Cut / Fills
A cut is where somebody has removed soil, rock or building material in the past. This might have been to create a
pit or post-hole, a grave, a foundation trench or defensive ditch, or to take away material such as stone or brick
for re-use ('robbing'). Material deposited in a cut is called a fill.
Finding a cut means looking for an 'edge' where the soil changes colour or texture slightly. This is followed down
by carefully removing the soil inside the feature, until it is 'bottomed'. Cuts were often made into existing cuts.
In Medieval cemeteries, for instance, grave cuts can be intercut many times by later graves. This is known as
inter-cutting and disentangling it can be a very challenging task, especially where the fills are very similar.
It is normal to try to excavate the latest cut first: this usually the one with the most complete edge. Cuts are
known as 'negative' features, as they are evidence of something being taken away, not added.
Fills are the opposite of cuts: they are 'positive' features - meaning they are deposits, and they occupy the
holes and spaces created by cuts. Some cuts can have many fills, but the fills of features are always
stratigraphically above cuts because they occur later in the sequence, even if in reality this may have been
only a few moments after the cut was made. The fill of a post-hole may contain the stone packing which once
held the post in position, and sometimes fragments of the post itself may survive. There may be artefacts or
radiocarbon samples that can help to date it. The fill of a grave will contain the inhumation
(sometimes more than one), but also may contain evidence of a wooden, stone or lead coffin, or grave goods such as
pottery, brooches or weapons.
Return to Stratigraphy.