Tuesday, 19 July 2016

What happened to our British summer?!?!

We're currently labouring away under an absolutely clear blue sky. Not even the hint of a cloud to be sighted in any direction. And we are forecast to hit 32 degrees this afternoon... sun hats, sun cream, and plenty of water all round!

A scorcher...

First things first though, a round-up of our Open Day last Saturday. We had gorgeous weather for it, although thankfully not as hot as this, and we had a wonderful day talking to members of the public about our site and finds. More than 150 people came on site tours (and special thanks to one of our supervisors, Thomas Matthews Boehmer, for putting in an incredible shift of showing people around the trench), whilst others examined our finds displays, browsed the Oxford Archaeology book volumes we had for sale, and examined the results of the recent geophysics carried out on the Dyke Hills by William Wintle. In addition to this our "Young Archaeologists' Trench" was full all afternoon with keen young things searching for finds, and lots of people had a go at pot-washing. Anni Byard, the Oxfordshire Finds Liaison Officer, was also busy with her Portable Antiquities Scheme stall all day.

Thank you to everyone who came along - we hope you enjoyed it!

Young archaeologists became a bit of a theme for the week, as on Sunday morning we hosted a visit from 25 or so 8-16 year olds who were members of the Oxfordshire Young Archaeologists' Club. They spent about an hour and a half with us on site, learning more about the ancient past of the local landscape, seeing their very first real life dig, and getting the chance to handle and learn more about Roman pottery. Our decorated and stamped pieces of terra sigillata attracted particular interest, and we quite liked the interpretation of an image of two running horses as in fact depicting an evil flying monkey...

Around all this the archaeology has been continuing, as we race towards the end of this season!

In the western end of the trench Steve's team have continued to seek and destroy (after recording, obviously) the very early features cut into the top of the natural subsoil. This has yielded, besides the 1st century brooches earlier in the season, two coins this week which appear to be of Iron Age date. Of course these would still most likely be residual into the Roman period, but exciting nonetheless!

The large ovular pit in the centre of the trench continues to progress downwards thanks to the work of Thomas' team, and it continues to produce myriad different coloured soils, and many hundreds of iron nails. We think we are approaching the bottom however, and we are now much happier with how we've excavated its edges, which show it having almost vertical sides. We still have very little idea about its original function however! We have had a very nice fragment of whetstone out of one of the fills, as well as this gorgeous piece of stamped samian, made by the potter Cinnamus.

Part of the backwards (mould-formed) Cinnamus stamp, along with a lion, and the back end of a female ?wolf

On the road Maggie's team continue to remove the complex stratified deposits around its edges, as more and more suggestions of ephemeral structures emerge in the shape of post holes, stake holes, another possible beam slot, and slumps of mud which could have once been part of cob walling. All these layers make it slow progress, but attempting to understand the sequence of deposits is integral to properly understanding the character of this road-front area.

And finally in the northern part of the trench Sam's team is working down and around the intriguing line of rubble (including cattle skulls etc.), as we work to find out what this part of the town was used for. The later ditches which cut through these deposits have made things more difficult, but progress has been solid, with the uncovering of an interesting solid baked clay and stone surface (sadly only of very limited extent), as well as numerous rabbit holes!

In the extreme north east corner of the trench we have been working since last year to attempt to understand the relationship between our main east-west ditch and the north-south running main road. Was it really feasible that the ditches cut through the road, presumably rendering it impassable? Answering this question was slowed down by the fact that in the very corner of the trench we struggled to find the northern edge of the ditch; we have now worked out that this is because the ditch also cuts an earlier pit, which now seems to be looking rather well-like... the "W" word is never welcome on site, due to the logistical difficulties of excavation of such deep features, and the location of this one, with only one quarter of it in the trench, right up against the baulk, makes it impossible to excavate, so we have drawn it, recorded it, and put it to bed for now. It does leave us with this rather interesting situation though of a deep pit/well being dug through the road surface, followed by our main ditch entirely severing the road... all very intriguing!

The cloud cover yesterday... not very effective at reducing the temperature!

And finally, a rather special find that came out of the large post-Roman ditch along the northern edge of the trench this morning: fragments of a southern Gaulish samian ware inkwell! Someone in Roman Dorchester could write...

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