Space ….

The morning was sunny and frosty, the Black Redstart on his winter migration had appeared in the garden and as I drove to work, large flocks of Woodpigeon flew up from the fields with small groups of winter thrushes, as a Red Kite slowly glided across the valley.
I was on my way to continue setting up my new work space at Dinton, ten minutes further towards Salisbury from the office. I have new tables, heaters and shelving to unpack The boxes of finds needing cleaning, sorting, marking, recording and packing were already there waiting to be opened. I met Rosemary and we headed into the big space with mugs of tea and a mallet! There was shelving to put together as well as the boxes and equipment to sort out.

Lets get it sorted ready to clean the Roman painted plaster

We were getting on great, the heaters seemed to warm the space efficiently, the shelving was going together well with the help of the mallet, when bang my archaeologists back decided it was time to make itself known! Rosemary carried on and finished the shelving, then we had to abandon the day. I always think that an archaeologist just starting out would be a great long term study for a medical student to monitor the wear and tear on the joints!

Mushroom boxes, the ideal finds washing drying racks

So, dear readers, you will have to wait a little longer to see if we find any different designs on the Chedworth roman painted plaster.

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

Object of the month – free gift inside

As keeper of the objects we discover on our excavations I probably keep more than I should! But I see stories and links to past lives in everything and  if more recent objects can help take people back in time and start the journey to prehistory then they are as valuable as a Roman statue with an inscription!

I was sorting my boxes of odd and miscellaneous finds and came across this collection of childhood related plastic objects. Some I can remember and still have in my own tin box of things I have saved from childhood!

Plastic toys

Plastic toys

A few of the objects are probably free gifts from cereal packets and some are pocket-money toys. There was always a fear in my home of one of  us choking on a free gift in our cereal, but they were usually too big to be a hazard. If the box said free gift on the outside it was a race to get to it first (the hope was there were two inside) as the youngest I had to wait until the others were too old for free gifts!

A mysterious cereal packet gift

A mysterious cereal packet gift

Part one of the magic

Part one of the magic

The finished magic!

The finished magic!











I am not sure if there are these kinds of free gifts in cereal anymore, the little plastic toys and games have been taken over by chocolate eggs wrapped in orange and white and fast food chains. The main difference now is they will found in their millions, so archaeologists who save everything, like me, will have to find bigger boxes!

The Bottle Knapp 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 Bottle Knapp 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.

Bread and butter

A lot of work during these winter months is the behind the scenes, or beyond the trench jobs 🙂 We can finish the last of finds washing and marking, gather the specialist reports from excavations, receive paperwork and finds archives from contractors and prepare for publishing. Also as it’s the end of the financial year some projects are coming to fruition including some involving archaeological archives.

We have spent many days lately putting up shelving and moving hundreds of boxes of finds into newly renovated buildings and rooms.

New archive room at Lanhydrock

New archive room at Lanhydrock

At the Lanhydrock office a room had been racked out to create a central area for archaeological archives. Now we had room to open an old, dusty, unmarked box and have a look at what it held.

Box of finds fro cross Cornwall, found by the public, Rangers and property staff

Box of finds from across Cornwall, found by the public, Rangers and property staff

Among the bags of pottery, bone, stone and plaster we found some strange brown stuff stuck to open weave cloth.

Brown stuff found to be old latex

Brown stuff on open weave cloth

Textured side of the strange brown stuff

Textured side of the strange brown stuff

It was all cracked but had a textured side, very strange……. but luck was with us and we found a small note that explained what we were looking at!

The odd brown stuff is old latex!

It’s old latex!

I would never have guessed that the mystery substance was latex! It had been used to take an impression of the surface of pottery, with the hope that it would help with identifying the grass seeds and the type of  weave showing on the pottery surface.

Some of the pottery with impressions of cloth or basket work

Some of the pottery with impressions of cloth or basket work


The next archive project involved building work on an important building so we could create a store and resource space for our finds from the Kingston Lacy Bankes estate. The WWII American Army hospital, 10 bed isolation ward, needed a new roof and its concrete cancer treating, it also needed a use and as we had already been using it to work on and store our archaeological collections it seemed logical to extend this use.

The old hospital building with its new roof

The old hospital building with its new roof

After emptying out everything into large ocean-going containers the work was done over the autumn and winter. Finally after a lick of paint it was time to put everything back so with help from two house removal experts we moved 350 boxes and many other oddments back into the fresh bright well racked room. This now allows good access for researchers to study the finds from all ages of sites from across the estate.
The finds boxes back on the shelving all sorted and assecable The last big move was the Crickley Hill collection from excavations that ran from 1969 until 1993. The contract for re boxing and creating an archive  copy of the Crickley photographic collection was under taken by  Cotswold Archaeology, and the store at our Sherborne Estate office was to be its final destination.

