Long Bredy, The Cleaning of Bones

This week: the LiDAR survey report for the Stourhead Estate was completed; at Chedworth we understood the drains; a meeting at Brean Down gave context to a 65,000 year old horse’s tooth, and, on the northernmost edge of the South West Region… geophysics has begun to provide evidence for the origins of Hidcote.

Wonderful stuff.. and all for future consideration, but my heart is still at Long Bredy and our recent excavations there.

I walk on past the parish church, and up, steeply, through the pasture field to the Ridgeway’s western edge. The sheep watch the figure follow the spine of Martins Down bank barrow. Stopping to enjoy the wide fading landscape, out across Golden Cap to Start Point. Then back through a field of ripening wheat and down a deep grassy hollow-way, back past the church to my tent. Everything glowing red in the setting sun, every strand of grass richly pink and the wool strands hanging sharply in the wire.

Looking towards Long Bredy church from the hollow-way

One day, when it seemed that we would run out of time. A long day of mattocking, barrowing.. collecting fragments of flint and small sherds of red-black pot. Level after level of 5cm spits of soil. I came back to continue on into the evening and Rob said he would too …but the energy was gone… we exchanged glances and eventually stopped, limply putting the tools away.

The cluster of large stones overlying the burials cut by the 2013 pipeline

The next morning, the lumpy surface turned into a cluster of large stones and we began to carefully lift them one by one. Each stone covered human remains, broken and impacted by their weight over the millennia. Three crushed skulls and a jumble of long bones.Yellow and fragile mixed with soil and roots. The roots looking like bones and intermingled with them. A trowel, a plastic spatula, a pair of secateurs and a fine brush.

A view of the three skeletons looking north

Then the cleaning of bones. A long quiet day, crouched in a trench in a field. Nothing else, just the gentle loosening of soil around them. The initial shock and concern.. then yielding to beauty. The realisation of practical creative design, every curve and facet. A broken pair of shins is exposed; delicate, hard and finely formed. You stroke your own, feel the tibia below the warm skin. Then the softer bones of the feet, a jumble of tarsals. Extraordinary heel bones and the wonder of toes.

The northern teenager with feet and legs bent above the head.

We brought back the bones, gathered from the 2013 pipe trench. We took away a few small fragments for DNA and strontium isotope analysis. Once we had cleaned them, Clare came and analysed the skeletons. Two teenagers, one with head to north and one with head to south. One tightly bound and face down, one doubled with feet above the head and the third, a young adult, crouched, the last to be buried. Most of this one gone after the JCB struck six years ago.

A dry fortnight ..but as we packed up it started to rain.. though by that time Nancy had protected the skeletons. Carefully covered, then placed them under a blanket of sieved soil. The stones were put back in place and then Clive brought the digger and pushed the spoil back over the trench. The flint and chert flakes and tools, the pottery and the animal fragments together with the samples from these three 2700-2800 year old people will all tell more of the story.

We will wait, and in the mean time…

I will appreciate the intricacies of my feet.

 

The Wessex Hillforts & Habitats Project

Early morning last week…a drone took off over Hambledon after light snow. Perfect conditions, the snowflakes had settled into the valleys of the great encircling hillfort ditches… and streets of round house platforms became visible as rows of hollows outlined in white.

Hambledon Hill light snow shows the dimples where Iron Age round houses once stood.

These photos help illustrate the majesty and awe of this vast archaeological site and has helped us launch the National Trust’s Wessex Hillforts and Habitats project. With the help of Marie, our project officer, the People’s Postcode Lottery have granted over 100,000 pounds to get the project started.

The primary purpose of the project is to enhance the conservation of 13 NT Iron Age hillforts scattered across Dorset and South Wiltshire …but it will also inspire people to get involved and to carry out monitoring and research. It will also create new interpretation to bring these grassy hill top earthworks to life as places to be appreciated, valued and better understood. Alongside this.. to highlight nature, particularly the plant and insect life. Each hillfort’s unique topography nurtures precious habitat undisturbed by agriculture for over 2000 years.

Purple spotted orchids growing on the sheltered slopes of a hillfort ditch

So.. where are these places. I’ll list them out for you…. and as some have featured in previous blog posts I’ll reference these while we have a quick tour.

We’ll start in Wiltshire and from there head south and west and eventually end at the Devon border.

Figsbury Ring, north-east of Salisbury. A circular rampart and ditch with a view back to the great cathedral spire. Strangely, Figsbury has a wide deep ditch within the hillfort ..potentially Neolithic but there is no rampart.. where did all the chalk go?

Figsbury Ring from its rampart top showing the wide deep ditch inside the hillfort.

