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 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

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 five – A little round thing

A cloudy start to the day but that didn’t put off the visitors, we had lots of children with many wonderful questions. Sue runs the finds washing section for us, this involves real excavated finds from the digs and all ages can help wash them and discover animal bone, pottery and get hands on with the tesserae.

Sue waiting for the next wave of youngsters to wash some finds from the dig

One very interested and enthusiastic girl called Trinity, was lucky to visit us when we had time and space to let her help us excavate a bit of the mosaic, Fay was having a late lunch with friends so we asked if Trinity could take her place for a while, Fay was very happy that she would have some help. Thank you Trinity you did a great job 🙂

Trinity finding the corridor mosaic

Trinity was joined by her mum

Meanwhile in the reception room, Jenni, Sarah, Carol, Nick, Emma, Martin and Pete were all in a line removing first the back fill from the mosaic condition survey in the year 2000, and then the next new area. As with all the trenches from the survey in 2000 they covered the mosaic with orange sand. This is horrid to remove but Pete and Jenni were not to be defeated and did a fantastic job and after a good sponge the potential staining was gone!

Jenni and Pete removing the orange sand

the contrast between the sponged area and the still sandy area

Rob has been working away in a corner of the site for a few days, removing back fill from a previous trench and then extending it. As often happens just near the end of the day and on a Friday, a lovely small find popped out. A coin, and this time it was roman!

Rob has a good eye for spotting the finds and we were able to get an instant identification for him as Prof Simon  Esmonde Cleary a specialist in Roman archaeology who also knows his coins had been visiting the excavations. He was just about to leave when it made its appearance. It is a Constantinus I gloria exercitus – Glory of the Army from AD 339/340,  but it is a contemporary copy made in the local area,

Rob in his trench just after his coin find

The coin

Oh and it rained, not a lot but enough to make the birds sing and to bring out food for them.

Pied wagtail with something juicy in its bill from our spoil heap