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Welcome blog watchers to what will be the final instalment of the 2009 dig diary. Such was the excitement of finishing and packing up that the writing of the blog got sadly delayed, so this last episode will attempt to be a bumper finale with pictures and all sorts.
Day 26 was the last official day of excavation. We were deluged with visitors with the final count standing at more than 3,600 over the course of the project. The church trenchers continue to dig furiously to finalised the exciting complex of late Roman gullies that have been revealed. The church trench has been a good result with the dominance of late Roman features and finds suggesting that this area of the town may have been sparsely occupied in the early Roman period. Which we didn’t know before. Alice of the mystic pottery skills is excited to find a stamped mortarium of a prolific Colchester mortaria maker (mortaria are big mortar things as in mortar and pestle with gritty interiors to aid the grinding process). John P. is so thrilled by this that he trumps his old lady incarceration feat of the previous day by falling spectacularly into the trench, an act from which he emerges miraculously unscathed. John P’s life continues to unravel on the following day, when he puts his watch in the washing machine and his saucepan rack falls off his kitchen wall.
In Giles and Mick’s wacky world of gravel in trench 1, we are faced with a surfeit of visiting geologists who broadly confirm that we are looking at a complex sequence of periglacial features, in which gravel banks were formed by summer glacial melt waters. A later hollow was probably used by Mesolithic flint knappers (or hopefully it was, otherwise we will have 3 dimensionally recorded a million fint flakes to no purpose whatsoever). Although less spectacular than the weird ritual world of trench 2, trench 1 has contributed a huge amount to our understanding of the formation processes of the Caistor landscape and its use in prehistory. And it did have Boudica’s small gulley.
In trench 2, Francesca, the human bone lady (which sounds like an excellent circus act) causes consternation by announcing that Elvis, a deeply buried body in the lovely pit, is in fact female and so has to be renamed Priscilla. She causes considerably more consternation by saying that we need to lift the exposed sections rather than rebury them, as they are likely to decompose if left. However, star that she is, she volunteers to do the job herself, disappearing into the pit to clean the bones. This later causes the director to GET DIRTY for the first time in the whole season, by lying face down to take pictures of the exposed legs (which sounds worse than it really was).
Thanks to all those who have followed our progress on the blog and who have visited the site to encourage us and buy plastic swords. We were all stunned by the level of interest and support that was shown to us.
The project wouldn’t have happened without the support and encouragement of Peter Wade-Martins and the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, together with David Gurney of Norfolk Landscape Archaeology and John Davies of Norwich Castle Museum.
We owe an enormous debt to May Gurney and their chief executive, Philip Fellowes-Prynne, who not only provided equipment but brought cake as well! Mike Dixon of A-Plant was also a star, responding positively to ever more cheeky requests for equipment. The project was funded by the Foyle Foundation, the Roman Research Trust and South Norfolk Council. Mikey Bentley of South Norfolk Council, a long-standing supporter of the project, was always willing to provide whatever help was requested.
Chris Skinner of High Ash Farm provided the centrepiece of our visitor display with his wonderful collection of stone axes. Thanks too to Caistor Hall Hotel and the Framingham Earl leisure centre for the vital use of their showers.
Giles Emery, Mick Boyle, Sarah Bates, Jon Cousins, John Percival and Heather Wallis were a star supervisory team, while Dave Bescoby surveyed, shared blog responsibility, argued with geologists and withstood the testing of his geophysics. The finds expertise of Alice Lyons, Francesca Boghi, Gwladys Monteil, Sarah Percival and Peter Robins was also fundamental to the success of the dig, providing the facts to counteract the director’s deranged imagination.
Finally, the success of the project owes everything to the hard work and good humour of the many volunteers who made it work, in particular Hazel and Dave Leese, who were the first to arrive on site in August and who will be the last to leave tomorrow (they hope).
Final sword count: 25
Final slow-worm count: 2
It’s Thursday and the end of the dig is nigh. Trench 2 is so exciting that we may have to mothball it and come back to it next year. At the very least there is a substantial lovely pit that needs bottoming, which suspiciously seems to be cut into stuff that looked like natural but turned out not to be. There’s always something that you don’t finish, but in this case it probably needs to be revisited.
Big event of the day is John P. locking an old lady in the church at lunch time. Luckily she has a mobile phone and so is able to summon help. She takes her incarceration remarkably well, although in any case, as John points out, there was a plentiful supply of tea and ginger biscuits to sustain her through the days that followed, although as the weeks passed there might have been an issue with scurvy.