South of Salisbury, Wick Ball Camp above Philipps House, Dinton.. NT only owns the outer rampart.

Then there is the icon of Warminster, Cley Hill (blog posts “Upon Cley Hill’; Upon Cley Hill 2”), a flying saucer shaped chalk outlier with two round barrows on the summit..a strange hillfort.

To the south west, at the source of the mighty River Stour, is the Stourhead Estate with its two hillforts. These are Park Hill Camp, its views hidden by conifer plantation and Whitesheet Hill  (blog Whitesheet Hill Open at the Close) with wide prospects across the Blackmore Vale towards Hambledon and Hod. We’ll follow the Stour to reach them.

Hod is the largest true hillfort in Dorset, the geophysics has shown it full of round houses…a proto town… and there are the clear earthworks of the Roman 1st century fort in Hod’s north-west corner (blog post Hod Hill Camp Bastion)

Hambledon is close by, just across a dry valley, perched high on a ridge, surrounded by the Neolithic, you feel like you’re flying when standing there. (blog post Archaeology SW day 2014, Hambledon Sunset)

Follow the Stour further south and you reach the triple ramparts and ditches of Badbury Rings on the Kingston Lacy Estate. From here you can see the chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight (blog post Badbury and the Devil’s footprint)

Now from Badbury take the Roman road west to Dorchester and keep going beyond the county town, glancing at Maiden Castle as you pass(Duchy of Cornwall, English Heritage).

The Roman road continues straight towards Bridport but branches from the A35 road before you reach the village of Winterbourne Abbas.

It has now become a minor road.. a couple of miles on… it branches again..still straight but this once arterial Roman route to Exeter has dwindled to a narrow trackway with grass sprouting from the tarmac.

Don’t lose heart…keep going…and you will break out onto the chalkland edge and the multiple ramparts of Eggardon Hill.

From Eggardon, the other hillforts emerge as sentinals ringing the high ground overlooking the Marshwood Vale, and, to the south, the cliffs of Golden Cap.. and beyond, the sweep of Lyme Bay and the English Channel.

Winter woods at Coney’s Castle

Next to the west is Lewesdon Hill, a small fort but occupying the highest land in Dorset, nearby is the second highest, the flat top of Pilsdon Pen, surrounded by double ramparts and enclosing Iron Age round houses, Bronze Age round barrows and the pillow mounds of  the medieval rabbit warren.

The last two in the Project guard a gap through the Upper Greensand ridge at the Devon border. Coney’s Castle has a minor road running through it and on its south side are wonderful twisted moss covered oaks… and beneath them the deep blue of bluebells in the Spring. Lambert’s Castle was used as a fair up to the mid 20th century, remains of the fair house and animal pens can be seen there ….but once again the views are spectacular, particularly in early morning after frost with the mist rising from the lowland.

Lambert’ s Castle after frost.

A baker’s dozen of hillforts of the 59 the NT looks after in the South West.

One might imagine that these huge works of humanity look after themselves… but they need to be cared for.. we must have farmers willing to graze the right number and type of stock on them….at the right times;  NT rangers and volunteers to cut regenerating scrub and fix fencing and gates…

If not, these nationally important scheduled monuments and SSSIs will deteriorate. The earthworks will become overgrown and grassland habitat will be lost, archaeological knowledge locked in the layers beneath the soil will become disrupted… and the views into the landscape and across and within the hillforts will become hidden.

The Wessex Hillforts and Habitats Project promises to be an exciting time of conservation and discovery. The work has now begun!

A summary: Chedworth 2018

The soil is back in place and the dust has settled. The North Range corridor and grand reception room mosaics now lie 10-15cm deep.

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Who knows when they will be uncovered again but thanks to the help of so many ..we have been able to make an excellent record ….into the future they can be seen as fine images and videos ….while the originals lie protected from the weather and erosion under the ground.

We had glimpsed bits of these mosaics in 2013, 2014 & 2016.  Before that, in 2000, Cotswold Archaeology had uncovered an area and Roger Goodburn revealed other sections in 1990.

We thought that everything had been uncovered by James Farrer in the 1860s.. but this year, we revealed sections of mosaic, particularly along the south side of the reception hall, which were still covered by late Roman building debris..mainly roof tiles and rubble. Simon identified a coin we found here as belonging to Theodosius I (AD 379-395), one of the last Roman emperors to circulate coins in Britain.

This rubble was not a pristine collapse of debris, left where it had fallen after the villa roof fell in. It was a remnant..picked over for goodies perhaps in the 6th-10th centuries. However, we have identified nothing later than the Theodosian coin in this stuff so far.

