Thursday was a busy day.
It often is. The day before backfilling. It is when the archaeologists have uncovered most of what they are likely to find and visitors arrive to help interpret the discoveries.
First Mike arrived with his drone to take aerial shots of the site while we worked.
Then Frances arrived. She was a celebrity guest because it was her photograph in 1984 that discovered the site.
The Devon county archaeological team arrived next and then John who is a specialist in Devon Roman forts.
We walked over to Trench II. This had meant to coincide with the ditch terminals and south gateway into the fort. I had done quite well and picked up the edges of two of the ditches but had missed the outer ditch. Remains of the basalt gravel entrance track were clear and Rob had dug out a large post-hole founded on large slabs of stone which 2000 years ago held part of the timber frame of the gateway.
Griselda’s inner ditch terminal had been the most productive, mostly black locally produced pottery but there was excitement when she found a fragment of decorated samian in the ditch filling.
Below the Roman fort track many fine fragments of flint were found and these increasingly were long thin blades and tiny fragments or ‘spalls’ of flint. When it rained we could see the faint colour changes in the soil and one of the darker patches turned out to be a small pit full of Late Mesolithic to Early Neolithic lithic fragments. There was enough charcoal from this and this will allow us to obtain a radiocarbon date.
We led our visitors over to the long trench across the three fort ditches (Trench I). We weren’t really ready for them. It had been very hard to differentiate the ditch fillings from the natural soils but we were near the bottom of the outer and middle ditches and had found the edges of the inner ditch.
A huge amount of labour, particularly by Harry, Fi and Derek enabled even the bottom of the inner ditch to be reached by the deadline of lunch time on Friday. Their fillings contained almost no finds at all. A plain rim sherd from a black bowl was found in the inner ditch.
They all had ‘V’ shaped profiles and averaged 3.5m wide and 1.75m deep.. spaced 2.5m apart.
Terry from ‘Digging for Britain’ asked me to imagine on camera an attacker trying to cross the ditches to get to the inner rampart ..and the Roman soldiers waiting on the parapet. Not easy was my conclusion.
Then we guided our guests across the field to the trench outside the fort. Frances was pleased that I had sampled a key linear soil mark shown on her 1984 photo.
We’d found not one but two ditches entering Trench III from slightly different angles.
Both had early Roman pottery in their fillings. Our experts checked the finds out. Bill and Eileen agreed South Devon ware and South West Black Burnished ware. The rim forms were right for 1st century but we would need more specialist help. Some of the pottery is likely to be later Iron Age.
Pete and his team bottomed one of the ditches on Thursday…though the bigger ditch that cut it was at least 2m deep and 5m wide. In the end, we could only project its dimensions from the exposed bedrock slopes.
The Friday lunch time deadline arrived and it was time to backfill our trenches and give the field back to the farmer.
I had spent the previous evening drawing Trench III’s deep section line as the sun set. Drinking a bottle of Killerton cider and thinking of the era these soldiers occupied.
A mixed bunch, far from home and who knows which parts of the Empire they may have seen. The stories they told of the places and events they had witnessed, the conflicts they had been pitched into.
The 50s-70s AD were definitely New Testament times. From our ceramic evidence and by comparing our site with other Devon forts …we should be in that period. Perhaps someone here had seen Paul preach in Rome, Ephesus or Corinth. Perhaps the oldest among them may have witnessed the crowds in Jerusalem surrounding Jesus.
Wow! …We had achieved what we had set out to do.
Tired but happy we packed away our tools and drove out of the field …content.