Day 19

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.

Here's Chrissy at Skara Brae modelling some tasteful Caistor leisure wear

Here's Chrissy at Skara Brae modelling some tasteful Caistor leisure wear

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Day 18

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.

Here's Mike Page's lovely image of periglacial trench 1. Can you spot the circular thing that misled us on the geophysics?

Here's Mike Page's lovely image of periglacial trench 1. Can you spot the circular thing that misled us on the geophysics?

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Day 17

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.

Here's the site. Trench 1 on the left, tent on the middle and trench 2 on the right. The church trench is nest to the church

Here's the site. Trench 1 on the left, tent on the middle and trench 2 on the right. The church trench is next to the church

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Day 16

It’s Wednesday 9th September, and 16 days into the project the late Iron Age (or even the early Iron Age) remains conspicuous by its absence. On the plus side it’s a good day for swords with 2 confirmed sales. So swings and roundabouts really. Rhianne finds a piece of glass the size of half a stamp, plus a piece of pot of similar size, thereby breaking the finds drought that continues to afflict trench 1. Diggers in trench 1 are not fully convinced by the importance of digging a periglacial landscape, despite the director’s attempts to convince them of its general crucialness.

Trench 2 continues to have lovely pits, full of clay and Roman tile. They also have good dating evidence in the form of pots and occasional coins which makes the job of understanding them somewhat easier. The double gullies seen on the geophysics continue to elude us, reinforcing the impression that it is always a mistake to spoil a nice geophysical story by digging it up.

The church trench bods are having their day off, but still manage to excite us. Alice, our pottery supremo, confirms the presence of Ipswich ware (nice grey Middle Saxon pot), in the church trenches. This is the first time that middle Saxon pottery has turned up within the walls of the town, reinforcing the suspicion that the church (which is first recorded in the mid 11th century) reflects an earlier Saxon presence. What we have to do now is dig elsewhere in the walled area to see whether our church Ipswich ware is indeed a concentration in the church area. Obviously in an ideal world we would get stratified middle Saxon deposits in the church trenches, but that probably won’t happen. Mind you, they are jammy in the church trench, so who knows?

And so the voyage of discovery continues. We are also down to the last gladiator keyring, so if anyone wants it get in quick.

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Day 15

Following the excitement of Richard Branson’s proxy appearance in the form of a balloon, the day dawns bright and sunny and rapidly turns into what is commonly termed a scorcher, which sees our world class volunteers wilting in the heat.

The trench 1 crew continue to scrape at gravel, egged on by the director who exhorts them to seek the glories of the past. Opinion is divided as to whether some of the gravelly features we are seeing in trench 1 are periglacial in origin, so we will need to call in a Quaternary geologist to try and resolve this. There has been something of a pottery drought in trench 1 in the last few days, not helped by the fact that the smug folk in the church trench continue to bring it in by the bucket load. The church trench also produces a very nice iron stylus during one of the regular metal detector sweeps, showing that at least one member of Caistor’s Roman community could write. Animal bone is also coming out of the church trench by the shed-load (a technical term denoting a measurement between barrow load and truck load) and it seems very likely that graves were dug through extensive Roman levels that lie beneath. We are starting to see some possible signs of Roman archaeology in the bottom of the trench, much higher than we imagined, giving some indication of the effects of long-term ploughing on the town outside the graveyard.

Hazel and the finds crew are doing sterling work on the finds, and have achieved the remarkable feat of being almost up to date with the pot-washing, a feat possibly unprecedented in the annals of archaeology.

We have a lot of visitors today, including David Durrant from Little Melton who owns a wonderful scrapbook of cuttings and notes made by his father relating to the 1929-35 excavations. This includes the only copy of the “turf cutting” picture that we recreated on day one. He tells us how his mother used to collect the Roman oyster shell from the edges of the town and crush it up to feed to the chickens in order to get good shells on the eggs. Other good news is that Mick brings shortbread handcrafted by the lovely Mrs Boyle.

We have received our first comment on the blog but we obviously need to reach out to a wider public and respond to some of the concerns of the internet community. Future entries will therefore examine the effect of Lindsey Lohan on the Turin Shroud and the relationship between pyramids, UFOs and Cristiano Ronaldo. We will seek to establish whether Britney Spears has an opinion on leylines, whether Michael Jackson was a druid and the extent to which Boudica played a role in (a) faking the 1969 moon landings or (b) the assassination of JFK.

