Discoveries at the Site – January 2014

Aerial View of roman ditch with two graves

Aerial View of roman ditch with two graves

The first image is an aerial view showing a Roman ditch (top ~ the dark soil is infill) along which two Roman graves are aligned (the rectangles on the right) with two 18th brick wells (to their left).

Close up of one of the graves- Showing remains of a skeleton and coffin

Close up of one of the graves- Showing remains of a skeleton and coffin

The second  image is a close up of one of the graves showing the remains of the timber coffin and the human skeleton contained within.

For more pictures please click Gallery

Discoveries at the Site – December 2013

During the week commencing 9th December 2013, archaeological excavation of the upper levels of the site have revealed three adult cattle skeletons dating to the late 1800’s and most likely related to the rinderpest (cattle plague) pandemics which affected Britain in the 18th century. The excavation of the three skeletons took most of that week to uncover. With a mortality rate as high as 90%, attempts were made by the government to curb the spread of this virulent viral disease. This involved the cull of cattle at an early stage of infection with farmers encouraged by a compensation scheme to register diseased animals. A larger collection of cattle (45 individuals) dating to the same period were found at the recent British Museum excavations undertaken by PCA.

Also, two wells have been revealed on the site, one of which contains a number of ceramic items including cups, tableware etc., from the late 1800’s.

Seems like our Volunteers have already found more than they were expecting.

For more pictures including the wells please click Gallery.

Journal Account from volunteer Assad Sharif – 20th December 2013

My name is Assad Sharif, I’m 19 years old.

To be honest I didn’t think at first that the project involved archaeology, I was thinking in terms of construction work and that I was doing it just for the mosque. When I came to the site I didn’t really know a lot about archaeology: I didn’t really know about stuff like Roman pottery and bones. I’d never had any experience before of an archaeological site and no great interest in archaeology other than the sort the general public might have. I did the training at PCA’s offices and I found that interesting and really helpful. Even things like asbestos which we were told about, how it was dangerous if you breathed it in and you could get ill. Then Neil and Alice started teaching me about different types of pottery and tobacco pipes and I found that very interesting. I didn’t think that archaeology would be like this: in training it sounded hard but once I was out on site it didn’t seem that hard. It’s not so difficult; it was useful to have that training beforehand as a preparation, including the Health & Safety and all that.

We started off we was just digging 5cm at a time and when we found the first small piece of bone I was going to pull it out of the ground but Neil said no leave it where it was until we could see more. And then I came back the next day and we continued digging and then we started to see two cattle and we found a well next to them. That well didn’t have anything in it but the other one further away had a lot of pottery. We found lots of blue pottery, we found glass, we found tobacco pipes I was impressed with the length of the pipes and everyone found them in bits and pieces but I found the longest one and four long ones in all. I knew they were made of clay because of the training. Also we found little ink and perfume bottles and bottles we were told were for alcohol. And we also found medicine bottles and jars and little cups and mugs, one of which had a message on it which something about going to school and they used the old type of English, like Shakespeare English, but I didn’t quite get it. They used the well for just putting all this stuff in, like rubbish. We were told that the cattle were buried because they were diseased. I’d heard that people used to get animals to fight, two dogs against a bear. Also, I think that we found dog bones and rat bones in the well. I also heard that the well can be dangerous to be in if you’re digging deeper than 1m without support to the sides.

Interview 20th December: Neil Hawkins – PCA Senior Archaeologist

My expectations of the site? I think that due to its location, there are probably some interesting Roman remains. The main point is that the excavations are different due to the use of volunteers from the mosque: I didn’t know how the volunteers would respond to the work, or what their level of interest would be in what we were doing. I’ve actually found them to be very good. I saw them at the office in the early stages when they were doing the training course and many of them were clearly interested and were asking the right kind of questions about what we were doing, how we do it and why we do it and, equally, since we’ve been here on site they have been very into it, very interested and, in general, have just got on well with the work. Obviously, it’s quite a physical job and there is a lot of hand digging to be done and not all of them are used to this sort of physical work although some of them have worked on building sites or done labouring before but perhaps not for a while but they do just get stuck in. The weather has not been too bad so far but it could turn at any time.  As to the recent finds, cattle skeletons are always appear dramatic when uncovered buried and the reaction of the volunteers was interesting, they were quite excited about it when they first saw them – obviously, the size of the skeletons is impressive – the appearance of the skulls and the fact that they were quite intact. It certainly increased general interest levels for the volunteers. When they start finding things it brings it home why you’re doing what you’re doing, as opposed to just digging off a layer that has nothing in it. The discovery of the cattle skeletons was well timed – occurring early on – to maintain their enthusiasm. Also there was the discovery of the objects in the well – even though they were of 18th/19th century date – which were full of pottery and building material. Quite large pieces of pottery as well, where you could see the patterns on them, describe the original forms and tell them about their function etc. Even though they are in archaeological terms quite late, they certainly are of note and in general finding such things raises the level of interest even if you’re not used to doing this job. That got them motivated and keen to dig more to find more artefacts.

I hope that we can keep up the level of enthusiasm that has been built up to date as it potentially gets darker and rather colder, and that they do want to stay on board and see it through to the end.  The hope is that when we get down to the layers where there is the potential for Roman archaeology that interest will be stimulated, as we dig off other layers before that because we will be using metal detectors there will be the possibility of finding ‘small finds’, for instance, metal objects such as coins.

My impression is that they are all motivated to see the project through to the end. They almost immediately fell in with the camaraderie of an archaeological site and have joined in with and enjoyed the banter: considering we, the PCA staff, didn’t know the volunteers beforehand and they didn’t know all know each other, they have developed a very good rapport all round, even though we are from very different backgrounds. One of the most satisfying aspects of a physical job where you are all mucking in together, is that it can result in an instant kind of camaraderie and a bond is created because you are all ‘on the front line, digging together for a common cause, no one has an agenda, we all just want to do what needs to be done to get the site dug.