Day 5: Chedworth’s Room 27

We have concentrated on the mosaic in Room 28 but over the next couple of weeks we will open a number of trenches within the central rooms of the Chedworth’s North Range 2.  Numbers 27-30. We want to know more about how this part of the villa worked and how the building was extended to the east during the 3rd and 4th centuries.

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At the moment we are looking in the east corners of Room 27.

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Ranging rod in the NE corner of Room 27 next to the mosaic room 28

We found that very little of the original floor survived but along the north edge we discovered just the last trace of the original opus signinum pink cement floor (no mosaic here).

There were fragments of baked clay in mortar but not the smooth solid level floor which would have been the original surface. The bottom edge of the wall plaster was sandwiched between this and the original Roman wall and it lay above the make up layers of the floor..a fine mortar crust above a crushed layer of limestone fragments set in mortar.

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Above the Roman nail (bottom left) and the bird skull (bottom centre) is the white line of the mortar bedding for the remnants of the opus signinum floor (orange red bricky bits)which lies against the line of wall plaster in front of the Roman wall (top right).

This lay above the natural limestone bedrock but this had been cut by the foundation trench for the wall between 27 and 28.

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The floor remnant overlying the foundation trench which had been cut through the creamy yellow natural limestone.

So the Roman builders cut a trench…built the wall in it….filled the trench and then laid the floor surfaces.

Excitement! A coin found in the foundation trench filling would date the wall construction…. Little bits of bird and fish bone, a black piece of Roman pottery, couple of bits of painted plaster but no coin this time. We collected bits of charcoal so we could radiocarbon date the construction but not precise enough really. A result of some time from the 3rd to the 5th century would not be very helpful.

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The east wall (right) overlies the north  wall (top) which has a different rust coloured mortar.

What we could say is that the east wall boundary with 28 was built after the north wall as it’s stones were built over the north wall’s footing. The mortar is a different rusty colour and has been cut away by the east wall foundation trench. Traces of an earlier, lower floor also cut away by the trench.

Ahhhh, the beauty of archaeological relationships and recording sequences of events in the right order (admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea)

But anyway. Here again is the star of the show… the Room 28 mosaic at the end of day 5….

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Day 4 – you’ve missed a bit

Just when we thought we would see the next part of the floor pattern, we decided to get the whole trench excavated to the same point. We can then all get in a line to peel the soil back, as if rolling a carpet, to find a treasure underneath.

Amy, Elizabeth, Jill and Carol in a familiar situation

Sadly the east end of the mosaic is full of holes, maybe caused by the roots of a tree we can see in photographs taken in the 1900s.

Ready for the morning

The tantalizing  section of mosaic in the middle at the bottom of the picture, hopefully more to see tomorrow

Day 3 – glass half full ….

Today was a mixture of Romans and Victorians, the original residents and the original excavators.

All ready for the final clean, kneelers for the knees and kneelers for the feet so your toes don’t dig into the mosaic

We carried on revealing the mosaic in room 28, one strip at a time. Today started with a final clean off and then a good sponge to reveal the pattern, then towelling the next strip heading further into the centre of the room.

Angela, Carol and Sue very happy mosaic excavators

When we heard a loud ‘Wow!’ from Samuel we could not resist sharing our joy of digging the mosaic with him and his sister Anna hopefully helping nurture the archaeologists of the future!

Anna and Samuel doing a brilliant job  excavating the mosaic

Two happy diggers

In the opposite side of room 28 Rob had a trench all to himself, his task was to take off the soil and rubble hopefully to find intact mosaic. Amongst the loose tesserae, nails, painted plaster and mouse bones he found a glass object. Great excitement as we clean down and around it, was it roman? Looked a bit chunky for a roman glass vessel which are usually very thin.

The glass turned out to be part of a Victorian panel wine glass, perhaps dropped by a visitor staying at the  lodge or a garden party as Lord Eldon showed off the excavations to his friends. I wonder what it had contained?

The glass before we lifted it from its bed of soil

At the end of the day the mosaics had continued but there were more holes in the floor, will we get the next decorative scheme? what is beyond the knotted guilloche band? we hold our breath……..

The mosaic at the end of the day all clean and bright

Day 2 … mosaics here, there and everywhere

Only the second day and we have wonderful mosaics and not just in the test pit from 17 years ago!