By the close of the excavation, we had uncovered sections of mosaic covering an area over 30m long and 6m wide. At times, it seemed, we had taken on something over-large ..but the weather, although very hot, helped us work together to achieve the hoped for result. More survived under the tarmac and grass than we suspected.

As we reburied them… we wondered what world the mosaics would be exposed to when eventually uncovered again.

Last year, we excavated the mosaic in Room 28. It was perhaps used as a summer dining room…so lets imagine and go for a stroll with the owner… after a meal taken here in the late 4th century.

We walk from the room and enter the 3m wide corridor with its hopscotch pattern of decorated squares, each a different design. We progress west as far as a chequerboard mosaic doormat in front of a broad stone threshold.

Perhaps servants are here to open the double doors for us and we step into the great reception room. It stretches before us now.. long and broad and high.. decorated with brightly coloured panels of painted wall plaster. The floor is beautiful .. we know it now. Intricate grouped geometric designs  bordered by 3 bands of alternating white and red tesserae with a broader white band around the edge of the room.

Half-way along, on the south, is a stepped? external entrance into the courtyard. Although the archaeology was badly damaged here, lines of dressed stones suggest a doorway …and it would be expected.

We still stand in the corridor doorway and directly in front of us at the other end of the room are the kerbstones which mark the entrance to the colonnade leading to the West Range of the villa and the flight of steps which lead to the baths.

Jutting into the courtyard at the south-west corner of the reception hall is the ornate square water feature which we excavated in 2014. Another revelation of the grandeur of this place.

To the right of this, the red stripe border turns west at right angles to mark the position of a foundation (utilising an earlier wall line), a secure foundation for a heavy imposing decorative feature, built against the centre of the room’s west wall. We can imagine an important fixed feature. Perhaps the statue of a god, an ancestor or emperor. From here, leading north, a flight of steps carries us into…the owner’s office. A place of discussion, business and command. This is Room 24, where, in 2014, we found the evidence of the raised pillar hypocaust.

This year, the fragment of carved stone, Nancy found, is thought to come from an ornate stone side table which is evidence for the furniture which once graced this room. We can place this with our exotic eastern mediterranean marble fragment found near the centre of this room in 2014.

Towards the east end of this north wall would have been another door. This time into Room 25 but an entrance less imposing. It did not need steps to enter because Room 25 has a channeled hypocaust .. so the floor was built at the same level as the reception room. The evidence for this doorway is a concentration of erosion, the mosaic floor worn away by 5th to 6th century footfall.. repaired with only mortar and clay at a time when the Romano-British economy had fallen apart and the mosaicists had ceased to trade.

The steps and statue focus on Room 24 ….as the centre of power.

Steve has identified an unexpected change in the central mosaic pattern design and perhaps this pointed to the position of the doorway into the courtyard….but it may just be a mistake.

Of course.. I am spinning a yarn. It is good to have a story and I am giving you my best truth based on an interpretation of the evidence.

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A dodgy drawing of my imagined view from the north range corridor through the reception hall towards the colonnade and the west range. The line of kerb stone here suggest a broad open entrance and perhaps, at this point there were once folding shutters rather than doors.. to act as a screen in the colder weather. A splash of blue on the left indicates the water feature. I have picked up the mistake in the central panels of the mosaic and drawn a central doorway to the courtyard on the left. Steps have been created up to room 24 and no steps for the suspected doorway to Room 25.  I have put a statue on a plinth to explain the kink in the red stripe border and decided that the staircase to the baths was a single flight accessed from the colonnade. Also two side tables are shown as interpreted by Anthony from the carved fragment Nancy found this year.

There were four other trenches.

Two were to pick up the line of the outer west boundary wall of the villa. We found this wall, made of chunky blocks of stone bonded to the south Nymphaeum wall. Even in the drought the Nymphaeum spring water still trickled into its pool. The wall’s junction with the Nymphaeum shows that it has been largely recreated in the 1860s. There is a straight joint and then the ashlar gives way to irregular blocks of stone. Different phases of construction but not enough time to fully understand the sequence properly.

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Where the villa west boundary wall joins the Nymphaeum (scale 20cm divisions)

Peter and I projected the wall line 12m to the south and excavated another trench. Although there was a spread of rubble here, nothing but a patch of mortar indicated that the wall survived this far south.

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The second trench to locate the boundary wall. Just rubble this far south. Peter stands where the alignment of this wall joins the Nymphaeum

The third trench was in raised baths Room 21 on the west side of the reception room. This was dug to find the wall dividing the early tepidarium bath with the room we found under the east side of Room 21 in 2015-2016. Amy and Fay found a line of blocks of stone on the proposed alignment but they were loose and we did not have the time in the end to go deep enough to prove the theory.

