Wednesday, 10 December 2014

It's been a while...!

Hello all, I hope your Autumns and early Winters have been good! This is just a quick note to update people on the situation with Dorchester 2015.

We will be opening up for registrations from early in the New Year. If you want information about the 2015 fieldschools, please email from 2nd January onward. I will also be posting a bit more information here on the blog.

The undergraduate fieldschool will run from Sunday 28th June - Friday 10th July.
Week A of the public fieldschool will run from Sunday 12th July - Friday 17th July.
Week B of the public fieldschool will run from Sunday 19th July - Friday 24th July.

We're already getting excited for what this season will bring! 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

All wrapped up for the summer

Sorry for the radio silence... I think we've all just been recovering, and trying to fit back into regular life! Adjusting back to living between four walls and under a roof has certainly been a challenge.

The week after the dig finished, Wendy and I, along with some much appreciated help from Neil Mason, finished off the last few bits of drawing, context recording, and geomatics, before covering the entire site in geo-textile (a rather unpleasant dusty fight against the wind!). Wendy finished off sampling the well, before the shoring was finally taken down, and the well was filled in again for the last time. 

On Tuesday our two machines were back on site bright and early, and the backfilling began in earnest. It's certainly a time of mixed emotions... it's nice to be at the end of a very good month of digging, but also a little distressing to see all of that soil dumped back in the hole! 

We have plenty of people to thank for their help this year, including Will, Peter, Lizzie, and Max at the Fleur de Lys Pub in Dorchester, for putting up with our muddy boots and providing sensational food; Prof. Chris Gosden, Dr Clifford Sofield, Priscilla Lange, and Ian Cartwright for their talks to the students; John Gibbs and Alan Davis for their assistance with managing the dig; Angela and Ian Reid for putting us all up in their field for the first two weeks; Geoff Russell and the Dorchester Parish Council for the use of the Pavilion showers; Granville Laws and Chris Smallridge at Oxford Archaeology for all their help with the logistics; Rob Bashford at Oxford Archaeology for his advice and assistance with the well shoring; Lee at Qik; and Dave, Adam, and Alfred from David Beecroft Ltd for their hard work on the machines at the start and end of the dig. 

Thanks also to all of our supervisory team, of Dr Wendy Morrison, Laura Jones, Abi Tompkins, Peter Forward, and Patrick Roberts, and to all the diggers who worked so hard to make this such a successful season!

Friday, 25 July 2014

All's well that ends well...

Today was the last day of Dorchester 2014. We all spent the day finishing the odds and ends for recording features, drawing plans, and packing up the finds. Our students had a final lecture from Paul Booth on the Roman coins of Dorchester and the wider implications of coinage in the Romano British world.

Soil samples were taken from the well for analysis, with the hope of finding both charred plant remains and ancient pollen. The road was given a final brushing and had its photograph taken before being put to bed for the next 11 months under a couple of metres of backfill.

Our fantastic field school participants were awarded their certificates of completion and then were treated to a wrap up lecture from Paul.

Thanks to all who have been involved in the dig this year. We have had a great 4 weeks of excavation this year, but the work isn't over yet! Next week, Ed and Wendy will prep the site for backfilling, and then the long process of post excavation will begin. We will keep posting regularly on what comes up during those processes, including the flotation of the eco-samples and the x-raying of the metal artefacts. Watch this space!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

It's the final countdown!

Thursday is done and we have just one day left. The race is on to finish off all the digging that we need to, and get everything recorded before closing the trench at the start of next week.

Today we had another scorcher, with all the students working very hard in the hot sun. We saw the completion of the recording of the well section, widespread planning, lessons in section drawing, and the removal of the second road surface.

Activity was not confined to the trench, with visitors from Marcham and diggers from years gone by dropping in to see our progress. Gill Hey, CEO of Oxford Archaeology and one of our co-directors, came by the site to see the results of this year's hard work.

In the early afternoon, with the excavators being treated to a lecture by Professor Chris Gosden, the supervisors were happily distracted from their work by the Red Arrows' fantastic display for the RAF Benson Families' Day. The aerial acrobatics, however, didn't stop them from hopping onto the road for some final trowelling action before the end of the season.

Check back tomorrow for the final action post.

Dr Morrison's daily round-up, given from the depths of the well

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Down bottom of t' well

Today was another scorcher, with glorious sun over the Wittenham Clumps and the Dorchester Allotments. Our students were taught a range of skills, including the importance of context sheets and how to fill them in, and section and plan drawing. Just after lunch we had a talk from Ian Cartwright, the Institute of Archaeology's photographer, on the ins and outs of archaeological photography.

