Roman Thurnscoe

In archaeomagnetic dating it is often necessary to give multiple possible date ranges as the earth’s magnetic field has had same direction at different times in the past. However, the available archaeological evidence is usually sufficient to select the most likely range. In this case, the date range for the hearth is most likely to be AD iGO-AD 400, which is consistent with the archaeological evidence. The burnt clay in the pit cannot be dated as, although it shows evidence of being heated, the scattered directions suggest that either it has been redeposited or disturbed since heating or that it was not heated to sufficient temperature to reset the magnetisation associated with its geological origin.

The ceramic and radiocarbon dating evidence suggests that the settlement at Thurnscoe was occupied between the mid-second and mid-fourth centuries AD. Only limited indirect evidence for possible pre-Roman Iron Age activity was found in the form of several fragments of ‘Iron Age Grey’ slag which have so far been found exclusively on Late Iron Age sites. Only occasional sherds of hand-made pottery in a native tradition were recovered and these occurred in contexts containing unambiguously Roman pottery. No evidence was recovered during excavation for any post Roman activity.
The settlement changed in size, layout and organization of space throughout its history  and at least four distinct phases were recognised. The earliest recognisable plan comprised two relatively small, rectangular enclosures with an entrance area to the north and some structural evidence (but no roundhouses) concentrated in the southernmost enclosure. There was some evidence to suggest that the southern enclosure was pre-dated by a fenced enclosure. Within the south-eastern corner of the southern enclosure was a small concentration of features which bore evidence of burning and heating. These may represent a cooking area supporting the interpretation that the southern enclosure was primarily domestic occupation. This phase dates to the late second to third centuries AD.
These enclosures were then replaced by two much more substantial conjoined enclosures in Phase II in the third to the early fourth centuries AD. A rectangular and a D-shaped enclosure covered approximately three times the area of the initial settlement and were defined by substantially deeper ditches. The focus of structural activity shifted at this time with the evidence for domestic structures now concentrated within the D-shaped enclosure. This may have been a gradual development, as the position of the northern entrance of the Phase I enclosure was perpetuated in Phase II. Similarly, the eastern ditch of the Phase I enclosures was substantially re-cut as the central ditch between the two Phase II enclosures. The major droveway ditches and the field ditches which are associated with the enclosures in this phase were also substantial cut features, but like the enclosures these would seem to be redefining elements that were at least partially established in an earlier phase. In Phase III the western enclosure ceased to be defined by a ditch while the eastern enclosure continued to be occupied and the droveway ditch and field system was maintained. This phase dates to the late third to the early fourth centuries AD. In Phase IV the eastern enclosure ditches also went out of use but occupation of the site continued with evidence for hearths/ovens, less substantial ditches and pits overlying the earlier phase. The ceramic evidence suggests that significant occupation of the site may have ceased after c. AD 350 due to the absence of most of the common later Yorkshire and Lincolnshire pottery forms and fabric

A large T-shaped corn drying oven was found to lie outside the main enclosures towards the northern edge of the site. The construction of the corn drying oven has been tentatively placed within Phase I based on the early radiocarbon date and pottery evidence. Joining sherds of a second-century bead and flange mortarium rim were recovered from within the collapsed superstructure of the oven and within the charcoal in the base of the fire pit at Thurnscoe. The oven may have continued in use throughout the occupation of the site as is evidenced by a sherd of later third/fourth century AD South Yorkshire Late Roman Redware retrieved from the infill of the fire pit. However, the fire pit may have been infilled some time after the oven had gone out of use.
T-shaped corn-driers have been found distributed in a belt across England from the Humber Estuary to Dorset and are thought to have been introduced to Britain in the second century AD (Morris 1979). Their presence is thought to illustrate some level of acculturation of Roman ways of life within the rural farmstead. Regional examples of similar T-shaped corn drying ovens have been found at Womersley in North Yorkshire (12 miles north of Thurnscoe); at Winterton, Langtoft and Welton Wold in Humberside;at Swaythorpe, East Yorkshire; and at Sapperton, Lincolnshire (Morris 1979). The Womersley example (Buckland and Dolby 1987), though smaller, was similar in construction to the oven at Thurnscoe. Both ovens had an oval fire pit at the foot of the main flue which itself appeared to have been capped with flat stones, and neither oven bore any evidence of a former surrounding structure.
The charred plant remains recovered from the corn drying oven at Thurnscoe suggests that it had a multi-functional use processing stored grain. Experimental archaeology has demonstrated the use of a corn-drying oven can reduce the moisture content of grain to improve keeping quality and discourage mildew, fungus and insect pests during storage (Reynolds and Langley 1979). The charred plant remains comprised cereal grains, chaff fragments and weed seeds. These suggest that the oven was used for the parching of glume wheats prior to pounding and winnowing, or the drying of the grain prior to storage or milling. A proportion of the grain could be identified as having germinated and because it is difficult to determine whether germination was deliberate or accidental, it is possible that the oven was also used either for malting or to roast the germinated grain to stop further spoilage. Spelt wheat rather than barley was the only germinated grain in the samples and this would suggest that the inhabitants may have been producing wheat beer.