Sherborne store ready for the Crickley finds

Sherborne store ready for the Crickley finds

after the delivery of the finds




The environmental sample tubs

Last week the day came to move it all back into the store, a total of 244 finds boxes and 90 environmental sample tubs.





The guys from Cotswold Archaeology turned up in their white vans and we spent a few hours off loading everything onto the new shiny racking.

Tom, Fran, Emily and Claire from Cotswold Archaeology

Phew! three down two to go! the next archive stores waiting for an update are Purbeck and Lacock but they can wait until my back has had a good rest and a few chiropractic sessions 🙂

Marvel at the marble

Just before Christmas I headed to Oxford to meet with Emma Durham, who is working on the Chedworth antiquarian collections, and we then headed to the Ashmolean Museum to meet marble expert Susan Walker, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

We both had finds bags with various pieces of marble from past and recent excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. The piece I had was the one found in August 2014 (see post Day 12 – last discoveries and careful covering). Emma had a few pieces from the original excavations in the 1860s.

We met Susan and were led through a maze of stairs and corridors to her book-filled office, she cleared a space on the table and we handed over our treasures. We opened our notebooks and waited, pens at the ready. Susan looked at each piece of marble in turn and made a few interesting opening comments. Three pieces that looked slightly different in surface colour turned out to fit together into a larger piece, others were different in thickness and marble type. After a few questions about the site and finding of the pieces, Susan started to tell us the story she saw in the marble.

All the marble looked to be East Mediterranean, and most pieces seem to be wall veneers, but are quite thick, which may indicate use in a bath house or water feature. Some of the marble looks to be  from Paros, which was favoured for water features. I think the pattern in the marble added to the effect, when under water, of movement.

While drawing the plan of the site we found a mottled stone which on closer inspection turned out to be a piece of marble. An exotic material brought to the villa to decorate an architectural feature or perhaps part of a panel on a piece of furniture.

While drawing the plan of the site we found a mottled stone which on closer inspection turned out to be a piece of marble. An exotic material brought to the villa to decorate an architectural feature or perhaps part of a panel on a piece of furniture.

Susan identified one piece that was worked along the edge, part of a basin, tank, vessel or sink, and most likely came from Proconnesus in the Sea of Marmara. She was amazed this got all the way to Chedworth. She explained that the marble was probably all 2nd/3rd century (Severan) due to the type of marble that was quarried then. At that time the set up with marble was that the Emperor had first call on any marble and only small amounts were then available to others, some of which would be exported to Britain and come in via London. It seems that, to be able to acquire this kind of marble, the person who owned Chedworth Villa had a very high status.

The questions this raises are to do with the dates. Was the marble used in the earlier villa on the site (2nd century) or was it reused marble acquired for the later villa (4th century) from somewhere else? Have there been other finds of these marble types in the area, in Cirencester for example, and how much has been found in the country as a whole? Once again more questions than answers, so onward we go with more research and potentially more exciting discoveries.

Emma and I left the museum with big grins on our faces. It had been a very exciting encounter, thank you Susan for bringing this stone to life, and I hope I have interpreted my scribbled notes right!

Oh, and I must not forget the piece we dug up this year; it’s called Cipollino, little onion marble, probably from the Greek island of Euboea.

A close up of 'Little Onion' the marble found during the 2014 excavations

A close up of ‘Little Onion’ the marble found during the 2014 excavations



Object of the month – a strange sandwich bag

We have been a bit quiet lately on the blog, this has been due to an office move, after over twenty years in the same building! I now sit in our new open plan hub office looking out onto an amazing medieval tithe barn, which is getting a new thatch. Boxes need unpacking and I am still trying to open doors by pushing them instead of pulling them, but happy to be able to log on and update you on another object in our collection 🙂 Oh and there is cake and chocolates and big mugs of tea.

When excavating at Corfe Castle we found many objects and rubbish, left behind by visitors throughout the 20th century. Lollypop sticks, crisp packets, coins, empty tubes of mustard, stink bombs and messages in bottles! But the one I am featuring this month is a plastic bag with an interesting image on it.

Bra bag probably used as a sandwich bag excavated at Corfe Castle

Bra bag probably used as a sandwich bag excavated at Corfe Castle

 We think the bra bag had been used as a sandwich bag, it’s interesting to think that many years ago plastic bags were a rare commodity, greaseproof  paper was the norm when packing a picnic. We ponder how long plastic bags will survive in our land fill sites today, this has lasted a long time already and is an early form of plastic, which opens another debate….

We don’t have an exact date for this object, but one of our older lady volunteers suggested early 1950s. Unless you know more……?