Cerne 5: Nancy's Birthday

Day three. We arrived early to decorate the portacabin, turned on the generator, put on the kettle and everything was ready by the time Nancy arrived. The cake was prepared and we sang Happy Birthday and walked up the hill to the trenches …. dispersing, until tea break, to the Giant’s feet and elbows.

We were going through the chalkings. 2019 and 2008 had been removed.

The next layer was a similar 5cm deep compacted chalk and this must be the 1995 event. My earliest memory.

I peeled this off and another pounded smooth surface emerged. This was a thin crust and my trowel broke through into small granules of chalk. The scouring of 1979, filled with ‘kibbled chalk’. The National Trust files still contain the specification which is much the same as that for the 1956 scouring carried out by the same building contractor. There is a map showing a nearby quarry where the old chalk was to be tipped.

Excavation of the 1979 kibbled chalk layer with the compacted later 3 chalkings above.

We shared each other’s trenches at tea break. They all looked much the same. The kibbled chalk edge was slightly uphill from the later chalkings so that the dark soil overlapped the top of it ….and downslope, the soil was silty and grey with dribbles of chalk bits running down the slope.

The kibbled chalk was 40cm deep and it was difficult to see two events in it but perhaps the 1956 was largely replaced by the 1979.. but, there was an upper moist smeared kibbled and a dry loose lower kibbled so perhaps these represented different events rather than moisture penetrating and fusing the chalk fragments from above.

Cake and candles at lunch time. The birthday girl was pleased with the location of her special day and carried a bottle of prosecco to the Giant for the afternoon.

Beyond the kibbled chalk was another thin crust of rammed chalk. We were now the two feet below the turf level which Flinders Petrie wrote about in 1926. At that time he said the villagers cleaned and weeded the chalk to keep it visible. Scouring seemed to mean doing this rather than bringing new chalk to the site.

To be honest, we had gone beyond the place where history could be linked to archaeology.

Then the trowel hit the chunky chalk layer. Big lumps and blocks bound together with white chalk silt.

On the upper edge of this level of the chalk line, my trowel found timber. Our first find. Pete said that he had found wood at a similar level in his elbow trench. Later, Carol had a small section collapse in her right foot trench and another timber stake was revealed.

With three timber stakes in four trenches it seems that at some time the whole Giant outline was picked out with wooden markers driven deeply into the ground.

Nancy called us to order and popped open the bottle. She filled the glasses, lined us up along the Giant’s 8m long penis and…. setting the camera on the tripod..put it on timer ..and just had time to settle herself comfortably between his balls before the shutter clicked..

Cerne 4: Below the Turf

Central Dorset in late March on the rarely travelled and rather beautiful road from Sherborne to Dorchester.

Cerne Abbas lies between Minterne Magna and Godmanstone. The Cerne Giant looks out at me from the hillside as I turn left into the village hall car park.

The Cerne Abbas Giant with an square earthwork enclosure known as the Trendle on the hill top above his head. This may be a prehistoric or Roman site but the site is still used for a Maypole and Morris Men dancing on May Day.

The blue sky and warming sun of yesterday lured us in. The second day is overcast, windy and cold. It is only the very edge of spring after all.

The upper elbow trenches C and D are more exposed than the lower trenches A & B.. cut into the soles of his feet. At tea break, a return to the car to put on additional layers and a woolly hat.

The turf has been lifted and immediately the 2m long and 0.6m wide trench has divided itself into three. The upper slope layers are a deep loamy orange brown but beyond the half metre wide chalk figure line, the soils are silty and light grey. This is the effect of the chalk leaching from the line as the rain hits it and drains away.

The 2019 chalking is lifted, containing its distinctive flakes of black flint, below that is the 2008 deposit, a similar 3cm deep. I remember that one ..but there is another compacted chalk surface underneath. Is this the millennium chalking? This one is off line and slightly upslope from the other two.

Looking from the left elbow to the left foot after excavating the 2019 and 2008 chalk. We need to press on and reach the 20th century.

Did nobody take their old chalk away? Too much trouble I suppose. It seems that we are unravelling a layer cake of deposits. How deep would it go?

I walked around the trenches to see what Nancy, Carol and Pete were finding. Much the same pattern.

The ground was damp and working on the downslope was hard as we found ourselves sliding away from the trench.

