Fields around the village of Hickleton, Doncaster, are full of holes. Big holes, small holes, and sometimes very deep holes. These are being dug by archaeologists working on the Brodsworth Community Archaeology Project. This is directed by the Archaeology Department at Sheffield in partnership with Hull University.
The archaeologists have a short time window between harvest and sowing in this rolling fertile landscape of hedged arable crops when they can dig and do geophysical survey into the remains of long time.
The hard, yellow limestone soils are pungent when dug into, and they hide the archaeological features well. Differences between natural soils and soils backfilled into ditches and pits are hard, if not impossible, to discern. The archaeologists know from geophysics the filled-in ditches are there even if there is no sign of them after stripping back the topsoil. Cunning yet brutal strategies are developed to tease out the features, requiring rectangular trenches to be sunk deep into the ground to reveal the sections of the filled ditches in the trenches vertical sides.
From the side of the field groups of people can be seen hunched over in the trenched frames sunk into the ground amongst wheat stubble. Under heavycast skies of laden clouds, these could be Van Gogh’s farm labourers working away after harvest or Lincolnshire potato pickers rather than students and academics investigating Doncaster’s past.
Over time, with as much heavy mattocking as gentle trowelling, prehistoric and Romano-British field and enclosure ditches are scooped clean to expose limestone bedrock. Pottery sherds and animal bones are found, bagged and registered. These will later be used to build the narratives of the past lives of the people who dug these ditches thousands of years before the archaeologists. People who worked in groups to toil the land to grow crops.