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The trench to locate the earlier tepidarium east wall. Richmond interpreted it in his 1960s rebuild where the vertical ranging rod stands. His work cut away the south (top in photo) edge of the archaeology. Displaced blocks of stone on this alignment suggest that it might survive at a deeper level.

The last trench was a revisit and expansion of one excavated in 2016. This was to date three walls. Firstly, the south wall face of the North Range Corridor and Reception Hall. Secondly, the buttress which supports this wall on the south side where the wide doorway leads from the corridor into the reception hall. Thirdly, the east wall of the gallery which divides the inner and outer courtyards of the villa.

I am particularly interested in finding new evidence for the beginning and end of the villa and this trench it seems contains evidence of an earlier phase.

At the end of the 2016 season we found a square flagstone and the top of a heap of yellow mortar and rubble which contained 2nd century evidence. This year we confirmed that the coins in the darker soil, above the yellow building rubble dated to the late 3rd century. Nothing 4th century: which is unexpected because we were sure that both the buttress and the corridor wall had been built towards the end of the 4th century.

I found a cutting against the corridor wall filled with a dark grey silt which had been dug through the deep mortary building rubble. This contained two worn undateable coins. At first it seemed that this was a foundation trench for the corridor wall but it didn’t work archaeologically… The trench cut the rubble.. the rubble was heaped up against the buttress foundation …and the buttress foundation abutted the corridor wall. You see what I mean ? …It creates a time warp. You can’t build a wall before its buttress.

My present story is that it is a later trench cut perhaps to take away a flagstone, a neighbour to the one we found wedged between the buttress and the corridor wall. There may once have been a line of flagstones against the corridor wall here.

The yellow rubble layer was deep and interesting. Full of blue and red painted plaster debris and occasional sherds of pottery including a fragment of samian and the rims of two 2nd century black burnished ware jars. It had been heaped over a water tank beneath a stone spout. If this rubble is late 2nd century then the buttress and corridor wall must be earlier…

…Though of course finds in dumps of rubble can be displaced and redeposited. Cross reference everything and assume nothing.

The tank had an outlet hole that drained into a ditch. The tank and debris sat on a spread of grey limestone slates spread across to create a rough floor surface. On the last day, Stephanie and her daughter found an oyster shell, charcoal and occasional scraps of pottery and tesserae here and Carol and Nick found a deposit of animal bones under the buttress foundation.

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The rough stone floor surface continuing under the stone tank and beneath this the foundation of the East Gallery wall. The foundation for the later stone buttress for the corridor is on the right edge of the photograph.

I made one last small incision against the gallery wall and found beneath the stone slab floor and the mortar layer below it, a foundation trench filling and the base of the gallery wall.

So the sequence is clear…first the gallery, then the corridor then the buttress. We will take our samples for radiocarbon dates and Nancy will send the finds for analysis. They will help us tell a better story.. something a little closer to the truth

And so we say goodbye to our excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. Thank you so much to all the staff, specialist experts and volunteers who have helped us since 2010. Particularly of course the property staff and volunteers at Chedworth. You are all wonderful.

And looking back…Guy, Aparna, Catherine and James…Harry, Kate, David and Mike. Fay and Carol our fine supervisors of course. The core team Peter and Amy, younger Nick and Nick the wise and Stephanie… who discovered archaeology this year and  Rob our longest volunteer (since 1986!) who in this last evening photo…conveniently stands where the statue might once have been.

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Thank you !

 

 

Day 19 – The end for now ….

The core team left to right Stephanie, Fay, Rob, Amy, Carol, Martin, Pete and Me

Well, we reached the last day and had a few last jobs to do as well as back-filling the trenches. Martin had recording, drawings and the odd extra bit of digging to do, to answer a few questions in the buttress trench. Fay and Amy had a little more digging in the bath house trench to find the wall, and the rest of us had finds and tools to pack up.

We have to record everything by scale drawing and photography, as once its dug out we cannot go back to check any details.

In the buttress trench Martin has been finding lots of painted plaster including different blues and greens. Then he found this large piece, amazing colours and design.

In the buttress trench Martin has found lots of lovely painted plaster, mainly blues, but then he found this stunning piece

A close-up of the plaster

One job we had to do was to put in a little extension to find out how big the water tank was, it turned out to be quite small, but perfectly formed. We also found the outlet hole!

