for such fragmentation and why others were left complete or even in fresh condition is unclear; but might well reflect the individual biographies of the objects and those who used them. Sometimes they are ‘right side up’, other times inverted. Often the fragmented querns are incomplete, the pieces apparently removed from the feature or from the site altogether. The violence of such destruction is noteworthy and may reflect ritualised ‘killing’ of objects perceived to have great power. Alternatively, such querns may have belonged to the deceased and had thus become ‘polluted’ in some manner by their deaths, and perhaps had to be destroyed to safeguard the living.
There is overwhelming evidence across Britain for considerable continuity in such deposits from the Iron Age into the Romano-British period but also novel developments, perhaps reflecting a mixture of Iron Age and ‘Classical Roman’ traditions and also the beliefs of all those who came to northern England from across the Roman Empire (e.g. Aitchison 1987; Clarke 2000; Fulford 2001; Hingley 2006; Merrifield 1987; Millett 1994; Smith et al. 2018; Willis 1999; Wilson 1992; Woodward and Woodward 2004). A juvenile pig skeleton was found in a small pit within the Romano-British enclosure at Barnburgh Hall (Richardson 2005a: 6.13). At Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe, a complete iron snaffle bit of 1st century AD date was deposited in one of the ditch terminals of the Phase III D-shaped enclosure (Cowgill 2004a: 50). A near complete Roman two-link iron snaffle bit and quern fragments were also found in a pit at Rossington Grange Farm (Cool, Drinkall and Sitch 2016: 25; Roberts and Weston 2016: 17). At Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe, one pit contained two almost complete samian bowls in addition to other pottery including kiln wasters (see above); and another pit had a rare double hopper quernstone complete but broken in situ, along with iron box fittings and lead waste (Weston 2015: 7). In a building that was probably part of the principia of the fort at Doncaster, a small pit cut into the floor was lined with sherds of amphorae, and a complete cooking pot, a samian platter and chicken remains were placed within it (Buckland 1986: 49). At Church Walk, Doncaster, the beam slot of an early Roman timber building produced a copper-alloy terret ring and part of an unusual ceramic platter (Chadwick, Martin and Richardson 2008: 15), but could also be accidental inclusions derived from elsewhere.
This identification of possible examples of ‘placed’ or ‘structured’ deposits, however, based on them being ‘unusual’ or subjectively different to other finds on site, does not constitute a robust programme of detailed objective analysis. Even if apparently intentional patterning on settlement sites can be identified, this need not imply overtly ritualised behaviour, especially if there were unspoken social conventions governing deposition during the Iron Age and Romano-British periods. Prosaic practices and more arcane rites may have left ostensibly identical material remains – burnt stone and broken pots might have resulted from a minor domestic accident, a need to clear out old rubbish, or a feast held to honour a deceased relative. These remains might also only represent the final stages of a wide range different practices, some of which perhaps involved organic items such as flowers or fruit that have left no traces (Smith et al. 2018: 124, 169). Such practices were unlikely to have been a set of rigidly proscribed rules, but rather a ‘suite or palette of conventions’ (Chadwick 2012: 301), a ‘shared lexicon’ reproduced but also transformed by each community (Giles 2000: 153). It is thus extremely difficult to define ‘structured’ deposits and to distinguish these from ‘everyday’ refuse (Chadwick 2012; Cumberpatch and Van de Noort 2007; Garrow 2012). This realisation should not be taken to mean, however, as an argument for the notion that archaeologists should not attempt to identify such distinctions and investigate them in detail (contra Roskams et al. 2013).
Detailed analyses of everyday acts of finds deposition and dispersal in addition to potentially more structured occurrences are therefore crucial; but have been lacking on most excavated sites in the region to date. This can be partly achieved through more rigorous and systematic excavation and sampling methodologies, accompanied by spatial and statistical analyses, and sophisticated combinations of taphonomic and interpretative theoretical ideas. Repeated patterns and associations can then be identified, as well as exceptions and discrepancies (Brudenell and Cooper 2008; Chadwick 2009; Garrow 2012). Wide-ranging synthetic research that examines taphonomic processes, spatial distributions and diachronic changes on Iron Age and Romano-British settlement sites at intra-regional and inter-regional levels is therefore required. There have been many site-specific investigations of social space and chronological variations of deposition in and around Iron Age and Romano-British rural settlements (e.g. Evans 2001b; Gwilt 1997; Martin 2007; Millett 2007; Mudd 1999; Robbins 2000; Taylor 1997, 2001; Willis 1997, 1999; Woodward 2002; Woodward and Hughes 2007). Such methods would be usefully employed in South Yorkshire but need to be expanded beyond such site- specific studies.
Priorities and implementation