Day 12 Last discoveries and Careful Covering

Why can’t we keep it open? We just can’t. It would quickly be mashed by Chedworth’s winter frosts. Weeds would colonise the tesserae and roots break up the pattern. We can’t expose something and allow it to be trashed. So the last day was backfill day.

Bill and his team setting up the laser scanner to make a 3D record of the mosaic surface. Interesting Dr   Who style white station orbs.

Bill and his team setting up the laser scanner to make a 3D record of the mosaic surface. Interesting Dr Who style white station orbs.

Nancy had sourced the right sort of cover fabric. Nicki had got it sent by courier to make sure it arrived on time. While I completed the site record, drawing the plans and sections and writing up the context sheets, Nancy organised the covering. Sandbags were filled with topsoil to support the mosaic edges and fine topsoil was place on the terram sheet.

Visitors hurried from reception to get a last glimpse before the mosaic was consigned to the dark once again. 150 years since its first discovery.

While drawing the plan of the site we found a mottled stone which on closer inspection turned out to be a piece of Italian marble.   An exotic material brought to the villa to decorate an architectural feature or perhaps part of a panel on a  piece of furniture.

While drawing the plan of the site we found a mottled stone which on closer inspection turned out to be a piece of Italian marble. An exotic material brought to the villa to decorate an architectural feature or perhaps part of a panel on a piece of furniture.

So with all this highly accurate digital recording why measure and draw it the old fashioned way? Well.. it’s all about relationships. One has to touch the soil, by measuring you question what you seen. The closer you look, the more you understand and spotting something on a scan once the site is backfilled is too late. That’s my excuse for playing around with tape measures and a drawing board while 11 days of spoil were being heroically relocated in a single day.

A light misty rain fell every now and then, making drawing difficult. I measured a piece of stone which I thought at first was slate but turned out to be a corner piece from an Italian marble panel. Proving again that this place was an opulent mansion and we now see only the bare bones of something which was once quite magnificent.

The last pieces of excavation in room 'e' revealed that the wall was later than the east -west wall on the right but earlier than the colonnade wall (top left) because it runs under it.  Water probably entered the feature from the baths  (top left) and drained out of the centre of the   east side (bottom right).

The last pieces of excavation in room ‘e’ revealed that the wall was later than the east -west wall on the right but earlier than the colonnade wall (top left) because it runs under it. Water probably entered the feature from the baths (top left) and drained out of the centre of the east side (bottom right).

The water feature in ‘e’ became even more confusing when I asked Rob to make a narrow trench to link his 1.2m square trench in the south-west corner of the building towards the mosaic to the north. The square trench had been filled with Victorian backfill 1.0m deep from top to bottom but the northern extension found a Roman mortar floor at 0.4m and by making the north side of the square trench vertical it became clear that our trench had copied the Victorian exploratory trench and everything north of it appeared to be undisturbed Roman.

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Too late to understand it better. The north extension did not find a flight of steps into a bath but a rough mortar shelf with fragments of blue lias slabs crushed into its surface. We can imagine a supply of used water from the baths entering this feature from the north and perhaps surrounding a statue or fountain within the building before leaving via the drain we know about on the east side. We know a bit more about this feature now but not enough. We need to look around for some comparisons.

Rob's trench across our 'water feature' in 'e'. He extended his 1.2m square trench in its SW corner north towards the mosaic room wall. The big block of stone is part of the late Roman colonnade wall which is contemporary with the mosaic. It runs over an earlier wall line which you can see at the end of the trench on the right hand side of the stone.   Rob's extension picked up an uneven mortar floor which sloped down towards the square trench and has blue lias stone slabs broken onto its surface. The filling of the square trench had all been Victorian backfill but by cleaning the north trench wall back the Roman mortar surface could be seen overlying a compacted clay layer.  So there was a Roman platform of clay and mortar extending into the walled 'water feature' Had the Victorians dug through it or was the south side meant to be deeper. Over 1.0m deep from the wall top to the stone and mortar base.

