The Poulton Research Project has been revealing the ancient occupation of the area dating back to the Stone Age as well as burials in the graveyard of a medieval chapel. As an archaeological site of regional importance, it has appeared on national television, both in 'Time Team' and 'Digging up the Past'. Most recently it has appeared in the BBC archaeology series, 'Digging for Britain'.
An Introduction to the Poulton Dig
by Dr. Kevin Cootes, Director of the Poulton Research Project
The villages of Pulford and Poulton have a warm charm characteristic of many small Cheshire settlements, which retain their medieval character. To this day, you can still trace the old roads and fields, and even see the 11th century defensive Motte and Bailey earthwork hidden behind Pulford church. You may be surprised to learn, however, that there is a long running community orientated archaeological excavation right on your doorstep.
The Poulton Project was founded in 1995, within a large agricultural field owned by the Fair family. Our initial aim was to investigate a small medieval chapel discovered by the landowner Mr Gerry Fair in the early 1960s. We hoped this would lead us to the site of an Abbey founded by the Cistercian Order of monks during the 12th Century. Our excavations of the graveyard, however, took us in a different direction, when we discovered finds spanning 10,000 years of activity. The earliest material comprised flint tools made by the first hunter-gatherer's to recolonise the area after the retreat of the ice sheets of the last glaciation. Other flint and lithic finds of the Neolithic and Bronze Age demonstrated continuity in activity when the first farmers entered the region around 4,000BC. To our surprise, however, we discovered an ancient Iron Age and Roman settlement spread out across the field. The remains comprised ditches that once surrounded roundhouses dating to the last eight centuries BC, filled with the rubbish that our ancient Celtic ancestors had deposited in them. We recovered large volumes of animal bone and pottery, even discovering ritual activity in the form of partial dog burials. As we continued our investigation, we discovered that the prehistoric inhabitants of Poulton prospered under the Roman military occupation of the region. They carried on living in an Iron Age way, but benefited from new forms of pottery, food and agricultural technology. Over time they adapted to Roman ways, but when the army left Britain in the early fifth century AD, the inhabitants became archaeologically invisible to us. Without Roman technology and international trade routes, pottery was no longer used. Most items were made from wood and other perishable items which do not survive in the archaeological record. We can tell that people still lived in Poulton, however, as when the first pottery types come back into Cheshire during the 10th century, they are represented in large quantities.
In short, archaeological research at Poulton, Cheshire, has revealed a large and hitherto unexpected settlement of vast complexity and multiple millennia of occupation.
After 24 years of investigation, we have barely scratched the surface.