We had to find room to stack the spoil from the excavations and separate the chalk from the soil so that we could reconstruct the chalk line and turf and leave the Giant much as we found him. We placed sheeting on the only level area, which was the chalk line, and balanced our soil on that.

Members of the Cerne Historical Society came to visit us and told us stories of the place. Apparently, when Lord Digby was a boy in the 1930s, he could run around the lines of the Giant because they were over 2 feet deep. He owned the Minterne Magna Estate which included most the land around the Giant.

The National Trust only owns a coffin shaped piece of grass that outlines the figure. There used to be a fence and in certain lights its location can still be seen as a slight earthwork.

Gordon lent me a file of historical documents and newspaper cuttings about the Giant. A list of 16th and 17th century references made Cerne Abbas seem a rather shady place linked to all sorts of ceremonies and goings on.

I took them home to read, wondering how deep the Giant was beneath the turf and what new discoveries awaited us.

Smashing news about the Chedworth Villa roman glass

The glass when first found

At last we can tell the story of what the specialists found out about the little piece of glass Pete found in 2017 at Chedworth Villa. You may already know its story as it hit the press and social media yesterday, 22nd July.

Not long after excavation I had taken it to Professor Jenny Price, a roman glass expert. She was very intrigued by it and thought she had seen something resembling it in the past, but from the Middle East. Features of the glass indicated that the technique used to make it was also unusual, differing from that used to make glass with similar decoration. The glass had a distinctive profile showing that it came from a long bottle with an oval shape and a sharp taper at the end. So away it went with her, so she could study it and consult many experts around the world.

The glass fragment showing loops of yellow and white

Eighteen months later Jenny was able to report back to us that it probably came from an area around the Black Sea. She had found a reference to another similar glass flask that had been excavated from a burial in Chersonesus in Crimea. It turned out to be part of a fish-shaped flask with the fish’s open mouth forming the aperture of the vessel, and probably held perfume or an unguent of some kind. 

It was the first piece of this kind of glass ever to be found in Britain, a very rare find.

Jenny also found a very similar fish-shaped flask that had been restored from many pieces, at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. By comparing the two examples, she concluded the Chedworth piece came from near the ‘tail’ of the fish bottle

An archaeological drawing of the place were the piece of glass fits on the fish flask

Sadly, Jenny passed away a few months ago. Earlier, Pete, who found the glass, had a chance to go and see her and talk about the fish. He said he could see she was enchanted by it, and we are so pleased she had a chance to solve this puzzle and knew how excited we all were by it. It is a very special find.

To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa.

That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away seems to underline that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence and connections.

Illustration of what it may have looked like by archaeological illustrator Maggie Foottit

This little gem of glass and the illustrations can now be seen on display at Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd-century burial in Crimea. 

The technique used to make the Chedworth bottle was unusual, with decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create ‘scales’ in loops of white and yellow. It was more common to incorporate different colours into the body of the vessel itself.  

at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa. 

Peter said: “When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special. Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not. 

“Recovering such a unique find is incredibly humbling, it will no doubt prove a talking point for years to come. I am delighted that it will be displayed at the villa, enabling visitors and future generations to marvel at its beauty.”

Nancy Grace concluded: “This find shows there is still more for Chedworth to tell us about Roman life in this corner of Gloucestershire.” 

The fragment is going on display at the villa as part of the Festival of Archaeology (until 28 July) and will remain on display throughout summer.

 

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 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 Eleven – Hasten, Hasten fetch a basin

Quick, quick the cats been sick, hasten, hasten fetch a basin, too late, too late the carpets in an awful state

The  old rhyme my Mum used to say when I was a child in Yorkshire, was brought to mind by a find today. After the find of the carved stone we checked every large stone we had found in the roman rubble layer, but found no more. Then we turned to the stone still in the layer and yet to be dug up, there was a large curved one which when we got to it also looked to have a hollow section. It looked quite crudely  carved, and was badly fractured. We finally managed to remove it and found it was a kind of stone basin.

The carved stone next to Carol still in situ

The stone ‘basin’

Today we started on the big clean up, David and Eirian came to help us today, and did a fantastic job, cleaning the mosaics and the bottoms of the walls. They checked areas that still needed a little bit more soil removing, and sponged the mosaics. Thank you both, great work.