Rob’s trench across our ‘water feature’ in ‘e’.
He extended his 1.2m square trench in its SW corner north towards the mosaic room wall. The big block of stone is part of the late Roman colonnade wall which is contemporary with the mosaic. It runs over an earlier wall line which you can see at the end of the trench on the right hand side of the stone. Rob’s extension picked up an uneven mortar floor which sloped down towards the square trench and has blue lias stone slabs broken onto its surface. The filling of the square trench had all been Victorian backfill but by cleaning the north trench wall back the Roman mortar surface could be seen overlying a compacted clay layer. So there was a Roman platform of clay and mortar extending into the walled ‘water feature’ Had the Victorians dug through it or was the south side meant to be deeper. Over 1.0m deep from the wall top to the stone and mortar base.

Sir Ian Richmond’s walls did exist. Sometimes they were buried quite deep below his concrete but they existed. We did not prove or disprove the interpretations as early baths he gave them.

A trench to test one of Sir Ian's walls. This one lay 0.3m deeper than the base of his interpretive concrete walls. The line of the buried wall would have  continued east under the centre of the 'Reception Room' mosaic. Our extension trench only found the mortar bedding for the mosaic with one or two fragments at the edges.

A trench to test one of Sir Ian’s walls. This one lay 0.3m deeper than the base of his interpretive concrete walls. The line of the buried wall would have continued east under the centre of the ‘Reception Room’ mosaic. Our extension trench only found the mortar bedding for the mosaic with one or two fragments at the edges.

Finally I was finished with the recording and threw myself fresh into the backfilling and hit a wall of congealed rubble, mud and clay. The rain had mingled with the spoil heap, seeped down to the waterproof tarpaulin fusing it into an unyielding barrier. Shifting it was very hard work but everyone worked so hard to put it back where it came from and eventually we saw the grass again and the vast heap of dirt had gone.

This is the earliest layer we reached a cobbled floor surface which is covered by the 'water feature' west wall which itself pre-dates the stone surface.

This is the earliest layer we reached a cobbled floor surface which is covered by the ‘water feature’ west wall which itself pre-dates the stone surface.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped over the two weeks and all the encouragement of the Chedworth staff and volunteers and of course the visitors who cheered us on…but Nancy and I would particularly like to thank the Bank Cottage stalwarts Harry, Carol, Kate and Fay.

All safely covered up again.

All safely covered up again.

Day….10…The Plaster and the Scanner

I looked in the mirror at 6 today.. the days have taken their toll not a good day to meet the DG.

Chedworth at 7.30 is very beautiful. Quiet, with house martins flitting across the blue!! whispy cloud-flecked sky and the low sunlight picking out the contours of the mosaic. Lots to do.

Looking on the positive side, the wet weather brought up the colours of the mosaic very well.

Looking on the positive side, the wet weather brought up the colours of the mosaic very well.

The previous two days very wet. The once compliant soil turning to claggy mud and causing everything to get messy. Efforts to clean precious surfaces not rewarding. Morale low.

But today…life looked rosier but the loss of time has put the pressure on. The mosaic is virtually uncovered but there are questions to answer.

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Sir Ian’s concrete walls. What did they represent? They don’t appear to relate to anything and Steve the mosaic expert believed that there should be a different central design. We extended to find it but the mosaic is largely lost in the middle of the room.

A good sequence of events. On the left an early wall with a contemporary mortar floor. Both cut by the foundation trench for the limestone blocks for the colonnade wall. This was abutted by a curb that had the mosaic laid against it. The stone steps run over the curb and mosaic edge but they were probably rebuilt in the 1860s.

A good sequence of events. On the left an early wall with a contemporary mortar floor. Both cut by the foundation trench for the limestone blocks for the colonnade wall. This was abutted by a curb that had the mosaic laid against it. The stone steps run over the curb and mosaic edge but they were probably rebuilt in the 1860s.

Fay tested a Richmond wall line at the east edge of the site. Nothing but mortary backfill 0.3m down. Perhaps look a little deeper tomorrow. Carol and Harry tried the east junction of the water feature wall where it joined the corridor wall and that showed it butted the corridor… so was later.

