Killerton Fort Week 2

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.

One of Mike’s drone shots looking south-east from the field corner to the quarry. In the foreground is the long Trench I, a section across the three ditches on the west side of the fort. To the left is Trench II at the southern entrance into the fort and top right is the 5m square Trench III which coincides with a large boundary ditch running bottom right to top centre of the photo.

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.

Trench II looking south through the fort gateway. Rob in green excavates one of the gateway post-holes. Griselda in red excavates the inner fort ditch terminal and Nancy in blue excavates the middle ditch terminal. Carol and David in grey and Rob in orange are cleaning the basalt gravel trackway through the gate.

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.

The small pit at the south end of Trench II. Nancy holds the lithic finds which included many tiny fragments of flint. We think this pit was dug 6-8000 years before the Roman fort was built but our soil and radiocarbon samples will prove whether this was the case or not.

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.

Harry, Lance and Fay in the inner middle and outer ditches of Trench I western fort defences.

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.

Some of the early Roman pottery from filling the ditches outside the fort to the south-west in Trench III

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.

The bedrock ridge beween the two ditches in Trench III with Devon National Trust Killerton Estate cider bottle for scale.

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.

2 thoughts on “Killerton Fort Week 2

  1. Very interested in your dig at killerton . My grandson Harry was involved . I’m now 75 & live in wales . From 1948 to 1954 lived in quarry cottage next to your site aged 3 to 8 when we moved through the orchard to watery lane cottage which sadly burned down in June 1970 when my parents lived there . I remember vividly going into the quarry & finding lots of coloured tiles which I made into mud sandwiches for my dolls . I was forbidden to go there but went down a lot to find buried treasure . Adders used to be there . My bedroom looked out to top of quarry where there were lots of rabbits playing .next to where your dig took place . My cousin Ivor an amateur archiologist used to tell me he was sure there was a Roman villa on your dig sight . Our gardens at watery lane were raised but sadly after the fire the site was bulldozed & two new houses built . We had a huge cobbled yard around the cottage & pump house & old stone house remains next to orchard . Often wondered why watery lane was so deep . Signs of it very old ?. It linked higher & lower budlake sadly now cut in two by motorway . My father worked at killerton 53 years ! So I’m thrilled my grandson Harry. Whiting works there now. Mum me & father have all worked at killerton & mum was caretaker of budlake school . My father was born at fords court cottage the last of 8/9 children all went to budlake school . His brother Thomas Thorne went to First World War & went missing 1915 & never returned home. His name is in broadclyst church. Ps. We used to find lots of old pottery in our 3 allotment s at watery lane cottage ! Yours Helen Shattock ( nee Thorne) . I can be contacted on messenger. I’m so excited about your dig ..

    • Dear Helen

      Thank you so much for all your memories of when you lived at Quarry Cottage. I wonder whether the fragments of tile you found as a child could possibly be tesserae cubes from a lost mosaic but villas in Devon are quite rare. I wonder what the pottery was like you found in the allotments. It would be exciting if it looked something like the fragments I photographed for the blog about the Killerton Fort dig. Next time I am at Killerton I must go to the quarry to see what might be found at the quarry edge. Harry did a great job on the dig and made sure we got to the bottom of the inner fort ditch before we ran out of time. With best wishes Martin

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