Saxon settlement at the Orchard Site, Walton

An old orchard site in Walton was excavated before houses were built on it. Lots of Middle Bronze Age (1600 – 1100BC) and Middle Saxon (500-800 AD) remains were found. Remains from the Bronze Age to the medieval period have been found in other excavations around Walton.


Ten buildings were identified from the archaeological excavations. They were recognised either from regular post-holes or beam slots. These are the empty spaces left behind when a wooden post or beam has rotted away. The spaces get filled up with soil after the wood has rotted. Archaeologists can still find the spaces because the soil inside is looser and often a different colour.


There are three types of building. Sunken-featured buildings are recognised by a roughly rectangular hollow with large post-holes at either end. The hollow was planked over so there was a space under the floor, perhaps to keep the floor dry or for use as storage. Post-holes look like little pits and are often round. They were where an upright post was put in. The post-holes in the middle of each of the shorter ends of the hollow supported the walls and roof. The sunken-featured building, structure 1, found at the Orchard site was 3.1m long, 2.3m wide and the hollow was 0.32m deep. Saxon pottery sherds were found in pits and post-holes and in the hollow of structure 1 and several fragments of quern stone were found scattered around the site. Lots of pieces of animal bones were also found in structure 1 and in post-holes and pits. There were 379 fragments of animal bone in the hollow in structure 1: 54 of the bones were sheep; 45 cattle; 18 pig; 2 duck; 2 fowl; 1 goose; 1 plover; and 1 bone came from a red deer. Some charred grains were found in the pits and post-holes. Grains of bread wheat and hulled wheat were found, and a grain of rye and a piece of hazelnut came from structure 1.


Structure 2 was a building based on beam slots making a rectangle, with an entrance on the south side. It was bigger than structure 1, being 6m long and 4.9m wide. Beam slots were for horizontal timbers, often square, which acted as a base for a wooden structure to stand on. Although no wood was found it is likely that the walls were made by setting posts close together or by having overlapping planks. There was a small beam slot or gully in the entrance, at right angles to the main beam slots. This may have been the base for a porch. A piece of bone comb was found inside structure 2. Oyster shells were also found, two pieces in one of the beam slots of structure 2.


The other eight buildings were all supported with posts dug into the ground, leaving only post-holes behind. Some of the post-holes have been replaced, possibly when the original posts rotted, so there are two or three post-holes next to each other. Some of the buildings had posts half-way along one of the long walls that may have marked an entrance and/or a porch. Some fragments of daub were found near structures 8, 9 and 10. These were not so common around other structures, so it is thought that the walls of the other buildings were probably constructed some other way rather than with wattle and daub.


Seven are roughly rectangular, and range from 8.8m x 5.5m to 10.8m x 5.8m in size. The size of the buildings was based on the Saxon rod measurement. There were two rods, a long one and a short one. The short rod was 4.65m and the long rod 5.03m. The measurements are not exact but structures 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10 seem to be based on the long rod while structure 3 was based on the short rod. There is one nearly square building, structure 10, which is only 4.4m x 4.3m in size. It may be part of or an extension to structure 9.


Most of the buildings are aligned south-west to north-east but structures 4, 9 and 10 are aligned roughly south-east to north-west. They perhaps belong to two different phases. Some of the houses overlapped. Structure 1, the sunken-featured building, is later than structure 5. Structure 2, the beam-slotted building, is later than structure 7. Structures 9 and 10 overlap but it is not clear which was built first.


There are several fences, recognised from straight lines of small post-holes or stake-holes, running across the site. One was between structures 8 and 9, two others were to the south-west of structure 4. Some of the other post- and stake-holes probably come from two, three or four-post structures that could have been used as little sheds. Three areas of burning showed where hearths must have been but none of these were associated with the buildings. One (numbered 1538) was close to the walls of structure 9 and so must be either earlier or later in date. Saxon hearths were usually in the centre of the building. There were also 19 pits on this site. These were probably used as storage or for dumping rubbish.


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for the images to accompany this worksheet. Go back to find out more about Decay and destruction or Archaeological skills and concepts.