Kate's trench to check the line of Richmond's early wall as it passed under the later bath house was filled with unexpected chunks of decoration.

Kate’s trench to check the line of Richmond’s early wall as it passed under the later bath house was filled with unexpected chunks of decoration.

Kate dug a trench where a wall should run under the later baths on the north side of the steps…and uncovered..wonderful things. Large blocks of painted plaster which could be seen to extend beyond the wall line and under the mosaic. It seems that just before the floor was laid, the plaster was thrown down as a hardcore. It looked like the painting on the plaster had been created yesterdaywith vivid colours, brush strokes and marking out lines for the stripes still visible.

Red and blue lines on cream. Part of a rubble base thrown down on which the mosaic was laid.

Red and blue lines on cream. Part of a rubble base thrown down on which the mosaic was laid.

With more rain promised for tomorrow, Bill brought the laser scanner today and as we were not ready.. he kindly used the time by carrying out a laser scan of the finest and most famous Chedworth mosaic. The one in the dining room of the West Range which shows the four seasons.

We worked, all of us, cleaning and uncovering..as the hours ticked away ..and then it was time and we watched as mysterious white orb stations were placed around the site and the scanner was set up. First creating a point cloud and then a mosaic of digital images. The two are combined to form a millimeter accurate image of the mosaic.

Though it is buried on Friday we will have an excellent record to inspire us as we seek the funding for the cover building which will enable the mosaic to be seen again.

Day Six Chedworth’s ‘Water Feature’

This work is part of a 5 year research plan supported by English Heritage to understand the North Range of Chedworth Roman Villa to enable the design and to raise money for a cover building. On Friday, we will rebury the site but we now know the potential for future conservation and display of the villa’s hidden gems.

Apart from the mosaic we also want to understand the features that James Farrer uncovered in 1864 (150 years ago 2014) and Sir Ian Richmond in 1963. We do not have photographs or drawings of their work.

Early morning 6th day after removing covers for photos. The islands between Sir Ian Richmonds wall trenches of 1963. We have lettered them in anti-clockwise order from bottom left 'a', bottom right 'b', 'top right 'c'. then 'd' in front of wooden steps and the 'water feature' is 'e' top left.

Early morning 6th day after removing covers for photos. The islands between Sir Ian Richmonds wall trenches of 1963. We have lettered them in anti-clockwise order from bottom left ‘a’, bottom right ‘b’, ‘top right ‘c’. then ‘d’ in front of wooden steps and the ‘water feature’ is ‘e’ top left.

We have uncovered area ‘e’ which is a walled enclosure which projects south into the inner courtyard of the villa.
It is thought to have been an ornate water feature of some kind but we do not know how deep it is or how it functioned. Richmond exposed the wall tops. Farrer dug it out and then it was backfilled with Roman spoil from the excavations. Every now and then a piece of Victorian pottery or a button betrays the fact that we are dealing with something 150 years old rather than 1600. Rob has found a clay lining and fragments of fallen pink mortar but he is about 0.6m deep and has not found the base yet.

We have put two small trenches into the water feature 'e'. Rob is taking out 19th century backfill. Most of it is Roman debris but from time to time we find Victorian china mixed in with it.

We have put two small trenches into the water feature ‘e’. Rob is taking out 19th century backfill. Most of it is Roman debris but from time to time we find Victorian china mixed in with it.

We need to discover details of Richmond’s early walls and I investigated the one that runs under the stone steps. A line of stones proved to be edging for the grand reception room mosaic that runs against its east side. Below Richmond’s concrete was clay mixed with 4th century pottery and this overlay a wall with a mortar floor against its west side at a lower level. I wonder whether the edging stones against the mosaic indicate that there was a door into the Reception Room here in the late 4th century.

This is Rob's trench against the water feature's south east corner. A view from the steps towards the villa courtyard. He is finding some large lumps of pink plaster which may once have lined the pool. We don't know how deep it is and what the floor is made of. In the foreground is my trench to understand one of Richmond's walls. Beneath the concrete was a line of stones. Jan cleaned the mosaic here. The stones were a kerb for the mosaic edge and had been built over 4th century backfill which covered the earlier wall. The kerb/curb may indicate a doorway into the reception room from the west between the steps and the colonnade marked out in stone slabs middle distance.