The extent of the tank

 

The tank  had slipped forward, note the crack in the lower right

The outlet hole

The last trench to be filled in was the buttress trench, we protected the tank with geotextile, then left messages for future archaeologists to find, in an empty bottle of fizz we had for Amy’s 21st birthday.

For future archaeologists to find

Nearly there

Also on the last day we had another birthday to celebrate – Pete’s. So it was a double celebration and a big cake provided by lovely Sue, who had been doing all the finds washing for us, thank you Sue.

When you only have a grubby wooden knife a trowel has to do

As we put back the last turf we had our last visitor, a frog that had managed to survive the back filling and the heat!

Our last visitor

As they say ‘that’s all folks’ for daily up dates from the dig, but Martin will do a summing up of the dig and we will post updates of the finds when we have their stories back from the specialists. So keep checking in.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to all our volunteers who came to dig with us and especially those who helped with the mammoth back filling task. We hope you all enjoyed your experience. Thank you to all our blog followers, and its been lovely to meet many of you on-site, your kind words helped to keep us going through the hottest parts of the day.

Until next time………

 

Day Thirteen – Feathered friends

The end is near and we still have a bit of excavation to do, luckily the mosaics are cropping up again just when we thought  they had ended.

Amy uncovering the new section of mosaic

We finally removed the last of Sir Ian Richmond’s representation of the earlier villa walls, his pink concrete! Behind this was the real roman wall and a line of mosaic still in place balanced on the edge.

The burnt, earlier villa wall with a line of tesserae still in place

Max, Steve, and  Stephanie carried on the big clean up in the relenting heat. Jill and Amy each had an area of mosaic to uncover and Fay was banished to a small trench up next to the bathhouse. Guy and William took on the challenge to keep going down through the roman rubble layer in the buttress trench near the museum, where they found lots of painted wall plaster and some intriguing stonework (more about it tomorrow)

Steve and Max cleaning the corridor mosaic

 

William and Guy in the buttress trench

Now to our feathered friends, during this dry spell we have been providing a small buffet for the birds, here are our clever friends who have taken advantage of the insects and worms we have disturbed. The star is Bob the Pheasant 🙂

Lovely pair of Pied wagtails foraging on the spoil heap

The scruffy Robin is very brave finding food right next to us as we dig

Bob with Amy at lunch time, sharing a biscuit

A portrait of Bob

 

Day 12 – Rogues gallery

Here as promised are the ‘small finds’ we have found over the last few days 🙂

 

A coin, worn but enough remains for a coin expert to identify

The reverse of the coin with a bit more detail.

Another coin, very clear, you can read the lettering. Probably IMP TETRICUS PF AVG, so probably Tetricus I rather than Tetricus II, who ruled the separatist Gallic empire from AD271-274 Thanks Pete for the identification

The reverse of the Tetricus coin

And the next coin, very worn on the obverse,

The reverse has a little bit of detail, hopefully enough for an identification

The last of the coins and this one is worn and probably beyond identification

Not a coin but a lovely piece of roman glass, part of the rim of a bowl maybe.

Last but not least is a hob nail, from a roman shoe, it was found between tow loose tesserae in the corridor mosaic. Avery fine example of its type!

 

Day Ten – Stone, nails and Caleb’s knife

I arrived late after my day off, due to a baby gull rescue just as I set off from home, the joys of coastal living 🙂 to find the gang working very hard de-turfing and then clearing the back fill from 2014.

After morning break it was all back into the main trench, with Amy and Fay banished to the corridor and Rob to the buttress trench. Les, Carol A, Pete, Jackie, Janette, Nick, Carol L and me lined up to take the last areas of the top soil and then the rubble from the collapse of the roman building away.

All in a line, going, going gone

Amongst the usual finds of pottery, tile, bone and tesserae we found lots of nails, and by plotting them we realized they were all the same kind and  in a line. Could this have been were a beam had fallen and rotted away leaving only the nails? We need to have a specialist check what type of nail they are and what they would have been used for.

I once again had chance to do a bit of digging myself and after removing many stone roof tile fragments I came across a chunky stone that looked like it had been shaped on two sides for using in a wall. As I turned it over I noticed some notches, then they looked like a flower and maybe another smoothed of part below. I cautiously showed it round and the conclusion was it was definitely a carved!

A happy me with the stone

close-up of the carving

Another roman coin popped out Carols second, again quite worn, it will have to wait for a coin specialist to have a look before we can get its date. Janette had a good find while cleaning back round the steps from the bath house, maybe we can reunite it with its owner, Caleb.

Caleb has lost his penknife! I wonder what hi is peeling his apples with now!

Packing up at the end of the day we found an artwork entitled  ‘archaeologists detritus’

Archaeologists detritus