The importance of the archaeological remains within the area around Caythorpe was recognised from the early stages of planning the project, and the gas storage facility was specifically designed in order to avoid the most significant remains in the vicinity.
Where archaeological remains could not be avoided at the design stage, these have recently been excavated in advance of construction within the extension to the existing facility, at the new wellsite and on the length of new pipeline linking the two sites. These were undertaken on behalf of Centrica by Humber Field Archaeology to a scope of works agreed with the planning authority and English Heritage.
The excavations started in July 2009 and were mostly completed by March 2010 (with a break during the unanticipated winter weather in January and February). Excavation in the area of the main site extension was completed between August and December 2010.
The earliest remains investigated were found along the new pipeline route to the wellsite and date to the Neolithic period (some 4000 to 2500 BC) when the first settled agricultural communities occupied the area. This included part of substantial circular monument some 18m in diameter and defined by a ditch 2m wide and 1m deep. Large pits within the centre of the monument appear to have been constructed to hold upright timber posts. A number of shallow inter-cutting pits were excavated nearly, which contained considerable quantities of burnt material – including fire-cracked stones used for cooking – and animal bone, as well as pottery and flint tools of Neolithic date. The material from these pits suggest feasting ceremonies or similar activities associated with funerary rituals carried out at the monument. This association with the burial or disposal of the dead is also suggested by the presence of later burials of Bronze Age date (some 2500 to 700 BC) cut into the in-filled ditch of the monument.
Another ceremonial monument of Neolithic date was also partially revealed near to the Gypsey Race and consisted of two concentric rings of larger and smaller pits for upright timber posts 8m and 7m in diameter respectively.
At the site of the new wellsite, which sits on the slope of the southern side of the river valley, further discoveries of prehistoric date have been made. Several pits were examined which were found to contain Bronze Age pottery, worked flints and fire-cracked stones, representing debris from domestic settlement. On higher ground to the south, a number of ditches and a line of pits were recorded, which may represent short lengths of large-scale prehistoric boundary features, longer sections of which have been recorded on aerial photographs further to the east. One of the pits contained a human burial.
In an area adjacent to the Gypsey Race part of a cemetery of Iron Age date (some 700 BC to AD 71) date was recorded. This consisted of five graves, some being surrounded by square ditches typical of a type only found in eastern Yorkshire. One of the graves was of a warrior and contained an iron sword and spearhead dated to some 200 to 100 BC. This is a significant discovery and is the first such sword to be recovered from an excavated grave for over 25 years.
These burials are probably contemporary with an area of settlement recorded in the area of the main extension for the gas storage facility. Within this area the remains of seven roundhouses and associated structures were recorded. These were visible as circular gullies up to 15m in diameter with internal pits for timber posts, and represent circular structures of wood and clay that would probably have had a conical thatched roof. One of the houses had a low foundation wall made of chalk. Some of the gullies were inter-cutting so more than one phase of settlement is evident, which it is known extended to the south of the area investigated.
Associated with the settlement were a number of other rectangular structures or enclosures, as well as pits used for the disposal of domestic refuse and a number of isolated burials, all surrounded by boundary ditches. A number of pits were also dug to the west of the area of settlement in a shallow hollow, most probably to enable the collection of water from what may have been a spring. A large saddle quern, or grinding stone, was found in the pits, which would have been used to process grain for flour. Well-preserved wood fragments were also found, showing the marks of the tools used to cut and shape them.
Within this area nine isolated human burials were also found, believed to be of Iron Age or Roman date. One of the burials was found with an iron knife in a grave that was one of two that intersected each other.
Occupation in this area continued after the Roman occupation of East Yorkshire, and many inter-cutting ditches and gullies were evident criss-crossing the sloping ground, the result of the repeated definition of settlement boundaries and the need to control the drainage of water running down slope. The most substantial ditches and pits were within the southern part of the area investigated, and these continued into the area of the pipeline to the south of the existing facility where areas of settlement were located within enclosures which ran south towards the Gypsey Race. Stone features included areas of surfacing and a small flue, presumed to have been used for some craft or industrial purpose. Associated finds included a Roman brooch, large fragments of a millstone and numerous fragments of pottery and animal bone.
Settlement in this area continued into the early Anglo-Saxon period, including the remains of a building containing both loom weights and bone pins, suggesting that it had been used for weaving. A burial of the same date with an iron knife was also recovered, while a silver coin of 8th century date was one of the latest objects to be found.
Much of this area of settlement was later covered by a thick layer of soil that accumulated towards the base of the slope on the edge of the valley. No further evidence of occupation was recorded, the area instead probably being land that was farmed in the medieval period and associated with the deserted village and manor at Low Caythorpe immediately to the west.
The excavations have only recently been completed and much work needs to be done yet to collate all the information recorded, analyse the finds recovered and prepare reports. But already the results have demonstrated that the investigations have provided important and significant evidence that will enable a much better understanding of the occupation and development of this part of the Yorkshire Wolds landscape during the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval periods.
Archaeological investigations in progress on the route of the new pipeline south of the current Caythorpe facility. Various ditches and pits are being examined to record their form and to recover finds such as pottery or animal bone.
A burial of probable Anglo-Saxon date, lying in a shallow rectangular grave, discovered close to the northern end of the new pipeline. An iron knife was found lying against the skull, while a large bone close to its feet may represent the remains of a joint of meat buried with the body.
A stone-built flue discovered on the route of the new pipeline at Caythorpe. The structure lay next to traces of Romano-British buildings and is thought to have been used to channel hot air as part of a craft or industrial process.
In the area of the new extension to the Caythorpe facility, removal of a thick soil layer is underway to expose archaeological features. The soil layer which seals the features accumulated during the medieval period as a result of ploughing further up the valley side.
The site of the new wellsite under archaeological investigation. The topsoil has been removed and the archaeologists are investigating a number of prehistoric pits which appear as small areas of darker soil against the white chalk. The pits have been found to contain fragments of Bronze Age pottery, flint tools and burnt stones used for cooking.
Human burial under careful excavation at the new wellsite. The burial, thought to be of prehistoric date, had been inserted into the top of one of a line of pits which had been dug to mark a boundary. Small hand tools and brushes are being used so as not to damage the skeleton.
Later Iron Age sword recovered from one of the graves excavated before cleaning and conservation.
Plan showing the extent and complexity of the archaeological settlement recorded in the area of the extension to the existing facility. Features in green and red are of Iron Age date, including the seven roundhouses excavated, while those in blue are of Roman date.
Excavation of the pits to the west of the Iron Age roundhouses, showing the waterlogged conditions that preserved organic material such as wood.
Two intersecting graves of probable Iron Age date located to the west of the roundhouses (the later grave removing the head of the earlier burial). One of the skeletons was buried with an iron knife.
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