This is Rob’s trench against the water feature’s south east corner. A view from the steps towards the villa courtyard. He is finding some large lumps of pink plaster which may once have lined the pool. We don’t know how deep it is and what the floor is made of. In the foreground is my trench to understand one of Richmond’s walls. Beneath the concrete was a line of stones. Jan cleaned the mosaic here. The stones were a kerb for the mosaic edge and had been built over 4th century backfill which covered the earlier wall. The kerb/curb may indicate a doorway into the reception room from the west between the steps and the colonnade marked out in stone slabs middle distance.

We have almost completed the uncovering of mosaic islands ‘c’ and ‘d’ now. ‘c’ has some significant loss but ‘d’ is good. Across the wall cutting to the east area’a’ has also lost quite a large area. The decorated panels are varied and impressive. We still have area ‘b’ to uncover but things are progressing well… oh dear heavy rain on Monday we will need to make the most of today.

This is the mosaic towards the end of day 6 looking south-east from 'c'. Within the red and white stripes forming the edge design, the various types of decorative panels are emerging. In the foreground, Harry has uncovered a ring of diamonds forming a star-like panel.

This is the mosaic towards the end of day 6 looking south-east from ‘c’. Within the red and white stripes forming the edge design, the various types of decorative panels are emerging. In the foreground, Harry has uncovered a ring of diamonds forming a star-like panel.

Day 5 Joining the Islands. A Grand Reception

We had a lot of help today and so were able to make good progress and work together on the careful uncovering of the mosaics.

Looking  south-west from c towards d on the right and a on the left. All the islands of mosaics have gaps but what remains all link together into one 18m long and 6.75m wide mosaic.

Looking south-west from c towards d on the right and a on the left. All the islands of mosaics have gaps but what remains all link together into one 18m long and 6.75m wide mosaic.

We discovered today that the concrete walls we had removed had not defined four rooms each with different mosaics but had divided and cut through one large late Roman mosaic. A strange and destructive 1963 decision.

Looking north from d-c. The north-west corner of the reception room where there is a blocked door.

Looking north from d-c. The north-west corner of the reception room where there is a blocked door.

Professors Peter and Simon, Chedworth’s specialist advisers on Roman Britain, visited today and saw that our discovery had confirmed their hypothesis that this 18m long and 6.75m area was one large, grand reception room. Guests of the villa owner would have been brought first into this room and were wowed by the scale and opulence of the place. The owner was showing off his wealth and power. The intricate designs of he floor would have been matched by decorated plaster walls but only fragments of this design survive where bits of plaster fell to the floor. Most was taken away in 1864 by the Victorian excavators. We uncovered the north-east corner of the reception room mosaic last year and now we are looking at the opposite end of the room.

The views south from c -d towards the backfilled water feature e.

The views south from c -d towards the backfilled water feature e.

It has the same broad white band at the edge surrounding red and white stripes that in turn enclose a variety of geometric designs.

Last day for a few of us today. Many thanks particularly to Luke and Tom. The early days shifting concrete enabled the gentler pursuit of mosaic cleaning.

Last day for a few of us today. Many thanks particularly to Luke and Tom. The early days shifting concrete enabled the gentler pursuit of mosaic cleaning.

Day 4 Beneath Topsoil, Mosaic Islands

Things have become rather interesting at Chedworth (which is an understated archaeological way of saying..very exciting indeed).

Yesterday Terry visited the Villa and told us that he had assisted Professor Richmond 50 years ago. He had built the kerbs and laid the pink concrete. ‘We only dug where Sir Ian had marked out the walls’ he said, not the islands in between’

That explained it. We didn’t expect to find mosaics. None of the villa plans we had seen had marked any here and the mosaic survey of 2000 didn’t bother looking here, thinking that Sir Ian would have mentioned them… but he didn’t look between the walls.