David next to his lovely shining mosaic, the colours really sing

We also had a visit from our  line manager, and team – curators, registrar, collections and most important our lovely business support. They set too as part of the big clean up and each did a section. More great work 🙂

Our Team

Our Team

our team

Tomorrow I will update you all on the rest of the special finds we have so far, so come back to find out about the small things 🙂

Day Seven – Old friends

Fay, Carol and Amy returned refreshed after a day off, to be greeted by a no go area as we had a drone flying over the site to record the mosaics and parch marks, pale areas in the grass due to the drought conditions were the grass is over a hard surface, like a wall or compacted area like a path way, the site looked fantastic on the monitor, we await the results.

Here’s a picture from the top of the wall, not as detailed as the drone 🙂

guilloche Knots and swastika blocks

We have only done the first clean back to reveal the mosaics, we still need to go back over them cleaning again and then wet sponge them, the colours and patterns will then stand out.

Today we were joined by a volunteer and friend Jen and Allan a colleague of many years. Also we had a visit from another friend Stefan and his Dad, and as he had done finds washing last time we met, we found a good bit for him to have a go at digging. Stefan in 2016 pot washing and two years later digging, great job Stefan.

Pictured above another great tile and pot washer was Stefan who hopefully will be back to do more

Stefan excavating mosaic with expert guidance from Amy and Jen

Over on the other side of the trench a cry from Carol turns all heads, she had found her first roman coin, a very small and worn one but there is a figure on the reverse so the coin experts will be able to tell us a date.

Carol and her coin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Six – Glass half full

After the excitement of the coin yesterday the six of us knuckled down to the tasks in hand. Rob headed back to his trench next to the Buckeye tree wondering if he would have another lucky day. Martin spent the first part of the day adding to his measured plan of the site. He took of his boots so he could tread carefully around the mosaic.

Martin working on his measured plan of the site note no boots just socks – respect the mosaic 🙂

As for the rest of us – well the mosaic may have disappeared on one side but it reappeared on the wall side! and carried on and on into the next panel.

Amy on the left, with Stephanie and Pete working on the mosaic on the right

Amy and Martin, found that the potential untouched roman layer with roof tile, bone, pot and shell had also run out and was replaced by a very fine sandy soil that was probably Victorian, Martin found a broken, black glass, faceted button of a typical late Victorian type on the edge of this layer. We had an exciting moment when Amy found mosaic in her area that looked as if it went under the roof tile layer, it was in very good condition. So after we record the spread of this layer we will remove it and fingers crossed we will find more!

Amy’s mosaic

Once again late in the day Rob calls me and heads over with something in his hand, he has found some vessel glass, what looks like part of the foot piece of a roman drinking vessel! Top trench and top volunteer (32 years working with us)

Rob with his glass

At the end of the day I had a headache so as Doctor Quintus was at the Villa I went to see if he could help, but after seeing his tools and what he suggested I though just a long drink of water was the best cure!

Some of the Doctors tools

 

The good Doctor

Last but not least Chris, Stephanie’s husband who could not join us digging due to harvesting, managed to get some time to become the ice cream man and  arrived with a bag of lollies to keep us going for the next few days! As he had done such a good deed I let him take over my bit as I had to help Martin do some levels, on the plans he had drawn and check on Rob. I think he was happy 🙂

Thanks Chris you can visit anytime

Chris, Stephanie and Pete doing a great job uncovering more mosaic

 

Day Three – Willing helpers

Today we were joined by Adele and Jenny, to carry on uncovering the reception room mosaic, still hopeful that it would keep going ………. more later

Martin, Carol and Jenny removing the parched turf

We were also joined by a team from our head office, Heelis in Swindon, who were having a team day volunteering at the property. Sadly we did not have enough room for them to have a go at excavating so they offered to help with other jobs we had. The main one was to remove the bark chippings on top of the back filled area we had excavated in 2014, ready to uncover next week.

Team A making a start

Some of the team helped finish clearing away todays tarmac 🙂

Tarmac team

A happy team

Half of the top team!

Thank you all the Heelis team, you made a big difference and it is very much appreciated.

Now back to the mosaics and the news is………. no they have run out in one section! We have found a cement edging put down probably in the later part of the 20th century, but we don’t have full records of what exactly was done in some areas. It looks like it is repair work where the path had worn away above the mosaic. But the good news is we have started to get it appearing again, so as the saying goes tomorrow is another day.

Next to the wall it has disappeared and Jenny in the foreground is down onto the base layer that the tesserae was laid onto

View of the reception mosaic looking south