Today's finds of the day were a piece of stamped Southern Gaulish terra sigillata, bearing the impression "Iuli," and a lovely copper alloy needle, eye still in tact, about 10 cm long.

One of the highlights of the day was the reaching of the bottom of the well! At 3 metres the archaeology ended with a thin layer of gravel, lying on top of the dark blue Oxford Clay. All that remains is for the section to be drawn and the column pollen sampling can begin.

Two days left and it's still full steam ahead. Keep an eye out for updates!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Week 4

Sorry all for the radio silence - we've just been too busy digging!

Week 4 has got underway with some very warm, and very humid weather. Today we may have been melting a little... But soil continues to be moved at a good pace, as we take the layers of the site down.

Highlights of the first half of this week include the digging of a slot across the edge of the top surface of the Roman road, finding a series of second century jars and  beakers in the well, and some bronze coins in the late Roman ditches that line the north edge of the site.

A post medieval intervention truncating these ditches has produced a lot of material, including a Stuart coin and fragments of bellarmine jug; these are a sharp contrast to our Roman assemblages which for the rest of the site artefacts. We hope to have cleared these post-med deposits very soon and then begin to understand the relationship of these ditches to the road surface.

This week's students are enjoying (we hope) the sunny skies and the generous Roman layers - these soils offer our participants a lit of opportunity to get to know pottery and animal bones. We have had a couple of good lectures this week so far with Dr Cliff Sofield briefing the teams on the Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Priscilla Lange giving training on animal bone identification. Tomorrow Ian Cartwright will give a lecture on archaeological photography.

We will keep you posted daily now on the final countdown to the end of the 2014 season!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Week 3 finished, Open Day tomorrow!

In stunning sunshine we finished week 3 today! With temperatures reportedly reaching 28 degrees in the shade, our intrepid diggers dug on. Roads have been planned, ditches have been dug, and the well continues to get deeper!

Most of our fieldschool participants finished up today, with a round up tour from Paul and the presentations of the coveted Certificate of Completion. We really enjoyed having them with us this week and we are looking forward to meeting a new batch of participants on Sunday morning.

Lest you think the team might be slacking off for the Saturday in between - fear not! We will be setting up for the Archaeology Open Day at the site. We will be open from 12-5pm and plan to have an educational activities tent for children, tours of the site, and the star artefacts of the season on display. In addition, Peter will be providing a taste of Roman life with his Pompeian bread loaves, garum (Roman fish sauce), olives and stuffed dates! Fingers crossed, the weather will treat us to the same sunny warmth that we have had all week.

Peter's home-made wood-fired oven, ready for the bread to go in!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What's down the well?

Today we made great progress on site, as we planned several segments of the Roman road and its immediate environs, as well as the series of interventions we have been digging across the later Roman ditches in the north of the trench.

We have also been teaching the fieldschool students how to record soil types, plan features, and use the Total Station. I think everyone is having a good time in the summer sun!

We have had been having lunchtime lectures each day also; yesterday Dr Cliff Sofield spoke about Anglo Saxon Dorchester on Thames, and today Paul Booth familiarised the students with the basics of the Roman ceramic industry and the identification of Roman pottery.

In the Roman well, we have gone down another 70 cm, and still are a ways of from the water table, but we did recover a whole pot - a Roman beaker from the mid second century and in really good condition!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Week 3 begins...

With the end of week 2, so too did the undergraduate fieldschool come to a close. We had a great two weeks with some fantastic students, and some very exciting finds. As mentioned before, there was the stunning bird-topped copper alloy hair pin, found by Jen:

And a fantasticly well preserved 4th century "Urbs Roma" coin, minted in Lyon, showing Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf on the reverse.

The fieldschool was rounded up by our site director, Paul Booth, giving the undergraduates a short site tour, describing how the story of the site had been changed by their contributions.

And now we are into week 3. We have a new crop of keen fieldschool participants, raring to go. And in their first two days, finds have been coming out thick and fast!

Work is continuing on the Roman road, and over the last two weeks Team Abi have discovered at least 3 layers of re-surfacing (leading to the suggestion that the Roman-Britons were doing a far better maintenance job than our local councils...). Team Laura have been investigating a network of ditches on the north side of the trench, dealing with complex stratigraphy and subtle soil changes. Team Peter have been working in the centre of the trench, exploring wide homogeneous deposits that have up till now shown little in the way of features, but plenty of finds. And Team Wendy have been picking apart the mysterious stone structure nearer to the western end of the trench, uncovering further dumps of building material (lying at some very strange angles!).