Most of the sand has been removed and the finer cleaning begins

Fay, Carol, Helen, Rob and Pete took off the next layer just above the mosaic, it contained Victorian glass, the odd iron nail and one piece of roman pot. In places the layer was not as deep and glimpses of mosaic were seen. Amy and Charlotte joined them in the afternoon when we started to clean the last of the soil to reveal the mosaic. Exciting to see it was in such good condition and how small the tesserae are.

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The girls working hard to get to the layer just above the mosaics

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A glimpse of the wonders to come

I wonder what is under the slate? probably put down by the Victorians when they first explored the room

We also opened two more trenches in room 27 where a pot was found dug into the ground during the test pit survey in 2000, we have no idea what else we may find, time will tell.

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The two trenches in room 27, there is evidence of burning next to the large stones just below the red and white scale.

Today was very sunny and we had some very small visitors on site and in our buckets!

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A lovely little lizard

 

Day 1 Chedworth Villa …..and we are open

The turf is removed

The first trenches have been de-turfed and the test trenches dug in the year 2000 discovered.

Terram — a breathable membrane a tell-tale sign of the test trench from 2000

 

Ready to peel back the terram to find the sand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The breathable membrane was put on top of yellow sand that sits on the mosaic. Seventeen years ago it  was thought to be a good way to protect the mosaics and make it easy to re dig if checking on its condition. The problem is that the sand is builders sand and stays wet and the yellow colour  can stain the white tesserae, it sticks to the surface of the mosaic and takes a lot of work to clean it off.

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Ta Dar! we have a lovely mosaic in very good condition, hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the room and we will have much more to show you over the next few days.

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Into Silbury Hill

I saw it once by moonlight. Returning on the Marlborough Road, in the dark, surrounded by the silver-washed, gently curving chalkland. Then dreaming..forgetting…and a little before the Avebury turning… it reared up from the right, huge and impossible. Surely too big to be made, a conical flat-topped mass. A passing Neolithic shock.

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I remembered 1968, my mum calling me to the TV. Live archaeology and Professor Atkinson driving his tunnel to the centre. I had no idea what Silbury was then. I never saw it until I was 18.

Then in the 90s, after moving to Wiltshire, sitting in Devizes Museum at the WAC meeting. At the end, we drank coffee and Gill and Andrew said: ‘yes, we were there with Atkinson.We walked with him to the centre’. Wow! What a thing!

The National Trust have never owned Silbury but have managed it as part of their Avebury Estate.

In May 2000, we were excavating the Lacock Rockworks. Rosie, the Avebury archaeologist ranger, arrived late. She had been called to the top of Silbury with Chris, the NT property manager. ‘There’s a hole!’ she said, ‘a vertical shaft right down to the centre of Silbury’.

English Heritage fenced it off and considered the options. The Hill was not as stable as might be imagined.

For many generations visitors had wondered. Was this the tomb of a great king? Something so huge had surely been raised in honour of someone exceptional and his grave must be furnished with fabulous treasure. So, in 1776, Edward Drax, with some support from Hugh Percy duke of Northumberland, directed a group of miners to sink a vertical shaft to the centre. They were disappointed, no tomb was found. Silbury was further disturbed in 1849, by Rev John Merewether, who organised the digging of a new horizontal tunnel, no finds for him either except his report of preserved organic remains near the centre. Then a pause for a century plus and Professor Atkinson, famed for his work at Stonehenge, directed the campaign I had seen on TV as a child. Another horizontal tunnel with branches.

The experts shook their heads. Something must be done. A conference was called and the players assembled at Devizes Corn Exchange. I sat and heard the debate and remembered Professor Bradley strongly advocating the solution. Reopen Atkinson’s shaft, assemble a crack team and employ the very best archaeological techniques that the 21st century can offer. Create a new exceptional record and then backfill with packed chalk…and seal for all time.

And so it came to pass. The tunnel was opened, the section through the hill was scanned, drawn and photographed in great detail. Samples were taken and analysed…..and then, the invitations went out.

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In the autumn of 2007, we assembled at the portacabins for the health and safety talk. David Attenborough, almost 40 years later, had just returned again from the centre… and now it was our turn.

Along a track…Silbury looming over us…we circled the perimeter of the artificial mountain, to arrive at a concrete portal at its base. The worn green door had a futuristic S on the front, not superman.. Silbury of course, and above it on the lintel ..1968.

