Day Three – spades, mattocks and dust

 

Martin and Fay mattocking

Martin and Fay mattocking

We have finally straightened our sections (the sides of the trench) and have troweled down to the top of the layer that looks burnt and seems to have more pottery in it. Tomorrow is the start of the exciting phase of the dig, a little flutter of anticipation builds……

Recording the level and position of the worked flint and pottery

Recording the level and position of the worked flint and pottery

We have had lots of wildlife visitors on site, beetles, small bees, butterflies, biting horse flies and this very small moth, hiding from the wind.

Small moth

Small moth

We had a lovely surprise this afternoon 🙂

Thank you for the afternoon tea provided by the Anchor Inn at the bottom of the hill

Thank you for the afternoon tea provided by the Anchor Inn at the bottom of the hill

Cadbury Camp, Tickenham

The National Trust looks after 29 hillforts in Wessex (that’s Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire in NT terms)

I suppose that’s not quite true NT looks after 27 and a bit, the north half of Eggardon Hill in west Dorset and the east half of Whitesheet, Stourhead Estate belong to other people. We care for only a bit of Wick Ball Camp, Dinton Park and just a rampart and ditch survives of poor old Burgh Walls near Bristol. The Edwardians built on the rest. Thank goodness Mr Wills gave NT Leigh Woods so that its neighbour Stokeleigh Camp didn’t suffer the same fate.

However, just a little west from Stokeleigh, along the Failand Ridge towards the coast at Clevedon, lies Cadbury Camp and the Trust looks after the whole of that.

The view from the west side of Cadbury looking south towards the Mendips

The view from the west side of Cadbury looking south towards the Mendips

This is not South Cadbury on the A303 near Yeovil nor is it Cadbury Congresbury also in Somerset. It is a lesser known but no less interesting place.

It is great to visit, quiet though close to Bristol and with panoramic views across the Bristol Channel into South Wales or inland towards the Mendips.

Cadbury Camp divided into 20m grids for our geophysical survey.

Cadbury Camp divided into 20m grids for our geophysical survey.

I visited recently and saw the work that the Bill the ranger has organised there. The double ramparts and defensive ditches have been cleared of scrub and it looks great. There is only one gateway, on the north side overlooking Wales and that’s the place where the only excavation took place. Harold St George Grey came here in 1922 and put two trenches in and found that the ramparts are made of limestone rubble, pottery finds were Iron Age but also Roman. In fact casual finds have included other Roman evidence including sandstone roof tiles and a Roman alter fragment with the figure of the god Mars carved into it. Perhaps there was a temple or shrine up here.

It’s a place that has been visited for a long time. Flints dating to the Neolithic period have been found here and in 1856 someone found a bronze spearhead about 3000 years old. A dog walker found another one a few years ago.

Harold St George Grey's 1922 excavation trenches across the entrance.

Harold St George Grey’s 1922 excavation trenches across the entrance.

Back in 2001, Bristol University carried out an earthwork survey on the south side of the hillfort because they spotted a blocked entrance there. Nick and I thought we would work with them and carried out a geophysical survey of the interior. It took some time but it is good to commune with a place and get to know it. I tend to get to know a hillfort quite intimately when walking up and down taking readings with a resistivity probe.

Somebody stopped to talk and mentioned that he had lived in the nearby village of Tickenham on the south side of the ridge since he was a boy. During WWII, the soldiers from the searchlight battery used to come down the hill and drink in the pub. They were part of the defence line around Bristol to stop the bombers trashing the aircraft factory at Filton. He showed us where their huts had been. The two Marks from the university carried on surveying the blocked entrance while I did the mag and Nick did the res.

Magnetometry, see the lines of the ploughing and the two blobs where we thing the searchlights were.

Magnetometry, see the lines of the ploughing and the two blobs where we thing the searchlights were.

When we downloaded it. The magnetometry didn’t show much just regular parallel lines, evidence of a period when the fort interior was ploughed and in addition lots of ferrous speckley bits along with two ferrous blobs. We concluded that this was where the concrete searchlight buildings had been. A subsequent meeting in Tickenham village hall gave us a clue to the speckles. Unexploded bombs which landed on Bristol were brought into the ramparts and detonated someone said.

The north-west part of the hillfort enclosure. Three parallel ditches. A Roman fortlet?

The north-west part of the hillfort enclosure. Three parallel ditches. A Roman fortlet?