The church trench continues to be quite rocking, with more of our exciting late Roman gulley appearing. There is also an exciting cluster of 4 stones and, as all archaeologists know, you only need 3 stones to make a wall. It disappears intriguingly into the section, so hopefully we can find some more stones if the toilet scheme goes ahead and we have to expand the trench.
Giles is on a solo mission in trench 1, and claims to have worked out the geology. He probably has, seeing as we’re getting close to the end, as by default in archaeology the last thought you have is the definitive truth.
Mike Dixon from A Plant pays a visit. Not only does he supply heavy plant and tools, but he also brings biscuits. What a top man. It’s a big day for visitors. Andrew Rogerson from NLA puts in an appearance, and is non-committal on our geology. It’s been a big week for trips from NLA, with the HER and NMP teams coming out on a jolly (sorry, site liaison visit), meaning that we can have a sentence loaded with acronyms.
After our media frenzy, we are deluged with visitors. It is a matter of great regret that we have run out of plastic swords to sell them. All want to see the famous Caistor mystery man but sadly he has been spirited away to an undisclosed location. We have the pictures of his starring moment in the EDP so that has to do. More than 300 visitors come and the director is interviewed by a very attractive lady from Radio 4, thereby demonstrating that archaeology does have some minor perks.
Sue Harman considerably ups the ante on the cake front by creating a spectacular Caistor 2009 cake, complete with Lego centurion (see below). This is demolished by the eager diggers at lunchtime, just before the cherry picker comes, courtesy of May Gurney and the splendid Mike Dixon of A Plant. The director is hoisted skywards and instantly turns into Cecil B. De Mille, arranging his staff as if they were extras in a biblical epic. It’s a great view and the guy driving the cherry picker is helpfulness personified, cheered by the fact that he gets to see skeletons from 30 feet up rather than fixing street lights.
On the archaeology front, the cremation in trench 1 gets lifted. It seems to have been in a wooden box, or at least there are a lot of nails involved. In the church trench meanwhile, the world of ancient Rome is conclusively reached, as is the natural sand, which is always something of a relief. At the bottom of a little gulley is a splendid coin of Constantine (Urbs Roma with Romulus and Remus suckling at the wolf, which is about as Roman as it gets).
Highlight of the day though, is James (age 4) visiting the site in full home-made armour as his special treat and bringing us his finds. Archaeology doesn’t get much better than that.
We awake into a media storm. Our strange body has excited the interest of the world’s press. At 7.20 the director in his new role as “baffled expert” (copyright all newspapers) is forced to knock back his cornflakes and mumble about “individuals on the margins of society” for Radio Norfolk. “Baffled expert” also makes it onto page 3 of the EDP and gets on the telly scratching his chin on a continuous loop on BBC Look East. David Gurney (County Archaeologist) gets in some televised chin scratching as well and a good time is had by all.
Rhianne is filmed digging in extreme close-up thereby shaming her children who find it “sooo embarrassing”, and the day ends with an appearance on Radio 4. The plan is now to get more coverage by changing “experts baffled by Caistor mystery man” to “experts solve mystery of Caistor man”. We just need to work on the solving aspect.
Anyway, onto more important things like archaeology. Trench 1 finds a cremation burial (now lifted) cut into the periglacial silt/gravel that has been the cause of so much joy and enthusiasm among the trench 1 diggers. They crowd around the cremation like 7 year olds playing football, with all attempts at defensive formations lost in a mad chase for the ball. And after 3 weeks scraping natural gravel who can blame them?
Only white T-shirts left now. And we’ve run out of John Davies’ Boudica book. We send out an emergency call to John, hoping that he will supply more product to sell to a discerning public. Otherwise, we’ll be down to the replica coins.
Slow-worm now back in hiding.
Monday, and the trench 2 crew continue to work on their strange features. They complete the removal of the strange burial which we have been trying not to talk about for the last week. This has been quite difficult as it has been the major excitement on site, and not discussing it has been quite hard, forcing us to fill space with thrilling tales of cake and slow-worms. The burial is a particularly odd example, with a man(?) lying on his side in a shallow pit. He has been slightly folded in order to get him in and his right foot is likely to have been just below the surface. The spine seems to be malformed and the manner of interment suggests an individual on the margins of society to whom the normal rules of burial didn’t apply. Early days yet so we have to look for signs of cause of death or trauma once he is clean.
