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

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


The dig is really starting to get moving with features being discovered and finds pouring forth. In the south-west of the site, Peter’s team are investigating a series of pits and gullies near the footing of our Roman building and around the (previously excavated) well. Although a lot of these features are truncated, others have produced a wide range of early Roman finds. The most remarkable of these was a rather large and rather beautiful bone pin which was discovered today (and many congratulations must go to the finder Sholto for not breaking it as it came out of the soil!). 

            We are enlarging our slots into the very large ovular pit (which is currently being overseen by Sophie), the pit that we ran our first slots into during the 2015 season. This means that we can chase a greater portion of this pit’s edge, and it also will, eventually, give us a greater opportunity to untangle the function of this large mass of finds and differently shaded soil. An important and exciting discovery from here was a well preserved sestertius of Lucius Aelius from 137CE. This leading Hadrianic statesman was even named as the successor to his emperor Hadrian and became governor of Pannonia (in modern Hungry), as our coin evidences. However, he dropped dead on the 1st January 138CE without ever ascending to the purple, so this coin is exciting due to the fact that it came from such a temporally limited production run (and obviously also because it is contextualised directly in a feature).

            The ovular feature sits just east of Peter’s portion, but just north of there lies a new blob-like feature that Sam’s group are engaged in tackling. Similar to ovular pit in both size and the interesting colourations of the archaeological deposits, we have hopes that this feature will be as intriguing as its more heavily excavated neighbour. Indeed, having two of these large pits might be beneficial, in that discovering the original function of one could unlock the primary function of the other. However, contrasting these two features is also possible, for, in Sam’s area last year, was found a row of bovine body parts. These were stratigraphically above, and therefore later in time, than that pit, and we did not find anything similar over the ovular feature back in 2015.

            And, of course, we still have our Roman road – which would have been one of the main streets in Roman Dorchester. Felicia’s team have been putting in a commendable effort in shifting through the many layers of this surface. In addition, they have just uncovered a number of very differently coloured deposits lying further down. There are orangish soils and blackish soils appearing there, and these will need to be planned (or drawn) before we can continue down to see if they are dumps onto the road, or actually fills which are peaking through from below it. 


Some of our first small finds this year: a bone gaming piece (left) and copper alloy ring (right)

The site with all tarp lifted (and not a digger in sight!)

The coin of Lucius Aelius from the ovular feature

Stamped samian

A number of other finds - typical of what we are encountering in the soil at the moment

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

We're under way!

Hello – we have been quiet on the blogging front for a little while, but now have much to report. As our site in the centre of Dorchester is covered with soil (backfill) at the end of each season, we have to make sure that we have most of it lifted before the first set of students arrive. Therefore, last week I spent four days with digger and dumper attempting to get as much soil as possible out of the 20 by 30m trench (see the photos below for before-and-after shots). Although this took almost four days, I was able to roughly locate most of our buried features, and it also allowed me to appreciate the huge amounts of soil we had lifted in previous seasons. Indeed, the views from the top of our spoilheap after last week were simply splendid.

            However, having welcomed the first set of students to the dig on Saturday, we turned (on Sunday) to mattock, shovel, and wheelbarrow so as to lift the rest of the backfill off the tarpaulin. There was a tremendous amount of effort put in by the students (who came from universities as far apart as Michigan State in the US to St Andrews in the UK), and a special mention must go to Theo who managed to wheel-up to the top of our pile of spoil 106 wheelbarrows in a period of c.6.30hrs. Such was their collective effort that I am happily able to report that today (Tuesday) we have now got most of the overlying soil up and out of the trench and onto the spoilheap (which is even larger as a result). The job is to now lift the tarpaulin, revealing our long-covered features, and clean them up with trowel so that we can start excavating the archaeology underneath.

            Lifting backfill means that we should encounter few to no finds because most will have been removed in previous seasons. However, our metal-detectorist (Shaun), did go over our spoilheap yesterday (Monday) and found 14 Roman 4th century coins (including one of the Emperor Gratian). These were out of context (as they were found within the spoil), and yet they do help support the picture we are developing of our site as an area of increased activity in the later years of the Roman occupation of Britain. I hope to report on more finds as they start to pour forth in the coming days.

            Finally, I am very happy to inform you all that we have a new Instagram account, so, if you are an Instagramer, a filterer, or just looking for a nice daily picture, check it out. Our account should be open so all can view (but if you yourself have Instagram please give us a follow!). If you type into your browser ‘’, it should direct you to the right spot.

Over and out,


Before dig

After machining 
Backfill mostly removed

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Spring Update

It's been a little while since we last posted anything, so some updates!

Registrations for the coming season have been going along well, and we have now filled up all the spaces for the Undergraduate Fieldschool. There are still a handful of spots left for each week of the Public Fieldschools, so if you want to join us, do get in contact soon to bag your spot!

The dates for the Public Fieldschools are Sunday 9th July - Friday 14th July, and Sunday 16th July - Friday 21st July; to get more information, contact


This coming summer the project will be going through a bit of a change, as Ed will be stepping aside somewhat (to finish his PhD thesis...hooray), and so the project has gained a new Assistant Director, a familiar face to many: Thomas Matthews Boehmer. He's written a little bit about himself below, for those that don't know him yet.

Hello! – I'm Thomas, and will become co-assistant director at the Dorchester on Thames dig this year (taking over as sole assistant director for the 2018 season). I’m extremely excited to be taking on this role, and to help the project develop in its last two years.

I have been digging in and around Oxford since the age of thirteen, and have been involved as a supervisor at Dorchester for the previous two seasons, having first dug there (with Ed as my supervisor) in 2012.    

I'm currently studying at Cambridge for an MPhil in Archaeology, having studied for my undergraduate degree in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at Warwick. My particular interests lie in the transitions from the British Late Iron Age to the Roman period, and so the potential results of these coming two seasons at Dorchester are really intriguing. This is a site that can really help build our understanding of these critical phases in the history of the British Isles.

Much of the set-up of the dig will be carrying on as usual with undergraduates working on the dig in the first two weeks, followed by local volunteers and mature students in the final fortnight. However, I am developing a couple of new dimensions this year:

- Firstly, I want to ensure we have a far more reflective record of the work on the site, beyond the formulaic recording of the context sheets, finds records etc. We are going to be giving workbooks to each team in the trench, so that individual excavators can record their own ideas and thoughts, reflections and speculations about what is going on in the area in which they are working. Whether that's comments on the weather, doodles of artefacts, or just general musings on the progress of the day, this kind of information is actually going to be really important for understanding how the archaeological process took place on our site.

- Secondly, a bit more fun. We will be starting an Instagram account, because who doesn't love filters and hashtags... so watch this space!


There will be another update coming soon, this time from Sheila Raven, our Post-Ex supervisor, to let us in on what her and her team have been getting up to squirreled away in the basement of the Institute of Archaeology, playing with our lovely finds....

Thursday, 5 January 2017

2017 Applications Open

A Happy and Healthy New Year everyone!

As a part of making it happy, why not join us for our 2017 season of excavations in Dorchester?

Applications are now open to participate in either our undergraduate fieldschool (Sunday 25th June - Friday 7th July), or in one (or both!) of our public fieldschools (Sunday 9th July - Friday 14th July, and Sunday 16th July - Friday 21st July). There will be practical teaching, seminars, and most importantly of all, lots of excavating to further unpick the puzzle that is the Roman town of Dorchester on Thames.

To learn more, and for the application forms, please contact