Wednesday, 13 July 2016

During Wind and Rain...

Apologies to all who live in the vicinity, but it appears our prayers for rain have been answered! Having struggled and striven in the heat of the last few days which turned all our soils to a handful of grey hues, extremely difficult to differentiate, following the heavy showers yesterday morning we were finally able to be confident in some of the more subtle features we've been dealing with.

After the rain...

For any who have not excavated before, this is important because perhaps the key task with which we as archaeologists concern ourselves is the identification of changes in soils. These changes allow us to understand the processes by which deposits are created, to locate the many pits and ditches which were dug by the Roman Britons, and thus to understand the stratigraphy and chronology of our site. When the well-draining soils of Dorchester get a few days of sun, these soil differences become very difficult to see, particularly with more subtle features. With some decent rain however these soil differences come to life, and so we've been dashing about planning all the post-holes and pits that have now revealed themselves much more clearly.

So, what have we been up to since the last update? The undergraduate fieldschool has now finished. The group did really well, making solid progress over their two weeks, and besides our finds, we've also discovered some excellent young archaeologists! We now have our first group of public fieldschool students with us, and they have been ploughing ahead, finishing off the jobs started last week and continuing on with the process of recording and excavating.

The students in these two weeks of the excavation come from all walks of life: we have undergraduate students from the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, participating in the fieldwork as part of their Certificates, Diplomas, and Advanced Diplomas in archaeology; we have A level students, looking for experience before applying for subjects such as Classics, History, and Archaeology at university; we have keen enthusiasts, returning to the site for the umpteenth year; we have interested locals, wanting to find out more about the history of their village and home; and we have pretty much everything else you can imagine.

We have had some really exciting features appearing for investigation this week. Perhaps most intriguing of all has been a cluster of flints, large storage jar fragments, cattle skulls, and sheep mandible fragments, seemingly arranged in a line, as if ringing the edge of a large pit... at least two cattle skulls were removed in previous weeks without their spatial relationship having been identified.

Over on the road we are now putting a slot through the intriguing parallel plank voids which we uncovered last year, and we are also about to remove the interesting "sleeping policeman" of stones running roughly perpendicular to the road. Any thoughts on their function greatly appreciated!

In the large ovular pit (best guess, watering hole?) nails continue to be found by the dozen, and the intriguing variation of soil colours, seemingly isolated to discrete dumps rather than simple levels, make recording a rather mendacious process.

We are also starting to see more and more evidence for structural remains across the site, including a series of stake or post holes appearing on the edge of the road, and the possible remains of a cob wall near the northern edge of the trench. This construction style, using packed mud to form walls instead of stone or timber, can leave very subtle traces in the archaeological record, so requires some very careful cleaning in order to identify it.

Some of the star finds from the last few days have included a complete pair of tweezers and a nail cleaner from the same deposit. These would have formed part of a Roman "toiletry kit," and Peter Forward, besides organising our copper smelting the other night, also crafted a modern replica of one of these sets. The similarity between the two pairs of tweezers is rather uncanny!

We have had several faunal visitors to the site in the last few days. Besides the usual kites soaring over the allotments, the jackdaws chasing them away, the thrushes, blackbirds, and sparrows going about their daily business, and the linnet that sits on the telegraph line nearby singing to us, we also now seem to have acquired a very friendly cat, who has been helping out in the finds tent, and Barley the golden retriever listened intently to Abi Tompkins' talk on the Early Medieval Upper Thames Valley the other day.

And finally, a big thanks to one of the dig's most committed, and youngest, supporters, Alastair. Over the last two or three years Alastair has regularly visited the site, and we have been teaching him a great deal about the pottery, animal bone, and various other finds that we get out. This has now reached the point where he can actually explain to many of our students what animal a particular bone is, or what type of pottery, at the age of six! Yesterday he brought the team some delicious Rocky Road that he had made himself. Thanks Alastair!

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