Sword sales: 0.

Slow-worm sightings: 0

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A happy student. Declan models for next year’s Nottingham prospectus.

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Extreme planning – Giles uses 4 frames in an attempt to master the periglacial history of trench 1.

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Day 14

Some more exciting scraping of gravel for the team in trench 1, although features are also being excavated in an attempt to boost the flagging moral of the gravel scrapers. The problem with prehistory is that it tends to produce very little in the way of choice finds unless you are a metal detectorist, in which case you will constantly be putting Bronze Age axes into your swag bag. Our lot have to be content with bits of pottery the size of your fingernail, which look more like small blobs.

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Mike digs a thrilling feature on day 14.

The Roman period on the other hand has cracking finds and the church trench is producing Roman pottery by the bucket load, presumably caused by graves being dug through the Roman levels that lie below the grave yard. Metal finds are limited and the trenches are thoroughly detected every day in case of raids by night hawks seeking to put the nation’s heritage on eBay. The foundations of the church are also showing nicely and seem to be made with good Roman stone, presumably quarried from the walls.

In trench 2, we continue to excavate the pits, sieving all the fills. Little is turning up in the sieves, surely a testament to the thoroughness of our excavators (or their fear of being mocked for missing something). A very nice copper nail scraper turns up in one of the pits, part of one of those Roman cosmetic sets that hang on little rings (tweezers, ear scoop, nail cleaner). Has to be said that the thought of the ear scoop doesn’t conjure up any particularly pleasant images.

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Dave G pans for gold in trench 2. He fails to strike it rich.

At the end of the day, the Virgin balloon turns up, low enough to have a conversation with the occupants of the basket. “Don’t crash on the tent”, is the main point that we want to put across, but we ask them to take pictures as they go across, so hopefully they will pass by with some copies. We get some pictures with the balloon over the site, in the hope of persuading Richard Branson to sponsor the project. Come on Richard, you know it makes sense. Surely a picture of a tent with your balloon is worth a few quid. Think of the positive image it sends out. Better than the normal pictures of you in a dress anyway.

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The Virgin balloon over the tent. Any chance of some cash Richard.

No swords sold today. Another sales drive needed.

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Day 13

Day 13 of the excavation. 13 is unlucky for some but not for the Caistor Project which sees a bumper day of sword sales. Thanks to some heavy promotion by the tent staff, 7 high quality plastic weapons are forced on a discerning public (see pictures below). It is a record day for visitor numbers with 229 people passing through the door of the marquee (and they were only the ones we managed to count).

Peter Robins, the flint man, comes to see our lovely collection of struck flakes and is mildly underwhelmed, although impressed with our Mesolithic axe. It does seem, however, that the river terrace of the Tas is a likely site for Mesolithic and Neolithic occupation (i.e. about 10,000 – 2000 BC – in other words really old), although what this actually means is open to question. Our gullies and pits in Trench 1 are producing some flints and Neolithic or early Bronze Age pottery. Even with the eye of the true believer, pottery this early is generally fairly rubbish – blobs of soft fired clay with bits of calcite or similar, although presumably was revolutionary in its day.

Trench 2, meanwhile, is a good 2,500 years later and we are happily in the late Roman period, with pottery and coins coming out including a very nice coin of the house of Valentinian (360s AD+). As an archaeologist faced with a small bronze coin, the best ploy is to scratch your chin knowledgeably and say “Hmm, house of Constantine, or house of Valentinian, 4th century for sure”. The law of averages says that you will probably be right most of the time and people will assume that you know what you’re talking about. What’s not to like? In this case said member of house of Valentinian seems to have a quite natty pony-tail (a bit like Poldark for readers of a certain age) so we should be able to narrow it down a bit.

Meanwhile over in the church, the lower part of the church wall is looking suspiciously Roman. It almost certainly isn’t but it’s fun to speculate and it has a levelling course of tile that would scream Roman in another context. However, it’s probably a medieval wall made with bits of Roman masonry rather than a Roman wall standing 4m high, which would admittedly be much more fun.

Anyway, back to the more important subject of swords. Here’s Isabella fighting her way out of her pushchair, before admitting defeat and taking the honourable Roman course of falling on her own sword.

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Graph shows alarming increase of sword sales during the full-moon!

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