The resistivity was interesting though. Three parallel ditches formed a playing card-like corner and used the north and west ramparts of the hillfort to complete the enclosure. The Roman finds might relate to this. It’s smaller but encloses the highest part of the fort. Seems a bit like NT’s Hod Hill in Dorset. Could there have been a Roman look-out unit here?

The new information panel at the north gate showing the Iron Age round houses that    people would have lived in over 2000 years ago...although we didn't see and ring ditches on our survey.

The new information panel at the north gate showing the Iron Age round houses that people would have lived in over 2000 years ago…although we didn’t see and ring ditches on our survey.

Meet us at Tickenham village hall on October 17th and we’ll show you round.

The Bottleknap Trio, Long Bredy: The Lost Dorset Generations

This is a good story. No photos this time. Just an update.

Bodies in Trenches was a blog from the end of 2013.

At that time, we mentioned that some bones had been unearthed during a watching brief on a drainage trench beside Bottleknap Cottage in Long Bredy. This is a little piece of National Trust land, a 17th century cottage and a couple of fields all on its own in the parish of Long Bredy. It’s tucked away below the South Dorset Ridgeway.. towards the coast. There was no planning condition for a watching brief. The NT believed the place to be significant enough to keep an eye open while the ground was being disturbed.

Peter and Mike watched the digger and almost 1m down beneath some stones, at the point where it must surely have reached natural bedrock, the bucket came up full of bones. They stopped everything, dropped down into the trench and saw the parts of the skeletons in the deep narrow trench section. Including the severed ends of long bones and the line of a spine.

Claire looked through the bones and saw there were the hip bones of at least three young people, teenagers or early twenties. From what could be recorded from such a narrow slice, the bodies had been in a line, buried in a crouched position, with their heads pointing to the north.

Nothing to date them though. What were they doing there so deep beneath the Dorset countryside? Were they buried under a cairn of stones? Was this a crime? The parish church is just a few hundred metres away but crouched burials tend to be far older than the first churches in England.

Burials in round barrows tend to be on hill tops and the South Dorset Ridgeway, which overlooks Long Bredy, has hundreds of examples of these…

The bone fragments were very well preserved so we sent three samples away for radiocarbon dating and waited….not knowing what dates would come back. One date is just a date, two dates may conflict or be a coincidence.. three dates will give you good supporting evidence if they match.

This week the dates came back. If you have.. that time bug… then such moments are electric.

The dates of the three samples matched (C14 is not precise you understand) and fell between 800-600 BC. The graph suggested that the true date of burial was likely to be towards the earlier end of this range.

The thing to do now is to make comparisons with similar finds in Dorset.. but there are none. I checked with Peter who checked with Claire.. nope.

There are times in prehistory where there is much evidence for burial and others where there is none at all. (whatever did they do with their dead?) and our Bottleknap trio fall within the latter.

Bit of a dark age really.. when the very first fragments of revolutionary iron were being brought to our shores. These three are the very first Dorset people we can link to this period.

If we look to the wider world..this is the time of the Assyrians. For example, in the book of Isaiah in 701 BC King Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem…. but Dorset has no such history.. just these three young people found in a drainage trench beneath some stones.

Steep climb to the wow!

It’s easy to take for granted the archaeology in the landscapes we work in, those special sites we can visit when ever we need to replenish our souls. All the archaeologists in the National Trust are spread across all the different places and landscapes in the Trusts holdings, each with a range of sites and wow’s.

Hambledon Hill

Hambledon Hill

We try to all meet up a few times a year to discuss common issues and share new discoveries and ways of working. The last gathering was down in Dorset here in the south-west, and we managed to do a whole day in the field, working on site management issues. The ‘fields’ we choose were  the adjacent hill forts of Hambledon and Hod. Two of the 7 and a half  hill forts we look after in Dorset. The climb up and down and up and down again was helped by a stop mid way for tea and biscuits provided by the Rangers who manage the sites and had joined us for the day.

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

As we reached the top of Hod Hill we got our first glimpse of the size of the ramparts and scale of the area inside them. Hod Hill even has room for a Roman fort in one corner!

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Group exercise  on Hod Hill

Group exercise on Hod Hill

With colleagues from areas of the country that don’t have many hill forts or any at all,  commenting on how lucky we were in Dorset to have such magnificent monuments in our landscapes, I saw these sites with fresh eyes.

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

On the next sunny winters day do it, make the climb to the wow. Once on top of these hill forts you feel like a giant and you can touch the sky.

