A bit of a gap since the excavation.. and look how nice the weather is now.
It’s always good to try to sum up our findings. So here are some thoughts on Room 24
The headlines of the dig were good but the detail is in the relationships between contexts. This is the essential less engaging bit of archaeology, working out the story, finding the evidence within the archaeological stratigraphy.
Things are not necessarily clear cut and decisive but if something lies on top of something else or cuts it or sits against it… then it is later .. and if the thing is cut through or built over or buried by something then it is earlier .. everything gets a number and a context sheet to create an ordered approach …to enable us to tease out the sequence of events.
There are still many unknowns but it is good to fit pieces together and raise questions. Our ideas may be disproved at a later date.. particularly once the finds are cleaned and processed and the specialist analysis is done ..but it is good to set up a hypothesis even to enable it to be shot down to create something better and closer to the truth.
A couple of stone pillars which supported the floor had been left in position and early photographs show they were part of the Victorian display of the villa. In 1963, Sir Ian Richmond had retained them as part of his interpretation. We found the packed plaster foundations of 10 more of them, regularly and closely spaced. The layout of the stone pillars would have been like those in nearby Room 26.
So no surviving mosaic in 24 but another objective was to take up Sir Ian Richmond’s 1963 concrete to see what he based his interpretation on.
Beneath the concrete was 1960s backfill but gradually we peeled off the clay to reveal the early walls. Richmond had created a hole in the Victorian rebuilt wall and put a concrete kerb lintel over it to demonstrate a hypocaust stoke-hole to heat the 2nd century bath. On either side he marked out the walls of the stoke-hole.
Our trench D uncovered the south side and we found the walls as he had shown them, burnt red. All these early walls have their stones burnt red. We saw them in 2010 in the West Range and Sir Ian thought that the South Range had been burnt down and then rebuilt. Perhaps an early catastrophic fire that spread throughout the villa rather than just heat from a hypocaust.
We found that an earlier stoke-hole had been filled in and blocked by the wall that formed the stoke-hole later interpreted by Richmond.
Room 24 of the 4th century villa, used the south wall of this 2nd century room and built off its foundations. However, most of the standing walls we see today are Victorian and later interpretations of what was found in the 1860s. In fact the apse of Room 24 seemed to be four courses of Victorian built stone based on no surviving Roman foundations. I expect there are traces under the wall somewhere..I hope so.
Before all this there seems to have been another earlier wall made of large blocks of stone. The evidence survives as a robber trench that crosses 24 from east to west with a distinctive large stone incorporated into each of the east and west wall faces. Both are burnt red.
The east stone forms the end of the stoke-hole revetment wall interpreted by Richmond. The west stone was revealed at the end of a ‘robber trench’… that is a trench dug to salvage the foundation stones of a disused wall. This demolition happened before Room 24 was built over it and before the 2nd century stoke-hole was built against the east stone.
The sequence of events surrounding the west stone show how much has happened since its foundation trench was dug and it was placed in its original wall line fixed with its distinctive pink mortar against its now lost neighbours. The Roman walls abutting it on either side are later as is the modern wall reconstruction above it. The cut and filling of the trench dug to rob out the wall our stone was once a part of has preserved the alignment of this earliest wall within Room 24.
This stone itself looks reused from somewhere else. Look at the shape of it and its regular wavy profile seen on the right hand side. With the light shining on it from a rare break in the cloud there appear to be figures on the upper face of it but these faint features are too worn to be certain.