Kate and Megan cleaning the topsoil off the southern room, perhaps a backfilled plunge pool. Beneath this there were lots of Victorian bits and pieces including an button fastener..and quite a few buttons.

Kate and Megan cleaning the topsoil off the southern room, perhaps a backfilled plunge pool. Beneath this there were lots of Victorian bits and pieces including an button fastener..and quite a few buttons.

Now that the concrete is up, there are five islands (we have lettered them a-e)and so far mosaics have been found on four. Very little survives in the southern room (e). It sticks out into the courtyard and has been described as a ‘tank’ with a drain coming out of it. It may be a plunge bath.. a small bit of mosaic was found by Luke at the threshold but the rest is backfill (Terry says not dug in 1963) and the finds in the top layer included items that may be of 1860s date. One small metal tool was found, possibly Roman but no, it was a Victorian button fastener. Over in the north-west corner of the site (island c) Carol found a very worn coin..Fay saw that it was a ‘bun’ halfpenny and Nancy spotted the date 1867 (3 years after the villa was excavated following discovery).

We've put green plastic where the Roman walls were meant to be to protect the surfaces while we work on the islands of Roman archaeology between. So far we have found areas of mosaic in four of the five islands. In the foreground (island c) Alice has almost taken off the last of the topsoil to reveal a landscape of mosaic fragments.  At the foot of the wooden steps (d) Carol has begun to clean back a much better preserved area,

We’ve put green plastic where the Roman walls were meant to be to protect the surfaces while we work on the islands of Roman archaeology between. So far we have found areas of mosaic in four of the five islands. In the foreground (island c) Alice has almost taken off the last of the topsoil to reveal a landscape of mosaic fragments. At the foot of the wooden steps (d) Carol has begun to clean back a much better preserved area,

Now that the concrete is gone… there is nothing for it but to put aside the mechanical breaker and pickaxe and gently tickle the topsoil with trowel, plastic spatula and fine brush.

In ‘c’, below topsoil are loads of mosaic cubes scattered across the area but against the wall a line of white tessera still in place and we hope for a pattern beneath the scattered tessera when we go deeper tomorrow. This area has the look of an area not excavated in 1864 but we will see.

We haven’t looked in ‘b’ yet but Fay and Jeremy found a red and white design in ‘a’.

But in ‘d’.. in ‘d’… at the foot of the wooden steps, beneath a scatter of gravel thrown down to limit erosion.. where many thousands of feet had crossed,less than an inch higher and oblivious of what lay beneath… a rather nice pattern is beginning to emerge.

Here is where we have got to so far, a red and white broad border with a finer blue frame around a woven style guilloche (I think that's the right spelling) mat. We found something like it in the West Range corridor in 2012.

Here is where we have got to so far, a red and white broad border with a finer blue frame around a woven style guilloche (I think that’s the right spelling) mat. We found something like it in the West Range corridor in 2012.

Day Three – technical frustrations, give me a trowel quick!

Well, once again internet technical frustration plague our best intentions!  its day four and I am still trying to let you all know what has happened  on site during day two and three! 

Day three turned up more mosaics and Mike cleaned the wall tops that we have in one part of the site and a great job he did.

small section of mosaic apearing

small section of mosaic appearing

 

Mike in red surveying his handy work

Mike in red surveying his handy work

Day Two – Pink and green we have seen

Another day of showers but good progress to clear the pink concrete and clean off the make up layer underneath it. With in this mixed layer we found more tesserae, bone, shell, pottery and painted plaster. We have so far found coins from the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s and a 1963 sixpence, the diggers are hoping for a full 20th century set! 

Pottery, bone, tile and tesserea

Pottery, bone, tile and tesserae

 The painted plaster is a dark green, and blue colour which we have found before at Chedworth and is quite an unusual shade.

Roman painted plaster from the walls

Roman painted plaster from the walls

 As we are doing archaeology of archaeologists we have saved a 1960s curb from Prof. Ian Richmond’s excavations, it is part of the story of the site as much as the mosaics.

 

 The team have settled into the dig routine and are all still happy even after two days of concrete clearing!