Small subcircular and subrectangular enclosures

There have been several small and more unusual gully or ditched structures excavated in South Yorkshire that cannot be readily be interpreted as roundhouses. Some are circular in plan, others are oval or even subrectangular in form, and which lack any internal features. All are associated with low-lying landscapes on river floodplains and/or areas that were likely to have been alder carr, wet meadow, or sedge fen in the past.

At Balby Carr, c. 750m to the north-west of the main area of Iron Age settlement and 150m east of a D-shaped enclosure containing a single roundhouse, there was an isolated oval gully approximately 9m across, with a 3m wide entrance in the north-east. This produced no dateable artefacts, only fire-cracked stones (Wilson 2006: 4). At Carr Lodge Farm, roughly 320m to the south-west of a group of roundhouses and some 30m from a ditched field corner of possible late Iron Age or early Romano-British date, there was an oval or subrectangular ditched feature 5.5m long and 2.5m wide. The ditch of this feature had no visible break in it and was 1.4m wide and 0.6m deep (Stanley and Langley 2013: 19). The fills of the ditch only contained some animal bone fragments and a piece of Roman imbrex tile, although post-medieval brick or tile and pottery was also recovered – it is unclear if these more modern finds were intrusive or not.

More recently during archaeological investigations ahead of the Rossington i-Port development, two subrectangular features were recorded close to the edge of a palaeochannel on the River Torne floodplain. One feature consisted of multiple rectangular postholes or plank slots defining a subrectangular area 6.8m long and 3.8m wide. The slots yielded no finds apart from a small fragment of burnt bone, but cleaning of the area recovered a struck flint flake and two amber beads (P. Daniel pers. comm.). At right angles and adjacent to this example was a second subrectangular feature 5.3m long and 3.3m wide, defined by a continuous shallow gully. No finds were recovered from this. Two subcircular features were situated 60m to the south and 150m east of the subrectangular examples. One was a penannular or C-shaped gully 4.4m across, the other a continuous circular gully 4.1m in diameter (ibid.). Again, neither feature produced finds.

The subrectangular features share some similarities with some of 70 or more small subrectangular gully and posthole-defined features excavated at East Carr, Mattersey in Nottinghamshire. These varied between 2–14m in length and 2–4m in width and were dispersed across the floodplain of the River Idle, many in clusters (Garton and Leary 2008; Morris and Garton 1998: 139). Some of the gullies contained Romano-British pottery, and at least three were cut by later co-axial Romano-British field ditches. These may have been drainage gullies around hay ricks or peat stacks, or drying stands for fodder, rushes or withies. It is also conceivable that several of the larger, more regular gullies might have surrounded tents or temporary seasonally occupied shieling-like structures built from peat, earth or turf (Chadwick 2008a: 157).

The flint and amber beads found above one of the subrectangular i-Port features suggest a prehistoric date (P. Daniel pers. comm.), in which case the Bronze Age and Iron Age ‘mortuary enclosures’ recorded at Sutton Common (Chapman and Fletcher 2007: 153-155; Van de Noort 2007a: 56) might be a better analogy, and perhaps these two performed a ritual or funerary function. The oval and subcircular features at i-Port, Balby Carr and Carr Lodge Farm have similarities to several features identified in West Yorkshire. These include a penannulargully 7.3m across excavated near Methley (MAP 1996: 29) on the floodplain of the River Aire, and a C-shaped gully 6m across recorded at Site 16 north of Wetherby, on the floodplain of the River Nidd (Brown, Howard-Davis and Brennand 2007: 116-7, fig. 81). Iron Age pottery was recovered from the Site 16 gully terminals, and carbonised material from the gully produced a radiocarbon date of 100 BC–AD 90. They are also similar to small annular enclosures recorded at Moor Pool Close, Rampton near the River Trent (Knight 2000a, 2000b), which might have surrounded hay or fodder ricks. It may be of course that such features are only ostensibly similar and in fact performed many different practical and social roles, but their shared landscape setting and general lack of evidence for finds or occupation might be significant. More research on them is clearly required.

Research questions

  • What was the purpose or purposes of these features? Can we use existing or new archaeological techniques to advance our understandings of them?

Priorities and implementation

  • When identified, these features should be excavated as extensively as possible and intensively sampled, not only for potential palaeo-environmental evidence but also for any small artefacts, bone fragments and debitage.
  • Magnetic susceptibility, phosphate analysis and soil micromorphology could provide additional evidence for the function of these features.