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Jim Leary, the English Heritage site director, gave an introductory talk on the threshold,…then the door was opened and we were allowed to enter. ‘we few, we happy few’.

A line of steel ‘U’ frames ran into the distance illuminated by rigged strip lights a network of wires and ribbed ventilation tubing but amongst it all and between the frames the stratigraphy of the mound. ‘Here is the trampled chalk’ Jim pointed. The ancients had worked here compressing the chalk rubble with their feet as they built their mountain.

Further in and the frames were bent and twisted. The torch illuminated a void sloping upwards. Was this where Professor Atkinson cut Rev Merewether’s tunnel?

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Deep below the mound and far from the entrance, the white chalk walls turned brown. We had crossed the inner ditch and here were the beginnings of the construction. Silbury had been built in successive phases but the C14 dates tell us that all the work took place over a short period, c.2400-2300 BC. They started small, heaping gravel from the nearby river and then cutting the turf and topsoil and heaping it into a mound.

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We reached the far end and here was the treasure where we stopped. The famous turf stack where the 1960s diggers had told their stories of green grass and beetles’ wings. Extraordinary environmental survival, sealed within the earth. Many more samples were taken and the list of plants and invertebrates grew and told of a landscape of chalkland pasture. Though we do not know the exact year, the insects tell us that this organised and presumably vast community of farmers cut this turf in the summer. Some of the creatures that were found, only emerge from their larvae in August.

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They didn’t stop. They kept building. What drove them on? They dug deep into the chalk creating a massive moat that  still fills with water after heavy rain in winter. They heaped the chalk higher and higher. A monument to the very end of the Neolithic..as if to say. ‘See! This is what we can do with bone and wood and stone’. That was before the strangers came with their clever rocks from far away. Rocks that could be melted and mixed and beaten to create sharp blades and shiny ornaments.

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Nancy and I retraced our steps, back down the tunnel and out into the light. Best to go to the Avebury Henge, to walk beside the megaliths and then to take tea in the Stones restaurant beside the tithe barn.

To savour the electricity of the moment.

Finding Killerton’s 1776 House 2

To make sense of this you will need to read the first post which describes how a grand 18th century house designed by a famous architect was never completed. This is on the Killerton Estate near Exeter, Devon where the mansion house is…well.. it’s a little disappointing.

The many thousands of acres both at Killerton and on the Holnicote Estate in west Somerset were given to the National Trust in the 1940s by the Acland family.

It’s been 18 months since the first discoveries and things have moved on.

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Killerton House with its roof covered in scaffolding. There is limited access for visitors while the repairs are taking place. The roof archaeology is being recorded and fragments of 19th-century wall paper and early 20th century photos of the Acland family have been found amongst the rafters. 

The present Killerton House is having its roof repaired and the 1776 house has been cleared of undergrowth.

We wondered whether the LiDAR survey had see the cellars of the abandoned house under the trees of Columbjohn wood. Now that we can see ground beneath the vegetation there are heaps of bricks everywhere.

The workers charged with salvaging the building materials had left the broken bricks behind.

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The scrub has been cleared in what we think was the main cellar of the 1776 house and the remains of its demolition and salvage have been found:  lots of broken bricks scattered in piles in the hollow.

Project manager Fi has co-ordinated a series of events which will enable visitors to explore Killerton’s historic landscape. This will happen during the CBA Archaeology Festival later this month. A team of National Trust Heritage Archaeology Rangers have been trained and Bryn from South West Archaeology is supervising the investigation of the lost house of Killerton .

A couple of weeks ago they mapped the earthworks and these fit with the architect’s plans for great house. At the end of July, they will dig some evaluation trenches to ‘ground-truth’ the remains.

Visitors will be very welcome and the mock-up of an 18th century doorway has been erected amongst trees as an entrance to the excavations.

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The newly erected doorway based on the original architect’s drawings of the house that never was. Visit and pass through the doorway to see the excavations in a couple of weeks….

I will spend a couple of days at the folly on the hill-top working out what remains of the ‘white tower’. This folly is shown on an 18th century painting . At this stage we don’t understand quite what the building looked like. It had been demolished long before any photos had been taken.

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The new National Trust HART ranger team for Killerton. Practicing making condition monitoring records of the 18th-century folly site on the conical hill top across the valley from Wyatt’s lost house. We will take off the turf on July 27th and see what lies beneath.