Wednesday 11 July 2018

We're not exhausted yet - Open Day (Saturday 12 - 5 pm)

We are getting closer to the end of things: the World Cup is inching to its finale, the heatwave is slowly cooling, and (sadly) we only have a week and a half left in Dorchester. 

The lack of time and the growing sense of ends and of limits does not however mean that there is any break or ebbing of the number of finds that are coming out of the ground. For example, in the first three hours of the day, over 25 small finds (objects of metal, worked bone, and stamped pottery) have been recovered and recorded. Town sites are meant to contain a good number of finds, and yet, even after ten years, this aspect to Dorchester is not showing any sign of being exhausted of objects. 

In terms of those key finds, those which are most cooed and coveted, we have had a strap-end, a lump of plaster with a painted flower/star, another with a leafy decoration, and two contextualised coins of the Emperor Hadrian. In addition, last week our metal-detectorist Shaun (who works our spoilheap picking up metal that has been dug up and accidentally discarded by us) picked out an extra special find which seemed to come from soil under the Roman road. I will keep mum about it to try and entice you to the Open Day (this Saturday, 15 - 5pm, Dorchester Allotments), I am certain though that it is the find of the season. However, it certainly is one of those finds which brings the past closer at the same time as it makes it more intriguing. 

So, as I have mentioned it, let's repeat - we have our tenth and last Open Day occurring this Saturday (14/7/18) and it promises to be our best yet. We have a whole host of activities tailored to children, a whole number of our best finds returning to be looked over, and a whole set of excited archaeologists ready to tell you all about the site. 

Please come along!

(as ever, pictures to follow)

Thursday 5 July 2018

"Feelin' hot hot hot"

It is coming to the end of the week here and our last set of undergraduates are on their ways out. They have dug hard (the record for the number of barrows 'run' in one day fell twice), and we have progressed in most parts of the site. There have been a number of beautiful finds: a copper ligula from a toiletry or medical set, a bone pin, and an antler knife handle have all rather caught the eye - see the photos that will follow. 

However, as ever with archaeology, it is not the finds that really make an impression but the features themselves. For, underneath the middle road slot, we have come across a line of stake holes (or 'voids') set into the ground and stretching from north to south. They are linearly scattered into the northern road slot too and once made up the wall from some kind of early building. Near this area we also had a Claudian as, a copy of the type with the Minerva reverse, and this find places the feature slap bang in the middle of the 1st century CE. It therefore looks like we are beginning to uncover and untangle material that might provide parallels and nuances to the 1960s and 1970s excavations that took place in this picturesque village. 

Working with this feature we might begin to provide some answers to some of our original questions - what were the origins of Roman Dorchester? And, was there a military phase here? 

All exciting and all still very hot (the heat wave continues)!

Friday 29 June 2018

We are going potty for our pottery

The archaeology, in mimicry of the general weather, is beginning to get hot in Dorchester. The usual and typical large amounts of pottery and nails are spilling from a whole host of new and old features. And, most importantly and significantly, we are starting to see a rising proportion of material that is 1st century CE in date. 

Yesterday was an especially good day for finds. Around four pieces of stamped pottery came out (three of samian and the other on an Oxfordshire reduced ware). And, on one of the former (a dish from South Gaul), there was a graffito: a scratched inscription of a name and an X from 2000 years ago. Obviously, it has caused a huge amount of excitement and is (so far) our star attraction. Today brought a renewed number of 'special' small finds including a deep blue shard of Roman glass from a vessel, an antler knife handle, and a huge piece of iron slag.

Other than that - we have more pits coming through and a new gravel spread under the road. Dorchester keeps on giving. 

Check out our instagram (you do not need an account to access it) to see some of our photos!

Monday 25 June 2018

All fun in the sun

On Sunday we were joined for the last time by a team of university students originating from a whole host of institutions spotted across the globe. And, inevitably, we used their youthfulness to set to with our heaviest tools on the remaining clods of earth and soil that lie over the tarp and the archaeology. The sun is shining hot, the grass is tinder dry, and the carrion-eating red kites are circling us; but we are getting through the required work at a rattling pace.

Soon, I hope, we will be able to show you pictures of actual archaeology. For now, though, I leave you with some pictures of toil and soil. Please wish us your best as it gets steadily hotter!


Monday 18 June 2018

Have we been missed?

What with the football and all the political turmoil you might be forgiven for thinking that Dorchester did not have its fair share of drama this year. However, we have (also) kicked off – the Discovering Dorchester Project is up and running for its final year!

Please see below some of the pictures below of our poppy strewn field. There is not too much to report at this stage, this is very much the time of watching our site slowly begin to reveal itself beneath the soil we put back in last season (as those of you who have been following us for years will know). But, what I can say is that the weather was fine and we are mainly concerned at the moment with working out the edges of our trench.