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

Hod Hill: Camp Bastion, Dorset

One of the two Iron Age gateways through the ramparts of Hod Hill. The largest hillfort in Dorset. Perhaps Ptolemy's 'Dunium'

One of the two Iron Age gateways through the ramparts of Hod Hill. The largest hillfort in Dorset. Perhaps Ptolemy’s ‘Dunium’

Yesterday, we walked along the rampart and I asked the group to stop at the gate and look back and imagine. Beyond Stourpaine, the Dorset landscape faded towards the coast and Poole Harbour.

This is where they had landed and below us the soldiers were arranged into companies ready for attack. The scouts on the hill top, spotted the target and signaled its range and distance to the artillery and then.. it started, awful twangs and whirrings as an avalanche of ballista fell on the chief’s house and compound.

At least, this was Sir Ian Richmond’s story when he excavated the compound in 1956. How else to explain the Roman ballista bolts embedded in the walls and floors of the two round houses there, all angled and pointed in the same direction.

There are no cemeteries or massacre deposits of the war-dead here, unlike Maiden Castle or South Cadbury. Perhaps dismayed by the initial onslaught, they opened the gates and let them in. The round houses were abandoned, piles of sling stones and spear heads were found, left in the cupboards by the front doors. Perhaps the conquerors told them to go at once and leave all weapons.

Hod Hill. Iron Age entrances bottom left and top right. Roman fort bottom right

Hod Hill. Iron Age entrances bottom left and top right. Roman fort bottom right

We walked on along the north rampart and came to the point where Iron Age hillfort defences are severed by the straight lines of the Roman fort. Built in the highest place, with 360 degree views, to the best military design. The ditches laid out to lure attackers into a killing zone. Within javalin range. Easy to enter, difficult to leave. A bank and ditch across the entrance to prevent direct assault and then the narrowing of the causeway to the gate.

Part of David Stewart's geophysical survey of Hod Hill. Iron Age entrance bottom right. Roman fort edge top right. Note the trackways radiating out from the entrance between the dense concentration of round houses. The numerous black blobs are storage pits. The small groups of four blobs between the tracks are probably    post-holes for granaries raised on stilts.

Part of David Stewart’s geophysical survey of Hod Hill. Iron Age entrance bottom right. Roman fort edge top right. Note the trackways radiating out from the entrance between the dense concentration of round houses. The numerous black blobs are storage pits. The small groups of four blobs between the tracks are probably post-holes for granaries raised on stilts.

Inside rows of timber barrack blocks in centuries, 500 men and then the larger long buildings cavalry units, another 300 mounted troops. The HQ building and hospital either side of the main road and across the way the houses for the commanders. The equestrian commander, of senior rank, had the bigger house (bit of friction there perhaps, Agricola mentions that infantry and cavalry often didn’t get on).

Here they were, 2000 years ago, in hostile territory. The nearest base about 10 miles away to the south. Bit like the wild west perhaps. Patrols, messages conveyed, supply trains attacked by the wild rebel elements.. perhaps. Who knows? The history is lost to us but from Vindolanda on Hadrian’s wall, we have rare letters that survive and from these we can imagine what it was like.

Where did these soldiers come from? A walk along Hadrian’s Wall is like a walk through the Empire. Each fort had a garrison from a different place but they carved the names of their cohorts on memorial stones. Perhaps from Spain or Syria, Tuscany or Gaul.

Hod hill is a great place to imagine, particularly in the Spring, particularly when the cowslips are out and the orchids are beginning to bloom.

Nick Skelton's illustration of Hod Hill from the National Trust's Dorset hillfort guide book. We have imagined the Roman fort established after clearance of the British settlement

Nick Skelton’s illustration of Hod Hill from the National Trust’s Dorset hillfort guide book. We have imagined the Roman fort established after clearance of the British settlement

Vindocladia

This week we took the opportunity to dig 3 trenches in the back garden of a cottage that awaits a new tenant.

It lies in the sleepy village of Shapwick. The shop closed in the 1990s. The pub is still open but it lies beside a market cross where there has been no market for hundreds of years. On its own, beside the river, is the lovely parish church. It looks towards the bridge across the Stour but the bridge is gone. Shapwick is a dead end now. However, the earthwork of the old road can be seen continuing across the Sturminster Marshall meadows beyond the river.

