Day 14 – Wash and brush up

After a couple of days off I headed back to Chedworth very early. Through the misty vales of Dorset, then into Wiltshire with its hay bale monoliths, finally reaching the honey stone of the Cotswolds in record time, as all were still in their beds on this cool Sunday morn.

Blue sky and bright sun

As it was very dry we worked on cleaning and brushing up room 28, we also started to give it a hairy root trim ready for the laser scan on Wednesday.

A gentle trowel and brush up

We finally finished taking the Victorian back-fill from on top of the hearths.

The largest hearth cleaned up at last

The day was hot and dry so we could use brushes on the stony surfaces, but it took its toll on the workers, who packed up quickly at each break to get into the shade and get some fluids.

Charlotte and Amy resting aching backs in the shade

Charlotte finished working with us today and she gave me some wonderful flowers 🙂 thank you Charlotte you were ace x

Sunflowers on a sunny day

 

UPDATE – As I driving I was thinking about the finds from the previous days, I was eager to see the glass Pete had found. I was pondering the pin Andy found, it was an itch I needed to scratch, there was something not right about it, could it have been lost by a historical re-enactor!
They had used room 28 in the past for living history displays. When I reached the villa there was a living history tent, a roman trader, very fortuitous. Steve makes metal pins and had a look as he thought it could have been one he made! it wasn’t but he pointed to evidence that may show that my hunch could be right. He knew the groups who had been at the villa many years ago and is going to ask if they ever lost a pin, he had a vague memory someone had mentioned a lost hair pin. Watch this space, we may find we can reunite the pin with its owner if it turns out to be a lost living history pin!

Day 11 – Curious finds

The sun broke through the threatening clouds to make a warm sunny start and spirits were high. Three new diggers arrived eager for the challenge of mosaic finding in room 28.

Andy, Jo and Gabe behind Amy in the white hat

Rob carried on in his trench behind the wall to see if the couple of firmly embedded stones he found the day before had turned into a wall or pathway, as the old archaeology saying goes ‘one stone’s a stone, two stones are a coincidence, three stones are a wall’

Rob’s couple of white stones poking through the soil just in front of him

After a mornings work this is what turned up!

The small stones turned into this! It looks like a drain rather than a wall

Meanwhile in room 28 a couple of metal finds popped out of the ground, the first found by Gabe is made of copper alloy, which always looks green after being buried in the ground. It does not look roman, could it be part of  a medieval buckle clasp or horse harness fitting?  there is some decoration but its hard to see what it is. The jury is out on this one until we can get it cleaned and check other similar finds from other sites.

Gabe very pleased with is find and rightly so, well spotted

Close-up of the decoration

With good keen diggers on site we were able to take the next section of turf off in room 28. It was while doing this that Andy found our other metal find – a large heavy pin.

Andy and his pin

The pin also does not immediately seem roman, but it could be, it was in the disturbed top soil which has Victorian finds in it, could it be a hat/cloak pin from that period? The surface ‘patination’ is odd, but the design and shape  fits with some roman pins. It’s another curious find that will have to wait for cleaning and the specialist to ponder.

What will today bring – hopefully more curious finds 🙂

 

 

Day 10 – Chedworth charm

The day started with mist raising over the fields and the rattling call of young Mistel thrush as we arrived at the Vila. The trenches were draped with numerous spiders webs dripping with droplets of water. As the sun warmed the site the lizards appeared dropping from the walls to grab a worm or insect disturbed by our troweling.

The next section of turf was lifted in room 28 as we headed for the centre of the room.

IMG_1809

Turf cutting

 

Fay went down a few more courses of wall to prove once and for all that the eastern end of the north range was extended.

IMG_1850

The wall coming in from the left is the end wall of the range , with the wall coming in from the right just butting against it. The stones are not inserted into the other one

 

Martin and Seb worked behind the wall to see if the hexagonal part of the room had been so in roman times or if the Victorians had made a best guess.

Martin recording the trench, drawing to scale the layers, wall and features

Back in room 28 – the mosaic room, the removal of the soil above hopefully mosaic was going apace, Tony, Ann, Carol and James worked steady and carefully having been briefed that there may just be small sections of mosaic.
But it was not mosaic they uncovered but another possible hearth!

IMG_1825

James, Tony and Ann cleaning back the soil

 

IMG_1845

The ‘hearth’ edged with old box flue tiles from the under floor heating system.

 

The white tag in the picture is marking where Ann found some roman glass 🙂

IMG_1844

Ann and her glass find

 

And finally it was not who stole all the pies but who stole all the kneeling pads! I am afraid it was me as I went back over the area around the first ‘hearth’ and was trying not to damage the surface already exposed.

IMG_1814

My kneeling pad path

 

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 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.

IMG_1439

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.

IMG_1440

The count down begins…….

IMG_8802

Just one week to go before we are back at Chedworth Roman Villa, following in the footsteps of the Victorians.
We will be on site each day from the 14th August until the 31st Aug/1st Sep. Come along and see us if you can or if you are  not able to visit, follow our progress on this blog each day. See you soon 🙂

IMG_0093

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.

IMG_9895

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.

RIMG0032

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.

RIMG0034

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?

RIMG0051

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.

RIMG0056

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.

RIMG0060

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.

RIMG0087

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.