Wednesday, 27 July 2016

All troweled out

We made it. Despite the 30 pus degree temperatures, we've managed to push on to the end of the week, and indeed the end of the season. It's been another good one, and I think we've had plenty of students go away wanting more.

So what happened in the last part of the week? With a dig such as ours, with a long off-season and just four weeks excavating, one of the key tasks at the end of each season is making sure that we leave the site, and the records, in a state which means we can pick up again next year where we left off, and so that we don't lose any accumulated knowledge between years. This has meant our supervisors and students have been busy making sure all the context sheets, drawings, and photographs have been finished, and we have been focusing our digging efforts on removing ay upstanding baulks of soil, which, once fully recorded, only hinder the backfill removal process next year! Despite this though the finds have kept coming, and just a few minutes before the end of play on Friday a final brooch appeared (so we've not yet had time to identify it!... something Nauheim derivativey...).

In addition to the digging and recording we have also continued to process the bulk finds, with just a couple of crates leftover for the local community pot washers to work through over the winter. On top of this, under the supervision of Sheila Raven and Anne Spencer, our students have also been learning how we catalogue our many thousands of Roman nails (a task many would find daunting!).

Sheila Raven giving the students a talk about her post-excavation work for the project

It seems fitting to sum up some of the main achievements of the year. Across the site we've been heading downwards at a good pace, as we attempt to uncover and record the full sequence of archaeology throughout the site.

In most of the western part of the trench we have reached the natural subsoil. The features and deposits in these earliest layers are datable to the very early Roman period, with a few tantalising hints of earlier activity in the vicinity from coins and early brooches. In this part of the trench we haven't been able to identify evidence of the postulated early Roman fort, a suggestion of earlier academics researching the town, and portions of which should be evident in the trench if Prof. Frere's conclusions are correct. However, we'll be holding off on a categorical verdict on this subject until we've excavated the whole trench!

In the northern part of the site we have been picking up some very interesting features, as we finally start to get to grips with the apparently broadly open area which lies in between the road and the building enclosure to the west. And it certainly appears that this area would not have been as open as first thought, with the line of a roughly east-west aligned post-built structure appearing, as well as possible cob-walling evidence. These features would probably date to the late 2nd or 3rd centuries.

As we start to come down onto the earlier features of this part of the trench, we're getting a bit nervous, as the signs seems to point towards one or more very large pits, which could be slightly problematic to excavate... we perhaps went slightly into the top fill of this on the last day when excavating a small pit, finding a seemingly endless supply of cattle scapulae... A big job for next year!

Talking of large pits, we already have one. In the southern part of the trench we have our sub-circular feature which at the start of the season we thought might bottom out soon, at just under a metre deep... it's still going down though after four more weeks of work! The fill continues to produce vast quantities of material, including many hundreds of iron nails plus loads of cattle horn cores and scapulae, but also some nice hairpins, a couple of whetstone fragments, and some other bits of metalwork. The edges appear to be near vertical, and in fact undercut themselves where the pit has been dug down through the loess subsoil into the looser alluvial gravels beneath. Certainly a lot more work to be done in here, and hopefully next year we might finally have an answer as to what this thing was for!

Finally, in the eastern part of the trench, we have found more and more suggestions that there might perhaps have been a cob wall along the edge of the road. Again we are starting to identify some really subtle signs of this type of construction, and we are excited to return next year to follow this, and all our other questions, up.

Our site director Paul Booth giving the last wrap-up site tour of the season

So, to sum Dorchester 2016 up in numbers:

  • Over 2500 points measured with the total station.
  • Over 1600 small finds (mostly nails...)
  • Nearly 400 pub meals eaten (we won't count the pints of beer)
  • Hundreds of new contexts identified and recorded
  • Over 100 cattle scapulae
  • Over 80 students trained
  • 5 brooches
  • 4 pairs of Roman tweezers
  • 2 Republican silver denarii
  • 1 Roman inkwell

And now over 1000 cubic metres of soil is being returned to the trench!

Thank you to all who participated in the Discovering Dorchester 2016 Fieldschools. You all worked fantastically hard, and were a pleasure to have on site.

Thank you also to our fieldwork team, made up of Paul Booth, Edward Peveler, Thomas Matthews Boehmer, Maggie Burr, Sam Johansen, Steve Crabb, Peter Forward, Rachael Daniel, and Jess Dunham. Patrick Cuthbertson managed our geomatics, and Anni Byard our finds. John Gibbs and Alan Davis were essential for keeping the logistical wheels of the site turning.

Additional thank yous need to be made to all our speakers for the lecture series, and to the staff at Oxford Archaeology, the Fleur de Lys pub, Ian and Angela Reid, the Dorchester Parish Council, and finally to the local residents of Dorchester, who are always so welcoming and interested.

We'll see you next year!

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