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