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road. It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester

Shapwick beside the River Stour. The High Street (top left) follows the line of the Roman road.It now stops short of the River Stour but there is a ford there and the earthwork of the road continues across Sturminster meadows towards Dorchester”

This place hides its pedigree. After Dorchester (still the county town), Shapwick was once the second largest place in Roman Dorset (do you believe me?). The village High Street follows the line of the Roman road from Salisbury (Sorviodunum) to Dorchester (Durnovaria) but the line disappears in the arable fields between Shapwick and the crossroads at Badbury Rings (the spaghetti junction of Roman Dorset). These were the common fields in the medieval period but there are place name clues in the furlong names. ‘Stoney Lease’, ‘Blacklands’ and ‘Walls’. The old farmers were obviously finding stuff.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m  deep when we excavated it in 1995.

The three ditches of the Shapwick 4th century fortress. The furthest ditch was 3.5m deep when we excavated it in 1995.

There are few places where the Roman names are known. From Dorset we have two names, Durnovaria and a place called Vindocladia and for centuries historians have been searching for it. Back in the dry summer of 1976, a pilot spotted the outline of a Roman fort in the fields beside Shapwick and in 1991, the local farmer told me to look in a field beside the fort. It was covered in clusters of stone and flint rubble. I picked up part of a grinding stone, fragments of mosaic and painted plaster and a collection of pottery dating from the 1st to 4th century AD.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and builidngs and many other features. This week's trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The story so far. The geophysical survey of the Roman town we think is Vindocladia. Fort top right, streets and buildings and many other features. This week’s trenches were at Hyde Farm which we will add to our survey later in the month.

The local National Trust association gave us money to carry out a geophysical survey of the field. A couple of days in, I went to see John the surveyor. “Found anything?”, he pressed a button on his lap-top and there was a chunk of the town. Wow! Roads, buildings and property boundaries and an array of rubbish pits and post-holes. Since then, we have built up a picture of this place. It extends from the river, continues under the village and below the fields as far as an escarpment overlooking Badbury Rings. This place was already important in the Iron Age. It grew after the Roman Conquest, when round houses were gradually replaced by increasingly sophisticated rectangular houses.

The fort is a rare thing for the south of England. Not a AD 43-44 conquest fort but a ‘burgus’, dating from the late 4th century, when the province of Britannia was under attack and a secure place was needed. In one corner of the fortification, the geophysics shows what looks like a government inn and relay station (mansio)

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

We found that the fort overlay earlier Roman structures which were above Iron Age storage pits. This one dated from 300 BC and contained various skeletons including a pig, dog, and sheep.

In the 5th century, Britannia was on its own. It broke up into different political units. Communities that had to fend for themselves. The economic network of society crumbled. The population of Shapwick shrank and the roads and houses deteriorated. Building materials were taken for other uses and eventually, much of the old town became fields and was forgotten. By 1086, Vindocladia was known as the ‘sheep (shap) settlement’ (wick derived from the Roman vicus perhaps)’ and a small remnant has survived to the present day. The village has a long and fabulous past under its quiet streets.

Amongst the Romano-British

Trench C and in the distance A. The chalk bedrock in C has been cut for a rubbish pit. The filling contained Iron Age pottery and the jaw bone of a horse.

Trench C and in the distance A. The chalk bedrock in C has been cut for a rubbish pit. The filling contained Iron Age pottery and the jaw bone of a horse.

Trench B down the bottom of the garden was disappointing. It looked like old plough soil and all we got was some bailer twine and a struck flint. Dave moved to trench C in the middle of the garden and I stuck with A closer to the house. By mid morning we were still in the 19th century lots of blue and white pottery. Then Dave showed me a plain black piece of pot. ‘BB?’ he said ‘yes’ but it was mixed with much later stuff. At 11.30 everything changed, we moved from 150 years to 1500 in a few trowel strokes.

Suddenly we left the early 1800s behind and chunks of Romano-British bone and pottery were flicking out of the soil. There were chunks of limestone and flint from demolished buildings, fragments of amphorae, Samian from France and jars and bowl pieces from BB (Black Burnished ware) made locally in Purbeck.

At this stage you wonder what you are above. Perhaps a building. Would it have a mosaic or remains of a wall with painted plaster on. In the end both our trenches came down on rubbish pits. Dave’s was Iron Age, mine was late Roman but these are part of something much bigger and its discovery is a good story.

Pottery from A includes  black Purbeck pottery, orange Samian, a fragment of amphora and food remains include bone from joints of meat and oyster shells.

Pottery from A includes black Purbeck pottery, orange Samian, a fragment of amphora and food remains include bone from joints of meat and oyster shells.