Killerton Fort, a circle of chairs

Waking on the first morning, at 4.30, as the light begins to seep into the tent. It is hard to make up your mind. Is it the constant drone of the M5 or the building bird-life racket from the quarry behind you that will stop me going back to sleep.

By the 5th morning these sounds are familiar and have been filed away… and the sunrise beauty of a Devon field can be properly appreciated.

Sunrise over the circle of chairs

The light and mist filter across a circle of chairs spaced evenly in front of the gazebo and marquee. A mysterious cult happening seems to be about to begin but this is the covid friendly way we assemble for tea break.

We lucky jabbed few, who have successfully passed our lateral flow tests.. assemble here regularly to tell tales of our rare discoveries in the trenches.

There are three.

Each chosen to ‘ground-truth’ the patterns shown on aerial photographs or on our geophysical survey of August 2019.

The Killerton Heritage Archaeological Ranger team have returned here to finally prove the fort they first discovered ……just a few months before covid.

I relocated the 20m survey grid. Fi met the gas man and he marked the position of the gas main across the site. Then the trench locations were marked out with red string and 6 inch nails…… at least 6m from the pipeline route.

Trench I has been positioned on the west side of the playing card shaped 1.7 hectare ‘fort’…. where a hedge field corner crosses over the alignment of its three parallel ditches. This one’s 30m long and 1.5m wide.

Trench I looking north-west towards the field corner. The geophysics shows the three fort ditches crossing from left to right across the trench about 3m wide and 3-5m apart.

Trench II was more tricky. I wanted to pick up the south entrance through the fort which the magnetometry had found…off-centre, near the south-east corner. This one was 15m long and 3m wide.

Trench II looking south towards the disused quarry edge (trees in the background). Nancy is excavating a cutting potentially one of the three ditch terminals stopping at the gateway. The ranging pole in the foreground crosses what may be a remnant of the fort entrance track.

The last one, Trench III, was to test features shown on the 1984 aerial photograph. Particularly, a broad ditch shown crossing from the hedged field corner to the quarry. Perhaps there had been a settlement associated with the fort.

Trench III looking north towards Trench I. The chair and spade lie close to the rounded edged corner of the fort as shown on the geophysics. Trench III has in the corner a steep cutting through natural stone (left of the tape). The 5m square trench is full of stone rubble mixed with some abraded sherds of Roman pottery of various kinds.

On the first day, John drove the digger and we watched as the plough soil was pulled away.

I warned everyone that despite Isabel and her team walking the field in the 90s…only flowerpot sherds and cider bottle fragments had ever been recovered (with an occasional prehistoric flint)… the field had never yielded a single Roman find.

As the day wore on.. I got increasingly.. edgy as the finds across the three trenches tended to be 18th-20th century with a couple of very nice chert scrapers. The spoil heap was checked for metal and only the odd iron nail turned up.

Then we shaped the trenches with out hand tools. We cut straight vertical trench sections and cleaned the surfaces.

Chris let me know that Devon red soils eat bone. Unless it is cremated, none would be found in the Roman contexts. However, on a Devon Roman fort I should expect plenty of Roman pottery and ironwork.

It was not until the start of the third day that there was excitement in Trench I. A coin had been found. A very worn disc of green with perhaps traces of a head and a patch of ‘celtic?’ design on the other. We hoped Roman but it came from the upper level, mixed with flower pot and Nancy thought it was probably a post-medieval jeton.

In Trench II, scraps of Roman pottery were found ..and then the base of a Roman jar that jutted from a possible ditch terminal cutting a packed stone surface which I imagined was the track leading into the fort.

The base of a Roman jar found in the ditch terminal cutting of Trench II. The most common pottery is a soft dark sandy ware but with a greenish hue.

In Trench III, the geophysics team showed that the its location was correct…right over the position of the broad ditch shown on the 1984 photo. The trench is 5m square and only the east edge of the ditch cutting can be seen. It is likely that the ditch is very deep and pieces of Roman pottery of various kinds occur in the black stony filling. On average one piece for every 5-10 bucket loads.

Some of the pottery fragments found in Trench III including a fragment of samian bottom right

There were Romans here… but why were they so clean?

In Trench I the sandy fillings of the three ditches have been found but at the moment the finds consist of… just flecks of charcoal.

Not quite what was expected but we will see what week 2 brings.

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