Stay tuned for more updates, and if you are in the area, do come along to our Open Day, this Saturday, 19th July, 12-5pm, at the site in the Dorchester Allotments. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Well well...

Today we augered our supposed well, to see if it actually is... a well. And it turns out the Roman cut does indeed go down a long way! After much huffing and puffing, at about 2 and a half metres down we hit both the natural Oxford Clay and the water table. So tomorrow the shoring will be going in, and we will be all set to safely excavate downwards. 

In other news, yesterday 2 lovely copper alloy hair pins were uncovered, one of which had a small bird on the top. Lovely things to see on our Open Day on the 19th July!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Week One is complete and the students from Oxford, Nottingham, and Harvard are excelling. On Thursday their hard work was rewarded with a guided tour up the Wittenham Clumps by our very own Doc Morrison. The stunning sunset was well worth the hike!

Work continues across the site with the Roman road surface in the east of the trench coming up, coins, worked bone, and a pair of Roman copper alloy tweezers being found by the ever vigilant students.

Watch this space for further updates!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

So it begins...Dorchester 2014

Day Three and we have triumphed over the back fill. The sections have been cut and the lines have assembled... time to excavate some archaeology!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Digging commences!

We've started taking the backfill out in preparation for Sunday's start. Assistant Director Ed and I arrived to find a field full of vegetation! 
But a few hours with the machines had the field looking more like an archaeological excavation. The good folks at David Beecroft LTD sent us a fine crew of digger drivers and we were off! We even made a little friend which we saved. 

At the end of two days, things were looking pretty good and we are on schedule a bright and early 0830 Sunday start. 

Follow us on Facebook and see what we get up to and to get updates on new blogposts!\digdorchester

Monday, 12 May 2014

Not quite Dorchester

At the end of last month several of the Dorchester team decided they had had enough of the English winter, and so opted to swap rain coats for sun hats, packed up their trowels, and flew off to spend four weeks excavating in Southern India! The temperature change proved quite a shock to the system, going from c. 12°C in the UK, to 33°C and very high humidity in Kerala. We were working on a project exploring the ancient past of a village called Pattanam, which has tentatively been linked with the port of Muziris, mentioned in various ancient texts including Pliny's Historia Naturalis. You can read a press release about the excavation, run in partnership between the Kerala Council for Historical Research and the University of Oxford, here, and you can read about a lecture that Professor Chris Gosden, one of the Directors of the Dorchester Project, gave whilst we were out there, here.

We had an excellent time getting acquainted with some highly intriguing archaeology - some things were very recognisable, including Roman amphorae and intaglios; most things were obviously very very new to us. This included not only the finds, but also several aspects of the excavation methodology, and in particular the different tools used! (At times we did dream about good old one-wheeled wheel barrows...).

Pattanam 2014 Excavation Team (looking rather clean!)

You can see some of the amazing 360° photographs of the Pattanam trenches taken by the Archaeology Institute's photographer, Ian Cartwright, here (and if you go down far enough, you will also come across some of his 360° photographs of Dorchester!).

Fortunately we didn't manage to lose anyone to poisonous snakes, so we still have a full contingent of supervisors for this summer. And on the note of this summer, there are just 3 places left for the second week of the public field school (20th - 25th July), and none at all in the first, so if you're interested in coming you really do not have long left to sign up! Once they're gone, they're gone.

As ever, if you are interested, or have any questions, please email

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Just a quick update

Week A of the public field school (13th - 18th July) is now full, so I'm sorry to say we can't accept any more registrations for that week. There is still some space in Week B though (20th - 25th July), so get in quick if you would like to join us! Email for more details.

And I'll leave you with a photo I took of the site in some gorgeous weather last month - looking rather green!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Tiles, and dig applications!

Post-ex work continues on the ceramic building material from Dorchester: all of those shapeless lumps of clay you find do get looked at! And sometimes you find traces not just of past human activity....

Places on the two weeks of the public field school are now filling up fast, so if you want to be involved this summer you need to act quickly! Email  for more information and the application form. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

2014 is here...

... and that means we are well underway organising this year's dig!

The Discovering Dorchester excavations will resume this summer under the leadership of Oxford Archaeology's Paul Booth. The dig will run in much the same format as previously, with undergraduates, predominantly from the University of Oxford, excavating in the first two weeks, and a public Field School in the second two weeks.

Excavations this year will be concentrated in the eastern half of the trench, in particular on the area adjacent to the North-South road. In addition we will be continuing our investigation of the possible well in the southwest quadrant of the trench, with the hope of uncovering waterlogged remains at the bottom!

If you would like to learn more about how you can join the excavations at Dorchester, please email