The director obviously sees this as an opportunity to shamelessly court media attention, such is his disappointment at Anglia editing him out of their footage, presumably because he was waffling or his chin scratching didn’t come up to standard. Tomorrow there will be a media onslaught based around the mysterious Caistor body, but today the normal business of work continues.
Mike Salter, an early supporter of the project, pays us a visit. Mike responded to the director’s shameless plea for funds in the pages of the Times, and paid for a huge swathe of the geophysical survey thus paving the way for this season’s excavation. So the very existence of this season and this blog is partly down to Mike.
The Rev Rosie Bunn and husband Tim return from holiday in Turkey, which is a bit of a surprise as they told us they were going to Cornwall. They are pleased with the church trench, particularly the upper bit involving 90 cm of 19th-century tile rubble which is potentially good news for the kitchen and toilet extension to the church. The church trench has also produced remains that potentially predate the church, although as is always the case they are just that little bit ambiguous. To really answer the question about the origins of the church, we need to demolish the existing building, although we could compromise and just dig up the nave floor. We’ll talk to Rosie.
Sales push has switched to T-shirts now. Not many left so don’t be shy.
Sunday. Day 20 of the excavation. The wind has moved to the north and is howling through the marquee and chilling the diggers who had been scorched by the sun the previous day. But are we downhearted? No, because today is the day that the last two plastic swords are sold. If anyone now wants a high quality reproduction plastic gladius, they will have to wait until next year or go onto Amazon.
As if that weren’t enough excitement, the church trench have a second slow-worm sighting. This time we have photographic evidence, negating the value of the high quality artist’s impression that was included on a previous post. This time it is the daddy of all slow-worms, lounging luxuriantly on the path looking for all the world as if it wasn’t an endangered species.
Despite the weather it is our biggest day yet for visitors with 345 people entering the marquee, bringing the total to more than 2100 for the first 2 weeks of the excavation. Too bad we had just run out of plastic swords. The MG Owners Club came and they would have definitely all wanted one.
On the archaeology front, the Roman blob in the church trench appears to be expanding and it is clear that we are now partly down to Roman levels in the area of the soakaway. Gwladys Monteil, Nottingham’s resident Samian guru, stops in to see if we’ve got some shiny red pottery for her to have a look at. Not only does she identify our Samian, but she brings us chocolate muffins. This is what you want from a finds specialist. Carole and Neville also come up trumps on the cake front, while Hazel brings doughnuts so the day turns into a cakeathon.
In trench 2 the gullies that showed up on the geophysics do actually seem to exist – surely a first time that excavation has reflected a geophysical survey. The mysterious pits, however, seem to be going down and down. Sarah B has taken to sheltering in the bottom of one of them.
At lunchtime Heather J. gets the call to go to Seething airfield to meet Roman Abramovich and give him a cup of tea (as one does). This could have been the funding opportunity that we were waiting for, but Heather gets replaced at the last moment. Never mind. There’s always the cake. But Roman, if you’re reading this, we’re better value than Didier Drogba. Or at least cheaper.
The day starts with a certain amount of media action with both the Evening News/EDP and BBC Look East descending on the site to film what’s going on in the trenches. The director is asked to pose as if using a trowel, much to the derision of his colleagues who whip out their cameras to record this rare and unusual sight. Under normal circumstances, obviously, troweling would interfere with his core activities of wandering around and pointing at stuff, but with the media present it assumes a new importance.
It’s a day of new people, and also sees the return of Chrissy, cake baking star of week one, who returns with a picture of herself wearing her Caistor(TM) T-shirt at the considerably less interesting site of Skara Brae (see below). Mike P is absent, watching England get stuffed at cricket as an alternative to scraping gravel.
Alice, our Roman pottery superstar, returns to admire some more of our lovely pots and after looking through several hundred sherds of grey ware is rewarded with the discovery of some lovely 1st-century mica dusted pottery. This is seriously posh stuff and we want some more of it. Also Sarah P turns up to look at our prehistoric pot, and gives us the exciting news that not only do we have Neolithic pottery from trench 1 but also an IRON AGE feature. Boudica’s small gulley has been found and we can all retire. Trench 1 is truly the world of distant prehistory and we have some very nice microblades which Peter R, the lithics king, found considerably more to his liking than the dubious flakes we showed him on his first visit. It does seem that Caistor has been a focus of activity for a several millennia prior to the Roman town, although obviously we have no idea whether it is constantly occupied during this period. But a good addition to the Caistor story nonetheless.
