The glass find – first thoughts

The glass when first found

Now we have recovered from the digging and back filling of the trenches at Chedworth Roman Villa, we can start on the post excavation work and find out more about what we found. The star find this year was a small fragment of glass that Pete found in room 27. Having contacted the main specialist on roman glass and sent lots of photographs, an e-mail returned asking for a very detailed description of where it was found, as they had not seen anything exactly like it before in Britain. They needed to see it in the flesh and as luck would have it we were both attending the Roman Finds Groups conference so I took it along. After looking at it from all angles the verdict was that it needed to be shared wider, to roman glass specialists, roman archaeologists and roman finds people beyond Britain. The only possible comparable piece Jennifer had ever seen was from near Iran! The post excavation work is like excavating again, in that you never know what you will find out about the objects you have found, discovering the story never ends. Once again Chedworth villa produces something unusual, watch this space for more updates on this wonderful fragment of glass.

The lovely colourful glass

Sunset 8.15pm Chedworth 2017

So the 5 year North Range research agenda is complete.

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Picture copyright Mike Calnan taken by mini-copter on Thursday. The North Range to the left with the green and blue gazebos in Room 27. You can just see our exterior trenches beyond the walls on the slope top left.

We had started backfilling on the previous day so it seemed unlikely that we would leave late for home on Friday.

Always the optimist. I had arrived at 7am to video the site amongst birdsong.

Carol crossed the corridor, climbed the bank and picked blackberries.

Fay squinted at the rising sun in the valley as I moved the pencil along the staff. Taking levels on the boundary wall.  ‘There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight’. The lull before the storm.
‘Ten to play and a match to win’

Nothing like a bit of imperialist poetry to steel one against the day but who would come to help us? So much recording to do…so many trenches to fill.

Then John kindly arrived despite his birthday, Nick and Nick and Alexander and Harry to join the rest of us stalwarts and we began the long day…

We loaded the last tools as the sun began to set and Amy remained with us until the end. Fabulous! Carol said that the last day on a dig was like childbirth… painful but worth going though again. We were so grateful to everyone for putting the site back together after all our exploration.

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Plan from an old guide book to show the numbers of the rooms in the north range 27-30. Our boundary wall and drain trenches were above 30.

What can be said.

On the north side, the boundary bank ran clear across the trench and was easily traced following the contour of the valley above the North Range. A heap of Roman debris lay over it and below the rubble a level stony area suggests a trackway though we did not fully excavate this.

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Detail of the Roman wall on the outside face of Room 30. This shows the time when the North Range had a new suite of rooms added to the east. The foundation trench for the old build is stony and has the ranging pole on it. That to the left more soily marked by the trowel. The courses above abutt except for one which cuts into the old build and ties the walls together.

Just below is Rob’s trench against the exterior wall of the kitchen. The beautifully placed 0.33m wide flagstones 0.3m from the wall face. We thought the stones covered a drain. We lifted one and the surface crumbled into hundreds of fragments. Below was only 0.1m of sand and charcoal above the natural clay.

The current story is that the stones were the firm foundation for a timber drain that was built along its surface. The wood had long rotted away but there are stories of iron linking rings being found here.  We still need to track down the source.

No doubt now about the later addition of the suite of rooms 30-32 onto the east end of the North Range. Both in Fay’s trench, within Room 30, and this trench, the abutting joints and change in foundation trench fills were clear.

Our two small trenches in the North Range Corridor showed that there was no mosaic left east of Room 26 but that the narrower and earlier corridor wall could be traced past Room 27. It was not found opposite Room 30 but the ground here has been badly disturbed. Sir Ian Richmond’s 1964 breeze block wall ran deep this far east.

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The two trenches in the north range. The one in the foreground had the stones of the narrower and earlier corridor in it.

Peter’s trench in Room 27 had now been backfilled and made  level with replaced turf….. but what had been the point of the deep dressed stone wall against the corridor. Was it an early pre-corridor wall. I am placing a lot of faith in comparative C14 dates from foundation trench fills. The fragments of charcoal have been helpfully plentiful in these but not an ideal dating tool …too crude really for Roman deposits.