We are quite close to the centre of Dorchester on Thames, among the allotments, and would welcome visitors at any time. Please come to say hello if you are in the area!

Monday 22 January 2018

Discovering Dorchester is open for registration for the 2018 season

Hello all,

Even though I’s gazing out at another rainy, grey day, but I am pleased to announce that the Dorchester on Thames excavation is now open again for registration!

This is the last year of the Discovering Dorchester project and we would love to have as many new and old faces there as possible.

We need to work out the tricky stratigraphy around our pit complexes in the north of the site and burrow our way through those greyish green silts that emerged below the Roman road – so there is still a lot to do.

The dates this year are 24th June – 6th July for the undergraduate field school, and 8th – 13th and 15th – 20th July for Weeks A and B (respectively) of the Public/Continuing Education dig. I hope that some of you can make these times.

There is a slight change this year. Could I direct all your queries and interested emails to the dig’s official email:

Whether you are an undergraduate looking for an excavation or wanting to get ‘in’ on one of the public fieldschool weeks, if you email then I will be more than happy to send you over the relevant documentation, including the information packs.

For now, though, see below a picture of the excavation from the air taken during the course of last season.

Hope you have a wonderful week and I look forward to hearing from some of you,

Thomas (Assistant Director)

Thursday 13 July 2017

Week 3 update - and a reminder that our Open Day is drawing near

So, with the undergraduates having left on Friday, the site in these last two weeks is being dug by a mix of Continuing Education students, local volunteers, and other interested persons. However, the changeover in personnel has neither led to a slackening in the pace of the work nor in the number of finds being discovered. Indeed, since the last post, there has been a great deal that has happened.

            Peter’s team, who were previously occupied with the truncated (and difficult-to-see) early Roman deposits have now switched their attention to a pit (yes, another one) which has appeared almost in the middle of the Dorchester site. This pit produced some thick charcoal-heavy soil deposits and also has a very steeply sloping side. But, the appearance of this feature means that we now have a total of three to four large pits under excavation running north-south through the middle of the excavation. This is all rather peculiar, especially as the (probable) 2nd to 3rd century CE use of these rubbish dumps would have made getting from the road to the building (situated next to and under the western bulk) rather tricky. Certainly, the route might have involved wandering through slowly growing piles of refuse.

            Moving away from that image, Peter’s team have struck lucky with a productive ditch that is yielding not only a large number of small finds (objects of metal and, unusual ones, of pottery that require ‘shooting in’ with the total station), but also quite a few nearly complete pottery vessels. These are really quite exciting finds and we hope that we might be able to get a few more before the end of the season. Shifting our gaze now though, just beyond and north of this western part of the site is situated Sam’s team who have been engaged with a range of different tasks. These included chasing the edges of their own large pit (another recent discovery), sifting through the complicated stratigraphy just south of it, and, finally, attempting to locate the other side of Peter’s new feature. The sifting has resulted in the possible finding of a further pit(!), even if the boundaries of this one are not at all clear at this moment. Additionally, Sam’s team have dug out a coin of the Emperor Trajan (one dated to after his conquest of Dacia, so c.102CE), and a knee brooch during the last week. These finds (both of which are startlingly green) have certainly given everyone some eye-candy to enjoy looking at, and I hope to get some good lighting (and the opportunity) to put these up on the blog soon.

            Sophie’s team continued in the ovular feature (with Vix taking over from her on Sunday the 9th), and have now got a fair way down. To recap, they have expanded their focus to try and excavate all of this feature down to the level reached by last year’s quadrant through this feature. Once this is done we can sink a one metre by one metre sondage into the centre of the pit so that we can locate the bottom (something that has eluded us for three years). Notable highlights in terms of finds from this productive pit in the last week include a complete latch-lifter (an artefact that is relatively rare to get out so complete), a bone pin, and a context that consisted of endless numbers of nails.

            All the excitement and activity generated by these three groups is, however, trumped by what is coming up in the road. Our cob wall that started to emerge in last year’s season was joined by both another one and then (under it) by a beam slot. Such features suggest that there might have been a Roman structure standing next to the road (even if we can find no surviving floor), and a building is something that we have been hoping to discover for quite a few years. And yet, this significant find was not the only one that emerged from the road (Felicia’s part of the trench). For, very close to the last surviving remnant of our SFB (or 5th to 6th century Anglo-Saxon sunken-feature building), appeared 20 stake holes. The function of these is still unclear, but they make an interesting (if slightly strange) addition to the archaeological landscape near to the road. 

All rather perplexing at Dorchester (isn't it always!), but I hope some of you can join us for the Open Day this Saturday (15th July) at 12pm - 5pm, and have a go at trying to crack some of the conundrums that face us.


Another one of our lovely samian (nearly complete) vessels ((c) Claire Winfield)

Digging under the banks of clouds ((c) Claire Winfield)

The upper part of an Oxford ware flagon gets a clean