The lovely pit in trench 2 continues to go down and down with no end in sight, while the linear features revealed by the geophysics are gradually being teased out. Meanwhile in the church trench (the self-proclaimed Saga trench due to the combined age of its occupants) a step ladder has been provided to enable the old folk to get in and out.
And 3 more swords are sold. Only 2 to go and we’ll have sold the lot. 200 visitors today so a bumper day for merchandising. We may yet be able to pay for the hire of the dumper truck.
Day 18 turns into a major day for cake, courtesy of Hazel Massey and Judy Booker, who come up trumps on the home-made comestibles front. As if this weren’t enough, Philip Fellowes-Prynne of May Gurney, not content with providing tools, containers, fencing, machines and cherry picker, also shows up with some ace cake. The director is away from site, having been forced to return to Nottingham to move office. This may be part of a new policy of “aggressive desking” by the Department of Archaeology, designed to introduce a feeling of insecurity among its lecturing staff. Either way, his timing is poor as he misses a certain amount of baked produce, although Hazel L (who actually runs the project while the director walks around pointing at stuff) saves him a bit of Philip’s chocolate cake, while Dave G also delivers one of Hazel M’s chocolate cupcakes in a finds bag.
Anyway, enough of cake lest we turn into Test Match Special. On the archaeology front, the lovely pits in trench 2 are still yielding a certain amount of goodies if you’re into building rubble, chalk and clay. This particular lovely pit seems to have been dug and then backfilled with a big lump of masonry, which even the director’s overactive imagination is struggling to explain. The gullies revealed by the geophysics are proving stubbornly resistant to discovery despite repeated soaking and trowelling.
Trench 1 is having a day off, allowing its diggers to escape the world of periglacial gravel and hope that someone spends the day sowing their site with gold chalices. The smug church trenchers continue to bring in Roman pot as if it’s going out of fashion. The Saxon pot, which we boasted about a couple of days ago, seems to have dried up a bit, and the pit full of mussel shell which was threatening to be Saxon seems to have turned into a late Roman ditch. This is a bit unfortunate as a Saxon pit would be decidedly more sexy (if one can apply such an adjective to a hole full of old mussel shells). Surprisingly, we seem to have hit natural at the bottom of the ditch, which is a bit of a result as we are supposed to finish at the end of the week. Thus far the huge masonry building picked up by the geophysics 10m to the west does not seem to extend into the trench, which is bad news for us but probably good news for the Church who would like to put their septic tank/soakaway in this location. But who knows? The answer, as ever, lies in the soil.
Excitingly, this is being uploaded live from site via Charlie’s dongle, which has obviously been the cause of some Frankie Howardesque tittering. Big hoorah for Charlie for the use of his dongle.
It’s Thursday and all our trenches are working again, after a temporary respite for the stalwarts of the church trench. We are visited by members of the Association for Roman Archaeology and attempt to persuade them to buy some of our quality merchandise. They buy the last of John Davies’ Land of Boudica books, but a call to the author brings him down with fresh supplies within the hour.
We are also visited by Charles Clarke MP, an early supporter of the project, and his wife Carol. “What are we looking at here”, asks Mr Clarke, viewing the periglacial landscape of trench 1. It’s a fair question, and one that we’ve so far failed to answer, although we can now say with some confidence that the long gulley running across the site is late Roman. It is presumably some kind of field boundary, given that it is about 3 inches deep. Even given that “people were little in the olden days” it is unlikely to have formed part of an effective defensive barrier.
It’s still all happening in trench 2, with pits revealing some intriguing stuff, of which more will be said in subsequent days when we know what’s going on. Tony Q is convinced we have a kiln, given the big splurge of tiles present in one of the pits. The director has doubts on the kiln theory, but he seems to have been wrong about the Iron Age so what does he know?
The church bods are now requesting a ladder to get into their trench, showing that archaeologists are getting soft these days. In their defence they are probably through the graveyard levels and getting down to the earlier periods, indicated by a pit full of mussel shells. We are egging them on to find stratified Saxon deposits and will ply them with drink if they do.
As if in miraculous response to the request yesterday for an aerial photo showing the locations of the trenches, Mike Page, a regular aerial photographer in Norfolk, comes up with some lovely aerial views of the trenches (below). Too late balloon guys, although if you’ve got some pictures we’re still in the market.
Top day on the sword front, with 3 sales. Only 8 swords remaining, so we may not even have enough to ritually bury some in the trenches as part of the backfilling.