We stopped for lunch and the discussions …over leaving cake …turned to mattocks. We admired the prize tool of the dig … the new yellow fibre-handled mattock which Nancy purchased specially. Mattocks are wonderful things… if deftly hefted. We told mattock stories……

We then faced Room 28. I moved forward with parallel tapes and ranging poles, drawing metre by metre and as each space was vacated, the terram, topsoil and turf followed.

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The topsoil and terram being placed.

The mosaic survived best in the north… though its gradual deterioration south documented its loss.. Down through the mortar bedding and limestone rubble hardcore. Even the hardcore disappeared in the room’s central zone… becoming a dark soil containing the two hearths and a foundation of rubble between areas of burning. These ragged remains are an exciting discovery. We need to search for comparisons and obtain radiocarbon dates from their organic deposits. I hope for a 5th-6th century date to reveal a time when the villa was still standing.. but had declined from a grand mansion house to a manufacturer’s workshop.

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Copyright Mike Calnan photo of Room 28 on Thursday. Peter’s trench in Room 27 bottom left.

The last trench was Peter and Alexander’s, behind Rooms 25 and 26. Peter had been digging there until the afternoon to understand it better. The trench showed that 25 had been added on but it had once had a different broader plan. This earlier phase had  been part demolished before being rebuilt. The foundation trench along 25’s  north side was clear but to the east the natural bedrock had be dug away deeply and steeply. I jumped down onto a loose mortar surface and slid the trowel under the lowest course of the earliest phase of 25. This cutting continued north-east through the trench section into the slope of the hill. Perhaps a drain or earlier stoke hole… but time was up.

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The deep trench cutting natural and the wider foundation under Room 25. Room 26 is on the left. The cutting continues under the section line to the right.

Fay shouted out the levels from the slope and I joined the backfilling.

but the story is not over until the samples are analysed, we have made cross-comparisons and the reports are written. What of our painted glass.. the pottery, the charcoal and other finds?… we will see what they tell us.

Day 18 and 19 – So long, farewell … and so to bed

Day  18 – the last chance to investigate those areas and layers that just need a little bit more excavation to glean the last drop of information from the site before recovering it with soil and turf.

A little bit more digging  in Robs drain trench, to look for any iron rings that may have been used to connect wooden pipes that the large stones may have been protecting.

We also sectioned part of the ‘hearth’ to see if we could recover any charcoal for dating, find any clues to its use  and also to see how it was constructed.

Part of the ‘hearth’ sectioned, under the tile was ashy soil and then more box flue tile

From the other ‘hearth we have taken a sample of the very burnt and fractured quern stone, we can then find out what stone it is and were it has come from.

Ashy soil can be seen in the section on the right

Day 19 – Today the back-breaking back filling of the trenches is going a pace with many called in to help, even an odd hour is very much appreciated.

Alex, John and Nick covering the boundary wall trench first with the breathable geo-textile then the soil that was taken out goes back in

We put down a breathable geo-textile on top of were we stop excavating, this stops plant roots but allows water through and is great if we do uncover it again as we can dig down to the cloth and then peel back to were we stopped last time.

Pete’s deep trench and Martins complicated wall phasing trench in room 27 all back filled

We put a bottle, from our celebration when we finished yesterday, with various objects in it, as well as a message to the future in the deepest part of Pete’s trench were the glass had been found. A kind of closing ritual we usually do when back filling trenches.

Our message to the future, the fizzy wine bottle with messages and coins and other objects inside it

Hopefully we will not have to stay into the evening to finish the ‘putting to bed’ of the site, a very heart-felt thank you to all who have helped us this year with special mention to the back filling crew Fay, Carol, Amy, Pete, Harry, Alex, Nick and Nick, John and John.

Farewell until the next dig, were ever that may be……………..

Some of the core team Harry, John, Martin, Fay. Amy. me, Carol and Pete

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.

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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.

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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!

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James, Tony and Ann cleaning back the soil

 

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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 🙂

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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.

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My kneeling pad path

 

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 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